Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pearl 16: Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Good afternoon, my sweethearts!  It is a glorious day here in Texas, 82 degrees and sunny.  I am thinking about you as you drive up to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving with Grandma Kathy and Grandpa Ron.  I heard you are having snow and nasty weather so my prayer is with you for safe travels.  It is supposed to get really cold here late tomorrow with lows in the 30’s.  Brrrr!

I was reading over my last letter I sent you and wanted to comment on something.  It seemed to me as I read it the tone was fairly somber and a little negative.  Of course, the subject of abuse is a serious topic, so perhaps it was justified.  However, it reminded me of a lesson I learned long ago.

Several letters ago I told you about my experience as the starting left tackle on the 9th grade varsity John Marshall Junior High School Mustang football team.  As you recall, we won our first game with Fremont and destroyed Boy’s Republic.  We actually went on to win two other games fairly handily against Norco and Corona.  Then our next to last game was our final league game against Emerson Jr. High. 

Now Emerson had a high flying passing attack which was the envy of the league.  They scored early and often.  We had a solid running game and ground down our opponents.  Like us they were undefeated coming into the game and this was for the league title.  I was nervous at the start of the game but because of Coach Moore’s philosophy of making a good first impression on your opponent, by the time the first quarter was over, I had controlled their defensive tackle pretty well. 

There were three plays to my side of the line which depended on a key block from me.  The “13F” play was a hand off to the fullback, who then pounded up in the slot between me and the guard to my right.  The “15” play was a hand off to the halfback, who was supposed to go right over my position.  It required me to move my man to the outside so there would be a hole.  Then there was the “15F” play which was a pitch to the halfback in the slot between me and the tight end to my left.  It required me to move my man to the inside.  It was our best play and when I could seal my guy to the inside, even for an instant, Emil Rios would make big yards.

We ran the 15F throughout the first half and were leading at halftime 21-10.  In the locker room, Coach Moore told us to just keep doing what we were doing but he huddled with the lineman and our quarterback and told us to help John out.  He said if we saw an opportunity to speak up in the huddle and tell John what play would work best.  I thought this was a good idea.

After the half, Emerson came out in a different set.  The man that was directly over me or just to my inside during the first half started to shift outside, lining up each play further and further to my left.  John stuck with what worked in the first half and was calling a lot of 15 and 15F plays.  It was getting increasingly more difficult for me to get a decent block on my man.  Then on one play, their tackle lined up a full yard outside of me.  The play we had called went to the other side, but when I went back in the huddle I said, “John, don’t call a 15F”.  John said, “O.K., 15F on 2…Break!”  YIKES, I thought, he misunderstood me.  I told him NOT to call 15F.  As I got down in my stance, my heart was pounding wildly.  My guy was a yard and a half outside me and right in the middle of the 15F slot. 

At the snap of the ball I lunged out at him and tried to reach him.  Too much distance, too little speed.  Rios ran right into the back of me as I went down on my face.  I felt his cleats go up my back and the sickening crunch of pads and helmets meeting as the defender smashed into poor Emil.  The ball popped loose and one of their players recovered the fumble.  I was devastated, which brings me to my sixteenth pearl.

Sixteenth Pearl:   Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

In addition to a good song lyric, these words superbly describe the lesson I learned that day on the football field.  Trotting over to the sideline, John was right by my side.  “Why did you tell me to call 15F? he yelled at me.  “I didn’t” I insisted, “I told you NOT to call a 15F”.   He just looked at me and shook his head and, I must admit, my excuse seemed kind of lame.  Why would I have told someone NOT to do something when it would have been much clearer to have told him what to do.  If I would have said, “Call a 13F”, we would have scored another touchdown.

Right then and there I vowed to myself to always try to use positive frame of reference rather than the negative.  It isn’t always easy to do and clearly it seems our world is not always geared to the positive.  A look at our current political situation is enough of a reminder about that.  But to the extent possible, try to be positive.

Jesus is an example of someone who always stressed the positive in his communication.  Now I understand that many people look at the Bible as a book of “Don’ts”.  But, except for a few “Thou Shalt Not’s” in the Old Testament, the Bible is actually a book of “Do’s”.  After all, Jesus didn’t say don’t hate your neighbor, He said to love him.  His was a ministry of positive affirmation.  “Abide in me”.  “He who receives me receives Him who sent Me”.  “Lazarus, come forth”.  “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”.  “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”.  Great positive stuff.

So that day on Emerson’s football field, I learned an important lesson and I pass that on to you, my dear ones…..accentuate the positive and leave the play calling to the quarterback.  By the way, we won going away, 31-10 and got the league championship.  HooHAA!

Love you, bunches and bunches and Happy Thanksgiving 2007,

Grandpa Jud

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pearl 15: Never, EVER, Abuse Another Person, EVER!

Dear Gehrig and Eliana,

Good afternoon, my darlings.  Just three more weeks and Granny and I will be back to visit you for TEN WHOLE DAYS.  That may be just enough time to spoil you really good before we have to return to Texas

Your great Aunt Sandy, my sister, and I lived too far from our grandparents and people didn’t travel as often as they do these days so we didn’t get a proper spoiling by our grandparents when we were your age or even older.  Granny and I have to right that deficit.  So I hope your parents will forgive us if we unleash our pent up grandparental love on you guys.

I was thinking about my father, your great grandfather Smith the other day.  I am sad that he did not survive to see you both as I know he would have loved you as much as we do.  He was a kind and gentle man with strong ethics and firm principles. 

I remember one time when I was about 7 years old.  My sister, who was only 13 months older than me) and I were arguing about something (I was probably teasing her, as I was wont to do), and she hit me on the arm.  My dad was in the room but he didn’t see the first blow.  All he saw was my retaliatory punch to my sister’s stomach.  Dad was out of his chair in the wink of an eye, which wasn’t all that easy for this 5’ 6”, 250 pound overweight man in his late 40’s.  He grabbed my arm as I was about to throw another punch and spun me around.  He got his bright red face down close to mine and said, in a measured voice which left no doubt as to how serious he was, “I never, NEVER, want to see you EVER hit a woman again, EVER!”   I nearly lost control of my bladder but then my father got down on one knee and looked me in the eyes and explained why a man should never hit a woman, in the stomach or any other place.  He told me that God made men stronger than women not so we could dominate them but so we could protect them.  His tone was firm but gentle and I listened.

Several years later, when I was about 12 years old, our family went out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants, Anderson’s, home of the famous Split Pea Soup.  There was a young couple, probably in their late twenties or early thirties, at a table not to far from ours.  They were arguing about something and you could tell he had been drinking.  Even though I couldn’t hear what they were saying I could see it upset my parents.  When we were leaving, the couple left just ahead of us.  There were two parking areas outside the restaurant, one high and one down a little hill on a lower level.  The couple headed for the lower lot and our car was in the upper lot.  They were screaming at each other and the man kept trying to grab the woman’s arm.  She kept trying to get away.  Dad told us kids to ignore it as it was none of our business.  But then, all of a sudden, the man, who was over six feet tall, spun the much shorter woman around, pushed her up against their car and the sound of him slapping her face rang out in the night.

I was stunned to see that but even more stunned to see my father dash across the parking lot and down the hill toward the couples car.  He made it there in time to grab the arm of the man as he reared back to hit the woman again.  Despite the fact my dad was 8” shorter than the man and easily 25 years his senior, my dad got up into the man’s face and I heard these same words again, “I never, NEVER, want to see you EVER hit a woman again, EVER!”  The man was so shocked he just stammered out agreement and my dad looked to the woman and asked if she was alright.  She said she was and he ushered her to the passenger side and opened the door for her.  “Take her home and mind what I told you”, my dad said to the man as he started back up the hill to our car.   Which brings me to my fifteenth pearl.

