Category Archives: Family

Redeeming Ruth: A Story of Love and Hope

I love adoption stories. Reading or hearing about families that are formed or enriched by opening their hearts and homes to a child gives me hope for the world in general. Adoption, to me, is the ultimate example of sacrificial love..

Meadow Rue Merrill and her family did just that. In 2004, Meadow and her husband welcomed an abandoned 17-month-old girl from Uganda into their family. Meadow had always dreamed of traveling to Africa and “adopting a beautiful brown baby”. When Meadow and her husband met Ruth, they had three young children, the youngest also 17 months old, but they began thinking adoption could become a reality. However, this child came with complications. She had cerebral palsy and could barely lift her head, let alone sit, walk or run. And, though she was in America, she had to return to the orphanage unless she was adopted quickly. The Merrills made the commitment to give Ruth a home and embarked on the adoption journey.

Meadow began writing her family’s adoption story in 2006 with the hope that their adopted daughter, Ruth, could one day add her voice. That was not God’s plan.

It took Meadow 10 years to write Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores. The result is a beautifully powerful story of a family forever changed by a little girl with an engaging smile and boundless potential. Meadow’s book is part spiritual memoir and part family drama. It also reflects Meadow’s journalistic roots. Her retelling of her trip to Uganda and the many complications that threatened to halt the adoption capture the reader. We feel as if we’re making the journey with Meadow.

In an essay written as she was completing the book, Meadow said this about welcoming Ruth into her family:

“Was raising Ruth hard? Yes. It was also the most unexpected, amazing, life-affirming, heart expanding experience of our lives. Because Ruth could physically do nothing for herself, our new routine—and our three older children’s—involved daily sacrifice. Yet, loving and serving Ruth filled us with joyful confidence that we were living out God’s will, expressed throughout scripture, to share his love with others. Our purpose was to love Ruth, and we did. Completely.

Meadow Rue Merrill

Then, without warning, Ruth died in her sleep after a mild illness. Not only did we lose a beloved child, I lost my trust in God. How could he allow this to happen? Here we had deliberately sought to obey God, and he had broken our hearts.

For months, I struggled to pray or read my Bible—once familiar practices that had often strengthened and comforted me in the past. For me, there was no comfort, only the aching question of who was to blame for Ruth’s death: us? or God? If us, how could I forgive myself? And if God, how could I trust him?

Discovering a hidden, underlying cause for Ruth’s death—something we could not have anticipated or prevented—slowly helped me let go of the guilt I felt. In the weeks and months that followed, I gave myself permission to feel and express the anguish of having lost our precious Ruth. I needed to mourn, but I also needed to be comforted. For those who trust God, grief is not the intended legacy of life. Love is.”

Redeeming Ruth is a book about hope, perseverance, unconditional love, and God’s healing power. If you read one spiritual memoir, biography or travel story this year, choose Redeeming Ruth. Your soul will be enriched and your trust in humanity expanded.

At this point, I would normally offer to give a copy of Redeeming Ruth to one of my readers. However, a copy of this book will be placed in the hands of a dear woman in our community who has fostered and adopted children here in America and has opened her heart to orphans in Honduras.

A God Who Wastes Nothing

I sliced my thumb today. A pretty solid gash from a freshly-sharpened knife instantly covered the peppers I was chopping for a breakfast scramble. I ran to the sink to inspect the wound, letting my son clean up my mess and take over the chopping.

“Is it as bad as that time in Nashville?” he asked. Ah, yes — the time I sliced open my thumb when visiting him in Nashville. A much bigger cut caused by a porcelain knob that broke off in my hand when I turned on the shower, that one called for a visit to an emergency care facility. I won’t give you all the details, but I was in the shower, he was at work and I had no idea where the nearest facility might be. I pulled on my “big girl pants” after nearly passing out on the floor and found directions on my phone. Six stitches later, my gauze-wrapped thumb and I drove across the city to visit him at his work site.

It’s what moms do.

I rub my fingers over the numb spot on my right thumb and remember that day. It was exactly five years ago this month. I wrote about my visit to Nashville at an important time in my son’s life for Topology Magazine. I’m writing about him again — this time for an entirely different reason.

I first shared our son’s journey through anxiety, panic and depersonalization in a post for Amelia Rhodes’ book Pray A to Z.  An expanded essay is featured in this month’s Redbud Post.

