Wednesday, October 19, 2011

By Small Means

I love this church. I love it for a million reasons but right now I’m remembering some special members who reached out to me and mine when help was needed. They lifted and strengthened by doing little things. Just little things. But then you know what the Lord has to say about that, don’t you? Something about by small means great things are brought to pass.

I remember when we were working to get our raggedy old converted family to the temple for the first time. You know, I think the adversary must really hate forever families because the closer we got to that special day the harder life became. Since joining the Church it had been line upon line, precept upon precept, one foot in front of the other, a day at a time, working steadily to become truly Latter Day Saints. Turns out that getting baptized was just the first step for us. Becoming Mormon was a long process. Larry had finally conquered a heavy cigarette habit which had tortured him for years, we were full tithe payers, trying to hold regular family home evenings, attend our meetings, read scriptures and all the rest. I was the ward Primary President if you can believe that, never having been to primary as a child. We had four children by then, the youngest a preschooler and our oldest daughter fifteen or so. This teenaged daughter and I had a strained relationship at the time, becoming difficult as she started high school. Nothing I said or did was right and Larry often had to run interference, sometimes literally standing between us so I couldn’t resort to blows. I once shouted in anger at her about how hard it was to be the mother of a rude, complaining, unreasonable, teenager and she shot back that it was no picnic being the daughter of a bossy, critical, thirty three year old either. You get the picture. She needed to interview with the bishop before going to the temple and I was terrified because I knew that while not exactly breaking any major commandments she was “dancing around the pit,” so to speak, just seeing how close she could get without falling in. She was hanging out with some member kids who had lost their way. She was trying to “help them,” she said. It had never occurred to me that one of our children might not be ready for the temple after Larry and I finally were. My heart was breaking. The next Sunday was fast Sunday and I was very emotional. I stood in Relief Society and bore my testimony. I very briefly mentioned my concerns about this daughter and the temple. That was all. Later that week this beloved, exasperating, child came in from school and as she walked down the hall to her room she turned to me and said in an irritated tone, “What did you do? Am I charity case number 62 or something?” I looked at her completely dumbfounded. I had no idea what she was talking about. “Huh?” I said. (Brevity was usually the safest path to take with her.) She continued accusingly, “This week my seminary teacher asked to take me out to get a root beer, the Mutual president and my teacher want to go to a movie on Saturday, and Bishop’s first counselor and his wife want to go get ice cream after school tomorrow. Did you call them? “No way,” I answered truthfully, “I certainly did not call them.” She sniffed and flounced off to her room.

Funny thing happened though. There was a miraculous change in her attitude. It was as if the care and concern of people other than her annoying mother made all the difference. She seemed to pull back from the edge of the pit. People she respected and admired cared for her, went out of their way for her, wanted the best for her. It changed something. We all made it to the temple.

Ice cream cones and movie tickets? Small means. Love and service? Eternal influence. Anyway, I know great things came to pass and I’m grateful.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I’ve had a few dealings with angels. Or at least their assistants.
Right now I’m thinking of a time over 20 years ago when two of them came to give me a message.
It was close to midnight in a hospital parking lot. In my mind, I can still see the pools of light cast by the streetlamps glowing on the blacktop beneath my feet.

I’d better explain.
Larry was in that hospital. He’d been there for about three weeks at that point. There had been a terrible car wreck. He had major injuries and was still a long, long, way from recovery.
By now we’d come past the panicked, can’t breathe point of “Will he live or die?”
That and “Can he survive surgery?” had been dealt with in the first week with major help from Heavenly Father. “Will he ever walk again?” was still somewhere up ahead.

Now we were at a different stage. We’d now moved to the, “Will any of us make it through this?” stage.

We owned a family business at the time, both of us working unbelievably long hours to keep it going. It was the start of the busy season. Our kids were part of that too, all of us working together.
Now, the “Can I keep the family business going all by myself, Are our four kids okay without either of us, because I’ve only seen them in passing for weeks now, and the What in the world will we ever do about money?” concerns were crashing in.

Keeping the business going seemed to be Larry’s main concern despite his many injuries. It was our only income and it weighed heavily on his mind. Every time I walked into his room he had a hundred questions and instructions. Even on that first terrible day in the emergency room, bones crushed and bleeding, the first thing he said to me was, “It’s payday. You have to get the payroll out to our employees!”

Well, while in this precarious state of mind, at about 11:30 at night the angels came.
I was leaving the hospital to go home to take a shower, check on the kids and then come back to sleep in my chair by Larry’s bed until I had to leave for work at 6:00 am. I’d slept there so many nights it was now, “my chair.”
As I walked down the halls I could smell antiseptic hospital smells, so unlike someone’s home, I thought.
A wave of self pity, exhaustion and despair started to wash over me. The past awful weeks and the uncertain and bleak future came crashing in. The doctors still had no idea when Larry would get out of the hospital. The only thing they knew for sure was that after that, if all went well, it would be at least 6 months of wheelchairs and rehab. This for a man who worked 60 hour weeks a month ago.
Suddenly it was all like a choking blackness. I can’t do this anymore, my mind shouted. It’s too much. I can’t be out of my mind with worry about my husband, run our business by myself, be the sole breadwinner, be there for my scared and anxious kids who needed me and not have a breakdown.
In fact, I’m having a breakdown right now!
I walked out to my car in a spiral of despair. "This is too much….you’ve given me more than I can handle, Heavenly Father….why me?" You get the picture.

As I neared my car I saw two women coming toward me.
When they got closer I could see it was our ward Relief Society president and one of her counselors, who was a good friend of mine.
I wasn’t surprised at the late hour because my friend was a notorious night owl, often doing her weekly grocery shopping at the 24 hour grocery in the wee hours of the morning. Her habits must be rubbing off, I thought.
I called to them, they came to me, we hugged.
They said they had just left my house and our son had sent them here.
They wanted to know how Larry was doing today. They wanted to know how the kids were. They wanted to know how I was.

Then they delivered the message. The one from angels.

One of them said “Kathy, Sister Jones called today. She wants to help you in any way she can. What can she do for you? I promised her I would find something she could do.”
Before I could reply my other friend said, “Yes, Kathy, I promised somebody too. Sister Brown called and wants to help you and your family. How can she help?” (Names have been changed)

I didn’t hear anything else they said after that.
Because it was like a bucket of cold water had been thrown in my face.
I could almost hear a voice saying sternly, “Stop whining! You can handle what you’ve been given. It’s not too much for you. You are not alone. ”

You see, that ice water sensation came for a reason.

Sister Jones, who wanted to help me, was a sweet sister, and a friend.
She had just given birth to a baby with multiple physical defects and most probably profound, lifelong mental problems.
She also had several other children, a home and husband to care for while seeing to the needs of this new, special spirit.

I knew Sister Brown who also wanted to help me, less well, but we had worked together in Relief Society for a short time.
I knew she was a wonderful, faithful woman with a lovely home and family. She, too, had just given birth to another beautiful daughter. All were well and healthy, thank God.
But, her husband who was an active member, out of the blue had recently decided to leave her and his kids for a married woman he had met at work.
No one who knew the family could believe it. Everyone was stunned.

Yes, both of these sisters wanted to help me. Both had contacted the Relief society to see what they could do.
Maybe they were angels too, because the cloud of despair began to lift from my mind as I stood there in that pool of lamplight next to them.
I knew that I would be able to do whatever was needed.
My burdens were no heavier than others bore. In fact, I wouldn’t trade.

I also knew that a message had been deliberately sent to me that night.
I was on the verge of losing it and Heavenly Father had sent word of his care and concern.

I sent a silent prayer of thanks to Him. Then I asked Him to help those dear sisters instead of myself.  For the first time in weeks I was thinking of others.