Fifteenth Pearl:  “Never, EVER, abuse another person, EVER!”

Now you might think this only applies to you, Gehrig, but Eliana, it goes for you too.  Physical abuse in our country today is more prevalent than ever.  It is a sad situation.  Men physically abuse women but, sometimes, women are even guilty of abusing men.  And physical abuse is only part of it.  Mental and emotional abuse is part of the mix.

We all have both the capability to abuse and the capacity for great compassion.  God gave us the gift of the latter but the former we learn ourselves.  One breeds hate and despair, the other promotes and encourages love.  The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It is a paraphrase of the commandment Jesus left with us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. 

Watch your parents and learn from them.  They are full of great compassion. I hope you will both grow up to be compassionate, empathetic humans, like your parents, who always treat others as you would like to be treated.  It is my hope that neither of you ever know the desire to strike or harm another person.  Besides, kissing and hugging is a lot more fun anyway.

I love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pearl 14: Baptism is not an Event, it is a Lifestyle

Dear Gehrig and Eliana,

Good afternoon, my darlings.  Well it has only been two weeks since I have seen you but I miss you terribly and so does Granny.  Well, I just have to say, your baptism ceremony and the entire weekend was just perfect.  You were so well behaved in church.  Eliana, as I expected, you were just enthralled with the experience of being sprinkled and, Gehrig, you just complained because the water woke you up a little.  But you went right back to sleep.  You both looked like little angels in your Grandma Kathy’s custom knit outfits and the whole congregation was impressed with you as were we.

Granny shed a few tears and I must admit, watching you being baptized brought a mist to my eyes as well.  Only time will tell if you both understand someday how important that particular day was for you.  It is my prayer that you do.

In the Lutheran Church (and, of course, many other denominations) we believe in infant baptism.  I guess we feel it adds an extra layer of salvation protection and it challenges your parents, your grandparents and others, who will have a profound effect on your lives, to instill in you a love of the Lord and teach you the principles and ethics we value and are important in life.  Of course, I was raised in the Baptist Church.  It was different.

The Baptists don’t do infant baptisms.  They believe the individual needs to make the decision to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and cannot do that as an infant.  Consequently, I didn’t get baptized until I was 10 years old.  I had been going to Sunday School on and off for about two years at the First Baptist Church of Pomona, CA.  I wasn’t too excited about it but some of the Bible stories were nice.  Then, when I started the fourth grade at Arroyo Elementary, I had a teacher named Miss Schaffer.  She was probably in her mid-twenties with long blonde hair and a pretty face and I was quite smitten with her.  She took a special interest in me and I used to stay after school and talk with her.  She told me she was a Christian and told me a lot about her faith. 

At first, I listened and spent time with her because she was pretty and fun to be around.  Then I started listening to what she was saying and became intrigued.  Miss Schaffer asked me if I had been baptized and I told her I had not.  She told me I ought to consider it.  Now every Sunday, Dr. Edward Cole, the pastor of our church, would have an “alter call” after the sermon.  This is where Dr. Cole would ask anyone who wanted to come forward and proclaim their faith in Jesus, accept Him as their personal Savior, and become baptized.  Most of the time, I was nodding off about then and wasn’t paying too much attention.  But after my discussion with Miss Schaffer, I started watching and listening. 

My conversations with Miss Shaffer went on for a couple more weeks and then one Sunday, when Dr. Cole made his alter call, I felt something inside of me saying, “GO”.  About five other adult people were making their way toward the alter and Dr. Cole.  All of a sudden, I stood up.  My parents looked at me like, “What are you doing?”, but I couldn’t stop myself.  I stepped out into the aisle and began slowly walking forward.  Dr. Cole saw me coming and a broad, tender smile came across his face.  Now Dr. Cole was a big, powerful looking man, about 6’ 4”tall, with a tanned face and coal black hair with graying temples. He was in his early sixties.  He was an accomplished speaker and had a booming voice which he could project to the balcony whether his volume was high or at a whisper.  As I approached this imposing man, my knees became weak.  I started to shake and tears came to my eyes.  When I got close to him, he put his large hand out and rested it gently on my shoulder.  I was about to faint.  “Why have you come down?” he asked me quietly and yet I knew everyone in the congregation heard him and I felt their eyes on me.  Through tears and with a shaky voice, I said, “I want Jesus for my Savior”. 

Dr. Cole wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tight and his “PRAISE GOD!” resonated throughout the entire church and, I was sure, in heaven as well.  When he finally released me and led me to the others gathered at the alter, I stood there with them, feeling like I was going to fall down at any moment, as Dr. Cole introduced us to the congregation.  I caught my parent’s eyes and my mother was crying and my dad was smiling.  It gave me strength.

After some discussion with the pastor after service, he decided I was old enough to go through the adult instruction class with the others.  We did not have a youth catechism program at that time in the Baptist Church like you two will go through.  So for four Sundays, after service, we all gathered in his huge office for an hour.  He sat in his high back chair behind his large, heavy wooden desk and we sat in high, straight-back, padded leather chairs and listened to Dr. Cole tell us about baptism.  It was winter and the heat was on in his office.  The sun would stream through the windows behind him and after about 30 minutes it was all I could do to keep my eyes open.  I honestly don’t remember much of what he said.  That knowledge would come later in life.  All I knew was that God loved me and the waters of baptism were going to wash all my sin away.  I knew this is what God wanted, what my parents wanted, what Miss Schaffer wanted and what I wanted.  I somehow “passed” the course.

Finally, my baptismal day was at hand.  In the Baptist Church we don’t sprinkle, we dunk.  Full immersion to wash those sins away just like John in the river Jordan.  There was actually a good-sized pool behind a thick burgundy curtain up above and behind the alter.  The opening to the sanctuary above the pool was about eight feet long and five feet high.  There were stairs leading down into it on one end of the pool and stairs leading up out the other end but you could not see them through the opening.  Dr. Cole stood in the middle of the pool in a long white robe.  We wore white robes as well with bathing suits underneath.  We came down into the pool, one at a time, and Dr. Cole would recite the same scripture for each of us.  We had all been instructed how to do this.  Dr. Cole would take our right hand in both of his and we would use our left to hold our nose.  We put one foot behind us for leverage and at the appropriate signal, bend over backwards into the water.  We were down and up in about three seconds.  I felt changed.  I felt exhilarated. It was a highlight of my life. 

My conversion lasted until I reached the fifth grade and then I became a member of a huge group of Christians known as “backsliders”.  Backsliders are Christians who do not always practice their faith as they should.  You become a backslider when, despite your best effort or lack thereof, you sin.  This brings me to my next pearl.

Fourteenth Pearl:  “Baptism is not an event, it is a lifestyle.”

I spent the next six years of my life in backslide mode.  Oh, I wasn’t bad all the time but if there was trouble to be found, I could usually find it.  I spent most of my time taking care of my needs and very little looking out for the needs of others.  I did a pretty good job of covering this from my parents but mostly that was because I rarely got caught with my hand in the cookie jar even though it was in there quite often, metaphorically speaking. 

Then when I was seventeen, I had an epiphany.  It happened one day at the end of a high school church retreat and it changed my life.  It is a story for another time but once again I was on the straight and narrow path.  It was like being baptized all over again.  I felt changed.  I felt exhilarated.  It was a highlight of my life.  Only this time I didn’t smell like chlorine.  This time it lasted about six months.

