Family Life, Good times

The Wedding Guest – Part 2

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Once they knew Mara had permission to come to their wedding, Thad and Bailey also understood that Mara would need a dress to wear, so they made a date with her to go dress shopping.

When the day came to pick up Mara for the shopping trip, Thad and Bailey drove to her house only to learn that she and her family had been evicted. Bailey and Thad asked neighbors if they knew where the family had gone. One neighbor had heard the family had taken up residence in a tent on a farm, and gave them directions to the location. When they arrived at the farm, Mara and her family were no longer there.  They were told by the farmer that the children, Mara and her two younger siblings, had gone to the home of a shirt-tail relative and her boyfriend, who, seeing that the children were hungry, dirty and suffering,  kindly allowed the kids to stay with them in a duplex home on the edge of town. The farmer gave them general directions to the home of the couple.  This is where Thad and Bailey found Mara and her brother and sister. The parents had left the children there, and gone on their way. Mara, after all the  difficulties of moving from place to place,  was very happy and relieved  to see Bailey and Thad, and  glad they had been able to find her so they could go on the much anticipated clothes shopping date.

The shopping date fell on a hot, sunny day, and as they left the duplex Mara asked where they were going to go look for a dress.  “Houghton,” Bailey replied. Houghton is approximately 13 miles from Calumet. It has a small mall with a couple of department stores that would allow for some selection for Mara’s clothes.

“Houghton!” Mara said, “Oh no! We have to walk so far and it’s so hot!”

Taken aback by her dismay, Thad quickly explained, “We don’t have to walk, Mara. We have a car, and the car has air conditioning.”

“You have a car?  And air conditioning?” As soon Mara understood that this trip was going to be comfortable, a look of relief filled her eyes. “OK! Let’s go!”

As they climbed into the car Bailey asked Mara if she was hungry. “Starving,” she answered. So the first stop was lunch at  McDonald’s.

After lunch came the trip to  JC Penney. Mara had never been to a retail clothing store before. Almost all of her clothes were from the Community Free Store in Calumet, so this was an exciting time, and Mara was in awe of everything she saw at Penneys.  The three eventually made their way to the dress department, which had a broad selection of clothing in Mara’s size. As Mara picked out dresses to try on,  Bailey became   puzzled over  Mara’s choices. None of the dresses she tried on were really suitable for a wedding.  Eventually Bailey  guessed that the reason Mara was so smitten with those particular dresses was that each one had an inexpensive decorative necklace attached to the collar – and jewelry was something that the little girl loved but didn’t own. Bailey confirmed with Mara that it was the necklace that she liked best about the dresses, then said, “Let’s find a different dress that will be nice  to wear to the wedding, and you can find a necklace to go with it, OK?” Mara agreed. They found a dress and necklace that pleased Bailey, Mara and Thad, too,  whose approval was sought by Mara when she came twirling out of the changing room as she tried on each dress.  A pair of new shoes completed the ensemble. The threesome then went to the check-out center to pay for the purchases.  When Mara saw the total cost of the items flash up on the cash register,  she was distraught.

“No you can’t do that,” she cried. “It’s too expensive!  I will put the necklace back!”

Thad and Bailey took Mara aside and quietly assured her that everything was fine, that they were very happy to purchase the items she had picked out and not to worry about the cost, which was not very much at all. It took some time to convince her, but eventually Mara was able to receive and enjoy the clothing that she would soon wear to the wedding.

As the wedding date came closer, Mara asked about the cake topper, and was curious to see a picture of it on the wedding cake. Bailey explained that there wasn’t anything to see yet because the cake was almost the last thing to be done for the wedding since it needed to be freshly baked and decorated for the big day. This answer seemed to satisfy Mara, but privately, Bailey wondered what solution Sheila had found for Mara’s gift of the 1970’s cake topper. Time was passing quickly. Mara had endured a lot of disappointments in her young life, and Bailey hoped the gift of the cake topper would not be another one.

