Remembering Mom

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Rosie Fern Sechrest – 4/16/1918 to 4/4/2006

Hard to believe it has been 12 years since my mother died.  Hard to believe it has been that long.

My birthday and my mother’s were only eight days apart so we often celebrated them together.   The year my mother died my husband and I had gone down to her house in southern Illinois in late March so we could celebrate our birthdays a few days early.  For years I lived in the northern part of the state while my mother lived in the southern part and so our time together was far and few between.  I worked a Monday-Friday job and my husband’s job as a pastor took up the weekends so I only saw her a few times a year.

But that was all going to change.  In February of that year my husband retired and now we would have our weekends free so we could make more trips down to southern Illinois to see her.

I was so anxious to tell her that now I would be coming to see her more often.  Being interested in my genealogy I was looking forward to asking her more questions about her childhood and maybe even visiting some of the places where she went to school or lived.

That was not to be.

When I arrived at my mother’s home I found her in a lot of pain.  She had made a doctor’s appointment for that afternoon so my husband and I took her to the clinic.  She asked me to go in with her for the doctor’s exam and it was only then that I found out she had been having problems for some time.

After examination the doctor admitted Mom to the hospital.  He did not seem to be too concerned saying only that she might have an infection and needed some tests and medication.

The first couple of days Mom seemed to be doing fine and the doctors assured me they would soon get to the bottom of Mom’s pain.  I even assured my sisters they did not need to come, Mom would soon be back to normal and I would be taking her home.

I still struggle that I told them that.  By the third day Mom took a turn for the worse and within a couple of days it was clear there was something seriously wrong.  By then I called my sisters that they needed to come, but I always felt guilty that I had assured them there was no need to come.  By the time they got there, Mom was clearly not doing well.

Yet, in a very selfish way, I was glad that I had those couple of days with Mom all by myself.  Being the baby in the family, Mom usually seemed to trust more on my older sisters for help and it made me feel so good to be the one adjust her pillows, straighten up her cover, being a help to her.

So my feelings still are mixed.  Guilty because I assured my sisters they did not need to hurry down; yet thankful for those couple of days of just me and my mom.

Mom was a jolly woman.  I remember as a child when she and my aunt (a Methodist minister) would do the Charleston dance at our family gatherings.  Her pies were the best.  Many Saturdays Mom would spend the day baking pies:  chocolate, coconut cream, apple, peach.  Sunday nights would find our kitchen and living room filled with members of our church who came over to visit – but I think more to enjoy Mom’s pies.

She always made her own crusts but as she got older she started buying frozen crusts from the store.  While I missed her delicious crusts, the pies were still good.  When my husband and I visited, I knew Mom would have a pot of beans (for me) and coconut cream pie for my husband.  Of course, she also had a chocolate pie because that was my favorite.

After Mom died, I grieved for her.  But, slowly, over time I began to get used to not having her around.  Lately, however, she fills my thoughts almost daily.  I think it is because I am getting old myself and as I age, I understand my mother better.  Sadly, I often wish I could apologize to her.  Many times I got irritated at her – and now I find myself doing and saying the very things she did.  I understand her better now than I did when I was young.

But it is too late to let her know that.

Because of my Christian faith, I believe someday I will see my mother again.  While I will try to apologize, I imagine she will just laugh and say “Come on Barbara, let me show you the rose garden”  for she knows how much I love roses.

Until then, if your mother is still living, give her a call and let her know how much she means to you.

 

 

 

 

Everyone Needs a “Big” Sister

She has always been there.  My “big” sister, Velma.  I call her big, not because she is physically bigger than me.  In fact, I think she is a little smaller.  But she was my oldest sibling and calling her “big” sister is probably better than calling her my “old” sister.

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Me and my “big” sister, Velma.

Velma was the oldest of four children and I was the youngest.  My parents told me from the moment of my birth, Velma felt that I was “her” little doll to play with and take care of.  They told me when I was only a few weeks old the whole family decided to go berry picking.  They packed the car with a picnic basket and Mom went into the house to get me out of my crib.  But I was not there.

