Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Stories from my life

Adopted

I remember the last time my father blew up at me. He was 80, I was 30 and it was the same tirade that I had heard so many times before during my 30 years. I knew there was no use trying to argue, change the subject or yell back at him. He was not in control of himself at moments like this and any resistance would just aggravate him further. I just waited patiently for the storm to blow itself out.

I had become a Christian two years earlier and when the blast was over I found a quiet place to pray. “Oh God,” I asked, “why couldn’t I have had a better father?”

The answer was immediate: “But you do, you have a perfect father.” I have clung to that ever since.

This is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 8:15: “ For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

My father sank into dementia not long after that, and soon he didn’t even know me. He was 50 when I was born, after all. I really think he meant well, but he simply didn’t know how to cope with starting a family at that age. Our heavenly Father does not have that problem. Even when we stray from Him and suffer the consequences, He does not drive us farther away, but calls us back.

Spring interlude

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I had cataract surgery the day after my last post on this blog (almost two weeks ago). The surgery went smoothly, the eye is recovering as it should and my distance vision is now as good without glasses as it was with glasses before the surgery.

So far so good. Better than good, wonderful. The problem is that after the surgery I couldn’t see well enough to read. My short range vision improved with the surgery, not enough to enable me to read with my naked eyes but enough that my glasses made everything more blurry.

A friend gave me the reading glasses he used after his cataract surgery. They were a step in the right direction, and helped me get some work done.  Last Tuesday I bought a pair that were stronger. Since then I’ve been doing more work, but these glasses distort everything else, giving me a bit of a queasy feeling.

I am very happy with the results of the surgery, but wish I had asked to delay it for at least a month. This is income tax season and I have done a number of personal tax returns since the cataract surgery, plus tried to catch up with my bookkeeping work.

I felt a headache coming on while doing one tax return Monday evening. This was a new client with income from a variety of sources. I had it all sorted out when I began getting error messages from Norton. The solution suggested by Norton was to uninstall the program, download it again and re-install it. I did that, then got a prompt to restart the computer, now or later. I pushed now and then realized that I had not saved the tax return. I think that dumb mistake, not the glasses, was the source of my headache. I guess that’s my reward for trying to work late. It wasn’t that bad, I already had the issues sorted out in my mind and could quickly re-enter the data and have a completed tax return.

The vision problem is also the explanation for why I haven’t been writing. Yesterday I bought reading glasses that have three strengths, one for reading, one for the computer monitor and one for looking at other items on the desk. They are distortion free and I think I am good to go now for the remaining four weeks until I can be tested for new glasses.

Reflections on turning 75

I remember the exact moment when I realized I was edging into the senior ranks. It was in 1992 and I was explaining to a younger friend how things had been when I was a boy. All of a sudden there was a little voice in my head saying, “Wait a minute! What’s going on here? It used to be that only old people talked like that.”

Twenty-five years have gone by since then; there’s no use trying to deny it any longer — I am officially an old codger. Today I am 75. And I am not 75 years young — I am not going to play that game. According to Moses, “ The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” By that reckoning I am five years past my best before date.

I have accumulated a ton of stories and anecdotes and some of them are even interesting to my grandchildren. My hope is that they will remember some of those stories in later years and realize that there are life lessons to be learned from the experiences told by the older folks. Lessons like the following:

The good old days weren’t always that great.
• Does anyone today remember tuberculosis and polio? There were epidemics of those diseases, and many others, when I was young.
• Does anyone remember dust storms that reduced visibility to zero and seeped into the best sealed houses? When I was a boy, most farmers had one piece of tillage equipment, a one-way disc harrow. They used it for seeding and for summerfallowing. The soil dried to a powder that would travel with any breeze. Today’s tillage equipment and farming methods conserve soil moisture and nutrients, making possible crop yields that were unthinkable years ago.
• Volunteer fire departments in small towns did their best, but they were untrained and under equipped. A grocery store in our town caught fire, someone rang the bell on the town hall and soon the volunteers were on the scene with the town’s fire equipment. In their rush to fight the blaze, they got the fire hoses tangled up. By the time they got them untangled it was too late.

