Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Two New Books

My two new books are available!

The first is Sunlight Through Dusty Windows

Skyhorse Publications, who bought out Good Books, the publisher of my first three books,* decided to combine them all under one title. The result was this plump book that contains more cogitations than anyone ought to read at one go, but this was not my decision to make, having sold all rights to Good Books when the books were first published, and barely escaping with my soul and my children.

*Ordinary Days
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting

In case I haven't made it clear, I am just a bit bitter about publishers. Books are all business to them, and authors are mere word-generating and (hopefully) money-making machines.

I was supposed to get a free copy of this book in the mail, since I’m the author, after all. Instead I got a copy of a book on how to go camping. It’ll make a nice Christmas present for [BEN DON'T READ THIS!] that person in the family who likes to go camping, so I wasn’t too upset. Eventually I got a proper copy of my book.

Worse was when I ordered 50 copies of Sunlight Through Dusty Windows at what I assumed would be the normal author discount of 50%. When the bill arrived, I thought they cost an awful lot, plus I had to pay shipping and all.

“Oh,” said the lady at Skyhorse, “You have to order in multiples of 20 to get the 50% discount.”


But buying this book is less expensive than buying the three titles individually, so if you want this book despite my gloomy view of it, you can buy it on Amazon. Or you can order it from me. The price is $18.

Again, just to be clear, it's my first three books combined.

The one redeeming quality of this book is that the cover picture looks like a scene from our house. That's kind of cool. And also my sister Rebecca and her husband thought of the title.


There’s my other new book!!

I am very excited about this one!!!

It is self-published, and I am loving self-publishing!!!!

Not only do I have control of the process, but the world is full of people who are happy to help me!!!!!

The title is Fragrant Whiffs of Joy. Emily found that line in the story about cooking for a big family and thought it would work as a book title. I agreed.

It is available directly from me for $12. Actually, I don't have any copies in hand yet but they are being printed as we speak and should be here before the end of October, so I'm taking orders now.

If you plan to be at the ladies' retreat in Canon City, Colorado, on October 27-28, you can buy a copy there.

Eventually Whiffs will also be available on Amazon, but not yet.

It’s also available on Kindle.

As mentioned, I tried to do as many steps as possible on my own this time, and posting it on Kindle was the only part of the process that didn't go well. At first, every apostrophe showed up as a brief burst of Beetle Bailey-style cussing. I finally got that fixed, and then the page numbers appeared randomly throughout the text.

So the Kindle price is $3.99 but will go up $2 when I straighten out the glitches.

This book is my sixth compilation of Register-Guard-column essays. It includes stories about grown children, my dad coming to visit, chickens, cats, farming, travel, marriage, illness, fabric, and Aunt Orpha.

Emily was the main editor of this one, and you might recall that she impulsively gave it the working title of In the Grass the Snakes Are Slithering when she needed a title as she was saving the document.


I got concerned comments and alarmed emails about this, and a serious pull-aside in church. It was a very bad idea, people don’t like snakes, what in the world?, what was I thinking?, and it was a poor testimony besides.

My dear People: It was a temporary title.  There is no possible way I would put such a name on one of my books.

It was also Emily’s idea to leave the stories in chronological order this time instead of grouping them into categories.

I’m especially happy about the cover on Whiffs. The artist is Laura Hughes, a young woman from London who draws the most charming cats and teapots I’ve ever seen.  She also drew the teapot on the cover of Tea and Trouble Brewing. In the five intervening years, she’s become much better known and has illustrated children’s books for well-known authors.

But she was willing to work with little obscure me and I was pleased with the result.

Fragrant Whiffs of Joy can be ordered from me for $12.

Postage is $2 per book.

You can send me your order and a check:
Dorcas Smucker
31148 Substation Drive
Harrisburg, OR 97446

You can also pay with PayPal at dorcassmucker@gmail.com and then send me an email at that same address telling me what you want.

Here are all of my books and prices:

Ordinary Days $10
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting $10
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting $10
Tea and Trouble Brewing $12
Footprints on the Ceiling $12
Fragrant Whiffs of Joy $12
Sunlight Through Dusty Windows $18

I also have available:
A Chirp from the Grass Roots by Amos Yoder $10
Emily by Emily Smucker $10

Again, postage is $2 per book.

