Monday, May 1, 2017

Joey & Claire


1947 was a watershed year.  World War II was over. The healing was beginning and construction of much needed housing had begun.  Joey was a ten year old boy and his newest friend was an eight year old girl named Claire. The government was pushing ahead with a form of manufactured housing.  Hundreds of homes were being built with 3 bedrooms or two bedrooms. The designs were basic. The floor plans altered only to have the basic rooms shifted some but square feet remaining the same.  In other words, it was a cookie cutter approach. It was this setting that brought together the returning vets and others who were getting their footing after a terrible war.  Because the homes were close quarters, neighbors were friendlier and friendships were formed.  Well, Joey and Claire lived two doors away from each other and it seemed Claire was the sister Joey never had. Thinking of Claire as his sister to Joey just seemed so natural. Joey had friends who were of his own age but none more important to Joey than Claire. She had moved in almost the same week that Joey’s folks moved into the area. Things were going well. Joey found Claire to be so full of life. She was an only child and not the least bit spoiled. She was generous and willing to give up things for the good of others.

Months had gone by and Joey noticed Claire was not herself.  She finally told him that she had a form of cancer which was life threatening.   Joey had the typical reaction.  Surprise followed by disbelief and then determination to fight back. So it was that the painful journey of cancer started to take hold.  Joey was visiting Claire regularly with an eye toward being of help. Claire began to tell him of her dream of being a ballet dancer and the newest gift of ballet shoes from her parents. The doctors and medical people did what they could for her but she was losing the battle in spite of treatments.  She had come home to finish her life within the walls of her home.   All that could be done for her was done as it would be until that final day came. Claire was now having difficulty getting around.  Joey kept thinking of things to help her when he was walking home from school. He could take ballet lessons and report back to Claire after each lesson. He soon was registered at the cost of $1.50 for each lesson.  Once a week it was required to attend and take part.  The money would come from his paper route where he earned $10.00 a month.

Each week Joey came back and told Claire all about it. She was so thrilled and pestered him with questions about what he had learned.  Joey had a good sense of humor and was a bit of a comic, so when he talked about his big feet and how they got in the way, he gave a demonstration of posturing and grace that had Claire in stitches. She was struggling with her cancer and that meant Joey had to work out a routine each time to make Claire laugh and also to give her the details that she longed to know.

The ballet instructors knew something was up for Joey did not fit the bill for a student of ballet. He behaved himself but had the rest of the students in hysterics with his awareness as he went about making the movements that were part of his classes. Time after time he bumbled along in his classes looking so foolish but struggling on to report back to Claire. Here is how he described one class:  “I took my position, which was standing still with one foot just barely touching the floor and the other turned   slightly to balance with my left-hand raised and the right hand moving with a flourish which capsized the whole movement to the floor.”

Claire laughed hard when he displayed the antics of position and proper style that one had to learn. 

To make the proper movement  Joey had one hand on his hip, leg arched, head tipped back, his eyes focused to turn on a dime, but in his case a quarter. Then Joey added that his performance will go down in history – way down.

The program continued with Joey’s ballet lessons and Claire’s excitement keeping them both staring into another world.  Claire wanted to live the dream of dancing and performing and Joey’s concern was to make her happy in his own way.  Joey found out putting the body in unnatural positions was necessary for body work and is also designed to warm up the body and stretch muscles to prepare for strains and muscles being exercised to avoid injury. He thought he would tell Claire about the rigors of staying fit as he made fun of his attempts to use the wooden bar along the studio wall.

The word had spread by now and the dancing instructors understood.  The mothers in the neighborhood understood and the school leaders understood. Claire was failing and chose to stay at home during her trial. Joey was feeling the pain in his heart and the absence of Claire in his life.  So when Claire said to him on a particular hard day for both of them:   “Joey, is Heaven close?  I mean, is it close enough that I can watch you grow up and tell God that you’re my brother?  Would He understand and allow me to be part of you and love you as much as you love me?” Joey sat back with tears in his eyes and said:  “God could do anything but it’s a lot easier when He has somebody like you to work with.”   Then it happened.   She leaned forward and said:   “I won’t be here tomorrow.”  That did it as Claire kissed him.  Joey wept like only a child can and then said his good-bye. Claire, through  eyes full of tears, said with some difficulty:  “Brother Joey, I love you.” 

Joey did not want tomorrow to come but it did.   Claire’s folks called Joey’s parents and to tell them Claire died after a few hours when Joey said goodbye.

Joey’s heart was melted and he found himself rushing into his mother’s arms.  She held him tight as his father said, “Joey,  you were a wonderful brother to Claire and we are so proud of you. You spent your paper money to make Claire happy. You suffered ridicule when practicing Ballet. You made Claire happy in her last days and God will not forget what you did, son.”

The funeral was held and the ballet class was also there. The school let everyone who wanted to go to the funeral attend.  People from the community were there and it seemed the angels were singing as  there was a feeling that hushed us all.  Joey thought he could hear Claire saying:  “I’m up here Joey! Just look up. I’m OK.”

Claire’s family placed a pair of ballet slippers on a homemade stand with the inscription “For Claire our ballerina.” Joey looked around and said in a hushed tone:  “Claire, I’ll miss you when the ballet lessons end and my visits don’t take place.  I will find you again when spring comes as your golden hair shines in the sunlight and you smile ever so shyly.”  Joey looked away from Claire’s grave, searching his mind and heart.  His heart was weighed down as though the ache he felt would never go away.  His mind thought of Claire, who was an only child, and her folks feeling the loss as they looked totally devastated.  He then remembered what Claire had said:  “Heaven has room for me Joey.  I know it and God won’t forget me.”  Joey smiled and then closed his eyes, whispering:  “Good bye for now, Claire.”   He felt his mother’s embrace and the tears just flowed.  Joey knew in his very being he would see Claire again.  Joey visited Claire’s grave for few years and noticed the ballet shoes were still there, somewhat weathered but undisturbed which spoke volumes for peoples’ respect. He took careful note of that and in future years would remember to tell Claire she was even more special.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

2016 April General Conference


WHERE TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED IN MY NAME

The joy I felt when President Eyring talked to us during the Saturday Morning session of conference is with me still.  He talked about hearts being softened, faith strengthened and the increased capacity to love the Savior more.  

