On Page One, There Was Wordplay

Downsizing, Episode 1

Boys LIfe imageWith a seventieth birthday just three months away, I decided a few weeks ago to start downsizing, beginning with the closets crammed full of memorabilia. It would be easier, I thought, to shrink the scrapbook collection than to reduce the number of the photo albums or journals.

Twenty scrapbooks, standing vertically and in chronological order, fill six feet of shelving in the guest bedroom closet—next to the school yearbooks.  Another twelve—the overflow volumes of more recent years—occupy the living room closet, along with thirty photo albums. My journals fill the office shelves.

My plan for the scrapbooks: choose the most important scraps, scan them, and create a Shutterfly book or two out of the thirty-two bulky volumes. Voila! I would have completed Downsizing Step One.

Today is the day I begin. My goal for this first morning: choose the important items from the first volume, and perhaps begin scanning or photographing some of them before having lunch with Marlo. I throw open the closet’s folding doors, tug down the volume on the far left, and lug it to my leather recliner.

I switch on the floor lamp and flip back the cover. In large black print, the title page says, “High School Mementoes of Carol Addink.”

Addink. . .  Forty-two years after switching to “Van Klompenburg” that surname looks absurdly short. My four-syllable replacement surname now feels as comfortable as my fur-lined slippers.

I wonder: Did I create this collection the summer after high school graduation? I think so, but I’m not sure.

I flip to the next page and a tattered magazine cover greets me—a yellow road which curves around a tree and pond toward the horizon. Dotting the road, the grass, the pond, and the sky are eighty-five fantasy creatures—a flying horse, a football stage coach, a scurrying bundt cake. . . .

I study the creatures, moved by a profound affection as I study a bird wearing a crown, a flying stick of butter, two buffalo with halos.

I remember across the decades:  I pondered over this photo a long time, working to decipher its word puzzles.

It is a cover of rebuses—pictures which represent a word or phrase as visual puns.  The football with old-fashioned wheels is a football coach. The flying horse is a horse fly. And the scurrying bundt cake is hasty pudding.

Hasty pudding. That one stumped me as a kid. I had to look it up in the answer page.  I had never heard of hasty pudding.

I was a stubborn child, returning to the picture again and again before relenting and consulting the solution for the final five or so rebuses I could not solve.

I had to look up those buffalos with halos. And I still remember that answer too. The answer was “good gnus” (news)!  “Gnus” was a word I had never met before—and I don’t recall ever using it in the decades since.

What magazine was this? I apparently snipped off the magazine name to reduce the cover’s size before pasting it into the scrap book.

It was a magazine that came for my brothers, a Boy Scout magazine. Boy’s Life. That’s it. Boy’s Life!

I work my way through the rebuses, until I have solved most, but not all.

How can I solve the remaining rebuses? I wonder if Google can help me?  I take a photo of the cover and submit it to Google images.  Google says, “Not found. Category: cartoon.”

After more Google sleuthing, I discover that this was the cover for the April 1959 issue of Boy’s Life. And it is still being published! I email the magazine editors, asking if they can provide me with the key.

But I am impatient. I Google some more, this time with the search term “April 1959 Boys Life key for cover puzzle” and I am taken to Google books, page 71 of the issue.  There it is. The key!  I print the screen, and work with the image in Photoshop until I have a printable version of the rebus key. I notify the magazine editors to disregard my request.

I try one more time to solve the remaining rebuses, and then look up the ones I cannot solve or am not sure of.

Yes! That man in a suit gesticulating wildly at the mound of dirt is indeed a bank teller.

The key also tells me the mysterious running ruler is “good measure.”  That makes sense. I never would have gotten it, though. And that beggar with a tin cup is “needing (kneading) dough.” That one is an awfully big stretch. I wouldn’t have included it in the picture.

That running tube is “fast color.”  Fast color? Fast color? Color-fast is a word I know, but not fast color. I think perhaps there is an error here.

