As I said in my Discovery Prompts Day 20 post, music has always been a very important part of our lives. Music has also played a huge role in our children’s lives.
When our three sons were in fifth grade, they began playing instruments in the school band. One played drums, even though two of them wanted to. One played the trumpet because I said it would be a good instrument for him. I’m not sure why. The third played the saxophone. We purchased instruments and they played in the band through high school.
We had one other instrument in the house. It was a classical guitar I purchased for my wife as a present for our first Christmas together. One of the boys picked it up and began to teach himself to play. It seemed like no time at all and he was in his room playing along with his favorite music. He and his brothers and a friend decided they were going to start a band. The only problem was, the only instrument they had was the classical guitar.
One of the smartest things I ever did was to go into a music store and purchase a set of drums, an electric bass guitar, and an electric lead guitar. On Christmas Day, we presented the instruments to our boys and said, “There you go, it’s all up to you now.”
Our son who wanted to play drums now had his chance. One played the bass, the other the guitar. The three of them literally taught themselves how to play. In a very short period of time, their band was beginning to sound pretty good and they were getting invitations to play at church youth events.
I also surprised myself with a new Rhodes electric piano which I still play.
The boys began writing music which they performed with their band. They recorded a couple of CDs and sold them at their concerts.
When our sons graduated from high school they attended a Christian college and became involved in the music program. They traveled all four years with a musical ministry group representing the college at youth events as part of a student recruiting program. They regularly played for chapel and student events at the school.
The boys have continued to do incredibly well in music. They have all upgraded their instruments several times since that first Christmas. For five years, our son who plays guitar traveled with a Christian rock band. They performed in huge events and shared the stage with many famous groups. He and his wife are now worship and arts pastors at a large church in Nashville.
The drummer has played with various groups and often plays with artists needing a drummer, also in Nashville. He and his wife are both incredibly talented. They write music together, his wife plays guitar and sings.
The bassist plays with the worship team at his church, and often plays with other musicians as opportunities arise.
One of the greatest joys we ever had was playing and singing with our sons and daughter for two years as we led worship at our church. I took the time for granted and it passed all too quickly. When the boys left for college they left a huge hole, both in our music and in our hearts.
Four instruments. Christmas presents. It really wasn’t a lot of money but the results changed the boys’ lives and ours.
Music has always been important to our family. From my earliest memories we had music in the house. Since I have been in church my entire life, I have always been surrounded with church music.
I started playing my grandmother’s piano when I was five years old. I began taking lessons when I was seven. Slowly but surely, I began to learn how to play, but very early, frustration set in because I couldn’t play the kind of music that I loved.
My parents used to attend what was called the “all night sings”. They didn’t really last all night, but almost. The performers were Southern Gospel quartets. During those days it was usually just four singers and a piano player. No drums, guitars, or synthesizers. Just a guy on the piano who could really play. My dad bought records every time they went, and I listened to them for hours and would try to play what I heard.
The Blackwood Brothers Quartet was one of the earliest groups I heard. Another group that was very popular during the 1960s was The Statesmen Quartet with Hovie Lister. Hovie Lister was a fantastic pianist and I wanted to play just like him. I had the privilege of meeting him in person at a Christian Booksellers Convention in Atlanta many years ago. I wish I had taken the time to sit and talk with him for a while. He has since passed away.
The church we attended at the time used to invite Southern Gospel quartets in periodically for concerts. The Weatherford Quartet was one of the earliest groups I heard. In the video, the man standing on the far right, the bass singer, is a very young Armond Morales. Many years later, Armond would have a very successful career including Grammy Awards with The Imperials. The man standing on the far left is Glenn Payne, who sang for many years with The Cathedral Quartet which began its long career at the Cathedral of Tomorrow in Akron, Ohio.
As the years past, my frustration continued. Even as I was learning to play better and do more on the keys, I just wasn’t where I wanted to be. I spent hours and hours copying what I heard, note for note. While I was in college I mastered a song by The Oakridge Boys back when Tommy Fairchild was their pianist before the group became stars in Country music.