Great counsel and I talked to myself about all I had heard and read. I found a story about Sherlock Holmes that helps.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson went on a camping trip. After sharing a good meal, they retire to their tent for the night.  At about 3 AM, Holmes nudges Watson and asks, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see?”
Watson said, “I see millions of stars.”
Holmes asks, “And what does that tell you?”
Watson replies, “Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Theologically, it tells me that God is great ad we are small and insignificant. Horologically,  it tells me that it’s about 3 AM. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.  What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Holmes retorts, “SOMEONE STOLE OUR TENT!”
My mind drifted back to my first years in the gospel when a Branch President said he had an assignment for me. I was one of his Counselors.  Conditions in Northern British Columbia were economically poor at the time and called for sacrifices both temporally and spiritually.    He had become aware of several sisters who lived a couple of hours away in the back country whose husbands were not keen on the idea of them driving over a rough road into Dawson Creek, especially in the winter to go to church. He had consented to have two elders come up every other Sunday.  The time with these sisters took on a spirit that lifted us up as we blessed and passed the sacrament in the home of one of them.  We felt so special to have the opportunity. Words spoken there have long since drifted from my mind but not the remembrance of the Savior’s influence. I cherished the honing of friendships and the increase of joy as we met together. Hearts indeed were softened; faith strengthened, and love of the Lord increased.

I have long had the picture of that gathering and watched as we shared the gospel.  I never will forget the words I read then and especially when I heard President Eyring repeat from D&C  6:32 – “Verily, verily, I say unto you, where two or three are gathered together in my name --- behold, there will I be in the midst of them. Even so am I in the midst of you.”

Twenty plus thousand people were in the Conference Center and millions more were watching and listening from all over the world.  President Eyring reminded us with tears in his eyes that we could feel the Savior with us today.

Many are struggling, President Eyring said, with their testimonies. He said they were not alone in their concerns nor was their test a new one. He spoke of the parable of the seed and the sower.

Without going into that parable, President Eyring’s summary is the the seed is the word of God and the soil is the heart of the person who receives the seed. He went on to say, “We are all called by called servants of God and we all remember the day of our baptism and felt the swelling in our hearts being part of the nurtured soil we knew would grow our testimonies.”  President Eyring  also said:  “Satan wants us all to be as miserable as him and says the joy we once felt was childish and self-delusion.” End quote.

I can still hear the words of an older brother who came to the rented hall our Branch was worshipping  in and say so quietly in that humble setting:  “All that I am and all that I ever will be I owe to the Savior. I feel His love and constant encouragement. My prayers have honored His name and my heart has sought His counsel.”  He then sat down and wept and we wept with him.

I instantly understood that he had travelled with the Savior as his companion. President Eyring’s words came home to me as I listened to him say to pray with full purpose of heart. Indeed, we had a witness of it that day.

Confucius said: “Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practices it will have neighbors.”

Sister Hubbert has labored diligently, along with the choir singers and players and we felt their full purpose of hope in their Easter message. President Eyring talked about that kind of preparation, having a special faith in the music, and the song of the heart and said the song of the righteous is a prayer unto the savior.

He further said: “They pray as they sing and their prayers and your prayers will be answered by a blessing upon your heads. We have had a witness of their efforts as they sang out for us and the Lord.”

When I was on the Distant Early Warning Line, above the Arctic Circle, there were no other Mormons around but they had a minister who came in and had a non-denomination service each Sunday.

I enjoyed it as the sermons were thoughtful and enlightened with good reasoning. Then came an LDS  pilot who was flying a DC-3 in and out of the construction camp. He was going to be air support (cargo) throughout the summer.  I contacted him to join me to prepare and take our own sacrament.   We then attended the non-denomination service.  It was so pleasing to be with him on those Sundays and I remember how it lifted my spirits. So much of my life has been in the mission field. Bonnie and I had never lived in a ward until we came to this area.

What I can tell you  is the faith of good people is so pleasing for us and President Eyring’s message goes right to it. His words are so on point. “I know from experience what the faith of good people can do to bring words from the spirit at the close of a sermon.  More than once, someone has said to me after my testimony, how did you know what I so needed to hear.

 I have learned to not be surprised when I cannot remember saying the words. I spoke the words of testimony but the Lord was there, giving them to me in the moment. The promise that the Lord gives us words in the very moment applies especially to testimony

 D&C 24:6  :.And it shall be given thee in the very moment what thou shall speak and write, and they shall hear it, or I will send  unto them a cursing instead of a blessing. Listen carefully to the testimonies borne in this conference. You will feel closer to the Lord.”

Now, I have thought about how I felt as a new convert.  It was startling to hear of the gospel, scary in that it conjured up feelings I never knew existed but comforting in that it defies all explanation.  After much pondering, much agonizing, I was in a state of wonder when the questions just flowed. Could this be I said? Did it really happen? All of the feelings I had made me weep.  Do they come from God or from finding something so utterly wonderful that I dared not let go of it?  Is it true or do I just want it to be true so much that I can’t stand to say anything against it? The sifting went on and I finally came to the altar of acceptance.  Even more so, I had an understanding of the spirit giving me the quiet assurance that the joy I felt was real and would not go away if I followed the Savior.

For those raised in the church, you will have the benefit of information, exposure to spiritual moments, training, culturally, spiritually with all the resources of the church and its people. However, your road to conversion was probably more tested than mine. You will have the disenchantment of the apostates; the critics of the church who work the half-truths so skillfully.  You may also run into the intellects who argue their way in and out of the church.

Yet, those who came through that and also kneeled at the altar of acceptance have UNITED their lives with the Savior’s and kept their eternal flames burning.

So here we are, the inside converts joined with the outside converts in the journey to perfection.  Now promises & covenants begin to mean more for us; the caring for each other, the understanding, and the willingness to serve takes on a new meaning. Is it not just for goodness sake? Not just for a better way to live but for reasons eternally sanctified with the savior’s blood that is the clear path to the atonement?  Perhaps it is ours to take a deep spiritual breath smiling upward as we follow in the Savior’s footsteps.

I so love feeling the light of the gospel and being given the chance to make a difference.

It is not ours to make anyone ask for love. That is, though, we have a lot of places, things and people to work with constantly.  A walk in the rain with a troubled person has its moments.  Suffering can make saints of people and they rarely know it.  Joy can make the day more blessed and the nights more filled but the greatest blessing is freely giving. To freely accept the Lord's invitation to come home, you have been making it through hard times as it comes to us all.   I have been privileged to be in your company.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Christmas without laughter



Some places in life are part of our well being and when violated there is a protection mechanism that comes into play. Some things we give up with sadness but no regret.  Others leave us flat and disappointed but there is a time when all we are cries out to stay and our hearts and circumstances chase us away. We don't go easy but when we do, kicking and screaming is not enough.

That feeling came over Birch when he was ten. All he loved and cared for was taken from him, His folks were killed in an automobile accident and to make it even worse it was on Christmas Day.

