At this moment 99 years ago, the U.S. was in the thick World War I. The armistice ending the war wouldn’t be declared for another year, on Nov. 11, 1918.
Bill Kloubec was one of the heroes of World War I. He went into the military a country boy and came out of the war with the Silver Star for gallantry and the Purple Heart for being wounded.
Bill is Bessie Kloubec’s baby brother in my historical novel, Secrets of the Dark Closet. Since readers say they want to know more about the characters in the book, Veteran’s Day seems like a good time to tell a little of Bill’s story. Fortunately, Bill kept a diary and wrote letters home during the war. His son, Dick Kloubec, wrote about his father’s war years in the Muir-Kloubec Genealogy & History 1708-2005.
Bill moved with his family to North Dakota in 1904, attended country school, then graduated from LaMoure High School. He enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard on April 24, 1917, just 18 days after the United States entered the war. Bill went overseas on the “SS Leviathan,” arriving in Liverpool in December 1917.
On Jan. 18, 1918, the unit went to the 1st Division AEF Co. M 26th Infantry. He was a private first class, then corporal. On June 9, 1918, he was wounded with mustard gas near Montdidier, France, and hospitalized in Limoge, south of Paris.
Germany was the first country to use mustard gas. They filled artillery shells with the poison. When the shells exploded, a cloud of gas would settle over the troops. The gas caused the victims’ skin to blister and their eyes to be very sore. It also caused internal and external bleeding and attacked the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane. There were reportedly 185,000 gas casualties in World War I, with about 6,000 dying.
Bill wrote this letter home while he was hospitalized:
France, June 16, 1918
I suppose that you are getting somewhat anxious so, I’d better scribble a little. I wrote about a week or two ago, but hardly think it was sent. Suppose that you are worrying a little by now, but you need not.
I got a shot of gas, but not bad. My eyes are as good as ever now and lungs too, only the skin is burned a little yet. I’ll be ready for business again in a week. You see it burns the skin like a mustard plaster. Have been in the hospital since the 10th and will probably be transferred to another one tomorrow. Am getting the best of care. We have one Amex nurse and the best gas doctor in France, a Frenchman. Jake got a little hurt but not much.
We went out and dug ourselves in, in a field just after the squareheads had peppered it with gas shells. When we got that done they started throwing sourkraut barrels at us, none of them hurt anyone but we were almighty lucky. We thought they were after us, but guess it was the “frogs” they were after, but they got it in the neck. They don’t like to get tough with us very much for we gave them a few good trouncings and are good for some more. We cheated them out of a town a while ago and they’ve still got a bad taste in the mouths.
I’ll have to close now. Am feeling fine. Hope you are too.
Corp. W.H. Kloubec, Co. M 26th Inf. Amex
Although Bill downplayed his wounds, he spent over a month in the hospital. Then he returned to the front for two more battles in France. After Armistice, the unit went to Germany as the occupying force, where he lived in the town of Molsberg. He was discharged from the military at Camp Dodge, Iowa, on Sept. 24, 1919, after receiving the Purple Heart and Silver Star.
In 1925, Bill graduated from the University of North Dakota. He managed the Gamble Store in Fargo, N.D., where he sold the latest technology—radios. Later he managed Gambles in Moorhead, Minn., a manager-training store. He married Vera Pomeroy, and they had a son and later adopted a daughter. The family traveled several weeks out of the year, often to Florida or California. After retiring from Gambles, Bill bought a small farm and acquired rental properties in Fargo.
“He engaged in life and was forward looking,” Dick Kloubec said recently. Bill remained close to his siblings all of his life, especially his sister Carrie. When he died in 1959, Bessie, Carrie, and other family members from LaMoure, traveling to Fargo for the funeral.
During his growing up years, his family was torn apart, not once but twice. He endured the worst of the fighting in the “war to end all wars,” and went back into battle after being wounded. Still he managed to overcome his past and have a successful and interesting life.
Letters written by North Dakota soldiers in World War I were often posted in local newspapers. University of Mary Cultural History students have found and researched the letters and created a database from each county that records the biographies of the letter writers, plot summaries and reference information.
