Category Archives: Past, Present and Future

Dad’s Germany

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            For me, writing our book was an act of love, a remembrance, a tribute to our parents and times long past. By the time I was nineteen I had visited Germany, and Europe four times. Dad was like the greatest tour guide ever. He drove around Europe, and spoke about its history, people and places as if it were his home, and he had never left.

            The red brick two floor, slate shingled building, on the Zirndorf cobblestone side street, looked so typical, and unremarkable. It had been, so many years earlier, the home of his youth. The graveyard, in the same town, served as a reminder of things past. I had previously, no idea about the depth of our family’s heritage, or how deeply German we were. I walked all the way back, in the section dedicated to our family, until the tiny (by American standards) headstones were illegible from weathering (around the 1700s).

            Even as I scribed, to the best of my abilities, his accounts of his youth, I could barely imagine what it must have been like. I was thirteen once; a spoiled, carefree, all American boy. At thirteen, he was torn from his small-town home, and sent, alone, to a foreign land, to Chicago, to live with relatives, until his parents came a few years later.

            Even as he assimilated well, there was a certain irony about his story. His return during WW2 must have been extremely difficult. He would be fighting a fight, which he knew had to be fought. However, he would also be fighting against some of the friends of his youth, members of his old soccer team, family acquaintances, teachers, etc.

            Even as he mouthed dirty krauts, and other derogatory wartime slurs, he knew better. I remember a 1985 song by Sting, “Russians”, where he asserts, ‘there is no such thing as a winnable war. Mothers love their children’, no matter what the politicians do. We are all, basically the same, at least in God’s eyes.

            I never thought about that, as I cheered for John Wayne, and the rest of the Green Barats, as they killed all of those Krauts on the silver screen.

            Even as it was his job to interrogate German prisoners, dad spoke, with some pride about those prisoners, drafted to service, who hated the war, and what their homeland had become.

            Sadly, these days, as our own country seems similarly divided, I am concerned. There is a saying; ‘those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. Also, ‘those who stand for nothing will fall for anything’.

            America was founded on principles of freedom and democracy for all. That is what our fathers fought to protect. What seems lost today is, we aren’t always going to agree with each other, but we need to respect those who disagree. I think that’s what is missing today, in politics, and on the streets of our country, mutual respect. I’m certain, if they were still here, our parents would have agreed.

            Someone once said, “love your neighbor as you love yourself”. I’m sure I heard that somewhere?

Now a message from our sponsor: We are thrilled with all of the personal and positive feedback from those of you whom have read the book. We would love it if you could review our book, on the Amazon web page. Good reviews will help more people to find us. Reviews are easy and don’t take much time. Let me know if you have any problems (Ron).

  1. Open the Amazon web site.
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We want to thank you in advance! Have a blessed day.

Dad’s youth soccer team Germany circa 1930: Coach’s left hand on dad.

           

Injustice

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            I believe I have a somewhat unique perspective when it comes to the racial protests and rioting occurring currently. Peaceful protest is a right and privilege given to us by our ancestors and protected by our constitution. The violence is not. However, I feel like I’ve been here before.

            I didn’t understand in the 1960s, when race riots were occurring. Being from an all-white community, I never had any relations with non-white individuals. All I knew was that everyone was supposed to be equal. After all, it had been 100 years since all of that had been solved. I didn’t understand when I heard Dr. King and others speak. He seemed so passionate, but why? When friends, who also had never been with non-whites used the N word or other racial slurs, I didn’t get it. I suppose they were parroting their parents. My parents, being German, and my father also of Jewish decent, knew a little bit about prejudice. I was raised to consider each individual separately.  To this day I am very grateful.

            If you are still reading, consider this. What is the most important commandment? Jesus believed it was to Love God with all you are. The second is to Love you neighbor as yourself. Who is your neighbor?

            When I went to college I was exposed, for the first time, to a variety of cultures. While in the seventies, there was still some tension, it never got bad on campus. I made an amazing discovery. Every person of another race or ethnicity, who I interacted with, through classes, the dorms, socially or sports was unique. Almost everyone with whom I spent significant time, I got along with, and found mutual interests. They were just people, fellow students, trying to better themselves.

            When I got out of college, my first job, as a chemist, was on the south side of Chicago, in a not so nice area. Stores were in cages; fast food was handed through carousels in bullet proofed glass. Murders, street violence, and drugs were not uncommon. Most of our plant was black as was the neighborhood.

I was lucky to find some really great people working there. Some became close friends. They cared about me and I them. We often ate together, went to parties, played sports, and watched games together. They also told me who I could trust, and people and areas I needed to avoid.