The only relative Birch really had was his Aunt Olga. She was efficient, never seemed emotional and she was coming to get things finished. She had taken care of everything except packing a few things into the car and moving out.

Birch was thinking about his whole life and at ten years old his feelings were tender and he was angry. He was thinking the worst of God and life when his Aunt Olga interrupted and said: "Come along, Birch, we have along way to go." He knew his aunt ran her home like a boarding school and that it would be a different life from now on.

He  got in her car and, as they drove off, he looked back at the house and buried his head in his hands. His version of Christmas was his life being turned upside down and through the holidays season he felt the loss of his parents. He felt no connection to Christmas except for the door being shut on his emotions. Aunt Olga gave him sometime to grieve and then wouldn't tolerate any self pity nor did she have the warmth of character to hug or hold or to say kind things.

Christmas was an annoyance and Aunt Olga gave it little mention, treating it just like any other day. That was ok with Birch for he found no gladness or Christmas cheer either.

Aunt Olga said having a name like Birch came about because his parents had been on a trip and spotted a  grove of Birch trees and Birch's mom thought it was such a beautiful spot, unique and standing out among the forest. So she named her son Birch. Aunt Olga said it  wasn't much of a start to have a name like Birch but seeing as they put the name on his birth certificate it was done but a good bible name
would have been better.

Birch chewed on his lot but kept his emotions close to his vest.  However,  his bitterness was not far from his thoughts at Christmas and he preferred not to celebrate the holiday season. He was young and at ten years old did not wear the sorrows he felt too well.

Maybe the years ahead would prove otherwise but he grew and the lessons of loss and the visions of life were intertwined.

So the years went by and Christmas was just a reminder of losing his parents. When Christmas came around, Birch became grumpy, despondent and was a wet blanket.  He was determined to stay away from parties and shut the radio or TV off at the mention of a yuletide celebration. If you greeted him with a "Merry Christmas" his reply was, "What's merry about it?" followed up with "Keep your greetings" and he stomped off, muttering to himself about finding a place to go until Christmas was over.

Aunt Olga was good company at Christmas for she gave no heed to it and that pretty well cinched the Christmas noose. Aunt Olga never showed signs of approval or disapproval and Birch did not get much guidance except she grumbled about the weather. Yet there was in her a concern for Birch but it never came forth in the way the man Birch could get close to it.

So there it was: Birch hating Christmas and really troubled by a God who would take his parents away during Christmas.  Birch thought if there was a God he was cruel and didn't care what happened to a ten year old boy.  Celebrating the birth of his Son by taking his parents away was not Birch's idea of benevolence.

The years passed and  Aunt Olga died. The unfortunate timing was right on Christmas day and it cemented even further his hatred of God and Christmas. So much so that Birch once again cursed the heavens and said with malice in his heart:  "Aunt Olga is gone; what do you have planned for next Christmas?  Burn my house down maybe?"

It made Birch so angry that at Christmas he put a sign on his door which read: "GO AWAY AND TAKE YOUR CHRISTMS CHEER WITH YOU." Folks began to call him CHEERLESS. The name stuck and Cheerless was the town Christmas grump and that was fine with him. He remained so until Maple moved to town right next door to Birch. Birch had inherited Aunt Olga's house and inside and out it was the plain wrapper. That all made the name CHEERLESS stick on the tongues of town folk especially the kids. They would go by his house chanting: "CHEER UP CHEERLESS.  CHEER UP CHEERLESS."  He would scowl at them and say haven't you kids got better things to do.


Well, Maple landed right in the thick of it. She was a person of interest right off. She had a quick mind with a gracious smile and laughter that made you want to laugh right along with her. Her big blue eyes seemed to light up her face and she had an impish grin that was going to improve Birch's challenge.

Maple was slender and about 5'5" tall but she carried herself well with one exception. She had a slight limp that wasn't entirely noticeable until she ran, for it caused her to lean a little to the right. It was an old injury  from a motorcycle accident that required several operations on her right ankle. She seemed not to give it notice. She had come to live with her mother who lost her husband a short while ago.  Maple had quit her job to help her mother through the heartache and loss. She was excited for this was snow country. A white Christmas was on her mind, and moving right next door to Birch and only two months until Christmas started things rolling.

Maple was from the Midwest and loved Christmas, especially a white Christmas. It was her favorite time of the year. She began to make plans. First, she decorated her mother's house with a mixture of colored lights and Christmas ornaments. The neighbors loved her enthusiasm and her willingness to be happy and considerate of her neighbors. She played Christmas songs and offered up hot cider, chocolate and eggnog  to her neighbors, all the while having a great time adding scenes to the house like the nativity scene,Santa's reindeer and miniature town of Bethlehem.

She naturally liked everyone and made friends rather quickly. One day in the yuletide season she knocked on Birch's door with a cup of hot cider for him. He came to the door looked at her and said: "Can't you read? The sign says go away." Maple laughed and said, "I don't pay much attention to such a rude sign." Birch then proceeded to tell Maple that she could keep her apple cider and to get off his porch. She laughed again and said: "My, you are a Christmas Grouch  aren't you? Someone put a burr under your saddle or do you just not like people?" He replied by raising his voice. "What I like or don't like is none of your business and I would appreciate it if you would just go away." Maple eyed him for a moment and then said: I'll just put the hot cider on your picnic table and I will be around later to pick it up." "Don't bother!" Birch yelled, and she laughed as he went inside and slammed the door. Birch  began swearing and carrying on inside the house. Then he calmed down and thought for a moment he would place her cider mug on the front steps with a sign which he quickly wrote the words. "I did not ask for your cider or your Christmas   bilge and especially not your intrusion into my life. So stay away." Meanwhile, Maple was watching and saw him put the mug outside on a piece of paper. She quickly gathered up some Christmas cookies she had made, put them on a plate, and headed for Birch's place.

She read Birch's note and on the bottom replied: "Perhaps this will sweeten your disposition!" She then rang the doorbell and left. Birch came out, spotted the note and cookies, and swept the plate, cookies and hot cider off the picnic table. The mug, the plate, and cookies broke.

Maple spotted all this and was undaunted.  She decided on a tactic Birch wasn't expecting. She rounded up some of her neighbors and everybody donated some Christmas decorations. They waited until Birch went to work and began decorating his house. They planned well and when done the house took on a brightness and  tranquility, especially the part where Christ was presented in a manger scene. The manger scene was the Christ child surrounded by wise men, animals and a picture of Maple standing to the side adoring the whole thing with a smile that could melt the heart of Jack Frost.

Well as you can guess Birch  came home that evening and came unglued. The place was lit up and a sign over the porch said, "We love you, Birch. Merry Christmas." Something happened. Birch stared for the longest time at the decorations and then walked into the house. Maple had been watching, along with her new friends but it was quiet over there and nothing was stirring.  She continued with other things.