New doesn’t always mean better
• Teachers are better trained, schools are bigger and better equipped, the curriculum is constantly being upgraded. Illiteracy rates have exploded, store clerks haven’t a clue how to make change if the computerized till breaks down, and people don’t know what country Ottawa is in.
• Thalidomide was used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. Thousands of babies were born with missing or malformed arms and legs. Thousands more did not survive. Seldane was a marvellous new non-drowsy antihistamine. It caused me to have heart palpitations, a few people died — it is no longer available. My wife was prescribed Vioxx to treat her arthritis. She had heart palpitations while taking the drug; it also is no longer available.
• Time was when most people went to church on Sunday. The Word of God was read, moral principles and respect for others were taught. Of course there were a lot of half-hearted Christians and outright hypocrites in the churches. But has abandoning the churches made our world a better place?

Weather changes
• There is no such thing as normal weather, at least not where I live. When I was five there was a blizzard that closed roads for days and almost buried a passenger train — the town people carried food out to the train until it could be dug out. In the early fifties southern Saskatchewan had summer temperatures up to 105° F and winter temperatures down to -50° F . I don’t believe we have ever experienced those extremes in following years.
• Saskatchewan is more familiar with drought, but in the past five or six years we have had a series of summers with much higher than average rainfall.
• Forty years ago there was a suspicion that the Soviets were using nuclear tests to manipulate our weather and cause unusual storms. There were serious scientific attempts to explain how this could be done. Years of living here have convinced me that every year brings something we haven’t seen before and yet it is all part of the normal weather cycle. There is no need to look for a human cause.

There were frequent nuclear bomb tests in the late fifties when I was in high school. The media kept us informed when the cloud of radioactive dust would pass over our area. One morning Jack Dosko came to school and reported: “ The nuclear fallout passed right above us in the night and this morning I saw little pock marks all over the windshield of Charles Kennedy’s pickup. I wonder what else we will find.” Sixty years have passed and I still see windshields like that. I think it has something to do with our gravel roads.

Let’s not get too excited when we hear scare stories. This too shall pass.

A series of coincidences?

We wanted to have children – and definitely more than one. I was an only child and my wife had been raised as an only child by her aunt and uncle. We didn’t think that was the ideal way to grow up.

We had been married less than a year when another young couple from the church we were attending mentioned that they were planning to adopt. We had never thought of adopting before, but the idea became more and more interesting as we talked about it. We contacted the agency and were invited to take part in a series of evening meetings for those preparing for adoption.

In my mind, adoption was about finding a child who would match the parents who wanted to adopt. I was wrong. We were told that it is natural for children in a family to differ considerably in looks and personalities. We were also told that the less we knew about the background of a child the better things would work. If we know too much about the personalities of parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, we would look for signs of that in the adoptive child. “This is your child,” we were told.

We have seen the wisdom of that in later years. Some mothers knew way too much about the background of their adoptive children and never tired of talking about it.  I could see in the eyes of the children that it was not healthy to hear constant reminders that they were misfits in this family. That was never the mother’s intention, of course, but it had that effect.

After the series of meetings, we were given the application form to complete. Most of it was straightforward questions about ourselves and our ability to provide for a child. But one question gave us pause. “Are you willing to accept a child of another race?” Several options were given, other races, mixed-race, pure white, no preference. We talked about it, prayed about it, and the only thing that felt right was to check the no preference box.

The application was accepted, a social worker came to visit our home, we began to gather the things we would need, thinking we had lots of time to get ready.  We never guessed that checking the no preference box moved us to the top of the waiting list. A call came just two weeks after the home visit saying that a baby girl was available.

We drove to the city where the agency office was located, were led into a private room and soon left alone with a 15-day old girl. She slept, we looked at her, took turns holding her, and when the worker came back she would have had to pry that baby away from us.

We signed some more papers and drove home with the baby sleeping peacefully on the seat between us. This was long before child car seats; cars back then didn’t even have seatbelts for the adults. Cars had bench seats, not bucket seats. We used a clothes hamper, they were smaller then than they are now, put a blanket on the bottom for a cushion, placed the baby on top of that, another blanket on top, and drove home.

