Tags: memories


When Jesus Signs Your Paycheck

I. When you're in the God-business, don't expect to get paid much. "God will provide."

II. Daily formal contact with the Divine almost makes up for the low salary and high demands.

III. The Romans have the best show in town.

My father was a pastor for a decade before I was born, and a seminary professor and interim pastor until the much-too-early-end of his life when I was 26. I literally grew up in church. Before my parents bought their own house, we lived in a parsonage, then on-campus in seminary housing; for part of my youth I lived in a missionary compound in South India wearing wonderfully colored saris and working with friendly, poor villagers near the Bay of Bengal. It was like living a chapter of a Kipling novel, complete with snakes. He went to give his excellent church history lessons when they needed him, and we prayed a lot, in many languages, and in many colorful places. We prayed with a lot of colorful people, too, and we visited some of Their places of worship.

I went to many exotic places because it was my father's job. The other dads in our neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago mostly worked at the steel mills, or in offices. My father worked for God.

My father's brother was a missionary to Thailand for over thirty-five years, and whenever he and his family came home on furlough they'd visit us in Chicago. Then we'd have two well-trained speakers who talked to God and were on first-name basis with Jesus seated at the big, extended dining table. (Aunt Dottie wasn't ordained--couldn't be, which was a shame. She was a force of nature. She was 6 ft. tall and played hymns on her upright piano, surrounded by little-bitty Thai people singing in quarter tones with her.)

My father would pay for the annual trip to Georgia by preaching a revival at the old church where my mother's family had a large presence. Milking cows and working a huge vegetable garden alternated with shelling butter beans and going to church, where Grandaddy would lead the singing and proudly introduce "Brother J.D." My father would ascend the pulpit and give these country folks a message that was both erudite and accessible. By the time the week was finished, they were revived. My mother's brother, a pastor in rural Georgia, would come over for the week to show his support, and then we'd have two preachers alternating saying Grace before the wonderful country food on the table. Grandmother often reminded the preachers that the food would get cold if they went on too long!

When my parents were overseas, I stayed at the farm in Georgia, living a very simple, faith-filled life. Every evening we read the Bible lesson from the Sunday School Quarterly (one year my father was the writer and editor, which was kind of weird. His style was unmistakable; it was like having him in the room). I perfected my reading skills on the King James Bible.

I lived a religious life practically every moment of the day. Nothing heavy, nothing forced, nothing preached at me--it was just how life went. In my Chicago Jewish neighborhood, religion permeated everything, including food and clothing, and I loved visiting our Catholic friends with their rosaries, saint cards, and their priest uncles and friends. My godmother's actual sister was a nun, Sister Ursula. She was a Benedictine, swathed in yards of black fabric, with a little face peeping out of her starched headpiece, and a laugh that came straight from her heart. She taught me my favorite nun joke: What's black and white and black and white and black and white? a nun rolling downhill (!). I thought it was hilarious--and I can't tell it any more because so few nuns wear habits.

I sang in church, I played piano in church, and I lived in a religious environment. Is it any surprise that I found a spiritual home making music in church?

Of course, I had my heathen years. My parents were quite understanding, and they never forced anything on me. When I left home for college, I slept in on Sundays, and I contented my mystical self with a minor in religious studies. My father was okay with conducting our short wedding service in our living room, and he put no pressure on the newlyweds to join any church.

But when I needed it, God and music and a church building and godly people were there. I found beauty and comfort at St. Ignatius and St. Mary's Cathedral and St. John Vianney, and I found like-minded people to pray and play with. The Methodists were a bit harder to like, but I think it's because they were Sun City-ians more than Christians.

I raised my children in the Catholic Church, and they all made First Communion and attended Mass and went to Vacation Bible School and said their prayers and found their own spiritual paths. I am proud that they are still spiritual, even if it's not a "brand-name" version. They learned to reach out to the Divine and to have compassion; Jesus and Buddha and Lao-Tse and Rabbi Hillel and Mother Anne and even Mary Baker Eddy taught those ideas. There is no "right" answer to faith; there is just the rightness of having faith and living it.

