Snow Boots

There was screaming all around me, and my vision was filled with the sight of my oversized snow boots being chewed and swallowed by the old wooden escalator. The toes were already consumed by the wide space at the end of the stair treads, and my feet were about to be crushed. Suddenly, I was whisked upward, right out of the boots, and I watched in horror as they disappeared under the machine, devoured by the wide, wooden slats.

This is my earliest memory. We were in Rhode Island for my grandfather’s funeral, and since I was a Georgia peach, I had never even seen snow. Fortunately—in many ways—my older cousin lent me a pair of her boots, and my toes remain intact.

My mother’s beloved father had shoveled out his driveway before going to work one January morning, and then he had a heart attack and drove into a snowbank. His body was robbed before the police arrived.

Some may say that his smoking contributed to his early death at only 54, but my mother believed that it was his stress over her brother, Ralph, whom they always called Sonny. My uncle is the shadowy, ne’er-do-well character on the periphery of my childhood and the father of my generous, boot-lending cousin.

Mom and I stayed in Rhode Island with my grandmother for a month or so, while my father and brother went home. After we returned to Georgia, my mother plunged into a year of mourning: no entertaining, no music, no laughter. The lynchpin had been pulled out of her life. She rebuilt, but the space was never filled. She told me later that Granddad had doted on me, and she regretted so much that he never saw me without the tumor that disfigured my toddler face. I wish I could remember him.

To this day, I give a surreptitious little hop at the end of every escalator.

American Ferry Tales

Jamestown View from the Ferry
Jamestown Monument and Settlement as seen from the ferry.

No grocery stores for miles, flat tires, little boys running around with guns, and gale-force winds. It was a perfect vacation.

Our extended family, or at least five old people and a teenaged boy, spent a week in April in Surry, Virginia, touring the historic towns of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, besides hanging out on the front porch watching the James River flow by while a pair of bald eagles feathered their nest in our yard. Unfortunately for our teenager, no one would agree to ride the roller coasters at Busch Gardens with him, so his week may have been quieter than he had hoped.

Cormorants Nesting by Ferry
These cormorants are busy ignoring the ferry passengers.

It is true that there was no internet connection, but it only took a few days for my hands to stop trembling. The ferry, however, was only a mile away, and it was our connection to civilization. It was free, ran on the half-hour, and landed right in Jamestown. We began to arrange our lives by the ferry schedule. Mornings were easy, as we always slept in, and evenings were spent bundled in afghans on the porch in this ridiculously interminable winter. In between, we soaked up history.

Jamestown Ship
Three months on a tossing sea in these tiny ships? The bunks are too small for 21st century folks.

Jamestown is the oldest successful English settlement in North America. “Successful,” because Roanoke, North Carolina is older, but it disappeared. “Oldest,” because the tour guides want you to know that it was around for thirteen years before the Pilgrims of Plymouth, and if you forget, they will continue to remind you. Although the original museum is interesting, and the replicas of their ships are fun to climb on, if you drive one more mile to the original settlement site, you can see the monument of their landing and the archaeological digs that are underway. Here there is a second museum with skeletons and other morbidly fascinating artifacts.

Jamestown John Rolfe
John Rolfe, husband of Pocahontas

If possible, join a guided tour by a ranger or a reenactor. We were fortunate to have the same tour guide, Dick Cheatham, at Yorktown and at Jamestown, where he dressed as John Rolfe, the man who married Pocahontas and introduced tobacco to Europe, which finally made the settlement self-supporting. The tour guides can help you to understand the movement of thought behind the physical structures, the reasons for the rejection of European models and the growth of the American worldview that resulted in the Revolutionary War. In Jamestown, the settlers suffered through and abolished the rigid English class system, tried socialism and died by the hundreds, and then settled on hard work and egalitarianism. The words of the Declaration of Independence didn’t descend from an ivory tower.

