Category Archives: Stories

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Extraordinary people, Good with the Bad, Resilience, Stories

Reading Out Loud, Round 4

I’ve been using my blog to keep a log of the books I’ve read out loud to my husband over the past few years. This is the fourth posting. Click on this link to see the entire set.

We’ve branched out, reading books about social history and biography as well as science. Right now, we are in the middle of Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, quite a change from physics and geology.

Reading out loud together is a way we exercise our brains together – something recommended by Nancy Andreasen in the book listed below.

Lightman, A. Ed. (2005). The Best American Science Writing 2005. New York: Harper Perennial.Greene, B. (2006). The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2006 (The Best American Series) . Houghton Mifflin.

Kolata, G. (2007). The Best American Science Writing 2007. Harper Perennial.

Winchester, S. (2003). The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
Sacks, O. (2008). Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: Vintage Books.
Quennell, M. & C. H. B. (1918). A HISTORY OF EVERYDAY THINGS IN ENGLAND VOL. I 1066-1499. Originally published by B. T. Batsford, Ltd. London.History of everyday things like clothes, how houses were constructed, how windmills worked.
Quennell, M. & C. H. B. (1919). A history of everyday things in England, done in two parts of which this is the second, 1500-1799. London, B. T. Batsford.
Andreasen, N. (2005). The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius. New York: Plume Book.
Taylor, J. B. (2009). My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. Plume.
Ruse, M. & Travis, J. (2009). Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. Belknap Press.
Hazen, R. M. (2005). Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins. Washington, D. C.: Joseph Henry Press.
Chown, M. (2001). The Magic Furnace: The Search for the Origins of Atoms. Oxford University Press.This book was a complete delight. Not only did we learn about how atoms were formed and dispersed, from hydrogen to iron to uranium in the two furnaces of the big bang and very hot star interiors and supernovae, but we also had a tour of the science in process, personalities, life histories, deadend ideas, breakthroughs, politics, and all. It also read out loud well, which is not always true of books about science.
Stewart, Ian (2007). Why Beauty Is Truth: The History of Symmetry. New York: Basic Books.This was a challenge for me to read. It explored the mathematics of symmetry from its roots in the Babylonian solutions for quadratic equations through Galois and Group Theory through Lie Groups through dimensions and string theory. I don’t know how much stuck, but I have a new respect for creativity in mathematics.
Atkins, P. W. (1987). Atkins’ Molecules. W. H. Freeman & Co.
Carroll, Sean (2010). From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. New York: Dutton.
Holmes, G. (Ed.) (1997). The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy (Oxford Illustrated Histories). Oxford University Press.Political, economic, and cultural history of Italy from Augustus to the present.
Fairbanks, J. K. (2006). China: A New History, Second Enlarged Edition. Harvard University Press.
Pesic, P. (2005). Sky in a Bottle. MIT Press.
Sobel, D. (2004). The Best American Science Writing 2004. HarperCollins Publishers.Several interesting articles, especially William Langewiesche’s discussion of Columbia’s last flight. It read like a mystery novel.
Lane, N. (2009). Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Rose, Steven (1992). The Making of Memory. New York: Anchor Doubleday
Feynman, R. P. (1995). Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics By Its Most Brilliant Teacher. Perseus Books.
Carroll, Sean B. (2009). Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species. Mariner Books.
Dreyfus, H. & Kelly, S. D. (2011). All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. New York: Free Press.
Weaver, K. (2005). The Violent Universe: Joyrides through the X-ray Cosmos. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
X-Ray observations of the universe. Many picture,
Villard, R. & Cook, L. (2005). Infinite Worlds: An Illustrated Voyage to Planets beyond Our Sun. University of California Press.
de Botton, Alain (1997). How Proust Can Change Your Life. New York: Vintage International.
Greene, B. (2011). The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. Knopf.
Petroski, H. (2004). Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering. New York: Vintage Books.
Cairns-Smith, A. G. (1996). Evolving the mind: On the nature of matter and the origin of consciousness. Cambridge University Press.This book traveled all over the place, from quantum mechanics to brain physiology.
DeHaene, Stanislas (2010). Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read. Penguin.
Blackmore, S. (2006). Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human. Oxford University Press.Contains 20 somewhat structured interviews with researchers interested in the phenomenon of consciousness, from philosophers to neuroscientists, from Patricia Churchland to V. S. Ramachandran.
Ramachandran, V. S. (2011). The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human. New York: W. W. Norton.
Bellos, A. (2010). Here’s looking at Euclid: From counting ants to games of chance– An Awe-inspiring journey through the world of numbers. New York: Simon and Shuster.
Smith, John Maynard & Szathmary, Eors (1999). The origins of life: From the birth of life to the origins of language. Oxford University Press.
Sacks, Oliver (2001). Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. Vintage Books.
Levi, Primo (1975). The Periodic Table. Translated from the Italian by Raymond Rosenthal. New York: Schocken Books
Wolf, Maryanne (2008). Proust and the Squid. Harper Perennial.

