Friday, September 30, 2011

Our Oldest Grandchild's Newest Job

UGA Softball Announces Tara Archibald As Assistant Coach - The University of Georgia Bulldogs

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Catching The City of New Orleans

There was a time when going to the airport seemed exciting, but now train travel seems exotic to me. For the first time in many years, I took someone to the train station this morning. We have had a wonderful visit with Lois and Tom and their grandson Josiah, but today was the day they had to leave us.

We were all apprehensive about getting to Carbondale on time for their 7:30 a.m. train to Chicago where they will transfer to go to the west coast. We’d been sleeping in, and one always imagines the horror of not hearing an alarm clock when doing so is important. Gerald has an internal alarm clock and does not sleep in, so we had him primed to wake us all up if necessary. But we went to bed early last night, and the nervousness about our needing to leave Woodsong at 6 a.m. served to wake us.

Interestingly, Lois’ cousin Tony Ferrell and wife from Albuquerque were also in our region visiting at the same time that Lois was here for our high school class reunion. Tom, Lois, and Josiah visited the Bible class Gerald and I are now teaching at Center and worshipped with us Sunday morning. They had to skip our church potluck to drive to Anna. Tony arranged a Sunday afternoon family reunion at the fellowship hall at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where his late sister Tammy was a member. Tony and Lois are both very interested in genealogy research and are in frequent email connection, but this was a rare opportunity for them to meet face-to-face before the Ferrells go off to Australia on one of their many foreign jaunts.

Lois has had a good life in California, and since two other of her five siblings moved to the west coast, a photograph of a recent reunion out there had 50 or so family members. Nevertheless, Lois always knows some home-sickness for this area and the more distant relatives here in the county that was home for the first 18 years of her life. So the Sunday reunion followed by another trip to Union County on Monday to visit cemeteries and to meet up again with Tony and other cousins were highlights of her visit.

And she was able to get copies of her birth certificate from our more than 150 year-old Union County courthouse that somehow will be needed by a granddaughter currently living in Italy. Of necessity, a new courthouse is being built behind this old one that the public is very fond of, and I think Lois enjoyed walking into the familiar building with public servants well known for their kindness and efficiency with visitors.

Yesterday was needed for getting their breaths, returning the rental car, and packing for the journey home, so we scheduled our one “touristy” day on Tuesday. We drove down the beautiful hills and hollows to the Ohio River at
Golconda and Elizabethtown. On top of the Golconda levee I imagined as always load after load of the Cherokee arriving there in autumn 1838 on the steam ferryboat from Kentucky. We drove through town past the wonderful old court house there and looked at the large Victorian houses throughout the town and finally past the deteriorating mural of the Cherokee Removal painted on one of the flood walls. (The town is making a terrible mistake letting that mural fade, and I keep hoping a high school art teacher or some local artist will make its restoration a successful project.)

Driving on to my other favorite Ohio River town, we reached Elizabethtown in early afternoon for the very generous river catfish dinner served on a small floating restaurant. I love eating there while we watch the barges go by and feel the sway of the river as it gently rocks the boat. This meal on water reminded us of one of my all time favorite dinners that Tom and Lois treated us to beside the San Francisco bay while we watched the ocean gulls come and go outside the huge glass windows. The down-home riverboat atmosphere was in sharp contrast to that fine restaurant atmosphere, but the company of good friends was the same and the body of water outside very pleasing.

We are so glad the owners rebuilt after the restaurant fire a couple years ago. Then last spring’s flood shut them down for 37 business days, and I am glad they also survived that also. The restaurant floated up up up as the river widened and deepened. Ribbons tied high on tall telephone poles many yards west of the river’s edge now astounded us as we thought of the amount of water there just a few months ago.

The gazebo on a huge rock formation beside the river in front of the Rose Hotel next door was also inundated last spring. I knew that because innkeeper Sandy Vinland posted pictures on Facebook. And yet looking at the gazebo now high on its rock base made it hard to even imagine the river ever being that much higher.
We had to wander in the backyard of the Rose Hotel and visit the graves there including one for Mr. McFarland, who built that much storied two-story brick building in 1812. Then we visited the gift shop in front and walked into the lovely ancient dining room where Sandy dresses in Victorian dresses to serve breakfast to the guests at the hotel. I was sorry she wasn’t there to say hello to, but I enjoyed the memories of our celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary there.

