Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Great Boot Exchange and the Blessing of Small Feet

 The first time I heard my husband Bud tell about his experiences during World War II was on our honeymoon.  We’d rented a small rustic cabin painted a bright yellow at the beach near Newport, Oregon. 

How it started I don’t know. But after supper, in a whimsical mood, we sat down on the floor to see whose feet were the larger of the two. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that my feet were the longest.

“It doesn’t seem quite right,” I said. “I mean the husband’s feet should be bigger than the wife’s don’t you think?”

Bud’s reply was to throw his head back and roar with laughter.  “Well, I have good reason to be thankful that I have short feet.”

“And why was that?” I asked.

“I was serving in the Battle of the Bulge when I was taken prisoner by the Germans. On the march to the prison camp the guards took a good look at our combat boots and decided because our boots were of a much sturdier quality than theirs, we should exchange shoes.” 

A faraway look shadowed his eyes and for a moment I felt him slip away into a world I did not know. Bud, Bud, my thoughts cried. Come back to me. Please, come back.

He continued on. “And so we did the shoe swap. But no one could wear mine, they were much too small. As a result I suffered only minor frost bite.  But some of my buddies who were using the German boots, which were lined with metal, ended up with lost toes. Others lost the use of their feet. It was a tragedy.”

He got up and looked out the window then opened it so that we heard the roar of the waves as they came towards us.  We stood there a long time.

Our next words were about the songs of the sea.  So beautiful, so perfect, it stole our hearts and we went on to other things.   

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Standing Still--Moving Forward

 We were no longer in the living room, that night.  Instead, I was walking with my husband through one of the most frightening moments of his life. He was only a boy of 18 when he was drafted to fight in World War Two.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget those horror filled days and nights following my capture during the Battle of the Bulge.  But I wasn’t the only prisoner taken in the days ahead.  We were crammed into railroad boxcars so tightly we could hardly breathe.

"As the train began to move, my brain sped backwards to the battle,” he said.

His voice softened.  “Will I ever forget the high pitched whine of bombs and the flash of enemy fire? There we knelt, the two of us; my buddy and me huddled in a foxhole.  In a way the darkness shielded us, at least it did until my buddy suddenly leaped to his feet.

‘Get down.’ I shouted as I grabbed his leg and pulled him down beside me on the ground.
“’But I have to see,’ he cried. ‘I have to.’”

“’No! You’ll get us both killed. Don’t you understand? They told us to stay down and not fire unless we knew for sure what we were aiming at.’”

“But my foxhole buddy wasn’t listening. Even as I spoke he leaned forward and craned his neck. As he peered into the darkness he was suddenly lit by a flash of light. I tried to yank him back onto the ground for safety but an exploding missile overshadowed my efforts. 

An explosion whizzed past my ears. I wanted to vomit but I don’t know if I did or not. I only knew that my buddy’s head had been blown from his body and I was alone. But I wasn’t alone. My rifle was ripped from my hands and I was being dragged out; a prisoner of war, drenched in my buddy’s blood.”

“And after that?” I whispered.

“The railroad cars. I think I must have been one of the first to be loaded on. In a way it saved my life because I could put my nose in a crack on the side and breathe. But a lot of the men in the middle died standing up. They must have suffocated because there was no room. At times we stood on top of dead men and there was nothing we could do about it.”

He shuddered. “The smells were horrid. We all had dysentery so bad, it ran down our legs and there was nothing we could do to stop it. And still the wheels rolled. When other prisoners died and stood with us shoulder to shoulder we could only stand still and let it happen. My lips and mouth got so dry I couldn’t even spit. I thought I was going to die and I almost wished I had. But I didn’t and now I’m glad. I wasn’t ready to meet my Maker and I knew it.”

Then my husband’s eyes focused back into the present where we sat on the sofa together.  A tiny smile curled the corner of his mouth.

I nodded. “Do you remember how you kept asking me what a Christian was? I was a bit of a baby Christian myself back then and I had a hard time finding words to describe what it meant to be a child of God.”

“You didn’t do so bad.” He reached out an arm and drew me close. “Somehow your words came through to me that a Christian is someone who loves Jesus. If I had died in the war—and there were times when I really did wish I was dead—I wouldn’t have found Jesus, or you. But God . . .

But God. He goes before us and makes the crooked places straight. He calls us by Name and we run to Him and He will be with us forever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Midnight Snacks in a Septic Drain Field

         Bud stood at the counter smiling at me as I flipped the luscious hamburgers simmering in my favorite cast iron skillet. “There’s nothing like hamburgers to get the taste buds rolling.” He licked his lips. “Did I ever tell you about the time I stole a coffee can full of ground hamburger from the Germans and hid it inside a drain pipe? Actually it was a sewer pipe.”

