Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Back .. weaker but still smiling

Thank you, to those who sent your well-wishes during our recent run-in with the virus known as the wish-you-were-dying flu.  Trust me, it has the swine and bird varieties beat all to pieces.  This stuff could kill a rhino. The front page of the local paper informed us two weeks ago, that they had opened an unused wing of our local hospital because it had reached epidemic proportions here in the area.

We are back among the land of the living, but I've got to admit it was touch and go there for a few days.  One day I was thinking I might die, and the next I was afraid I might not.  I was so miserable I didn't even want to be in same room with myself, and the LOC* was most definitely not volunteering for the privilege either.
(* Lovable Old coot)

He did, however, helpfully offer to open windows, turn on ceiling fans, and spray with room freshener every five minutes ... while looking decidedly green around the gills himself.

But we survived, although we have now bought stock in a major plastic garbage bag manufacturing company, and taken out a smaller interest in sterile gloves, and Clorox wipes (and all things Clorox, for that matter).  Just to be on the safer side (you are never really safe from this wretched ailment - and yes, I got my flu shot the first week they offered them) we bought an annuity invested primarily in Kaopectate with options on Imodium AD, and settled down with a little side mutual fund vested heavily in Lysol disinfectant.  I do believe we are now both domestically, medically and financially prepared to weather the next bout.  

                                        # # # # # 

In the middle of all this, I did not open my email for several days and when I did there was a completely unexpected and fun little surprise awaiting me.  A national blog/talk/radio show had invited me to be interviewed on their program.  (Quite honestly, I had never heard of blog/talk/radio - what is that anyway?)  Well, I guess I will find out, because the producer said he "loved my style" and plans to interview me by phone next week.  He asked to do it this week, but I politely explained that I was indisposed.

Anyone who doesn't think God has a since of humor just needs to spend a little time around the old scatter - otherwise known as the Young ranch. You will either go out of here laughing uncontrollably or running for your life.  Maybe both.

Me, I'm just going to bed  ...  in my weakened condition, I cannot afford to get too excited about anything.  :)

Until next time ... your weaker but still smiling friend ... Marsha 


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

DIY - Disaster LOC Style

Plumber Tools : Plumbing tools on house blueprint Stock Photo Here is a helpful hint to those who might want to stay married longer than a Kardashian.  Do not ever, and I mean EVER, tell your spouse that you have hired a plumber.  That is do not tell him in advance of the event. 

For if you do, here is what will happen.  Guaranteed.  It is hard-wired into their DNA.  First your significant other will look a little hurt, then puzzled, then put out.  After that, he will ask for the name and number of the plumber you have hired and place a call canceling the service call.

THEN he will patiently explain to you that he can do this himself.  After all, he has watched five or six episodes of DIY (Do-It-Yourself) on TV and .....after that, well honey, you are on your own, because all heck is about to break loose.
However, today a miracle happened at the Young ranch.  I am talking a bona fide, outside the course of normal events in human history, miracle.  The LOC* called a plumber.  Here is why. (*Lovable Old Coot)
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Several years ago, we awoke one cold December morning about 3:00 a.m. - and trust me, I do not ordinarily wake up that early.  But Holly was barking about something, and ordinarily she does not wake up that early either, as she is no spring Lhasa herself.

At first, the LOC thought maybe we had a prowler, but it turned out to be something much worse. We had a water pipe in the downstairs bathroom that had burst loose and was spraying water all over the floor.  By the time the noise woke Holly up, the water was already about an inch deep and had flooded that bathroom, the hallway, the kitchen, the family room, and had moved about one-third of the way into the living room. 

It was all hands on deck (that would be the LOC, me and Holly) for the next two hours while we set up the wet vac to begin vacuuming the water up, moved furniture out of the way as quickly as possible, and called the water damage company to come ASAP!

A mere six weeks and fourteen thousand dollars later, why we were completely back to square one.  Fortunately, insurance covered about ten thousand dollars of the damage.  That only left us out-of-pocket the remaining four thousand or so. (I quit counting after awhile, because my heart, not to mention our budget,  just couldn't take the strain.)

For the first two weeks of that six weeks, we had ten industrial size blowers (kind of like a fan on steroids) placed strategically about the downstairs by the clean-up crew.  These were to prevent mold forming in the walls, where the water had cunningly crept up to nearly two feet high, even though the water itself was never more than two inches deep at the worst spots. 

But as our philosopher-cum-repairman shared with us, water naturally seeks to go where anything is dry that can soak it up.  Sounds reasonable.  Sheetrock in your walls, therefore, is a natural habitat for the intelligent water-seeker.

Those blasted fans ran 24/7 for endless days.  It was like trying to sleep in an airport hangar, with some jet engine constantly roaring. At that time I was a vice-president in a good sized tech company, and had to try to show up for work each day in a decent looking suit and shoes, which is no easy feat, when you are stumbling over wires, hoses, pipes and machines all over the downstairs. 

Add to that the fear of blowing up the house, or electrocuting myself if I plugged in the wrong appliance upstairs and somehow caused water and electricity to meet up downstairs; well let's just say I wasn't at my best during those particular executive sessions.

How had all this begun?  That, my friend, is the moral of this little saga.  The LOC had, in a flurry of DIY enthusiasm, replaced a small flex hose behind the downstairs toilet.  This piece of equipment was about a foot or so long and cost approximately two and a half dollars.  He said it was a no-brainer.  (Perfect descriptor!)

Problem:  when you affix a new hose onto anything, you must adjust the pressure of the fitting to match the water pressure of the flow that will be going through it.  There is probably some dynamic law of aqua-engineering that puts this in more succinct terms, but essentially, there you have it.  The LOC had worked on this little gem a day or two before the flood, and he had put too much torque on the connection - in other words, he tightened it too much.  As the pressure built up in the hose, eventually it was bound to blow.

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Isn't that just like life?  We can think we are attending to things in a timely manner; but if our own frustrations or intensity cause us to put too much pressure on even a small thing, something is bound to blow.  When it does, the damage can be completely out of proportion to the initial issue.

We may then find ourselves wandering about in a flood of emotions, with our inner-angst fans blowing regret and dismay 24/7, and all the while we are thinking, if only I had approached that issue with a little more finesse, a little more kindness.  If only I had not put the tightening pressure on her/him to that extent. 

Indeed, we live and learn.  So today, the LOC first visited the local ACE hardware.  He is practically renting space there lately, and our little mountain hamlet hardware store has helpful, friendly staff.  So the LOC nips down there frequently, sometimes two or three times a day.

Today's visit produced good suggestions from the professionals there as to how the LOC should go about fixing a leaky sink problem we are having.  He followed their instructions to no avail.  Then he cleverly took photos on his phone of the problem areas and went back down to Ace Hardware.  After much consultation they suggested the problem might be a little more involved than they initially realized and that it likely was going to require some drilling, replacing equipment, etc.  And guess what?