I’m honored to be part of Redbud Writers Guild “a vibrant and diverse movement of Christian women who create in community and who influence culture and faith.” Each month, guild members submit essays to be considered for The Redbud Post. This month’s theme is “Perspectives on Mental Health Issues”.

When I wrote the essay, our son was climbing out of a season of debilitating anxiety. He had moved home after five years of living in Nashville and was receiving therapy to overcome a condition that was taking over his life.

Six months after beginning treatment, this is our son today. Recently, he traveled alone six hours round trip to visit the city where he hopes to relocate, a big deal when we remember there was a time when even leaving the house was a struggle.

I’ve shared my son’s story with his permission because we both are praying that it will help others traveling the same road. You can read about “A God Who Wastes Nothing” on The Redbud Post.

The first time I sat with our son while he was experiencing a panic attack, everything in me wanted to wrap my arms around him and make it stop. All I could do was pray and wait for it to pass. Anxiety and panic are all too familiar to my son’s generation. It’s estimated that at least half of young women born between 1980 and 2000 suffer from an anxiety disorder and a third of young men. Our adventurous, athletic and creative son had his first collision with anxiety and panic in his early 20s. (more…..)

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Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives is a beautiful anthology of essays and poetry by authors from The Redbud Writers Guild. It’s now available for purchase here and at book stores. I’ll share more about this lovely book and give away a free copy on May 12, but you can order copies now for the mothers in your life. It would make the perfect Mother’s Day gift.

 

When Your Little Sister Turns Out To Be Your Hero

My youngest sister doesn’t look like a strong woman. A “do-rag” covers her shiny bald head and these days she’s tipping the scales at just over 100 pounds. She isn’t much of a threat to anyone or anything.

Or is she?

Just after my ninth birthday, around the time I was getting used to the idea of having a new step-mom, our family of three little girls expanded to include a fourth. As far as I was concerned, my blonde-haired, hazel-eyed step-sister was a special gift sent just for me. I happily assumed the role of “little mother.”

But, by the time I reached the hormonally challenging age of 13, I was wearing annoyance like a huge placard that read “Stay Away”. I was the oldest sister and I didn’t have time for playing with dolls or pushing my little sister in a swing. My world was “me” and to escape my younger siblings (which by now included a baby brother), I hid out in my room. A lot.

The summer my horse-loving little sister fell off her pony and suffered a severely broken elbow jolted me out of my self-absorption. A pin was inserted in her elbow and she was in the hospital for days. Who did she ask for? Me — the big sister who hadn’t given her so much as a glance for a couple of years. I was the person she most wanted at her bedside. At 16, I took my seven-year-old sister seriously and spent a couple of nights in a chair by her hospital bed. Seeing that skinny little blonde kid sleeping with her arm in traction, I realized she’d developed a case of hero worship. I didn’t feel worthy.

Once I knew what was at stake, I tried to pay more attention to my little sis, mostly at my convenience. I was amused by the fact she wanted to do whatever I was doing. Dress like I dressed, grow her hair long like mine — hers blonde, mine brunette.

The depth of my tomboy little sister’s devotion was on display when she let a hairdresser pile her hair in elaborate curls and donned a very girlie dress just so that she could be in my wedding. In photographs from the day, she looks a little uncomfortable, but she’s smiling at me like I’m a queen and she’s the princess.

We grew up, the two of us. Marriages, kids, careers. Slowly, the nine-year gap shrank. In time, we joined forces in the task of keeping our aging parents healthy and happy. Like bookends, we learned to hold it together and frame the sometimes challenging dynamics of a blended family.

We also became friends.

When we lost Mom last year, the friendship we’d cultivated was our strength. The two of us tag-teamed, covering the many decisions and responsibilities of arranging for Mom’s funeral and moving Dad to a nursing home. Our siblings helped, but most things passed through us. Our bond was strengthened.

Then one evening, I received another wake-up call from my sister. She’d found a lump in her breast. Cancer.

As a survivor of breast cancer myself, I was tempted to tease her about following in her big sister’s footsteps. Somehow, it wasn’t funny. She’d been there for me in my own collision with cancer; hers seemed more real. I wanted to protect her. She’s my little sister and my friend.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother (sister) is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17, NIV

What do you do when the playing field is leveled by cancer? You pull up a chair. Click To Tweet

So, I sit beside my sister while drugs drip into her body, attacking cancer cells and killing every other good thing that her body produces, and I’m amazed at how brave she is. With surgery and reconstruction part of the plan, it will be months before this journey ends.

