Category Archives: Extraordinary people

Man is born to trouble… but then what?

Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards, and that has ALWAYS been the case. But man can also be very ingenious about how to manage.

Let me illustrate with examples from my circle of friends. One 25-year-old man with cerebral palsy has no functional hands or legs, is fed through a stomach tube, and can’t talk – but laughs a lot. Another 21-year-old man died from Friedrich’s Ataxia after losing his ability to walk and the strength in his hands by inches from the time he was about 10. He was an accomplished graphic artist. I wrote earlier about the ripples from his short life. Another 23-year-old man has Muscular Dystrophy. He made his first unsupervised friends in his late teens when he became able to play games over the Internet. Up until then, his disability meant he was under constant adult supervision – not conducive to close relationships with peers.

So some ideas from these friends:

Companion dog

Companion dogs – The young man with cerebral palsy has a companion dog who is his bridge to contact with people outside the family, as well as giving him big sloppy kisses that make him laugh. People come up to pet the dog and then stop to talk. These same people would probably walk by with averted eyes otherwise. Companion dogs are thoroughly trained and require a real commitment from the person and often family, but they can be a source of great comfort and company.

Make virtual contacts with others. Human relationships matter and can be hard for some people, for example disabled veterans, to manage in person. My friend with Muscular Dystrophy uses virtual forms of human contact — in his case gaming. He very much appreciates the evolving technologies since things keep getting easier as the strength in his hands declines. For those who aren’t into games, there are Blogs, Facebook, and online discussions. Computer companies have invested a lot in “accessibility” enhancements for software. For example, if a person can’t type well, there are trainable voice readers that can ‘take dictation.’

Find a hero — in a story or reality — who has struggled with a similar disability and somehow won through to a strong life. My friend with Friedrich’s Ataxia used Steven Hawkings for his hero and received considerable comfort from remembering that someone so disabled could still contribute so splendidly. That appealed to him because he had a similar kind of brain, so could picture himself making contributions in the same vein. Physical exercise of whatever form if still possible can also be important. So how about a hero such as the man who joined a fund-raising bike ride from Seattle to Portland in his un-motorized wheel chair, pushing all the way — and kept up.

So I guess I’m suggesting that we search among people – many of them quietly getting through difficult lives – who can provide examples of ways to find meaning in very circumscribed lives. I thought about nominating my friend with Muscular Dystrophy for one of Robert Biswas-Diener’s Courage prizes. But he declined, not perhaps seeing the courage that is very apparent to me.

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A Beautiful Life Ends Beautifully

Marian

Marian

My godmother, Marian, died last Saturday. It was both sudden and not sudden. She had been fine on Memorial Day when I called, but then a fall on Tuesday led eventually to her being moved to the ICU in the early hours of Saturday morning. They started a morphine drip to make her more comfortable, and we knew she was slipping away.

Two of her children were with her at the end, the other two spoke to her via cell phones that we held to her ear. One drove for more than 4 hours, never expecting to reach her in time, but she kept on breathing quietly, as if she were asleep, for hours after the ICU doctors expected, so he arrived in plenty of time.

Starkey and Marian

Marian with Starkey

During the day, her friends including my children and many of her neighbors came to say goodbye. They sat with her, held her hands, touched her head, spoke to her about what she had meant to them, talked about her fantastic taste, even told her how her beloved little dog was missing her. We had 6 chairs around the bed, and at various times all 6 were full.

Finally at 4:38 in the afternoon with her two sons, me, and another extremely close family friend sitting around her, she took one long breath. Her son said, “Come on Mom, you can make it just a little longer.” He was thinking about his daughter who was on her way by train, due to arrive in about an hour. Then she took one more breath and was gone. Her face instantly looked different, I speculate because all the little muscles relaxed.

Marian knew how to laugh

Marian knew how to laugh, here with my mother

This week there have been many celebrations of her life with all her children and their families around, including 5 grandchildren — a Memorial Service, an open house at her house, countless small conversations, many of them laced with laughter. She was loving, wise, adventurous, and beautiful in many ways. Her hairdresser came to the Memorial Service and talked about how she had helped him learn to love the town that he’d grown up in. He also pointed out the beauty of her twinkling blue eyes, amazed that nobody else had mentioned that particular beauty. She also never stopped learning — she’d completed a PhD in Art History in her 50’s and was reading a book in the hospital about an English lord traveling around Yellowstone in Wyoming in the late 1800s.