            Uncertainty washed up inside me. “I—I think so . . .”

            “It happened the time me and some of my buddies walked past the shed where food was prepared. It was quiet. I don’t know why, but no one was there—not one guard, not even another  prisoner, only an oversized coffee can covered by a ragged towel set near the door.

            “Coffee, I could almost taste it on my tongue and my mouth started to water. I took a deep breath. My buddies looked at me with questions in their eyes and I knew what they were thinking. Oh, for a swallow of real coffee, not chicory, or whatever was they were serving; a taste of the real thing was worth solitary confinement, or whatever they might cook up.

            “I took a deep breath and held it. Fresh meat, I could smell it. Was it coming from the coffee can? Could it possibly be the meat we so craved?” My stomach growled and I bent forward hoping no one had heard.

            I slid the turner underneath a patty, flipped it and smiled at him. “And then?”

            “My appetite took over my brain. I grabbed the can and towel even as I heard a yell from a fellow prisoner. ‘They’re coming. Drop it! Get out now!

            "I took a quick look into the oven to check on the scallop potatoes bubbling out goodness and delicious smells and smiled at him. “But instead of dropping it you shoved both can and towel underneath your shirt and took off running like a deer.'"

            “Yep, I did. And when I did, prisoners and guards scattered every which way.  When I slowed to a stop, I remember standing alone gasping for breath in the middle of a clearing where I’d never seen before.

            “Just then I spotted a jutted muddy road. I took a deep breath and a rancid odor almost overwhelmed my senses. And then I saw it. A trickle of smelly water edged towards me. The clearing was obviously a drain field from an ancient septic tank.

            “At the same moment I heard a shout and the blast of a gun and knew the guards were getting closer. I was almost out of time. I scrambled forward and fell to my knees in front of the drain pipe.  Using my hands I pushed aside rocks and mud, then shoved the can inside the drain opening covering it with grass and reeds. 

            ‘”I stood and when I did I saw them comin’ straight towards me. I took a staggering step in their direction then shook my head as I pointed toward the foul mud. ‘Smells,’ I shouted as I grabbed my nose.  Dirty water. Slimy white things, nasty bugs, crawdads too. It’s crawlin’ with them.’

            “The horror of their gaze raked over me even as they slowly backed away. ‘We no touch,’ one shouted.  ‘Away, away!’”

            “’We bring water. Much water,’ another shouted.

            “And then I knew. My can of food was safe and so was I. It even sounded like I might get some soap and water. Maybe even a fresh set of clothes.”

            “But you didn’t get them did you?”  I covered the burgers with a lid and adjusted the heat beneath the bubbling corn down a notch.
            “No. The soap and water, yes. But I suspect they burned my clothes.  Sadly the clothes they gave me as replacements weren’t quite so warm as our old ones were.

            “But I still had the meat hidden in the drain pipe. Several of us banded together and we’d slip out to the clearing under cover of darkness. We did the best we could to make our find stretch by gathering greens during the day and slipping them into our pockets. Once we were in the clearing we made a tiny fire near the drain pipe where we cooked pieces of hamburger mixed with the greens in a helmet. At other times we fried them into delicious patties. Even the grease tasted wonderful.

            “We were careful to take turns using our helmets as a cooking bowl though. We didn’t want the guards to notice just one helmet getting slowly darker and darker from much use. I must say the meat from the can added a special touch to our repasts.”

            “Sort of like the Swiss family Robinson,” I mused. “They ate almost everything in sight.  Except they thrived and you didn’t.”  

            “But I survived,” he said, and the light went out of his eyes.

            I swallowed hard, and then changed the subject. “Dinner’s ready. Could you please call the kids while I get it on the table?”

            He didn’t answer. Did he even hear me?

            My stomach wrapped into a knot.

            I tried again. “Beth, Dow, Clytie and Mark. Could you tell them dinner’s ready? They’re out back creating roads in the dirt. When I went out earlier Dow was digging a tunnel while Mark stacked a pile of twigs into a miniature mountain. Clytie had a knife and spoon from the kitchen to create roads while Beth picked, then planted Johnny-Jump-Ups and fern fronds all along the sides of the road.”

            “Funny you’d say that. We ate them you know, tender fern fronds, yellow violets, that’s what we called your Johnny-Jump-Ups.”  He reached out his hand to me. “Let’s go get the kids together. I want to see what they’ve created with my own eyes. It might even help me put down a few of those memories that keep springing up from the past.”

