Treasures from the Woodshed

Daddy and Mama bought the big yellow house when I was 13 months old. Surrounded by red barns, white board fences, chicken coops, and corn cribs, the house sat on 80 acres of fields, pastures, and woods, bordering a creek. They paid $10,000 for it. Grandpa Nutt said they’d never live to see it paid! But my Grandpa was wrong.

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Letters from War

Marion L. Nutt

May 18, 1920 – April 28, 1943

I never knew my Uncle Marion, yet my throat tightens, and tears roll down my face whenever I look at pictures of him, read his letters from war, or place a flower on his grave.

Perhaps it is because he reminds me of my father. They shared such a resemblance. Or perhaps it is because sometimes I try to place myself in my Grandma’s shoes – having five sons in the war at the same time and dreading that unwanted telegram. But most definitely it is because of my love and appreciation of a man who gave his life for a country and the freedoms I enjoy every day – a man I’ve always known as my Uncle Marion.

In memory of my Uncle Marion, a true patriot, a recipient of the Purple Heart issued by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and forever a loved member of my family,  I write these words.

Marion (left) and Wayne (right) July 1931

Marion grew up on a black dirt farm in Kinderhook, Michigan, the seventh of twelve children. The large family was poor but honorable, honest, respectable citizens of the community.  In the early 1940’s, Marion was the first of the “older” boys to enlist to serve his country in what became known as WWII. Soon thereafter, Paul, Clifford, Earl, and Wayne followed suit. During the war, the five sons served throughout the world, including the Pacific Arena, the European Theatre, and the North African Campaign.

Marion (top row – second from right) with Ethyl My parents, Wayne and Margie, bottom right
Young Marion goes off to war.

One of my mother’s best friends was a vibrant, lovely woman named Ethyl. Years later, as I grew up, I simply knew Ethyl as my neighbor and friend.  She and her husband Frank had two daughters. I never realized until I read Uncle Marion’s letters from war that Ethyl had once had a very special place in Uncle Marion’s heart, and I have every reason to believe that he had a very special place in her heart, as well. I discovered this in one of the letters Uncle Marion had written to my mother.

(To my mother)

Ethyl, my Uncle Marion’s “one & only.”

Sept. 20/42

Ireland

Dear Margie,

Well Margie, today is a rainy Sunday as that is nothing unusual in Ireland. Say, Wayne’s letter came the same day as yours. He said to give you 7734 for not writing to me before. . . . What is this I hear about you & Wayne planning to marry? . . . Ethyl writes a lovely love letter. I think she is the one & only for me. We could be so happy together as I love her so much and miss her as we are made for each other. She most likely thinks I run around with other girls.If so she should be here and witness what I do. Then it would be different. . . . Talk Wayne out of joining the army. Please if you can. . . . Must close for now for time is short.

Marion and Ethyl On furlough before shipping off to the fighting.

As ever, my sister-in -law to be. Care if I stamp this with a kiss for you? S.W.A.K.

As ever, just a soldier,

Marion L. Nutt

The “soldier away from home”  was revealed in Marion’s letters to his brother Clifford who had not yet enlisted and was living with his wife Velma and two young children in Michigan. Knowing Velma would undoubtedly read the letter, Marion included a line to Velma, as well.

(To his brother, Clifford)

June 10, 1942

Dear Brother,

Received your letter today. Was sure glad to hear from you. Would have liked to see you with the mumps. Ha. Ha.

Went to the city for the weekend . . .  the air raids. It was worth the trip just for that. The trip was educational as well as fun. Wow, is whisky & drinks ever high. Bass, which here means beer,is twenty cents a bottle. Whisky $8.00 a quart. Women cheap, two shillings a frig or a pound for all night. That’s what the boys say. I don’t know myself.

P.S. Velma, don’t let this shock your modesty.

Sept. 13/42

Ireland

Dear Brother,

Hi Cliff. How are you and the family?I am fine as can be. Get a little lonesome sometimes, but try to make the best of it.

Received your ever so welcomed letter this week so will answer it with the best of my ability.

Most of the soldiers fish at night . . . I am going to Belfast next week to fish … and raise 7734.  These fish are so much different than ours at home . . . a few trout

A little army life would do Earl good, just like Paul.

Write soon.

Your brother,

Marion N.

Shortly after he wrote these letters, Marion was sent to the North African Campaign. The rainy, somewhat peaceful days in Ireland suddenly became cold, turbulent days at the front of  “Operation Torch,” at Algiers – then later at Tunisia. A fierce battle had been taking place for over two years. At stake was control of the Suez Canal and access to oil from the Middle East – vital to mechanizing the armies. Marion was one of 65,000 troops commanded by General Eisenhower. Just one of many men, but the one we loved.

(Letter to Clifford and family)

Algeria, N. Africa

Dec. 28/42

Dear Cliff & Family,

Hello kids. How is everyone around home? I am fine although have a slight cold. Shaved my head – then it turned off cool so of course it had me . . . The old mail is just catching up with us. This one I just received is dated Oct 5th, . . .