After my wife and I were married we began performing concerts together. During the late 60s and early 70s, the Jesus People movement was gaining numbers very rapidly. Andre Crouch and the Disciples quickly became a favorite, and Andre’s piano playing captured my attention. In fact, his playing, even though he passed away five years ago, still fascinates me. For many years my wife and I performed his songs including, “Oh, I Need Him”, “The Blood Will Never Lose It’s Power”, “My Tribute”, “I Don’t Know Why Jesus Loved Me”, and others. Of course, that meant, in my mind anyway, I had to play Andre’s songs just like him. I did my best.
In all of our concerts and performing in churches throughout the years, the songwriter who’s music we used most often was Bill Gaither. He has written hundreds of songs and his music is known throughout the world.
When I was very young I said one day I would play for a Southern Gospel quartet. Well, I never had that privilege. But I have had the honor of playing for my wife and I, for choirs, churches large and small, in concerts, old-fashioned campmeetings, and we have literally performed in front of nearly ten thousand people in huge conferences. All of the people I copied over all these years have helped me tremendously. They say imitation is the highest form of compliment.
Here I am, many years ago, rehearsing on a nine-foot Steinway concert grand piano at the Omni Center in Atlanta, Georgia before a conference. Six degrees of separation came pretty close when I got to accompany a Grammy winning artist, and also a famous TV preacher, both of whom will remain nameless. It was fun.
Music has been good to us, and actually still is. We don’t perform as often as we used to but we still enjoy it. My struggles with essential tremors make it very difficult for me to play in public. I miss it.
Music has been with us all these years. So has coffee. In fact, I need some now.
In ninety seconds we went from a family of three to a family of six. We knew we were going to have triplets six days before they were born. The due date was April 10. They were born ten weeks early by cesarean section. We had no idea what to expect. We were supposed to have our cesarean class the afternoon of their birth.
The morning began like any other day. Any other day with the knowledge we were going to be the parents of triplets. During the last weeks of the pregnancy the doctor was becoming concerned because my wife was gaining more weight and size than was considered normal.
“The same thing happened when I was carrying our daughter”, my wife said.
“This is not the same thing. You are beyond where you would have been normally. We need to make sure everything is okay”, the doctor said.
He scheduled my wife for an ultrasound. The day of the procedure as the technician was doing the scan, the screen appeared to be covered with arms and legs.
“My God! It’s triplets!” the tech yelled.
My wife began hyperventilating, I tried not to pass out. The tech left for room to get help. Another tech came in, looked at the screen and said, “No, it’s just twins”. We were supposed to be relieved. It didn’t work. The doctor scheduled us with a specialist at a large medical center about thirty miles away.
A few days later we made our way to the medical center that very soon would become our home. We met with the specialist, a wonderful obstetrician. He gently began another detailed ultrasound that included measuring bones for comparison. He measured the two babies. As he was about to finish, all of a sudden he said, “Young lady, you have three in there.” Two were head-down, the third was across the feet of the other two.
The doctor did his best to assure us everything was going to be okay. He told my wife to go home, go to bed and stay there. Our weekly visits with our local obstetrician would continue until the babies were born.
The day began uneventfully with our normal visit to the clinic to meet with my wife’s doctor. We were quickly ushered into an exam room so she could lie down while waiting for the doctor. Our local doctor was a gentle, elderly man who was a trusted figure in our community. He often carried a corn-cob pipe, which was with him today. He did the normal exam, then leaned back on the table.
“We are really looking forward to the birth of these babies. We have a team of doctors who will be meeting this afternoon so that we can plan our strategy for the birth, for caring for the babies, and for you. This is the thirtieth anniversary of our hospital, and it has been thirty years since triplets were born in our community.”
We listened intently, and felt more calm the longer he talked. Then everything changed.
