Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, May 21, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections and Stories for the Years of Winter… A GOOD STORY IS A GOOD STORY—WITH ANY ACCENT   [M, 5-21-18]

My doctor when we lived in Hoopeston, IL, Dr. Kosyak--always called Kojak by the locals, after the TV detective played by Telly Savalas—was Turkish. When he immigrated to the US, the first thing the government did was put him into the military, when his English was not yet very good. It never did get all that good. [1]

Even with his strange accent, he liked to tell stories, and I found him quite delightful. I knew all the doctors in town, and liked them all, but I chose Kojak as my personal doctor for the stories.

Dr. Kosyak was a macho sort who once decided to hunt grizzlies with a knife. He thought it would make a great story, and be no problem, since he was a surgeon and knew exactly where to stab the bear with the knife. The bear would be dead immediately and not able to retaliate. He got up close, and then the bear stood up on its back feet and roared. Kosyak said, “Standing there with my knife. I thought it a big knife. Now looked so small. Bear looked so big. Ran like hell.” [2]

One day I was walking down the hall in the hospital when the good doctor bounced out of a doorway, grabbed me by the arm, and with no explanation pulled me into the room. “Who this?” he yelled at the older man sitting on the edge of his bed. Neither the patient nor I knew what this was about, or if it might be a trick question, but with no other option, he said, rather meekly, “Rev. McFarland?”

“Right,” said Kojak. “You got brain back. No demented. Go home.”

In that period when he had first immigrated and was in the army, he was the only doctor on duty at his military base one weekend when a Marine brought his little boy in. The kid had fallen and had a big bleeding gash on his head. Dr. Kosyak started to take the kid back to the operating room. The Marine was not about to allow this foreigner to take his son off without going with him.

“Okay,” Kojak said, “but you faint, can’t help. Got to take care on the boy.”

Well, that was an insult. He wasn’t going to faint. He was a Marine! Of course, when the doctor started to work, the Marine fainted.

When Dr. Kosyak had finished, he carried the boy back to the waiting room to his mother. “Where is my husband?” she asked. Kosyak searched for the right English words, remember a new phrase he had heard for becoming unconscious, and said, “He passed away.”

He couldn’t understand why she got so upset.


1] At that time, every Hoopeston physician had an accent. We had doctors from Germany, Taiwan, and Korea, as well as Turkey. The accent hardest to understand was the doctor from Arkansas.

2] Why do men, even smart, educated men, do things like hunting grizzlies with a knife? There’s really no explanation, except, as Tammy Wynette sang, “After all, he’s just a man.”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

BAD NEWS BEARER [Su, 5-20-18]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Stories of Faith and Life for the Years of Winter… BAD NEWS BEARER     [Su, 5-20-18]

It was the first day of the new year when I had to go tell Evelyn that her husband was suddenly dead.

Arlyn had been cutting trees in the woods with a friend. A tree had fallen on him. The sheriff called me, told me to go tell Evelyn before somebody else found out about it and telephoned and told her while she was alone. He would get his wife and come as soon as possible, but he had to deal with some details first.

That was not an unusual request. I was often asked to break bad news to people. The sheriff assumed I was the proper person to break this bad news because Evelyn was my secretary.

But Evelyn was no longer my secretary. She was mad at me. Neither she nor Arlyn had spoken to me for several months. The sheriff didn’t give me a chance to explain, though. Just told me to go.

The high school band director had scheduled a “required” practice on Christmas day. Any student who failed to show would not be allowed to march in the big parade. Parents protested, not to the band director, of course, but to their pastors. The Ministerial Association passed a resolution protesting this misuse of Christmas.

I wasn’t personally opposed to a Christmas band practice as such, but I was opposed to making it required. Christmas is a family day for many. I did not think a kid should be penalized for going to see Grandma on Christmas.

I was not personally affected. Neither of my children were in band. We didn’t even go to band concerts. Mary Beth and Katie were in academics and drama and sports in school, plus church, so it was all we could do to keep up with those activities.