The capital of Virginia moved to Williamsburg in the 1690s because, as Powhatan had told them decades earlier, the water in Jamestown was unhealthy. The village in Historic Williamsburg now shows colonial life at its height. In the governor’s palace, we learned that the colonial leaders were strong monarchists and had no use for Parliament, which did nothing but levy taxes on them. Therefore, there are huge portraits of English kings hanging all over the palace. Williamsburg Striped MapThe maps on the walls show North America divided into horizontal stripes, with the holdings of the English, French, and Spanish in pastel colors. The existing residents were ignored, of course. The pink area of Virginia was carefully detailed on the east coast, with a straight-edged stripe leading off to the west coast, which is not shown. The crown of England was not sure exactly what the western edge of North America looked like, but they claimed it anyway. Although the governor kept a standing army, every male person above the age of sixteen had to have a weapon with ammunition and know how to use it. The army and the militia were separate, and the governor did not support the militia in any way. Interesting tidbits for our contemporary discussions of the second amendment. Wooden muskets and tri-cornered hats are sold in the market, and every little boy in town was running around in a red-state euphoria. I can still remember touring Williamsburg when I was a teenager, going from building to building, watching colonial craftsmen and -women plying their trades: candle making, book binding, and tailoring, to name a few. They are all still there! The very beautiful Episcopal church is still an active congregation and seems to have a rather prickly relationship with Historic Williamsburg.

Williamsburg Family Palace
Arriving at the palace, but not dressed for the ball.

After a quiet day of reading, we went to Yorktown on Thursday. For some reason, I was less enthusiastic about this one at first, probably because it was military history.

Yorktown Thomas Nelson
Dick Cheatham again, this time as Thomas Nelson

But ah, here was Dick Cheatham, this time dressed as Thomas Nelson, one of the many Thomas Nelsons in his illustrious family. He led us around the village, telling stories as he went, and what became clear to me was how providential our history is. There were so many times, from Jamestown to Yorktown and beyond, when we very nearly didn’t make it. It is as much a wonder that we are not British subjects today as that the whole world is not speaking German since World War II. While ordinary people are working hard to put food on the table, their leaders are busily arranging history. If it had not been for the French, we could not possibly have won our war for independence. If it had not been for the resistance at Yorktown, we would be watching The Crown as our own story. The Moore House, where the Articles of Capitulation were written, is nearby. After walking through the village and admiring the York River, you can jump in your car and ride around on the driving tour, where you will see berms built for cannons, battlefields, and the Surrender Field, which is— May I just say it since I refused to leave the car?— a field.

Yorktown Surrender Room
This is the actual room where Articles of Negotiation were drawn up for the British to surrender in the Revolutionary War.
Jamestown Church floor
Jamestown Church floor undergoing excavation

We returned to Jamestown a second time on Friday in order to learn more about the extensive diggings going on in the church and all over the grounds. Since the vast majority of the settlers died in the first ten years, the place is one big unmarked grave. It also took that long before the first group of women arrived, apparently after the investors figured out the answer to the problem, “I wonder why the population in our Virginia settlement never seems to increase. Hmm….” Had it not been for the friendship between ten-year-old Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, no one would have survived the harshest winter. Pocahontas risked her life to smuggle food into the fenced-off compound. In addition, John Smith was the first commoner to lead the settlement, and he had very different ideas about manual labor than the gentlemen who preceeded him.

Jamestown John Smith statueJamestown Sacagawea Statue

Although John Smith and Pocahontas both have statues at Jamestown, they were never married or romantically involved at all. Sorry, Disney.

Surrey House from Beach
Up on a hill overlooking the James River, the front porch makes for glorious views.

Surrey House Family Room Kitchen

 

Our house in Surry was perfect for our group. Lots of common space, but generously sized bedrooms, as well. Deer in the backyard, eagles in the front. There is also a front living room, so there are two separate conversation areas. In this picture of the family room, dining area, and kitchen, we had taken a leaf out of the table to fit a birthday party tablecloth for my brother-in-law. My sister found the house on Home Away:  https://www.vrbo.com/993515.

 

In the midst of the current madness, historic Virginia is a bracing reminder of the unique character of our nation. From struggling settlement to proud British colonists to rebellious subjects, these three towns will teach you and your children about the cost of freedom, the need for a thoughtful and informed citizenry, and the perilously fragile nature of liberty.