The irony is, the year before her diagnosis my sister agreed to lead a Livestrong class at our local YMCA. The mission of Livestrong, founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, is “to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.” Her class of cancer survivors has become her own support team. Fit and healthy in every way, my sister is tackling cancer head-on. She’s determined to beat it. I believe she will.

Funny thing about hero worship – it goes both ways. My baby sister is my hero. And she’s the strongest woman I know.

Winter Means Counting Down the Blessings

“I look like a little boy,” Dad grumbles. He pulls the stocking cap down over his ears and eyebrows. “I never wear hats like this. Maybe you do, but I don’t.” Dad gives me an accusing look. “Where’s your hat.”

It’s blustery outside, it’s his birthday and he has an appointment with the dentist. I’ve brought the hat, some warm gloves and a new pair of long johns with me to dad’s apartment in the nursing home, hoping to keep his frail body warm while we travel through the countryside. He clearly isn’t impressed, and when I suggest he wear his warm winter coat, I sense a revolt coming on.

With so few choices left in his life, Dad wants to be the one deciding what to wear, even if leaving the long johns laying across his bed means he’ll be shivering while the car warms up.

“Stubborn,” I mutter under my breath.

“What’d you say?”

“You’re a little stubborn, Dad.”

“You bet I am. I dressed myself for 88 years. I don’t need to be told what to wear.”

The cursed stocking cap is a topic of debate throughout the afternoon, and the warm gloves are left conspicuously tossed on the dash of the car. The cap is pulled off as soon as we step into the dental office, exposing Dad’s fuzzy white buzz cut.

Dad’s life has been turned upside down in the past year. He and Mom sold the home they loved and moved into a little apartment at the edge of town. After a few good months getting settled, things started going downhill. Mom became sick and by the end of the summer, she was gone. Dad couldn’t live alone and couldn’t live with any of his kids, so he moved again, into an apartment in a nursing facility in a neighboring town.

It doesn’t matter how cozy the place is, how good and kind his caregivers are or that the food is more than adequate. Dad’s not happy.

The final straw for Dad is being told he can’t drive. His vision and reflexes are failing. For a man who drove a rural mail route for 25 years and who knows every country road surrounding his hometown like the back of his hand, it feels like he’s lost his identity.

How do you help someone who lives in a past that no longer exists see the goodness in today? I count my blessings, number them on a page, and wish I could make a list for him. But they wouldn’t measure up. In his mind, the best blessings of his best days are behind him.

We drive to the county seat, our hometown, and stop in at the restaurant where he and Mom ate breakfast nearly every day. The owner has agreed to let us bring a birthday cake this afternoon to share with a few hometown friends in a back room of the café. It’s good to see Dad’s face light up as people begin dropping by.

They’re a blessing, these good friends who take a minute to say “Happy Birthday”. There is laughter, memories are shared, illnesses compared, handshakes exchanged. Blessings, all of it. I make a mental note in Dad’s column.

The long afternoon winds down and it’s time to take Dad back to his apartment. The restaurant owner hands Dad a Styrofoam container of chili. I know this will be dinner, warmed up in his apartment so he doesn’t have to go to the dining room at the nursing home.

An early sunset has set a glow on the snow-covered evergreens along our route back to the nursing home. Dad remarks, as he often does, that the tall spruce trees look good lined up like soldiers. We travel the rest of the way in silence, his home territory in the rearview mirror. He’s keenly aware of what he’s leaving behind.

It keeps getting harder — both spending the time together and leaving him to go home. Before I leave, I want to share with Dad my mental list of all the ways he is blessed in the winter of his life, but I know he doesn’t want to hear it.

I can read it in the weary slump of his shoulders. It’s his birthday, and nothing feels right.

Then I realize the best gift I can give Dad on this dark day in December isn’t the warmth of a hat, gloves and long johns, or even the birthday cake shared with friends. The gift Dad wants most is for me to look into his heart and say it.

“Yeah, this stinks, doesn’t it Dad. It’s hard and some days it just stinks.”

Dad’s surprised I would say it, and he kind of chuckles while he hangs up his too-heavy winter coat and lays the hat and gloves on the top shelf of his closet.

“Ah, it ain’t so bad, I guess. Just not what I thought it would be.”

That’s good. I can complain for him and the tables are turned. This feels right — Dad reassuring daughter that things “ain’t so bad.” Could there be blessings?

