A man and his cigar. And his parakeet.

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More pictures of my dad, in anticipation of his 100th birthday on SATURDAY. Not Friday as previously reported.

Here is the man convicted of his homeliness. But could he be any cuter? I think no.

Speaking of no, the adorable little girl is not me. That is my cousin Marlene. I was not even on the horizon yet. Even the parakeet hatched before I did.

I almost forgot the Pithy Saying of the Day! (according to Dad, this is advice that came from HIS father):


There. Put that in your cigar and smoke it 🙂

Man’s Work

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Daddy (who would have been 100 this Friday) had a wealth of old sayings, aphorisms and proverbs.

One he quoted often while looking fondly at Mom:

“Man’s work goes from sun to sun, woman’s work is never done.”

We never quite made sense of that, since Mom, for most of her adult life, worked outside the home, while Dad made dinner, did dishes and laundry, yard work and handyman stuff.

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But despite all evidence to the contrary, old sayings are old sayings. And Dad believed every pithy word.Scan 150770001

When you’ve only got 100 years to—

This week, had he lived, my dad would have turned 100.

It was hard to let him go. I’d take him back in a heartbeat, but I know he wouldn’t come.

But I see him everywhere. Not just in the way-too-many-but not-nearly-enough photos I have of him. In the redwing blackbird I spotted. For him that was the true harbinger of spring.

There are bits of him in all three of my boys.

Favorite hymns, harmonicas and accordions.

And whimsey.

Here is one of his favorite sayings:


Here is one of my favorite photos:

dad spaghetti

He dropped a box of spaghetti in the pantry. It wasn’t edible. What to do, what to do?

And here is the answer. The place for spilled spaghetti. According to a 70-something retired schoolteacher. (And preserve it for posterity with a Polaroid)

Mom said they had to walk around the spaghetti house  for a week.

Sibling Rivalry


A Christian (let’s call him Christian) walks into a coffee bar.
He sees a woman, head bent over her Bible, reading and taking notes. His heart leaps. Like calls to like as he realizes that, although he has never seen her before, she is his sister. His sister in Christ.

He hesitates at her table. When she looks up with an open and welcoming smile, he says, “I see you are reading the book of Matthew. Are you a believer?”

She responds with a happy affirmative, introduces herself as Christiana, and asks him to join her.

The conversation starts slowly:
“How long have you been saved?”
“What’s your favorite book/verse/passage?”

They dance around “Where do you go to church?” knowing the answer could lead to one of those family arguments about which sibling’s doctrine is better than the other. Or worse. What if the other is a heretic? A black sheep of the family?

After tiptoeing around the edges of the theological crevasse they realize that, in spite of some differences in non-essentials, what unites them is greater than what divides.

The conversation continues with gusto. They compare favorite sermon topics, debate merits of hymns or contemporary praise-n-worship songs, free-form services or liturgical, sprinkling or dunking, heads bowed or hands held high.

Family business taken care of, they get personal. Christiana describes how she was raised by atheists and just last year had a Damascus Road sort of conversion after seeing a billboard that read “Amazing Grace: Not just for bagpipes.”
Christian reveals that he is the son of believers, raised by believers, who were umpteenth-generation believers.
They again compare notes. Enthusiasm of the fresh convert or quiet, deep conviction of one raised in the faith.

They’ve reached the part of the conversation where they begin speaking of how great their mutual Father is. All the awesome stuff He does for them. Caramel macchiato and spiced chai latte grow lukewarm, then cold as brother and sister in Christ move from generals — Grace! Forgiveness! Eternity! — to specifics.

Christiana reveals at least a dozen times in the past year, when she thought she was out of money, envelopes with cash showed up in her mailbox.

Christian, whose hours at work have been slashed so drastically that he’s taken a second job flipping burgers, forces sincerity into his smile.

But then he remembers how, when his grandfather died, when his wife miscarried, he’d been filled with a supernatural peace that passed understanding. They had, he knows, died in Christ. He shares this with Christiana, whose unsaved parents died within a year of each other and she’s still coming to grips with the fact that she will never see them on either side of eternity.