A little panicked, my mother looked out the front door to see Velma carrying me to the car.  Stepping over the ditch by the driveway, she slipped and dropped me.  I was not hurt but the family often joked “that explains a lot about Barbara.”  Dropped on my head.

In the days before automatic washers and dryers, microwave ovens and all the conveniences we enjoy now, my mother had her hands full keeping up with the house work and taking care of us.  Velma stepped right in to help.  So when it was time to go to church or any other event where I needed to look my best, it was often Velma who helped me get dressed, fixed my hair, made sure I had brushed my teeth.

Velma took home economics in high school and became a very proficient seamstress.  Her senior year she made us matching dresses.  The school had a fashion show for the students to show off their sewing talents.  Velma was asked to include her “little” sister in the show.  Although that was years ago, I still remember how excited I was to be in a fashion show with all the “big” kids.  Velma and I practiced over and over in our kitchen how I was to walk on stage, turn around slowly and walk off stage.  The night of the fashion show I think I was the hit – a little girl with red banana curls!  I will always remember the pride my sister had in me – gave me confidence I needed.

Velma not only took care of many of my physical needs, she was concerned about my spiritual need also.  I had a Bible storybook that I had read over and over.  I loved reading about Joshua, Gideon and David and I loved the stories of the Old Testament prophets.   That bible story book was my first introduction to the wonderful stories about Jesus.  The book is worn out, but I still have it sitting on a shelf in my study.  Over the years I have moved a lot and do not have anything from my childhood but that book.  I still treasure it.

However, for my seventh birthday Velma thought it was time I graduated to a “real” Bible so she bought me my first one.  She also got me some new pajamas.  I was so proud of both gifts that I insisted I wear the pajamas and she take a picture of me in them with that Bible.  Although that Bible was the King James version (in the days before all our new translations) and hard for a seven-year-old to understand, Velma encouraged me to

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Just keep reading.  The more you read it, the more you will understand.  Ask God to help you.

So I did.    Perhaps the fact that I read the King James Bible faithfully instead of the “See Spot Run” books is why I became not only an excellent reader, but a very fast reader.

She was my role model.  As a young girl I was in the Sunday School class she taught for young girls.  I still remember the navy blue dress she wore with a white-collar.  Her shoes were navy, red and white.  I thought she was so sophisticated in that outfit.  When I got my first job I bought myself a pair of navy, red and white shoes and purse.  I watched her style of teaching – and I have patterned my own Bible teaching after her.  People say I am able to present great truths of the Bible in a simple way that a child could understand.  If that is true, I owe that to Velma.

I recently visited my sister and her family.  Got to me thinking.  I will be 70 in April – and my sisters are the only ones who share all my history with me.  They are the only ones who remember my banana curls, my playing and singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, and much much more of my history.  They are the only ones who share so much history with me.

My “big” sister has never had the joy of having a “big” sister, but I hope being her “little” sister has been a blessing to her as she has been to me.

Sis, if you read this, I LOVE YOU!

Collecting Joy

Joy Journal

A gift from my youngest daughter

March 4, 1998 – My youngest daughter surprised my husband and me by bringing home gifts for us both.  It was not our birthday, anniversary, not any holiday.  It was one of those “just because” gifts that are so special.

One of the gifts that day was “The Joy Journal” by Barbara Johnson.  Known by many as the “Christian Erma Bombeck”, she wrote many hilarious books such as:

Stick a ger

and

Humor Me

Barbara wrote in the introduction to this journal

This Journal is a new way for you to add joy to your life.  When good things happen to lighten your load and brighten your day, write them down.  When someone pays you a compliment, write it down.  When you remember nice things from the past, write them down.  Let the journal become a personal treasure chest – your collected thoughts of hope, gladness, and love.  When you start to collect joy, you will find it’s a magnet.  Joy is everywhere.  All you have to do is look for it and use it instead of saving it for Sunday-Best.

