Monthly Archives: June 2017

Growing Up in the Midwest


Both of my parents were creative. Dad loved the woodshop and yard; Mom was inclined to cooking and painting. Both of my parents participated successfully in sports. Mom was the runner-up free throw champion for the state of Iowa.

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Marilee Watkins with Her Runner-up Trophy

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Dad at a Donkey Basketball Game–Always a Good Sport!

Dad remained very athletic into his 50’s. He periodically demonstrated that he could outrun me in my tennis shoes while he wore five buckle overshoes. I don’t remember ever beating my father in any sport until I entered college. We were not pampered when it came to competition. If you won, you had really won. There was no doubt about that. I never agreed with that strategy, but I had to wait to be a parent to experiment with fudging to allow children to win from time to time.

Dad worked hard. Mom worked hard. They received a strong work ethic from their fathers and passed it along to my sister and me. People raised in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s had two options, they could work hard and succeed or they would play the lazy card and ultimately fail in their job and as a parent. Farmers and small town residents seldom had the luxury to depend or fall back on the resources of their parents. The majority of parents focused on keeping food on the table and a roof over their head while putting back money whenever possible for a rainy day or retirement. Most teens understood that they had to pull their share of the load. I never considered laziness an option.

My sister and I agree that we had great parents when we were children and teenagers, but their spirituality took wings when they reached middle age and beyond. Even though I earned a doctorate in pastoral counseling from Vanderbilt University, one of the most prestigious universities of the South; I could confidently refer someone with a significant problem to my mother. She had that something in that arena I could never find. And, my Dad, well, he was the anchor for many.

I always felt that our family was stable. The danger of a divorce never entered my mind. Controversy was avoided in our family. Differences of opinion or disagreements were generally overlooked. So I never learned how to confront people with a different view from mine and bad feelings were buried inside my emotional bank waiting to explode at inappropriate moments. This area of my life crippled me to some degree for much of my life.

What Happened to My Parents “Things?”


One’s perspective about things changes over the years of one’s life. At least it has for me. I used to be a thing chaser to some degree. Before the credit card a person had to chase things that the banker would loan you money to purchase. So as a minister, missionary, administrator I held a limited catalogue of things. I have been surprised by the results of my chasing.

I am one of the people that watched the aging of my parents up until one died because of a blood clot thrown to his brain and the other died of congestive heart failure. Their deaths forced our family to dispose of their things. And, frankly, that depressed everyone. I was surprised to see how many things no one wanted or had room to store. Nearly twenty years after their deaths I can finally write about this.

I got a tad emotional and possessive with my mother and father’s things–a few of their things. I kept Dad’s handsome synthetic ruby wedding ring, a blue denim jacket two sizes too small for me, a few family antiques, Mom’s letters from me while I lived in Colombia, our family Bibles, family picture albums, several of Dad tools and ties that were also on life support, Dad’s pickup, and other things I struggle to remember.

The biggest truth I learned from dispensing with their worldly goods was actually something I had read years and years ago. “Don’t pile up treasures on earth, where moth and rust can spoil them and thieves can break in and steal. But keep your treasure in Heaven where there is neither moth nor rust to spoil it and nobody can break in and steal. For wherever your treasure is, you may be certain that your heart will be there too!” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Where do most things end up following one’s death? Sold at an estate sale (and boy do I see a lot of those living in “God’s Waiting Room” in Sun City AZ), given to a charity, taken to a dumpster, or put in a drawer of a relative. Isn’t that sad? Yes, in a way, but eventually everything accumulated in our lives also has a life time and will pass away in a few years or generations.

Marji and I have hastened the process. The most precious of our things are now displayed or hidden in the drawers of a 800 sq. feet home and a lock box in Sun City, Arizona. Nope, we rent no storage shed. Most of the things pictured in our photo albums no long exist except as memories. The houses we loved are now inhabited by others. But most of the things we still cherish are only important to us and I have come to terms with the fact that no thief will bother with our stuff and even the moths take up residence in other closets. None of the people in our age group visit us with sparkling eyes expressing the notion–“Gosh I wish I had your stuff.”

