A Love Letter to the Great Grandchildren of Donald and Darlene Huseth  by mia hinkle

You did not know your Great Grandpa and Grandma Huseth, so I write this as a little glimpse into your genetic roots and wings. Family is where YOUR story begins.

Donald Huseth was born April 27, 1922, and Darlene Christenson was born on January 19, 1924, in west-central Minnesota. Their little baby spirits appeared on this earth right between the two Great Wars and just before the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 that led to the Dust Bowl years and the Great Depression. They must have been destined to be pretty great people because the current events book-ending their arrival were all labeled great.

In history class, you will learn about the Roaring Twenties and in literature class you may read The Great Gatsby. Imagine this: F Scott Fitzgerald sipping cocktails with Earnest Hemmingway, a Peugeot Type 176 driving by, and all passersby are clothed in flapper-style dresses or dapper suits with fedoras and spending every last dime on high fashion and speakeasies.

Of course, aside from jazz, style, and nightclubs, there was a fair amount of everyday life going on, not often portrayed in glamorous 1920s-era films. While the rest of America indulged themselves in glitz, glamour, and decadence, your great grandparents quietly slipped into a little corner of rural life in west-central Minnesota.

Darlene at school, far left (1930) Stoney Brook Township District 30

The Great Depression began when Donald and Darlene were 8 and 6 years old. The Dust Bowl years followed which was a decade of the worst droughts in over 1,000 years. When I would ask my parents about growing up in the Depression, they would often remark, “Ya, we were very poor, but as kids, we really didn’t know it. Everybody was poor. We were the lucky ones because we lived in the country. We had plenty to eat, a warm fire in the cookstove, and clothes on our backs, even though some of our dresses were made from feed sacks. We even went to school if we were lucky enough to catch the school bus which was a horse-drawn buckboard. But those kids in the cities, they were the poor ones, they really had it rough. They stood in soup lines and were dependent on handouts because their cupboards were bare and their fathers didn’t have work. Rats and disease were rampant in the city causing all kinds of despair. But on the farm, we had plenty of fresh air, exercise, good food, and clean water. And books. Plenty of books. And we had family. Family is where your story begins.”

L to R: Baby Lynford and his mother Judith (Agnes’ sister), Agnes, Anders, Gloria, Darlene, Ansel

The history books will not tell you about the Huseths and Christensons and the Jenstads and the Leraas’ who came to America from Norway in the 1800s to carve out a better life for themselves. In fact, most history books even leave out the Nordic sailors who explored the eastern edge of North America some 500 years before Christopher Columbus making their way into the interior as far as Minnesota and points south and west. The Kensington Runestone is one piece of proof and is dated 1362. It was discovered just 30 miles from where our people settled at Huset Lake near Barrett, Minnesota. (Darlene’s brother, Ansel, was friends with the man’s son who initially dug the Runestone out from under some tree roots.)

Early expeditions to North America are well documented and accepted as historical fact by most scholars. Around the year 1000 A.D., the Norse explorer Leif Erikson, son of Erik the Red, sailed to a place he called Vinland (because the land was full of vines and grapes.) That was the northern tip of Newfoundland and coastal North America. Leif had been converted to Christianity by the Christian King of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason, and after Leif’s first trip to Vinland he started preaching Christianity to the native population at the commission of the King, making Leif the first Christian missionary to the New World. Initial interactions with the North American Indigenous people were friendly with a strong trade relationship.

The Kensington Runestone, unearthed near Kensington in 1898. It is dated 1362.

Renowned for their sailing expertise, Norwegian immigrants often joined the Dutch traveling trade routes to Colonial America. During the early 1800s, many Norwegian immigrants came for religious freedom with help from the Quakers. From the mid-1800s however, the main reasons for leaving Norway were agricultural disasters like the European Potato Famine which led to great poverty in our homeland. Later the agricultural revolution also put Norwegian farmers out of work and pushed them to find jobs in the more industrialized America. Between 1825 and 1925, more than 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to North America, some to the Midwest to work in agriculture and others to the Pacific Northwest to work in the fishing industry. Predominantly motivated by poverty and compounded by medical breakthroughs like the smallpox vaccine – which made it possible for more children in large families to make it to adulthood – there was simply not enough food or employment in Norway to keep up with the growing population. Norway is geographically a beautiful mountain range on the sea and consequently, only 3% of the land is suitable for farming.

Then on May 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act which promised 180 acres of free, fertile, flat land in return a small filing fee to the U.S. Federal government. A wave of Europeans rushed into America, some made their fortunes and returned, but many more stayed and made The United States their new home. Over its history, more than 2 million individuals filed claims, with approximately 780,000 obtaining title to the lands. More than 270 million acres were granted while the law was in effect.

I pause here to interject a little context. Abraham Lincoln served as the 16th president of The United States from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. The Huseths arrived on American soil in 1868 just three years after the end of the Civil War. The Leraas family settled in 1891.  Lincoln led the nation through the American Civil War, which was our country’s greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. Although celebrated and beloved today, Lincoln’s ideas and leadership were enormously controversial for that century and way ahead of its time. Voters either loved him or hated him; one even shot him! His presidency succeeded in preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, bolstering the federal government, and modernizing the U.S. economy.

President Abraham Lincoln signs the Homestead Act in 1862

The Homestead Act is considered one of The United States’ most important pieces of legislation allowing citizens of all walks of life—including former slaves, women, and immigrants—to become landowners. Abraham Lincoln got a lot done for the nation, but it came with a big price. For instance, Native Americans were gravely affected by the Homestead Act. The U.S. government took their land, handed it over to strangers, and before they knew it their home was populated by sometimes ill-equipped and inexperienced Europeans who shut out Native Americans from their traditional way of life and forced them onto reservations. Additionally, part of the homestead agreement involved cultivating the land, which not only decimated the natural ecosystem which had sustained primitive peoples for centuries but decimated the land itself leading to the Black Blizzards of the Dirty Thirties. During the Dust Bowl years, the rich topsoil of the American Midwest was carried east by dry high winds so far that the Statue of Liberty was sometimes obscured from sight by Oklahoma soil swirling through New York City air. The worst dust storm of the decade occurred on April 14, 1935. News reports called it Black Sunday. A wall of blowing sand and dust started in the Oklahoma Panhandle and spread east. As many as three million tons of topsoil are estimated to have blown off the Great Plains during just that one day!

With a stroke of his pen (and the blood of 2.75 million Americans who fought in the war), Abraham Lincoln changed the lives of African slaves and our Norwegian forefathers during the same presidential term! Our people benefited greatly from the Homestead Act, indeed most immigrants who filed claims would never have become landowners without this stimulus program. The theory was that Americans, immigrants, men, women, blacks, and whites would be able to build a better life for themselves through westward expansion and therefore build the nation. In practice, this theory worked better for some than others, but that is an important story for another time.

Hans Huseth (1848-1936) was 20 years old in 1868 when he landed in Quebec and made his way south and west via the Great Lakes through Sarmia, Ontario, Manitowoc and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Red Wing, Minnesota, and on to Goodhue County and finally settled in Barrett, Minnesota. He was a skilled blacksmith, farrier, (and occasional dentist), and soon he had saved enough money to go back to Norway for his brother, Knut. In time they sent for the rest of the family who arrived via the same route in 1871.

Hans Huseth (his grandchildren called him Fye)

Hans married Britta Chilson and they had 10 children; Melvin was the 9th born in 1892. Melvin was Donald’s father.

Hans Huseth family (Melvin is front row far right)

Johannes Leraas (Leraas is a reference to his birthplace in Norway) came with his wife Nelline and their first baby, John, along with an older adopted daughter, Anna came to America on the Danish steamship Tingvalla in May, 1891 through New York and to Grant County. In that day, people with means took care of people in need, and a young widow in their village back home could not afford to feed her three children, so Johannes and Nelline took in the oldest girl, Anna, who remained a bonafide member of the family her entire long life. Johannes was an educator and a preacher. Agnes was their 5th born of 11 children. Agnes was Darlene’s mother.

Johannes Leraas
Johannes Leraas family (Agnes is front row left)

The Leraas Farm remains in a remote area in the mountains near Bergen in Norway. The Leraas family operated the farm for 240 years! It has had many names since 1633, but when our people were immigrating to America, it was called Leraas so that is the surname they took with them. The farm is now called Leiro which means The Camp. As a working farm over the centuries, they raised sheep, goats, and cattle, and they sold cheese and butter. There were two running mountain streams, a lake with trout, and a lake outlet with a waterfall and a mill for grinding flour. It’s in a relatively flat area about halfway up the mountain near Eidsfjorden, a fjord coming in from the ocean. The closest village is Stamnes, about 5 miles up the fjord. There is not and has never been a road to the farm and it’s a one or two-hour steep hike to get there. In 1948 agricultural advancements put the farm out of business. It is now used as a hunting, fishing, and vacation site. There are two houses (used to be three), some outbuildings, part of the mill, some barns, and a church. Once a year on July 29, St. Olaf’s Day, the congregation from the local chapel hikes to Leiro to hold a worship service. Besides being one of the most beautiful farms in the area, the people gather there to honor their ancestors because Leiro is seen as almost untouched by modern times. If you plan a trip to Norway, you might want to include this hike.

A postcard of The Leraas Farm (Leiro means The Camp)
The Leraas Farm (Leiro means The Camp)

Back to the story. Our ancestors risked a lot coming to America. They knew not what lie before them. Maps were not as precise as they are today. They did not speak the language. Weather could be a life-threatening factor. Common accidents and ailments could literally kill you. They left everything they had and everyone they knew behind and many of them never saw their mothers again. They had to pack all their own provisions for the long journey (one to three months depending on weather and time of year) by ship across the North Atlantic. It was a daunting task filled with many dangers, but they were tough and smart and adventurous. They made a way where there was no way, and they brought their own fun with them! I imagine them packing up to leave the home country for the new world, “It might not be easy, but it will be amazing!”

I tell you this, so you never take for granted those who came before you. Because of them, you can rest assured that you are well equipped to take on the hard stuff life throws your way and you will come out victorious! It is in your DNA! Even if you are not genetically related to Donald and Darlene, you were raised by people who were, so these pearls are for you too. This is the stuff you are made of! Strong in mind and body, tenacious in spirit, rugged adventurers just like our Viking ancestors.

We come from a long line of farmers, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t brainiacs on both sides. In fact, running a successful farm takes a fair amount of genius. Darlene’s Grandpa Leraas was quite a scholar. His son Harold was a college professor holding several master’s degrees. Donald’s Uncle Ed Huseth was known to figure compound interest in his head when talking to a banker. His son Jimmy went on to become a doctor. Many of our people became teachers and educators. There are pilots and authors and nurses and entertainers and … you name it! This list goes on and on. The more opportunity and education afforded to our ancestors, the further they climbed in American society.

Harold (Agnes’ youngest brother) and Helen Leraas, Solveig, John, and Judy

The first Huseths to settle in Grant County excavated a dug-out or cave into the wall of a dry lakebed and lived there while they built a barn, cleared the land, and gathered the resources to build a house and establish their homestead. This took a few years. I imagine it was freezing cold in the winter and bone-chilling damp in the spring. The small lake is now filled with water and is called Huset Lake, about 5 miles west of Barrett.

Maps of the homesteads around Huseth Lake and Cormorant Lake near Barrett in Grant County

Our American roots on both sides are near Barrett: The Huseth, Leraas, and Jenstad families all settled around Huset Lake and Cormorant Lake. The Christenson family came from the Wendell area. [Note: The earliest Huseths to sign immigration and homestead forms added the ‘h’ to the end of their Norwegian surname, Huset, thinking it made them seem more American and less foreign. Go figure.]

The Huseth Homestead House

Hans Huseth was the first from the family to venture from Norway in 1868 at the age of 20. He came from O’Dahlen which is near current day Oslo. His hard work, imagination, and tenacity made it possible for the rest of his exceptionally large family to join him.

As the first settlers to the area, they withstood many hardships, one of which was gathering fuel to last the long winter. In the fall, Hans would hitch his mules at 4 am and drive to Dalton about 21 miles to the north, chop a wagon of wood, stay with a farmer friend overnight, and return home by the next evening. On one such trip, the farmer’s wife began to feel labor pains. Her husband tore off to find the doctor, but by the time they returned Hans had already delivered twins and was warming them by the fireside! All in a day’s work I suppose.

Hans (Fye) Huseth

Donald’s mother was born Dora Jenstad and the story goes that she was the first Caucasian infant born in the area. This was on the east shore of Cormorant Lake on the Jenstad family homestead. The Native Americans who lived nearby came to peer at the pink-skinned newborn; they had never seen anything like it! In amazement, they pet her little bald head and touched her pale skin. Suddenly one of the young Native men grabbed the family’s only cast-iron skillet and ran away with it. Dora’s mother took chase, caught up with him, and recovered her skillet without incident! Talk about fearless! Or desperate. Or both. I imagine she knew it would be impossible to feed her family without her only skillet.

Norwegians were not the only ones who settled in that area. When Dora was a little girl, she and her brothers walked to school on a country road. Family lore has it that if they encountered Swedish school children, they would make them walk all the way to school in the ditch! It just goes to show that mankind (even, and come to think of it, especially children) will invent someone to lord over, even if they appear exactly the same. It must be something in our original sin nature. The settlers in this community were all immigrants, all farmers, all poor, all Caucasian, all Scandinavians, all learning the English language, all going to the same school. But by golly, they were determined to be prejudiced against the Swedes! What in the world?

Dora and Melvin Huseth

Many years later, when Dora was an old woman, her nephew brought home a Japanese war bride after World War II. One day Dora got word that the clerk at the drug store in town was refusing to serve the young bride. She stopped what she was doing, drove WAY TOO FAST to town, where she read that clerk the riot act and let him know in no uncertain terms that from now on they would be treating Yoshi just like everyone else, no discussion! And they did. I tell you this to say that we all do some things that, in time, we come to regret. If you make a poor decision and treat someone unfairly at some point in your life, it’s never too late to admit your poor judgment and change your ways. It’s called growth. Always be nice to those in need of a kind word or helping hand.

Melvin Huseth married Dora Jenstad in October 1913 and they had four children. Burnell was born May 1914, he married Beth and they had two children: Llyle and Beverly. Evelyn was born October 1919, she married Cecil (Whit) Whitworth and they had two children: Ellen and Thomas. Donald was born in April 1922, he married Darlene Christenson and they had five children: Carlton, Richard, Marilyn, Janet, and Solveig. Delaine was born in February 1924, she married Monroe Olson and they had two children: Gary and Linda.

Left to right: Burnell, Evy, Dora, Melvin, Delaine, Donald Huseth
Huseth Five Generations: In the back, Burnell, Llyle, Mark, and in front Melvin holding Erick
Evy and Whit, Tom and Elly Whitworth
Delaine and Monroe, Gary and Linda Olson
Left to right: Donald, Darlene, Hans, Dick, Mia, Holly, and …….. Solveig added later

Darlene was popular and kind, a rare combination for a pretty girl. She loved people and could easily talk to anyone.

Her family was living on the Lee place near Barrett and she was a junior in high school when she met Donald, “and” as she later reminisced, “that was that.” She was 21 and he was 23 went they wed in 1945.

Donald and Darlene Huseth, Engagement picture 1944

Darlene’s mother’s name was Agnes Matilda (1895-1963), and her parents were Johannes (1857-1942) and Nelline (Vikaunet) Leraas (1866-1939). They were married in Norway in 1885, immigrated to Barrett in 1891, and raised 11 children there. Nelline had been raised in a large lovely white house with the Norwegian Sea at its face and the mountains at its back. She was a schoolgirl when a young schoolmaster came to the area and was so taken with her lovely red hair and her mental quickness that he waited for her to grow up and he married her. That was Johannes, Darlene’s Grandpa Leraas. He was very bright and excelled at book work. His knee had been injured when he was a child, and he was bedridden for much of his childhood; as a result, he became the most educated person in the family. Unable to do any heavy work growing up, he read early and well and he loved learning. The family owned very few books but they did have a Bible which he read over and over again. He spent his life as an educator, pastor, and cantor (song leader) in the Lutheran faith. He was well known as an engaging storyteller and an inspirational teacher. He liked to tell stories about the Norse Kings and heroes who had shaped Norway’s history. His great grandfather told stories about the hard times in Norway during Napoleon’s time when the people had to only bark, bread, and fish to eat.