Each rebus solved, I think about the magazine. The April 1959 issue? I was only eleven years old. I must have saved this cover for years, and then included it in my high school album because it was important to me.

Hmmmm. When I was eleven we were dirt poor. Why did my parents splurge on a kids’ magazine? And one aimed at only boys? I don’t even remember any of my brothers being a scout. And we never got a magazine for my sisters and me.

My brother Marv has a fly-paper memory. Maybe he will know.

I email him to inquire.

As I click “send,” Marlo ascends from the basement and heads for the refrigerator to pull out some leftovers. It’s time for lunch.

I look at the newly printed Rebus key and insert it into the scrapbook next to the Rebus puzzle.

Perhaps my afternoon agenda should include this item: rethinking goals for shrinking the scrapbook collection.

 

 

 

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Paper Fetish

IMG_20170914_172759For nearly three years, a plastic carton of letters has gathered dust in my guest-bedroom closet, perched among four cardboard boxes, all crammed with papers.

Atop its white lid, a yellow post-it reveals my mother’s plan for this box. In her careful printing it announces: “Letters to sort and give to people.” Stacked vertically inside are 100  or so yellowing envelopes with three-cent postage stamps.  Each contains a multi-page letter.

The postmarks range from 1941 through 1948. Each envelope is addressed to my mother. Until February 1947, they are addressed to Miss Mary Kiel, thereafter to Mrs. Henry Addink.

Mother must have accomplished the first of her two goals: they are in sorted—in order by return address. A few groupings are rubber-banded together. Another half dozen have been inserted into manila envelopes which she cut in half and used as homemade pocket file-folders.

Some are from her female friends, whose names I heard in my childhood: Wilma Vander Werff, Noreen Roorda. . . . Other names I do not recognize. And still others are from servicemen: Pvt. Howard Kiel and  Col. Arend Wassink.

Three years ago, after Dad had died and Mother moved to a two-room apartment in a retirement home, I took this carton with me. As I was carrying thirteen boxes of paper memorabilia from their condo to our van, shaking my head over its sheer volume, Mother’s neighbor smiled and remarked, “Mary did have a paper fetish, didn’t she?”

Paper fetish, indeed.  Those thirteen boxes did not include the decades of Sunday School papers, church yearbooks, and Weekly Readers we had already disposed of.

Since taking the boxes home, I have recycled many pounds of paper—stacks of emailed jokes, newspaper cartoons, and clipped recipes.

But I have not opened this carton. As I do, I feel as if I’m entering a time tunnel. Perhaps these could become the basis for a book, or a series of articles.

I tug a few fragile sheets out of a letter from Pvt. Howard Kiel, my uncle.

I scan it quickly, then open another, and another. I read eagerly for the drama of a world war—a sense of making history as part of the “Greatest Generation.”

I don’t find it. Instead, I read descriptions of day-to-day living and meal menus and boredom. I find jokes and teasing and tidbits about romances beginning or ending.

I put down Uncle Howard’s letters and turn to Uncle Arend’s. Their tone and content are the same.

They are so quotidian, so mundane.  If my uncles had known these letters would survive the next 75 years, would they have written words of more significance? Then again, are ordinary 18-year-olds sucked into a world war capable of recognizing what is significant, much less of writing it? And were they even allowed to write about the war itself? Probably not.

Disappointed, I insert each letter back into its proper envelope. No material for a writing project here.

Both of these uncles are now deceased, so I cannot return their letters. But after 75 years, I cannot destroy them either.

I Facebook-message my cousins.  I explain that I have their fathers’ letter from World War II. Would they like me to send them? If so, please RSVP with a mailing address.

They respond immediately with addresses. Elaine fills in a piece of more recent history. Mother gave Uncle Arend’s letters to his wife Kathryn twenty years ago. When Kathryn died, Elaine and her husband Will gave them back to my mother to enjoy again. But, yes, I can send Elaine the letters, and they will keep them—at least for now.