Meanwhile, Birch had his own plan. He had the next day off so he went out that night and bought the things he needed. First, he quietly rigged up an outside speaker near the front door. He then set the bait. He had bought a Christmas tape and got it ready to play for the following day.


The following morning he drove his car away and parked it about a block from the house. Then he sneaked back and got ready for the fun. He played the Christmas music over the speaker and watched. Maple heard the music but couldn't believe her ears. It was coming from Birch's house alright. Maple was hurrying over to Birch's house to investigate. She noticed he had placed an envelope on the front door with her name on it. She glanced around to see if there was anybody around and, being satisfied there was not, she walked up the front stairs to retrieve the note. She opened it and there was just a blank piece of paper in it. Just then Birch yelled at her over the speaker: "Maple, you darned Christmas busybody!" She was so startled she screamed and for a moment she could not get  hold of herself. It was just then Birch flew out the front door dressed in a devil's costume and shouted: "I'm the Devil!" Then in great joy said: "To hell you say." Maple screamed even louder and  ran for her house.

Birch was overcome with laughter saying, "Take that you busybody." He then howled with delight and was near to tears with laughter.


Maple arrived home out of breath but could  see the humor in what just happened. She began to plot a scheme of her own. She got one of her new friends to help.  They waited until just before dawn, rigged up a pail of water over Birch's front door, attached a rope to it, and waited. Then, seeing signs of stirring, Maple waited until she was sure he could see her. She had a sign with her looking like she was going to place it on the front porch. Birch saw her sneaking over alright and was ready to open the front door to surprise her. When he thought she was close enough he opened the front door quietly and stepped out. Before he could surprise her, Maple's friend pulled the rope and the cold water hit him. He gasped, swore, yelped and half danced around. Maple then showed him the sign that read: "Maybe this will cool you off. Merry Christmas."

What was to be done? It was a stand off. Maple, still undaunted, tried one more thing. She got the help of her church members and then that night they came over to Birch's house and sang Christmas carols for him and her neighbors. Birch came out and listened and when they were done got up and went inside. Maple thought what had happened for he had quietly  left and without a murmur.

Maple sat down after a while and wrote Birch a letter. "Dear Birch," she said: Christmas is more than colored tissues, tinkling things, lights, and merry making. It's significance is the Savior of all mankind. His coming into the world meant joy and peace. His birth is our salvation and His atonement is our resurrection and way back to the Father. All these shenanigans we have been going through are meant to say 'Please forgive us' and allow us to be your friend." She left the letter on his front door.


Birch read the letter and something happened inside of him. He began to weep and for the first time in years the sadness left him. After awhile he walked over to Maple's and knocked on her front door. She came to the door and he said: "Can we talk?" She invited him in and he poured out his disappointments and began to tell her about his unhappiness. All his emotions came to the surface and he talked for a long time. He finally shuddered and quietly wept. He recovered, looked at Maple and said: "That large ache in my heart is beginning to subside." He finally felt the weight of all he had been saying releasing him from years of pain. He explained his life's sorrows and attitudes and said: "Maple, I could use a friend like you but I must tell you that bucket of cold water was a dirty trick." They both laughed and she said, "What about the speaker and devil's costume?" They both had fit of laughter. Maple hugged him and said: "It's alright for you have friends now." He looked up at her and said: "My golly, you are a breath of fresh air, not to mention a woman on a mission. How else," he said, "could you explain the tenacity you showed." She laughed and said: "Oh Birch, welcome back to us and Heavenly Father." He said he would have to work on that but replied, "I may have made an enemy of God but perhaps the enemy is me." She took him by the hand and said, "Would you mind if I call our new friends and have them come over? We have a lot to celebrate." He agreed and she kissed him on the cheek as she headed for the telephone.

Birch sat there and was happier then he could ever remember.











Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Spring in his step


Spring in His step

 

Snow in the country is a place, but then again, it is a mind remembering and a heart feeling old times and old places.  Snow and cold go together as well as chill winds with frost and icicles.  It’s also about snowballs, frosted windows, snowmen, mittens, scarves, earmuffs, sweaters, and warm boots.  Ask anyone who lives in snow country and they will tell you their memories of frost bite, huddling around the wood stove with an emphasis on  heavy blankets, furry slippers, handkerchiefs and shivering family and friends. Once all the adjectives are spoken, it is a place looking back at you and you can hear the voices of long ago.

Paul stopped for a moment, brought back to reality by a voice from long ago that said: “Paul, you leave those cookies alone and get on with your chores. You know we have company coming tonight so get on with the things you have to do, especially shoveling the snow off the sidewalks.“  Paul sighed and thought to himself: “Paul do this and Paul do that.” Give me a break. 

He shrugged his shoulders and went to work. He had heard that voice over the years, always teaching, loving and curing his ills with solid life recipes. He grew silent.  Tears came to his eyes as he thought, “Mom is gone and I miss her so.” He thought about her wonderful attributes and how Dad had preceded her. Now they were both just a memory.  Mom and Dad just were there when you needed them and always supportive.

I remember when my wife Alice was so despondent when we lost our first child due to complications at birth. I was too, but Alice just could not come to grips with it. I was beside myself with worry about her. Her folks were also supportive but my Mom and Dad searched for ways to break her sadness.  Finally, one day there came Mom and Dad dressed up as Angels in the middle of summer.  Dad and Mom had good voices as they sang a song they had made up called. “Breaking the Ice.“ All the time you have been so sad we have been breaking the Ice, Breaking the Ice. When your lip was on the floor we were breaking the Ice. Now we are at your door breaking the Ice. How could you want for more breaking the Ice?”  Alice and I just stood there in amazement while these two crack pots handed us each a pick and said, “Why don’t you help us in breaking the Ice, Breaking the Ice.” Alice grabbed one of the picks and started singing with them Breaking the Ice.  I joined in and Dad spread out a small tarp with the words Breaking the Ice on it. He began hitting it and  we all joined in. We stopped and let Alice finish. She kept hitting the tarp and finally fell down and cried and cried and cried. Mom held her, crying with her. At last she started laughing and saying to my parents,  “You two are nuts and I am so glad.”  She was a lot better after that and when the blue days came we got out the pictures I had taken and we laughed and cried and thanked the Lord for his mercy.

Alice’s parents came over and we showed them the pictures and once again we laughed and cried.  Alice’s mother put her arms around her daughter and said, “They threw away the mold when God made Sam & Mabel.”  She looked at her husband and said, “We must go to see them right away.”