. . .  as far away as I am and can’t talk to anyone. Boy that is hell. Especially with these beautiful babes parading around like flies and can’t even as much as speak or talk to me.

Just one thing there is her is plenty of wine, about like you said they had in California when you were on the bum. It is cheap. 10 francs a bottle. That is about 1.34 a quart. Variety of each kind. Must be a hundred different brands. Banana wine is strong along with muscatel, grape, orange, even cactus. Whoa. Has that ever got a kick.

What is Olen’s address? . . . He is in the tank core, right? Boy that is hell on the front lines. . . . Where is Fay? . . . I often wonder if I might accidentally run into them. A fellow here met his brother just the same way. . . .

Good night all. As Ever,

Marion Nutt

His next letters  reveal the increasing peril he faces. They also reveal his desire to keep news of that danger from his dear Mother. His body is in Algeria, but his heart is at home.

Mar. 7, 43

Dear Kids,

Hello, how is the old place ticking? It has been 48 hours a day for me. At least that is the way I feel. But am still able to kick. Those Germans can’t get us. At times I wonder,at that. Sure came close this last time. Anyway, the days come & go just the same as ever even if it is hard to tell one from the other. Sure have been good for the past five weeks. No drinks or girls. Just soldier from day to day.

Have seen enemy tanks & heard those machine guns spray lead. . . .

How is Dad doing? Does he take it hard?

Write often.

As Ever. With love

Marion Nutt

(To Wayne, my father)

Mar. 20, 43

Marion with the locals.

Dear Wayne,

Just a few lines to say hello and let you know that I am still alive & in the best of health. Hope you are the same.

Although I haven’t written often, I still think of you just the same. It keeps me busy writing to Mom, Ethyl, and Clifford.

But of course I don’t write anything to them about my hardships, never would I do that, not even if I was dying. Cliff is the only one that knows the score about myself. He can keep it under his hat so that Mother will not worry too much about me.

What I write to you of my doings in N. Africa, please for Mother’s sake, don’t ever mention anything to Ethyl or even to Margie for it would leak out. Then Mother would age 20 years more. So on your word of honor, please do as I say. Please!

Oh, say, how is Margie? I know Ethyl’s morale gets pretty low at times. Her letters tell how she feels. Never sent her a Christmas gift but a money order of 20 bucks, which served the same purpose. There is not a damned thing overseas that we saw that is worth a hoop.

. . . Did you ever wake up in the morning, shivering, peek outside and see it snowing like the dickens? Have you ever slept in a cemetery where you can look into the graves & see skulls, bones, & ribs of Arabs? Then go to sleep & dream & hear them kicking underneath. It gives me the creeps.

Snakes, lizards, scorpions, & rats, all deadly poisonous, crawl about your head while sleeping. Sure is a morale builder, but nothing to worry about.

Visited the city of Algiers the hard way. Wow! What beautiful babes are there, along with some homes that would make California’s look like shacks.

Artillery goes over our heads, makes me jump, although it is friendly. It is very frightening at times. Those foe machine guns sure spray wicked lead. Saw a German destroyed tank. Didn’t even get a souvenir from the old thing.

. . . Well Wayne, my furlough days are over. Am only looking forward for that thing they call discharge.

Instead of me writing to Paul & Earl, just forward this letter on to them. Tell them to do the same. The last one will keep it. Don’t send it home. Remember, keep it under your hats & tell Paul & Earl to do the same. . .  That will save me time and per along with a backache in this cramped writing position that I am in.

Your Brother,

Marion Nutt

(Marion’s last letters – to Clifford & Family via “V-Mail”)

Apr. 6, 43

Just a few lines to say hello & let you that I am still able to fight. Wow! Have I ever had some hair breadth escapes. Can’t tell any, but you can imagine. Listen to the news & just picture me out here fighting for my life. I am not bragging for I am no hero or ever care to be, but anyway I have been the closest to the enemy lines in our company. . . .

Tell Velma her last letter gave me a date. It was about that dream about me & her, also Wayne. I was on a mission that night which was not the pleasantest thing in the world. Too many fireworks & walking. . .

Well Cliff, I have a worried mind so this is all I can think of.  . . . If I come through the next scrape, I will write again so until then, so long & the best of luck.

Apr. 12, 1943

Hello. . . I am still able to breathe & enjoy life and boy is it ever great after being in one of North Africa’s major battles. Will tell more later in my letters. Was nearly a prisoner of war. The old boy was saying & motioning, “Come. Come.” But I turned ass to lead & made my best track time for life.

Paul is lucky to be back home with no more worries of being in hell like I have. Fay is lucky to be able to get home occasionally. Maybe I will have time to write to the boys. It is good to get letters. . .

My space is getting small so will close. Hoping this finds the home from much quieter than this one has been, so keep them going. Seven to one. That is the way they fled from here. Write soon.

