Election Countdown: 21 Alternatives to Angst and Fury

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.” –Jonathan Swift, 1738

“There are none so blind as those who will not see that the faults of my candidate of choice pale in comparison to those of yours, and that your political party is corruption incarnate, and that a vote for your candidate is a vote for evil, and that no valid reason—not even one—exists to support your candidate.” –Facebook (et al), 2016

Twenty-one days remain until the U.S. Presidential election. Without diminishing the importance of voting or of thoughtful discourse beforehand, these are not the only avenues of change around these parts. A recent bit of well-articulated wisdom (erroneously attributed to C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters) points out that arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people we have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control.

True.

I tell my kids not to worry about other people’s faults, but let’s face it: dwelling on others’ shortcomings is much more satisfying than confronting my own. Another bit of wisdom (rightfully attributed to C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters), notes that we can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about ourselves that are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with us or worked in the same office.

What does advancing in personal virtue, character, and things we can control look like? Those who have ever lived in the same house or worked in the same office with me would probably be glad to sum up what this would look like for me specifically. Maybe I’ll gather the courage to ask them sometime, but meanwhile, here are 21 ideas that would be good companions to anyone’s political positions.

Anyone care to join me in tackling some of these?

  1. Donate food to a food pantry. Here’s a list of what is most useful.
  2. Forgive someone.
  3. Let your encouraging words and compliments outweigh your criticisms.
  4. Send a gas card to someone who travels regularly to doctor’s appointments and hospital visits.
  5. Help a foster family. (Yes, they receive reimbursement rates; no, these rates do not cover the expenses they incur.) Donate your kids’ outgrown clothes to a foster-care closet; bring the family a meal; babysit; invite the kids along with your family on an outing.
  6. Pay for an extracurricular activity for a kid who cannot afford one.
  7. Describe one positive trait of someone who is not your favorite person. Maybe describe three.
  8. Contribute to an ESL class: volunteer, provide transportation, donate books, bring supper.
  9. Be kinder than usual, one situation at a time.
  10. Be more patient than usual, one situation at a time.
  11. Give up your need to be right, one situation at a time.
  12. Be gentler than necessary, one situation at a time, even when you believe you have the right to be harsh. Especially when you believe you have the right to be harsh.
  13. Identify someone who does more than his or her share. Do something nice anonymously for that person.
  14. Write a note of appreciation to someone who is often taken for granted.
  15. Squelch gossip. Don’t start it, and don’t pass it on. Be slow to believe it. Challenge it when you hear it.
  16. Ponder a promise you’ve not yet kept. Fulfill that promise.
  17. If there’s something (recent or otherwise) for which you should apologize, do so.
  18. Rid yourself of sarcasm. (Sarcasm comes from the Greek word sarkazein, which literally means “to tear flesh like a dog.” Ouch.)
  19. Grant children the same basic dignity and respect that you grant adults.
  20. Give practical help to a single mother who chose to give birth despite challenges.
  21. Make a list of everyone who has helped you tug yourself up by your bootstraps. Include those who taught you what you have come to consider to be common knowledge and skills. Be thankful for these people. Tell them you are thankful.

Vote? Absolutely. Discuss the candidates and election process? Of course. But don’t limit yourself to those things.

“The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.”  Frederick Buechner

What would you add to this list?

 

 

 

 

 

The Chicory Lady

Last month we went to Comerica Park to watch the Detroit Tigers take on the Minnesota Twins. Traffic slowed to a tangle near the stadium, allowing long looks out the window at dingy scenery. But a clump of chicory grew bravely out of a crack in the pavement against the backdrop of a cement barrier, creating a surprise spot of beauty among tattered paper cups and plastic bags and their trashy cohorts.

