Posts Tagged Family

More from my mother-in-law

My mother-in-law tells of the time she was attending a Bible Study at a friend’s home.  The couple were Christians, he was the organist at their church, but their marriage was falling apart- the home was filled with constant bickering and argument.  “I can’t understand it,” said the lady,” We can go to church, have a wonderful time in the car on the way home, laugh together and joke and minutes after we walk in the door at home we are at each other’s throats.”

Mom said, I could feel the spirit of conflict in the house.  They decided to pray through the house- livingroom, master bedroom, child’s bedroom. . . When they came to the steps to the basement Mom said, “What’s down here?”  “Oh, another woman rents the downstairs, but she’s different, I think she might be into the occult.”

Then said Mom, “We will bind the spirits and forbid them access to this upper level.” So they put a spiritual bar across the entrance.

The fighting and bickering stopped immediately.  And the couple moved to a different place not long afterward.

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Tales from my Mother-in-Law: Sanctified Fumes

I have been blessed with a godly Mother-in-law.  She’s into the middle third of her eighties, still drives a hot little red car, faithfully attends Sunday Services (2) and the Wednesday night prayer meeting, and volunteers once a week at a Christian outpost in the vanity fair of West Edmonton Mall.  She also has a goodly fund of God stories.

Last Thursday, I asked her to refresh my memory on the details of a couple.

A few years ago, in 1949, she and her husband were Bible School students.  That summer, between semesters he was working on his mother’s ranch and they were staying with his sister, Mary, about a mile out of Barons, Alberta.  One week-end they went up to Calgary to attend a missionary convention.  As they drove into the parking lot for the evening service Dad glanced down and noticed that the car would need a fill-up before going home.

Well, they went into the meeting and were moved by the speaker, a missionary from Cape Verde.  When the offering plate was passed Dad leaned over to Mom and said, “Let’s not stop for coffee after the service tonight, let’s just go straight home.”  With that he proceeded to empty his wallet into the offering. He didn’t even keep a dime out.   It wasn’t until afterward, when he got out to the car, that he remembered the state of the gas tank.  Mom didn’t have any money with her.  What to do?  They decided the only thing to do was to try to drive home.

Sure enough, just about the time the lights of Claresholm appeared on the horizon, the car sputtered and they coasted  to a stop on the shoulder. Dad went out and made a perfunctory check under the hood, but he knew the problem. No gas.  They sat for awhile. It was a pretty cool August night and Mom started to shiver, then shiver some more.   Finally Dad leaned forward and tried the key. To their surprised relief the car started up and ran smoothly.  They drove the rest of the way home and went to bed.

The next morning Aunt Mary, went out and took the car to go to Barons for the mail.  She only made it as far as the gate before the vehicle quit.

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Songs the Magpie sang

Being fairly new to the fine art of net surfing, I only recently discovered that by putting in a tag phrase of that old song that’s been rolling around in your memory you can get Youtube to cough up just about any song you might feel like hearing or singing.

When our daughter was about four we once took a training course, and she attended the Nursery School at the center.  One day it was her choice to pick a song to sing.  They were definitely expecting, “Jesus Loves Me,” “This Little Light of Mine,” or something of like ilk.  But no, our darling daughter requested “What shall we do With the Drunken Sailor?”  I found myself defending the cultural value of a sea chantey (Irish drinking song???) to a concerned teacher.

And thinking of that sort of sent me researching more bedtime favorites.  Mind you, as a mitigating factor, I should also  point out that our Granddaughter is being put to bed with all five verses of “Children of the Heavenly Father” as sung to her Mom by her father.

He also sang these.

And then I found this one.  Sometimes singers do improve with age.  Or perhaps there is less self-focus in this presentation (and of course, more hoop-la).

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Canadian Funeral

We drove down to Picture Butte last Friday for the funeral of my husband’s junior father.  Over the years I have developed a rather hybrid view of funerals, first by attending hundreds of Ghanaian funerals, and more recently by attending funerals here in Canada.

