Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Spirit of Generosity

    This Christmas will go down in my personal history book as “the best ever.” Not because of the gifts, or the way-too-abundant holiday treats, or the decorations. Not because of the Christmas concerts and other celebrations, or the cards and letters reminding us that we’re important to the far-flung people we love.

    What made it “best ever” was the spirit of generosity that touched us in many ways.

    Every year, somebody hangs giant snowflakes and lighted wreaths along our town’s main street. While out walking the morning after Thanksgiving, we caught them in the act. Stanwood Lions Club volunteers were partnering with a TV cable company to put up snowflakes that sparkled in the fog. The man in charge told us the Lions also hoist the lighted Christmas tree to the top of Stanwood’s icon, the old Hamilton Lumber Mill smokestack, as well as install other symbols for later holidays.

    Another day, we joined a number of senior citizens at Stanwood’s Community and Senior Center for Christmas luncheon. We were all delighted when one hundred fifty children from nearby Cedarhome Elementary School filed in to entertain us with a varied and enthusiastic program of holiday music, some of it original compositions from their teacher, Mr. Rich Crouch. Thanks kids and teacher, for sharing your talent!
Dennis Bunch on his Honda 1300cc

    When we drove to Camano Island to finish our Christmas shopping, we were amused to see Santa Claus sitting by the highway, waving from a bright red Honda motorcycle. We stopped to talk with him and take his picture. Santa (Dennis Bunch) has been sitting on that motorcycle for several hours a day, every Christmas season for six years, because he feels its a way he can bless others.

    Volunteers around Stanwood come by ones, by a few, or by the hundreds. The Warm Beach Lights of Christmas, only four miles from town, is known all over the country for its more than one million lights and its family-friendly activities that go on for twenty nights in December. More than 800 volunteers band together to set up the displays, man the events, and later take it all down again. They make this a happy, well-loved destination for young and old.

    For us, what made this Christmas truly “the best ever” was a generous gesture from one of our sons. His sister lives in the Arizona desert. She’s homesick for the damp green Pacific Northwest at Christmas time and we miss her, too. His gift to all of us was to fly her home for a weekend packed with love and fun.

    What better way to celebrate the birth of One who gave the best gift ever than to imitate his giving spirit? That spirit of generosity is the thread that ties the whole package together.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

John Aaron Rawlins, a Man for His Time

Brigadier General John A. Rawlins, Chief of Staff,
at City Point, VA, with wife and child at door of their quarters

Before the American Revolution, three brothers named Rawlins came to settle in the colonies from England. At Sun Breaks, http//,  the entry for August 28, 2011 begins a three-part story about one of them, ancestor James Mason Rawlins, who was willing to give up his family and perhaps his life for what he thought was right.

James Mason Rawlins was born around 1737. Soon after, in 1742, another Rawlins boy named James entered the world. He was James Rawlins III, born to Sarah and James Rawlins II. James Rawlins III became the great-grandfather of John Aaron Rawlins, the subject of this story. By 1826, both John’s family and descendants of James Mason Rawlins were living in Illinois.

Despite a crash course in beginning genealogy, I haven’t yet discovered how or if John Aaron Rawlins is related to our branch of the Rawlins family. But since one purpose in telling these tales is to show how our family (and all American families) help make up the larger history of these United States, here is the story of Major General John Aaron Rawlins. 

    John Aaron Rawlins was born in Galena, Illinois on February 13, 1831, one of eight siblings in a family of very modest means. He helped to support the family by hauling the charcoal made by his father to nearby towns and selling it. When his father left to join the 1849 California gold rush, John looked after his mother and siblings. He loved his father deeply but hated his bad habits. Because of his father’s drinking, John vowed never to touch strong drink. One writer thinks it was this aversion, as much as anything else, that became the basis for his place in history.

    John was an intelligent, darkly handsome young man with an unusual gift for oratory. His early education was spotty, but at the age of twenty he entered secondary school with the goal of becoming an attorney. He was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1855 and practiced law in his hometown. By 1858 he’d become interested in politics. Though a staunch Democrat, according to writer Lee Bonnet, he made speeches on behalf of fellow Illinois resident, Republican Abraham Lincoln, in the 1860 presidential campaign.¹

    Then the Civil War broke out. After the first Battle of Bull Run as the fighting moved closer to home, Rawlins organized a band of civilians into the 45th Illinois Volunteers, inspiring the new soldiers with his rousing speeches.

    The town of Galena was intensely loyal to the Northern cause. More generals called Galena home than any other Union city. The town probably contributed more privates, as well. One night local Republicans staged a big political meeting. Rawlins was advised that they would not welcome him as a Democrat, but he insisted he was going, and if asked to speak, he would not remain silent. Wherever he went, he was usually asked to speak, and it happened again that night.

    One of those attending the meeting was a modest, rather inarticulate colonel named Ulysses S. Grant. He had been a clerk in his father’s leather-goods store and knew Rawlins slightly because Rawlins had done legal work for the company.

    When the audience called “Rawlins! Rawlins!” John responded. He made what one author called “one of the great speeches of the Civil War period: a speech which rallied everyone, regardless of party, regardless of previous views about slavery and about sectionalism, regardless of anything and everything. He appealed to the God of battles to aid the great cause of the North; he appealed to everyone to give his utmost.”²

    Grant was among those who wanted to give his utmost. He asked Rawlins to join him as assistant in his military ventures, and as Grant advanced up the ranks to general, so did Rawlins. Eventually Grant made him his chief of staff.
    One of John Aaron Rawlins’ outstanding characteristics was his loyalty. He’d been fiercely faithful to his wife, Emily, with whom he had three children, and remained at her side, comforting her until her death in August 1861 of tuberculosis, a major killer of that day. Though in deep sorrow, he joined Grant to become one of his most trusted confidantes, deeply involved in every decision and every battle. He organized Grant’s military camp and also worked to protect Grant from the demon of strong drink.
    According to historian Elmer Gortz, Rawlins did have an interesting flaw or ability, depending upon one’s perspective. When the occasion warranted, he could erupt into the most passionate, evocative, eloquent surge of swearing imaginable. One of the people who witnessed his colorful language was a northern girl named Emma Hurlbut.

     Emma was working in Vicksburg, Mississippi, as a governess during the siege of the city. Rawlins was assigned to protect her from the unwanted attentions of soldiers and officers. Not only did he do his job well, he also courted and married her. Emma was able to curb his profanity.

    John Rawlins had become a Major General by the time the war ended in 1865. He returned to his law practice in Galena. By then, he’d also contracted tuberculosis.