At 1 p.m., November 11, the students will perform a Readers Theater at the N.D. Heritage Center in Bismarck. The “Letters from the Great War” will include a lecture by Professor Joseph Stuart. The event is free and open to the public.
If you’re like me, your mind is leaping ahead to Christmas. Books are among my favorite gifts to give and receive. Secrets of the Dark Closet and By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek both make excellent Christmas gifts. They are available online and through your favorite bookstore. You may also order a signed copy by contacting me. The cost with shipping is $21.
Nov. 17-18, I will be at The Big One Art & Craft Fair at the Bismarck Civic Center, with two of my crafty friends. If you’re in Bismarck, please stop by. Just look for the “Christmas Gift Ideas” sign.
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.” Psalm 95: 2-3
This year may be remembered for the troubled times we live in. Hurricanes, floods, drought, fires, mass shootings, and threats of nuclear war have rolled in on us like ocean waves hitting the shore.
Recently a couple living in Northern California awoke to someone pounding on their door. A neighbor pointed to a wild fire burning not too far away. Quickly leaving, they started the 20-mile drive to his parents’ home, but the smoke was thick and every road seemed to be blocked. After hours of anxious maneuvering, they pulled into their parents’ driveway at 4:30 in the morning. You can bet that was a happy reunion and the couple was glad to find refuge.
Another story out of Northern California also captured my interest. Safari West is a 400-acre nature refuge near Santa Rosa. Begun in the late 1980s by Peter Lang, it is home to a thousand exotic species, such as giraffes and hippos, cheetahs and rhinos. Visitors ride African safari trucks that wind through the hilly terrain. We were blessed to visit there two years ago.
When the Tubbs Fire became a danger, some of the birds and smaller animals were packed into the vehicles of guests and employees, who took them to safety. But that wasn’t an option for the larger animals. Lang, who is now 77, and his crew spent countless hours ensuring the animals were safe. He was, in fact, up all one night battling sparks from the fire. At one point he strung together 10 garden hoses to get water to a blaze that had started. Just a half mile away, Lang’s own home burned to the ground.
Lang told a reporter from the San Francisco Press Democrat, “Leaving wasn’t even a decision. I have a thousand souls I’m responsible for.” Lang’s sacrificial love reminds me of the love God shows us.
Psalm 46: 1-3 states that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah.” NIV
Those verses seem especially timely for the days we live in. Did you get that—an ever present help in trouble? When we’re in a tough spot, the best thing we can do is turn to God for help and direction. He cares for our souls, and leaving us isn’t an option. He rescued us for eternity through his son, Jesus, and he continues to care for us as we face trials in our daily lives.
That mysterious word “Selah” at the end of the verse also has meaning. Although it is likely a musical rest, we might also take it to mean “stop and listen.” So let’s not wait until there’s an emergency. Let’s take time to spend with our Lord and Savior every day, stopping to listen for his wisdom and direction.
Secrets of the Dark Closet has been out for two months. I’ve done four public book signings, plus a presentation with fellow writer. The publisher is just preparing to send out a big news release. The cover is finally showing on Amazon. The eBook is available. Life is good.
I’m delighted that Bismarck Public Library ordered two copies. One is already checked out of the Burleigh County Bookmobile and the other can be found on the New Book Shelf.
Early reviewers have been more than kind. There are seven 5-star reviews on Amazon! Many more wonderful comments have been made on Facebook and in person. I treasure each one. Keep them coming! I’m especially pleased when someone says “Bessie’s story is my story,” and those who can relate to her emotional journey.
The next planned event is The Big One Art & Craft Fair at the Bismarck Civic Center. This is a fun two-day event on November 17-18. Both Secrets of the Dark Closet and By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek will be for sale. Look for Booth # 84, where I’ll be with two crafty friends. Be sure to stop by if you are in town!
I wonder what Gale and Bessie Muir would have said about the Book Signing Party and Muir-Kloubec clan gathering that took place in LaMoure, N.D., on September 15-16. Would they be surprised that so many friends from LaMoure stopped by? Would Bessie say “For land’s sake!” at seeing extended family trading stories and looking at albums so long after they passed on?
Mostly, I want to know if they would be surprised by their granddaughters. Judy has bought up a lot of their former property in LaMoure, and now I wrote a book about them.