Johannes and Nelline Leraas family

After they immigrated to Minnesota, in addition to traveling around the region as pastor of several churches, Johannes would teach winter school. This was a religious instruction class held during the six weeks after Christmas when country schools were closed due to weather. Between 20 and 30 children would come to their home and stay for weeks to receive religious instruction and catechism class. Nelline would feed and bed the whole bunch! No wonder Johannes was crazy about her!

Johannes Leraas parochial school

Polio struck two of Johannes’ and Nelline’s children: Agnes and Joe. Polio was bad but the Spanish Flu was worse – so virulent – so random. The Spanish flu was unlike anything anyone had seen before. It struck the old, the young, the healthy, the infirm, the rich, the poor, babies, children, anyone. Harold was the youngest and remembers, “Ten people were living in our home and nine were down with the Spanish Flu; only one was well enough to care for the others.” The Spanish Flu of 1918 took Joe, Anges’ brother. He was just 25 years old. Pneumonia had settled into his lungs and he was dead within three days. One day he told his dad that Jesus was in the house ready to take him home. The next day he was buried, within 24 hours which was the Spanish Flu mandate.

Darlene’s mother was Agnes. She had polio as a child which left one leg weak and she fell easily. She also had blood poisoning as a young mother, which left her with a deformed finger and limited use of that hand. Once she recovered, it didn’t slow her down much. She was a quick study, learning to read fluently when she was just four years old. She had a strong and melodic voice and a raucous laugh and was lively and energetic. She never lost her love of books and passed those traits along to her kids. She loved her flower gardens. During the war years when her sons, Ansel was in WWII and Anders was in Korea, she said she watered her gardens with tears shed over her sons in such danger. It was said that she was the best person to ever enter the Solem Church, just because she talked to newcomers. She had a heart of gold and opened it to everyone she met.

Agnes (Leraas) Christenson

Darlene’s father was Theodore (Tody) Christenson. Tody‘s dad was Anders Christenson (Darlene’s youngest brother is named for him). Anders was a well-to-do businessman who had built and run many successful businesses in Wendell including the hotel, the meat market, the harness shop, and the livery stable. He died of cancer when Tody was 17. Tody was the youngest in his family and according to Donald, who adored his mother-in-law and did not like how Tody treated Agnes sometimes, he was spoiled and temperamental. He would often leave her with all four children and the farm work to go soak his sore bones in the hot springs in Arkansas or the mineral mud baths in Chaska. In all fairness, Tody had survived six months in bed with rheumatic fever in 1930. It is said that “rheumatic fever licks at the joints, but bites at the heart” and Tody suffered from both for many years after he recovered. Over the years Tody tried his hand at a few occupations. Farming didn’t quite suit him. Sales was more his style. He was a big, loud, friendly man, but quick-tempered we are told.

Theodore (Tody) Christenson

Tody and Agnes lived with Grandma Christenson on the Christenson homestead near Wendell for 11 years after they were married. During that 11 years, five children were born to Agnes and Tody: Ansel (1921) was the oldest, then a full-term baby girl was stillborn, then Darlene (1924), then Gloria (1927), and Anders (1929).

Darlene’s baby picture
Left to right: Agnes, Gloria, Ansel, Anders, Darlene. Tody Christenson

I pause here to tell you a little about Gunhild Christenson, Darlene’s paternal Grandma, Tody’s mother. While you are growing up and things look too hard and you feel like giving up, I want you to find this little essay and re-read this section:

Gunhild was born in Norway in 1854. At age 13, her occupation was to herd cattle to the mountains near her home and make cheese from the milk to sell. One day she got so frustrated with the herd, she slapped a cow way too hard and it damaged her arm. It withered her hand and her arm got stiff; she had no use of it for the rest of her life. When she left Norway all by herself, she traveled 13 weeks by ship, all her food and provisions for the trip and all her possessions in one trunk. At first, she lived in southern Minnesota working for a farmer and his family. He was not a very nice man. He prohibited her from washing the bread bowl after it had been used, of all things. He also threw her Bible on the roof of the house she couldn’t reach it. Gunhild could not wait to get out of there! She married Anders Christenson, moved to Wendell where they raised 11 children. Christian was the oldest and Tody was the youngest. One of their children, Ole, was born in a dug-out in the side of a hill near the Mustinka River. When she was heavy with child when and it was nearly her time, there were rumors of Indians nearby, so to play it safe she walked a mile to the dug-out, had the baby, and walked home the next day. When the Indians came by the house, everyone was afraid but Gunhild knew they didn’t want to hurt anyone. They were hungry and only needed for food for their children. Her observation of the whole ordeal: Indians are just like Norwegians; the women do all the work!

These were the dry years when Gunhild was a young woman; she herded the cattle two miles for water leading Christian, her oldest, and carrying Ole the baby. She tended 200 chickens, 2 sows, and 2 cows. She did all her own chores, including the milking with only one arm. She also shucked grain, cooked, and kept house, all in the same day. Just imagine all the diapers she changed, and washed, and dried, and changed again for 11 babies! With one arm! She always made currant wine to have with her friends at Christmas time. Her husband was an entrepreneur, so she was home with the children and the farm work. After her husband died, she moved to town but that lasted one day. She moved back to the homestead where she lived with Tody and Agnes until she died. Ansel remembers, “She spoiled us kids rotten, God rest her soul.”

Tody and Agnes got extremely sick and both almost died in 1930, Tody of rheumatic fever and Agnes of blood poisoning from a little prick on a rusty piece of screen. Back then, nearly anything could kill you. It was a very rough winter and they were bankrupt by spring. The children had to stay with relatives while their parents recovered. Gloria spent a lot of time with Grandma [Gunhild] Christenson, and truth be known she was her favorite. Gloria was tall and pretty and that was important to Grandma. All the Christensons were tall, healthy, and good-looking, but were sometimes blunt, even ill-tempered. For instance, many years later I remember my mother hand delivered my high school graduation picture to her Aunt Annie, Tody’s sister. She was very old by then. Aunt Annie took one look at my 1972 long smooth hairstyle, shoved it back at my mother, and said, “What’s this? She looks like a prostitute! All that long straight hair hanging down!” Nothing surprised my mother coming from Aunt Annie anymore, but she was taken aback by that comment. Our mother thought her daughters were the prettiest girls ever born!

Mia graduation photo 1972
Mia during senior year, in the newspaper regarding United Nations awareness

In 1931 Grandma Gunhild Christenson died and Tody’s family moved to the Sand place. Anders was two years old. Darlene had fond memories of living at Grandma’s and often commented how beneficial it is for children to live in a multi-generational home. She was not so sure how the women liked it, but it was great for the kids!

I suppose all old farmhouses had mice and the little vermin are a teencie bit startling to everybody, but Darlene was especially afraid of mice. She felt they were always looking at her, even the dead ones. Donald would later remark, “Your mother was so afraid of mice, she could hear a mouse walk across the lawn!”

When the Tody and Agnes’ kids were teenagers, Sunday morning was for church, and Sunday afternoon was for fun. There were horseback riding and picnics and ballgames and a lot of kids coming and going at the Christenson home. Ansel had a horse named Jerry, who he trained to do amazing tricks on command. That big old horse could sit on his haunches and put his front legs next to a card table, appearing to play cards. He could also kneel down with his head on the ground and his hindquarters in a standing position, allowing Ansel to stand up on his hind end. The crowds would go wild!

Ansel and Jerry
Ansel and Jerry

Ansel and his buddies started a saddle club and began to put on shows for the neighbors so Jerry would have someplace to perform. Ansel remembers the line-up of one show: The Bunion Busters Orchestra played polka music along with the Crazy Cadet Singers, Edna Haggert played accordion, Lawrence Thompson did roman riding and rope tricks, Gordon and Roger were trick riders, and the headliner was Ansel and his trick horse, Jerry. Tody was quite a good horseman too: Ansel remembers his dad could pick up his hat from the ground at a full gallop. Gloria and Darlene would sell refreshments and lunch. Agnes would make white cake with whipped cream and Kool-Aid, which made any event festive. Tody sold tickets and policed the event. At 25 cents per ticket, they never made much money, but they had a great time. Ansel and Jerry went on to tour the rodeo circuit throughout Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

Tody and Flika

This family was the definition of “you bring your own fun with you!” In today’s climate of so many things to keep us entertained like TV, video games, computers, movies, sports, etc. we would do well to choose things that require participation and creativity and not just watching.

In 1942 Ansel enlisted in the Army Cavalry. He never even got close to the Cavalry but was assigned to Artillery and learned a lot of new things like driving big trucks and working in the mess hall. In 1944 Ansel went to war in Europe and in 1945 he was in Germany at the Battle of Metz and The Battle of Ziegfried. By April there were rumors the Germans were giving up and by June Ansel was back home on furlough. He thought his next stop was Japan, but things changed, and he was discharged in September 1945.

Ansel Christenson

I pause her to let you know what a sweet, kind, positive, human being Ansel was. He never said an unkind word about anyone, even those who might have had it coming. So his phrase, “things changed and I was discharged in September 1945” made me wonder. I googled what happened in WWII between July and September 1945 and found the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened in August. But for Ansel, “things changed” and he got to come home. Never an ill word about anyone or anything.

Ansel married Doris Stahl in 1952, they had no children. I seem to remember hearing that Ansel had mumps as an adult which was known for leaving men sterile. Lucky for us they treated all their nieces and nephews like their own kids!

Ansel and Doris Christenson

Anders enlisted in the Army in 1949 where he learned to fly. He served in Korea and was discharged in April 1952. He became a teacher and a pilot, married Jean, and had one son, Charles.

Anders Christenson
Anders, Charley, and Jean Christenson 2019

Gloria moved to Tacoma to go to college, lived with Uncle Herald and Aunt Helen, and met Frank Witt who had just been discharged from the service. They graduated from Pacific Lutheran University, married, and had three children, one of whom went on to change federal law as it pertains to LGBTQ people serving in the US military. Frank and Gloria just celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary in 2020.

Gloria and Frank on their wedding day 1949
Margaret, Chris, and Virginia Witt (Frank and Gloria’s children)
The West Coast Leraas Cousins 2019
Turi, Mia, Latife, Meriam, Margie, Katrina, Hope, Solveig, Judy, Virginia, Holly, Anikka, Gloria, Laurie

Darlene attended Normal School in Glenwood in 1942 and then taught for two years in a one-room schoolhouse. What is Normal School you ask? The first normal school in America was established in Vermont in 1823. Most such institutions changed their names to teachers colleges during the 1930s. Normal Schools derive their name from the French phrase ecole normale. These teacher-training institutions, the first of which was established in France in 1685, were intended to set a pattern, establish a norm, after which all other schools would be modeled. And now you know.

Darlene in Glenwood, July 4, 1942

Darlene enjoyed teaching in a one-room schoolhouse near Barrett for about two years. She carried the firewood, stoked the fire, shoveled the steps, and prepared the lessons before the children arrived in the morning. In the winter when the roads became impassable, she used cross country skis or snowshoes to get to school in the pre-dawn hours. In those days married women were prohibited from teaching school so she quit when she got married. Those were the rules and no one questioned the rules, although it seems strange to think of it now. Equal rights for women have always been hard-fought, but even slower to take hold in the remote areas of our nation.

It was March 25, 1945, and on the other side of the world, Winston Churchill briefly crossed the Rhine River near Wesel in an Allied landing craft, symbolizing Britain crossing into Germany, something no foreign army had done since the age of Napoleon. The Second World War dominated headlines around the world, but on that rainy Sunday afternoon just a few months before the end of the War, Donald and Darlene were quietly married in a little white clapboard church in Grant County: Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lien Township.

Immanuel congregation, Lien Township, 1896

Here is a little snapshot of their wedding week. Their words, not mine: hilarious and tragic:

The week before the wedding it rained, rained, and then rained some more. The day before the wedding, Donald was at the Barrett place rushing to get the house ready for his bride. He had painted the floor in the kitchen, and he was so proud that it looked so shiny and clean. That morning he had to shovel 350 bushels of grain by himself; his partners knew it was his wedding weekend but didn’t bother showing up to help him. That sort of irked him.

He went into the house to light the stove, got distracted, and by the time he came back into the kitchen, gallons of fuel oil had leaked all over the kitchen floor, and when he tried to wipe it up a lot of the paint came up with it. That irked him even more. Darlene returned from Glenwood with the flowers and the wedding singer. Donald noticed there was a quarter-inch bolt in one of the tires of her dad’s Packard. It had been raining for days and the ground was soft and muddy which made changing the tire downright dangerous. What an irksome day from start to finish, Donald remembered.

Donald, Gunder (his mother’s brother), Burnell (his brother)

The wedding was set for Sunday, March 25: More rain. Rain. Rain. Mud. Mud. And more mud. They got up early to drive to Revered Sandburg’s home to ask Mrs. Sandburg about playing piano for the soloist. Mrs. Sandburg was a little pouty and would not cooperate, so that was a wasted trip on an already busy day, during a time of gas rationing. The wedding itself went well. Reverend Sandburg officiated the ceremony at Immanuel. He had been the pastor to confirm Darlene and would go on to baptize their first four children. Donald’s mother and dad (Melvin and Dora) were living in California at the time, so they were not at the wedding. The groomsmen were Donald’s brother, Burnell, and Darlene’s brother, Anders. Darlene’s bridesmaids were her sister, Gloria, and her cousin Charmae. They had two flower girls, Darlene’s cousins Arlou and Verlie Ann.

Darlene wore a slender-fit white satin gown that Olga Newman had made just for her. It was adorned with pearl beads that had been part of her mother’s wedding gown (Dick’s girls, Dawn got the beads and Dayna got the wedding dress when Darlene passed in 1998). Wedding fashion had sure changed since her Grandma Nelline Leraas was married in Norway just 60 years before. Nelline was a beautiful 19-year-old bride with stunning red hair and wore a black tight-fitting homespun dress trimmed with small buttons. Sixty years later, Darlene was in a simple white satin gown; she looked like an angel and when he saw her, it took Donald’s breath away.

Darlene on her wedding day 1945

However, they laughed about the wedding pictures for years to come. The photographer took all the wedding paraphernalia (candelabras, flowers, etc.) and lined them up on the altar, and then arranged the members of the wedding party like they were in a police lineup. Darlene remembers thinking how beautiful and handsome and young and healthy they all looked on her special day, but the photo makes them look like they were at a funeral. Or a police lineup.

Donald and Darlene Huseth (1945 police lineup)

In the words of Donald, the honeymoon was tragic. Rain. More rain. Mud. More mud. A friend gave them a ride to Alexandria after the reception where they caught the Greyhound bus to Minneapolis. They hadn’t really paid attention to the time and date and when they made the plan and when they arrived late on their wedding night, they were reminded by every weary hotel clerk that the Minnesota State Basketball Tournament was going on and there was literally NO ROOM AT THE INN. Anywhere. Donald remembers helplessly standing outside the bus depot on First Avenue, tired from the big day, hungry, with no place to stay, when suddenly out of the blue, who comes walking down the street toward them but his Aunt Esther (Aunt Esther was married to Tony who was Dora’s brother). “Well, hello! What are you two newlyweds doing here?”

Long story short, the lovebirds spent their first night of wedded bliss in Donald’s Aunt Esther’s spare room. The next morning, she prepared a lovely wedding breakfast for them and they caught the bus to St. Cloud where they checked into the only hotel room they could find. It seemed a little sketchy, but it was the best they could do. Donald remembered tossing their suitcase onto an overstuffed chair and the dust billowed into the air like a cartoon dust cloud. He went to the bathroom to open a window, found the window already open and the bathtub coated in soot. By now things were getting comical. They went out to a fancy chicken dinner and the chicken was so tough that they each grabbed a leg and pulled with all their might but still could not pull it apart. By now they were in fits of giggles. The next day the skies cleared, and it was time to get back home. The best part of the honeymoon is the giggles they got every time they shared that story over the next 54 years.

Sometimes we build something up in our minds and when things go wrong it can be a huge disappointment. A wedding, a first date, a holiday celebration, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, even a meal. We’ve all been there. It’s best just to laugh it off and move on. Maybe a story that makes us laugh is the best that day has to offer.