But! She’d suffered from chronic back pain since a freak accident involving a teeter totter, an outsized friend and an irritable hummingbird. Her pastor led a group in prayer and laying on of hands and she was immediately free from the torment.

Christian feels his smile freeze into position. He’s been dealing with IBS and eczema since he was young, and no amount of sincere and faith-filled prayer had taken them away.
Conversation lags. They both make attempts to restore the fraternization they’d enjoyed at the beginning. Christiana tells of more miraculous interventions. Christian counters by affirming trust that grows in spite of thorns in one’s side.

Christiana bundles her Bible and notebook into her knapsack. She gives Christian a philadelphia sort of hug and says she’ll be praying for his eczema. (He’d chosen not to bring up his IBS.) Her Father had said that ‘all His promises have their yes in Christ!’ she adds brightly.

With a stiff upper lip Christian promises to pray too, that her faith will mature and she’ll soon be enjoying spiritual meat in addition to her milk diet.

As he hands her a pencil that rolled on the floor he thinks “The babies of the family get spoiled. Makes ‘em soft”

She thanks him and volunteers to clear their cups and napkins from the table, reflecting that the oldest kids in the family always seem overbearing.

They wave goodbye and go their separate ways, each one wondering, “Who does Father love best?”

Garfunkel isn’t all you need

Some of those childish dreams and cringing humiliations of our past need to be pulled out and gently chuckled over. It helps exorcise them. This particularly mortifying bogie has now been relegated to a manageable discomfiture. But youthful foolishness can bear the fruit of adult insight.


A song, I realized that fateful night, wasn’t going to change the world. At least not via me. I couldn’t sing, for Pete’s sake. Why hadn’t anyone told me? I couldn’t play guitar. (Actually several people had told me this, but I  assumed they just hadn’t heard me at my most soulful.) I had bullied my friend into supporting a naive and humiliating venture in futility. Worse, people had witnessed it. People I didn’t know.

It would be years—decades—before I began to comprehend the hopeless mess we humans are, the mess we’ve made of the world, and the nastiness we inflict on each other. Nothing we could generate from inside our grimy broken selves, no matter how pretty and sincere, could change ugliness and evil. We require something—SomeOne—outside of us.
Once we realize that, we needn’t feel frustration about our inability to change the entire world. We can, however, change the parts of it in which we live and move and have our being.

We work at being good friends, like Nan.
We do our best, like my Calvinette leaders, to guide silly, giggling pre-pubescent girls with love and grace.
We enjoy beauty and truth, because by God’s common and uncommon grace, it is everywhere.

God made the music of the spheres to begin with, He keeps the song going in spite of raspy voices and broken strings, and He’ll make the song new and perfect someday. He just requires that we hum along faithfully in our own spheres, whatever their size and scope.

As for my preteen self? Did I wallow in self-pity? Of course. For at least 36 hours. But there was more Simon and Garfunkel to enjoy, some Montego Bay and Mungo Jerry, and a glorious first crush on David Cassidy. Changing the world could wait. My pillow transformed into Keith Partridge each night and I covered him with chaste, closed-mouth kisses. I was becoming typical. My parents breathed a sigh of relief.

Late that year, I misplaced my little yellow transistor radio. Then I ran out of requisite-size battery. Finally, my father remembered to buy a pack of 9 volts and my little radio was ready to rumble. Maybe, I hoped, maybe ‘I Think I Love You’ will be the first song I hear. I tuned to WCFL, locked my bedroom door and turned up the volume.

For the first time, singing only for me, Neil Diamond’s ‘He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Brother’ crooned its way through my little transistor and into my heart.

The next day I dusted off my old string of love beads and wrote a fan letter to the Peace Corps.



Last week I shared my pre-teen dream of achieving peace and love via Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence.’ It remained just a beautiful dream until I learned that my Calvinette troupe would be hosting the Calvinette banquet. And I knew what had to be done.

