Friday, September 22, 2017

Rex's Journey

Larry and me with Rex a year ago 
My brother Rex turns 65 today.  Five years ago on his 60th we traveled to Olean and helped celebrate that milestone in a pavilion at the same park where we both learned to swim when we were kids.  My mom would have us walk up to the fire hall during the early mornings of summer, and from there we were bussed to the Olean pool just a few miles away.  I don't remember how many summers we took swimming lessons there, but we both became pretty good in the water.  That pool was eventually torn down and replaced with another.  I read that the rec center where the newer pool sits had to be closed this past summer for an overhaul. Just a reminder that time takes a toll on things.

Time has taken a toll on my brother as well.  Diagnosed with Parkinson's a little over 10 years ago, the disease has little by little worn my very active brother down. As time passed, leaving for work extra early in the morning and staying late wasn't enough.  His body was simply refusing to cooperate and he couldn't keep up on the workload.  So three years ago he did what he had tried with all his strength not to do.  He resigned his position and applied for early retirement.

The first year wasn't too bad.  He was still relatively active and able to climb the stairs to his room and shower on his own in the upstairs bathroom. But life is unpredictable and many times cruel.  A stroke right before Easter in the early spring punched him in the gut and knocked him to the ground. They called it a minor stroke, but coupled with the Parkinson's, it drastically changed his life.  A few weeks in a nursing home, trying to get his strength back, was probably the low point for him.  He was eventually released to return home, but life was not the same. The upstairs bedroom had been replaced with a hospital bed off the dining room and the shower was used only on the days when he was strong enough to climb the steps with help.

But neither has life been all bad.  In adversity, good things can happen as well.  A well-timed gift can come out of nowhere.  A long-time St. Bonaventure basketball fan, the university called, offered him season passes and a spot just beyond the court for his wheelchair with a good view so he wouldn't miss a thing.  For years he has been known as the Flag Man, cheering on the international students by waving their flags when they were on the court. The school now in turn expressed their appreciation for what he had meant to them, and they wanted him there. As far as I know, he made all the games, even when he didn't think he could.    

An article on "Flag Man" Rex Marvin,  from the Olean Times Herald in 2007
The two of us didn't always get along growing up.  It had nothing to do with age, we're only eleven and a half months apart.  But our interests and temperaments are pretty different.  Music was my thing, but he'd complain when I'd break out into song on a car trip which I did a lot.  I was the oldest and thus the responsible child and perhaps a bit bossy. He had more of a tendency to get into trouble, like almost burning the garage down when we were kids.  He liked matches and fireworks almost as much as I liked to sing.  But as time passed and we both began to grow beyond ourselves, I began to really like this brother who loved loud noises and Yankees baseball and amusement parks.         

One year minus 13 days between us 
Whereas time wears away at these bodies, it can do the very opposite within the spirit of a person. Perhaps it's more the awareness of the fragility of life as we age, or as we see those that we care about slowly fading before our eyes, that we finally get it.  For me, it was also the example of my sister, a schoolteacher with time off in the summer, who drove up from Maryland and spent two weeks spending time with, caring for and serving her brother during an especially difficult time.  He ended up being admitted to the hospital. 

A couple of days later we were sitting in his room with him. He was frustrated, close to tears, wondering what had caused this sudden spiral downwards, leaving him unable to do anything at all for himself. Just a few days earlier he had been on an upswing, even feeding himself without the uncontrollable shaking that comes with the disease. And now he couldn't even hold a simple utensil that lay beside the supper that sat on his hospital tray.  With that I picked up the silverware and began to feed him, one spoonful at a time, while with each bite I talked to him and encouraged him to continue on the best he could in this journey called Parkinson's.  And when he was finished I held him and prayed over him as he wept on my shoulder.