Plans for the weekend began when Nancy Thorson booked a weekend at the Muir Guest House opened by Nick and Judy Muir Meisch last year. Nancy found the guesthouse on Facebook when she was researching the Muir family history. She’s married to Chris Thorson, a descendent of Will Muir of the Jackson, Minnesota Muirs. And Will Muir was a brother to Gale Muir, who was Judy’s and my grandfather.
About that same time, my historical novel Secrets of the Dark Closet was released. It’s based on secrets that Bessie and her siblings took to their graves.
Judy offered to host a Book Signing Party in LaMoure the weekend the Thorsons were coming. The Meisch Shop seemed like the perfect place for all the activities. If the term “shop” conjures up a place that smells like axel grease and has tools strewn around, rest assured, this shop is bright, clean, new and decorated like something on the Home & Garden Channel. It’s used for local events. I’m not sure Nick even gets to park his Kenworth in it very often.
The shop is next to the house that Gale and Bessie Muir purchased it in 1922. It’s just a little prairie house, no longer livable, but it holds a lot of family memories. And secrets! In fact, the door to the dark closet is in that house—the door featured on the cover of my book.
Friday afternoon, despite soggy weather, a parade of friends and family stopped by to get a signed copy of Secrets of the Dark Closet, and catch up on each other’s lives over coffee.
Saturday was less about signing books and more about family gathering. A caterer set up a lovely luncheon about noon and people began to arrive. Several of Bessie and Gale’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, some driving many miles, were on hand from our branch of the family tree.
The Thorson’s represented the Muirs, while Richard (Dick) and Audrey Kloubec and their son, Bill Kloubec, represented the Kloubec side. Bill was named after his grandfather, who was Bessie’s brother. Readers may recall that in Secrets of the Dark Closet, Bessie teased her brother by calling him Baby Bill.
I was pleased that Dick bought the book at Zambroz in Fargo and had read it. (And even said he liked it.) Because of Dick’s influence, the family records left by Wallace Muir are housed at the N.D. Heritage Center. After serving as the Speaker of the House in the State Legislature, Dick was on the Heritage Center board when I had to decide what to do with 55 pounds of family documents. The secrets revealed in those records are the basis for my book.
Nancy brought her beautifully done genealogy album and other information. I had a copy of Uncle Wallace’s Muir-Kloubec Genealogy and History 1705-2003. The noise level in the shop went up as we all traded stories and sorted through information.
One of the photos passed around that day was labeled “Muir Threshing 9/16/13 LaMoure N.Dak.” A hush fell as we realized the photo was taken exactly 104 years ago, to the day. The old threshing machines and teams of horses are gone, but there we were there, in in Gale and Bessie’s hometown, harvesting a bushel of family history in a new century.
For more on the history of the Muir Guest House, check it out on Facebook, or read my May 16, 2016 blog post at www.gaylelarsonschuck.com/blog.
The eBook edition of Secrets of the Dark Closet is now available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Next up: Book Talk at Touchmark on West Century at 1 p.m., October 5 in the chapel. I’ll be talking about writing a historical novel and Sonvy Sammons will be talking about memoir writing. She is almost finished with her memoir and a chapter of it has been included in the book Magic of Memoir. This is open to the public.
Thank you so much to everyone who has written a review or commented on the book. Some of the things you said are now at www.gaylelarsonschuck.com.
To submit a review to Amazon.com: Go the Amazon, click on the Secrets of the Dark Closet page, scroll to the bottom where it asks if you want to post a review. You’ll have to submit the password you use to make purchases on Amazon. Write a few words about the book.
Love must be as much a light as it is a flame. Thoreau
Where can you find a Catholic priest, a Black grandmother and a Messianic Jew dancing together? The answer is important today with the social tension that has seized our beloved America, pitting us against each other. Agitators want to stir us up and make us angry with people of other races or beliefs. But there is another way we can live in peace with each other. Not an uneasy peace or surface tolerance, but living with true brotherly love.
Forty years ago this summer, I was privileged to attend the 1977 Conference on Charismatic Renewal in the Christian Churches in Kansas City. The conference took place in the midst of a spiritual renewal that swept the world beginning in the 1960s.
