Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, October 20, 2017

I WAS SO MUCH OLDER THEN [F, 10-20-17]

I loved the early Bob Dylan. “Blowin’ in the Wind.” “Don’t Think Twice.” Those sorts of songs.

I don’t understand most of his later lyrics, especially “My Back Pages.’ There is one line, however, in that song that I love: “But I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”

Maybe I’ll have them put that on my grave stone.

JRMcF

Thursday, October 19, 2017

NOTES TO A GRANDDAUGHTER-poem [R 10-19-17]


That time you cried before you even knew
The world existed
And that you were part of it

That was the time I prayed for you.

When you ran screeching through the sprinkler
The first time you saw the words and knew their meaning
When you were so frightened because your brother was so sick

That was the time I prayed for you.

When you went off to school with a smile and a hope
When the teacher didn’t understand
When the other girls shut you out

That was the time I prayed for you.

When you tried to make the team and didn’t
When you lost the spelling bee
When you cried because you held a tiny death in your hand

That was the time I prayed for you.

When you saw that boy and he walked away
When you didn’t even want to go
But they chose you queen at the prom

That was the time I prayed for you.

When those in power lied
And sneered at you in arrogance
When the world teetered on destruction
When injustice seemed so overwhelming

That was the time I prayed for you.


When you laughed out loud at nothing
When you saw the stars at night, and felt so small,
When you felt the presence of God in every angle of your soul

That was the time I prayed for you

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

FLOPPY EARS [W, 10-18-17]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter…

My Grandma Mac-Henrietta Ann Smith McFarland, who was Retta to her friends-made me a stuffed dog. I called it Floppy Ears.

I was three years old, and Grandma’s favorite grandson. That’s what she always called me, up to when I was ten. Then she stopped calling me that. It was years before I realized she had stopped calling me that when her second grandson was born.

It was the time of The Great Depression. We lived with Grandma and Grandpa-Arthur Harrison McFarland, who went by Harry-in a big old house at the edge of Oxford, Ohio that my mother dubbed Cedar Crest because of the big trees in the front yard. Sometimes there were just nine of us, Grandma and Grandpa, my parents and my sister and I, and my father’s three late teen/early twenties bachelor brothers who could not marry because they could not get jobs. Occasionally there would be twelve or fourteen of us, if Uncle Harvey or Uncle Glen lost a job and they had to move in, too, with their wives and daughters.

Grandma was no more than five feet tall and weighed maybe 90 pounds. She had seven children, at home, and raised along with her own seven the daughter of a brother, from the age of four until Genevieve graduated high school. She was never in a hospital until the day she died, at age 96.

Grandma worked full-time, at Western College for Women, now a part of Miami University, first as a maid, then as a salad cook. She had a house full of people, and a purse full of nothing, but she found the time to make me a stuffed dog.

Grandma wasn’t a great crafter. Floppy Ears wasn’t intricate. He was just a profile dog, about two inches across, one leg in front and one in back. His sides were in a black and white pattern, and his legs and middle were red. But he had two eyes, and those great floppy ears, on the outside the same black and white material as his body, red on the inside.

I loved Floppy Ears, and yet he didn’t last long. I forgot about him when my father got a job in Indianapolis and we moved away from Cedar Crest and I started school. When I was about twelve I came across him in a box in the attic. I was a little embarrassed at twelve to be so happy to rediscover a little stuffed dog. I put him back in the box.

I don’t know what happened to that box. It disappeared when my parents moved while I was in graduate school. But as I listen now to a Billy Vaughn CD with a recitation of Little Boy Blue, that starts with “The little toy dog is covered with dust…” I remember Floppy Ears, and a woman who covered the world with kindness, and I am happy.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married, and where we are known as “Bloomarangs.” It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

SCONE THINKING [T, 10-17-17]


This is a story about an old man sitting in the doctor’s waiting room thinking about scones. I know this story well.

There were 30 empty seats plus mine in that room. I felt slightly lonely. I wondered if someone else would come in. If they did, I figured said newcomer would ask me what I was thinking about, because I don’t like that, since I never have an interesting thought, at least not one I’m willing to admit to.

But this time, I was ready, for I knew when I got home Helen would have coffee and scones ready, so I would answer the inquisitive stranger: “I am thinking about whether I prefer cinnamon or oatmeal scones. There really is no question. I like oatmeal best, but my wife prefers cinnamon, so I maintain the myth that I like them equally, since I want to keep her happy, since she is the one who bakes the scones, and equal liking is only a venial lie, for I do like them both. In fact, it is fair to say that while I do have regrets, none of them involves cinnamon scones.”

Then a total of five people came and checked in and spread out onto the empty seats and not a one of them asked me what I was thinking, which was rude of them and disappointing to me.

Do not ask for whom the phlebotomist came, for she came for me. I asked her what she intended to do to me, for I tend to get phlebotomists and lobotomists confused, one with another, and I wanted to be sure which she was, which I explained to her, in lieu of the scones soliloquy which by that time I had memorized. When I left, I thanked her for not giving me a lobotomy, to which she replied, “Or perhaps I did and you don’t remember it.” [As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.]

