Sunday, June 29, 2014

Day 8 and Day 9

Day 8 / Day 9

I think Andrew realized that I'd had about enough Chinese food for awhile, so he took me to a German restaurant for lunch yesterday (Saturday). In the States, I never order French fries, but after eight days of food random to my taste buds, nothing looked better. I've been living on one meal a day with some nibbling along the way, so it was good to get a full-fledged meal of food I recognized.

Then we went to an area of shops and got a curling iron for me. It's cheap (made in China--) but will at least help me to feel a little more put together at times, since the one I brought from home does not fit the plug-ins here. We got caught in a rainstorm so ducked into the coffee shop. The shop is a small respite in a place of great darkness.

Andrew had several things going on, so I spent the rest of the day at his apartment. I've been doing some deep cleaning in this man cave. And Jackie came down again. Andrew came in and sang a couple of songs for her. She is a brave and wise woman to come here to teach at age 64. She is doing it for the sake of the Father.

Sunday morning--Meeting at 9 am. By design, the teachers have their own meeting. The first hour was spent in planning for upcoming camps. The second was spent in singing and watching a video from a meeting location in the States. One song, by the Gettys, includes the line "Bringing light to those in darkness." These men and women are doing just that. It was an honor to sing that line with them this morning.

The meeting was held at a local restaurant's back room. The video was slightly interrupted several times by the workers at the restaurant walking through the room carrying produce and other various items for the noon rush. Several of us ate there afterwards. We all ate from the same pot of beef, chicken, tofu noodles, and various greens, cooking over a propane burner in the center of the table. The price was 15 rmb (yuan) apiece--under $3.

Andrew had a basketball pickup game with several brothers, a Chinese lesson, and a goodbye to say to two team members who are leaving and whom he will greatly miss. So I have laid low today. Still working on the man cave. It's a mom's prerogative when she has flown halfway around the world.

This is how we roll!!!

The only downside to today: It is Mike's and my 29th wedding anniversary. On the 29th. I do miss home a little more today. I'm thankful for him!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day 7 and Part of Day 8

Day 7
At the beginning of this trip, Andrew asked if I wanted to do any travel to tourist places (other than the Great Wall, which we'll go to a week from today). I told him I mainly wanted to see what living in China, in his city, was really like. Well, today I found out to a new level what authentic life in China really means.
Today was shopping day. In the morning I ventured out ALONE for the first time. Here I am, in my fifties, and I felt very successful for walking to the edge of the campus, crossing the street, and buying two bottles of water.
Lady on the street
The scene is a riot of colorful sights and sounds. There are people everywhere. Taxis and scooters and cars everywhere. Honking sounds and boom boxes and children crying everywhere. Street vendors, selling fruit and and cell phones and clothing and all kinds of cooked food, everywhere. Trash and mud everywhere. Smells of food and old grease and garbage, everywhere. It is an assault on the senses. Everywhere.
Street Scene
I've learned to fix a continuous smile on every person I pass. They don't quite know what to make of it. Most give me a passing glance, and then, when they see I'm still smiling, give hesitant smiles in return. Not all, but some. I've tried to say "Ni hao" (hello) a few times. Many times it is returned, but a couple of old men looked at me as if I were crazy. Maybe I had the tones wrong and said something really bad without knowing it.
I can only shop alone at places where there is no bartering. The money is the yuan, worth about a sixth of a dollar. I also went to the Memory Bread store and asked for one cookie that looked like it had molasses in it. The man put four in a bag and was reaching for more when I got him to stop. When I got back to the apartment, Andrew said "It probably doesn't taste very good." He was right.
How about this flavor--at the import store
In the afternoon we rode a three-wheeled scooter taxi to the Metro, which is the import store. Only about a fifth of the items were actually imported, but it was SO nice to see bars of cheese and Jif peanut butter and Del Monte spaghetti sauce and Barilla pasta, mixed in among the soya flour and frozen dim sum (dumplings) and hundreds of items that I have no idea what they are because I have no idea what the language on the package is saying.
After checking out (the receipt was printed on a full-size sheet of dot matrix printer paper, complete with the little holes on the side that the clerk had to tear off), we walked out--into a pouring rain--and the only taxi in sight refused us. We had to cross a huge street, and still no taxis. The roads are not built with a slight slope like in the States, so all the water pools on the road. We were both soaked; however, my chivalrous son got the worst of it because he gallantly let me use the one small umbrella we had.
After about ten minutes of standing in the pouring rain, we finally hailed a taxi, sharing a fare with somebody else. We were let out at our corner and had to step through about a foot of water to get to the (muddy) sidewalk. And then we walked home, through drizzle and puddles and mud.
Andrew then said to me, "You wanted authentic. This is it."
Fortunately, today the sun is out. My shoes are drying. And this morning I walked, alone, all the way up the hill to the place that is "the closest thing to a grocery store." I bought 106.20 yuan worth of items. Paid my own bill and bagged my own groceries. Walked back, dodging the leftover mud and the piles of trash and the cars parked on the sidewalks, and smiling at the people walking every direction.
I'm starting--just starting--to figure this out. And the experience is definitely authentic.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day 6

Some observations: At the coffee shop Wednesday night, I asked for water-- and it was hot! Apparently that is common here, because it is boiled for drinking.
The standard for beauty here is light colored skin. There is very little makeup worn, but many of the girls walk around with umbrellas on sunny days, to keep from getting too much sun.