The LOC called a friend, got a good recommendation, and called a local plumber!  Then he called me to brag about his newly found wisdom.  I'm as proud of him as a speckled pup. (My grandfather used to say that.  I never understood it, but it seemed to fit here.)

Meanwhile, Mrs. LOC (that would me me) is trying to learn when to ease up and not put quite so much pressure on myself and others... I hope.  The cost and the disruption to daily living are simply too high.  Just a thought....Until next time - Marsha

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Learning the Drill - Chapter 14

This is Chapter 14 in a series entitled Telling My Story.

I only got the job as the office manager of the dental practice where I worked for three and a half years because it was a small town, and a friend of a friend of a friend recommended me.

I had no real qualifications, other than that I was willing to work hard, I learn rather quickly, and I had fairly good people skills.  Other than that, I was a tabula rasa, a blank slate.

However, before many months had passed it appeared that that I had a head for business - who knew?  I improved the inventory control process, cleaned up the appointment book, and went to work on the payroll system.

The practice was making more money than it ever had and the doctors were thrilled. The time came when the original staff simply could no longer keep up with the patient volume we were seeing each day and something had to be done.  It was decided that the most cost effective way to increase our productivity was to hire a high school intern to come in to do the "scutt work" (cleaning the operatories, putting the instruments in the autoclave, filing, filing and more filing, etc.) each afternoon.

This would free up the chair side assistants to do more skilled work, and would allow the doctors a little more time to dictate treatment notes and make follow up calls to patients whose treatment had been extensive.  I would have more time to complete insurance claims.

Since I was the office manager, they told me to hire someone.  I had never even interviewed anyone, much less actually selected and trained a new hire.

I was both excited and scared.  The first few candidates did not appeal, but about the second day of interviews in walked a lovely looking girl, a senior in high school, who was articulate and seemed to really want the job.  Keep in mind it did not pay a lot, but it could be a chance for the person chosen to explore a career possibility.  It would be hard work, too.

This young lady (we will call her Lily) said she was eager to try it, and was new to town, so she didn't have many friends and was not yet involved in after-school activities.  This was good, fewer distractions.

One of the dentists met her briefly and told me it was up to me.  He didn't really care who I hired, just as long as we got some help quickly.  So Lily was hired, and told she could begin the next afternoon.

I do not know for certain who it was that showed up the next day, an evil twin perhaps; but whoever she was, she bore only a passing resemblance to Lily. 

First, her fingernails seemed to have grown about an inch and a half overnight.  I don't know how that happened, but whereas in the interview they were clean, cut short, and unremarkable, now they resembled a siren's tools of the trade, bright red and looonnng.  (How was she going to scrub Comet out of sinks with those ?)

Next, this girl, whoever she was, had applied her makeup with a trowel.  Lots of magenta and azure was in evidence.

Finally, the Lily who showed up for the job was dressed nothing like the Lily I had hired.  For the interview she wore a demure black skirt and white blouse.  For her first day on the job she appeared in some spandex get-up, that from the waist down seemed to resemble a wide belt more than a skirt.  To be fair, she had spectacular legs, but this was supposed to be a medical office, not a strip club.

To frost the cake if you will, when she put away her purse, and got ready to get down to business, she flipped out a little ruffled apron about the size of a handkerchief and daintily tied it around her waist which was about the size of a straw.  The apron looked like one of those French maid get-ups in a farce.  I half expected her to whip out a little feather duster to match it.

I was chagrined, but hoped that it was just first day jitters causing her to over-reach in the "please notice me"  department.  Unfortunately, the second and the third day were no better.    Moreover, the younger of the two dentists was a handsome guy who was not above a little flirting and Ms. Lily took to that like a duck to water.  She was only seventeen, but she was going on thirty.                                           # # # # #

By day three, it was obvious that I had made a "hiring error."  The younger doctor called me back to his office and informed me that it was not working out and Lily would have to go. 

"Oh, surely we could give her a little more time to fit in?  I would hate to see you fire her so quickly."

Dr. R. looked at me askance and said with no trace of humor in his voice, "Marsha, I am not going to fire her.  You hired her.  You fire her."  End of discussion.

I began to try to reason with him and pointed out that at least she had a cheerful disposition. No matter.

"Marsha, let me help you understand something.  I work a-l-l-l-l day long with a high-speed drill, three inches from the patient's brain.  She is going to come tripping down the hall, past one of the open treatment doors, in that spandex micro-mini skirt, and before you know it, someone is going to get a lobotomy!"
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When I tried to gently break the sad news to her, later that same after noon, she sniffed back a tear and wailed, "But I bought an apron."

Who would have guessed that there would come a time when I would teach recruiters how to screen, interview, test and select new employees by the hundreds.  My first hire had also been my first "fire" - and she only lasted three days.

But at least, no one got a lobotomy!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

No Malfunction - Just No Wardrobe - Chapter 13

A closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear :(As most of you may know, the term "wardrobe malfunction" entered our social lexicon several years ago, when Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake engineered what they later called an accident (wardrobe malfunction) involving the baring of Ms. Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl half-time show. 

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When I re-entered the workforce, I had my own wardrobe crises; but it didn't involve any public nudity.  Just plenty of private anxiety and public self-consciousness.  Here was the deal.

When our "worldly goods" were all taken, that included our clothing.  We had one or two small suitcases of basic essentials to last a day or two, for all five of us, as we thought we would be unpacking the rest in a few days.  The rest was now gone.

Meanwhile, just a few weeks later, I had an office job (not the temporary typing pool gig) but an permanent job in a professional medical office as the office manager.  And this office did not use "scrubs" for the front office personal, even though it was a dental office and all the chair side assistants wore scrubs.  So I had a major wardrobe dilemma on my hands - or rather, in my empty closet.

I went back to work, five days a week in possession of the following "outfits":  one black skirt, one navy blue skirt, one cream blouse, one white blouse, and one pink dress.  That was it. 

The work week would proceed - sartorially speaking - along the following schedule: 

Monday - black skirt with white blouse
Tuesday - blue skirt with cream blouse
Wednesday - pink dress
Thursday - black skirt with cream blouse (notice the clever switcheroo?)
Friday - voila' - blue skirt with white blouse.

Some weeks I would just go wild and wear the pink dress twice.  You might think no one noticed.  Sorry, not the case.

I was working for two dentists (and occasionally a third who was semi-retired) and these guys were all snazzy dressers, when they were not wearing lab coats.

To illustrate how obvious my little wardrobe malfunction really was, I had a birthday a few months after beginning that job.  The older dentist's wife visited the office unexpectedly that afternoon, and waited until the other staff were all gone for the day. 

