Oh the tales I could tell…

I recently had the privilege of helping my 93-year-old in-laws move back into the home they built 70 years ago on the mission field in Haiti.

WIMG_0087.jpge had fun hanging beloved paintings and photographs back where they once had been displayed for so many to see. Putting the recliner next to the fireplace brought back memories of my father-in-law’s father sitting there every day during his last years. My little boys would rush into the room to tell their great-grandfather about their day and listen to his stories of his very adventurous life.

But the real flow of memories for me came when my mother-in-law, Eleanor, threw a box of old papers into the fireplace, the centerpiece of the room.

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I’d seen her do it so many times. On this day, as she placed the old papers in the fireplace, years of memories came flooding back. I couldn’t help but see that old fireplace sitting in all its grandeur in the center of the room, remembering it all, too. Quietly breathing, “Oh the tales I could tell.”

When I mentioned these thoughts to my mother-in-law, she sat down on the little stool that she’d used for so many years to feel the warmth and began reminiscing with me. Her first thoughts were of the Christmases, too many now to count, when each year, in the early morning, she would make a fire to warm the chilly air and then she and her husband, Wallace, would invite the neighborhood of peasant farmers and believers into the living room for warm cocoa and a piece of sweet. They would read the Bible verses about the first Christmas, sing carols together, and pray together. Eleanor always made sure she had a little package for each. Something to take home and share. In the beginning, there were 5, then 10, and soon, 25, 50, until the room was swollen with more than could be counted. A testimony of a life lived for Him, of a loved shared with all.

In addition to providing warmth, the fireplace served as the mountain version of today’s paper shredder. Old receipts, letters answered, bills paid all made their way to that opening in the middle of the room. In addition, it had witnessed elegant teas between missionary and president, a cup of soup between peasant farmer and friend, children and later grandchildren tossing papers into its belly with the grandmother’s words, Careful, not too much at once, being heard in the background.

As I gazed at the magnificent stone hearth, those images of Eleanor, in the early morning light or in the hours at the end of a busy day, stoking the fireplace came to mind. Many of those papers being tossed into the fire were of no consequence. They were just a source of fuel. But so many carried with them the messages of life. The letter from an old friend, reconnecting again; the almost illegible note from a young mother desperate for medicine for her sick child; a cheerful postcard from afar; a promise for project funding; the extra funeral programs from a buried son; an announcement of the birth of a grandchild.

I sat with deep gratitude, that God provided another chance for me to sit here with my mother-in-law, as though we were stopped in time. I felt with deep thankfulness that she was home, home with her memories, the ordinary ones, the good ones, the great ones, the painful ones, all the ones that make up one’s life story. She was here to stoke the fireplace again. And oh the stories it could tell.

Raising a Daughter

On this day, in 1981, I sat in my hospital room holding our newborn baby girl.

Flashback to 1973, I sat in the same hospital holding our firstborn, a son. In 1974, I was, once again, in the same hospital, holding my second-born, another son. I’d had eight years with my boys. I felt pretty good about figuring out how to raise boys. They climbed trees, played with trucks, fought over whose truck was whose, and were becoming Lego engineers.

Back to 1981. Still the days when you didn’t know if you were having a boy or girl. I’d prepared myself for another boy and looked forward to his brothers being big brothers, teaching him as they learned. But inwardly, I wanted a little girl, a little girl with a freckled face, ponytails and adorable smocked dresses.

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So here I was, holding my sweet daughter and wondering “Was I prepared to do this?” How is raising a girl different than a boy? I reflected on the women in my life and what it meant to be a girl. My maternal grandmother was fired mid-year from her teaching job that she loved because she married. My paternal grandmother spent life during depression years keeping house, which meant sewing for the family, creative cooking with ingredients at hand, thinking up games to play for recreation that didn’t cost money, and packing up and moving when a cheaper place came along, even if it was just down the block.