Paul began to think of their gifts of service and love and then it hit him. The best thing he could do was to preserve their memories in something solid and lasting. Weeks went by and then an idea began to take form. What brought the idea around was when Mom and Dad rented a small ball field for the day and invited their four kids and all the grandkids to “Family Day baseball.”  The day came and Mom and Dad showed up in the old style ball player uniforms from the 1920’s to 30’s era. We were to start at 10 a.m. and Mom and Dad would be there to greet us. They were both dressed in the vintage baseball uniforms Mom had sewn and it was hilarious. They had chosen dark maroon colors and with stripes up and down. The jersey had a patch on it which read “Family Baseball League.” On the back of Dad’s uniform it read:  “Sam’s Ice Cream Shop” and on the back of Mother's it read: “Mabel’s Quilting and Knitting Shop.” The pants were also striped and on both of their ball caps was the word “Family.” They had also arranged for an ice cream bicycle cart complete with frozen yogurt, ice cream bars and popsicles. Oh yeah! There was a banner across the front of the backstop on the diamond which read “Breaking the Ice.” That saying had become a family Motto.

Paul then decided on what to do as a legacy for his parents.  He would need help so he would call his brother and two sisters. He could just hear their reaction. “You want to do what? Where?”

We will build a waterfall but a different kind of waterfall under glass in the winter, heated and flowing for all to see. There will be colored lights and a reflection pool with a family statue of parents and children gazing into the pool. Paul had done well in life and had the funds. His brother was an engineer skilled in building and his sister was an accomplished artist.

Paul had purchased some property years ago in a commercial district. He had talked to the town council, wanting the memorial to be a community place and they had agreed to its being put in place. They would have to gather materials. There would be rock from a rock quarry owned by one of Dad’s friends.  We went to see him and when he learned who it was for he donated the material and said he knew just what our parents would like in the way of marble and rocks to set it off. He looked at Alice and me for a moment and said he wanted to donate the materials but had a story to tell us.  

Sam had come over to the Quarry and was looking for some rock and other materials for Mabel’s flower garden. He said they had agreed to have the material in place. On one of the rocks, he had one of my workmen make a hollowed out spot and drill a hole down through the hollowed out spot into the dirt below. When I asked, “What for?”  He said he wanted to surprise Mabel. He said he was going to plant an artificial rose in that tube to the ground. He said he had made a tin box and had rigged it up so if anyone pulled on the rose it would make a hollow tinny sound.

Sure enough, everything was in order for Mabel’s flower garden and then the workman left. Sam said she eventually spotted that rose and went right to it and said, “Why, the wonderful workman  left an artificial rose there!”   She looked at it a moment and decided to pull it up and when she did she heard the clunk on the tin box. She began investigating and dug out the tin box and opened it up.  Inside were two things:  A note that said: “I just  can’t keep a secret from you” and also a large silver coin with the words engraved on it: “You’re such a treasure, Mable.”

The work on the pool began and the transformation was a sight to behold.  Paul’s brother had engineered the mechanical part -- heating, water flow, and lighting.  His two sisters and their husbands had drawn up an artist’s perception showing landscaping, placement and a dome shaped cover that was in three parts. It just sort of grew out of the ground and gave one an impression of peace and contentment. Soon the water flowed and fell.  The pool, of all things, was shaped like a hand and the statues were placed and slightly elevated when the lights finally went on.

We stood back and looked at the inscription: “In memory of Sam and Mabel Brooks -- and a separate sign that read: “For our family and all families.”

We all stood back. Our emotions were high.  It was then I noticed another sign, small and tucked away by the edge of the pool. “Thanks Mom and Dad.” I looked over at my family and they pointed to the sign and the tears just came. We all embraced and I knew then that what we had done was accepted and our hearts were glad.  But the great joy of that moment was when we found out the grandkids had thought of the inscription  “Thanks Grandma and Grandpa.”

That winter seemed so much warmer than I had ever known and still to this day when winter comes I stop by the waterfall and come away filled up again with memories and moments from long ago. Oh yes -- when I stopped by the memorial before heading home there was a young boy about ten years old looking through the glass. He saw me there and said,  “I would be proud to have a grandpa and grandma like that.” Then he sighed and said,  “That’s not likely to happen since I live in a foster Home.”  I asked him where he lived and his name. He said his name was Billie Bishop and pointed to a large home I could see a block away. I made note of it and thought there must be something I could do. I looked at the memorial with different eyes now and a smile came to my face and I said once again, “Thanks mom and dad.”
Digby

Breeze


Jane’s daughter spoke up and said:  “Who was that you were talking to on the phone?”  Jane said it was her friend Breeze. “What kind of a name is Breeze, Mom?” Jane said it was a name that brought happiness to her. She went on to explain that when she was young she had a girlfriend who was very special. Her real name was Olga and she was always saying: “Who names their kid Olga? It sounds like something someone growls out when they are under some sort of difficulty.” Jane laughed and said: “What would you like me to call you?”  Olga said, “Oh, I don’t know, but I could use a breath of fresh air.” Jane laughed and said, “That would be a breeze if you weren’t so particular.” She looked at me and said, “I like the name.”  “What name? I didn’t give you a name,” Jane said. “Oh yes you did, Jane, and it suits me just fine.” “What name?” I said a little louder. “Why, Breeze, of course. It suits me fine for you’re all the time saying I breeze in and out of here hardly landing long enough to say ‘Howdy’ on a good day.” I laughed and said, “Breeze it is then.”

The nickname stuck and everyone started to call her Breeze. Breeze could shake the earth with her independence for she was a free spirit that pushed the boundaries. Not wicked boundaries, but the boundaries of curiosity and wonder. She had a way of delving into something that was never exhausted until everything was turned over a couple of times.

Jane’s daughter encouraged her mom to tell the whole story. “Alright,” Jane said, and then continued.

“Breeze always lit up when there was a challenge to conventional thinking but still had the common sense that always brought her to weigh everything to make the solution or idea stand on merit and truth. Her standard always brought her friends but none so close as me.  I was the friend to be trusted and the optimist to make it enjoyable but with a touch of zaniest humor. I had been watching Breeze and instinctively knew something was a foot. Our friendship gave us access to mood swings and details of each other’s character so we could see a change or recognize something different.”

Well there was something in the wind alright as Breeze was antsy and restless which usually meant an idea had formed and the trail to adventure was just ahead.

