Uncle Bill

With the passing of my mom’s brother, William “Bill” Carpenter (May 1, 1935 – March 28, 2018), I wanted to share this little piece from my mother’s memoirs entitled, Twins Advent. Bill is twin to Robert “Bob” Carpenter, who survives. My mom, as well as our whole family, was very fond of them both.

As I was looking into my Grandfather Carpenter’s lineage, I discovered that our great-grandfather, Warren W. Carpenter, was formerly from LaGrange County, Indiana. This is the county just north of where we live now in Noble County. We drive through the town of LaGrange all the time on our way up to Michigan. No wonder I like that little town so much!

Twins Advent

“We were living 25 miles south of Bassett; I was in the 6th grade and boarding in town with a family we knew. That was the year my mother became pregnant and well into the nine months it was known by them that she was probably carrying twins. On May 2nd Dad picked me up from my boarding house and took me to the town of Long Pine, where Mom had been living in a nursing type private home the last few weeks of her pregnancy. When we got to the home we saw two wicker baskets sitting on the dining room table—each holding a new infant. Dad asked me which one I would choose and I said, “Well, the one that is ours.” He laughed and said, “They are both ours!” I think they had not told me about the possibility of twins.

As soon as school was out for the summer, it was clear to me that the advent of twins in the family was going to make a big difference in my life. There was much more work for Mom, and she needed a lot of help. I think I still worked in the hayfield when haying season began but the mornings and evenings were filled with many other chores—chicken feeding, ironing clothes, formula mixing, bottle washing, etc. The clearest memory I have of that first summer with twins is lying on Mom and Dad’s bed, propping up a bottle to feed Billie or Bobbie, and with the other hand holding a book for my reading pleasure. I read Gone with the Wind for the first time that summer. Without electricity or plumbing, caring for babies was not as easy as it is today and, of course, no disposable diapers or bottles.

On very hot, dry days Mom would hang wet sheets in the doorway as a kind of relief from the heat—primitive evaporative cooling! The twin’s formula had to be placed in half gallon or quart glass jars and hung in a barrel of water under the water spout of the windmill, which pumped very cold water into the barrel. This was our refrigerator, where we kept cold tea and cocoa and maybe leftover potato salad. Here we had no ‘spring house’ — not an ice house either. We were a long way from a lake in this county.

Recently, Bill has told me the one thing that stands out in his memory in regard to the time when they were little and roaming around the ranch yard. He says that Mom would send me to chase after one or both of them when she wanted to catch them so she could administer some fitting punishment for their misdemeanors. I have no recollection of doing this, but I’m sure they remember it!

Probably, I was glad when it was time to go back to school in Bassett, and I would be in town all week. But I don’t remember how I felt. It was just a necessary thing. As I said elsewhere in this story, the hardships and effort my parents went through to educate me seem beyond belief.

When Bill and Bob were ready for the 4th grade, our parents moved to a little ranch acreage very close to the town of Bassett so they would not have more of that long distance driving to put the twins through school. For me, they had seven years of this carpooling with other ranchers’ kids, and hauling us 25 miles (for some it was further.) They came to get us on Friday evening whenever the roads were driveable, and took us back Sunday evening. These were the same neighbors who came to the Saturday night barn dances that Elvin and Dad played for during the fall and winter months—and the same people who attended the little country church where we went and the community Sunday dinners during the summer—one Sunday a month.

These dinners were a highlight in our lives. Most of our neighbors who lived within a 15-mile radius would take turns hosting a community dinner. The hosts furnished the coffee, iced tea, and cold cocoa drink—no pop except perhaps on the Fourth of July celebrations. Pop was not an everyday treat as it is now. The kinds I remember are root beer and grape. If there were others, I didn’t choose or remember them. The ladies brought any kind of meat, casseroles, or dessert. Most of them were remembered for some speciality dish they would always bring—one might be “famous” for her especially good fried chicken—always country fried, of course. There was no other variety. Another might always be counted on to bring a large pot of baked beans.