Family Life, Good times

The Wedding Guest – Part 1

Pastel colored jelly beans

Several years ago Bailey Takala, an  almost 20-something, met Mara Jarl , a friendly, tow-headed, blue-eyed first grader.  Bailey was attending university then,  but made it a priority to volunteer at a local Calumet, Michigan elementary school in an  afterhours program called Great Explorations. Bailey had been a volunteer for the program since her high school years. Mara was one of the students enrolled in Great Explorations, and after their initial meeting at GE, Mara and Bailey became fast friends.   When Mara learned that Bailey lived  close to her house, she rode her bike over to visit Bailey almost every afternoon.  On one of her visits to Bailey’s, Mara spotted a candy dispensing machine that had M&Ms in it. She was fascinated by the device – a type of gumball machine – and loved to turn the handle, watch the candy tumble down and eat a few M&Ms while she was visiting. “How did they get those M&Ms in there?” was a frequent question and a great mystery to the 6 year old. Initially Bailey strictly limited the number of M&M’s  Mara ate so that the candy would not ruin her appetite for supper, but it wasn’t long before Bailey and Jan, Bailey ‘s mother,  realized that whatever Mara ate at their house might be the only food she would get for the rest of the day. Over time Takala ‘s began to realize how destitute Mara’s family was, and they started to offer Mara nourishing food in generous amounts, which Mara never turned down. But seeing that the candy was a special treat, Takala ‘s made sure that the candy machine was always full of M&Ms for Mara.

About 4 years after Mara and Bailey struck up their friendship,  Bailey became engaged to her high school sweetheart, Thad Johnson, whom Mara had come to know through his many visits to Takala’s.   Bailey spoke often of her upcoming wedding, and  Mara was always excited to hear about the plans for Bailey and Thad’s big day, which was going to be at the height of summer –  a very beautiful time of year in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Because Mara was so interested in all the wedding discussion, Bailey invited Mara to the wedding, and to her bridal shower, also. Mara was extremely happy to be included in the momentous occasions, and looked forward to them both as only a child can.

On the day of the bridal shower Bailey and Mara had time to talk about what a shower was, who would be attending and what kinds of things happen at a shower. During the festivities Mara enjoyed meeting Bailey ‘s  extended family and friends, and eating the wonderful food that was prepared for the guests. Mara also watched with great interest as Bailey opened her shower gifts, but the highlight of the afternoon for Mara was the cup of M&M’s that she got to eat all by herself.

Two weeks before the wedding, Mara came over to Bailey ‘s with a  plastic bag that was rather balloon-shaped and presented it to Bailey as a gift for her and Thad.  Bailey was very touched at Mara’s generosity.  She said, “Thank you Mara! But you didn’t have to get us anything for our wedding.”   Mara ignored Bailey ‘s concerns and insisted that she put the gift down carefully on the table and open it, which Bailey did. What Bailey  found inside was a wedding cake topper circa 1970, complete with a large domed circular base sporting a plastic bride and groom standing in front of a big, lacey plastic heart.  It also appeared that the topper still had remnants of frosting from the cake it had adorned so many years ago. As Mara  and Bailey gazed at the plastic decoration, Mara offered a brief explanation for her choice of a wedding gift: “Just in case you get to have a cake at your wedding.” Bailey again  tried to gently tell Mara that she shouldn’t have used the little money  she had to buy a wedding gift, but Mara said, “No problem, Bailey! It’s from the Community Free Store!”

Mara went happily home, confident that she had chosen just the right gift for Bailey and Thad’s wedding. Bailey, on the other hand, had a dilemma: how could she honor the gift from her little friend but not actually use it on the cake since she had already chosen and paid for a cake topper herself? Bailey  called  Sheila Thompson, the woman who was making her wedding cake. Sheila worked at the school, knew many of the kids in the GE program, and understood how important it would be for Mara to have her cake topper used at the wedding reception.

“Don’t worry, Bailey,” Sheila said, “I will think of something. It will work out just fine.” Sheila was both compassionate and capable, and Bailey trusted her with finding the best answer to the cake topper challenge.