    In the summer of 1867, General Grant urged his chief of staff to go out West, hoping that the climate might help him recover. Accompanied by an aide and several friends, Rawlins traveled to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There he met General Grenville M. Dodge and a party of civil engineers who were surveying a railroad route westward from Omaha.
    As the company rode west on their horses, approaching the hills near the present city of Rawlins, Wyoming, the ailing general expressed a desire for a drink of good, cold water. Scouts set out to explore. They discovered a fine spring of water near the base of the hills and brought some back to the sick man. General Rawlins declared he’d never tasted a drink more refreshing. “If anything is ever named after me, I hope it will be a spring of water,” he said. General Dodge heard what he said and immediately named it “Rawlins Spring.”

    The town that grew up near the spring, a division point of the railroad, was at first called “Rawlins Spring.” Later, the name was shortened to “Rawlins.”

    Unfortunately, the expedition did not improve Rawlins’ health. He returned to the East, and a short time later Ulysses S. Grant became President Grant. The president summoned his old friend Rawlins to Washington, D.C., and in March 1869, made him secretary of war.

    John Aaron Rawlins died five months later at the age of thirty eight, on September 6, 1869. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

¹ (Lee Bonnet)

² from Three Galena Generals, by Elmer Gortz, 1955 (Speech to Illinois Historical Society)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Giving the Gift of Heritage


    Sharing Your Stories
    Guest Blogger, Sharon Brilla

Something in our hearts responds to story. Before the invention of radio and TV, before we even had access to the written word, stories were the way we passed on our history and our culture. We especially love tales of courage and triumph over difficult circumstances. Stories about family help us know where we fit in the scheme of things. What small child doesn’t beg, “Tell me a story?”
Sharon Brilla, Co-Director of Social Services at Josephine Sunset Home here in Stanwood, says:
“One of the greatest gifts we can give to our families is sharing our trials and failures and how we overcame in the midst of turmoil.” She relates this to the Biblical account of Moses leading the Israelites out of their Egyptian captivity to the land God had promised them. Moses told the people, “‘Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.’ As we face tough economic times we can help the current generation learn to face adversity and remind them we can be over comers.

“My mother told about putting cardboard in her shoes because she couldn’t afford another pair of shoes. All of us have Exodus stories about how our family has survived when life happens. Our challenge is to share our stories with the next generation and teach them to recognize their own stories.

Christmas time is a perfect opportunity to remind our families of our triumphs and lessons learned from the hard times. This year give the gift of legacy and start a new family tradition.”
Here are some of Sharon’s ideas:

* Start a journal with stories from the past and add new stories throughout the year

* Play a game of remembering past victories. ‘I remember the time Grandpa’s car broke down on the  freeway and….’

* Start a prayer journal with your family. Record answers to your prayers.

* Share a time when you failed and what you learned from the failure.

* Encourage younger family members to share their Exodus stories. This year I will remind my grandson of his fears on the first day of school. That morning he asked me to pray, and when school was out, he said, ‘I had a good day, Grandma.’

Here are a few ideas from Sun Breaks:

* When you put your photos in albums, or download them to your computer, be sure to label them with the occasion, place, and people in them. Don’t let your treasured photos end up in a shoe box in some estate sale because no one knows their significance.

* Keep a journal, if only jottings on a calendar to keep track of important daily happenings.

* Keep scrapbooks of family events.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Snow Geese are Back!

     Recently, a morning fog mass crept across Skagit Bay and the farms on the delta below us. For a few moments the bank’s leading edge paused at the northern reach of Port Susan and the mouth of the Stillaguamish River. We watched the fog swallow the farms along the shore and blot out Camano Island. Soon it swirled into the treetops on our hillside.

    When we stepped outside, we heard disembodied voices gabbling in the fog. The Lesser Snow Geese were back!
    Later, we drove to the Rexville store on Fir Island, one of our favorite places for lunch, passing a large flock of snow geese grazing in a field. While we waited for our order, Rexville’s proprietor told us he’d recently talked with a Russian ornithologist who studies the birds at their nesting grounds on Wrangell Island, not the Wrangell Island in Alaska’s panhandle, but the Russian island in the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia. He passed on some interesting facts he’d learned from the visiting scientist.
The orange faces show this family group has been feeding in the iron-rich soil of the salt marshes.

    Some of the Wrangell Island geese winter in California. The rest winter locally and would show up soon. The Lesser Snow Geese we’d seen, the proprietor informed us, would not stay. They would feed and rest for a while, then fly on. 

    Snow geese usually mate for life and can live from 10 to 20 years in the wild. They raise three or four young every year. During the summer, they molt and can’t fly. The Russian expert described how most of the geese prefer the tundra at one end of the island for their nesting sites, though quite a few nest at the other end. When the goslings get strong enough, the whole of the smaller group (thousands of parents and young) set out walking to join the geese at the other end of the island, at least 40 miles away, even struggling across a rugged mountain range. On the way, many lose their lives to Arctic foxes and other predators but the flock keeps going.

    The snow geese who winter here in the deltas of the Stillaguamish and Skagit Rivers are part of the Fraser-Skagit population, and move back and forth between the estuaries of the Skagit and Fraser Rivers. A sanctuary has been established in the center of the Fraser estuary for the compact white birds with the black wing tips and pink bills and feet.  About half of the wintering geese can be seen swirling over the farm fields and intertidal marshes of the sanctuary from mid-October to mid-December, and again from mid-March to mid-April. The other half fly on to the Skagit Delta, where they will be joined by the rest of the flock from mid-December to mid-March.

    In January, 2010, the two flocks totaled 75,500 birds. Researchers estimated that forty percent that year were young birds, identified by their grayer plumage. The following January, there were only about 65,000 birds with very few young. The nesting season in Siberia had been poor.

    Snow geese feed on the intertidal marsh plants of the estuaries, such as bulrush and sedges, using their strong bills to dig up roots and rhizomes. Visitors will notice the head feathers of geese who have been uprooting marsh plants have been stained orange by the iron-rich soil.

    In the fall, farmers plant grass cover, not only for soil enrichment, but for the geese and other wildlife. The geese will also eat any unharvested crops, including leftover potatoes in the field. One of the Northwest’s most spectacular sights is a large, dense flock of snow geese marching across level farm fields in close formation, feeding as they go. If a bald eagle (or dog, or person) comes too close, the geese will take flight, then swirl down in another location like a storm of noisy snowflakes.

    Scientists working on Wrangell Island have banded some birds with colored neck collars and fitted others with radio transmitters to aid in population and migration studies. If you come to watch our winter visitors and notice any marked birds, you can assist the ongoing international research projects by reporting your observations to The British Columbia Waterfowl Society, 5191 Robertson Road, Delta, BC V4K 3N2. Phone: 604-946-6980

Friday, September 23, 2011

Making a Memorable Reunion

Mary and Connie find their husbands in an early reunion photo
Did your family, like ours, have a reunion this summer? It’s not too soon to begin planning your next one—no matter when you want to schedule it.