That was almost 45 years ago. We never had any other children. Our daughter had an advantage that we did not have – we were part of a close-knit church family with many other children her age.I’m sure the influence of her friends’ parents had a tremendous impact on her becoming the fine young woman that she became.

Now, we don’t just have a daughter, we also have a fine Christian son-in-law and four wonderful grandchildren. Was it all a series of coincidences, chance happenings and pure dumb luck? I don’t believe that. I believe God was there every step of the way, opening doors and nudging us toward them.

Summer hibernation

Two weeks ago, we still occasionally ran the air conditioner to make the house comfortable. Now we use heaters in the morning to make it comfortable. We haven’t seen hummingbirds at our feeder for four days now. Blackbirds are gathering by the hundreds, sometimes perched all along the wires of the power lines. We hear a few sandhill cranes in the air as they fly down from their northern breeding areas. Combines can be heard from the grain fields all around us. The signs of the changing season are all around us.

Yet we are facing the coming of fall with more enthusiasm than we have for many years. You see, my wife had her last chemotherapy treatment just two days ago. Now the recovery can begin. The doctors have told us her leukemia has been beaten back, there are no remaining symptoms. All that remains is to recover from the drugs.

We went to Boston Pizza for dinner after her last treatment on Thursday, before the drugs began to distort her taste. She will have a few days of weariness, maybe a couple of weeks when things don’t taste right, some inflammation of the blood veins where the drugs were administered, plus the hidden danger of a weakened immune system.

Nevertheless, her energy level has increased towards the end of the last two cycles of treatment. She was going for two days of treatment at four-week intervals. She never felt seriously ill after the treatments, but the first two weeks after the treatments she did not have a lot of energy. Then the energy and enthusiasm would begin to increase up to the time of the next two days of treatments. Now there are no next treatments ahead of us.

It feels like we have spent spring and summer in hibernation. Now that fall and winter are ahead of us, we can wake up and learn to enjoy life once more. Rejoice with us!

Two shall become one

– But it’s easier said than done.

On Sunday, before God and 500 witnesses in our country church, a young man and a young woman said their vows, joined hands and were declared husband and wife. Our little church could not possibly hold 500 people, even with chairs in the aisles and all the way back to the doors. The rest of us sat outside in a large tent where we could peer at the open doors and get a small idea of what was going on inside. There was a speaker in the tent and the sound quality was excellent, except when it cut out for short periods of time for no discernible reason.  No matter, they are now married and embarked on a whole new adventure in life.

Marriage has unexpected consequences. It shows up things in our spouse, and ourself, that we were not aware of before. My wife found that the cool, laid back guy she married was pretty much a slob around the house. Dirty clothes were left wherever they landed when they came off. That was no problem in my single days, I would just sweep through the house on laundry day, gather them all up, sort them and wash them. That wasn’t so cool when there were two people in the house. As a bachelor, washing dishes was a once a week event. I had just enough dishes that there was no need to do it more often.

On the other hand, it seemed to me that when we planned to go somewhere my wife would start to get ready about the time I wanted to walk out the door. Then I would find something else to do while she was getting ready and when she was all set, she had to wait on me to do some last minute thing.

Before we married, we were both independent, with our own way of doing things. We found that it can’t be business as usual when two people are trying to build a life together. Things have to change. And change is not something that happens smoothly, naturally and effortlessly, even if you are very much in love. Sooner or later, you fall back into the old routine. How soon that happens often comes as a shock to your spouse.

We each had our mental picture of what our ideal wife or husband would be like. So when we found that the person we married didn’t really match that picture, we set about to help them change to better match our ideal. That is not the recipe for a peaceful and happy home. It took a long, long time, but eventually it dawned on me that the only person I could ever hope to change was myself.

Sometimes we learn from a bad example. At meal time during my childhood I occasionally heard my father say: “That doesn’t taste like mother used to make it.” I resolved that when I got married I would never say that.