Some ranch houses had a summer kitchen—a small two-room building apart from the main house. We did not have one. A summer kitchen had one room for storage and chopped wood. The second room held the wood burning cook stove and a long table. Cooking in the summer kitchen kept the main house from heating up in the hot months. If you didn’t have a summer kitchen, you would not be the lady who brought slow baked beans to the dinners! These buildings always had several large windows with screens and were supplied with fly swatters and hanging fly stickers to catch the insects. They were invariably attracted by the delicious aromas drifting out the windows and soon appeared looking for some sweet, sticky treat.

My mother could always be depended on to bring two or three red cherry pies and fried chicken. We had about 10 cherry trees on this ranch place. Some enterprising former owner had planted a small orchard of cherry, plum, and crab apple trees. I had to spend many summer hours climbing the cherry trees, perched in the branches with a gallon syrup pail strapped into my jeans’ belt. As soon as the pail was filled, I would have to climb down and empty it into a larger container and then make the climb over and over again until all of the cherries that were ripe that day had been picked. None of the other ranches in our area had a fruit orchard so my mother’s fresh cherry pies were a treat for everyone to enjoy and looked forward to at each community dinner.

I have memories of spending long summer evenings helping to pit the cherries, a slow and tedious chore. We would hold a dishpan of water-covered cherries on our lap, and one by one squeeze out the resistant pits. When the water became saturated with pits and cherry juice, we had to empty it into the backyard. This was not a lawn. The only green grass we had was native grass out in the sandhills hayland. It was our livelihood and watered only by summer rains.

After cherry pie so many years of my young life, it has never been my favorite choice today—I would rather have apple. In addition to the fresh cherry pies Mom made for us, she would can 80 or 90 quarts to be made into pies before the next season of cherry pickin’.

Within the last five years, Bill, Bob, and I have visited this old ranch site where we lived while they were little. It is now abandoned. I think memories are better left undisturbed by not visiting old sites. For me, at least, this is the way it is.”

~ Wilma Faye Carpenter Yohnke

Growing up, I loved hearing stories like this from mom. I think that is one of the reasons why I had such a fondness for her twin brothers, besides getting to see Uncle Bill and Aunt Darlene on our annual treks to Riverton, Wyoming to visit in the summer.

Rest in peace, Uncle Bill. Thank you for so many wonderful memories of your humor, your saxophone, and your model airplanes.

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Tea and Leaves

Tea and Leaves

I sit here at my writing desk looking out over the fields now yellowed and browned with age and listen to the farmers’ machinery humming in the distance. Once again, I am overwhelmed with the golden warmth of this season. The sweet scent of earth and ripe fruit, described by poet John Keats as ‘mellow fruitfulness’, hangs in the air. A few oak leaves flutter and twist their way to the ground, and suddenly mixed in are huge, heavy drops of rain, first a few, then more and more as the rainstorm picks up volume and speed.

I quickly get up to close the sliding doors and suddenly the house is quiet. Dusk begins to settle in on our little villa, and I decide to abandon my desk in honor of my nightly autumn ritual. The silver teapot is lifted off her place from the nearby coffee bar and filled with cold water. Soon she is chattering away on the stovetop, her voice rising higher and higher to a fever pitch, letting me know it is time. Craving something sweet, I choose a dessert tea, Candied Chestnut, described on the box as having sweet, light chestnut notes and a smooth buttery finish. That should do. Soon my senses are filled with chestnuts and memories, and with tiny, careful steps so as not to spill a drop, I mince my way back to my desk.

Suddenly feeling a chill, I grab a trusty, plaid blanket lying close by and wrap my shoulders tightly. Settling in once again, I sip the hot brew and nod self-approvingly on my selection tonight. Pulling an oak leaf from a dried floral arrangement on my desk, I study it thoughtfully. These sturdy leaves don’t crush and break so easily like the maple and ash when I rake them. Like the tree itself, they silently boast of strength and durability.