My cousin Diane did not know about Uncle Howard’s letters and is eager to have them.

Success! Tomorrow I shall mail two packages away. That will take care of—

The rest of the box clamors for my attention.

Wait! My uncles’ letters are just five percent of this collection. What about the rest? Many of the writers are probably, like my uncles, deceased. It would be a mammoth job.

I should just toss them.

Then, a memory of my mother appears. She is telling me that she gave back to one of her students, at age 75, his grade school writing project. “He was so thrilled to have it,” she is saying.  “He had no idea. . . .” Her pleasure matches the joy she describes.

I skim a few more letters. They are similar to the others. I have no reason to keep them,I  and am not willing to track down their authors.

Would the Orange City Historical Society be interested? I Google a phone number and connect to it with my Smartphone. No one answers. After seven rings, a Fax screams in my ear. I hang up.  Perhaps I can email my sister Kathy, our family historian, and ask about her interest.

I stack the remaining letters back in order, tuck the carton back onto its closet perch, and close the doors.

I cannot yet dispose of them.

I am, after all, my mother’s daughter.

 

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Second Take

43489-Glazed-Donuts“This is a far cry from the folding chairs and dirt floors of repair shops in our childhood,” I say.  Marlo nods. Around us, ceramic tiles gleam under recessed florescent lights. Magazines beckon from the coffee table. I rest my elbows on the stuffed arms of my chair, waiting for an oil change with a cup of coffee in one hand and a glazed doughnut in the other.

I shake my head in disbelief as I swallow the first bite, say, “I haven’t had a doughnut in five years,”

I remember with surprise, that my last doughnut was also here at Des Moines Smart Honda, where minutes drag, doughnuts are free, and temptation is strong.

I am savoring another decadent mouthful when I hear the slow scuffle of shoes on my right. A man in dress shirt, khakis, and leather sandals slides his feet along in six-inch steps toward the hot chocolate machine. I take note of his perfectly combed white hair while he studies the machine, the Styrofoam cups, and condiments. The thirty-something woman starting a new pot of coffee helps him.

Yes, he would like some hot chocolate. No, he doesn’t want extra sugar or milk in it.

Cup carefully upright in his extended hand, he shuffles even more slowly to a seat between me and the coffee bar.

If he had been here five years ago, I realize, I would have felt no sting of similarity. But today, on the verge of my seventieth birthday, I massage my right knee and I see in him my not-so-distant self. That six-inch shuffle might just be lying in wait for me. And perhaps less distant in my future than I would like.

A few minutes ago, when I stepped from our Honda Pilot to the floor of the car drop-off bay, my knees hurt and my hips complained about being stretched after the hour’s drive from Pella to Des Moines.

I stifled a groan and waited a moment before stepping away and closing the door. Then I straightened my spine, tucked in my tummy, and walked as gracefully as possible to the customer waiting room.

I glance his way again as he puts his coffee on the table, uses the chair arms to ease himself down, picks up his coffee, and begins a conversation with a 50-something customer in the adjacent seat.

“I’ve been coming here for decades,” he says, his diction a bit slurred, but his eyes are alert.

The two men talk cars. His is a 2012. I can’t hear what he says about the make and model.

He has the four-cylinder model, not the six cylinder one. He chuckles. “It goes fast enough for me!”

He is ex-military. A navigator in the war, he says. I am relieved. He may have some muscular disabilities, but his conversational skills are intact.

Yes, he drove himself. He still lives in his own home, with his wife.

Profession?

“. . . lawyer,” he says.

Still practicing?

“Oh, no,” he says. “Not for a long time.”

He pauses for dramatic effect and adds, “I’m ninety-five years old.”

I’m sure his neighbor says something in surprise, but I don’t hear it above the sound of my own gasp.

“Ninety five!”  I thought he was eighty! He’s twenty-five year’s older than I am! That’s a quarter century. A generation.

I uncross my knees and stretch my legs. My joints feel only a trifle tender. Why, they could last another quarter century! I swallow the last tender morsel of doughnut.