People in the neighborhood also treated us well. One day, when another chemist and I hit a few tennis balls at lunch, in a nearby park, a nice older lady brought out some lemonade and talked to us for a while. Another time, when I accidentally plowed my car into a snow drift, a group of kids who were off for a snow day, grabbed shovels and dug me out.

The point is simple; people are people. Some are good, and as my mother-in-law used to say, ‘some must have had a rough life’ (her excuse when people acted badly).

My skin is a little darker than Crystal’s, but I don’t think she holds that against me. Jesus was probably much darker skinned than most pictures depict him. We are all God’s creations. We are all the neighbors we were instructed to love.

No, I didn’t get it fifty years ago, but now I do. Sadly, not enough has changed. But I am ever hopeful. The answer is not in violence or vengeance, but in change of hearts and acceptance. So, continue to peacefully protest injustice, advocate for right and justice, and be tolerant of those who are different but peaceful. Be the good Samaritan. Live and let live.

We’ve learned to fly the air like birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven’t learned to walk the earth as brothers and sisters. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black. Robert Kennedy

A nation divided against itself can not stand.        Abraham Lincoln quoting Jesus

June 6th 2020 Coshocton Ohio Courthouse square – There is hope.

Happy New Decade

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            It wasn’t until after Christmas that I realized, not only are we looking at a new year, but a brand new decade. As usual, the New Year is a time of reflection. What occurred in the previous twelve months and what do we resolve to make the next twelve better. Admit it, it’s February and many of you have at least compromised your resolutions. I just resolved to live healthier. I figure, the more nebulous the resolution, the easier to keep. P.S. I’m doing fine.

            However, when I look back at the last ten years, a lot has changed. Sadly, in that time we have lost the last of our parents. Three (my mom and dad, and Jim Carlson) died over the last decade. My dad died was the last, at the age of 98, just last May. We still think of and miss our parents often. As our book nears completion, it gives Crystal and me comfort that their stories will live on.

            Ten years ago, Lisa was a high school senior and I was working as an RN. Since then Michelle and Alex were married. Between them and Liz and Brad we have been blessed with four more grandchildren. That gives us seven all together. To paraphrase the movie “Jaws”, ‘We are going to need a bigger table’.

            While no future is predictable, we will continue to make plans. In what was hopefully the first of many, Crystal and I have just returned from a vacation. It was a nice getaway to central Florida. Future trips are already planned. Crystal wants to add book tours and lecturing to our future. It goes without saying, staying involved with our family will continue to be a priority.

            Of course, only God knows for sure what the next ten years will bring. We just need to live each day the best we can, and continue to seek His will.

            Hopefully, you will do the same.

Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy New Decade

Ron & Crystal

Our Loss is Heaven’s Gain

Vacation Down Memory Lane in Chicago

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            Crystal and I recently took a trip to back to my old stomping grounds in the Chicago area. The trip had several purposes. First, it was the beginning of a new phase in our retired life. Now that dad has gone on to be with mom in heaven, we have a lot more free time. When I first married Crystal, I promised to show her more of the country and the world. We finally can, and are planning some trips. Second, our trip was to take care of some details of dad’s estate. Finally, we went to catch up with some friends and neighbors. That last one is the subject of today’s post.

            It’s amazing what memories can flood your brain when visiting former residences. The first day there, Crystal and I took an extended walk near the downtown Chicago lakefront. The walk almost proved too long for Crystal (which I heard about often). It’s amazing how much change there has been over the years. Many new and tall buildings, some over 100 stories tall, have overtaken the skyline. As we stood close to the new Millennium Park and looked north, I saw the building known as One Prudential Plaza (formerly, and as I remember The Prudential Building). It was built in 1955, about a year after I was born. When I was around five, at 41 stories, it was still the tallest building in the city. Dad took mom and me up to the top to see the view. The elevator almost knocked me over. I loved it. I thought the view amazing. The buildings looked plenty tall enough for me. Over the beautiful Grant Park, you could see the home of my Chicago Bears, Soldier Field. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look much different now than I remember. Although, it might closely resemble the Roman Coliseum, instead of feeding Christian’s to lions, this stadium is about feeding Lions (Detroit’s football team) to Bears (sorry, couldn’t resist).

            After a Chicago style pizza, we headed back to our hotel room in Plainfield. The trip back reminded us of what we don’t miss, the traffic. The next day it was on to Oak Lawn where I grew up. To our delight, Mrs. Baker was home. Living in the brown brick house directly across from my old house, she is probably the last original neighborhood resident I remember from my youth. They moved into that house in 1957. Two years later, we arrived. Now 90 years young, it was fun and sad to remember good old times and people while commiserating about all the changes in the area.