And I have enjoyed the "Chinglish." Haven't seen much the last couple of days, but overall it's prevalent. Chinglish occurs when someone translates Chinese into English, or maybe even writes in it originally; and while the writing is not wrong, it includes syntax or word choices that are not common to us. I first noticed it on the Air China flight, when reading their promotional materials, and one sentence said "Our chefs have created dishes that will make your taste buds sparkle!"


Day 6

Low water pressure this morning. And the internet didn't work very well. It's China. You learn very fast to say that.

I went outside and discovered again the bird I saw yesterday, perched on a branch very easy to see. I wanted to see the colors of its back, and it obligingly hopped around for me. I believe it's a brown shrike, common in this part of the world but not present in the Western Hemisphere.

At noon, we met Carolyn and Josie (both co-workers) and Zach (Chinese brother who would translate) and went to the high-rise home of Rason and Elsie so that a video could be made of them for the upcoming camp. They have a tiny apartment on the tenth floor in a very depressing building that looks dark, old, and rundown. Yet the building is only about four years old. Building maintenance is a big problem here.

As it turns out, no video had to be made because they can come to camp in person. Rason and Elsie have quite a story. Rason lost his job several years ago because of his choice to live for the father, and had to move far away to work. He came back because of his interest in Elsie. One night they were in a terrible vehicle accident; she was hospitalized for a year, and told she could never walk again (which she has defied). I've been told that their wedding was beautiful as she was wheeled down the aisle and then stood to take her vows.

Anyway, we were invited there for lunch. The food was served in bowls placed on the table, and everyone just dug in with chopsticks. No individual plates; I was the only one who received tableware! Guess a bowl and a fork were their nod to the new American. And no drink is offered. The food was good. I especially liked a bowl of very small potatoes with some kind of soy sauce, and a eggplant dish. There was a dish of pork and tofu. Andrew made me try the tofu (tastes fine, texture awful), but I didn't eat any pork because it was mostly bones. There were some good breads--a steamed bread that looked like yeast rolls but with no browning on the top, a thin cornbread, and a sweet fried bread, very flat. The taste was similar to the pancakes and syrup that I had a craving for yesterday. There was also salad with a sweet vinaigrette. Josie brought brownies made with walnuts and brown butter that were a good end to the meal.

It was a great honor to sit, in this closed country, at the table with this young couple who have been through so much, some of it simply because they follow the father.


Tonight was an entirely different experience. We met one of Andrew's students at the side gate, then took a taxi to the home of a teacher at Andrew's school, who is also in his English class of postgraduate students. The high rise apartment was in a much better building than where we were earlier. This woman has a particularly difficult set of circumstances. In addition to her husband having to work far away (not uncommon), she is rearing a four year old blind daughter. She couldn't do it without her mother's help. Blindness is especially hard in China, where there are no accommodations or assistance for someone with a handicap. We took the little girl one of the hats that I brought, made by the mother of one of my students and her friends at her meeting back at home.

Young blind girl
Six other students were there for a dumpling party. Several of them worked at rolling out and filling dumplings while others worked at keeping a little grill going on the tiny balcony. Different foods were put on skewers, then grilled and passed around as appetizers. They cooked chicken wings and hearts, wedges of eggplant and squash, and pieces of the same kind of steamed bread that we ate earlier in the day. The little girl was everywhere, wanting her mom's or grandmother's attention. A little neighbor boy came to the apartment after awhile, and that helped to keep her occupied. The children were handed skewers of food just like the older people, which they ate the food off of and waved around without regard for safety.

Little neighbor boy

It took awhile, but when the dumplings were boiled we crowded around a small table and ate a small mountain of them. They were good. There were also cucumbers, and spring onions that they would roll up into pieces of flat tofu with a dark condiment. For dessert we had slices of watermelon and Popsicles.

We were able to communicate fairly well in spite of the broken English and my nonexistent Chinese. Andrew has learned some oral Chinese during this year, and when the students are in a group they can help each other. I told them stories about Andrew when he was younger, and they loved it. I've learned that you must speak slowly and deliberately for them to get what you are saying.

