I just heard the school bus stop across the street with its squeaky brakes. At about 7:30 in the morning, the boys (there are no girls in our neighborhood at that age) gather in front of the house that has two boys living there, and hop onto the bus for what is now the second week of school. I always hated starting school in August. I know there are some schools in Texas and such that begin about the first week of August, which in my book is totally ridiculous. Of course, school used to start in September because those boys that hopped on the bus this morning would have been on farms, helping with the harvest, and there was no time for something as uneconomical as going to school. When The Happenings (remember that rock group dynamic!) sang “See You in September,” in 1966, they had it right. When we lived in Rapid City, the school year could only begin after Labor Day. The reason there, of course, was to drain all the tourism dollars possible before Fall set in, and everything seemed to change.
So, there are a number of beginnings for the season of Autumn. According to the sun, the autumnal equinox – when that instant of time brings the earth and sun into a special alignment, as the center of the visible Sun is directly above the equator. It happens this year on September 22, where the day and night is the same, and the sun sits directly east and west. Far different than for us in the north land, when in December, and the solstice comes, we barely see the sun at all, as it peeks above the horizon on the shortest daylight of the year.
But when the equinox comes, in terms of astronomy, it heralds in Autumn, although for many of us north of the Mason/Dixon line, by then, the leaves will already be changing, and even falling. Still, it’s a good measurement.
Meteorological Fall, on the other hand, is ushered in on September 1. It’s a good marking point for what is probably the end of the hottest months of the year, at least in the northern hemisphere. We will see the daily highs and lows start to fall pretty quickly, and talks of sweaters and hayrides and pumpkin spice lattes will fill our conversation. This morning, as I have my window open, enjoying the 58 degrees outside, I also hear the deafening sound of Canadian geese, doing practice flights over our house. There are two fairly large bodies of water to the east and west, and those goofball birds fly about 30 feet above the ground, honking like they are in a California traffic jam. Pretty soon, they will get organized, and whoever is in charge – Big Shot Goose – will start heading south, and they all will follow. Fall is coming.
I used to really dread the Fall season. For my entire life, since age 5, Fall meant being trapped in school after the summer of running wild. That was the case through 12 years of public school, three years of college, and another four years of seminary. Every fall meant the same thing. I remember looking forward to finally being done with my education, and being able to enjoy Fall.
Silly me. In the ministry, whether local church or at the conference level, Fall meant the revving up (pardon the pun) of all the ministries and activities that had taken a break after the last Sunday in May. Sunday school, youth groups, bible Studies, two or three worship services on Sunday, committee meetings and on and on and on. When I began to work a step away from the local church, I found that Fall meant another huge surge of programs and planning events and one-on-one conversations with more than 50 clergy, and then charge conferences which stretched from the end of September to December, filling every week with thousands of miles of driving, and hotel rooms, and marginal meals, and the expectation that I would bring the answer, the key to all the struggling churches, how they could simply turn their church around and be vital once again. The only good thing about that schedule is that when December indeed came around, the churches were too busy with Advent and Christmas to want a superintendent or a conference staff member entering into the picture.
And then it happened. 42 Autumnal equinoxes later, I woke up on the last day of August last year… and was retired. That, along with the pandemic, meant that instead of working seven days/week and driving 3500 miles a month, it all became far quieter. Almost peaceful, one could say…
And while we are coming to the very end of Summer today, and I will miss the heat and the liveliness of the season, my calendar remains my own, as I fill it with things that interest me, and that I enjoy, as I live in this “fourth life,” enjoying what God brings to me to do, and for me to explore. It’s quite a freedom.
I hope and pray that whatever stage you find yourself in life, that you will be able to take the time to acknowledge the changing of the seasons, and today, especially, the last day of Summer.
Word for the day: bel-esprit. Pronounced bell-eh-SPREE. Of course, the way it sounds, and even is written, calls us to think French. Before that, however, we find spiritus, the Latin for “spirit, or presence.” Bel is always tied to “beautiful,” so in Latin, it means, “beautiful spirit.” In the early 1800s, however, esprit meant “mind, or intellect,” instead of spirit. The phrase commonly became known as a beautiful mind, or a person with great wit or intellect. We’ve all known persons who seem to always bring a liveliness to conversation, and a certain vivacity to a room. Of course, it should always be a phrase that one uses to describe another person in a complimentary light. It’s just kind of rude, and even arrogant, to claim this title for yourself. You’re not that smart… nor am I…
Or actually, the proper English, where a preposition is not left hanging, would be, “From Where did They Come?” Sounds a bit snooty for upper Midwest talk. Kind of reminiscent of Winston Churchill, who was a great defender of the King’s English, when he said to his housekeeper, “There are certain things up with which I will not put.”
But I digress. The “they” in the question, of course, are squirrels. Why not talk about them on a bright Monday morning? The fact is, we have been living in this house for more than six years now, and up until this summer, a squirrel sighting was a rare occurrence. Kind of like seeing a unicorn. You know they are somewhere, but just not in your yard…
That all changed this Spring. It was as if their little squirrel visas were finally approved, and an entire population of the little mammals started pouring into our neighborhood. We’ve always had a lot of birds, but rarely a squirrel. That’s all changed. When we sit out in the backyard, or I look out my office window to the street, or drive down the street (slowly now, so as to save the population from having to hold a little squirrel funeral…), there is always a squirrel, or squirrels, or lots of squirrels to be seen. The neighborhood has been here since the early 1990s, and only now are we developing into a parkland, it seems. I expect next the deer, bears, and timberwolves will find their way.
Everywhere I have lived, or even visited around the world, I’ve seen squirrels in action. They all must be wearing pedometers, and signed up for cash incentives through their little squirrel health plans, because those critters never stop moving! I did a little research and found out they can run up to 20mph if need be, and always run in a zigzag, furtive pattern. They can also leap 10 times their own body length, and can actually fall 30 feet without getting hurt – and it’s all done without helmets, I must add.
