Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, September 22, 2017


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

Ida Belle Paterson called last night. She had finished reading “your book, and it had your telephone number in it, so I just decided to call.” She didn’t say which book, and I don’t recall that my phone number is in any of them, but that doesn’t matter. We had talked by phone several times after George died, but then… you keep forgetting to call…

Helen and I used to meet George and Ida Belle at the Ambassador Inn in Wisconsin Dells, less frequently than we would have liked. It was a convenient meeting spot, half-way between Iowa City, Iowa, where they lived, and Iron Mountain, MI, where we lived.

The Dells is a tourist spot—water parks and duck boats and all that. We didn’t “do” anything there, though. We just talked and looked at photos, got caught up on families and insights.

As we get deeper into winter, the friends of spring and summer become all the more important. They share our memories. They are chapters in our biographies.

There is a poignant episode of M*A*S*H where Col. Potter tells a reporter that he loves and respects the bright young surgeons and nurses with whom he works, but he is lonely. He is the only one of his generation. No one else in his unit shares his memories.

George and Ida Belle shared our memories.

George spent most of his career in Iowa City, first as the Director of The Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the Univ. of Iowa, then as Chaplain of University Hospital, as a Supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education, and as a professor in the School of Religion. Ida Belle raised their four children and worked in a doctor’s office. They befriended us when we lived in Iowa City while I did graduate work at the university.

After we moved back to Illinois, we didn’t see each other for around 20 years. But when we followed the grandchildren to Mason City, IA, we took up our friendship again. We had just gotten started on getting caught up with one another when grandson Joe was diagnosed with liver cancer, at 15 months of age. He and Katie spent most of the next year at Children’s Hospital, part of University Hospital in Iowa City, while Patrick worked in Mason City and Helen and I took care of four-year-old Brigid there.

Without hesitation, George and Ida Belle became surrogate parents to Katie and Patrick and surrogate grandparents for Joe. They often kept me in their home when I was at the hospital, too. They helped us all through some very difficult times with the grace of hospitality and presence.

Little Joey knew immediately that these were his friends. One day early in his hospital year, when they came to support Patrick and Katie through the difficult days of diagnoses and treatment plans, he became quite agitated. He could barely talk, but he finally communicated to his mother that he wanted his pants. He was just in a diaper. His friends had come to visit. He knew he should wear pants for such an occasion.

I struggle now with how to conclude. We no longer meet friends at The Dells. George is dead. So what’s the unifying theme for these thoughts on friendship? I’ll turn to grandchildren, the source of most of my unifying themes.

One morning when we lived in Mason City, IA, I took Brigid to kindergarten. It was extremely cold. That didn’t matter to the school officials. They did not let children into the building until the bell unless the temperature was twenty below. Otherwise they were to stand in line outside at the appropriate door. “In line” meant their placed their backpacks in a line to hold their place while they ran around on the playground. I told Brigid I would keep the heater running in the car and when we saw the other children starting into the building, then she could go join them.

“Oh, no, Grandpa. I need to be with my friends.”

“But it’s cold out there. What will you do?”

“We’ll chase each other.”

So, in conclusion, two lessons from grandchildren: 1] A good host wears pants. 2] At any age, no matter how cold it is, it’s important to chase around with your friends.


The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] Having met and married while at IU in Bloomington, IN, we became Bloomarangs in May of 2015, moving back to where we started, closing the circle. We no longer live in the land of winter, but I am in the winter of my years, and so I am still trying to understand Christ in winter.

I tweet as yooper1721.

Joe’s mother, 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 latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, 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. Helen thinks that’s the one Ida Belle read.

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 in paperback, ebook, audio, Czech, and Japanese.

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