Then she handed me a big white box with a lovely bow on the top and said, "We hope you won't be offended; but we noticed you could probably use something like this."

Inside was a wonderful grey wool A-line skirt and a matching blouse with various shades of grey, black and pale pink stripes.  I was so touched, and embarrassed, that they had observed how sparse my clothing selection was, that I just didn't know what to say.  But I found my manners long enough to thank her sincerely - and him too.

And I wore that outfit at least once a week for the next year!

The truth was that I had always been a bit of what my grandmother called a "clothes horse" before the robbery.  So it was especially humiliating to me to have to accept charity and to have my clothing donated to me by others, however well intended. 

But God wanted me to learn, really learn, something I had memorized in my head as a teenager; but obviously had not learned in my heart as well as I should have.

Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart... (I Samuel 16:7)

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair, the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.
(I Peter 3:3-4)

Please do not misunderstand.  I do not believe that God objects if we wear good quality clothing, when we can afford it.  There came a time, much later in my career, when I had a closet full of suits like Jones of New York purchased at Nordstrom's, Macy's, and the like.  But I had learned, the hard way, that my identity was not defined by the label on my clothing; but by the label on my heart.

If my heart was carefully labeled as a child of the King, then the rest would fall into place.

In fact, some twenty two years after the dental office, I was a vice president in a company of over one thousand employees.  The CEO and the Board were dangling a huge bonus in front of me if I would just "go along to get along" on a program about which I had reservations.  I am talking "down payment on a house" huge.

One of my colleagues was trying to influence me to go along, although she too was a Christian.  She said to me, "Marsha, don't you realize what they are offering you?"

I replied, somewhat heatedly, "Don't they realize that I am a child of God and there is nothing in this world that they can give me that can add anything to that."

I may be a slow learner in some things, but when I finally get the lesson, it tends to stick. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quick Minded - Slow Fingered - Chapter 12

For many years my fondest hope, and unfulfilled desire, was to go to college.  In my early adulthood, as the mother of three children, I simply had no opportunity to do that.  I know many young mothers (and fathers) do attend school and work and parent, and it was not that I was unwilling to give that a try.  Rather, it was that we moved frequently, and only a time or two did we live in a town large enough to have a local university.

The Internet and long-distance learning were still in the future, so if you did not have:

a) child care
b) transportation
c) a local university or college

then basically you had no options.  I had none of the three, so I felt doomed to ignorance.  Then I stopped boo-hooing to myself and got busy.

If I was not going to be able to get a college education in the foreseeable future, I simply decided to become auto-didactic.  (That is a fun word, isn't it?  Simply means self-taught.)

First, I read the text books my husband had used in Bible college.  I read hermeneutics, homiletics, theology, church history, and pretty much any thing else I could get my hands on.  And I used Strong's Exhaustive Concordance as often as a cook uses salt and pepper. Since I could not study Greek and Hebrew, I could at least learn to cross-reference effectively. I still have a copy and it does not have dust on it.

Then I went to my local library and began to read modern theologians.  I read Paul Tillich, Martin Buber, Dwight Pentecost, E. Stanley Jones and others whose names do not readily come to mind.

Next I stumbled across C.S. Lewis and fell in love (intellectually speaking, that is).  For about two years I read pretty much everything he had ever written and then began reading other authors he quoted, recommended, or who had written about him.  This led me to J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald,  and Lewis B. Smeade, among others.

Oh, come on now, you cannot be surprised, as I have told you at least a half a dozen times that I was (and still am) a bookworm.  I was not joking.

This enjoyable intellectual exercise might have gone on indefinitely, albeit to no great purpose..  However, after we lost everything, I needed to go back into the workforce - quickly.  There was no time to go to a technical school, or take a bookkeeping course, or obtain some other type of training to acquire paying skills. I needed a paycheck now.

I had not worked outside the home for any significant length of time for nearly fifteen years.  But a friend, who knew how desperate I was, offered me immediate part-time clerical work in the office where she was the manager.  I gratefully accepted, after assuring her that I did have the two skills she required.  I knew how to answer a telephone professionally and I could type. 

For any woman who has ever had to walk back into a professional environment after years of being a stay-at-home parent, I do not need to tell you how nerve-wracking this was. 

That first Monday morning she showed me my work station, told me where she would be should I need her, and indicated a stack of forms to be typed, next to the machine I would be using.  Then she left.

I sat down, fidgeted around a minute or two, located the pencil sharpener, and  sharpened a couple of pencils. (I don't know why. I wasn't going to do a cursive assignment; I was assigned to type.  But nerves were not being logical in the moment.)

Finally I thought, "Come on, Marsha.  You can do this." And I reached for the on switch for the electric typewriter. (It was still a couple of years before ubiquitous PCs appeared on every desk.)

What I could not know, until that moment, was that the IBM Selectric III bore little resemblance to the machines I had been using fifteen years earlier when I had briefly worked in an office until the sixth or seventh month of my first pregnancy.

Humm..... the switch wasn't on the upper right hand corner.  So I tried the lower right hand corner, the upper left hand corner...okay now I was down to only one corner left, and that dratted switch had better be there!

No switch.  Now I glanced quickly around to see if I could spot anyone else just firing up their machine.  Phooey.  The others already appeared to be on their second or third form of the day.  I had not even started and I was already behind. I looked around to see if I could spot my friend, but no, she had left the room to go into an adjacent office.

I re-checked the keyboard, just in case there was a key there labeled "Power" or "On/Off" or something equally subtle. Nuh-uh. 

I could feel a slow flush beginning to creep up my neck out of my collar and heading straight for my cheeks.  Here a friend had done me a favor, offered me a chance to make some money knowing how badly I needed it, and I could not even figure out how to turn the darned typewriter on!  Oh, the shame of it.  The agony of embarrassment.

At last, I saw my friend re-enter the room and I slowly got up and walked toward her as she looked at me with a puzzled expression.  She later told me, her expression must have been in response to my expression, which she described as one of sheer horror.  She didn't know if I was having a heart attack, or had gotten word of a tragedy at home, or what!

I walked up to her and quietly whispered, lest some hot shot who was already on their third form of the morning overhear my pitiful predicament, "I can't turn on the machine."

"Oh, she said matter of factly, "that one isn't working?"

"Well, I don't know.  It could be."

Now she looked even more perplexed.

"What I mean is, I can't turn it on.  I can't find the power switch."

She quickly showed me where it was located - on the bottom of the machine at the back on the lower left hand corner - practically underneath it.  Now really, whoever thought that one up was just being plain mean.