Your Brother

Marion Nutt

April 19, 43

Hello Cliff & Family,

Just a few lines to say howdy and let you know that I am fine & still able to write. Although several times I found myself pinching my body to make sure it was not only a dream. Anyway, our mission is now accomplished and trying to rest up a bit, even though there is not a minute of time left for idleness.

Our visiting time is limited although I do go to see  Van occasionally. He is just as swell as ever with blood curdling experiences of this last mission. Of course you wouldn’t care for any of that B.S.

Stokes brings me the Coldwater Daily Reporter, and I scan the headlines for news of the boys in the service. . . . Just hope Earl & Wayne don’t have to leave, because I’ve been through enough hell for them both.

Must give the Jerries credit. They sure know their onions about warfare & such. Boobie trap professionals, along with mines & bouncing babies. But when the drop is on them, they run like mad.

Received a letter from Aunt Mossie saying that everything is going swell & that she received a letter from Mom stating that she would like to go up to their place again. Think I’ll go along the next time. Would have before, but I didn’t know then what I do now.

Our Lieutenant called some of the boys together & said, “I want to congratulate you on your promotions to corporals.” But now I am in doubt until the reports come back on the wounded NCO’s. I wrote Corporal on a letter that I wrote Ethyl before I knew the truth. Now I don’t know. Will say in my next letter to you so until then, just . . .

Pvt. Nutt

Of all the letters, the one that I love (or hate) most is one sent in April of 1943 from my father, Wayne, to his brother, Marion. It was also written on V-Mail stationery – from one brother who has finished training and is heading to Europe (My father, Wayne) –  to another who is in the midst of hellish warfare (my Uncle Marion).

Dear Marion: Will write to tell you everything is fine. Everyone is well. I hear from Mom quite often. Paul is home as you may know. Less worry for Mom

I have one stripe now. So feel good about that! Ha! I’m still in Kansas. Quite hot here. But I like it. Earl is still in Oregon. . . . Ethyl, the darling, is very happy. I’m glad for her and for you, too.

The headlines in papers seem very good. I know you boys are really giving those Germans hell. Keep it up! Write to Mom when you can.

I hope you & Earl Stokes are still together. I bet you two can really pour it on. Will close for now. Good luck.

Love, Wayne

The letter isn’t what’s disturbing – it’s the envelope: “Killed in action”

Signed by a Captain.

Returned to the sender – my father.

How many envelopes were pounded with that red stamp?

“RETURN TO SENDER. THIS ITEM COULD NOT BE DELIVERED AS ADDRESSEE HAS BEEN REPORTED KILLED IN ACTION.”

Seventy four years pass. The year is 2017. Ethyl grew old and has passed away. Her daughter brings me a gift. She found it in her mother’s belongings where it had been tucked away for more than 70 years. It is a brown Bible – a New Testament – given to Servicemen during WWII. An inscription is found inside the back cover: 

Being a believer in Jesus Christ, I had always wanted to trust that Uncle Marion, too, was a believer. I thought of my Grandma, his mother, whom I knew was a Christian. I pictured her praying for her sons at war and praying for her children to also know Jesus Christ. I found comfort and consolation in this little New Testament. It fell open to a spot where all those years before, Uncle Marion had placed a four-leaf clover. As a Christian, I know I don’t need to hope or trust in the luck a four-leaf clover brings, but I also know we have a Heavenly Father who understands our whims and knew that someday Uncle Marion’s placement of that clover would lead me to the Word of God – the true hope of our redemption in Jesus Christ. The pages were slightly stained by the clover, which for 77 years lay upon blessed words of our Lord. I read, “And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ But the father said . . . ‘my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”

I thought of my Grandma and her answered prayer for her son, Marion – that he was a son who had died but was alive again!  My heart began to be merry. And I thanked God for His Word and for the little country church that gave that Word to my Uncle Marion.

The final “letter” is actually a lengthy, detailed report titled “Phase IV History of 135th Infantry Regiment.” It describes the final battle for Hill 609 in Tunisia, which began the 27th of March, 1943. It is a disheartening account of Uncle Marion’s last days – those very days of his last letters – the letters that had shown me his true heart. Now I knew a bit more of those many days leading to taking Hill 609.

The report is bitter reading:

“Most of the infantry attacks were not coordinated.”

“Communications at best were poor . . . slow and uncertain”

“The artillery was not used to its fullest extent.. . . Many times the artillery barrage would come down on our own troops, insuring a lot of them and it took a lot of the aggressive spirit from the men.”

“Hill 609: It is interesting to note the difference in terrain . . . this terrain was to be the stage and the scenery for one of the most important battles of the campaign to drive the Germans from Africa; the battle which rates as one of the outstanding combat feats of the Regiment – The Battle of Hill 609.”

“A large percentage of officers and men were  ill for reasons not definitely known. . Although  physical exhaustion was probably partly responsible, it is believed Atabrine tablets were largely the cause.”