            My old playmate, Jeff Baker,was in from Colorado for a visit. The oldest of the Baker’s seven children, he seemed so far from the carefree adolescent with whom I used to play. Darting in and out of the room with his cell phone attached to his ear, he seemed so focused. Apparently his boss wouldn’t leave him alone while visiting his mom.

            As we walked out of the Baker’s house, I looked across the street at my old house. I was flooded with memories. The house itself looked pretty much the same. The yard, however, wasn’t nearly the pristine “Better House and Gardens” type dad always kept. The joke around the neighborhood was that a weed wouldn’t dare show up in his grass. He was so proud of his yard that he wouldn’t even trust me to mow it. Instead, I made my candy money mowing for some of the neighbors.

            Next to the Bakers live the Preisers. They were good friends to my parents, but weren’t home for our visit. Before, they moved in, the house was owned by the Pozdols. They too had a Ron. He was my age, their middle child, and we got along quite well. His father was our scout master and a really great mentor to us kids. I remember sitting in a field with Ron for three hours watching an ant hill for our ‘Insect Life’ merit badges. Ron got bored, so he ripped the wings off a moth to see what the ants would do. Oh the carnage! Fortunately, the battle didn’t last long and the boring peace returned.

            Next to the Pozdols lived the Browns. They were an older couple who had one son, Billy a few years older than me. Mrs. Brown was so nice to us kids all the time. That kind of balanced her often grumpy husband. Mr. Brown was a fixture on his front porch summer evenings, with a cigarette in one hand and a can of beer in the other. He yelled at us when we played softball in the street. “You kids know there is a park just a block away.” He worried we would hit a parked car, even after I assured him that we were too good, and aiming away from the cars.

            A couple houses down from the Browns were the Byczeks. They’re oldest; Tim was my best friend growing up. We went through school together and hung out whenever possible. With a couple other friends, our usual Friday nights were spent either playing pool in his basement or ping pong in mine. Occasionally, there was a movie night. John Wayne was our favorite star. After the movie, it was always McDonalds. Back then you could get a Big Mac, fries and a Coke, and get a nickel back from your dollar.

            Summers were spent playing softball in the nearby field, now a large school. Mom would be ready with Kool Aid and cookies. The rest of those fleeting years included school, scouting, and in the winter, skiing.  It seemed such a simpler time.

Finally it was time to leave. As we drove away for quite possibly the last time, I peered in the rear view mirror,  remembering the good times, and visits with Crystal and the girls. And then sadly, as we drove away, mom and dad waved from the porch. Mom usually was crying.

            When she was gone, for a few months, until we could move him closer, it was just dad on the porch. And then, as dad and I drove away that last time, only the house remains. It outlasted my parents, and will most likely outlast us too.

            And so it goes. The house on Oak Center Drive still appears in good shape. It will probably need a new roof in a couple of years. But that is someone else’s concern. There is, from what I hear, a new young family for it to protect and serve.

            After Oak Lawn, we visited with some old friends, Laura (Crystal’s childhood friend), and Bob (her husband), whom we haven’t seen in forty years. We couldn’t visit Crystal’s old neighborhood because, as Crystal put it, it’s no longer safe.

In the end, our trip gave us what we needed. As we enter a new phase in our lives as empty nesters without parents, a look back gives us some perspective, and a greater understanding of who we are and how we got here. I think that’s always a good thing.

Our old house now

Me after a storm and our house about 45 years ago

German Thanksgiving and Dad’s 98th Birthday party

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Dad turned 98 years old on November 15th. He is having more problems. But we got together as a family and celebrated a combined celebration which we call German Thanksgiving. We didn’t make a turkey dinner. Instead using mom’s recipes, I made all of dad’s favorite German foods featuring Sauerbraten, dumplings and red cabbage.  Crystal and I, our girls, and grandkids definitely share the excitement dad and I once had when mom made them for us. It was a wonderful thanksgiving combined birthday celebration, commemorating dad’s nearly one century of life.

 

For me, it was also a time of reflection. Until recently I hadn’t realized that dad was born exactly two years and four days after the Armistice was signed ending WWI. His life and my mom’s began in Germany under the shadow of that ‘war to end all wars’. Even though I don’t remember much history, a subject I hated studying when I was young, I do remember learning about the horrors of trench warfare and the extremely punitive nature of the Treaty of Versailles which followed.

 

My parents have both witnessed to me about the prolonged years of oppression and poverty suffered by the German people. This led directly to the call to nationalism which led to a second ‘war to end all wars’. Of course, according to Hitler, the demise of the homeland was largely the fault of a minority group of which dad was a part. It didn’t help that dad’s family had been in Germany for over 300 years or that many had died fighting for Germany. Two of dad’s uncles died in WWI. None of that mattered.