We still had time for our visit to the Cache River wetlands area that delights with its 1,000 year-old tupelo and cypress trees. The plant and animal life in the swamps there are amazing in their diversity and so different from the rest of our area filled with bluffs and rock formations left by the glacier melting here eons ago.

We were very disappointed to find out that our Illinois fiscal problems had shut down the Barkenhausen visitors’ center. The displays there and the brief interpretive film, which is one of the best of such films I have ever seen, were something I was looking forward to showing off to our guests. But we did take a brief hike back to the viewing platform beside the green algae-covered swamp filled with cypress knees and the champion trees. We only saw one other visitor—a nearby resident who had brought his dog and gun out to the hunting area we walked past. Gerald visited with him before we hiked on, and evidently he was successful in his hunt since we heard his gun go off and his truck and dog were gone when we came back to our car.

Although yesterday was planned as a slow day to rest before our friends’ departure, while we were in town returning their rental car, we did work in a visit to the Kenneth J. Gray museum in the mall. Although many did not mean his nickname “The Prince of Pork” as praise for his many years of service as a Representative in the United States Congress, I personally appreciated all he did for our region—including Rend Lake, Interstate 57, elderly and low income public housing, the federal prison, and so much more. A child of the Depression, a veteran of World War II, a pall bearer at John Kennedy’s funeral, Ken Gray knew the mighty but cared for the common people including those coal miners with black lung disease and the many unemployed in our end of the state. I am proud to have the beautiful book about his service co-written by my friend Maxine Pyle on my coffee table in the family room. She and Marleis Trover named their book Pass the Plate, a quote from Gray who said, “If ‘pork” means housing, education, roads, and jobs, then all I have to say if “Pass the Plate’”

Woodsong seems quiet now without Tom and Lois to converse with and their delightful grandson Josiah to make us feel in touch with what is current in today’s youthful world. As their visit wound up, we spoke of outings we did not accomplish this visit as something we would do “next time” and the possibility of a visit with them in California again – perhaps when Geri Ann plays softball out there during her upcoming college years. And so as we hugged goodbye at the train station, I tried not to think it might turn out to be the last time we’d see each other.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Long Live the A-J Class of 1951!

It does not seem possible it has been over 60 years that five or six of us stood in our high school graduation gowns on the stairs of Bar-San Hall and had our photograph taken together. We were the closest of friends. We were happy about graduation but yet sadly aware that we might not be having our photo taken again any time soon. I don’t think I ever saw that photograph, and as it turned out the entire group was never together again—ever. Nor will we ever be on this planet.

Nevertheless, thanks to some local hard working committee members, the Anna-Jonesboro High School Class of 1951 celebrated their 60th anniversary with a reunion last night at the Giant City Lodge.

That reunion invitation was the impetus for our special friends, Tom and Lois Doctor, of Oakland, CA, to make a trip back to Lois’ roots. They were traveling by train and plans were all made. However, their two daughters were not too happy with all the intricacies that train trip was going to involve with their train from Chicago arriving at almost 1:30 in the morning in Carbondale.

Happily, the daughters enlisted grandson Josiah to travel with them, so we are finally able to meet the grandson we have always heard about. It is so good to have him here at Woodsong with Tom and Lois. Josiah is between jobs following his bachelors degree in liberal arts from a small Oregon college, and while on this trip, he is busy preparing a portfolio for applying for graduate school. So this break in his schedule worked out just great for this delightful young man to be a companion to his grandparents and to break bread with our Class of 1951.

Actually, Lois graduated with the Class of 1950. But her grade school years and her first three years of high school were with our class, and she served us as a class officer and student council member. We have continued to claim her as one of ours just at the Class of 1950 does. With enough credits, students were allowed to graduate early at that time in Illinois. By taking advantage of that, Lois was able to get a year of college accomplished at Southern Illinois University Carbondale while the rest of us finished high school.

