Growing Up in the Midwest

The Birth of My Spiritual Awareness

Scan 70_3.jpg

Spirituality was important to me since age 8 or 9. God touched me and I paid attention. I am one of the fortunate. I am so blessed that my parents encouraged my pilgrimage by keeping me in church to hear the Word and grow. I could never have matured adequately sitting on a hillside or by a pond. Spirituality is both individual and corporate. It grows most effectively in community with others with a similar passion. So many people in the church during my childhood and teen years were mentors and encouragers. The churches I have participated in during my lifetime were never perfect. But then, I am still looking for the first perfect person apart from the Son of God. If you assemble a group of imperfect people the result will always be the same. However, I shudder to think about a world with the positive impact of the church. For me the church elevated my ethic, challenged me to serve the less fortunate, made me away of the spiritual dimension of the creation, encouraged me in times of despair, and provided a way to deal constructively with the sin in my life.

Growing Up in the Midwest

More Sweet History about Happy

Scan 48 2.jpeg

Happy and Inky in Front of Our Car Garage

He was so smart that if we drove west to the end of our lane and turned left, he would go back home. He had probably tried to follow us and could not find us. However, if we turned right, the dog had learned we were often going to Yarmouth and would run the six miles and look for us at the elevator or my Grandma’s house.

IMG_1067 copy.JPG

Yarmouth Grain Elevator

Scan 70_2 copy.jpeg

Home of Robert and Louise Watkins in Yarmouth, Iowa

If we went down the dirt road toward Beaverdale road, he would occasionally run the three miles to church to see if we were there.


Shinar Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Happy became famous in our community because of his desire to attend church with us. Our church was not air conditioned so the doors and windows were often left open to provide better ventilation. One Easter Sunday many church families had gathered before 6 a.m. for a Sunrise service. Happy wondered into the church and came crawling under the pews until he reached our family. Church members began to giggle and whisper as the dog touched their legs on his way toward our pew.

Finally our minister, Rev. Don Sweet stopped the service to ask about the cause of the commotion. My Dad explained the arrival of our dog and stated he was about to remove him from the church. Rev. Sweet suggested that he be allowed to sit with our family since he had walked move than five miles to get to church. Happy may have had no spiritual inclinations but he returned to church on numerous occasions to worship with us. He was always content to lie at my Dad’s feet and no one voiced that our church had gone to the dogs.


Growing Up in the Midwest

More about a Gallant Dog Named Happy

Happy gained our hearts with his valor and loyalty. Three stories jump out of my memory bank in relation to our ten years with him. Farmers sometimes forget the dangers of farm animals especially a bull faced with competition or a cow that senses her calf is in danger. On one cattle drive Dad attempted to force a cow in direction of a gate and at the same time physically separated the cow from a young calf. The cow turned on my Dad and ran over him. Immediately the cow began to tromp and head butt my father. I was only 8 or 9 at the time and yelled bloody murder at the cow. But the cow paid no attention. I then saw Happy watching and said the magic words, “Sic her!” The dog attacked the cow with all fury and drove the cow running, the little calf in tow. But Dad rose very slowly and in a lot of pain from what would proved to be broken ribs and scrapes from the cow’s hooves.


Can It Be Done in Iowa?

Organizing a Reunion

Everyone loves a family, church, school, college, or organizational reunion, right? Wrong! Every reunion has the potential to be a meaningful experience or a total flop in today’s world. Success or failure rests heavily upon the planning. Sadly reunions are simply not meaningful to some people, but if properly planned a reunion will be a significant experience for most. Why? Most people bask in their memories and love to relive them with friends and family. Good memories are like fragrant lilies that never wane with the passing of time.

People often migrate from the location of their childhood or the original base of their family, and this creates a different dynamic from forty years ago when the population tended to spend their entire life in one city, county, or state.  People had less commitments, were socially expected to attend reunions, and could be to the designated location of the get-together in less than a few hours.

Scan 4 copy.jpg

I recently organized a reunion for a class of thirteen from Yarmouth, Iowa. This group attended school from kindergarten through our sophomore year when our school dissolved because of consolidation in 1961. Yarmouth students transferred to Morning Sun, Mediapolis, and Danville Community High Schools.

I had not seen 8 of these classmates since 1960–a gap of 57 years. I wanted to see every one of these folks but I wondered whether other people felt the same. History and memories tweak the interest of some and bore others.

Floating the Idea–The Initial Communication

Memories teased with ten black and white photos from our childhood were my catalyst to arouse the interest of all classmates on Facebook or for whom I had email addresses. I wrote, “Would you be interested in getting together some Saturday this summer?” Four positive replies flew almost immediately to my laptop via cyberspace.

“That’s a great idea.” “Let’s do it.” “Let me know when.” “I’m in.”

That was great since I didn’t have a phone number of any classmate and the advent of cellphones has made getting a phone number almost impossible. I began to list the steps to make the reunion a booming success.

Planning Ahead–An Event Coordinator

Events demand a coordinator and/or committee to whom everyone accounts for their assigned responsibilities. A committee could meet for planning a large reunion that involves more than fifty people, but for smaller groups, one, two, or three people can plan more easily. In this case I had no idea who could or would do this, and I love the challenge of organizing an event so I decided to give it a whirl. Who, when, where, and how immediately called for answers.

  • A Date that Accommodates the Majority

Most reunions occur on Saturdays or Sundays because of the reality of availability and I picked summer for my personal convenience. I was only one of two that lived outside the state of Iowa and I planned to travel in Iowa for most of the summer. So I surveyed the people who I had already contacted and July 8 for a noon lunch was chosen since everyone was available.

