A Touch From Heaven

Sometimes, depending on whether we are on the giving or the receiving end of a thoughtful action, it can determine whether we see the deed as something small or something great, beyond measure. I was on the receiving end of someone’s selfless gesture this last month, and it stirred my emotions and brought tears I couldn’t control. I consider it a rare “touch from heaven.”

Although the completion of the story occurred less than thirty days ago, the curtain went up 41 years ago in a small hospital in the middle of Nebraska. I was a young nurse in the midst of being transplanted from the large six floor hospital I had trained at to a small twenty bed hospital. In the rear view mirror I waved goodbye to Lincoln, Nebraska and through the windshield said “hello” to Cozad. The green and white sign on the edge of town announced a population of 4225.

Cozad Community Hospital sat in the center of town. As is usually the case for newly hired RN’s in a small facility, I was given a job on the night shift.  It was here that I met Marilyn, one of two aides that consistently worked the 11pm-7am shift. I knew from the first moment I met her that we would become friends. She had a sweet, welcoming smile and warm, friendly eyes. She seemed to sense the fear I felt being the only RN in the building, so unlike my job at Bryan Memorial where several consulting nurses could be found on any floor.  I don’t remember the words she said, but I remember what I heard: All will be fine. We’ll help you.

Marilyn wore her hair in small, tight curls. Hints of gray protruded around the edges. Her complexion, however, was smooth and clear, making it difficult to estimate  her age. It was only this month that I learned she was five years younger than my mother. I also discovered for the first time that we shared the same middle name – Ruth. I supposed we had talked about everything on long, endless night shifts, but Marilyn was a quiet person and a doer. She not only answered call lights, but she also straightened the linen closets, scrubbed the chart racks, and made the best lettuce salads. (The night shift differential consisted of the rights to the kitchen key and whatever we could find in the refrigerator.)

In 1984, eight years after our arrival in Cozad, my family loaded my Dad’s stock truck with all we owned and headed to Wyoming. Thirty three years have slipped by since that day we glanced back and saw our last sunrise ascending over the Cozad water tower.  We’ve had little reason to return to Cozad in these thirty three years since leaving, but the few times we did, it was a must that I see Marilyn. On my last visit, she no longer lived in her modest home, but in a senior apartment where things were easier to manage and folks checked on her every day. Her hair had succumbed to total gray and she used a walker to steady herself, but she welcomed me with that same sweet smile that I remembered from our very first encounter so many years ago.

Christmas cards had become our annual correspondence over the last 33 years. Marilyn would  write whatever she knew about the co-workers we had both worked with at Cozad Community Hospital. In exchange, I would send her pictures of my family and highlights of our lives. The shaky handwriting on the envelope of this last year’s Christmas card gave me suspicion that things were not as good as usual for Marilyn. As I read through the letter, Marilyn expressed gratitude that the West Nile Virus had not been worse.  As it was, it had left her with balance difficulties, tremors, and vision problems.  I examined the piece of lined paper a second time and could imagine the fortitude it must have required for Marilyn to form each letter.

***

On returning from vacation this last month, I sifted through the pile of mail that had accumulated in a week’s time. A 6 x 9 inch postal envelope caught my eye and I pulled it from between the other various pieces of mail. I recognized the shaky handwriting immediately and saw from the return that Marilyn’s niece had helped her. I settled down at the kitchen table and opened the envelope, eager to find out what was so important that Marilyn would be writing before Christmas.

My breath caught as I pulled a funeral folder from the envelope and saw Marilyn’s picture framed beneath the words ‘Celebrating a Life’. A steady stream of tears tumbled from my eyes as I again saw the struggle in the handwriting. Even in death, Marilyn was doing for others – she knew I would want to know. I pulled a note from the envelope that had been typed by  her niece, Beth.  Aunt Marilyn requested that I forward a copy of her Funeral Bulletin to you as you were very special to her. She passed quietly in her sleep in the early morning of August 15, 2017 at Cozad Community Hospital.

I was overwhelmed with the graciousness of my friend, that I seldom saw in recent years, but thought of often. It touched me that she had thought of me, even as death stood on her step.

On occasion I think about the folks I hope to spend time with in heaven…family, close friends, and those that have impacted my life like Corrie and Betsy ten Boom.  But today, my wish is to sit on the golden bench with Marilyn. I want to tell her how much her thoughtfulness meant to me. With a smile, she would say, “It was just a little thing.” I would shake my head and say, “No, Marilyn. You gave me a gift that caressed my heart…the greatest kind of gift.”