Then I fell into backslide mode again and it wasn’t until I had my third epiphany (third time’s the charm) when I was 34 years old, married with two children, that I finally understood what my baptism was all about.  I felt changed.  I felt exhilarated.  It was a highlight of my life, but this time it took.  Again, it is a story for another time, but in 1979 I realized my baptism way back in 1956 was only the beginning.  It wasn’t something that once done is finished.  The process of baptism is a lifelong challenge that occurs on a daily basis.  We must die to sin and be re-born, through the grace of God, new creatures in Christ everyday.  If we skip a day or two, it is alright.  It is kind of like skipping our bath for a couple of days, we are still alive but we start to smell after a while.  Then we know it is time to get back to the waters of our baptism and remember why we asked Jesus to be our personal Savior, because only He can wash our sins away. 

Hopefully, you two will spend more time on the straight and narrow than your Grandpa Jud has.  However, whenever you get off track, remember what happened to you on October 28, 2007 was only the beginning. But because of your baptism on that day, you are forever in His loving care and workers with the rest of us in the Kingdom of God.

I love you both, bunches and bunches.

Grandpa Jud

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pearl 13: Speak with Authority...If You Believe in Yourself, People Will Believe You

Dear Eliana and Gehrig,

Good morning, my sweethearts.  Well, your Mom is full of stories about you guys these days.  Seems, Miss Eliana, you have your first tooth coming in and, Master Gehrig, you have figured out how to race your sister to the bathroom for your evening bath.  Fun and exciting new adventures await you everyday as you approach the end of your 9th month.  Soon you will have spent as much time in the world as you did in the womb.  How amazing is that?

I love all the great pictures your Mom has sent us of you two.  My favorite shot is of you, Gehrig, as you lay on the floor face down and naked, while your mischievous sister grabs your butt and laughs.  Naked time is so important, but, Gehrig, you are going to have to stop pooping on the floor and then rolling in it.  Not good.  Poop is to be deposited in the diaper and later in the potty.  Now a lot of babies play with their poop. Won’t cause serious harm, but if you keep it up your Mom might not let you cruise around in the buff anymore and that would be really sad. 

Of course, I am sure this won’t be the last time you two do something that shocks your Mom.  She gets excited when you run a temperature or have a sniffle.  It doesn’t take much to set her off.  So please go easy on her.

Back in 1950, when I was five years old, my Dad bought a second-hand black and white television set.  It was our first television.  Even though CBS started broadcasting some shows in color in five East Coast stations in June, 1951, there were about 10.5 million black and white TV’s in the USA (about half of them RCA units) and very few color sets.  I loved that TV, but my bedtime was 8:00 PM and that is when “I Love Lucy” came on.  My Mom would tuck me into bed and then she and my Dad would watch TV.  I used to sneak downstairs, ever so quietly, and hide behind my Dad’s big chair and peek around to watch Lucy.  When the show was over I would sneak back upstairs and tuck myself back in.  I did that every week for a long time then got busted when I fell asleep during one of the shows and they found me behind my Dad’s chair.

Anyway, when I was about six and a half in 1951, our used TV went on the fritz.  It stopped working and my Dad didn’t want to spend the money to have it fixed.  He wanted to save up to buy a new one.  We endured weeks of no TV.  Like you, Eliana, I was an inquisitive child.  I was fascinated with things mechanical and loved to play with my Lincoln logs and Erector set, making things and figuring out how they worked.  One day, I went to my Mom and told her I thought I could fix the TV set.  I have no idea what in the world she was thinking, but she told me to go ahead and try.  She probably thought I was just going to play with the knobs on the front of the TV (no remote controls back then).  She went back to her house chores.

Well, I went into the basement and got my Dad’s tool box.  I pushed the TV away from the wall and, with a screwdriver, took the back off the big TV cabinet.  In no time I had every tube, capacitor, power supply and bundles of wires spread out on the family room floor.  I inspected everything and was starting to put the whole mess back together when my sister, your Aunt Sandy, came into the room and started yelling at me to stop.  My Mom rushed in and the look on her face was priceless as she saw hundreds of parts strewn all over the carpet and me buried inside the TV cabinet “fixing” the problem.

Obviously, she was shocked that I had gotten into the TV and removed all of its components but I assured her I could get it all back together and working and, again, she believed me.  This kind of brings me to my thirteenth pearl.

Thirteenth Pearl:  Speak With Authority…If You Believe In Yourself, People Will Believe You

I had no idea how to fix a TV set.  I never had even seen the inside of one before.  But I just knew if I could get into it, I could figure it out.  And that confidence in myself spilled over into my communication with my Mom.  She believed I could do it because I believed I could do it.  It was a lesson learned early that has served me well all of my life and I developed a knack for always speaking with authority, even in times of doubt.  People that know me really well, like your Granny and even your Mom from time-to-time, can tell when I actually know what I am talking about and when I am not so sure, but most everyone else just assumes I am correct.

Now, I am not saying you can go around espousing anything you want and just because you say it with authority, people will always believe you.  You better know your stuff.  But on that day in 1951, I had my Mom, a grown woman of forty-six, believing a six-year old could repair a television set.  Ask me some day if you are curious as to whether I actually got it working or not.

I love you guys, bunches and bunches, and I am saying that not only with authority, but with all my heart!

Grandpa Jud

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pearl 12: The Grass on the Other Side of the Fence Isn't Always as Green as it Appears

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Well, it has been almost a week since you left Texas and I miss you both so much.  It was just wonderful having you down to Camp PK for a month and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  Let’s say we can make this an annual event, what do you think?

You are both so impressive.  Not only are you both just beautiful and perfect but you are SO intelligent.  Eliana, you dig into everything you see and just seem to figure it out.  Gehrig, you don’t miss anything and quietly appreciate all you see.  You both changed so much in your four weeks here, growing and becoming more delightful with every passing day.  It was such a thrill to witness.  Now you are back home and still have your Granny to visit with you.  I hope you are starting to sleep through the night so you can send her back to me not too exhausted. 

One of the things I noticed when you were here, which was so cute, is when you two were close together in the “baby pit” and one of you would pick up a toy, the other would almost always stop playing with whatever toy they had and reach out to grab the other’s toy.  Trust me, this is something which does not change with age.  As human beings we tend to covet what other people have.  So strong is this feeling, God, in his infinite wisdom, thought it was important enough to make it one of His commandments…”Thou shalt not covet…..”   Even so, it is a force which is hard to control and to deny.

When I was in the early years of my business career one of my promotions was to the home office of Owens-Corning Fiberglas in Toledo, Ohio.  Granny and your mom and I moved to the Midwest from California where we owned a nice home in Anaheim Hills, a prestigious Orange County community.  When we were getting ready to move to Ohio we searched for housing all around the Toledo area.  Most of my counterparts at O-C lived in upscale suburban communities like Sylvania, Old Orchard or Ottawa Hills.  We selected the small rural community of Maumee.  We found a modest Ryan-built home on Dussel Drive just down from the Lucas County Recreation Center (where the Toledo Mudhens AA baseball team played).  It was not a fancy home, like some of our friends owned, and our community was considered “blue collar” but it suited our needs and, because it was less expensive, we could even afford to save a little money. 

But there was always this little bit of longing when I saw the larger, more lavish homes of our friends in the “popular” communities, some of them adjacent to country clubs and golf courses.  I had occasional envy for their lifestyle.  You could say that I coveted my neighbors property from time to time.  Which brings me to my twelfth pearl.