Little by little, I have learned some of the things that my parents never taught me and I never heard in the churches I attended in my youth. There were things the preacher said at the wedding on Sunday that I wish I could have heard before I got married. But we were in a totally different setting; neither of us came from a home where we had the example this young couple had in their homes. Yet our marriage has survived for 46 years and we have the joy of being grandparents. There is so much joy that we would have forfeited if we had thrown in the towel during the rough spots.

 

Scrambled thoughts on a Monday morning

I woke up some time after 7:00 am and found I was alone in bed. I wondered how long that had been. Through the closed bedroom door I could hear the muffled sound of the washing machine. What was that about? I thought she did all the laundry on Saturday.

After stumbling around groggily for a few minutes, I made my way to the computer and chequed our bank account. Since this is the third last banking day of the month I expected to find that our pensions had been deposited, and yes, they were. I took the next few minutes to spend half the money on bill payments.

Then my wife explained the reason for using the washing machine. She had been washing last night’s dishes at the kitchen sink when she discovered water running out of the cabinet on to the floor. It took a lot of towels to sop up the water and clean up. Then the towels had to be washed. The kitchen tap has a pull out faucet and the connection to the flexible hose had worked loose. It was no big deal to tighten it up again and stop it from leaking. The effects of the loose connection had been a big deal.

Then I weighed myself and found that I had gained five pounds. When I stepped off the scale, though, it did not return to zero. I adjusted the scale back to zero with nothing on it and then I was back to my normal weight. That was better, but still a long way from being good news – my normal weight is 50 pounds, or 25 kg, more than it should be. I feel it in my knees. Yes I’m getting older, but that’s not the whole problem; I’m sure my knees would complain less if they didn’t have to lift that extra weight.

A few years ago I took our badly overweight Panda to the vet for her annual shots. The vet explained to me that dry cat food is far from ideal for cats. Canned cat food contains all the essential nutrients for a cat, is easier to digest, and contains more liquid, causing a cat to feel full sooner than with dry cat food. Since then we have been feeding our cats canned cat food twice a day, plus making dry cat food available to them. Panda has lost 2 kg and is more active and agile at the age of fourteen than she was a few years ago. I’m not going to try her diet, but I have noticed that most weight loss plans ask you to drink lots of water. Maybe there is something in that for me.

I tend to put on weight in the winter when I don’t get outside much. For years I have experimented with different exercise devices and none of them seemed to offer what I needed, nor were they very appealing to use. Then someone suggested a rebounder (mini-trampoline). My daughter has one and she wasn’t using it, so I borrowed it to try out before I decided to spend any money. I have been using it daily, aiming to increase my time to fifteen minutes a day. I have a hiatus hernia and have to be careful not to do anything that would make it flare up and cause me pain in ordinary activities. Last night I came across a recommendation to bounce on the rebounder three times a day, five minutes at a time. That sounds like something I can do.

So now I have done my morning five minutes, cleared the cobwebs from my brain and it’s time to start work.

A new cruiser for the information highway

owl-158414My wife has been in need of a new computer for some time, hers was still running Windows XP. She has been receiving warnings about XP’s obsolescence for several years, but it continued to work. More or less, anyway. Now it seemed the time had come to replace the old clunker.

So we went around kicking tires at computer shops and found what we wanted at the shop closest to home. A little shop in a little town (pop. 2,200) not too far from us. They had a number of gently used computers, in good shape and with all the accessories we needed (especially Windows 10). For a modest sum they would transfer data, install programs and send it home ready to go. At least the sum seems modest if you average it out over its expected five year life span – then its only a few dollars a month.

We had to do a little more set up at home, like getting it to recognize our printer. Apparently a five year old printer is too old for a newer computer to recognize. By now the new jalopy is running smoothly, and a little faster than her old one.

On her old computer, she was using a pair of speakers that I bought at Dollarama. The sound quality was excellent and they had an on-off switch and a volume control. The new computer will not recognize those speakers, but it does have an internal speaker that is a lot better than most.

I bought the computer I am using a few years ago from a national office supplies retailer. I don’t think I’ll do that again. They are just too big, with too many people involved. The person who sold me the computer was not the one who set it up for me and that technician wasn’t available when I went to pick up my computer. I found that I had to transfer data and install programs myself. It would have been too much hassle to keep hauling the computer back and forth to the city. With a small town shop you always know who you are dealing with. And who to complain to if something isn’t right. I think that makes them feel a lot more accountable to the customer.

