Afraid of Balloons

Some people wait for years to replace a beloved pet. Not us.

When we had to put down Pisgah—my fifteen year old Cocker Spaniel—I couldn’t go back  home without her there to greet us. She had been through my first marriage with me. After my divorce, she was with my son Charlie when I couldn’t be.

20131216_211037_resizedShe was my jogging buddy—always beside me, leash-less. When her years began to add up and she started to lag behind, her long silky ears flopped all the more from the extra effort. She began to surrender on her squirrel chases. She became deaf and found her way by scent.

In spite of it all, as she aged, people would still ask if she was a puppy.

20131216_211355_resizedAfter a bath one night, she shivered and was short of breath. I thought it was from the cold but it didn’t stop. We soon discovered that her heart was enlarged. It couldn’t contain all her love.

20131216_211054_resizedTodd stood by my side as I held her in my arms and she looked up at me. The vet gave her the shot that put her into a sweet, deep sleep.

It was too hard to walk back into our house after that so we went for lattes. We came up with the idea to take a drive to the pet store where my brother had found a puppy.

We walked in and I immediately noticed a teddy bear. He sat up with a stick-straight dancer spine and looked me square in the eyes. Hopeful anticipation…..Please love me ma’am (get me out of here!). I asked to hold him and the salesperson took him from his cage and set him down in an observation pen.

20131216_211644_resizedI watched him play, rubbed his belly, let him lick the tears that were still fresh in my eyes, and tried to stop him from gnawing on my fingers with his sharp teeth.

20131216_211454_resizedBy the time Todd found out we couldn’t afford him, it was too late. Without any research, we made an impulse buy and busted our budget. We were so sad and Sam was such fun. We returned home with a big pen and all the dog accouterments—poorer but puppy rich.

20131216_210942_resizedI sobbed through that evening, playing Puccini in Pisgah’s honor while Sam scooted around.

20131216_210735_resizedHe chewed the legs of all our furniture but was particular about the shoes he ate. They had to be new and bone colored. He destroyed our rugs and carpeting and ate anything—including a lighter. He was a butane hose for days and had to spend them all in his pen.


Frozen in snow after playing with his best friend Cookie Dermond

Garbage cans scare him. He is a sniffer not a jogger and can easily spend thirty minutes on one block. He was hard to train and still jumps up on guests. He snarls at some dogs but only after I have assured the owner he is friendly.

He got his certificate from obedience school because the trainer was relieved to be done with him. “This is how you walk a dog,” he would say taking Sam by the leash and proceed across the room. “Heal! Heal!! HEAL SAM!!”  Sam does not heal.

20131216_211813_resizedHe is strong-willed but sweet and confused about being a dog. He sits on the stairs like a person—upright on the step. He has made our furniture his own and when Todd gets up in the morning, Sam immediately jumps up beside me and lays his head on Todd’s pillow.

20131216_211743_resizedWe work all day so we got a kitten to keep him company and named her Rose.

20131216_211621_resizedHer alley cat mom weaned her too early so the former owner’s dog had become her surrogate mother. When Rose met Sam she attached her mouth to a nipple. He stared at us, What the heck? but they became best pals.

20131216_211539_resizedI eventually got Sam to walk to the lakefront and home again without a leash. I would carry Rose along in a papoose. The three of us would do the full two and a half mile circle together…until the day Sam saw a parachute.

He stopped, turned and took off across the beach, running past honking, screeching cars. He was covered with the lake’s algae and tends to look rabid when wet. No one could catch him. He disappeared into the ravines. I called for hours. I was almost home when I noticed him sauntering along a couple blocks ahead of me.

I keep Sam on a leash now most of the time and have never been successful with getting him to walk leisurely on the lakefront. He’s always looking for that parachute.

So, when we brought balloons home from an event last night, Sam escaped up the stairs and hid in the bedroom.

He just has a thing about floating aberrations.

BalloonsI sometimes wonder what would have happened to Sam if we hadn’t been so impulsive that day at the pet store. It doesn’t matter….Sam has Pisgah to thank for that….and I’m sure he will one day.

20131216_210826_resizedHe’s just not ready yet to join her.

2011 Oct 18 Camera Download 001


Valentine’s Day

Every year, my husband and I agree that we don’t have to celebrate Valentine’s Day because we don’t need a designated day to say our love is special. Some years we agree not to get each other a card. On others, we agree to get one. One year, Todd gave me an Elvis Presley heart-shaped tin with chocolate hearts inside from CVS. That was special.