“On the 2nd of May, 1943, the battalion occupied the entire north slope of Hill 609 in addition to the ground already held.”

The battle was over. The mission was successful. The Hill was conquered. But it was four days too late for our family:

Uncle Marion was killed in action, in the battle for Hill 609, on April 28, 1943. The Hill was successfully taken on May 2. Officially, the North African campaign ended May 13, 1943.

The list is lengthy at the end of the 47-page report: Wounded in Action; Killed in Action.

In the report, he is simply number 36160539. But in reality, he is our son, our brother, our uncle.  He is the small town dirt farmer who left his large family to serve his country. He is one in a  huge family of patriots – of citizens who love this country, the United States of America – of people who stand in respect for the flag, the pledge, and the National Anthem – one of dozens in this family who served and continue to serve in the armed forces and within their communities. He is an example of honor.

Now, as my throat swells with pride and wet drops of love roll down my cheeks, I know the reason. It is because I am an American and a piece of a great family that loved a hero named Marion.

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Marion’s grave. East Gilead Cemetery Coldwater Michigan
 

Our local WW2 Veterans are remembered at Oak Grove Cemetery. Uncle Marion is just one local man who was Killed in Action but one of thousands – one of tens of thousands who gave their lives for our country during that war. 

 

The Library in My Woodland

My parents bought their 80-acre Butler Township Farm in 1952 from Elizabeth Ramsdell. Her husband, Ray Ramsdell had passed the year before, and Elizabeth did not want to keep up the farm herself. After selling the farm on land contract to my parents, she moved to a huge home on Washington Street with her sister, another widow or perhaps an unmarried woman. I simply remember them as “elderly” and looking back, I find they were younger than I am now!
 
I remember going with my mother every month to make the farm payment to Mrs. Ramsdell. The Washington Street house was a typical late 19th century, Victorian home. While Mother had tea with the ladies in the parlor, I was allowed to close the 10 foot pocket doors on two sides of the grand foyer and let my imagination run wild on each step of the massive open stairway and landings to the huge, probably unused, upstairs. Closed doorways throughout the wide hallways held stories I could only imagine, hopefully saved for another day. For about an hour a month, I visited airplanes and railroad cars, hospitals and hotels, and mansions and palaces. 

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When you pray . . .

I was pleased that Kaylee was sound asleep. She had seen me cry enough this last year, each time, hugging me, “Are you missing Grandpa and Grandma Nutt?” she would ask.

“Yes, honey,” I’d answer, thankful to receive and return the hug, but forcing the smile. Her tenderness brought me back. Her smile always gave me focus. And strength.

But now, as I left her sleeping, I could feel the tears welling up. These tears –  tears from missing someone so desperately, knowing you’ll never see her again in your life time – don’t well up in the eyes. They build in a pressure beginning at both sides of the top of your neck, spreading behind your ears, instantly to the sides of the bridge of your nose, then flooding your eyes and overflowing down your face.

“Nana, will you sing to me?” Kaylee had asked, just a few minutes earlier.

It had become our nightly ritual. Kneeling beside her bed, rubbing her back or stroking her cheek, singing her to sleep. My repertoire usually consisted of “Go Tell Aunt Tabby,” “Bye-Baby Bunting,” and my made up song for Kaylee:

Sweet dreams, my Kaylee Joy; 

Sweet dreams to you.

Dream about butterflies,

Dream about baby dolls,

Dream about teddy bears too.

And each night, after several made up verses, my soft singing turned to quiet humming; and eventually diminished, as I left the room and walked down the hall. She was contented and asleep.

But this night, as I knelt by her bed and had sung several verses of Kaylee’s made up song, I quietly hummed two notes – the fifth and the third notes of a  chord – and those two tones immediately took me back  in  time.  . .1951 AD Newborn Kathy copy

. . .  to my mother’s arms.

She was holding me. I felt the warmth of her arms. I looked into her face. I could see my chubby little arm reaching up to her soft cheek. She was humming the song to me – the same two tones. I was tiny – perhaps a few months – perhaps a year. In all my memories, I’ve never felt so small. I remembered being a baby! It was so peaceful but oh so brief! Nearly as soon as the memory had come, it was gone! I was back in the present! Back in reality!

As I left Kaylee’s room that night, the other tones, the melody of the song, came to mind, and the words came a bit later. This time, I wasn’t taken back in time but I sat in the dimly lit living room, closed my eyes, and allowed myself to picture and hear my mother singing – the  little chorus I hadn’t heard in years:
Music Notes

When you pray, will you pray for me
For I need His love and His care
When you pray, will you pray for me
   Will you whisper my name in your prayer.

At the close of the day, when I kneel to pray
I will remember you
You need help every day, this is why I pray
And I will remember you.

When I pray, I will pray for you
For you need His love and His care
When I pray, I will pray for you
I will whisper your name in my prayer.