My journey toward Kansas City actually began four years earlier. I had always believed in God, but he seemed very distant, and Jesus was just a historical figure to me. And then I learned through my mother-in-law that Jesus was alive! My life turned around as I learned more about life in Christ.
Part of my journey included attending a weekly prayer meeting at Corpus Christi Church, where people of many denominations gathered to praise and worship the Lord. Some of my husband’s family attended similar meetings in Aberdeen. The way opened for us all to attend the Kansas City conference.
A chartered bus picked up a delegation from Bismarck, and then made stops along Interstate 94, where others waited to board with suitcases and big smiles. At Aberdeen, we picked up the largest group of people. It was such a happy crowd. A young brother from the monastery at Richardton led singing all the way down. We must have sung The Lord is a Great and Mighty King at least 50 times!
That happy beginning continued for the next five days. Once in KC, there were hundreds of teaching sessions to choose from during the day. Then in the evening about 50,000 people gathered at the Royals stadium.
This prairie girl had never seen so many people, let alone so many people worshipping God with all of their hearts. I couldn’t but help but notice the Black women next to me, who worshipped with tambourines and the Messianic Jews with their long beards, who worshipped Yeshua, another name for Jesus. We were all one in the Lord that week.
Our joy spilled over on all of Kansas City. And the world noted it. Headlines in the Kansas City Times read: “City Enjoying Biggest, Cleanest, Happiest Rally” and “Stadium Resounds With Praise.” The conference made the headlines from New York to Miami to Los Angeles.
To praise God is to invite his presence. And in his presence is fullness of joy. This is stated so well in Psalm 16: 11. “You have made known to me the path of my life.” That’s from the NIV.
And if we want peace, Ephesians 2: 14 states that Jesus is our peace. The New Living translation of the Bible puts it this way. “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.”
Oh how we need the walls of hostility broken down in our nation. But we humans, with our finite abilities, will never succeed without the power of God. We will not see the power of God, until we open our hearts to him.
Update on Secrets of the Dark Closet
August 24 was a bell-ringer day. First, three boxes of books arrived on our doorstep. So if anyone wants a signed copy, let me know!
Then the trailer for Secrets of the Dark Closet became available. I clicked on the link and…was dumbfounded. It’s captivating. Appealing. Beautiful music. Spare, accurate story line. Lovely pictures…
But, it’s so modern compared to the story. Like Bessie, I asked, “What to do? What to do?” Say yes to the trailer, or ask the publisher to make it look like 1899 instead of 2017? But the truth is, the theme of the book is timeless and relevant for today. Maybe it’s appropriate to give it a modern look. I said yes! So, you be the judge. What do you think? Here is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkI_6fYBlwY
Last Saturday was a sunny August day. The drought-parched prairie had received a good rain and the grass seemed to turn green again overnight. This day the windows were open to a summer breeze. I was making a mess in the kitchen, canning corn relish.
It was an ordinary day except for one thing: Secrets of the Dark Closet was supposed to be available at any time. I already had a few copies, but until they were “uploaded” no one else could have a copy.
And so, mid-afternoon I checked the internet and wa-lah, my historical novel turned up on Amazon!
Suddenly it was no ordinary day. My second book was published. A mountain summit moment. Behind me lay the peaks and valleys of decades of research, years of writing and editing, and months with the publisher.
Writing is nothing if it isn’t a test of perseverance. A.A. Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh, said, “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
My “some day” was Saturday and I was elated. Still, I’m a prairie girl at heart. Practical. Dutiful. So instead whooping it up with friends and family, I finished canning the relish, and even preserved some sweet cherries. Note: The jars all sealed! As every home ec student and 4-H member knows, a sealed jar is the ultimate definition of success.
But back to the book. On Monday, things got even better, because Secrets rose to # 20 in the Top 100, New Young Adult Category on Amazon!
Harvey MacKay said, “When you have a dream that you can’t let go of, trust your instincts and pursue it. But remember: Real dreams take work, they take patience, and sometimes they require you to dig down very deep. Be sure you’re willing to do that.” Publishing Secrets of the Dark Closet is that dream for me.