If I’m really honest, the past couple years I’ve been leaning more towards making the day special. I’ll pick up something nice for dinner and just look forward to not doing anything special together because every day is special…..well, until it’s not…

This year, we had tickets to the Ballet and we were going to go out for dinner beforehand. That’s special. But then Todd got sick—he never gets sick—and he wasn’t up to it. I could have gone alone but it was Valentine’s Day—I thought we should be together. We could watch Sleepless in Seattle and drink some Champagne. But we’re not big Champagne drinkers and we’ve seen Sleepless in Seattle an embarrassing number of times. I always think I’ve had enough of it but every time it starts, I’m hooked. “Just Sam.” Annie says to Sam as you watch the electricity between them on the top of the Empire State Building in the final scene. That’s my favorite line.

Todd did tell me to go ahead and go to the Ballet, and I considered it, but then I slipped down the stairs this morning with my arms full of work stuff and a coffee cup in my hand. My heel got caught in my pants leg and I road the stairs like a pro. I didn’t even break the cup. I did sprain my ankle. So staying home tonight sounded good.

I picked up some baked fish, potato pancakes and Caesar salads—my version of a fish fry—and some chocolate ganache cake with a heart on top, on my way home from work.

Valentine's Day

I drove up our driveway and then, just before I got out of my car I got a text with a video of my grandnephew saying “Happy Balentines Dayeee! I yee-uv you!” While licking a heart shaped sucker.

I walked in the door and Todd said, “Oh, you probably got the Eddie video too.”

“Yeah! Isn’t it cute?”

“No…I don’t think it’s cute. Of course it’s cute!” He said in his Toddesque way.

I snap. “Why can’t you just be nice? I don’t need flowers. I don’t need jewelry. I don’t need chocolate. I just need you to say, ‘Yeah, really cute! Happy Valentines Day, baby. I love you!”

“You’re limping.”

“Of course I’m limping. I sprained my ankle!”

“Oooo…I can tell you’re hurting. You didn’t tell me. Are you okay/”

“No! I’m not okay. I slammed my butt on the steps, I banged my elbow, I bent my thumb, and my neck and back are killing me.”

“You’re hurt so that’s making you grouchy.”

“No, you’re making me grouchy! Why do you always have to be so dark?” I say as I’m suddenly the dark one and he starts putting groceries away.

Our dog Sam who has come into the kitchen to greet me, escapes upstairs. He hates it when he thinks we’re upset.

“I don’t think I’m always so dark.”

“I got us a special dinner! I got us chocolate cake! It’s VALENTINE’S Day!”

“I think you’re overreacting.”

“I am not overreacting.” I put our special Valentine’s day dinner on the stove, grab my briefcase and head up the stairs that I had fallen down ten hours earlier.

Valentine’s Day….who came up with it? It sets you up for expectations even if you don’t want it to. Well….maybe it’s time to just give in and call it a special day. Whoever gets enough celebrating? So, why not? Bring on the chocolate and send me some flowers. Let’s take the day to celebrate our love!

Now all I have to do is go say I’m sorry for snapping. I hurt, so I’m grouchy.

Happy Valentine’s Day baby….365 days from now we’ll really do it right! Or…maybe not…

What’s Up With the Bologna?

“I’ll get dressed and take you out, Sam,” Todd says to our dog as he runs up the steps and trips, causing a loud thud. I jump.

Are you okay…? I think but don’t ask. It’s early morning, I’m not really awake yet and Todd is a teaser. He might have planned the clumsy act to draw attention to the fact that I’m sitting on my butt while he’s preparing to walk the dog outside in the frigid air. I never know when he’s serious, even after seventeen years of being together. He enjoys crying wolf. “Do you need a hand…?” I think back to the time I had yelled down the same steps several years ago when I heard a crash in the kitchen.

“Yeah…..” he had groaned dramatically.

I ignored what I thought was his well-rehearsed moaning, “Really…?” and played along.

“Really, I need….” He repeated. “I need help. I really need you, Baby.” Oh riiiight.

When I got to the kitchen I saw that he was clutching his wrist and he was on his knees under the gas jet.

“I think I might need stitches,” he said as he worked to regain his balance and remove his wrist from the pointy spoke after trying to clean the cedar siding of a wall with a bucket of Murphy Soap and sponge. “It’s deep.” Don’t stand on a bar stool with no traction.