Ninety five! He is not a veteran of Vietnam, but of World War II–like my father. He is a full generation ahead of me!

I smile and rise. Careful not to shuffle, I walk to the coffee bar to refill my cup.

In recent years, my caffeine tolerance has decreased, so I reach for the pot of decaf. As its orange rim squeaks against the Styrofoam cup, my excitement subsides. Exactly how many seventy-year olds reach ninety five? My father didn’t. I look around the waiting room. With one ninety-five year old exception, Marlo and I are the oldest people here.

I decide against a second doughnut, and reach for an apple instead. Didn’t I read something last week about a link between sugar and joint pain? Perhaps I should wait another five years before eating another.

And maybe, when Marlo and I get back to Pella, we should go for a long walk. A little cardio work would be good for us.

 

 

 

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Chalk City

elise and kai“Let’s make a BIG house, gwamma,” Kai says, holding up a piece of hot pink chalk.

Yesterday, he named this color when he used it to create hot pink flames on the driveway. Yesterday, after the flames, we drew giant flowers and three houses. With our SUV in the middle of the driveway, there is no space for a new big house.

No, Kai doesn’t want a small house. He wants a big one.

Grandpa backs up our SUV to make room for a big house. Kai wants this house to be purple. I draw with purple chalk, and remember my childhood house sketches. I make lines for the walls and roof, and I recall the enchanting discovery of how to create a 3-D illusion by how I angled these lines. I recreate for Kai the 3-D house I drew over and over in childhood, complete with chimney and curling smoke, shingles, picture window, front door with knob, and sidewalk. My picture window always had two overstuffed chairs facing each other, but today Kai says, “Put me in the window, gwamma.” I oblige.

Meanwhile, Kai’s older sister Elise retraces the tulip and daffodil that faded during last night’s rain, and then decides to construct a walkway from yesterday’s houses to today’s.

Next she wants apartment houses along the sidewalk, then grass and trees—and then each of them wants to draw a blue pond. Kai decides that the leaves lining the driveway are our fish. We fish in our pond and catch lots of them.

As we fish, I remember the bluegills I caught with my Dad at a Northwest Iowa sandpit. I see again the line, and the bobber. I feel the thrill of seeing the bobber suddenly sink. I hear Dad chortle as I land one.

We drop Kai’s leaf-fish into a chalk basket that he sketches. He tugs up a weed from a driveway crack to feed the fish, and then decides to also feed them chalk dust. I toss in more leaf-fish.

Elise wants to add a rainbow to the scene. Kai says he does, too. Elise says, “There can’t be two rainbows!” I click into my mother-as-peacemaker role from 30 years ago, and suggest that it is possible to have two rainbows—if they are far apart.

We begin Elise’s rainbow. She wants it like the real one—“red-orange-yellow-green-blue-violet,” she says. We make the closest pastel-chalk approximation possible. Kai rushes in with his blue chalk from the fish pond. His arc is crooked and leaves empty space. Elise complains, “He ruined it!” As mother-peacemaker again, I fill in the empty space and she is mollified.

Their mother Melissa calls from the house that dinner is ready, and dinner trumps the second rainbow. I ask them to pause and pose. I snap their picture, and they run into the house to wash chalk dust from their hands and faces.

On this Michigan driveway, miles from my Iowa home, and decades from my years as either child and or young mother, I study the chalk driveway drawings, filled with nostalgia and surprise.

I always expected grandchildren to tug me into the future; I never dreamed they would also resurrect the past.

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Morning Manna

KaiThrough a wall of windows in our son’s living room, I gaze at a Michigan woods in its bleak early-spring season. Last year’s leaves coat the ground, wet and brown. The trees reach bare limbs toward a blue March sky.

We arrived a week ago to help with our grandchildren while their mother recovers from her fourth chemotherapy treatment. Chemo has had its inevitable side effects, but her doctor tells her that her body is responding well.