Then on a fall day in October 1952, she and our friend Lynn stood at a street corner in our small town and sadly said goodbye since Lois was leaving with family members to live and work in California and eventually get her art degree there.
In a few years, Lynn also ended up making a life in California. The two of them saw each other occasionally despite their busy lives rearing their families, going to school, holding down jobs, and so forth.

Although I always saw Lois or Lynn when they were back in Illinois, the three of us were not together again until Spring 2001 when Gerald and I went to California to see our oldest granddaughter, Tara, play softball with the SIUC squad. We stayed at Lois and Tom’s house and they showed us the San Francisco area and drove us to Tara’s ball games. And they arranged a dinner visit in Concord with Lynn, a final visit I will always cherish. Although Lynn had planned to return for a visit here in retirement, she died of leukemia in December 2007.

This year our reunion programs listed 22 of our classmates whose names were read in memoriam. Those names included Margaret Ann Keller Petty, who died a few years ago. She had collected names and addresses for our reunions. Richard Hase, who worked again on this year’s reunion, passed away before it came about.

Also not able to be present this year was Lotrell Tweedy Hileman, who has worked on several of our reunions including this one although she had a stroke after their first committee meeting. Martha Ury Dillow and Tom Bacon have faithfully served our class with all the paper work and foot work that such gatherings require, but they are ready to turn the job over to anyone else who has the time, energy, and health.

If no one takes up the challenge, we voted to turn our left-over funds to Anna’s Stinson Memorial Library. Hearing of the deaths of spouses and children and health crisises was sad but not unexpected after 60 years. Yet there were many heart warming moments and many laughs and chuckles. Our class president, Richard Youngs, read messages from members who could not be present. Despite her upcoming catarack surgery, Martha is going to take on one more job and mail out the reunion photos that Gerald took for us and is busy printing here at Woodsong.

We have had a good run. and getting together with classmates was a wonderful event.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Time Flies and Life Changes

For three nights last week, I enjoyed the large moon hanging high in the sky above me as I drove home to Woodsong from Marion. How could it be time for a full moon already I wondered. Is there anyway to keep time from passing so fast? I’d been warned that time seems to pass more quickly as we age, but I thought somewhere in my distant past I had also heard about time dragging for the elderly. Well, we take what we get, don’t we? Somehow the week passed as rapidly as the past month, and I failed to blog midweek.

Just as pleasant as the great moon was driving to and from Marion yesterday in gentle rain. It continues to be wet this morning; and although we have only accumulated seven-tenths of an inch thus far, we are grateful.

When I returned to the farm from Katherine’s last evening, our son-in-law Brian’s truck was in the driveway. He was down to check on the upcoming harvest, and we will see him again soon. He will not be renting a combine this year. His first combine is on the way and will arrive Wednesday. There is a smile on his face when he speaks about it. How many good memories this brings to us of the excitement of a new combine. Down through the years, we have observed that the price of a combine is usually about equal to the price of a new home, so it is a major purchase filled with new technology and the pleasure of a sparkling clean interior with good smelling seats. (Often the new technology on farm equipment means the farmer must expend considerable effort to get any bugs worked out. I hope that is not the case for Brian this year because he has a contract to fill very soon.) Moisture and the weight of the sample he collected indicate a good harvest.

Jari Jackson and I traveled to John A. Logan College Thursday night to attend our monthly Southern Illinois Writers Guild meeting. Jon Musgrave has been working hard on collecting information on venues for group book signings for the Guild. Since he will voluntarily provide the news releases for the group, this sounds like a wonderful opportunity for our many individual authors to get their books out there to the public and to promote our Guild anthologies.

I came home with Lois Barrett’s newest novel Shuugh, God and Lulu and started reading it but made myself quit and go to bed. I did not do as well Friday night when I stayed up to 1 a.m. to finish. Wife abuse and women who return to chance it again and again is a puzzling problem in our society, and Lois was trying to help us better understand it. Many times these women don’t believe in divorce, and neither do I. Divorce is a sad ending to high hopes. But once the vow to love and honor is broken by brutality, I don’t think true marriage exists anymore. Divorce is just a legal piece of paper acknowledging the reality that the marriage vows were destroyed. That is simple common sense to me. However, Lois’ book shows a more complicated look at some humans’ ability (perhaps addiction?) to accept flawed relationships and to risk physical danger to enjoy the times between abuse. Forgiveness and loving in spite of injury and insult amaze me. Newspaper accounts of murdered spouses concern and scare me for those in abusive situations.