But I know we have some unique things stored in heaven and I know they are really the only things that are eternal. Does that sound a little dreamy, pie-in-the-sky like? I find more and more of my friends interested in the yet to be given rather than what I can get. I predict someday everyone will understand the validity of this “thing” thing and quit chasing after another thing and a bigger place to store it, and concentrate on storing up treasures in heaven by focusing on the spiritual dimension of our life.

Note: The reality of aging makes me sad and happy. I didn’t write this blog to make me or the reader feel tristful, but to solidify some of my thoughts about the inevitable shift in the sand upon which we stand.

 

 

Growing Up in the Midwest


Grandma Watkins used to love to tell about how my Dad, and his two brothers, Major and Charlie, as well as their Dad would come in the house in the evening and if they saw Grandma had baked a pie, they would all fall on the floor and fake fainting.

Mom on the other hand was a saucy and classy farm girl. Mom’s father hired my Dad as a hired hand and he quickly won Mom’s attention. He was three years older and attended the same school. I have seen the picture of Mom’s classmates. There were a few stunning young ladies in the group, but Mom was one of the prettiest. I don’t think Dad ever told us why he fell in love with Mom, but I am certain her beauty was a significant factor.

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Guess she was probably the pick of many men that observed her, but somehow he was handsome, gentle, and sweet enough to win her eye. They made quite a nice looking couple all through their lives. I have no doubt that my father’s eye never lost his focus on his first love—the prettiest rose in a garden of a thousand vegetables and a hundred flowers.

Polarities explain much of my life. The Jewish rabbis teach that two opposites can both be true and I remember both Mom and Dad in conflict with each having a valid reason for their positions. Those differences enriched the life of our family. Differences between two people can be good or bad. It’s all in how they blended. My folks had very different character traits that they employed to complement each other. When Dad was gentle, Mom was forceful. Dad had the last word on critical questions, but Mom made most of the day-to-day decisions. Neither seemed intent on controlling the other, nor were they bent on changing the other. When Dad chose to retreat to his silent comfort zone, Mom took leadership. When Mom was weak physically, Dad moved forward to take the reins. They both agreed on the important issues of life. My folks never argued in front of Carolyn and me, but they did voice their perspectives in normal voices. Dad usually ceded when there were serious differences of opinion. There were times when I wished my Dad had been more forceful. People would say that he chose carefully where to stand his ground; and when he set his feet, he was not to be moved.

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My alpha farm-wife mother modeled a Renaissance lifestyle demonstrated by no one else in our community. She would often say to my sister and me, “Today, we are going to dedicate the afternoon to making visits.” She explained that we needed to relate to a variety of people and experiences. One Sunday afternoon we would deliver a basket of sweet corn to the only dwarf in our county, another day she might load us into our 1953 bright and deep green Oldsmobile to visit older neighbors to learn from their wisdom, or she might take us to town for hickory nut bread and tea at the only highbrow bakery in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Seldom did a week pass without a visit to the library or a reminder about the importance of manners and personal initiative. We learned about finger bowls and lobster bibs without lobster. She modeled an inclusive world-view, taught her children an entrepreneurial approach, and encouraged me to write. She often stated her mantra for us, “You can do anything you want to do. Dreaming, planning and performing is the blueprint for success.”

 

Growing Up in the Midwest


Storytelling Breathes Life into the Past

The oral story allows for growth and freshness every time it is told. Sadly, the oral tradition does gradually wane. The written story puts an experience in concrete that carries the potential to live as long as books are read or heard. I believe I am keeping my family alive through the writing of their stories and mine.