I got the call that Saturday morning and couldn’t get out of the house fast enough to get the details from Breeze. Breeze had been fuming for a while about a girls’ club who was from the rich side of the tracks. They had moved in on us rubes and caught couple of our friends and made fun of them about their dress, their manners and said they were going to show us how those who have more class deal with those who have not. They worked the two girls over by spraying their clothing with sparkly paint. Then they glued strips of cloth onto their clothing. They brought a small horse drawn cart filled with rotten vegetables and made the two girls haul it down the main street of the town. Before the cops came they disappeared with the cart and upon leaving, pelted the two girls with tomatoes. One last insult was hurled at the two girls by hanging signs on them reading: ‘Losers.’ The two girls hurried away before the police came but they had fire in their eyes.

The two girls knew who their antagonists were but there was only one thought on their minds. ‘Our day is coming.’ The word spread and it wasn’t long before Breeze had a plan. She told me all about it. We could hardly wait until Breeze got our pals together and laid it out for them.

The gathering was at my place as my folks were on a trip.  It was lively, planned and between snacks each girl relished her part and could hardly wait to get started. Breeze said she would get the word out when the time was ripe. The call came and the girls were to meet at the High School yard late Friday afternoon. Well, we went over the plan several times and now they were to wait for the signal to start the ball rolling.

All the ten girls showed up the next day, which was Saturday, and they started off. Breeze had discovered there was a gathering at the country club of these spoilers and they would be dressed in their night’s finest. Breeze had explained to her Dad the whole situation and he had agreed to help. It seemed her Dad had a run in with some them that left a bad taste in his mouth. He would do what he could but no one was to know of his involvement. Breeze agreed and her Dad made sure she had her driver’s license as well as the designated driver for the other vehicle. She checked with her pals to be certain they had brought the things she requested and asked if everyone knew their part. They did and it was time to go. All ten of them had uniforms where they had sewed on the name Audrey’s Catering. A service truck was provided by Breeze’s Dad along with a van so there would be enough room for everyone.

 

The club was laid out with an entrance at the back where there was a delivery door. They would bring in boxes of catering supplies, meaning on the surface, but the real supplies would be hidden under them. The two girls who were the ones who had been worked over would identify the ten girls who had humiliated them. They had to be careful not to run afoul of the regular staff   preparing the meal. Breeze had worked it in so that staff was led to believe that the Audrey’s Caterers were to be a surprise from some of the club members for their kids. Breezes dad helped to arrange with the staff for the surprise by getting a couple friends who were actors to play the part of dignified parents. The vehicle arrived exactly at 6:30 Pm. The staff understood the caterers would need only the desert dishes on the table.

The idea was to look busy and act like a crew of professionals which was exactly how they rehearsed it. The 10 highbrow girls would be with their beaus and be sitting down to a meal. Timing was the key as the real caterers would be handling the meal but the dessert would be the surprise as long as the ten girls stayed out of sight. They had worked out a side room with the staff where the 10 girls were placed and where they could move quickly to get their special dessert to the high toned ten. They had already taken the catering supplies they had hidden the special dessert under and taken them out to their truck .Now they waited. Lids were loosened on the pails. They checked the contents carefully:  Plastic pails of sauerkraut and onions in a mix of tomato soup. One more ingredient was on the side -- pails of flour. When the signal came they would march out and stand by the ten women and it had to be timed so as not to interfere with the regular catering company’s placement of their desserts.  They knew that the people at the table would wonder what was going on but not be alarmed until things started to happen. The signal came and each wrong side of the track girl dumped the contents of her pail in a hurried fashion.  The screams and curses of the ten on the right side of the tracks howling in dismay, sputtering and coughing and spitting while the slime of the mix washed over their faces. Each minute of disgust brought the hotsy totsy’s to tears and the not so hotsy totsy’s to howling laughter. Total chaos and revulsion took over as big shot steaming girls uttered not so lady like comments. Shouts of you blankety,blankety &8//%??!!** filled the room as the gang of ten get even girls fled to their catering vehicles. It was like a chorus of wild hysteria of glee and words like – “Those drowned rats are so sticky and messy they won’t be able to see straight for a week.”

Breeze could hardly drive as the laughter that started filled us with wild eyed glee.  The comments could not have been sweeter to our ears. It was the same in the van and how sweet it was.

The escape plan was working and now we had to hide the evidence.  First, the uniforms had the words of Audrey’s Catering taken off. Just as quickly, the uniforms were put in the wash. Secondly, all of the material used was washed up and cleaned and put away. The alibis had been carefully worked out and each girl had arranged ahead of time with other friends to have been with them during that evening. The service truck was delivered to Breezes’ Dad’s friend after the temporary sign was washed off. The clean uniforms were taken back to a friend who had a supply business in another town. Breezes’ dad did his part.  The uniforms, vehicles and supplies he obtained which were so handy.  Oh Yeh! The final insult was when the girls left a sign on the table which read. ‘WELCOME TO SNOBVILLE.’

The ten girls who pulled off the prank had one other defense. Each girl was to wear her hair differently and alter her facial appearance just slightly. It seemed to have worked for the snobs had a hard time describing what these girls looked like. The police were trying not to laugh but when they showed up and saw the state of things.  They could not get the questions out such as: ‘They poured what over you?’  ‘Let’s see,’ said the officer, ‘Sauerkraut, onions, tomato soup and, what was that last ingredient? Flour? Boy, that is some paste. I mean, some kind of mixture. You say they left a sign. Where is it?’ It was pointed out. The officer asked, ‘Does that sign having meaning to you?’ Laughter filled the room as the officer inspected the sign.

One last thing: It seemed the club management had never heard of Audrey’s catering. When the snobs were asked about Audrey’s catering none of them had ever heard of it either. The investigating Officer wrote down in his report as a heading: ‘A mix up at Belvedere Country Club,’ which became the headline in the local paper the next day. A remark also in that article was: ‘Messy contents slipped by the members of the Belvedere Country Club only to reappear at the dinner table.  Breeze said to me:  ‘Well, those uptown snoots got theirs but the satisfaction was all in the knowing that sometimes when it is all said and done there is an equalizer. It comes in the form of having enough and then doing something about it.’  Breeze paused and then said: ‘Sometimes the balance is tipped in our favor and boy did we shine. I feel like having my favorite sundae; you coming, Jane? I’m buying.’ “

Of course the girls from the other side of the tracks would lay low for a while. Eventually things slowed down and the matter was forgotten. Jane’s daughter looked at her mom and said, “I sure would like to meet Breeze.  She is some smart cookie.” Jane replied, “OK. How about next week?  She is flying in from Canada.”  “Canada?” said Jane’s daughter. “Why Canada?”  “That’s another story,” said Jane, “perhaps you can get Breeze to tell you about it.”
Digby