What is a ‘Calvinette?’ Pretty much what it says. A little, female follower of John Calvin. Although we owed more to the Girl Scouts than we did the worthy reformer. My particular Calvinist denomination had a Calvinette troupe in each church. Sort of like Awanas for preteen girls. We had a motto. (Grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears Jehovah, she shall be praised.) We had a song. ‘Oh Calvinettes March Forward.’
We got badges. I learned to darn a sock over a lightbulb. And every year or so, all the Calvinettes in the state came together for a banquet. As hosts this year, our duty was to provide entertainment.

There was the plum. Sitting in my lap, smiling up at me. “You need a place to start changing the world? Here you go!”
Almost a hundred other junior high girls would be there. They would hear ‘Sounds of Silence.’ It had been off the airwaves since we were mere third graders. But now, on the cusp of teenhood, the world would soon be ours. WE COULD MAKE IT NICE. Every girl in that room couldn’t help, on hearing The Song, to be moved. To go home and cry. And then begin the change that would change everything.
I gathered my friends to share my vision. My vision may have lost something in translation, but no one argued when I suggested that, as the Dream-transmitter, I would sing lead and accompany on guitar. Like polite girls (Calvinettes were well-mannered and supportive) my friends agreed. There were half a dozen of us united on this giddy venture to set world kindness in motion.

At the first practice, only 5 girls showed up. The second had 4 and by the third, it was me and my friend Nan. Who I forbade, on the force of my (actually underwhelming) personality, to drop out.

Why, when offered a chance to achieve greatness and love and flowers and puppies via a song, did those Calvinettes skedaddle? Some had parents who, foreseeing disaster, wouldn’t let them participate. The rest were smitten by self-preservation combined with common sense. Did I mention that I am thiscloseto tone deaf? And that my guitar prowess was the result of 6 half-hour lessons?

Poor Nan. She tried everything to make our duo work. “How about I sing harmony?”
Did you know that to the musically-impaired, harmony sounds like a pig wailing over a stolen corn cob?
I laughed her to scorn. Me. Who had the nickname ‘Gravel Gurdy’ as a child.

But she hung in there, agreeing to sing melody. An octave higher than me.
The night came. THE NIGHT. The night when the tentacles of love would go out and—

“Girls.” One of our long-suffering Calvinette leaders beckoned Nan and I into a private corner. Just before the festivities began.
“We’ve been listening to the lyrics.” Her matter-of-fact tone didn’t fool us. It concealed the deep discomfort of an adult addressing juveniles on carnal matters. “The verse about ‘written on the subway walls’ is not appropriate.”
We looked at her blankly. We barely knew what a subway was. She fidgeted and straightened my Calvinette scarf. “It isn’t nice.”
We obviously were not getting it. She sighed.
“Subway walls have things that aren’t…appropriate…written on them. You’ll have to eliminate that verse.”

My vision of a brighter future crumbled at the edges. But I would not give in. I would not let the music die.

Our names were announced.
Nan stood with the air of one facing the guillotine. I marched forward, guitar hugged to my ribcage.
We turned to face a sea of 11-13 year old female faces. Our Calvinette leaders’ faces were buried in their hands.
I plucked at strings for the opening I’d painstakingly created.

I strummed. I sang. Somewhere around the key of ‘bottom of a deep dark pit.’

Nan, thankful that video phones and youtube were decades in the future, was possibly singing, or possibly just frozen. I couldn’t tell. The blood burbled in my ears and drowned out even my own rumbling tone.
We stopped signing abruptly, just short of the final verse. I faded out with the same soulful, ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ sort of notes I’d started with. The audience sat stunned. I was surrounded by the sounds of silence. Then, grateful it was over, my kind-hearted Calvinette leaders began to clap. The rest of my club joined, and soon the entire room was gently patting their hands together.

Nan and I found our ways to our seats. Banquet-type stuff happened. I went home. But something died in me that night. Right about the second verse of ‘The Sounds of Silence.’

Please come back tomorrow to learn the moral of the story.