Less you think Barbara Johnson lived in denial and was just a “Pollyanna” telling people to “be happy” without really knowing what problems and sorrow were, she had plenty of sadness in her own life.

Barbara lost two sons, one in Vietnam and one at the hands of a drunk driver. Another was estranged for several years. A few years after her husband’s death she was diagnosed with Central Nervous System Lymphoma (CNS), a brain tumor and also diabetes.  Refusing to give in to despair, Barbara chose humor and looking for joy as a way to beat the odds of adversity.  In 2005 the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association awarded her the prestigious Life Time Achievement Award.  Her book “Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy” has sold over one million copies. While facing death, she was working on a proposed final book, Joyfully, Barb!

So – I took her at her advice and began looking for joy – and recording it.  Now 20 years later, I look back at all the entries in my journal and Barbara was right.  She had said this journal would be “a treasury of gladness to inspire you for years to come.”  And it has.

Most of my grandchildren are all grown up now – but I pull this journal out and relive those moments of joy I shared with them.  Here are just a few that make me smile and I  hope they will also bring a smile to your face.

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Matthew and Robert – my ‘little grandsons now all grown up

March 7, 1998 – Rob and Rebekah took Matthew to kindergarten roundup this week, a chance to show him the classroom, meet the teachers, etc.  After coming home he informed us that he was going to love kindergarten because there were lots of girls and they were going to love him!

January 16, 1999 – Robert spent the night with us and I took him to the Putnam Museum.  On the way there he just kept talking and talking.  I always want to give my grandchildren my attention when they are with me, but I had a headache and did not really feel like listening to his chatter.  So I told him, “Robert, Grandma has a headache and I don’t really feel like paying attention to what you are saying right now.”  His response was so funny, I had to try hard not to laugh.  He said, “It’s okay Grandma.  You don’t have to listen.  I just want to talk.”

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My beautiful granddaughter who is also my namesake, Barbara

April 4, 1998 – Took Barbara shopping at the mall.  Brought her a necklace and a headband.  We had tacos and sundaes.  She has been trying hard to “be good” so her parents would let her have this date with me.  As we were enjoying our sundaes she told me, “Momma is wondering if I am going to still be good tomorrow.  I’m not going to tell her but I’m going to surprise her and be good.  I’m going to try hard to be good but if I mess up, I’m going to say ‘I’m sorry.'”

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Granddaughter, Abby, has a lot of musical talent

I don’t have a date written down for the laughter this granddaughter gave us but when she was quite young she came with her siblings to spent a week with us.  Helping her Aunt make some cookies, she sat on the counter and began chattering away.  Seeing a frown on her grandpa’s face she asked, “Am I annoying you Grandpa?”  When he said yes she quickly responded “Good!”  Which brought laughter to us all – including Grandpa.

There are many, many more memories I could share but I’m sure at some point you would stop reading.  But I want to encourage you to look for joy that is all around you and record those special times.  Not only will you enjoy the moment, but like me, years later you can remember and experience the joy all over again.

As Barbara Johnson said in her journal, “Laughter is like a shock absorber that eases the blows of life.”

Get busy looking for joy!  I wish you good hunting!

 

 

Historic Henderson House

I am a history nut!  That is, American history.  My library is full of biographies of presidents, secretaries of state, senators – the players in our country’s political life.  As I read of our country’s past, it is interesting to note that much of our current political events are really not new.  Attempts to destroy your opponent by rumors of bad conduct (both true and false) began with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and have continued throughout our history.

While many are frustrated with the lack of action from Congress, that too is nothing new.  The writer of Ecclesiastes was not referring to American politics, but his commentary on life certainly is true with our political history.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Loving history as I do, I was so excited when I was able to live in the Henderson House in 1969 for several months.  My husband and I were married in March of that year shortly after his return from 13 months in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corp.

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Me and my Marine!

After our wedding, we packed our wedding presents and our clothes into our 1966 Chevelle and headed for Quantico, Virginia where my husband would be stationed for the rest of his enlistment term.