“Of course, all of our plans are shot down because you are in labor and you need to go to the medical center right now. Are you not feeling anything? he asked my wife.
“No”, she answered while tears began to roll down her cheeks.
“You are beginning to dilate. You are having contractions and we need to get you to the medical center as soon as possible”, the doctor said.
An ambulance was considered, but the doctor assured us I could drive my wife to the hospital. He told me to go home to retrieve anything my wife would need and come back to pick her up. We were soon on our way. I drove eighty-five miles an hour, hoping to see a State Trooper or Sheriff Deputy, but none were to be found.
When we arrived at the medical center, our doctor came in and really tried to comfort us, but he wasn’t successful. He then tried to explain what was going to happen.
“We could give your wife a drug that would stop the labor. However, if the drug doesn’t work and the babies are born anyway, your wife now has a drug in her system she doesn’t need, and the babies do as well. If we go in and get them now, we have all the people here that we will need. If we wait and they are born in the middle of the night, we might not have the team here that we need.”
I didn’t know what to think or say, but then had a thought. “Doctor, if she was your wife, what would you do?” I asked.
The doctor then examined my wife again and said, “This decision has already been made for us. She has dilated more and we need to go in and get them now.”
A nurse standing close by said, “Doctor, they were supposed to have their cesarean class this afternoon.”
“They told me they already had their class”, and he looked at me and winked.
“That’s right”, I said. I was taken from the room and dressed for the procedure.
When I next saw my wife, she was lying on an operating table, surrounded by equipment, doctors, and nurses. She had a sheet just below her chin that blocked her view. Her arms were stretched out to the sides with IVs in each. I was seated on a stool close her to head and encouraged to talk to Mary and try to keep her calm. They forgot to appoint someone to keep me calm.
“Is everyone ready?” the doctor asked. “I’m going in.” He then proceeded to make an incision and immediately a great deal of liquid poured from my wife’s abdomen. Within just a few seconds, the doctor lifted a very small baby and said, “Baby number one is a boy”, and handed the infant to a nurse who quickly left the room. “Baby number two is a boy”, and again the baby was literally run from the room. “Baby number three is a boy”, and the same thing happened again.
I noticed a tear rolling down my wife’s cheek and I asked, “What’s the matter? Everything is fine. They’re okay.”
“I don’t hear them crying”, she said.
I told her the babies had all been taken from the room immediately and they were doing fine, even though I hadn’t yet seen them.
The head of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) came and asked me to follow him. We went into another room, and there were our three sons, each lying on a table surrounded by a team of specialists working to stabilize them. The doctor told me the condition of each of the three boys. “Baby A” was sixteen inches, 4 pounds, “Baby B” was fifteen and a half inches, 3.3 pounds, “Baby C” was fifteen inches, 2.9 pounds. Each of the babies was on a ventilator.
I stayed with my wife four days. It wasn’t until the fourth day that she was able to see the boys for the first time. I had become somewhat accustomed to all of the machines, IVs, and constant care the boys were receiving. My wife cried when she saw them. Their little chests were rising and falling with the pressure of the ventilator. Their tiny bodies looked like bones with skin stretched over them.
My wife was finally able to return home from the hospital on day four. We hated leaving our little boys. From that day on, we went back to spend time with our babies every day, sometimes twice a day, until they were all able to come home. We didn’t get to hold them until the ventilators were removed and they were able to breathe on their own.
Over the next ten weeks there were ups and downs, gains and losses, and surgeries. There were moments of incredible fear, but there was also constant encouragement from the amazing doctors and nurses of the NICU.
When all of the boys were finally home after ten weeks, it was time to learn how to care for them constantly. They were released on apnea monitors, so we were trained in infant CPR. We had apnea alarms, but thankfully, we never had to use CPR.
Where have the years gone? Trace Adkins has a popular song called, “You’re Gonna Miss This”. If you haven’t heard it, you should. The early days seemed like years. Now the years seem like moments. I wrote a book many years ago (unpublished) called “One Plus One Equals Three”.