A squirrel’s natural life expectancy is 5-10 years. I’m not sure if they calculate that based on the study of squished squirrels as they try to cross a four lane street – I expect the survival statistics are pretty slight, at least from my observance. They are born blind, like many little furry animals, but their front teeth never stop growing – that is, until they meet with a car… They can actually find food until a foot of snow, which is good, because they are one of those forest and field animals that doesn’t hibernate. Although, as much as they bury food for later, about 25% of that food is stolen by other squirrels. Of course, each squirrel is probably guilty of theft, and it may just be that the reason they bury so much food is not so they will find it later, but that some squirrel somewhere will be able to eat from the nut buffet.
Apparently they are intelligent little critters, and can figure out a number of solutions to, basically, getting the next load of food, which are normally nuts or fruit. The word squirrel is from the Greek, meaning “shadow tail.” I’m pretty sure they are in the minority when it comes to fluffy tails that matter (not like a rabbit’s tail, which is pretty worthless, if you ask me…).
My closest encounter with a squirrel happened when I was in 8th grade, and we were living in Omaha. We had a huge ravine behind our backyard, a perfect place to explore all sorts of “stuff.” One day my brother Ray talked me into going with him and collecting bird nests from the big trees that ran through the entire ravine. The process was that he would spot the nest, I would shimmy up the tree, and bring or toss the nest down to Ray. Looking back, I can’t imagine the number of creepy crawly things in those nests, but we were boys, and it was part of our nature.
We came to one tree, and there was a huge nest in the fork of the tree about 25 feet up. At this point, you have to realize that, although we were adventurous, we were not informed when it came to what creature might inhabit what nest. They were all bird’s nests, as far as we were concerned. I shimmied up the tree, feeling the wind blowing sideways across my tentative grip. When I got to the nest, I proceeded to try to lift it, but it was pretty heavy. As I finally freed it, and lifted it over my head, at that moment, shooting out of the nest like a bazooka was a very unhappy grey squirrel! I watched him float down through the sky, safe within the 30-foot falling range. Everything stopped for a moment, and then I came to the realization that the squirrel that left may not have been alone…
I shoved the nest back into the fork of the tree, and I expect I would have been on the medal stand in the Olympics if they had an event called, “Getting Down from the Tree After Ticking off an Angry Squirrel.” I have to say that ended our bird’s nest foray…
But the squirrels are in our neighborhood, apparently for keeps, each one looking like it had finished its fourth cup of double expresso with no cream. They are fun to watch, and provide a reminder to me that I really don’t “own” any part of nature. It’s not my giant maple in the front yard, or my shrubs and bushes – the squirrels share them with me, as together we try to find a nice way to live together. And I always keep the brake pedal handy as I move through the neighborhood. Just in case.
God blesses us with sights and sounds and scenes every day, if we are intentionally open enough to allow ourselves to be surprised, or to notice what is not always evident, and yet still lives beside us. It’s a great gift. Just leave the nests alone…
Word for the day: extrapolate. Pronounced ek-STRAP-oh-late. We hear this word used most often in scientific calculations, or when we talk about economics (so, we don’t use it often.). Breaking the word down, it comes from Latin, extra, meaning “outside,” and interpolate, which is “to alter, or polish up.” Further broken down, inter means “among or between” and polare/polire means “to smooth or polish.”
The word melded into an action far more than shining something up, however. The sense was that, whatever it was, you would take the raw material, and work and manipulate it to discover a future possibility. Another way to say it is that it’s a big guess, where we draw a conclusion about the future based on the present. In the 1862 Harvard study, extrapolate was defined as “to make an approximate calculation by inferring known values from trends in the known data.” In other words – a big guess.
After Dad got back from a year in Vietnam and Thailand, we of course were very curious about where he would be assigned. Mom and Dad had moved us to Omaha for the year, to be close to extended family, and it was simple logic to think that Air Force would assign him to SAC (Strategic Air Command) headquarters at Offutt AFB on the south side of Omaha. Sure made sense to me. Only trouble was, Dad was in TAC (Tactical Air Command), which dealt more with fighters and reconnaissance than heavy bombers like SAC controlled. The first place it seemed he was going to go was Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, in TAC. Trouble was, it was to work with the F11 fighter bombers, which, with their swing wing design, spent a lot of time crashing in the Nevada desert. Not a great choice.
So, Dad transferred to SAC, in hopes of the Omaha assignment. Here is where the military leadership gets a bit whacked. After spending most of his entire career in places like South Carolina (warm), Australia (nice and warm), back to South Carolina (still warm), and then Vietnam and Thailand (crazy hot), when he transferred commands, they noticed that early in his training, he had gone through bomber navigator school, and that sealed the deal. They would send him and the entire Cross family… to Grand Forks AFB in the northern tundra. It was sad – even our pastor in Nebraska burst out laughing when Mom told him where we were moving to. He said, “You’ll understand…”
And so we became North Dakotans, of a sort. In 1970, the base was located on the site of an alkali marsh, 15 miles from Grand Forks. The winters were ghastly for Dad, with way below zero temps, tons of snow, and when it blew, it mixed with the loose topsoil and created “snirt.” He had a Volkswagen beetle that struggled to start on those cold days. Not happy.
As well, with seven children, and his rank pretty high, he and Mom were able to pick out the housing on base they wanted, and, true to Dad’s nature, he selected a corner lot, with a massive side lawn – I mean, really huge. Now, Dad was an avid lawn tender, but with such a huge side lawn, there was no way to water it all. Of course, our summers were met with long-term drought, and after a few spring rains to green things up, summer would come and only allow stinking cockleburs to grow. Being old enough, us boys were tasked with mowing the acreage with our trusty 20” mower, which took a couple of hours every week, even though all we were mowing was scrub and dirt. Still, Air Force regulations extended to the way in which everyone kept up their lawn, even if it wasn’t growing. I have to say that after four years, when they moved and I went to college, I didn’t even wave goodbye to the beast of a field.
I really am getting to the point of this column. Hang in there. Fast forward through the past 48 years, and after college and seminary, Cheri and I were appointed to churches with pretty nice parsonages, and good sized lawns. They even threw in their own 20” mower that usually was purchased by the church 15-20 years before. I learned how to mow lawns different from my dad’s experience. He liked to mow every blade as if he were doing the finishing of a putting green. Short – ridiculously short – which meant it burned up quickly in the summer heat, if tons of water weren’t poured on it. I finally figured out that the grass looked just as wonderful if it were taller, but even. It didn’t need as much water, and it stayed pretty green, even when things got dry. I thought I had discovered the secret.