Chicory is my favorite wildflower. It grew with grace and vibrancy among the Queen Anne’s Lace in the ditches along the half-mile stretch of gravel road between my childhood home and my grandparents’ red house. Every year I’d try picking some, but even when plunged directly into water the chicory’s petals would close—not so much from weakness, it seemed (it can grow in cracked concrete, after all), but from stubbornness. It didn’t wilt; it folded up, not wanting to play the game of being picked. Chicory: sweet and gentle. Tough and resilient. Stubborn. Nobody’s fool.

An hour after the chicory had welcomed us on the highway, we had found our way through the park and into our seats behind the third baseline. The occupants of the row behind us wore matching blue T-shirts bearing the name of an adult day care center— several senior citizens, flanked by caregivers, out to enjoy the game. Most of them wore name tags around their necks.

Before we were completely settled in, one of the women leaned forward and started fiddling with my bag, which was under J’s seat next to mine. Perhaps it was in her way; maybe she wanted to stretch her legs and couldn’t because of the bag. “No,” she said when I inquired, folding the top of the bag over a couple of times and giving it a pat. “I just want to make sure nobody reaches in and grabs something from your bag. Steals something. That happens sometimes, you know. That’d be too bad if it happened to you.” She smiled, reassured that my bag was as it should be.

Next up: the announcer asked us to rise for a soloist’s delivery of the national anthem. We stood and listened, except for the aforementioned woman, who sang. Her friend stage-whispered to her, self-conscious: “I don’t think this is sing-along time. I think this is listen-to-the-singer time.” The woman was unmoved. “But I’m going to sing, though,” she said. And she did.

During the second inning J took Sonny, Ace, and their cousin to get their promised hotdog and soft drink. They returned bearing three hotdogs but only one soft drink; it seemed that the other two had spilled. (Don’t assume that the demise of two soft drinks was not a problem. It was. I assure you.) J got the boys seated and headed back to the concession area to redeem the soft drink situation. The woman, who had overheard the dark reports of being handed soft drinks with no tops in a tray that didn’t hold the cups securely, was concerned—concerned enough to lean over my shoulder.

“Do you need some water up there?” she asked. “It’s so, so hot. That sun is just beating right down.” I thanked her and said that we’d be fine; we had brought plenty of water with us, and besides J would return soon with replacement drinks.

“Are you sure?” she said. “It’s very hot. You could dry right up. You all need to drink something. You’ll dry up otherwise.”

That she didn’t have any water to share didn’t matter. She thought she did, and if she had, she would have shared it.

“Well, all right,” she finally conceded.

Now she pointed to Ace.  “I’m afraid that that hotdog he’s eating is just going to squirt right on out of that bun,” she said. “It’s sitting too loose. Can you poke it back in tighter? It’d be awful if he lost it. He’d hate that.” She watched closely until he stuffed the last bite safely into his mouth. Relief.

Perhaps inspired by Ace’s snack, she tried to order her own hotdog from the vendor touting refreshments in the aisle ten seats away. “Just toss it to me,” she hollered. “I’ll catch it!” The vendor believed her.

“Did you say you want ketchup with it?” he asked, reaching for a hotdog.

“No,” she said. “Said I’d catch it. Just toss it my way.”

One of the caretakers snapped off the transaction with a shake of his head and dismissive wave to the vendor, who caught on and continued up the steps.

“Hey!” the woman objected. “I’ll get you back for that. I get people back for things like that, you know!” The caretaker, not unnerved by her threats, turned his attention to urging her to put her name tag back on.

“Why?” she said. “I don’t need a name tag. I know who I am. So do you.”

“It’s in case something happens. Then someone will be able to know where you’re supposed to be.”

“I always know where I’m at,” she said.

One of our players hit a double. A tap on the shoulder. “He can really hustle his bustle, can’t he?” she said. “Look at him.” She nodded approvingly—whether at his hustle or at his bustle, I wasn’t sure—before leaning back and cheering.

At the seventh inning, when the last call for beer sales was announced, she offered to buy a beer for anyone who thought that sounded good. The caretaker: “No beer.”

“Why not? This is our last chance. I’d even buy you one.”