I turn to go and he reaches for a hug.

“How can I ever pay you back,” he says. Tears well up in his eyes, as they do so often these days.

“You already have, Dad. A long time ago.”

The days I get with Dad, even the hard ones, are blessings and I know it’s true — I’m counting them down. Each one is precious.

 

 

 

 

Catholic at Heart: Surprised by the Faith That Formed Me

I did a double-take.

Five grown men in long brown robes with bald heads, beards blowing in the breeze, were jogging barefoot down the sidewalk. I slowed my car and caught their happy faces in my rear-view mirror. This was not a sight I was used to seeing in the middle of the afternoon in this rural community. I called my sister-in-law, who runs a business in the small town I was passing through. She laughed and explained “Those are our brothers.”

My introduction to the Franciscan friars (brothers) living in this lakeside community began a journey that over the past several months has carried me back into my Catholic heritage and, I think, was ordained by God.

The bearded men reside in a white Cape Cod home on the grounds of Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center across from Sylvan Lake in Rome City, Indiana. They are novitiates in the Franciscan Friars Minor, a Catholic monastic order committed to living the rule of Saint Francis, which includes a vow of poverty. People in the community have grown used to seeing the barefoot gentlemen in the grocery store, at civic events and elsewhere in town. Growing up, I’d seen priests and nuns in their habits, but not a monastic brother.

The journalist in me wanted to know more — about the friars and about Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

When I knocked on the door of the brick Victorian home that houses the center’s offices, I really wasn’t sure what I hoped to gain from my visit, other than to satisfy my curiosity. Standing in the lawn outside the house, I was transported back in time.

I was raised in the Church and grew up visiting the site of the Catholic retreat center on Sunday afternoons with my parents and grandparents. At that time, it was known as Kneipp Springs and was operated by nuns from the Order of the Sisters of the Precious Blood. The 65-acre compound was beautiful, dotted with gardens and green pathways, and amazing natural springs. It was our family’s own personal Catholic park. What I didn’t know as a child was that it was also a place of physical and spiritual healing. For 75 years, celebrities and devout Catholics from around the world had made the pilgrimage to Kneipp Springs to be immersed in the healing sulphur springs and to renew their Catholic faith.

MaryI left Catholicism when I headed off to college and eventually embraced the Protestant faith. About the time I returned home and began my career as a news reporter, Kneipp Springs was sold by the nuns to The Way International. The organization operated a residential religious school on the grounds for the next 20 years. Following their departure just before the start of the new millennium, the property changed hands many times as groups and individuals pursued various uses for the buildings and acreage. A year ago, the current owners, Catholics active in the diocese, decided to return the property to its original purpose as a place of healing and devotion to spiritual growth. A foundation was formed and the property was given a new name that reflected its devotion to Mary, the mother of Christ — Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

I met several times with the foundation’s director and was inspired by and drawn to the work being done at the center. I looked for a way to get involved. Restoration of the 100-year-old chapel is underway and, of course, donations are needed there, and the grounds are slowly being returned to their original beauty. Manual labor is always needed.

I wondered if others might be as curious as I was about the Franciscan friars, the history of the property and the future of the retreat center. I also longed to reconnect with the Catholic Church of today.  I offered to use my gifts as a writer and designer to write articles for the local newspaper and to create a magazine for the center’s use. It’s been a mutually satisfying project.

A Healing Labor of Love

During the weeks I worked on the magazine, I also spent a lot of time with my parents. Mom’s health was declining and Dad couldn’t live entirely alone as she spent time in hospitals and in two different nursing homes. On one of my visits to the nursing home, I took Mom her rosary. I knew she needed to hold it in her hands.

It’s because of Mom that I have an emotional connection to the Catholic tradition. She’s actually my stepmother and when she married my Dad over 50 years ago — a divorced man with three little girls and a Presbyterian background — she gave us not only her unconditional love but the love of Christ as she shared with us her Catholic faith.

The morning after the magazine project was first put into the hands of visitors to Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center, Mom was found unresponsive by nursing home staff. She passed away one week later.

I hadn’t attended Mass for years. The rhythmic cadence of the liturgy, the smoky cloud of pungent incense, the priest’s lyrical prayers — all combined in a wave of nostalgia that was both comforting and unexpected. I sat in Mom and Dad’s little church for the funeral Mass last week, surrounded by people who shared her faith and knew her well, and found the words were still with me:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus…..”