But I was the secretary of the ministerial association, so the letter of protest went out over my signature. The ministerial association did not have a letterhead, but I created one, and made it clear that this was not my resolution but that of all the preachers together. Didn’t make a bit of difference. It was my signature, so I got all the heat.

The band director himself came to see me. Since my children were not in band, we had never met before. He did not understand why I was upset. He was a hard worker, and if you’re a hard worker, you should not be criticized, and, besides, even though he was not a member of any church, he was “as religious as the next man.” [A direct quote] I didn’t see how that was relevant, but he seemed to think it closed the discussion with some sort of victory for him.

There are some parents in any community who become more invested in a particular school activity than their children are. For whatever reason, that was Evelyn and Arlyn on behalf of the band. A Christmas practice didn’t interfere with them; all their relatives lived several hundred miles away. Also, they had a son who played trumpet, and apparently they wanted him out of the house as much as possible.

Evelyn and Arlyn and their children belonged to my church, but none of them came to worship. They wanted to protest what they saw as me trying to destroy the band program, but they couldn’t boycott worship since they didn’t come anyway. So Evelyn quit as church secretary.

Church secretary is a demanding and underpaid job. It takes a rare combination of skills and temperament. Interestingly, I’ve rarely had a mediocre secretary. Either they were really good at the job, or very unsuited for it. Evelyn had adequate skills, but she had some emotional problems she tried to hide by being effusively and excessively sweet. It made folks mistrust her, wondering what she was hiding.

I think when she quit in a huff, she thought it would cause a stir, that perhaps the church would rise up and choose her over me, say we could not do without her and… well, we all have illusions of irreplaceability from time to time. That was a very healthy congregation, though. It was not into games or drama. The chairwoman of the staff-parish relations committee treated the whole thing as quite normal. She hosted a nice retirement party for Evelyn at her house and that was the end of it. Except then I got to hire her replacement.

Two, as it turned out. Frances wanted to work only in the mornings, and Rose wanted to work only in the afternoons, so they shared the job, and became best friends in the process. They were both in that “really good” category I was blessed with, along with Anne and Jeanne and Mary, who served as my secretary in other churches.

All that is irrelevant, though, when you have to go tell a woman that her husband has been killed.

When I appeared at her door, Evelyn became her overly sweet self, as though she had not quit in a huff, as though we had not seen each other in months. “Oh, how thoughtful of you to come see me on New Year’s Day.” Maybe she understood that I could only be the bearer of bad news and was trying to put it off.

Neither of her children was home. No one there but Evelyn and me. I wanted to stall, wait until the sheriff and his wife got there, but I knew I couldn’t. I told her. She cried in my arms for a very long time until the sheriff and his wife finally got there. I never saw her again.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

WAITING FOR AFTERNOON-a poem [Sa, 5-19-18]

WAITING FOR AFTERNOON-a poem                        [Sa, 5-19-18]

I am waiting for the afternoon
Hurry midday
or lunch time
or whatever it is called

Come here quickly
for the morning
is a desperate time
full of angst
and toil and doubt

But after lunch, I fall asleep
My frantic desperate morning self
can rest in memories
of other summer afternoons,
when the hours held warm
hopes and cold tea


Not long ago, Helen gave me a copy of A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. It is a lovely book. I don’t think anyone else today writes with the elegance of Towles. The characters and their relationships are all intriguing and inviting, and the story is one of acceptance and liberation at the same time. It is a slow read, not because it is difficult, but because it should be savored.

Friday, May 18, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…


Our optometrist, who is very good at his job, says he went into optometry because he thought blood would be minimal. Good thought.

Blood can be off-putting. Helen’s Uncle Fred was so histo-phobic that he passed out just hearing the word “blood.” That happened once in a high school class, in Monon, IN. The principal came down to his classroom to help revive him. When Fred woke up, the principal said, “Fred, surely you’re not that squeamish about just the word, blood.” Whoops! There went Fred again.