My own mother quit work when she became a mom. As well as being a top-notch admin to very important people, she was a talented pianist and could have had a career before her. But she chose to stay home. She cared for my five-year-old sister for a year, bed-ridden because of rheumatic fever, all the while taking care of me during my terrible twos.

My husband insisted on naming this precious daughter of ours, Elizabeth Jane, after me, Betty Jane, saying “We shouldn’t name her Betty because girls aren’t Juniors, so we’ll name her Elizabeth, after you.” My namesake. Did I, would I merit such a namesake? And how do you raise a daughter in the 80s? When I was growing up, I had a stint wanting to be a veterinarian, then a doctor (blame Dr. Kildare), but I always knew I wanted to be a wife and mom first. I wasn’t the most progressive female of the 80s. I didn’t burn my bra in the 70s, and when it became popular to dismiss MRS. for MS., I was offended.

Times were changing. Could I keep up? Would I limit my daughter’s potential? Could I teach her t30004.jpghat she could change the world if she wanted? Would she learn that she could be feminine and smart? Would she learn that she could be and could do just about anything she set her mind to?

Elizabeth Jane, my real life Holly Hobby, was my freckled-faced, ponytailed cuddly little girl in 30257.jpgpretty smocked dresses. She was also, my tomboy who kept up with her brothers and was determined that if they could do it, she could, too. (To this day, pity the person who tells her she can’t do it because she’s a girl!)

 

She grew up to be my daughter who went to college and earned her master’s degree. She grew up determined to speak up and try to change the wrongs that crossed her path. She grew up recognizing31255.jpg life wasn’t always fair and that being a girl didn’t mean she was less qualified to handle whatever came her way. And yes, she grew up knowing she could be smart AND feminine. She grew up thinking (maybe knowing is a better word) that she could be and become whoever she wanted. She grew up.

Today, she juggles several careers. Among them, she’s a publisher, an award winning author, a gifted editor, she’s a restauranteur with her husband, Roberto. She’s a mom to Daniela, a mentor to Noely, a farmer, a homemaker. And she’s mine.

Did she become the lovely and caring person she is today because of me or in spite of me? I’d like to think some of both. Today, I am proud of who she has become. Today, I am thankful to call her my friend. Today, I rejoice that God smiled upon me and entrusted me with my very own little girl. Today, I celebrate her!

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Another Woman not to be Forgotten

Today would have been the earthly birthday of my best friend, mentor, confidant, and sister in Christ, Joan. It’s been almost 6 years since she left us for her forever home. And I’ve missed her every single day. And I am sure that I am only one of oh so many who remember, miss, and think of her every single day. She had that kind of impact.

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The last birthday we were able to share together.

Joan’s first love was her love for Jesus. (I was once asked in a woman’s Bible study what it meant to be more like Jesus. My first thought, though not what I answered, was ” be more like Joan.”)

Joan’s second love was her love for children. She dedicated her life to reaching and teaching children. From back porch schooling, to teaching first grade and eventually becoming principal, to working with a Haiti mission and creating elementary curriculum, she lived and breathed children and their families. She named the curriculum, Mwen Kapab – creole for I Can.

Her life resonated I Can. And if she were here now and could add to this, she would say, I Can do all things through Christ. She touched the lives of all who came into contact with her. She was giving, caring, forgiving. But she also had a certain tenacity to hold on to what was right. She would hold you accountable if she saw you getting de-railed or going the wrong direction and pray with you and for you. She was always caring and never judgmental.

And oh, did she know how to laugh. What fun we had together. What stories we told over and over again. And laugh at herself, too. She was the most prideless, selfless person I’ve known.

Heaven will be fuller, thanks to this lady and her life. Happy birthday, dear friend. Know that your life counted – counted double – for the lives you touched and changed. You continue to be loved and missed. (And don’t forget, you promised to save me a seat.)

 

International Women’s Day

It seems like everyday is some sort of recognition day from “National Donut Day” to “National Pickle Day.” One can grow weary trying to keep up. But yesterday was International Women’s Day.  This is one day that merits reflection and remembering. As I read some of the numerous social media posts giving tribute to women – from international heroes to grandmothers, moms and daughters, I reflected on the women in my life who helped shape, influence, and make me the woman that I am today. I’ve decided to take a few posts to share some of what came to mind.