After the crazy wedding weekend and the dreadfully funny honeymoon, the newlyweds moved into the old farmhouse on what is affectionately known as the Barrett place. She was no stranger to hard work and once she married, she took on the life of a farm wife with a vengeance. Whether on paper or not, she was most certainly a full partner in the family farm business. Over the next 17 years, she would have five healthy beautiful blonde babies but still helped in the fields during planting and harvest, kept a clean house and a nice garden, tended her mink traps, prepared three meals every day from scratch for hungry children and hired men, and still had the energy go out dancing on Saturday night. Because why? You bring your own fun with you! That’s why. The Barrett Pavilion was the place to be. Local bands and the more famous celebrities like Lawrence Welk, Whoopie John, Gordon Leraas Band, and Ferlin Husky, would often perform. She was resourceful and strong and would do anything for her family. She was an expert shot and won more trophies than Donald at Rifle Club.

Donald had been farming full time with his dad and his brother since the tenth grade. He remembers working in the fields that summer; the first day of school came and went and no one said, “Hey Donnie, it’s the first day of school. Come out of the field. Wash up and go to school!” Not his dad, not his mom, not his sisters, not his teacher. So, he just stayed in the field. He was happier there anyway. He did not like school. The kids and teacher alike called him “Dumb Donnie” and taunted him when he missed a question.

Donald on his Confirmation Day

I share this sad detail to let you know those words cut him deeply and continued to have an impact throughout his life, even into his many successes and old age. Here is a little hint for a happy life. Always be the hero and stick up for the one the others are picking on. Never join in.

Donald and Darlene rented 80 acres near Barrett; that’s where their first four kids were born: Carlton in 1946 (we call him Hans), Richard in 1947 (we call him Dickie), Marilyn in 1954 (they call me Mia), and Janet in 1955 (we call her Holly.) Solveig came along in 1962 on the Evansville place, we call her Solveig.

Darlene with Hans (right) and cousin Sylvia Huseth (left)

The old drafty farmhouse on the Barrett place with painted floors was a five star luxury hotel for gangster mice who thought they ran the place. They frightened the living daylights out of the young bride. Hans remembers, the house had electricity and a cistern under the porch, but no running water or plumbing. In winter, a glass of water would freeze by morning in the bedroom Hans and Dick shared. The boys remember carrying fresh water in and wastewater out every day. Always farming in the summer, Donald had winter jobs as well, such as running telephone lines to rural homes and cutting huge ice blocks out of Barrett Lake for Soo Line Railroad cold cars.

Donald’s winter job, ice harvest, Barrett Lake, Soo Line Train

I remember my folks talking about a big controversy, something having to do with electricity. It seemed some politicians in DC wanted to free up some federal funds to run electrical infrastructure into rural America. Most farmers back then were Democrat, but not all. Darlene’s family had been raised Republican. Donald’s family were raised Democrats. There would be fist-pounding screaming matches around the pros and cons of farms having access to electricity.

Can you even imagine?! Some politicians simply did not think the change was necessary! Others thought it bad for the American way! The Rural Electrification Act was drafted in 1936 by two prominent New Deal policymakers, who paid a price for their bi-partisan legislative work aimed at improving the lives of rural Americans. One was booted from his party and had to run as an independent in the next election. He won anyway, even though powerful pro-business Republicans, such as Henry Ford, called them “socialists” for supporting public electric power.

Can you imagine people today living in the country with no electricity? Next time you hear pro-business politicians labeling a program or an opponent as “socialist” because they want to improve the lives of the underserved, think back on this moment in history. How silly! By choice or by chance, change is inevitable in this life. Why not make the change that is good for the people who need a helping hand and be on the right side of history? It makes me wonder about the “big controversies” those ninnies in Washington are bickering over these days. Many of those fist-pounding filibuster fights will undoubtedly go the way of NO MARRIED WOMEN SHALL TEACH SCHOOL and NO FARMERS SHALL HAVE ELECTRIC LIGHTS. But I digress.

Evansville place 1955
House on the Evansville place 1955

In 1956 Donald and Darlene moved off the Barrett place but kept farming it and bought 180 acres near Evansville; that is where Solveig was born in 1962. The winter before they moved, Donald spent every waking hour remodeling that house for his family. He converted a back bedroom into a kitchen, ran plumbing and power to it, built plenty of kitchen cupboards, sanded and polished the hardwood floors, updated the bathroom, and started construction on a garage. There were bedrooms enough for all of them and heat registers in the bedroom floors so a water glass would not freeze overnight. Dick remembers thinking the house felt so huge and opulent with its colonnades and shiny hardwood floors. Donald was a skilled carpenter, plumber, electrician, machinist, farmer, and soon to be pilot.

Remodeled kitchen at the Evansville farm. Right to left: Dickie, Holly, Mia, Hans

Over the years, Donald and the boys farmed up to 700 acres, but it was never enough. They eked out a living for the family of seven from 1945 to 1965 and then made the official move to the Cities. After the move, they rented out the Evansville place for a number of years and then sold it in the 1970s — just before the price per acre went thru the roof! Just their luck.

Farming was and still is an expensive and risky endeavor. Donald used to joke, “Did you hear the one about the farmer who won the $50 million lottery? When the reporter asked him what he was going to do with his winnings, he said, “Well, I guess I’ll keep farming until the money runs out.”

Hans and Dick both got to grow up in the country and they graduated from Evansville High School in 1964 and 1965, but their roots remained in Barrett.

Hansie and Dickie
Hansie and Dicky

Their coming-of-age years are engraved with the farm: planting and harvesting, driving that old red International Harvester Farmall tractor and the 1949 green Chevy pick-up, working with cattle and pigs and chickens, riding horses, hunting, fishing, and trapping. These were simpler times. Hans remembers our telephone was on a party line and our number was two longs and a short. Families had to wait their turn to make a call and make it quick because someone might be trying to get through. Dad was a Chevy guy and in 1960 he bought his first brand new Chevy Impala; none of the other boys at school had such a cool car, Hans recalls.

Donald on his Farmall

Donald learned to fly the year I was born in 1954 and by 1955 he began crop spraying in his spare time after he had logged about 200 hours. He was a fearless but a commonsense pilot. Flying was his destiny. Even after he crashed that little Piper Cub, there was no turning back.

He retired with 22,000 hours in the air as an FAA Designated Examiner in 1992 but continued teaching seaplane and instrument ratings for another decade. I think Holly still has those dozens of logbooks around somewhere. Donald was especially known for teaching the old ways. He once told a crowd at an award ceremony in his honor, “You can’t teach experience. You acquire experience. When we teach people to fly an airplane, we are teaching them how to safely acquire experience. If we are taught to feel the airplane, to really hear it, then we begin to understand. And when we begin to understand why an airplane flies, we become pilots.” Which is quite different than those airline computer operators, he would sarcastically add under his breath. Donald would have loved the Sully Sullenberger story. He was a real pilot. Donald hated the John-John Kennedy story and nailed that investigation a year before the findings were released. Bottom line, the president’s son should never have been allowed to fly in that soup (pilot-speak for fog.) He was only cleared to take off because of his celebrity status. Weather does not care one bit about celebrity status. Weather cares only about the laws of physics. Weather is completely unforgiving.

Donald Huseth, retirement article in the Minnesota Flyer June 1992

Many years later, I was a teenager, and it was just beginning to dawn on me just how much nerve it must have taken for my Dad in his forties to uproot the whole family from the only life generations of his people had ever known, to embark on a brand-new life, I asked him, “Dad, when did you first know you didn’t like farming?” He paused, looked up into the right-hand corner of the ceiling, and replied, “Hmm, I guess when I was about 8 years old.”

Donald was always a pilot at heart and thankfully he got to live the last half of his life in the air: first as a crop duster, then as a flight instructor and ground-school teacher, then as an FAA Designated Examiner and expert witness for court cases and insurance claims. He was also co-owner of Beech-Aero Club at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie. He mysteriously kept passing his physicals and didn’t give up his pilot’s license until he was 80 years of age.

Of all of his five children, only one took a fleeting interest in flying. Solveig started lessons when she was 17 and soloed at 18. She had a harrowing experience during her solo cross-country certification where she found herself lost and all alone in a Beechcraft Sport at 15,000 feet. Heart beating in her throat, she kept her cool, “What would Donald do?” Just then she saw a town in the distance, reduced altitude, and flew close enough to the water tower to see the name on it. “New Ulm. OK, good. Got my bearings back. And now, back to the airport.”

Donald was a very well-respected and sought-after flight instructor because he had superb technical skill, an almost mystical sense of the weather, and a lot of common sense. He was an exceptional teacher. It was sadly ironic that he had a sort of a mean habit of making fun of teachers when he had one too many. I imagine that may have been rooted in the old childhood trauma of that one-room schoolhouse, “Dumb Donnie! Dumb Donnie!”

Donald was happiest when he was flying airplanes. AND when he was telling stories about flying airplanes, the smoke from his Marlboro twirling skyward like elusive aerobatic barrel rolls.

They say the best revenge is a life well-lived, and in the end, Donnie got to live his dream of soaring through the clouds. For a living! He moved his family off the farm and into the burbs, traveled for fun to interesting places around the globe like Banff & Lake Louise in Canada, Washington DC, New Orleans, Mexico, New York City, Europe, Seattle, Indianapolis, Hawaii, Arizona, Florida, Nicaragua, Black Hills, Las Vegas, Alaska, California, Colorado Springs, and Norway FOUR TIMES. He got to grow old with his loving family around him. He did not let those mean kids in that one-room schoolhouse have the last word. He overcame the best he could.

Life on the farm was a complicated combination of community and isolation, hard work and hard lessons, adventure and solitude. If you asked any of us, I am sure you would hear vastly different perspectives from our differing roles and decades. We had a little dog named Sparky in the 1960s and that pup was legendary in the number of stories he could generate around a dinner table well into the 1970s and 1980s. He brought us a lot of joy. There was a lot of fun for kids growing up the way we did. There were puppies born under the granary. There were several colts born on the place. There were trees to climb and woods to explore. Darlene’s Uncle Harold once wrote about the Huseth home, “This is a busy, funny, crazy, fun, and cordial place where you can feel welcome any old time.”

But here is one tough memory I will never forget. It was a warm summer evening in the summer of 1961, and our parents were away. Hans was at Uncle Ansel’s and heard the story on the local news along with Ansel and Doris. Dick and Linda were home with Holly and me. Our neighbor, Osborne, came to tell us that our dad had crashed his Piper Cub and had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. The rest of the night is a blur – I was so little. I remember our Dad was gone for a long time. When he came home it was autumn and he was in a body cast. He had spent months in traction in the hospital. The neighbors rallied together and helped to bring in the harvest. Only one asked for reimbursement of his gas money. This was a tight-knit farming community, and they all loved our folks.

Donald and his first Piper Cub Single Engine

Donald could not move from his neck to his waist all winter, but he slowly built a wall-unit in our living room consisting of a brick gas fireplace with bookshelves and cabinets on both sides. He would sit on a little stool in front of the fireplace and Holly and I would carry bricks one at a time from the kitchen sink where our mother was washing and drying each one by hand. When it was painstakingly finished, I remember it was golden oak and a thing of beauty.

Solveig’s Baptism Day in 1962, Sponsors Beverly Huseth, Dick Huseth, Linda Olson, Carlton Huseth posing in front of the wall unit Donald built while recovering from the plane crash

Darlene had also been in the airplane when it went down, a secret they both kept well into their 70s. She had broken her tailbone but could not go for medical help since he was certain to lose his pilot license if word got out that she was illegally a passenger in his crop-dusting plane. So, she suffered in silence, except when sobbing into a wet washcloth as she soaked in an Epson Salts bath. Like I say, she, like many pioneer women before her, would do anything for her family. That little airplane and her husband’s pilot license was their ticket off the farm, and she was not going to mess that up with a trip to the ER.

Our cousin Linda spent many summers and holidays with us up north, sometimes at Grandpa Huseth’s farm and sometimes at our farm. This started when she was 7 or 8 years old. She preferred life in the country to life with her parents in Crystal, a northeast suburb of Minneapolis. She was between Hans and Dick in age and we all looked forward to her coming every spring. She was a big help to Darlene, who told us many years later that she loved Linda with a mother’s love. She was definitely one of the family. Holly and I loved to have a “big sister” around. I remember she bought a bay gelding named Amigo and nicknamed him Fred, kept him at our farm for a few years, then took him back to the Cities with her when she graduated. He was a good old horse, the perfect companion, and he lived for decades thanks to Linda’s expert care. I picked up my love of horses from Linda. She taught me so much.

Hans remembers that when they got a little older, he and Dickie would walk a mile to a neighbor’s house to watch TV because the Huseths were the only people in the area without a TV. They didn’t get one until Hans was 16 years old. Dick remembers at some point, wanting to purchase another horse (he had more than a few by then), but Dad said money was tight. As a family, Donald said they could make a choice: another horse for Dickie or the family’s first TV.

Mom said, “We can get a new TV or we can get a new horse for Dickie. Let’s vote. Who wants a TV?”
Dad said, “I do.”
Hans said, “I do.”
Dick said, “I don’t, I want another horse.”
Mom said, “OK that settles it, we’ll get another horse.”
And they did.

Even then, I think she was sneakily orchestrating any means necessary to keep us outside playing and learning and out from in front of the TV. Finally, she couldn’t hold out any longer. If Hans was 16 when we got our first TV, I was 8 and I vividly remember the first show we watched. Bonanza.

In August 1965, I had just turned 11 in June and Holly was 9. We were full into Beatlemania thanks to our Minneapolis cousins, Elly and Tom. We begged and begged and finally, our Mom gave in. The tickets were $4.50 each and the concert was at Metropolitan Stadium where the Mall of America currently sits. Holly and I boarded the Greyhound bus in Evansville and rode ALL BY OURSELVES all the way to Minneapolis. Uncle Whit picked us up at the bus depot and took Elly, Tom, Holly, and me to the concert. What an experience! We heard the first note and then after that, only screams of the girls around us. OK … show of hands … who reading this essay right now, is putting their little girls, ages 9 and 11, on a Greyhound bus, unaccompanied, for a four-hour bus ride, to see a rock ‘n roll concert, all by themselves? Anyone? Anyone?! It surely was a different time!

Ticket Stub to Beatles Concert

In the fall of 1965, Don and Darlene moved us to the Cities: Chaska for a year, then Chanhassen for the rest of their lives. We were ages 3, 9, and 11, and the boys, off to the military and to college, had moved on by then. Hans and Dick were big strapping capable farm boys but joining the Army proved to be quite an eye-opener. They sort of felt like Gomer Pyle arriving at boot camp. They both remember it was jarring to crash into the great big world of 1960s America.

1964: Front left to right: Darlene, Solveig, Mia, Donald, Holly, Back left to right : Dickie, Hans

Donald was 43 when he traded his coveralls for aviators and began to teach rich people how to fly. He was 8 years old when he knew farming wasn’t for him and that flying was his future and he was 43 when he made it happen; 35 years is a long time to wait for your ship to come in.

Donald in his aviators

Darlene was 41 when she left rural life became a teacher’s aide at Minnetonka East Jr. High School and, after 20 years out of the classroom, she discovered she had a way with Jr. High kids. She loved them and they loved her. She enjoyed a long and happy career at East making a difference in those young lives. Just like her Grandpa Leraas, teaching was her calling and she relished every minute! Those 13 years were entirely wonderful followed by 1 year at Minnetonka High School, which was entirely miserable, and yet she persevered. She then took a year off from teaching and worked for Dick selling Electrolux. She loved it. It was something completely different. After that, she worked for five years at Excelsior Elementary as a health care para in the school nurse’s office. Again, she loved this job and all the people she worked with. I think this is where she developed a close group of friends and they called themselves The Star Chamber. After the 1983 movie. Look it up. It’s just a little frightening.

She retired after 20 years and five parties were thrown in her honor! Darlene was so loved by her tribe.

I pause here to share Donald and Darlene’s ages (43 and 41) at the beginning of their second act. I want you to know that, in your 20s, that relentless feeling of restlessness can often consume you to the core and make you feel like a willow in a windstorm. Be patient with yourself. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes along the way, for they are the greatest teacher. If we learn from them. Learning from our mistakes deepens our understanding of ourselves and everyone around us. It gives us empathy and grace toward our friends and our children. And please KNOW that 40 is just the beginning of the second act of your beautiful story.