Fast forward again to this summer, when it rained about an inch in May, and then the spigot just got turned off. No rain. I’ve written before about having to hand over to the City of Fargo hundreds of dollars to run our sprinkler system, but by the middle of June, I gave up, and decided it was time for it to just go dormant.
Week after week, with no rain, the lawn, especially in the back where we don’t have a huge maple tree to shade it like we do in the front, the grass simply got browner and browner. I had to keep telling myself, and my beloved wife, that, no, the grass wasn’t dead – it was only sleeping. It sounded a bit like scripture from the Bible telling us that the dead weren’t really dead, and that they would rise when the trumpet blew on the last day. Our grass wasn’t rising. It was toasting, like an English muffin set on dark in the toaster…
All the way through June, and July, and August, the burn continued. I took solace in the lawns in the neighborhood that took the same approach, as all of them were various shades of brown. Of course, there were always those smarty pants, with more money than common sense, that watered their lawns nearly every morning, and had them looking like they were in Ireland during the rainy season. Still, it was the principle of the thing, and next year would be better.
Fast forward to last Thursday. The forecast had actually predicted a slight chance of precipitation, with the chance growing over the beginning of the weekend. Now, I often take the weather report like someone promising to give you a pet pony. It could happen, but more often, it seems we are just left with what the pony left behind… However, Thursday afternoon, there were rumbles in the distance, and by the time I picked Cheri up from work, it was a nice solid rain coming down. You could hear the lawn and all the bushes around the house sucking in the moisture as it fell.
And it fell. And fell. And continued to fall all through Thursday night, and into Friday with a full day of solid rain, and then again yesterday, it seemed every time I looked outside, more raindrops were falling on the driveway. I happily rearranged our menu for the week, and didn’t grill out. I didn’t want to get in the way of the rain.
It seemed last night that things finally had quit, but when we woke up this morning, everything was soaked once again, even though the sun was shining for the first time in three days. Another big storm came through in the night, bringing our total rainfall since Thursday to just over two inches of rain. Now, besides our lawn, the introduction of a couple of inches of rain to the hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland up and down the valley was probably worth well over $100 million in restored crops, just at the right time, with the wheat harvest over, and the beans and beets and potatoes and corn all needing what was offered.
As Cheri and I sat out on the back patio this morning, enjoying a cup of coffee, I looked over to what all summer had been the bleakest, brownest, driest part of the lawn, and to my surprise, after just three days, it was more green than brown! Back from the brink, and with the 95 degrees days gone for the rest of the year, it’ll grow nicely once again in 79 degree sunshine.
It’s amazing what God provides in due time. Yes, there are times when I am terribly impatient, and my faith shrivels up like grass with no deep roots. However, in due time, in the nick of time, or maybe a little bit afterwards, it rains again. The world is refreshed and brightens up a bit, at least here. Now, I know even this morning, New Orleans is battened up and waiting for the hurricane, and other folks in middle Tennessee, and some up north, are trying to cope with the overwhelming amount of water that fell and rushed into their lives. I pray God’s on them, and for strength to build again.
But for us, in our land at the end of August, we breath the cool, moist air, and know that just the right amount at just the right time, has brought a renewed bit of life to our part of the earth. As we wait for winter, and wonder what that will bring…
Word for the day: eldritch. Pronounced ELL-drich. I could have saved this for Halloween, but it’s a fascinating word. It comes from Middle English, more than 500 years ago, when it was believed that the world was occupied by otherworldly beings along side of us. The word was originally elfriche, where you find the smaller word, elf. The word means “fairyland.” When we sense with that sense that goes beyond logic and common sense, and we feel something eerie, or weird or spooky, we are having an eldritch moment. I’ll leave to you the thought of whether it’s real or not…
Well, on another beautiful rainy morning here in the Dakotas, with a heavy week just past in terms of news and tragedy, I thought we’d take some time and look back at Today in History. Actually, in terms of proper logic and English, Today in History is only today – we are much more accurate if we were to call it “Things that happened on a similar date in a year in the past.” Or even, “Things that happened on different August 28ths in History.” But that takes too long, so here we go:
1676 – King Philip, the Indian Chief Metalom, was killed by English soldiers, as they battled between the English and the native Americans.
1833 – Britain abolishes slavery.
1837 – John Lea and William Perrins manufactured Worchester sauce, of course, in Worchester. Chex Party Mix in the future thanks them for their service…
1898 – Caleb Brodham names his new soft drink “Pepsi-Cola.”
1938 – Northwestern University in Chicago bestows an honorary degree of “Master of Innuendo and Snappy Comeback” to Charlie McCarthy, ventriloquist dummy for Edgar Bergen. Who says higher education funds are wasted?
1973 – both “The Monster Mash” and “Smoke on the Water” go gold.
1980 – (41 years ago) the first MRI was used.
1963 – Martin Luther King offers his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
2005 – Hurricane Katrina hits category 5, and the Superdome is opened as a hurricane shelter. 16 years later – today and this weekend, another hurricane is expected to hit New Orleans.
There are actually dozens more important, and no so important goings on during other August 28s, but apparently the world is a busy place at the end of August.
By the way, it’s also a date that holds the birthdays of lots of mostly famous people:
Gene Shalit – 93
Gloria Steinem – 85
Anita Bryant – 79
Elton John – 72
Marcia Cross (like the last name) – 57
Sarah Jessica Parker – 54
And Danica Patrick, retired race car driver – 37. By the way, it must be nice to retire at that age…
Of course, today is far more significant than everything we have registered and remembered above. You know where I am heading: today – this day – is the day the Lord has made. It is a unique moment in time – no other date will contain all that will happen in your life today. Other days may be similar, as we blend time into each other, but the words, the actions, the thoughts, the ideas, the victories and the failures are exclusive to today. Tomorrow carries its own, and yesterday is already in the history books.