I  guess it’s no surprise that the first woman to come to mind was my mother, Jean Ruth Weil Brune. After all, she’s the first woman I had any sort of relationship with. My mother came from a  rural setting in Indiana. She was very talented. Besides being a state archery champion in high school, she was musically gifted. She could both play the piano by reading music and by ear. She won a scholarship to Marion College to study music. But this was WWII times, and she soon found herself a secretary to a general at Wright Patterson Field in Ohio, where she met and married my father.

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 4.34.06 PMWhen I was growing up, my mom was, well, just my mom. She loved me: She cooked, she cleaned, she chauffeured, and she made my scrapes and cuts feel better. She could be counted on for just about anything. I remember coming home from school – I think 3rd grade – so excited that there was going to be girl scout group forming. My mother seemed to share in my excitement. She asked who the leader was, and I simply answered with, “You.” And that’s how our girl scout group was formed.

It’s not until I was grown and had children that I began to understand and appreciate my mother. Loved her, of course, but put together the bits and pieces of how she created a world where I felt safe, cared for, and loved? No, that came later in my life.

I look back now on some of my favorite memories. One especially hot summer day, my mother surprised us by telling my sister and me that we were going Dairy Queen. We walked the few blocks there. She ordered three small cones. The lady serving asked if we wanted the cones dipped in chocolate. We all thought that sounded absolutely marvelous. Eating the deliciously cool, creamy vanilla, chewy chocolate, crunchy cone on the way home is a precious memory. It wasn’t until I was grown that I learned the whole story.

My mother had managed to save an extra nickel (the cost of one ice cream cone) each week for three weeks. When she had three nickels we took our walk. And it was only after the cones had been dipped in chocolate that she learned that it costs an extra 2¢ a cone for chocolate dip; six pennies she didn’t have. She recounted to me how embarrassed she was and how kind the lady was to let us have our cones.

My dad’s job often had him on the road during the week. I remembered several times when my mother would tell us that, “Daddy’s gone this week, so we’ll have Lobscotch.” (My dad didn’t care for Lobscotch, so we’d eat it when he was out of town.) We’d get all excited and couldn’t wait until Wednesday when we’d get Lobscotch. Later, I realized that she turned what was an economical meal of ground beef and potatoes into a great expectation and delight.

My mother always cut her own hair because she never liked how others did it. She sewed her own clothes so she could have the colors and patterns she liked. She cooked at home because the spices and flavors were more to her liking. She didn’t belong to ladies groups or go to teas or luncheons. I understand now that she was saving, so my sister and I could have an ice cream cone, or buy a girl scout uniform, or have a college fund.

1970 WB Wedding 148When I married, I wanted my mother to make my wedding dress. Of course, she said yes. She sent me out to buy a pattern. I couldn’t find a pattern I liked, so I bought four of them; sleeves like this one, this bodice, a train like this one, long skirt like this. I never questioned that she couldn’t or wouldn’t make my perfect dress. She simply rounded up some newsprint paper to make her own pattern from all my pieces.

My mother left this life all too soon. She was 57 when she died. She wasn’t a famous International Woman. She wasn’t a famous musician, or business woman, she wasn’t known outside her small circle of friends and family. She was a wife and mother, who did what wives and mothers do. She created a world where I was safe, cared for, loved, and happy. She went without so I could have. She stood strong and didn’t waver. She was my mom, just my mom, and so very worthy of recognition.

 

 

 

Gone but not Forgotten

I grew up in a very patriotic family. We respected and flew the flag. We thanked those who served in the military and regarded them as heroes. My dad was my personal hero.

After graduating high school in 1938, he worked for a little over three years as a cashier for the Brooklyn Trust Co. (The beginning of a career in banking, no doubt.) May 15, 1942 he enlisted to serve his country.