The next morning before I left for routine blood work after the mandatory fasting, Gerald, who had been able to enjoy his daily coffee and newspaper, told me the sad news on the obituary page of two friends’ deaths. I don’t remember ever going to two funeral visitations in one day before, but on Saturday I did.

One in the morning was for the mother of one of Katherine’s best friends, one of the teenagers who used to frequent our lives. Although it has been many many years ago, it seems only yesterday that Bernetta Hill and I stood outside a high school graduation ceremony in the Crab Orchard gymnasium, and Bernetta shuddered at the thought that in a year or two, our daughters would be on that gym floor with caps and gowns on.

Katherine said Bernetta, a secretary who worked in the high school office for 28 years, was the “school mom” always ready to quietly and discretely help anyone with a needed band-aid or safety pin. But neither Katherine nor I knew that Bernetta was a poet. Among the many photographs displayed at the funeral home were some of her fine poems matted and framed, and one grandson read one at the graveside service. He told how she wrote him every week while he was away at college—even when arthritis reduced her to typing with two fingers. Katherine related to that since in recent years she also can only type with two fingers and much effort. (The ability to play the piano was one of the first losses that multiple sclerosis brought, and eventually her handwritten journals of poetry ceased.)

That night I drove down to Goreville to the funeral home. Jim Terry was born and stayed his entire life in this small town working at the family business and devoting much time and energy to voluntary service to its residents just as his parents had before him. His parents lived down the street from mine when my parents returned in retirement to Daddy’s roots.

Jim and Dixie, both only children, also lived down that street and reared their five children there while Dixie had a child care center in their home and attended to countless Goreville preschoolers. (This was before their move to nearby Lake of Egypt to a big house that eventually was three generational--a home to their parents and a returning kid or two.)

In recent years, they moved back to town to a home built to accommodate Dixie’s excellence as a cook and her extraordinary organizational abilities where she entertained not just their large family at a multitude of gatherings but also frequently catered tea parties for women’s clubs and groups of friends. Through all of their lives, Dixie was writing for both local, regional, and national publications. (At one time I was aware that she was doing six columns in addition to constant feature and news stories.) Jim was right there with her supporting her efforts just as Dixie went to the many area sports events that Jim never missed.

When Jim received a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis in April, they made a decision to live the remaining time to the fullest. Together they spent their last summer attending family outings, Cardinals and Miners games, concerts, picnics, and making daily drives through Ferne Clyffe park to see the deer. And they read the Bible.

Wanting good things to last forever, I have never liked change. But Bernetta’s son Jeff reminded us that his mother, who had not walked in over a year, was now pain free and dancing in heaven. The Bible in Jim’s hands at the funeral home and the many memorial donations given to charities in addition to the abundance of flowers demonstrated that people can die well just as they lived. Change and time passing more rapidly than we like is the way life on the planet is ordained to be. Wise people adjust to that reality. I am working on it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sowing in Tears

Thinking again on the many lives lost a decade ago on September 11, Americans shed many tears yesterday. A visitor at our village church yesterday had come back home where he was ordained for the ministry over 49 years ago. Now retired but still preaching, Ed Handkins answered our song leader’s request that he sing for us.

Before singing “It Is Well with My Soul,” Ed reminded us briefly of the familiar story of how the hymn was written. Ed knew this would be a needed song yesterday when much of our nation, still suffering and still grieving from the attack ten years ago, was also trying to hold tightly to the belief: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Not only had the anniversary reminded us of great loss of lives in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., but as I looked around our small congregation, I realized so many monumental personal problems that people were living with.