Family 10: Newborn Cheryl

Family house in NJ
Dad, Mom, Grandma Kelly, Allan, and Scamp in North Haledon, New Jersey. I’m in there somewhere, too.

Mom was living alone with two kids when she found the lump. Dad had left us in a rented house in North Haledon, New Jersey, while he fled the unions up north for the booming textile plants in the south. Mom was pregnant when she arrived in snowy February, and Allan was placed in a Catholic school with more than usually ornery nuns. After I was born in August, my dad moved to Milledgeville, Georgia. It was a lonely time.

Me babyAfter just a few weeks, my mother started to notice that I had difficulty feeding. She slid her finger under my upper lip and found a pea-sized thickening. By the time she got to the doctor, the lump had grown. The doctor in Prospect Park gave her the news: her baby had a tumor in her lip that appeared to be benign, but would continue to grow and needed treatment. Soon it was a struggle to get nourishment into me, and my mother’s life became a battle to keep an infant healthy while giving her ten-year-old son a normal and happy childhood in their isolated home among strangers.

Finally, the day came that the family could live together again, but only by moving further than ever from everyone they knew and loved. Before my mother moved to Georgia, her doctor had cautioned her not to allow anyone to treat my tumor with radiation, since that would cause a hare lip. In those days, radiation was the most exciting new development available, and even shoe stores advertised that they could give you a perfect fit by making x-rays of your feet. The vast majority of people were completely ignorant of the dangers of radiation, and no precautions were taken to shield anyone from excess exposure. When my mother brought me to the doctor in the little town of Milledgeville, the very first suggestion was radiation. When she refused, they referred her to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where we endured years of torture, but with the best possible outcome at the end.

Me Mom 1960
Here I am, an obviously happy toddler, with my beautiful mother, who is responsible for those 1960s bangs.

Every other week, my parents drove two hours to Atlanta, where I would start crying before they reached the parking lot of the hospital. They would carry their traumatized one- and then two-year-old daughter into the hospital, pull her clinging arms from around their necks, and hand me over to the hospital staff, who would wrap me tightly in sheets so that I could not move. I honestly have no memory of the treatments that continued until I was two and a half years old, but apparently, they were ineffective. I can only imagine the suffering my parents endured, knowing that we would all go through this again in two weeks, wishing that they could explain to me why they were delivering me over to be tortured, hoping that they were doing the right thing. My mother told me later that it affected my father so deeply that he spoke of it even decades later. In the end, the doctors decided that they would have to perform surgery.

Many people have negative opinions about plastic surgeons, thinking only of the high prices they charge to craft prettier noses or to make vain, rich women look younger than they are. I, however, thank the Lord for them, since the plastic surgeon at Emory University Hospital made it possible for me to live a normal life. By the time they operated, the tumor had disfigured the entire right side of my upper lip and extended into my nostrils. He decided to take as much as he could from underneath my lip, in order to cause as little scarring as possible. The oncologist warned my parents that I would probably need three more surgeries by the time I finished my teen years, two because of growth and one because of hormone changes in adolescence. I never needed another one.

When my son was a baby, he once threw his head back into my face while he was sitting on my lap, hitting hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. A few days later, my tongue found blisters right where my tumor scars were. I thought that perhaps pregnancy hormones had caused the tumor to grow back the way they had expected in my teen years. The oncologist read my medical record, examined me, and said no, there was nothing there but scar tissue. Then he said, “Hats off to your plastic surgeon. He did a spectacular job.”

Grace Womens photoSo thank you, dear Dr. Kanthak and Dr. Wilkins, for giving me the ability to live a normal, happy life. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that my upper lip has started to fold when I smile, creating a dark area where there is nothing underneath the skin. A small price to pay for avoiding a hare lip, and probably no one notices except me. It’s just a little reminder of the suffering we endured, my parents and me, when I was too young to remember.

