Nearly every summer of my childhood, my family made the drive from Portland to Caldwell to visit my Grandparents. They lived on a farm that overlooked the Snake River. The only house within sight was that of my Aunt Opal and Uncle Cliff. Some of my happiest childhood memories were of being there. Time seemed to slow down. There was “nothing” to do that we didn’t create ourselves. And it was glorious. The tire swing in the back yard could be a space ship, and running horse, or simply the best way to fly if you didn’t come equipped with your own wings. At Grandpa and Grandmas, my imagination had long hours to roam free.
Since our annual conference was held in Boise this year, I decided to see if I could find the old home place. Back in the day, the road didn’t have a name—just a postal road designation. Now, it was called Plum Road. I wondered if that meant the land would be covered with housing developments. When my friend Judy and I turned off the highway, I was relieved to discover that there was still farm land spreading out in all directions. There was also a sign that proclaimed we were now entering Idaho wine country.
Back in the day, we used to drive by a lot of acres planted in hops, alfalfa, potatoes and beets—but no vineyards. It took a few false turns to get my bearing. But I finally found a hill that looked familiar, and the view of the river that I remembered. As I drove around the final curve, there was a wine press standing on what used to be part of my grandparent’s crop land. And then, there it was.
Everything was smaller than I remembered it.
The yard. The house. The driveway. Even the river.
The lush green lawn that my grandfather cultivated and was so proud of was gone. Someone had recently mowed the weeds around the house down, but there was not a whisper of green to be seen. Grandpa used to flood the yard with irrigation water—and running barefooted through it was like running on deep pile carpeting. He would flood it for us when we visited—and my sister and I had a giant wading pool to play in.
The yard had seemed enormous through the eyes of my childhood. Could it have really been that small all along? The house was tiny. I remember its floorplan well. Even then, I knew it wasn’t a large house—but it was perfect in every way. The floor slanted, making it possible to roll marbles from one end of the house to the other. But that was just part of its charm. And now, it was just a tiny, decaying house. By current standards, the farm house was not nearly large enough to raise three children in, or house six extra guests for weeks at a time. But it was enough back then.
It was hard to see my childhood holy ground in such a state. But I am glad I went to see it. It reminded me of days filled with play and imagination and freedom from worry. (I worried a lot as a child—it prepared me to be an excellent worrier later in life.) My visit also gave me an opportunity to examine my story—our stories. Are the things I remember “factual?” Not entirely. Were my memories “true?” Definitely.
The farm was a place of “being” over “doing” all through my childhood. It was a moment in my life that provided a kind of Holy Emptiness. Room to breathe. Room to stop. It grounded me. There was even enough room for growing my soul. And it created a space for stories.
All summers should have space like that. I am so glad to have my grandparent’s farm as a landmark in my story. It gave me a safe place to just be myself—and nurture my imagination. I hope each of us can find a place like that this summer—a place to be ourselves, to imagine, to soar in the tire swing of our daydreams and just be. And I look forward to hearing our stories.
Blessings, Pastor Nancy
So, I was wrong. Sorry about that. On Mother’s Day I gave you some inaccurate information.
I mentioned that Father’s Day was a late addition to the national calendar—which is true—but the earliest Father’s Day Sunday actually goes back to the early 20th century. There are several stories surrounding this special day, but the one I will go with, since it has a Northwest connection, is about a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington. In 1909, she was listening to a sermon on Mother’s Day, and felt the absence of a parallel Sunday for fathers–and for good reason. Her own father had been a civil war veteran, who after his wife died in childbirth, raised their six children on his own. A number of attempts were made to bring this to national attention, but it was not until 1972 that her efforts finally succeeded.
(I know how much you all love my pastoral hegiras into cultural trivia.) Anyway. Happy Father’s Day! This week, Mike will be in the pulpit for Part II of his “Good Story” sermons. I will be finishing up Annual Conference in Boise, and then taking a day to explore some family roots. My maternal grandparents farmed in the Caldwell area, and some of my most cherished memories of childhood have their roots there.
