Fun, Feud, and Fellowship

Apologies to readers who missed the tongue-in-cheek in my recent Hole News feud with son-in-law Dale. It wasn’t our first public sparring. Years ago we tangled over the virtues of running—Dale ran marathons. The banter aired on the North Country Notebook, my five-minute weekday radio show WWJC Duluth ran for a decade.

The Hole News began as a family group email in December 2008 during Elsie’s last weeks. I wrote in the sleepless hours, a hole in each night, hence the name. How the group email morphed into today’s blog is a remarkable, continuing story. Facebook has added a bunch of readers.

Through the years all my kids and some grandkids found a place in the Hole News. Son Keith came on board as partner. His photos and insights brighten my bare verbiage. We write about every-day life—whatever strikes the fancy. No mission statement, no theme. Cancer surgery and living alone along with a string of health setbacks deepened my long review of life and faith. I concluded both are mysteries.

The review goes on. I hope to reach 100 to see how everything works out, but with this prayer: Lord, don’t let me outlive my brain.

Good news! Duck Lady Norma reports seven yellow puff-balls paddling about the pond under mama mallard’s watchful eye. We wonder how many will survive. An occasional bobcat scouts the pond; coyotes yip in the night; each day hungry carnivores fly overhead. How can anything eat little ducks!  Well, I know some two-legged critters who eat dead chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs, and fish.

Life is good. I am wealthy, made rich by family and friends.  My days revolve around 70 Woodland Garden’s staff and residents, and the lady in 313 who feeds the ducks and me.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Not Only for the Birds

It is true that much of my time spent wandering woods and wetland trails is for the birds. Of the thousands of photos I’ve taken the great majority are of winged creatures. But it is not birds only I treasure. It is the sounds, the colors, and the atmosphere that make a happy solitude, usually for one, sometimes for two. More than two is almost always a crowd.

Two days ago I returned to Caley Wildlife Refuge. I walked to the bench where I usually meet my psychiatrist. He was on duty and up for a session, but I declined. It’s not that I couldn’t use some wise counsel. I’m rarely so content that professional support is wasted on me, but I was out for ambience, not advice. He understood my choice. He knew I’d be back. He charges no fees so it’s nothing lost/nothing gained for him.

I took a picture, not by standing on the bench as I often do, but at the very edge of the pond, so close my shoes were sinking into the saturated edge. That was where I had to stand to include the only patch of Blue Irises on the pond. They were at their peak and if I delay my return for more than a few days they will be gone until next year.Blue Irises

Young Grandpa Keith

Painful Punishment

For background on this pseudo feud, see the May 19 Hole News. Go to www.holenews.org and scroll down.

Son-in-law Dale did it again, ignoring scientific fact. But this time he has gone too far.  I think you will agree his punishment is just. It’s time to teach these whippersnappers a thing or two. Dale is coming onto 74, I think. Here’s what he emailed:

“Mr. Mattson, have you no shame?  No dignity? Two blogs ago I differed slightly with your characterization of your Mother, that Saint who reared you and your siblings to become responsible citizens.  You then lashed out at me to say that it was your FATHER who had gifted you your unorganized genes.  This is so typical, projecting one’s personal shortcomings on to another person.  You’re a classic psychological study ready to be dissected and exposed.  Your Father, Officer Mattson to local folks, organized (that word again) thousands of school children into Safety Patrols across Duluth and farther afield to the Iron Range Country of Northern Minnesota.  A man beloved by adults and youngsters everywhere.  Organizing those many young people into productive Patrols was acknowledged all over Duluth, and yet you insist he was to blame for your personal disorganization habits. Again, I say, For shame! I ask only that you admit you should not have said those things about your parents.  I can imagine somewhere in Heaven Bea and Dave are strolling some hallowed hall holding hands and singing Gimme that Or-gan-ized Religion, gimme that Or-gan-ized Religion.”

Ignoring your distorted view of heaven, Dale, I affirm all he wrote about my father. Every kid who attended Duluth schools from 1935 to 1960 remembers Officer Mattson’s story-laden assemblies. But that does not negate his pockets of disorderliness (old garage) or cancel the gene responsible for my shortcoming. I suppose I can’t expect a music man to understand such scientific stuff, but I can expect him to honor my expertise.

Lest such rebellion grows rampant in the clan, I hereby strike you from my will. Gone are your harmonicas. If you consider this unfair, we can discuss it over lunch tomorrow following the trip to the bum-hip doctor. What time will you and Sally pick me up?

Wounded Grandpa Lloyd

Stones of Remembering

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan into Canaan, Joshua commanded each tribe to collect a stone for a monument to remind generations to come of God’s deliverance–stones of remembering. I thought of that last Sunday as we visited Pine Glade Cemetery in Oulu, Wisconsin.

The grounds were spring beautiful. Swaths of small purple flowers brightened the grass. I scanned the headstones. Most bore Scandinavian names, predominately Finnish. The older stones spoke of immigrant dreams. A short distance to the west, another cemetery holds my paternal relatives’ remains of. I felt connected, remembering my long years.