Crooked gas jet since the slip

He almost severed his tendon. We went to ER that day and he went roller blading the next. So, ever since those two layers of umpteen stitches, I  jump up and run. Except this morning—I can see out of the corner of my eye that he’s okay and I push the guilt I feel for not walking the dog myself out of my mind. It doesn’t leave completely but it shifts.

Morning is the time I sit in my chair, watch the sun come up over the neighbor’s roof and turn my thoughts to what’s unseen, if that makes sense. My faith. I read, I ponder, I pray. I start every day with a devotion and several chapters of the Bible. I’d say it’s my coffee to get me going but I need that too.

This morning as I read, the message is clear. It appears three different times in three different places: It’s simple — what we think influences how we live. Then I’m distracted again as Todd starts making the bed. I could get up and help but I read on. I jot down the words …*think love, and love surrounds you and those you think about. Think ill-will and thoughts of ill-will surround you and those you think about. Is it that simple?

“Did you notice that the bologna is all cut up in little pieces?” Todd asks. “I tried to take a slice out for Sam and it fell all apart. I couldn’t even get one to his mouth. It landed on his bandana and got stuck there. He wasn’t too happy about that.”

I listen to him talk about the bologna but stay with my thoughts. I think how easy it is to be discontent in life—to be critical of yourself and others, to make judgments. I spend so much time worrying about what I do, what I say, what I think. Low self-esteem, I suppose you’d call it. It’s just another form of self centeredness. Why is it that I can see the good in others but not in myself?

“I did it,” I answer. “I cut up the slices. Use a spoon. Take a scoop, put it in Sam’s bowl and mix it in with his food. That way he doesn’t snort it down in one gulp.” Bologna is Sam’s treat after his walk. He has wheat allergies. Is there wheat in bologna? I wonder.

“Oh, I see. You don’t want to get your hands slimy.”

“Well, yeah, it’s pretty gross to touch so since he should only have half a slice, I went ahead and cut them. Then I thought, why not quarter them…before I knew it, I had made bologna bits.” Todd’s standing there looking at me. “Use a spoon,” I say and return to my reading. I run through an inventory of the people in my life. I wrap them in thoughts of love so it will surround them. Is it really that simple? Yes, I hear the voice inside me say.

Sam enters the room and lies down by my chair. He simply loves me. Why can’t we always love each other like that? He starts scratching, poor guy. We’re probably giving him wheat and didn’t know it. What if we all became allergic to thoughts of ill-will and started scratching incessantly when we thought them? That would help us ponder what’s good, what’s noble and just, lovely and pure—like I read in Philippians 4 this morning—instead of ill-will.

I close my books and rise from my chair to face the day. Think love, and love surrounds you and those you think about. It’s that simple.

20131210_075822_resized*from God Calling

A Picture of Marriage

It’s not so bad really, being sick on your break. You can just sit and no one bothers you….except maybe to ask you to clean out the hall closet if you just so happen to get a spurt. A spurt of what…I wonder.

You also finish the books that have been stacking up on the floor beside your bed because there’s no more room for them on the night stand.

You get to spend all day in your pajamas with your favorite hoodie zipped up over them.

You get served meals in bed that you had nothing to do with preparing.

You read blogs you haven’t had the time to give the attention to they deserve and you also take the time to write short but thoughtful comments.

You write more blogs in a day than you usually do in a month.

You open and read the links on Facebook your friends post and you learn something you didn’t know, get a little smarter and laugh till you have to stop and take a breath.

You actually read the Sunday Times cover to cover. You do the crossword puzzle…well, you have the time to do it anyway.

And when you start to feel a little better, you read your own local paper as you sit across the table from the one you love while eating breakfast at noon and plan an afternoon outing together.

“How about we go feed our leftover loaf of bread to the ducks this afternoon?!” I suggest. “I think the fresh air could do me some good!”

“There are no ducks.” (Clearly he’s not enthusiastic about this.)

“What do you mean? They’re all over the lakefront and they’re hungry.”

“Well, if they are there, they’re not hungry.”

“Of course they are. Don’t you remember that song….? Um….All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles.….hang on, it’s coming to me. I continue to hum until the words come….you know they are crying, each time someone shows that he ca- hares.” I keep singing but I can see that I’m losing him. I give it my all,  “Feed the ducks! That’s what she cries, while overhead the ducks fill the skies!  See? Like that.

He chuckles.