            We smiled at each other as we went outside hand in hand, each step a thought, each thought a prayer. 

            Lord, give us wisdom and help us to help one another.  Then words from Proverbs 2:6-7 whispered into my heart. The Lord gives wisdom . . . He lays up sound wisdom for the righteous; he is a shield to those who walk uprightly.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Blue, Blue Day and a Dark, Dark Night

            The matching blue blouse and pants my friend gave me warmed my soul. Even though pantsuits were no longer in style, it was exactly right for me and I could hardly wait to show it off to my husband.
Just thinking about him made me feel sad. A recent accident on the freeway had sent the two of us plunging across the crowded freeway. My husband who was driving had swerved to avoid an object in the highway, lost control and flipped us head over teakettle three times before landing on the other side shoved up against the guard rail.

            Although I was untouched except for a bruised arm, I had to be cut out of our car with the Jaws of Life. My husband however suffered a severe cut on the top of his head--he was literally scalped, and his neck was broken.

            This man of mine who loved to drive became a prisoner of the neck brace he had to wear 24-7.  He spent five days in the hospital then we brought him to our youngest daughter's home.  Later we brought him to my eldest daughter's place where there was air conditioning to combat the summer's heat.

            It was a blessing that Bud was able to walk and move with a broken neck.  Beth and I worked together to do what we could to help him gain back his independence. Although we encouraged him to do the exercises the nurse who came to see him twice weekly assigned, he was uncooperative.

            A few month's later we returned to our own home. Still weak from his injuries he spent his days sitting in a chair in the living room. However he boldly proclaimed his freedom to do what he wanted. “If I have to use a walker and not be able drive I'm not going anywhere, and you can't make me.” He said it several times through clenched teeth.

            But blue is his favorite color and I do look pretty, I thought.  I smiled at my reflection in the mirror and smoothed the blue collar into place. I hope he likes it.  He loves blue and he loves me.
            If only I could bring forth a smile from this man I had married so long ago. But as I entered the room where he sat I saw something I'd never seen before. Hatred poured out of his eyes. His hand stretched out like a fan. His lips twisted into a snarl. “Stop” he shouted. “Don't come one step closer.”

            “Bud,” I cried. “I'm your wife. I—I love you.”

            And then I was beside him, heard him say, “Honey, I'm so sorry.  I—I thought you were the German soldier who poked me over and over again in the butt with a bayonet.” And then our arms were around each other.

            Tears came as we wept together.

            Later we talked about it.

            “I don't remember all the details,” he gasped, “but I do remember that the place they took me smelled of urine and vomit and was as dark as a dungeon. They used the whip and the bayonet for hours on my bare back and buttocks. Sometimes they even hit me in the face. But no matter what they did, or what they asked, I refused to give them any information that might incriminate my cell mates, or put our country in danger.”

            Once again his arms went around me. “I'm sorry, so sorry I hurt you. But—but I thought. . .”
            “You thought I was the soldier dressed in blue who tortured you and I understand. Really I do. I'll not wear this outfit again. I promise.”

            I experienced a sense of relief later that day as I folded it and put it in the bag I'd set aside for those in need. Somewhere, somehow my blue outfit would make another woman who needed a touch of a beauty happy.

            A touch of blue. 

            I stood and pushed the curtain aside, then watched in awe as a shaft of sunlight filtered through the trees surrounding our home. For a moment it flashed gold flecks onto the path and suddenly I knew.
            In spite of dark days and nights of terror we had God's promise; He who makes all things beautiful in His time would never leave or forsake us. With God we could move forward with confidence and expectation.

            We could do it, one step at a time.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A New Red Dress

The photo above is of my husband and his buddies when he was in the army.  He was a sweet and handsome man.  We were married when I was just 18 years old.  Our first child, Beth, was born a year later.

Trips to Portland were something special when I was a young mother.  But today was different. Our oldest daughter, Beth, had reached the golden age of six and Bud and I had decided she should have a brand new dress on that special first day.

It wasn't that she needed clothes, she had plenty what with all her cousins and their generous supply of hand me downs.  But she needed a store bought dress. In my mind I saw it as bright red with ruffles at the neck and on the sleeves. Would I find one at the Meier and Frank store which towered 12 stories high over our heads?

We needed to get a good deal and that's why we chose to come to town for their special Friday Surprise sale in the basement. The sidewalk was already crowded with eager shoppers milling around waiting for the doors to open. Some were even elbowing their way into the line. An over eager woman pushed her shopping bag into my face and then whopped her purse against my back side. Others pounded on the locked doors hoping to be the first to enter.