About sixteen years ago, when my dad and his youngest sister Mary were the only siblings still alive out of the original seven, we began a tradition of getting together every other August. Our reunions not only allow family members of all ages to connect with each other in a deeper way, but we also feel more connected to previous generations.

Here are some of the fun ideas we’ve used to help draw us closer. Feel free to adapt them for your next family get-together.

~Genealogy Chart
 Cousin Jackie’s an expert genealogist who has unearthed fascinating stories about the family. She contributed a beautiful genealogy chart (above) showing ancestors from Thomas and Ethel Rawlins, the parents of the seven siblings mentioned above, all the way back to the 1700s. The chart is featured at every reunion.

~Family Trees
Some of us see each other only at reunions. We use Sister Patty’s family “Tree” to help us place people in the proper families and learn their names. Photos of Thomas and Ethel are at the base of the tree. Twigs on separate branches for each of their seven children feature pictures of the siblings’ children’s and grandchildren.

~Reunion Albums
Cousin Bill, a photographer, made a 2-by-3-foot blow-up of a photo from the first Rawlins  reunion. All the cousins, in their sixties and seventies now, were crowded together on the grass in a laughing group. Today’s children like to pick out their grandparents in the black-and-white photo.

(All three of the above ideas can be seen in the above photo.)

Today everyone has a digital camera, so we take lots of pictures. We keep an album chronicling each reunion. It’s fun to leaf through the pages, watching the changes as the children grow up and revisiting memories of loved ones no longer with us.

At one reunion, someone brought several plain t-shirts and some fine-point permanent markers. We signed our names on each shirt, as decorative or simple as we wished. Later, names were drawn to choose the shirts’ lucky recipients. Another time, everyone wore matching t-shirts screen printed with “Rawlins Reunion” across a silhouette of a tree.

~Video recordings
Video recordings of previous reunions are fun to watch and become increasingly precious as the years pass. One of the most enjoyable featured Aunt Mary, one of the seven siblings, sharing memories of her North Dakota childhood and the early years of the family in Washington.

Everyone, young to old, has fun at the Rawlins Reunion

Different volunteers at each reunion supervise games for kids and grownups. Home-grown fun is this wrap-the-mummy contest, using toilet paper and cooperative volunteers like Delaney.

~Picture Match
This year we had a contest to see who could match the most graduation photos with the present-day versions of the same people. Most kids were able to pick out their own parents and grandparents, and everyone had fun seeing how we’ve changed.

Listening to William's story
~Tell Me a Story
When our great-great-great grandfather Thomas Main Redfield, a blacksmith, was alive, he wrote long poems telling stories of his family and his travels. William Shaw, his many-times-removed great grandson, turned one of those poems about two children being rescued from a runaway horse and carriage into a dramatic reading. His sister Clarissa Austin expanded another family story about Grandmother Ethel and a prairie fire into a narrative that had us all wondering what would happen next.

Young family members were given a list of questions to use in interviewing older members. Then each interviewer introduced his or her partner and shared the fun and surprising facts they’d uncovered.

Eugene and Vicki look over the timeline
In a timeline game, Cousin Vickie handed out strips of paper: yellow for Grandfather Thomas’s side of the family, green for Grandmother Ethel’s, and blue for their descendants. Names and dates were printed on each strip. All those with a strip of paper gathered at the front where we could all see them, and at a signal, they hurried to arrange themselves by color and date. Then each person put his or her family member(s) in the proper place on a vertical timeline. By this time names were becoming familiar and the timeline helped us see the continuity of the generations.

Everyone knows "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"
We brought one of our most enjoyable family reunions to a close with an old-fashioned sing-along. We’d planned to use old-time favorites such as “Bicycle Built for Two” and “Cruisin’ Down the River on a Sunday Afternoon. We found that not even the oldsters knew all the words, so next time we’ll make song booklets so everybody can join in. Meanwhile, we improvised with a mixture of children’s tunes and campfire songs.

Friday, September 9, 2011

James Mason Rawlings: Loyalist or Traitor?

(This is Part 3 of a 3-part story. For the rest of the story, read the blogposts for Aug. 28 and 30.)

    With the discovery of their plot against the Revolution’s local leaders, the conspirators, including James Rawlings, fled. He must have kept in contact with his family, because about a month later a man named Abram Jones heard that “a certain James Rawlings was one of the heads amongst the Tories and that he was expected to pass by the settlement of Mattamuskeet, or to call there about the next day.”

  Lake Mattamuskeet is in Hyde County, on the coast of North Carolina. At that time, it was open to the sea, although now it is a self-contained lake. Jones kept watch for Rawlings. When he spied a small sail off in the sound, he took four men with him and set off after the boat. He found Rawlings and his family in the boat, heading out to sea where they hoped to meet up with an English vessel. One of the children, George, was only three or four years of age. Jones captured Rawlings and carried him before a magistrate, who took the deposition quoted earlier.

    In a follow-up letter from James Rawlings to the “Worshipful Justices of New Bern,” he gave more details about his co-conspirator Lewellen’s schemes. He also said, “Knowing the great influence Capt. Lewelling has over that neighborhood (I) have great reason to fear he will make attempts to invalidate my testimony.” Rawlings stated that he’d refused to kill anyone and “that I, being a poor man, have reason to fear his (Lewelling’s) power and influence over others to my hurt, as all the friends or power I have is to declare the Truth and Humbly Crave pardon for having had any hand in said plot or Scheme, testifying whatever shall come to my Memory I will make known about the matter.”

    Evidently he had reason to fear Lewelling’s influence. He was jailed...for a while. The next mention of him is a wanted notice from Craven County, North Carolina. It appeared October 24, 1777, in the Virginia Gazette, an early newspaper in Colonial Virginia, along with wanted notices for two other men.

The notice reads as follows:

 James Mason Rawlings for high treason, he is a noted villain, and one of the principals in the late conspiracy against the state, has lived for 2 years past in Martin County, and is a very famous in the art of Legerdemaen, about 40 years of age, of a very black complexion and had a cut on one of his cheeks, given under seal 9 Sep. 1777.

    A reward of ten pounds was offered for Rawlings, 5 pounds for each of the other two.