Shhhh….listen….you can hear the ducks crying….Hurry up. Get your coat.” Silence. “Hey, look at this article on all these new restaurants. Yum. Let’s go to all of them this year.”

“Save the page.”

“Hmm….beef cheeks. What are beef cheeks? Served with beef tongue and a poached egg on top. Oh my, I’m not so sure about that.”

“Sounds delicious….”

“Well, the restaurant looks cute, let’s go. Here’s another restaurant that serves veal cheeks. What’s with the cheeks? I’ve never heard of that before. You’d think I would have with farming in my blood.”

“You know.” Todd says acting all smart, “Like the butt.”

“Riiiiiight. We used to have pork butt on Sundays…..I never thought of it like that before. What’s for dinner, Mom? (We’d ask after church on Sundays.) I‘m making a pork butt, she’d say.

“Sure, butt roast.”

“…..Fillet of butt.”

“…..Butt loins.”

I know I can top him….”Butt chops!” We laugh through the rest of breakfast.

“Ready to go feed the ducks?”

“There are no ducks.”

“Yes, there are.”

And that my friends, is a picture of marriage. Well, mine anyway…

DucksP.S. Back in my chair….good thought on the ducks…the bread will keep.

Oh no, it’s a Lump

Many of us have been touched by cancer. Each of our stories is unique. My mom was a beautiful woman. A good woman with strong faith. She lived a healthy life but for some reason she got cancer. Not once but three times.The first two times, we all believed in our hearts it would be cured. I can’t speak for others but I never stopped believing she would overcome it and Dad never stopped praying, “Lord if it be your will, please heal Dolores.”

I remember the first time. It was October, 1996. I was in Chapel Hill, NC—a single Mom, living in a little house on Glendale Drive with Charlie….

Mom discovered the breast lump on a Saturday evening after spending the evening with Dad, getting the sailboat tucked away for the winter. A day later, she called her doctor and went in for an appointment the next morning. The doctor tried three times to aspirate the tumor then sent her to a surgeon who said he wanted to do a biopsy at the end of the week. He did a needle biopsy on the 3.5 cm tumor and she and Dad went to get the lab results together several days later. It was cancer. After listening to the advise of mastectomy vs. lumpectomy and hearing that the latter was done the majority of the time with the same results as mastectomy, they decided to go with a lumpectomy. Her surgery was two days after that on October 25, at Columbia Hospital. Her oncologist visited her beforehand and recommended chemo and radiation. That was new information because her doctor had said only radiation. There were a few tears but she trusted the oncologist’s decision.

She and Dad had a beautiful time together before surgery. She told him in case she was full of cancer, she wanted him to get on with a joyful life. She told him how deeply she loved him–also their children and grandchildren. Thankfully, the surgery went well and she was sent home.

Joanie and I both arrived and stayed for the week, cooking, going to doctor’s appointments and doing what we could to help. She got a good report–the tissue around the tumor was clear as were 17 lymph nodes. “Hallelujah! The answer to the prayers of many,” was Mom’s response. Not long after, she noticed redness and heat in her left breast. They put her on Augmentin and started her on arm exercises. Her good neighbor and dear friend Joyce Gudeman, who had a daughter dealing with breast cancer as well, took her to her chemo sessions. On November 21, her white count was going down but she was told it was okay.

Then the day before Thanksgiving I got an unexpected call. Dad told me they had given her an overdose and she was back at Columbia Hospital. I listened to the update then asked if he could put Mom on the phone. “Oh Debs.” her voice was weak. “John brought me some peanut M & Ms. I thought I ate too many because I got terrible pains in my stomach. But I found out the pains were because they had given me too much chemo.They killed too many of my white blood cells…..and my hair is falling out, Debbie.”

“Mom, I’ll catch a flight out as soon as I can. We’ll get you a sassy short haircut. I’m on my way, Mom.” I’ll never find a plane on Thanksgiving weekend, I thought.

But I did, and Mom was back in surgery when I arrived late afternoon the next day. The sun was going down when Dad and I went to the cafeteria to eat Thanksgiving dinner together.They brought Mom back to her room that evening. She looked fragile and pale. When I was a little girl, I used to worry someone would come and take her away. I would make myself cry thinking about it. Now I was faced with the reality of losing my Mom.