Today. What will be your legacy of August 28, 2021? How will you begin well, and finish well this unique 24-hour space of time? Of course, it is yours to waste, and to just fritter away with things that don’t matter, or worse, with things that destroy or cause pain or keep a grudge heated up. Today can be the day when you truly do bring something horrible to this earth…
Or, today – you can intend, on purpose, to rejoice and be glad that God has made this day, and presented it to you for your care, and your own imagination. This could possibly be the finest day of your life! This could be a day that will go down in history – as the world records what marvelous thing came to pass by your hand. The simple truth is that it is up to you, and, again, your intentional life, or whether you will just live careening through the day accidentally, with no purpose, no focus, no aim, or that you would fill it up with things that don’t matter, that are not lasting, or that hobble the future, instead of freeing it to be created as another truly holy gift from God.
Your choice. Choose wisely, but choose. Blessings to you today, and each day.
Word for the day: sinistrality. Pronounced sin-ess-STRAWL-ih-tee. I’ve actually known this word for decades. You see, I am sinister. The Latin, sinister, is translated simply, “left, or left-handed.” Nothing wrong about that, of course, until you lay on top of the simple definition centuries of bias handed out by right-handers! Even the “ambidextrous,” is specifically translated as the ability to use both of your right hands. Whereas something or someone sinister is evil, or unable to be trusted, or “underhanded,” as when someone is given a left-handed compliment, or such. In all the sensitive developments of how words hurt others, this one never gets mentioned, except for people to believe that the left-hand is the wicked one, the one unable to be trusted. Pretty sad, when you realize that everyone is born left-handed. True! They only turn right-handed after their first sin…
I was in third grade, living with hardly a care in my life, as a resident of Shaw Air Force Base. One afternoon, I came home from school, and Mom was very sad. Of course, I asked her what was wrong, and she said that a family who also lived in base housing, about a half block away, was going to have to move. Now, moving is the first thing you learn as a military dependent – either you are moving, because (at that time) you dad got reassigned to a new base, or your friends were moving for the same reason in their family. The Officer’s Club on base would have monthly Hail and Farewell events, where newcomers to the base were welcomed, and those getting ready to be moved were recognized.
I asked Mom what new base they were going to, and she said that no, they weren’t going to any base. The father/husband of the family had been on TDY (short for temporary duty), and was flying on a reconnaissance mission over Vietnam, and their plane was shot down, and he was killed in action. Since there was no military personnel alive in that family, they were going to have to move back to their grandparent’s home until they could get established in civilian life.
Now, on a military base, the great majority of people living there are pretty young, and outside of experiencing my grandfather’s death, I never knew of anyone who died – the chaplains did way more baptisms and weddings than funerals at the Chapel. The idea of a parent dying this way was kind of shocking to me, since I knew Dad, as a navigator, flew thousands of miles and tons of missions, but always came home and sat at his comfortable chair in the living room, enjoying a bowl of ice cream. To think that very same thing could happen to him and his crew was scary, to say the least.
Imagine how it felt, then, when three years later, we had to move to Omaha to be near our family, while Dad took on the new assignment -- PCS (permanent change of station) – to Pleiku, Vietnam for a year.
Now, I’m not saying the only way military personnel die is in combat. There are of course accidents around the deadly and lethal equipment they handle, and there is the same percentage of disease that affects them, sometimes fatally. But it still is a shock, and a deep sadness when someone who commits their life, and the lives of their families to protect and defend the United States ends up losing that life. It’s just sad.
We live in a horribly messy and dangerous world. Even on the best of days, the possibility exists for pain and injury and death to come. Yesterday was one of those “worst” days for us as a nation. Perhaps you have followed the developments around our national effort to leave Afghanistan after 20 years of warfare and efforts to maintain the peace. I’m not the least bit interested in getting into the politics or the execution of the plan. We can leave that to the time when we can have a conversation face to face.
But yesterday – as the young and vital members of our military took on the important mission of getting folks to safety and out of the country, as thousands crowded around the gates and fences of what was hoped to be a secure air field, Evil in its worst form saw its chance. In the name of some kind of adherence to a radical faith, suicide bombers stood in the middle of all those innocent people, and blew themselves up.
Thirteen military personnel – working to save life – were viciously killed, along with more than 95 civilians who were there to hopefully get on a plane to take them to a new life. We don’t even have a count of how many have been wounded, knowing that the wounds must be horrific, and even deadly.
Sure, an anger rises up inside, along with a desire for revenge, as so many families here in the US will soon be given the task, not of celebrating a wedding or a promotion of their loved one – but of saying farewell, and committing them to God’s loving arms. Beyond that first reaction, however, for me, there is a profound and penetrating sadness, to realize how little we have grown as a human race, that these actions could even be considered, much less carried out. Our Bible is filled with stories and examples of humans seeking to destroy each other, for whatever reason or doctrine or strategy – even the effort to crucify Jesus Christ, which ended, yes, in death, but ultimately, in life eternal.
Shy of murder and other killings, we humans also have the capacity simply to hurt one another – whether that is physically, or economically, or just by using our words of hate and cruelty. You and I must do better. In our desire to blame and extract vengeance on leaders and “enemies,” we must learn how, even in our own personal lives, to first offer a chance for peace, even among our family or friends, or that neighbor who is so irritating to mow the lawn when you want to sit out of the back patio at the end of day and enjoy the quietness. In our desire to have our own way, continually, it seems any excuse will do to rage against it. What we saw in Afghanistan yesterday is simply that same hardness of heart, only a much greater and more lethal scale.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” That is not a weak or easy position to take on. He didn’t say, “Blessed are those who do nothing, and just let the world bulldoze over them.” He meant that, if we are to be the followers of the Living Christ, our first and best work must be to no longer seek war and to no longer live with a huge chip on our shoulder. I don’t know how we change that in the dangerous world that hates that idea, and unfortunately, we know that sometimes it seems the only response to such horrible actions is to act strongly against evil. But that can’t be where we stay. We must do better, and to lead this world into a peaceable kingdom, using all our might and power to put down the swords and weapons of hate.