In the program for the Memorial Service, the family included a letter that Marian had written my daughter Laura five years earlier, after Laura asked her for stories about her long life. That letter, especially the last long paragraph, has an important message for those of us still marching on, especially young people.

Marian with her daughter on her 40th birthday

Marian with her daughter on her 40th birthday

The letter brings to mind her daughter’s comment that Marian always moved to the next stage of life without looking back and regretting the stage that had just passed and without trying to hurry through to the next stage. When she was a mother of small children, she was a mother of small children without wanting to speed up her children’s growing up. When she was a very old woman, she figured out how to enjoy the benefits of old age without (much) mourning of the abilities that had passed or the traveling she could no longer do.

Here’s the letter:


Dear Laura,

Marian with Laura

Marian with Laura at my MAPP graduation - when Laura made the request

You can’t imagine how flattering it is as an old woman to be invited by someone of your generation to reminisce about times past.

It was wartime when I emerged from college — as it had been throughout my college career. Pearl Harbor was attacked my freshman year at the University of Idaho, Hiroshima was bombed during my honeymoon in 1945, just after I had graduated from the University of Chicago. Besides the fact that women’s liberation was just beginning to take form, the chaos of wartime cultivated a lemming-like move to the altar: we all wanted to get married, have children, have homes. I had had the dream of becoming a journalist, but I quickly traded that ambition for the security of marrying Bill when he returned from the European front. He had a 45 day furlough before he would be sent on to Japan. What I want to convey to you is the chaos of world events and the unpredictability of my own world when I was at the point of my life that you are now.

So it was make-shift time for me. Instead of looking for a newspaper job, I became a receptionist at the University of Chicago Press, commuting on weekends to Camp Campbell, Kentucky, where Bill was waiting for release from the army. By March, when he was again a civilian, we headed for New Haven where he resumed the first quarter of his junior year at Yale. I learned to cook, our apartment was a way-station for returning former students, we spent weekends exploring New York City and going to Dodger games, we often saw your grandparents who were living in New London, Conn. where Lou was stationed at the submarine base there. It was a carefree time and we made the most of it.

Marian hosted Kathryn's wedding reception

Marian hosted Kathryn's wedding reception

I did well in graduate school and was given a scholarship to continue beyond the Master’s degree, but didn’t seriously consider becoming a professional. I wasn’t eager to begin having babies, but I felt my role was as a supporting, not competing wife. When Bill had finished his graduate work and received a Fullbright Scholarship for a year in Paris to research his dissertation, I was blissfully happy with the choices I had made. We had a wonderful year, traveling the Continent, visiting your grandparents several times in Oxford. I came home pregnant — Peter was born the day after your mother, July 6, 1951. Your grandfather sent us a cable reading, “Kathryn Leigh arrived,” to which Bill sent the reply, “Kathryn meet Peter.” And so they did, a few years later.

The landscape where you stand, at the brink of your adult life, is so very different from mine. Women have been liberated, not just the exceptional ones but across the board. The choices and opportunities may be overwhelming, but at least you can’t feel limited. A few years of free fall are probably not a bad idea — just savoring life (as I would describe my early years of marriage in New Haven and Paris). Jumping from college into career or into marriage-with-children might prove too confining, even a mistake as you look backwards — as I am doing here — from your eighth decade. These are your luxury years, if you have enough money to give yourself freedom, when you can keep sensitive and searching for what your inner self really is trying to tell you. Pause and smell the roses. But don’t become passive and let the years roll on and over you. A few false starts aren’t necessarily a disaster.

It has been great fun to write all this down.

Love,
Marian


Marian had a beautiful end, but that doesn’t mean we were ready to let her go. Ah, grief, sadness, the feeling of a hole in one’s life. But also humor, love, and sweet memory. When I lost another friend recently, I found comfort in George Bonanno’s research on bereavement, summarized in Grief is Part of Life. He found that resilient people get comfort from remembering. Perhaps that’s why we all get together after someone dies, to enrich each other’s collections of memories with our own particular stories. I’m richer for knowing that Marian sent her children out to play in the rain because she thought it was sensuous, even as all the other mothers were calling their children in. I’m richer for her granddaughter’s story of taking a raft trip together down the Grand Canyon when Marian was 82, with the guide calling out, “Better wake up your grandmother, we’re coming to another rapids.”