What are your dreams? Jeremiah 29: 11 states that “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Hopes and dreams can bring a sense of purpose and even add years to your life. You may not want to write a book. Instead, you may dream of opening a business, taking up a new hobby, setting a goal for getting healthy, or traveling to a special place in the world.
So what are you waiting for? Perhaps whatever is burning in your heart was put there by God for a special purpose. Talk to him about it, and then step out in faith. Following that dream can turn an ordinary day into a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For a summary of Secrets of the Dark Closet, click on the Home page of this website.
To Obtain a Copy:
And finally, dear readers, thank you for your encouragement. You’ve made the valleys less deep and the summits a lot more fun.
“A good friend is a blessing from God.” I Samuel 18: 3
These days, every time the doorbell rings I hope the first copies of Secrets of the Dark Closet have arrived. Anticipation is high. Is the cover appealing? Will anyone read it? Will they like it?
Soon I’ll see the results of the road I’ve taken. At the same time, I keep finding quotes about paths and roads, like this one that surfaced this morning: He will turn troubles into highways—Catherine Marshall. Or this one by Robert Frost that Pastor Dan quoted last Sunday:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Writing is a little like traveling a wooded road, because you can’t see very far in front of you. Back in the 1980s when my uncle, Wallace Muir, began researching the family history, no one suspected his path would lead to the door of Gram’s dark closet.
Uncle Wally wanted to do the genealogy, and lay to rest some rumors that had hovered around the family. He spent more than 20 years on the project. I was fascinated as, one by one, he dug out and documented scandalous facts. But little did I know I’d be compelled to write about my sweet grandmother, Bessie Kloubec Muir, who took so many secrets to her grave.
“The Muir-Kloubec genealogy and History 1708-2005” was finally published in 2005. Uncle Wally was a good writer and he added many anecdotes to the family history, but the amount of data he included overwhelmed the human story.
When he died three years later (at the age of 87), I inherited 93 pounds of his records. Sifting through census records, letters, early genealogies and other documents he had collected, I tried to imagine what Bessie did, said and thought as each crisis surfaced. After all, she was only 11 when her family came apart at the seams.
Here is the question that troubled Bessie during her growing up years: “A person goes through life making one choice after another. How can you tell if a choice will take you down a road you do not want to go?”
During the years of writing, I asked myself similar questions. Was it worth it to spend so much time writing her story? Would she want her “dirty laundry” aired? Was using real names the right thing to do?
Psalm 119: 105 states: “Thy word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.”
When I read that, my mind’s eye sees a well-lit, paved street stretching into the distance. But in reality, my own journey seems more like Frost’s path through a dark woods. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe we aren’t given detailed itineraries for our lives so we learn to develop faith and courage.
I often sought God for direction. Doing the following things helped me feel sure I was on the right road. They can help you, too:
Outwardly, it seemed foolish to write Secrets of the Dark Closet, but when seeking God, I still felt compelled in that direction. Not until I finished the last page, in a blazing to-remember moment, did I begin to understand the power of Bessie’s story.
Recently I was thrilled to receive a letter from my high school English teacher. He was the first person to fuel my desire to write. Now, decades later, he is still the epitome of encouragement and graceful writing. One phrase of his letter really struck me. He said, “God…pieces together the wonderful tapestry of our event-filled lives to give them both temporal and eternal meaning.”
Through the writing process, I’ve come to believe that the landscape of our families is stitched to our hearts in ways we cannot fathom. The journey of our particular family includes the riveting story of a young girl named Bessie. It’s time to shine a light on her path.
When the book becomes available in a month or so, I will let you know how you can obtain a copy!
Happy Father’s Day to the men in our audience, especially to dads, but also to the grandfathers, uncles, stepdads, scout leaders and others who help kids grow up with good values. Virtually every study done on families will underscore the importance of having a strong father.
Here is some free advice and encouragement for you on your big day.
In writing “Secrets of the Dark Closet,” I spent a lot of time thinking about family relationships. Do you know that being a good father has historic importance? A good father-child relationship is like having a solid foundation when constructing a building. The footing allow a child to grow into the adult he or she was meant to be. And just as a well-built building can last for centuries, the effects of good parenting can flow down through several generations.