Roy Brune 1944

He deployed with the 12th Air Force and spent 23 months abroad between Italy, England, and Tunisia. On his return, he was sent to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, where he met my mother. She was working as a secretary for one of the base generals. They had a whirlwind romance, marrying just weeks after they began dating. It was a simple wedding. In 1945, he left the service to begin a career in banking.

 

My dad spent most of his adult life as a bank examiner for the FDIC. He was honest, reliable, true to his word, and funny. And he was patriotic. He never forgot his time in the service. He never forgot to be thankful for those who served. He taught my sister and me the values of the great country we lived in. He helped us understand that freedom isn’t free, that many sacrifice, so that the rest of us can be free to worship, free to disagree, free to speak our minds. My dad is gone. But oh what memories I have. One of my favorite memories is Tuesday nights when he and I would take our seats on the couch and watch Combat! together. Just the two of us. During commercials he would sometimes remember his buddies or share a story of what being a soldier was like.

I had another relative who also served, my Uncle David. He was around 20 when he enlisted. His time in service was not as kind to him as it was to my dad. By the time I was old enough to know my Uncle David, he had suffered a mental breakdown. I heard family members say he wasn’t the same after the war. He lived with my grandparents and would check himself in and out of the VA hospital when he felt the need. But on his good days, he was loving, kind and fun. My cousins and I loved our Uncle David. He’d laugh with us and make up silly jokes. He had a big reclining chair. One day, we found a couple of quarters under the chair. When we tried to give them back, he refused, saying they must have fallen out of his pockets and then added, “Finders keepers.” At each visit, there seemed to be more and more quarters. I remember thinking that surely he could remember to take them out of his pockets

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My parents on their wedding day with a young David.

before sitting. Only later, as I looked back did I realize that the sweet smile we’d see when we found his quarters was because he was adding to his pockets before sitting.

When I was in my thirties, I visited my Uncle David. His parents were gone and he was now able to live mostly on his own. He brought up the war in conversation. He was thankful for the VA caretakers for the times he needed them. But surprising to me, he was thankful to be called a veteran. He was proud of his service and he hoped he’d made a difference.

Today, my son is in active service, a colonel in the Air Force. His grandfather and great uncle would be proud. His mom is definitely proud.

In this season to honor our veterans and to be thankful, I am thankful that my dad was part of the greatest generation. I am thankful that Uncle David could find his own peace in serving and that he sacrificed life, as he had known it, for others. I am thankful for my son, not yet a veteran, who serves selflessly and for his family who supports him and serves along side him.

And I am thankful that I live in a great nation, where I am the beneficiary of those who went before and those who carry on. Continue reading “Gone but not Forgotten”

Taken for Granted

When researching a new children’s book or when digging into our genealogy records, I often think about those who came before us and the quality of their lives.

We (or at least I) get up each day and presume certain things to be true: If I get a toothache, I can go to the dentist; a pill will cure my headache; my eyesight can be corrected; I have access to fruits and vegetables to keep me healthy. The list could go on and on. Having looked back into the past, I’ve gained a new appreciation for those things that we take for granted.

Our ancestors – my husband’s and mine and yours – lived a much different life. Surgery with anesthesia didn’t take place until 1842. Rabies and anthrax vaccines came along in the very late 1800s. And it wasn’t until 1906 that it was identified that vitamins existed and the lack thereof caused scurvy and rickets. Pain and disease with no hope of a cure were an everyday part of life. Eyesight wasn’t corrected, those aged knees (which no doubt were strained far beyond my achy knees) were crippled and painful.

Generations lived, worked, and sacrificed for a better life for their children and their children’s children and eventually us and our children and our children’s… You get the point. But we forget. I recently talked to some middle school to high school age kids and asked them the names of their great-grandparents. They didn’t know. But what was very sad in several cases, neither did their parents. I wasn’t asking for the names of the g-g-g-g-grandparents from hundreds of years ago. Just two generations back, that’s all. It’s already forgotten.