These are the boys with their older sister. Two of the boys are identical, one is fraternal. The doctors called them “a pair and a spare”.
This was our Christmas photo two years ago. Another grandson has joined our family since then. Life has been good. Very, very good. It’s been thirty-six years since we proved one plus one equals three.
Many years ago, we bought a vintage metal table and chairs. We have never repainted it, and this year the wear and tear is really showing. Rust is beginning to take over, so it’s time to take action.
I bought a sand blaster, which is actually a walnut shell blaster. I was sure it would quickly take all the rust and loose paint off. Didn’t happen. No matter how I tried and how I went over the same areas again and again, the blaster just wasn’t doing the job. Time to do something more drastic.
I went to the local big-box buy-everything-here-including-stuff-you-didn’t-think-we-would-have-and-you’ll-never-need store. Sure enough, they had what I needed. A grinder. This isn’t just any grinder, this thing will remove paint, rust, dirt, skin, and cut steel, wood, and fingers.
It has taken me three days of work to get the chairs ready for painting. I found that with each chair, I removed more, which made the previous chair unacceptable. I had to go back and redo the first and second chairs I worked on. I used the grinder on every part of the chairs I could reach with the wheel. For the areas I couldn’t reach, I used my Dremel tool with a small grinding wheel. Ready for paint!
I have a nice spray painter, but I’m going to use spray cans because I purchased them before I bought the sprayer. I could take the spray cans back, but that would mean a trip back to the big-box-buy-everything-here-store. I’m going to use the cans. My finger will hurt when I’m done, but that’s okay.
Now that the chairs are ready to paint, it’s time to tackle the table. It’s a heavy piece that’s hard to handle, especially with the glass on the top. It really is amazing the glass has never been broken. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.
There is actually a lot more rust on the table than I thought. And I forgot about the ornate scrolling just under the glass. It’s going to be a tough job.
We bought this vintage table and chairs at the Up North store that was in Standish, Michigan for many years. The store was a favorite stop of ours on our trips up north. By the way, up north in Michigan always begins in reference to Saginaw. Up north does not begin until you are past M-61, which is the east-west highway that begins in Standish. Now, I know there will be those who say I’m wrong. They’ll say up north doesn’t begin until you cross the Mackinac Bridge. That is way the heck up north. Lovely, but north begins long before the Mighty Mac.
For example, people in the Detroit area talk about Otter Lake as being up north. Now that is just ridiculous. Otter Lake is not up north any more than Oxford is up north. Look at a map of Michigan. Real up north begins after Saginaw.
Now that we have settled that, it’s time for more coffee.
Who comes up with this stuff? Social distancing? For people like me who are socially distant, nothing has changed. Except, of course for the mask that no two people agree on for more than forty-seven seconds.
I’m ok with social distancing, if it means staying away from crowds of people. I’m really not doing anything different than I was before. The real difference is we quit watching the news. I’m social distancing myself from everybody who does the news. Now that, I can get excited about.
I have a t-shirt with an inscription, “It’s way too peopley outside.” Yep. It is way too peopley outside, not just during all this craziness, (not that I’m one of those who believe the virus isn’t real, it’s real alright), but always. Staying away from people has not been difficult at all. It was hard, however, to follow the rules and stay away from our family for the first month. Not doing it anymore.
This is why I always got into so much trouble when I was a pastor. There were people everywhere! No one ever told me being a pastor was about being with people. Constantly.
I honestly envy pastors I have met who just cannot get enough of being around their people. I heard one pastor say, “If I could just preach and visit my people, I’d be the happiest man in the world.” I was dumbfounded. A retired pastor said, “I miss the burden of the people.” I thought he was crazy. The burden of the people? What does that even mean? Another pastor friend said, “The toughest thing for me to do on my day off is stay away from the church.” I thought, I’ve heard it all, now. This guy is out of his mind. The last place anyone ever found me on my day off was near the church. In fact, they couldn’t find me at all!