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Bethlehem Express


The train pulled into the station as people were hurrying and scurrying to their next destination. A young man looked confused as the activity had most people on the move except him. He glanced around and fidgeted with his clothes and kept rubbing his eyes. He had a ticket in his hands and was listening to a voice over the loud speaker calling out times, arrivals, departures and names of destinations. He heard the name Bethlehem express leaving for Pennsylvania and heard the announcer say it was leaving on track 6 in fifteen minutes. He immediately spun around and asked a conductor the way to track 6. He was given directions and told he had just enough time to make it. He finally arrived at track six and boarded the train. He went down two cars and sat near a window as the train slowly began to move. He closed his eyes for a moment and thought about his last words to his mom. “Yes mom, I take the Bethlehem express and get off at Bethlehem. Aunt Lil will be there to meet me.” She had explained how they were caught up in business and had several destinations with their business but they would see him the day before Christmas.
I was fourteen years old and they counted on me to be grown up and to follow their directions. I kidded my parents about the name Bethlehem as they were not religious. After all, it was the name of the town where Christ was born. I added that some of my friends believed in Jesus. They told me about the man Jesus Christ but I wasn’t buying any of it because my folks told me it was just a story made up so people would feel better about life. Then I remembered my Aunt Lil believed in Jesus Christ. She was always happy and nice since I could remember.

Just then the train began to pick up speed.  I saw a man running alongside the train yelling to the conductor who moved the gate and let him jump on. He made his way to the car where he sat across from me. He introduced himself and said his name was Mathew Carefree. I told him my name was Jeffrey Spindle. We both laughed as our names were somewhat different. He asked me where I was going and I said “Bethlehem.” To my surprise he said he was going there also and since it was a six hour trip so we might as well get acquainted.

We talked about many things and finally we got around to Bethlehem. He told me how the name originated and how Christ had been born there -- not the city we were going to but the original city where Jesus was born. He began to talk about the life of Christ and I looked over to the other side of a car where I observed two kids listening intensely to what he had to say. He spotted them and asked them if they were interested. They said they were as they were Christians.  “Christians?” I said, and Mathew replied, “Those who believe in Christ and follow his teachings.”

As Mathew spoke in glowing terms about the son of God, other kids on the train began to come close and listen also.  He had a way of saying things that kept you interested. He spoke about Christ’s life on earth about his ministry and his final days and dying on the cross for all of our sins. I must have shown some skepticism for he said: “Is it hard for you to believe, Jeffrey, that one man can die for all of our sins?” The kids were now staring at me and I said:  “To die is one thing but to come back after three days is a little farfetched.  I had an uncle who died and he never came back.” Mathew stopped then and did something unusual. He looked like he was praying but his countenance had changed and when he looked back at me he said: “Jesus Christ was no ordinary man Jeffrey. In fact, He was the son of God, so perfect and so loving that millions have gone forth in His name.”

He then spoke about the miracle of the resurrection and the witnesses who saw Christ who testified of Him and said “He lives who once was dead”.

Just then the parents called their kids back as it was lunch time. It seems we had all brought a sack lunch except for two little girls and their mother. Mathew offered to share his lunch with them but was interrupted by a couple who said they had plenty and invited the girls to sit with them. The girls thanked the couple and their little daughter said: “Jesus would want us to share.” Mathew looked over at me and said: “What are you thinking?”  “Well, Mathew, it wasn’t Jesus who made us share; it was just the right thing to do. He looked at me with a kind expression and said: “The spirit of Christ works with all men and we act on His promptings and influence.”

I was about to disagree but I felt impressed not to say anything. It was then that Mathew leaned forward and said: “Listen, the children are singing.” I said: “I don’t hear any children singing.” He said, “You will” and no sooner had he gotten the words out of his mouth when I could hear the singing. They started to sing Christmas songs. They sang all the old favorites and all of a sudden Mathew began to sing “Oh Holy Night” in a beautiful voice. A hush fell over the train car as this plain looking man took on a radiant look.

 Mathew looked up and said. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” There was a moment of reflection but soon the conversations turned to Christmas, children and presents. Soon a kid about my age named Charlie came over to sit with us and asked Mathew a zinger of a question. “Does God answer prayers?” Mathew looked at him for moment and said: “Why do you ask?” Charlie said: “My brother prayed and prayed to have his club foot fixed but it didn’t happen and yet he still believes in Jesus.”  “That’s your twin brother, is it not Charlie?” Charlie sputtered, “Why, yes, but how did you know?” Mathew said the Lord had told him. Charlie just stared at him in unbelief. Mathew went on. He said:  “Your parents, at this very moment, have received word that the Shriners Hospital will be helping Bill and they will examine him and treat his foot in the New Year.”   “You know my brother’s name?”

Charlie said: “You have to be kidding.”  Mathew said: “I assure you it is true. When you get to Bethlehem call them and find out.” Charlie choked out, “Boy Oh Boy” and then put his head down and cried.

Just then the conductor came through and said Mathew had arranged for everyone on this car to have a free cup of hot chocolate. We were surprised when the cups were considerably larger. “After we had had our hot chocolate, the steward came to gather up the cups but I could scarcely believe what I saw. The cups were the normal size. I asked him what happened to the bigger cups and he said, “What bigger cups? These are the cups we always use.”

The train was moving at a fast clip.  Mathew said he had to go. He reached in his brief case and handed me a Bible. We shook hands and Mathew left. I sat there wondering what all had taken place. I noticed a note sticking out of the Bible. It said, “Jeffrey, look out the window.”  I looked out and as the train sped along, there was Mathew waving good bye and I could hear his words so clearly. “So long, Jeffrey,  read the Good Book and remember Christ lives. I know He lives for I am his servant.” Then he was gone.  I leaned back in my seat and asked myself, “Did this really happen?” I was still on the train, of course, so I went over and asked Charlie: “Did we just talk to a guy name Mathew?” Charlie looked at me funny like and said:  “Of course we did.”  I added: “Look at this bible he gave me. I just waved goodbye to him out the window.” Suddenly Charlie looked at me like a light had just gone on and said: ”He gave me a bible too. There was a note saying to look out the window and there was Mathew waving goodbye. The note said Bill would be alright.” We both looked at each other and said at the exact same time: “The train was moving too fast for him to get off. You don’t suppose . . . . . .?”  Our voices trailed off.  Charlie said: “If that don’t beat all.” Charlie and I sat silently for a minute and I said, “Who would believe us?” Charlie said it didn’t matter. God would believe us since he sent Mathew to us. Charlie and I said good bye as we promised to stay in touch.