We live in a now age. A hectic, technological time. We take things for granted. Not only do we expect the pill to cure our headaches, but we are lost if we have no power to recharge all our toys or if we drive through an area without a cell phone signal.

I see an importance to knowing a little, just a little of what might have gone on before that brought us to this place in life. To my children, no, I didn’t walk to school barefoot uphill both ways in the snow. (I did walk two miles to third grade in rural Wisconsin, often in knee-deep snow, to a two-room school with grades 1-3 in one room. But I was well dressed for it, had a hot thermos of soup for when I arrived, it was my choice, and any day I wanted my mother would have driven me.)

What I do think is important is to recognize that generations came before us and worked through pain, sickness, and difficulty, so that we might be in a better place today. It’s important. It’s called Appreciation. Gratitude. Recognition. Thankfulness. It makes our lives fuller and richer. And it helps us not to take for granted our everyday luxuries. It makes us appreciate more the things our parents and their parents did without so that we could have.

And for me, being a Christian believer, it helps me to understand Christ’s actions for me. His sacrifices that brought me to a better place.

It all makes me thankful when I swallow my Advil for those achy knees.

Nanny – Living in the Present

Agnes and George Victor Brune-2.jpgI find that doing genealogy research can sometimes lead to the loveliest of discoveries. (And, sometimes to those you wish you hadn’t uncovered – like did you know your mother was married for one day before she married your father kind of discovery- another story for another day.) This is one of the lovely discoveries.

The photo is my Nanny, my father’s mother, and my father’s father whom we called Pops. Nanny ALWAYS looked like this. Pearl earrings, nice dress, stockings, nice shoes, and ALWAYS that smile. What this photo doesn’t tell you is that Pops who is lovingly gazing back, wasn’t well, had not been well for many years. My only memory of him is sitting in his chair, rocking back and forth. Yet, with never a complaint, each new day saw Pops in his freshly ironed white shirt and Sunday pants and Nanny smiling as she took care of every need.

Nanny was fun! She joked and laughed, played games, loved to hear our stories. To my knowledge, she was never sad. I guess it’s normal to look through childlike glasses when remembering grandparents. There was so much I didn’t know. She raised a family during the depression; changing apartments every few months when a new place would advertise one month’s free rent for three months paid rent. (My father tells of the time when she asked him to help her move and he refused, because it was prom night and he had a date. He returned home later to find the apartment empty with no forwarding address.)

My Nanny was artistic. I didn’t know. After her death, I inherited two lovely framed displays of pressed pansies and a pastel chalk painting made by Nanny. I learned that she loved to create with her hands.

And within the pages of the family Bible, which was under her loving care, were handwritten poems—copied from poems that must have been special to her and some her own little snippets. I believe it’s those pages of the family Bible that she held so dear that helped her laugh and smile through a depression, a sick husband, and difficult times.

She copied one poem with several verses onto many little pieces of paper that was tucked away among the pages in that Bible. I think it reflected the way she lived, in the present, doing now what she could for others. We could learn from this.

Give Them the Flowers Now
(author unknown)

Closed eyes can’t see the white roses,
Cold hands can’t hold them, you know,
Breath that is stilled cannot gather
The odors that sweet from them blow,
Death, with a peace beyond dreaming,
Its children of earth doth endow;
Life is the time we can help them,
So give them the flowers now!

Here are the struggles and striving,
Here are the cares and the tears;
Now is the time to be smoothing
The frowns and the furrows and fears.
What to closed eyes are kind sayings?
What to hushed heart is deep vow?
Naught can avail after parting,
So give them the flowers now!

Just a kind word or a greeting;
Just a warm grasp or a smile—
These are the flowers that will lighten
The burdens for many a mile.
After the journey is over
What is the use of them; how
Can they carry them who must be carried?
Oh, give them the flowers now!

Blooms from the happy heart’s garden
Plucked in the spirit of love;
Blooms that are earthly reflections
Of flowers that blossom above.
Words cannot tell what a measure
Of blessings such gifts will allow
To dwell in the lives of many,
So give them the flowers now!