I hated visiting, and that’s where I fell on my face. People demanded it. Oh, I didn’t mind going to the hospitals, or doing funerals and weddings. Those were short term, in and out. At least the hospitals and weddings were. Funerals were a lot tougher. I have no idea how many funerals and weddings I officiated. And besides officiating, the ones where I played the piano. Add a whole bunch more. Do I miss it? You have to be kidding. If anyone had told me many years ago it would all involve endless people, I probably wouldn’t have done it. It’s a good thing they didn’t tell me, I guess.
People tell me I was a good preacher, and I appreciate it (I retired from ministry in 2004 after thirty-one years. After I retired I was asked to fill in for several months at a couple of churches. Now that was better! I didn’t have to do anything but preach. Preaching was always easy. If I could preach and head out the back door when I was done, that was like heaven. Finally, I reached the point where I don’t even fill in anymore, and I don’t miss it. Too many people.
Social distancing isn’t difficult at all for introverts. I’m ok when there are people around who I love and trust. I’ve never been a party planner. If I absolutely have to go, ok, I can make it through the night. The love of my life can talk to anyone, anytime, for any reason. I love her for it. Maybe if she could have been the pastor (the word pastor actually means shepherd) and I could have been the preacher, I could have lasted longer. No, she was a middle school teacher for many years. One of the great ones.
Someone gave me a book entitled, “Pastors – They Smell Like Sheep”. Uhh, nope. I never read it. In fact, I think I gave it away. I wasn’t interested in smelling like sheep.
My wife’s mother told her family that during the Great Depression, her family didn’t notice anything different. They raised their own food on the farm. They didn’t have anything of value except their land. They lived as they always had. It’s sort of like that now. For those who don’t live on being around others constantly, social distance is nothing new.
I wonder how much money some advertising agency has made by coming up with the phrase “social distancing”. Wait. I’m not supposed to think or say things like that. Social distancing is the new reality. Or so they tell us. If we’re listening, that is.
The closest he had ever been to the Island was the Mackinac Bridge. Twice during family trips to Marquette to visit friends. Twice on the way to Wawa, Ontario for fishing and hunting.
It was actually his father who did all the hunting and most of the fishing. The hunting wasn’t successful and the fishing wasn’t much better. To be honest, there were actually three trips to Wawa. One hunting, and two fishing. The second fishing trip lasted one day. His father, for reasons only a person with concrete for brains would understand, decided it would be a good idea to include the young boy’s mother and little sister on the trip he knew would include blood-sucking black flies and an outdoor toilet. What could go wrong? The family spent one night in the cabin, packed everything up and returned home the following day.
It was the summer of 1964. This time, instead of heading to a cabin in the middle of nowhere with only vampire flies to greet them, the family’s destination was Mackinac Island. The family had a friend who was a Michigan State Trooper, a man the young boy loved and admired. That summer, the Trooper was assigned by the Michigan State Police to be part of the law enforcement staff on Mackinac Island. Not only would the boy’s family be staying on the Island, their accommodations would actually be inside the big fort on top of the hill, Fort Mackinac!
For an entire week, the boy and his older brother were free to roam the Island, and roam they did! The Trooper arranged for the two boys to use bicycles from the police department. One belonged to the Chief of Police! Since the boys had never been to the Island before, everything was new and had to be explored.
Every day there was a different fudge shop to visit. The boys quickly discovered there were samples to be enjoyed. Horses, buggies, wagons, people and bicycles crowded the streets. The shops were endless, lots of great things to want. The boys wandered the Island and loved the long ride around it. At first, it seemed like the bike trip would never end, but just when it seemed like they couldn’t go any farther, they were back in town.
There was an odor in the air that was different, but not unpleasant. Not having been around horses much before, the boy soon discovered the source of the fragrance. The horses didn’t seem to mind, so why should he?