Family 9: It’s Howdy Doody Time

The parents of the post-war generation had seen suffering firsthand. They had spent their earliest years in the Depression and had gone through further privation during World War II, whether they fought on the front lines, lost loved ones who served, or simply went without meat and sugar for years. Once those days were over, they were determined to give their own children the idyllic childhood they had never had.

IMAG1696
Allan, left, and his friends in Esmond

Allan grew up in the house his father built until he was eight years old. His grandparents were next door, and he was surrounded by love on all sides. He was a quiet and dutiful child who attended Catholic school and loved to watch Howdy Doody Time and The Mickey Mouse Club every day. For so many working class and middle class kids in the 1950s and early 1960s, the old sit-coms like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver were real-life portrayals of their everyday lives. The entire nation cooperated in safeguarding their innocence, and although there were serious issues—the nuclear threat and the beginnings of the struggles for civil rights—children were largely unaware of them. In those days, there were no cable news channels, so if adults wanted to know the news they either had to tune in for half an hour at six o’clock or read a newspaper. Not everyone even owned a television, anyway. People read books and listened to the ball game on the radio. In many ways, it was a simple, wholesome time.

IMAG1663The textile mills in New England were struggling with union activity, and more and more of them were closing. Walter moved his family to North Andover, Massachusetts, when Allan was eight, leaving both his and Margaret’s parents behind. On their own for the first time, Walter and Margaret became Joe and Marge, and a new phase of life began. Marge worked as a secretary, and Allan played baseball and hung out with his pal, Joey. EC ComicsEvery Saturday, the boys went to the movies, and then went across the street to the store where they sold EC Comics. Apparently, they were terrifying, so much so that Stephen King says that his career was launched from his childhood love of these illustrated horror stories. The federal government was so appalled that American children could access such frightening material that they forbade the publication of all EC Comics. Today, adults who grew up on them collect them from E-Bay listings. And that, dear reader, is why we celebrate Banned Books Week today.

The Kelly family had only lived in North Andover for a couple of years when Joe began looking for a better position elsewhere. About that same time, Marge was struck with rheumatic fever, and in those days, bed rest was required for more than a month. When Marge was finally able to get out of bed and try to resume normal life, she discovered that she was pregnant again. IMAG1676Her doctor was very unhappy about this development, and advised her to have an abortion. He told her that rheumatic fever had damaged her heart, and that she would not survive childbirth. Marge and Joe were devout Catholics, however, and they were in anguish. Abortion was unthinkable, but so was leaving Allan motherless. They decided to go to a cardiologist for a second opinion, and he thought she could take the risk.

And so, a few months later, after the family had moved to North Haledon, New Jersey, I was born in the summer of 1958. Allan tells me that our mother loved a name that she heard every afternoon on his favorite show, that of Cheryl Holdridge, and so she passed it on.

M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-UUU-S-EEEEEE.

The Cord-Cutting Chronicles: I Think We’ve Arrived

Another chapter in our search to find great live TV without paying the cable company. Find the first two parts of this series here and here.

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David and I stayed with DirectTVNow for several months, and it was okay. Although it buffered a good bit at times, for the most part, it was worth the $35 per month that we were paying. We still depended on our Mohu Leaf antenna for local stations—especially network football—upstairs. We never could get our local PBS station to come in, though, so we still stream those programs from the website shortly after air date using Chromecast and our smart phones.

Hulu ad

Last spring, I saw an ad for Hulu Live TV, and although it sounded good, it was not yet compatible with Amazon’s Firestick. Then, a couple of months ago, I checked again and they had upgraded. The service is $40 per month and is still in beta, but we signed up for the one-week free trial. Within a couple of days, I dropped DirectTVNow. Here are the differences in the two services:

  • Hulu Live has DVR. Need I say more? The $40 plan offers 50 hours of DVR storage, but you can pay for more. Why would you need to store more than 50 hours? You watch what you recorded and delete it. Done. It works perfectly and is intelligent enough to only record new episodes, so instead of recording what seems like 30 episodes of Fixer Upper each week, it only records one.
  • Hulu Live has live support. DirectTVNow has online chat “support” with people—or robots—who seem to pick out a word from your question, match it up with a word in their canned responses, and paste that into the reply. Incredibly frustrating. Hulu Live has intelligent, helpful people who actually answer the phone and give good advice. Kudos.
  • You also get the entire Hulu library of movies and TV shows that they have in the $8.99 service for which they are famous.
  • Hulu Live has all of the channels that DirectTVNow has, and then some. We get our local NBC station, for example. Both give us all the cable news channels, HGTV, and sports channels— all the ESPNs, Fox Sports, and even the SEC Network, which is essential in our house. In essence, you get all the channels that you would get with your cable service. It also has on-demand content, including BBC America, which has the Musketeers series that Netflix dropped before we got to season 3. Huzzah!
  • The playback quality, after we made the changes I’ll talk about below, is very good.
  • You can back up live TV, and if you miss a show, you can look it up and hit “View latest episode,” even if it only finished minutes ago.

hulu logoNothing is perfect, of course, and if I could change one thing about Hulu Live, it would be the user interface. When we first installed the app, I had to spend some time on the phone with a customer service rep in San Diego in order to figure out how to get to the programs. It is not at all intuitive. Once you have used it for a while, it becomes customized, which makes it easier, of course, to watch your usual programs, but more difficult to discover new material. I worry that I will wear out my Firestick’s “back” button, since you have to back out of every category to get back to the home screen. Since it is in beta, I offered this helpful feedback to another customer service rep later: “Your user interface is dreadful.” I’m sure she appreciated it.

One other bothersome detail is that the viewer cannot fast-forward or rewind during commercials. I will grudgingly admit that fast-forwarding through commercials might cost them money, but why should we not be able to rewind during commercials? If I log onto a show in progress while it is in commercials, and I want to rewind it to the beginning of the show, I have to wait through the commercial break before I can restart the show. It does not make sense. I’m going to watch those commercials again when I get to that point in the show. But, hey. I can’t rewind at all on other streaming apps like Sling or DirectTVNow.

TWC Spectrum.jpgWe did have some serious issues with buffering, but they turned out to be our problem. We called Hulu Live, and they tested and said that it was our internet connection. So, we called Spectrum (now only our internet provider), and they came out twice, once for the inside and once for the outside of our house. After cleaning up everything they could, they saw that the problem was in our router. It turns out that our router was outdated, and it could not handle our smart TV.

Just as a humorous aside, the second Spectrum guy showed up when David and I were a couple of days away from our son’s wedding, and he was doing yard work while I was working inside the house. In other words, we were not exactly looking our best. So, this Millennial is trying to reassure us [old folks] that our 2.4 router is probably fine for us, since, he says, “You’ve probably got, what? A laptop and your phones? Do you use your phones for anything besides talk and text?” I said, “We have three laptops, two smartphones, and two smart TVs streaming the Hulu Live app as our basic TV source, plus we use our phones to stream Chromecast onto our TVs. We have Netflix, use YouTube on the TVs, and we listen to podcasts on our phones. We’re not gamers, though.” His face was priceless. The upshot was: we needed a new router.

Netgear Nighthawk

I did some research online and, after clearing it with our IT department (son who is a software engineer), we ordered the Netgear Nighthawk AC1750, which is a dual-band wifi router for larger areas. It has worked very well for us, and now Hulu Live may buffer very occasionally, and only for a moment, whereas before it would buffer often, and sometimes even black out the screen. If you are a gamer, I would probably go for something more powerful, unless you live by yourself in a small house or apartment.

So, that’s it! I think we’ve arrived, unless some great quantum leap in entertainment and information services takes place sometime soon. We’re still saving $70 per month over when we had basic cable with Time Warner/ Spectrum, and now we have the Hulu catalog of TV shows and movies, too!

Happy  viewing!

Family 8: The Early Years

IMAG1687The war ended, as all wars eventually do, and society had to rearrange itself into having young men and young families in its midst again. Margaret and Walter rented her Auntie Taggart’s second floor for five dollars a week, and Walter went to work at the mill. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, he also began attending evening classes at the Rhode Island School of Design for textile design.