Yes, I’ve had some dealings with angels.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Smoking Hot and Beautiful Are Different

It's spring in the desert.
That sweet smell of orange blossoms drifting around our Valley puts me in mind of lots of springy things.
And being a retired high school teacher that includes countless proms and graduations.

I remembered once when Larry and I were sitting in a dark parking lot at our nearby high school at 1:00 in the morning. We were waiting for our two youngest daughters who teach there to finish closing up the school after a dance.
Teaching is only one of the many things they do. They sponsor a very active student council so there's always tons of extra duties. Like organizing and locking up after dances.

Well, Larry gets nervous when daughters, even adult ones, must be alone in a dark parking lot that late at night. He says it’s a jungle out there.
So, as long as we were able, after dances we'd drive over to sit and wait for them.
Our daughters thought we were silly, even ridiculous as I recall one of them observing.
They're right of course. Two broken down geezers wouldn't be much help in a crisis, but we can watch their backs, and it makes their dad feel better.

Anyway, we had arrived way early, just in time for the huge traffic mess, and pulled into a space up front to get out of the way.
We sat there and watched as hundreds of students left the dance.
This was a semi-formal so everyone was all dressed up. Lots of the kids looked very nice in their best dancing duds. We noticed that this year there seemed to be a great deal of “sparkly” going on, which I really love.
We wished we’d invested in a sequin factory or a “Bedazzler” store or something.

It became obvious after a while, however, that quite a few of the girls were having some really serious wardrobe malfunctions.
Actually the problem seemed to be more of a "lack" than a malfunction.
In way too many cases there simply wasn’t enough wardrobe to completely cover the child in question.

It was late and dark and Larry can’t see very well now, but when I looked over and saw him shaking his head I knew he could see well enough. Once I was afraid he was going to jump out of the car to angrily cover up some little girl with a raincoat we had thrown in the back of the car.

All I could think as this parade passed by was something my daughter-in-law once said to me in a similar situation.
“Kathy,” she cried, “What in the world is wrong with that child’s mother!”
That’s a good question for sure. Something’s definitely wrong somewhere.

Don’t misunderstand.  Even though I’m old I know what motivates these young ladies. They want to be noticed and liked by boys. Most teenaged girls do.
Then this "fashion parade" sent me back to another spring about four years earlier at the high school where I was teaching.

It was graduation.
I was sitting at a table just inside the huge auditorium that our district rented for all these ceremonies, one of several teachers signing kids in and giving them name cards to hand to the announcer.
After check-in they formed a line directly behind us to wait for the ceremony to start.

Nervous, excited kids kept coming through the glass doors carrying caps and gowns over their arms.
The group behind me was getting big and we teachers often had to turn to shush them a bit.

There were six boys standing directly behind me, one of them a student of mine.
They all looked so young. One foot still in childhood while a wispy mustache grew on their faces.
Tomorrow would take them to college or work or war. I hoped God would bless them all.
We spoke a few words and then I got busy. The boys went back to talking and joking the way kids do.

The crowd in front of me began to thin out as it grew closer to the time to begin.

Then two girls came in wobbling precariously on the highest heels I’d ever seen. They stopped and gave me their names and I looked for their cards.
Both had elaborate hair, streaked and piled high. It must have taken hours. Makeup included gargantuan eyelashes and lips. Bling was everywhere.
Then there was the wardrobe.
One girl’s tight top was cut so low it was truly a worry. I heard her say to the teacher next to me, “Dress code doesn’t matter because of the cap and gown. We’re going to party after.”
The other girl wore a skirt so short that she couldn’t possibly sit down and still remain dressed, but we teachers let it pass. We were too late. They were 18 and it was graduation after all.
Thank goodness for those caps and gowns. They’d be covered from neck to ankle for a while at least.

As they leaned over to sign in I noticed one of the young ladies glance provocatively over my head to the boys behind me.
I turned to say something to my co-worker and noticed the guys.
All of them were still talking and laughing, but now they were sort of leering in the general direction of the cleavage and bare thighs in front of them. I saw one elbow his neighbor in the ribs in case he’d missed it. Alerted, he looked and then leered with the rest of them.
The girls left, I shook my head and forgot them.
The crowd coming in dwindled to a few latecomers.

Then the door opened and another girl rushed in, hurrying to the table.
First I noticed a sweet smile. Then her hair. It was simple and shiny, swaying gently just above her shoulders.
She had on a dressy, cream colored knit top. It might have been silk. It had small cap sleeves and a neckline curving just below her collarbone.
Her skirt was dark, fitting close to her waist and hips and then swinging out to fall in soft folds ending just above her knees.
Her simple, dark heels looked about three inches high.
Her makeup was light.
I caught a glimpse of a pair of small pearl earrings, a simple necklace, and a thin jeweled watch on her wrist.
When she moved a slight scent of some wonderful fragrance moved with her.
This girl was absolutely lovely. The only other word that came to mind when you saw her was “beautiful.”
It felt like a fresh breeze had just drifted into that now stuffy auditorium.

I turned around then to say some last words to the kids behind me when I noticed those six boys again.
It actually startled me.

Because now none of them were talking, joking, laughing or leering.
All were standing and silently staring.
They were looking at the face of that girl.
I knew it was her face. I could see their eyes.
No crude remarks….no jabs to the ribs.
Just respectful, silent, deep appreciation.

One boy had a wistful look on his face. Two of them had their mouths open. One kid looked like he’d just seen a new car or something.
It was a totally different response to someone of the opposite sex than I’d seen from them just minutes before.

It was then that I realized that I hadn’t given those boys enough credit.
They might be young but they already knew one of the most important lessons in life.

That lesson is that smokin’ hot and beautiful are not the same thing.
Nope, not the same thing at all.

Beautiful, lovely and of good report.
Those are the qualities to look for. That's what it says in the Articles of Faith. Seek after them.

I think those six guys are going to be all right.
I hope somehow the message gets through to those first two girls before it’s too late.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pornography Is A Lie

I had an interesting discussion one time with a bunch of teenagers about the subject of pornography.
The teenagers were students of mine, most of them seniors, in a Lifeskills class for kids with disabilities.
The text we were using covered everything from how to write a check, rent an apartment, get a job, fix your car, shop for groceries, and avoid arrest, tornadoes, flash floods and sexual diseases. We learned how to stay healthy, choose a mate, and plan for parenthood.
Well, we were in the middle of the chapter covering sexual matters, knee deep in STD’s, when the subject of pornography came up.
None of these kids were LDS and when someone mentioned porn, 100% of them said they viewed it regularly.
I kept quiet about the subject until the next day when I posted my regular discussion starter in its usual place on the door. It said……

                                   PORNOGRAPHY IS A LIE

As the kids entered the room there were a lot of comments like, “Wazup? Ms Dub (W)?   How can pictures be lies?”   and   “ Ms Dub, we knew you’d be against porn cause you’re really old and all “churchy.”
That sort of thing.

After everyone was seated I began my explanation.
I told them that this class was all about learning to live full and rewarding lives despite any handicaps a person might have and that basing your life on the truth was an important part of that.
We were trying to learn true principles in lots of different areas from finances to parenting skills and apply them to our lives.
Sex was no different. Principles were involved.
I told them that indeed I was “old and churchy” but that didn’t necessarily make me wrong.
Sex, I explained, was one of the most powerful forces known to mankind and one that can bring happiness or misery into people’s lives depending on how its handled.
I asked them to think hard and see if they knew of someone who was now miserable because of messing up with sex.
They didn’t have to think hard at all…. everybody knew someone. Often that someone was in their own family.

I continued….  “Understanding the truth about something as important to happiness as sex is would be necessary to living a fulfilling life, wouldn’t it?”

“Yea, Yea, Yea……why’s porn a lie? someone  said.

 “Because” I went on, “Porn tells its viewers that great sex is something it’s not."

