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.