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If You Want to Get Old Gracefully, Make Young Friends


Tea Chest

Tea Chest

My mother has moved remarkably smoothly from Independent to Assisted Living in her community in Seattle. A lot can be said for the community itself that has both types of living in the same building, one on the 12th floor, another on the 3rd. They had maintenance people who moved the furniture that she decided to keep in place of the more institutional furniture originally in the room — 2 book cases,
Bear Chair

Bear Chair

her Bear chair, the tea chest she uses as a jewelry box, her dresser, her little marble-top table where she has worked crossword puzzles for years. The maintenance people also hung up her pictures, so she had lots of reminders of her children, grandchildren, and trips all around her. She was a world traveler in her time — visited all continents except for Antarctica, and came very close to it.

 

But now that I’m back in North Carolina, 3000 miles away, I have many opportunities to observe the truth of a saying I heard recently, “If you want to get old gracefully, make young friends.”

My mother has several friends who are my age plus or minus a few years. They have banded together with my siblings and me to create a caring web around her. I can’t list all the things they’ve done for her. One spent a morning cleaning out her kitchen so she could turn over the keys to the apartment. When she has a doctor’s appointment, there’s likely to be a friend or even two available to take her. People come by to visit, to go out for walks with her, and to take her to dinner. One couple remembered how much she likes mussles and found a restaurant with mussles on the menu. They all send emails when they’ve seen her, letting us know how she seems — are her spirits drooping, or is she her usual feisty and entertaining self?

Schipperke courtesy dbzoomer

Schipperke courtesy dbzoomer

My godmother recently hurt her back tipping water out of one of those enormous plastic garbage cans that people roll out to the street. It was too heavy to roll back, and, as she put it, she could have done it easily 5 years ago (when she was just 80). With her back hurt, she couldn’t drive and she couldn’t take her young dog, a 2-year-old Schipperke, for walks. So how did she manage to get by without calling on me or her children? Her neighbors. Every day neighbors dropped by to see what she needed. Groceries? They brought her more food than she could eat. Walking the dog? Various neighbors came by in the morning and the late afternoon to give him energetic runs. My godmother thinks everyone should have a little dog, which my mother thinks is crazy. But the little dog has not only given her something to care for, it has also made her meet all her neighbors, so they had a chance to experience her warm, witty, graceful self before she had the accident. It has certainly paid dividends in the last week or so.

This is a thanks to the young friends of my mother and grandmother — and all the other young friends out there.

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Endurance, Patience, and Acceptance

I am publishing an article in Positive Psychology News Daily that is my nomination for the 25th character strength. In their earlier work, Peterson and Seligman identified 24 character strengths that are known around the world and across time. But of course there’s no magic to the number 24. There could be 25 character strengths, or 26, or …

My nomination belongs with the virtue Courage, which currently includes Bravery, Persistence, Integrity, and Vitality. I believe it should also include the strength of Endurance — the way people respond to things they cannot change.

One of the criteria for a character strength is ubiquity, that it is recognized in different cultures and over long history. I had collected the following examples to illustrate endurance, patience and acceptance across time and place. They don’t fit in the PPND article, so I’m including them here as an appendix.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “When Allah desires good for someone, He tries him with hardships.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî] … In fact, the many afflictions that may beset a person are incalculable. …All of these afflictions, if endured patiently by the believer, are a means of attaining Allah’s forgiveness as well as His reward.

“The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” John xvii.11

Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes. – Buddha (Gautama Buddha)

Ahimsa or non-violence is the most important virtue. That is the reason why Patanjali Maharshi has placed it first in Yama. Practice of Ahimsa must be in thought, word and deed. Practice of Ahimsa is not impotence or cowardice or weakness. It is the highest type of heroism. The practice demands immense patience, forbearance and endurance, infinite inner spiritual strength and gigantic will-power.

He conquers who endures. Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus)

This suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:20-21

It is better to be patient than powerful; it is better to have self-control than to conquer a city. Proverbs 16:32

Endurance is patience concentrated. Thomas Carlyle

Not in the achievement, but in the endurance of the human soul, does it show its divine grandeur and its alliance with the infinite God. Edwin Hubbell Chapin

Wounds and hardships provoke our courage, and when our fortunes are at the lowest, our wits and minds are commonly at the best. Pierre Charron, French philosopher and theologian, 1541-1603.