1954 B Christmas Margie and Kathy (6) copyTonight, Mama, when I pray, I will whisper your name in my prayer:

Thank you, Jesus, for my Mama, who held me and sang to me and prayed for me. And thank you, Jesus, for the wonderful memory .

Click here to listen to the Gaithers sing “When You Pray.” It’s not as sweet as my Mama’s voice, but you’ll get the idea! 🙂

Their Wedding Rings

Their wedding rings remain a symbol and a promise of their commitment to each other and of the fidelity they exhibited for 66 years.

I had observed those rings on their fingers, year after year. The fingers, once young and taut, became aged and thin, as did the gold bands around them. Both wedding bands and the diamond engagement ring are worn through from years of hard work, in the factory, the dirt, the water.  From years of play and of cooking and baking and of praying together. And why wouldn’t they be worn? Sixty-six years as symbols and promises  of commitment and fidelity.

Mom's bandsDaddy and Mama have been gone now for some years. And I miss them. So, on occasion, I hold those rings in the palm of my hand and visualize their aged hands, wishing I could hold those beautiful old hands in mine once again.  I occasionally slide the rings on my fingers, especially when I want to feel their presence. Having the rings near reminds me of how they prayed for me and my family.

They passed one spring, just one month apart. Early that fall, I slid the rings on my omega necklace chain, and wore them throughout a most difficult day, the day of our daughter, Amber’s, sentencing. The rings hung close to my heart, touching my skin. I sensed their presence with me in that courtroom, reminding me that their God was my God. – always faithful. On that taxing day, the rings, once a symbol and a promise in the marriage, became their symbol and promise of commitment and fidelity to us, the family resulting from the marriage. Our family continued to be one – in the Lord.

On the omegaOne morning, shortly thereafter, I placed the rings, along with my birthstone, on the necklace. and headed out the door for Mott’s Children’s Hospital at U of M in Ann Arbor, where our baby grandson, Luke, was to undergo open-heart surgery. Throughout the long day and the trying days ahead, I often touched the rings, fidgeting with them, remembering Daddy and Mama’s  faithful prayers for me and my family – prayers that are still held in a bowl, each prayer like incense going up before the Lord God (1). At times, I raised my hand to my breast and clutched the rings ever so snugly within my grasp for quite some time, picturing the Father holding my little Luke in His hand, never letting him go. As I did so, I prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

On the trying days of Baby Luke’s surgery and recovery, the rings symbolized even more. Suddenly, they were reminders of Daddy and Mama’s commitment and fidelity to the Lord Jesus, which is the heritage they have passed on to us, their children, and to our children, and to our children’s children.

That heritage, in turn, reveals the greatest promise of commitment and fidelity – that of the Lord Jesus to me, and to my children, and to their children . . . “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” He says (*2). And I have found that promise to be true.

Just days later, I again wore the rings on the necklace to await and then to celebrate the birth of our grandson, Jack, the newest life born into our family. Memories flooded my mind of Baby Jack’s Daddy, our firstborn, Matt. Matt was Daddy and Mom’s first grandson, Matt. On that day years ago, the rings were on their own fingers – now I wore them near my heart. The rings connected us from the past to the present and in some way, to the eternal future we will all have together. And as we all praised and thanked God for this new gift of life in our family, I wrapped my fingers around those rings and whispered, “Thank you, Daddy and Mama, for your example of commitment and fidelity – to each other – to us, your family – and to the Lord Jesus.”

(1) Revelation 5:8

(2) Hebrews 13:5b

Treasures from the woodshed.

Daddy and Mama bought the big yellow house when I was 13 months old. Surrounded by red barns, white board fences, chicken coops, and corn cribs, the house sat on 80 acres of fields, pastures, and woods, bordering a creek. They paid $10,000 for it. Grandpa Nutt said they’d never live to see it paid! But he was wrong.

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The Old Soap Dish

It doesn’t look like much. And to most, it probably isn’t much. Just a soap dish, from K-Mart, one might assume. Probably purchased in the 50’s. Pink plastic with removable drainer. The gold trim of its crown nearly worn from years of scouring with Comet Cleanser. At first glance, one might easily overlook the esteemed position it held through the years.

The soap dish held court at various locations in the old Victorian home—the big yellow house—as it sustained its royal status throughout the years the family resided within.

 
Court was first held upstairs beside the claw foot bathtub. The woman scooped the white Ivory bar from the dish, scrubbing the children’s skinned knees and alfalfa-entangled hair before wrapping each child in blanket-sized towels and carrying them  downstairs, one by one, to the warmth of the oversized heat register to dry and dress in their flannel pajamas.
 
At other times, court was held at the guest sink in the small bathroom, not original to the yellow house but added years later in the empty space under the stairway. The woman placed a new Dove bar (her favorite) in the clean soap dish, and the beautiful, elongated white bar, embossed with the famous dove lasted quite some time in that location.
 