“You don’t have any money with you, and besides you don’t need a beer.”

Grumbling. “No beer today, I guess. Maybe next time,” she apologized to her friend. They both stood for the seventh-inning stretch and danced together to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and the little bit of “Brown-Eyed Girl” played before the game resumed.

Then she leaned forward and adjusted my bag again. “Got to be careful, honey. Someone could just reach right in and grab something. That’d be too bad.”

The eighth inning came to a close. The caretakers stood up and announced it was time to go.

Another shoulder tap. “You have such nice boys there,” she said, nodding toward my sons and nephew, who were eating cotton candy sprinkled liberally with Skittles. (Don’t ask.) “I’ve been watching them the whole game. They’re good kids. I’m so glad they’re having fun! Look at them having so much fun!” She smiled proudly.

Wise caretakers, getting while the getting was good, before the throngs clogged an easy exit. But I was sorry the group was leaving. I liked the woman who’d conversed with us, who had wanted to help us, whose vivacity had spilled into our row. She reminded me of chicory. Sweet and gentle. Tough and resilient. Stubborn. Nobody’s fool. She reminded me that those who shun kindness as indicative of weakness are not seeing straight.

I want to be like her when I am old. Sweet and gentle. Tough and resilient. Stubborn. (Sorry, Sonny and Ace.) Nobody’s fool.

Her kindnesses were small—attentiveness to our bag, concern for our drink and food, offers of humor, encouragement regarding the kids—but flowed from her naturally and relentlessly. She reminded me of a line from a book I read years ago. The book’s title and author and even the topic have long escaped me, but this bit of wisdom sticks:  “You don’t just wake up a sweet old lady.”

Clearly this lady had had practice.

Clearly being like her requires practice also. Guess it’s time to get started.

I’m going for a walk tomorrow. I hope I will see some chicory. It won’t work to pick any, but maybe I’ll take a photo. It would be a good reminder.

 

 

What I Wonder about the Stanford Rape Case

It’s hard to describe how I feel about the Stanford rape case. Enraged? Baffled? Discouraged? Afraid? Incredulous?

(Short version: A young man, Brock Turner, raped an unconscious young woman. His defense attorney, Michael Armstrong, made the usual outrageous suggestions that she had it coming. The rapist’s father, Dan Turner, begged for leniency, citing, among other things, the young man’s future as an athlete and his embarrassment regarding the situation, claiming that the actions weren’t violent, suggesting that a jail sentence was too harsh a punishment for “20 minutes of action,” and even lamenting the fact that Brock is too distraught by his conviction to enjoy steak and his favorite snacks. When Brock received only six-month sentence from judge Aaron Persky, the courageous young woman delivered a powerful response.)

This, and so many other stories like it, both told and untold, make me wonder. Although the following scenario in no way compares to the atrocity of the Stanford case, I still wonder.

What if a young man were lying unconscious on the ground after a party?

Would it be acceptable to rob him of his wallet, his phone, and his keys? And then of his car, since you have his keys?

After all, it’s not as though he—being unconscious and all—ever said, “No, please don’t steal my belongings.” And when you eased the phone out of his pocket, his hand flopped in the direction of his vehicle. Wasn’t that tantamount to offering the car to you? In any case, since he never said no when you were robbing him, he must not have objected.

Maybe his T-shirt bore the name and logo of a charitable or religious organization. This was suggestive clothing. He chose to dress in a way that reflected a generous nature; the only logical conclusion would be that he was the kind of person who would willingly give his things away. And if he’s religious, he should forgive you on the spot. Otherwise, he should never have donned that shirt and sent the wrong message. Wearing shirts like that is just asking for it, placing a large burden of temptation on others that they cannot be expected to resist.

And then there’s his history of lending his car to people. He routinely lends it to his girlfriend, as it turns out, and he’s even lent it to people he doesn’t know very well. There’s that charitable nature again! If others have used his car, you are entitled to use it as well.