One thing that comes through in both cultures is that a funeral truly speaks to who the person was.  Good people have good funerals. Those who loved others have funerals characterized by love given back.  This one was a lovely memorial to a good man. I think his language of love must have been “doing.”   There were many tributes to the things he had built and the renovation projects he had helped various ones with.  The last line of his childrens’ tribute was, “Don’t renovate all of Heaven before we get there.”

Perhaps because he was the last of his siblings, the funeral also drew out a gathering of cousins my husband had not seen for close to forty years.

Canadians do not enjoy funerals; but in Ghana funerals are designed, I think, for the pleasure of the one who has died. They celebrate the things he enjoyed in life, and have an aspect of sending him off well.  I believe Uncle Lloyd would have enjoyed the family gathering; of his children, their spouses,  grand-children and nieces and nephews at the house. I know Aunt Doris appreciated having her children around her.  We expressed sympathy but also caught up with family members and found comfort in the warmth of reaffirming family bonds.

And I renewed my acquaintance with small town mores.  You see, I’m a small town girl.  I expect to say hello to people on the street as I pass, and I expect to help strangers and to find help when I need it.  And we needed it.  We had a problem with being at the right place at the right time.  We had gotten up at 4:30 a.m. in order to make it in time for the burial.  Our Ghanaian instinct says- What’s a funeral without a burial? (or, speak it softly, without a wake, for that matter.) Isn’t that the point of it all?

I have this feeling that the time you are most sure to be late is the time you arrive an hour early.  We had been told that Picture Butte did not have a graveyard (how could that be?) and that the burial would be at Iron Springs a few kilometers down the road. So we drove to Iron Springs- a prairie whistle stop with a large Christian Reformed Church, and a school.  It made me think of a small-sized Neerlandia.

A man in his yard gave us directions and we found the cemetery a mile out of town.  No activity.  One small mound of new dirt but from outside the fence you couldn’t see much.  We met up with Wes’ mother and siblings who had driven in from Calgary, looked at the clock and went for coffee.  Came back- we were about 10 minutes early.  No activity at the graveyard, and on closer inspection no newly dug grave, certainly not one lined with artificial turf with funeral home attendants fussing around it. In fact, nobody.

We decided we must be at the wrong place after all.  So we drove back to Picture Butte.  And that’s where the small town folks did not let me down.  The waitress at the small cafe helpfully dug up yesterday’s paper and the funeral announcement, but it said nothing about the burial. She found cousin Jack’s phone number, and the number of his work place, and they in turn gave me his cell phone number.  Naturally- he had it turned off for the service.  We were given directions to the church- unlocked, but also unoccupied.

Still looking, but not wanting to bother the waitress again,  we asked to use the phone book at another business. Unfortunately neither Uncle Lloyd nor Jack listed a street address by their phone number- who, in a small town, would need to do that?  However the manager asked around and found out that one church in town did have a cemetery.  Nobody we knew was there either. Apparently they only bury their own.

Finally I said, “Let’s stop at the post-office, that’s where town news gets spread.”  The first lady leaving,  knew Uncle Lloyd but was  not too clear in giving directions to the house.  “If you go back to the main highway. . .”

And that’s where a cousin sent out to find us caught up with us.

If we’d only waited a few more minutes at the cemetery we would have met the funeral.  You only need a small hole to bury an urn.

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By God’s Grace and grit

Dad finished a full tour of duty, flying bombing missions over Germany.  The war ended before he was sent on a second tour. He never was inclined to talk much about it, and didn’t keep up his pilot’s license after being discharged.

Back in Canada he was entitled to a Veteran’s scholarship.  Even with his new commitment to God he couldn’t see himself up behind a pulpit,  so he decided to become a  doctor.  Apparently there hadn’t been a whole lot of incentive for the son of a poor farmer in the dirty thirties to put a lot of effort into his academic career. The folks at the University took one look at Dad’s high school marks and laughed at his medical ambitions.  However, they also gave him an IQ test. He said, “Never before or afterward, have I scored so high.”  He made it into pre-med on the strength of that test.