I learned from the example of my father that the manner in which one endures what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured. Dean Acheson, American lawyer and statesman, 1893-1971.

Endurance is nobler than strength and patience than beauty. John Ruskin, British art critic and social thinker, 1819 – 1900.

Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, Caesar, 17 2 … but that he should undergo toils beyond his body’s apparent powers of endurance amazed them, Nevertheless, he did not make his feeble health an excuse for soft living, but rather his military service a cure for his feeble health, since by wearisome journeys, simple diet, continuously sleeping in the open air, and enduring hardships, he fought off his trouble and kept his body strong against its attacks.

“Woman has suffered for aeons, and that has given her infinite patience and infinite perseverance.” – Swami Vivekananda

I also found a poem by David Wagoner that illustrated one reason why Endurance may not come swiftly to mind when thinking about strengths — it is often quiet and retiring.

In a bad year, my father went away
A hundred miles to take the only job
He could find. Two nights a week he would sit down
In his boardinghouse after a hard shift
In the open hearth and write a duty letter.
He hated telephones, being hard of hearing
And hard of speaking and just as hard of spending
Now that he had to save our car and our house
And feed us from long distance. He knew words
Of all kinds, knew them cold in Latin
And Greek, from crossword puzzles and cryptograms,
But hardly any of them would come from his mouth
Or find their way onto paper. He wrote my mother
Short plain sentences about the weather
And, folded inside each single page, for me,
In colored pencils, a tracing of a cartoon
From the funny papers: Popeye or Barney Google
Or Mutt and Jeff or the Katzenjammer Kids.
The voice-balloons hanging over their heads
Said, “Hope to see you soon” or “Hello, David.”
And those would be his words for months on end.

I thank him now for his labor, his devotion
To duty and his doggedness. I was five,
And he was thirty-five. I have two daughters
As young as I was then (though I’m twice as old
As my father was). If I had to leave them
In a bad year, I’d want them to be good
To their mother and to love her as much as I did.
I’d miss them, and I’d want them to be happy
With or without me and to remember me.
If I could manage, I’d even write them love
In a letter home with traces of me inside.

David Wagoner (1999)

Endurance also affects the way people look, as illustrated in this passage from Anne of the Island, by L. M. Montgomery who frequently writes about duty patiently borne.

She finally concluded that this man had suffered and been strong, and it had been made manifest in his face. There was a sort of patient, humorous endurance in his expression which indicated that he would go to the stake if need be, but would keep on looking pleasant until he really had to begin squirming.

References

Augustine of Hippo

Husayn, Sheikh Khâlid (n.d.). Tests from Allah.

BBC (n.d.). The ethics of war.

Several endurance quotations are here.

Govig, S.D. (1994). Souls are made of endurance: Surviving mental illness in the family. Westminster John Knox Press.

Jones, Rufus M. (1941). Rethinking Quaker principles. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 8.

Lebra, R.S. (1976) Japanese Patterns of Behavior. University of Hawaii Press. 163. Retrieved 18 February 2006 from http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&vid=ISBN0824804600

Montgomery, L.M. (1915). Anne of the Island. Bantam Books.

O’Leary, J. S. (n.d.). Buddhist Serenity in a Time of Rage. Weblog.

Putnam, B. (4 October 2005). A daughter’s devotion: Prodigy Dakoda Dowd, 12, is putting golf dreams aside to stay close to her stricken mother. St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 18 February 2006 from
http://www.stpetetimes.com/2005/10/04/Sports/A_daughter_s_devotion.shtml

Sivananda, Sri Swami (1947, WWW 1999). All about Hinduism.

Value Options (n.d.). Develop Resilience to Recover From Setbacks.

Vivekinanda, Swami (n.d.). Thoughts on women.

Wagoner, David (1999). A Letter Home. From Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems. Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. Also retrieved 18 February 2006 from http://www.lorenwebster.net/In_a_Dark_Time/category/poets/david-wagoner/page/2/

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A Story Like the Wind


A Story Like the Wind
Fifteen years or so ago — I know this because of the receipt I used as a bookmark — I first read Laurens van der Post’s two novels, A Story Like the Wind and A Far Off Place. They were so powerful that I couldn’t read any other fiction for months. They also stuck to me, little images that have enriched my life.

