Opal

On the first day of camp Opal [not her real name] walked in, looked around, and announced that she knew she should have brought her Kindle.

“That’s not really necessary,” I told her. “I have a lot of books here you can read, plus there are art supplies, journalling supplies, domino blocks, games, and puzzles.” She rolled her eyes.

At the end of the day she asked me if I did any other camps. “Yes,” I told her. “I run a camp called Red Sails to Capri.”

Red Sails to Capri sounded so boring,” she said rolling her eyes. “I mean, all you do is read one book for the whole week.”

For the record, in Red Sails to Capri we read through the book by Ann Weil in one week and did activities based on what we were reading. We built model sailboats and raced them in rain gutters, mined for Herkimer diamonds, journeyed into Secret Caverns, and visited the Fenimore Art Museum. The camp has filled up quickly both years that I ran it.  I didn’t argue with Opal though. She had already made up her mind about it and besides, it was a moot point. Red Sails was past.

Her mother was 20 minutes late picking her up. “Traffic was awful,” she said as she rushed in.

The second morning, Opal walked in holding Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. “This book is 544 pages long,” she told me. “When I finish it, it will be the longest book I have ever read.” Having said that, she flopped on the couch and stretched herself lengthwise on the cushions.

“You need to do a journal page first,” I said, pointing out the photographs I had printed from our outing the previous day. “Choose a photograph to put in your journal and write a few sentences about what we did.”

“Do I have to?” she asked, rolling her eyes.

“Yes,” I said.

Picking blueberries

Picking blueberries

She sidled up to me later when we were picking blueberries. “Do you know why I’m reading that book I showed you?”

I confessed that I didn’t.

“Joe Brill [not his real name] – he’s this kid in my class — he’s never read a book that long,” she confided. “When I finish it, I’ll have beaten him.”

I understood Opal better and pitied her. She wasn’t reading to be transported. She was reading to fill a hole.

Her mother was 20 minutes late again. As Opal frumped around our room, waiting, I suggested that she write about our day.

“I hate writing,” she announced. “Just because I like to read doesn’t mean I like to write.”

“Often people who love reading are good writers,” I told her.

“Not me,” she said.

“C’mon, get your stuff,” her mother said without even glancing at me. No hello. No good-bye. No sorry-I’m-late.

On Wednesday, Opal flopped on the couch with her book again. I prodded her to create a journal page.

“I started an even longer book,” she said. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It’s 896 pages long.”

“Do you like the Harry Potter books?” I asked.

“I’ve only seen the movies,” she replied and she pressed her lips together as if she were trying to stop talking so much.

“I’ve only read the books,” I told her. “They’re wonderful.”

“I already know what happens so I don’t need to read them,” she said. “This one is the longest one. 896 pages.”

Mother — 25 minutes late. “I can’t believe she doesn’t apologize,” Helen said after they left.

On Thursday, I asked Opal how Harry Potter was going.

“I only got to page 2. It was boring.”

“I don’t like picture books,” she told me every day as I pulled out the Caldecott award-winners I had chosen to read aloud. “There aren’t enough words.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” I told her, “and these have beautiful pictures in them.”

“I like real words,” she said.

Opal is just a little girl, 10 years old, but she is as abrasive and rude as a person who unapologetically keeps people waiting. Every day.

She loves to tattle. She loves to complain. The world is boring.

This morning I read a prayer by Charles Foucald —

O Lord, grant us faith
the faith that removes the mask from the world
and manifests God in all things;
the faith that enables everything to be seen in another light;
that shows us the greatness of God
and lets us see our own littleness;
that shows us Christ where our eyes see
only a poor person….

I stopped and reread those last words. Lord, I prayed, could You show me Christ where I see only an impoverished child?

Because Opal is as impoverished a child as I have ever met.

My 20+ hours with Opal this week will be only a drop in the ocean of her life. She won’t remember them. They won’t change her.

But they can change me. Inside, where I bristle at the rudeness and fail to see it in any other light.

Lord, help me to see Christ in Opal.

The Matchlock Gun

I was stressed over my book choice for camp. I thought my campers were going to be from Kindergarten through second grade, but when I peaked at the list last Friday, I was shocked to third to fifth graders. And I had planned to focus on picture books.

I mean, I love Blueberries for Sal and The Little House, but would a 10-year-old?

The_Matchlock_GunAll weekend, I fretted over it, searching my bookshelves for books that might still fit the camp description but, story-wise, might be more appropriate. I kept coming back to The Matchlock Gun.

The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds is a Newbery Medal-winning book based on a true story from upstate New York during the French and Indian War. The first time I read it to my older children I cried.