And here’s a SPECIAL:

Any 5 books including Dad's and Emily's but NOT INCLUDING Sunlight Through Dusty Windows for $45.

Free postage on any order over $50. USA addresses only.

Wholesale prices are available for bookstores and such. Email me at dorcassmucker@gmail.com or call/text me at 541-520-8510.

Thanks to everyone who told me they're waiting on the new book and encouraged me in the process.

I'd like to do a Christmas giveaway again this year as I have in the past, but that is for a future post. Meanwhile, you can think of people who are having hard times and would be encouraged by a free book. 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

More Sparrow Nest Pictures

On August 25th, we all stood watching as the Sparrow Nest was moved into place.
As soon as it was situated, I handed Matt my camera.
"Take a picture of me when I'm inside," I said.
Later, I discovered he had taken this whole series.
They made me laugh.
They might make you laugh as well even though, as Hillary Clinton once said, No woman in her 50s ever voluntarily has a picture taken of her backside.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Sparrow Finds Her Nest

Two years ago, Paul began building me a writing cabin.

Not long after, you may recall, someone from the county raised a huge fuss about this. Paul ended up hacking his way through a large forest of regulations, permits, inspections, and requirements. You'd have thought it was a high-rise office building with all the complicated engineers' diagrams we needed and the details they picked apart.

Recently, Paul recounted the whole process to a guy from church who went home and told his wife, "I think I'd have given up."

Well, Paul is not the giving up sort.

I'm guessing this is why our marriage has lasted 34 years.

Last October, we got the permit.

He built the floor and frame of the cabin in a storage building at the warehouse. When the weather got cold, he switched to working on our bedroom and completely remodeled it.

And I waited for my cabin. I planned how to decorate and arrange it. And I chose a name: The Sparrow Nest.

Between the road and the warehouse is the "new" bridge, which is about 15 years old, a fine solid concrete and metal structure. It has four holes in it, and some of us have a custom of dropping a rock down one of the holes when we walk across.

I started whispering a wish and a prayer for my cabin every time I walked across and dropped a piece of gravel down a hole.

The months went by and Paul was even busier than normal. Church things demanded his attention, he needed to help transition the school to new leadership, his warehouse manager was moving on, and the most reliable sacker stepped on a nail and ended up in the hospital.

So he decided to commit himself to a deadline and hire help with the building.

My sister Margaret lives in South Carolina. Her oldest son, Austin, builds mini-barns for a living.  He consented to come work on the cabin for most of August, even though he was needed at his job at home.
My dad and Austin
Things happened fast after Austin arrived. They put in the insulation and wiring and ceiling and beams for the loft.

They put the metal roof on and the siding on the outside, both of which came from the old shed that Orval built in the 1940's.

Matt came for the eclipse and helped with the siding.
It was time to lift it into place.

On August 25th, the guys lifted the cabin onto a trailer with two forklifts and carefully hauled it to the site. Then a large crane lumbered over the field and through the trees. Paul and Austin ran chains through metal tubes under the cabin and carefully the guys attached cables.

At the last minute, the crane operator said, "I don't like to work with chains."
Austin said, "Because they're hard to adjust?"
"No, because they break."

Well. Imagine hearing that and then minutes later seeing your precious cabin lifted high into the air.

We watched from the side of the road as it was slowly brought into place above the posts and the guys scurried around to fit it into place. It fit into the brackets on the posts, the cables and chains were moved away, and I exhaled.
The watchers: Darrell, Simone, Matt, Tristan, Jenny, Grandpa, Emily. This was minutes before Jenny and Emily
had to leave for a wedding, hence the nice clothes.

 I was very very happy.

A lot of work remained to be done. Paul has since washed, caulked, and sealed the siding.

Amy and I tied a rope around a little desk and lifted it in. I've been working there when the weather's nice. It is just absolutely right.

Paul built a set of steps so I no longer have to climb to the very top of an 8-foot stepladder to get inside.

Now he's working on the doors and windows. After that, the interior gets finished.

It is, and will be, a lovely nest for this sparrow.