My dad died a few years ago, so for me this day brings bittersweet memories of our times together. Dad was of the old school. After high school, he went in the Merchant Marines, and then the Army. It was at the tail end of World War II. When he got home, he went to work. He never went to college. He didn’t wear a suit to the office. He worked hard and long to provide for his family. He came home tired, and with grease stained hands. Like many men of his generation, he was steady, loyal and dependable. He was a good dad. But it never occurred to him that he should be a caregiver, playmate, or confidant. But then again, neither did anyone else. We lived in a working-class neighborhood. The pattern of family life was much the same in every house.
On weekends, dads worked in the yard, summer evenings meant barbeques (which was a “blue” job!) As the sun began to slant toward dusk, the moms stood at screen doors calling in kids from playing kick the can, or softball in the vacant lot across the street. The dads would be sitting on webbed chairs out on the lawn with some of the other neighborhood dads, catching up on sports and drinking a cold one.
The job description for dads has changed dramatically since then. Dads have a much higher profile and job description. You can see dads out solo with baby strollers, at the doctor’s office, and even staying home to care for hearth and home while their spouses work. I like seeing dads taking a more active role in nurturing and caring for their kids. But, our dads did okay.
My dad could fix anything. He took the girls of the family on long Sunday drives in the country. The times when we had dad and daughter times were some of the most memorable of my childhood. And when he held my hand, well, that was just the best. I felt absolutely safe. Nothing in the world could touch us to do harm.
So, this week, as we remember our dads, as we celebrate this new generation of super-dads from whom so much is expected, I just want to say “thanks.” Thanks for showing up. Thanks for all the things that you have been and done that create strong, creative, and competent children. We may look at things a bit differently now, but the love is still the same, no matter the job description.
Blessings. Pastor Nancy
I was working away at the office the other day, when I suddenly realized I was humming “If you’re happy and you know it.” It seemed appropriate. We have a happy office. We don’t always clap our hands, but there is just something about the energy of our office that creates happy and creative space.
I can always tell when Chris is happy. He rearranges, organizes, creates new formats for documents and updates our webpage and newsletter. If you have been in the office lately, you might notice that he has been an especially happy camper lately. I think we make a pretty good team.
My nearest and dearest know that when I am happy, I hum. If they notice a prolonged period of time when I am not humming, they start to worry. I am not always aware of what I am humming, but there is a certain logic to it and appears to have a connection to something I am pondering or going on in my life. For many years, whenever Mike and I are going through an especially sweet time in our relationship, I invariably hum: “I’m an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grand.” I have no idea why this is the case. But, whenever Mike hears me start in on that particular tune, he joins along when I get to “Yippe Ki Yo Ki Yay.”
I have other repertoire, depending on the occasion: Beach boys tend to show up on vacation; Vivaldi creeps in when I am driving those lonely stretches of highway. Sometimes it feels random, and at other times it seems to suit the occasion perfectly. It is a bit like having a private sound track for my life. I don’t consciously choose the song, it isn’t something I have heard on the radio and then can’t get into my head: The music just bubbles up. There are times when I don’t realize how I am feeling about something, until I listen to what I am humming.
Pretty quirky, eh? But over the years, I have come to consider it a gift. My “inner” self is talking to my “outer” self. Sometimes in prayer, sometimes in playfulness, sometimes with driving rhythms and high energy, other times in meditative quiet. The music comes when I am feeling most present to God, my life and those I love.
What do you do when you are happy?
Chris creates order. Pastor Nancy hums. Mina takes a picture. Mike works with wood.
Or as someone else once sang: I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. His Eye is on the Sparrow. So, I know he watches me. Or if all else fails—you can always clap your hands—after all, happiness can be contagious!
Blessings, Pastor Nancy
Our June 2018 Newsletter is up and ready for you to take a look at!! Just click the link below and enjoy all the happenings here at Madras UMC!!