The years passed; the children grew and left the big yellow house; and the soap dish with the Dove bar was removed from its guest sink location, being replaced by liquid soap in a sterile, aloof, pump dispenser.

From that time on, court for the stately container was held in the back room of the old house, aside the jumbo cast iron sink and the old pitcher pump. A large, green coarse bar of LAVA soap now filled the dish, and the man used the LAVA bar several times a day, faithfully scrubbing his aging hands, ridding them of the evidences of hours of labor on his land. The soap dish was often covered with the dirty, dried bubbles of the resultant purification process, thus the woman used more Comet Cleanser, more often to clean the aging pink plastic dish.
More years  passed until the old man and the old woman  sadly left the big yellow house. The old pink, plastic, soap dish rested alone and nearly empty, filled with but a sliver of a coarse bar of soap and covered with dried pumice. The dish was nothing but a simple, quiet remembrance of the old man, the old woman, and the family who had once inhabited the royal surroundings.
 
The little girl who had years before overlooked the pink, plastic soap dish and to whom the soap dish had once seemed silly and unimportant, had grown up, and one day, while browsing the back room of the empty house she had once occupied, her eyes fell upon the seemingly useless and meaningless container. Now she perceived it unlike she had in the past, scrutinizing every detail of its surface, regarding it in a different light and from a different perspective. Suddenly she recognized its royal significance. She gently carried it from the yellow house to her own home where she carefully cleaned it and placed it at a prominent position, once again entitling the soap dish to resume its noble post and to once again hold court . Now, in the time of fragranced, foaming, liquid soap selections, the soap dish holds a plain, white bar of Kirk’s Castile and is regularly but delicately cleaned in an effort to maintain its royal stature.
The little girl, now grown, understands that the old pink plastic soap dish doesn’t look like much to the visitor or to the passerby.  And to most, it probably isn’t much. But to the little girl, it’s another sweet reminder of her stately past and a  true confirmation of her royal heritage.
 
 
 

The Poppies of the Field

Passersby stopped their cars. Some actually drove in the big circle driveway, walked up the steps to the porch, and knocked on the kitchen door.

“May we look at your flower garden?” they asked.

Daddy’s and Mama’s garden was massive, stretching  between the mown lawn and the corn field, its woven artistry of greens and reds and yellows visible from every south window of the old yellow house. It abounded with fruits and vegetables – strawberries in June, green beans in July, sweet corn in August, and pumpkins in September. But at a distinct time of the hot Michigan summer, the garden was amass with papery-petalled blooms: beautiful red poppies.

Daddy’s and Mama’s lives paralleled that garden. Like their garden, their lives were brimming with ever-bearing vibrancy – of honor and service to God!

Those seasons were  times of sunshine and rain. Of planting and reaping. Although well-remembered, they were summer of times long passed. 

Today, nothing remains of the beautiful flower garden or of the vivid red poppies. For a few years, a little stem, here and there, popped up, but now, withered stubble covers the ground where the poppies once bloomed. And like the garden, nothing remains here on earth of the vibrant lives of Daddy and Mama.

“All men [and women] are like grass, and all their glory is like the [poppies] of the field; the grass withers and the [poppies] fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6,8)

Yes, His word stands forever. It is powerful. It is mighty. It is beautiful. It does not die. It withstands every season, every storm, every fire, and every trial. It is permeated with vibrancy – the vibrancy of life.

So again today, I will open the Word and let it fill me with its unending message.  I desire the Word to reflect in my life such vividness that passersby stop and stare, glimpsing God’s glory in all of its beauty. 

They asked Daddy and Mama, “May we look at your flower garden?”

I hope they ask of me, “Please tell me about your Jesus I so vividly see.”

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The Fishing Pole

When I was a little girl, Rev. Bob Lindner held summer vacation Bible School at our little country church. The week before the event, he drove the dusty roads with a megaphone speaker atop his car, announcing the upcoming Bible school, inviting the children as they played in their yards, and creating excitement amongst the community! Bible School began on Monday. Each day, more children attended. Our contest encouraged us to invite others and to memorize Bible verses. The top prizes were a plaque and a fishing pole!

By the time the Friday night program took place, all the children knew who had the most points – who would win the plaque. Her name was Linda Crum, and she was a “whiz” with Bible verses. She had a “gift of gab” and could recite those verses better than anyone I’d ever heard! We also knew who came in second place–me! Although I didn’t come close to Linda Crum’s colossal number of points, I was a strong second. I’d worked throughout the week, inviting many children and learning many Bible verses, and I looked forward to the second choice of the prizes – the fishing pole. I knew Linda well enough to know that she had no interest in the fishing pole. She was sure to pick the plaque. And she did! The Friday evening program ended. Linda Crum had been announced as the winner; she had her plaque in hand, but nothing had been said about a second place. The fishing pole was still in place at the front of the church. Of course, I was heartbroken. I shared my disappointment with my mother who explained to me that Rev. Lindner had never announced there would be a second place. He had simply offered two choices for the top place winner. As we turned to leave the church, Rev. Lindner called me up front. He offered me the fishing pole as the second place prize. I was elated!