This group has expressed no interest in any deeper reasons why Andrew might be here. But it was relationship building, and it was a great night of learning Chinese culture.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 5

Today was a quieter day, which was good because my knee, which has done fine until now, began giving me a lot of trouble again yesterday. So no long walks today helped. Andrew worked on the program for his coffeehouse concert tonight, and I read, wrote, and kept up with the laundry (which takes forever when you're doing five pieces at a time and waiting for it to dry). Andrew made a really good noodle and beef dish for lunch - he's got this oriental cooking thing well under control - and his co-worker Carolyn came over for lunch also.  
I've loved watching the magpies. In the American West they are considered nuisance birds--kind of like blackbirds to us in the east--but they are beautiful to watch, and they are common here. I also saw another new bird, but am not quite sure what it is. Hard to identify when so many birds are unfamiliar. I'll look for it again in the morning.
In the evening he had a concert at another coffee shop, this one much closer to where he lives than where we were last night for the English Corner. We took the motorbike to this one. I thought my life was ending when we crossed a major road at rush hour. I've got to get a picture of that motorbike before the end of this trip. A number of his students were at this concert, the last one before the school year ends. He did a number of songs of several types, including ones that share his beliefs. He included a couple of his students who sang with him on some of the songs.

We returned to his apartment so he could drop me off before he could go meet some students--and ran into Jackie in the lobby. She is an older lady from the British Isles who lives on the other side of the apartment building who has desired to come to China since she was ten years old when--get this--Gladys Aylward spoke at her school! Talk about a legacy! She came in and we talked for about an hour. She is a lovely and graceful representative of our Father in this place. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Day 4

Day 4

We walked about half a mile to what Andrew called "the closest thing we have to a store close by." It was comparable to a very small grocery and variety store. I saw bananas and it was great to see something so familiar. We got a number of cleaning supplies and other items we needed. I learned about paying in rmbs--and about making sure you bag your items before you pay. The locals do not like to wait once your transaction is done!!

I want to take a video of the road between Andrew's residence and the store. There are high rises and pockets of poverty interspersed all over the country. We definitely walk through poverty going to the store. I'll try to get video to share after getting home.
Andrew left to do an interview for an upcoming camp. I got busy doing what all mothers do well--laundry and cleaning. Had to remember again that--this is China. Only about five pieces of laundry can be washed at one time, and they must be hung to dry. If you hang them in the bathroom, they take forever to get dry, but if you hang them outdoors, they get covered with dust. I washed some dishes (no hot water in the kitchen) and forgot that if you run too much water the drain overflows. So the first order of business was to mop the kitchen floor. Then I tackled the bathroom and did two loads of laundry. The postage-stamp size kitchen will wait for another day.

Andrew's bathroom is what is called a "wet-bath." That means the shower is not a separate stall but is only separated from the rest of the bathroom by a curtain. Therefore, the whole bathroom has the potential for getting wet. Once you get used to it, it's easier to make it work.
In the evening I went with Andrew downtown to his English Corner. He does this once a week at a coffee shop, and it is college students and professionals who want to practice their English. A group of about twenty of us gathered in a back room and they had a lot of questions for me. They don't see a whole lot of middle-aged white women! Andrew's personality is really good for this kind of meeting. His friend Jim, a forty-ish age man who edits books (and who providentially was in Beijing last week to help Andrew navigate changing the train tickets when my flight was delayed) offered to drive us home. Andrew has developed a good friendship with this man.

Another Pic of Andrew

This is a picture of Andrew with a local shop proprietor. This should go with the previous post that talked about how much the shopkeepers like Andrew.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Day 3

Still from previous day:  We heard fireworks this morning. I thought it odd to hear fireworks at ten in the morning. Andrew told me it was a new business opening, and they were lighting fireworks to ward off evil spirits. Last night, on the wild taxi ride from the bus station to Andrew's apartment, I saw a man lighting a rather large fire on the street corner. Again, Andrew explained--he was burning money to appease the spirits of his dead ancestors. It is not an uncommon sight.