There wasn’t much hazing on the University of Saskatchewan campus that year.  The entering class of war vets weren’t about to be pushed about by juniors who had come fresh from High School.

Part of the first year curriculum  was a course in Bio-Chemistry.  It was specifically designed to thin out the class.  Dad said that there were four large blackboards.  The Professor would come in, start writing on one board, cover them all with notes, wipe them clean and start over.  By the time Christmas vacation rolled around Dad was foundering deeply in the course- he said he didn’t have a clue.  However, the Prof. handed out  a ten to twelve page course summary, just before he dismissed the class for their break.  Dad started memorizing it by rote, starting with page one and working through.  By the time he had memorized half the sheets the material started to make sense, and when he wrote the final in January he had the second highest score on the exam.

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The last training mission

Dad ran away from the farm at seventeen. and went west, He worked at a hospital as an orderly (and later assured me that the experience in no way positively influenced him toward his eventual career). He also spent some time catching rivets at the Vancouver shipyard and thereafter blamed any difficulty with hearing on that experience.

When the war broke out he enlisted at nineteen and became the pilot of a Halifax bomber crew.  I’m indebted to, Roy Collins, who mailed me some of his reminiscences.

He wrote, “I greatly appreciated your telephone call to tell me that Norm had passed away. . . His death marked the end of a very special friendship for me, forged in the dark days of World War II.

” I was trained in the R.C.A.F. as a Wireless Operator and posted to the UK. In January 1944 I was posted to an air force base at Honeybourne in Worcestershire.  All the various flying “trades” were sent there at the same time – pilots, navigators, wireless operators, bomb aimers, and gunners. Unlike the usual air force procedures in which we were told what to do, we were left to choose crew mates with whom we would be with for the rest of our active flying duties. Each pilot was given two days to submit the names of his crew who had “chosen each other” so to speak.

“The morning we all arrived at Honeybourne there was general confusion. We were on a base we had never been on before and no one knew to whom, or where, or when we were supposed to report. In the middle of the muddle I was a aware of a tall blond pilot who got to a telephone, called the Adjutant, and was able to tell the milling mob that a bus was coming to take us to a drill hall.  When we were confronted with the instruction to “crew up” I thought of this pilot because he seemed to be someone who was able to take charge and get things done.

“We met up later in the day, over a mug of tea, and he told me his name was Norm Streight, and at the end of our conversation he asked me if I was interested in being part of his crew. I jumped at the offer and we shook hands on it.

The tall blonde captain- third from left

The tall blonde captain- third from left

“I always remember after one of our cross country training flights we landed back at base and taxied around the perimeter track to our aircraft’s home pad. As the engines were shut down and quiet returned to our aching ears I heard Norm’s voice on the intercom saying, ‘You know, I was just thinking, back home I’m not old enough to drive the car.'”

It was the last of their training flights that changed the course of my father’s life permanently.

I was raised on my father’s telling of the tale. It was their final cross-country training flight before starting their tour- a night flight.  They were coming in home on three engines because on had proved faulty on the flight.  Dad asked the young engineer to switch  the fuel tanks over to the fullest ones, but somehow he managed instead to move the switch to empty tanks.  Everyone had disconnected their headsets as the plane came in.  First one engine died and then another. Only Dad knew the plane would crash and he sent up a foxhole prayer, “God, if you will just get me out of this. . . ”

Roy wrote the morning after,

“The port wing hit the ground first and was immediately torn off along with the two engines. The rest of the plane hit the ground sideways about 100 yards farther on, and then slid for about 500 yards until it slammed sideways into a row of trees along the edge of a farmer’s field.

For those of us in the rest position all we knew was that suddenly there was an explosion of horrible sounds as the wing hit and ground and was torn off, the remaining engine went roaring out of control and our aircraft was torn apart as it went careening across the field. The terrifying noise seemed to go on forever and then . . silence.  Absolute silence.

For a moment I was stunned and sat on the floor in the pitch darkness struggling to figure where I was. I heard a low moan nearby and they Hugh’s voice asking dazedly, “What happened.”