Twelfth Pearl:  The Grass On the Other Side of the Fence Isn’t Always As Green As It Appears

We didn’t belong to the Sylvania or Brandywine country clubs.  We didn’t have the prestigious address or live next to major company CEO’s.  We didn’t send your mom or your Aunt Bits to the exclusive private schools like some of our friends did.  We chose, instead, to raise our family in a lovely neighborhood called Floral Valley (nicknamed Fertile Valley by the locals because of all the children who filled the modest homes).  We chose to send our children to public schools. We chose to spend less on housing and forego country club memberships and put as much money into our savings plan as possible for a future of greener pastures.

Did we envy?  Did we occasionally covet?  Did we look across the fence and admire what we thought looked like a greener yard than ours?  Yes, we probably did.  But what did we get in return?   We got a peaceful, safe and wholesome community for our children to grow up in.  We got a good education for them.  We got a place where lasting friendships could be forged and strong Midwestern values instilled.  We got doses of reality reinforced as we watched friends struggle with their inflated house payments and escalating country club dues while our savings continued to grow.  And, after 11 years in this place, we had enough money saved to move to Texas, build a custom home and start a business which provided not only the fulfillment of a life-long dream of ownership but the wherewithal for an advanced education for our children as well as a secure retirement for ourselves.  Whose grass is greener now?

Granny and I have been very blessed in our lifetime.  God has granted us most of our wishes and fulfilled many dreams.  What He taught us was that patience, perseverance and careful planning can ultimately produce the greenest grass….and that coveting what others have is a fool’s game.

I pray that God grant you both the boldness to dream along with the patience and perseverance to achieve those dreams.

I miss you and love you,

Grandpa Jud

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Pearl 11: A Positive Attitude is Worth Its Weight in Gold

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Good morning, my sweethearts.  It will be just five short days until we see you again and we can hardly wait.  Your Grandma Vicki and I have been cruising up inside the Arctic Circle and got to within about six miles of the Polar Ice Cap at about 82° latitude.  We have heard some people on this ship describe this part of the world as desolate and barren.  We have even heard a few call it ugly.  I disagree.  I think it has a unique stark beauty all its own and shows the power of nature in very specific ways.  The glaciers carved this land into majestic jagged peaks and low, mist covered valleys, deep gorges and ravines with perpetual snow caps, all bathed in subdued light from the low hanging sun filtered through overcast skies. 

Now desolate and barren are valid descriptions even though those words belie the beauty.  But ugly?  How can two people see the same thing and one describe it as barren and ugly and another see it as magnificent natural wonder? 

Yesterday, we spent a wonderful, sun-filled day in Tromso.  This university town is sprawled over nearly 1000 square miles on the mainland and islands of Norway.  With only about 60,000 people, it is not that large, population-wise, just spread out.  The town is surrounded with high, snow-capped mountains and is in its lush green summer period.  Wildflowers were all around and the houses are painted in gay colors.  We took the cable car or tram up to the top of Mt. Storsteinen and were treated to the most spectacular panoramic view of the entire Tromso area.  From that altitude we could clearly see probably 75 miles in all directions.  It was awe inspiring.  When we got back to our tour bus and were sitting there ready to return to the ship, we overheard a woman in front of us complain to her husband, “Well, I’ve been on better trams”.  This leads me to my next pearl.

Eleventh Pearl:  A Positive Attitude is Worth Its Weight in Gold

Most of the people on this ship can afford to travel anywhere they want to go in the world.  They have the wherewithal to travel in total luxury.  But, every once in a while you run into one of these privileged people who, despite all their gold, are literally wasting their money because they view their discoveries through negative eyes.  They concentrate on small, insignificant details and miss the beauty all around them.  Shoot, I would have gone up that mountain in a wheel barrel for the opportunity to see that view. 

Some people always see the glass as half empty while others see it as half full.  It is about looking at the world through positive eyes with a full heart.  Grandma and I hope that someday we can take you to some of the fabulous places we have seen.  We hope you are instilled with a sense of wonder at our fabulous planet and one day, when you have the resources of your own, continue to travel and explore and discover.  When you do that, my advice would be to spend your gold wisely and make the first thing you pack be your positive attitude.  In fact, keep it with you always.  You will be the happier for it.

See you on Saturday, my darlings, but until then God Bless you both.

Grandpa Jud

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pearl 10: The Right Place, The Right Time

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Good morning, my sweethearts.  We just got the pictures your Aunt Holly has taken of you and they are fabulous.  Isn’t your Aunt Holly a hoot?  She is one of our favorite people and has been like a third daughter in our family for well over 30 years.  I know you will grow to love her as we do.

We have been very busy lately.  Granny has been down in Austin taking your great Grandfather Dan (we call him “Paw Paw”) to his various doctor appointments.  He is settled into Englewood, a private residence apartment complex for senior citizens and retirees.  They have lots of activities for him (exercise classes, bingo, dominos, birthday parties) and much needed social interaction.  We hope he decides to stay there and not move back into his old and dilapidated house, but having lived in that house for over 55 years makes it difficult for an elderly person (86 years old) to give it up.

We want Paw Paw to meet and become friends with new people there at Englewood so he will have a support group to look after him.  The one thing we fear, if  Paw Paw were to move back home, is that he might fall or injure himself in some way and no one would be there to assist him.  That would be difficult for any of us to take.    It kind of reminded me of an incident I experienced when I was in junior high school with a friend of mine, William Robert Collins. 

William moved from Ft. Stockton, Texas to Pomona, California at the start of our ninth grade year.  Because he was from west Texas he had a thick southern accent and he was known by the contraction of both his first and middle names, Billy Bob.  Billy Bob Collins was somewhat soft spoken so it took him a long time to develop any friendships.  I liked the guy right away and kind of befriended him.  By the time spring rolled around, Billy Bob and I were good buddies.

We were both on the Marshall Junior High School baseball team and at one after-school practice, Billy Bob and I were standing along the third base line just past where the third base coach would be if we had been in a real game.  Since this was just batting practice, no one was in their correct position on the field.   I was facing out towards left field and Billy Bob was facing towards home plate, just to my right.  Our conversation drifted between the batting order for our next game and the length of Linda Bebout’s skirt at last Friday’s after-school dance, so I barely recall the crack of the bat that afternoon.  What I do recall was the look of horror which flashed across Billy Bob’s face as he tried to turn his head, the whiz of the hardball, as it sped two inches passed my right ear, and then the sickening sound of impact.  The hard line drive foul ball hit Billy Bob square in his mouth and there was an explosion of blood from his face which sprayed all over him and me.

Billy Bob dropped to the ground on all fours and spat out a mouth full of blood and six teeth onto the grass along with a flood of involuntary tears.  I stood there in shock for what seemed like forever.  I tried to pull him up but he was still spitting up blood so I rushed to the bench, grabbed a towel and dunked it into the cooler of ice water in the dugout.  I then rushed back to where a growing crowd of fellow players were gathering around their fallen teammate and made Billy Bob bite down on the cold, wet towel.  Despite his obvious pain, Billy Bob was strangely calm and wasn’t even crying as most kids would have been.  In fact, he kept saying he was fine and didn’t want anyone to fuss over him.  I kept thinking how brave this hard, west Texas southern kid was.

Billy Bob was O.K.  In addition to his lost teeth and considerable swelling, the ball had cracked his cheek bone and damaged one of his sinuses, a condition which gave him a permanent runny nose.  This was before the advent of teeth re-implantation so those six teeth were goners, but Billy Bob gained instant celebrity status, not only for his bravery, but because he was the only 14 year old in school with a bridge of false teeth, which he would take out and show to the girls, who would shriek in mock horror.  Lucky guy.  Remembering this kind of brings me to my next “pearl”.