As I walked home to Shepard Avenue late that night, it started to snow. I decided to stop at a little café on Downer called Don Quixote. There was a long counter against a floor-length, wall-sized window with candles set across it–flickering light like fireflies against the glass. I sat down in the corner, ordered a glass of red wine and opened my book as the snow swirled around the street lamps outside. It wasn’t long before a group of jolly people entered through the door, ringing the hanging bells and filling up the seats at the counter to my right. They ordered a round of some sort of festive looking drink that was filled with lots of crushed lemons and spritzer. I asked what it was they were drinking and they ordered me one. I don’t have any recollection as to what the interesting concoction actually was but I told them about Mom and before long we were all telling stories and laughing together as the snow grew heavy outside. They warmed my heart and when I fell into bed that night, I slept soundly and peacefully.

The next day, Mom was showing improvement and we were hopeful all would be well once again.

At times of crisis in our family, we have a way of pulling together to make it a special time. We love being together and it seems sometimes that it takes a crisis to make that happen. Mom, Dad and I had a lively conversation in her hospital room the next morning because we were all so relieved she had pulled through the overdose. Then an idea came to me–knowing that Mom had always wanted Dad to design her a cabin on Washington Island, I thought it was the opportune time to ask if he would do it. I remember saying, “If you don’t think you can afford it, we can charge it to your credit card.”

And the plans for the Washington Island cabin were shortly underway.


Island loveliness–Mom liked this flower which grew and grew. Daniel would always mow around it. I think it was Sam who eventually knocked it down.



It seemed fitting that my devotion referenced Psalm 139 this morning. It was a special scripture to Mom. She memorized the entire Psalm years ago, along with many other scriptures and could call upon them for comfort and guidance at a moment’s notice in sickness or health, in stress or at peace.

Psalm 139: 7-12

Psalm 139: 7-12

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139: 7-12

Oh, do find the time to read the entire Psalm. It’s beautiful. I promised myself I would memorize it and I can still hear my mom’s voice reciting the words…

Morning Buns

It was the last Sunday in October and Mom woke with an inspiration. She had watched the colors of the leaves changing from the window that year—taking in the brilliance one moment at a time. She craved a walk outside.

“Wake up,” she whispered into Dad’s ear. “I’ve had an inspiration. I want you to walk to the store with me. I want to get Morning Buns for breakfast.”

Morning Bun

A heavenly bun

Dad watched her as she rose slowly and walked carefully into her dressing area.

“It’s daylight savings time, darling. Let’s change the clocks first,” he whispered back. “Are you sure you’re up for a walk…?” He wondered where this sudden burst of energy had come from.

Mom was already layering on her fleece pants and hoodie. “Are you sure it’s this Sunday?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” he said more to himself than to her as he was fidgeting with the clock.

So together they went through the house, room by room, setting the clocks forward an hour.

This will mean the store is open by now, she thinks to herself as she sits down on the bench by the door to put on her shoes. She knows it will take her husband a while to get ready so she puts the tea kettle on and opens the door to get the Sunday paper. In the upper corner she reads the words: DON’T FORGET TO TURN YOUR CLOCKS FORWARD NEXT SUNDAY!

She considers leaving all the clocks as they are, so they won’t forget next Sunday, but instead sets to work changing them back, all the while chuckling to herself. It’s the little things that entertain me these days, she thinks, the funny quirks of growing old together.

Her balance is off and her breath labored as she reaches, once again, to open the door of the grandfather clock—a wedding gift from her mother over 60 years ago—to gently move the hands back an hour.

“I’m ready.” Dad says, zipping up his jacket.

“No you’re not. There are still clocks in my office and in the bedroom that need changing.”

“I did those.”

“You did those incorrectly. We were one week early.”

“Really. Huh.”

She made a small list of the things she wanted to buy at the store then, slipped it in her pocket, zipped her coat all the way up so it covered her chin, put on her cap, and they were out the door.

The fall morning air was crisp and the hill to the store, steep but she hustled up the sidewalk. Again, Dad was amazed at her energy. They were the only shoppers in the store and it felt as though they had entered a castle. The bright colors of the fruits and vegetables surrounded her. The smells from the bakery made her hungry—something she hadn’t felt in a long while. She savored each moment as she experienced it.

Dad went to the counter where the Morning Buns were usually displayed and found that there weren’t any..

“Honey, they don’t have any today.”  He was disappointed.

“That’s your problem,” she says in response. “You don’t know how to shop. You don’t read labels and you have to learn to ask questions.”

He had spent hours at the store just the day before, trying to find the items on her list to make chili. He had come home with the wrong beans and sizes of cans. She had been thankful for the extras she found stored in the cupboard.