The boy never wanted to go home. There was so much to love about Mackinac Island it seemed to make perfect sense the family should stay forever. There were lots of people working, his father could get a job, maybe driving one of the wagons, or carrying suitcases on a bicycle up to the big hotel on the hill. He remembered seeing a school, so he could just go there.
The day the boy dreaded finally came. His mother packed his suitcase and the family left the fort for the last time. They walked down the long pier toward the waiting ferry. He felt like his heart would break. He couldn’t stand the thought of leaving.
During the trip back to Mackinaw City, the boy’s mother said, “What’s the matter? I can read you like a book.”
“I just hate to leave the Island,” the boy said.
“Don’t you know all good things must come to an end?” his mother asked.
Somehow that didn’t make him feel any better.
Life has a way of making good things come back. And Mackinac Island, one of the greatest experiences of the young boy’s life has returned. Many times. Even though he’s much older now, he still feels the same way about the Island. There must be some way he and his wife could live there. Maybe he could drive one of the wagons, or carry suitcases on a bicycle up to the big hotel on the hill. He’s too old to be a Michigan State Trooper now, even though he had a deep desire to be a Trooper that started back in 1964.
A week just isn’t long enough for someone who loves Mackinac Island as much as this boy does. It never gets old. From the very first time he stepped foot on the Island that seemed so much like a dream, the dream stays new. Each time he steps off the ferry again, he is young, excited, and can’t wait to sample the fudge again.
It’s really a struggle to stop and take a breather with all of the demands and screaming voices coming from every direction. Sometimes we have to slow down just to maintain sanity, or at least try.
I have always found the lakeshore to be very calming. With the rolling of the waves and constantly changing reach of water on the sand it’s easy to be taken in. It’s the same mesmerizing sense that takes over when I’m watching a campfire.
Music has always been a source of comfort. I have an Earl Klugh station on the music app I use that I love. Earl Klugh is an incredible jazz guitarist I have enjoyed for over forty years. Sometimes songs cycle through I don’t care for, but I have “liked” enough of Klugh’s songs that they frequently return. His fingers expertly dancing on nylon strings creates a magical sound with a calming effect much like the sound of waves rolling on the shore.
I like having my station playing when I’m working on my life-long hobby of model railroading. You would think a hobby like that would be relaxing, and it is, mostly, but sometimes its frustrating. Having music playing is helpful except when I stop what I’m working on and just listen. Sometimes the work is slow and tedious but the rewards are incredible. Listening to jazz guitar helps me maintain a slow pace and resist the urge to rush.
Another kind of music that helps us tremendously, especially when we need to slow down, is worship music. We love Elevation Worship and Hillsong United. (This is not a sales pitch! We have no connection to either one. We just enjoy their music). Amazing, encouraging, inspiring, calming, reassuring.
Our miniature golden-doodle, constantly at our side, is a great source of comfort. She can nap at any time, in any situation, no matter what is happening around us. We try to follow her example.
With every sunset I’m reminded that trouble won’t last forever. Hope is renewed with every sunrise. Time for more coffee.
In my mind, there is nothing more rewarding, after a very long, cold, dreary, mind-numbing, blustery, bone-chilling, limb-freezing, lip-cracking, brainless, heartless, endless, blizzard-loving winter than the scent of lilacs. Lilacs are the gift of spring. Lilacs call to us with welcoming words, “I’ve been waiting for you! You’re finally here! This amazing fragrance is just for you!”
In our area, lilac buds begin to open around the third week of April. It’s a dangerous time for them because the night temperatures can easily dip below freezing and damage the young blossoms. I have tried placing plastic over the bushes to protect them but found the plastic did more damage than the cold. Now I just leave them and hope for the best.
We have four young lilac bushes in our yard. We have taken lilacs with us when we moved in the past, as long as the plants weren’t too big. We were successful with most of them. At our last house we had a beautiful lavender color bush that produced gorgeous blossoms every year. We had moved it from our previous house, but it became so large we had to leave it when we moved again.