 

Fortunately, after dad and his family escaped to America, they were safe for a couple of years. Many of dad’s relatives weren’t so fortunate, killed outright or dying in the concentration camps.

 

Of course, dad joined the American army and returned to Germany where, after the war, he met mom. That eventually led to me. So….happy ending?

 

The point I wish to make is that, in a long and full life, my father has seen so much change. As we recently celebrated Veteran’s Day, I wonder if any of today’s youth in this world of Amazon and smart phones can really picture that time.

 

I was recently reminded of an old poem which might help.

 

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

 

I want to take this occasion to thank my dad, Crystal’s dad, and all veterans for their sacrifice and the gift of our freedom. If we fail to guard it, it will be taken away.

 

From all of our family ages 1 year olds, Ayla and Addy to Dad, at 98 years old,

Happy Turkey Day!

Dad opening presents 11/17/2018

Dad’s Grandfather Herman Meinstein and his wife in Dad’s hometown of Zirndorf Germany circa 1900.

40 Years

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It’s been 2 score, double life sentences (no chance of parole), 0.4 centuries, 3 daughters, 6 grand children, 4 states, and uncountable opportunities (challenges/problems) since Crystal and I tied the proverbial knot. That’s right, on April 1st of 2018 we had another April fool’s day, and Easter (praise God), but my most important reason for celebration, to assure any future earthly happiness, was Crystal and my 40th wedding anniversary. My mother, Mimi, had a saying to describe a long period of time in German, that pigs don’t live that long. I guess it sounded better in German.

As I write this blog, it is my truest desire to come up with some words or a formula that will help people live better lives, and maybe even give a boost to the institution of marriage. I guess that’s one reason Crystal and I wrote our memoir. Just as a reminder, our memoir’s name “150 Years of Marriage” was coined in anticipation. Since we started by interviewing Mary Jane Carlson, who died in 2006, I know that our three couples total hadn’t yet hit 140 years. Since my mom’s death in 2012, only Crystal and I can add to the total. As of April 1st 2018 our three couples are at 159 years. By the time we are published maybe we should change the name. Think of it, in just another 41 years, “200 Years of Marriage”……..OK, maybe not.

Dad is now 97. I see him frequently. When I do, we will inevitably take a quiet drive along the Scioto River. This river drive is no secret. On a nice day there is a flurry of activity. There are walkers, runners, and people fishing. There are bike riders, and skate boarders, people walking dogs and pushing baby carriages. There are also boats on the water and occasionally we see the OSU sculling teams working out.

Water fowl are also frequently around in abundance. Occasionally, we will see gray or blue heron. But, more frequently, there are seagulls, ducks and Canadian geese. Most often, the ducks and geese are in fairly large groups. But what I find interesting is that you rarely see them by themselves. Often they are in matched pairs. I am given to understand that they generally mate for life. They share responsibilities such as finding food or raising families. They fly together and swim together. Oh, their bonding isn’t perfect. Male geese are well known philanderers. Sometimes their honking seems akin to a squabbling couple. But they generally stay together until one dies. I sometimes wonder if they were put here as an example for us. Crystal has, on occasion, called me a silly goose.

What is the difference between a marriage lasting 4 years and 40 years? Three things: choosing well, commitment, and a lot of luck! I guess Crystal and I have all three. Crystal will tell you that we were brought together by God. While I don’t disagree, you would think God’s plan would have moved a little smoother. Between job changes, multiple moves, serious health problems, family issues, etc., etc. etc., you have to wonder. But maybe that’s part of it. We haven’t had a perfect marriage. I don’t know if that exists. However, looking back, when the “opportunities” were presented, we closed ranks and worked together. I would even say they may have brought us closer together.

Today, when we sit on the couch and watch “Monk” or some other, as our kids would say, corny show, Crystal will periodically reach over to hold my hand. I guess that’s plenty corny too. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s kind of cool. When I think about the number, 40 years seems like an impossible amount of time. But when I reach back for Crystal’s hand, it’s like no time has passed. I can remember being twenty-something and falling in love with the girl I was supposed to be with. Maybe God got it right after all.

 

HAPPY 40TH Crystal!

 

Crystal’s Corner

Yesterday, April 1, 2018, Easter Sunday, was our 40th wedding Anniversary.  It was a bright warm sunny day like our wedding day. Of course last night it snowed. Forty years ago, on the first day of our honeymoon, we had to scrape the ice off of our car in Chicago. In so many ways, it doesn’t seem like 40 years, four decades, but it has been a long journey.

