An Invaluable Legacy

8 08 2017

There is a tremendous emphasis these days on income. How much money you have and what you do with it has become a benchmark of success. As if money could be the precursor to happiness. As if your bank account equates your level of contentment. As if those with little money ought to be miserable.

I don’t deny that lack of money can make life difficult, especially for a family with children whose very existence require a decent income to sustain them. But more to the point, the richest people in the world don’t necessarily have a corner on the happiness market. Yes, those whose income is either non-existent or very low have a much harder life than the middle-income range, but here’s the thing. The most giving and kind-hearted people are often those who have the least.

These bold statements come from personal experience.  As a child, my parents were poor. Were it not for the twelve cows my dad milked for income and which provided milk and butter for us, the meager six acres of asparagus he grew, and my mother’s skillful negotiations for ‘sale’ prices on cases of dented canned sauerkraut and other vegetables, we might likely have starved. Potatoes mashed alternately with apples, kale, sauerkraut and spinach became an every-meal staple for us. Never did either my mom or dad talk about our poverty. Never once did I hear either of them complain, argue, or in any way indicate our lack of income. I wore my cousins’ hand-me-downs, as did my brother. We were always clean, always loved, and always expected to be respectful and well-behaved. Dad made a game of going to a Saturday sale, waiting until the very end when the auctioneer would pile various things into boxes and sell them for a quarter. Often those boxes yielded treasures, things Dad could fix up and use, or fix up and sell at the next auction. He took childlike delight in the money he earned in the process.

I remember vividly the generosity my parents practiced. There was always room for one more at the dinner table, and they shared as though they had more than enough. Often Dad went to the bank to borrow against the next year’s crop because the frost or drought took this year’s. His first priority the next year was to honor his commitment to pay back what he borrowed, even if that meant we got no profit.

And here’s what I learned from all that. I learned that being honorable is a great virtue. I learned that kindness can save a person from despair. I learned that generosity is possible, even when there is next to nothing to share. I learned that we are all equal on this earth if you measure equality in terms of integrity and strength of character. I learned that loving your fellow man is an active verb, something you show in a visible way. And I learned that hope is the one word we all need to hold on to. My parents did that. Their hope and their strong faith carried us all those years ago. What a legacy.

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Legacy

16 07 2014

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My father was born in 1915, the youngest of seven, to farm-laborer parents. He was the only child who had farming in his blood and after completing sixth grade, he became a full-time worker in the fields alongside his father.
As he grew older he knew he wanted to farm, but buying land in the Netherlands was impossible. He decided his best avenue would be to learn a trade and save up to move elsewhere, though the place he would go wasn’t yet clear.

After taking night classes and completing his required training, Dad became a barber, first as an apprentice and later owning his own shop. When he and my mother married in 1943, he began in earnest saving every penny he could, a difficult task since war had begun the year before.

The thing about Dad was, he had the most optimistic view of life of anyone I’ve met. Pair that up with sheer determination, add an adventuresome spirit and a fearless attitude, and you have Dad. So he packed up his little family of four and set off for America in 1947. And he worked hard.

Fast forward to the 1950’s and Dad owned a small, seven acre farm in Washington where he raised asparagus and tomatoes and milked a handful of cows. He moved us from farm to farm until he purchased a forty acre parcel growing concord grapes, with a contract to sell each crop to Welch’s for juice and grape jelly.

Dad became a successful man who farmed well and worked hard, but most importantly who loved his family and his God without reservation. A man of principle and faith, devotion and loyalty. A truly good man. The world was blessed to have him for 92 years.

And I miss him.





Landscapes of the Past

23 06 2014

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My brother and I named the area of trees and bushes at the back of my father’s farm The Jungle. We were kids, and the world was an exciting vista awaiting our discovery. I spent hours wandering by myself through this magical place, my imagination running wild. Pretending to be lost in the myriad of streams and trees, my heart would pound as a delicious sense of adventure kept me looking for wildflowers and tracks of mysterious creatures. We had heard of wildcats back there, though we never saw one. There were insects and baby turtles and snakes interspersed with the plants. The river was just a short distance away with its bounty of rainbow trout and salmon. That larger body of water fed these tiny streams I followed and sustained the vegetation around me.

The fields of the farm have long since gone to seed. Where the house once stood there is a charred area surrounded by weeds, though the trees shading the side of our home still stand sentinel. Two of the trees are bare, long dead but still upright. My brother and I walked the farm a few years ago as part of a trip to pay homage at the graves of our parents. It was, in our eyes, a memory tour, a visit to our childhood. So much had changed.

That trip verified that nothing stays the same. Maybe it’s our memory that’s at fault, the events of the past being shrouded in this cloak of happy times that preclude the hard things. When you revisit, truth replaces memory and changes the images that were there. Regardless, I choose to hold on to the magic I felt as a child, allowing one memory to weave into another to create an endless stream of recollection.

Four years have passed since we revisited the farm. If I close my eyes, I can envision my young self there again. The pasture where our old sway-backed horse grazed isn’t fenced now, but I can see him there, lifting his head as I walk by. He shakes his mane, pauses a moment, his liquid brown eyes gentle on me. He lets out a soft whinny and goes back to doing what horses do best, being content to nibble at the grass of the field. I wave and walk beyond his world to my own, that magical Jungle of my childhood. And I lose myself in memory.





On Knitting Your Life

17 03 2013

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Retired people are the best teachers. They’ve figured out the secret of living a good life and leaving a legacy.

I’ve had occasion to think about the broader view the past few days. A dear friend who spent his adult years helping others, and who welcomed everyone who walked through the doors of our church, died last week. He was the definition of hospitality. Everything he did was intentional, and if I had to describe him in three words, I would say he paid attention.

A saintly lady who is nearly 93 and is a valued friend and resource for understanding
European history (and, consequently, my family’s history), is also impacting my life view. She personifies selflessness. As a young woman she was part of the resistance in war-ravaged Netherlands during WWII, and to this day she speaks to children, young people and adults about the importance of non-discrimination. Her heart is with all the downtrodden, no matter their situation. She is accepting.

Since the age of five I’ve been a knitter, with several projects in the works at any given time. The process is second nature, something I can do while watching television, conversing, riding in a car, listening to music…any time I have a spare minute. It’s calming, comfortable, easy. . . until I make a mistake. Then it gets frustrating, challenging, hard.

Life is like knitting. When you get to the end you want to be able to look at the finished product and be proud of what you’ve made with the materials at your disposal. There are thousands of stitches in the piece you’ve made, and though each single stitch seems insignificant, each is attached to the next to create a unique and amazing result. The mistakes (and there will be mistakes) are what make it special, personal.

Think of your days as those knitted stitches, some done without much thought attached, some labored over with great care because of their intricate difficulty, some bungled and needing unraveling. Some days are easy, effortless, simple. Others are difficult, painful, impossible.

I know Ted lived his life well. He wasn’t perfect, but he learned how to be the best Ted he could be. I know Diet is still contributing to the lives of others, probably more than she should at her age, but she strives daily to give whatever she can. There were mistakes in her life, too, but she has learned and grown from them.

I hope that when my life is done, others will see it as having been worthwhile, mistakes and all. I hope to leave a legacy, although the benchmarks left by Ted, and those Diet still works on, will be tough to equal. If someone can look at my life and recognize the beauty in it and the worth of it, I will have done it well.





Life after Good Friday

8 04 2010

We had a really good service this last week on Maundy Thursday. It got me thinking about the physical anguish Jesus endured during his crucifixion, something no one really wants to think about. I wrote the poem “it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming” based on the monologues we heard at the service.  The poem is posted in the personal perspectives section.