The bench visit will have to wait. For now, I’ll have to be content with knowing I was given ‘a A touch from heaven’.

Until next month…keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

Marilyn's Folder #2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sank the Tank

 

 

Folks in the Nebraska Sandhills are resourceful people. I grew up there, and if you’re not born with a resourceful bent, you soon learn to be that way. Living 25-50 miles from the closest town makes for a convincing teacher.

Resourcefulness is essential  for time management, and sometimes even survival. But it doesn’t stop there for Sandhillers. They also apply the concept of resourcefulness to leisure activities.  My sister and her husband manage the family ranch and this is what she has to say about it. “If there’s not more than one use for something, it’s probably not worth having.” Stock tanks are no exception. Now, you might ask (if you’re not a Sandhiller), what could you possibly use a stock tank for besides holding water that flows from the windmill so that the cows can drink?  The answer is – for fun!

I was privileged to take part in “tanking” two weeks ago when my son and I traveled to the ranch to visit family. After returning from church on Sunday we took a vote.  Tanking won over napping, three to one. After careful inspection of the two used stock tanks in the corral, we chose the one with a tar repaired crack traversing the diameter of the floor, over the one with an eight inch chunk of metal missing from the bottom. We loaded the steel tank and our other equipment into the back of the horse trailer and off we went. Just below the first culverts we rolled the tank down the slight bank and into the Calamus River that winds its way lazily through the ranch. I climbed in first.

Two of us positioned ourselves (somewhat precariously) on overturned five gallon buckets. One of us sat in the plastic lawn chair that had been tossed in when we loaded up. Johnny insisted on seating himself (even more precariously) atop a short step-ladder so he could watch for sandbars and barb wire fences. We deemed him “Captain of the Ship.”

As we steered our way down the river with the two old dilapidated wooden oars we had brought along, it didn’t escape our notice that a small trickle of water was finding refuge inside our craft. We didn’t pay it much mind, knowing that our excursion would only be a couple of hours. A little bit of water in the bottom of the tank wouldn’t be of any consequence.

Tanking is a natural social event as everyone faces each other. A cooler of refreshments sat in the middle of the four of us as we hunkered down for a relaxing, peaceful afternoon.  The vessel rotated back and forth gently (for the most part) under the authority of the current. This gives the passengers equal opportunity to see what lies ahead at times, but also gives a retro view of things passed.

My sister, Connie, and I both had our identical cameras on our laps, waiting for that beaver, deer, or blue heron to appear around the next bend. John and Caleb occasionally steered us clear of sandbars or pushed us further from the bank with the oars.  John – the captain that he is, and always thinking of his crew – brought along his cell phone. At the end of the journey, he would call his son-in-law to pick us up and transport us back to our vehicle.

What a gift to be able to enjoy a warm, pleasant afternoon on the river with family! Partly cloudy skies kept us cool and a slight breeze kept the mosquitoes and deer flies away. We continued leisurely down the river, chatting about whatever came to mind, and forgetting any worries.

Down around a few more bends, one of us remarked that his feet were damp. The water level had risen above sole level. Our craft was taking on more water than we had anticipated. John grumbled that his new boots were getting wet. (He was now wishing he had stayed home for that nap he had voted for.)   I didn’t bring it up that wearing new boots on a water expedition might not have been the wisest choice.

Connie, on the other hand, had a brilliant idea. Inside the cooler she had packed a wide mouthed two-quart size plastic jar with water in it. She retrieved it from the cooler, dumped the water overboard, and then promptly passed the jar to me.  It was as if I was expected to start dipping away at the water on the bottom of the tank. She, on the other hand clutched her camera, taking pictures of everyone else’s activity.  I refrained from reminding her that I also had my camera, but instead, dutifully placed it inside the cooler and began to bail.

Nearly an hour later, we were closing in on the end of the journey. Two culverts lay ahead that we would not be able to pass through. All eyes were on the bank ahead of us now, searching for a tree limb or bush we could grab onto so we could disembark easily. That’s when Old Faithful erupted – not from a natural artesian well nearby, but from the center of the craft! The geyser of water shot up along the previous repaired tar line. Everyone – except the camerawoman, of course – grabbed buckets and started to bail, and bail, and bail. Five gallons of water thrown overboard with each dip.  When river water crested the top of our vessel and poured in over the side, Captain Johnny lamented, “This isn’t looking good.”