The base at Quantico is where the Marines train their officer candidates and the FBI also does training exercises on the base.

Just young crazy kids in love, we headed out with no idea of where we would stay when we arrived.  After living in a small efficiency apartment for a few weeks we heard that the owners of the Henderson House had an apartment for rent in the town of Dumfries, just outside the base.  At the time we had no idea of the history of this house, we just needed a nice place to live.

The house had a huge hallway running completely down the center of the house.  On the front of the house it opened onto a beautiful large porch with comfortable chairs and a swing.  In the back it opened onto a large well landscaped back yard.  One side of the hallway had originally been the large formal parlor with a more informal music room on the other side.  The current owners lived in the rooms on one side of the hallway and rented the other side to us.

How excited I was as I talked to the owners and found that this house had been built by the father of Archibald Henderson the fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Alexander Henderson built this home in the late 18th century near the Old Post Road (King’s Highway).

During the American Revoluntary War the Hendersons entertained many of the leaders of the revolution.  Both the Confederate and Union armies used the house as a hospital during the Civil War depending on which army occupied the area.  The owner showed us a hole in the side of where a cannonball had struck the house during the Civil War.  It had remained lodged in the west wall for about 100 years until a souvenir hunter stole in the 1960’s.

My imagination ran wild as I would sit on that front porch and imagine the wounded solders that had stayed in the same rooms I was now staying in.  I wonder if George Washsington or John Adams had sat on this same front porch sipping a glass of wine while discussing the fight for independence from England.

I was just a young bride then and while I loved the idea of living in such a historic place, I did not fully appreciate the history of that entire area.  Learning much later that the town of Dumfries received its charter on May 11, 1749 and was the oldest continuously chartered town in Virginia, I wish I had done more exploring of the area.  Dumfries was  the second leading port in Colonial America receiving tobacco from the upland, it rivaled New York, Philadelphia and Boston. But long before my arrival in 1969 the town had lost its importance.  The Revolutionary War, erosion and siltation, and the shift in the main shipping commodity (from tobacco to wheat and sugar) led to its demise as a major port and today it is just a small town of about 5,000 people.

Guess it is just getting old myself, but when I reflect on how this once prosperous and important port became just a small town that most would drive through without taking a second look, I realize how quickly life comes and goes.  How quickly what is important today may become just a memory or a point in history.  How much we should enjoy this moment before it is gone!

Don’t miss today by regretting yesterday or worrying about tomorrow.

 

My Christmas Wish Book

MW Christmas catalog

Growing up every year as fall began, I would begin getting excited when the mailman came.  I would come home from school and ask my mother, “Did it come today?”   Anticipation grew each day until finally Mom would smile and say “Here it is!”  How excited I would be as I opened the Montgomery Wards Christmas catalog.

Aaron Montgomery Ward launched the nation’s first mail-order business with a one-page price list boasting 163 items, which he sent to farmers’ cooperatives throughout the rural Midwest.   Unlike existing mail-order businesses that dealt only in individual items, Ward offered the rural consumer a variety of merchandise and, by eliminating the middleman, kept prices low. His new business found a ready market as homesteaders pushed west across the frontier. By the spring of 1874, his price list had grown to 32 pages and was bound into a catalog. Ward offered a guarantee – “Satisfaction or your money back!” It was dubbed the Wish Book.

Wards was the first, but ultimately not the biggest, mail-order business in Chicago. In 1887, Richard Warren Sears, who had sold watches in Minneapolis, moved to the city and with the help of Alvah Curtis Roebuck, a watchmaker, began a mail-order business selling watches. By 1893, the Sears catalog, soon to be called the Big Book, was selling furniture, baby carriages and musical instruments–and carrying some clever advertising. One item–a sewing machine, price $1–was really a needle and thread.