Tenth Pearl:  The Difference Between Being in the Right Place at the Right Time and the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time is Sometimes a Matter of Inches

I have often wondered since that day on the ball field (and at several other times in my life) what would have happened if I had been standing just six inches closer to the third base line.  First, Billy Bob would still have all his natural teeth and a runny nose only when he had a cold.  However, second, I would most likely have been paralyzed or dead.  A blow to the back of the head, delivered with the force of that foul ball, could have easily cracked my skull or crushed the vertebrae in my neck.  Were it not for a matter of inches, I could have been in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time, instead of the right place to help my injured friend. 

Now I don’t believe in luck.  Luck, as the pundits say, is where opportunity meets preparation, and nothing more.  However, I do believe in fate; the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed.  Of course, in my belief system, the “ultimate agency” is God and His host of guardian angels.  As fate would have it, I avoided tragedy that day and many other days to follow.  And fate will determine if you two will spend more of your lifetime being in the Right Place at the Right Time than the reverse.  We can help fate by not tempting it.  In other words, by making right choices, but sometimes our only hope is that angel who looks over you constantly and gives you that imperceptible nudge in the right direction.  Inches and/or seconds away from the wrong place at the wrong time.

There will be those people in your life who will tell you this is all a bunch of hooey.  But your Grandpa Jud is here to tell you it most certainly is not.  If you are interested in more life stories which support that claim, just ask me.  I will enjoy telling them to you.

I believe Paw Paw is in the Right Place at the Right Time.  He has heeded the call of his guardian angel and made the right decision to be in Englewood.  I hope he eventually acknowledges that, for his own sake and for that of his children.

Got to run to get ready to drive into Dallas with Granny.  We are giving a presentation on poverty and how we can help at our old church, Our Redeemer Lutheran, in Grand Prairie tomorrow.  I am pretty confident that on Sunday morning, we will be in the Right Place at the Right Time.

God Bless you both and, remember, I love you….bunches and bunches.

Grandpa Jud

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Pearl 9: A Skinned Knee Can Be a Good Thing

Dear Eliana and Gehrig,

Good evening, my two gorgeous sweethearts!  Do you miss your Grandpa Jud?  I sure miss you.  It has been almost two whole weeks since I have seen you and it will be a while before we see you again in July.  You will have changed so much by then.

By the time you are old enough to read this you will probably wonder what I mean saying you will have changed so much in just two months, but you are growing and changing so rapidly during this early time of your lives.  When you get older, like me, you look at change from a different perspective.  At our age we can see change in minutes and decades with equal clarity.  For instance, what will life be like for you two when you are 10, 11 and 12 years old?  I know your lives will be completely different than mine was at that age back in the middle to late 1950’s.

Of course, you have to realize we didn’t have computers or video games or even color television (our first color set was purchased in 1959).  We didn’t have shopping malls or megaplex cinema.  We were not allowed to be inside on a summer’s day.  Our mom’s shooed us out of the house early in the morning and we weren’t supposed to come back until dinner time.  Each days activities were a mystery to all of us.  We played war games in the yard.  We built a tree fort and defended it against foes, both real and imagined.  We had BB gun fights and, despite our parent’s warnings of lost eyesight, never a casualty was recorded. Fighting the battle of boredom and winning.  Imagine that. 

We hiked up to “Twin Peaks” in the California foothills, an almost two hour trek, and shared a soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a warm Coke we had carefully packed in a brown paper sack and were kings of all we surveyed from our lofty perch.  We dug a cave into the side of a dirt hill in a small forest area behind the Junior High School.  It was cut back into the hill ten or more feet.  There was probably several tons of dirt which could have buried us alive at any moment but we spent hours in that cool place on hot summer days contemplating life.

We rode our bikes about 10 miles up to Puddingstone Dam with our fishing poles and caught tiny button-back perch on worms we dug out of the ground in my Dad’s flowerbeds.  We dashed ourselves to the ground for hours on our Slip ‘N Slide in the front yard and ran through the sprinklers.  When we were thirsty, we drank out of the water hose if Mom ran out of Kool Aid.  We played in “The Wash”, a man-made drainage sewer channel which carried the effluent from the local paper mill to the ocean and when it flooded after a heavy rain, we would swim in the ponds it created.

After dinner we were back outside in the last few hours of daylight and organized neighborhood games of Hide and Seek, Ring Around the Rosie, Kickball, Red Rover and, my personal favorite, Kick the Can.  Sometimes we would just lie on the cool grass and watch the girls play Hop Scotch and Jump Rope on the sidewalk until our parents stuck their heads out the door and yelled for us to come inside.  Where did the day go? 

Now, some of the things we did, like riding on our bikes with a friend sitting between the handlebars, were dangerous.  We fashioned homemade slingshots and plinked at cans and each other while climbing the trash piles down at the junk yard.  We climbed trees, wondered construction sites after the workers left and occasionally got into trouble. We took a lot of risks and there were opportunities to get hurt.  But, for all the crazy stunts we pulled, no one ended up with more than a skinned knee.  We were happy and healthy, got plenty of exercise and it was all interactive play which built social skills and camaraderie.  Don’t think you can get that from an X-Box.  Which kind of brings me to my next pearl.

Ninth Pearl:  A Skinned Knee Can Be a Good Thing

Parents today tend to over-schedule and over-protect their children.  Certainly we want you two to be safe.  We would never want you to be injured in any serious way.  But helmets, knee pads, elbow pads and tethers to ride a BIKE?  What’s next?  “Oh, honey, be sure to put on your helmet if you are going to open that can of tuna.  Watch out for the squirt”.  Skin that knee a couple of times and you will learn how to prevent the casual accident pretty darn quick.  I know.  I could spell Mercurochrome before I was six.

We do live in a more complicated time.  In the 1950’s children did not seem to be at the same level of risk they are today from external threats.  Our parents did not know where we were during those summer days or what we were doing.  Parents today can not be that cavalier.  But I hope your parents will allow you both the freedom to be yourselves.  Let boys be boys and girls be girls.  I hope you will take that opportunity of freedom and use your youth to discover yourselves; your skills, your limits, your potential. For every skinned knee, you will have learned a valuable lesson.  And Mom will always be there to kiss it and make it better.

I love you both so much.  I will write you again before I see you in July.  In the meantime, try sleeping through the night.  You will find it will be good for you and do wonders for your Mom.

God’s Blessings on my Sweethearts.

Grandpa Jud

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pearl 8: Always Try to Make a Strong First Impression

Dear Gehrig and Eliana,

Good afternoon, my sweethearts.  I am SO excited.  It is only six more days until I see you both again and I can’t wait.  Your mom told me you have changed so much since I last saw you and I just need to see for myself.  I am under strict orders from your Grandma Vicki to take LOTS of pictures while I am there so you will need to be on your best behavior and make a good impression for the camera.  After all, we intend to share you with as many people as possible.

Speaking of good impressions reminds me of the time I was in junior high school.  I played football in the 8th grade but wasn’t an outstanding player.  I really didn’t understand the game that much and I was kind of lazy.  Then the summer between my 8th and 9th grade years I grew about two inches and put on about 20 pounds.  When I started the 9th grade I was 5’ 11” and weighed 190 pounds, which was big for that time.  I was also a year older than many of my classmates because I had been held back a year in school because I was born in October.  Anyway, when I went out for football practice in the late summer of 1959, Coach Moore saw me and thought I would be a good offensive lineman.

