Sunday, September 25, 2016

Do-gooder.

       
          At church this morning a familiar statement attributed to John Wesley was projected onto the screen.
         “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
         Although some bloggers claim Wesley didn't say this, it is spouted often in the Methodist church and attributed to the founder. 
        When I read those words this morning  I couldn't help thinking about Hillary Clinton, growing up in a Methodist church, probably hearing that quote often, seeing it in church publications and displayed prominently. 
        I thought how that quote seems to describe the way she has lived her life, working for the underprivileged  before she was even out of college. I thought of all the good she has done already from helping families in Arkansas to helping create the Children's Health Insurance Program that covers so many children in this country to working for care for the survivors of 9/11 and working for women's rights around the world.
           Even in the face of lies and unwarranted criticism she just keeps on doing all the good she can. At all the times she can. For all the people she can. As long as ever she can. 
           #I'mwithher

 

Monday, August 29, 2016

End of an EAR-a

       
Last night Steve and I went to one of our favorite venues -- Kresge Auditorium at Interlochen -- to hear blues artist Buddy Guy. Since Steve and I started dating in 1995 we have seen anywhere from two to six shows each summer at Kresge. I fear this will be the last.
       From the first note of the opening act -- Jonny Lang -- I knew the sound system was set painfully loud. With my fingers in my ears it was tolerable, but Steve was uncomfortable so I suggested we wait outside until after the intermission. Many others had made the same choice. It was just too loud to stay in the theater. Even outside the theater the music was loud. Only one song in the set was at a moderate level so you could actually enjoy the music.
       As we reentered the theater after intermission the ushers offered us ear plugs, which many of the audience members were taking. Funny, my definition of good music doesn't include ear plugs. But without them I wouldn't have been able to withstand 5 minutes of Buddy Guy. The whole place vibrated the way the windows do in the house when some teenager with too much bass on his stereo drives by. It was tiring and detracted from Guy's otherwise entertaining performance.
         If we had selected a rock concert, I might have expected to need ear plugs. But the blues are meant to be intimate, smooth and soulful. Not ear splitting. I went to bed at midnight and woke up four hours later with my ears throbbing. I had to put on an ice pack.
         We had been looking forward to this evening. We spent the afternoon playing Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang videos on You Tube. It was much more enjoyable than the performance we paid $100 to see. From now on, I will save my money. Buy a CD and donate the rest to charity.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Power outage

           
           The bathroom light flickered and went out. I would have thought a bulb burned out, but there are two bulbs in the fixture. Power must be out.
             I left the windowless bathroom for the brighter kitchen. The electric tea kettle had already heated the water before the power went out. I enjoyed a cup of tea and a bowl of cereal while I read my daily Bible reading.
             Then I headed into my office. I sat at my laptop and resumed the genealogy I had been working on the night before. I must have worked 10 or 15 minutes with the document on my screen before I wanted to know more. I clicked the keys to do an Internet search.
            "Server not found."
            What? I clicked again. What was going on? Then I glanced at my AT&T  receiver. None of the little green lights were on. I had completely forgotten that the power was out. The computer was going on battery; the light was coming in the window. I had gotten by perfectly fine without electricity for a little while but suddenly, I felt unable to do any of the things I had planned. I couldn't search the Internet or bake cookies or do the laundry. Why even my phone was almost out of juice and would be going dead soon. I was feeling panicky.
             I often think God is like electricity, unseen but undeniably powerful. Yet how often do I take him for granted and fail to plug in regularly, recharge my batteries? How often do I stumble through life with the lights out and never even realize it? Better make sure my spiritual batteries are fully charged for the storms ahead.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Mennonite mystery, ehh?

       
Julius Otterbein was born in Canada
For a mystery writer like myself, genealogy is the perfect hobby.  It's full of quandaries that are fun to solve.
         My most recent mystery involved the German ancestors of my friend Steve Otterbein. His ggggreat grandfather Germanus Otterbein immigrated to Baltimore in 1851 with his wife and two kids. By the 1860 census he had moved his family to Grand Rapids, MI., where Steve grew up a century later and many relatives remain today.
         The census revealed, however, that Germanus made a detour between Baltimore and Grand Rapids. Three of his six children on the 1860 census were born in Canada. He and his family must have lived there from 1852 to 1857. The plot thickened when I searched online and discovered mention of Germanus in the Mennonite archives in Waterloo, Ontario.  The Otterbeins have always been Roman Catholic. Why would they be in Mennonite archives?
          At the Otterbein reunion in Colorado this summer, I found the answer in a notebook about some Canadian Otterbein families. According to "The Trail of the Black Walnut," a 1957 book by George Elmore Reaman, many immigrants left Germany because they were trying to avoid military service. They arrived here with few possessions.  Mennonite settlements took them in and gave them work to do until they could get on their feet again. Sort of like the way modern churches provided assistance to Vietnamese and Sudanese refugees, and undoubtedly will help Syrian refugees.
           It's humbling to realize we all need a helping hand now and then, and gratifying to know aid was handled in such an organized manner more than a century ago. But it's going to confuse some Syrian genealogists in the future.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dusty dust