Look at it this way: Donald was 8 years old in 1930 when he knew farming wasn’t for him; it was the first year of the Great Depression and almost a decade before Pearl Harbor. Donald was 43 in 1965 when he moved the family off the farm to pursue aviation full time; news of Viet Nam and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones blared across the airwaves.

Oh, how the world had opened up for them during those years! They imagined a better version of themselves and then … they showed up every day. I make this comparison to tell you never to give up on your dreams. But it’s important to show up every day. No matter how long it takes. Perhaps you need the time to prepare for the next step, but more likely the world needs time to prepare for you and open up for your dream.

We always attended church because church was important to Darlene. She was a loyal and faithful parishioner. In all, she attended 4 churches in all 73 years on this planet. Confirmed and married at Immanuel Lutheran in Lien Township near Barrett, she was a member of Lincoln Lutheran on the other side of Barrett after the move to Evansville, she attended St. John’s Lutheran in Chaska when we moved to the Cities, and finally, we were charter members of the Lutheran Church of the Living Christ in Chanhassen where there was standing room only at her Memorial Service in 1998. When a pastor would be assigned to the church she was attending and he just wasn’t her cup of tea, she would quietly just wait him out, “I’ll be here long after he is gone”, she’d think to herself.

She loved getting to know the people at church. She came up with the idea of throwing “pew parties” where she would invite the people who sat in her pew, the pew behind her, and the pew in front of her, to a dinner party. She became infamous for her Sauerkraut & Nifflies recipe. After the party, she would move to the other side of the sanctuary and start all over again making a whole new set of friends. Four dinner parties per year and she soon knew everyone in the church.

Darlene made friends easily, and some of her best friends she made at church. She volunteered with Sunday School and VBS and attended Bible Study. She joined a quilting group, and those women were her lifeline near the end of her life. She was a joiner, always interested and interesting.

7332 Frontier Trail, Sunrise Hills, Chanhassen, MN

When we moved to Chanhassen we lived at 7332 Frontier Trail in Sunrise Hills. It was the 1960s and the only hard and fast rule was to be home before dark. The neighborhood was full of kids our age and we made the most of it. Oh, how we loved Lotus Lake and all the fun it had to offer! We had a little speed boat we christened The Silver Bullet. It had a 35hp motor and we would zip across the clear glass lake on two skis and then one, the wind in our hair and sun on our shoulders! We had a little sailboat and an old aluminum canoe. We definitely got our money’s worth out of those lake toys! The neighborhood maintained (and still does) a beach lot, fishing dock, and diving raft, where kids basked in the summer fun, our skin oiled with Bain de Soleil and our hair dripping with Sun-In.

Lotus Lake

It occurs to me now, how very far away Lotus Lake is from the cave dug into the side of the Huset Lake bed where our people settled upon their arrival at their destiny. What would they think if they could see these little blondes in their two-piece swimsuits slalom ski round and round the edge of Lotus Lake?!

They might say, “Just look at them! The world has gone to hell in a handbasket! Put some clothes on and get back to work!”

Or they just might say, “Just look at them! They are our wildest dreams come true!”

Mia, Holly, and Solveig graduated from Chaska Public School in 1972, 1973, and 1980. The Sunrise Hills Huseths were known for flying the Norwegian flag beneath the Stars & Stripes on a flagpole in the front yard on special occasions and on Norway’s Constitution Day, the 17th of May. We served lutefisk and lefse every Christmas dinner; the voices of our ancestors whispering to our souls with each bite.

Donald and Darlene welcomed their first grandchildren into that house on Frontier Trail. Darlene wove a myriad of rich traditions into the visits of her grandchildren: King for a Day, Queen for a Day, the Surprise Drawer, lots of reading and storytelling, Christmas Eve dinners and the best entertainment in town, fishing excursions to Lotus Lake, chocolate chip cookies, and fresh raspberries right from the garden; her voice whispering to their souls with each tradition, “The bond of family is strong and cannot be broken. Family is where your story begins.”

As the family grew, some of the grandchildren were not of her blood, and yet her voice is steady and still whispers to each one, “The bond of family is strong and cannot be broken.”

Donald giving a historical tour of the Kensington Runestone Park with grandsons,
Walker & Jackson, Mia’s kids

And sometimes, when the great-grandchildren of Donald and Darlene Huseth are very still and listening very closely to the old stories, or zipping around the edge of a clear glass lake on two skis and then one, or trying lefse for the very first time, or boarding an airplane for the next adventure, or sticking up for the underdog, or having cookies and raspberries after school, they too will mysteriously feel the voices of the past whispering into their souls, “Our family bond is strong and cannot be broken. Family is where your story begins.”

References and Further Reading:

  • The Leraas Family in America by Dr. Harold J. Leraas (1979)
  • Leraas Family History, compiled by Steve and Linda Leraas Ray (2019)
  • Audio Tapes recorded by Darlene (Christenson) Huseth (1994)
  • Minnesota Flyer Trade Magazine (June 1992)
  • History.com
  • Tell: Love, Defiance, and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point for Gay Rights by Major Margaret Witt and Tom Connor
  • Lineage & Family Memoirs by Jan Dybdahl
  • Ansel Christenson by Ansel Christenson
  • The Dust Bowl Years, documentary by Ken Burns
  • The Civil War, documentary by Ken Burns

A New Day by mia hinkle

One Saturday morning in June 2007, the phone rang.

“Hey brother, guess where I am!?! Never mind, you’ll never guess. I’m at the Greyhound Bus Depot! Just pulled in.”

“Ah, um, that’s nice, but I’m on my way to Vincennes this afternoon to sing at a little church in the morning. Come along if you’d like. Mia and the kids are out of town.”

“Yeah, that’d be great. Pick me up.”

So, after enduring a 22-hour Greyhound bus ride from Shreveport to Indianapolis, Kurt watched for Karl to pick him up at 350 Illinois Street. Off they went, down Interstate 70, heading southwest all the way to Vincennes. Those two hours flew by as Kurt, then 46, gave his big brother Karl the CliffsNotes version of the circumstances that drove him out of Louisiana back to his hometown of Indianapolis.

About how he had just been released from the county jail near Bossier City, Louisiana, serving a year on a charge of “failure to appear.” Seems something got in the way of his court date after being arrested for walking out of a store with a case of beer. He got out early on good behavior and he was free for now, but there were still bench warrants out for his arrest because of a few bad checks he had written. He went to another brother for help, but having long since wore out that welcome, he was met with, “Here’s the best I can do for you: I can give you a ride to the bus station and buy you a one-way ticket to back to Indy.”

When he stepped out into the bright sunlight on Illinois Street, after riding a Greyhound Bus for the last 22 hours, Karl remembers thinking his little brother had the unmistakable look of someone fresh out of prison. Long Gregg Allman looking hair (without the benefit of shampoo not to mention rock-star hair products or stylists at his beckon call.) All his earthly possessions were on his back or in the little old suitcase he probably picked up at a shelter along the way.

But just a few hours later, in Vincennes, after a nice hot shower and a big steak dinner, he was sound asleep in Karl’s hotel room. The next morning, he sang harmony on I’ll Fly Away. Karl remembers thinking they sounded really good together, like they had practiced or something. Kurt was so appreciative and grateful for every little thing. He felt safe and loved for the first time in a very long time.

Sunday afternoon Karl and Kurt got home about the time that Jackson and I pulled in the driveway from a soccer tournament in Fort Wayne. Walker and some friends were playing basketball in our driveway. Karl had given me a heads up that we had a house guest.

And here is how I remember what happened next.

It was a perfect summer evening in the suburbs. The scent of freshly cut green grass was delicious. The sounds of happy children playing echoed across the neighborhood. Families riding bikes greeted us by name as they waved. Bright blue sky with wispy white clouds signaled that all was right with the world. And sitting in my side yard, an assortment of Adirondack chairs painted in pastel colors in the shade of a giant pin oak tree.

I said, “Kurt, come sit with me. Tell me your story. What the heck happened?”

His words began to fill in the nooks and crannies of the 20 plus years since he got out of the Army. How he had moved to Shreveport where his brother Eric lived and looked for work. How he had married a woman two decades his senior. They stayed married for a long time and it sort of made sense to us that he would choose an older woman; after all his own mother abandoned him when he was just 14 years old. Alcohol and weed became habitual around that time and it occurred to me that talking to him was a little like talking to a 14-year-old, perhaps a textbook case of arrested development.

He worked for Eric in the oil business for a while and when that didn’t work out, he got a job working for the county on a road crew patching blacktop and picking up roadkill. He was content and he was paying his bills. Things went well for a number of years. Beer and pot were always a part of his life, but he managed to keep his marriage and his job together, and that was good enough for him.

Then one day he met a younger woman. She was flirty and fun and way prettier and easier to be around than his now aging wife. The problem was, she was addicted to crack and she introduced Kurt to his first bowl.

Kurt took a deep breath and gazed up into the leaves of that old oak tree. “It was like heaven,” he told me. “It is the finest most beautiful experience in the world. Everything melts away and it’s just you alone with heaven. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s like you’ve had a visit from God Almighty Himself. And then you come down and CRASH! You immediately want to experience that same high again. But that’s it. No high is ever like your first high. Just ask any crackhead. But you keep chasing that fantastic feeling of your first high.”

“That is exactly what happened to me. I kept chasing and I ran through every dollar I had. My wife kicked me out, so I lost my home. I missed too many days of work, so I lost my job. I emptied my retirement account and burned through what little inheritance I got from my folks. I even sold that old ’72 Fender Telecaster Karl gave me. When the cops impounded my car after a DUI, I couldn’t afford to pay the ticket and the impound fees, so I lost my car.”

“Oh and the girl? When I couldn’t buy crack for her any longer, she moved on to the next guy who would trade crack for an hour or even a few minutes with her. Addiction is a real bitch, man!”

“I was so down and depressed. This is not who I am. This is not how my life was supposed to be.”

“Then in 2005 those big hurricanes, Katrina and then Rita, brought such a storm to northern Louisiana and it poured buckets for weeks with such strong winds, we had no power and no prospects of getting it back anytime soon. All of Louisiana was under a state of emergency. The girl had run off with God knows who. I was cooped up at a buddy’s place in a trailer that had been, get this, duct taped to another trailer to make a bigger trailer, way out in the middle of nowhere. It was hot as an oven inside, but the relentless torrential rain kept us from going outside.”

“I was alone and broke and broken-hearted. I felt like I was nearing rock-bottom. But guess again.”

“When the rain finally let up, I got the bright idea to walk to the convenience store a few miles away to get some beer. But of course, I had no money, so I walked in, grabbed a six-pack of beer, and walked out. I heard the cashier calling me back but I just kept walking. I made it all the way home and drank my warm beer.”

“It tasted so good that a few days later I went back for more. Walked in. Walked out. This time with a case of beer. Again, I heard the cashier yelling for me to stop.”

“Halfway home on a dirt road, I heard a car. Shit! Cops! I scrambled down into the ditch. They drove by. I snuck back up to the road. A little while later I heard another car. I dove into the ditch. They passed by. Back up to the road. It was so hot and muggy. The mosquitos were the size of damn hummingbirds. And I was carrying a case of beer! The next time that cop car drove by I wasn’t quite quick enough, and they nabbed me. I spent the night in jail.”

“My buddy bailed me out and my court date was months away. When the day came, I somehow did not make it to the courthouse. The girl had long since left me. In time, the police came to my buddy’s place looking for me. I hid. And when they left, my buddy said, “Hey dude. You gotta split. I don’t need this kind of trouble.”

“Long story short, I ended up serving 9 of a 12-month sentence for stealing about $25 worth of beer. I hate to think what it cost them to house me for stealing $25 worth of beer. I know, the charge was “failure to appear” but it was really for walking off with $25 worth of beer and not having the scratch to pay for an attorney.”

“The county jail near Boozier City was more like a huge warehouse for humans, way out in rural northern Louisiana. I got along with everyone for the most part. And if I was assigned a hostile cellmate, I would put in a request for a move and it was always granted. I got out early on good behavior but mostly to make room for the hundreds of non-violent offenders cycled into the hoosegow after falling victim to the habitual offender laws.”

My words here, not Kurt’s: The habitual offender laws are Bill Clinton’s “three strikes and you’re out” laws which still to this day drive the mass incarceration of black and brown Americans.

Kurt continued, “I was one of just a few whites in the place; all the rest were young and poor, black or Hispanic, doing time for possession, not distribution, of dope. Did not seem fair. It’s like those young guys never had a chance in life.”

As Kurt’s story unfolded before me, the sun was heading toward the western horizon and the sky was turning pink.

I had just spent the weekend at a premier soccer tournament where my son had competed at the highest level for his age group. Sitting in those pretty pastel Adirondack chairs, we heard birds chirping and dogs barking hello to joggers passing by. The humidity was low, and the air was fresh and clear. A young couple in helmets glided by on their rollerblades.

My next-door neighbors came out to say hello, on their way to a wedding at the Indiana Roof Ballroom; they were all decked out and gorgeous, like they had just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. Their middle-school aged son was laying, shirtless, on his stomach on their warm driveway, nose to nose with their purebred Vizsla puppy, deep in conversation and mutual admiration.

Another neighbor had finished mowing his lawn, and, with a towel wrapped around his waist, waved hello to us with a bar of soap in his hand, as he walked to another neighbor’s outdoor shower.

My boys and their friends played a friendly game of horse in the driveway. Pushing. Shoving. Talking trash. Taunting. Laughing.

Me? I was hanging on Kurt’s every word.

My brain was hardly able to reconcile these two realities.

And then (you will not believe this!), out of nowhere, two figures appeared and streaked across the yard!

Painted head to toe.
One completely blue and one completely gold. Carmel’s colors: blue and gold.
Sports bras and short shorts!
And that is all.
Except body paint. And bubbly smiles.
Running across my yard.
Right though the driveway pick-up game.
The boys are taken quite by surprise.
Walker recognizes one of them.
And now the chase is on!
The boys catch up with the painted girls in the neighbor’s yard.
And tackle them, of all things!
All we see is a tangle of teens.
Before the world gets a hold of them.

Kurt and I couldn’t believe our eyes. I laugh out loud turning to him and say, “Wow Kurt, if you had known there was so much excitement in the suburbs, I bet you would have come home a lot sooner!

And he agreed.
And the sun set.
As it does every day.
Knowing that today is done.
And over.
And behind us.
And when the sun rises in the morning
It is a new day.
All things new.
New choices.
New challenges.
New opportunities.
New vistas.
All things begin anew.

I wish I could tell you that Kurt got his shit together and we all lived happily ever after, but that’s not exactly how it turned out. But, as Oprah says, that’s another show for another time.

Kurt, Eric, Karl – 1998
Kurt and Karl – 2018

A Different Tune With The Same Notes: Guitars, Parkinson’s, and People Along The Way   by mia hinkle

The love of my life, and I do mean this in the biggest way possible, came down with Parkinson’s in 2016.

W. T. actual. F. 

Big, strong, and vibrant when we met 40 years ago, and now — weak as a kitten and racked with pain. I cannot stand it! We recently had a virtual doctor’s appointment (one benefit out of this COVID mess) with his neurologist and after we described the laundry list of new ailments, the doctor looked straight into the camera, into Karl’s eyes, and said, “It looks like we have reached a new level in the progression of your Parkinson’s. I don’t like it. And I can’t stop it.”

Karl when we met in 1981

I don’t like it and I can’t stop it. His words rattled around in my head for days. That is true about a lot of things, I guess. It is certainly true of all the losses that pile up as the years fly by. Gerald Sittser said it best in his book A Grace Disguised, a book in which he describes the deep grief he encountered after his mother, wife, and daughter were killed by a drunk driver: “I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became part of who I am.”

Parkinson’s. What a shit show! We don’t like it. And we can’t stop it. With each new symptom we feel a little piece of us fading away. His car is gone, and with it, his independence. Fear and anxiety now overshadow confidence and self-assurance. His public identity is slipping away. Singing is getting more difficult. Playing guitar is proving to be more of a frustration than a joy.