A Far-Off Place
For example, I’ve thought often about the time that the main character, 13-year-old Francois, behaved sharply and turned away from the adults who were trying to console him for the loss of his father. One of them, ‘Bamuthi, the Matabele leader on their homestead in the African bush, looks at the rest and says, “I give you a little fountain choked with mud.” They all nod, because they know the answer to the riddle: “the heart of a fatherless child.”

I lost my father when I was two, and it took me many many years to clean the mud out of the fountain.

I recently picked them up again and found them just as engrossing, even though the author is an egregious side-tracker. In the middle of a storyline, he switches into an earlier storyline and from then into an earlier one, or perhaps a digression into the natural life of babboons or elephants or lions or perhaps a long philosophical exploration of relationships between people and between peoples … so that sometimes it is hard to keep track of where you are in the original story. But the digressions are so full of rich detail.

I found myself tearing off little bits of paper to mark passages to go back to. Here are some of them:

In A Story Like the Wind:
‘Bamuthi: “Then a man-child also had to learn how to sing and above all to dance; for dancing and singing were the best ways he had of showing gratitude for the good things of life. Song and, above all, dancing were the surest ways of helping a man to endure the great trials of his existence; they were needed at birth, marriage and before war to strengthen his heart. … at the moment when the final loss of his shadow was upon him and those he loved, to drive away the power of death and revive the desire to live.”

Hiding courtesy kevinzim

Hiding courtesy kevinzim

Francois successfully shoots a huge, rogue elephant, Uprooter of Trees, that is drunk on fermented fruit and running amok across the homestead. Family friend and wild-life conservationist, Mopani: All he could get himself to do, therefore, was to talk at some length of the unfailing knack life seemed to have of confronting a man at the most unexpected moments with problems as large and dangerous as had been old Uprooter of Trees. Human beings, he stressed, always knew more than they allowed themselves to know. One of the things they never knew clearly enough was the power they possessed of overcoming problems even if they were thrice the size of Uprooter of Great Trees.

Mopani: “Have you ever known a more beautiful evening? I’ve heard it said somewhere that human beings should look on all things lovely as though for the last time. But this is the kind of evening which makes me want to look on it as if for the first time.”

Mopani: Remember always, Little Cousin, that no matter how awful or insignificant, how ugly or beautiful, it might look to you, everything in the bush has its own right to be there. No one can challenge this right unless compelled by some necessity of life itself. … Life in the bush is necessity, and it understands all forms of necessity. It will always forgive what is imposed upon it out of necessity, but it will never understand and accept anything less than necessity. And remember that, everywhere, it has its own watchers to see whether the law of necessity is being observed.”

In A Far Off Place:

Francois’ father, Ouwa: the real art of living was to keep alive the longing in human beings to become a greater version of themselves, to enlarge this awareness of life and then to be utterly obedient to the awareness. … Unlived awareness was another characteristic evil of our time, so full of thinkers who did not do and doers who did not think. … All this, Ouwa would ad, meant living in terms not of having but of being… For what, he often asked was the difference between the ‘Bamuthis of this world and the Europeans of Africa, if not that the Europeans specialized in having and the ‘Bamuthis in being.

And my favorite chapter in both books comes when Francois and his friend Nonnie, who have both lost everything and are traveling across the Kalahari with two bushman friends, sitting by a fire at night when Xhabbo asks a mime riddle than no one gets, and when he explains it, they all roll on the ground with laughter:

Nonnie: “Oh Coiske, do you know, until this moment, I thought we could never laugh like that again. I feel almost guilty that we could with Fa and your Lammie… “

Ligntning my first try courtesy of Kuzeytac

Ligntning my first try courtesy of Kuzeytac

Xhabbo’s reply: “[we] know that the sadness in you is no longer without a name and has found its voice. When sorrow finds a name and a voice, it is like the lightning you see calling and the thunder speaking after it to say that soon the rain will fall on you again.”

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A Fine Movie, Children of Heaven

My daughter recommended Children of Heaven to us — a movie about two children in Iran dealing with a big problem on their own. The film by Majid Majidi won numerous awards when it came out in 1997.

The movie starts with shots of the hands of a shoe repairman repairing a very worn set of rose-pink shoes.