I had quickly gone from being an intellectual hot-shot, to being a fat-fingered fool; and it stung. For the rest of the day I typed like a woman possessed.  I did not take a coffee break, I did not visit the ladies room (no need since there had been no coffee), I barely read what I typed.  I just typed. ... and tried not to cry.
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For whoever exalts himself (or herself) will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself (or herself) will be exalted.  Matthew 23:12
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Trust me.  Exaltation was a long way off.

Six Months in Lucy-land - Chapter 11

This is chapter 11 in a series entitled Telling My Story.

 As detailed in Chapter 10 (Moving Onward, but Not Upward) our moving van was stolen and we had lost everything we owned, and thus had to stay with my mother-in-law for a few months while we tried to accumulate the basics to re-establish a household of our own.

My mother-in-law, Lucy, (I can use her real name because she has long since gone on to her reward) was a funny little woman.  She didn't mean to be.  In fact, she often took the oddest things so seriously that I could not quite figure out what was going on.

For example, she loved reading the almanac, and knowing exactly when sunset was going to be each evening.  You know, 5:52 p.m. today, 5:54 p.m. tomorrow, etc.  I am not sure why this statistic was important to her, but she always liked watching the paranormal soap opera of the day, Dark Shadows, so maybe that had something to do with it.

She loved to cook, which worked out well for me while we were there, because I don't much like to cook.  I love to eat, though.  Too bad my preferences don't run the other way around.

In any case, she cooked, and cooked, and cooked ... often one dish over and over until there was no possibility you could win a prize on a game show if the question happened to be "what is that on the table for dinner this evening?"

Meat dishes were her specialty, and an ordinary meat-cooking process went something like this.  First she would fry it for awhile, because that is what her generation did.  Remember my generation is the first to try to switch from frying to steaming or baking, and frankly, it has been a tough transition.  I'm just saying ....

After frying the meat for awhile, she would then add a little water to the skillet and steam it for a day or two.  When it had reached just the right degree of emulsification, and just an hour or two before dinner was to be served, she would pop the pan into the oven and bake it for a brief couple of hours - just be sure it was good and hot for the serving.

I am pretty sure these cooking rituals were left over from her pioneer days when they dug a pit, and put a pig in it wrapped in leaves, at the beginning of summer, and pulled it back out to eat it just around harvest time.

Naturally, with this kind of cooking inclination, she thought the micro-wave, when it came out during the latter days of her life, was the greatest invention since sliced bread.  She loved to nuke things: bread things, and vegetable things, and meat things... oh, my goodness, she could reconstitute a week-old pork chop like nobody's business.  I am still in awe.  Excuse me, while I pop a Tums in honor of the memory.  

The most unique menu she ever shared with us came about one evening a few months into our stay.  I suspect she had just worn herself out frying and steaming and baking and broiling (oh, now there was an adventure not to be missed!).  She was, after all, in her late seventies, when she suddenly found herself trying to keep three rambunctious kids filled ( two of them teen age boys). So on the evening in question she had decided to go lightly on the cooking.

I had gone to work in an office by then, and thus was at least out from under her feet for eight hours each day.  I would, however, help set the table when I got home.  In preparation for that, I privately asked K. (because I needed to be able to control my reaction when I saw it on the table for the first time), "What's for dinner this evening?"

He looked at me nervously, and mumbled something I didn't quite catch.

"What did you say?  I didn't quite hear you."

"Chicken noodle soup and mashed po.... ."

"I'm sorry, chicken noodle soup and what?"

Sighing in resignation for what he knew my reaction would be, he said, "Chicken noodle soup and mashed potatoes."

I stood stock still for a moment trying to figure out how that would work.  Did you put the mashed potatoes into the soup?  Some kind of puree, perhaps?  Did you serve the soup first, and then the mashed potatoes were the a la carte entree?  Nope.  I could not work it out.  So I walked away with a blank look on my face.

It turned out the soup was served the regular way, in small soup bowls.  And the mashed potatoes were served on little plates as a side dish.  Allll righteeee, then.
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It was a tough six months.  Not because of Lucy.  I would say she was generous in the extreme with her home and help when you consider what a shock to her daily routine it must have been, to go from living alone, to suddenly having two teen age boys, a third-grade girl, and their parents all over your house.  She was a real trooper about it.

But I have to say, it was not easy.  I was now thirty-six years old, and did not own a dish, bed, or towel of my own.  You could say I was cranky.  Yes, you could certainly say that.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Moving Onward, But Not Upward - Chapter 10

This is Chapter 10 in a series entitled Telling My Story.

There was a mini-series on television one year, when our children were still at home, and in those days most shows were decent enough for the whole family to watch together.

I do not recall our ever watching an entire six or eight part mini-series together before, or after this, but it was the year after the events in this chapter had taken place, and we were all kind of "huddling together" that year; because we had lost so much but we still had each other.

However, this mini-series was a melodrama, and at the end of the last episode, as the credits rolled our daughter looked at her father and me and asked, "I don't get it.  Where were the happy parts?"  We laughed and laughed.

You may be wondering about now, where are the happy parts in my story.  Truly, I am looking forward to sharing those with you.  But in order for those parts to be seen in an accurate context, you must first know what came before.  Thus we will slog on for a bit.  I do hope that you will find the journey worthwhile, when we come to the conclusion of my story.
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The year before the "brick wall" issue came to a head, one of our family members had been the victim of a crime.  I will say nothing of the details around that out of respect for the privacy of that individual.

It is enough for the reader to know that the perpetrator was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty.  I was shaken to my core over the matter, and pretty angry with God for allowing this to happen.  I knew that evil is present in the world, and that God will not override our free will, even to prevent harm, except in unusual cases.  Still, when wickedness touches one of our own, we are seared and scarred by it.

Additionally, because it was a small town, the perpetrator's family knew we had pressed charges and they threatened us, if we would not drop them.  We kept praying and refused.  We received "anonymous" phone calls in the middle of the night.  Things were thrown against our house in the night as well.  It was a nightmare that lasted for months.

Then suddenly, after only serving a year and a half of his sentence, we learned that he was to be paroled right back to our community.  I was in a panic.  One day at the grocery store I came around the end of an aisle and came face to face with his wife.  She looked at me with such hatred that it carried the force of a physical blow.

I went home and told K., "We have to move.  I cannot live here anymore knowing he will soon be back.  We have to think of the safety of our family."

Soon thereafter, K. received a job offer half-way across the country, and although we were barely able to function and plan by this time; we decided a cross-country move might be just what we needed.  A fresh start.

This morning in the church service I attended, a song was sung that contains these lyrics:

"I am not skilled to understand,
What God has willed
What God has planned..."
(I do not know the author, or I would give the credit.)

I do not know whether it was God's will for us to make that move.  All I do know is that we went with heavy hearts, but high hopes that things would be better in the new environment.  It was not to be.