Your attorney learned that in his college days, this young man was irresponsible with money and was, for a time, in deep dept. If he, back in the past, didn’t have any regard for his money, why should you have regard for his money now? He should have been more careful, back in the past.

Maybe earlier that day you saw him flaunting his high-end phone. If he didn’t want someone to take it, he should have kept it hidden. What did he expect?

Of course, all of this could have been avoided had he not unconscious. When one is unconscious, one forfeits one’s rights to wallet, phone, keys, and car.

But enough about the actual victim. Let’s talk about your future as an Olympian, or as a musician, or as an accountant, or as someone who prefers to get on with life without a pesky jail sentence. Shouldn’t a family member write a letter to discourage the judge from inconveniencing you? After all, you’ve never done anything like this before. Don’t you get a freebie?

Besides, it was so embarrassing to be convicted. You can hardly eat the lasagna at your favorite restaurant anymore; you just pick at the salad croutons. Of course, the victim can’t even go to restaurants, since you took his money and he no longer has a car, but you? You’ve the one suffering.

Would the victim’s reputation be damaged? Would people avoid him and whisper: “That’s the guy whose stuff was stolen”?

Should he feel ashamed that you robbed him?

Should he feel ruined?

Should the onus be on him to prove that he didn’t deserve to be robbed?

Should one of your parents beg the judge for leniency, asking why you should pay for 15 seconds “of action” with years in jail?

And would the judge grant the leniency?

Does the very idea of this even seem ludicrous?

I’d like to think so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things I’ve Learned the Hard Way, Parenting Edition

Recently Ace offered up a useful piece of advice: “If you ever pick up a toad and it seems extra squishy, be careful, because that means it’s about to pee on you. I had to learn this the hard way.”

When Sonny nodded sympathetically, Ace asked him if he’d ever had to learn anything the hard way. He had. Specifically: “When you are really tired and your eye is bleeding, don’t ride your bike, because you will crash it.”

(It’s good to learn from others’ mistakes, so everyone take heed.)

My sons wanted to know what sorts of things I’d learned the hard way. I paused, wanting to select the most useful example among so many. It’s best to tell the truth the first time? People who gossip to you will also gossip about you? Do what is right despite what other people think? You can’t pull words back in once you’ve unleashed them?

While I considered, Sonny and Ace wandered away. Perhaps they’d already learned the hard way that my particular expression was a portent of a boring tale.

But now I was thinking about things I’d learned the hard way during my eight-plus years of parenting, and of the many more that will come. Some plant deep regrets. Others may not be as harsh, but they’re still worth tucking away so as not to have to learn them a second time. Here are but a few of those:

  1. Parenting books never include enough disclaimers and may tempt the reader to take false hope in particular formulas.
  2. Never let your vehicle to be without something that can serve as an emergency barf bucket.
  3. The child who is seemingly talking to himself in the living room for 15 minutes may in fact be talking to a toad. (May it not be an extra-squishy one.)
  4. Telling your kids that your name is not But Mom will send them to the floor in homophone-induced hilarity. Also, they will still call you But Mom but now will probably laugh while doing so.
  5. To mention that the entire household has remained exceptionally healthy this winter is to invite trouble.
  6. The kid crafting the paper airplane from the church bulletin may suddenly launch it over the heads of fellow congregants, even if he has always previously kept these airplanes grounded.
  7. Not all root beer is caffeine free.
  8. The longer you wait to respond to the Sign-Up Genius for the school event, the more likely it is that you will end up providing chocolate spoons or cheesecake on a stick instead of ketchup or paper plates.
  9. It’s unwise to take one child to urgent care with strep-throat symptoms early on a Sunday without confirming that his brother, who is still abed, does not have similar symptoms. Making two back-to-back trips to urgent care feels very inefficient.
  10. If you get pulled over for going a wee bit over the speed limit with a three-year-old in the back seat, that three-year-old will proudly and with great relish rat you out to everyone he sees for the next two weeks.
  11. Failure to warn your kids from the get-go that the Tooth Fairy keeps an erratic schedule may require you to scrape up early-morning excuses for her unpunctuality.
  12. Despite best efforts, sometimes the hard way is the only way to learn.