It wasn’t long before we were at the Bethlehem station. My mind was busy with all that that had taken place this day. The train station looked extra bright and was decorated in the finest detail with Christmas decorations that seemed to shine and twinkle and leave you in awe with an almost magical feeling. Then there was The Nativity scene. There were Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. Wise men, and animals and shepherds were looking at the Christ child. I blinked and rubbed my eyes for there was Mathew dressed as one of the wise men. I stared, not daring to take my eyes off him, but I did, and when I looked again Mathew had changed.  I knew then that this gentle kind man was full of light as he raised his eyes to the heavens and was gone.
Next to the nativity scene was a sign that simply said “Believe”. Right then I spotted Aunt Lil.  I ran to her, gave her a hug, and said: “Aunt Lil, would you tell me about Jesus.” She looked so surprised but said: “What would you like to know?"

Digby

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Open Valley


The word went out that there was to be a gathering in an open valley and all the stump ranchers were to come and have a day of it. It would take place after the fall harvest.  The entrance to the gala event was something unusual. Why? To take a break from the hardship of farming or ranching in the Peace River area of northern British Columbia, Canada.  Stump ranching was where 160 acres were homesteaded and brought up to the government standard. There were conditions for homesteading --Reside on the property for at least six months of the year for three years, plow break five acres of it and cultivate some of it, and construct a habitable dwelling. After that period a land inspector plus 3 witnesses would come to inspect it. The application must be applied for within five years. Usually the title was granted. The problem was the road to title was so difficult many gave up and moved on.

 So, you can see that coming together for a gathering was to be together perhaps just one more time. It was a hard life to homestead. The land was grey wooded soils with a great need for nitrogen and other chemicals to enrich the soil. Besides that there were the outside jobs which were hard to find. One had to supplement their income and 160 acres was not enough to support oneself on the land.  So many people came and went but while they were there it gave comfort to us all to be part of their lives.

The fall was fast coming and the gathering would put about 30 families, plus about eight of them single, together.  Admittance to the  homestead gathering was to be an unusual gift found on the homesteads. There was an assortment that still to this day only homesteaders of that caliber thought up. There was the spade shovel with only half the spade attached. It had been sanded & painted to look like a flag pole with the spaded end painted with the Canadian Maple leaf which, of course, was the flag of Canada. It had the words “Our Native Land" painted on it. One fellow brought a coal oil lantern all shined up and there was a carved horse in the center where the wick was and part of the lamp had been painted with blue sky and clouds. A small flashlight had been set and when turned on it gave the horse and skies a real warm glow.  Another one was a beaver hat. What made it so different was the band which had the words “Chinook winds are welcome.” There was a horse collar and in the horse's head area there was large plate supported on a part representing the horses back with moose meat and potatoes made out of paper and glue and painted so life like. There was a sign saying "Moose Meat and Potatoes - a homesteader’s diet." There was a miniature outhouse with a half moon painted on the door. When one opened the door there was a sign "We had a fire in the bathroom but thank goodness it didn’t reach the house.” That got a big laugh. One couple brought a unique looking coffee table. It was made out of a base of a spruce tree and was the shape of a curve that had all kinds of knots and tree rings that was just beautiful. They had shellacked it and it was a deep light brown color. One of the great pieces was a scythe with the words painted on the blade “Rancho not so Grande.”

Another fellow brought a whipsaw about six feet long with the words painted on it  "Rancho Cost a Plenty by J.P. Penniless."
 
So it went with things of the unusual setting the stage for a night of fun. The one that got your heart feeling the goodness of it all was the sign nailed to a tree near the gathering - "You’re welcome at my camp fire." To a homesteader that meant friendships and attachments not soon to be forgotten.

The spot chosen for the gathering was in a valley with a stream running by. There was a circle of straw bales to sit on and a picnic table had been fashioned out of rough lumber and all the potluck food was placed there. Some of the folks played musical instruments with a fiddle, guitar and accordion. One would soon be dancing or just listening to the music that was accompanied by tapping toes, clapping hands and a few singers who could brighten the place with their voices. The evening was full of talk, stories and laughter.  Part way through they had an award for best unusual entrance piece. It was a painting on a snow shovel of a cowboy sitting on a stump with his head looking out over a field. His face was leathery looking with weariness in the eyes that seemed to say it all. The words on it were “Mother said there would be days like this.” They gave him a blue ribbon, which read "First Place – Homesteader Stump Ranch collection."

It was a coyote night alright for the moon was full and the coyotes were howling. The light from the fires danced around in the darkness and often I would look over the faces of the stump ranchers who were there and see life written on their faces. There were weary lines and happy lines and smiles that soaked up hardness and left it for another day. Laughter with sure joy in it and laughter so funny because Joe was carrying his food and in the half dark stepped sideways to avoid a hole and fell in another one. There he was with mashed potatoes and gravy on his best shirt looking dejected and then seeing the humor in it laughed until we all laughed at him laughing.

I noticed old Tom and he was looking around and I knew what was coming. He began to tell his story in a way that only Tom could do. It was not so much the story as it was his baritone voice and his high laughter sorting out each detail and adding some sugar to it.  He always ended his stories in the same way. "Well," he said, "there you have it!" And we sure did

Patty began to sing and she had a sweet voice as the words to Cool Water drifted over the camp. Some of the other singers joined in and I felt like heaven had dropped in for a minute. There were tears by the ones who were leaving. Homesteading was hard and there was too much month left over at the end of the money. We belonged there that night and none of us would have been anywhere else.

The great event of the evening was the cowboy poet amongst us.

Gather around the campfire
Tell your best yarns and then
Have a snort of chewing tobacco
Until you have to spit again.

Be polite and spit where the dogs have done their part
Join in with the dancing, singing and rest between the bars
Quote all of the old time songs as you know them by heart
Enjoy your friends and neighbors right from the start.

Rest and work thru your weariness
Leave the troubles and cares behind
Arm-wrestle and rope and tell your jokes
Especially the one we’ve heard for the tenth time.

Well neighbors, the time its midnight and the fire is burning bright
Let’s stay for another hour and look at the moon this night
Let’s fill our cup of kindness and listen to the coyotes howl
Lets go home happy tired and rested from our labors one and all

Some of the stump ranch ranchers have had their fill
And the Smiths will be pulling up stakes and moving on
The Barkers and the Penningtons also hear the call
That leaves it to those left behind to see it through.

Who will be here next year of the homesteader’s crew?

We reluctantly gathered up our coats and other things and looked at each other. We said good night like it was raining pearls and the only wish we had was to hold on to whatever we felt at that moment. We savored it and headed home. To this day I feel the call of the North.  It always trails off to a place long ago in a valley filled with ordinary folks. Most had in them all the pioneer ways which when set down, are almost sacred and well they should be to those feeling a kinship deep down to their toes.

Digby