Slept fairly well, from 10:30 to 2:30, and from about 3:30 to 8:30. We didn't do much in the morning but were at Andrew's school by 11:15 to meet his liaison for lunch.  His liaison, Victoria, is a very sweet lady, who was recently put under water as a sister. Her responsibility is to work out all the situations, and any problems that might arise, for the foreign teachers here. We went to the third floor staff dining room. It was a cafeteria line similar to any college dining room in the states. I chose cauliflower and chicken, and an eggplant dish, with a bowl of white rice. Fortunately, spoons were available as well ask chopsticks. No drink was offered. Andrew had to go back down to the first floor store to get us each a bottle of water. The food was good, spicier than American-style Chinese food. My stomach is still getting acclimated.
I am writing this in a coffee shop on the campus as Andrew has a tutoring session with one of his students. He is a good teacher.
I enjoyed watching Andrew work with his student. He had had her to write down ten words she was unfamiliar with, from an American movie she watched this week. She wrote down "dictator" and "equity," among other words, another of which was..."repentance." Andrew walked right through that open door.
After the tutoring we went to the building where Andrew has his office and one classroom. His boss was in. I met the boss, Peter, a very nice and friendly man who speaks fluent English and who performed on his classical guitar for us. A student came in as we were talking and Andrew introduced me. Well, then word started to filter out that his mom was here, and one by one or two they started coming in. Some were very friendly; one girl was extremely shy and did not want to raise her eyes to me; Peter told me that that was because she is a remnant of the old China where women were not supposed to be confident but were to keep their eyes to the ground.
On the way to the edge of campus, we met a couple who are a brother and sister in the local group. Andrew knows them well. He said the way has not been easy for them. I will see them again at the coffeehouse that serves as a gathering point for the local "family." While we were talking to them, a man came right up to us, stood only about five feet away, and stared at me. Not just briefly, but for probably two full minutes. It was extremely awkward feeling as he just continued to stare. Andrew said he is a migrant worker, and has probably never seen a white woman before. I am not yet used to being the object of indiscreet stares, and really prefer being my anonymous self.
Another teacher came over in the late afternoon and after they left to get something to eat, I walked out on the front porch of his residence building. Sitting outside were an English teacher from Ireland, and three students who have just received master's degrees from the University--one from Ghana and two from South Africa. There are very few foreigners in this area overall, but those who are here are very cosmopolitan.

A few pics from China

A few miscellaneous pics from the first day or two:
Andrew and his student:

Andrew with his boss:

Andrew' building:

High rises as seen from the train:

OSHA, where are you???

With brother and sister

Workers outside of Andrew's building who just got a new bbq:

Day 1

Doing this from a's apt.  Gotta work fast as Internet is sketchy. 

Saturday night 6/20/14

Well. Had I known what was ahead of me .. . . .

I made my way to the gate at GSP, only to hear that my flight was delayed for two and a half hours due to storms in Chicago. I'm too tired to outline the entire day, but will just say that I went from GSP to Washington DC to Los Angeles to Beijing in 32 hours.

To complicate matters, I thought my iPad was going to be permanently locked down until I could get it home and sync it to Mike's (due to forgetting a password). I had to stand in line for over an hour just to get my ticket changed at Washington Dulles. I had a middle seat on a five-hour flight to Los Angeles. And my luggage was lost at the end, due to all the flight changes, and it took me about half an hour to find and retrieve it, knowing that Andrew was waiting outside and didn't know what was taking me so long.
I am wider awake now, Sunday morning, and will attempt to fill in a few more details.

The actual flight to Beijing ended up being on Air China due to the changes in the itinerary. That was an experience in itself. The plane was huge and there were about a dozen attendants. All were young girls, except for two in slightly different uniforms who were slightly older and appeared to be the supervisors. It was a throwback to flights when I was younger. It is obvious that "equality" was not part of the job description-- no middle aged men attendants like you get on some US flights. The girls were extremely well dressed. The cabin was immaculate with a pillow and blanket at each place. It was like they looked at US airlines and said "How can we do this better?"

There were two meals served. The breakfast one was especially interesting--it was an unusual mixture of east and west, as well as all three meals of the day. It was rice, beef, and vegetables, potato salad with little pieces of ham, a dinner roll, fruit, and a container of yogurt!

After figuring out the luggage (I finally just walked into a hallway marked "employees only," found the storage room, and saw my bag and took it), I went through customs easily, walked around a corner, and there was Andrew waiting. We had a wonderful reunion after ten months.

We got a taxi and went to the hotel where he stayed, and I was supposed to stay, the night before. I was able to get a nap, but deliberately kept from sleeping too long. We checked out and headed for the train station. That was my first real introduction to China. People milling about everywhere--yet A. said if you can see the ground where you are going, the crowd is light. Just masses and masses of milling people, dressed in every conceivable combination of clothing, finding trains and food and maybe just walking about for no reason at all. We got a lot of stares. We only saw maybe a half a dozen other white people. Everyone else is Oriental.

We boarded our train in the throng of people--A. says get used to having your personal space invaded--and had window seats for the six-hour ride to his city. Loved seeing the sights. Everywhere were huge high rises--some nice, some hovels--followed by open fields. There were people working in every field--all agriculture is done by hand. We saw lots of cornfields and a few rice paddies; fields of various products everywhere. As Andrew says--it takes a lot of food to feed a billion+ people.