Porn tells people that great sex is something people do with strangers, or do for money, or pay money for. That it’s a group activity, a spectator sport, an exhibition, or something you do in front of a camera. That it’s all about the size of certain body parts, or how a person looks.
Porn tells people that it’s OK for sex to be a weapon, a crime, a game, a joke, a job, a contest, a bribe, a payoff, or something you do because you want to be popular.  
Porn tells people that sex is only about sensations in bodies and that it has nothing to do with the human spirit. That it doesn’t change you, that it means nothing, that feelings don’t matter.
Porn says that a condom is all you need to be protected from harm.
Well, each and every one of those things is a lie. If you want to build a life of misery, build it on a pack of lies.”

“Furthermore,” I added emphatically, “all of you know that porn is not only a lie but that it’s wrong.”

“Wait up, Ms Dub….no way,” said one of the students. Then a chorus of “Nobody makes those people do those things…we’re just looking…. Besides it looks like they’re having a real good time….Everybody watches porn”…etc.

“Stop. I can prove that you know the truth,” I said.
“Get out paper and pencil….we’re taking the “Porn Test.”

"A test?” more than one kid whined.

“Stop complaining,” I said, “There’s only one question.

The kids looked up from their seats expectantly.
I could see all of their faces and the whites of their eyes.
I told them that on second thought they could put their pencils away, they only had to “Think” the answer to the test question.
But they had to promise to be honest with that one answer.


I didn’t tell them the most important thing I knew about them at this point.
I couldn’t tell them because we had kids of all faiths in our student body.
It wouldn’t be appropriate to mention Christ in this situation as much as I wanted to.

Nevertheless, I knew that each of them, no matter what their faith, was born with the light of Christ.
The scriptures taught us that.
That light helps all Heavenly Father’s children to know right from wrong, good from bad.
They all had that light to see by whether they knew it or not.

So I gave them the test.            
Counting on that light I asked the question.

“Pretend you’re looking at pornography as you usually do. Pretend that the images are right there in front of you now.
Now, look deep down in your own heart, mind, and spirit.
Be still and listen.
Be honest.
Isn’t something saying...

This is wrong. What those people are doing isn’t good. It’s wrong. It’s wrong for them and I shouldn’t be watching because I know it’s wrong for me too.                                                                                        
Isn’t something saying that to you? Look at me so I can see the answer in your eyes.”

My students looked up at me. I could read their answers plainly.
Every single face in that class…. every one…. told the truth about pornography.

There was a kind of sheepish shuffling of feet and desks at that point and then one kid said, “Okay, Ms W…. Then what is great sex?”

“You’re asking an “old, churchy” lady a question like that?
Do you really want to know what I think?”

“Yea, sure…why not?” someone said.

“Well then, I have to tell the truth even though you probably won’t like it.
Sex is a precious, divine gift given to a man and a woman who are MARRIED.

Some of  life’s greatest blessings come to people through sex.
You can become one with another human being through sex. You can get closer to them and connect with them more fully than in any other way.
And the greatest love you will ever feel will come into your life through sex because your children and grandchildren will come into being because of it.

Probably most important of all, sex can never be great unless first there is love.
It has to be the mature, unselfish, building a life together kind of love.
The, "Your happiness is more important to me than my own," kind of love.
Only if there’s love like that can sex be all it was designed to be.”

Pornography is a big, fat, lie. 
It hurts people. 
Don’t live a life filled with lies.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

His Mother Wasn't Home

School will be out for the summer soon.
This is an old post reprinted as a caution to mothers with sons.

Teenage boys aren’t known for their sound judgment.
In fact, scientific studies show that the portion of their brains that control this skill isn’t fully developed yet.
Having taught high school for many years I can testify to the truth of that science.

Because of this developmental delay a great deal of the world’s mischief has been invented at the hands of teenaged boys.
But in my opinion they didn’t do this alone.
Their mothers have to share in the blame.
They weren’t home at the time to put a stop to said mischief before it got out of hand.

I know this is true because nobody but a teenaged boy would think of some things. And because no woman I know would have let their son be the first kid to do the crazy stuff we have to deal with today.

For example…….

Two teenaged boys stand outside a pasture leaning on the fence. Inside, peacefully grazing is the biggest, meanest, Brahma bull for miles around. Cyclone is it’s name. One kid says to the other…

“Hey, I know what let’s do! Let’s go in there and one of us climb on the back of old Cyclone. Then we'll kick him in the sides until he throws us off, stomps us into the dirt, and breaks both of our legs!  We can get some of  our friends to time us with a stopwatch. The one that stays on longest and is still alive will win a new belt buckle!”

“Great! says the other kid. Me first!”  

Both of those kids had mothers who weren’t home that day. I guarantee it.

Or ……

It’s summer…no school…everybody’s bored. One teenaged friend says to the other as they finish putting rubber bands on the newspapers they’re about to deliver.

“What do you want to do today…go to the movies?"                                                                                  
“Nah…I have a better idea,” his friend says as he bands the last paper. “Lets hike up to 5 mile bridge and tie big rubber bands to our feet.  Then we'll dive off the bridge headfirst into the rocky river and see if we survive!  It’ll be cool!”

“That sounds like it might be dangerous,” says the other guy. “I better ask my mom first…Oh, I forgot…she’s not home today. OK, I’m sure she won’t mind. Let’s go!”

And then there’s…..

Best friends…Saturday afternoon….looking for something fun to do.

“Hey, I know what…..Let’s build a big playpen in your backyard and put pads on our hands.  Then we'll get in the playpen and beat each other in the head until we’re senseless and one of us falls down with brain damage!  Our friends can throw water on us to keep us conscious and the last one standing will win a new belt!” (Belts must be really important to teenagers)


And don’t forget…….

“Hey….my friend says he’ll take us for a ride in his new airplane on Saturday. Let’s have some real fun! We’ll take big tarps and hook them to our backs somehow. Then when the plane’s really up there we’ll open the door and jump out!  I’ll bet the tarps will fill up with air and we’ll just float down to the ground.”

“That might not work,” says his friend in an excess of caution.  “Let’s stuff the tarps into our backpacks first. We can figure out some way to get them out on the way down. Maybe we could hook a string on the zipper and pull it open that way.”

“COOL!” Should we ask our moms first?”

“Nah, my mom always has to go shopping on Saturday. She won’t mind.”

Then there’s…..

“Hey Dude, I just got my driver’s license!”

“Me too!”

“I know what! Let’s get all our friends with licenses and make a big road in a circle. We’ll all get in our cars and drive 100 miles an hour around and around in the circle. Then everybody'll tries to pass and get in front without slowing down until somebody gets in an accident and maybe gets killed!”


“Did you ask your mom if it’s OK?”

“Nah, Dude, she’s not home today.”

There’s more, but you get the picture.

The moral of this story is…..Moms need to keep a sharp eye out for mischief.  

Also, another moral is…. adults should be patient with teenaged boys….their brains aren’t done yet.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Man Survey

I’m very grateful for the blessing of eternal marriage.
My husband and I have been sealed in the temple for time and eternity, not just until death parts us.
It’s a good thing too, because it may take me that long to figure him out.
You see, the problem is that he’s a man and men don’t always make sense.

You’d think that being married for decades would be enough to teach a person all about the opposite sex. Well, not necessarily, is all I can say.
Men are still a mystery to me even after being married to one for all these years.

It must be like what some church authority once said about raising children. “Before we had kids my wife and I had lots of theories about the proper way to raise children and now we have lots of children and no theories.”
It’s the same way with men I guess.
There’s only one thing I absolutely know for sure about them and it’s this… they’re different from women. Really, basically, at a cellular level, different. They see the world from a uniquely male point of view which sometimes doesn’t make sense to a woman.
Let me tell you about a case in point.

One Sunday when we lived in the mountains I was standing in the church foyer after the meeting when my friend Sandy came up to me looking a bit dejected. I asked her what was wrong and she said that her husband Joey was mad at her and she couldn’t figure out why.
I asked her to explain.