Rarely can everyone attend on one given date. In that case it is logical to accommodate the majority. Fortunately our small reunion of retirees made it easy for everyone to attend with a little adjustment of normal schedules.

  • Goal Setting/Purpose/Program

I began to brain storm what we should try to accomplish with the reunion. We would probably have a maximum of two hours to try to recognize one another. (As it turned out the entire group hung around for over four hours simply gabbing about memories of school together and eventually about our families and retirement.) I was pleased that no one tried to impress the group with their accomplishments.

Putting a name with a face became the first goal upon arrival. The fact that we had been “facebooking” about the participants, name tags seemed superfluous for a maximum of fifteen people. We could have done something creative like pin the name on the classmate. But I opted to arrive early and introduce the people most unlikely to be unknown by some in the group. There was only one fellow that I recognized by simple deduction. In most cases name tags are not only helpful but save embarrassment.

Our primary purpose was providing an event when people could get acquainted after so many years. I thought some entertainment might be nice, but any music for a group of people over 55 will likely handicap people with hearing difficulties. Every group of people will have people gifted enough to sing, play an instrument, or tell stories, but that usually draws away from the purpose of informal communication. If the reunion extends over a period of days, then a diverse program including music and dancing, a golf outing, or another event might fit well.

  • Personal Contacts

Many reunions may be an annual or repetitive event. If so, some sort of database with contacts numbers and addresses might exist. In our case, I asked individuals already committed to attend to contact people with whom they were good friends in school. People generally respond positively to a personal invitation from a friend. However, it is easy for one assignment to be overlooked so the coordinator should make a call approximately ten days prior to the even to the person making a specific contact to assure it has been made.

  • A Central Location

Yarmouth, Iowa has declined in population in the last fifty years. It is now a small village of less than 100 people. The grocery store, tavern, and gas station have closed. One small restaurant, an elevator, and a fire station remain, so we booked a table at the remaining restaurant that would seat twenty people. Every one ordered from the menu. We tried to get permission to tour the school that in now privately owned, thinking this would bring back some memories long since forgotten. Unfortunately, it was impossible.

The Evaluation

The date arrived and seven of the ten living alumni attended. Memories bubbled out of everyone over the course of the next four hours. It took fifty years to make this happen, but the group appeared healthy and willing enough to do it again in the not too distant future.

Are reunions worth the trouble to plan? The smiles confirm the answer.


Growing Up in the Midwest

Then Came Happy

Our first dog was a collie named Laddie. He had to be put down after one of our farm hands cut off one of his back legs with a farm implement. The loss of a dog always hit our family hard because they often lived in the house, especially in the winter.

Then came Happy. And our family increased by another member.

Scan 75_4.jpeg

Carolyn, Happy, and I on a rack of round bales

We didn’t know it at the time but this dog would set the standard of a pet so high, no other pet would ever live up to his standard. He was a gallant German shepherd, the only registered dog we ever owned. His full name was Hap of Hapsburg. Happy had a hunting companion that lived on our farm for many years. They were quite a pair. Mike, a Beagle, loved to hunt rabbits but could only bray as his short legs churned as quickly as he could energize them. His nose nearly touched the ground when he found a scent and he never looked up while in chase. Everyone seeing and hearing him always chuckled at this blind and speed challenged hunter. The rabbit could have doubled back and run by Mike and he would not have seen him. For him everything revolved around smell. It might have taken him forever to catch his prey, but Happy would sometimes see the rabbit running way ahead and bring the rabbit back to Mike before he knew what was happening. But most times the chase ended in frustration because the rabbit found a place to hide out of the reach of these two unlikely partners.

Birthdays–Many Many Birthdays!

“I was brought up to respect my elders, so now I don’t have to respect anybody.”
George Burns

Today is my 72 birthday. July has always been a busy month for me. A birthday cake finalized the menu for my 65th in a hotel by the Dead Sea in Israel in 2010. Something morose about that location on a birthday.


(58).JPG But, despite that prophetic note, God has allowed me to swim many more miles and I am enjoying today in the humid state of Iowa at Wendy’s house.

We had hoped to go fishing but no way with the humidity kissing 100%. Brats at Tim this evening. Nice day for a nap after a very late breakfast.

Just found another photo from last year when I celebrated #71 in Scotland. My sister sent the cake clear from the USA. I am so blessed with friends and family.



Growing Up in the Midwest

The Watkins Dogs

You think those dogs will not be in heaven! I tell you they will be there long before any of us. Robert Louis Stevenson


Most farms had at least one dog. Ours was no exception. It was impossible to establish a pet free zone in the country. If you didn’t have a dog or a cat on the farm, every few months someone would drop off unwanted kittens or dogs and they would show up at your door with a sad look and a hungry tummy. Fortunately animals just moved around from one farm to another and few died from neglect. My parents had an unspoken mantra—“If they come, feed them.” Much of the food for our pets came from our table. Many times Mom would make extra gravy to put on the bread that was getting stale. Most rural parents taught compassion and kindness toward animals that by extension reached the way children looked at other people. Or, perhaps the reverse was true. First they showed love to people and then to animals. Few, if any, rural parents were cruel toward animals. It is quite probable that most of cruelty toward animals and bullying of people comes from some type of repressed anger or desire to manipulate and control someone or something; the helpless animal or the weakest human always fall victim to such abuse. I was taught that the only way to stop bullying or any kind of abuse of animals or people was to call those people to accountability for their action by way of reporting them to authorities. I am so thankful I never had to endure any type of abuse, but it certainly happened and I wish I had been braver to assist others.