What have you learned the hard way?

Who Were Those Caped Boys?

A few years ago Sonny and Ace received superhero capes for Christmas. Red, blue, and yellow capes, one with an S and one with an A: Super Sonny and Super Ace. They zoomed around the house in them, a preschooler and a toddler, valiantly coming to the aid of stuffed animals, each other, frogs, their parents. Grapes. Pencils. They rescued anything that needed rescuing.

Cape-wearing waxed and waned at our house and then went dormant a time. But then Ace took up the A cape again. He wore it everywhere, usually with his trademark rain boots. Story Hour at church. The grocery store. The apple orchard. Relatives’ houses. Bed.

The bathtub.

Everywhere.

People notice capes, as it turns out. Observers often smiled or even commented, which seemed to mystify Ace a little. He didn’t wear it for attention; he wore it because it was his cape. It was part of him, like his hair. Of course he was wearing it; why wouldn’t he?

Two years ago Ace faced screening for Young 5s; he felt nervous about what this process would require of him. He did not want to go. He dragged his rain-booted feet. Finally (finally!) we were out the door, but then he turned and ran back in—only to reappear sporting the cape, which seemed to shore him up. Thank you, cape!

He continued to wear the cape to the grocery store, to relatives’ houses, to the apple orchard.

Everywhere.

Last spring he had an early soccer game. Too early for his liking. He wore his cape over his gold AYSO uniform in the car, having agreed to doff it when we reached the soccer field. But when it was time for the game to start, he didn’t want to play. He hunkered down on the tired grass and shut down, cloaked in red and blue felt. But his coach, who was a wise coach, knew that soccer games for five-year-olds are more about the five-year-olds than about soccer. He hunkered down in front of Ace, getting eye to eye.

“Don’t you want to play today?” he asked.

Ace shook his head.

“Will you play if you can wear your cape?” he asked.

Ace nodded.

“You can wear your cape,” he said, and glanced over at J and me. “He’s five,” he stated. “He can wear it if it helps.”

So Ace played, slightly out of uniform—or not, depending how you look at it..

He wore the cape the rest of the day.

And he continued to wear it, though less and less. Meanwhile, Sonny’s cape hung, untouched, next to the bathrobe on its hook in the bedroom.

This past winter, Ace hopped out of the vehicle onto the grocery store parking lot on Saturday morning and hesitated. He glanced around.

“Just a second,” he said. He tore off his cape and laid it on his booster seat before pulling the door shut.

There is probably a word for the thing my heart did then, but I’m not sure what it is.

After our shopping trip he put the cape back before buckling up for the drive home, and he wore it the rest of the day. And he continued to wear it, though less and less.

This spring Sonny and Ace’s school had superhero day. Sonny thought he might dress as Batman. Ace had a harder time deciding. He has a Laval costume, but evidently Chima are not superheroes, and apparently it was rather ridiculous of me to even suggest it. His ninja costume might work, he conceded; ninjas aren’t exactly superheroes, but they are close enough.

Then I suggested his A cape.

“No,” he said. “I don’t want to wear that cape anymore.”

There is probably a word for the thing my heart did then, but I’m not sure what it is.

He decided to wear the Spiderman costume from the bin in the basement.

The next morning Sonny reconsidered his Batman choice. “I’ve dressed as Batman enough times already. Maybe I’ll just wear my S cape instead,” he said, running upstairs to retrieve it. He came back down and stuffed it into his backpack between his lunch and his homework folder. “I love this cape,” he said. Ace nodded, understanding.