Evidently someone had  let Rev. Lindner know that I had been working all week for the fishing pole, and he was compassionate enough to care about a little girl’s desires. Looking back on that summer Bible School, I find his compassion to be similar to the compassion the Lord has shown me: a compassion that offers me the “desires of my heart.”

Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (NIV)

 

I hear the Master whisper . . .

I drive past it nearly every day, on my way somewhere. Today, though, I pull over and park my car in the lot, now overlaid with weeds. I look at the church – an unkempt building that has been empty for many years now – and I listen. No music flows through its closed windows.  No children laugh or play on the rotted teeter-totter in its side yard. No pastor  preaches from its pulpit. Instead, I hear the sounds of the country – the birds, the leaves kissing the breeze, a tractor in the distance,

and I’m remembering the past,

and I’m missing my old church,

and I’m hearing the Master whisper . . .

It was a beautiful old country church in its day. I remember it with fondness. Huge double doors opened into a contrasting small foyer. Tall, stained glass windows – four on each side – adorned its structure. Reposed on the side of a gravel road in a typical country church setting , near a creek and down a hill from the cemetery bearing the same name – Dayburg. Dayburg Baptist Church was a stable, element in my life. It is where Daddy and Mama met; where they married; where they faithfully served the Lord; where they raised their family to grow in the Lord; and where later, Ron and I were married.

1962 DA Wayne Bday with SS kids
Daddy and his High School Youth Group (along with my little sister, Becky!)
(Early 60’s)
1961 EA Margie and Alice SS party
Mama with her Sunday School Class
(Party – Early 60’s)

Choir002On Sunday mornings, my brother, Larry, and I joined other neighborhood children, each of us lidded in white capes with little black bow ties – altogether composing our little choir. Throughout the preceding week, my mama and Ethyl, her friend and neighbor, had prepared the capes. I remember watching Mama sprinkle each cape with water and starch and roll it up, placing it with the others in a basket. Later, she unrolled each on her ironing board and pressed it with a hot iron, the steam rising like little clouds of praise to the Lord. By Sunday morning,  a dozen or more of these stiff little mantles hung on wire hangers, neatly separated, smallest to largest, at the bottom of the stairway to the church basement. Marsha, the pianist, pounded out the introduction; then we marched down the aisle, two-by-two, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I always wondered what “war” we were “marching as to”! God was opening my little heart to His Word and will.

 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ Matt. 19:14

Potluck dinner was held in the basement of the church on the first Wednesday night of each month,. We went early, as Daddy and Mama always helped set up and clean up from every church activity. When we entered, the basement felt damp and smelled a bit musty, but soon, the stone-walled room was filled with the scent of  meat loaves, banana nut bread, and homemade noodles. “Hooray for the Noodles!” Delores cheered, as Gramps came down the steps, carrying the green Pyrex mixing bowl, filled to the brim with Nana’s homemade noodles. Gramps and Nana were a lovely couple from the neighborhood who lived in a huge white house surrounded by even larger dark-green-leafed shade trees. Gramps was unquestionably faithful in his church attendance and service to the Lord, and I remember Nana for her faithfulness in making the noodles for the monthly potluck. And we did love those noodles!

 Gramps was the oldest man in our church. He was a beautiful man – inside and out – with solid white hair and a radiant glow on his face. I observed that brilliance every time he spoke or prayed and especially when he sang “Will There Be Any Stars in my Crown.” He sang loudly and off-key, and I loved every measure and stanza, eyeing him from the side, my little mind imagining Gramps wearing the crown he would one day receive in heaven!

Now there is in store for [Gramps] the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award on that day. 2 Timothy 4:8

Maude and Dessa were sisters, both widowed, who lived together just two houses from the church. I thought they were as old as a person can possibly be. On Sunday mornings, Maude fired up her old car. It was still sputtering and backfiring when she pulled in the church yard. Maude was another who sang out of tune, and being quite deaf, she also sang loudly. But we all loved Maude and we all cherished her singing!

 I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Psalm 104:33

One Sunday morning, Dessa had prepared the communion wine, which in our church was always actually grape juice. As the communion cups passed our pew, I saw tiny cups full of the oddest looking, thickest communion juice I’d ever seen (in my few years)! I looked strangely at Mama beside me, who gave me “the eye” not to say anything about it or make a fuss. Later Mama told me that the grape juice was homemade by Maude and Dessa – from the small grape arbor on their property. It was just another commonplace occurrence in our little country church!

When the people are gathered together . . . to serve the Lord. Psalm 102:22 KJV

 On Thursday nights, prayer meeting was held at the church. Mama often took me with her. I sat beside her, or knelt beside her, on the merciless, hard wooden floor as she and others prayed. During those prayer meetings I was exposed to great depths within the hearts of Mama and our neighbor ladies – pangs of anguish, burdens for others – passions I hadn’t imagined could possibly exist in their common lives. Through my observations, the Lord began to develop a sense of compassion within me – of understanding and empathy for others. And years later, I became the recipient of similar compassion from others.