I told the young Nigerian lady at work that we had replaced my wife’s computer because it was still running Windows XP. “XP!” she said, “that’s what I used in junior high!” Let’s see now, XP first came out in the fall of 2001, and this lady is, well I’m not going to say but it sounds about right that XP would have come out just before she started junior high. So Nigeria was right up to date and my wife was using this ancient version until the day before yesterday. Nevertheless XP was pretty much problem free, which is more than can be said for most Windows versions between XP and 10.

Moose Jaw Memories

I was seven years old when I got my first train ride. It was back in 1949 and my mother and I boarded the train in early morning for the hour long ride into Moose Jaw. When we arrived in the city, the conductor held out his hand to help my mother and me down the steps from the passenger car. I looked across the many rows of tracks between us and the big railway station and wondered how we were supposed to walk across those tracks when there were other trains coming in the distance. My mother told me to just follow the other passengers; we walked along the concrete walk to a set of steps leading down to a tunnel under the tracks. When we came up the steps in the railway station, the first thing that caught my eye was a large sign giving departure and arrival times, topped by a clock and saying at the bottom “Welcome to Moose Jaw, population 27,000.”

I don’t remember the reason for our trip; it was probably to see a doctor or a dentist, though I am sure a visit to the dentist would have instilled a vivid memory. My father was partial to Doctor Fraser Muirhead, a true frontier dentist who did not believe in using any kind of pain relief and could be heard from the waiting room shouting at the unfortunate children who could not hold still for him to work on their teeth. There was a time when I was the child in his chair and he threatened to strap me in. It took me years to overcome my fear of dentists.

Moose Jaw had been a boom town in the early days, as evidenced by the impressive buildings that lined Main Street. The Canadian Pacific Railway was built in the 1870’s to connect the prairies and British Columbia to the rest of Canada. Moose Jaw became a hub for the construction and later for the maintenance of the CPR. Branch lines fanned out in all directions, including the Soo Line Railroad, owned by the CPR, that ran from Moose Jaw all the way to Chicago. A huge tent city appeared during construction, soon replaced by sturdy brick structures. Moose Jaw became the business centre for farm families from a large part of southwest Saskatchewan. There was a flour mill, meat packing plants, lumber yards, feed mills and everything else needed in the rural economy. There were also grocery and hardware wholesalers, supplying merchants in smaller communities.

Two hospitals were built in the early years, I was born in one of them in 1942, went back five years later to have my tonsils removed. The department stores were Eaton’s, Joyner’s and Army and Navy.

Joyner’s Department Store carried clothing and shoes for the whole family. Shopping there was an unforgettable experience for a youngster. There were no cash registers to be seen, just cables humming overhead in their endless run between pulleys, connecting each area of the store to a cashier on the mezzanine level. When you bought something, the clerk would write out the bill of sale, take your money, place both in a little metal box, then reach up and attach the box to one of those cables. The box would go zipping up to the cashier and soon come back with your change and the bill stamped paid.

The Army and Navy Discount Store sold most everything, clothing, hardware, housewares, paint, toys, fabrics, on three levels. There was a marvellous modern device in their shoe department that looked something like an old platform scale. You could try on a pair of shoes, step on the platform with the toes of your shoes under the working part of this machine, then look in the top and see how the bones of your toes fit inside the shoes. This was long before anyone was aware of the dangers of too much x-ray exposure.

Eaton’s was bigger yet, carried a wider range of merchandise, more up to date, including furniture and appliances. Of special interest to me was the watch maker in a little office on the landing between the main floor and the upper level. One time I went to him with a watch that had a badly scratched crystal. It only took a minute or two for him to find the right size, pop the old one out and the new one in. The best part was that he didn’t charge me anything!