So endeth the lesson.

and some thoughts on "a day that will live in infamy"

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, the day that Japanese bombers attacked the US and got us into World War II. When I was a child in the fifties, memories of that day were still sharp, and the date stood out in our minds. In those more innocent times there were fewer "red-letter" days.

The attack on Pearl Harbor had a special significance for my brother and me (and a lot of other Baby Boomers), because the entry of the US into WW II meant our parents hastened their marriage in case our fathers were drafted and sent overseas. One could say Don and I exist because of the dreadful events of that day 65 years ago. As it turned out, my father was not drafted. He had perforated eardrums, which made him ineligible for military duty. However, all four of my uncles went to war. My father's two brothers, Paul and Dwight, were Navy pilots, and my mother's brother went into the Army, serving in the Persian Gulf. Her brother-in-law was maimed by a land mine in Europe. Everyone had a part in the war effort--my father was a Civil Defense warden and served on the Rationing Board in Chicago. The Husband is also a product of a WW II marriage: his father was a pilot in the fledgling Army Air Corps who later served with the Occupation forces in Japan. (Himself jokes that he has "made in Occupied Japan" on his butt.)

Now there are too many "where were you when X happened" days, from the assassination of President Kennedy to the horrific attack on the Twin Towers. My generation went to VietNam, and the Boomers' sons are dying in Iraq. Today passed without a ripple at the high school; there was a single newspaper article about the ancient men remaining to gather at a Pearl Harbor reunion; my father and uncles are gone, and my memories are all second-hand anyway.

I wonder what a world without war would look like.

Ruminations on the Nature of Things

I have too many things.

That said, I love all my things. They are mostly packed in boxes until we can refinish the rooms to contain and display them. (It's a small house compared to the other one where we had the Family Museum...)

Why does one become a collector in the first place? My late mother started me off--and she was one of those notorious Children of the Great Depression. She never threw away anything. Literally. When sorting through her stuff after her funeral, I found coupons from the 1950s, clipped newspaper recipes from the 1940s, even unread Reader's Digest magazines that she had intended to get to "someday." I'm not that bad. I like to think that my stuff is all "quality merchandise," but I have a feeling my children will have to do some radical sorting on that sad-but-inevitable-day.

Hey, Kids? I apologize in advance!

Anyway, there's some good stuff in there. I love the way cut crystal sparkles, the way carnival glass gleams, the way my dolls smile back at me from behind the curio cabinet doors. Each piece has a story, is inherited from a loved parent or grandparent, or was just too beautiful for me to resist. In my religious period I collected Madonna and child statues; now they remind me of my babies. In my current culinary mode I have acquired some nifty food serving pieces. (Of course, I could probably feed Genghis Khan and his horde on it.) No one needs Hummel figures to survive, but they are so darned cute. I need stained glass angels at Christmas!

Oh, great googly-moogly! Am I a collector-addict needing an intervention? or do I just need a better dust rag?

It's interesting to contemplate the difference--if there is one--between acquiring inanimate objects and adding to the animal population. My horses are the ultimate tchotchskies. They even require regular dusting. However, like the dogs, they give back love and affection and nuzzling and all that goopy stuff, so they are more than living yard art (and they look way better than the plastic flamingos that are slowly crumbling away in the front yard). And multiple dogs keep each other company. And the goats just keep reproducing themselves. And you can't have too many chickens...

Maybe the Big Message from Above about not having a full-time job is that I need to get a grip on all the stuff. Some of it was acquired to "fancy-up" my various offices, of which I now have none. Should that be the first to go? Ahh, but where?

Uh, Kids? Want some stuff??

A Snake Story

From the distant past...