Walter had been home for some time, and Margaret began to be worried. She still had not conceived, and they both wanted children. She had taken some secretarial courses and was working hard, and she had been banking Walter’s paychecks from the Army. Between their little nest egg and the G.I. Bill, they had enough money for Walter to start building a house in his unimaginable spare time between working and going to school. Margaret so wished for one of the bedrooms to be a nursery.

About the time that her parents began to despair of inventing new comforting words for her as she said each month, “I think I might be pregnant!”, only to be disappointed days later, Margaret finally gave birth to Allan William in July of 1948. One of the first Baby Boomers, Allan joined a nation awash in happy parenthood. As his first harsh New England winter settled in, Margaret wrapped baby Allan up, put runners on his stroller, and pushed him several miles through the snow to their homesite, bringing dinner to Walter, who was still toiling away on a pretty, little ranch house down the road from his parents. They had given the newlyweds a building site on the family land on Ernest Street.

IMAG1693
Little Allan in front of the house that Walter built.

It wasn’t long before they moved in, and Margaret blossomed into her longed-for role of wife and mother. Like most women of her time, she was devoted to Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose Baby and Child Care was the Bible on all things childrearing. Little Allan was on a schedule: wake, breakfast, bath, nap, walk, lunch, nap, and so on. Her father, Archie, loved his grandson, but he knew that if showed up during nap time, he would not be allowed to see him, so he would walk around outside to Allan’s bedroom window and sing “On Top of Old Smokey.” Allan would wake up, delighted to see his Grandad, but Archie would have to endure a scolding from his brisk, orderly daughter. It was worth it.

Allan was still a baby when Margaret conceived again, and in due time she had another son, Robert Walter. He only lived two days. Margaret had to share a hospital room with another woman whose newborn was presented to her several times a day for feeding, and Margaret would ask the nurse, “Where is my baby?” only to be told that the doctor would come talk to her later. Since she was only twenty-two and quite shy, she did not know what to do. Later, she found out that Robert was a “blue baby,” that is, a baby whose mother’s blood was RH negative, while the father was RH positive. Walter, his mother, and any other devout Catholic who saw him baptized him themselves right in the hospital, since they believed that unbaptized babies went to Limbo, a place of nothingness between heaven and hell. When Robert’s time on earth was over, Walter’s parents gave them a burial plot, and Margaret was forced to stay in the hospital during her baby’s funeral, weeping while her roommate cooed and played with her new baby.

These days haunted Margaret for the rest of her life. Because they lived in a small town, the doctors did not know that they could have saved Robert’s life with a blood transfusion. In addition, they had not yet invented the injection that is now routinely given to RH negative women after their first birth—which is always successful—that would have allowed her to have normal pregnancies and healthy babies in the future. Instead, she went on to have six fairly late-term miscarriages in the next decade, during which she was almost always pregnant, but still had only one living child. The doctors dismissed the pregnancies as just tissue that her body was rejecting, but Margaret mourned inwardly, although no one joined her in her grief. She was expected to pick back up and move on. It was not until she saw the ultrasound images when my sister and I were pregnant decades later that she realized that she had been right to grieve for what were obviously fully-formed babies, and she was newly angry over the cruelty of the doctors—and the world in general—toward all those loving young women with broken hearts.

Family 7: Margaret and Walter

IMAG1689
  Joseph Walter and his mother, Matilda

As individuals, we live our lives day after ordinary day, but sometimes world events come crashing in to change the course of history—and the course of families—in ways that we could not anticipate and certainly would not choose.

Walter was still drumming with George Masso and blocking hockey pucks when he realized, along with all of his classmates, that they would graduate from high school and go straight into the military to fight in World War II. He and Margaret knew that their courtship could come to a final end when Walter joined the Army Air Corps in 1943. Not only had Margaret’s grandfather in Scotland died in World War I, but they both had friends and family who had already lost their lives in the current war.