Although we met some wonderful people there, we also ran into a dark betrayal, involving power, greed and envy; and after not quite one year, we decided to return to California.

Just before we packed up to return, I had a dream one night.  Since by this time I rarely slept soundly enough to dream, I almost never did; and even more rarely did I recall what I had dreamed when I awoke.

But when I awoke from this dream, my heart was pounding and I felt as though I had already lived through the events in it.  It was so real, so detailed.  K. and I had already discussed returning to the West Coast, but a few days after my dream, he also told me what his plan was for making the move. 

When he told me this plan, I turned cold and clammy, and literally felt my heart began to pound.  Now I am known to be a very practical, sensible individual.  I do not engage in the ethereal.

However, I felt compelled to tell him about the dream wherein our moving van had been left over night at a parking lot and discovered stolen the next morning.  I explained how real the dream was.  Then I said to him, "My worst nightmare, after all we have been through these past two or three years, would be to have the moving truck stolen and find ourselves destitute and living with your mother."

He scoffed at the whole thing, told me it was my imagination and that nothing like that was going to happen.

We tried to get a rider placed on our home owner's policy, but the insurance company declined to issue one because we were moving ourselves instead of hiring Mayflower or a similar professional moving company.  We could not afford to do that.  Thus it was an uninsured move.

On November 13, 1981 we parked the moving van in a vacant church parking lot, surrounded by a six foot chain link fence, with padlocked gates and drove the hundred and fifty miles to his mother's.  We dropped the kids off, stayed only an hour or so and then turned around and drove back, to spend the night with our friend and his wife. They had two very small children and a small house, and that is why we had taken the three kids elsewhere.

The following morning we went down to the church to pick up the truck.  We pulled up in front of the church, and K. suggested I wait in the church office while he and the pastor went around back to unlock the gates and warm up the truck's engine as it was cold that day.

I sat in the office for fifteen minutes or so, and wondered what could be taking so long.  Then K. walked in ashen-faced.  I took one look at him and said, "It's gone, isn't it?  It's been stolen."

He looked sickened and as he nodded "yes" -  he said quietly, "Marsha, please don't leave me."

He knew that I had described this very event in detail.  I had even said that this church was located in a high-crime area and was a particular risk, even discounting my dream.  We had discussed my reservations for nearly an hour that day; and as always, my opinion did not matter.  My concerns did not count.  He would do as he thought best; and the rest of us would pay the price.

It turned out that the pastor had been trying to help rehabilitate a young man with a drug history, who was working part time for the church as a janitor.  The young man was back on drugs, and had keys to the premises.  He knew of a drug ring operating in the area who fenced stolen property for five cents on the dollar, taking the stolen goods to the Bay Area and selling them over night.

The police located the van abandoned on a country road by the next day.  It was empty.  An entire three-bedroom household of furniture, our linens, dishes, clothing, our musical instruments (my son's Benj trumpet, my other son's Elgin symbols and drum set, my Baldwin piano) everything ... gone.  Baby pictures, birth certificates, tax records - seventeen years of marriage and family life wiped out.

My daughter sometimes says it would be easier to be able to say "we lost everything in a fire" - as this happens to thousands of people each year.  It is terrible, but something we hear of and read about, so it is comprehensible even if horrible.  Our loss was so bizarre it was tough to explain.

Now the brick wall was building in my own heart.  The losses and griefs of the past two years were the beginning, but they were unforeseen.  A complete shock.  But this loss, was not only foreseeable, but we had been forewarned and due to K.'s complete inability to value any opinion but his own, we were now homeless, and without the means to acquire one.

My mother-in-law was a widow, who lived alone in a three bedroom home; and thus, just as I had dreaded, because we literally had nowhere else to go, she was kind enough to take us in.  We lived with her for six-months while we slowly accumulated enough basics necessary for every day living that we could rent a house to move into.

That six months ....  well, we will save that for the next chapter.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Behind the Wall - Chapter 9

This is chapter 9 in a series entitled Telling My Story.

I have attempted to write this chapter at least three times, and I cannot seem to get it right. 

The bare facts are that, after about fifteen years of marriage, outwardly our circumstances looked better than they ever had; we bought a new home, and our congregation was growing.  Nevertheless,  privately I felt like something was deeply wrong in our marriage and I did not know what it was.

Neither did I know what to do about it, except to pray.  Late one evening, after the kids were asleep, K. asked me what was bothering me.  I tried to explain that I could not seem to get through to him.  I felt like there was some kind of wall between us and I could only get to know him up to a point, and then I would run into a brick wall.

He gave me an odd look, with something almost like fear in his eyes, and said that I was imagining things.  This was what he generally told me whenever I raised an issue that he did not wish to discuss.

He was charming and well-liked by nearly everyone who knew him.  Admittedly, I was not-so-charming since being frequently in the public eye chafed at me and social small talk bored me; and thus I was not exactly all sunshine and light.  I can honestly say that I was dependable and loyal; but it was not enough.
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None of us can say what causes another person to make the choices they make or to do the things they do.  We can guess, we can surmise, we can draw our own conclusions.  But only God can really know.

The writer Matthew Kelly has said, "God loves us as we are, and he loves us too much to allow us to stay that way."  Ouch.

I will never know what caused K. to finally tell me what was behind the wall.  Perhaps he thought I would eventually find out anyway, and it was better to tell it his own way.  Perhaps he sincerely wanted to change.  He said he did not want to lose me.

In any case, he made his disclosure, and in that single hour the world shifted on its axis and my life collapsed.  How could I have been so blind?  How could I have been so stupid? 

What I later came to think of as the "decade of despair" was only beginning.  It would get worse, much worse.  Fortunately, I did not know that, and at the time it was all I could do to breathe in and breathe out; and even that seemed like too much trouble.

I knew Christians were supposed to be over comers, but instead I was overcome, with sorrow.  Shortly after all this occurred, I was dusting the bedroom furniture one afternoon, when I was the only one at home. There was a gospel record playing on the stereo and that is all I remembered until I came to about an hour later, laying on the bedroom floor.  I had fainted from the sheer weight of the grief I was carrying.

Still, as women do, especially as mothers do when children are depending upon them, I got up, got myself together and went to the kitchen to cook dinner.  It was almost time for the kids to come home.

The marriage lasted another eight years.  But after many more losses and sorrows, we decided upon a trial separation.  That was what we had discussed. Instead, he filed for divorce almost immediately, and re-married the week our divorce was final.  I was forty, but most days I felt more like I was ninety: tired and used up.

It was not all his fault.  Near the very end, I contributed to the demise of our marriage.  Looking back, I wondered whether it might not have been better if I had walked away eight years earlier.

But what was done was done, and I had to find a way to go on.  I did not know how I was going to do that, now that I was nothing but a broken failure.