Another connect was the small white church with boarded windows at the entrance to Pine Glade Cemetery. It now stores equipment for the cemetery, but 70 years before today’s visit, possibly to the day, I preached there. Of course I couldn’t know that just down the road, at the Leskela farm, lived a spunky four-year-old named Norma.

I watched from the car as Norma, her older sister Ruth, and Chris Kraemer tended the Leskela graves. Chris, sister-in-heart, Norma calls her, was our transportation. In her youth she married Norma and Ruth’s younger brother Gene. He died in a tragic fire aboard a lake freighter and Chris took on herself the task of tending the family graves.

Our Oulu day began at Hope Lutheran, the Leskela family church. Norma guided this fumbling Baptist through the liturgy. With Pastor Scott Stai away, Worship Leader LeAnna Pudas ministered. Her fine sermon walked us through the Apostle’s Creed. I loved the country-church flavor, a reminder of my early pastoring years. Lots of old-friend hugs for Norma, Ruth, and Chris; warm handshakes for me.

The drive to and from Oulu followed  familiar roads, There were frequent childhood visits with relatives in the area, and in the 90s, I served as interim pastor at Lakeside Baptist and Grace Baptist in townships adjoining Oulu.

At home, reflecting on the day, grateful wonder flooded my soul. My eye fell on a framed watercolor of the little white church at the cemetery. Dear, dear Norma  painted it for me.

Indeed, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Back to Sandy Ridge

Finally fair weather and my energy level and motivation aligned and I braved Sand Ridge for the first time this year. I wondered if I’d manage a complete circuit of the marsh lugging 12 pounds of camera, tripod and long lens over my shoulder. I did it with nary a hint of angina. Apparently my lagging iron level is on the rise. My cardiologist was right. He doubted a blockage repair would be needed if I got my hemoglobin level up.

My camera and other photo gear are not a burden, but a source of energy. Walks for the sake of walking my be a trudge. But walking the woods and wetlands is physically and spiritually nourishing. Pictures to share are the frosting on this morning’s cake.

The Red-winged Blackbird is still my favorite.Red-winged Blackbird

I don’t see many Green Herons anymore, but one was waiting for me today.Green Heron

A friendly snake swam by.DSC_2554 web

A Song Sparrow sang for me.Song Sparrow

Young Grandpa Keith

Organization 101

Organization is overrated. There are advantages to having an established place for everything and consistently putting it there. But when taken too far it spoils all the fun. More than one critic has looked at my desk and wondered how it is I find what I need. If critics opened any of the several drawers in my study they’d be even more troubled on my behalf.

Once I hosted local pastors for our monthly meeting and lunch. There were about 6 of us so we fit easily in my study. I led devotions and then turned the proceedings over to a colleague who offered to get us all organized. He promised to tell us how to save time and be more efficient.

He described a filing system for saving articles on all subjects relevant to pastoring. He praised the Dewey decimal system for sorting our libraries. My disorderly desk and shelves provided convenient examples of what not to do that he kindly pointed out.

When he was done I asked him if he had any suggestions for what to do with the eight or ten pieces of daily mail all promising to make me a better pastor, bring lots of new people to my church, and erase the budget deficit. He made no suggestions so I shared my method.

I opened every envelope and placed the contents neatly on the right hand corner of my desk closest to me. I called attention to the current foot high pile on my desk. I picked up the top inch and swept the bottom eleven into the waste basket. You can’t get more organized than that.

Young Grandpa Keith

Trouble in the Family

It pains me to report trouble in my family–from son-in-law Dale, no less.

I deserve better. Over 50 years ago I gave him his wife Sally. One summer Elsie and I rode with him and Sally all over England, Wales, and Scotland. I frequently tempered questionable advice rendered by Elsie. I pampered his children and grandchildren. Yes, Dale honorably filled a long career as music teacher and occasional entrepreneur, but he occasionally mistreated my poor daughter. Once he required her to follow him all the way from Duluth to Anchorage, Alaska in a beat-up Volkswagen Microbus while he luxuriated in a Model A, sometimes speeding 35 miles an hour! Yesterday this flawed man questioned my veracity. Text follows.

“In your Wednesday blog you made the comment that you were “congenitally disorganized.”  I don’t think that is true.  The little time I knew your mother, I gained the impression that she was overly organized.  Her house showed not a speck of dust, everything was in its place, and altogether showed a great deal of organization.  Sure, your dad got loose once in a while, but I’m sure he was a willing “organizee.”  In fact, you might recall, Mother Bea did pass away while doing the dishes!  Can I expect a clarification in your next blog?  You may want to erase the black slur upon your dear Mother you perpetrated!  Thanks for your attention to this detail.”

My attention! I should think so. Fathers congenitalize too, you know. Had you visited the old garage behind the house on Oneida Street where I grew up, or pawed through that blue enamel washbasin looking for the right-size bolt, you would know how disorganized my father was. A proper organizee would have one can for screws, one for bolts, one for washers, and one for nuts; but not my father. He set a terrible example and his genes marred me for life.