“It’s been a hard season,” I murmur to myself. I twist the leaf by its stem and watch it twirl in my hand. “You never know just what tomorrow holds, and you’re stronger than you know, stronger than you know,” the words to a song echo through my mind, and I join in, quietly singing to the leaf, the tea, and myself. And at this precise moment, I knew I had everything I needed. I was going to be okay.

“I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” ~ Philippians 4:12-13

The Professor and His Parents

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An oversized cardigan and a bow tie were his going home clothes. At the age of two days old, he was heading home from the hospital with his exhausted but overjoyed parents. “With that outfit, he looks like a little professor!” exclaimed his father as he tucked him into his car seat.

The nickname seemed to stick and so it came to be that little Titus David Mueller became known as “Professor Titus” or just simply…“The Professor.”

The Professor wasn’t entirely happy about his lot in life outside the womb and wasn’t afraid to let his parents know about it. After a couple of nights of continuous, inconsolable crying and no sleep for anyone, the father reached out to me, The Professor’s grandmother, who was happy to come and spend a few days in the classroom of townhouse #190.

I was nervous. Even though I had experience with newborns, it had been many years since I had helped care for one. Would I remember all the tricks? Would any of them still work? I knew the parents would be in a precarious state, not having slept in days. What would I encounter when I crossed over the threshold of their townhouse? I had packed a suitcase for a few days but had no idea exactly how long I would be staying. To free up Titus’ mother to do nothing but baby care and self care and better sleep for the whole household were my goals. Titus’ father was off work for a few days, but eventually, he was going to have to return to work. Just how long would this take?

As I pulled into their parking lot, I breathed in deeply and slowly exhaled. “You got this,” I murmured under my breath. The Professor’s father actually appeared rather calm, albeit haggard, when he opened the door. I stepped into the darkened room, which would become somewhat of a classroom for the next several days. Soon The Professor’s mother joined us, clutching the object of their love and dreams and angst. Titus David. How could such a tiny person upend their world so quickly and completely?

As I scooped him up, I shooed the parents upstairs with orders to go to bed and sleep. I sunk into a deep chair with the swaddled Professor and didn’t move for two and a half hours. My arm went to sleep as deeply as the child. Studying his face, I marveled at all his features, at times seeing glimpses of his father as the little boy who was once my own and other times seeing his mother’s face. Titus slept soundly as his parents snoozed away upstairs, and I thought maybe, just maybe, I was going to be able to handle this.

When his parents descended the stairs, they couldn’t believe The Professor had slept that long. Handing him over to his mother to be nursed, I headed for the kitchen to see what I could put together for a late supper. Simple and quick seemed to be the order of the day, and I put together some sandwiches, which were hastily devoured by the three of us.

Although the household had come to a screeching halt since the arrival of The Professor, I sensed no chaos. The parents were stumbling through their days and nights as if in a dream, but I could tell they had kept their love on. Together, they would learn the rhythms of life with a newborn, and I was privileged to be called alongside to see the beginnings of this new family unit.

The first lessons taught by The Professor at townhouse #190 were unforgettable. In Fluidity 101, it seemed as though the class was held under water. There was an ease of movement as we “went with the flow.” We didn’t establish any rigid standards of how things were supposed to look with a newborn. We took our cues from Professor Titus, which gave us increased mobility and less strain.

I thought Flexibility 101 was going to be a stretch for me, but I actually found it be a fun class! The three of us, who were taking the class, took turns leading. Sometimes The Professor’s father took over in handling him. Other times it was the mother. And other times it was me. I marveled at the grace the parents exhibited towards one another as one would step up while the other stepped back.  We took turns sleeping so the others could rest. Even I had to have my nap times! Fueled by healthy food, naps, and even some laughs, we powered on. Little by little, we were gaining ground. Laundry was done, groceries purchased, meals prepared, diapers changed, bedding changed, bathrooms cleaned, and floors mopped. The Professor’s mother was slowly but surely recovering from childbirth. Soon it was time for The Professor’s father to return to work, and I knew my time here was coming to an end.