We don’t like it. We can’t stop it. But what we can do is reframe it and reflect on the good stuff. Perhaps strike another tune using the same notes.

One day this week we were talking about his guitars—anything is better than rehashing doctors appointments and filling pill boxes. We were reminiscing about the guitars he has owned, past and present, the ones he kept and the ones that got away, the ones he wished he would have held onto. There is an emotional connection between a musician and his instrument, something we accountants will never understand. But it’s fun to hear the stories.

We still have some of his guitars hanging on the walls of our home. Others are long gone, having served a good purpose. Our conversation took us through the many twists and turns of a bold and adventurous life, with each guitar a little guidepost along the way. Each one purchased, each one traded or sold, each one gifted to him or given away marked a different stage of his personal and professional life. A life of someone who followed his dream of making music for a living. A life of someone who honors his Creator with his musical gift. A life full of fond memories of the people along the way.

1960s Sears Silvertone Electric Guitar

When Karl was just eleven years old, his parents surprised him with a 1963 Sears Silvertone electric guitar with an amp inside the case. The next summer, Beatlemania was sweeping America. Karl spent hours in his room teaching himself chords by playing along with their 45s. The basics came easy to him as he worked out the chord progressions to “She Loves You” and “Love Me Do.” Looking back, he wonders how his dad ever pulled together $100 for his birthday present. Money was tight. He knew his mother appreciated his interest in music; after all, she sang in USO shows during The War. But his dad was more of a “no monkey business” kind of guy, so it meant a lot to Karl that it came from him. What a sacrifice, and what a gift that Silvertone turned out to be. It truly opened a whole new vista. 

At age fourteen, when Karl was in the eighth grade at St. Andrews Catholic School, on Indy’s east side, his reputation as a strong vocalist had spread and he was asked to join The Knightsmen, a talented and popular group from Arlington High School. At first, he sang lead vocals and harmonies, but in time he added a Framus bass with a Sears bass amp. His neighbor John Wagle had mentioned in passing, “Karl, if you seriously want to earn a living in music, learn to play bass. Bands will always need a bass player. There are plenty of lead guitar players out there. And a bass player who can sing? You will work in music as long as you want to!” Even at fourteen, Karl knew music was his destiny, so he picked up the bass. And besides, if it was good enough for Paul McCartney, he figured, it was good enough for Karl Hinkle. 

The Knightsmen covered Top 40 pop music and performed at private parties and school dances. They were regular winners at local Battle of the Bands contests, warmed up for Kenny Rogers and Tommy Roe, performed in the Indianapolis 500 Parade, and played fraternity parties at IU and Purdue. That is quite a lot of livin’ for a boy fresh out of Catholic school eighth grade! Karl’s family moved from Indy’s east side to the suburbs in the middle of his junior year, so he had to leave the band. By the time The Knightsmen got back together to play at their thirty-year high school reunion, their Top 40 playlists were labeled “Oldies,” but their audience loved the old familiar music and still knew every word to every song.

There is something about a person’s coming-of-age music. It never leaves you. It is said that every generation is convinced they were the first to invent music. And sex. This is especially true if you were a child of the Sixties.

The Knightsmen 1967 or 1968

While finishing up high school at Franklin Central, Karl bought a Harmony Archtop 6-String Acoustic. Sometime during his senior year, he took up with the Zerfas brothers in a band called Jubal, where he sang and played bass using a clear acrylic Danelectro with an Ampeg Bass amp. Those guys had a lot of fun, but they rehearsed more than they had paying gigs. Karl spent so much time at the Zerfas home practicing loud music and sleeping under their basement stairs, back home his own mother dragged his bed out into the front yard at 10068 Southeastern Avenue in Wanamaker, and put a For Sale sign on it. The story goes that she made him buy the bed before he could move it back into his bedroom!

Karl in his bedroom in Wanamaker with his Harmony Archtop 6-string Beatles posters all around

After graduation, his folks convinced Karl to enroll in the Winona Hospital radiology program. On the first day of class he was all set to go. In his backseat were his textbooks and his uniform. However, in his trunk were a couple of fishing poles and a tackle box. He called his buddy Jerry Sparks and said, “Hey, wanna go fishin’?” And that was the end of Karl’s hospital career. He felt a wave of relief wash over him with the first cast. He could finally exhale. Over the next two years he played bass in Jubal, doing what is perhaps best described as underground rhythm and blues, and worked at the Eastgate Harry Levinson’s Men’s Clothing to make some money. 

Jubal (yes that’s Karl in front, Mark Tribby, Bryan Zerfas, David Zerfas)

Karl was twenty in 1972, when he was invited to join the The Wright Brothers Overland Stage. They even offered to pay for two weeks of rehearsal time before their first engagement. WaitWhat? Can you say hook, line, and sinker?! Their harmonies turned out to be magical, but the clear plastic bass proved to be a little too much for a country rock band with big Stetsons and Western boots. He traded it in for a 1972 Fender Telecaster, which made him look country cool and served him well throughout the Overland Stage and Ironhorse days, especially after the legendary Wayne Kemp shaved down the neck and installed a rosewood pick guard. The Wright Brothers Overland Stage was a pretty big deal in the early 1970s, so much so that they sold out Butler’s Clowes Hall. Twice! 

1972 Fender Telecaster / 1973 Overland Stage at Clowes Hall

It was the winter of 1973, and the Overland Stage packed the trendy new hot spot, The State of INNdiana, every time they played there. One night, Indiana Senator Birch Bayh (and father of Governor Evan Bayh) walked in with his dinner party and took a table at the back. Emcee Tom Wright recognized him to the crowd, to a warm round of applause. Bayh stood to acknowledge their greeting, and then to everyone’s surprise he began to make his way toward the stage. Easy in front of a crowd, Bayh took the microphone and asked if they knew the song “Put Your Sweet Lips A Little Closer To The Phone.” The rest is Indiana history. Tim, who can play any tune by ear, began with a few chords, Karl and Tom followed with sweet harmonies. The senator joined in; it turns out he was a pretty good singer! Senator Bayh finished his rendition to thunderous applause and beamed all the way back to his table. (Family legend has it that Karl’s dad would, back in the day, play poker with some guys at the the Foster Hotel & Motor Lodge at 21st and Illinois. At the time, Birch Bayh was a political rising star but would often join their game anyway. Just one of the guys.)

Karl with a borrowed Hofner bass guitar,
Wright Brothers Overland Stage, 1973, The State of INNdiana,
Senator Birch Bayh “Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer to the Phone”
Wright Brothers Overland Stage
Carmel High School Auditorium, 1972 or 1973

After the untimely demise of the Overland Stage and before the Wright Brothers Band started back up, Karl was in a couple of duos, trios, and a bluegrass band called Ironhorse, where he played an Ovation 6-String and the ’72 Telecaster Bass. The Ovation had been made famous by Glen Campbell and was quite the envy. 

Ironhorse: version 1 (Susan & Mark Herner, Karl Hinkle, Michael Clark)

Ironhorse was power-packed with blazing musicians playing high-octane bluegrass at 110% miles an hour, in a contemporary, edgy, “new grass” kind of way. If you appreciated blistering fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and steel guitar executed by the fastest pickers in town, then you loved Ironhorse! Besides, they were really fun people to hang with; their musical paths crossed often over the decades to come, and they remained good friends for many years. Michael Clark went on to produce some of Karl’s solo albums and played on all his recordings after Karl’s switch to Christian music. Those two were a mutual admiration society. Karl always thought Michael was the most amazing picker he had ever known and would often remark, “That Michael, he just needs a lucky break. He is so talented and no one works harder!” And Michael would say, “I have always said that Karl was the best, most gifted singer I’ve ever played with or heard on records, even the big stars or critically acclaimed artists.” 

Ironhorse: version 2 (Karl Hinkle, Bob Liederbach, Michael Clark, Dean Crum)
Karl on the Ovation in Ironhorse
Karl with Fender Telecaster in Ironhorse

What ever happened to that awesome ’72 Telecaster? Karl’s brother Kurt lived in Shreveport after he got out of the Army and was a pretty good musician in his own right. The story goes that Karl loaned the Telecaster to Kurt in hopes he would be able to get his chops back and make some money with it. Kurt kept that guitar for twenty-nine years, but alas, at some point he needed cash and sold it. The one that got away. When Karl found out, he said, “Well, I guess he needed the money more than a guitar.” And that was that. No hard feelings.

During his final stint with the Wright Brothers, beginning in 1978, Karl played an Ernie Ball Music Man bass guitar. That guitar carried him from coast to coast through live shows too numerous to count: national television performances on The Grand Ole Opry, NBC’s The Today Show, Hee Haw, Nashville Now; signing with the Warner Brothers recording label in Nashville; songs in Billboard’s Top 40; and warming up for numerous country music legends, including Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton, just to name a few. Anyway, Tim, Tom, and Karl made some great music together, had a lot of laughs, and enjoyed the best audiences in the business.

Karl, Tom, and Tim singing with Johnny Cash, Carlton Celebrity Room, Minneapolis, 1982
Karl and his Music Man with The Wright Brothers on the Grand Ole Opry 1980
Wright Brothers NBC The Today Show with Jane Pauly 1982
(Karl’s mother took these photos of her tube television set; that’s why their heads are cut off.)

That Music Man bass guitar traveled in the back of the equipment truck next to Karl’s turntable, record collection, and tin foil (to cover his hotel room windows), from Indiana to Alabama, New York to California, Texas to Minnesota, over thousands of miles across America and back home again. It was on one of those road trips to Minnesota that Karl and I fell in love. We had our first kiss in July and were married in December! But that is another story for another time.

The Wright Brothers, Madeline Island, 1981, Music Man Bass
Wright Brothers, 1979, Evansville, Indiana
Cover of Indianapolis Monthly, 1983

Karl sold the Music Man to a good friend of the band, Andy Potter, who still plays it. And according to Andy, it still sounds great. He treasures that bass guitar and all the stories of fame and fortune that came along with it. Just twenty feet from stardom. 

Karl’s first solo LP with
Karl Hinkle Music Ministries

The year 1985 was the beginning of Karl Hinkle Music Ministries. Karl was serving as youth pastor under the founding pastor of Carmel’s Northview Christian Life Church, Pastor Tommy Paino, who quickly realized that Karl’s musical abilities far outpaced his abilities working with teenagers. So, they formed Karl Hinkle Music Ministries, and Karl hit the road spreading the gospel in word and song

In the early days of KHMM, Karl had an Ovation, a Martin 00-18, a Yamaha 6-String, and a Guild F-212 12-String. The Martin was a perfect fit for his hands. He loved the Guild because of its full sound when leading worship; the Yamaha because it was easy on the fingers and had nice projection; and the Ovation because they had road history together. 

Ovation 6-string
C. F. Martin 00-18C Model Classical Guitar (1964), made in Nazareth, PA

Yamaha Classical 6-string
Guild F-212 12-String

At one point Karl mentioned to a friend at church, Keith Chamblin, how much he liked the sound of his black Takamine. So Keith let him borrow it for a while. Karl kept it for two years. It fit him so well that in time he bought his own Takamine 6-String with a Sunburst finish. He played it day and night. It was his new favorite. 

Karl on Keith Chamblin’s borrowed black Takamine. His oldest son, Walker, took lessons for a little while.
Karl with Mylan Ray on the KOLH Main Street Jamboree Radio Show

Then, one day in March 2004, Karl was in Nicaragua and was moved by God Almighty (and the sight of the ramshackle guitar a young man was playing) to give his new Takamine to nineteen-year-old Luis Costello. So he did. He left it right there. Over 3,100 miles away. In the heart of Managua. With a promising young man who would go on to use the guitar to spread the Word of God with his charismatic presence and musical talent. When I asked Luis about it while gathering details for this story, he said, “I still have that beautiful guitar; it is a great blessing from my brother.” 

Luis Costello, Managua, Nicaragua, Sunburst Takamine, March 2004

Sometime during the late ‘80s, some friends from church surprised Karl with a Hofner bass guitar. After hearing how much he admired Paul McCartney, how he began playing bass as a kid because of the Beatles, and how he had always wanted a Hofner just like McCartney’s, our friends Ed and Linda Ralston showed up at our little farmhouse in the country. They slowly opened the case, and there it was—a Vintage Hofner Bass (500/1) 1964–1984 20th Anniversary Special! They had purchased it at Phelan Music in Carmel, from Jack Phelan, who had recently bought it back from an eighty-year-old woman who had purchased it new but found she just wasn’t playing it like she had hoped she would. Funny thing: she had glued a pick holder to the front of it. Mortified, Jack gently removed it. When The Knightsmen got back together for their thirty-year class reunion to play their favorite ‘60s music for their aging classmates, Karl played the Hofner. When they were still performing the oldies at summer festivals a decade later, he still played his treasured 20th Anniversary Hofner (minus the pick holder glued to the front).

A Vintage Hofner Bass 500/1 1964-1984 20th Anniversary Special

Karl acquired a little 1964 C. F. Martin 00-18C Classical Guitar, made in Nazareth, PA, from Jack Phelan in 1973. His wife, Karri, remembers an older gentleman coming into Phelan Music wanting to sell it. It was in a cardboard case and was very dusty. She cleaned it up and restored it to beauty. Jack called Karl to come see it. Karl fell in love with it and bought it on the spot. Jack passed away in 2004, way too soon. Everyone in the Indianapolis music scene loved Jack. A premier bass player, he had studied at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France, after attending IU. He was a consummate master of guitars, especially the bass guitar. He ended up in our church worship band, because John Cernero, then the worship pastor at Northview, asked Karl if he knew of a bass guitar player who might be interested in playing Sunday mornings. Karl suggested he call Jack, and it was the beginning of a long friendship both personally and professionally. Jack’s story was truly a story of redemption, love, and reconciliation. Not to mention extreme talent. 

Our lives are all richer for having known Jack Phelan. Karl remembers Karri saying, “If you ever decide to sell it, call me first. This little Martin has a special place in my heart.” One Sunday morning when Karl was ministering at a sweet little church somewhere in Indiana, the well-meaning sound tech went to move an antique wrought iron music stand away from the guitar stand that held the little Martin. When he lifted the stand by its top, it suddenly disconnected from the heavy bottom of the stand, which fell over, violently striking the Martin squarely in the back and knocking a hole clear through the precious instrument. Karl was heartsick. He did the concert, packed up, came home, and the next day shipped it off to the C.F. Martin Guitar Company to have it repaired. I asked Karl how he could just go ahead and play the damaged guitar. He smiled and said, “Well it already had a hole in the front, sooo . . .” It survived the assault with a little cosmetic blemish, but it keeps sounding rich all these years later. He still loves that old guitar. The show must go on, as they say, even if a jarring diagnosis may temporarily knock the wind out of us. 

C. F. Martin 00-18C Model Classical Guitar (1964), made in Nazareth, PA
Ibanez Exotic Koa Wood 6-string Cutaway Acoustic-Electric Guitar

I surprised Karl on his birthday in the early ‘90s, when our sons were little, with an Ibanez Exotic Koa Wood 6-String Cutaway Acoustic-Electric. It has traveled with Karl’s ministry all around the country, in and out of prisons, jails, small churches, big churches, and more. In February 2013, United Airlines broke its pretty neck on the way home from a trip to Oregon, where he did the Sunday worship service in a riding arena at a horse expo in Portland. United Airlines refused to fix it, due to some fine print in their baggage disclaimer. Customer service was at best indifferent and, frankly, rude in the response to our demand that they pay for the repair or to replace the instrument. We were not the only ones. Someone actually wrote a song about a similar experience, called United Breaks Guitars

Ibanez Exotic Koa Wood 6 string Cutaway Acoustic-Electric Guitar

IRC Music was able to make the repair, but the poor dear has a nasty keloid scar across its neck. It still sounds good even though it looks like its best days are in the rearview. To this day, it is Karl’s “go-to” guitar. When we were on Beaver Island, Michigan the year after the PD diagnosis, he recorded Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Now outdoors with that old axe. 

United Breaks Guitars (there is actually a song on YouTube written by Dave Carroll we discovered after our plea with United to fix the Ibanez. Here it is.)