This is a story about an old man sitting in the doctor’s waiting room thinking about scones. I know this story well. At least I thought I did. Now, though, I wonder if the botomist replaced my memory with that of someone else in that waiting room. But I think this cinnamon scone I am eating might be a clue…

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com


Monday, October 16, 2017

BEING THE MUSIC [Monday, October 16, 2017]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

I chatted with legendary US Congressman Lee Hamilton yesterday afternoon. During his 34 years representing Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, he was probably the most universally respected member of the US Congress, especially for his level-headed approach and his expertise on international affairs and national security. Now retired, he continues to serve as an advisor to many government agencies, and as the Director of The Indiana Center on Representative Government at Indiana University.

I ran into Lee after the “Sylvia and Friends” concert to raise money for the Shalom Center, which serves Bloomington’s homeless community. Sylvia is another IU icon, recently retired from the Jacobs School of Music, following a spectacular performing and recording career in opera and Broadway musicals. This was her 10th year doing the concert, which always includes Charles Webb, the retired dean of the Jacobs School, who has been the organist at First United Methodist Church, where the concert was held, for an astounding 58 years, and another 7 or 8 musical friends, at all stages of their professional careers, some retired, some just starting.

That list of pianists and guitarists and singers includes Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, Lee’s nephew. The play list was mostly Leonard Bernstein, who was a long-time friend of Charles Webb and IU’s school of music, but, naturally, the mayor was requested to sing Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” Lee laughed when I noted that Bloomington is the kind of place where even the mayor sings. [Quite professionally, by the way]

No one sings like Sylvia, though. A consummate performer. And human being. She has retired early to spend full-time in service to others, ministering directly and via agencies to the homeless and abused among us. We won’t lose her musical voice entirely, of course, but we shall be better because of her advocacy voice on behalf of those who most need a song in the dark.

What appeals to me most about Sylvia, though, is that we are both cancer survivors who say, along with many others, that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to us. Cancer gave us a new view of life, and a new song to sing. So I sit here this morning, humming my life songs as I go, ready to face a new day with a new song.

An event like yesterday afternoon works as a reset for me, because it contains all the elements that make life worthwhile—an attempt to help those who need it, real human beings who make the world better by their service and their presence, and music.

Being in the presence of Lee and Sylvia and the mayor and all the other folks there, in that beautiful church, with the music of Hoagy and Lennie, raising money for the homeless… all that is great. But it’s not necessary. All each of us has to do is be a real human who tries to make the world a better place, while singing a song.

JRMcF
johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

I tweet once in a great while as yooper1721.

Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

My book, NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published by AndrewsMcMeel. It is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. in hardback, paperback, audio, Japanese, and Czech.

I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat emptor. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading this?”

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her new book, What Goes Up, came out July 18. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.

Speaking of writing, my most recent book, VETS, about four homeless and handicapped Iraqistan veterans, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BOKO, Powell’s, etc. It’s published by Black Opal Books.

I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

Sunday, October 8, 2017

WHY I AM GOING TO HEAVEN [Su 10-8-17]


Old people often have mortality dreams. Mine are usually preparation dreams, or, more clearly, non-preparation drams, in that I am not ready to die. I have to take a test in a course I did not even know I was enrolled, or I have to go on stage and I haven’t learned my lines. It’s never a musical dream, like I have to sing a solo when I’m not prepared, because I’m always ready to sing a solo, as long as it’s “Bill Grogan’s Goat.” But, clearly, the message is: You are not prepared to die.

Last night, though, I had a different sort of mortality dream. I was walking in my brown jersey gloves, which I always stick into my pocket on nippy mornings, just in case. But in my dream, they were not enough. My hands were cold. “I should have worn my leather gloves,” I thought.

Now, it’s possible to think of this as another non-prepared dream, but I think this means I am going to heaven, for surely there would be no need of warmer gloves in hell.

JRMcF

Johnrobertmcfarland@gmail.com

Friday, October 6, 2017

WE DON’T SAY NO TO DONNA [F, 10-16-17, A repeat, mostly]


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a place of winter For the Years of Winter…

I got the news last night that Donna had died. Donna Huff now. Donna Miller when we were school classmates. Everything went wrong for Donna, right up to the end. She was hit broadside by a pickup truck and spent three weeks in the hospital, not in a coma but unresponsive. I often said that in her last thirty years, she made a life out of nothing. That wasn’t exactly true. She made a life by being a host for every soul that needed a smile or a hug. The CIW below, repeated from four years ago explains more about Donna. May she find in death the peace that she was so often denied in life.

WE DON’T SAY NO TO DONNA

The package contained ELEVEN tubes of toothpaste. With a note that said, “Donna will call you and explain.”

There were supposed to be only FIVE. And that was only because we overpaid last time. I am old. I don’t even buy green bananas. How am I doing to use up eleven tubes of toothpaste before I die? [1]

Donna was my high school classmate. She is a distributor for Forever Bright™ toothpaste. We buy from her because a long time ago she asked us to. We don’t say “no” to Donna.