So they learned to call Fred’s older sister, Georgia, who was later Helen’s mother, whenever Fred heard the word “blood.” Needless to say, this was very embarrassing to a high school girl. She never did like Fred much.

Of course, our optometrist had to go through a surgical rotation in med school. The first operation he observed, he didn’t, since he was on the floor.

Reminds me of our daughter Katie’s surgical rotation when she was in nursing school. The surgeon reviewed the staff to get ready, reminding each one of his or her job. “And what will you be doing, Katie?” he asked. She answered, “You mean after I throw up?”

Our optometrist says that surgical people have no mercy on the squeamish among them. They will ride you relentlessly with ridicule for just some little fault like passing out when you see blood.

So he learned some tricks, which I shall pass on to you, not because you are likely to be called on to observe surgery--and if you are, don’t eat Junior Mints during the process [1]—but you may be called on to assist when a family member gets sick, or there is a roadside accident.

I have from time to time wondered what I would do if I were in one of those roadside situations and a woman was having a baby, or someone was badly injured and a doctor had stopped and told me, “Stick your hand into this abdomen and hold that blood vessel closed while I…”

Those things can happen. Charles Ramsey was a medical doctor in Charleston, IL. He had not intended to be an obstetrician, but that became a large part of his general practice. He did his internship at the huge and gritty Cook County Hospital in Chicago. One day he was done with his shift and waiting for the bus. It arrived, and suddenly there was a great rush as everyone on the bus jumped off, including the driver, who saw the young Charles in his scrubs, assumed he was a real doctor, and grabbed him and pushed him onto the bus while saying, “There’s a woman having a baby in there.” He thought, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies.” [2] But, Dr. Ramsey said, the first delivery he ever saw, he performed, because he had to.

So I’ve assumed that in my more wise senior years, surely I am less squeamish, and if someone said, “The baby’s coming now, and you’ve got to…” or the doctor told me to hold that blood vessel, or do some other frightful thing, I would do it, because I had to, and wait until later to throw up and pass out.

Fortunately, I might be able to pull it off, because our optometrist has given us these tips: 1] Wiggle your toes. It helps to keep conscious and non-nauseated if you can move your body. You can’t dance around in a surgical suite, though, but you can wiggle your toes, and no one can see what you’re doing. 2] Stay involved, so that your mind is busy. Ask a question. Make a statement. Act like you’re interested. Don’t just stand there and think about it.

Not bad advice for life in general.


1] The classic scene in the Seinfeld TV series when Kramer is watching an operation from an overhead observation balcony while eating Junior Mints and drops one into the patient.

2] The classic line spoken by Butterfly McQueen in the movie, “Gone With the Wind.”

Thursday, May 17, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections & Stories for the Years of Winter

REMEMBERING AUNT DOROTHY                        [R, 5-17-18]

I am now one of those old people about whom younger family members will soon say, “Oh, I wish we had asked him about….one or another point of family history….before he died, because he’s the only one who might remember…. Aunt Dorothy.”

So here’s a shout-out to Aunt Dorothy, which must start, of course, with the iconic family stories about her…

When AD was a girl, a woman knocked on the door of their Frisco [Francisco, IN] house. Dorothy answered. The woman was selling horse radish. “We don’t need any,” AD said. “We don’t have any horses.”

When she was a little older, a young teen, she somehow got into somebody’s car and took it for a spin, even though she did not know how to drive. She got to the edge of town, beyond the reach of side streets, and realized she did not know how to put the car in reverse, so she drove all the way to Oakland City [about six miles, on a very primitive highway] in order to go around the block to head back home. [1]

I got to thinking about AD this morning because as I walked, I worked on remembering all the times I was really happy, which is a fun thing to do. One of the earliest times I could remember was when AD took me and my older sister, Mary V, to a variety show at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis. It was one of those Saturday afternoon things for families, and it had dog tricks, including dogs walking on tight ropes. There was one little dog, though, that just would not do anything right. [I was only six or seven, maybe as young as four or five, so I did now know it had been trained to do nothing right.] It kept getting in the way, and exasperating the trainer, and I laughed so hard and so long that AD had to shush me because people were looking at me. I’m sure it was because I was adorable.