We got together with all of our daughters and their families and Ron’s Dad at a Greek Restaurant in Columbus.  It occurred to me as I looked around the long table, that none of these people would be here, if Ron and I hadn’t gotten married 40 years ago.

In our memoir, 150 Years of Marriage, we talk about when we met, dated, got engaged and married.  We also talk about our childhoods and our parents’ courtships and marriages.

I can remember very clearly our time at Bradley University, our engagement, planning the wedding, our wedding day, and our honeymoon in Arizona.

I also can remember living in our studio apartment for several months before we moved to a two bedroom apartment.  We entertained our family and friends in that little one room apartment and enjoyed every minute of it.  Nobody seemed to mind sitting on folding chairs, our small couch, or the bed to eat with us in that small space.

We moved seven times during our marriage.  We have lived in two apartments, a townhouse, and four houses in four states.  We are the best packers you have ever met.

Both Ron and I are cancer survivors.  I have had more than 10 surgeries including three C-Sections.  So actually, still being together, and in somewhat good health is kind of a miracle.

We are so grateful to God for our marriage, our wonderful family, our sense of humor and our deep abiding love for each other.

We know we wouldn’t have survived all of our difficulties and changes without God’s help.  Wherever we have lived, we have been sent to a church family, who helped us.  We have found wonderful friends and neighbors and kindred spirits.

We also have had a very close relationship with our parents and families the whole time.  We travelled often on holidays to get together, and now our girls travel to see family often.

You know you have succeeded as a parent when your grown children are hardworking, responsible, kind, loving and caring individuals.  We have also been blessed by two very special and loving son-in-laws.

We have six unique and terrific grandchildren that we cherish and enjoy.

At our table yesterday we had Ron’s Dad who is 97 years young, and our two youngest granddaughters who just turned one, and many ages in-between.   Four generations celebrating our Savior Jesus and our 40th Anniversary.  I don’t think life gets any better that this.

Even though life has thrown a lot of curve balls at us, every day I am happy to be Mrs. Crystal Meinstein and to see Ron smiling at me.

Our fortieth, the ducks are just sleeping on the Scioto. Both pictures taken April 1st 2018.

 

“Lady in Red” by Crystal

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Red is one of the most popular colors of the Christmas season. The color red reminds me of my mom. She loved the color red.  In her wardrobe, she had solid red clothes and red prints.  I like to wear bright colors including red.  Lately, I have added more red clothing to my wardrobe.  I am doing what many women do. I am reorganizing my closet, getting rid of clothes that are out of style, worn out, or that don’t fit.  It is a process and can be emotional at times.  I associate some of my blouses, skirts, dresses, etc. with memories of the occasions when I wore them.  I am realizing, however, that I can remember those occasions without still owning the clothes.  Also, my shape has changed over time and I can’t wear some of the outfits I really like anymore.  So it is a letting go process I have to do in order to bring some organization to my closet.

The newest dresses and tops that I recently have been buying for several months fit me well and reflect my personality.  I have three blouses with fall colors that I like very much.  I have two red dresses and several red blouses that are fashionable and look good on me.

I am currently trying to place outfits together in the closet so it will be easier to just take them and put them on especially for church activities, Christmas gatherings, and going out with Ron.  I usually dress nicely when we visit Ron’s Dad in Columbus, wearing a classy dress or blouse and skirt and my high heels.  Ron and his Dad like it when I dress up to go out with them.  They say it makes them look classier.

My mom always wore classy clothes when she went anywhere.  I must have inherited this habit from watching her as a child and as an adult.  What seems like a short time ago, my girls would watch me get dressed, and apply make up to go out on a date with their Daddy.  They liked to look into the closet and take out my high heels to see which ones I would wear.  They knew if I wore the red high heels that it was a special date.

When Michelle was little she would smile and say “You look beautiful, Mom”.  Elizabeth would tell Daddy that, Mommy is wearing her special red shoes and pretty dress so he would get the hint to say something nice. Men need a little help sometimes.

With all the activities involved in getting ready for Christmas, I have found that having my outfits clean and organized helps to reduce the stress.  Ron and I have a tradition to have a date in December before Christmas just to relax and enjoy each other.  This year we stayed at a bed and breakfast in Waynesville, Ohio and attended a dinner theatre.  One actor performed “A Christmas Carol” with the help of the audience.  This was an early Christmas present for me.  Other years we have just gone out for dinner or to see a funny movie or even just for a walk in the park and get coffee and dessert at our favorite diner.  It also helps us to remember when it was just the two of us early in our marriage before we had a lot of responsibility.  It is good to look back, smile, and hold hands.  As my grandmother use to say, “Love is grand.”