I turned back towards my husband but he was no longer there. As I searched the sea of faces I spotted him on the other side of the street. I waved frantically then headed towards him through the crowd.

“Why did you leave me?” I cried when I reached his side. 

“I—I couldn't stay,” he said.  “I had to get away. The lines, the crowds. For a little while . . .
And then I knew. I saw the crowds and a ruffled red dress, but he stood beside me and saw the lines the prisoners were forced to form in the prison camp at Bad Orb. 

I pictured them outside the barracks. So many youthful boys and yet they had to act like men in a world turned upside down. 
I reached for Bud's hand and he took it. We stood close together but the blank horror in his eyes told me he was in another world. A world of hate and terror. A world where boys were forced into situations they had never before seen or even imagined. 

 I lifted my head as he started to speak. “Standing in line we were at the mercy of the Germans. When they told us to repeat our names some were snatched from the line-up and taken away.

“When they came to me they said I had to go with them. But then one of them said the prisoner standing next to me was the one who should be taken instead. He pushed me back into line then grabbed the man, the two of us, shoulder to shoulder. 'You come with us,” the German ordered.  'He has Jewish name. This other one, he just American. Maybe next time.'

“And I was pushed back into line.  Waiting, waiting, for what I did not know.” He bowed his head and pressed his fingers into his forehead. His voice fell to a whisper, “I never saw him again. But several days later I smelled something awful in the air. It smelled like flesh burning.  It was horrible and deep inside I knew. The Jewish prisoner with whom I had stood side by side was no longer with us. He who had been taken instead of me had been cooked to death in the ovens.”

“Is that why . . .” I couldn't finish my thought, it was too sad. “I'm sorry,” I whispered.  “Please, let's, let's just go home. The children, they just might need us by now.”

“But there will be no red dress for our Beth.” 

And then we saw it—a candy shop displaying a tray of red and white candy in the window.  Bud reached for the door and we were inside. The pungent smell of peppermint and yummy chocolate permeated the air. We smiled at each other. 

“I don't think we need to worry,” he said as he reached for a white paper bag. “Let's fill 'er up. We're going to have a party!”

And we did. 

Eventually we found and bought that pretty red dress with ruffles at the neck for dear little Beth.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

My High School Years Begin

            My world changed dramatically the Fall I started high school in West Linn.  Wilsonville was at the end of the district, a small town which boasted a grade school, a tavern, Aden’s General Store & Post office and a feed store.  Most of the people who lived in town commuted to Portland by car, though a few rode the bus. 

            At that time, Wilsonville Elementary School had less than one hundred children, serving first through eighth grade students.  There were only seven in my graduating class. 

            Now we were in high school and there were almost 120 freshman alone.  As you might imagine, there were some tremendous differences between my tiny classroom and West Linn High School.

             Instead of being in the same classroom all day, high school students were responsible to attend six different classes, each in a different room.  My best friend, Barbara Workman, and I signed up for General Math, English, P.E., Science, Social Studies and Study Hall and chose to have identical schedules.   We even shared the same locker and that’s where the trouble began.

            No matter how hard we tried, we two freshman girls from the back roads of Wilsonville, could NOT master the combination lock for our locker.  That first week we were late for every class although we did eventually make it to most of them.  Neither of us could figure out what we did right when that gray metal door would finally decide to pop open.  Sometimes kicking the door seemed to help, at least occasionally it did.  We never did figure out the combination.

            One night my brother got mad at me about the whole situation.  “I could hear you and Barbara kicking and banging that door when I was at the other end of the hall today.  I was so embarrassed.”

            I felt heat rise up in my face.  “It doesn’t want to open,” I said.  “Sometimes it does but most of the time—“  

            “It’s stupid of you to hit it like that, too,” he said.  “I can’t believe you’d do such a thing.  What will people think?  Everybody knows you’re my sister.”

            I stuck my nose in the air and glared at him.  I didn’t tell him how much I hated that locker, or that I felt a whole lot more embarrassed than he did about the whole thing.  Nor did I tell him how sick to my stomach I felt every morning as the bus rumbled up the hill to make the last few turns toward the high school.  Or how much I hated the sea of strange faces as they surged past us in the hall and the elbows which pushed and crowded.  To me, a quiet country girl, the noise my fellow students made as they clattered down the hall was unbearable. 