      

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
        That Bible verse seemed particularly appropriate recently as I dragged my mother and brother all over Missouri trying to track down the graves of ancestors we had never met. I even recruited a long ago family friend, Paul Heiholt, who was a neighbor of my Grandmother many years ago.  Now Paul is the manager of a huge ranch that has encompassed the land where the graves of my grandmother's grandparents are located.
        With Paul's help, and his all-wheel drive truck,  we rumbled across the hayfields, dry creek bed and Missouri hills to the little square patch where C.P. Tharp, two of his wives, four of their daughters and a couple grandkids were buried between 1848 and 1897. Recent rainstorms had knocked down branches from a tree in the small graveyard. Paul had to haul out branches and set up a couple broken stones so we could see them, but many of the other stones were buried or too broken to stand up.
       Paul said he plans to be cremated when he dies. "In 20 years nobody cares about the graves anyway."
        Except genealogy nuts like me. Earlier, my brother and I had driven way back into the Mark Twain National Forest looking for Mill Creek Cemetery where John Wesley Merrell, my great-great-great grandfather, was buried along with many other Merrell relatives. I braved a "beware of dog" sign to knock on the door of a purple house to get permission to drive through a fenced cow pasture to complete our quest. We discovered that John's tombstone had survived beautifully but most the other graves we sought that week had not.
        High on a hill near Bismark, Mo., we looked for the Tullock ancestors who had moved to Missouri long before it became a state in 1821. Weeds had swallowed up most of the stones, and those we found were unreadable. We discovered another small Tullock cemetery in a grove of trees in the front yard of a fancy subdivision. The homeowner's dogs sniffed and barked as we felt the stones trying to read the letters etched away by time.
        Dust to dust applies to more than our bones. The granite markers wash away too. Even the stone erected 50 years ago for my mother's mother had been attacked by lichen since we last visited five years ago. We scraped it away as best we could and left the flowers we had brought. A little vanity against the ravages of time.













Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Go Grandma!

        
        Today, June 16,would have been my Grandmother's 114th birthday.  I suspect this photo I found of her in braids was probably taken a century ago when she was a young teen.
        She was one of a dozen kids born on a farm in southern Missouri. The biggest event when she was growing up was the annual reunion of ex-Confederate soldiers on nearby Barnitz Lake.
          Although she and grandpa met in St. Louis and lived in the city, they kept a weekend cabin in the country about a mile down the dirt road from the large white farm house where Grandma was born. We kids always considered her a hero of sorts and love to tell stories about her fighting off a snapping turtle at the swimming hole.
          Since she lived in the city and used public transit or walked to the store and church, she didn't learn to drive until she and grandpa retired to the farm. It was a good thing she learned to drive. Grandpa died a few years later and she was alone at age 68.
         But she was tough. I remember once when she was in her 70s she got her hand caught in the wringer washer and pulled the skin off her thumb. She wrapped it in a dishtowel, finished making a pie and delivered it to the church before heading to the doctor.
              When she was in her 80s her farmhouse was struck by lightning and caught on fire twice.  The first time she put out the fire with the garden hose. The second time the fire was too far along when it woke her. The electricity was off and the pump didn't work. She escaped in her nightgown and watched her home burn to the ground. She waded through a swollen creek and walked barefoot a mile down a dirt road to her brother's house.
             Grandma died almost 22 years ago, but I know she's watching us even now. Happy Birthday Maxine Tharp Merrell!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Take a bow

            
Watching tonight's Tony Awards I fell in love with theater all over again.
             Even in my living room I couldn't help but applaud as if these great Broadway performers could hear me.   I love the voices, the dancing, the raging emotions, the innovative stories and flashy costumes.
              But more than anything else I love the diversity. The stage looks like our country. Young, old, black, white, Latino, Asian, even deaf. As the host James Corden said, the Tonys are the Oscars with diversity, and it's true. American Theatre is the best and brightest our country has to offer from the innovative rap of "Hamilton" to the sign language of "Spring Awakening".
              And the show's response to the horrifying news of the day...a mass shooting in Orlando..was sensitive and heartfelt, from the lapel ribbons everyone wore to setting aside the prop muskets normally used in "Hamilton," to Lin-Manuel Miranda's sonnet about the tragedy.
             The Tonys broadcast topped a weekend in which I reviewed two shows and spent several hours Saturday working with my fellow Encore Michigan reviewers to come up with the nominees for this year's Wilde Awards -- Michigan's version of the Tonys. I am delighted to have this small role in local theater and be a part of this ingenious industry.
             We all know our hateful, violent world must change. And I believe American theater has the love, creativity and innovation to lead the way.