I hear that Rex is on the upswing once again.  He's getting around better, is feeding himself again, sleeping better and feeling more positive about things.  I'm glad the road's a bit smoother for him right now.  It's a nice place to be and I hope he's there for a long while.  Happy Birthday Rex. Continue on with your journey.  You're doing just fine.  
Rex's birthday present--He can get upstairs on his own!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The No Hum Drum

One of the PVC pipes lying in the grass 

Vacation Bible School was starting in a week and I had pretty much given up on getting the No Hum Drum made for the first night of closing. I was disappointed but couldn't justify paying the sixty plus dollars it was going to cost to purchase the supplies to make the thing. I'd even called one of the other churches using the same program to see if they'd like to help share the cost.  But they didn't think they'd have time to include the No Hum Drum into their evening program.  Oh well, I might just have to let this one go.  

Vacation Bible School is a big deal for our church.  A year after we moved to this area,  I did census work here on the south side of Elmira where we live. One call in particular still stands out.  I was getting ready to knock on the door of a run-down duplex when I heard a long stream of expletives directed at someone on the other side.  A young child answered the door that afternoon and I knew he and a couple of other siblings huddling in the corner of that small living room had to be the targets of an angry mother's tirade. I'd never heard children verbally attacked with such venom and it broke my heart.  I think it was at that moment that I knew we had to do whatever we could to reach as many of those children from our community as we possibly could.  They needed to know that they had value and were loved.  Vacation Bible School became a vehicle for that.

And so for the last several summers we have put everything we possibly could into making that one week in August something that the children would anticipate all year long.  Those working on the sets and props begin several weeks earlier, aiming for what they call the "wow factor."  We've had ships and caves and castles and mountains filling our sanctuary, and there is no greater reward than watching the children's faces fill with awe as they come through the "portal" on that first night.  

And that's why I wanted that No Hum Drum so badly.  Besides it being a truly cool prop, ending the evening on a high note ups the odds that they'll be back for more and hopefully bring some friends with them. But after visiting a couple of hardware stores and calculating the cost, disappointedly I figured I'd have to come up with something else.    
A few years ago our church bought an old building across the street and had it demolished to put in a parking lot.  At the far end of that parking lot there is a grassy area where I take Rudy the dog every morning for a few minutes and sometimes in the evening, a routine that we've been following for at least two years or more.  It was on the Monday morning exactly a week before the start of our VBS that I saw them. Two long pieces of PVC piping were protruding from the grass just a few feet away from where I stood, both the exact length and width that I needed for my No Hum Drum.

When I ran to show Larry what I had found he reminded me that the pipes had been there the entire time.  I knew he was right.  I was aware that there were a couple of dirty PVC pipes lying in the grass close to where Rudy and I walk each morning.  But on this particular day I actually saw them, I mean really saw them.  At first I couldn't quite believe that the very thing I needed to make that prop was right in front of me and had been all along.  But my Father, knowing that I would have need of that very thing in the summer of this year, already had it covered.  It just took me awhile to realize that he had.    

The No Hum Drum got made just in time.  A friend cut one of the pipes into the exact lengths I needed and another was so enthusiastic about the project that he bought the elbows needed to connect it all.  A nice bright paint job finished it off.   And as expected, the No Hum Drum was the perfect ending to that first night of Vacation Bible School.  The kids loved it. And just in case you're wondering exactly what this thing does, just ask anyone who was there. I'm sure they'd be glad to tell you all about it!       

The No Hum Drum finally completed  

Monday, July 17, 2017

When Emmylou Danced

Emmy dancing with her father Mark

Carolyn could hardly contain her excitement when she found out that she was going to have a little girl.  She was already the mother of two sons, but to add a daughter to the mix would make her family just about perfect, complete.

I'll never forget this particular baby shower.  The mother- to- be wanted everything to be just right, perfect. And it was. Beautiful handmade ceramic teddy bears graced each table as centerpieces and a teddy bear cake held a place of honor among the other desserts with blocks of confection framing each letter of her name, Emmylou.  No little girl would ever be more welcomed than this one.

I remember visiting the hospital not too many hours after she was born. I was anxious to get a peek at this little one who had been anticipated with such longing.  She was only hours old and I noticed nothing unusual, only that she looked like a member of the family with her light complexion and reddish blond hair.  But it wasn't terribly long before Carolyn and her husband Mark received the news that there was something not quite right with their new little Emmylou.  In fact, they would soon be confronted with the reality of raising a child with multiple needs who would require constant care, probably for the rest of her life.