In July 2010, Karl’s brother entered an eleven-month, faith-based addiction recovery program near Cleveland, an eight-hour drive from Indy. On his first visit, Karl brought his Yamaha Classical 6-String for him so he would have something to do in his spare time and in hopes that he might get involved in the worship team. Nine years younger than Karl, he has always looked up to his big brother. Addiction runs in the family, and he had struggled with it for years; we all hoped that this immersive program would be the help he needed. He was grateful for the opportunity, and he did well for a few months, but alas, he took the Yamaha and left the program before completing it. When he got back to Indy, he pawned the guitar, fully expecting to go back for it, but he never got around to it. He hates talking about it now that he’s clean and sober. Again, Karl said, “Well, he must have needed the money.” And again, no hard feelings.

Yamaha Classical 6-String

Back in our double-income-no-kids days, Karl picked up a Thin Line Ibanez Exotic Wood 6-String Cutaway Acoustic-Electric with Red Sunset Burst finish. These days, it mostly just hangs on the wall looking gorgeous. I guess that’s important sometimes. There are times when beauty and fond memories are reasons enough to keep something around.

Thin Line Ibanez Exotic Wood 6-String Cutaway Acoustic-Electric in Red Sunset Burst

Over a span of thirty-five years, Karl’s music ministry took him to churches large and small throughout the country and abroad, but mainly in the Midwest. Many churches invited him back year after year, and there he met some of the most astounding people quietly working in Kingdom work. No fanfare. No celebrity. Just quietly working the harvest. One of those churches was Calvary Chapel Fellowship, in Stroh, Indiana. In August 2012, Pastor Gary Rifenburg asked Karl to accompany him to his car after the morning service. He popped the trunk, and there was a guitar case. Inside was a Magnum Handcrafted Personalized 6-String Acoustic with a built-in pre-amp AND a mic inside. It was designed and built by Bob Grant, of Grant Guitar, LaGrange, Indiana. It had the initials KH in abalone inlays on the head. It was beautifully crafted with African rosewood for the back and sides, Sitka spruce for the top, ebony overlay, mother of pearl, and abalone shell inlays. The vine represents Christ’s leadership of the Church and all the believers who are grafted into Him. The vine entwines the cross where the true vine was sacrificed for our sins, giving the grafted branches new hope and beginning. The verse is from John 15:1. Those are the stats, but here is the story: God had been nudging Bob to create a guitar just for Karl for a few years.

Wheelchair-bound, Bob was an old-school craftsman, and he finally heeded the Lord’s nudge and designed a personalized guitar just for Karl. Surprised, shocked, humbled, and overwhelmed are just a few of the emotions swirling inside Karl as tears welled up in his eyes. All he could muster was, “Thank you so, so much!” 

2012 Magnum Handcrafted Personalized 6-String Acoustic

From that 1963 Sears Silvertone to the handcrafted Magnum, it has been a wild ride for Karl and his music over the last half century. He took the notes of his childhood and wrote a new song. And now, in the face of this Parkinson’s shit show, we are asked to strike yet another tune using the notes given us. We don’t like it. And we can’t stop it. But alas. 

Christmas Eve 2020 was the first in thirty-five years that Karl was not able to sing his signature “O Holy Night” at some church somewhere. One Christmas Eve, he even sang it for some tourists and howler monkeys in a Belizean rainforest! But this year, between the pain, anxiety, weakness, and medicine, he just was not up to it. One more loss. Thankfully, his friend Dan Lawhorn had recorded him a few years ago, so they were able to hear Karl’s version at church anyway.  Lord willing, he will be able to sing on Easter Sunday 2021, but if not, we have his recording of “Amen” and we are so grateful to Dan for recording it for us.

Looking back, Karl can honestly say he has no regrets. Not that he didn’t have his share of hard times and high water. But all those guitars—whether bought or sold, acquired or given away, lost or found, damaged or repaired—they all hold their own place along the journey.

Along our journey. Each one served a singular purpose and connected some particularly awesome people along the way. Collectively, those trusty axes provided a livelihood, a dream job come true, sustenance, entertainment, worship, art, and, best of all, some really beautiful music. And now it is time to strike up a new tune with the notes we have.

Listen to Karl’s music free on YouTube at Karl Hinkle Music


December 21, 2018! And what an amazing day it was! For this was the day that the Creator of the Universe preordained from the beginning of time that Surraye Khyri-Simone’ Hinkle would come power-sliding into this world. I do not think it was any coincidence that she landed in Indianapolis; a city known worldwide for speed. She walked early, she talked early, she ran early, and she shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. She is sure to set the world on fire one day!

The celestial world saw her coming on the Winter Solstice of 2018 and lit up the sky with a Long Night Full Moon, the conjunction of Mercury and Jupiter, AND a Meteor Shower all the way from the Little Dipper. In an act of even greater rareness, Full Moons and Ursid Meteor Showers filled the night sky on both Friday and Saturday. The next time a Full Moon will coincide with the Winter Solstice will be in 2094, the year Surraye will turn 76 years old.

It was a Friday night in Indy and A Christmas Carol was playing at the IRP, Yuletide Celebration at the Hilbert Circle Theatre, The Book of Mormon was at Clowes Hall, and Die Hard (the quintessential Christmas movie) was playing at the Historic Artcraft Theatre. The city was all dressed up with brightly colored lights and glitter for Christmas, but as far as we were concerned, it might as well have been a great big celebration of Surraye’s debut.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman opened in movie theaters across the nation on the day Surraye was born, but the crazy premise of that movie paled in comparison to real life in America in 2018. We were two years into a reality show presidency and the dealmaker was threatening to shut down the government at midnight if he didn’t get his way on a border wall. The same day, The Notorious RBG had two cancerous nodules removed from her left lung and sadly, it would not be the last we would hear about her cancer. Also, on that day, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest of the current administration’s knee-jerk approach to foreign affairs. On a brighter note, they named a stretch of the California 134 Freeway after Barack Obama and hung the signs on that day. A record 117 women had been elected or appointed to Congress a month earlier, the most diverse class in our nation’s history, and record numbers of women ran and won in state and local races all over the country. Just imagine the leadership possibilities awaiting a baby girl born in 2018. Especially for a baby girl who is NON-STOP!

On the day Surraye was born, it was her paternal grandparents 37th wedding anniversary. They were married in 1981 in a historic landmark in Minnesota on a Winter Solstice night so cold the icy wind snatched their breath away and the snow squeaked beneath their footsteps as they rushed into the church. The longest night of the year! Surraye’s grandfather was 29 on his wedding day 37 years ago.

Surraye’s daddy had turned 29 just a week before her arrival. The long-awaited day had finally arrived. Walker, Imani, and Darcy (Imani’s mom) headed to St. Vincent Women’s Hospital. Her daddy was so excited to meet his baby daughter but holding Imani’s hand and watching the epidural process he fainted and ended up on the floor, out cold, right there in the delivery room! All three nurses rushed to his aid. One was fanning him. Another ran for juice. The other tried to gently coax him awake. In screaming pain, Imani piped up (in three syllables) , “HEL-LO-O! I’m the one in labor over here! Have been for almost 23 hours now!” They laugh about it now, but it wasn’t funny at the time; it took three needles before they got it right and she still bears the scars to prove it. When that precious little girl finally decided to make her grand entrance, her daddy began gazing at her pretty little face and hasn’t stopped. This thing is for sure: she is the apple of her daddy’s eye and he is the apple of hers.

Surraye’s big brother was 7 years old when she was born. Christian was so excited to have a baby sister. He told anyone who would listen all about her: friends, family, teachers, total strangers, anyone! Some were afraid he would hug her too tight, but he held her as gently as a butterfly. When he went to meet her at the hospital, he wore a shirt that said, “Keep Calm. I’m The Big Brother.” Christian will be a fine big brother to Surraye.

For Surraye’s Gigi, this was a very big day and she wasn’t going to miss a moment. Imani is Darcy’s only child and Surraye would be Imani’s first born. There is something about that first grandchild; just ask any grandparent. Excitement, anticipation, fear, trepidation, anxiety, pain, exhaustion, mysterious bodily fluids, panic attacks, hot flashes, a bad reaction to the epidural, tears, rubber legs, more bodily fluids, and pure joy are a few of the words that come to mind that describe the rodeo that followed in that hospital room. The Holy Spirit walked with Darcy all through the night and into the next day; she was overwhelmed by the presence of God in that place. She was cool as a cucumber as she spoke calm and reassurance to her little girl all grown up. Seems like just yesterday she was the one giving birth to an adorable baby girl, but that was in 1993, a lifetime ago.

After a day of agony for everyone involved, this world was rewarded with a strong and courageous warrior in the form of a helpless newborn baby girl, Surraye Khyri-Simone’ Hinkle. She came flying in, up on two wheels, power-sliding her way into our arms and into our hearts. And we can’t wait to see how she will set the world on fire when her time comes.


What’s in a rock … or a pile of rocks … or a mountain of rock?

Racing through the canyon on a train from Temoris to Creel, standing in the vestibule with the wind in my face, a blur of grey and brown is all that can be seen. The tracks are cut deeply into the mountain; steep walls cradle the rails keeping sunshine out, creating a dizzying view. This canyon system in the heart of the Mexican state of Chihuahua is five times larger than our Grand Canyon; the two deepest and narrowest canyons were left uncharted until 1986. This is the Copper Canyon, widely recognized as the wildest and most rugged area in North America. So inhospitable it took our top engineers 100 years to complete the railway from Kansas City to Los Mochis on the southern edge of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific trade routes.

Jagged and crushed under years of pressure and weather and stress, the canyonlands offer a harsh existence to the indigenous cave-dwelling Tarahumara Indians who call this their back yard. After more than a decade of drought, the vegetation has turned blonde and crunchy; not like lush green plant life pictured in the tour books. Huge boulders lay bone-dry in parched riverbeds. Streaks of polished granite show where grand waterfalls should crash and spray its life-giving water. Dust and despair coat the leaves turning them a ghostly grey, giving us the eerie feeling of driving through a negative.

What’s in a pile of rocks? Look closely and you see grey, brown, copper, blue black, and adobe. Look closely at this landscape and you see wilting leaves on dying trees, brown needles on evergreens, sharp stones and gravel on steep inclines. Scrubby shrubs and fallen timber litter the landscape. Top soil blowing away year after rainless year.

But wait! Just around the bend opens up a vista, a panoramic view of this amazing canyon. Blue sky with pillow white clouds backdrops the horizon outlined by shimmering rims and plateaus, one beyond another, beyond another. Such incredible depth and light and shadow. Majesty … breathtaking …stunning … awe inspiring … magnificent. Divisadero!

What makes a pile of grayish brown rock and dust covered leaves so dazzling in the morning sun? I think I know! Perspective …distance … contrast. And most of all …. light!

Light cast on jagged peaks standing timeless against the sky. Sun dancing on copper streaks cascading down canyon walls. A misty blue haze veils the furthest rims. Light and shadow and dimension and perspective. And most of all light … the sun bringing beauty and majesty to ordinary gray and brown rock.

So I must ask. What is it that brings majesty to an ordinary life? A life that may, up close, look tedious and drab and out of focus. A life perhaps in the desert of its landscape. A life covered in the dust and debris of the daily grind. A life devoid of flowers and springtime and crashing waterfalls. What brings majesty to such a life?

Could it be … perspective and distance and most of all … light? God uses his life-giving sun to make beautiful the rugged, crushed, jagged thing He has created. Just like the Canyon, God created my life and then formed it with His very hands to be the thing of glory He intends it to be.

Father God, thank you for years, built of days, made of minutes. Thank you for the little things that may not be too pretty right now, but will unfold with the seasons to be the thing of beauty You have formed with Your very hands.

Father, allow me to step back and see with Your eyes, Your panoramic, majestic, illuminated view. Help me to see what’s important to You. Help me to see your children in the most flattering light. Show me Your timeless vista today and everyday.

Show me that even in the most hostile landscape, the most hostile heart, You are present and your strong and patient hand is forming a thing of beauty and majesty.

Urique Canyon in the Copper Canyon region, Chihuahua, Mexico

THE ACT OF WRITING by mia hinkle

“The act of writing is its own reward. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises.”

I hadn’t read the Introduction the first time I read Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD. This little gem on page xxvi took my breath away because it is so accurate. “The act of writing is its own reward. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises.”

My mother died in February of 1998 and while we were caring for her during her last weeks on earth, I jotted down little details about those weeks. This thing that was happening as we watched her shell diminish, this thing of care-giving for the dying, was at the same time, vast and tedious, energizing and exhausting. It left no solitude or space for writing or even processing what was happening.

She was diagnosed before Christmas and was gone the day after Valentine’s. It took all five kids and our Dad to manage all the details of pain medicine, comfort measures, meal prep, insurance fights, doctor appointments, visitors, mail call, and let’s not forget, cleaning closets. We all scurried around our mother 24 hours a day trying to fight off this intruder who had invaded her body and our family, this cancer, that in the end, was completely undaunted by our scurrying and tender care.

It wasn’t until well after the funeral that I pulled out all those little scraps of paper and began to put them in order. And then, very late at night, when the family was asleep and the house was quiet, I began to craft the story of my mother’s last weeks on earth. Night after night I would relive each scribble and recall the tiniest details of those weeks that had raced by in a blur. The tone in the doctor’s voice when he gave us the news, the countless meals magically appearing at dinner time, the sound of the doorbell announcing the arrival of one more visitor, the rattle of pills bottles (they each had their own sound), the daily mail-call, the smell of the bedside commode in the morning, the whirr of the oxygen condenser, the crunch of a bag of frozen peas applied to wherever the pain was that day (a never-ending game of hide and seek; what worked yesterday doesn’t necessarily work today), the sight of the school bus stopped in front of her house picking up kids the morning after she died (the very audacity, didn’t they know my mother had died?!! What could possibly be so important at school?!!)

I found myself bringing those scribbles to life as I crafted each sentence, every paragraph, the entire piece. I cried. I laughed. I added. And I deleted so as to not hurt feelings. And then I made copies for my siblings who made copies for their children who made copies for their friends. And each year on my mother’s birthday or death-iversary, one of her grandchildren or great-grandchildren, now all grown up, discovers it for the first time. And then their spouses, who never met Grandma, get a glimpse into our family in our darkest and closest hour. A teacher friend in Minneapolis reads the essay aloud in class and uses it as a springboard for discussing death and dying with her inner-city middle school students. Death and dying and the pain that comes with it is completely universal it turns out.

Those many nights sitting in the dark with only the clickity-clack of the keyboard in the soft glow of the monitor with all those little scraps of paper, gifted me with something life-changing. At first, I thought this gift was from my mother, or from losing her, or from ever having her in the first place. But it turns out the gift came from writing it down. Toiling over each phrase, each comma, each ellipse (it’s full of ellipses used in all the wrong ways) resulted in more than a nice family essay. Writing it down laid my soul bare and spoke healing and comfort into my spirit. I could physically hear her voice, “Yes, you are sad. Yes, you are going to miss me. More than you know!! But I’ve lived a good life with God as my compass. I raised five good kids and I have lots of friends and I have a husband of 54 years. Go ahead and cry. Trust me, I know your despair is real. Go ahead and cry. And then, cherish each day we had together, the good days and the tough ones. And cherish each day ahead of you. And don’t forget to hug those babies!”
What sweet words to live by. And so true. And “so Darlene” as my sisters would say. Completely authentic and exactly the way she thought about things.

But try as I might, I could not tie it up in that pretty little bow. I still find there are so many questions I want to ask her, so many experiences I want to share with her. I was 43 when she left us, barely old enough to know what questions to ask. I had the world by the tail, but in reality, I didn’t even know what I didn’t even know. I am perpetually amazed at how many times I catch myself picking up the phone to share some little things with her or ask for some life-altering advice. Even now. Decades later.

But death puts a period where you want to keep writing. And death puts a period where you want to keep reading. My mother may have given this life all she had, she may have left it all on the field, but there was so much more I wanted to hear from her.

Famous Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, once said, “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it. That! That right there is “so Darlene”! She told us in her last days, “I taught you kids how to live, now I get to show you how to die. People raised on the farm understand the cycle of life. As your dad likes to say, “Ain’t many of us gonna get out of here alive.”

Murakami also said, “There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.” There I was in the deepest messiest despair of my life and writing it down was the thing that helped me make sense of it and to navigate the grieving. “The act of writing is its own reward. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises!”