    The notice indicates that James Rawlings had escaped his confinement and that he was considered important enough to appear in a Virginia newspaper. At the time of the notice James had lived in Martin County for about two years, 1776 and 1777. He had a dark complexion and a scar (or maybe a wound?) on one of his cheeks. The word legerdemain means sleight-of-hand trickery of any sort. This implies that he was very clever and hard to catch.
Rawlins descendants learning about their history, August 2011

    One researcher discovered that between September 11, 1777 and November, 1777, Rawlings had signed up to sail from New Bern with Captain William Pile but did not report. Pile testified on November 22 that a Colonel White from Georgia had promised Rawlings a better situation and the last Pile had heard, Rawlings was “on the way to South Carolina in the company of Colonel White’s wagons.”

    Whatever happened, James Mason Rawlings dropped from sight. One branch of family tradition holds that he was recaptured and executed. Other family members believed he escaped to England, where he lived out his life.

    After James Mason Rawlings disappeared, Priscilla and their children remained on the North Carolina frontier. His brothers and his own family dropped the "g" from Rawlings, perhaps to avoid being associated with his disgrace. In 1782, Priscilla Rawlins and her daughter Nancy are shown on the membership role for Sandy Run Baptist Church in Rutherford County, North Carolina.   

    Records of the early Mormon Church show that their grandson James, an early Mormon convert, had a baptism-for-the-dead ceremony done for James Mason and Priscilla. Since this James was aware that his grandfather was dead, he must have had some knowledge of his death and therefore, the tradition of James Mason Rawlings deserting his family and never being heard from again doesn't seem to ring true.

    The family must have loved and had fond memories of their grandfather, since many of his descendants carried his name. One of his children, Charles, became our direct ancestor. His descendants followed the frontier westward, preaching, farming, blacksmithing, teaching, and helping to build America.

    More about some of them later!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

James Mason Rawlins: Traitor or Not? Part 2

    (This is Part 2 of a 3-Part story. For the beginning of the story, read the blogpost for Aug. 28, 2011)

    Our first Rawlins ancestor in the New World, James Mason Rawlings, was a Loyalist who in 1777 found himself accused of high treason and conspiracy against the state of North Carolina. From the clues available in a few old documents, his arrest and imprisonment seems to have happened this way:

    According to a deposition he gave on August 10, 1777 after his arrest, Rawlings had attended a muster (or meeting) in March of 1777 at the courthouse in Plymouth, Martin County, North Carolina. Returning home in the company of two men, John Lewelling and John Carter, he was told “that the Country was Like to become subject to popery.” Lewelling hoped to forestall this outcome. Hoping for “a Blessing on the Indeavour,” he enlisted Rawlings to help gather a group of like-minded people about him. He asked Rawlings to draw up a written instrument, or constitution, to which people might agree under oath. (This request, taken with the fact that most other conspirators signed their testimonies with an X, tells us that Rawlings probably had more education than others involved in the plot.)

    According to his deposition, Rawlings at first refused to write out this Constitution, but Lewelling’s offer of payment persuaded him to do it.

    A number of people later testified concerning Rawlings’ part in the new society. One man, Peleg Belote, told of his conversation with a man named Absalom Legate. They had heard that the leaders of the rebellion designed to impose a new religion on the people which would compel them to worship images. Legate had persuaded Belote to go to hear a sermon by Rawlings. Legate introduced him to Rawlings and after swearing Belote to secrecy, Rawlings told him about a confederacy forming to support the religion they had been used to. Among other things, they pledged to oppose drafts and protect Loyalist draftees from being forced to serve in the patriot militia. They also discussed ways to help the British.

    Rawlings' deposition continued:
“Now after Many had come into this Society, as it was Term’d, they became known to each other by word and sign; . . .John Lewelling told (me) that if they could destroy Whitmel Hill, Colonel Williams, Thomas Hunter, Nathan Mayo, Colonel Salter and one Taylor, that then the Country would soon be settled In Behalf of the King. . .” 

    Whitmel Hill and the others were local leaders of the revolution. One researcher, Lola La Rae Sorenson, found that Whitmel Hill helped to uncover and stop the plot. He had married a woman named Winnefred Blount. Ms. Sorenson speculated,
“The fact that Whitmel Hill and James Rawlins were both living in Martin County, North Carolina and were both married to ladies named Blount and were both about the same age generation-wise really intrigued me. They would certainly have had to know each other, especially with Hill involved in bringing Rawlins to trial and stopping the plot to kill him and other patriot leaders."
    James' wife was Priscilla Blount. Could the two have been brothers-in-law? Ms. Sorenson wondered.

    Lewelling’s schemes built one upon the other. According to James Rawlings’ deposition, quoted here with the creative spelling and grammar of the time, Lewelling told him

“it would be a good scheeme to Git some Body to Diseffect the negroes and thought David Taylor would do it and Give out an oration of their Rising would draw the soldiers out of Halifax, whilst he and Company could seize the Governor and Magazene.”
   The Governor of Virginia, Richard Caswell, was expected at Halifax, a tiny town still known as "the birthplace of freedom" for being the location for the adoption of the Halifax Resolves. This was the first official action by a colony calling for independence.  Lewelling hoped not only to kill the governor and others, but to seize powder and arms stored at Halifax. When the governor didn’t come at the appointed time, it was

“Dropt for that time, but that scheeme became not public to Many, the Deponent believes, for when he objected against it John Lewelling said if he Divulg’d anything, Death was the portion to him or any one else.” 
     Another scheme was to go to General Howe, the general in charge of England’s troops in America, and offer him the support of the Society. Rawlings agreed to go with John Lewelling, as he hoped to see his father and friends. This mention of Rawlings’ father was a surprise. Did James plan to travel to England, or had his father also emigrated to America by this time? Whatever the truth, Rawlings and company went only as far as the town of Scotland Neck in Halifax County before turning back.

     In a few days the plot to kill the Revolutionary leaders was discovered. John Lewelling persuaded Rawlings to flee and not be taken by any means. Flee he did, but his freedom didn't last long. I'll tell the rest of the story next time.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

James Mason Rawlings, Traitor or Not?


    Some of us have skeletons in our family closets. Some people are proud of famous ancestors. Our family has both skeletons and ancestors with claims to fame, but mainly our Rawlins predecessors were simply people living out their lives in the best way they knew how. They were swayed by political concerns, just as we are, and made decisions based on limited information, just as we do.

    Our first Rawlins ancestor in America, James Mason Rawlings, is a good example. Born about 1737, he emigrated from England prior to the Revolution. Records from the early 1770s show him in Pitt County, North Carolina, married to Priscilla Blount and with a number of children. His brothers, Roderick and Charles, had also come to America. Both of them supported the cause of independence from England. But James kept his loyalty to the mother country.

    He was a staunch supporter of the Church of England, which after the Revolutionary War was called the Episcopal Church. Some records refer to him as “Reverend,” and we know he preached at meetings.