For my family in the 1950’s there was no shopping mall, no on-line shopping, no strip malls.  But faithfully every year we got a Christmas catalog from Montgomery Wards.  My sister, Minnie, and I got hours of joy out of that catalog.  We would sit on the couch with the catalog open to the girls’ clothes or the toys, me on the left side and Minnie on the right, pretending we had lots of money and could order anything we wanted.  With the catalog open, I got first choice of anything on the left page.  After I picked what I wanted on that page, Minnie could then pick what she wanted.  She could pick anything except what I had picked.  That was mine.  Then we would go to the right page and Minnie got first choice with me getting second choice.

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My family in early 1950’s:  Dad, Mom, “Big Sis” Velma, brother Dorvin, “midde Sis” Minnie and me – the baby of the family!

We did that for weeks before Christmas until the pages were all ragged from our turning them over and over.

Over the years, both companies opened stores, and the mail-order business became secondary. In 1985, Montgomery Ward ceased publishing its catalog; Sears ended the Big Book in 1993. Yet the mail-order catalog’s place in American life was undeniable. In 1946, a book-lovers society included a Montgomery Ward catalog on its list of the 100 American books that had most affected American life, noting “no idea ever mushroomed so far from so small a beginning, or had so profound an influence on the economics of a continent, as the concept, original to America, of direct selling by mail, for cash.”

Today, I miss the wish book.  Somehow standing in long, long lines and watching people grab and push to get an specially priced item does not compare to sitting in my pajamas in my own home with a cup of coffee and spending hours looking at all the different options available in the wish book.

Time moves on, things change.  While I really do not wish to return to the “good old days” I do miss the “good old days” of wish books.

 

The Best Thanksgiving Turkey

It was 1991 and my husband and youngest daughter were spending our first Thanksgiving on the mission field.  Homesickness was filling my heart as I remembered all the Thanksgivings of the past spent with family and friends.  A table loaded with turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, biscuits and all the other goodies we enjoyed that time of year.  Visions of pumpkin pie, pecan pie and my mother’s delicious chocolate pie danced through my head.

But the thing I was missing most was  the loved ones that gathered around that table.  This year would be the first Thanksgiving for my youngest granddaughter.  How I longed to see her taste that pumpkin pie for the first time, to hold her on my lap and rock her to sleep.

At first we thought we would try to duplicate the American thanksgiving dinner.  However, it soon became clear that it would be difficult to find many of the ingredients for that meal on the island of Panay.  That did not mean our Thanksgiving meal would not be good – just not the usual menu.

As the holiday grew near one of the members of a Bible class my husband taught every week excitedly told us he had a turkey for us for Thanksgiving.  He knew it was an American tradition and he was so happy to surprise us with this gift.

How exciting for us!  A real turkey for our Thanksgiving.  The day before the holiday he arrived with our turkey.  For us crazy Americans we had expected a nice fat frozen turkey.  Imagine our surprise when we opened the gate and there he stood with a real, live turkey!

Questions immediately went through my mind:

  • how would we kill this thing?
  • who would kill this thing?

When I was a little girl my mother had raised chickens.  She would chop their heads off and then my sister and I would help pluck the feathers.  Mother would then cut the birds up and our freezer would be stocked with chicken for the winter.  However, I was not about to chop that turkey’s head off and one look at my husband told me he was not going to do it either.

  • how would we fix it if we even were able to kill it?

We had no oven, certainly no deep fryer.  Our kitchen consisted of two burners on a small stove with a propane tank for fuel.

Finally, the turkey looked like it had been on a strict diet.  It was the skinniest bird I had ever seen.  Even if we somehow managed to kill it and find a way to fix it I was certain it would be a tough old bird.

What to do?  We could not refuse the gift that this man was so clearly excited about giving us.  To do so would have not only been rude and hurtful, but would damage our relationship with the community.

We took the bird and said thank you.  After he left we held a family council.  What do you do with a turkey you can’t use?

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Our daughter leading the kids on our street in a song

Then the problem was solved.  The kids on our street were always in and out of our house.  That morning one of the young boys came by and when he saw our turkey, his eyes lit up.  You could tell he thought we were so lucky to have a turkey.  His family’s meal would consist of a small bowl of rice – just like they had every day.  To him this skinny old turkey looked like a gift from heaven.  So we asked his mother if she would like a turkey for Thanksgiving.