Songwriter Bill Gaither wrote:  "...all I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, but he made something, beautiful, out of my life."
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"For I know the plans I have for you." declares the Lord.  "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

Friday, January 13, 2012

Trouble with a Tea Kettle

This is Chapter 8 in a series entitled Telling My Story.

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians about the maturity of the believer in terms of "speaking the truth in love." (Eph. 4:15)  He calls that "growing up into Him" (Christ).

This may be the most difficult portion of my story to write because it involves those whose story it also is, and who have not consented to have their portion told.  Thus I need to be both circumspect and gentle, while remaining truthful.  Bear with me.  It will take more than one chapter.

I first met K., my future husband, at church and we dated all through high school.   We had become engaged in November of my senior year in high school, while K. my fiance, was now in his second year of college.  In some ways, we were typical high school sweethearts, who married young and intended to stay that way for the rest of our lives.  To my deepest regret, it did not turn out that way.

People sometimes said to us, and/or about us, that we were "so cute, the perfect couple" and from outward appearances it must have seemed that way.  Privately, however, we argued a lot, broke up and reunited over and over again, and I could see that the relationship had serious problems.  Some were mine, some were his; but combined they were a toxic brew.

I was the oldest child, raised to be super-responsible if you will, because Mom had no choice but to use me as a surrogate parent for my younger sisters.  We lived twenty-five hundred miles away from any family, and there was no one else she could count on.  So at twelve I was cooking meals, cleaning house, and watching my two sisters while Mom was at work all day.

She once said to me, when I was about fifteen, "Marsha, you were never a child.  You were born a little old lady."  I thought to myself, "No, Mom, you and Dad made me a little old lady, without ever having a chance to be a child."  But of course, I said nothing, even though she had hurt my feelings more than she could possibly know.

K., by contrast, was an only child, but tragically so.  His mother had had an older son, who drowned in a river while on a church picnic.  She had also had a little girl, three years younger than K., who died of cancer when K. was six years old and her daughter was three.  Thus, he was her only surviving child. 

K. once told me that after his little sister's death his mother fell into a deep depression that lasted over five years.  During that time he was benignly neglected; fed, clothed and loved, but often ignored and left to himself.  When she at last achieved some level of recovery, although he said she was never the same, she simply gave him anything he wanted as soon as it could be obtained.  She waited on him hand and foot, and nothing was too much to do for him. 

His father was a kind and gentle soul, who did not seem to have the ability to stand up to either K. or his mother, and thus by the time I met K. when he was sixteen, he was the prince of their household, and no one questioned him about his actions, desires, or misdeeds.

I used to say that I had inherited the results of their poor parenting, and paid for it for the next twenty five years.  Of course, that was self-pity talking; but there was more than a grain of truth to it as well.

Our birthdays were one week apart in the month of September, and in October the year we turned twenty-one and eighteen respectively, we were married in a simple church ceremony with about seventy-five guests attending.

As best I can figure out, he married me because he wanted a loving caregiver to continue meeting all his needs much as his mother had done.  I married him, because I had determined very early on to marry someone whom I thought would be the complete opposite of my father in every way.  My Dad was loud, K. was quiet, my Dad was rough-spoken, K. was soft-spoken.  Even in appearance they were opposites, as my Dad was a short man, and K. was tall.

Of course, we also thought we were in love, but looking back I doubt that either of us knew much about what genuine love might be.  My guess is that he sometimes found me boring and I have no doubt that I was.  I was an introverted bookworm. I found him to be reckless, whether it was driving the car at close to one hundred miles per hour, with me in the passenger seat petrified; or running up credit card debt that we could ill afford.

Nevertheless, for nearly twenty three years we did the best we could, or so I thought; and for twenty of those years, he was in the ministry and we pastored four small churches in succession.  We were poor as the proverbial church mice, but I hardly knew any thing else so it did not much trouble me, unless the bills were not getting paid.  I recall having some women over to visit one day, and offering them tea.

I went to the kitchen to put on the kettle, only to discover the water had been shut off some time that morning.  I can still feel the humiliation of having to try to explain to them that some "over sight" had resulted in my having no water with which to make tea.

K. was not home, he rarely was, and could not be reached by phone.  Thus it was that evening before he came home and discovered no dinner cooked (no water) and me in tears.  He shrugged it off as "no big deal" and the next day got the water service restored.  It was a small incident but it was a harbinger of worse things to come. 

He liked living on the edge, trying new and exciting things whether we could afford them or not, and he enjoyed traveling away from home a great deal - while the kids and I stayed behind.  Like most pastors who lead small local congregations, he had to work outside jobs to help support our family.  I certainly understood that.  But what I could not quite understand was why he invariably chose jobs that required him to travel a lot.  We also moved frequently.

So here I was, once again, packing and unpacking every few months or years, never knowing where we would be next.  I was stuck in a repeat of my rambling childhood, one which I had hoped to escape.  During the first ten years of our marriage, we moved eleven times living in six different towns.  Yes, in some towns we lived in two or three different houses.  I longed for some stability. Life on the edge did not appeal to me. 

Next:  Behind the Wall

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Geezerwheel Is Out of Whack

I love a good routine.  I do not find routines dull, or boring or a waste of my time.  In fact, in my experience a good routine is often more productive than about any other approach to living.

Benjamin Franklin believed this and commemorated that belief in his little ditty:

Early to bed, early to rise,
Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Unfortunately, a decent routine has been tough to scare up around here for the past six months.  Unpredictability has become the watchword of the day - chaos the lingua franca.

Take my bedroom slippers, for instance.  They need to be beside my bed at just a certain angle, in order for me to slip out of bed in the dark and into my slippers without mishap, should nature call in the middle of the night.

The problem is that I never know which bed it is going to be, (up the hill or down the hill) or which slippers I may be slipping into...or is it on?  Whichever, I never know.

I am up the hill, where we supposedly live (well, the LOC* does live there with the resident Lhasa Apso, Holly, and I visit as frequently as circumstances and helpful friends allow me to).  Then I am back down the hill, where my son, K., lives and who is currently bed fast after a difficult surgery, with a recovery period that is becoming the longest in the history of modern medicine.
(*Lovable Old Coot)

Of course, K. cannot help it that the surgeon left him with a hole in his backside that you could drive a Hummer through, and thankfully, it is now down to where we are only talking a Smart Car.
We are thankful, but my geezerwheel is wheezing at this point.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of a trained Flea Circus. Whether such a thing ever actually existed, or has only lived in imaginations, I do not know; but the idea of training such unpredictable little creatures ... well, that is something I could think about for hours, if I could concentrate that long.
You know, the idea of jumping fleas, being trained to jump or not jump and when, where, and how high?  Just add "what and who"  and you would also have trained flea journalists, would you not?  Lately, I'm doing a lot of jumping too, the difference being I often do not know where or when I will be called upon to jump next, and certainly I have no idea how high.  And I'm a short person, so that is another problem.