And I was reasonably sure that there were many more problems that I knew nothing about in that small sanctuary. I have enormous respect for pastors who know of so many human hurts in their congregations and are helping people deal with them but often cannot share these heavy burdens with the rest of us. None of us understand the pain and destruction caused by nature nor by human nature. We wish such troubles could be annihilated and that the sorrows like sea billows would go away. They obviously don’t. But as I listened and thrilled to Ed’s powerful voice, the message in song penned by the grieving Chicago lawyer brought me comfort and a sense of God’s care.

I’d briefly heard the Horatio Spafford story before, but listening to his hymn yesterday sent me hurrying to Google today, and I learned a much larger and longer story. An even more complicated story.

Horace G. Spafford was on his way to Europe in 1873 to meet his wife Anna, who had wired him of the shipwreck that had taken the lives of their four beloved daughters. At the point in the ocean where the wreck had occurred, the captain told him where they were. Spafford, who had been a poet from his youth and who wrote lyrics for songs, found it in his faith to write the hymn that has been sung all over the world for over a century now.

Despite their work for the abolition of slavery, serving in their local congregation, given to hospitality, and helping friends such as Dwight L. Moody and musicians Ira Sankey and Philip P. Bliss, the Spaffords had never been exempt from troubles. As a young teen, Anna had lost her immigrant parents soon after they came to America. After their marriage, Spafford had made land investments in northern Chicago shortly before the terrible Chicago fire, which resulted in deep financial losses for him and a harrowing experience for his wife. He was away, but Anna took in refugees from the fire only to become sufficiently threatened by the approaching flames that the guests and she and her four little girls had to evacuate.

The family trip to Europe was planned to help Moody and Sankey in their evangelistic endeavors and to provide a time of healing and rejuvenation for their family.

At the last minute, Horatio had business prevent his going with Anna and their daughters on the luxury ocean liner. He would come later. A ship from England rammed into the S. S. Ville de Havre one night. Within twelve minutes, the steamer sank. Life boats were unavailable held fast by a recent paint job. Surrounded by Annie, Megan, and Bessie with the youngest daughter Tanetta in her arms, Anna was on deck when heavy winds took her child from her clutch before all were thrown in the ocean.

Anna was one of the small number of survivors when she was rescued semi-conscious on a piece of planking and taken by the rescuing boat to Wales. Horatio was on his way to bring her home when he composed the famous hymn.

Back in their empty house in Lakeview near Chicago, Horatio and Anna grieved and resumed life. They went on to have a daughter Bertha and a son named after his daddy. Now they continued their spiritual life with an entirely new set of values. Then a scarlet fever epidemic in 1880 claimed the life of the son when he was four. Some people wondered what the Spaffords had done wrong to be so punished with such losses.

As they intensified their Bible study, they became intrigued with the second coming and with a desire to go to Jerusalem. As soon as their baby Grace was born in 1881, the Spaffords led a party of thirteen adults and three children to the then Ottoman Palestine to start a Christian community trying to pattern after the New Testament church. Their mission was to serve the poor, and they made no distinction in serving Jews, Muslins, or Christians.

They tried to help whoever needed help and won the appreciation and respect of the people living in Jerusalem who called them The American Colony. Of course, they also attracted jealousy and criticism including that of two United States consuls. A court case exonerated them, but some of their beliefs and practices are still questioned today.

They adopted Jacob Eliahu Spafford, a talented and bilingual son who continued work with the colony in his adulthood as did his two sisters and other children reared in the commune. Horatio had died in 1888 at age 60, but Anna assumed leadership until her death in 1923.

Relief and charitable work was then continued under the direction of the second generation of The American Colony’s children and even the third generation until the 1950s when inner tensions in the group caused the communal group to cease.
Many people disdain the group for its unorthodox beliefs and for human errors and less than perfect lives.

But down through the years since the tragedy at sea in 1873, health care and hospitals have been provided, schools made available, orphaned babies and children have been cared for, and thousands of people were fed in times of food shortages during wars or plagues. The Spafford commune has produced an amazing abundance of good fruit that has helped and blessed people of all faiths. Read more about Horatio and Anna’s heritage at:

Monday, September 05, 2011

Wolf Lake Class of 1948 and Labor Day Weekend

Gerald was one of 16 in his Wolf Lake High School graduating class. One alumnus and wife were in the habit of coming back for a late summer visit and a McClure grade school reunion. A few years back, the local social leader of the 1948 class—Irma Dell Eudy Elkins--started calling the rest of us to meet for dinner at Fox Hollow, the East Cape fish eatery.