How excited she was!  I have no idea how she cooked the turkey but she assured me she could do it.

So we gave her the turkey and we fixed tuna fish steaks with rice topped off with mangoes and the most delicious watermelon I ever tasted.

I have often thought back to that Thanksgiving as I once again enjoy a table loaded with all the goodies we associate with this holiday.  I think of that family that rejoiced and enjoyed a turkey that we as Americans felt was not good enough for us.  Although I have had many delicious meals with turkey before and since then, I realize that was the best turkey I ever had.  Because it was given to us out of love and gratitude from a man who had so little to give.  Given to us who in comparison had so much.

My prayer this holiday is:

Lord, forgive me for taking my blessings at being born in this country for granted.  Forgive me for thinking more of myself and spending so much money on me while others in the world go to bed hungry every night.  Help me to reach out and help the homeless here in my own country and reach out to help the hungry around the world.  I cannot do much – but I can do something.  I cannot save every hungry child, but I can help one or two.  Help me to be truly thankful!

 

Anyone Remember Gunsmoke?

It was over 60 years ago but I still remember the day as if it were yesterday.  What an exciting day!  The day my family got a television set.

The first television I saw was at my grandmother’s house.  It had a very tiny screen and, of course, the shows were in black and white.  Sometimes when we visited her house she would be watching a show but she always turned it off so my parents could visit with her.  So disappointed, I thought how rich my grandmother must be to own a television.

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I sure wish Grandma would leave the television on so I could see one of the shows.  

A few of my family’s friends had a television and sometimes the kids  would watch a show while our parents visited.  The western “Gunsmoke” was my favorite.  Because the show was on Saturday nights at 9:00, we usually never got to see all of the entire show to the finish because my parents would leave midway through the show.  The next morning was Sunday and we kids needed to get to bed in time to be rested and ready for church  the next morning.

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Why can’t we stay just once late enough to see how the show ended?  Did Marshall Dillon get the bad guy?

Then it happened!  My dad came home and announced that he and mother were going to town to pick out a television set for us.

Now I can watch Gunsmoke and see the show all the way to the end!

Gunsmoke

My parents returned – but without a television.  They explained that they had purchased the set but it would not be delivered until the next Saturday.

A whole week?  Well, it will be hard to wait but just one more week and my family will have our own television.  

Up early that Saturday morning, I kept looking out the window for the delivery truck bringing our television.  At last it arrived.  Mom and Dad decided where to put it in the living room and then we all gathered excitedly to watch as Dad turned it on.  Our television had a bigger screen than Grandma’s and was actually both a television and a piece of furniture.

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We have our own television set.  We must be richer than I thought.

It was early Saturday afternoon so it would be a few hours before Gunsmoke came on but Mom and Dad assured me I could stay up to see the entire show.  As soon as it was over I would have to promise to get straight to bed.

I’ll be good and go straight to bed afterwards.  I want to be allowed to watch the show every Saturday night.

It’s 60 years later but I still love Gunsmoke.  My husband and I have the first 12 seasons of the show and every few years we pull the DVD’s out and do binge watching.  We are even planning a trip to Dodge City this spring on our way west.  Gotta get a picture of the statute there of Marshall Dillon (James Arness).

Who knows!  Maybe we’ll run into Doc Adams or Chester and have a drink at the Long Branch Saloon!

What is funny to me now is how we regarded the show as good family television.  Really?  The main characters are all single and spend most of their time in a saloon.  While as a child I never noticed, as an adult it is clear that Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty have a “relationship” without benefit of marriage.  Almost every show has at least one killing.

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But compared to the sex and violence on today’s shows, I guess it is a good old-fashioned family show.

So here’s to you Marshall Dillon, Chester, Miss Kitty, Doc and all the gang.

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Thanks for the childhood memories!