    More than any other colony, North Carolina had a heavy concentration of Tories— political conservatives who remained loyal to England. The Crown had given land grants in North Carolina to many Scottish merchants. They and other merchants depended upon England for their trade. They feared losing their livelihood if the revolution should be successful. . .a not unreasonable fear since later, the property of many loyalists was confiscated. . . and thus they supported the king.

    Other Loyalists, like James Mason Rawlings, were clerics who supported the Church of England. Not only did the church require them to swear loyalty to their God, but also to their king. James and many others worried that if Catholic France entered the war on the American side, the new nation would soon be under the rule of the Pope.

     In 1777, Rawlings was accused of plotting to kill revolutionary leaders. A wanted notice in a North Carolina newspaper described him as “a noted villain.” Was he really? I’ll try to answer that question in the next posts.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Night Sky

   “The skies were really busy last night.”

   A friend’s chance remark last week sent us outside to look for ourselves. We really didn’t expect to see much, even though the night was clear, because we live on a hilltop overlooking the lights of town. Streetlights line the roadway in front of our house. So much light pollution washes across the evening sky that only the brightest stars shine through.

    Growing up years ago in a Cascade Mountain rain forest, hemmed in by tall trees and cloud cover, we didn’t often see the stars either. But on an occasional clear night, we’d go outside, tip our heads back and gaze in awe at the Milky Way’s glowing path of stardust winding through a billion distant suns. Only the dim gas lamp shining through the living room window competed with the brilliance above. We seldom saw a plane pass over in daytime and never at night. Man had not yet been to the moon or fired a rocket into space. One night our parents called us out to see falling stars. They called it a meteor shower. We stood for an hour, ooh-ing and aah-ing as bits of debris in a comet’s trail ignited in the earth’s atmosphere and streaked across the starry sky.

    Now we looked for a place where the glare of street and city lights would be dimmed. We found it in a corner of our back yard where house and garage walled us in on two sides, tall fences on the other two. Suddenly, the sky looked black, filled with more stars than we’d seen in years. Some stars blinked off and on as they traveled across the sky. They were aircraft lights, some on planes too far away to be heard or seen in daylight. Other far-away lights were satellites, their movement barely perceptible. The sky was busy.

     Then, to the north, we saw a steady, bright light, moving smoothly along an east-west trajectory. It was the International Space Station. In a few minutes it had passed out of sight, but it would complete its orbit around the earth and we’d see it again in another 90 minutes.

    It felt strange to know there were people up there, 250 miles above the earth, in that largest man-made object ever to be sent into space. Fifteen nations came together to design, build, and staff the space station, and crews will have lived and worked there continuously for eleven years, come November. We tried to imagine what the inhabitants were doing as the earth revolved beneath them. Might one of them have been looking down at the point of light that represented our community? Might he or she have been wondering who was looking up, wondering about them?

    The night sky has always caused humankind to think deep thoughts. But now, if one can find a place dark enough to see it, there’s even more to think about.

Friday, August 12, 2011

An American Story Begins

   Along with most families in America, ours can tell stories of journeys, bits and pieces of history that help us understand how we got where we are today. We share  our own New-World beginnings with many people who trace their ancestries back to the courageous settlers who came to America on the Mayflower.

    When Priscilla Mullins boarded the Mayflower in 1620, she was 17 years old. It was already September, and for two months the passengers endured stale air and discomfort in makeshift quarters between decks as the ship tossed in stormy seas. In one storm, a main beam cracked and the ship began to leak, but the beam was repaired with an iron spike brought from the Netherlands. They pounded caulking into the cracks. When the ship was blown off course, it landed on the rocky shores of Massachusetts, far from their intended destination in Virginia. Priscilla’s parents and brother died during that first terrible winter in the New World, leaving her the only survivor of her family in America.

    Captain Miles Standish, the newly widowed military advisor of the colony, wished to marry her. He sent his friend John Alden to plead his cause. John, not one of the fifty members of the Pilgrim band, was a ship-carpenter by trade. He'd been hired as a cooper, or barrel maker, for the Mayflower, which usually docked at Southhampton, England. Either because of a desire for adventure, or because he already had his eye on Priscilla, he came along on the voyage and became one of the founders of the colony and the seventh signer of the Mayflower Compact. According to a famous poem by descendant Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, when he tendered Captain Standish’s proposal of marriage to Priscilla, she replied, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”

    So he spoke for himself, Priscilla said yes, and they became the parents of ten children who survived to adulthood. Of all the pilgrim families, they have the most descendants.

    Our branch of the Rawlins family traces its ancestry to John and Priscilla Alden through their second child. Elizabeth, born in Plymouth in 1625, was the first white girl born in New England.

    Elizabeth was described by someone who knew her as “dignified, a woman of great character and fine presence, very tall and handsome.” In 1644, she married William Pabodie in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and became the mother of thirteen living children. William, who held the office of town clerk after fire had destroyed the town's records, carefully recorded his own marriage and the births and marriages of his children.

    Later, around 1684, William bought property that would become part of Little Compton, Rhode Island. He and Elizabeth and several of their children and grandchildren moved there. Both he and Elizabeth died in little Compton, Elizabeth at the ripe age of 94. At the time of her death she had 82 grandchildren and 556 great-grandchildren.

I can’t help but wonder how she remembered all those names!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Reunion Raspberry Brownies

    We’ve waited a long time for summer to arrive this year, but perhaps it’s the late arrival that makes these August days so extraordinarily delightful. We're surfeited with colors and smells; our windows and doors stand open to let summer blow through. Bees buzz in the flower beds, hummingbirds hover in the twinberry bushes. The 4 x 8’ box garden is overflowing with good things to eat: lettuce, basil, peas, Swiss chard, parsley. The green beans and carrots are nearly ready. Our berry patch has finished producing but local stands offer big, juicy berries of many kinds and grocery stores tempt us with peaches, nectarines, cherries and other delectables from Eastern Washington.

Our "garden."

    What a bounty of flavor, color, and taste! Today we ate blueberries and sliced bananas with our morning cereal, salad from our garden and cherries at lunch, steamed Swiss chard and corn on the cob with local salmon for dinner. For desert we sampled some of the bar cookies I made for the family reunion coming up next weekend. Rhubarb bars using our own rhubarb are a tart-sweet treat. But the bars that really made a hit with Hank are my own invention, as far as I know.

    For anyone who loves the combination of chocolate and raspberries, here are the directions for Reunion Raspberry Brownies:

Raspberry Brownies


family size box of fudgey brownie mix
fresh raspberries, 2-3 cups
sugar, ¼ to ½ cup or to taste
2 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 x 13" pan or spray with cooking oil. Mix brownies according to package directions and spread in pan.