I AM NOT GOING TO CAMP by mia hinkle

(July 2020)

YaYa! I’m not going to camp tomorrow. I don’t want to go to stupid camp. I’m not going.

Well, I paid. So you’re going. Why don’t you want to go to camp?


Well, I am pretty sure you won’t get rabies at Conner Prairie Adventure Camp.

Yes I will! I can catch rabies in the forest! From the forest animals!!

Trust me, Christian; you are not going to get rabies in Fishers this week.

Aarrgghh! OK. I’ll go. But I’m not having any fun.

Christian honey, you are exactly like your dad and your uncle and your grandfather. They always say, “I don’t want to go to this or that. Why do I have to go? I’m not going.” And then when they get there they’re the life of the party and the last one to leave. Trust me, you’re going to have a great time this week.

No I’m not. I’m going to hate it.

Here’s my ID. I am here for my grandson, Christian Hinkle, 8 years old.

YaYa!! [Runs over to me, gives me a HUGE hug.]

Did you have a good time today?

Yes I did YaYa! I had so much fun! We got to go up in the hot air balloon; I could see your house we were up so high. Well, I sort of went up by accident. I got mixed up with another group and went up accidentally. We went swimming in the pond and I wore my shoes and they got soaked and the pond was full of mud and bugs and algae and worms and yuck. We shot a bow and arrow at the archery range and I got a bull’s eye like 21 times in a row. We played primitive ball, whatever that is. We played tag in the corn maze. And then we got to eat lunch indoors where it was so nice and cool. We refilled our water bottles with cold clean water. Then we climbed up in the really, really, really tall tree house. On the way back we pet the goats or sheep, I’m not sure which. We named our group the Cheetahs and I told all the girls in my group they were gorgeous and they told me I was handsome. They said, “I like your hair.” I’m so glad you signed me up for camp. I wish we could go every day.

Well, honey, you’re in luck. You get to go back in the morning!

Hello, good morning, did you take your temperature before you left home this morning?

Yes, we did.

Does anyone in your house have a temperature? Is everyone in your household feeling okay? Have you or anyone in your household showed symptoms of COVID-19 in the last two weeks like coughing or breathing issues or the tips of the toes turning purple? Have any of you been around anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days?

Wait! What? Purple what? No. No. No. and No.

OK, thank you. You are free to check in right over there, Trail Blazers #1.

Hey buddy! Good morning Tony! Glad to see you back, buddy!

Well, good morning, but this is Christian Hinkle. [I put my hand on his shoulder.]

Sorry ma’am, he asked us to call him Tony so we are calling him Tony.

Well, alrighty then. Have a good day, Christian. [Big hug]

Hello Sweetie Pie, did you have a good day?

YaYa! I had a GREAT day. It was even better than yesterday. The counselors are Cedric and Sophia and they are super nice; they helped me make this cat out of play dough, I know he looks really creepy and his back legs fell off, can you help me glue his back legs on when we get home? [He hands me a paper plate with the name “Tony” written in sharpie and sitting on the plate is a little black cat with huge green eyes that looks like he may have grown up near Chernobyl.] We went canoeing and I fell out of the boat 21 times and the counselor fell out too, and it was so hilarious. They taught me how to steer the canoe; watch me YaYa, you have to put this arm like this and your other arm like that and then you pull like this to make the canoe turn this way, are you watching me YaYa? Wait! Keep your eyes on the road when you’re driving. I was so happy to have water shoes today; they worked just perfectly for the canoe time. I find it very important to protect my feet in the water. My new best friend is Matthew, he’s that little fat kid I was talking to when you came, but I never use that word FAT when I am talking to him; he is perfect just the way God made him, and I told him that. I also made a point to tell all the girls they were still gorgeous today. Tomorrow is horseback riding. I can’t wait.

Did you take temperatures this morning?

Yes. And no, no, no, and no.

Hey hi Tony! Glad to see you back here this morning!

Ok, have a good day, see you this afternoon.

Hey Sweetheart! Did you have fun today?

YES YAYA! IT WAS AWESOME! Best day yet! We made slime and I put some on my forehead, I won’t do that again. We went zip lining OVER THE WATER, and I didn’t even hold on but I was safe since I had a helmet on. Then I got to ride a big black horse, when I kicked him gently and he went faster and we rode into the forest, and that was scary and so much fun. I ate all my lunch inside where it was cool. After that we went fishing and gathered worms on the way, I didn’t catch anything but my friend Matthew who isn’t fat caught 21 fish in a row! We went down this huge hill filled with air and it had a slippery surface, we went really fast on inner-tubes that had wax on the bottom. I hung out all day with that girl I told you about, we talked about water bottle holders, can you order me one like hers on Amazon when we get home? She is really easy to talk to; we talked about all kinds of things. We talked about camp and what our favorite activities were. And we talked about lice.

Wait! What? You talked about lice?

Yes. Lice. They had this can of smelly spray and they sprayed into the helmets between each kid riding a horse or doing the zip line. To kill the lice. And the Corona-virus. But mostly the lice. What would happen if you accidentally ate lice? Would you die? I can’t remember the girl’s name but I told her she was gorgeous. Have you ever been to Adventure Camp? Can I go back to camp tomorrow?

Did you take temperatures this morning?

Yes. And no, no, no, and no.

Hey hi Tony! Glad to see you back! Welcome, welcome, welcome!

Ok have a good day, see you this afternoon. By the way, good job making your own lunch this morning, Christian!

Tony, your grandma is here to pick you up. Got everything? Is your shirt in your backpack?

Hey Sweetie Pie, did you have any fun today?

[Big hug] Yes YaYa I had the best time! Look at this cool tie-dyed shirt we made. We’re all wearing them tomorrow. Have you ever seen a foam mat so strong that 5 adults can stand on it and it won’t sink into the water? We went swimming today and there was one pad for horsing around and one mat for relaxing and chillin. Guess which one I chose!? And Matthew pushed me off and tried to drown me. It was so much fun! And then Matthew said, “I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. Can you ever forgive me?” And I said, “Of course, Matthew. I forgive you. Why would I not forgive you?” And then I reminded him that God made him just the way he wanted to and that he was perfect inside and out. It was super fun because the water was super clean. And then we had lunch inside where it was nice and cool and we refilled our water bottles. But YaYa, I wish you had put more food in my lunch.

You made your own lunch, remember?

Oh yeah, that’s right. Well, Riley really likes your homemade chips so I shared mine with her. I hung out with Riley and Abriella (they are so gorgeous and I told them so) we hung out together for most of the activities. We talked about how fun it was going to be to roll down the big hill and then we all rolled down the hill with Banana Man (his real name is Easton) and Matthew. I told them that I actually have 2 families, I am so lucky, and that one of my families lives in China. Adventure Camp is so much fun. Can I go back tomorrow?

Hey Sweetie Pie how was your last day of camp?

Last day? What? It can’t be! Over so soon!? This is an outrage! I won’t stand for it! Can you sign me up for some more camp? The same week that Max and Annie go? Today we pretended like it was 1836 and we got to walk around an old village with an old schoolhouse and a bunch of other old wrecky buildings made of logs on dirt roads. We learned that children had no toys; they just did the best with what they had. And did you know there was no air-conditioning in 1836 and they even had to sleep in the heat? I am really glad I had my bug spray with me today; there were lots of mosquitoes and bugs in Prairie Town. And people dressed up funny and talking too much. I like to explore on my own better than listening to someone talk too much. Today it was so hot! I’m glad we have air conditioning at your house. We saw a tumble weed rolling around. We saw baby goats and they were so cute. A white goat is one that can be milked. And then we went to Civil War town and saw a house where the soldiers had taken everything from the people who lived there and then wrecked the stuff they didn’t take. They even took the horses so they could ride them into battle. Horses are such magnificent creatures. And so are spiders; I’m not afraid of spiders anymore, I just don’t like to touch them. Did you know that Indiana fought on the side of the North? YaYa, why are police still hunting down black people and killing them? I don’t think that’s very nice. Isn’t everybody free now? Anyway, I ate lunch with Banana Man aka Easton and the counselors handed out awards to each camper. I got the award for “Random Acts of Kindness” but I was embarrassed when I read it because kindness should be random and anonymous. I told the girls, Riley and Abriella all about my baby sister and how cute she is and how she is more adorable than most babies. And you know what they said? “Aaawww!”

YaYa, you were right. I loved every single day. And I want to go back again. Can we sign up for next week?

15 AND 51 by mia hinkle

[2004] Suddenly and without warning, I am the middle-aged mother of teenagers. Nearly 13 and 15 years old, my two sons are in a wondrous, frightening, emotional, frustrating, exciting, and beautiful decade of their lives—and of mine.

I am 51 now and have been a mother for only the last 15 years. Seems like forever though. Life before 35 is a little hazy to me right now. My boys are spreading their wings, ever so gracefully and ever so clumsily, yearning to be free—if not in free-fall—from the nest.

Youth is really an amazing condition. I am sometimes in awe watching those boys run like the wind, their brain cells firing on all cylinders and making a hundred calculations per second. Zipping, zigging, zagging, calculating the speed of their opponent and the position of their team mate, measuring the angle of the goal, sensing the height of the grass and the pressure of the soccer ball, and then compensating for all of it before making their move. It’s the littlest things about them that give me the greatest joy.

Hard to believe it is those same boys who can’t figure out how to turn in their homework or brush their teeth. The whole idea of thinking ahead is lost on them right now. Asking them to study for a test more than one night in advance or to drink a little water before a game in 90 degree heat or to warm up for the 400 meter track and field event is like asking them to build a space station—quite “other-worldly.”

Watching this kind of short-sightedness and the inevitable result is like sitting across the table from someone, watching him poke himself in the eye over and over and over. I just want to reach across the table, shake him by the shoulders and shout, “JUST STOP IT!” It’s the littlest things that frustrate the [expletive deleted] out of me!

So…this is a very good time for me to sit back and revisit my life before I became a mother.

But first this …

A woman standing next to me at the track meet last week (yes the same track meet where we couldn’t quite connect the dots between preparing for and succeeding at the 400 meter race) said to me, “May I tell you a story?” She must have sensed my frustration as I watched my son throwing up after a dismal and painful finish. It seems he was too busy chatting with his buddies to stretch or to warm up a little before the sprint. She began:

Last summer I was in Wisconsin with my teenage kids, and we went parasailing near the Dells. Afterward, as the boat was docking, I said to them, “Wasn’t that a beautiful sight? The blue sky with the white billowy clouds, the green hills and the rugged bluffs with the crystal blue lake below. Nestled in the valley was that charming little church with the white steeple, the winding driveway like a dark velvet ribbon, the sun reflecting off the windows was so stunning, the way the hills around it seemed to cradle it just so…”

The words were snatched from my mouth by the looks on their faces. It was a look that said, “Are you nuts?” Their words followed, “What? What? What church? What steeple? We didn’t see any valley with a church. You must have been seeing things. All we saw was the sky and a few trees.”

Again I tried to describe the scene in more vivid detail, explaining that it was just north of the lake beyond the bluff, becoming impatient with them that they weren’t paying attention and missed such a great part of the experience.

Our parasailing guide overheard our growing argument. He chuckled and said, “Excuse me ma’am, you are both right. Because you are an adult, I could let you up 500 feet. But the kids are minors so regulations prohibit me from letting them up more than 250 feet. There is no way your children could have seen the sight you describe from only 250 feet up.”

The woman became silent. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. There I was. Guilty as charged. Angry and frustrated by a 15-year-old who simply isn’t up high enough to see things the way I do at 51.

So today I ask myself: Who was I at that age? And can I relax a little and forgive my kids for being up only 250 feet?

When I was 13 years old, it was 1967 and I was in eighth grade. I lived in the suburbs but I felt like a country girl. My family moved there from a farm near Evansville in west central Minnesota. My Dad had been a farmer but at age 45 traded careers to become a flight instructor. My mom had been a farm wife and, you know, just our mom, but now she was a teacher’s aide at Minnetonka East Jr. High. The rest of the family consisted of my older brothers, Hans and Dick, and my younger sisters, Holly and Solveig.

I really was a farm girl, but now I lived in the ’burbs. Under great protest, we had given up 180 acres of free roaming. You know what that means if you grew up in an earlier and more innocent decade. It was a be-back-before-dark kind of freedom—climbing trees, swimming horses across a rain-swollen creek, bike riding on gravel roads, seeing puppies born under the granary, checking mink traps with my Mom, ice skating on a rink flooded between straw bales, cutting my little sister’s hair to the scalp, swimming in the slough, feeding little pigs with Hans, watching Dick drag home two deer my Mom shot in the ravine behind the barn (while my Dad and his buddies, incidentally, were in Canada deer hunting), flying in my Dad’s Piper Cub crop dusting plane to fly-in pancake breakfasts, driving our surprise baby sister Solveig home from the hospital without a car seat, and Holly and I riding a Greyhound bus four hours all by ourselves (at the age of 10 and 11) to see the Beatles in 1965 at Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis.

We left behind that kind of farm freedom for greater opportunity in the cities—that’s what people from our neck of the woods call Minneapolis/St. Paul. I guess it was a good chance for my parents to earn a little more money and make a better life for their kids. My brothers were out on their own, and it was just us three little girls at home. But with greater opportunity came more people, busier schedules, and new stresses.

My family’s farm life was auctioned off the summer I turned 11 years old. I entered sixth grade in a strange new land near the cities…Chaska, Minnesota.

Initially, I was an extremely shy and quiet kid, kind of lonely and awkward. When I was 13, I met my best friend, Diane. She too had moved in sixth grade. “What a rotten time for a kid to move,” we agreed. We found friendship in each other. That was the beginning of my life as a grown up.

My first paying job was picking strawberries. It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade and my family of five was living in a two bedroom apartment. Working that field was awful and hot, muggy and buggy, and undoubtedly the worst job I ever had. See this: A bunch of kids riding in the back of a one ton truck with wooden slats around the box to hold us inside all the way to the strawberry fields. There were so many of us we had to stand up. The truck delivered us to the strawberry farm by 7:30 in the morning. Don’t believe what they tell you about Minnesota. It isn’t always cold there. In the summertime it is H-O-T hot: 9am-90-degrees-and-climbing hot. We picked berries all day for a quarter a quart, cash at the end of the day. I don’t think I lasted too long at this job; sunburn and heat stroke were dangerous for this little blonde Norwegian. My Mom finally had pity on me and let me quit, which was as simple as not showing up for the truck ride to the fields.

At 14 years old, the summer between eighth and ninth grade, I got a job babysitting for a family in our neighborhood for $20 a week. Five days a week from 7:30am to 5:30pm I cared for a five year old girl, a boy just a year younger than I, and a girl my age who was mentally retarded [that wads the term back then]. Cereal for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, getting dinner started for the family, doing dishes, straightening up, and entertaining the children. Not much on daytime TV in 1968 and certainly no video games. I now wonder exactly what I did to entertain such a diverse group all day long all summer long.

By ninth grade, Diane and I were virtually inseparable and starting to spread our wings. We had class together, we hung out together, we had summer birthdays together, we rode the school bus together and then called each other the minute we got off the hour long bus ride, we dressed up and took the city bus downtown Minneapolis together, we went to school dances and football games together, we got dissed by the popular girls together, we snuck out together, we looked for trouble on Windy Hill together, we sipped cherry vodka together, we listened to Mason Profit through a Dave’s bedroom window together, we smoked cigars together when Diane’s surprise baby brother was born, we bought Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin albums together, we got our drivers licenses together, and we had our first hoodlum boyfriends together.

Oh…did I mention we were grounded for the better part of our freshman year together? Our folks thought we were no good for each other. But we knew otherwise. We are still good friends today. Many years later, I was living in Indiana and Diane was living in the Virgin Islands, we became mothers together at the ripe old age of 35. We are indeed kindred spirits.