When lilacs are young they have to be watered often. It’s important for the small roots to stretch out thoroughly. Soon the plant will thrive and be able to gather enough moisture without constant care. The leaves are beautiful, but nothing matches the beauty and scent of the flowers.
The sad part about the lilac blossom is that they do not last very long. Once the clusters are fully open, the flowers will last about a week, maybe a little longer. We carefully cut some to enjoy indoors.
Our favorite flower colors are white and lavender. There are several different varieties of lilacs, and I can’t name them. I just know the ones we like best, not by the name, but by the appearance of the blossom. There is a variety with a deep lavender and white blossom that does not have the strong fragrance of the lighter lavender and the white. Even the white does not have the rich fragrance of the lavender, but it is still amazing.
Lilac bushes love to spread, and depending on the variety can grow quite tall. If you do not want the bush to spread out, you will want to clip or move the young plants that begin to appear in the ground around the main bush. You can dig out the young shoots and replant them. With plenty of water and good soil, they will develop roots and grow.
Of course, nothing goes better with the incredible scent of lilacs than a delicious cup of coffee. Coffee is the gift of every day like lilacs are the gift of spring.
“The Good, The Bad, and The Funny.” That was the name I gave to the first book I ever wrote. I’ve written four.
People have a great capacity to believe all kinds of things. Belief is a stretch into the unknown with a hope of something better. Sometimes the things people believe make no sense to anyone else. Hindsight perspective should be available beforehand. But, if it were available before, it wouldn’t be hindsight, would it? Others who have believed the same things but no longer do can warn or try to help those with present belief, but if the believing ones don’t hold fast, that may be seen as a lack of belief. Unfortunate. In some cases, tragic.
Sometimes belief becomes so strong all common sense is lost. Reason is tossed away like an old pair of shoes. Even in the face of undeniable evidence, which at some point becomes an enemy, nothing turns the believing one around. At that point, to some he is a hero. To others, he’s a lunatic.
The book was an exercise in self-therapy. I did try to get it published but was turned down many times. I received a letter from a secretary of a publishing house to whom I had submitted the manuscript. She said, “I’m not supposed to do this, but I wanted to tell you your manuscript really shook them up. You hit some nerves. I just thought you should know that.” The manuscript is still in my filing cabinet. Typewritten.
“One Plus One Equals Three” is the story of our life with four children. In 1984, we were blessed with triplet sons. Totally unexpected, we found out my wife was carrying three a week before they were born, ten weeks early.
The boys came home from the neonatal intensive care unit after 6, 8, and ten weeks of constant care. During that time we visited the hospital every single day, sometimes twice in the day. We didn’t find out until a month after our last son finally came home the doctors didn’t expect him to live through the first weekend. He did. They are thirty-six years old.
I have read more books in the last four years than I read in the past forty, which doesn’t speak well of my dedication to reading early on. Books can be a wealth of imagination and discovery.
“Camp’s Over, Now What?” I wrote this manuscript as a result of many years of youth work. Young people are incredibly emotional people. It’s a shame we tend to lose that enthusiasm and emotion as we get older. I wrote a column many years ago (I had a weekly column in a small-town newspaper for two years) about how we need to put our jammies on again. Life is wonderful, anything is possible, people can fly when they’re wearing their jammies.
The book is about young people being overcome with emotion, declaring they will change their school, their friends, and never be the same again. They soon discover the emotion doesn’t last, and they’re convinced nothing has changed at all. Someone should have told them, (us), the emotion wouldn’t last. However, decisions can last forever.
“Smivey Stepward” is my first middle grade novel, book one of my Smivey Stepward series. Smivey is a red haired, freckle faced, 7th grader, in love with Elizabeth since first grade, a girl he has never spoken to. Gretchen (Smivey calls her “Gretch”) drives him crazy.
