Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Faith Gave Me the Sky

No, I'm not going to write about my faith in this or that. I'm going to write about my aunt, Faith Lucille Kemper.

An old maid, Faith lived in a spacious two-story house in Alma, Nebraska, where she'd been born. Her small-town world limited her life. She never married, because most eligible Alma men were dead, thanks to World War I. Instead, she went to business school, then worked in the Post Office.

I loved to visit Faith, she was so congenial. I'd stop to watch the wild cats scarf down food and water on her back porch. If I stepped into her house and the radio featured Paul Harvey, I had the good sense to sit down and listen to him tell us "the rest of the story."

One day when I had grown and visited Faith, she looked up at me as I came indoors: "How's the sky?"

"The sky?" I stared at her. "I don't know. I didn't look at the sky."

Faith squealed. "You didn't look at the sky?" Her hand flew to her chest. "Why I always look at the sky when I'm outdoors."

I believed her. She kept track of the weather like some folks watch pennies.

Strangely, after that visit, my last one, the sky seemed irresistible. I seldom stepped outdoors without ogling it to see if clouds had rolled in, or not. As its fierce beauty unfolded for me, I heard myself say, "Thanks, Faith, for giving me the sky."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Mustard Sandwiches

A retired railroad conductor turned historian, Dennis Wilson, spoke recently in Storm Lake, Iowa, about the Orphan Train movement.

"It was a crude system," he noted, "placing some children in good homes, but others in nightmare situations." He estimated that 20 percent of the kids placed were abused.

But Wilson doesn't see the system as cruel. "It created a chance, that's all. The Orphan Train system put its faith entirely in the kindness of strangers. What was better, leaving them in the gutters?"

He also questioned whether society treats children much better today, citing estimates of 30,000 homeless children in New York—nearly the same as when the Orphan Train movement started.

To read the Iowa Pilot-Tribune's description of Wilson's program, click here: http://www.stormlakepilottribune.com/story/2456012.html

His program mentions two riders who became governors, Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, "leftover" kids, Street Arabs, and "bad blood."

And mustard sandwiches. That's what the early orphanages often fed children.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


When I get to feelin' sorry for myself, for the awful lot that life has handed me, I just read the newspaper and cheer right up. Earthquakes, hurricanes, wild fires, cars into trees, a toddler who accidentally killed his father—no matter what my rotten luck, nothing this bad has ever happened to me.

Or I turn to humor, maybe read a Pearl by Cousin Minnie: "The doctor must have put my pacemaker in wrong. Every time my husband kisses me, the garage door goes up."

Or I read this story about the Chappells, parents of ten. Three of their children have Batten disease, an inherited neurological disorder. It steals their kids' ability to see, to swallow, to move and to remember. Life support postpones the inevitable.

So one weekend, the Chappells set up three hospital beds in their living room. They comforted their children, then stopped tube feedings and watched their children slip away: one on Friday, one Saturday, one Sunday.

That really put the brakes on my feelin' sorry for myself. No matter what  atrocious lot life has handed me, I've never had to watch my child die.