            Barbara and I finally went to the office with our problem.  That afternoon the maintenance man put in a brand new lock and wonder of wonders, it worked perfectly.  37 R, 19 L, two twirls all the way around twice and “bravo” the door popped open at 39.  What a locker! 

           After that we never missed a beat!    We’d proved we could conquer the lock and now we could settle down to life as Freshman in an alien world.   

            What new challenges would tomorrow bring?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Dinner in a Helmet


            The morning shone with the glory of late spring. The birds high in the oaks and the firs sheltering our home had awakened early with a chorus of songs.  Mid-morning had come but they still sang their joyful song.

            I stepped out the door and looked towards my garden where overgrown cabbages were waiting to be gathered.  Just then, Morgan, the granddaughter of our next door neighbor came running into my arms, a small white daisy clutched in one hand. “It’s for you,” she exclaimed. “My Grandpa, says it’s a wild one. He said you’d love it.”

“And I do,” I told her. “I love wild things.”

            She let the small daisy kiss her nose then thrust it into my hand. “Do you like to eat them?” she asked.

            “Well no, not particularly. But some wild plants are edible. When I was little I used to pull apart the tall grass stems growing in our yard and nibble their tender soft ends. Of course that’s something you don’t do unless you know for sure they're safe to eat.”

            Morgan cocked her head and frowned. “What about dandelions? I touched their little itsy bitsy petals with my tongue once and they felt so soft. Like silk maybe.”

            I twirled the daisy in my hand as memories flooded through my mind. My husband Bud had kept himself alive by gathering wild things and cooking them in his helmet while he was a prisoner of war. Miners lettuce, Lamb’s Tongue, Sour grass, even stinging Nettles. And dandelions. He ate them raw; sometimes he scrubbed their roots and cooked them separately, at other times he boiled the leaves, flowers and roots all together.

            “My husband taught me lots about wild things, Morgan. He showed me where nettles grew and how to gather them when they were young and tender. Once I cooked them up the same way I did spinach. By then they tasted awfully strong but Bud showed me how to cook them twice using different water each time. That helped.”

            But Morgan wasn’t interested in my prattle about nettles, or spinach. “Did you eat the dandelions, too?” she asked.

            I nodded. “Mostly in salads though. I mixed them up with water cress and added tender new nasturtiums—those yellow and orange flowers in my garden—and the wild violets that grew underneath the oak tree. My children loved it. The grandchildren, not so much.”

            But Morgan was no longer listening. “My Daddy’s calling. We have to go home now.”  She took off running. I saw her stop at the corner of our yard and look up at the alder trees bordering our driveway.   I knew she'd be asking her grandpa if they were edible.

           She stared for a moment then pulled several leaves off a low branch; smiled, then tucked them carefully, one by one, into her pocket. Like my memories, I thought and sudden tears filled my eyes. My childhood floated before my eyes as I remembered roaming through the woods gathering blackberries for dumpling and even rose hips for tea.

            I remembered back to my early marriage--the day I was pulling the aged cabbage from our garden to be boiled for our supper.  Cooking it was no easy task, toughened as it was by lack of water and spending long hours in the August sun. But I did it, slice by slice, and into the pot it went. I covered it with water, and set it on the burner.

            Gradually the pungent smell of cabbage filled the air. But the fork I tried to poke it with refused to penetrate its rubbery surface. I replaced the lid and turned up the heat.

            And then it happened. I heard a cry. Bud had come home from work; he stood crouched on the other side of the counter holding onto his stomach, his eyes wild with horror.

            “Take it away!” He shouted as he gestured towards the stove where the cabbage blissfully boiled. “Please, please. The rotten donkey meat. The cabbage. They added lots of water— but the smell. I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it!”  My strong husband quietly murmured, “Will I ever forget?”

            And then I knew. My heart pounded as I turned off the burner and guided him into our bedroom at the back of the house. I returned for the pot of cabbage and carried it into the garden where I dug a deep hole and covered our supper with sweet smelling soil.

            But what about the kitchen? The pungent smell of boiling cabbage still lingered in the air. Vinegar, I’d sweeten the errant pot with water and the last cup of vinegar in the bottle. 

            I’m not sure now what I served for dinner that evening, but it seems we ate applesauce covered with a thick cream. I know we never did discuss the offending cabbage I'd cooked. What I remember most was the tremble in my husband’s voice as he told me and the children stories about the food he'd eaten while he was a prisoner at Bad Orb in Germany.

            My dear husband stayed alive by boiling greens he found in his helmet to make soups of wild things.  His stories touched me deeply. He said he tried to share his knowledge with his comrades, but most refused to eat it even when he offered it to them.