I am grateful to God, for His blessings. To Paul, who saw it through. To Keith the nephew, who had so many good and practical ideas and who was invaluable on moving day. To Darrell and Simone, who helped and videotaped. And to Austin, who sacrificed a lot to come and who worked terribly hard and did really beautiful work.

Now, when I walk to the warehouse, I still drop stones in the holes, but I wish and pray for other things, knowing that God is able to make them happen.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Letter from Harrisburg--Our Eclipse Day

Eclipse traffic jam is a godsend

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
SEPT. 10, 2017

None of the normal rules applied that day.

On a regular day, the sun stays bright in the sky, only a few cars pass our house, and I stress out about hosting guests.

But that day was different.

I first heard about the solar eclipse of 2017 from our son Matt, an engineer and astronomy enthusiast in Washington, D.C.

“I’m coming home for it,” he announced. He sent me a map showing that the outside edge of the shadow’s projected path lay four miles north of us.

We live on Substation Drive, an oddly situated little country road that has so little traffic it’s tempting to back out of the driveway without checking for cars coming.

Paul’s sister Rosie invited all the Smuckers to camp at their place, well within totality, the night before. Traffic was going to be terrible, all the reports said.

I ordered 35 eclipse glasses.

As night fell, we gathered in spontaneous groups in Rosie’s backyard and talked. Matt held forth on politics from his insider’s view in Washington.
Simone and Matt
Paul and Aunt Allene
Anne and Amos--Paul's mom and my dad
Cousin Darrell gives Jenny advice on OSU's education degrees

Matt demonstrates how an eclipse works while Cassie holds the earth's orbit

Randy the nephew scoffed at all the warnings about heavy traffic. If anything, there was less traffic than usual, he said.

A few of us discussed spiritual gifts, those out-of-the-ordinary abilities given to Christ’s followers. I mentioned hospitality. “I realized I like to minister to people, and I also like to stay at home,” I said. “So I’ve been praying that God would bring people to my house that I can minister to, even though I’m not a natural-born hostess.”

The others nodded in affirmation.

We settled into tents and campers that night, eager and expectant for morning.

Rosie set out a brunch soon after sunrise, and Matt gave us minute-by-minute updates. Our daughter Jenny laid a white sheet on the ground, hoping to see the “shadow snakes” she had heard of. I handed out the protective glasses as though dispensing communion. Then, suddenly, for us and for thousands of others in Oregon, the first sliver of black encroached on the upper edge of the sun.

All ready for the eclipse
United in excitement, we watched the slow progress of the determined moon until suddenly it clicked into place, the sun was impossibly dark, and we took off our glasses and looked around, up, everywhere.

From my 100-year-old father seeing the first total eclipse of his life, down to giddy and slightly confused children, we all felt the same amazement, wonder and pure joy.
Too quickly, it seemed, a burst of light appeared. The sense of awe gave way to a strange urgency to get going. Jenny left for her job, Paul left for the warehouse, and we moms gathered dishes and put blankets and people into vans.

All the way home, we stopped at intersections to peer through our glasses at the sun as the moon slid off, left and downwards.

We were surprised to see that Highway 34 was packed full, and so was the onramp to Interstate 5. We took the back roads home, a clear benefit to living here and knowing the alternative routes.
Interstate 5, from Highway 34
As we neared our house, I exclaimed, “Four cars on Substation Drive! That has never happened before!”

We hauled coolers and blankets inside, constantly distracted by the increasing traffic past our house and at the intersection nearby. A pack of cars passed on Powerline Road. Another pack waited for them on Substation.

We kept going outside to watch. So odd, we said, but surely they’ll clear out soon.

Before long, both roads were filled with closely packed cars, and Highway 99, which angles across both Powerline and Substation roads half a mile away, was also packed, forming a triangle of traffic congestion never seen before.

I felt sorry for all those people, stuck on unfamiliar country roads for probably hours. I wasn’t sure why or how, but I sensed it was imperative that I do something for them.

What did I have on hand? A big tub of Smuckers lemonade powder and lots of tea bags. All right then. I stirred up a gallon of lemonade and grabbed a package of cups from the pantry while the water boiled and the tea steeped.