 

Michelle, Granddaughter Aylla and me. Look who’s wearing red!

Crystal in her new red dress on vacation last summer

Our annual Cookie bake 2017

 

Christmas Thoughts and Traditions by Crystal

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When I think of Christmas, I think of the cards, the nativity, decorating the tree and the house, getting together with family, baking, etc.  We send out our Christmas cards with our newsletter and often photos too.  My mom always sent out tons of Christmas cards mostly with notes or newsletters, but even then she would write a personal note in many of the cards.  We helped her get the cards ready to mail as a family.  She would set up an assembly line in our living room. We each had our area: Jeannette would sign cards because her handwriting was very nice and legible, Mom would write the addresses on the envelopes, one of us would put the stamps on, and another one would put the return address labels; and often fold and stuff in the newsletter and then seal the envelopes.  Then the envelopes were separated by zip codes and rubber banded before being taken to the post office.

We also decorated the house.  When we lived in Roseland, Illinois my mom would tape the Christmas cards we received on the Venetian blinds.  I didn’t understand why nobody else did that in their living rooms. Card traditions were carried on in our next home in Dolton, Illinois.

Even after Ron and I were married, whenever we visited my parents at Christmas, my mom would show me the cards she received and we would read the newsletters and notes.  Often, they were funny and we would laugh about them.

My Dad also did this with me after my mom died.  My mom sent cards to everyone, but my Dad’s policy was to wait until he received a card, and then sent one out.  For many years, my Dad sent out cards and a newsletter that he wrote.  He also wrote letters to friends and family.

This will be the first Christmas without Dad.  We miss seeing him.  Even when he was in the nursing home, he appreciated our visits.  We would talk to him and laugh with him.  I miss holding his hand and telling him that I love him.  He was a really good Dad.  We spent a lot of time with Mom and Dad and I am very glad that we stayed close to them.  I know that their influence and example made us who we are today.

So I come from a family of people who write letters and send cards. Sticking with tradition, these days I tape up our cards on the walls, and doors in our Victorian house. I notice that visitors and my girls and my grandchildren will look at them when they come over.

My three girls, granddaughter Jazmyn and I will have our cookie bake soon and carry on the tradition that started with Mom.  This year we will have two little girls, Addy and Ayla, in high chairs joining in the fun.  I remember when Elizabeth was in my old wooden high chair at Mom’s cookie bake and also when Michelle was and Lisa was there too.  We would give them some dough to play with and eat while we made the cookies.  Mom gave cookies to everyone she knew and even people she didn’t know very well.  It was her way of spreading God’s love. Mom showed love to people all year round, but especially at Christmas time and we are carrying on her legacy.

Ron’s Corner:

Christmas traditions are funny. Often no-one knows where they started or why we feel obligated to carry them on. Maybe it reminds us of happier, more care free days when we were young and in awe of the season. Maybe we feel obligated to pass something on to our children. Or maybe, in some way, we feel we are honoring our parent’s efforts and love.

My experiences are somewhat different than Crystal’s. I really had nothing to do, but enjoy. Mom did most of the work. Oh dad and I would go out and pick the tree and I suppose he mailed the cards and letters and shopped for special foods and for mom’s presents. Of course, he drove us to downtown Chicago every year to enjoy all of the store window decorations and the huge Christmas tree inside Marshall Fields.  But honestly he and I were both spoiled. Mom did all of the heavy lifting. She did most of the shopping, cleaning, decorating, wrapping and all of the cooking and baking. She wrote all of those cards every year most with hand written notes. Usually she hosted a tea party for her neighbors and friends during the Christmas season which they totally enjoyed.  We never went around with trays of cookies, but inevitably were visited by a number of friends, neighbors and even dad’s business associates. I swear, none would ever be allowed to leave empty handed or hungry. Mom wouldn’t allow that to happen. Occasionally, they would stagger ever so slightly as result of mom’s eggnog. Crystal insists it was more nog than egg.

Even for our girls, Christmas often meant a trip to Chicago and a Mimi Christmas. Mom was still putting on a show into her eighties; though I remember her for the first time complaining about how hard it was becoming to roll out the lebkuchen (German form of gingerbread). The girls and older grandkids enjoyed the Christmas decorations, German cookies, five course dinners, presents wrapped beautifully, and singing Silent Night with Mom and dad on Christmas Eve. They would sing at least one verse in German.

While Crystal and I have hosted a number of Christmases, along with Larry (Crystal’s brother) and Linda (Larry’s wife and Swedish version of mom) as well, our girls seem excited, even grateful to continue Christmas traditions with us and at their homes.