I got stiff and decided to walk back to the "standing car," where standing riders and others went to stretch. (People can buy "standing tickets" and then they buy little folding chairs and just find a place to sit anywhere they can find a spot.). And that was a shock. As soon as I walked into the car, all eyes came up and watched me walk through the car. Tall middle aged white women are a very uncommon sight. It was very unnerving, as they have no qualms about staring. I finally just started smiling at people, and most smiled back. Welcome to China.

We had to get a taxi as our ticket let us off at a new station that Andrew is unfamiliar with, and didn't know how to get to the subway/elevated system. Frankly, I don't know if I could have negotiated another public transportation situation at that point. We got a crazy taxi driver. He wanted another fare since he was driving all across the city, so he drove around and around, AGAINST the traffic. Andrew said he's never seen anyone do that. The driver was unhappy with the fare we had negotiated. Finally Andrew said--OK, 80 RMD (the money) and he took us. He cleared his throat and spit out the window 19 times. (Yes, I counted.) He let us out at the university where Andrew lives, and we had to walk down a dirt path becausethe road is being worked on. The lighting was very poor. I was extremely relieved to finally get there. Showered and climbed into bed after 53 hours. Andrew is kindly sleeping on the floor so his mom can have his bed

I slept nine hours, only awake for about a half an hour around 4 am. I awakened to the sound of Andrew leaving to go to the market for eggs. He also got fruit--oranges, apples, and cherries. He made me some scrambled eggs in his tiny kitchen.

We went for a walk that extended into a short tour of his living area. The shops and market are nearby and I got initiated into a piece of the culture. The market where he buys meat is especially interesting. The fish are alive. You can't stop and look too long at any of the stalls or they expect you to buy. The vegetables in the vegetable stalls are a lot like home--cabbage, carrots, cauliflower. There was an interesting vegetable that was a cross between cabbage and the bottom part of a celery stalk that was also on my trays on the plane. There are cherries that look like Bings but are light colored in the center. I will take the camera and get pics at some point.

Shops like to have English names. There is a new small bakery called Memory Bread.  (A tray of bread slices in the bakery is labeled. "Bread flavored.") There is a smoothie/drink shop called "It's Time To." No correlation in name and product...but it's English.

We went to the Meeting of Andrew's group on Sunday afternoon. It was a time of sharing and singing and eating as well. Later the group went to the volleyball courts, and I saw how it works. I met a young Sister who came to play volleyball. During one of the games, another group of about four young girls walked by and waved excitedly--turns out they saw their teacher and were waving to her. One of those girls stayed and played as well. I noticed that the teacher made a specific attempt to make sure that the student met the Sister. Nothing may ever come of it, but then again, maybe it will. The teachers here play a key role in connecting people to the groups of brothers and sisters who cannot speak openly in these surroundings.

Sent from my iPad

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Long trip--not near over yet

Well--if a United employee at gsp had not missed that the Air China flight was NOT confirmed like she said it was--after the Chicago flight was delayed 2 1/2 hours and I was rerouted thru DC--I would not be sitting in Los Angeles right now and waiting six more hours before another 12-hour flight!!

And LAX is the most poorly marked airport I've ever been in. Not to mention the most poorly designed. Followed by Washington Dulles as far as the signage/information go.

It will be a miracle if my luggage catches up to me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Aunt Louise

My sister says that every child ought to have an Aunt Louise.  She's got a point.  Aunt Louise not only had all the character qualities of a good aunt, she also had a trump card.  She was in charge of a complete retail toy department.  Every child's dream.

Aunt Louise was the third sister of the triumvirate of Grandma Hemmer, Aunt Hulda, and herself.  She worked uptown at the local hardware store as the bookkeeper and toy buyer.  When we visited in the summer, we were masters at "working" Aunt Louise.  We'd gaze lovingly at whatever our hearts were currently fixated on, and we usually got it, or at least a good lead on it for Christmas.  I think she knew we were working her over, and she knew she was allowing it, but she didn't mind.

She had a standard routine.  She walked up the brick sidewalk to town, to get to work by 8:00.  We walked up about an hour later, with $2.00 from Grandma, to go to the bakery next to the hardware store, for donuts so fresh and hot that to say that they melted in our mouths was not a cliche.  We'd stop and say hello to Aunt Louise briefly then, but saved another trip for later in the morning or the early afternoon.  That's when we'd turn on the toy psychology.

At noon, Aunt Louise walked the three blocks home for lunch, then went back to work from 1-5.  Often we would walk partway back toward the store to meet her on her way home at the end of the day.
Aunt Louise visiting us in Alabama; this is right before a piano recital.

Aunt Louise would work in her extensive flower garden during the summer evenings as we played with the old-fashioned pump or found other amusements. She was a master flower grower, and her roses in particular were exquisite.  I still think of Aunt Louise every time I smell petunias.  She always let us "help," or at the very least, she never made us feel like we were in the way.  Sometimes, as dusk approached, we would drive up to "The Whip" and get ice cream cones.  If she was feeling really generous, we'd get them dipped in chocolate.