Over the next few years this little girl would spend thousands of hours in hospitals,  most specializing specifically in pediatric care for severely ill children.  For a period of time she was experiencing hundreds of seizures a day and Carolyn and Mark would spend days, sometimes weeks, staying at Ronald McDonald Houses and other such facilities, trying to find some kind of help or relief for their little girl. Oftentimes on her own, Carolyn would simply bed down in Emmy's hospital room for several days on end, keeping protective watch over the child that she had longed for and fiercely loves.

Several weeks ago we received an invitation to attend a special event in Emmy's honor on her fourth birthday.  It was entitled Emmylou has met her Prince,  a gathering to celebrate "Emmy's walk down the aisle with her Prince Charming."  So on that Sunday afternoon in early June we drove to the little church where it was to be held.  As we entered the building it struck me that in the same way Carolyn had fussed over every detail in anticipation of her new daughter four years earlier, she had done the same in this place, in another church hall.  But rather than teddy bears, this time the adornments were of those things that a little princess would desire such as butterflies and tea cups and glass slippers. Yes, now all that was needed was a prince.   

Princess Emmylou
Emmylou was dressed in a beautiful blue princess gown with exquisite slippers to match.  All eyes were on her as her God-ordained parents and two brothers stood before all those in attendance and spoke of their love and even more importantly, their never-ending commitment to her. And then as the music began once again,  her father picked her up in his arms, and holding her close, danced with her for several moments, eventually passing her on to her mother who danced with her until the music stopped.  The room was quiet, no doubt moved at the intimacy of that moment, just as I was.        

Emmy dancing with her mother

This was a celebration of a little girl who has lived four very hard years, but in the process has touched the lives of those around her.  I saw it in the tenderness on her brothers' faces and in the arms of her mother and father.  And as difficult as it has been and will continue to be, she has completed this family.  She has in deed found her prince.  He resides in the heart of each of them.   

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Splash Pad

It was late Sunday afternoon and we had just returned home after a full day.  Sundays are usually like that in the life of a pastor and Larry was ready to settle in for the evening and already had the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle spread out on the dining room table.  I'm not into puzzles so Rudy the dog and I decided to take a walk around the park that sits just across the way not far from the parsonage.  

The park was quiet and I noticed the sky was turning a bit darker as I walked the trail.  Rain clouds were slowly rolling in.  But I could also see high plumes of water coming from the splash pad on the other side of the field.  Someone was sticking it out til the last moment.

As I drew closer I heard the voices of children calling my name and then, "Where's Pastor Larry?"  It was the Nichols children,  Sierra, Duane, Jordan and Joyce.  They come to church every week with their grandparents and are some of our favorites.  I explained that he was back at the house working on a puzzle but pulled the cell phone out of my back pocket and dialed. It only rang a couple of times. "The Nichols kids are here at the splash pad.  They're asking about you."  He didn't hesitate, not even for his beloved pastime of puzzle making.  "I'll be right there."  And he hung up.

There are four entrances into the Park and ours is at the farther end from the splash pad.  "What's taking him so long?" one of the boys asked.  It was starting to sprinkle.  I tried calling again but there was no answer this time.   And then they saw him.  He had changed from his dress shirt, tie and slacks into shorts and an Hawaiian-style shirt. And he was barreling as quickly as he could come down the middle of the field.  "Pastor Larry, it's Pastor Larry!"

Somehow he ended in the midst of all four of them on the splash pad as a plume of water shot skyward.  They were delighted.  Pastor Larry had gotten all wet.  For them.  I asked him later as we walked home why he hadn't thought to bring a towel.  Turns out he hadn't really meant to get wet but when he got there, well, that just seemed like the right thing to do.   

Larry with the Nichols kids at the splash pad


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Walking The Park

Rudy getting ready to take me on a walk at the park

There's a park just across the way from the parsonage with a half-mile walking track that the city put in a few years ago.  Rudy the dog takes me for walks over there, and I oblige him as often as I can. There's a large playing field for lacrosse matches on the weekends, a nice playground for the kids, a basketball court and a splash pad that opens when the weather turns warm. Rudy loves it, stopping every ten yards or so to smell the grass and/or to leave his mark, reminding the other canines that frequent the place that this is as much his as it is theirs.