So this year, Crystal and I will be especially grateful as we celebrate the Lord’s birth with warm cookies, friends and family. I’ll bet Heaven has some really wonderful cookies. No eggnog required.

Enter a new member in her new home for her first Christmas. Aylla with mom and Nana Crystal

 

Halloween, Then and Now

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As a kid of the sixties, it was always my favorite holiday. OK to be fair my real favorite was Christmas, but Halloween was the start of the holiday season. And what was not to love? There were costumes, house to house pillaging for candy, the rustling of leaves in the crisp fall air and the Halloween Festival at Gasteyer School. Every year from the age of six to eleven I couldn’t wait for the festival. It was magic. The normally boring classrooms were transformed into magical game and event rooms. This was the big PTA fund raiser and a big hit for the entire Oak Lawn, Illinois community. Kids talked about it for weeks.

My mom (Mimi) usually baked a cake for the cake walk. It was like musical chairs. Everyone would step from number to number until the music stopped. Then a spin of the wheel would reveal who got to pick a cake from the large cake table. I think I was seven or eight when I got to pick a cake. It was chocolate, of course. I ever so proudly and carefully carried the cake home in the dark to give to my mom before returning to the school for more fun. There were game rooms, where you could win valuable prizes like pencils, crayons, and you guessed it, more candy. The gym was open for games involving basketballs, bean bags, and volley balls.  There was also the room, which every parent hated, where a good toss of a ping pong ball would score you a pet gold fish. They generally had a life expectancy of slightly longer than the trip home, before joining all of their fishy friends on the other side of the toilet bowl.

By 1965 I was at the top of the ladder. As a sixth grader I was a school elder. At eleven years old and a patrol guard I was practically an adult. As such, I was honored with an inside look at my favorite room of all, The Haunted House! For a young child, this was a rite of passage and a test of bravery. You could brag to your friends. ‘Naw I wasn’t scared.’ Or you could talk about the kid who cried. But this year was special. I got out of class to help set up the room. Curtains hanging from cloth lines would hide the numerous workers. One would lie on top of the closets with the rubber spied on a fishing line to dangle in front of hapless victims. Another would have a wet sponge on a stick for a quick jab to the back of your neck or a girl’s legs. Others would jump out in ghoulish costumes. To my great disappointment, I discovered that the bowl of worms was nothing more than spaghetti. Although, when I think about some of my friends, I would guess that by the night’s end there had to be at least a few real worms in the bowl. The eye balls were only pealed grapes. I ate a few when no one was looking.

Even though I had lost my Halloween innocence I gathered my courage, donned my pirate costume and joined Tim and Tom to walk the streets and gather our quota of goodies. Back then, everything seemed safe. Kids old enough to find their ways home could go out unattended. There were no real demonic overtones to the holiday. Horror movies, which I loved, like Frankenstein and Dracula were non reality based and had at least semi-positive endings. Candy didn’t need checking. Communities had networks of moms, who were vigilant of any potential threats.

Today, however things are a little different. As I think of the world our kids and grandkids have grown up in I cringe. Security at schools has become far more important than fun. Reality has infiltrated fantasy. Crystal and I were on vacation in Florida around 1978. At the insistence of her old friend we saw the movie “Halloween”. When Jamie Lee Curtis screamed Crystal screamed louder. I screamed louder than her. She was grabbing my sun burned shoulder. The point is, that movie wasn’t like my old horror films. Today horror is real and vigilance is the order of the day. Our kids today suffer from an all too early loss of innocence. Trick-or-treaters still come to our house in substantial numbers but generally parents aren’t too far off.

As my girls grew up I still shared their enjoyment. I would dress up, mainly for their benefit, as a mad scientist to take them trick-or-treating. Generally a neighbor or friend would join us. Today, I notice that while most of the little monsters and princesses have elders watching over them, some are on their own. I attribute this to parental apathy and neglect, which unfortunately is prevalent nowadays. I worry that these kids are no longer safe.

I have to admit that those days of seeing my own kids, with their eyes widened by the many spectacles and bountiful treats was as special to me as to them. Today, while some churches have offered safe alternatives, trick-or-treating seems as popular as ever. So this Halloween, should the opportunity present itself, offer to help out some overburdened parent. If not, at least remain ever vigilant and report any suspicious behavior. Our kids deserve to remain innocent and safe for as long as possible and to enjoy the Holiday. Have a happy Halloween.

A princess, a Hawaiian girl, and their pet bunny. Lisa (bunny) was about the same age as Liz’s (princess) and Michelle’s (Hawaiian Girl) daughters (Ady and Ayla) are now.