 

It proceeds to the little grocery stand where 9-year-old Ali puts the sack holding the shoes down outside while he goes in to pick out some potatoes. A man comes by to collect garbage and picks up the sack of shoes at the same time. The shoes, the only ones owned by Ali’s little sister Zahra, are gone.

Children of Heaven DVD CoverChildren of Heaven

The movie is all about the way the two children deal with the loss of the shoes without telling any adult — not their parents who can’t afford new shoes, not their teachers when they show up late for school, not the athletic director at Ali’s school when Ali wins first prize in a long-distance race and has trouble holding back tears because he really wanted to win the third prize, a pair of tennis shoes.

For pictures of these two beautiful children, I refer you to the picture gallery at the official movie site.

I found myself in a funny spot while I watched this movie. I so wanted the adults to understand and take this trouble away from the children. Yet I could see that dealing with it on their own made both of them grow — in physical strength, in resourcefulness, and in love for each other.

That’s what trouble does — when people come through it well. But of course, they don’t always do so.

So there’s the perpetual tension for parents between protecting their children from trouble that might crush their spirits and leaving them open to grow strength by dealing with trouble on their own. That’s if we get asked, which these parents were not.

Note to parents:  Eleanor Chin is writing a 3-part series on ways parents can help their children develop authentic independence.  Start with Don’t Push the River: Autonomy and Healthy Development.

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Labor Day & Two Extraordinary People

It is Labor Day, a holiday in the United States to honor the contributions of working people to society.

Labor Day makes me think of two people in particular, John L. Lewis and my father-in-law, Thomas William Britton.

John L. Lewis

John L. Lewis

I first learned about John L Lewis when I visited my future mother-in-law’s apartment in Nitro, West Virginia. She had a bust of John L. Lewis carved in coal in a place of honor on her end table. Her husband was a working man who venerated Lewis’s leadership in the United Mine Workers of America. Here’s a quotation from a Lewis speech before the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NRA), an important part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. His thoughts still resonate:

“The political stability of the republic is imperiled. In excess of twelve million wage earning are unemployed. In certain industrial states the percentage of unemployed equals 40 percent of the enrolled workers. Of the remaining 60 percent a large number are employed on a part-time basis, and are the victims of a continuous schedule of wage cutting. Those who are employed, directly or indirectly, must inevitably bear the burden of supporting the millions to whom employment is unavailable. The cost of maintenance of government, and the support of non-productive institutions, is, therefore, day by day being passed to the continuously decreasing number of citizens who are privileged to work.” John L. Lewis, speaking to the Senate Finance Committee, February 1933. For the entire speech, see “The Republic is Imperiled.”

Thomas W. Britton

Thomas W. Britton

I never met my father-in-law, one of my deep regrets. He died of black lung about 4 months before my first date with my husband. But my husband is an outstanding storyteller, a skill he exercised repeatedly with my children when they were little and and requested at bedtime, “Tell me a secret.”

There were stories about his father working as a coal miner, getting up early to drive 40 miles from the city, where he’d moved to raise his son, to the mines, picking up other other miners along the way. There were stories about him finishing supper and then mixing up butter and Karo syrup on his plate to get the calories he needed for his hard physical labor. He liked mining, and that’s what he did during WW II — it was war work as much as being a soldier. He was frequently on strike for better working conditions, pay, and mine safety. When he was, he had other ways to earn a living, such as driving a hearse long distances to bring bodies home for burial or stocking shelves in the grocery store owned by a friend.

He liked coon hunting — I always had him in mind when I read Where the Red Fern Grows out loud to my children. My husband sometimes went along, learning how to move through the woods in the dark. He was a very sociable man, visiting family and friends up various ‘hollers’ in the West Virginia mountains. There’s a story about the old man in a nursing home who yearned for the taste of ground hog. My father-in-law went hunting for one for his wife to cook up for the old man. It apparently stank everyone out of the house while it was cooking, but it made the old man happy. He also liked trading things. He once swapped a particularly good coon hound for an old car that he needed since he’d just been called back to the mines.

I never met him, but I’ve always imagined him as a happy man whose days were filled with vigorous work that he enjoyed and whose spare time was filled with time in the woods, visiting, and family. I truly wish that I’d had a chance to know him, and that he’d had the chance to enjoy his grandchildren.

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