He put me at left tackle and taught me how to block and I competed with two of the bigger boys for that position and at the end of fall training, I found myself in the starting position on offense.  We were a good team with talented players at many of the skill positions.  Our quarterback, John Buchannan, was a tall, lanky kid with a strong arm and really good mobility.  Our starting halfback was a Hispanic kid named Emil Rios and he was small but really quick.  All I had to do was stand up the defensive player across from me and move him a little, left or right depending on the play called, and Emil would hit the hole like lightning, dart into their backfield and race for big yardage almost every time.

Before our first game with Fremont Jr. High, Coach Moore got the entire offensive line to gather around him.  He told us, regardless of where the play was going, if we would fire off the line at the snap of the ball, hit our man as hard as we could, drive him back and not stop driving into him until we heard the referees whistle and do that for the first ten plays we would be able to beat that player for the rest of the game.  “Go all out for ten plays”, Coach said, “Hit him as hard as you can and you will own him for four quarters." 

We won the toss and got the ball.  When I lined up against their defense, my guy was about my size but I thought I would do what Coach told us to do and I hit him hard and drove into him.  Seven plays later we scored a touchdown.  Only two of those plays were off my blocks but I hit my man as hard as I could on every play.

I was exhausted when I got to the sidelines but the thrill of being ahead in our first game was greater than my fatigue.  Fremont drove the field and tied the score at seven apiece but after the kickoff I charged out on the field determined to continue following Coach’s advice.  I hit my man on the first play really hard and drove him into the ground.  Today that is called a pancake block but that term had not been invented in 1960.

When we came to the line of scrimmage for our second play of the series, my man was breathing hard and there was something in his eyes that told me Coach was right.  I owned him.  Blocking him was easy for the rest of the game and my block sprung Emil for a long touchdown late in the game which gave us the win, 14-7.

Our next game was a non-conference game against Boy’s Republic.  This was the local detention center for juvenile delinquents.  All week at practice rumors were flying around that these kids were animals…”hardened criminals” at 14 and tough as nails.  They were reported to be dirty players to boot.  Chick Stearns, our tight end, claimed that one of their defensive players carried a knife on him and actually stabbed a kid in the leg at the bottom of the pile of players during a gang tackle in their last game.  While this piece of gossip was most likely not true, we were all a little nervous as our bus pulled through the guarded gate with the barbed wire on top at Boy’s Republic.  The “inmates” were lined up and were screaming obscenities at us as we pulled up to their football field. 

As if the intimidation factor was not high enough, when I came to the line of scrimmage on our first offensive series, the guy across from me had this huge, nasty looking rat with blood dripping from his fangs painted on the front of his helmet with “Rat Man” printed above it.  It stopped me in my tracks.  Now the kid was smaller than me.  I probably outweighed him by 30 pounds but that angry rat and the snarl on this kid’s face had me so shaken I barely moved when the ball was snapped.  The kid dashed passed me and sacked John just as he got the snap and he fumbled.  They recovered.  I was devastated.

When I reached the sideline, Coach was all over me.  “What happened?”, he asked as he grabbed me by the face mask, “You barely touched your man”.  I started to tell him about the rat but Coach interrupted me. “Look, I want you to do what you did last week”, he said, “I want you to go back out there and hit that man as hard as you can for ten plays….just give me ten plays!”  I told him I would and he let go of my helmet and smacked me on the butt.

When we got the ball back, I went to the line determined to show this guy who was boss.  I hit him as hard as I could for ten plays and it worked again.  The “Rat Man” was mine.  We won 42 - 0 and at the end of the game, when we were in line shaking hands with them, they didn’t seem so fierce or threatening anymore.  I learned a very important lesson that day and that would be my next pearl.

Eighth Pearl:  Always Try to Make a Strong First Impression

That day on the football field at Boy’s Republic, I almost forgot what Coach Moore was really trying to teach us.  Namely, first impressions are the lasting ones.  He knew that during the game we would become tired and we would make some mistakes but, if we made a strong first impression on the other person, they would not be able to take advantage of those mistakes.  Why?  Because in their mind they had already accepted, from the beginning, their opponent was better than they were.

Now life is not all about winning or losing.  Not everyone you meet, play with, work with, socialize with or associate with is an opponent or a competitor.  But making a strong first impression in all of those situations is a good thing.  It can help develop a spirit of cooperation, put people at ease, facilitate conversation and understanding, foster trust, help accomplish mutual goals and will help make life easier for you in the long run. 

We make strong first impressions in many ways.  Humans are visual and verbal beings.  We tend to readily accept people who are well groomed, dressed appropriately, speak clearly and intelligently, have a firm handshake and look you in the eye.  A smile always leaves a good first impression.  From the start, treat people honestly, with kindness and sincerity.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you give your word on something, follow through and be true to it.  You don’t have to be rich or have connections to do any of these things.  We all have these abilities.

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression so make every one count.  I guess the exception to this rule for me was that day on the football field at Boy’s Republic when I got that second chance to impress the “Rat Man”.  But I can’t recall one since, so “they” must be right.

I can’t wait to see you on Saturday, my dear ones. 

All my love,

Grandpa Jud                            

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pearl 7: Strive for Balance . . . Anyway You Can Get It

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Good Morning, Sweethearts!  What a glorious day it is here on Possum Kingdom Lake.  I can’t wait for you to come down to visit Grandma and me here in God’s Country….better known as Texas.  On this first visit your mom and dad probably won’t let me take you out on the waverunners and we may not even get a boat ride in, but I promise you, we will do all those things and more one fine day, God willing.

Why do I say, “God willing”?  Because we really can’t know what the future holds.  Sure, we plan for the future.  It is always a good idea to try to anticipate what is going to happen tomorrow or beyond.  We should always hold on to our dreams and aspirations and work to bring them to fruition.  Certainly we need to think about the future consequences of our actions and try to make good choices.  But as much as we would like to think we are in control, like a popular ad on TV this spring says, “Life come at you fast”.  It isn’t easy.

So what can we count on in life?  Some people count on their own intelligence.  Many of the basic tenants of the Koran, the Muslim’s bible, deal with knowledge and the pursuit of it.  They call it “Ild” and Muslims, during the golden age of Islam from the 9th through the 11th centuries, pursued knowledge in every field from science and math to business and trade, from astronomy and philosophy to art and literature.  During that period the people of the Middle Eastern countries led the world in discovery at a time when most of Europe was mired in a period described at the Dark Ages. The early Greeks were obsessed with knowledge, particularly as it related to philosophy, art, architecture and politics.  People who count on their intelligence to carry them through life study hard, they learn as much as they can about everything they can.  Their intellectual pursuits are a driving force in their lives.  It helps them make sense of things and is a big part of their image of self-worth.  To these people, being intelligent is prized above almost everything else.

Some people count on their common sense.  These are the people who just seem to know, intuitively, the right thing to do and say.  People with great common sense are the best listeners and, often, are great communicators as well.  They tend to have great empathy and compassion for others and strive for balance in their lives.  Many people with high levels of common sense tend to put the needs of others ahead of their own.  Intelligence and knowledge are important, but not the driving force in their lives.  So which is best, intelligence or common sense?  That brings me to my next pearl.