Mash berries and sugar together and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook a few minutes. Stir in enough of the cornstarch-water mixture to thicken to consistency of jam. Cook just until juice looks transparent, then remove from heat.

Using about a cup of the raspberry sauce, dribble it from a large spoon in vertical lines two inches apart across the batter in the pan. Then, use a spatula or knife to cut through batter and sauce going the opposite direction, in lines about two inches apart. (You can do this both vertically and horizontally to make a better mixing of sauce and batter.)

Bake as directed on package. Let cool before cutting.

Raspberry jam would work too, but we really like the flavor of the fresh berries, and the sauce is less sweet than jam would be.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Travel, Then and Now

Our modern "covered wagon from the backseat
Barbara and granddaughter Stephanie

    We just completed a sixteen-hundred-mile road trip to and from a family wedding in Canada. Along with cousins Bill and Barbara, we rented a brand-new van for the trip. It came with electric doors and windows, comfortable seating for all seven of us, opera-house-quality music, individually-controlled air conditioning, and room for all our luggage, thanks to Cousin Barbara’s expertise at stacking and packing.

    We zipped along through Canada’s Rocky Mountains on smooth, 90 kilometer-per-hour highways lined with high wire fences to keep the wildlife off the road. The government provided frequent rest stops along the way. At night we lodged in motels with all the comforts of home. We were never far from the next restaurant. Bill had his powerful cell phone. I carried my laptop and made use of motel internet in the evenings. I kept in touch with family and could even send them photos taken that day if I wished.

    Our ancestors found no broad superhighways, motels, or restaurants when they followed the expanding frontiers of the new world to the west coast where many of our family members now reside. Canadian cousin Vicki, the bride’s mother, shares my interest in family history.  We’ve found stories of our Mayflower ancestors and other pre-Revolution forebears who came to make new lives in the American colonies. Their descendants made their way westward by foot, horseback, ox and wagon. They rafted down the rivers. By the 1800s, my great-grandparents and their family had reached Illinois. When the railroads opened up the midwest, some of them loaded their furniture and cattle on railroad cars and migrated to North Dakota. (At the same time, my mother’s parents were immigrating from Germany, to make their way to North Dakota via Minnesota.)

    When the Great Depression combined with dust storms to make farming impossible for them, my parents fled to Washington by train. Dad’s parents and his siblings, including Cousin Vicki’s mother Mary, joined other midwest refugees heading for the West Coast by car. We can only imagine the rigors of that trip, with everyone jammed into an old Model T, my pregnant aunt Amy riding with her husband atop the load of belongings in a trailer.

    Now we see our Canadian cousins nearly every year. But when our first ancestors came to America, they did not expect to see their loved ones ever again. When parents bade farewell to their children setting off on the Oregon Trail, most of them knew it was a permanent goodbye. Even in 1936, when Mom and Dad came to Washington, they gave up frequent contact with their families. In their long lifetimes, my parents returned to North Dakota to visit only four or five times.

    Though I wept when my own daughter married and moved to Arizona, it’s possible to email or phone her every day. She can hop a plane to come home if she gets homesick. She even vacations in Europe.

    We can be thankful for the courage of our ancestors. While seeking better lives for their families, they helped to build a nation. The story of their travails is an heritage for their descendants.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Community Newspaper

A famous wrong headline

When I was growing up, a weekly high point for our family was finding the Granite Falls Press in our mailbox. We also received the Everett Daily Herald. In pre-television days, the larger daily paper kept us up to date with events in the wider world beyond our valley. But the local Granite Falls paper chronicled life as it happened to us.
A few weeks ago, I wondered if any of those long-ago newspapers were still in existence. The logical place to look would be the Granite Falls Historical Museum, a jewel of an institution built by volunteers. Due to limited staffing, it’s presently open only on Sundays but it’s well worth setting aside an afternoon for a visit. We walked in and asked volunteer and former schoolmate, Ted Lefebre, if by chance the museum had a collection of local newspapers. To my delight, he led us to a wooden crate full of well-preserved papers. He’d just readied them for shipment to SmallTownPapers.Inc., a company that specializes in digitizing community newspapers. They’d already scanned part of the collection, which is now available online at the museum for researchers. These were to be processed next.  As we leafed through them, memories of seldom-remembered friends and neighbors flooded back.

When the weekly paper arrived at my childhood home in the community of Robe, we turned first to the "Robe Valley News." Correspondents in several different neighborhoods kept readers advised of the comings and goings of people the correspondent was best acquainted with. That meant that we seldom read news about some people; too much about others. Still, we enjoyed skimming the neighborhood columns for glimpses into the lives of those we knew.

Today at, site visitors can search for keywords or names and in seconds find all the mentions of events or people in the collection. When I typed in our surname, Rawlins, I was delighted to find bits and pieces of our family history spanning several decades, starting with my father’s 1939 For Sale ad in a version of the local paper then called The Snohomish County Forum. He offered 1000 27-inch straight split shakes and a nearly new one-and-one-half volt battery radio. That was before Daddy was a logger. He’d come from the North Dakota farm only three years earlier. Now he was splitting shakes for sale, making a living any way he could.

The war years in the early 1940s changed people’s lives. Browsing through those papers brought it alive. Like towns across the country, Granite Falls had to find ways to fill in for essential personnel, such as teachers and business people who were called off to war. Everyone participated in the “war effort.” The community held scrap drives to recycle metal, paper, and even cloth for defense purposes. Shortages of gasoline and rubber tires affected even the school sports programs. Teams were limited to intramural contests because districts cut out extra bus trips. A two-mile walk to school was considered “the best possible form of exercise” as busses were reserved for farther-flung students. Granite Falls couldn’t find a principal for the elementary school in 1942, so a woman teacher was assigned to do that work until at long last, a qualified principal was found. Being an informed, intelligent citizen was touted as a duty and a privilege.

Over the years, family events mentioned in the paper included birthday celebrations, visiting relatives, and the Easter in 1948 when the correspondent wrote that the Delbert Rawlins car recently rolled over with the family in it. “No one was hurt,” she wrote, “but the car was.” Later on, the paper mentioned my brothers’ overseas stints with the army between the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and then the births of my parents’ first grandchildren.

Announcements in the paper brought back memories of occasional Friday nights at the movies with the whole family. Granite Falls had no movie theater but for a small charge, we could sit in the bleachers at the high-school gymnasium to take in the weekly movies. We’d probably call them “B” movies today. The plots were sometimes corny, the sound scratchy, and of course, the pictures were in black and white. A cartoon and a newsreel accompanied the main feature.

Sometimes the newspaper’s language seemed flowery, the ideas propounded naive. But reading those old papers does not leave the reader depressed and discouraged as some of today’s newspapers can. We need more of the optimistic, we-can-do-it-together spirit expressed back then in today’s world.

