Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


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

Aunt Gertrude called a couple of weeks ago, primarily to find out what is wrong with the IU basketball team, because, even though she lives in Dayton, OH, she is a huge IU basketball fan, and knows Don Donoher, who was an assistant to long-time IU basketball coach, Bob Knight, and coached at U of Dayton for many years. Aunt Gertrude is a big fan of U of Dayton basketball, too, but not quite as much as with IU. Donoher introduced her to Knight, who told her she reminded him of his grandmother, which, with Bob Knight, is the best compliment anyone can get.

Aunt Gertrude and I talked basketball for a long time, and then talked family. She asked about everyone in my branch of the family, each in turn, and then told me about everyone in her branch, each in turn.

The main thing, though, for me, was a story of which I have no memory, but that is not surprising, for I was very young then. When Uncle Randall and Aunt Gertrude were on their honeymoon, in 1943, they came to Indianapolis to see my family. It was in the spring of my first semester in school, since I had started in January, because kids with mid-year birthdays back then started in the middle of the year. I came home from Lucretia Mott Public School # 3 for lunch and discovered them, Uncle Randall in his army lt. uniform. I asked him to go back to school with me, and he did. He talked to my class a little, Aunt Gertrude said. The main thing, of course, was that I got to show him off.

I was proud of all my uncles in uniform in WWII, Uncle Johnny Pond in the Marines, Uncle Jesse Pond in the Navy, McFarland uncles Randall and Bob and Mike in the Army. But I think Randall was the only one I got to show off to my friends.

Which was appropriate, for when we lived with Grandma and Grandpa McFarland and the bachelor uncles--Bob, Randall, and Mike—in Oxford, OH, in a big old house called Cedar Crest, sometimes with Uncle Glen and/or Aunt Helen and their families there, too, because The Great Depression was like that, Uncle Randall’s main responsibility in the maintenance of that strange home was me. He took me places, played with me, taught me baseball. Mother told me in the past how he and I would come home from town with me riding on his shoulders. Aunt Gertrude said that as he read my book about my cancer experience [1], he cried. She asked him why. After all, I was a big grown-up fifty-three years old then. “I just didn’t know he hurt so much,” he said. He was remembering that little boy he carried on his shoulders.

It had to be hard on the grownups, but I thought living in a multi-generation family was great. Being the first grandson, I got away with a lot. When Mother spanked me for some imagined infraction, Grandpa would go out into the back yard and cry. I have modeled my grandfathering on him.

Mother always said she named me not for my father, John Francis McFarland, or for my great-grandfather, John White McFarland, but for her youngest brother, John Hubert Pond, whose middle name came from the Francisco, IN Presbyterian preacher’s dog, according to Aunt Ginnie. [Johnny’s oldest sister meant to say “son,” but she actually said “dog,” and that’s a better story.] Mother gave me my middle name for Uncle Bob, # 5 of the 7 children of “Harry” [Arthur Harrison] and Henrietta Ann Smith McFarland.

I’ve always been proud of being named for Uncle Bob, but Mother told me many years after I was born that Uncle Randall had said to her back then, “We call him John R, anyway, so it would have been okay to name him John Randall.” I would have been proud of that, too, especially that day he took time out from his honeymoon to go to school with me, just because I asked him to.


Thanks to Marilyn Kae McFarland Quinlain and Mary Virginia McFarland Lindquist for helping me recall details.

1] NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them. Published in two editions by AndrewsMcMeel and available in Japanese and Czech and audio and electronic editions.

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