Within seconds our tank sat at the bottom of the river with us still aboard. Caleb grabbed his aunt’s camera from her hands and held it up at arm’s length, saving it from damage. My camera, on the other hand, was still in the cooler; rocking between us like a bobber on a windy lake.  I grabbed the cumbersome chest in hopes of keeping the lid above the water line. The captain and his wife were the first to abandon ship. No criminal charges have been filed due to the fact that they were closest to the bank and their actions seemed justified. As soon as I could, I passed off the cooler to them . I was helped to shore by the captain’s outstretched hand and Caleb’s shove. I darted for the cooler, yanked open the lid, and grabbed my camera case. It was damp, but miraculously, the camera inside was dry and functioning. The captain’s cell phone (also in the cooler) did not fair so well – as lifeless as an orchid in a North Dakota winter. Three drenched adults packed up all the equipment – minus one tank – and started the  trek back to the vehicle. One drenched adult carried her camera, posed and ready.

Would we do it again? Absolutely! It had been years since I had laughed to the point of a gut wrenching side ache. And as far as I could tell, everyone else was having just as much fun. Next time, will we enlist the services of an outfitter’s company and be supplied with an undamaged tank, brightly colored carbon fibre ores, and a contract to ensure our safety?  Heck no – that’s what made the trip memorable.  None of us are likely to forget our trip down the river on August 20, 2017. How could we? Connie has a “boat load” of pictures to remind us!

Don’t bother to call John and get his rendition of the story; more than likely you won’t be able to reach him. Last I knew his phone was still buried in  rice on the kitchen counter.

Until next month – keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

DeLila on first tanking expidition, Calamus, 2017, email sizeCaleb on first tanking expidition, Calamus 2017, email sizeJohn and Connie, tanking 2017, email size

 

 

 

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Blessings in Disguise

Today caught me thinking about blessings in disguise. I’m all for blessings, as you can tell by the name of my webpage. But…a “blessing in disguise”…well, those aren’t as simple. In order for something to be a “blessing in disguise”, it means there must be a precursor to the blessing – which is generally a tragic or catastrophic event…or at least one that we perceive as such.  Those I am not keen on.  In fact, I detest situations that eventually lead me to a “blessing in disguise.” I would much prefer to keep my life at a steady stream of relaxed, enjoyable continuity. If only I had control of such things!

I will have to say though, that the teeter-totter of life does bring about some great stories, and as a writer I do love a good story. If  we’ve lived long enough, we’ve had experiences where we’ve sat on the down side of the teeter-totter and wondered if life would ever send us to the top again.

My first experience at the bottom of life’s teeter-totter happened in 1965 when I was eleven years old. My Dad and Mom traded our farm south of Osmond, Nebraska for a ranch south of Ainsworth, Nebraska. Upon finding out this horrible news, I cried myself to sleep night after night. There couldn’t possibly be anything that would be good about this…not when you were moving three hours away from loving  grandparents, doting aunts and uncles, cherished classmates, and everything familiar. (I have always been one that found great solace in familiarity.) At this young age, it seemed the end of the world.   I dug my heels into the sand, and successfully made life miserable for all those around me. I can imagine my parents and siblings were grateful  it didn’t take long for me to recognize the blessings of the move. Within a few months I was ready to call the ranch “home”, and it would have taken another crowbar to pry me away from this little piece of heaven. Luckily, that did not need to happen. This was my home for the next nine years; until I ventured off to college. I remember looking back through the window of my boyfriend’s pickup as he transported me to Lincoln to attend the university and wiping tears away as I left the ranch I loved.

I realize there are many significant events in our lives that can start out as setbacks, but end up as blessings in the long run. Times when we’ve lost a job only to find one that fits us better. Or maybe suffered an illness that brought a new found appreciation for life. Or maybe  lost a relationship only to find a more meaningful one down the road. I think of the story of the prodigal son in the book of Luke. His father must have grieved when his youngest son left after asking for his share in his inheritance. But, how much richer was their relationship when the son returned, having grown from the experience of squandering his father’s hard earned money and being humbled by what life’s experiences taught him.