And I appreciate past writers’ commitments to reporting the news without slant. This doesn’t mean opinion wasn’t injected into some of the stories, but it wasn’t cleverly disguised. If someone wanted to sway our thinking, they were forthright about it.

You can see for yourself by going to the Granite Falls museum Web site at Click on the line at the top of the page about searching old newspapers. That takes you to an article by webmaster Mary Deaton that explains how to do a search. Click on the link she gives to go directly to the archives.

Fred Cruger, director of things technological at the museum, explains, “In the future, we may make that link part of a ‘members only’ page (which would result in users having to pay our annual dues of $10 per year to have online access).” Meanwhile, it's free and will continue to be free to those who physically come to the museum to do research.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Prayer for Our Country

Courtesy of PD
One way we can honor those who sacrificed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to give us the freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America is by invoking God's help for ourselves and those who endeavor to lead our nation today. We prayed this prayer in church yesterday. It was written by Brett Johnson, our minister of music.
The Lord’s Prayer for Our Nation  - © July 2011

People: Our Father, who art in heaven,

Leader: How high are your ways above our ways. We pray today that the earthly ways of our nation would be informed by your heavenly ways.

People: Hallowed be Thy name.

Leader: May you be honored in the decisions made by our national leaders and by the manner in which those decisions are made. Instead of a posture of arrogance that can come with the drug of absolute power, may our country’s leadership reflect a posture of humility before you, aware of the awesome responsibility you have entrusted to them.

People: Thy Kingdom come.

Leader: May the designs and plans of our earthly republic mirror those of your divine Kingdom. May our cultural values become the values of your Kingdom, our collective desires, the desires of your heart.

People: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Leader: May our leaders, even unknowingly, accomplish your will in the difficult decisions they make.

People: Give us this day our daily bread.

Leader: We are so grateful for how you have so generously blessed our nation with prosperity. But these are hard economic times for so many in our nation. We do pray that you would use hardship to draw people to you, and as an opportunity for your Body, the Church, to be your hands and feet of justice and compassion to its neighbors within this great land.

At the same time, we recognize that even in our hardest economic climate we are among the most prosperous and wealthiest people on earth. Even in our lean years, give us deep generosity for the true poor of our world and an accurate perspective of relative wealth.

People: Forgive us our debts.

Leader: Forgive us for how easily we turn away from those who are truly destitute across the earth, those whom you called us to care for. Forgive us for how easily we turn to materialism and greed to feed our spiritual hunger. Forgive us for the many systemic sins which plague our culture, from a self-obsessed financial system to a lust- and- violence-fueled entertainment industry.

People: Forgive us as we forgive our debtors.

Leader: Make us a compassionate nation which is working to accomplish good things in individual lives, cultures and national futures all around this globe. Make us a nation less feared for its military might than honored and respected for its humanitarian investment.

People: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Leader: Guard our leaders from the corruption that power can bring to the human heart. Make them men and women of integrity who are able to rise above the petty battles of vengeance and blind political loyalty that our system of government can make them prone to face.

Make them people of depth and purpose who desire your will for their own lives and for the country that you have called them to lead.

All Together: On behalf of our nation, we pray all these things to you, for Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory forever. Amen.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


We see them frequently, moving in small bands up and down the hill between downtown Stanwood and the high school. They’re not students, but they seem to like being near though not part of the school scene.

One recent June evening two of these teens knocked on our door. They wore knitted caps pulled low over their ears and carried nearly-empty backpacks. They were polite . . . and hungry. Though it was 9 P.M. and nearly dark, they asked if we had any work they could do. They needed $5 to buy food.

They’d evidently not been on the streets long. I wanted to pull them inside and sit them down for a good meal, then give them a place to stay. But warnings came flashing to mind. Instead, I told them we had no work but if they’d sit down on the porch, I’d make them a sandwich. I did that, and added some brownies. Wyatt and Chris thanked me profusely and set off down the road, but not until Wyatt told me where he was from and that he and his father didn’t get along. “But me and my mom are in touch every day,” he said. I asked where they’d spend the night. “I have a blanket,” he said. “We’ll be okay.”

We prayed for the boys that evening, but still I worried about them. The next day, we ran into them in the halls of the community center. They were still walking around looking for work. I asked if they’d stayed warm last night.

“It was cold,” Wyatt said, “but we had a dry place to sleep.” He was reluctant to tell me where, though he did share that he hopes to get his GED.

Our little farming community has a big population of homeless kids. Some sleep in the parks and in dumpsters behind the downtown businesses. Some make a practice of couch-surfing, staying with one friend, then another. Some are addicted to heroine.

Some of these boys and girls are runaways or throw-away kids. Their common denominator is that they feel abandoned. I read a piece by an anonymous foster parent who said “Too many parents, especially men, try to “fix” their children after they are teens, which only teaches them that they are not good enough, at a time in their lives when they need every ounce of self-confidence they can manage.” Perhaps this is what’s going on between Wyatt and his dad.

What can I do to help these lost, aimless kids? I’m not sure. At the very least, I need to understand the problem. I need to have compassion for them. I may never have the skills to deal with their problems myself, but I can support those who do. Youth for Christ has a presence in our town, both in the schools and at The Spot, where kids can go for fun, for help with homework, for relationship-building. Step Up is a YFC program which links community people as mentors to kids who have been neglected in the life skills department. Kids learn the value of work through programs like this and gain help in breaking the welfare cycle. I know there are other places and people who reach out. I need to learn more about what's available.

I can also learn the names of some of the kids. Then I can pray for them by name, that they will come to know the love of their Heavenly Father who will never leave nor abandon them. If the door opens, I can befriend and mentor one of these young people. For them, the need is desperate.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Heaven Is for Real

In 2003, not-quite-four-year-old Colton Burpo nearly died from a misdiagnosed burst appendix. Even after emergency surgery, doctors didn’t expect him to live. . . but he did. Several months passed. One day his parents asked him if he remembered the hospital.

Yes, Colton remembered the hospital. “That’s where the angels sang to me,” he stated, matter-of-factly. Time seemed to stop for his parents as they took this in. More questions. More matter-of-fact answers. “Jesus had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.”

“You mean Jesus was there?”

“Yeah. I was sitting in Jesus’ lap.”   

Colton went on to describe what his parents had been doing in separate parts of the hospital while he was under anesthesia during the surgery. . . things he had no way of knowing. Over the next year or so, Colton dropped many such bombshells, which his father wrote down in the simple words of his little boy, astonishing things that matched Scripture in the smallest detail; things that Colton could not have known unless he’d actually experienced them.