And then there are the other dogs

And then there are those other dogs who from their backyards peer at us and bark for attention through their fenced-in enclosures.  We have our favorites, well at least I do.  Rudy is accustomed to the din by now and pretty much ignores them all.  That is except for Maggie.  She's a pretty little Lhasa Apso who often wears pink bows in her hair and is meticulously groomed.  Her fence is right close to the track and if she's outside, she'll run to greet us in her rather high-pitched squeaky voice. In fact, until I learned her name, that's what she went by, Squeaky.  My other favorite is the big hound dog whose house sits back in the corner beyond a popular shade tree.  He stands on his back legs, his front legs hanging over the fence and bays away.  I think his people call him Cash. And there are the dachshunds, the golden retrievers, the miniature collie, the Labrador retriever and others, most of questionable ancestry. My heart always feels a bit lighter after a lap around the park, especially if the dogs are out, calling out their greetings to both of us as we pass by.

Then there are the flowers.  One section in particular is especially beautiful right now.  The bushes overhang the fence of a property owned for many years by a school teacher.  She's gone now, but I can't help but think of the visual gift she left to that young family who bought her home and to those of us who walk by that section, taking in the beauty and breathing in the fragrance of those blossoms. They naturally call me to reflect on my own life, challenging me to ask myself what kind of gifts I intend to leave behind.     

And there are of course the people.  Sometimes the park is quiet, most likely during a last minute walk around at dusk or before a threatening rain.  But Spring is enticing and the sounds of basketballs on concrete and the familiar squeak of swings is once again sounding across the field of grass.  And there is the familiar question, "Can I pet your dog?" and the reassurance that Rudy is just fine with that.  I've noticed that most people in a park are not in a hurry, that they don't mind striking up a conversation. They're not so guarded or seemingly pressed for time while relaxing on a bench or watching their child go down a slide for the umpteenth time.   Some of my best encounters with neighbors have been at the park, and I try not to miss opportunities to connect with others I might not meet otherwise, even if it's but for a moment.  You just never know where it might lead.

Travis is my part-time neighbor and part-time walking buddy.  He's nine years old, almost ten, and is with his dad on weekends and Tuesdays. He likes the park and likes Rudy.  During our times together we're getting to know each other. He tells me about school and talks about his two dogs and his temperamental cat.  The other day he asked me what kind of movies I like and we talked all the way around the track about that one thing.  "You want to go again?" he asked me. And we did.

The sun has come out after a bit of rain so I think I'll grab Rudy's leash and head to the park.  He's prancing at the door because he knows exactly where we're going.  It's a Tuesday but knowing him, he will barely slow down long enough to let Travis catch up with us while he throws on his jacket. After all, it's the park, his park. And that's just the way it is.  

The park 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Waiting for Cinderella

Making a special memory with my granddaughter Rylee at Cinderella 
Rylee turned six this month so for her birthday I took her to see a performance of Roger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella.  I wanted to make a special memory with her and thought this would be the perfect venue.  I grew up loving musicals.  I didn't go to the movie theater a lot but both times The Sound of Music came to town my mom and I were there.  I bought the piano music and played it so much that eventually I could play and sing the score without hardly even looking at the book. And there were others like Carousel, Oklahoma, The Music Man,  The King and I, State Fair, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof. If it had music and dancing I was hooked.  I loved and knew them all.

Cinderella made its appearance on our small black and white television set in the corner of the living room in 1965.  I don't remember who all watched that night, but I know there were two girls, sisters, who sat entirely transfixed to that screen and dreaded the moment when the credits would roll.  And when they did, my eight-year old sister began to cry.  It was over.  Long before video cassette recorders came along, before instant gratification was part of our vocabulary, it was understood that there would be a long wait before seeing one's favorite movies again. But she had truly loved this one and the thought of waiting an entire year broke her heart.