I’d like to share one more real life story of a tragic situation turned blessing. It is the story about a very talented man from the state where I now reside – South Dakota. Terry Redlin was only 15 when he bummed a ride from a friend on a motorcycle to get to work. Three blocks seemed hardly any distance at all, but three blocks was all it took for a drunk driver to run a stop sign and plow into the motorcycle. Not only did Terry loose his leg because of the ordeal, but  it also shattered his dream of becoming a conservation officer.

Who is this Terry Redlin? Well…he’s sometimes referred to as the “Accidental Artist.” He hadn’t planned on being an artist, but that accident changed things. Upon graduation he obtained a scholarship and headed for art school. For eight consecutive years (1991-1998) he was named America’s Most Popular Artist. He spent countless hours in the quiet wheat fields, on the shores of surrounding lakes, and on the hillsides overlooking farms – all places he loved to be. It was in these familiar places that he brought rural America, along with the animals and birds that live there, to life on canvas. Had it not been for that unfortunate accident many of us wouldn’t recognize the name, “Terry Redlin.” Had this accident not occurred, the world would not have known the talent of this small town boy from South Dakota.

As you finish reading, think about the times you know of where blessings emerged from difficult circumstances in your life or someone else’s. They are all around us. Is there anything more uplifting than to hear someone’s story of how life took them from the deepest depths to standing on a mountain top?

Whenever I am experiencing one of those difficult times I don’t want to experience, I like to remember what Charles Spurgeon – the great 19th century English preacher had to say about such things. He put it this way: Before much time has passed, we may be just as happy as we are sorrowful now. It is not difficult for the Lord to turn night into day. He who sends the clouds can just as easily clear the skies.”

Until next month, keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

EVENING_SOLITUDE

“Evening Solitude” by Terry Redlin.

 

 

 

United We Stand

I remember one Fourth of July when I sat on the curb of a busy street in Norfolk, Nebraska. The grown ups were sitting in lawn chairs beneath the elm trees behind me. The women had dug into their purses to find anything that might suffice as a fan. The men were discussing that 107 degrees might just be the hottest 4th of July yet. Many of the folks were grumbling; wondering why they had left their comfortable homes to sit out in the beastly heat with not a cloud in the sky. But, it wasn’t long before band music could be heard down the street and people became less focused on the heat. Horses with bright red, white, and blue neck banners paraded in front of us. One of the more mellow horses led the pack as the Stars and Stripes waved gently above his head. Not one person on the sidelines would have considered not standing with their hand over their heart. I watched my great grandparents and others equally as feeble, struggle to right themselves upward from the flimsy chairs – but right themselves they did. It was a secure and satisfying feeling to look up and down the street and to feel the unity portrayed.

This July 4th marks the 241st anniversary of Independence Day.  In 1776  the thirteen colonies declared themselves in writing –  a new nation and no longer under British authority.

If you are the type of person that enjoys a bit of trivia you might be aware that the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain did not happen on July 4th, but on July 2nd, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence. After the decision was make, a statement explaining the decision needed to be written. “The Declaration of Independence” was prepared by a committee of five –  largely written by Thomas Jefferson. After some debate about wording and then some revision, Congress approved the document on July 4th. (As a side note, I can’t help marveling at how fast Congress acted in 1776  – in 2 days  they had something major agreed upon and accomplished!)

You may wonder why Americans celebrate with the types of festivities we do on the 4th of July. Why is it that this day is celebrated with parades, baseball games, bonfires, picnics, and fireworks? We can attribute these merry making activities to John Adams – one of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. The night before he signed his name he wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail: This will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

More than likely, anyone reading this blog has participated in a 4th of July celebration of those kind mentioned. However, there may be some you and I have not participated in. I have not  attended a mock funeral for King George III as some colonists did to symbolize the end of the monarchy’s hold on America and the triumph of liberty. Or how about sitting around a bonfire consisting of towering barrels forty tiers high? These kind of pyramids were common in the 19th and 20th century as New England towns competed to build the tallest one. The highest “barrel pyramid” is recorded to have been built on Gallows Hill in Salem Massachusetts – the famous site of the execution of thirteen women and six men for witchcraft in 1692.

Another thing some trivia enthusiasts might already know in relation to the Fourth of July, is that three of our presidents have died on this memorable date. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom signed the Declaration of Independence, died within hours of each other on July 4th, 1826. James Monroe followed suit in 1831.

Whether we celebrate this upcoming holiday by cheering on the sidelines of a parade, watching the night sky light up with brilliant fireworks, or hosting a simple barbecue in our backyard, let us remember the day of deliverance John Adams spoke about and give thanks for our independence and the freedoms we enjoy.