Children who grow up in a secure environment, who know they can depend on their parents, have a head start in life. And the truth is, an overwhelming number of young people who get in trouble come from dysfunctional homes.
Moreover, dads, often the real messages you send aren’t things you say, but things you do. Did you take your kids fishing? Read the same book to them night after night? Teach them to ride bike? Help them change a tire on that bike? Make memories of camping trips or special holidays? Let me tell you, they’ll remember when you sat on a tiny chair and drank pretend tea, or fixed a fancy lunch for them, such as a box of mac and cheese or ramen noodle soup.
Those not-so perfect times turn into good memories in the future. So don’t stress out if you lost your cool when you couldn’t get the campfire going, or weren’t the best reader in the world, or if you burned the soup. It’s okay. Your kids need you and they understand if your halo is a bit tarnished.
But maybe you are, or were, working a lot and missed important moments in their growing up years. Or maybe you divorced and hardly saw your kids. As long as you have life, it is never too late to begin again. Do you know there are thousands of adult children who would give anything to hear from their dad? They still need and want to have dad say you’re proud of them. That you love them.
Your values never show more clearly than when seen through a child’s eyes. So show, don’t tell, them what is important in life. Do you keep your promises to them? Do you tell the truth and do what is honorable even if no one is watching? What you do and say will set the stage for not just your children, but also their children.
While you’re at it, do your kids a favor and give them a gift that they can hold onto, that they will treasure. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Perhaps your father gave you something that you can pass down to your children. Maybe it’s your own prize fishing tackle, belt buckle, or a sports or military award. Give it to your child as a keepsake.
While material gifts are good, gifts that feed their souls are even better. Attend church and take them along. Spend time reading your Bible and share any meaningful scriptures you find. Your children may look bored or cross their eyes when you talk to them, but they will also store away your insights like they are sacks of gold. Someday they’ll tell others, “My old man said—,” and then repeat your words.
If they are having problems, don’t be afraid to say, “Let’s pray about that.” And for Pete’s sake, don’t get all spiritual and speak with thee’s and thou’s. A simple plea, “Lord, help my child get through this,” perhaps spoken with a trembling voice, will touch the heart of both your child and God.
Are you wondering how you can be a good father when you didn’t have a good role model yourself? In the book of John, Jesus talked a lot about his relationship with his Father in heaven. He often slipped away to spend time with God. In doing so, he showed us what we need to do. In John 16: 13, he encouraged his followers by saying that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. That means God can even show you how to be a great father.
Jesus probably lost his earthly father when he was young, but his strong relationship with God the heavenly Father more than made up for it. Your heavenly Father is waiting to hear from you. Waiting to fill in those empty holes in your heart. Waiting to be the father to you that no human can fulfill.
I know. This is Father’s Day. The kids are supposed to remember you. Give you a call. Give you a gift. Tell you that you are special. But even on this special day, your role as father is to lead by example, so don’t wait to be blessed by your kids. Instead, be proactive and bless them. It may be your best Father’s Day ever.
By now I expected to announce that “Secrets of the Dark Closet” had been published, but alas it remains in the publishing process. As of this week, the art department is working on the cover.
Meanwhile, I am assembling a list of email addresses to let readers know when and where it’s available, and to set up book readings, etc. Chances are I don’t have your email address unless you’ve heard from me recently. So, please hit Reply and send me your address. I promise to keep you updated, but not to clog your email box.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers, grandmothers, aunts and to those of you who fill in when a mom isn’t present. You have the most important role in the world.
That said, I’d like to ponder why I am almost always out of step with other women of my generation. Seriously, my life is a little like the step class I took at the YMCA several years ago, when I was always an embarrassing half step off.
Way back when other women were out burning bras and demanding rights, I was a stay-at-home mom with gangs of preschoolers stopping by the kitchen for cookies. Yes, my world looked much different than Gloria Steinem’s.
And I was too busy to worry about rights. There were skinned knees to bandage and Tough Skin jeans to return to the store. Does anyone remember when Sears guaranteed those jeans would never wear through the knees? Ha, ha. Whoever designed them didn’t have boys that played on the carpet, in the sandbox or on the school playground. Those holey knees were also linked to my most frequent words: “Ouch! Didn’t I tell you to pick up the Legos?”