I pray for you and you families today – we all know this has not ended, and that as some have stated, it’s only the first act of what could be a terrible future. But I pray that God will inspire women and men of great honor, and courage and insight to find the way where there seems to be no way today. And may God bless those who are coming home…
Saying for the day: Believe that life is worth living – and that your belief will help create that fact. William James. (A leading thinker of the late 19th Century).
We don’t get a lot of mail these days – most of it is garbage, or offers to enroll in Fred’s Medicare plan, or change our car oil or such. First class mail is almost non-existent, so it was interesting to see that my beloved spouse received a letter from the Clerk of Courts, District Court in Fargo. I didn’t open it, but I knew right away what it was…
For some reason when we lived in South Dakota, I was the one who was constantly being “invited” to be part of a jury pool in pursuit of our nation’s justice system functioning the way it should. At that time, I was senior pastor at Rapid City First, and apparently, they liked my name, so I would punt my work at the church, and head over to the courthouse, to sit and watch the system unfold.
I actually got picked three different times to be on a jury during those years. Two of them were criminal cases, and one was a civil case. Let me say that all the police and court shows on television do not quite describe the normal goings on in our nation’s hallowed halls of justice. First of all, I began to realize that the job of the lawyers was to select the least qualified, or educated fellow citizens to make up the jury of one’s peers. The idea is a good concept, but there was no greater impetus to stay on the right side of the law, if it meant I would come under the deliberation of a jury made up of those folks. Nice people, mostly, but … Of course, I have to wonder then why I was selected. Maybe they thought a pastor would either understand justice, or go with mercy.
Three times selected, and three times elected as the jury leader (what they used to call foreman…). The other thing that seemed to be evident was the real lack of debate training, or the ability to make a point by either side of the aisle. Whew. You would think, given the normal pay scale for a lawyer, that it would also include quick thinking, precise questions, accurate follow-up and not calling someone to the witness stand who had no concept of what they were to do in the first place. I recall one of the trials in which, by the time both sides rested, I was set and ready to find all them – including a couple of witnesses – guilty, in part for malfeasance, and also for just being kind of dumb.
So then, of course, the case goes to the jury, where I met with another group of folks for whom the concept of logical and evidential consideration was pretty much a foreign exercise. I longed to go back to meeting with the finance committee of the church – which tells you how bad it was. After hours (it should have taken 15 minutes or so), “we” came to the exact verdict I believed was proper from the beginning. It’s what you call the process of chasing something around the barn a few times, just to see if we missed a pitchfork sticking out of the ground or something – I mean really… we can do better as Americans.
Back to the courtroom, where I then had to report the verdict to the judge. I have to admit that saying the words, “Guilty as Charged,” is a little bit scary, since I was speaking for the jury, but I was the only one speaking, as those charge with the crime were burning my image into their minds. I imagined those shows where a convict leaves prison after so many years, and immediately hunts down the jury members, starting with the jury leader, in revenge for spoiling their day. And I got to do all of that for the magnificent compensation of $50.
As I said, I had a flurry of summons over the course of ten years or so, but after we moved to Nashville, and then back to the Dakotas, I was spared the adventure in court, and really haven’t missed it.
That brings us back to Cheri. When I handed her the envelope when she got home, her first response was, “Oh Crud.” I suggested that perhaps it was simply a call for her to give expert testimony in a malpractice trial or something. It was then she looked at me with the expression that I have grown to interpret as, “Really? You’ve only been retired a little over a year – you couldn’t have lost that many brain cells…” She opened it up and sure enough, the District Court of Fargo invited her to spend some time at the end of September, helping them do their constitutional responsibility. Her second response was, “Well, I’ll just tell them I can’t.” Being the expert in law that I am, I tried to explain to her that “can’t” is not an option. Unless she was terrible ill, or out of the country, or incredibly old, she had the responsibility – nay, the duty as an American – to show up and sit in the jury pool and hope that she won’t get picked for the actual jury itself.
She wasn’t happy. Immediately she began to figure out how she can have the clinic cancel appointments that day – I reminded her it could last more than one day (another look…) – and that they were clear that to simply not respond would bring the potential of contempt of court. We’ve all seen that on TV, as the judge slams down the hammer, and the nice looking person is locked up in the hoosegow until she repents.
So, Cheri is going to show up in a month for possible jury duty. She also made it clear –as a question – of her disbelief that, if there needed to be a Cross on the jury, why it wouldn’t have been me, all retired that I am. I told her it doesn’t work that way, and you can’t hand off your constitutional responsibility to your spouse, just because it’s not convenient. Another look…
Of course, by then, the pandemic may re-surge, and everyone in court will have to wear masks for the entire day, or they will try the case without a jury or something. My suggestion was just to go with it, and see what you can learn from it all. Like I said, I learned mostly not to break the law, so that I wouldn’t have to endure something like I had to be part of. I guess I don’t see Cheri as turning to the life of crime, at least in the near future.
We all plan to some extent as to what we will do with our daily lives. That’s good, and intentional and thoughtful. However, it’s always also good to know that some things just come up and grab us, and bring us into situations and experiences we would never choose on our own. I guess that’s called life.
So, watch out, all you hooligans, or breakers of the law – you have a potential jury member ready to come down hard for justice… so long as it doesn’t last more than a day.
Word for the day: prolixity. Pronounced pro-LICKS-uh-tee. This is an unfortunate condition for politicians, preachers, and blowhards. The word comes from the Latin prolixus, meaning, “extended, or stretched out.” Further it comes from pro+linquere, meaning “to flow forth.” Someone afflicted with prolixity has the tendency to speak or write at great or tedious lengths. They are long-winded, which means they will inhale, and not finish using all the air in their lungs until they have talked the rest of us to sleep. Say what you mean, mean what you say – and then be blessedly quiet. Thank you.
Can you hear the groans? Can you sense the nerves on end? Can you smell the aroma of new tennis shoes, new shirts, and new backpacks? Here in the northland, they are all harbingers of a change in the season – at least for Fargo, as across the city, mothers (and some fathers) are in the process of waking up their young wards, fixing a good hearty breakfast, and preparing to send them off to a new year of school.