So that started me thinking about all the happy AD stories, which led to AD’s aforementioned early trip to Oakland City. That led to other car trips with AD, including the one when she took me to Winslow, to take my driver’s license exam. Why we went to Winslow, I’m not sure. It was in another county. Maybe Winslow was closer than Princeton, or had a better reputation for passing kids like me on the first try. [We no longer lived in Indianapolis. When I was ten we moved to a little farm near Oakland City to be near my mother’s family in Francisco.]

Passing on the first time was important because AD had to skip a day of work in Indianapolis to take me for the exam.

She came down to Frisco from Indy almost every weekend, to look after Grandma. She always went back to Indy on Sunday afternoon to be at work on Monday. But she went back to Indy a day late in order to take me to Winslow. You had to furnish your own car, of course, to take your driver’s exam, and my father being blind and us living on $80 a month Aid to Dependent Children [2], we did not have a car, or much else. So I took the exam in AD’s Pontiac. That was a real gift. She was important in that office where she worked—payroll, I think; lots of things others did not know how to do, that had to be done on time--so they did not want her to take time off. But for me, she did.

Like many single people, she wasn’t sure that her siblings were up to doing a decent job of parenting. That included her next older sister, Mildred, in particular, since she was able to see her do parenting, right there in Indy. In that role, AD became my advocate.

She had picked up Mother and my sister and me to go some place once in her car, and I was last in and shut the door on my hand. Mother immediately smacked me for doing so, which was her usual response to any such mistake. AD said, “For God’s sake, Mildred, he didn’t do it on purpose, and he’s already hurting.” Mother was only slightly chagrined at having her parenting style disputed, but I loved AD for that.

So I remember AD with great affection, especially for that dog show, and taking me to get my driver’s license, and believing I wasn’t being stupid on purpose. Laughing and driving--and knowing there was someone who believed I wasn’t stupid on purpose--have kept me going for a long time.


Dorothy Bernice Pond was born Feb. 21, 1913, so this would have been around 1925-27 or so. Cars were rather basic—certainly nothing like automatic transmission. The last of the Model T Fords were built in 1927, replaced by the Model A.

2] $80 then would be about $800 now. Still not much for a family of six.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A FRIENDLY LOCATION, Part 2. [T, 5-15-18]

A FRIENDLY LOCATION, Part 2.   [T, 5-15-18]

[This reflection on libraries is twice as long as a blog post should be, so I have divided it into two sections. This is the second of the two. If you did not read yesterday’s column, it might be good to scroll down and do so, at least the first paragraph.]

I started professional school at Perkins School of Theology, at SMU. The librarian there told us we were never to put our heads down or otherwise look like we were doing anything but studying there. He explained why: “An older couple went to Harvard to establish a memorial to their son, who had died as a teenager. The librarian there suggested they plant a tree. So Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford went back to California and established their memorial to their son there. I don’t want anybody coming through here and thinking we’re worthy only of a tree.” It was a Donor Friendly Location.

After I got thrown out of Dallas, I finished seminary at Garrett, at Northwestern University. Frank Lloyd Wright said that the Northwestern Library looked like “a pig lying on its back.” It was a Pork Friendly Location. Garrett had its own library, though, which it shared with Seabury-Western, the Episcopal seminary across Sheridan Ave. [2] It was an Ecumenicity Friendly Location.

When I did graduate work at the University of Iowa, I had my own carrel, back in the stacks, full of the books that I alone needed for research into the interface of communication theory and theological methodology. [Actually I didn’t know the word “interface” then.] I felt like such a scholar. It was an Erudition Friendly Location.

While in Iowa City, Helen and the girls and I would go to the town library on Friday nights and each come home with a big stack of books. We would retire to our respective rooms and start reading. Occasionally we’d hear feet going downstairs. That meant someone was fixing hot chocolate. We’d all run down, get a mug full and go back to our books. We did the same thing on Friday nights through all their school years, when there were not ball games, st the libraries in Orion and Hoopeston, IL. Those libraries were Friday-Night-Lamps Friendly Locations.