I’ve yet to spend an afternoon getting to know the barefoot, bearded Franciscan friars living at Our Lady Mother of Mercy, but I’m hoping they’ll let me tell their story soon. Now that a window has opened on the faith that formed me, I’m not anxious for it to close.

Father David Mary

Father David Mary, head of the Franciscan Friars Minor, celebrates mass outdoors at Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

chapel1

Brothers lead a Eucharistic procession past the chapel at Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

 

 

Nashville: Making Culture in Community

Where we are — the place where we are breathing, working, loving and living — that place, that community, forms us, even in the midst of trial and change. One of my adult sons was making a new life far from home a few years back, wrestling with change and trying to get a handle on the future. I was able to drop in on his life for a few days and wrote about his world from my perspective. My essay is included today at Topology:

The slap-crack of skateboards hitting cement punctuates the air. The town park vibrates with laughter, conversation, dog yelps, honking horns. Overhead, dark clouds roll, hanging low, heavy with moisture….(read more)

Topology is the online journal of *culture is not optional, an intentional community based in Three Rivers, Michigan. From their website:

“The mission of *culture is not optional is to model and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ in Three Rivers and beyond. Perhaps our first value is in our name: *culture is not optional. But what kind of culture? And why is it “not optional?” We believe humans are created to make something of the world, and what we make is “culture.” We can’t help but make culture in our homes, neighborhoods, churches and workplaces. The culture we make can be life-giving or destructive, beautiful or scarring, compassionate or self-centered. As followers of Christ, we aspire to make culture that is loving, just and joyful.”

I’m engaged in making “culture” today as I write and, later, as I handle issues faced by my aging parents. This morning, my community is the farm where I live in northeastern Indiana. Later, it will be a small town hospital where my Mom is being treated for multiple challenging health problems. Wherever today finds you, be present and let your presence be life-giving, loving, just and joyful.

One more thing ~

You may notice a lovely new icon on the right side of the page. I am beyond delighted to be part of the Redbud Writers Guild. This international community of authors, writers and speakers exists to “communicate in order to empower women to use their voices to be world-changers.” My affiliation with these many gifted women sets the bar high for any writing I do in the future.

 

 

 

Story Matters: Sharing a Family Story at “Breathe”

When a girl grows up casting her Daddy as the hero in every story, it’s natural that one day she will tell his story.

My father’s story is far from a fairy tale. The years immediately after my mother left our family must have been rough for my father as he took on the task of raising three little girls, ages 3, 2 and 1…….read more about how I was inspired to tell my father’s story in a guest post on the blog at Breathe Christian Writers website. 

And while you’re there, sign up to attend the 2016 Breathe Christian Writers’ Conference October 7 and 8 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This event is, hands down, my favorite writers’ conference. This year’s keynote speaker will be author and storyteller James Scott Bell.

Breathe ChristianWriters Conference (1)

For All the Unknown Soldiers in Our Lives

(The photo above was taken at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Rose Hill Cemetery, Albion, Indiana.)american_flag

In the small town where I grew up, summer always began with Memorial Day. I remember waiting with prideful anticipation to catch site of the American Legion Color Guard, knowing I’d see my Dad in the line of uniform-clad men, dressed in his Air Force blues and either balancing a flagpole on his hip or carrying a gun at his side.

As our local heroes stepped off around the courthouse square, townsfolk joined the parade for the short walk down the street to Rose Hill Cemetery. There, in the early summer sunshine, we’d recognize our soldiers, living and deceased. The ceremony always ended at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as taps were trumpeted from a far-away hillside. A solemn prayer released us all to our holiday activities.

A few years ago, my husband and I joined the Memorial Day service at a small cemetery near us. We heard the names of soldiers, mostly unknown to us, but familiar to many gathered around. Just as we did in my hometown half a century ago, our ceremony ended with prayer and a salute at the tomb of those whose names are unknown.

It struck me then. Our lives are filled with “unknown” soldiers — men and women who anonymously laid down their lives here and abroad, and who continue to do so today, so that I could live and raise a family in freedom and safety. My own father and his three brothers all served in the United States military, one of them dedicating a career to military duty. In my hometown, we know their names, their histories, their pride and dedication, but to the rest of the world, they are virtually unknown.

Robert Harris Wilson tried to enter the military at 17, but had to wait a year.

Robert Harris Wilson tried to enter the military at 17, but had to wait a year. Read more about Dad’s military career and his childhood in One Man’s Work.