Am I smarter now?, Family Life, Uncategorized

Music, minor miracles, and more

My cousin Randy Plut (pronounced “ploot”) came for a three day visit last weekend – it has been twelve years since his last trip to Minnesota. Randy has always been an amazing guy. He is the oldest of my close-in-age cousins. His brother Rick and sister MaryAnn made up the trio of cousins with whom my sister Margie and I spent most of our time. Randy, Rick and MaryAnn had myriad talents, not the least of which was a great sense of humor – among the cousins, it was always thus. Their dry wit, an eye for weird comic situations, and impeccable timing made being with them a whole lot of fun. It was at my cousins’ home that Margie and I met many of Randy’s high school pals, one of whom was John Swartzwelder, who would become the legendary writer of the animated sitcom, The Simpsons. I think an off-kilter sense of the comical is part of what drew Randy and his friends together in high school. I recall great conversations and laughing many an evening away with my cousins and their friends in Aunt Lillian and Uncle Bob’s living room.

Greater than Randy’s talent in humor is his talent in music. Before he was ever a witty teenager, Randy was a serious and accomplished musician. His instrument is the piano, which he plays like a wizard, shape-shifting without a pause, by memory alone, from classical pieces to country western to ragtime to the Beatles, the tip of his tongue poking out between his lips from time to time, the only evidence of the intense level of his concentration. It has always been thus for Randy, with family members and friends watching and listening in wonder over the years.

Randy is also amazing for having recently survived a cardiac arrest that was as near fatal as it could be. He survived it because, by the grace of God, just as Randy collapsed, his sister MaryAnn came to his house, understood the situation and called 911 for help. Randy spent quite a while in the hospital and has no recollection at all of the entire month of January 2013, the month his heart attack occurred. In fact, it was a great surprise to him to learn, as he improved during his hospital stay, that he had a new job! He had applied for, and won, a new position just prior to his heart event. Randy now has a pacemaker, an incredible invention in its own right, and one that should help Randy avoid another cardiac collapse, may it ever be thus.

We spent the last night of Randy’s visit to Minnesota at the home of one of my nieces, Michelle Rogers. Michelle and her husband Bill  graciously invited my husband, John, Randy and me for dinner.On entering Bill and Michelle’s home that evening, Randy noticed the piano in the living room, so after we enjoyed a delicious meal together, he offered to play the piano for us. We were all delighted to be a part of the audience, and Randy did not disappoint – he was phenomenal! It is a very rare thing to witness the level of skill and creativity of an artist like Randy, say, at a concert hall or on TV or the internet, but to experience performance mastery of Randy’s kind in the intimacy of a family home is mind-boggling. Bill and Michelle made sure their three children were part of the experience, and the kids enjoyed Randy’s playing along with us. Randy asked them if they had any songs they would like to hear, which he then played for them without hesitation, sheet music or batting an eyelash. We adults were astonished at Randy’s skill, whereas the kids took things in stride. What? Wait a minute – wasn’t this a minor miracle occurring before our eyes? But kids are kids. How could they gauge how remarkable Randy’s performance was? I know I was pretty oblivious to Randy’s immense talent when I was a youngster. I took his proficiency at the piano for granted and had no way of knowing the rarity of Randy’s gifts. Understanding of this kind only comes with maturity. It has always been thus, I believe.

There was another member of the audience who did seem to understand the unique quality of the evening, though. Max, the family dog, knew something special was happening. He sat by the piano, listening attentively while Randy played, and a after the recital was over, he left one of his favorite toys at Randy’s feet as a token of his appreciation. Is this a typical occurrence? Has this always been so, that dogs are aware of and admire the finer things of life?

On the ride home from Bill and Michelle’s, after saying our farewells to Randy and wishing him the blessings of health and happiness for the future, I thought about the wonderful evening we had shared, about the passage of time, and the sparing of Randy’s life in 2013. Life is an extraordinary gift, and the gifts God gives to us as individuals are also extraordinary. This is something that I want to grasp more completely. But perhaps one has to pray for the ability to comprehend this, … perhaps it has always been thus.

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Psalm 139:6

Family Life, Thinking back

How to be a Superhero

Vintage floral bath towels
Vintage floral bath towels (Photo credit: Idlepines)

I have six sisters, most of whom have been written about in King-family stories that have found their way into digital print on my blog in the last few years. This story is about one of my younger sisters, Claudia.