It is a wonderful story, but, in today’s political climate, it has problems. For one thing, the Native Americans are portrayed as savages, attacking and burning the homes of settlers, killing women and children. In the French and Indian War, both the French and the British settlers had allies among the Native Americans. The French, though, were severely outnumbered by the British and relied heavily on Native American warriors.

Another problem is that a peripheral character has Negro slaves. The book isn’t set in the deep south. It is set in my area, my home.

It also has guns. And death.

But the story is true. The setting is true. The historical facts are true. And it is a touching story of a mother’s sacrificial bravery and her son’s courage.

I went back and forth, back and forth, all weekend. I reread the book and studied it.

As a homeschool mom, I don’t pay a lot of attention to political correctness, but these kids at camp weren’t my children.

Finally, I settled on a plan. We would read The Matchlock Gun, two chapters a day. We would begin the week with a visit to the Indian Mound in Cooperstown, a place where Native American bones were placed, respectfully, back in the mid-1800s, as they were unearthed in the building of the town. The Episcopal rector wrote gentle words for a plaque that marks the place.

I thought, We’ll go there and talk about how little the settlers and the Native Americans understood about each other.

I was still weighing this decision, though, as parents arrived in the morning to drop off their children.

Many parents do a drop-and-run. They say hello, they say good-bye, and they’re off.

Two parents hung around. They wanted to talk.

“So,” one mother said, “what exactly are you doing today?” She and her husband studied me with serious eyes, waiting for the answer.

at the Indian Mound

at the Indian Mound

“We’re visiting the Indian Mound,” I said, and then launched into a babbling explanation. “We’re going to read The Matchlock Gun and it’s a story of Native Americans attacking settlers and I want to provide a little balance but it’s really a great story and I think the kids will love it and it’s set over near Albany and it’s true but I want to talk about Native Americans and how we didn’t really understand their culture and…”

I ran out of words.

The serious parents looked at each other.

Then the mother said, “We were just wondering what time we were supposed to pick him up.”

Taking a Stand

A few months ago I read Elie Wiesel’s book, The Town Beyond the Wall. In it, a young Holocaust survivor named Michael goes back to his home to confront “the face in the window,” a man who stood by while the Jews were rounded up, sent to concentration camps, and murdered.

I’ve often wondered what I would do in that circumstance. Would I have the courage to speak out and take a stand, to risk myself to save just one innocent?

This past week I’ve been nauseated by the now-familiar video of the physician describing, between sips of wine and bites of salad, how she places the forceps with the help of ultrasound so that she crushes the skull and not chest of the fetus so as to harvest the heart.

I don’t care if the procedure is legal.

I don’t care if the recording was obtained illegally.

I don’t care if the money exchanged does not constitute a profit for anyone.

I don’t care if the mother signed a consent for this harvesting of body parts.

I don’t care if use of fetal tissue has “produced some groundbreaking scientific discoveries” or that it dates back to 1930. (The Tuskegee Syphilis  Experiment began in 1932 and we learned a lot from that, right?)

I don’t even care if you are pro-choice or pro-life.

We are a hair’s breadth away from Josef Mengele, from Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal, or from Soylent Green. In fact, I wonder if Dr. Nucatola is as delighted as Mengele was to discover twins. Twice the hearts, you know.

“Surely, some might say, Mengele, for all of this, must have realized he was committing awful crimes. But the capacity of humans to self-justify, to self-deceive is enormous.”

Gerald Astor, The Last Nazi: The Life and Times of Dr. Joseph Mengele

What Planned Parenthood is doing may be legal, but in a country that just legalized gay marriage because no one should be marginalized, and where we fight for civil rights and speak out against injustices done to people of color, how can we sit by and allow unborn babies to be dismembered in utero like the butchery of a hog or a lamb after slaughter? How can we have no-kill animal shelters and organizations like Planned Parenthood supported by the same people?

We have moved far from “safe, legal, and rare,” and “cases of rape, incest, and medical necessity.” We are talking about healthy human hearts that are beating one minute and being harvested the next.

Thirty-five years ago Phil Keaggy sang, “Who will speak up for the little ones?”

I refuse to be a face in the window.

I’m standing up and saying this is morally wrong.

Howard Talbot

My first job was at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. Ticket and souvenir sales were rolled into one department. One lucky girl, often my sister, got to sit in the private ticket booth and read books when she wasn’t busy.  The rest of us worked the ticket window and the souvenir counter.

Howard Talbot hired me.

“Well, hello, young lady,” he said whenever he greeted me, a big smile on his face. He was a genuinely happy man who intimidated me only because he was my boss.