I’m surprised a college-trained like you doesn’t know how DNA works. You wounded me and I expect an apology.

Old Grandpa Lloyd, and don’t you forget it.

Watch and Pray

Prayer is a neglected, misunderstood spiritual value that takes many forms. My childhood tradition spurned written prayers; we seldom recited the Lord’s Prayer. Baptist prayers ranged far, wide, and long. I now delight in earnest prayer, spoken or written.

Essentially, prayer is simply talking with the Lord—with, not to. Some folks tell me God tells them stuff. I’m not so blest; I rely of God’s Word for input.

Way back, I created a devotional plan for wilderness treks. The plan worked with one brief scripture each day. We explored it during morning briefing, reflected on it at personal quiet time, and shared our reflections at the evening campfire. By days’ end, the passage was fixed in our hearts. The plan included what I called Pray-back–talking the scripture over with the Author.

Scripture-based prayer has blessed me through the years, but organizing my prayer life is another matter; I am congenitally disorganized. However, prayer works equally well whenever and however you pray. I jot prayer requests on a sticky note on my computer desktop. Sometimes I pray through lists, like the Woodland Garden resident list. I tackled our church directory, my eye on photos as I prayed (God doesn’t mind if you watch and pray). Recently, I began focusing on the Emmanuel birthday list. Yesterday it was  Margaret Thilimany. I prayed for her and emailed a greeting. Today, Matt Conley comes up. The prayer channel never goes offline.

My most graphic prayer memory finds me in an ambulance outside Lakeshore Rehab on a cold November night. I was totally miserable, desperately cold, and fighting the urge to vomit, while the ambulance crew dawdled over paperwork. I cried to the Lord, “I give up!” From somewhere I heard, “Give up what? You never started anything. I’ll tell you when to give up.”

Delusional imagining? I don’t think so. A host of friends were praying. All prayers count equally with God, even when we give up.  You may not hear his voice, but be assured: he is close by, listening.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

The View from the Back of the Church

Missed church the last two Sundays. Sure good to get back! If you weary of my bragging on Emmanuel Baptists and Pastor Dave, get used to it. I know a good church when I see one. I hope you feel the same about your church.

I sit way back in the overflow for worship because it’s handy to the men’s room. When you get old, you’ll understand. From that vantage point, I scoped the congregation. Lots of Q Tips. That’s what Norma calls us white-hairs. Quite a few flesh-colored too. Sing?  They belt out a hymn like they mean it because they do; old songs and new.

Pastor Dave unlimbered another barn-burner—on the nature of the church. For a young guy, he can preach.  He’s working on 65. He’s got his theology right: light on Greek roots but grounded in common sense. You can hear him at www.emmanuelbaptistduluthheights.org.

The crowd reached clear to the front row. I paused briefly at each head I could see. I have been pastor or interim pastor to quite a few. They sang happy birthday to Dagmar, the organist. She played for me at North Shore; I recognized the offertory. Some of her kids and grandkids were present, including a daughter from Alaska. I had a hand in her husband’s walk with the Lord and—in a round-about way—with their move to Alaska.

The morning reminded me again of God’s M.O. (Modus Operandi–method of operation). I call it the Tapestry of Providence; Norma calls it the Plan. I’ve been involved in some big Gospel enterprises that burned a lot of energy and ate heaps of money but didn’t amount to a hill of beans. The best things I ever did in my life—that I know about—just happened, so it would seem. Right place, right time.

Let me repeat that old saying I made up: If you walk with God, you get where he’s going. No fuss, no muss. I could fill dozens of Hole News blogs with stories stirred by this morning’s view from the back of the church.

It took me way too long to figure out what following Jesus is all about.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

Sleet

I’m back in Ohio and have been plunged into the kind of weather that makes Ohioans envy Floridians. I ventured out yesterday and found myself leaning into the cold wind as I walked as briskly as possible to the Costco entrance. Returning to my car was worse. A driving cold rain was added to the wintry weather brew.

Though daunted I moved on to second and third stops with diminishing enthusiasm for whatever I thought I needed. I passed by a fourth stop on my list and retreated to my quarters to be warmed by a fire in the woodstove. Doesn’t the weatherman know what month it is? I could be kind to April for this climate, but I expect better of May.

As I write it is thirty-nine degrees and sleeting. The ground is nearly white with it. I was blamed for bringing a cold snap to Florida when I arrived there in December. At least I won’t be blamed for the nasty weather here. There was nothing like this to bring back. I complained to a stranger in a parking lot that I should have stayed in Florida. She was put out that I hadn’t brought some warmth back with me. That’s blame of a sort.

The only wild creatures I’ve seen so far are rabbits and robins in the back yard. I’d brave the cold and visit Sandy Ridge but I’m told the trail through the woods is underwater. Tomorrow I’ll check for myself, but I don’t guarantee pictures.

On the upside, I learned I need no chemotherapy as I expected I would. I was prepared to deal with its side effects, but not this lingering wintry nastiness.

So I can’t say nothing is good.

Young Grandpa Keith