Claudia is beautiful, gentle, quiet, and has a very contagious laugh. She thoroughly enjoys antiques and gardens. She also loves children. She and her husband Dan have seven kids. The first four, Jake, Anna, Nick and Joe, came pretty quickly. Then there was a space of six years before Tyler, Abbey and Jesse were born.

One summer day when Tyler, Abbey and Jesse were 6, 4 and 3 years old, Claudia and the kids were playing make believe. Each of them, Claudia included, pretended to be a superhero. To add to the fun, Claudia had devised homemade capes by safety-pinning old bath towels to the back of their shirts. You can imagine the exploits and adventures that took place in the kitchen, living room and out into the front yard, with great leaps from the stairs and fast treks around the house causing capes to flare and flap.

Eventually the demands of family life, and the need for naps, broke into play time. After the kids were asleep,  Claudia asked to Nick stay with the younger kids as she ran errands in and around town, one of which was going to the local public golf course to pick up Jake.

When Claudia got to the golf course Jake wasn’t there, so she went into the clubhouse and spoke to the golf pro who was at the desk. She asked him to tell Jake that she couldn’t wait for him since she had another child to pick, but that she would be back to get him in about twenty minutes.

When Jake got to the clubhouse he checked at the desk to see if his mom had come. The golf pro asked, “What does your Mom look like?” Jake told him. The pro said, ”Well, a lady who fits that description came to the desk asking for you. But you know it was kind of odd; she had a towel pinned to the back of her shirt.” Jake said, “Yep, that’s her.” The golf pro stared at Jake for a few seconds, then said, “She’ll be back for you in twenty minutes.”

Here’s what I love about this story – not just that Claudia knows how to have fun and do imaginative play with her kids, although that would be enough to make me cherish this story forever. There are a couple deeper take-aways, too:

1. Some people recognize superheroes when they see them, and some people don’t. Jake knew immediately that the be-toweled woman who came to pick him up was his Mom, The Superhero. The golf pro didn’t have a clue.

2. It’s easy to think that playing with children is beneath us as adults – that it’s a waste of time, or is kind of embarrassing and un-dignified. But it’s not. It’s simply what a superhero does. Ask any kid – they know what  superheroes act like. And they can always spot a superhero when they see one, too, whether you‘re wearing your cape or not.

Family Life, Good times, Thinking back, Uncategorized, Writers/writing

It’s Jan 23 ~ Are you celebrating National Handwriting Day?

The English alphabet, both upper and lower cas...
The English alphabet, both upper and lower case letters, written in D’Nealian cursive. The grey arrows indicate the starting position for each letter. For letters which are written using more than one stroke, grey numbers indicate the order in which the lines are drawn. The green tails on the front of several of the letters are for connecting them to the previous letter; if these letters are used to begin a word the green portion is omitted. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to an FYI from friend Heidi Osborn, I am celebrating National Handwriting Day today. Good handwriting is not as important as it used to be, it seems. In my school days, we received a grade on our report cards in penmanship. Time was set apart each day for students to practice cursive handwriting from large note books called “The Palmer Method of Handwriting,”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmer_Method  Those with good handwriting received plenty of praise from teachers, and “Good Penmanship” awards, and were envied and admired by those of us who did not develop that skill.

There were other  marks of honor to look forward to in penmanship besides praise from teachers and “Certificate of Merit” awards. There was the longed for moment when your teacher said, “You may now use a ballpoint pen to write your homework assignments,” and in eighth grade we  finally received permission to use a fountain pen. Yes, when you made it to fountain pen level, you had arrived.

Practicing handwriting had a dangerous side to it, also. My sister-in-law JoAnne Messmer King has beautiful penamnship, and told me this story of the day she practiced writing cursive  at home as a little girl. Her father had come back from a trip to town, and put his purchases on the living room coffee table. JoAnne was home and in the living room just then. She looked through all the items on the table. A small, rectangular box caught her attention, and she opened  it to find a stack of  brand new checks from the bank. As she went to find a ballpoint pen, JoAnne heard  a knock  at the front door, and recognized one of her father’s friends. Soon the two men sat companionably in the living room visiting and drinking beer. JoAnne stayed in the living room, too, and practiced her penmanship by filling in all the spaces on the beautiful, new checks. It wasn’t until some time later that JoAnne’s father realized what type of  paper his talented daughter had been using to practiice her cursive handwriting. It doen’t take much imagination to know how this story ended, but JoAnne said she did not get a “Certificate of Merit” award for her efforts.