I always liked the first day of school. Sure, I loved every lazy, wide-open day of summer vacation, where life never moved out of second gear – but at the end of August, as the morning temperatures moved from waking up to 75 degrees, to, for instance, this morning it being 55 degrees, it just always seemed as though it was time to move from flip flops to tennis shoes, and to learn again how to hold a pencil, and enjoy a completely different menu for lunch, courtesy of the school cafeteria. Even when we brought our own, in brand new lunch boxes with the Thermos full of probably milk, with a banana inside the box that made every thing taste like a banana, it was still sort of magical, and full of anticipation.
Most of my elementary years were spent at Shaw Elementary, where every kid on the base went to school. There were no such things as buses or moms dropping us off, unless it were pouring rain. Even the first day of school meant a nice morning walk through the neighborhood, and then waiting outside school doors until our teacher came and escorted us to our rooms. This wasn’t for security reasons – I think they just didn’t want kids messing around in the halls, getting into trouble before class even started.
In elementary school, the teacher was truly the tsar of the class. Sharpening pencils, going to the bathroom, or being let out for recess all happened at the hands of the benevolent leader. We would move from writing and spelling to math to reading to whatever else she had in mind like the hands of a well-precisioned clock. The only times things went out of whack was when someone threw up in class, or for some reason, we all slid into a time of just talking in class, which precipitated extra work – “since you all must not have enough to do…”
First day of high school was a bit different. We of course moved from room to room, stopping at lockers and wasting as much time as we could. High school was also full of so many different extra-curricular activities, developed probably so you could meet the cute girls that were in your class on a social basis. Whereas elementary school was an organized, lock step day schedule, high school was a time of educational chaos.
When we got older, and graduated, and got married and had our own kids, it was amazing how very different their school age experience was from ours. First off, if there were lunch boxes, they were formed out of plastic instead of pressed sheet metal, which meant when you swung them around, and they accidentally hit a classmate on the forehead, it barely left a welt. School clothes, especially tennis shoes, were way more expensive than we had. And the teachers seemed to all think they were experts in child psychology, and small child motivation, and doing math in a really dumb system. Still, our boys went through school happy, making friends, telling stories about events of the day, and bringing home Scholastic book order forms, which were under the guise of extended learning, but when you are buying a book of 100 jokes, it’s hard to see education in action…
Yet, what never changed was that moment, just before getting in the car, where on that first day, the boys would stand, backpacks strapped on, glasses clean, and with smiles that hid the underlying bit of nervousness about starting a new year, and the first day of school picture would be taken, and then off we would go, sending them beyond our arms, beyond our wisdom, and into the public school system, for good or ill.
The last “first day of school” in our family was in September of 2006. After that, we moved into a number of years of dropping the son and the tonnage of paraphernalia needed to go through that year of college. Cheri couldn’t do that first day – instead, I was given the task of driving the boys to college, waving goodbye as the crying mother stood on the front porch, certain she would never see them again.
But today, here in Fargo, children are waking up too early, and traffic jams filling the blocks around each school, as everyone says goodbye, with promises of some delicious supper tonight – most likely pizza – and a mad dash to pick up the other school supplies that are not on the list, but definitely required somehow.
I don’t miss that at all. Although, it does feel a bit as though I have stepped out of the stream of life, and am simply standing on the shore, watching as the first day washes by.
Time doesn’t chase us down the path of life – it just moves ahead of us, often at a pace that is far quicker than we expect. The second day of school will come tomorrow, and then in rapid succession all the others, and before anyone knows it, the summers will come again, and then new school years, and then simply remembering and observing as the next generation goes through the same dance. Have a blessed day, and slow down in the school zone, ok?
Word for the day: handsel. Pronounced like the Grimm fairy tale character: HAN-sul. It’s actually a word rooted in the Middle English, handselne, which is translated, “hand-gift.” It is a gift, or a token of good luck at the beginning of a “new thing” in one’s life. Like a framed first dollar sale earned in a new store – or maybe wearing new clothes on the first day of school. It’s always a gift with meaning, that is most often cherished both by the one giving it, and the one receiving it, because it has meaning far beyond the gift itself.
When I was little, it was a rare, nearly unheard of thing for us to go to a restaurant, even if it were the big McDonald’s on the edge of Columbia, after we had a day trip to the orthodontist or such. We begged and pleaded of course, but Dad would always say that we were going to have dinner at the Crosses Restaurant… and never, never did we order something in for the family to have for supper. First of all, in the 60s in South Carolina, I don’t know of a restaurant that delivered, especially on the air base where we lived.
No, we had basic food, like hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, or sometimes we would make pizzas from the Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee box, which involved taking the little packet of yeast and dissolving it in warm water, and then stirring in the flour and letting it set and rise. It was actually pretty complicated when compared with sticking something in the microwave and zapping it for a few minutes. That was what the Jetsons did on TV, way into the future. But Mom was a good cook, and knew how to cook for the masses, and so, besides navy bean soup, which is the bane of all human existence, we ate pretty well, and even had Chinese food now and then – Chung King Chow Mein, which I expect if it were examined today, would consist of 30% salt, and 20% MSG, and something that was supposed to look like Chinese noodles, and tiny chunks of chicken. We gobbled it up like we were living in the Orient. Oh, and almost as rarely as stopping at McDonald’s, we would be treated to a Swanson TV dinner, with my favorite being the chicken, which consisted of a small nugget of meat (probably chicken of some sort) and 10 ounces of deep fried breading, along with corn, mashed potatoes and the obligatory tiny bit of cobbler for dessert. Those were the days, my friend…
But it was all home cooking of one level or another. And so I come to you today to confess that I have really dropped the ball, dinner-wise, over the last couple of weeks. Whether it was the whole time occupied with funeral and such, or I’ve just had no motivation to go shopping at the grocery store, it seems that almost every evening, we have succumbed to the lazy gene, and instead of cooking, we have ordered in from one of the three restaurant delivery services here in town. Granted, there is a wide variety of places you can order from, from German to Chinese to sandwiches to Mexican and more. The trouble is – it costs a lot of money. A few months ago, I decided to buy a big load of snow crab legs for a fancy dinner. I realized, in buying crab, that it cost about $20 less than ordering some stuff from a yucky restaurant that may or may not come to us even lukewarm.