A large part of the workforce hired to build the railroad were Chinese men. Many of them made Moose Jaw their home after the railroad was built. Circumstances were difficult for them for many years, they were not allowed to bring their wives over and new immigration from China was forbidden. Still, they carved out a place for themselves in the Moose Jaw business community. George Wong, owner of the Exchange Café and “Scotty” Kwan, owner of Kwan’s Music were pillars of the community in the era that I remember.

For many years there was a thriving Jewish community. Many may not have been much in the public eye, but I remember the two Cohen’s Drug Stores, in opposite corners of the city, Harvey Stein’s Globe News and Schwartz’s news stand, run by Hymie and Bennie Schwartz. Now the drug stores, the newspaper vendors and the synagogue are all gone.

We probably had dinner at the Exchange Café or one of the other Chinese restaurants downtown. When our appointments and shopping were all done, my mother and I walked into the offices of CHAB, the radio station listened to by most people for miles around. We were shown into a room with seating all around the four walls. Just about every seat was filled with people on the same mission as my mother. I think it was around four o’clock when a radio announcer stepped in with a microphone is his hand and made his way around the room. When my mother’s turn came, she spoke into the mike “This is Agnes Goodnough from the Bishopric area. Tell Walter that we will be home on the six o’clock train.” This was an invaluable public service in the days when long distance phone calls, especially from a pay phone, were horribly expensive.

I don’t remember the train ride home, I wouldn’t be surprised if I slept the whole way, tired from an early morning and hours spent walking the streets and through the stores of the city. Sixty-seven years have passed, Joyner’s. Army & Navy and Eaton’s have all closed. So have the wholesalers, the flour mill and the meat packing plants.  You can’t get there by train anymore. The population now stands at 35,000. For years now, the city has tried to re-invent itself as a tourist destination, capitalizing on its history.

My wife and I both have family in Moose Jaw, our parents are buried there. For us, it is the family connection and family history that keep drawing us to visit Moose Jaw.

 

The sound of not so distant thunder

We are into the gloriously long days of a Saskatchewan summer, where the sun rises before 5:00 a.m. and doesn’t set until 9:30 p.m. Since we live on the flat, open prairie we have an extra three quarters of an hour of full daylight before sunrise and the same after sunset, giving us 18 hours of daylight. All living things thrive in a Saskatchewan summer – providing we get enough rain.

There has been sufficient rainfall this year, but not an abundance. It was time that a good shower would be refreshing, and the forecast has been promising rain for today. Earlier in the week there was mention of 30 – 45 mm. As the week went on that number diminished to 10 – 15. That would still have kept everything growthie and green, but we would have been hoping there would soon be another shower.

There were dark clouds rolling in this morning, with faint rumbles of distant thunder. At 9:00 the skies opened up and down came heavy rain, accompanied at first by pea-size hail. That first shower didn’t last long, but brought over 10 mm of rain. Some of my wife’s flowers look a little bedraggled from the hail, but no major damage was done and I expect they will look fine in a day or two.

The thunder and rain continued off and on for the remainder of the day. At one point, I was sitting here by the computer and I heard the snap of an electrical arc in the office, followed immediately by thunder outside. My wife was in the kitchen and heard the same sound in the living room, accompanied by a flash of light. Everything appears to be all right, but that is the closest we have been to a lightning strike for many years. We have had 23 mm so far and there may be a little yet to come.

Here on the flatlands we take the rain as it comes. God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. Sometimes we all have too much, sometimes not enough. People from elsewhere, and we have lived in many other places, may think this a harsh and barren land. Yet it is bursting with life, plant life, bird life, wildlife and human life.

On a different note, my wife and I began hearing the distant thunder of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia a few years ago. As time passed it became louder and louder. Chris began taking chemotherapy treatments a few months ago and two days ago the oncologist told us that she is now basically cancer free. The drugs have beaten the disease into remission.

Nevertheless, they want to continue the chemotherapy for three more rounds. The doctor explained it to us this way. If one in ten thousand of her white cells is a leukemia cell she will be well for a year or so. If they continue the treatments and knock that down to one cancer cell in a million she should have five or more years of good health.

Chris still has those remaining treatments to face, but she is feeling more energetic already and the threatening thunder of CLL has faded into the distance. You can read her side of the story here:  The ups and downs of life

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