Walter’s dad had left the mill some years ago and gone to work for New England Transportation as a mechanic, and the skills that he passed on enabled Walter to serve as an airplane mechanic. Furthermore, his mother, Mathilda, had become quite valuable to the Red Cross, so when she had a medical emergency and asked if her son could come to her side while the rest of his unit shipped out to Europe, someone somewhere granted her request—which may be the reason I am here to write this today. Walter stayed stateside for the remainder of the war.

IMAG0030Margaret was 17 and still a senior in high school when she received a telegram saying, “I have a furlough in December. Will you marry me then?” Her mother panicked and immediately refused, but once again, her cousin Dot came to her rescue. “Don’t worry, Auntie Peggy! I’ll help you to get this wedding together in less than two weeks, you’ll see!”

And so, in military uniform and trailing white gown, Walter and Margaret tied the knot on December 14, 1944. They went to Boston for their honeymoon, which may not seem romantic, but it was close by. Everything was rationed, but they were miraculously able to find a restaurant serving shrimp, although it may have turned out to be more of a curse than a miracle, as Margaret later spent her wedding night with her arms wrapped around a cold toilet rather than her warm groom. The next day, they explored the joys of Boston and found a booth where they could sing into a machine and create their own phonograph record. If he hadn’t known it before, this is where Walter discovered one of his beautiful wife’s tragic flaws: she could not carry a tune. Indeed, although she would sing quite cheerfully and with great gusto, she had a terrible voice. When they turned the record over to make the second side, he said, “Here, let me sing by myself on this side,” and she said, “OK,” and smiled at him adoringly, because she was, after all, seventeen.

In just a few short days, Walter had to return to his military service, and Margaret, now Mrs. Joseph Walter Kelly, went back to high school.

Dreaming of a Competent Congress

Trump ImmigrationMy father backed the car out of the driveway in the dim light of early morning, while my mother, my sister, and I wept. We were leaving our beloved home in Milledgeville, Georgia. I had only been a few months old when my family moved to this small, historic town, and I could not remember any other home. My father, however, had taken another position in New York City, and he wanted his children to go to Catholic schools. And so, we were New Jersey bound.

I was nine years old when we moved to New Jersey, where I would live until I was halfway through college. We all grew to love it, too, as we made lifelong friends and put down roots. My dad made good decisions for his family, all because of his desire to provide for us and give us a better life. As children, we had no vote in his plans, and I never remember his asking us for our opinions.

According to news reports, there may be as many as 800,000 young people in the United States who were brought here illegally by their parents when they were children. They are popularly called “Dreamers,” as in, dreaming of a better life. Just as I had no say in my parents’ decision to move us from state to state when I was a child, neither did these people have a say in their parents’ decisions. If someone had said to me when I was 20— and then living in South Carolina— that I had to “go back,” where would I have gone? My parents were from Rhode Island, but I had been born in Paterson, New Jersey, where they spent less than a year before moving to Georgia. I have no idea what Paterson looks like, since I have never been there since I was six months old. What would happen to these young people if they had to move to Mexico or Central America, when all of their memories are of the United States?

This problem moves the heart of most of us, even those who agree that crossing the border illegally is a crime. However, Christians recall the many verses of the Bible that speak to God’s compassion for foreigners and “sojourners.”

Leviticus 19:34- “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (NIV)

Exodus 22:21- “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (ESV)

And many more in a similar vein. There is no doubt about how God wants us to treat foreigners in our midst.

President Obama was very concerned about these young people, and he called upon the members of Congress to pass laws to protect them. They did not. Both houses of the U.S. Congress seem to have lost the ability to pass legislation, which is, unfortunately, their entire job. They are so paralyzed at the thought that someone in their district will be offended by their activity and will vote against them in the next election, that they do nothing at all except give self-serving, dishonest speeches in front of a camera. While Congress dithered, President Obama stated publicly that he was not the Emperor of America, and therefore could not make it happen by himself. Apparently, he changed his mind later and signed the executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The recipients of this deferred action are called Dreamers.