When we lived in Charleston, IL, Helen worked at the public library. Each Friday at 5:00 a young man came in and asked for a recommendation for an interesting novel he could read in two days. He was serving out his sentence in the jail across the street on weekends, so that he could keep his weekday job. That library was a Convict Friendly Location.

At the library in Sterling, IL we used to take our grandchildren to story time. Once the children’s librarian, Anita Elgin, a gentle middle-aged woman, who was a member in a church where I was the interim pastor, saw a man slip through a side door and grab a little girl and try to run off with her, Anita didn’t scream or call 911. She ran after them and tackled him. That library was a Child Friendly Location.

We moved to Mason City, IA to live in the same town as our grandchildren, when Brigid was three. She was so well-known as a reader that one day the librarian said to Helen, “Oh, you’re Brigid’s grandmother.” It was the sobriquet Helen had worked a lifetime to achieve. Her identity now was as Grandma. That library was an Identity Friendly Location.

Well, there are more libraries to go, but I have already used two columns on it, so I’ll leave them to you. What friendliness location designation should the libraries of your life have?


2] The Northwestern technology college was just north of the seminaries. The students there called Garrett “East Jesus Tech” and Seabury-Western was “West Jesus Tech.”

Monday, May 14, 2018

A FRIENDLY LOCATION-Part 1. [M, 5-14-18]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…

A FRIENDLY LOCATION-Part 1.    [M, 5-14-18]

[This reflection on libraries is twice as long as a blog post should be, so I have divided it into two sections. This is the first of the two.]

Our library sent me an email telling me that it has been certified as a Dementia Friendly Location. Just why they thought I should receive this information, I am not sure. It did, however, start me thinking about the libraries of my life and their Friendliness designations.

When I was a grade school kid in Indianapolis, I was in the summer reading program at the branch library on Washington St. We had to tell the librarian the stories of the books we read so that we could get stars on our chart, and so they could be assured we had actually read the books. I thought it was a Suspicion Friendly Location, because she let my friends get away with a 15 second report on their books, but when I stepped up to report, she called all the other librarians over and made me tell the whole story. Scared me to death. It was years before I found out, from my mother, that she did that because all the librarians loved the way I told stories. [How could I not become a preacher?] It was a Beginner Friendly Location.

We moved to a little farm outside of Oakland City, 135 miles south of Indianapolis, when I was ten. The library in OC was on the top floor of the fire station, up a narrow wooden staircase. Whenever I asked the hump-backed little librarian lady for a book on ventriloquism or magic or history, she always said, forlornly, “We have mostly fiction.” It was an Imagination Friendly Location.

The Oakland City grade school did not have a library, but there was one in the high school, sort of--bookshelves in the front and back of the long study hall, which served also as the lunch room, and my homeroom. In study hall, I would hurry through my assignments so that I could go to the shelves in the rear and pull out a Howard Pease book, always about some boy who stowed away on a tramp ship and ended up having to battle pirates. It was a Dream Friendly Location.

When I went to IU, the magnificent Wells Library, named for long-time IU president, Herman B Wells, the most important figure in higher education in the 20th century, did not yet exist. The library was what is now called Franklin Hall, which houses primarily the Media School. I went there in the evenings to sit and study in the long, wide, high-ceilinged Social Studies Reading Room. That reading room was my high school library magnified 100 times, except no Howard Pease novels on the shelves. Nothing but reference books there, thousands and thousands of them. In the stacks were hundreds of thousands of books. Anything on any subject in any language. I felt like such a citizen of the world there. That was an Aspiration Friendly Location. [1]

[More friendly locations tomorrow.]


1] I knew there were millions and millions of books without counting, because one of my summer jobs was back in the stacks using a vacuum system to dust all those books. Took all summer and we still weren’t done.