I’m not sure how long it took for my mind to emerge from the fog and realize we had crashed. Once that came into focus I began to function again. I somehow got hold of a flashlight and in its light beheld Hugh on his stomach trying to turn over. Gord was sitting beside him and was holding on to his leg. I couldn’t see Bud.

“Next I stood on the bench and put my head out through the opened hatch just above us. When I swung the flashlight towards the front of the aircraft. I could see that the whole nose section was a crumpled mess. The pilot’s cockpit was all caved in. There was no sign of life and it was pretty clear that Norm and Stu had been killed.

“I was still taking in the horrifying scent when the light from my flashlight picked up Norm down on the ground, charging around the crumpled nose shouting, “Call the roll! Who’s hurt and who isn’t?”  Stu was close behind him.”

Smitty, the young engineer was killed, two members of the crew were seriously injured and never flew with them again, most of the rest had bangs and bruises.  Dad always said that he “walked away without a scratch.”

Roy concluded, “I feel strongly that we owed our lives to our pilot, who struggled for those final hopeless minutes, as the aircraft fell out of the sky, to have it land as flat as possible rather than go in nose first.”

Dad however,  always finished the telling of the story differently. He said that a couple of days later a fellow officer approached him and said, “Norm, did you make a deal with God?  If you did, you need to honor it.”   Acknowledging God’s intervention in the matter he re-aligned his life accordingly.  It has made a large difference to my own.

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Africa as a child

My earliest memories are of Africa, of the Bongondza station, in what was then the Belgian Congo.  When I returned to Africa as an adult I found that the scent of guava, frangipani, and a particular spidery white lily all had the effect of making me feel five years old again.  It’s mostly snapshot memories- joyously playing in the rain on my parents’ front porch which leaked like a sieve, and watching my father set up large plastic sheets between the clotheslines to catch rainwater for his intravenous drips.  He said he never had an infection.  I remember the pet rabbits, whose cage was set up with the legs set in tins of kerosene to keep out insect invaders.  It didn’t work.  One morning we awoke to find them two black balls of driver ants.  I remember wild honey, set in a bowl on the table in the back porch.  There was a hole in the screen and the bees stole most of it back. And I remember the feeding frenzy of the chickens when Dad brought in a section of termite mound and cut it open for them.  I had kittens and a collection of pet snails that made a habit of escaping -leaving silvery trails around my bedroom. I also had a dollhouse, and a life-size doll with real hair that had come from a church bazaar.

It all ended rather abruptly with the coming of Independence in 1960.  The Belgians had not made themselves popular and the ill-feeling extended to them spilled over to all with white skin.  One memorable evening my parents were told that they would be evacuating the next morning with the rest of the westerners on the station.  I remember that it was very hard to get a kerosene lantern for my room that evening.  I  freed the snails, including the huge one my father had found on his way back from the hospital that evening.   My father remembered mostly that he had performed several surgeries that day and that he spent the night writing post-op orders for the nurses to follow.  We were allowed a small suitcase each.  A few clothes, one or two toys, my father’s surgical instruments that he said he wouldn’t leave to rust in the forest, and local paintings cut out of their frames and rolled up that still hang in our home today.

Other than having to give the kittens away, what I remember most was that after having breakfast we just walked out, leaving everything on the table, everything as was, in the house.  I learned early that things are things, you can walk away from them.

I don’t remember much of the trip.  Dad slipped my brother and me sedatives so that we wouldn’t irritate any soldiers at road-blocks on the drive out.  In Stanleyville, we left on the last American troop plane out of Congo- a big cavernous monster with webbed seating.

We never did go back.  My father went on to work in a hospital just opened in the Trucial States.  The doctor, who replaced him, and his young family,were one day  hacked apart with machetes and thrown into a river by rebel troops.

My parents though, always spoke of the Congolese they had known with affection, remembering their kindness and ability to endure difficult situations. They remembered their propensity for laughter.  If you don’t laugh sometimes, you will always be crying.

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