In the meantime I bought the piano music and would play while Dawn sang along.  And when we knew all the songs by heart, whether it was on a vacation trip or just a short drive up the seven-mile hill to my grandmother's, we would sing them all.  Then each year as our anticipation grew for the next showing, we would count down the days, excitement building. And we would watch as if it were the first time, and afterwards Dawn would cry again at the thought of having to once again wait another year.   

Cinderella would broadcast eight more times, always in February.  I was thirteen years old that first year and in college a thousand miles from home when it finished its long, successful run. I'm sure she watched it every single time.  I wonder if she missed my being with her  those last few years.  I hope so.

Rylee all dressed up for our evening together
So back to Rylee and our evening together.  I had asked the box office for the best seats of those remaining where a little girl of six could best see.  The night wasn't important I told the girl at the window,  so she gave me two for Wednesday night towards the front of the balcony.  We sat the third row back and the seats were perfect.  And as the music played I naturally thought of that sister who lives a good distance away, whom I see so little of and wished she could be a part of all this.  After all, she loves this story as much as I do.

That's why today as I sat to write about her, missing her as I do, I was curious to know a bit more about the Cinderella that connected us all the more deeply as children and as sisters.  When I saw the date of the first broadcast I could hardly believe it:  February 22, 1965, fifty-two years ago to the very day.   

The same date connecting the past with the present 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Gift for Jenny

Jenny was the last of our visits on the Friday before Christmas.  Some of the ladies from the church had prepared baskets for the shut ins and Larry and I had volunteered to drop some off at the nursing home for three of our former members. We didn't have a lot of time so we spent just a few minutes with each of the ladies, long enough to wish them a Merry Christmas and to say a prayer.  Jenny has no connections to our church, but there is never a time that we don't stop, speak to her for a few moments and then pray for her.   We first became somewhat acquainted with her when she was rooming with one of our ladies.  She was difficult and cantankerous back then and probably lonely. So we adopted her, kind of, and always make a point of stopping in, even if just for a moment.  

With the three baskets delivered we made a hasty entrance into Jenny's room.  This would be short.   She was alone, no roommate in sight.  She sat in her wheelchair looking straight ahead and seemed to be having a conversation with someone, herself perhaps.  Larry spoke first.  "Hello Jenny, we came to wish you a Merry Christmas."  She looked up at us as if surprised, not quite registering who we were. I never know if she recognizes us from one visit to the next.  I suspect not.  After the greeting Larry asked if we could pray for her.  I had taken her hand, and holding it gently began to rub it softly.  At the close she made the sign of the cross.  She had told me once that she had been Methodist but I wasn't so sure.   "I felt so peaceful when you prayed for me," she said softly.  Perhaps these visits did mean something to her.

"I wish we'd brought something for Jenny."  I'd felt something while holding her hand and was having trouble holding back the tears.  Larry started up the car.  "We can pick her up something and come back," he said.  I shook my head.  "No, we don't have time."   But as we started back down the highway I still saw that neat little room, completely devoid of Christmas.  A small plaza not too far from the nursing home has a Rite-Aid drug store with a couple of gift aisles and I knew what we needed to do.  Fifteen minutes later we were on our way back to the nursing home.  Time no longer seemed all that important.  

I don't know if she remembered that we had been there not even a half an hour earlier but that wasn't important.  I loosed the cream-colored fleece throw from its packaging.  We had searched the aisles for what we thought would be the perfect gift for her.  The moment I felt the plush softness of the blanket I knew.  This was Jenny's.

She watched me open then spread out the present we had brought her.  "Do you think you could fold it back up for me?" she asked.  I nodded but insisted that first she needed to let me lay it close so she could feel its softness.  I covered her with the throw and she began to run her hands through its folds as Larry opened the card and read to her.  It was time for us to go.  I asked her if she'd like me to fold it for her and lay it on the bed.  "Do you think you could leave it here on my lap for now?"   I tucked it in a bit deeper, glad that we had returned and silently praying that it would bring her a sense of comfort in the loneliness of that room.  

Larry reading Jenny her card as she holds her gift