Anyway, the gray-haired ladies in my life were a bigger influence on me than anyone in the women’s movement. They helped me through a long stretch of time, including the three-year period when my mother and sisters died. These seasoned women weren’t trying to break the glass ceiling. Instead, they went beyond the popcorn ceiling to the throne of God with their actions and prayers, and they invited me along.
Their love and kindness nurtured this prairie girl. Flora and Lucille, Cary Lou and Sister Susan. And dear Elenor, a Bible study leader who was in her 70s. Every day she still did pushups and prayed for all the girls who had attended her classes through the years; and there were a lot of us. She was a great role model. They all were with their encouragement, wisdom, true life stories, and Godly examples.
These gray-haired ladies lived out a counterculture right in the heart of the women’s movement. Successful in their own right, they made my life richer because they lived fully in the life God gave them. They influenced me and many other “girls” to do the same.
They believed that God has a higher call on our lives. That we are special. Who we are does matter in a world caught up in media blitz, Hollywood bling and me-first philosophy.
There were many graduates of the gray-haired ladies’ training. We might all have been a little out of step with the times, but looking back, it’s easy to see that their quiet influence is still having an impact in the families of the “girls” they mentored, who are still living for God, who have found a new way of life.
Even today, I’m still steppin’ to their influence. That’s one reason for the past year I’ve been putting finishing touches on the story of one of the most resilient gray-haired women I have ever known. I can’t wait to announce that Secrets of the Dark Closet is available, probably sometime this summer.
So, this Mother’s Day tribute is to those gray-haired women, every one of them now passed on. You still inspire me.
And hugs to all the readers out there. Have a Happy Mother’s Day. Be proactive—treat yourself to something special.
There are still gray-haired ladies around us. To find them, look for a women’s Bible study at a local church or join a women’s fellowship group, such as Christian Women’s Club or Women’s Aglow. Women’s retreats and conferences are also a cool way to nurture your soul. Be a gray-haired lady (hair color optional) and take a friend.
“Each time we cooperate with God, we take one more giant step forward. Because when God asks us to change, it means that He always has something better to give us – more freedom, greater joy, greater blessings.” Joyce Meyer, author of 41 books including Battlefield of the Mind
Grandma Muir’s birthday often fell near Easter and this year she would have celebrated on Easter Monday. For the holiday her sister, my great aunt Carrie, faithfully made kaloches, a traditional Bohemian recipe. She even typed out her recipe in her hunt-and-peck method and gave it to me. I did try making kaloches a few times, but they didn’t turn out until I used another recipe. Perhaps Carrie left out a secret ingredient?
That seems possible because Carrie, Grandma and the rest of their siblings certainly took a lot of secrets to their graves. Those secrets weren’t documented for almost one hundred years, and then only after 20 years of dogged research.
The story of those secrets is the basis of my uncoming historical novel, Secrets of the Dark Closet. I signed with a publisher this past winter and expect to spend at least part of the Easter weekend reviewing the copy before it goes to the next stage of publishing. I can hardly wait to announce in a few months that it is in print.
But back to Easter. The very word invokes memories of spring dresses being made on Mom’s treadle sewing machine, and of trying on new patent leather shoes and white gloves. The day before Easter, the house would be cleaned from ceiling to floor, as though Jesus himself would be a guest.
Before we left for church on Easter morning, a ham was readied for the oven, deviled eggs were in the fridge and, always, strawberry shortcake and real whipped cream completed the special holiday meal.
At Cottonwood Church, where family members had worshiped since the early 1900s, everyone filed in wearing spring clothes, even if they needed to wear a winter coat over the top. The service was truly a celebration of Christianity’s holiest day. Green palm fronds and white lilies decorated the simple altar, and no Easter service was complete without singing, “Christ the Lord has risen today…alleluia!”
Then and now, Easter represents something the world desperately needs: Hope that there is meaning in this life. Hope that good can triumph over evil. Hope for eternal life. The good news is that even though Jesus died on Good Friday, he rose again and he still lives. And he made the way for us to do the same.