Elise, 5, and Kai, 3, have suddenly been thrust into a world with new routines. This weekend Grandpa and Grandma have provided for them, while their mother slept and rested and recovered.

Kai did not like the change. He wanted his pre-treatment Mommy back. “NO! Mommy do it,” was his standard response to us the first few days. Then, after some multiple sessions fixing puzzles and listening to bedtime stories with Marlo, he decided that Grandpa was OK.

Yesterday, Kai entered the living room, book in hand. He looked around, saw only me, and asked, “Where’s Gwampa?”

I asked, “Do you want someone to read the book for you? I can do that, Kai.”

“No! Gwampa do it!”

Hearing him from the basement, Marlo mounted the steps and obliged. For the rest of the day, Kai consistently asked for Marlo.

Today, Kai enters the living room, with his blue I-pad dangling from one hand, clad only in pull-up pampers. All morning, he has steadfastly refused all suggestions of a shirt or pants. He asks, “Where’s Gwampa?”

This morning Marlo is running errands. “Grandpa went away in the car to get some things for Mommy,” I say. I hold my breath. Today, Kai is sick—last night’s stomach pain has become intestinal flu.

He glowers at me, turns his back, trudges to the nearby half-bathroom, and firmly shuts the door. I hear the tablet clunk to the wooden floor, some body sounds, a flush, and then tap water running and stopping. The door opens.

He trudges to the cupboards, takes out a sealed bag of candy-coated nuts, and hands it to me without a word. I know he wants it opened.

I take a deep breath. “Kai,” I say gently, “These nuts are super-good, I know. But they might make your tummy hurt again.”

I pause and look into his eyes, “It would be good to try crackers first, I think”

He turns his back on me, and I follow him to the cupboard. We view four kinds of crackers.

“Not dose. Dey have seeds,” he says, pointing to the multi-grain box.  I am surprised. Does he knows about the fiber content of seeds? No, he probably just doesn’t like them.

“These?” I ask, pointing to the soup crackers.

“No, dese,” he says, pointing to the Ritz box. I am grateful he did not point to the high-fiber graham cracker box.

I carry a bag of Ritz crackers to the table. He opens another cupboard door and pulls out two green, plastic bowls.

He puts one on the table in front of each of us. He points to the crackers. “Twee,” he says. “Twee for you and twee for me. In duh bowls.”

I put three Ritz crackers in each bowl.

I look at his bare torso. “Are you cold, Kai?” I ask. “Would you like to have a blanket around you?”

He nods. I get a fuzzy brown blanket from the nearby couch and wrap it around him.

“I can’t get my ahm to duh cwackuhs,” he says. I drape the blanket to expose one tiny arm.

He reaches for his cracker. I reach for mine.

With his first crunch, he looks into my eyes—the first time of the morning—and treats me to a smile. As I take my first cracker bite, I know, across the centuries, the taste of manna.

Against my tongue, it crumbles into a thousand tiny bits from heaven.

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Double Vision in an Arizona Condo

layer map

[To hear audio version, click recording above.]

Just beyond my magenta toenails, the pool ripples clear and pure under the Arizona sun. Near the fence a bougainvillea blooms beneath a palm tree.  I massage my legs with lotion, pick up my Paper-White Kindle from the table, and return to reading Loung Ung’s book First They Killed My Father, recommended to me by World Renew staff members in Cambodia.

Ung’s memoir transports me to Cambodia in the 1970s. She has been conscripted as a child-soldier by the Khmer Rouge regime, and her camp is under attack:

Then without warning, a mortar explodes near our base, blazing the sky white like lightning.  . . . The straw walls and roof burst into flame. Screaming and wailing, the girls try to escape before fire consumes the hut.

Two burly retirees step into the pool, and chest-deep in the water, compare the merits of two Phoenix golf courses, and how to obtain discount green fees. Traffic from Highway 60 buzzes in the distance behind me.