Since DACA is an executive order, and not a law, it is expiring, and President Trump has decided not to renew it. A great many of the things that were accomplished during the Obama administration were done by the pen and the cell phone, so we can look forward to crises like this happening regularly. That is both the beauty and the tragedy of executive orders: they are not laws and they cannot last.

While the news media are screaming that people opposed to the renewal of DACA are racists, I will jump out on a limb and tell you: I am cautiously optimistic about this turn of events. The hundreds of thousands of young people who are here because of their parents’ actions deserve better than an executive order. They need for Congress to pass a law to set them on the road to legal status. Sometimes I want to send each legislator a copy of the children’s books that I buy for our library system with titles like, How a Bill Becomes a Law. I could put a note that says, “Read this carefully. This is what you are supposed to be doing. Do it for the children.”

Will Congress muster up the courage to do this? The track record is not good, but I don’t hear anyone on either side against it. If only they could compromise, but I am afraid that our entire society has forsaken the art of listening. Not everything has to be a binary choice. If you care about the Dreamers, it doesn’t mean that you’re for open borders and total amnesty for illegals. It might just mean that you have a heart. If you think it is appropriate to end DACA, it doesn’t mean that you’re a cruel racist. It could mean that you want the government to function constitutionally and to hopefully have an even better resolution for the Dreamers.

Congress has six months to do the right thing. Let’s remind our legislators that we’re expecting them to earn their pay. I plan to write to my Republican congressman and senators to let them know that it’s OK to tackle just this one part of the immigration issue right now, and that I’m not going to take revenge on them for letting 800,000 people stay home.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. Image by the Chicago Sun-Times, accessed 9-7-17.

The Benedict Option Wrap Party

Benedict OptionLast week, the few of us who persevered to the end of our meetings to discuss Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option had a little party to sum up what we had gleaned from this important book. We gathered on the porch, and there were calories and perhaps a little wine involved. With candles lit, we shared favorite parts and even a few criticisms.

We all agreed that Dreher forced us to get serious about our personal spiritual lives. We are more diligent to set aside certain times for scripture reading and for prayer, and we desire to pray more deeply, rather than abruptly addressing the Creator of all the universe with a checklist of our requests. On a related note, we have all attempted to ratchet back the amount of time we spend with technology. For some of us, that means being more deliberate about our television viewing, both the content and just the pervasiveness of the noise. For all of us, it means social media use and the brain-fracturing effect of smartphones.

One member pointed out the lack of scripture in the book. We have been aware throughout the study that Christians cannot base their lives on any movement that came about after the book of Acts. We can learn from church history, but all people have had blind spots, even monks in the Dark Ages. On the other hand, Dreher’s history of philosophy and culture encouraged us to rip off our contemporary American glasses and attempt to turn our minds to a time when Christians saw every atom and every moment of their lives as soaked in God’s presence.

Dreher writes from a post-Christian perspective, and here in the American South, we have not quite arrived. Almost, but not quite. Therefore, when he writes about community as taking place only within the church, we are still more in the mind of The Turquoise Table, working hard to bring our neighborhoods and towns into community together. Even over the course of the few months that we have spent on this book, however, we have seen still more movement to silence and isolate people of faith, and so we discern that Dreher writes prophetically.  Perhaps we will soon see a day when we should board those little arks of which he writes in his excellent New York Times article, just as the boats rescued the soldiers at Dunkirk so that they could regroup to fight another day.

Unlike many of the books written within the past couple of decades decrying the collapse of religion in the West, The Benedict Option is refreshingly non-political. Rather, Dreher’s work is spiritual and ecclesiastical, pulling the church back to a deeper understanding of living as the people of God on earth.

Portions of The Benedict Option would be even more valuable for young families, particularly the wide-ranging chapter on education. Furthermore, pastors and church leaders would be in a position to put at least some of these ideas into practice within their congregations. One member of our group plans to suggest this book as a small group study in her church. Whether read alone or discussed with others, this title will awaken American Christians to our current status in our country, while offering thoughtful ideas to strengthen our spiritual lives, our families, our churches, and our communities.