She did call to explain. She owed us five tubes from our previous overpayment and tried to get the company to send them directly to us. She doesn’t have much time for boxing up out-of-town orders. Her mother is well over a hundred years and in a nursing home. Donna slept on a mattress on the floor of her room until her back got so bad she had to have surgery. Now she sleeps at home but spends most of her daytime hours at the nursing home. So why not get headquarters to send directly to us? But apparently eleven is the minimum to mail to a separate address. Who knows why? If 13 is a baker’s dozen, perhaps 11 is a dentist’s dozen.

I knew Donna in school, of course, but not well. We had a class of only 62, and I was class president for 3 years. But we didn’t run in the same social circles. I was high in the work circle of the class and school—class president, Student Council officer, newspaper editor, orchestra bassoonist—but I was not high in the power structure, which was based mostly on money and family, or the social structure, which was based mostly on looks and clothes. [1] Donna was high in the social structure; she was Homecoming Queen.

We expected a high society life for her after school, of course. It didn’t turn out that way. Her first husband divorced her, her second committed suicide. Her two sons died in their twenties, one of cancer and the other in a motorcycle accident. Her only grandchild, Jada, either committed suicide or was murdered in Donna’s house, at the age of 19. Her only family now is her mother and two sisters, one deep into Alzheimer’s, and the other living in a different state and unable to walk. Donna takes care of her mother and sells toothpaste. [10-6-17: Her mother and one sister are now dead.]

Except, Donna makes a life out of nothing. She knows everybody and she knows their stories. Helen says one of the best times she ever had was when we went to lunch with Donna when we were back in Oakland City for our 55 year reunion. She introduced us to everyone in the restaurant, including the pig farmer who was, thankfully, getting take-out and whose clothes were splattered with what Helen devoutly hoped was mud. Young or old or in-between, Donna knew them all, and later she explained why each one needed her special attention, although she didn’t put it that way, because of the difficulties of their lives. We’ve been with her several times through the years at nursing homes. She goes in like a swarm of laughing bees on a summer day, landing on every worker and every patient with a hug and a smile and a “How are you, Sweetie?” And besides, who can’t love a woman in her 70s who is a backup dancer/singer for an Elvis impersonator?
 
She’s still in the social circle, but she’s in the work circle now, too. She was telling us about how some sorority she belongs to was doing a benefit for some burned-out family or good cause or… I’m not quite sure because it’s hard to stay up with Donna. They were trying to get 25 people to sponsor it at $100 each so they could pay the band and then all the money they raised would go to the good cause. Turns out sponsors got 4 free tickets. Donna found some young married folks who wanted to go but couldn’t afford it and told them, “Pick up tickets at the window. Just tell them you are named McFarland.” We don’t say “no” to Donna.

We decided a long time ago to stop going back for class reunions. 700 miles is just too far away. But through the years we’ve become a talisman for Donna. When it came time for our 50 year reunion, she called and asked us to come. “Everyone will tell about how long they’ve been married, and about their children and grandchildren, and I won’t have anything to say. But I think I can make it through if I can sit between you and Helen.” When it was 55 years, she called and said, “I’ve got to have back surgery the Monday after. I think I can make it through if I can see you first.” We don’t say “no” to Donna.

Helen wrote the following on Jan. 13: So last night I was lying awake in bed, and this morning when I first awoke, I was feeling kind of sorry for myself. Nothing specific—just mid-winter blahs. Seemed like there are so many wrong with the world, and in the lives of people I care about, and in my own diminishing abilities to think and work and affect my world. Just feeling kind of down. I prayed about it, asking God for guidance and direction And what does God do?? Before I finished breakfast, God tapped Donna on the shoulder and said, “Call McFarlands—and be sure you talk to Helen, not just John.” {After Donna and I had talked, she said, “Does Helen have anything she wants to say to me?} Donna!! Of all the people I’ve ever known, Donna is probably the one who makes the most of what she’s been given, stays upbeat when her world is falling apart [which it has several times] and does the most good for the most people. God could have sent any number of reasonably cheerful people into my life today and it would have helped me on my way, but NO—He has to call out Donna—the BIG GUN! After we had talked and I was cheered and inspired as I always am by her, I smiled and said, “God, you really know how to send a message.”

So, we don’t say “no” to Donna, but… do you need some toothpaste?

JRMcF

1] I guess I could put the toothpaste in my will. Daughter Katie looked up McFarland wills in the county courthouse in Xenia, OH. One of my ancestors, Greene Clay McFarland, I think it was, had willed a three-legged stool to the daughter “with a bad eye,” and “the bucket without the hole” to another, etc. Eleven tubes of toothpaste might look pretty good.

2] I experienced the difference of work, power, and social circles primarily in the church, but most groups of humans, and primates generally, are like high school. {Shudder!} There is some overlap between the circles, but also some clear distinctions.


The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!