            He tried to explain. “I don’t know why they didn’t, but I know my mother’s teaching and showing us kids how to fill our stomachs with wild edibles is what enabled me to survive.”

            I shuddered. “You were skin and bones when you were liberated; a mere 98 lbs.”

            “Yes," he replied.  "But I’ll never be that again, nor will anyone in my family. I promise you, Eva. No matter what it takes--neither you, nor our kids will ever go hungry.” And we never did.

            It was only a few years later that he came home from the mental hospital where he worked. Right away I noticed a change in his demeanor; his eyes shone and he held his head high as he announced, “Today I was in charge of helping the patients assigned to the ward kitchen to set up the trays for the evening meal. And—are you ready for this—the main dish was sauerkraut..

            “Something miraculous must have happened.”  Bud smiled, “I–I took a deep breath, then speared a strand of cabbage and twirled it around my fork. I took a bite and—guess what?  I can't say I liked it particularly, but it was okay.  It even reminded me of Grandma Bray and the big crock pot she used to fix her famous sauerkraut we kids used to swipe when she wasn't looking.”

            Just writing these words now, brings tears to my eyes; the stroke that took Bud’s life stole his ability to speak and to swallow—to taste.  I thank God for that long ago day when that miraculous healing came and he could eat boiled cabbage again.  How I thank God for what he did for Bud.  My husband is strong and well now—in heaven where the fruit trees bloom…

            The evening he died, his hand closed over mine.  He was telling me good-bye in his own way. He loved me with a forever love which had no ending. 

             I am grateful for the sacrifice my husband made--fighting for our freedom a world away.  I am proud of him and thankful for his life and the lives of so many others--many have died, others live among us.  God bless these dear men and women and their families with peace and love, especially in these hard times.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Walking Through the Shadows

            My husband laid beside me on our bed, his hands; his fingers spread wide into what appeared to be an open cup. I said his name softly, “Bud.”

            There was no answer. He lay on his side, his gray eyes wide open and I knew. My husband had gone back to another world on the other side of the planet which I could neither see, nor enter.

            His words came in broken bits and pieces as though he probed the darkness for insight. “We were prisoners of war. We were hiking uphill through the snowy forests of France. My legs shook. I couldn’t feel my toes. I heard the shout, ‘Halt!’ My stomach growled. "I was so hungry. Would there be food?"

            For a moment his eyes closed. He breathed a sigh of relief. "The clearing where we were was crowded with snow covered logs. I chose the nearest one and though it was icy and cold, it felt good to sit down. I reached for the stale bread I was handed by a guard and shoved it into my mouth. But as I licked the crumbs off my lips I looked down and saw a frozen hand, the fingers stiff and spread wide reaching out to me.

            “It was horrifying. The log was a dead man--only his hand stuck out of the snow. Just moments before, I’d sat there glad for a place to sit and eat my lunch. But this man would never move again. Death found him. His life—gone forever.”  His eyes squeezed shut for a moment, then opened. 

            “Bud, I love you—I...”  But he still stared into that dark place, lost in a world I could not see, or comprehend.

            “I hate my hand.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “This hand; it’s done awful things—these fingers pulled the trigger and one German after another fell face down in the dirt. But I had to do it. They told us...” His voice rose to a shout. “Shoot anything that moves!’ And so I did.”

            Bud was only 18 when he was drafted and thrust into battle.  He was just a boy.  My thoughts of the war; the awful Battle of the Bulge with bombs bursting over head and firearms repeating their sentences of death over and over again. Almost I could hear the screams.

            Too late, I thought. World War II is over, but it still whispers its message of hate into the fragile minds of brave soldiers who, though some survived, were marked for life with scars marking both mind and body.

            “Bud,” I whispered, “it was war and you told me you fought for your family and country, and you always said you’d do it all over again if another Hitler rose to power sending innocent men, women and children to the ovens where they died by the millions.”

            I reached for his curled hand, but still lost in the past, he pulled away from my touch. Hurt twisted in the deep places of my being. How could I find words to bring comfort to his soul and to mine?

             “Bud, you have beautiful hands and a brave and tender heart.” Tears trembled in my voice. “Why, I’ve watched you cradle your fingers beneath our little ones' chins and gently wipe their tears away. I've watched you build our home, plant a garden. You’re a good husband and father. We love you so much. We always have. We always will.”

            His face softened—a small smile.  His eyes closed, he finally let me hold his hands in mine. 