There is probably a word to describe where my heart went then. I’m not sure what it is, but I know my heart traveled there by cape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s No Crying in Screen Time

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”
― William Shakespeare, King Henry VI

Life dishes out plenty of grief, even (perhaps especially) to kids. Loss, fear, injury, insults, heartbreak, disappointment, sickness, rejection, worry—what child has not been dealt these and has wept accordingly? Any impatience adults have with such weeping reflects our own shortcoming, not the child’s.

Even so, weeping—and its cousins, whining and grumbling and bellowing of indignation—is sometimes indulged in a little too liberally. Some laments seem more akin to complaints than to expressions of actual grief.

For example, whining to express that one’s brother is not doing his share of the chores or, conversely, that the brother is helping to pick up the sticks in the yard when one wanted to do this job by himself.

Or perhaps one’s brother refuses to smell one’s “good-smelling breath,” post teeth-brushing.

One’s food is detestable.

A boot is missing, only to be found in a place where the owner did not put it, and how did it get there: How?

Someone is scraping cardboard against a table in a way that he knows his brother finds annoying, and that’s why he’s doing it, too!

Lights-out came too soon, as will morning, as it turns out, 10 hours hence.

Someone quit the Monopoly game prematurely.

Impending haircuts will itch.

Shoveling snow makes them cold.

(Let’s pause to admit that the airing of such grievances is are not limited to children. Adults do this, too, in our own, more sophisticated—we think—way.)

But still, this is life, isn’t it? Whining and all?

Fortunately, there is an asylum from such absurdities, a rest for parental ears. It’s offered by screen time.

Screen time can be complex. For example, Sonny and Ace enjoy many educational games, and while we appreciate the educational value thereof, educational value is not why they play the games. School has educational value, as do books and the great outdoors, so they can get that in those places. And while I do not object to their playing games or watching videos purely for entertainment, they can easily find recreation elsewhere, if they have to, which they often do.

The chief reason they have screen time is so I can have peace and quiet. Ugly, maybe, but true. Screens are mesmerizing, after all, and we might as well channel that to some purpose. While they are being mesmerized, my brain is regrouping. It works.

But hark. What’s this I hear? Weeping’s cousins?

Netflix froze­­­­.

Someone’s brother is not letting him watch him play Minecraft, even though he let him watch when he played.

The tablet is out of power. Someone didn’t charge it! Who did not plug it in?

One’s allotted screen time is up long before one is finished playing the game, and that’s not fair!

Why are they complaining? Why aren’t they mesmerized? Where’s my peace and quiet? Don’t they know that’s what screen time is for?

And suddenly I am channeling Tom Hanks: “Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN SCREEN TIME!”

Because if there’s crying in screen time, opportunities for screen time—yes, even the educational apps—will go away. Ugly but true. The kids can go outside and shovel more snow instead.

Thank you, Shakespeare, for reminding us that weeping has its place.

And thank you, Tom Hanks, for articulating that weeping can be misplaced.

And may we all learn the difference.

On Grandpa’s Birthday

“I wish I could call Grandpa-Great,” Sonny said the other day. I wish so, too. Especially today, which would have been his 100th birthday.

I thought of him the other day while reading an article on minimalism. (He probably would have been bemused that this philosophy—which, for most of history, was just the way all people lived—is now considered a) the latest trend and b) something that takes work to achieve.) In any case, minimalists would approve of the handful of belongings he chose to keep toward the end of his life. Of course, when you are a nonagenarian and live in an assisted living facility you don’t need a car or specialty cleaners or an extra pair of boots or plates or half a can of spray paint that, who knows, you might use for something someday. You don’t bother with shelves of books, and any extraneous furniture is just in the way. When you’re 97 you’re satisfied with one TV; it doesn’t occur to you to acquire the army of devices that rule the rest of us.

Still, even for a 97-year-old, he traveled lightly. Almost everything that was packed up after his death harbored significance.

His chair. Grandpa often expressed concern that the kids would be bored while visiting him, as he didn’t have any toys. But no worries; who could be bored in a room that featured not only Grandpa-Great but a remote-control lift recliner, which he freely allowed young boys to operate as they chatted?