“Do you have any Morning Buns?” she asks the baker with her contagious smile.

“Yes, I just don’t have them out yet.”  She turns to Dad and says, “See?”

They leave the store with two Morning Buns, a cruller, a jelly-filled donut along with the other things on her list.

The morning was magical—the movement, the air, the splendor of the food on display, as if it all were for them alone to enjoy. She marveled at God’s beauty.

“How amazing God’s earth,” she says as they walk home.

How amazing her energy this morning, Bill thinks as he walks closely beside Dee, carrying the groceries in one arm and holding her right hand with the other.

They sit at the kitchen table eating the fresh fruit and delicately layered, cinnamon crusted  pastry.

“Food has never tasted so good”, she says as the sun streams in through the window. It warms their shoulders and creates a rainbow pattern on the hardwood floor beneath their feet. It’s their first meal of the day and it will prove to be their last together.

A China Cup of Love

We never know what a new day will bring—each and every one a gift in and of itself. On one day, my brothers and I were trudging up and down the narrow steps of our upper duplex in snow boots. On the next, running in our Sunday shoes up and down the wide open stairway of a big ship on the ocean. That is, until a crewman in an austere looking uniform, sternly told us to stop. We did. I thought he was the captain of the ship.

We arrived in Germany in 1958. Dad would spend the next six months studying European Architecturefollowing the itinerary he had submitted to the University of Illinois.

With Dad's relatives

Dad, Ed, John, me, Mom in front
Dad’s relatives in back

After Dad shared the experience of meeting our German relatives in Spaichingen with me, I had to set my notes aside for a while. My thoughts were mixed as I listened—I felt disturbed, disillusioned, and then saddened hearing about them in post-World War II. The realities and atrocities of the war, so removed from me personally, were suddenly connected to me by lineage. Being mostly German and hearing that members of my family lived in Nazi, Germany made me ashamed. It’s one of those things I had separated myself from–by an ocean and by decades–never asked about. I didn’t want to know how the battle to survive became a morsel of life—similar to animals in the wild surrounded by horror, but these were human beings. What values does one abandon in order to protect those one loves? When does a heart become hardened—numbed in order to remain beating? –Debbie

My Grandfather had come from Germany to America when he was 16 years old, which was around the time of the Civil War. My family members had been sending care packages to our relatives in Germany after the war when things were very difficult.

As Dolores and I discussed our trip, we thought one possibility would be to go to Spaichingen, in Southern Germany, where some of my relatives lived. We thought perhaps Dolores could stay there with the kids while I’d make excursions out to cover my scholarship requirements. I contacted some relatives, two sisters, who we had been sending our packages to. They lived in Balgheim, just outside of Spaichingen, and I asked them to suggest a hotel we might stay at. They gave me the name, Hotel Osswald–Alte Post. I wrote to the hotel and made our arrangements.

Our hotel in Spaiichingen

Our hotel in Spaiichingen, 1958

We arranged to take the M.S. Berlin which would land in Bremerhaven and then take a train down through Germany to Spaichingen. I gave the hotel our arrival date so they’d know when to expect us. On the way across the ocean, there were quite a few German women who had married American servicemen and were returning to visit their homeland. They said to me, “You mean you’re the first one to return from your Grandfather?”

“Yes.” I replied.

“Why, you’ll have a royal reception with a band to greet you!”

We landed and took the train to Spaichingen. I will never forget our reception. We got off the train and there was a wagon pulled by two horses with its driver. No band.  No crowd of people. We loaded the suitcases on the wagon which the driver took to our hotel and we followed along behind on foot.  At that time, Ed had just turned 4, Debbie was 2 ½, and John 1 ½ years old.

We got to the hotel and met Frau Klein, the owner and manager. She took us up to the third floor, otherwise known as the garret. We were there a very short time when we heard a knock on our door.  I opened it and there was a messenger who handed me a letter. It had been written by the two sisters to whom we had been sending the care packages. The letter had been translated into English by someone and it said,

“We are very grateful for the help you were to us after the war.  We never told you about the other relatives in town because we didn’t want to be a burden. We would appreciate it if you would not mention anything about the care packages you sent.”

The next day there was another knock on the door and we were asked to come down to the dining room.  We all went down together and there was a roomful of people—none of whom spoke English—and we knew very little German. The group, however, had an interpreter available for us. Their first question was, “Why didn’t you help us after the war?”