I tell you my internal geezerwheel needs work, as in major maintenance, perhaps a complete overhaul.

This business of living in two places at once, and neither of them being all that familiar (we just moved into the house up the hill a couple of months ago)  it is just disconcerting, discombobulating, and it has my geezerwheel all out of whack.

Why the other day, I went looking in four different closets, in two different houses, for a particular pair of slacks, only to discover that I was already wearing them.  Now that is scary!

Then yesterday, I moaned picking up a pencil I had dropped, until I had to blush after realizing it wasn't under the sofa, or even on the floor.  It was on a table right in front of me.  Now that is embarrassing!

I used to be made of sterner stuff; but your stern tends to wilt and your stuff tends to fade, when your geezerwheel is off kilter.  I'm just saying ...

You only get one geezerwheel, at least as far as I know it is still one to a customer, and it has to last you your whole life long.  At the rate mine is gyrating, I'm pretty sure I am not long for this world.  I'm too old for hot flashes and too young for assisted living, so I guess there is nothing for it but to keep jumping. But I gotta' tell 'ya - the old geezerwheel just isn't what it used to be. 

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Hope your geezerwheel is in better shape than mine is in - and that you can actually recall what it is for. Until next time ... jumping jehosephat ... it's Marsha

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Contest: Essays and Egos

This is Chapter 7 in a series called Telling My Story.

One of the two enduring pleasurable activites of my life is public speaking.  The other, if you have not already guessed, is writing.  The first time I stepped up to a microphone to speak in a formal setting was at my eighth grade graduation, as I had been chosen as one of the two speakers from my class. 

That in itself was surprising, because I had only moved to the little town in Northern California during the semester break and the whole five months from then until graduation was a comedy of errors and misunderstandings.  But it was kind of fun.

Because I had been to so many different schools my transcripts, as you can imagine, were like trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle. Three months here, six months there - it was a mess.  My 8th grade year, I had begun the school year in Illinois, moved to the state of Washington, went to school there for three months, and then we moved to California at the holiday break, landing in the little town of Oakley (not the real name) in late December just before Christmas.

Oakley's elementary school system, in 1959, was configured on a structure that was already outdated even then.  For example, top students were placed in 8-A and the worst academic students were assigned to 8-D. Anytime you had to say which class you were in, it was like announcing that you were either "smart, stupid, or so-so". In between the two extremes, 8-B and 8-C were similarly arranged based upon the students' prior year's performance. Because my transcript had not yet arrived from Washington the day Mom took me to enroll in school, I was assigned to 8-D.  Mom tried valiantly to explain that I was an A student and should not be placed in 8-D. 
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It wasn't that she thought less of students who struggled with their studies, but she thought I would not be very challenged in those classes.  The registration people did not believer her and insisted upon putting me in the lower class.  And it was lower, literally, as it was housed in the basement of the school, with the only windows being up near the ceiling, as we looked at the ground and a couple of feet above it.  We never saw the sky from that classroom.

As it turned out, it was one of the best experiences of my entire elementary education, and here is why.  Students in the "middle classes" of 8-B and 8-C  had apparently settled into their own comfort zone, and this included their teachers. But between 8-A and 8-D there existed a keen rivalry in everything from  dodge ball to spelling contests. 

Enter bright-eyed naive Marsha from the Midwest, who knew nothing of all of this. As soon as I had turned in a few assignments, my teacher, Mr. Van de K., began to pay special attention to me.  He would smile and nod as he read my papers and soon was using some of my work as examples to the rest of the class, to my embarrassment.  (I was trying to fit in, after all.)

Before long, whenever we were having study time, he would say to me, "Marsha, go over and see if you can help Janie (or Mary or whomever) with the assignment, since you have finished yours."  I was glad to do it and was surprised to find my help was welcomed.  Many of these kids wanted to do well, but did not have a parent at home to help with homework or they just needed things explained at their own level.  It was fun "playing teacher" and it helped me make friends more quickly.

Near the middle of the semester the annual essay contest was announced.  Fliers were distributed all over school and some were posted at businesses around town.  Mr. Van de K. approached me and suggested that I enter the contest.  He and Mrs. C., the haughty 8-A teacher, had been sniping at each other for years, as each year one of her students would win the contest.  She was not kind about it, and Mr. Van de K. was sick and tired of his students being the brunt of her archly condescending criticism.

The topic of the essay contest was assigned each year by a panel consisting of members of the school board and the chamber of commerce.  That year's topic was to be "Historical Trailways" highlighting the paths that had led to America's greatness.  Immediately trails like the Appalachian Trail, the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Pony Express route, etc. sprang to mind.

I thought and thought, and decided that none of those really described how I thought America had achieved its prominence in the world.  I decided to write on Industrial Trailways outlining the way things like the invention of the cotton gin, the sewing machine, the Bessemer steel process, and the Industrial Revolution in general, had created a society of achievement and prosperity.

Okay, it was not brilliant, but it was enough "off the beaten path" so to speak, that it caught the judges' attention.  (I know, that was a pitiful pun.  Sometimes I just can't help myself.)

The day they announced that I had won, and took my picture for the local paper, I was more tickled to see Mr. Van de K.'s ear-to-ear grin than I was over winning.  Of course, my parents were proud, although a bit startled.  I remember my mother asking me, "How do you think of these things."  I didn't know, I just knew that concepts interested me more than the concrete.

Well, school was a smile-a-thon for several days.  Mrs. C. grudgingly congratulated me, while snidely insinuating that "maybe I had had a little help?"  I thought Mr. Van de K. was going to blow a gasket when I told him what she had said.  Next, Mrs. C. belatedly tried to arrange to have me transferred to her class.

Mr. Van de K. offered me the choice, and I politely declined, saying I liked it where I was.  He grinned some more and went to tell the highbrowed Mrs. C. that "Marsha had elected to stay in the basement with his class." She barely spoke to me the rest of the year.

So ended the year, with my invitation to speak at the graduation.  Mr. Van de K. strutted around the school grounds like a proud mother hen for days, and several of the kids in 8-D cheered when my name was announced as a graduation speaker.  Finally, they had a champion and I was as glad for them as they were for me.  8-D had made the grade!  And I had made some friends.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Requiem at an Ironing Board

           This is Chapter 6 in a series entitled Telling My Story
My mother never taught me to cook.  She didn't like to have anyone "under her feet" in the kitchen and that included her daughters. She never taught me to sew - she never taught me to clean a house (although you could not live with her and not learn how to clean things just by watching her go at it).