“Well,” she said, “It’s about our porch. The front steps have been creaky for the last year or so and finally the top step got so loose that it was a hazard. I practically broke my neck the other day dragging groceries into the house. I’d asked Joey to fix them a hundred times and he always said he’d get to it when he could. Well, he obviously didn’t want to fix them so Tuesday I called a repairman who came right over and took the whole thing apart, rebuilt the top step and only charged me $60. The porch looks like new. I work part-time you know, so I paid him from my paycheck.
Well, when Joey got home he had a fit! He said he could have fixed that porch for free in less than 30 minutes and I’d wasted $60! Then he went into a long tirade about how I don’t know the value of a dollar….you know. I thought he'd be glad the porch was fixed. I don’t understand why he’s so mad.”

“I know exactly what you mean!’’ I cried. “I had the same thing with a toilet that kept running.
Larry said it was the flapper and he’d fix it when he got around to it. It drove me crazy for months. I finally called a plumber and then boy did we have a fight. I didn’t understand either. I thought I was doing him a favor. He obviously didn't want to fix the toilet.”

Sandy stood thinking quietly for a bit and then said quizzically, “Maybe it’s one of those man things.”
She was a newlywed, married only about 20 years or so and still at the trying to figure them out stage in life. I’d been married a lot longer than that and had arrived at the you’ll never figure them out so just deal with it stage.

“I wonder if they’re all like that,” I asked her thoughtfully.

She gazed off into space for a minute and then said, “Let’s find out.”

“How?” I replied.

“We’ll do a survey! Sandy cried. “Let’s start right here and now.”

And so the Man Survey was born in the church foyer.
We moved outside the building to the sidewalk to be respectful and if a man came out we asked him if he would take part in our survey.

Sandy explained the porch scenario, changing names to protect herself, while I told my leaky toilet story.
We then asked each man if he would get mad at his wife in the same situations.
We asked all kinds of men…… highly educated professionals, blue collar workers, old men, newlyweds, guys with manicures, fancy dressers, guys who needed a haircut and one guy with red suspenders and grease under his fingernails.
In all those surveys we found only ONE sensible man!
He listened intently to our stories and then asked, “Where’d she get the money?” We said she works part-time. At that point he exclaimed happily, “Go for it Babe!”

One man was an especially bitter disappointment. After listening intently he looked at us like we had lost our minds and said in a very serious tone, “My wife knows better than to do a thing like that.” He had three college degrees!

After we finished at church we were so perplexed that we decided to continue to survey men we saw at work during the week.
Next Sunday we met again to compare results.
“Go for it, Babe!” was the only sensible man we found. He alone didn’t get at least very annoyed with his wife.

“They really don't make sense,” Sandy said dejectedly. “How am I ever going to know what will upset Joey if he doesn’t make sense?”

“You won’t….but you’ll get used to it.” I replied knowingly.

Then, a few weeks later, I ran across another man thing that involved underwear drawers.
I quietly went up to Sandy after church.
I asked her if her husband kept strange things in his underwear drawers.

“Like what?” she asked, looking at me with a puzzled expression.

“Like socket wrenches, dead batteries, old car dealer brochures, extension cords, cable to an old VCR, various ammunition including shotgun shells, nuts, (walnuts, pistachios, and the kind you use with bolts), magnifying glasses and binoculars, lots of quarters with state pictures, expired coupons for free chile dogs, that sort of thing.” I said.

“Why yes!” she cried, “Why do you ask?”

“Well, Larry and I just had a “discussion” about a car part he had in with his socks.
I was putting clean underwear away and I asked him very sweetly, “What’s this dear?”
I held up a car part the size of a casserole dish to show him.

“It’s a filter and air cleaner from a 1991 Chevy Metro,” he replied. “Why do you ask and why are you bothering my stuff again?

“Well, cars are usually kept in the garage. Don’t car parts belong in the garage with the cars?”

“HA! That shows what you know! he triumphantly shouted.
“We don’t even own that car anymore!”

I just shook my head and walked away.
Eternity is a good long time.
I just hope it’s long enough.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Good Game

Usually when I do these scribblings I try to disguise the identity of the people involved and change names to protect those both innocent and guilty. Today, however, I’m going to name names. I’m going to tell a little story about a current leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, our Stake President, David Allen, and his beautiful wife Becky. I hope I don’t get into trouble.

This happened decades ago, in another ward across the city, when we were all still raising kids. Larry and I were the parents of four children by then, two of them teenagers. Well, teens can be a challenge for anyone as we all know, but we were raggedy converts trying to raise LDS teens. We had zero experience in what this looked like. None of the experiences we had growing up had any application here. In fact, there was only one thing we knew for sure…… the way we were raised was not going to work in this situation. It was an unsettling time for us as parents. Sometimes I felt really alone.

Well, our only son was about 16 at the time, and played on his high school varsity football team. I tried to talk him into something safer, like chess, but he would only shake his head at me and say, “Mom, you’re an idiot…football is my life.” He’d played every year and was now getting to be a sort of a big deal on his team. There were about 70 guys on the team roster, and Dane plus another boy from our ward were two of only three or four boys who were LDS. Big school, lots of peer pressure, overwhelming odds, scary times for Mom and Dad.

I remember those Friday nights….dusty bleachers, bright lights, screaming crowds, marching bands, cheerleaders, players getting injured and hauled off on stretchers, snow cones, and often David and Becky Allen. The Allens? Yes, the Allens.

David was our bishop at the time, crazy busy as bishops always are. Becky was a bishop’s wife, even busier than he was, raising little kids and building a home while David looked after the whole ward. I think you’d have to have been there to appreciate the sacrifices involved in both those heavy calls.

Back to the Friday night football games. So many times I’d be sitting in the bleachers talking with friends, when here would come Bishop and Sister Allen to say hello.

“What are you doing here?” I’d ask in surprise. “You’re kids are still little… don’t have to do this for a few years yet!”

“We wanted our boys to know that we’re rooting for them,” they’d say. “Tell Dane we said that he played a really good game.” After a few more words they’d be on their way.

Well, I know a few things about how precious time is for a young couple with kids and lots of responsibilities. I know that a Friday night out with just the two of you can be hard to come by. I know about babysitters and what they cost. I also know that a high school football game isn’t the most romantic spot one can imagine.

I also know that every single time I said to my son, “Brother and Sister Allen stopped by to tell you that you played a really good game.”

He would say, “Bishop and his wife came to my game? Really?” Then he’d look off thoughtfully into space for a few seconds. I could tell by the look in his eyes that this meant something to him, something important. And I always felt a little less alone as a parent when I saw it.

That’s a small thing, you may say, those Friday nights. And I say, “Yes, but you know what the scriptures say about small things.”

Anyway, it was some decades later when the phone rang and it was my son who said I should sit down.

“Oh, no, what’s wrong?” I asked frantically as I sat.

“Lisa and I are in the Stake President’s office and I’ve been called to be in the bishopric. Does it shake your faith?” he asked.

“No, Son.” I replied. “Well, maybe a little.” And then for some reason I began to remember those Friday night football games, and a busy bishop and his even busier, beautiful wife. I remembered that they always said to tell Dane, “Good game.” I remembered that it mattered to him that they came. I remembered that it mattered to me.

I will tell him. And, Brother and Sister Allen, thank you so much. Good game.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Get On the Elevator

Have you ever been blessed with a miracle? I was blessed with one not long after we were baptized. When it happened I knew that absolutely, somehow, from another place not of this sphere, someone cared enough about me to actually step in.