Today, I celebrated National Handwriting Day by putting some handwritten letters and postcards in the mail, with an acknolwedgement of  the day in those missives. Next year, I plan to do the same thing, but I am going to write my letters with a fountain pen.  That is, if I can find one. They still make fountain pens, don’t they?

Family Life, Good times

Let’s go to the fair!

Giant slide, Minnesota State Fair, Falcon Heig...
Giant slide, Minnesota State Fair, Falcon Heights, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I received a text this evening from one of my favorite people. It said, “Blog about the state fair. I’m feeling melancholy.” I responded, saying I was sad too, but I thought it was a little early to write about the fair since I was still in denial that it was over. We texted some of our thoughts about the yearly spectacle, and I began to truly consider why the State Fair, the Great Minnesota Get Together, holds me in its thrall. It might be understandable if I were an out-going, party loving extrovert, but I am not – I am an introvert. Go figure.
If you don’t know anything about the fair, here is a link you might find helpful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_State_Fair.

Wikipedia is a good place to start your MN State Fair education, but descriptions, definitions and statistics cannot capture the essence of the fair, it can only give you the framework. To explain the phenomenon of the fair I am going to steal an acronym from author and futurist, Leonard Sweet: The Minnesota State Fair is EPIC, truly EPIC. That means, according to Dr. Sweet, that it is Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich and Connected. Yep. And extraordinarily fun. Does that make it FEPIC? No matter. If you are in Minnesota during the last week of August, you simply must get yourself to St Paul, jog up Como Ave, push through the main gates with hundreds of other fine folks, and live it up at the fair for an entire day. Or two.

The fair is sensory overload at its most friendly and inviting. Colors are everywhere, food is everywhere, music is everywhere, smells are everywhere, new experiences and old favorites are everywhere, and people, lots of people, are everywhere.  Quick aside: Favorite new experience : the Giant Sing Along venue http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvfBtA8Ks54&feature=colike. Favorite tried-and-true experience: the Creative Arts Building. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ficIIAbuGOw&feature=colike

My absolute favorite aspect of the fair is the music. You can buy tickets to the Grandstand acts, of course, but anyone at the fair has access to all the free music venues throughout the grounds all day long. These are professional musicians, often they are performers who are nationally known, eg: Riders In The Sky and Tonic Sol Fa. (Fair story about RITS: Our son was in high school, and had his wisdom teeth removed the day before he went to the fair with his buddies. I told him that he might not enjoy his day because eating would be a hassle. He went anyway. When he came home he immediately asked for pain medication. I started the “I told you so” routine when he interrupted, saying, “No, Mom! It wasn’t the food! It was “Riders In The Sky.” Their songs were so funny that I couldn’t stop laughing. That’s why my mouth is sore!”) I usually purchase a CD from my favorite musical group at the fair. This, of course, enlarges my eclectic collection of CD’s, which I enjoy all year long.

The fair is such a huge experience, both in the size of the grounds and in the range of activities, that a single visit may not permit an individual to come away with an accurate impression. With this in mind, I am going to try to write my thoughts on the fair in a few blog entries. This will be helpful in a couple of ways: 1. perhaps I will be able to figure out why the fair has such a special place in my heart, and 2., as long as I  write about the fair, it isn’t really over, is it?

Christianity, Family Life, Travel Stories, Uncategorized

Meeting an angel, visiting a saint

Departing BFI as BOE008 Heavy
Departing BFI as BOE008 Heavy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2                                                                 To start with, I almost didn’t sit next to her because of a seating error. By the time everything was corrected, I had to move several seats further back in the plane. I caught sight of a golden head of hair and heard a melodious voice say , “Hi,” as I schlepped my belongings to a seat that was very close to the bathrooms. “Hi,” I mumbled as I glanced her way. I was being anti-social for a good reason; on the hour drive in to the airport I had come down with a cold. Has that ever happened to you? At 8:30 a.m. you are as healthy as a ripe tomato, and by 9:30 a.m. you have a headache, intense sinus pressure, runny eyes and nose, and a cough, with three hours on an airplane coming up. Once on the plane, I was trying to disappear into my seat so that I wouldn’t be ejected bodily from the jam-packed Delta flight by  passengers who were thinking, “It’s her! The one with Kleenex falling out of her pockets. She’s the Jonah who brought a plague into the aircraft! Throw her out the cargo doors.”