Household Essentials Bamboo Wide Top Ironing BoardBut, honey, you'd better believe she taught me how to iron clothes.  And tablecloths, and dishtowels, and pillow cases, and dresser scarves... and, well you get the idea.  It if could be washed in our house, it was going to be ironed and that was a guarantee.

Before she became a nurse, Mom had taken in ironing to earn money as one of two jobs she was working to support us during another one of my father's recurring absences.

This was no easy way to make a dollar, as there was no such thing as permanent press in those days.  You had to put water in an clean coke bottle, with a handy little cork stopper with an aluminum sprinkler head on it.  This device was used to sprinkle - or dampen - the clothes to be ironed.  Each piece was then rolled into a loose ball and placed in the clothes basket to await its turn on the ironing board.  Steam irons were still in the future, at least for us.

Sprinkling was its own skill, because if you got them too damp, it could take forever to get them ironed dry; but if you didn't get them damp enough, the wrinkles just would not iron out completely.

And then there was spray starch - now that was an adventure.  There was Niagara, of course, and Faultless and a couple of other brands.  If you got lucky and had a good can, you could spray a nice even sheen over the garment, and when you were finished with it, it smelled wonderful and looked almost brand new. 

But if it was a bad can, or the little spray hole had gotten clogged, well, you knew you were in for a long afternoon of struggling to iron out spots where the starch had made a watermark on the fabric, or where it flaked off behind the iron, leaving a little white trail of stuff.  A bad can of spray starch was a misery to be sure.

By the time I was in high school, I ironed well enough that I could also make some money by doing ironing.  I can't remember the pricing structure from those days, but it seems to me it was something like twenty five cents for a shirt or a blouse, fifty cents for a pair of pants or slacks, fifteen cents a piece for pillow cases. It was quite an accomplishment to make five dollars doing ironing.
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Mom was a "extreme iron-er" and Dad was an extreme neat-freak about his own shirts.  He would refuse to wear anything that was not ironed to perfection.  He always dressed like a million dollars, even if he was unemployed and did not know how he was going to make his car payment.  By this time Mom was a seasoned co-dependent and enabler, so she carefully ironed every shirt as though he was a monarch, and he had lots of shirts; even during the times when she had not had a new dress in years. 

As a young girl watching all this play out, I thought she was either weak or crazy or both.  Good grief, why didn't she just refuse to do it anymore, or tell him to iron his own darned shirts?  Yes, I was a Christian, but I was bound and determined not to become the kind of Christian my mother seemed to be, kowtowing to someone who was undependable on a good day, and wretchedly unkind on a bad one.

As I have revisited these things in my memories, I have come to realize why it is that nearly every autobiographical story I have ever read, was only written after the author's own parents were gone. It would be too painful to write the truth and have them read it; and too frustrating to write a phony account. 

My parents are both gone.  My mother was with us until 2010 and went peacefully to be with the Lord, at the age of eighty two, as I stood by her bedside.  But dad ... how to tell this chapter without straying into the  maudlin or the horrific?

As his alcoholism worsened so had his temper.  His career now in shambles, and increasingly morose, he no longer even resembled the hail-fellow-well-met of his youth; that smiling young guy on the motorcycle who thought the world was his for the taking.

He became increasingly violent, and our lives became a melodrama complete with broken furniture to accompany the broken promises, temporary restraining orders (TRO) which local police ignored because dad was so charming when they came to the house to "interview" him about the disturbances, and finally threats on our lives, mine in particular.  He could intimidate, even terrify, my two younger sisters. 

But somehow I had become immune to his ranting and threats and refused to bow and scrape to him.  It infuriated him so much that he began to tell my mother that some day, while she was at work, he was going to kill me.  He no longer lived with us but he knew how to break into the house and did.

My mother did not believe in divorce, but finally filed for one because the police told her they would not enforce her restraining orders against my father, unless she was divorcing him.  This was before the days of "no fault" or "irreconcilable differences".  Her attorney told her that her most assured way of getting the TRO
taken seriously was to file on grounds of extreme cruelty, and while this was certainly true, there were no witnesses outside the family.  Thus, as the oldest child to witness the behaviors that fit that description, I was told I would have to testify against my father in the divorce hearing.

I was fifteen, and had been having stomach problems for quite some time.  Twice I was taken to the ER with stomach attacks so serious that the doctor diagnosed ulcers and told my mother the next time he would have to hospitalize me.  I was skinny as a rail, and could only keep food down by taking a quarter of a cup of creamed papaya before each meal to coat my stomach.

The day I testified, my dad's presence was not required in court.  But at the last minute, in he walked, straight down to the front row of seats, and took a seat directly across from the witness stand where I had just been seated.  The entire time that I answered the attorney's questions (probably not more than fifteen minutes but it seemed like an eternity) my father looked at me sadly and shook his head from side to side as though every word I was saying was a complete lie. 

The judge granted my mother the divorce and we went directly home, where I threw up for several hours narrowly avoiding a return trip to the hospital.

I rarely saw my father for the next few years.  I married just after high school and had two little boys.  We lived an hour's drive from where my mother lived.  When I was eight months pregnant with my third child, there was a knock on our door one evening.  The visitor was there to inform us that my father's body had been discovered in a large city a few hours south of where we lived.

He had actually lived with us (my husband and our two little boys and me) for several months the year before his death.  He called one day out of the blue when I had not seen him in nearly two years, and asked if he could come to dinner.  I said yes, provided he wasn't drinking.  He showed up shaky but sober ... and stayed six months in our spare room.  (Talk about the old joke "the man who came to dinner and stayed six months.") During that time we talked quietly a few times about life, faith, and forgiveness.  He was in AA and he sometimes went to church with us, but we did not make an issue of it.  God had worked on both our hearts and I was hopeful he was in recovery.

However, eventually he began drinking again, and I had to ask him to leave, as I would not allow my small boys to be exposed to what I had experienced as a child.

So now, at twenty-six, I was preparing for his funeral.  He was forty-six when he died.  Because he had left some clothing at our house the year before, when the funeral home asked who could bring some clothes for him to be buried in, I said that I could.

He had always wanted a son.  I had tried to be better than a son to him: washing the car with him, mowing the lawn, helping him put up porch screens, stacking firewood with him until my shoulders were aching.

But that day, as I ironed the shirt he would be buried in, I prayed and the tears flowed, and I said in my heart, "Ah, Dad, only a daughter would iron a shirt for you to be buried in.  A son would not be doing this for you. But I will." 

I said goodbye to him, without anger in my heart, and with the bitterness ebbing away.  I was not, and am not, a perfect Christian; but I have nearly always tried to be an obedient one.  That day, I was glad I had said "yes" when he asked for a place to live for those months.  And I was glad I had learned to iron so well.       
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There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to tear and a time to mend... Ecclesiastes 3:  1-2,4, 6, 7