I was then a student at Arizona State University working to complete my teaching degree. I was thankfully getting close to graduating. It had been a huge struggle in many ways for me to get this far. Larry was supporting our young family and paying for all my college expenses while still in his 20’s. I’m sure he never saw that one coming. We were ignorant of student loans and scholarships so we paid for everything ourselves. Later this turned out to be a blessing because we had no student debt, but at the time it was a burden for sure.

I supplemented our income with part time work while raising our kids and going to school. You might be wondering why we struggled so much along about now. Well, we had married very young but despite that I had always dreamed of going to college. Larry had dropped out of ASU as a senior when our second baby was on the way so that he could work full time to support us. There was really no choice in the matter, so we thought, the kids have to eat. But he stood beside me in my college dream and felt it would be a good investment in our future. So he sacrificed. I sacrificed. And sadly, sometimes our kids sacrificed too. Babysitters, hectic schedules, and fast food dinners were common around our house during my college years.

Well, it was around this same time that we joined the Church. I was learning line upon line about the importance of children and family. I began to see that time is short with our kids and that they and my husband shouldn’t have to give up so much for my dream. They should be my first priority. They were young….. only once. They needed a mom who was there for them. My husband might even need his wife. Maybe this wouldn’t work anymore. Especially this last semester, which was shaping up as a nightmare due to scheduling problems. I needed a few specific required classes to finish, and as I studied the new class schedule I realized that the courses I needed were at the most inconvenient times possible. They were spread out over the entire week, with early starts, long breaks between classes, and required labs at night. We lived an hour by freeway from the university so coming home and returning later in the day was not an option.

So, on the dreaded day of walk-through registration, with a heart full of doubts, I made arrangements for my kids and headed across the city to see what could be done.

As I drove to get on the freeway I passed our neighborhood elementary school and thought dejectedly about the new program that ASU was sponsoring there and in all the other schools in our district. It was an innovative teacher prep program where each university student was placed in a variety of classrooms before student teaching and graduation. Each future teacher had exposure to teaching science, math, English, art, and music, working with all age groups, in both special education and self contained classes. The mornings were spent in the classrooms and then ASU sent their own faculty to teach all the required university classes at the district offices in the afternoon. The day ended at 2:00. All this in our own local school district! Several months earlier when I first heard about this wonder I rushed over to the director’s office to sign up.

This would solve all my problems! No more 2 hour commute! No more night classes! I would be on the same schedule as my kids and be home for them when they walked in from school. No more babysitters! I could cook dinner for my husband! Maybe I could even clean the house! It was a miracle!

I started to explain all this excitedly to the program director when he stopped me with a “Whoa there,” and an upheld hand. He was really sorry but the program was full and there was a waiting list. He could put my name on it but there were lots of students ahead of me.

It’s hard to describe how deep my disappointment was even these many years later.

I’m ashamed to admit this but I went back to that poor man’s office twice again to literally beg him to make an exception in my case, explaining in detail my problems. He was patient and kind but gave me a firm, “Sorry, no,” each time.

So I merged our old car into freeway traffic and headed across the valley to the dreaded walk-through registration.

After a stress filled morning of long lines and class juggling I picked up my paperwork and headed over to the education building to sit in the outdoor courtyard to look closely at what my life would be like for the next few months. I sat on a bench, pulled out my calendar and began to fill the days with class times. After a while I stopped to take a look. I had classes 5 days a week making the 2 hour commute necessary Monday through Friday. Mondays and Wednesdays I wouldn’t get home until after 5:00. On Tuesday and Thursday there was a 9:00 lecture and a 3:00 lab which ended at 6:00. That meant leaving the house before the kids went to school and not getting home until way after 7:00. On those days Larry would need to pick up the kids after he finished work and make supper himself. I’d be gone from home almost all the time until semester’s end. I tried to imagine what this schedule would mean for my husband and children. What would their days be like?

As I stared at the calendar I knew. I also knew that I couldn’t ask my husband and children to live that way. I’d been learning line upon line about eternal families and I knew that the hectic life on that calendar was wrong for mine. More than an education was at stake here. I slowly put my papers in my bag and got up from the bench thinking with heavy heart as I did, “Well, Heavenly Father, I worked so hard. I’ve done everything I could possibly do these past few years to graduate from college. Now it has to be over.”

Then the miracle happened.

As I walked across the courtyard I passed the outdoor elevator. Somewhere from behind me or maybe it was at the back of my head I heard or maybe felt a voice that said, “Get on the elevator.” It startled me. I stopped walking and looked around. I was alone. I started walking to the car once more and there it was again, “Get on the elevator.” The words were not exactly heard but distinctly understood. It was the strangest thing I’d ever experienced.

I turned very slowly and went to the elevator, pushed the button and got on. The ed building was only 2 stories so I pushed “2.” As the doors closed I frantically asked myself….What’s going on?..... Why am I on this elevator?.... Where am I going? I thought about what was on the second floor. I knew that the office of the director I’d been pestering was just a few feet from the now opening doors. Then it dawned on me and I started to get really upset and began a heated argument with the “Voice/Feeling.”

“Are you kidding?? No way am I going to talk to that man again! He’ll think I’m stalking him and call campus security!! I’ll be making a complete fool of myself! Again…… “Get on the elevator.” “What are you talking about? I argued back. I’m ON the elevator already! The doors are open! And I’m NOT going in there no matter what you say!!” I almost shouted it out loud as I walked slowly to the director’s office.

The outer office door opened into a large foyer. There was a receptionist sitting at her desk against the far wall and 5 or 6 smaller offices along the sides. The director’s office was one of them and the door was open. He was at his desk. I stood in the middle of the foyer, about 20 feet away, turned to face him, but didn’t move forward an inch. I think I was poised for a quick getaway. He looked up from his work but didn’t say a word.

I stood stupidly for a few seconds and then blurted out, “Please let me in your program.”

He still didn’t say anything. He just stared at me. Then he picked up the phone and made a call. I couldn’t hear what was said. He hung up the phone, looked at me and said, “You’re in.” With those two words, life changed for our whole family.

When I look back after all these years my heart fills with gratitude. I think of some of the lessons that miracle taught this raggedy old convert. He IS our father. He knows us and our struggles. He loves us. After we’ve done all we can help will come. If we try to understand what’s right and do the right thing help will come. We are not alone.

Miracles happen.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Sleeping Bag

As a convert to the church I’ve occasionally felt like I was somehow just a little bit on the outside of all that it means to be a full-fledged Mormon. It seemed, at times, as though I was looking in through a window at the real LDS people who were living lives so different from the one I knew growing up. I knew it was wrong to feel that way…… we’re a church made up of millions of converts after all……..but nevertheless I did. It’s mostly a cultural thing, I think. Our daughters have felt it too, surprisingly, saying things like, “Boy, you’re really Molly Mormon today,” if they walk into their older sister’s house and find her baking homemade rolls. They don’t mean this in a negative way, and homemade rolls don’t have any religious significance of course, it’s just that they never had homemade rolls when they were growing up and it seems a bit strange to them.

Years ago when we moved to our little mountain community from the big city we found ourselves thrust right into the middle of a tight knit group of what we considered really “hard core” Mormons, culture wise. Much of the population of the town was LDS and many of them were descended from ancestors who came across the plains pulling handcarts, I’m sure. Too, these folks were self-reliant and skilled in ways hard to fathom for a city slicker like me. In their spare time after work, they grew and canned their own food, raised or hunted their own meat, butchered and packaged it for freezing themselves, made clothes you couldn’t tell from store bought including winter coats and men’s suits, built their own houses, fixed their own cars, made their own five tier wedding cakes that looked like a magazine picture, (I was once told by a dear sister that this requires only 10 boxes of white cake mix if you’re taking shortcuts. She actually thought I might need that information someday. Bless her heart.) Sadly, we also learned that when the time called for it these amazing people also lovingly built coffins for loved ones who had been called home.