Fire spreads everywhere. “Don’t leave me! I’m hit! Help me!” a voice screams out shrilly. . . I wish to help her, but I am much smaller than she. . . Panicked I turn my back on her and jump out of the hut. When the roof collapses, the girl continues to scream long anguished cries as the flames engulf the hut.”

A carefully coiffed  blonde enters, seats herself on a lounge chair to my left,  removes the straps of her black suit gently from her shoulders, reclines, and closes her eyes.

Though my feet and body crave to rest, through half-open eyes, I lean on Kim and totter on. . . The small red gravel roads are swarmed body to body with people in their black shirts and pants. . . . Those who cannot move any farther sit at the side of the road, some curl up in a fetal position and sleep. Others leave the traffic to scavenge for fruits and berries. . . . My stomach begins to growl.

My husband calls from beyond the fence, his golf game done. I unlock the gate for him. We cool our feet in the water and discuss joining tonight’s potluck dinner for residents in the condominium association.  I vote against it: We are renting a space here for a week from condo owners. The entire crowd will be strangers.

As we return to our condo, I don’t return to my reading. But, Ung’s memories have triggered mine—of last October’s visit to Cambodia, a visit four decades after the Khmer Rouge genocide in which more than one-fourth of the country’s population perished.

Cambodian people still feel the aftershocks of that regime: Because of landmines left from the 1970s, Cambodia has 40,000 amputees—one of the highest amputee rates on the globe. And among its people, trust in others and in institutions remains a scarce commodity. Even Cambodians like Sovann Neth, born after the Khmer Rouge, have nightmares about its horrors.

With courage and assistance from NGOs such as World Renew, Sovann and other Cambodians are mending both their countryside and their culture. My small part in that mending is helping Sovann improve his English skills—crucial for his communication in NGO circles. Tomorrow morning, from opposite sides of the globe we will have another weekly session via Skype.

I am peering into the refrigerator, debating about snacking on the take-home box of fajitas left from last night’s feast at Valle Luna Restaurant, when my cell phone rings. It is Tom Post, supervisor of World Renew’s work in Southeast Asia.

I close the refrigerator and carry my Smartphone out to the balcony. Yes, I remember speaking with Tom a year ago.  Yes, I recently visited Cambodia. Yes, Sovann is a superb student of English.

Then Tom asks me to expand my ESL teaching to include Marrion, who speaks five languages, and, like Sovann, could use a little help with English for her communication donors and supervisors. A native of Kenya, Marrion has been working in Laos for a year, and is also learning its language.

Laos.

Neighbor to Cambodia.

Recovering from similar wounds, some of them caused—or at least exacerbated—by the US.

From the condo balcony, I survey the pool and the palms. I glance at my damp sandals and gleaming toenails.

They chorus a compelling yes.

I sigh. Such a tiny “yes.”  And so late.

But here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.

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Yin-Yang at the Movies­­­


(Audio Version of “Yin-Yang at the Movies” is above.)

julie-andrew2sIn my childhood, movies were forbidden. My parents, especially my mother, told me they were tools of Satan. She believed, along with some of her fellow Dutch Calvinists, that movies were “worldly amusements” from which we should refrain. I was a dutiful eldest child, adopting her assessment as my own.

When I was twelve, Mother got pregnant with my brother, my sixth sibling. She had told me she was “expecting” just a month before his birth. “We are having another baby,” she said. “Maybe you already suspected.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised.

“I thought maybe you had seen me. . .uh. . . changing shape,” she said, glancing down at her protruding midsection, modestly hidden under voluminous blue cotton.

“No,” I said, my voice trailing off. I was embarrassed by what my glance at her belly had revealed.

“The baby will be here in about four weeks,” she said. She told me that she and Dad had decided I was old enough to stay at home, along with my oldest brother, when she went to the hospital. The youngest four would stay with relatives.