This Memorial Day weekend, I’ll be thinking of family members, classmates, friends and neighbors who put on a uniform and committed to do their duty as defenders and protectors of our nation. May they be known and honored, not just at the end of May, but every day.

“The greatest glory of a free-born people is to transmit that freedom to their children.” ~ William Havard, chaplain to the armed forces during World War I.

 

A Kindred Soul Can Span the Decades: Emma Smith

kindred :  having the same belief, attitude, or feeling, associated by origin, nature, qualities, etc.

Stumbling upon a “kindred spirit” is a special kind of surprise. It was that way for me recently when I discovered the British author Emma Smith. Emma’s words, in my header above, showed up as I was doing research for a writing project. They resonated so deeply with me that I had to know more about her.

Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Emma, 93, lives in southwest London. She published her two-part memoir “The Great Western Beach” and “As Green As Grass” in 2008 and 2013 respectively — at ages 85 and 90. They cover her life up to 1951, ending at the time of her marriage at age 28. By that time, Emma had published two well-received novels in 1948 and 1949, “Maidens Trip” and “The Far Cry”, both set in Britain during WW II.

When she married, Emma stopped writing for a time, focusing on her family. She returned to writing out of necessity when her husband’s sudden death after just six years of marriage left her as the sole provider for her two children.

Prior to marriage, Emma (whose real name is Elspeth Hallsmith) was an adventurer. She traveled to India to help shoot a documentary and worked as crew for canal boats that carried heavy cargoes between London and the industrial Midlands of England during WW II, both experiences providing backdrops for her novels.

Once she was married, Emma left travel and writing behind. After her husband’s death, she moved her little family to Wales and devoted the next 20 years to raising her children. During that time, she authored a couple of children’s books, but they never achieved the attention garnered by her novels.

With resurgent interest in and the reprinting of her two novels, Emma has experienced a sort of “renaissance” in her later years. That’s where I find her now, and where I expect to dive into her memoirs and her novels.

The kindredness? This:

“I loved being a mother and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I would swap all my books for my children.” ~ Emma Smith

In like spirit, I can say I willingly swap all the books I have not yet written for the privilege of raising my four children. But unearthing a treasure like Emma Smith gives me hope that I still have a good 20 years to write a first book. To quote Emma:

water-5“Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”

 

Giving Thanks for Family Stories

There’s still turkey in the fridge, but Thanksgiving has officially given way to Christmas. I’ve done some cyber-shopping and boxes of ornaments and lights will be opened so the halls can be decked some time this week.

But until then, I’m lingering over memories of Thanksgiving.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve piled our turkey, sweet potatoes and stuffing on creamy gold-rimmed, rose-covered china. This year was no different. The beautiful dishes decorated with pink and yellow petals came into my safe-keeping several years ago, along with the cherry china cabinet that has always held the china and the box of silver. When Mom was finished hosting Thanksgiving dinners, the tradition and the china became my responsibility.

dishes sink

dishwater

As I hand-washed the china and stemware last Friday, placing it carefully back on the shelves, I thought about the great affection Mom has for these priceless family heirlooms. For her, and now for all of us, the plates and cups represent more than a home-cooked meal. They speak of the love of an older brother.

Mom’s brother, my Uncle Bill, served with the United States Army and was stationed in Germany during World War II. Always fond of nice things, he used his military paycheck to purchase a full set of Wild Rose Limoges China, replete with 22-karat gold edging, at some point during his service to our country. He also bought new furniture for his parents and younger sister and surprised them with the gifts when he returned to his home in Chicago.

Asked about the china again this year, Mom willingly shared that it came from Uncle Bill. And then, she surprised us with a new nugget of information — Uncle Bill served under the famous General George Patton. My sons, her grandsons, know the name Patton from their history books and they were duly impressed. Their great-uncle was a WWII veteran and he served under Patton.

Uncle Bill passed away almost two years ago. The summer after he died, I took my parents to Bill’s house in a Chicago suburb so they could spend the day with his widow. Mom stood in her brother’s tiny office, surrounded by all the little pieces of art he collected and enjoyed. Pieces of a beloved brother who appreciated beauty.

Mom still misses her brother and continues to call his widow every Sunday night. This Thanksgiving, gathered around a table in our farmhouse, the feasting was made sweeter with the shared story of a soldier and his love for his family.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Philip Pullman, British author

Bless your family. Tell them stories.

glasses

flowers