Then I set up a small table at the end of the driveway, feeling conspicuous and a bit embarrassed. What if no one wanted what I had to offer?

On the back of old book-publicity posters I wrote in large letters: “Free tea and lemonade.”

There is an invisible barrier between traffic on the road and the perimeter of a home. I was shy about crossing it, about actually offering my gifts to those anonymous people behind their reflective windows. I made a “Help yourself” sign and considered leaving it at that and going into the house.

Suddenly, Simone showed up beside me. Our neighbor and relative, she had heard that our daughter Emily was sitting outside, watching traffic, so she decided to walk over and join her. Instead, she found me at the table. “What a great idea! Can I help?” She grabbed two cups of lemonade and turned to the nearest cars. “Free lemonade! You want some free lemonade??”

Windows opened, people smiled and reached. “This is great! Thank you so much!”

Emily appeared soon after. “I’ll help too!”

I poured, and they approached cars and offered drinks, which was the best possible arrangement.

Me, pouring.
Emily, serving.
Soon both pitchers were almost empty. I went to the house and made more.

And more.

A woman in an SUV declined the drinks and said, “What I really need is a bathroom!”

“By all means, come in and use ours,” I said. She pulled into the driveway and followed me inside. When she left, she thanked me and said she’s heading back to Pennsylvania, having driven all the way to Oregon for the eclipse.

Surely there would be others who needed a bathroom, I thought. Two or three people, maybe. I grabbed another poster and wrote “RESTROOMS AVAILABLE” and hung it beside the other signs. Then I ran inside for more drinks.

A few minutes later, I turned around from the kitchen sink and saw about 10 people forming a line from the bathroom door all the way out the back hallway.

As they left, more came. “If you’re desperate, you can use the upstairs bathroom too,” I said. They laughed. “We’re all desperate!”

Soon, we had an efficient system. Simone and Emily handed out drinks and directed people to the back door. I showed people to the bathroom downstairs. Our son Matt directed others to the bathroom upstairs. I stirred drinks and hunted for more cups.

Outside on the road, people opened their windows, took photos, accepted drinks, offered money and thanked us profusely. Smiles and laughter abounded.

When we ran out of cups, Emily biked to Simone’s house and found more in her pantry. Simone’s daughter Dolly came back with her and assisted as well.

I chatted with the people standing in line. Probably 75 percent of them came from California — Los Angeles, San Jose, San Bernardino. Most of them had watched the eclipse at the coast. On the way back to I-5, their GPS programs had directed them on an alternative route down Peoria Road and east on Substation in an attempt to avoid the congestion on the larger highways.

One family was from Japan. They and many others used the restroom and then lingered outside, expressing their thanks and enjoying the break.

A family from China stood in the hallway, speaking in a language I couldn’t understand, but I understood their relief in finding a restroom for the grandma of the group.

Many people seemed reluctant to leave, as though drawn to the strange magic of this day and this place, when nothing was as it normally is, and something special crackled in the sunny air.

An hour passed. The cars were still creeping along all the surrounding roads.

I ran out of ice so I quit making tea, but I kept stirring up lemonade with cold water from the faucet. After 10 gallons, I ran out of powder and we gave people cold water, gallons and gallons of it. It didn’t seem like enough, so I brought out all the cookies and brownies I could find in the pantry and freezer.

The line in our back hall was almost continuous. Some people pressed money into my hand when they left. “To help with your water bill,” they said, and walked out before I had time to explain about farmhouses in Oregon that have wells and septic systems, but no water bills.

Another hour and the traffic still hadn’t diminished.

The joy in the air was almost tangible. “Why are you so nice?” people said. “God bless you!” “Thank you!”

We were having the time of our lives, laughing, giving, pointing and helping.

Finally, the cars decreased in number and moved a bit faster. The roads slowly cleared. Simone and Dolly went home. We left the drinks and signs on the table and went inside. Emily and Matt and I plopped on the living room couches and rested.

“Wasn’t that just the most fun ever?” we said. “Wait. Did that really just happen?” “Amazing.” “Bizarre.” “Can you believe it?”