Even before the cold bug dragged me down me, I had been living with a mill stone tied around my heart. I was on my way to visit a sister, the dearest of saints, hoping and praying that, by God’s grace,  forgiveness would be extended and a relationship would be restored; but I knew there was no guarantee that either of those things would happen.  Then this cold had descended like a judgement – was it  a sign that I should wait until another time to bring up tough questions? Should I play the “I’m sick” card and let my sainted sister care for me, as I knew she would? Or was the cold a diversionary tactic, an irritating distraction, meant to thwart the purpose of the trip? I blew my nose and pondered these things.

In my seat, I turned 45 uncomfortable degrees away from my seatmate to decrease the possibility of cross-contamination from my cold germs. It wasn’t until the attendants came with the food cart that I faced directly forward.  Both my seatmate and I decided  to partake of the snacks offered. We both stowed the  books we had been reading and put our trays down, but before she put it away, I saw that my neighbor was reading a study on the book of Ephesians. Ephesians! A surge of Holy Spirit  electricity shot through me. Soon, the flight attendant came by with bread and wine – well, lukewarm coffee and pretzels, actually, but it might as well have been the elements, because a gracious communion meal began right there at the back of the plane.

And we did commune, finding a lot of common ground: we were both from families of ten children; both raised Catholic; both of us had sisters who had taken vows in a community of nuns; both of us were facing challenges within our birth families, and we both were following the One we love, the Lord Jesus, into new places.

My seatmate’s name, I finally learned, was Meg. Meg asked the most amazing, generous questions, about my life and  family,  and the reason for my trip home; she also asked questions about the dearest of saints that I was going to visit. The two of us exchanged a lot of information in the short period of time we had together. Just before the plane landed, Meg turned to me and said, “I can see that the enemy could really cause trouble in this situation with your family. I would like to pray for you – may I?”  I looked into her blue eyes, and nodded yes. Meg then prayed for my health, peace, open hearts, healing,  pure motives and the presence of the Holy Spirit to direct all events. She prayed for other things, too, but I don’t know what they were because at that moment I began to realize what I was experiencing: God had sent a messenger, an angel – albeit a flesh and blood one –  to minister to me on this difficult journey home, and I was overwhelmed with amazement and thanksgiving. When Meg said “Amen”, I asked if I could pray for her, also. In my prayer for Meg, which was one of gratitude for God’s tender care in all areas of Meg’s life, and an acknowledgement that what the Lord does “is marvelous in our eyes,” I thanked God for sending a ministering angel named Meg to sit next to me on the plane. Meg did not dispute that this was true, so I have decided that until Meg or the Lord says otherwise, I will believe that God did provide an angel that day to encourage His ill, crabby and troubled child.

Meg and I said our goodbyes as we deplaned. She came across my line of vision one more time  as she walked jauntily down a long corridor to the main doors of the airport. I saw her from the back, her hair golden and shining, but there were no other signs of heaven around her – that I could identify, anyway.

The visit with my sister went very well. It was a good, difficult, painful,  scary and beautiful four days. We talked, prayed, laughed, cried and got angry, but we spoke the truth in love to each other. Forgiveness flowed and healing began – even my cold got better fairly quickly. My sister is the dearest of saints to me – but she is as human as they come; as fatally flawed as me and the rest of the human race. I am so very happy, and relieved, that it was possible for us to spend time together, and that the time was God honoring and fruitful. I made my way home from that visit filled with hope.

And Meg? Was she an angel or an earthling? Well, I have tried to reach her via email; there has been no response – yet – so the jury is still out on that question. But no matter what the outcome, whether she is of earth or of heaven, she was most certainly a gift of encouragement from God at a time when I desperately needed it, for which I am very thankful.