I was 5 years old. It was summer vacation, and we were in Georgia on my grandparents' farm. Big Brother and I wanted to do some "fishing" in the Branch (that's Georgian for creek) out in the woods. We clambered through thickets and past the pump house, finally arriving at the swimming/fishing hole. It had a fallen tree in just the right place over the deep spot, perfect for sitting with a fishing pole or launching into the water. It was in the deep woods, always cool and quiet.

There wasn't quite enough room on the log for both of us to sit, so Big Brother shoved aside some tangled brush. I was leaning in close, ready to sit down, when out slithered the biggest snake in the world. It looked like a python, a boa constrictor, a sea serpent to my eyes, and we didn't stick around to make sure. I let out a scream that I thought could be heard all the way back in Chicago, and then we ran. And ran. And ran.

At one point we stopped to catch our breath, me puffing out, "Is it following us?" "Probably," said my brother--and we ran some more. We burst out of the woods near the barn where our mother was hanging up laundry, and I gasped out the story of the 50-foot man-eating snake. She and Grandaddy were less than impressed; Grandaddy was concerned that we had scared it to death. No High Drama for us. Just a l'il ol' rat snake. (!)

It occurs to me now that, since my brother is almost eight years older than I am, he was at least 12 at the time, old enough to know that snakes do not chase people through the woods. He was yanking my chain! That was the summer he had me convinced that there were alligators in the lake near our other grandparents' homestead in Florida ("They're under the dock, waiting to get you!").

I wonder if I'll ever be able to get him back...

The Summer Solstice

Today is the longest day of the year, amusingly called the first day of summer on my wall calendar. After having several days of upper 90s and 100 degree days, this is hardly the first day of summer. The heat is already getting me down (this is the second post about it), and although I'm delighted it rained, the humidity is hard to take. I feel as if I've moved from the broiler to the steamer!

When I was growing up in Chicago, only movie theaters and some large buildings downtown were air-conditioned; by my teens grocery stores and department stores were starting to chill. Of course, the Windy City by Lake Michigan tended to be fairly comfortable, with only a few days each summer in the 90s. Plus, we all had basements, which were always cool. I remember retreating to our unfinished basement for long days of reading. My father had set up his study there, with his many books in orange crates along the cement walls, his desk and ancient typewriter enthroned at the bottom of the stairs. I still have the two wing chairs that lived in the basement--they were perfect for reading 'cause I could sling my legs over the tall arms. The washer and dryer were also located down there, next to the water softener (the water was so hard you could chew it), so I had a lot of nifty water sounds in the background, sometimes competing with my father's tappety-tap when he was typing an article. Sounds weirdly idyllic, doesn't it?

I spent part of each summer vacation at my grandfather's dairy farm in Georgia, and it was hotter there than in Chicago. However, the house was built in 1767, and it had brick and plaster walls over a foot thick, with a huge black walnut tree in the front. After early-morning milking and garden or field work, and sometimes making butter, Grandmother and I would prepare "Dinnah" around noon. That was the big meal of the day. Then we would retire to the front room so Grandmother and Grandaddy could watch their soap operas and Grandaddy could snooze through a baseball game. We always had butter beans to shell or corn to shuck in big metal pans that probably pre-dated World War II. Since the walls were so thick and the trees so big, the big window fan was enough to make the room comfortable. (Upstairs was a different story--the big bedrooms got plenty hot at midday.) We would often have a watermelon out under the trees around 4 pm.

Here in Texas it's a different story. All the years we didn't have air-conditioning we escaped from the house, most often going to the kiddie pool at Stacey Park as soon as it opened at noon, and staying there until closing at seven o'clock. The Daddy would meet us there after work, climbing in the pool in his City uniform to cool off. Going to the library was another escape from the heat; the children could spend hours being quiet in the cool. Since we've had AC, I rarely go outside after 10 am and before 7 pm. Alas, there are no basements blasted into the limestone!

I wonder what it's like in Chicago today...