Seventh Pearl:  “Strive for Balance….Anyway You Can Get It”

Intelligence and common sense are not mutually exclusive.  Many people have both, although not necessarily in equal proportions.  The pursuit of knowledge is important.  Without it one would find it very difficult to be successful in this modern and fast-paced world.  This is why, when you graduate from high school, it is imperative you go to college and, perhaps, even pursue an advanced degree.  You will need it just to compete.
But intelligence is not a god.  Intelligence and knowledge are not panaceas and they certainly won’t make you the most popular person in the class or the star of the basketball team.  Albert Einstein, the enigmatic and brilliant scientist of the 20th Century, figured out how to explain the equivalence between energy and mass, in direct proportion to the square of the speed of light in a vacuum, but he often forgot to eat, comb his hair and tie his shoes.  He didn’t have the common sense God gave a goose and, to my knowledge, he never won a personality contest either.

Common sense is a gift although most people are born with it.  However, it is one of those things of which people say, “Use it or lose it”.  One must develop their common sense and work at honing its use in life’s daily routine.  One must pay attention to what others say, give alternate opinion a fair hearing, consider carefully any response and use good judgment when it is time for action.  Therein lays true wisdom.

When the great Hebrew King Solomon, rightly considered to be one of the wisest monarchs in history, was presented with a dilemma he often used common sense to solve it.  Two women came before his court with a dispute concerning rightful guardianship of an infant child.  Both women claimed the child belonged to them.  Each argued her case vehemently.  King Solomon then declared he could not determine which of the women had rightful claim, so he decreed the child should be cut in half with one half going to each of the women.  One woman agreed, but the other refused, saying the division would kill the child and she could not allow that to happen.  King Solomon then banished the woman who agreed from his kingdom and gave the child to the woman who refused, saying only the real mother would have given up her child rather than see it put to death. 

But can we depend on common sense alone to carry us through.  I think not.  It requires both knowledge and common sense to make it in this world and I hope you strive for both.  If you are a little short on knowledge but have bags of common sense, or vice versa, I hope you marry well.  Choose a partner with the strengths you don’t have in abundance and that way when the two of you become one, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.  How do I know that?  Because your Grandma Vicki and I are living proof.  And one of the reasons we will be celebrating our 39th wedding anniversary this year is because we both eventually recognized and valued the strengths we saw in each other and understood that both knowledge and common sense were essential to the relationship and our future.  We are a good balance.

So go for balance….study hard, sharpen your gift of common sense and marry well.  Of course, there is more to count on in life than this, but give me a break, I am only on the Seventh Pearl. 

I love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pearl 6: Never Underestimate the Power of Prayer

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,

Good afternoon, sweethearts.  Do you miss your Grandma Vicki yet?  She has only been gone about 30 hours now but she misses you already, as do I.  She had glowing reports for me on your progress; eating habits, pooping habits, sleeping habits and how she is certain you will both be the most intelligent, beautiful people on the planet some day.  I told her, heck, I think you are that now, even if you can only focus on things 12” away.  Still, your Grandma Vicki will always be concerned with your welfare, but knows she can’t spend every waking moment by your side.  That’s where prayer comes in.

When I was about 3 years old my mother, your great grandmother Ann (or as your mother used to call her when she was 3, “Gramma Nana”) taught me and my sister, Sandy (your great Aunt Sandra Kay Smith Evans), a prayer to say every night before we went to sleep.  It went like this:

Nowalayme downasleep
I prathe Lord my sowell takeep
Fishadi foureye wake
I prathe Lord my sowell to steak

Now before you get the impression your great grandmother was some mystic from an obscure Middle Eastern nomadic tribe or specialized in foreign languages from outer Mongolia, you must understand 3-year olds hear and recite phonetically.  And sometimes, they don’t get it exactly right.  Actually, it was years before I really understood what I was praying. From the last phrase I said each night, I figured it had something to do with steak, which I really liked, even at that young age.  As I finished the prayer, then, the last image in my mind was always of that thick, juicy charred meat my father always cooked to perfection on the grill and would cut into little mouth watering, bite-sized pieces for me.  But, I had it wrong.  It had nothing to do with steak.  The real prayer went like this:

Now I lay me, down to sleep,
I pray the Lord, my soul to keep.
If I should die, before I wake,
I pray the Lord, my soul to take.

When I got older and thought about those words and what they meant, it always seemed a little dark for a young person to be thinking about death every night right before they went to sleep.  Maybe that was why I was always afraid of the dark until I was in my early teens.  That and the fact I used to insist on watching creepy horror movies until past my bedtime.  Then consider my hyperactive imagination.  The result would sometimes be the scariest of dreams, which, invariably, had me running for my life from some grotesque monster or faceless grim reaper.  Yuk!

Culturally, I suppose the prayer made some sense.  Back in the 1940’s the infant mortality rate was 10 times what it is today and praying that one’s soul would be spared if they unexpectedly expired in the night probably made some sense.

Theologically, I suppose the prayer was sound because many young children in the Protestant faith (except for the Lutherans and the Episcopalians) were not Baptized in infancy and that decision was left to the discretion of the young person, sometimes as late as their teens or beyond.  This prayer acted as a substitute in that regard, I suppose, until that day eternal forgiveness came….a kind of backdoor protection plan.

The prayer was always followed by the “God Blesses”.  I was taught to always say, “God Bless Mommy and God Bless Daddy and God Bless Sandy and help Juddy (my mother’s awful nickname for ‘her angel’) be a good boy, Amen”.   Perhaps the last part was a fervent desire on my mother’s part to slow her little boy down because I could get into more trouble than you can imagine in the blink of an eye.  But that’s a story for another time.  What I am getting to, I guess, is the Sixth Pearl.

Sixth Pearl:   Never Underestimate the Power of Prayer

Prayer is a gift from God.  He gave us this gift to encourage us to talk to Him and to listen to Him.  Prayer is powerful.  Prayer works.  Jesus told us when we are down and out, to lift up our voices in prayer and promised that God, the Father, would hear and respond.  Now God’s answer to our prayers isn’t always “Yes”.  Sometimes, God says “No”, just like your parents do occasionally when you ask them for things (candy before bedtime, your own cell phone, the keys to the car).  It may not seem like it now, but your parents really do know what is best for you and so does God….even more so.  Just like you have to trust your parents sometimes even though you can’t understand why they are doing or acting a certain way, this is the way it is with God.  God asks us to trust Him and, in return, promises He will provide for our every need.  That happens through the miracle of prayer.

So if you are down and out sometime or feeling really low or if you think the world is unfair and things look hopeless, hit your knees.  Offer up a prayer to God and ask for His help.  He has promised to never leave you or forsake you.  It is then you will experience the real power of prayer.

Pretty heavy for two month old babies, I know.  Hopefully you will read this to yourselves one day when you need it the most.  But I promise you, as your mom reads this to you here in March, 2007, she finished it with a little prayer of her own, thanking God for you two beautiful, healthy, happy and perfect human beings and thanking Him for the love you give her and the love God gives her through you. 

I will write you again before I come up to see you in April.  Until then and always, I love you both, bunches and bunches.

Grampa Jud

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pearl 5: It's a Family Affair

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,

Good evening, sweethearts.  Do you miss your Grandpa Jud?  I surely miss you both.  By now you have had a chance to meet and visit with your Aunt Brittany, or as we affectionately call her, Aunt Bits.  Brittany, of course, is your mother’s youngest sister and she is a load of fun.  Brittany has a special relationship with her Aunt Patricia, Grandma Vicki’s youngest sister.  They have gone to football games together, traveled to Cabo San Lucas together and every time they are with each other it is like an instant party, even though there is 17 years difference in their ages.  I hope you two have a special relationship with Aunt Bits the way she does with her Aunt, despite a 31 year difference in your ages.