My mind immediately flashed to the letter “We would appreciate it if you do not mention anything about the care packages.”

“We didn’t know about you,” I said.

There was a lot of talk in German right then. It was very clear they didn’t believe us. After much discussion on their part, they went on with their second question. “Why didn’t America join Germany against Russia?”

“Because there were things going on in Germany that we could not accept.”

Further talk in German, then another question, “What things?”

“Well, the killing of six million Jews in concentration camps.”

Further talk in German. They said they didn’t know about concentration camps.

I didn’t want to get into a big discussion on their concentration camps so we didn’t discuss it further.

About this time, they got out a little book, handed it to me, pointed to a place in the book and said, “Großvater.” (Grandfather)

I looked over the book, trying to understand it, and finally had to ask what it was.

There was further discussion in German. Then the interpreter told us that everybody had to have the record of their ancestors for five generations in order to show that there were no Jews in the family. Small talk followed but that was the essence of our meeting.

We went back up to our garret and after I closed the door, Dolores said, “You’re not leaving me here with your relatives. Wherever you go, we’re going with you!”

Mom, Dad, Ed, John and I did end up visiting the two sisters who kept the care packages for themselves at their home in Balgheim. The first floor was a barn-like space for the animals. Their living quarters was above the barn and was kept warm by the heat the animals created. There were a lot of wool sweaters around. The smell from beneath, permeated the air above, soaking into their clothes, handmade bedding and braided rugs but the heat rose and kept them warm. The sisters served Mom a cup of tea in a china cup. Mom complimented them on its beauty.

John locking at the sister's livestock

John on the first floor of the sisters’ home.

I wonder what shame, guilt, or both they must have felt when they were faced with our arrival and showed up at our hotel that day along with their other relatives. What did they feel when their eyes darted between us and those from Schpaichingen who had called us down from the garret to confront my parents on their lack of care?  What the sisters didn’t know at the time was that Dad’s parents and brother were sending care packages to the others. None of them knew who was getting what. The support that could have brought them more closely together, further divided them.

How often do we excuse ourselves from the simple act of caring for others because we can justify to ourselves that we somehow deserve it, or that we have a unique situation with a special privilege? And how often do we end up with less because we were trying to get more? I certainly can’t judge my relatives for the things I know I am guilty of myself in a different context.

When we were preparing to leave Spaichingen, a small box arrived at the Alte Post for our family. It was the tea cup along with a matching saucer and plate. The most beautiful possessions the sisters owned.

I never knew about the cup but it sits on a shelf in Mom’s china cabinet. When Dad told me that part of the story, emotion washed over his face, slightly changing its color. “It was all they had,” he said–his eyes intensity piercing through my own.

Dad and I sat together quietly for a while. I had said harsh words about our relatives. I wanted to take the words back, but I couldn’t.

I wished I would have remembered that it’s simply not my place to judge someone else. Hopefully, next time I will. In the end, the best we can do for our own hearts and for others, is to forgive.

Two Veils

A Birth Veil

Mom told me she was born with a veil–sometimes called a veil of tears. Her mother told her it was a sign of beauty. It’s been said people like Freud, Charles the Great and Napoleon were born with veils and that it is a mark of uniquely extreme perception. I don’t know if there is any scientific data to support that but I do know Mom had a deep understanding of the greater things in life.



The farmhouse she grew up in was large and drafty. It was kept warm by a wood burning furnace in the center of the basement with a big floor grill above it. 

The Rahn farmhouse

The Rahn farmhouse

Grandma would heat water on the wood stove to fill the big tub used for bathing. The water was kept warm because the tub sat right on the floor grill. The youngest took the first bath and then it progressed by age. The oldest and dirtiest went last–which was her dad. 

Mom with her brothers Ronnie (L) and Joel

Mom with her brothers Ronnie (L) and Joel

Pneumonia was common and just as Mom’s life was beginning, she laid in bed struggling to breathe. She could hear the somber voices of her parents talking to the doctor outside her room. Then, in a feverish haze, she heard the doctor say, “Dolores isn’t going to make it through the night.”

Too weak to lift her head from the pillow or utter a sound, she prayed a short, sweet prayer, “Dear Lord, if I get better, I will live for you.” She did live through the night and her strength slowly returned that year. 