I got busy yesterday trying to clean up and carefully stow away the hundreds of pounds of depression glass that has become ours, that I just forgot – once again – to go to the store and buy something for supper that everyone would eat. Now, of course, both the freezer compartment of the refrigerator, and the entire freezer in the garage is filled with any number of food possibilities, but all that gets ignored about 4:30 in the afternoon. Instead, we once again ordered in from a sandwich place, spent too much, and ended up truly unimpressed with the meal.
So, this morning, I am once again recommitted to actually going and buying a set of delicious meals to feed the family all week. You see, I have always been the cook of the family, and now, in my retirement life, it’s even more so. I just need to get on the stick and make it happen.
The challenge in all this is that the ability to get four adults to agree on what to have for dinner, with all their different tastes, is daunting, to say the least. I mean, I have frozen walleye in the freezer – perhaps the tastiest fish known to humans – but a significant percentage of the family simply does not want to have it, at any cost. Crab, yes – walleye, no. Instead, what happens is the inhabitants of the lower level go online and find all sorts of recipes for meals. These recipes usually require the purchase of an entirely different set of spices – to be used once – and ingredients that cost more than ordering in. On top of that, the recipe is normally broken down into a simply 500 steps, which include parboiling, mincing, creating sauces, but not making it too spicy, or another member of the house will just have toast and cheese for supper, which is not good for her on a regular diet.
I’m a simple guy. Let’s make hamburgers. Let’s have spaghetti. Let’s fry or grill chicken. Tacos? Sloppy Joes? French toast? These are all great menu options, but depending on which way the wind blows, it becomes a fool’s errand to try to slip that meal choice through. It’s kind of like when in elementary school, they tried to serve Mexi-corn – taking wonderful, delicious corn, sent straight from God, and mixing it with green and red peppers, which totally destroys the flavor of the corn. The lunch ladies would have saved time just by mixing it up and throwing it directly in the big plastic food dumpster…
But, like all significant work that happens in the world, we’ll try something anyway. Maybe tonight we will have large size turkey pot pies. I might be able to slip that through – it’s been a while, I think.
I just have to then think of what to have tomorrow night, and the night after…
I know this is all rather trivial, when faced with what millions of folks in the world face each day – not what to have for supper, but whether there is anything to have at all. I’ll try to keep that in mind, as we move through the week. Perhaps start first with a word of gratitude to God for the incredible abundance around us, of all sorts and forms. Perhaps we can begin to create every meal as a word of thanks, and live more simply and more open to what comes to us. There’s a great approach to life, don’t you think?
So long as there are no lima beans. We all have our limits…
Word for the day: lustrum. Pronounced very simply as LUSS-trum. It comes from the Roman term, which today means “every five years.” However, the word carries much deeper and more profound meaning that just the ticking of time. The Latin, luere, means “to wash, or to make bright.” In the Roman era, every five years a census would be taken across the entire Roman Empire. Tied with that, after the census was completed, the leaders of Rome would lead the entire empire through a ceremonial purification ceremony – sort of as a way to start over, and they used the census as the marking point, instead of just publishing the fact that there was this much increase or this much decrease in the population.
We humans are used to ritual to mark the passing of time – so, after five years…
As we were exploring the drawers and cupboards of Cheri’s mom’s place, trying to figure out what needs to go where, we came across two Ziploc bags and a pill bottle full of pennies. We are guessing they actually belonged to Cheri’s dad, but had been sitting in the drawer for years. Since I have been a coin collector for more than 55 years, I brought them home, to sort through and see the history. One bag had pennies normally called the “Lincoln Memorial” pennies, which were first minted in 1959. The pill bottle was actually full of Canadian pennies, which up here in the northland often get slipped into change as payment by the folks from Manitoba who come down to North Dakota to shop.
The other bag, however, was full of what are typically called “wheat pennies.” They were the first design on the reverse of the Lincoln penny, starting in 1909. They are actually becoming a bit rare nowadays, since the last one was minted in the first part of 1959, making the “newest” ones 62 years old. Of course, we don’t know the story of the pennies, but going through them, there were of course a number of them from the 50s, and also a good number from the 40s – minus, of course, 1943, when the pennies were produced from steel and not copper, since the copper was needed for munitions in World War II. In the pile, I also found one from 1937 and one from 1936, which really did have some good age on them.
Then, in the midst of the pile on the dining room table, I pulled out one, used the magnifying glass, and was kind of shocked. It was a 1919 wheat cent, in pretty good shape.
Now, I have lots of older coins in my collection. I even have some of the large copper Australian pennies, from when we lived there, that date back to 1912, with King George V stamped on to it. However, I let my imagination run a bit, as I realized I was holding a random penny that was 102 years old. More than old, it was/is a near relic of a long ago time. Three years ago, it was estimated that only 100 people in the world were born in 1919. Today, that number is only a fraction.
So – what happened in 1919 as this little penny was being produced?
Romania reincorporated Transylvania.
A large molasses tank burst in Boston filling the streets with hot molasses, killing 21 people.
Prohibition was passed.
Oregon instituted a one penny tax on gasoline, become the first to levy a gas tax. A horse, Sir Barton, became the first to win the Triple Crown.
Woodrow Wilson had a massive stroke which left him speechless and paralyzed. Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees.
100 years later, the entire American society was shut down, due to the coronavirus.
And that poor little penny is still hanging around, sitting quietly in a Ziploc bag with all its younger neighbors. It was already 40 years old when the Lincoln memorial penny was first minted. It didn’t get lost down some sewer or left on a sidewalk, or flattened by a train, or just dropped in the woods somewhere. It survived, even if it is only worth a penny. Well, actually, it’s worth around 43 cents, but I’m not selling it.
In our world, unfortunately, we have become very used to throwing things away without a second thought. Some folks, if they drop a penny on the parking lot, won’t bother even to bend down and pick it up. After all, it’s only worth one cent. Not me, however. I always pick it up, and repeat the famous words:
Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have … a penny.