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Our life is a series of moments. They follow one after another in endless succession. A series of moments make an experience. It is fair to say that most moments are hardly discernable and seldom processed. Brief experiences only provide a small effect on our life and are then filed in our subconscious and eventually forgotten. However, important transformational experiences impact our life in one way or another in terms of who we are as a person. As Sue Monk Kidd wrote in the Secret Life of Bees, “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” The sum of our experiences determines who we are.

We begin to understand why we act the way we act when we retrace our life to identify transformational moments and how we responded to them. It is like walking backward with a personal characteristic in hand trying to find the place or moment where we picked it up. Transitional moments can be negative experiences such as the premature loss of a parent that drove us into a responsibility for our family that we certainly didn’t want or expect. Or, on the positive side, they can be the special attention given by a teacher that birthed our positive self-concept. Every moment carries the potential for a positive or negative impact upon life, but only a few really make dramatic and immediate changes. Most of my writing focuses on such transitions whether serious or humorous.

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Source: Double Tragedy

Growing Up in the Midwest


 

The Birth of the Taradiddle

My father started the story-telling tradition for our clan. He actually gave birth to what I would call a taradiddle, even though he never used the term. Most of his narratives came straight out of the humorous realities from his life. He replayed them time and again whenever he had a willing audience. And like most stories, over time, Dad’s stories grew. From childhood, Dad amazed us with his recollection of playing against the Harlem Globetrotters in the 1930’s in Yarmouth, Iowa. I never thought to question Dad’s thrill of a lifetime; after all if he said it, it must be the truth. People began to question the veracity of his story and that ticked me off. So, I set out to document his claim. I am still looking, but I have found enough circumstantial evidence to keep his recollection leaning strongly to truth rather than fiction.

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The Globetrotter’s began their march to fame in Chicago in 1926 when Abe Saperstein formed a team of black basketball stars named the “Savoy Big Five.” My dad was nine years old at the time. The first team included people like Bill “Ham” Watson and Walter “Toots” Wright. The team name was changed to the Harlem New York Globetrotters and began touring to seek worthy opponents. They arrived in a Model “T” Ford in Hinckley, Illinois, for their debut game in 1927 in front of 300 fans. The total game payout was $75. From there they toured Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa into the 1930’s and gained more and more credibility and fame. They played their 1,000th game in 1934, meaning they played approximately 120 games a year in a variety of cities and small towns in the mid-west. It is a strong possibility that one of those small towns was Yarmouth, and if so, Dad would have been at the front of the line to play. He would have been seventeen and in the prime of his high school basketball career. In May of 2012 I asked Uncle Major, my dad’s brother, (age 95) if he had any recollection of the Globetrotters in Yarmouth. And, without blinking he said, “Yeah, I remember them smoking cigarettes and eating candy bars in our school lunchroom as they waited for the game.” Why all those weird details unless it really registered in his vivid memory.

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My dad stuck with that story until one year before his death when he kicked it up a notch and began to say, “You know the Globetrotters tried to get me to go on the road with them.” He lost me there…but the first edition still intrigues me and causes me to wonder. Dad wasn’t interested at that point in telling his history, he focused on the “story.” How do you separate the truth from the fiction as a biographical writer? You cannot do that completely! You can only demythologize your memories to the limit of your desire to keep your story honest. Dad was a great storyteller, but he was a greater man.

Growing Up in the Midwest


Thug Can Be Only Skin Deep

Dad taught me with his thoughtfulness that a woman loves to receive flowers, wants to be pampered, and desires both closeness and space. He may not have bought many flowers during a more than fifty-year romance, but certainly brought Mom a lot of wild ones. Those deep purple winged violets and root beer brown and deep yellow daisies brought a loving pause to Mom’s busy meal preparations for an unpredictable number of friends and workers.

Dad had incredibly good taste in selecting the prettiest woman in the county. He was a small town boy—a very, very ornery one. The following photo makes him look a bit like a thug. But, then, like father like son. The next picture was taken of me taken 28 years later.

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