All of creation plays out this pageant of hope, if we only pay attention. Each spring, new life is found on every prairie hillside as the grass turns green, the trees leaf out and perky flowers pop out of the earth. The birds and animals birth their young, symbolic of the new life that can be found in Christ.
We humans need rituals and special days to remind us of what is important, and so we celebrate the Resurrection each year by gathering with family and friends to celebrate in our homes and churches. Around the world, an ancient greeting will be heard on Easter Sunday: “He has risen!” with the response, “He has risen indeed!” And that really is good news.
To learn more about the resurrection of Christ, read through the gospel of John, and particularly chapter 20. Also, consider viewing the movie The Case for Christ, which was recently released.
I promised to give you an update about moving to a smaller home, so here it is. We moved into a very nice, albeit smaller home, on March 28. As I write, we’ve been here two weeks and two pickup loads of unpacked boxes have been hauled away. I think we will truly be settled when the books are back in the bookcase.
After all my angst about downsizing, was this a good move for us? Well, judging by the boxes still left to be unpacked, maybe we didn’t get rid of all that much stuff. And it does feel more like home every day, although sometimes I must remind myself of the verse the Lord spoke to my heart about moving on: “Let not your heart be troubled.” Yes, and trust that God has it all under control.
A childhood classmate (and veteran of many moves) advised me to take my time getting settled, but I want to get on with life. After all, my next book is about to be published and the sequel to By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek is waiting for completion.
Happy Easter! He has risen. He has risen indeed!
If your life was a song, what would it be? A classical number? Country or rap or rock?
Sing, a song written by Joe Raposo for Sesame Street, was later recorded by The Carpenters. The first verse goes, “Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong. Sing of good things, not bad, sing of happy, not sad.”
I’m trying to apply that philosophy as the moving saga continues at our house. Beloved items and furniture have been disappearing, and boxes now line some of the walls. The move date is set for late March. Next month in the Prairie Lighthouse blog, I’ll try to post a couple photos of our new little nest, but expect different topics in the future. It’s time to move on from moving.
Sing. The song, is a great alternative to Breaking Up is Hard to Do, which the jukebox in my head wants to play. That’s probably because I just forfeited my 1959 sticker book about Gulliver’s Travels, even though I still hadn’t finished it. The ruby red plates went to Rocket Coffee, the neighborhood coffee shop I plan to frequent. This past weekend all of our sofas and loveseats went out the door.
The last and hardest thing we will do is turn over the keys to this house in a few weeks. When I think about that, the song in my head becomes Friends are Friends Forever, a sentimental song made popular by Michael W. Smith in the 1980s. Back then, I hoped the song would be around long enough to be played at our sons’ graduations. Well, it not only was still popular then, but it’s been playing at graduations ever since. Now it also fits us as we move to a new stage of life.
Although this house has been a friendly place to live, I don’t think that dwelling on music about break ups and leaving friends behind is a good idea. And happy tunes aren’t enough, either. Sadly, singing happy songs didn’t spare either Reposo and Karen Carpenter from dying much too young.
What we really need is music based on more than a good feeling. Songs that build hope and faith in God’s love give the sustaining strength needed for life today.
This week I packed up a stack of song books, some of which had been long buried in our basement. They included one published in the 1970s by local musician Steve Harmon. Fittingly, one of his original songs is Sing to the Lord a New Song.
Other discovered songbooks include a set of Servant Music Songs of Praise from the Charismatic Renewal days, which changed the hearts and lives of millions of people as the wind of the Holy Spirit blew across the world.
Perhaps my favorite is the hymnal from the Presbyterian church at LaMoure, my home church. It magically appeared at the Used Book Sale at Bismarck Public Library a few years ago, just when I was searching for a hymnal since they have disappeared from church pews.
Contemporary music can certainly stir the heart, too. I love it when a song done in church on Sunday resonates in my head all week. One of my favorites from our church is How Great is Our God, by Chris Tomlin. You can look that up on YouTube. Then, close your eyes and sink into the words.
While I mostly sing in “be flat,” making that joyful noise is like sowing seeds for the future, or planting a flag in enemy territory. Even if the enemy is me. Singing helps me let go of the past long enough to reach for the future, for indeed, there is a future and a hope for us all. And humbly I hope that my life will become a song of praise.
Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.