She continued practicing the piano and began to play a little at church. When she was 10, during the service one Sunday, Reverend Bernwirth asked if there was anyone who wanted to come forward to the altar to be baptized–they dunked. Sitting beside her Uncle Willard, without any nudging from him, she rose and walked steadily down the aisle. The pastor read, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).  This was the first scripture she memorized.

Her father, Edward Rahn, was a tall, striking man and a strong farmer. Her mother, Alma Force, was different from the other women he met–she had become a teacher and worked at the school adjacent to his family’s farm. Ed had spotted her coming and going and soon made his presence known. It didn’t take long for him to capture her heart and they were married. Love was expressed differently between them–it was never spoken of.

There was a blizzard one Christmas Eve when Mom and her two brothers Ronald and Joel, drove with their parents to the Christmas Pageant at church. They made it into the building but by the time the pageant ended, the wind howled and the snow had become a white sheet. The parking lot was a mess of deep mud and icy slush. As they exited the doors, her dad scooped her up in his arms, wrapped her inside his coat and tucked her close against the warmth of his chest as he carried her to the car.

Mom and her Dad

Mom and her Dad

After a lifetime of struggling with it–like many do whose parents don’t know how to love well–Mom realized, that though he didn’t say the words, this event was a confirmation that he really did love her.  

A Wedding Veil

“It was in June 1950 that your Mom and I got married in her hometown church,” Dad recalled. “We had the reception in the basement and then celebrated some more at the house.

Wedding Day

Wedding Day

I never heard your mom’s Mom and Dad argue because her dad would just be quiet and do what he wanted. Like the day we were getting married.  Your grandma made it very clear she didn’t want alcohol at the party. Dad never said a word about it but on the day of our wedding he spent the morning cleaning out the garage. I didn’t think anything more about it until the delivery truck came from town and unloaded the alcoholic beverages.

Quite a few of my folks’ friends came for the wedding. Their group of friends was called the TPs. They would never tell us what it stood for. My sister Judy and I later figured out it meant Terrible Parents. Anyhow, they came to the wedding and stayed at various friends’ houses. Although Dolores’ home now had electricity, running water and a bathroom, one of the TP’s insisted on using the outhouse that still stood on the property so that he could say later he came to the wedding and had to use an outhouse. That was old Marty Rindfleich–he’d always find something to needle you about.

We had five each, bridesmaids and groomsmen. The bridesmaids all made their own dresses. Dolores bought the material. 

Wedding Party

Wedding Party

So towards the end of the church basement reception, Dolores’ older brother Ronnie came down and snatched Dolores and carried her to a pickup truck waiting outside.  Ronnie had placed the backseat of a car on the back of the cab of the truck and seated Dolores on it. When I came out and saw her there I had no choice but to join her and they drove us around town.

The wedding gifts were now all at the farmhouse. After the reception was over, we went through the gifts, marking the envelopes with the amount of money and taking out the cash so we’d have enough money to go on our honeymoon. We had to borrow my Dad’s car because we didn’t buy a car until later.  Our first car was a 1939 Chevy which we would drive from Champagne to Milwaukee or Lanark.

We had arranged to rent a motel in Freeport for our wedding night. The day after, we went up to northern Wisconsin to a cottage I had rented on White Sand Lake . 



We felt quite at home there because the cottages also had an outhouse. One of the nights, we’d gotten into bed and heard this fluttering sound. We turned on the lights and found a bat flying back and forth in our cottage. Dolores held the door open while I got a broom and maneuvered him outside. One day, we took a boat with an outboard motor and went fishing.  While we were out, a storm came up and the lake got pretty rough. I went to tend to the motor–I tied the motor to the boat and Dolores said,”

“What are you doing?”

“We might get swamped and I don’t want to lose the motor.” I told her.

“What about me?  I can’t swim.”

“She wasn’t too happy with that moment.  I just told her I’d always take care of her.

The cottage we rented was next to a cottage owned by my friend Bob Frey. Bob’s mother and father came to visit us one morning. Dolores had just finished making a pineapple upside-down cake. So she made a fried egg breakfast for all of us and we had the cake for dessert.

On our way home, the oncoming car somehow lost control and swerved right in front of us. I pulled off onto the side of the road to try and give him room. He swerved in front of us; tossing gravel against our car then crossed back to his side of the road and flipped over. Other drivers stopped and we managed to get the guy out of the car which was on its side. Dolores and I took him to the hospital. The gravel he had knocked up broke a headlight on my Dad’s car. When we got home, Dad wasn’t at all happy about that.”