“How many people do you think came through the house?” I said. Matt calculated 120 and I guessed 75, so we settled on 100. And how many drinks did we give out? At least 400, we guessed.

How had we had enough cups, enough toilet paper, enough capacity in our septic tank? It didn’t seem possible.

I suddenly remembered my prayer of weeks before, and goosebumps rippled up my arms.

“Did you realize,” I asked the kids, “that a few weeks ago I asked God to bring people to my house that I could minister to and bless?”

Matt laughed and quoted from Genesis, regarding the great Flood: “The same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.”

Among the day’s phenomenon, I realized later, was that all the kids and neighbors who showed up immediately plunged into this spontaneous project, without question. If anyone had asked, “Really? Why are you doing this?” I couldn’t have explained and, likely, I could have been talked out of it.

Instead, they had said and done only an enthusiastic “Yes!”

It was a day when none of the normal rules applied. The sun set that evening in a strangely glowing pink sky, a final affirmation to a day of holiness and joy and miracles.

The surprises continued the next day.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Trusting God in the Way Too Much

At 4:00 this morning I suddenly had a desperate sense that our hedge was dying. And I needed to save it. NOW. I almost couldn't get back to sleep, I was that desperate.

So I got up at 7:00 and started a sprinkler, which reached about 5% of the hedge, but it helped my conscience feel better, until I gave the hose a yank to move it and popped the end right off the faucet, and that was the end of saving hedge lives today.

The hedge is dying because the weather has been just WAY TOO MUCH--too hot and too dry. I mean, here it's September and we haven't had any fall rains.  Also, they keep predicting 100-degree weather, but it never quite reaches the predicted heights because the air is full of smoke from a dozen forest fires. The smoke hangs thick in this valley, looking like fog but with an ominous feel and none of fog's moisture and coolness.

The sun hangs hot in a distant sky and casts a strange pink light on the world. 

The air is bad for everyone, but for those of us with asthma, it's horrible.

Last winter, the weather was also TOO MUCH. It rained and rained and rained. We seldom saw the sun. I longed for a day of sunshine like it was a far-from-home child. The world was chilled and dark and wet and miserable.

And now we are overwhelmed with sunshine and warmth and dry weather, and we long for a good rain to put out the fires and clear the air.

It makes me wonder about gratitude, about contentment, and about needing good things in just the right quantities, neither more nor less.

And about trusting God for the quantities He sends.

The reason I neglected the hedge was because my summer, especially August, was just WAY TOO MUCH.  

I love having people around me, but I also desperately need time alone. I need action and things to do--they give me goals and purpose. But if there's too much going on, the connections in my brain start shorting out. Wires unplug and sparks zap as I try to think ahead to the next meal or Sunday's lesson I need to teach.

It quickly feels like TOO MUCH.

And yet, a few days of leisure with no deadlines and few people, and I get fidgety and restless and lonely.

Can I trust God for the quantities he sends?

So--August. My 100-year-old dad was here, his fourth summer in Oregon. That was such a privilege, going berry picking with him and seeing him interact with his grandchildren. It didn't seem like such a privilege when I kept bumping into him at 6:30 a.m. as he was shuffling around the kitchen in his pajamas, making hot water with prune juice, and I was also shuffling around the kitchen, wanting to make tea, and we both needed the electric kettle at the same time.

My nephew Austin, my sister Margaret's son, came --oh happy day-- to work on my writing cabin. That was wonderful as well, but it meant a lot of cooking and keeping groceries on hand to feed a hardworking teenager.

The last two weeks of August were quite simply insane. And absolutely wonderful.

Matt flew in from Washington, DC, to be here for the eclipse. We all went to Paul's sister Rosie's house and camped there in the totality zone. It was simply a miraculous day, which I plan to write about in my newspaper column.

On the Friday after the eclipse, a lot of hard work and giddy expectation came together as my long-awaited cabin got hauled to the site by the creek and a big crane lifted it up and set it on the concrete pillars Paul and his nephew Keith had prepared.

I was overwhelmed. A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Matt left on Saturday. I always miss him when he goes. Then my sister Rebecca and her husband came on Monday.  It is always refreshing to have them around. On Wednesday, Rebecca and Rod took Dad and Austin to the airport early in the morning, and Austin escorted Dad safely back to Minnesota.

