Sunday, February 20, 2011


My mother would have been 90 years old on February first, and in March it will be 20 years since she passed away. I miss her profoundly in so many ways, but one of the greatest ways that she influenced me is that she was one of the most generous people I've ever known, both with her hands and with her heart.

Mother was a child of the Depression. In 1930 her father took his family to wait out the bad economic times living off the land on a homestead in Southern Oregon. Mother's memories of that time read like "Little House in the Cascades," complete with carrying water from the creek, going to a one-room school, and picking wild berries. Grandma, one of 14 kids, had grown up on a ranch in Idaho and knew how to sew and can. She made underwear for the girls out of flour sacks and scrimped and made do. Grandpa sold cord wood in town and did odd jobs to earn money when he needed to buy things at the general store. Knowing Grandpa was out there with four little kids, the storekeeper kept an eye on him. Once he gave Grandpa a case of unlabeled cans that he couldn't sell, but not knowing what it was didn't matter when the kids were hungry. Mother said she'd never forget the smell when the can opener pierced the tin. It was spinach, and it tasted good.

For Christmas that year, the family got a box of used clothes and toys and were so grateful that someone remembered them. Grandpa, orphaned at eight, had grown up in a Masonic Home where the thoughtful matron saw to it that each child had fifty cents to spend for Christmas every year. Likewise, Grandpa took his children to Woolworth's in Roseburg and gave them each fifty cents to buy gifts for their siblings and parents.

For the rest of her life, Mother tried to make life better for other people. She appreciated what she had and though my parents were never wealthy, they shared their blessings. Mother gleaned apples from nearby orchards and made sure her widowed or financially struggling friends had a box of apples. Every year she bottled a thousand jars of fruits, vegetables, juice, jam and sometimes meat. She made sure all the kids in the family had coats and boots for the winter if their parents couldn't afford it. When she took me to school at BYU, she'd stop on the way home at a dry bean warehouse in Idaho for a couple of sacks to divide up among friends and family in Portland. She noticed when other people needed something and was always on the lookout for a way to satisfy that need. When something came into her hands that she couldn't use, she'd pass it along to someone who could. Other people might have been insulted and thrown the thing in the trash, but not Mother.

Growing up with this kind of mother, I never resented the treasures she brought home from the Good Will store. I understood what it meant to have a generous heart. Our children will never forget the trips we took with my parents, full of adventure and laughter and good food and endless interesting information (Mother was a walking encyclopedia). When we moved in 2009 and downsized, I had the kids come and help me clean out closets so they could take away what they wanted. They can enjoy their "inheritance," such as it may be, and I have the pleasure of watching that.

In our world of selfishness and narcissism and "what's in it for me," a generous person is a rare find, even a treasure. I could do a lot worse than to be like my mother.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Camelot - NOT!!!

With the jetstream pumping Arctic air into the Rockies and a massive storm paralyzing the Midwest and Northeast, there's a lot of complaining now about the weather. In parking lots we drive past the piles of dirty snow, reminders of our heavy December storms that will still be there a month from now.

Yesterday morning the faucet in our kitchen was frozen. Since the sink is on an outside north wall, and the temperatures were subzero, of course something's going to freeze. Duh. Why didn't we anticipate that. Roger called the plumber, who was having an insane day and would not be able to get here until 6 o'clock. Fine. In the meantime, we didn't have a spare space heater to aim under the sink, so Roger went to Home Depot to get one. "Sorry," they said, "the only heaters we have left are the ones on display." And they weren't what he wanted. So he bought some insulated sleeves for the outside faucets and Home Depot employees went on unloading the summer fans that have just arrived. Don't you love irony?

Instead, Roger went to Sears and found a small space heater. Good ol' Sears. In the meantime, the line unfroze itself and water started running again. We canceled the plumber and left the faucet dripping overnight with the little heater aimed at the pipes underneath.

But it got me thinking. No fact of our lives - not love, not genius, not even babies - provides more immediate proof of the existence of God than does the weather. He gave us rocks and trees and autumn and Eagle Creek Falls, and we do nothing but complain about snow and cold and the serendipitous randomness of the world. Come on, people - He never promised us Camelot, where the rain may never fall till after sundown, but we can be sure of this: our world is never boring.

On the contrary, we should be grateful that the seasons change and the world renews itself in spite of whether we've lost ten pounds or apologized or taken down the Christmas lights by Valentine's Day. Seasons of planting, growing, maturing and harvesting are gifts we take for granted. We remain reticent and skeptical while all around us is proof that God loves us and believes we can straighten things out.

According to people who have studied the phenomenon, spring starts at sea level and moves up eleven miles per day. You see? God loves us. He gives us time to adjust and change.