Others who went to school with this class and some relatives might also show up for the gathering. I finally began to get acquainted with those long-ago buddies from Gerald’s high school days. A couple of classmates have died and a couple of the locals don’t feel the need for seeing long-ago classmates, but still there are always two or three long tables of us. When this year’s reunion was planned, last spring’s flood caused the fish place at East Cape to close. There was some question whether Foxy’s could reopen, so Irma Dell reserved the room in a Mexican restaurant at Anna for us on Thursday night before the holiday weekend began.

This year everyone was missing “Doc” Knupp whom classmates had sent funeral flowers for earlier in the summer. He had been brought with his walker from a nursing home the last couple of years, and we were glad to again see his sister Mary Ellen from Cape who had brought him last year.

We enjoyed picking up Ruby Morrison Treece from her assisted living quarters in Marion, where she had moved when her multi-floored Cape Girardeau home became too much to take care of. She is still recovering from open heart surgery, but is looking good. She and Gerald shared a birthday when they went to the rural Miller Pond School as children. (That building was just torn down this summer, and Gerald’s brother Garry acquired those bricks) For a few years back then, a small country church congregation met in the school house on Sunday, and Gerald and Ruby made professions of faith there on the same day. Ruby married a young farmer in the Mississippi River bottoms, and Jim was the brother of our sister-in-law Opal Treece Glasco. In small communities, there are often layered connections between people, and this has always fascinated me.

(Anyone who digs into genealogy when populations were more limited immediately begins to find such overlaps--siblings marrying siblings and such. When we had two daughters living in Nashville, TN, I became convinced from their stories that this was also true in city circles because they learned that a stranger at a party might turn out to be connected to someone they already knew. I regretted I had not majored in sociology to better understand these inter-connections of people better. I guess this is similar to the six degrees of separation that mathematicians and academics explored for us and popular culture embraced.)

Ruby was an excellent student with a wonderful sense of humor and later became a successful business woman when they left the Mississippi bottoms and moved to Carmi after Jim became an insurance agent there. We enjoyed talking all the way to and from Anna, and Gerald and Ruby caught up on many mutual acquaintances.

A sad message from my cousin Ken Johnson in California waited when we came in that evening. His brother Eugene up in Collinsville had passed away. So the end of that evening was filled with my reflections and reminisces of my Rockenmeyer family connections. Ken and Gene used to bring their Boy Scout tents to Mount Airy Farm, and we kids would all camp out in the front yard with cups of meat grease to put on our chigger bites. More recently, Gerald and I took our grandkids to Cahokia Mounts one summer and on to Gene and Elsie’s house, where Gene had an entire museum room devoted to his rock and Native American collections.

Suddenly we were into Labor Day weekend, and we had made no special plans. I realized as I read the weekend papers that many people were making the most of this late summer holiday weekend with visitors, reunions, cookouts, or going to the DuQuoin Fair, and I felt a little left out. Our nephew DuWayne had become sick at work on Friday and was in Cape Girardeau hospital for tests, so yesterday afternoon Gerald went with his brother Keith to see him. I was at our daughter Katherine’s as usual on Sunday afternoon. She and I were highly delighted when her sister Mary Ellen phoned. She and Brian had come down to clean out their grain bin today for this year’s crop and found no one home at Woodsong. So Brian brought her into Katherine’s, and soon Mary Ellen had Kate and me in stitches as only she can do. When David brought teenage Sam home from his youth group, Sam added to the hilarity with his impersonations and witty remarks and the belly laughing continued. I knew this was better than any comedy club, and I no longer felt left out of the holiday celebration.