 

 

When Someone Dies

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When someone dies, I believe as part of grieving, we have a tendency to look at our lives.  As we contemplate mortality and loss we might ask questions. Where are we going?  Where have we been?  What do we do, now that this person who meant so much to us is not here anymore?

My father lived a long time, much longer than he thought he would live – to 90 years old.  The last few years were not good for him. He stopped doing his leather-work.  He stopped writing letters to family and friends. He couldn’t remember things like what time it was or what day it was or what season.  He would eat a meal with us and ten minutes later, ask “When are we going to eat?”  We would tell him he just ate and bring him a snack and a drink.

Ironically, my brother told me, he was in pretty good health. His blood pressure was normal as was his cholesterol.  My Dad loved donuts, pie, cake, ice cream, cookies and candy.  But his cholesterol was always fine. He got much thinner during the last years. He was wasting away.  We had to get him smaller clothes and punch more holes in his belt.  My brother said it was like we were losing him inch by inch and pound by pound.

My father didn’t lose his sense of humor.  He liked to tell funny stories. He was very witty.  We all have a pretty good sense of humor. We have the ability to laugh at ourselves.  It is a good quality to pass on from one generation to the next.

My mom also had a great sense of humor and told funny stories. I miss her laugh. I miss my Dad’s voice and the love for me I saw in his eyes when we visited him. He was someone in my life I always wanted to talk to; to listen to and to share what was happening in our lives.  There is a void in my life without him that is impossible to fill. Even now, I sometimes forget that he is gone.  I won’t need to buy a father’s day card or present this year for him. Somehow that hurts, and yet I wouldn’t want him back because he wasn’t well.

Do we really understand heaven?  For those who believe in everlasting life, heaven is the place we are heading for at the end of our lives.  I wonder if heaven is like the People’s store.  I use to go to the People’s Store on Michigan Ave. in Chicago with my mom and my Dad when I was a little girl.  There was a large landing with a half circle of chairs between stair cases.  We would sit there with my Dad eating chocolate covered peanuts from a paper bag and watch the people.  This was the best part of shopping according to my Dad. My mom was buying what she needed.  We were watching the world go by and having fun with Dad.

When I was growing up in Roseland, I thought my Dad was the handsomest, nicest and funniest man that I knew.  I had watched him shave with the old type of razor and shaving cream.  I watched him comb his black hair. He used some type of greasy stuff on it to hold his hairdo. I knew all of his hats – mostly fedoras. I watched him tie his ties not understanding how he was doing it. I was very glad that girls didn’t have to wear ties. They looked completely uncomfortable and it was easy to spill things on them like gravy and chocolate syrup.  They were also hard to clean although my mom usually managed to get the stains out.  My Dad had a leather case he had made for his shirt pocket.  In it he would keep his glasses, his pen, and some pipe cleaners.  He always had a pocket knife in his pants pocket and change and keys that jingled when he walked.

Now my brother, my sister and I are getting everything out of my Dad’s house. My talented brother is painting all the walls and ceilings and redoing both bathrooms.  He also is removing the horrible disintegrating faded rose carpeting and cleaning the wonderful hardwood floors underneath.  We always called mom and dad’s house, the Quilt house, because there were quilts hanging up in almost every room, on the beds and on quilt racks.  My mom also had a large doll collection and teacups scattered on shelves around the house.  Their home has been a home to me and my children and grandchildren.  So many memories of family get togethers, eating around the large dining room table, opening presents on Christmas morning, and finding the Easter eggs.  Always talk and laughter filled that house.  Now it is quiet.

The last time I was there in May, I felt like the house was saying goodbye to me.  It was letting me go.  As we drove away with our car filled with boxes, it was like we were taking time with us; time that would be spent in our house around our dining room table, in the living room and on our wraparound porch.  I felt a certain peace about it, like mom and dad were looking down from heaven and smiling with love and approval.

 

Ron’s Corner:

Crystal writes so well; don’t you think? I too love remembering the many good times in my life. Every life has both good and bad. I think the key to satisfaction in life is remembering the good and learning from, but not focusing on, the bad. I too have many fond memories from my childhood, some of them are recorded on this web site.  I am so glad that we took the opportunity to interview our parents while they were all still with us. Now only one parent, my dad, remains. However, we are determined to get the memoir published to preserve and share their lives. I read a few pages every now and again. My totally unbiased opinion; It’s really good!

I am so glad we undertook this project. If you are fortunate enough to have living parents, ask them about their lives. You might learn something. It might help you understand a few things. If nothing else, it’s never a waste of time talking to someone you care about. Do it while you can. The time is fleeting.

Ron holding Liz, Crystal holding Michelle, Mary Jane and Jim circa 1986 (the way we want to remember Crystal’s parents).