She also sewed - not so much for herself as for others.  And I can't get away from talking about these aunts and Grandma without saying more about their World Relief efforts.  At the time, having fifteen or twenty women come in every other Friday night was just a fun activity for me, but looking back, I see what effort it represented.  They really put out the knotted blankets, stuffed animals, and other stitched items to be donated to the poor and needy.  These women "did what they could" just like Mary in the New Testament (Mark 14).  Like so many other things I realize about the four women just written about, adulthood puts their actions in a much different perspective.

She was a faithful caregiver to her sister after Aunt Hulda's stroke.  I can't imagine the extra pressure that that must have put on her.  She was always cheerful about it.  That, too, now speaks volumes.

There was one final item about Aunt Louise's lunch hour routine that I have never forgotten.  After eating her lunch, she would sit in her chair in the living room, pull out her Bible and devotional, and spend about fifteen minutes reading and meditating.  We didn't bother her.  She never said a word about doing it; she was never interested in impressing us with it; she just did it.  Faithfully.  Quietly.  Aunt Louise didn't talk a big talk.  Aunt Louise walked a big walk.

Aunt Louise was the last of these four women to pass away.  I was unable to go to her funeral - one of the children was sick, and it was just not practical at the time.  But I did listen to the recording of it.  One of the ministers who spoke reminisced about how as a young boy he cut the grass at their home, and Aunt Louise always paid him generously - and brought him a sweet roll and something to drink.  If she asked him to do extra work, she paid him extra money.  He didn't miss this.  He told the people at the funeral that Aunt Louise's Christian example was one of the things that caused him to think about his life, and consider whether he needed to make some changes - which he eventually did.  She played a part.

Someone has said "You should be a witness for Christ at all times.  And if necessary, you should use words."  Aunt Louise didn't need words.  She was an outstanding example of Christianity in life and deed.  And that was enough.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Grandma K.

News flash:  I was Grandma K.'s favorite grandchild.  She never said it in so many words, but I always knew it.  She was always delighted to see me and paid me attention as if I were the only child in the world.  However, unfortunately, the other 21 grandchildren all felt the same way.  I've had several of them tell me that they thought they were her favorite also.  That's just the way she treated us - 22 individuals, each of whom was the most important person in the world to her.

Grandma K. was my dad's mother.  She reared six children over a period of forty years - her youngest was born when her oldest was serving in the Navy during World War II.  As children, my siblings and I loved going to her house.  Some specific memories:  Playing with her old-fashioned telephone.  (Her number, until Ma Bell finally took over the small-town phone company, was 4-Blue.)  Setting up cots in the living room for cousins to sleep on.  Playing airplane on the stairs.  Investigating the basement and pounding on the really old manual typewriter down there.  Drinking Pepsi and eating pretzels after Sunday church.  Being at huge family Christmases where everyone got all their presents and then tore into them at once - then all the gifts were displayed on the dining room table.  Taking a bath in the huge claw-foot tub in the huge upstairs bathroom.  Eating with pearl-handled forks and knives at the kitchen table - and the knives were fat and rounded at the ends.  (Interesting the little details a person remembers about her childhood.)

Grandma K. was a great cook.  There were differences in the foods that each of my grandmas presented out of their kitchens, but both were outstanding cooks.  I especially remember Grandma K.'s cubed steak, her apple pie, Gridley cheese, and smooth cottage cheese.  I also remember her Christmas candies and cookies.  My dad and sister liked her chocolate cookies, but I preferred her fudge (to die for) and chow mein clusters.  

I stayed with her on the weekends while going to school for a year in Illinois.  She always had good food prepared; she always had a bedroom ready; and she always was delighted to see me.  We would sit in her den and watch Lawrence Welk shows while she did needlework - tatting, embroidery, or crochet.  Once I was really sick with strep throat, and she took me to her doctor, got the medicine, and took wonderful care of me.  I never forgot that.  

At that time, she had been a widow for about 17 years.  She still talked lovingly of Grandpa K., and how much she loved him, and how much she still missed him.  It seemed to me, an all-knowing 19-year-old, that that was practically a lifetime ago, and how could a person still miss someone who had been gone for 17 years.  Now, with the perspective of my own age, the length of her love and sorrow seems much more realistic.  It is very nice to know that they had a deep and abiding love.
Grandma K. with my dad, in her den
There was something about the way Grandma K. carried herself that was very reminiscent of the beauty of the olden days.   I remember once when we were in the car, getting ready to go to church, and Dad was helping his mother to the car over the icy patches on the sidewalk, as she daintily held to his arm.  I remember saying to my mom, "Grandma is really pretty, isn't she?"  Which Mom affirmed  quickly. 