On Wednesday evening, Amy came home to stay after 3 1/2 years in Thailand.

Rebecca and Rod left for a visit to friends in Medford, then returned, then left for a few weeks in the Seattle area.

There was a great shuffling of belongings with all this, and switching of bedrooms, and stripping of beds, and moving of furniture, and washing of sheets.

It was all blessed and wonderful, but it was all just very much. I thought a day with no one talking to me would be just about right, but we have three daughters in the house now, and they have the most fascinating conversations that I always want to be in on.

Ben, who has moved to Corvallis, came home for the weekend. He said, "I saw how hot it was supposed to get, and I thought, 'Even the servants in my father's house have air conditioning.'"

So with all that action, the hedge never got watered. But I managed to keep the chickens alive.

People like to say that ridiculous phrase, "God won't give you more than you can handle," as though it's actually a Bible verse, whenever life feels like Too Much.

Like that will make it all do-able and better.

I suppose it's easier than coming alongside someone who is wrestling with the reality that she dearly loves all the people in her life but doesn't have the brain power to keep up with them all, and who feels guilty for being overwhelmed when the tsunami of stuff in her life is all positive--sunshine and family and writing cabins and grapes from the vines--rather than sickness and loss and disaster.

So the hedge didn't get watered, and it looks awful, and I feel bad about that.

But I had conversations with all the people, and they all had places to rest their heads, and food to eat.

"My grace is sufficient for thee," the Bible says. "For my strength is made perfect in weakness."

It must have a divine purpose, this sense of not being enough. And it takes a lot of trust--more than I usually possess--to be ok with all the blessings that never seem to arrive in the perfect manageable quantities at the perfect time.

Meanwhile, it is Sunday evening. The house is quiet except for Paul getting a snack just now. The air conditioner is filtering out the smoke. No one is talking. My brain wires are reconnecting.

I am thankful for these moments of Rest.

This week, I need to write an article for the paper and finish editing my new book. People are coming by to pick grapes, Uncle Milford merits a visit, church camp is this weekend, and I need to rearrange the sewing room that we turned into a bedroom for my dad.

And I need to fix the hose, water the hedge, and trust God for a good purpose in the quantities of everything He sends my way.

Monday, August 14, 2017

August Column: Talking, Doing, and Old-fashioned Letters

What we truly believe will show

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
AUG. 13, 2017

I envy my dad: He gets letters in the mail.
Paul and I get bills, Fabric Depot fliers and seed-germination results.

 The college kids get credit card offers and updates on financial aid or grades.
Dad gets letters. They come from Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and elsewhere, with stamps canceled in small towns, handwritten addresses on the front and often a few fun stickers on the back. Last week, he got three letters in a single day’s mail.
He pulls out his yellow pocketknife and carefully slices open the short end of the envelope, just as he has for probably 90 years. He blows a quick puff at the sliced opening to ­separate the sides, then reaches in and pulls out greeting cards, newspaper clippings, photo­copied articles and, of course, letters: pages of ink and words and love and connection, folded in thirds.
Settled on the living room loveseat with his glasses on his nose, he peruses these missives from friends, former students, his many nieces and nephews, his children and his brother Johnny. Then, as he stomps through the kitchen on his way outside to work on my apple trees, he leaves the envelopes on the kitchen counter with a note — “Read if you want to.”
I want to, so I do.