I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he still greeted me the same way.

“Well, hello, young lady,” he said, and smiled that same smile. He was stooped over a walker and I have some gray hair now, but I was transported to the old BBHofF, before they added on and made it big and fancy.

His office was right around the corner from the souvenir shop so we saw him often.

That same summer that I worked for him for the first time, I also had a part-time job working for a researcher at Bassett Hospital. Dr. Ashford was looking at temperature changes in patients in the days before their death. My job was to pull charts of patients who had died in the hospital and retrieve the data about their temperature from the vitals recorded by the nurses.

Between my work at the Hall of Fame and my work at the hospital, I kept busy which was always a good thing for me. By the end of the summer, though, I was tired of working. Both jobs could continue into the school year, although both employers acknowledged that my hours would be less.

The introvert in me loved the aloneness of the research job, so I decided that I needed to tell Mr. Talbot that I wouldn’t be available to work at the Hall of Fame during the winter. The next time I worked, I asked him if I could talk with him for few minutes.

I had mentally rehearsed everything I wanted to say to him. Still, I fidgeted nervously in the chair opposite his desk after he called me into his office.

“Well, young lady,” he said with a smile, “what can I do for you?”

“I’ve really enjoyed working at the Hall of Fame this summer,” I told him.

He nodded at me encouragingly.

“And you know I’ve also been doing some work for Dr. Ashford,” I said. Dr. Ashford lived just around the corner from the Talbots.

He nodded again.

“So the summer has been ludicrous,” I said.

He stopped nodding. He looked at me. I thought that maybe he didn’t understand the big word I had used.

“You know, I made a lot of money,” I explained.

A smile played at the corners of his mouth. It’s a wonder he didn’t burst out laughing.

“I think you mean lucrative,” he said quite seriously, though his eyes twinkled as he watched me.

I’m sure I blushed. I can still feel the redness in my face. I forgot the rest of my speech, and, as a result, ended up working at the Hall of Fame for the next two years.

It really was a fun job.

Howard Talbot passed away a few days ago. Yesterday I went to his calling hours. I told his wife and his children how much I loved the way he always greeted me and called me “young lady,” whether I was 15 or 55.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell them this story. It still makes me blush. And laugh.

But today it might make me cry.

Good-bye, Mr. Talbot. Thanks for the job and the memories. I’m glad I knew you.

Three Questions — #3: Age 23

Anna Brown asked me three questions. This is the third.

#3 When you were 23, what was your biggest dream?

Me at 23

Me at 23

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but age 23 was my dark night of the soul.

I wore the mask well, hiding from everyone, even my husband, the deep struggles happening inside me.

My biggest dream at 23? I didn’t have one.

One day my husband came home from school and placed a folder of hope on the kitchen table. He was completing his last semester before becoming a radiation therapy technologist, now called a radiation therapist. His career was in high demand and the folder was full of fliers from hospitals seeking RTTs.

Bud had already placed at the top the announcements from hospitals in upstate New York. We had both grown up in upstate New York. Our families were in upstate New York. It made sense that we should settle there.

But I dug through that folder looking for far-away places. Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wyoming. I pulled out the farthest I could find.

“Let’s go here,” I said, pushing the Wyoming flyer across the table to him.

He glanced at it, and then did a double-take. He looked at me questioningly from across the table.

“It’ll be fun,” I said, my smiling mask at its finest. “Nobody will know us. When we meet people we won’t be Bud. And. Sally.  We’ll be BudandSally.”

He smiled. I married a great guy.

We applied to five far-away places — some in those “I” states, and the one in Wyoming. He took the job in Wyoming.

One day at the end of May, we loaded up a Ryder rental truck with all our earthly belongings and started out west.

The trip itself is fodder for a book.

We got separated in Chicago — I was driving our VW bug and he was driving the truck. One of us missed the exit. Miraculously we found each other on the other side of Chicago.

We sold our Volkswagen in one of those “I” states for $200. I thought of the pioneers who left behind beloved items on the Oregon Trail, lightening the load for their westward journey in covered wagons. Our car had engine trouble, major engine trouble. I cried when we left it sitting forlornly in the mechanic’s parking lot.

A tumbleweed blew across the road as we entered Wyoming, and I cried again. The world should have been green and lush, but Wyoming was brown, brown, brown — just like my withered heart.

Our Honda Civic wagon

Our Honda Civic wagon

I cried when Bud started work, and I was left alone to unpack boxes and try to make a home in an apartment on the edge of the prairie.

We replaced our VW Bug with a Honda Civic wagon.

We found a church.

We found friends.

