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

Brune family 0396.jpg
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!

Never too late…

My father was a bank examiner for the FDIC (yes, that really is a thing and not just initials seen in a bank window.) It seems the FDIC had a practice of moving its examiners every couple of years, as it wouldn’t have been prudent for the examiners and bankers being examined to become friends. At least, that’s what I was always told.

Unlike my sister, who had a hard time making friends and dreaded every move, I loved moving. I couldn’t wait to make more friends and discover new places. I was born on Long Island, NY, but at the age of three moved to Kansas. There was Kansas, both El Dorado and Kansas City, Marion, Indiana, then Hope, Indiana, (while my Dad took a stint at being the bank president), Wausau, Wisconsin, South Bend, Indiana, and lastly Springfield, Virginia.

I considered myself being from everywhere and was very proud of it. As I grew older and listened to my grandparents or parents recount their stories, I realized that while I might have been from Indiana, I was really from France, Germany, Norway… I was a citizen of these beautiful United States, but my heritage was so much more than that. I heard bits and pieces of stories but didn’t give them much significance. I was busy. First, I was busy as a student, then a wife, mother, missionary… There was always something that kept me busy. I would have time for stories later.

Roy and Jean.jpgLater did come. While I was busy being all those things, my mother died – at age 57. It was then I yearned  to know more; more about her childhood, more about her life as a young post-war bride, more about her as a young mother. What stories did her mother and father tell her? Did she know her grandparents? Oh if only I’d asked and listened more…

My mother and my only sister, Carol, were very close. We used to tease and say that she was my mother’s girl, I was my daddy’s girl. So, I thought, since no one has a memory like Carol, we’ll have a conversation. Surely, being older and closer to our mother, she had some answers, would remember some stories. A little comforted with this, I kept on being busy. Carol died – at age 54.

I decided I’d better take some time to listen to my father. He had some stories; we were related to a Marshal in Napoleon’s Army; My French grandfather’s father owned a very successful department store in Paris. But he knew little of his mother’s side. I also never thought to ask him when, how old was I, when we lived in all those different places. Then, as happens, my father passed away. Now, I’m the one left with so many unanswered questions.

I have the advantage of Internet and genealogy sites to fill in some blanks, but those provide dates. Dates don’t tell a whole story. People tell stories.

I think one of the reasons I choose historical fiction and family-oriented ancestry for my children’s books is because I want children and their parents, I want my own grandchildren, to appreciate who they are and where they came from, to learn and know about the sacrifices of ancestors, and how their lives shaped our lives.

What is it they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision? My advice, even when life keeps you busy, make sure you take time to listen to stories, write them down, keep a record. With today’s technology, you can record your grandparents telling stories for generations to come; you can record stories for your great-grandchildren. You might not have time to process and do much now, but someday you will desire to know more. Sometimes, someday is too late.

YOU.TURNED.THE.PAGE

My dreams were to be a kindergarten teacher. I remember when I received an invitation to listen to another teacher read a story to her classroom.

I still hear her reading, I still startle, and I still laugh. The book was the then newly published The Monster at the End of This Book. Loveable Grover implores the reader to NOT.TURN.THE.PAGE. There’s a monster at the end of the book. YOU.TURNED.THE.PAGE. The teacher had the mixed aged classroom hanging onto their chairs. Her reading with expression, her intonation, her pitch, her tone, and her simple love for reading had the children (and yes, that included me) wide-eyed and hardly able to contain themselves. After that, I never read the same again.

Jump ahead to my first classroom. I was a first grade teacher in a rural Appalachia Ohio school. There were three first grades. I was the newbie. But, I was also the only board certified teacher. I thought, “I got this.”

I had 35 students in a school with three first grades in financially depressed, former coal-mining Ohio. The school had no kindergarten so this was a first for students as well as teacher.

After a very long morning of trying to remember names and keeping children in their seats, I learned at lunch from the other two first grade teachers, that they hand-picked their classes and gave me what was left. What was left were children with learning disabilities, uninvolved parents, abuse, hunger (for love as well as food) and general chaos.

(Let’s back up a year. My student teaching was done in Rockford, Illinois in one of the first avant-garde Montessori schools. I loved it. The world of teaching was so exciting with children so turned on to learning.)

So here I am, a class of mix-matched children, evidently hand-picked just for me: one addicted to paste (realized this when we did our first paste project and all the jars were empty except two in her desk), one who could NOT sit still EVER, one who cried at the door all day to go home, and the only thing on any of their minds was “Teacher, how long to lunch?”

As we muddled through this year together, I learned one thing. Story time was the same, whether privileged or poor, children loved the same stories and loved them over and over. I cherished our story time. I sat on the floor in the middle of my 35 hand-picked kids, whom I had grown to love so much, and read to them. They would all try to get as close to teacher as possible, making little room for actually holding a book.

I learned to use this story time as a teaching tool since it was one of the few times Becky wasn’t eating paste, Richie wasn’t climbing the walls, and Dick wasn’t clawing at the door to go home. All eyes and ears were on the story and me. I wished I could teach every subject in a circle on the floor.

Looking back, I wouldn’t have traded these moments for any other class in the world, after all, they were hand-picked especially for me. I was only there for one year. I don’t what happened to teacher’s first class. I hope I made a difference in our short time together. I hope one or two or three developed a love for reading. I hope Becky found a way to lose herself in books and not in paste. I hope Richie learned to curl up in a corner and discover the excitement of The Swiss Family Robinson. And maybe Dick found comfort in the special friends you find in books.

My advice—Read aloud, to yourself, to children, to anyone who will listen. So many words to share, so little time.

Welcome to Leaves and Stories

Why Leaves and Stories?

Leaves are the family who touch our lives, the leaves of our family tree. And well, stories, are the stories of why they are important. Most of us grow up hearing about a grandfather or great-grandmother who was the first to… or who first settled in… but, too often, the story ends there.

Each of us has a back-story. And those of us living in the New World, probably have stories that could make an academy award-winning movie. The ancestor who stowed away for a better life, the one who sold everything to immigrate to a new land with a promise of equal opportunities, or the first to learn to read and write because her parents sacrificed everything.

We may never be able to piece together our entire story. But we must recognize that we have a story, that everyone has a story. Our life is the result of individual sacrifices, those of the past and those that continue.

Leaves and Stories is a journey through life, this one and the ones of the past: the stories and people that shape our lives and who we are.

My hope is that, as we travel together on this journey, we’ll find kindness in our hearts, we’ll love each other well, and we’ll embrace each other both for what we have in common and for what makes us different.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.