Well, all of this was intimidating to me to say the least. I felt inadequate. I suffered a loss of confidence. Making sure my auto club membership was paid up was one of the ways I prepared for the emergencies of life, not doing actual car things. I knew where to buy a great wedding cake or a winter jacket on sale but making either one myself never crossed my mind. My self-esteem was in tatters. No way could I fit in with this bunch. Then the Relief Society president and the Bishop did something that changed my mind.

As I sat in Relief Society one week listening to the announcements, the sister up front began to talk about a recent tragedy that had happened somewhere on the other side of the world. An earthquake, I think. People's homes were destroyed. Winter was coming on. They would be cold. The stake had asked the sisters to sacrifice their time, means, and talents to help by making quilts to send to those people in such dire need. A sign-up sheet was passed around. In the heat of the moment I signed up, regretting my foolish impulse before the clipboard reached the end of the row. What on earth was I thinking? I didn’t know how to make a quilt! All of these other sisters could make Texas Star, log cabin, double wedding ring or whatever you called those quilts in their sleep! I’d be a laughing stock for sure! Well, it was too late now as I saw the Relief Society president pick up the clipboard. So I went home and researched the possibilities. I learned about a comforter, blanket kind of thing made with two sheets that you sewed together with batting in the middle. Then all you needed to do was tie it with yarn in the middle. The directions said it was easy. Okay, maybe this was at least possible. That was the plan, then. I’d get started soon.

In the meantime, a table appeared outside the Relief Society room, already draped with several amazingly beautiful handmade quilts. Above them was a perfectly lettered and glitter embellished sign explaining the project. Each week more donations were placed in bright stacks, on, under, and around that table….each more beautiful than the last. My heart sank every time I passed that table. I would need to get started soon on that blanket thing, I knew. Procrastination wasn’t helping matters.

Finally, one dreadful Sunday the announcement was made that the project would end the week after next. I hadn’t even started!! “Not to panic,” I thought desperately. I knew my family would be heading down the mountain the 37 miles to the nearest shopping center next Saturday, so I figured I’d buy supplies and get started then.

Saturday came, we arrived for our shopping as usual, splitting up at the door, each of us with our shopping assignment and separate cart. I headed for the sewing department for batting, yarn, needles and thread and then on to sheets. All this stuff in my cart started to seem overwhelming, not to mention expensive. “Only one week to do all this, while teaching full time to boot,” I thought dejectedly.

I pushed my shopping cart toward the checkout, resigned to my fate. It was my own fault. As I pushed I came across a huge bin practically blocking the entire aisle. There was a giant “SALE” sign above it. The bin was overflowing with sleeping bags. I slowed down. I stopped. “Sleeping bags were warm,” I thought. “Sleeping bags were probably just as warm as a quilt. Not so beautiful for sure…….but wait…………there was a nice, thick, red one with a Superhero on the front. A kid might think this thick, red sleeping bag was beautiful!” I opened it up. “A kid WOULD think this is beautiful!!!” I thought joyfully as I examined the bright colors on the Super Hero’s cape. I threw it into my cart and headed back to the sewing department to put the batting and yarn back and then on to the sheets.

The next day we arrived at church early so I could sneak into the hall and make my contribution without getting caught. I got down on the floor and was putting the sleeping bag way underneath the table when the door to the Relief society room opened. The president stuck her head out, saw what I was doing, smiled, and said “Thank you.” I mumbled something and dashed off to the chapel. “Well, at least that was over.” I sighed.

A couple of weeks later, in Sacrament meeting, the Bishop got up to give the announcements. He began by telling the members about the tragedy in the far away land. About how the people had lost their homes and would be cold this winter, and how the sisters in the stake had been asked to donate their time, means, and talents to make warm quilts for them. He told how proud and happy he was to report of our ward’s generous response and contribution. He said, “All the members of our ward will be proud to know that your wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, nieces and friends have donated thirty-seven beautiful handmade quilts……oh wait…here’s a note…” he stopped a bit before going on. “Yes,” he continued, “ thirty-seven beautiful quilts and one red sleeping bag were donated. There was a slightly puzzled tone in his voice as he said, “Thank you so much Sisters.”

The Relief Society president was sitting just two rows in front of us. She turned then and smiled at me. My husband looked at me questioningly. Then he whispered, “Why are you crying?” I just shook my head at him. I was crying because in that moment I knew that the Lord and His Church had accepted my effort. What I could do, was what I should do. It didn’t matter that other people could do more. I was supposed to help too, in whatever way I could. It was enough. And it did help. Some kid really would like the warm, red, Superhero sleeping bag. His life would be better because of it. A kid on the other side of the world, someone who had lost his home maybe, would be warmer because of it.

The Relief Society president was trying to give me this message when she gave the note to the Bishop, of course. I’ll never forget her smile….and I’ve felt a lot less like an outsider ever since.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Esteem One Flesh

When my husband and I first started talking to the missionaries so many long years ago, I was taking classes at our local community college. Larry hadn’t expected to be putting his young wife through school when he married, but then life is full of all kinds of surprises isn’t it? It was a real financial struggle at the time but he bore it bravely and it turned out well in the end. Anyway, one of the classes I was taking that semester was Philosophy. The class was interesting, satisfied my humanities requirement, and the professor was intelligent and available to his students. It became one of my favorite subjects and the professor and I became acquainted well enough to have regular conversations after class. When we began to delve into the part of the course that dealt with the philosophy of religion I shared with him that my husband and I were investigating the Mormon church. When the professor heard this he was absolutely incredulous. “How could I possibly be serious? Those people are unbelievably backward and prejudiced! They’re racist and chauvinist pigs to boot !” (Women’s lib was a hot issue at the time.)

Well, this was news to me. I was just learning about the church and had little knowledge of its beliefs concerning the issues of the day. One thing I knew for sure, though, was that racism and/or chauvinism would be a deal breaker for both me and my husband. Neither one of us would want to be a member of a church that denied rights to people based on race or gender. I didn’t know much but I knew instinctively that God wasn’t like that. So I figured I’d better check it out carefully before continuing the lessons with the missionaries.

So I began to research the issue. Along the way I ran across some information about the origins of the kind of thinking expressed in the Declaration of Independence….you know ….the all men are created equal idea. I was a real fan of Thomas Jefferson and friends and appreciated and admired their work greatly. I found out that this concept of equality which to us seems so obvious, and that we automatically accept as right and fair, was radical, even revolutionary to many back in the day. That even in these modern times many societies still believed that some people are created a lot more equal than others.

Yes, all men are created equal was an idea I believed in deeply even though I admitted that it presented a few problems. For one thing it left out women entirely. After much pondering I decided that the woman thing was just a matter of semantics and should be disregarded. Too, as I looked around the world I saw that some people seemed to be born with distinct disadvantages… physical and mental handicaps, deformity, extreme poverty, abuse and political enslavement for example. Did these people really start life with equality? Questions. I had many questions. Still, all men are created equal was a concept I embraced with all my heart. I wanted to find out what the Mormons thought about all this and I wasn’t about to join the church until I did.

I wanted to find out specifically what the teachings of the Mormon church were….not hearsay from a member or a missionary who might be trying to put the church in a good light. I decided to search the Book of Mormon. I learned a little about the topical guide and cross referencing and that’s when I came across King Benjamin. He was addressing his people in a kind of conference talk and he taught them this eternal principle. He taught them a phrase that seemed to just jump off the page and light up from within. He taught them…THOU SHALL NOT ESTEEM ONE FLESH ABOVE ANOTHER. Wow. Just think about that for a minute. Male, female, bond, free, retarded, genius, athlete, cripple, blind, deaf, old, young, born, unborn, rich, poor, black, white, red, yellow, brown, Chinese, American, Hindu, Christian, Jew…..WHATEVER. Not “All men are created equal”…..instead…..THOU SHALL NOT ESTEEM ONE FLESH ABOVE ANOTHER. All have equal value…no matter what their circumstances. All are equal in importance, in regard, in love and respect. What a great thought. It went way past all men are created equal and just soared on by.