Smivey lives in an old house that was a funeral home owned by his maternal great grandparents, Ira and Irvina Hipplemeyer. He thinks the house is haunted. His dad and mom are weird. His dad is co-owner of Stepward & Sons Hardware with his grandfather, Archie Stepward. His dad thinks only of the store and believes Smivey does too. He’s wrong.
Smivey’s best friend, Larry Murfin, is everything Smivey wants to be. He lives on a dairy farm, has a dog, a truck, and his mom can whistle really loud. Larry wishes he could change places with Smivey. The two boys have been inseparable since 2nd grade when they both threw up on their desks at the same time.
I’m working on finding a literary agent. She’s out there just waiting for this one.
When I think about my teachers, there are two who always come to mind. And, I suspect, they always will. Both were at the same school, Mackinaw Middle School in Saginaw, Michigan.
Both teachers came into my life when I was in the 5th grade. The impact of events during that school year have kept the memories new. Mrs. Vassold was my classroom teacher. Looking back now, she wasn’t old, but she seemed so then. Of course, to a ten-year-old, adults all seem old.
Mrs. Vassold was a caring, kind, and encouraging teacher. Everything seemed doable in her class. She had a real gift of instilling confidence in her students, something that I lacked. I didn’t realize until many years later how much Mrs. Vassold meant to me. As I think of her now, there is still a sense of calm connected to my memory of her.
Harry B. Wallerstein was our middle school band teacher. He was another educator with a gift of reaching into students’ hearts and planting seeds of confidence they might not otherwise ever experience. My chosen instrument was the cornet, which I played because my uncle had a horn I could use. It seemed like no time at all and our band was playing real songs. Mr. Wallerstein was my band teacher four years.
Mrs. Vassold and Mr. Wallerstein were on the same team. They may not have literally planned together, but the results of their teaching strategies and caring spirit changed lives forever.
Through many years of music experience, I am amazed at the music Mr. Wallerstein inspired us to play at such a young age. Those songs were tough! We played them beautifully. I’ll never forget Mr. Wallerstein playing a tape recording of a new song that had just burst on the airwaves. It was called, “Yesterday”, by Paul McCartney.
Mr. Wallerstein made learning music such fun. Every day he was on the lookout for students who were chewing gum, which was forbidden. Right in the middle of a song he would point at the offender and yell, “Ten cents!” He wrote their name on the board. There was always a long list. He collected all those dimes throughout the year. On the last day of school, he brought in a clawfoot tub, filled it with all kinds of pop and provided lots of potato chips. We were welcome to come in throughout the day, as many times as we wished.
I really didn’t realize how much I had learned from Mr. Wallerstein until I was asked to be a band director at a private school. The only training I had was what I had seen Mr. Wallerstein do. I did the same.
In 1997, I found Mr. Wallerstein’s address on the internet, he was living in Florida. I wrote him a letter, not knowing for sure if it was really Harry B. Wallerstein of Mackinaw Middle School fame. My letter began, “Dear Mr. Wallerstein, my name is Dale Parsons. From 1963 to 1967, I was in your band. I don’t know if you’ll remember me…” I was thrilled beyond words when I received a several page, hand-written letter. “Dear Dale, of course I remember you! When I read your name, I immediately saw your face…” I still have that letter and will always treasure it.
A few years ago, I looked up Mr. Wallerstein on the internet again. This time, I found a picture and a record of his obituary. I have looked for Mrs. Vassold over the years, but since I don’t know her first name, I have never been able to find any record of her.
Now, more than fifty-five years later, I can still see their faces. Mr. Wallerstein and Mrs. Vassold. I remain thankful for all my teachers, but these two have a high place in my memory.
That year is etched in my mind forever. I was in Mrs. Vassold’s class, during Social Studies, and the principal spoke on the PA. “Staff and students, I am sorry to inform you that President John F. Kennedy has been assassinated.”