He passed his registry exam and became the second registered radiation therapy technologist in the whole state of Wyoming.

Wyoming sunset

Wyoming sunset

Every night, we took pictures of the sunset over the prairie, because each one was prettier than the one before.

I found a beauty in the barrenness of the brown Wyoming prairies, strewn with rocks, stretching farther than my eye could see.

I learned that even dry hard times have their own beauty.

The big sky of the west reminded me daily to look up.

My biggest dream at 23? You ask a hard question that I don’t think I can answer.

But I can tell you this: my greatest gift at 23 was Wyoming.

Three Questions — #2 Favourite Hymn

Anna Brown asked me three questions. This is the second.

#2 What is your favourite hymn, with specific favourite lines?

(Good golly, girl. Way too many “u”s.)

Two hymns immediately came to my mind when I read this.

First, “When Morning Gilds the Skies.”

I am, through and through, a sunrise person. I LOVE watching the sun make its entrance every day and rarely miss it.

sunrise 1-15-14

Beautiful sunrise

Epic sunrise

Epic sunrise

Backyard sunrise

Backyard sunrise

Sunrise on the way to a swim meet

Sunrise on the way to a swim meet

DSC03871

Texas sunrise

First verse:

When morning gilds the skies my heart awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Favorite verse:

Does sadness fill my mind? A solace here I find,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Or fades my earthly bliss? My comfort still is this,
May Jesus Christ be praised

Other favorite verse:

Be this, while life is mine, my canticle divine:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Sing this eternal song through all the ages long:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

“When Morning Gilds the Skies” is just a good way to start each day, and I think of it when watching the sun rise.

My other favorite hymn is “Come Thou Fount.”

Verse 2 references an Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.” In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel set up a stone to commemorate a divine victory. An Ebenezer is, therefore, a reminder of a time when God helped through an impossible situation.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come;

I don’t have a pile of stones anywhere — unless you count my Herkimer diamond rocks which I like because they sparkle — but I have markers in my mind of those times when God clearly intervened on my behalf. I return to them in times of trouble. I think it is important that we have Ebenezers.

I also love verse 3. All of it.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

What’s your favorite hymn?

Three Questions — #1 Favourite Family Meal

Anna Brown asked me three questions.

I don’t do this for everyone, but I will do it for Anna Brown. I’ll answer her questions. Just because I like her.

In fact, I’ll answer four. But I’m picking the fourth question.

Question #1: What is the most well-received meal in your household? (aka your family’s favourite meal.)

Since you spelled favourite with that “u” it seems fancy to me. Favourite with a “u” isn’t wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans; it’s kind of dressed up, not pretentiously, just special-occasion-ish.

I know, I know — you spell it with a “u” because you’re Canadian. Still, I’m American and that’s how I read it.

So — the most well-received (favourite) meal at my house would have to be Thanksgiving Dinner.

I know Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, but do you do it up like your southern neighbor?

Our Thanksgiving dinner is turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted vegetables, multiple kinds of cranberry sauce, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and cranberry wine or cranberry juice (depending on your age and preference).

Early on Thanksgiving morning, I’ll be in the kitchen chopping celery and onion for the stuffing. I usually cube up my own bread for the stuffing, too, saving the heels of loaves in the freezer for just that purpose.  I confess, though, in recent years, I have purchased bags of stuffing to supplement.

Once the turkey is stuffed and in the oven, the smell of it roasting fills the house.

Laurel usually puts on Christmas music for us which plays in the background while we peel potatoes and yams, and cut up cauliflower and broccoli.

In the days before Thanksgiving, I will have baked the pumpkin bread and apple pies, and made cranberry, orange-cranberry, cran-apple, and sometimes cran-raspberry sauces.

On Thanksgiving Day, we look for nice dishes to serve it all in — baskets brought back from missions trips, a platter Helen made when she was very young, dishes from my mother and grandmother.

We make place-cards for everyone who will be joining us. These are set around the table. Yes, we have assigned seating.

And then the people arrive.

And the food is consumed.

Not even most of it, because we make enough to feed a small town.

Spoons 2004

Spoons 2004

And we play spoons.

And laugh.

And tell stories.

And we don’t watch football.

Thanksgiving is, I think, my favourite holiday.

Except that it’s followed by Christmas, my least favourite holiday because it’s so stressful and I feel like I want to throw up for most of December.

But Christmas is followed in the whiteness of winter and the muddiness of spring by Easter, my other favourite holiday, because it is filled with hope and joy and grace.

So there you have it. A long answer to a short question.

Oh, and our favorite meal (no “u”) is probably hamburgers on the grill or macaroni and cheese.