“We flew a kite yesterday. It was striped and shaped like a bird. Did you ever fly a kite when you were a boy?” (Up went the chair.)

“Yes.”

“What was it shaped like?”

“Like something that didn’t want to fly. We made our own kites, and they didn’t work very well. But we made them anyway.” (Down went the chair.)

“Did your mom let you watch PBS Kids while she took a shower?”

“No. We didn’t have TVs.”

“What did you do instead?”

“We fixed our kites.”

He would point to his collage of photographs, many of them over half a century old, and tell of the people they featured. “That was your Papa and his horse. He loved that horse . . .” And stories poured forth from the comfort—and entertainment—of the chair.

A framed print of a bird in flight. This piece of mass-produced art seemed inconsequential until my dad and uncle took it down to box up. Discovered taped to the back of the print: a sheet of notebook paper on which Grandpa had hand-copied the poem “To a Waterfowl”  by William Cullen Bryant.

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
      Thy solitary way? . . .

. . . He, who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
      Will lead my steps aright.

It can’t be a stretch to presume that that he words he had copied on notebook paper (and likely in his memory also—“We used to memorize things,” he said once, and proved it by reciting a few lines of Shakespeare) gave him assurance. The print must have served as a ready reminder of this comfort.

A desk. Its contents were the usual: Pens. A letter opener, its handle engraved with the name of bank, both the engraving and blade dulled by decades of letter opening. Paper clips, because every desk houses paper clips even though most people seldom use them. (Do they?) But also, tucked farther back:

A small toy horse, one leg broken off. The horse had been a gift from his parents upon their return from Mayo Clinic around 1923, when Grandpa was seven. The memories of receiving the toy horse in a time when gifts were rare (“We used to get one thing for Christmas, and we were happy” he mentioned once) must have been inextricable from those of the devastating diagnosis that his father also brought back from Rochester. How often did Grandpa hold that horse during his father’s last months and in the first months without him? In any case, he kept it for over 90 years, remembering.

A Camels pack, still holding a few cigarettes, circa early 1950s and deliberately crushed. Although Grandpa was frugal and seldom wasted anything, he’d apparently quit mid-pack and saved the evidence for over 60 years. I wonder why he kept them. To recall a battle he’d won? To remind himself to avoid destructive habits?

A treasure trove of treats. Fun-sized candy bars, mints, jelly beans or candy corn or miniature candy canes (depending on which holiday was in the vicinity) squirreled away for his great-grandkids. Although he couldn’t remember our names at the end, he never forgot the candy. “Make sure the boys get some candy before they leave,” he said. “Did they get some candy? They can have more than one.”

And, of course, he left behind memories, too many to mention. But one that stands out is one that he deliberately planted. When we were kids, he and Grandma would ask visiting grandchildren to read aloud from the Bible after supper. The reader was free to choose the passage. (This did involve risks; just ask the hapless grandchild who, as a young teenager, let the Bible fall open randomly and started reading before realizing too late that the passage was one of those embarrassing ones about lust. Oops. If you ever wanted to hear Grandpa laugh, you could just ask him to tell of how his grandkid, blushing and stammering, read aloud about harlots in front of the familly.)

But one evening during a visit, instead of asking my sisters or me to read, he chose the passage himself and asked us to listen closely. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’ . . .”

He unpacked each metaphor for us—“when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim . . .” But upon concluding (“ . . . and the spirit returns to God who gave it”) he did not expound further. He was confident that we understood his message, which was subtle but clear.

As were the other messages he left us, woven into his few remaining belongings.

So his spirit has returned to God who gave it, and although I can’t help wishing he could have held out to celebrate today, I am glad to have so much time with him, and I am glad that Sonny and Ace knew him and remember him. I am thankful for him—what he gave when he was here and what he’s left behind.

Happy birthday, Grandpa.