I was 15 in 1969. I know there must have been important news going on in America, but I wasn’t paying much attention. That was the year I got my first W-2 job at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre washing dishes for $1.35 an hour. Actually, Diane and I got jobs in the dish room together. It was hot and sweaty work but we didn’t care…we had our own moolah! It didn’t take long, and we were both promoted to usherettes in the 600 seat dinner theatre. The play was Damn Yankees, and we got to dress in baseball caps and tight jeans. We were the cat’s meow! We were rolling in dough at $1.50 an hour. Gas was 47 cents a gallon. Over the next twelve years, the Dinner Theatre would offer ideal hours for me as I worked my way through high school and college; from the dish room to usherette to cashier to waitress to bartender to hostess. It was an amazing place with four professional theatres under one roof serving 920 dinners out of two kitchens in two hours before the plays would begin. My job at the Dinner Theatre became my social and educational life. In by 5:00 and out by 9:00, it was the perfect evening job for students, especially when the tips were good. For years after I left there however, I would have nightmares about serving salads in a panic as the lights were going down, unable to find my tables.

I had my first serious boyfriend when I was 15. Too steady and TOO serious. He was 6’ 6” as a junior in high school, a good Catholic boy who had just returned from seminary high school discovering in the nick of time that the priesthood wasn’t for him. When he was a senior, I was a sophomore at Chaska High School and he took me to prom. My hair was in a bee-hive which was old fashioned even then. I wore a pumpkin orange empire dress with a black orchid corsage. The picture is hysterical. By the next year, we weren’t a couple any more but I still have a tender spot in my heart for him.

Something astounding happened during the summer I turned 17 just before my senior year. I gave my heart to Jesus. A charismatic Catholic priest named Father Richard began holding prayer meetings in the homes in our area. Out of curiosity, my sister Holly and I began attending and at one meeting I had a vision of Jesus standing in the doorway with his arms outstretched toward us. That was it. I knew it was real. Thanks to my Mom, we had grown up in the Lutheran church and had been baptized and confirmed. But this was different. This was personal.

My senior year was great and everything you’d want for your daughter’s last year of high school. Involved at school, good grades, prayer meetings and Bible studies on the weekends, no boyfriend but lots of friends, Homecoming Princess, Jaycees Teenager of the Month (whatever that means), working hard, making money, getting along with my parents, planning for college. It seemed I had the world by the tail. I’m not sure if I was in denial or just plain clueless about the trouble brewing with my Dad.

I turned 18 the day after my high school graduation in 1972 and began a courtship with a guy from my class. Two years later we married just a month after my twentieth birthday. And this is interesting; our wedding ceremony was part of the Sunday morning worship service at my family’s church home—Lutheran Church of the Living Christ. I wore my mother’s wedding gown, said I do, and had coffee and donuts in the church basement afterward. That night we went to see Joni Mitchell in concert. The next day it was Monday. We went back to work. It was business as usual.

It didn’t take long for the marriage to begin to unravel and two years later we were divorced. In retrospect, I think we may have rushed the wedding just a teence. For me, I know it was just a good way for me to get out of the house. Seems silly now, but I didn’t have the courage to move out on my own. I had attended community college and lived at home for two years after high school. I was becoming more and more aware of my Dad’s drinking problem and my Mom’s misery over it. I remember the night we had decided to get married. My Dad was drunk again and my folks were fighting … something about some neighbors getting a little too friendly. I remember hearing the shouting, getting out of bed, pulling on my jeans, and walking uptown barefoot in my baby doll pajama top and jean jacket. I found a friend who drove me to Steve’s apartment where we made the plan and just a few weeks later we were married, no matter how fervently both sets of parents protested.

We were both born-again Christians, but we were the kind of superior new believers who thought we knew it all and really didn’t see the need for a church family. There were probably good churches all around us but we didn’t care to investigate or to become part of a Bible-based community. We lived separate lives. He worked and smoked…after he told me he had quit. I worked and went to school…and hated smokers. Our lives were on parallel tracks and heading nowhere together. A perfect petri dish for what happened next.

An older guy at work—a bartender with dreamy brown eyes who had been in the Navy—began paying attention to me. Twenty-two is a bad time in your life to feel like you’re taken for granted at home, so I began a five-year period of back-sliding in a big way. I left my husband, moved in with the bartender, which broke my mother’s heart, lived with him for two years, broke up with him, moved into my own efficiency apartment, and took up with a Native American story-telling horse trainer with steel blue eyes and curly hair 25 years older than I.

I worked as a teller at the local bank, showed horses in barrel racing and pole bending, and owned a dirt bike. I traveled to San Francisco, St. Thomas USVI, Kingsville, Texas, the Bighorn Mountains, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I finished my accounting degree and worked in a CPA office. I never stopped to open my Bible or darken the door of a church. My folks were disapproving but stood by me. My mom would drop off groceries outside my apartment door; she knew the only thing in my fridge was nail polish. She kept praying for me and one day—I forget why now—I moved back home and began to get back on my feet.

January 1981. I met my husband Karl on Super Bowl Sunday at my parent’s home. He was with the Wright Brothers Band. They lived in Indianapolis but often worked in Minneapolis. I wasn’t much for hanging out in smoky clubs listening to bands, but my sister had married their road manager and invited the band over to my parent’s house to watch the Super Bowl.

July 1981. The band visited my parent’s home again, this time for a picnic. Karl was miserable, sitting in front of a fan trying to get cool in our un-air-conditioned house. I asked him if he’d like to help me feed my horses that evening. He came with me and then asked me out on a date for that very night! We went to the drive-in movies – in Minnesota it doesn’t get dark until after 10:00pm in July. We saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and Airplane at the Mann France Drive-in. We knew we were made for each other when we both laughed hysterically at the humor in Airplane. I know it’s hard to believe but not everyone laughs at Airplane!

August 1981. I visited my sister in Indiana. Falling in love fast and furious. Karl lived in the same apartment complex as Holly. I did not see much of her that weekend.

September 1981. Very early one crisp autumn morning (I was just getting up in Minnesota and Karl hadn’t been to bed yet in Nevada) the phone rang. It was Karl calling me from Reno. He asked me to marry him. My heart soared. I said, “Yes!”

October 1981. I joined Karl in Nashville, Tennessee for the Country Music Awards. We stayed at the Opryland Hotel in the lap of luxury. There must have been country music celebrities and media there, but I didn’t notice. I only had eyes for Karl. We had an enchanted—and I do mean ENCHANTED—weekend. I cried like they do in the movies when I boarded the plane to go home.

November 1981. We had a huge reception open house at my folk’s house for friends and relatives to meet Karl. We stood at the front door and greeted guests coming and going all afternoon. Poor guy, the day was a blur for him.

December 21, 1981. Karl and I were married on a sub-zero Monday night at a local historic landmark. The first church built in Chanhassen, St. Hubert Catholic Church, was erected in 1887 and rented to the Lutherans when the Catholics built a bigger new facility in 1970s. We spent the next two days at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing and were back in Chanhassen in time to spend Christmas Eve with my family.

December 25, 1981. Karl and I moved all my earthly belongings to Indianapolis in my black Chevy pick-up powered by, of all things, propane. It was raining on Christmas Day. I thought I had moved to the Deep South.

So we began our life together: our honeymoon in October, our reception in November, and our wedding in December. 1981 was a big year for us. I began the year a perfectly happy single girl and ended the year an ecstatically happy married woman. Karl began the year playing in a regional band—a big fish in a little pond—and ended the year with a national recording contract with Warner Brothers—a little fish in a huge lake. The band had songs on Billboard’s Top 40 country charts and Karl was traveling 280 days a year. They played clubs from coast to coast. They performed on The Today Show and on Hee Haw. They warmed up for Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, Dolly Parton, Alabama, Oak Ridge Boys, and many other big names.

Fast forward through the next eight years, otherwise known as the Longest Honeymoon. During our pre-child years, we lived in a little love nest—a rented farm house on a country road near Westfield, Indiana. At $200 per month we couldn’t afford not to live there. I worked in the mergers and acquisitions business, managed John Biddinger’s Indianapolis office, and handled financial analysis of leveraged buyouts deals. Obviously it was the 80s. We made too much money and saved too little and used credit cards too freely. We saw too many movies and ate out too often. We vacationed in London. We paid more each month to board my horses than we paid for rent on the house. Life was relatively carefree. Perhaps I was in denial or just plain clueless about the trouble brewing with my husband.

There were three huge turning points during this chapter. First, in July of 1982 we discovered Northview Christian Life Church and Pastor Tommy Paino; both would become anchors in our lives personally and professionally.

Second, a secret addiction to prescription pain medicine brought Karl to his knees before family, friends, and God. When his head cleared and his body began to heal, he heard God’s call upon his heart and upon his music. He left the band, went to work at Northview as Youth Director, and later began a music ministry outreach which continues today. He became a licensed minister traveling to churches, prisons, the mission field, and special evangelical events proclaiming the Gospel of Christ with his words and music.

Third, our hearts began to yearn for children and at 33 years old I started infertility treatments. We ran through a truckload of dollars and a ton of tears before we began to investigate adoption. One day I was sitting in the doctor’s office lab waiting for results of my blood test. I casually mentioned to the woman next to me that this was my third month making daily visits to the doctor’s office and cheerfully proclaimed that I had a hunch the third time would be the charm. She hollowly replied that this was her eleventh YEAR trying to get pregnant. Hmmmm. I began to wonder just what was so special about our gene pool that would make us go through this kind of heartache for that long. It began to dawn on Karl and me that there just might be a child or two out there for us.

The dates are important here because it shows what a whirlwind the adoption process can be. It doesn’t have to take years of waiting. In June 1989 we visited an adoption attorney and got all the facts. In August we completed our home study and began to wait. On December 13, 1989 Walker was born and we got the call. “It’s a boy!”

On December 18 we picked Walker up from the hospital on a cold and snowy day. It was 19 degrees. He was five days old and SOOO adorable. I was 35 and Karl was 37. We just stared at Walker day and night. We were mesmerized by his very existence. We both got up for the 2am feedings. One held the bottle while the other watched. We made excuses to go out in public so we could show him off.

On December 22, Walker was nine days old. We boarded a plane for Minneapolis to spend Christmas with my family. What a sight! My Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews all showed up at the airport with balloons and banners to greet us and worship the child. The next day, my friend Diane brought her first-born to my parent’s house. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Two beautiful babies born just one month apart. So very different. One in blue and one in pink, one very dark and one very fair, one quiet and one not so quiet. Both with the same possibilities and opportunities awaiting them. Looking into their eyes, all we saw were their bright futures. Life would no doubt toss them around a little, but we just knew they would come out strong. We just knew it. We could see it in their eyes. We could see ourselves in their eyes!

Fast forward to summer 1992. We thought at 2 ½ years old, Walker might be ready for a little brother or sister. On July 27 we wrote our attorney, telling him we would begin the home study update and asking him to put us on the list again. On August 7, just ten days later, Jackson was born and we got the call. “It’s another boy!!” On August 10 we picked up Jackson from the hospital on a humid 91 degree day. He was three days old and SOOO adorable. I was 38 and Karl was 40. We discovered that one plus one is not always two; it might as well be five when you are adding kids to your family. Jackson was a really good baby, and once he started walking our family life was at full tilt.

The last 13 years have been a tilt-a-whirl ride: a thousand activities and committees and new friends, Little Lamb preschool, our first home in Carmel, Adirondack chairs in our side-yard, great neighbors, Cherry Tree Elementary, Clay and Carmel Jr. Highs, University High School, soccer, the loss of my 14-year job at Biddinger Investment, driveway basketball, summer camps, Smokey Row swim team, Sunday School, Youth Group at Radiant, Discipleship Walk, SIS (Sisters in Spirit) accountability group, SOS (Sisters of the Sand) pastors’ wives trips to Florida, deep friendships, vacations to Grand Marais on Lake Superior, Norway, the Black Hills, Destin, family visits to Minneapolis, sisters’ trips to Chicago and Ft. Lauderdale, hiking at Holiday Park, Springmill State Park, and Turkey Run, Karl’s music ministry and his ’60s rock-n-roll band, the best block parties in town, neighborhood night games, bon fires, travel soccer, caring for the dying and the passing of my mother and Karl’s mother and dad and Pastor Tommy, the murder of my boss and good friend Bill Rice, my Dad’s one-year AA Pin at the age of 83, the loss of our church in Carmel and helping to plant a new one in Westfield, my nieces and nephews growing up and having their own kids, my Scribes writing group, track and cross country meets, out of town soccer tournaments, a Belizean mission pilgrimage, a husband who loves me more year after year, two healthy and bright sons, soccer, soccer, and more soccer—and this week…the Unthinkable…the Unfathomable…Drivers Training!

But back to those two questions: Who was I at that age, at 13 or 15 years old? And can I relax a little and forgive my kids for being up only 250 feet?

I was a pretty good kid at my core who was loved by my Mother and Dad.

I was scared and insecure and pretty and smart.

I made good friends and good grades when I wanted to.

I made poor grades when I didn’t care.

I had great courage sometimes and great fear sometimes.

I made good choices sometimes and really stupid ones sometimes.

I broke my parent’s heart a time or two although I really didn’t set out to.

I put the needs of others before my own sometimes and only thought of what I wanted sometimes.

I did dangerous things that could have got me killed or hurt or pregnant or sick, but I really didn’t see it that way at the time.

I didn’t see the big picture or plan ahead very far to set my future in motion according to some grand design.

I didn’t live up to my full potential all the way every day.

And still…I think I turned out OK.

That’s how I see it today at 51 from 500 feet up. I thank God and my Scribes Group for this assignment. I ask that both keep reminding me to relax a little and rejoice in the fact that my kids are only 250 feet up right now.


[March 20, 2020] Flying up the interstate from Seymour to Indianapolis in his buddy’s ‘68 Plymouth Road Runner, 4 speed, 383cu, V8, royal blue. He glanced over at the speedometer: 110 mph! Passing cars like they were standing still! The Road Runner was pretty new on the road, third only in popularity that year to the GTO and the Chevelle. Those were the days!

Running on leaded, windows rolled down, burning through southern Indiana.

Why the big hurry? It was the Battle of the Bands at the Indiana State Fair Grounds and the first place prize was warming up for Kenny Rogers & the First Edition. They couldn’t be late or they would lose their spot.

The year was 1969 and Indy’s garage band scene was hot. The band was The Knightsmen out of Arlington High School and they were good! All the guys were excellent musicians and their harmonies were spot on, but their lead singer was awesome! And I’m not just saying that because he grew up to be my husband. Karl had just turned 17 in May of that year.

That weekend, Karl had been camping with his childhood friend, Dan Lawhorn, on the banks of the Muscatatuck River down by Camp Atterbury. Dan’s dad owned an old trailer near the river and ever since Jr. High, the boys would often get dropped off down there to just be boys for the weekend to roam free. Canned beans, junk food, campfires, a rowboat, true crime reenactments, and firearms in the forest. A boy’s dream come true, am I right?

But that weekend, Karl had to be back in Indy for the Battle of the Bands and a chance at the first prize. His band mate and lead guitarist extraordinaire, Mark Tribby agreed to come to pick him up. The deal was that Karl would have to walk out of the river bottoms up to the highway because Mark wasn’t about to drive his brand new Road Runner into the woods. Miraculously, Karl made his way to the highway just in time to see that blue Road Runner roar by, make an illegal U-turn, and screech to a stop. Karl hopped in and away they went. Indy-bound and 20 feet from stardom!

I probably don’t need to tell you the Knightsmen ended up winning first place in Battle of the Bands and they warmed up that very day for the one and only Kenny Rogers back in the First Edition days.

This was well before Kenny’s crossover fame and fortune but after the New Christy Minstrels. Before the white hair and beard. Before too many plastic surgeries. After three of his five wives and before his last two. It was before “The Gambler” and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and before his friendship with Dolly Parton and “Islands in the Stream”. At that point, he had been in the business 14 years longer than Karl had.

For Karl, The Knightsmen was after being the little kid entertainment at his parents’ house parties and before another garage band called “Jubal” and before a band called “Wright Brothers Overland Stage”. After campsite shenanigans at the Muscatatuck River and before national exposure on the Grand Ole Opry, NBC’s Today Show, and Warner Brothers recording label.

The guys in the band all remember meeting Kenny Rogers that day at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and they all had the same impression; that he was a real nice guy. Relaxed and down-to-earth, just a regular guy on the road trying to make a living at something he loved: music and storytelling.

RIP Kenny Rodgers. Thanks for the great memory!

[NOT ORIGINAL WITH ME: Kenny Rodgers dippin’ out in the middle of an apocalypse is the most “know when to fold them” shit I’ve ever seen. #coronavirus #COVID-19]