Mary Ellen and I finally went home and joined Brian and Gerald at the kitchen table, where everyone fixed themselves hot pockets or pot pies from the freezer and visited more while also enjoying tomatoes and cantaloupe from Gerald’s garden. Since Brian had taken their camper up last week for the Farm Progress Show where Stone Seed had an exhibit, they and Fifi stayed over night with us. So there was more visiting this morning. And today Gerald brought in the first watermelon from his garden to finish our lunch menu. With no planning, my Labor Day weekend has been a success.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Sad Farewell to Jerry Stapleton, Age 60

As we knew it would be, the parking lot of the funeral home was full last night when we pulled in. We were dreading the fresh grief inside although the accident that cost the life of Jerry Stapleton had happened over a week before. He had been taken to a Saint Louis hospital by helicopter and lain there for over a week on a breathing machine with broken neck and paralysis and then a massive stroke. Some thought that perhaps a light stroke or some such event had caused the accident with its catastrophic results in the first place. As far as anyone knew, he never had to suffer the anxiety of knowing about his injuries as he never became conscious.

From a large and highly regarded family, Jerry had been in the community’s prayers ever since an accident. His sister’s sister-in-law kept us all abreast with Jerry’s condition on Facebook, so we were prepared for the bad news.

During the thirty-six years we lived at Pondside Farm just a half mile from here, there was only one house between ours and the Stapleton house just down the road. Russ and Mildred Stapleton had three boys, all tall like their World War II veteran father, and one little girl named Debby, who was the right age to play with our youngest two—Jeannie and Mary Ellen. Steve, Jerry, and Mike were all several years older than our son Gerry, and they also had cousins Gordon and Paul on down the road apiece. Our brother-less son found the Stapleton homes a bonanza of boys with fishing, ball playing, horse, and hunting interests. As soon as he was allowed to ride his bycycle on our rural gravel road, he would head there with promises to me that he would be home before dark. Poor little guy got in trouble a lot when he would break those promises. Because of the age differences, I worried about his being a pest, but the boys made him welcome.

When I wrote our kids about Jerry’s accident, our son emailed back: “That is so sad! Paul, Steve, Jerry, Gordon and Mike were my closest neighbors. Good families. Never, ever did one thing mean to me! That is really a testament to how good of boys they all were!” Down in Georgia, he was torn that it was not possible for him to be in that huge crowd at the funeral home. But he was so accurate about “Good families.”

Russ farmed and worked in the mines. In addition to all her homemaking duties and cooking for her own family, Mildred worked in our village school lunch program for many years. When she retired, she used her expertise and for many more years volunteered to head up her church’s participation in Marion’s lunch program for anyone who shows up to eat five days a week. Participating churches take a week’s turn to prepare meals. Mildred would be there all five days. Only long after health problems plagued her did she finally retire from this unpaid job.

Russ and Mildred are perfect examples of bad things happening to good people. Their son Steve served in the Marines in Viet Nam and was exposed to Agent Orange. He came home and worked in the mines, but he had to fight cancer for many years. Like so many of our veterans, he died early at age 61 in 2008. Parents never get over losing children. As one of my high school classmates said to me about his son’s death: they are supposed to live longer than their parents.

Mildred and Russ celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at the party their kids threw for them July 4th weekend at their church fellowship hall. We had a family reunion and could not attend, but I thoroughly enjoyed the invitation with an adorable poem telling the story of their romance and marriage. I found out from Mike last night that Debby had written it. Somehow I take comfort from knowing that they had that special time together with all their children, grandchildren, and friends before they had to go through this second sorrow of losing another son.

Jerry’s wife Pam and his two sons and daughter are all living productive lives that speak well of Jerry’s heritage from his time on earth. The community will continue to share their grief and pray for comfort for all of them as they face life without him.

The death toll is rising from the terrible destruction of Hurricane Irene, so many Americans families are facing great grief right now. We know that grief is to be expected in this life, but somehow it often surprises us when it happens.

Tammy Morris, a writer in our community, gave us this scripture paraphrase on Facebook a couple of days ago: ""weeping endures for the night but joy comes in the morning...' -- life brings hills and valleys and each has something that add character, so if you are in a valley and weeping during the night, just remember that there is a hill and a morning full of joy up ahead." Thank you, Tammy.