Colton also had met Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, and the angel Gabriel, who stands in God’s presence. He spent time with “Pop,” the great-grandfather who died thirty years before he was born. He recognized Pop as a young man in a photograph he’d never seen, and announced, “No one wears glasses in heaven,” because no one is old there. Most precious of all to his parents was his meeting with his sister, who was waiting for her parents to get to heaven to name her. She told him she died while still in Mommy’s tummy, and God adopted her. They had never told him about the miscarriage; they had never known the sex of the lost child. There were lots of kids in heaven, Colton told them, and Jesus wants people to know that he really, really loves the children.

Since I read Heaven Is for Real, what awaits us there has come to life for me. I, too, have a child without a name awaiting my arrival. My parents, young again, are there, along with dozens of friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other loved ones.

Colton said that the first one we’ll meet there is Jesus, the one who died so we can go to heaven. I can’t wait to see Him face-to-face.

For a look at the book, or more about the Burpo family, go to

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Disneyland for Writers

The Northwest Christian Writers Renewal in Redmond took place  Friday and Saturday. It’s been several years since my last writers conference, and the publishing world has been moving on without me. Terms like “e-blast” and web site titles and names of electronic gadgets I’d never heard of swirled through the conversations. Instead of sending carefully-printed proposals and other communications via postal service, everything is done electronically (and more cheaply) now.

Publishing itself is changing radically. There’s still a need for print books and magazines, but many companies now publish e-books which cost much less than the same book in printed form. Many writers self-publish their work, either as e-books or in traditional format.

Then there’s marketing. Authors have long done all they can to help their books sell, but now, most marketing is up to the writer. That’s why one hours-long class dealt with public speaking for writers. And that’s why authors need to know about “e-blasts” (communicating with possible readers through e-mail newsletters), web sites, blogging, Facebook posts, “tweets” and other social networking methods.

Many agents, editors, and professional writers shared their knowledge and encouraged writers to perfect their craft.

It was all fun and exciting, if a little overwhelming. When I commented on how there seemed to be a smile on every face, author Peggy King Anderson replied, “This is like a Disneyland for writers!”

The best part is, we weren’t just entertained. We came away with up-to-date new ways of sharing our work and the inspiration to keep on with what can be a lonely occupation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Laughter, the Best Exercise

A favorite topic is food.
Sometimes we do more than talk about it.
Here we're at the Mt. Vernon Kiwanis salmon barbecue
at the tulip festival.

In the Stanwood Community and Senior Center fitness class, we talk about anything and everything. With more than fifteen members, we share a rich pool of experience and knowledge, and sometimes our laugh muscles get the best workout of all. One part of the session we look forward to is “one-liner” time. Betty “Be Happy” Sunde started the custom of bringing a pithy, amusing saying to class each day. She’s entertaining her friends in heaven now, but Ray Lee picked up her mantle. Here’s a few that made us laugh recently. Hope they brighten your day, too!

Headline: Police were called to a day care where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.

Advice: Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.

Question: Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but checks when you say the paint is wet?

Verse: Trains don’t wander
     all over the map
     ‘cause nobody sits
     in the engineer’s lap. Burma Shave!


    A closed mouth gathers no feet.

    Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

And one last chuckle: If at first you do succeed, try not to look astonished.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Checker Marathon

Our friend John Rupert in 1981 with our Checker Marathon

When I married Bob Biggar, I knew he liked to tinker with cars, but I didn’t realize just how much. The story of our thirty-two year marriage was interwoven with stories of his various automotive projects. Most of the time he’d find unique used vehicles and rebuild them to his own specifications. He only kept them until he came across the next project. But one memorable vehicle was brand-new.

The Christmas of 1974, we lived outside Fairbanks, Alaska. The temperature hovered between -30 to nearly 60 below, but the children and I had a good time making our own Christmas tree decorations. We’d enjoyed a special morning of gift-giving and receiving. Then Bob told me my present was in the front yard. I looked out through the frosty window to see a big, battleship gray “tank” looming in our driveway. One glance at his pleased face told me this was no joke. I choked back my dismay.

He went on to tell me the car was a Checker Marathon, brand new, and we could have it painted any color I desired. Yes, it was made by the company that made the big yellow cabs with the black-checked trim, but he assured me it wasn’t a cab. It would carry nine passengers when the jump seat was down. It had a powerful engine and air conditioning, although I didn’t think we’d need that in Alaska.

Still suspicious that Bob had really picked out this vehicle as a present for himself, I chose a beautiful green metallic paint that changed the whole personality of the car. It soon proved its value as transportation for our kids and their friends. It was heavy enough to feel safe on snowy back roads, and after the snow melted and dust from the unpaved roads billowed around us, the air conditioning pressurized the car and kept the dust from entering.

Although we had other cars during this time, that faithful Checker was mine for ten years. It made several trips up and down the Alaska highway and helped us move to Anchorage. When we had to leave Alaska because of Bob’s poor health, we left it behind for 18-year-old Rob to use while he worked in Anchorage for the summer.

Its heavy frame kept Rob from injury when someone ran a red light and T-boned him. The insurance company totaled the Checker and we never saw it again.

And what did Bob do? He bought another Checker Marathon, this time bright red.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Our Children

Robbie, Age 3 and Lenora, Age 2 1/2 months

God's most precious gifts, our children.

Rob and Lenora were His gifts to me and their father, Bob Biggar. I savored the moments of their growing up.

Six years after Bob went on to his heavenly home, 
God brought Hank to me, and along with Hank, five more children. Though Carmen, Kathi, Larry, Kari and Nate were already grown up, each one became precious to me in their own unique ways. I wonder if other moms feel, like I do, that Mother's Day is the most personal of the days we celebrate? I revel in the memories, both old and newer, of God's precious gift of family.

I wish I'd written these two poems. They are  entwined forever with my memories of the little ones that called me "Mom." Enjoy!

Little Boys of Three 
        Isabelle Bryans Longfellow

Look tenderly on little boys of three;
Their softness is as fleeting as a flower,
The cheeks like petals such a little hour,
The deepest dimple theirs so transiently.
Even tomorrow, softness may be hard,
The little cotton cushions on the knees
Turned into bony knobs for climbing trees,
The fists so like a rose grow lean and scarred.
His full-moon cheeks will narrow to a line,
The silken hair become a brush of bristle
As mother's little flower turns to thistle,
And there will linger not one little sign
To prove the cuddly cupid that was he.
Look tenderly on little boys of three.

To My Daughter
      Stephen Bender

Bright clasp of her whole hand around my finger,
My daughter, as we walk together now,
All my life I'll feel a ring invisibly
Circle this bone with shining: when she is grown
Far from today as her eyes are far already.