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8

My greatest memories of the church, however, were those of summertime.

In the summer, the tall stained glass single-hung windows were opened all the way, allowing the breeze to enter the west windows, circulate the open sanctuary, and exit through the east windows. It felt cool to me when we arrived for Sunday School at 10 am, but by noon, the large room was warm and stuffy.

We all seemed to sit in the same pews every Sunday – a trait I’ve since found to be commonplace, even in the largest of churches. When I was young, our family sat near the back on the left side.

Ethyl’s husband, Frank, sat on the right side of the sanctuary, about half way up the aisle, at the east end of the pew, closest to an open window. Frank was a big man in a plaid shirt and coveralls. He rarely spoke at church. If I hadn’t known Frank, I probably would have been frightened of him, but his kind heart and friendly smile made me feel comfortable. We all loved Frank. I always thought Frank sat closest to that window so he could feel a breeze as he snoozed during the sermon, but perhaps it was because that window provided him the closest view to his nearby farm, and a farmer is most comfortable on his farm. Frank had come to Michigan from Iowa, and he farmed with a big old Oliver.

220px-Oliver60RowCrop1944

The tractor looked huge to me – big man, big tractor. I assumed he was a big-time farmer, but Frank was really just a small-time farmer, eking out a living by doing what he loved most.

Ethyl, on the other hand, was outgoing and talkative. She taught Sunday School. Her Christian testimony was evident to me, but I never heard Frank’s testimony – never heard him speak about the Lord. For a very long time, Frank sat in our church and during that time,  the Lord God was actually doing the farming – planting the seed in Frank’s heart; watering; nurturing. Then years later, shortly before his death, Frank  accepted the Lord Jesus as his Savior. The Lord God made  farmer Frank; the Lord God loved farmer Frank; and the Lord God graciously saved farmer Frank.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

One hot summer day, during Vacation Bible School (VBS), Reverend Lindner taught us children about Jesus – his birth, his ministry, and his death on the cross. It became real; the Lord’s suffering was for me!  I remember the courage it took to stay after the lesson while others went to their classes and craft time, but I didn’t question it. Jesus had called me, and I prayed and accepted Him as my Savior that summer day. Many children responded to the gospel message throughout the week of Vacation Bible School.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  John 1:12

The old country church – this is where I met Jesus!

And later that summer, the congregation walked from the little country church, the short distance to the creek, where I was baptized.

Confessing . . . they were [Kathi was] baptized by him in the Jordan River [in this case, Hog Creek!] Matthew 3:6

vbs bus 2Reverend Lindner was a missionary with Rural Bible Mission. During the school year, he was welcomed into the public schools and taught children Bible stories. In the summer, he led Vacation Bible Schools  throughout the county. The week before VBS, he drove the country roads, a portable PA system attached to the roof of his car, and called out to children, inviting them to the local Bible School. It was a week we children eagerly anticipated. Then he drove a bus, picking up any child, anywhere, who needed a ride. It was one of the greatest weeks of the summer! Of course, during VBS, contests were offered, encouraging us to invite other children, so I analyzed the neighborhood, and devised a strategy: I would invite the families with the most children! Supianoski’s had the most children – seven, I believe – but they were Catholic and not interested in attending our Baptist Vacation Bible School. Next in number were the Strauss families: one family had six children – another had five. I invited them all. Some summers they attended. Other summers they did not. Sometimes, they also attended our Sunday School.vbs 1

Years later, one of those girls, Theresa, shared something with me – something I had never realized as a child. She said that as a young girl, the only place Theresa felt comfortable and safe was in that country church. Little did I know  that her childhood home was filled with hatred and abuse from a cruel father. Dayburg Baptist Church was a haven to her. The seed, planted in her heart during those early years by the Master of farming,  later led Theresa to place her faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop . . . the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart [this is my friend, Theresa], who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:8

Today, as I sit in the parking lot of the old country church and contemplate the memories it brings, I know that the old building was and still is just a shell. The people were the church that I remember. And people still make up the church – throughout this community, throughout this nation, and throughout the world. I am the church. The other children who responded to the gospel are the church.  And Theresa is the church.

Mama and Daddy, along with Frank and Ethyl, Maude and Dessa, and Reverend Lindner, are all in heaven now. Gramps, too, and he wears his crown. His face is more radiant than ever, and he sings in perfect harmony!

Today, in the quiet abandoned church parking lot, along with the sounds of the country – the birds, the leaves kissing the breeze, and a tractor in the distance, I hear a whisper. It’s the Master whispering to them, His people,

Well done, thou good and faithful servants. Matthew 25:21

Then I start my car , back out onto the country road, and drive away, hearing Him whisper to me,

Go now, Kathi.  Be the church!”