As grateful as I was for passing Fluidity 101 and Flexibility 101, my favorite class of all is still being held, and most likely, I will never graduate from it. Fascination 101. In this class, I study The Professor himself. He is fascinating! Every little furrowed brow, purse of the lips, wisp of hair, brush of eyelash, tiny sigh, and mammoth yawn are studied and memorized. And when I am apart from him, the chords that are struck in the sweet companionship we share, cease not to vibrate. That is the wonder of grandparenting.

I am convinced we are to be living in a state of fascination not only with little humans, but with their Creator as well. It is how He has hardwired us, to be completely fascinated with Him. To be drawn irresistibly by the attention and interest He has in us. We are His creations, and I believe He finds us fascinating as well!

As my visit came to a close with The Professor and his parents, I stood in the doorway of townhouse #190. What a week it had been! I turned to his father and remarked, “The Professor is going to teach you more about life and love than you will ever teach him!” He laughed and nodded in agreement. I looked at The Professor, and a little newborn grin broke out over his face. “Class dismissed!” he seemed to say as I turned to go.

Honor Works

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Honor Works

Are you an influencer? If so, you care passionately about communicating your beliefs, ideas, positions, concerns, and yes, even truths. However, in all our desire to influence, we can push aside the very thing that gives us the power to influence in the beginning. That is the dignity and honor in every human soul.

When we present our ideas, they should come as an invitation to others to think with us, to reason with us, to consider with us. As with any invitation, it automatically includes an R.S.V.P. In other words, the other person(s) can say yes or no or maybe. A true invitation does not include shaming, demeaning, degrading, or humiliating the invitee if they choose not to take you up on your invitation. Anyone should leave an interchange with you with their dignity as a human being intact or even elevated. They should not feel made “less than” you just because they do not see things your way. By leaving the choice with them in a winsome way, you are actually increasing your power to influence. By shoving, pushing, and cramming your opinions and beliefs, you are sadly diminishing the great gift you have as an influencer.

As you are well aware, in our society today there is tremendous pressure to polarize, divide, cast blame, point fingers, and name call, all in an attempt to present truth and win others to our side. It’s not working.

In the great arena of ideas, those that will excel and win are the noble ones, the ones that are grounded in truth. But they don’t stand a chance if they are presented in such a way that dehumanizes and even demonizes those who choose not to share them. This is my invitation for you to take a higher way. The way of honor. It works.

Gratitude and Healing: A Weird Formula

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“There is a weird formula I have observed in three decades of working with the broken: The greater the gratitude, the faster the healing journey! The less gratitude someone has, the more he or she is stuck in revenge, anger, bitterness, a sense of entitlement, and a victim mindset. There seems to be a direct correlation between the speed of the healing journey and one’s ability to forgive and be grateful.” I read these words the other day from Rebecca McDonald, founder of Women at Risk International, and I couldn’t agree more.

In my own journey towards healing, thanksgiving was and still is a powerful tool, a weapon really, in a battle against physical pain. I remember the days when I would literally keep an open journal on my table, and every time I took note of the tiniest thing to be thankful for, I would write it down. Because so much was happening that was negative, inspiring more fear, hopelessness, and loss of confidence, it became absolutely vital I identify every little blessing on a daily basis for which I was grateful. Because of this practice, it became second nature to me, and I no longer have to write it all down. But if I ever catch myself focusing on the negative, I begin this practice of penning all the evidences of God’s grace and favor on my life. And it is warfare! Every word I write is a bullet in the chest of the Liar, who suggests maybe God really isn’t all that good.

Rebecca went on to say this about the correlation between seeking justice for wrongdoing and the healing journey: “I have spent my time, resources, and energy to help our women find justice only to see time and time again that it doesn’t heal their deepest wounds. Justice is right! Don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t magically make the pain of the scars go away.” Although I have not been the victim of any serious injustices, I found this fascinating because justice seems to be the highest prize we set our hearts upon when we have been a victim of discrimination, betrayal, abuse, or wrongdoing of any kind. However, healing still seems to elude those who obtain the prize of justice! Perhaps gratitude for what is still good is the more powerful healing agent.

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