How we live in this world in an intentional way, seeing things of value and things that deserve at least consideration, makes all the difference in the world, even if it isn’t noticed for 102 years. Open your eyes today, and appreciate what is around you, or in that Ziploc bag…
Word for the day: proceleusmatic. Pronounced – with its five syllables – pros-uh-loose-MAT-ick. It comes from our friends, the Greeks, and their equally long word, prokeleusmatikos, which simply means, “rouse to action.” When someone is acting in a proceleusmatic manner, they are animated, and inspiring – like many a motivational speaker, or some fellow talking about his first true love…
After a marvelous rain on Friday – over an inch and a half total! – we headed back up to Grafton yesterday to continue that slow and kind of difficult process of starting to clear out Cheri’s mom’s townhome. Did I mention there is a lot of “stuff” there? Every drawer and cabinet and countertop and under every bed has been stashed tons – lots of tons of “stuff.” Some of it, to be sure, has only functioned as ballast to keep the home from floating off into outer space, and that by most accounts should be fairly easy to dispose of, unless hearts also get involved with things. For instance, I think Cheri’s folks have saved nearly every greeting card they ever received. Displayed on every shelf of the buffet, packed in box after box, the simplest thing would be to just bid them adieu and render them as residents of the trash can in the garage. However, that would apparently be cruel and unacceptable, at least until every single card has been reread, and the sentiment talked about, and ….
Some things, however, are indeed worth saving. You recall the pie safe I refinished for Cheri’s folks decades ago? Well, the pie safe housed the collection of green depression glass that Cheri’s mom had collected over the years. When I say collection, just imagine the Smithsonian groaning under the weight of all the glass! I really have no clear idea how many pieces of glass, from dinner plates to salad plates, to dessert plates, to ice cream cups to six or seven different styles of glasses, and serving ware, and vases – she even had found somewhere a green depression glass bug sprayer – the kind that you pump the handle and shoot probably DDT over all the flies in the window. Like I said, I couldn’t even guess the number, but I would estimate more than ¼ ton of glass, all resting inside the pie safe.
Just a little education, in case you are wondering about depression glass. It’s not glass that is sad, or has trouble getting going in the morning. The glass actually was pressed glass, produced literally during the years of the Great Depression. No one had any money, and so food manufacturers worked to persuade/bribe customers to buy their product by putting a piece of glassware in each box. It was cheaply made, but very affordable. Over 100 different patterns were developed by 20 different manufacturers, and it came in clear, pink, pale blue, amber – and green, along with some other fancier colors.
Although cheap during the Depression, it became very collectable, and still is so today. Apparently, Cheri’s mom had a goal of collecting every piece known to humankind, because the collection is pretty enormous. One day a couple of years ago, as her mom was wondering what to do with all the glass, we spontaneously mentioned that since someday we will care for the pie safe, we could do the same for the glass as well.
You would have thought the Hallelujah Chorus started playing. At that moment, the glass became ours. Of course, I had never really seen all the green glass in one place at the same time, so in my mind, it just seemed like a reasonable collection. We all do foolish things.
After Cheri’s mom died, I started thinking of how to transport the stuff back to Fargo. Cheri’s brother in law was kind enough to haul the pie safe, and so I opened it to get ready for him to do that, and the realized the enormity of the project. Do you remember the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the Ark is crated up and put in a government warehouse. As the camera pans out, you begin to see row after row and shelf after shelf of an unbelievable amount of things in storage. If only…
We took laundry baskets and carefully stacked towers of trays and glasses and such in them, since they were just heading 120 miles south, and would be fine in the back of the SUV. Here’s a little insight: glass is heavy. Glass is actually stinking heavy, and thinking that you can fill up a basket normally meant to carry towels and t-shirts with stinking heavy glass is a fool’s errand. I filled up seven baskets, barely being able to lift them, and then moved to the boxes, and then some other boxes. After filling up the back of the car, I almost thought it was going to be like one of those comedies where you see the front wheels lift off the ground…
Well, we got it all in, and were fortunate there was a tailwind to help with the gas mileage, as we drove the long trip home. I should also tell you that I inherited from my father a real irritation in hearing things rattle anywhere in the car as he drove along. Guess what? Glass rattles. Now, I knew it was going to do some, at least until we got onto the interstate, but it’s remarkable how many patches and bumps and dips there are as you drive along a road you have driven a thousand times before. Every bump or dip brought with it a clunk or clink, as though it seemed by the time we were going to be home, we would have baskets full of glass shards.
Actually, it wasn’t quite that bad, until we hit one bump and things shifted in one of the baskets. Instead of them clinking together, two of the pieces decided to make beautiful music together by squeaking against each other, sort of like how it sounds when fingernails hit the chalkboard. This sound brought Cheri to the point of her eyes turn blood red, and she started trying to climb around to stop the noise. Of course, every time she turned around, the squeaking stopped. When she sat back down, it resumed. The battle went on for a good 40 miles, until we finally made it to the driveway, and stopped the agony.
Well, I’ll save you the rest of the details, but let me just say that finally, a day later, we have the pie safe in position in the entryway, and most of the living room filled with green glass – everywhere. Somehow, supposedly we are going to put it all back in the cupboard, but I wish now we had taken a picture before unloading, because it is going to be akin to solving the Rubik’s cube or playing Tetris. What a lovely summer Sunday activity.
Yet, to look at all that green glass is also to remember Cheri’s mom and the pure joy she felt when she discovered a new piece, or when we were able to give her something for birthday or mother’s day or Christmas. And now, it is ours to enjoy and to use and to cherish. I just hope the boys marry some girls someday who also will cherish and love these things, because I’m afraid they might be lost in the sons’ hands…
Take care of what you love, and love what you take care of. Whether handed to you, or discovered somewhere, the things we cherish are special parts of our lives. Of course, far less than any living thing, but when you are able to smile, and nod your head quietly as you look over something you enjoy is a joy itself. Just don’t take it for long-distance rides in the car…
Word for the day: macushla. Pronounced muh-KOOSH-luh. This is one of those words that are simply part of a different culture. In this case, it’s Irish. It’s kind of a mashup of two words, ma chuisle, which literally means “my pulse.” It’s also translated as “my vein,” or “my blood.” The romantic interpretation is “my darling.” Go up to someone you love today, and call them “macushla” and see what happens!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.