She had a lovely soft-spoken way of talking, and she would tilt her head and smile as she said something.  She had fun phrases.  She'd say "Well, forevermore!" And, if there was a young couple in love, she'd say that they were "dippy" about each other.

She was a good letter-writer.  She gave presents to all her grandchildren at Christmas until infirmity prevented her from doing so.  She loved us all.  She didn't need validation from the outside world to feel like she was someone important; her family, her community, and her Lord and her church, made up her life.  

Grandma K. passed away in 1992, and I took my then-9-month-old daughter with me on a plane to  her funeral.  She was a wonderful woman, and I miss her.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Grandma Hemmer

Grandma Hemmer, my mother's mother, didn't talk much.  She was too busy working to have a lot of time for small talk.  I have very few memories of her not working at something - work was  her life.

That's the way it is when, in a three-year span, you go from being a bride, to being a widow with two children, in an era when there was little help from outside.  In the Depression, no less.  When her husband died in a tragic accident, leaving her with a two-year-old and a two-month-old, she had to move back in with her own mother and sisters, and go to work.  She did housework and worked in a canning factory.  When she was older, she began working in a school as the cook, which is the job I remember her doing.

One time when I was in about fifth grade, we made it to Illinois for the Christmas holidays before her school was out, and I got to go to school with her for the last day.  It was a small school, grades 1-8, and one class per grade.  It was a Friday, so she made her usual dessert for Friday's lunches - homemade cinnamon yeast rolls.  Can you imagine, getting cinnamon rolls from scratch, every Friday, in a school lunch!!  I remember helping her with the dough that morning, and observing her and her helper get everything else done as well.

She was a wonderful cook.  I measure the quality of anyone's yeast rolls, pies, and other baked goods against her standard.  People who rave over bakery cakes and other store baked goods (that taste like cardboard in comparison) were not fortunate enough to have a grandmother of German heritage who knew how it really should be done.

Summers, my siblings and I, in various combinations, would spend several weeks with her and her sisters.  I remember well seeing Grandma bent over her asparagus patch, or picking tomatoes, or making applesauce out of the apples we picked up under her tree.  We'd drive out into the country and buy corn on the cob, which she would make for supper, along with creamed asparagus from the garden, cucumbers, and other good foods, which we would eat on the screened-in porch out back.  If my folks were there, Dad would compliment her on her good cooking, and she would nod and smile.  

Sometimes, on hot July mornings, she'd bring out a huge stack of leftover fabric, and we would cut out quilt patches on the big table on the back porch.  Then we'd go down to the sewing machine in the cool basement and sew them together for comforter tops.  My job was to keep the fabric squares coming to her - first a light one, then a dark one.  When ladies came for World Relief sewing every other week to their home, they would knot these comforters along with other sewing projects.  There is no telling how many people in the world were warmed by their efforts over many years.

Also in the summers, Grandma would come to Alabama to take care of us while Mom was in school getting her teaching license.  She cooked and worked just as hard at our house - it was no vacation for her.  And in addition to all that, she would crank out hundreds of rice krispie bars, brownies from scratch, and other treats for the three vacation Bible schools that we were involved in each year.  Not a task for the fainthearted.

In her later years, Grandma got emphysema.  How a woman who never went near a cigarette in her life got emphysema is hard to believe, but she did.  So a constant cough became her companion.  She moved to the Skylines, the church home for the elderly, and God gently took her home in the fall of 1980.  

On one of my beds is a comforter made during her last years, with the other ladies at the home.  It's not fancy, just knotted just like all those World Relief quilts.  Somehow we ended up with it, and even though it's not the prettiest piece of needlework she ever made, I'm very glad to have it, as a final reminder of a grandmother who served God by serving people, by getting the job done.  Elisabeth Elliot says that when you are overwhelmed, just do the next thing.  That's how my grandma, with the help of God, got through life.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Aunt Hulda

For some time I have wanted to do a series of posts about four wonderful women - two grandmothers and two great-aunts - who were a major part of my (and my siblings' and cousins') growing-up years.  If possible I'd like to accomplish this before going to China.

Aunt Hulda, with a painting I gave her for Christmas one year
Aunt Hulda was my great-aunt.  In some ways I did not know her quite as well as the others, because she was not around as much.  When we were growing up, and spending time at "Grandma and Aunt Louise and Aunt Hulda's house," she was only there on the weekends.  She worked and boarded in the city of Peoria, 45 minutes away, traveling there on Monday mornings and back home on Friday nights.  

She passed away when I was 18 - and knowing someone as a child and teenager is not the same as understanding more about that person when you have more of the maturity of an adult.