I rejoiced. With the last baby, five years before, I had to stay with an aunt and uncle—a childless couple who had married in their forties. My enormous aunt had huge upper arms, and I had watched, in horror, as the flabs of her upper arms drooped and wobbled when she poured milk for me. My skinny uncle with a huge chin and no lips had loudly slurped from his cereal bowl and then belched at every breakfast. Returning home after that birth, I had pronounced judgment on these defects and more.

Mother gave birth on schedule, and when Dad returned from the hospital, he announced, smiling broadly, “You have a new baby brother! His name is Dale Evan.”

I don’t think I smiled back. And, if Dad said anything about Dale’s weight, length, or hair color, I don’t think I heard him. My brain stalled at my new brother’s name. Dale Evan–how could they? In May, Gene’s parents had used the identical name. Gene—my classmate with a giant mono-brow and a forehead that sloped backwards bottom-to-top like an ape-man’s. Gene—whose grades were consistently Ds and Fs. Gene—one of the few classmates I saw as below me in the class pecking order. Sharing baby brothers’ names with Gene was intolerable, unthinkable, horrible. . .

I ran outside and clambered one of the silver birch trees that lined our gravel driveway. Usually it was my tree of peace; today it was a tree of pain. I sat, I mourned, I raged—and then I plotted. How can I change my brother’s name? If I explain about Gene’s brother, Mother will scold me for my unchristian attitude. Dale Evan, Dale Evan. . . Why does that name sound so familiar?

From the mists of memory came the name “Dale Evans.” I had never watched the Roy Rogers Show—we had no television—but I had heard his wife’s name somewhere, and I realized Dale Evans was exactly the lever I needed.

When Dad took me to the hospital room the next day, I was primed. As we waited for the nurse to enter with my new brother, the right moment opened, and I poured forth the words in a glib stream.

“Mom,” I asked, in a very concerned tone, “Do you know that Dale Evan is the name of a MOVIE STAR?” I omitted the “s” to make the names identical.

As I had hoped, Mother’s eyes widened. She gulped, and was about to respond when the nurse entered. She turned the nurse, “Is Dale Evan the name of a movie star?”

The nurse nodded.

“Oh, no! We have already signed the birth certificate.” Mother said. “Can we still change it?”

“I think so,” the nurse said, her white cap bobbing with her puzzled affirmation.

She handed my bundled brother to my mother and said gently, “But, Mary, Dale Evans is a good Christian woman.”

I stopped breathing, but the nurse’s words had fallen deaf ears. Mother wanted that birth certificate back ASAP. No son of hers would share names with a movie star. By the next morning, the birth certificate had been rewritten with a new middle name in honor of our father—Dale Henry.

But in the nurses’ words, I had glimpsed another viewpoint. She had used the words “good Christian woman” to describe a movie star.

Over the next four years, I developed a different brand of Calvinism from the one I’d learned, and concluded that art, including movies, was part of God’s good creation.

When I was sixteen, a high school friend invited me to see The Sound of Music when visiting her house overnight. Certain that my parents were dead wrong in their disapproval, I said yes. My hometown had no theater, so we rode 20 miles to a theater in LeMars, which had no Dutch Calvinists.

As I stepped gingerly onto garish, geometric carpeting of the theater lobby, I felt an urge to run back to the car.  Then the luscious smell of buttered popcorn calmed me. I inhaled the scent slowly and walked through the lobby into the eerie darkness of sloped theater. Instead of wooden benches, it had padded, velveteen seats. I flipped down a seat and sat down, spine-straight.

The urge to bolt returned, stronger. What if Jesus chooses to return on the clouds this very instant? What would he say? Would he approve? And worse still—what would my parents say? After all, His judgment will be for the whole world to see.

The curtain opened, I was transported to a meadow in the Swiss Alps. After a few majestic orchestra chords, Julie Andrews soaring soprano began, “The hills are alive. . .”

I sat, transfixed, for the next two hours.

I was entranced.

And I was terrified.

To see more of my light-hearted posts, click  “On the Lighter Side”  below:
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