            Then I reached for the lamp switch.  I tried to swallow the lump building in my throat. “Bud,"  I said softly.  "You always said things were worse in the darkness. Both of us, you and me, we’ll feel better in the morning. The sun will light up the tree tops and we’ll smile at each other while its rays touch our faces.  We have God’s promise. ‘Weeping may endure for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning!’

            Not long after this my husband suffered a stroke and a few months later, he left this world for the next.  I miss him more than I can express in words—yet I know someday I will see his dear face again.

            Some of you are walking through the shadows—caught in the mire of darkness and grief.  Reach for the light, dear ones. You are not alone. God loves you and Joy truly does come in the morning.

            “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.” ~Psalm 30:5

Saturday, October 8, 2016

To the Uttermost

There's something special about earthly fathers, especially those who show us glimpses of our heavenly Father.

My own dear Daddy met Jesus when he was in his late thirties—it was he who led my mother to his Lord; it was she who was the most verbal of the two. Daddy only had an eighth grade education and I think it was hard for him to put deep thoughts into words. Maybe that was why I always listened when he had something to say.

I'll never forget the day he became so excited about the word “uttermost.” An unearthly joy sparkled in his brown eyes as he entered the back room where I lay curled upon the bed, reading.  He carried his open Bible in one hand and something about him almost seemed to dance where he stood.

“Jesus saves to the 'uttermost,'” he exclaimed. “To the uttermost'. Do you see? The 'uttermost!'”

The way he said, “uttermost” caused me to picture a curling wave holding a sailor in its grip. I imagined Jesus leaning down and snatching the man from the foaming sea.

Then Daddy said it again, “Jesus saves to the 'uttermost.'” The way his tongue rolled around the word “uttermost” made goose bumps pop up on my arms. Suddenly the small child I was realized being saved to the “uttermost” meant something much more than a helpless swimmer snatched to safety.

I knew instinctively that “uttermost,” the way Daddy said it, was something mysterious and wonderful--something which embraced forever. “It went far beyond space and entered eternity. “Uttermost” had something to do with being near the heart of God and to my child's perception that was a glorious nearness and my heart was filled with awe.

Many years later, I stood beside my father's bed at the VA hospital.  It had been eight years since Daddy had recognized me as his daughter. But that day—four days before he entered heaven—I  saw something in his eyes. I leaned over the railing and took his hand. “Daddy,” I whispered, “it's your Eva Jane.”  

He beamed, but no words came as I began to share the things I hadn't been able to tell him during his years of darkness and confusion. His eyes twinkled as I told him of my growing family and how my first book for teens was being published that spring.

I remembered that long ago day from my childhood.  Holding his hand, I read the 23rd Psalm. “You know Him, Daddy," I said.  "He's the Great Shepherd who saves to the 'uttermost.'”

His fingers tightened around mine.  I saw recognition and a little smile flash into his tired brown eyes.  I saw peace.  My Daddy was ready to see His Jesus.

As I held his gnarled, work-worn hands, I thought about the verse he'd read to me.  It was from Hebrews 7:25 KJV “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

It has been well over 30 years since Daddy went to heaven. I think of him often, and I smile.   In my mind’s eye I see his eyes sparkle, and I hear the excitement and wonder in his voice—his words echo down through the years to find their home in my own heart and soul… God, who saves to the “uttermost.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

Wings of Hope


          One of the highlights of my summer was when my son’s wife Jane, asked me to tell her family my favorite story their Grandfather, my husband Bud, told from his days as a prisoner of war during WW2.

            I stumbled for a bit, because over the years Bud’s stories had been told out of order, piecemeal, covering a span of some fifty years—and I, a chronological thinker, was unsure of the timing of the stories he told.

            Then my daughter assured me, “Grandpa’s stories don’t have to be told, or even written in the order in which he experienced them, to be valuable to us, Mom.  We just want to hear them. We want to remember.”

            Her words so aptly spoken, became a deep conviction, a charge, to preserve his stories. Those of us who lived through those years must preserve and tell the stories of men like Bud.  To unfold what happened for future generations, those true experiences too real and valuable to be forgotten.   

            Our generation has a responsibility to fill in the gaps of our missing history and to give voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves.  My husband has been gone now for three years.  One of his great legacies are the stories he told.  Some of the most poignant came from his experiences as a prisoner of war in Germany during WW2.

            And now for a moment—imagine that time staggers a moment…then slowly slips back to the day my husband’s mother, Leola Gibson, a weary mother of seven was preparing a meal in the kitchen of her Oregon City home.   