So this is what the Mormons believe…….I called the missionaries to schedule our next appointment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Children Are Heartless

Children are often heartless and ungrateful. Despite all you've done for them they persist in growing up. Then they leave their parents to go off to college or somewhere just to live their own lives. Even when no other children are left at home.
When our youngest did this to us I had a really difficult time with it.

Our oldest kids were married and living in the city. They wouldn’t let us have even one grandchild to keep. Not even a little, sticky one. Of which they had many.
Middle child was off on a mission.
And now our last remaining offspring had sprung herself clear across the country for the summer to do an internship at Disneyworld as part of her college program.

My husband said he was glad they’d all gone because now we could have some real fun, but I was having trouble imagining the possibilities. He insisted the possibilities were very interesting, but a kind of melancholy settled over me nevertheless. I was home alone in the woods during the day because it was summer and I wasn't teaching. It was lonely and I was restless.

One day husband comes home after a long day at work, has his dinner and then settles in his big chair to get ready for a quiet evening. He sees I’m out of sorts.

“What’s wrong with you?” he inquires.

 “Nothing’s the same anymore,” I said. “There’s no adventure here.”

“Well, why don’t we do some of the things we always wanted to do but couldn’t because the kids were always in the way,” he said.

 “Like what?” I ask him.

“I don’t know….how about making out right here in the living room like we were kids again. I always wanted to do that,” he suggested.

 “Oh, okay,” I sighed rather unenthusiastically, “if you really want to.”

I was sitting on the floor at the time, newspapers spread all around, clipping coupons. I attempted to stand up to join him on the loveseat. My right knee locked and gave me a terrible jolt. "OWWWWW!" I cried out.

"What’s the matter now?" says he.

 “My knee just gave me a terrible crunch….if you want to make out you have to come help me up.”

He gets up to help me, bends over to give me his hand, and clutches his chest, quickly standing up again, dropping me in the process, a grimace on his own face now.

 “What’s wrong?” I say.

 “Heartburn!!!” he gasps, falling back on the sofa with a thud.

“This never happened even once when we were kids,” I said sadly.

So, I guess it really is like President Hinckley and his wife Marjorie said one time.  “The golden years are laced with lead.”


Friday, April 8, 2011


We speak many times in our church about the hardships and strength of the pioneers.
How they faced starvation, disease, fierce enemies, and destruction at every turn.
Their bravery, steadfast faith and selfless sacrifice are amazing, inspiring things that should never be forgotten.

I’ve sometimes been puzzled though, about something else I’ve heard…..that the best and most valiant spirits have been saved for the last days. For our own time and beyond.
It’s been said that these bravest and most valiant souls will be needed then. When things are really tough.
How could it get any tougher than it was for the pioneers, I wonder?
They had to deal with hunger, snakes, angry mobs, disease and destruction as a part of everyday life.
How can it get any tougher than that?

I, for one, am a real wuss when it comes to physical danger.
My husband is in charge of all things scary at our house. Noises in the night… spiders, snakes, angry mobs……anything like that. I’m in charge of cleaning the bathrooms. This seems fair to me.
Drive-throughs are my favorite modern invention and a daily bubble bath is a necessity in my book. I never would have survived as a pioneer, that’s for sure.

Today, most of us are never more than a few feet from food, warmth, or shelter. Our homes have running water and our cars are heated and air conditioned. We can dial 911 and a rescue team will arrive in minutes.
Why on earth will people in the last days need superhuman courage and faith to remain steadfast and true to the faith?
It doesn’t seem possible that my grandchildren may need to be stronger than those who suffered so many hardships and trials as the early saints.
How can this be?

There may be lots of answers to that question that we can’t even imagine from where we are now.
But some things I’ve seen in the lives of my students give me a glimpse.
For instance, almost every one of them, even those in modest circumstances, can get up from the comfort of their beds at night, walk past indoor plumbing and a refrigerator full of food, to the computer in their family rooms. Then with the push of a little button, they can begin to lose their souls.
Many of them have.
Today my students can put little plugs in their ears and have the most horrendous filth beat into their brains in time to music.
They and their little brothers and sisters can watch hours of “harmless” after school sitcoms or pop in a movie featuring famous actors and actresses who hop from bed to bed. They can be entertained by their idols using and abusing alcohol, drugs, and pornography to the sound of a laugh track.

The pioneers buried loved ones along the side of the trail and went on with broken hearts.
But they didn’t lose them. They had to leave them for only the rest of their lifetimes.
Today, we can really lose those we love. We can lose them more surely than to death, and in our own, safe homes.

Yes, I do think we need the bravest, most valiant spirits for this day.
Our time is full of dangers never imagined by those stalwart souls who went on before.
As they say, we need to gird up our loins, fresh courage take.
We should look to the pioneer fathers and mothers for their example and then get ready for the fight of our own lives.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Books of Childhood

Once our grandson Jacob asked us to help with a school assignment.
He was to find some “geezers” and ask them what their favorite book was as a child.
So, he asked Larry. And then he asked me.
Both of us suddenly felt the effects of many years trodding heavily across our faces. But, for Jacob we sent our now wandering minds back in time.

Larry has vivid memories of riding his bike to get his favorite books. He rode several miles across the town of Glendale to the old, even then, public library in the town square.
The library still stands there today, some 50 years later.
He recalls checking out a series of books that were conveniently marked with a red star, which indicated that boys would like them. Some of the ones he remembers are stories about Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Jim Bridger, Jim Bowie, Kit Carson, and Wyatt Earp.
He also read Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer but they didn’t have red stars to mark them.
He would carry these home on his bike, riding with one hand, and read them at night with a little night light that hung on his headboard. When his mom came in to tell him to turn off his light and go to sleep he would use a flashlight to read under the covers.
He remembers too, always stopping for a popsicle on the way home from the library, at the small Tang’s market on the corner which had his favorite banana flavor for just a nickel.

My favorite children’s books of the many I love will always be the ones I read aloud to my own children on long car trips and to the young teenaged students in my classes every year. At school we'd read for a few minutes each day before the bell rang.
My own daughters loved books, but my special needs students were not “readers” by nature. Sadly they had missed the literature of childhood.
I insisted on reading books to them, often under protest.
But one day as one class was dismissed, a wonderful thing happened.
My biggest, toughest, gangbanging kid stopped to whisper something to me.
With a “keep this to yourself look or bad stuff will happen," he said, “I like it when you read to us, Mz. Dub. It makes pictures come in my head.”
Indeed it does.
And they're pictures from your own mind too. Not supplied by Hollywood.
We read many of the classic books for young people in class, partly because they were such an important part of my life. I remember especially, "The Yearling," "Jungle Book," "Hatchet," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Cay," and "The First Four Years" from the Little House books." Yes, even those.

Life, and childhood, was very different for us as kids then it is for our grandchildren.
50 years of progress have made great changes. Not all of them for the good in my opinion.
Life was simpler and slower back then, for sure.
Now, kids spend more time with video games than with books, and often text message instead of talking face to face.
I remember, not long ago, one of our lovely granddaughters, sitting around a campfire with all of our family, camping on a beautiful beach in California. It was a gorgeous evening with the sun setting over the sea, gulls and pelicans diving, and all of us gathered close to see it.
I looked across the flickering firelight to see her absorbed in texting a friend back home a whole state away. She missed the moment as surely as if she hadn’t been there at all. What a shame.
Yes, things were simpler then. You could only be in one place at a time.