She was our "clothing aunt." For Christmas and birthdays, she bought each of us very nice clothing selections, which were perhaps not as appreciated by us children as much as they should have been.  Those gifts are much more appreciated now, when looking back in perspective.

Aunt Hulda, I also now recognize, was sophisticated in many ways.  She wore her hair in a sleek French twist and dressed professionally.  She was a valued bookkeeper at the firm where she worked.  She traveled internationally with her friends.  She knitted--not just simple blanket patterns, but very complex sweaters and other things.  She was quite independent for a woman of her era.

And then came her stroke.

In the summer of 1969, in her late 50s, she was afflicted.  I've thought of her and that stroke a good bit recently, because, hard to believe, when it happened she was only about a year older than I currently am.  She was permanently paralyzed on her right side (something that today might have been avoided with clot-busting drugs), and most of her life was dramatically changed - and limited.  

What would it be like to be an independent businesswoman, able to travel as you like, make your own decisions, live on your own; then overnight go to a state of having to be cared for by your sister and others, in many of the most basic needs of life.  The French twist had to be replaced by a more sensible, much easier to fix, bun.  She had to learn to write with her left hand.  Working and boarding in Peoria were of course out.  After she was somewhat rehabilitated, she was able to go back to her work part-time for several years, thanks to the help of family members who could help transport her back and forth on the days that she worked.  I think now how much of a validation that must have been to her, to be valued enough by that firm that they wanted her back even part-time and on a much more limited basis.  

Aunt Hulda (left) with Aunt Louise, her sister and faithful caregiver
She was not one to give up easily.  I remember seeing her prop a knitting needle in her useless right hand, and attempt to knit, doing all the action with her left.  I remember when she would want to bake, and would corral me to help her - and to my shame I remember resisting having to do that.  She didn't want me to bake, with her doing little things; she wanted me to be her helper.  But she was so limited, and it was so much easier to do things myself, that I was not patient with her at all.  Someday in heaven I need to apologize for that.

One thing that she did for a form of occupational therapy was ceramics.  Here were two older ladies, who'd never done anything in the art world in their lives, buying a kiln, greenware, and all kinds of brushes, glazes, and paints, and creating an entire workshop in their basement.  We loved going to visit and would spend days painting and glazing, and we learned much about the process of ceramics also.  Several times they'd hold an open house and sell what they'd made.  Looking back, it took a certain kind of admirable courage for them to get into ceramics the way they did, and it was as good a therapy for Aunt Hulda's spirit as for her hands.

She and Aunt Louise would come to visit us in Alabama, flying in a day when ADA laws were not in place to aid people like her, when there were very few ramps, only difficult-to-navigate steps in most places, and when getting off a plane meant being helped down a narrow set of outdoors metal stairs instead of just being wheeled through a jetway.  It must have been a huge ordeal, but they still came.  And her spirit was still the upbeat same.

I do remember that in the last years of her life, before passing away rather unexpectedly in November 1976, Aunt Hulda was often contemplative.  I suppose you get that way, when you have to stay put in places - on the chaise lounge on the screened-in porch, on the couch, in bed for the night, and when there is little you can do with your single good hand.  I wonder what she thought about.  Whatever it was, there was never any indication of bitterness or anger at her lot.  Maybe she struggled with it, but she never showed it outwardly.

I think that is Aunt Hulda's legacy.  Lamentations 3:38 says, in KJV, "Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth evil and good?"  In ESV, that is translated, "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad things come?"  One translation uses the word "calamities" for "bad things."  I think Aunt Hulda accepted her lot as one that God had permitted to befall her.   And that was the mark of the gracious Christian lady that we knew as Aunt Hulda.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Divisions of Summer

Summer always seems to be in three sections for me.

  • The first part is the "ahhhhh" phase - from the end of the school year until ML's birthday, June 5.  It's the feeling of - I can't believe it's over; all I want to do is relax.  However, there is still a little bit of residual adrenalin from the school year, which makes me want to clean cabinets, de-clutter, and get a lot done.  That feeling usually fades quickly.
  • The time period from June 5 to July 4.  This is the true summer feeling.  School has receded from my memory; I do get things done, but it's summer also, and I enjoy the lack of pressure of having papers to grade and mental preparation to accomplish for each day.
  • Then--July 4 to the end.  This used to be just part of the previous section, until a former colleague ruined it for me.  Yes, ruined it.  One day when I was buying something in her business, it was about that time when she said, "Oh, yes, I remember the teaching days.  Summer is great until July 4th.  And it's all downhill from there.  Well, that's how it feels, ever since.  All downhill!!
This year will be different, with my trip starting in two weeks.  This year is pre-trip, trip, and post-trip.  Prepare, travel, and recuperate.

And tomorrow is ML's birthday.  So, according to the usual division - the ahhhh phase is almost over.  Next thing I know, it will be time to go back.  Or so it feels.