            So many mouths to feed, so many to care for, she was tired—so very tired.  But she must go on.  Sweat rolled off her forehead as she stoked the old fashioned wood stove, then punched down a mound of bread dough resting beneath a freshly laundered dish towl.  Her strong capable hands quickly formed it into loves which she placed into greased bread pans darkened by many bakings.

            A sudden knock—she wiped her hands on her apron and hurried to open the door.  The uniformed man standing there, held out a telegram.  “It’s for you, Madam.”

            Leola’s stomach tightened into a knot.  She took the telegram and thanked the man, but her heart cried out.  Telegrams always brought bad news.  No God.  Not my Bud.  Please God, please.  Let him be alive.

            Speechless she unfolded the paper with trembling fingers.  The words were capitalized and they burned into her heart


            It could only mean one thing.  No one knew where her eldest son was.  He was missing in action.  She bowed her head.  Why he could be lying alone, wounded, on some distant battlefield. 

            A picture of her boy, covered with blood while bombs exploded overhead burst into her mind.  No, no, not my son, my first born.  He can’t be dead.   More than anything she wanted to believe Bud was still alive.

            That night she lay on her bed and cried deep soul tears until there were none left to shed.  She hadn’t yet told her children and her husband was away seeking work in a far away town.  “Morning will be soon enough,” she whispered.

            At last she slept.

            And then in the stillness of the night her son came and sat on the edge of the bed.  He leaned forward and took her hand.  “Mom, it’s me, your Bud.  I’m okay.  I’m alive.”

            He told her of the places he’d been; the small towns beside the river.  The Battle of the Bulge and where he’d been taken at Bastogne as a prisoner of war to Bad Orb, a Nazi prison camp not far from Frankfurt,  Germany.

            “I’m coming home, Mom.”  He lifted her hand and brushed her swollen knuckles with his lips.  “We only have to wait.”

            Leola awakened with a start.  Her son no longer sat beside her—had he really been there?  Was he alive?  It had all seemed so real.

            Deep in her heart she knew it was true.

            Hope bubbled up inside her as she pushed back her blanket and hurried to the kitchen.  Her eldest son was missing in action, but he wasn’t missing to  God, or to her…his Mother.

            She smiled as she mused.  Today’s family breakfast would be a celebration of words and food.  She took several loaves of the fragrant bread she’d baked and the fresh laid eggs her eldest daughter Ada, had gathered from the chicken house, and set them on the drain board.  There would be bacon her husband had bought to surprise the family, the week before.

            It was only when the food was cooked and the children gathered around the table that she told them the news.  Their beloved big brother serving on the other side of the world was safe.  He’d come through the Battle of the Bulge where he’d been captures; then endured the long trek through ice and snow, through the forests, where he was now a prisoner of war in Bad Orb, Germany.

            He was coming home.  She’d dreamed he had come to her and she knew it was real.  They only had to wait.

*      *      *

            Bud Gibson lay on his narrow hard bed, his nose close to the wires of the bunk above him.  The Nazis had housed their captives in a dank, cold building set aside for prisoners of war.  The wires stretched beneath him held no mattress, only a threadbare blanket way between him and the biting cold and the soldier above him.

            The man beneath him, a new prisoner, coughed and gagged.  Sometimes he whimpered like a small child.  At other times he shouted at those who had captured him.  And then the yelling began.  Strange, one could still hear the rustling sounds of mice—or were they rats, or stray cats prowling tin the darkness?

            Bud twisted this way and that as he struggled to pull the thin blanket higher on his shoulders.  His back ached, his feet throbbed and the aroma of unwashed bodies, blood and filthy debris shoved into every corner, assailed his senses.  What a terrible world of dirt, cold and pain it was.

            Gradually the night deepened and suddenly he felt as though he was airborne.  The cold still embraced him, but now it didn’t seem to matter.  

            Suddenly, he knew.  Somehow he was going home.

            He stepped into his mother’s room.  Sat down on a soft blanket at the edge of her bed and reached for her hand.  “Mom, it’s me, Bud.  I’m alive.  I’m okay.”

            He told her of the places he’d been:  Bastonne where he’d been captured, the snowy forest they had marched through to arrive at last in Bad Orb--Stalag B, a prison camp near Frankfort…

           I think of that 18 year old boy, drafted and thrust into the middle of a terrible war.  Bud saw and experienced things no human being should have to endure.  Yet, in the midst of this horrible ordeal, God was merciful.  God allowed my husband to fly through the night on wings of hope to let his beloved Mother know he was alright--to assure her that he was coming home. 

All they had to do was wait.