According to Larry though, life wasn’t always easy.
For example, haircuts were an exception to the "simpler back then," thing. Sometimes these were complicated.
Larry remembers getting a haircut in Galesburg, Illinois where his family lived when he was in the 2nd or 3rd grade. He had to get a haircut every two weeks just as I recall my brothers did.  It always caused him a great dilemma.
You see, his mom would  give him one dollar to pay for his haircut.
A buzz or a butch hairstyle, as we used to call them, cost only 75 cents. A regular boys haircut was much more fashionable but cost a full dollar.
Herein lies the dilemma.
Close by the barber shop was the Dairy Crème which had lemon phosphates for 15 cents.
Right across the street was the Maid-Rite shop which sold some sort of a loose ground beef sandwich with mustard, pickle, and chopped onion for a quarter.
And across to the left was a market that had bins of candy behind glass that sold for a penny or a nickel each. There were wax sticks with sweet juice in them, or paper ones with sweet and sour powder, jawbreakers, Boston baked beans, candy lips or cigarettes, and chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper among other wonders.
Every two weeks Larry had to decide whether to be stylish or satisfied.
He says that the Made-Rite was the usual winner.
And come to think of it, I’ve never seen a single childhood picture of him with anything other than a buzz.

He also remembers his old neighborhood back in the mid-west.
So many times today we don’t even know our neighbors.
In the summertime he remembers the entire block getting together in the one vacant lot to hold a fish fry.
The men in the neighborhood had gotten together to build a brick barbeque at the back of that lot.  All the neighbors would gather to fry tubs of catfish, bass and whatever else was biting from the Mississippi river, some 60 miles away.
Larry’s dad and several of the other men would leave on Friday night after work and return by dawn on Saturday with at least one washtub full of fish.
One time, the men let Larry come fishing but he was too little, and was such a pest, running through lines, knocking down poles that they never took him again. They all had multiple lines and would sometimes pull in two big catfish at once.
Whoever didn’t go fishing had the job of cleaning all the fish while the rest of the men returned home to sleep for a few hours.
Late afternoon the families would meet in the lot, the women bringing lawn chairs, coleslaw, corn on the cob, beans and babies.
One of the dads who worked in the local lumberyard always brought a load of scrap wood for a bonfire after dinner.
Families and neighbors would sit for the evening, some of the moms carrying sleepy kids home to their beds after a while only to return to the fireside later themselves.

Fourth of July was another big summer event. Everybody packed a picnic and a blanket, leaving early in the day to get a good spot. They headed for Lake Story for a day of swimming and talk with friends and neighbors. That night the skyrockets burst over the still water of the lake giving everyone two shows for the price of one.

Larry also remembers his grandpa listening to the radio in his kitchen, to shows like Jack Benny and Boston Blackie. Not music, mind you but dramas and comedies. Once again the pictures were the ones you supplied from your head.
He remembers too, the very first TV his family owned. They were among the first in the neighborhood to get one and would set it up in the living room window on Saturday nights facing out so the neighbors could sit in lawn chairs to watch wrestling from Chicago.

And so, time marches on. Life has certainly changed in major ways.
Geezers like the two of us really notice the differences, sometimes with more than a little sadness.

TV is now a fixture in every kid’s bedroom. And sometimes a computer.
Often as not they watch by themselves, and the pictures in their heads are supplied by some stranger, often of questionable character and motive, instead of the ones that used to be supplied by their own intellect and imagination.
Technology has brought great changes, that’s for sure. Progress it's called.
Still, I’m feeling a little perplexed.
I think I’ll go read an old book and see if the pictures still come in my head. I hope so.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

You Get to Be the Mom


Someone mentioned to me that they had read a story similar to “You Get to be the Mom” in one of the “Chicken Soup” books. I was surprised to say the least. Though I often use outside sources in my teaching, I always acknowledge them. I have many favorite authors which I like to share. Most of my stories, though, are things that actually happened in my life, but I also make stuff up, change names, invent characters, emphasize creatively, etc. My husband says he remembers being much stronger, braver and more handsome than he’s often made out to be in my scribblings for example. The only iron clad criteria I have is that what I write or teach must be the truth. I even explain to youth groups that I always tell the truth in church. Even if something never actually happened it’s the truth. Once after saying this and then telling a story with a talking fish in it a kid came up to me afterward and said “Did that really happen?” Well, the story was about drugs and alcohol and how kids sometimes lose their lives or worse when making poor choices about these things. I’d told him that I never lied in church so I looked him in the eye and said “Yea, kid……. sadly it happens every day.” (Read the introduction to this blog for more details on this subject.)

However in this case I am perplexed. Even though I’m a geezer now, with a memory like a sieve, this incident actually happened to me over 48 years ago when I was a young teen. Many years later after joining the Church and filling calls involving teaching I expect that I’ve probably told this story to hundreds of people over more than 25 years. I was helped by this lady’s comment and hope that others have been also. I don’t know how the “Chicken Soup” thing happened but I hope people are helped by it too. Maybe someone heard my story, remembered it and passed along the inspiration that was given to me. That would be wonderful. My goal is to help and it’s the only reason I write. I don’t make any money from my writings and don’t expect I ever will. May blessings fall on you and yours.

Looking back over decades to one’s youth isn’t always a happy experience for everyone...depending on a lot of variables. But sometimes great blessings come at dark times. I remember an incident that was a pivotal point for me as a young teenager. A few words, spoken to me in passing by the mother of an acquaintance, changed my perspective and focus forever. You need some background to understand why this was so important for me.

I grew up in a loving home with 3 younger siblings and wonderful parents. There was great love between my mother and father and they were devoted to our family. My parents believed in God but didn’t raise us in any organized religion. I had never heard of Mormons and knew little except the snippets of the Catholic faith my grandmother brought with her when she visited.

Then one terrible day in early spring when I was 11, my 39 year old father was killed in a car accident on his way home from work. I remember my mother being completely devastated……put on sedatives by our doctor….and then after the haze of those first terrible days…sedated almost always by alcohol. I don’t remember seeing my mother as she had been before ever again. It seemed truly as if both of our parents had died in that awful crash.

Then, day by day, alcohol slowly killed my mother. I learned a frightening lesson watching her during my teenage years…drinking can end your life years before it actually kills you. And your life is not all that’s at stake.

Dad had thankfully provided well for us financially but things were not good in our home during my teenage years. I was the oldest of 4 kids….my youngest sister just a toddler when our father was killed…2 brothers who needed a dad…an alcoholic mom…you get the picture. It’s important to remember too that this was the early 60’s…a different time as far as accepted moral standards go. This was back in the day of the sit-com mom who supposedly cleaned house in heels and a string of pearls and was the picture of propriety and proper conduct.

Well, one Saturday I remember being picked up by the girls on my high school softball team to head to 6 AM practice. I came out the door at the first honk to a station wagon full of my teammates….someone’s mom driving the lot of us to the school field. Some of these girls were the most popular at school and I longed to feel a part of their circle. Nice girls, they were, from nice families, like ours used to be, with moms who did wear pearls while cleaning house, I just knew. As I opened the door one of them asked loudly…”Isn’t that your mom’s boyfriend’s car? What is it doing here so early in the morning? Did he spend the night?”

There was suddenly a deafening silence in the car while everyone began to think of the answer to that question and my face began to burn in shame. The mom who was driving quickly changed the subject and headed to the school. As we all were piling out of the car lugging bats and gloves, girls chattering all at once, the mother, a lady I barely knew, called me over to her car window. When the others had gone she said, “I just wanted you to know something very important. I wanted you to know that you can have a wonderful, loving family again. One with a mother and father. Parents who are happy and whole together…who love and take care of their children. It’s important that you know that.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at her. I barely knew this lady. How did she know about me? You don’t know us, I said. You don’t know how things are. How? How can that possibly be?

“You get to be the mom,” she said gently.

She was right. Of course she was right. We each build our own lives. There was little I could do about my present situation but the future is what we each make of it. I never forgot what she said. It’s given me hope, comfort, and a kick in the pants many times since. I’ll always be grateful that she took the time to speak them.