 Johnny irrigated his fourth planting of corn and hopes the cows don’t get into it. Cousin Barbara says the mice are eating her cucumbers in the garden — she didn’t know they did that. My brother Marcus and his wife are headed to Canada to visit their daughter and hopefully find some hungry fish as well. A ­historian cousin sends the shocking news that a long-ago acquaintance’s death may have been murder rather than an accident.
In this era of text-­message communication, where even emails are becoming outdated, I have a nostalgic fascination with letters.
Colorful stationery waits in one of my desk ­drawers; envelopes and address labels in another. I have just the right fine-tipped black pens, an old recipe tin full of addresses on file cards, and pretty stamps from the post office.
I even follow letter-­writing sites on Instagram. Full of shots of elegantly addressed ­envelopes, hand-decorated paper and inspiration, they turn an old-­fashioned art into modern creativity.
Sadly, though, I seldom get letters in the mail. Because, to be harshly honest, I seldom actually write them.
Hosting my dad forces me to think about the things I say, the decisions I make, and the results I get. He is 100 years old, and this is his fourth consecutive summer with us in Oregon.
Thanks to his deliberate ­personality, his Amish ­theology and the reality of growing up in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, Dad has an unusual ­clarity about choices and results, sowing and reaping, and the huge difference between thinking about doing something as opposed to actually doing it.
Like most of us, he knows about nutrition and exercise. Unlike many of us, he deliberately eats small, nutritious portions and goes for a walk every day, forcing himself to go outside even though it’s hot, he’s sleepy, and his legs are stiff and unsteady at times. Knowing, by itself, doesn’t keep him healthy and limber; only heaving off the couch and thumping outside with cane in hand, drinking mugs of hot water, and eating piles of lettuce and broccoli does.
“Faith without works is dead,” the Bible’s Book of James says. We Amish and ­Mennonites, ­sisters under the Anabaptist theological umbrella, quote it a lot. We are skeptical of talk, opinion, pretension and insistence until we see how a person lives. “Show me, don’t tell me,” the writers’ mantra, could be our denomination’s as well.
We live in a strange era in which beliefs and opinions seem to count as much as action, and an emphatic Facebook post about prison reform or preserving our forests qualifies as having done something about it.
Our daughter Emily went to Oregon State University every day with a mug and tea bags in her backpack. She knew where all the hot-water ­dispensers were located and often arrived in class with a comforting cup of hot black tea.
She didn’t have an ­ideological agenda. It just seemed like the right and responsible thing to do instead of spending money on daily doses of tea in throwaway cups.
Emily had one young professor who, she said, didn’t try terribly hard to hide his political preferences. “How does that work, you bringing a mug to class?” he asked Emily one day, bewildered and amused, as she settled into her desk.
She explained. He listened kindly but still seemed confused. Then he took a swig of coffee from his daily ­disposable Starbucks cup and went on with the class.
For a Mennonite student, it was an eye-opening moment.
“I realized then,” Emily said, “that everyone who believes in human-caused climate change is living exactly like everyone who doesn’t.”
My dad would be utterly bewildered by my Instagram feed with the pretty ­calligraphy on white envelopes and the ­butterflies cut out and glued on lined paper. He sees the clear line connecting decision and effect, and the worthlessness of opinion without action.
You aren’t into letter writing if you don’t write letters, and you won’t get any letters in the mail if you don’t send them. I’m sure that would be his ­philosophy, should he choose to put it into words.
Dad doesn’t talk about ­writing letters. He writes letters.
When he comes in from his walk, he sits on the loveseat, places a lap desk on his thin legs, and taps a piece of lined notebook paper into the correct angle.
He clicks his ballpoint pen, an invention that is still a marvel to him.
“Dear Truman,” he writes. “Dear Lydia Mae; Dear Marcus; Dear Johnny.”
Slowly, with perfect penman­ship, he fills the page with ink and words, weather and news and stories, harvest and apples and family history. Soon, he and his cane thump to the mailbox. He sets the envelope in the little groove, closes the flap and raises the little flag. That afternoon the letter is on its way, full of paper, ­promise and connection.
He comes inside, knowing that Truman, Johnny and all the others will, most likely, soon write back.
That is how it works.
I know better than to ponti­ficate to Dad about my interests and passions — Jesus, justice, responsibility, orphans, stewardship, creativity and many more. For one thing, Dad has a hard time hearing me. Much more importantly, he is sharply observing my life. He knows what I really believe, because he sees what I do. Emphatic opinions are like the dandelion fluff blowing in the hot wind and ignored as he heads to the mailbox, letter in hand.
It’s the doing that tells the truth about what you believe. Do I really want to get ­letters in the mail, and am I truly interested in renewing the art and skill of letter-writing? If so, I will, before long, be ­following Dad’s footsteps to the mailbox in the early afternoons, envelope in hand, sending ink and paper on its way, sure of a soon reply.