Until next month – keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

 

Comanche, I Salute You

Many of us paid tribute to the fallen soldiers of various battles this past weekend as we celebrated Memorial Day. My husband and I found ourselves on a beautiful green hilltop with pine trees encircling the edges. Old Glory waved easily from a pole set in the center of the peaceful resting place. White rectangular headstones placed several feet apart, along with a few private monuments roll in short ribbons across two acres comprising Fort Meade National Cemetery. At the conclusion of the program, we were all invited to sing together, “The Star Spangled Banner” as we stood in the shadow of the flag. How fitting this was, as we had just learned that the song had it’s roots of becoming the national anthem, right here at the Fort Meade military post. The cemetery overlooks a well kept campus of two story old stone buildings build around a grassy square. The fort was established in 1878 to protect the new settlements in the northern Black Hills. Shortly after the fort was established so was the cemetery.

Fort Meade boasts of two claims to fame. As mentioned, it is here where “The Star Spangled Banner” rose to stardom.  Although Francis Scott Key penned the song in 1814, it was Col. Caleb Carton, commanding officer at Fort Meade, that began to require it to be played at the close of all concerts and parades and at the fort’s retreat time. He was eventually successful in persuading the Washington establishment to order it played at all forts, and in 1914 President Wilson signed an executive order making the song the national anthem.

The second claim to fame is a story of a horse – the most famous horse in western history. He resided at Fort Meade from 1879 – 1888.  Comanche is one of only two horses in United States history that has received full military honors at death. This bay colored horse known for his bravery rode into battle under the command of General George Custer on June 25, 1876 at Montana’s Little Bighorn. He is sometimes thought to have been General Custer’s own horse, but this is not so. His owner and rider that day was Captain Myles Keogh – a man that treated his horse well and who had bought him from the army for $90.00.

When the Battle of the Little Bighorn was over and army soldiers sprawled dead across the greasy grass, few horses remained. Those that the Indians felt were still useful animals were taken back to camp. They had no use for the badly  injured Comanche and when troops arrived to take care of the dead, the brave and loyal horse was found standing over the body of Captain Keogh and others nearby.

This wasn’t the first time Comanche had been injured in battle, suffering wounds from both bullets and arrows.  Respect for this brave horse increased with each of the four serious injuries he sustained – always ending the battle before being treated and always willing to return to battle once he was healed.

Following the Battle of the Bighorn, Comanche received the honorary title of Second Commanding Officer and was retired from further service. It was ordered that no one would ride him again. He led occasional official parades with his head held high, as it should be. He was allowed the run of the grounds at Fort Meade and became a “pet” of most everyone stationed there. It is said in more than one reference, because of all the toasts made in honor of his heroism, he became quite a fan of beer.

Comanche died from colic in November of 1891 at the age of 29 years. He spent his last few years at Fort Riley, Kansas. At death, he was mounted by the well-known Kansas taxidermist, Lewis Dyche, and continues to reside in the National History Museum at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

Let us allow Comanche to be an inspiration to all of us during difficult times. Not only did he rise from a wild mustang on the prairies of Texas to a decorated soldier, but he lived out the familiar phrase, “Keep on, keeping on.”

We seldom stop to consider the sacrifices animals have given for our country, but Comanche is one beast that caught the attention of  song writer and singer, Johnny Horton. Even though the lyrics aren’t totally accurate the message is clear.

“Comanche (The Brave Horse)”

The battle was over at Custer’s last stand
And taps were sounding for all the brave men
While one lone survivor wounded and weak
Comanche the Brave Horse lay at the General’s feet.

Comanche you fought hard, Comanche you tried
You were a good soldier so hold your head up high
For even the greatest sometimes must fall
Comanche the Brave Horse you gave your all.

Though you are silent your deeds did speak loud
If your buddies could see you I know they’d be proud
The symbol of bravery at the Little Big Horn
Poor old Comanche your battle scarred and torn.

Comanche you fought hard, Comanche you tried
You were a good soldier so hold your head up high
For even the greatest sometimes must fall
Comanche the Brave Horse you gave your all.

Comanche you fought hard, Comanche you tried
You were a good soldier so hold your head up high
For even the greatest sometimes must fall
Comanche the Brave Horse you gave your all…

Until next month, keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.