When I was a teenager, I had a special relationship with my father’s younger sister, Aunt Ernestine.  I called her Aunt Ernie and she was the most "together” older person I knew.  She was a school teacher for nearly 50 years and she was very “hip”.  When she would come to visit, there was always a lot of laughter in the house and she made the place light up with her stories and her fertile imagination.  When she visited she would allow me to go out on dates with my girlfriend and use her “air-conditioned” car instead of my car, whose only air-conditioning was accomplished by rolling down all the windows.  She used to say, “You want a ‘hot date’ but not one who is perspiring all over you”.  That kind of leads me to my next "Pearl".

Fifth Pearl:  It’s a Family Affair

Family is so very important.  Whenever you are in need, you can always turn to family.  It is my hope you will never be down and out, depressed or suffer real need, but if you ever do, you can count on your family.  They are the ones most likely to accept you no matter what.  Family will most always support you, even if they don’t agree with you.  Family will always defend you and stand up for you when you need it most.  Family will always love you, unconditionally.

There may be some family members with whom you will become very close.  There may be others who are more distant.  Some families have members who have become famous, or rich, or have distinguished themselves in some significant way.  Got to love those folks.  I am sure you two will fall into that category.  Some families have members who are more infamous than famous.  We call them “black sheep”, but they are still a part of the family.  You can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your family.  In some cultures, family is everything.  La Familia!  In other cultures, family is a necessity for survival, and, in others, just a mere convenience (or inconvenience).  In our culture, family is still very important; more for the emotional and spiritual bonds rather than the economic bonds of a century or two ago.  Family life in America is changing.  Some do not see the value in family the way they used to.  Some people today are accepting of redefining the traditional family.  I believe they are the poorer for it.  You were born into a family that believes in strong family ties and support, both on the Smith and the Hebert side.  You are very fortunate and your lives will be much the richer for it.

So far, your exposure to our family has been rather limited.  You have met your Grandpa Ron and Grandma Kathi, and soon you will meet your Aunt Tracey, your father’s older sister.  You have been introduced to me and your Grandma Vicki, your great Aunt Ruthie and your Aunt Bits.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to say.  Family members from all across the country are anxious to meet you in person.  (They have seen your photographs and agree with us you are both gorgeous and perfect). 

I know you will get a chance to see your great Uncle David Matthews, Grandma Vicki’s younger brother (and his wife April and 2nd cousins Austin, Amy and Kristopher), great Uncle Kenneth, Ruthie’s husband, and their son, your 2nd cousin Patrick, and your great, great grandfather Dan Matthews.  There are a host of other relatives on both the Smith and Hebert sides of the your family and a few on the Hebert side who would love to meet you someday.  In a future letter, I will try to give you a family tree from your mom’s side and I am sure your father or Grandpa or Grandma Hebert will try to provide the same from his side.  I hope you know that even though I am using the word “side”, we all consider ourselves to be from one big new family.  For sure we are all a part of the family of humankind and that is a kinship we need to honor and celebrate.  After all, it is a family affair.

I love you both very much and can’t wait to see you again in a few weeks.  Until then, I pray that God will hold you both in the palm of His loving hand.
Grandpa Jud

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pearl 4: Eat a Potato Chip

Thanks for all of the "Comments" on my new blog and for your support.  No one told me to take them off the list so I will assume you have interest.  While I try to figure out how to permanently post my "Pearls" and "1966-Year of Total Content" pieces, I thought I would begin to share a few with you so you get the idea.  Here is a typical "Pearl" letter to my grandchildren.  I hope you like it enough to sign up for my blog (Circle of Friends or Followers) so you will be notified when a new post is available.  Enjoy and comment if you wish.

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Good morning, my sweethearts.  I woke up thinking about you this morning and hoping you are having a fun time with your Grandma Vicki back and getting to meet your Aunt Ruthie.  Ruthie is the second oldest of the four children from your Great Grandfather Dan and Great Grandmother Ruby and, of course, she is Grandma Vicki’s sister.  Her actual name is Ruth Evelyn but, early on, family and friends called her “Ruth E.” or Ruthie.  Kind of sweet, isn’t it?  One of those things from your childhood which just carries on the rest of your life and will always stay with you.  You will have lots of those, I am sure.

When I was not too much older than you, our kindergarten class from Henley Elementary in Darien, CT went on a field trip up to Norwalk, the adjacent town, and toured the local potato chip factory.  It was the most amazing trip.  The factory was nearly new and had all of this huge, stainless steel equipment.  There were large tubs where potatoes were washed and scrubbed and mammoth drums which tumbled the potatoes against a rough interior which removed the skins.  The potatoes proceeded down a conveyor belt and dumped into multi-head slicers which fed by gravity into giant colanders beneath to catch the paper thin slices. There was a final washing and drying stage before the potato slices were fed into huge vats of boiling oil for cooking.  It didn’t take long. 

Then people with full-length white smocks and rubber gloves used large, long-handled strainers to lift the cooked chips out of the cooking oil and place them on a long conveyor where they were sorted, by hand, before they went under a bar which dusted a fine salt onto the still warm chips.  The smell of freshly cooked potato chips and their pungent oil filled the air and made our mouth's water.  The chips then went into a bagging machine and down another conveyor to a packing station.

The chips that were sorted out were only those which had remained in the cooking oil too long and were a medium to dark brown.  “Overcooks”, they called them.  They were thrown on narrow conveyor belts running near the edge of the large conveyor that carried the “perfect”, crisp, light yellow chips, and sent down a chute into a large, open holding bin waiting to be discarded.  When we passed that bin with those thousands of “burnt” chips, we were allowed to eat as many of them as we wanted.  I remember to this day the taste of those warm, crisp chips with their dark, robust flavor and extra crunchiness and being able to have an unlimited helping.  It was like being in potato chip heaven.

Years later some snack food marketing guru came up with the brilliant idea of bagging those “unwanted” chips and selling them at a premium.  Of course, had they asked anyone of those six-year olds on the field trip that day, we could have told them they were missing a new product opportunity and “Kettle Style” would have been launched forty years earlier.   This story leads me to my Fourth Pearl.

Fourth Pearl:  Eat a Potato Chip

O.K., so your Mom won’t get after me, I will caution you that potato chips do not exactly fall into the health food category nor will you find them on the food group pyramid.  But every once in a while, it is alright to indulge.  My point isn’t about potato chips.  It is about doing something for yourself every once in a while that just feels good, that puts a smile on your face or brings contentment, something good for your soul.

Make sure that at some point in your life you stand at the edge of an ocean and put a large seashell to your ear and hear the waves crashing inside.  Climb a tree and look down on the world from a different perspective.  Walk in a Texas meadow in the spring surrounded by the bluebonnets and Indian paint brush and smell the sweetness of wildflowers that cover the countryside like a multi-colored blanket.  Float in your life jacket on a hot summer’s day in a clear lake and debate with your family the politics of the day, religion or the meaning of life.  Fall on your face in a newly mowed lawn and smell the fresh cut grass.  Doze off under a spreading live oak tree and dream of all the mountains you will climb one day.  Make an angel in the snow…no, make ten angels, until even through your snow suit, it’s so cold you can’t feel your butt.  Look up on a cloudless night and marvel at the planets and the stars and let your mind be stretched by the vastness and the awesome power of the Universe and behold God’s perfect creation.  And most important, hold the hand of your best friend and look into their eyes and, silently, know you will forever be in love.  And, occasionally, eat a potato chip.  The dark ones are the best.

God bless you both, my darlings.
Grandpa Jud