This one didn’t have as much detail as Stanley DeHaene’s book, but one of her facts really stuck with me: that disadvantaged children may hear up to 23 million fewer words before entering kindergarten then children from other backgrounds. Wow!

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading Aloud, Science, Stories

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/

4 Comments

Filed under Extraordinary people, Stories, Strengths

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.”

Post this article to Twitter

2 Comments

Filed under Extraordinary people, Friendship, Good with the Bad, Relationships, Stories

Memory Cues


Todd Kashdan is a psychology professor, researcher, and author of the new book, Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. When I asked him in an interview what he wanted to explore in the future, he said he’s curious about what keeps some marriages vital and vibrant over the very long haul. He thought he might live long enough to get well past his diamond anniversary (6oth), so what could he learn from people who have kept their marriages good to the end.

Based on my own 28 years of experience being married, I nominate shared memories and frequent strong hugs.

My husband has a much better memory than mine, so he’s the one who can refresh me with stories about what happened when our children were born or what what the food was like when we splurged and ate lunch at the Tour d’Argent in Paris in 1981. I do remember the service there being like something out of a fairy tale — invisible hands anticipating every need.

I attach memories to things, which is why I’m sometimes loath to give them up, even when they are worn out. We have a couch we bought together about 30 years ago — after 18 months of searching through D.C. area furniture stores and sitting on a lot of surfaces that one thought were great and the other thought were either ugly or uncomfortable. We agreed on a Flexsteel model with soft, slightly fuzzy, dark russet upholstery. My husband says to this day that the salesperson said the fabric wasn’t suitable for small children, but I have trouble believing I would have agreed to that. I do remember right after it was delivered, when our old really really ugly couch needing a cinder block to support the middle was hauled away and we both had trouble sitting casually on something so new and pristine. We also felt we were so far apart — our old couch was a bit smaller, so we could each nest on one side and easily stretch out a leg to touch the other.

Since then, our couch has absorbed so many family memories. I lay on my left side on it for the last 3 months of my first pregnancy — doctor’s orders. I rested on it with baby daugher and broken ankle (another story!)

Baby and Broken Ankle on couch

Baby and Broken Ankle on couch

My children made forts and tunnels and castles with the cushions. We all used it as a refuge when ill. During the years when my husband couldn’t sit flat in a chair and we stopped going out to theaters, we clocked many a Saturday night watching a movie and drinking fine wine while sitting on the couch. I learned how to stretch a little further to reach him with my foot. Now the buttons have disappeared inside the cushions and friends complain about how hard it is to get up from it, it sags so much. The fabric has survived 2 children remarkably well, but there a few places that are worn through, even a tear or two. We need a new couch. But what we want is this couch, just 25 years younger.

I have learned not to attach too much importance to objects. I made my wedding dress myself out of cream-colored wool challis that we found in an enormous fabric warehouse in Alexandria Virginia. It held memories too, for example, of the Thanksgiving when I put in what seemed like miles of hem while watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Wedding dress hem

Wedding dress hem

I edged the hem with lace handmade by a friend. But after the wedding, I neglected to have it professionally boxed up, and a few years later found it full of moth holes. At the time, I thought “I hope this doesn’t say anything about our marriage” — and it hasn’t. But now I have only the memory of an object that holds memories…

Shared memories and lots of hugs — and shared curiosity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Marriage, Stories, Uncategorized

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Extraordinary people, Good with the Bad, Movies, Stories

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Contentment, Extraordinary people, Stories