Monday, October 23, 2017

October RG Column

Life’s twisty path leads to good spot

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
OCT. 8, 2017

My high school class chose this motto, back in 1980:

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for your dream precedes the goal.”

We found the motto by paging through the Argus catalog, full of posters of sunset photos or colorful graphic art overlaid with inspiring words. The class officers made a list of the best phrases and then we voted. Surely such a profound directive would propel us into future greatness.

I laugh about this now, because I’ve learned that we hardly know what to wish for at that age, life takes strange and unpredictable turns, and we are led by powers far beyond our own initiative.

At 18, I had a snooty attitude about marriage and children, and I was determined to be an independent single woman. It was a face-saving way to cope with the painful fact that the cool guys never paid attention to me.

A few years later I ate all my lofty words and married Paul, who didn’t need to be cool because he was kind and smart and confident and got big things done without making any noise about it.

I have a dreamy young friend who, I found out recently in roundabout fashion, feels sorry for me. She sees that I am like her, impractical, artsy and imaginative. And I am stuck with Paul who is a practical, mostly predictable and completely non-poetic seed-cleaning Mennonite minister.

She has a point, I admit. I often have said that if Paul and I can make it for 33 years and counting, almost any marriage can, because we have a dozen impossible polarities. It has taken hard work and sometimes anguished communication to come to understand each other and work together.

But we have learned that when we combine our strengths and balance our weaknesses, we make an amazing team.

I give up too easily. He is too stubborn. I am good at ideas but defeated by practicalities. He loves to plan, build and budget. Together, we dream up ideas and reach goals in ways that even my starry-eyed high school self could never have imagined. Travel, house renovations, business opportunities, even adopting our son Steven — I came up with the bright idea. He figured out how we could make it happen.

Now, Paul is making another hope of mine come to life.

For a long time, I wished vaguely for a quiet place to get away to write. Two years ago, Paul dismantled the shed his grandfather built in 1947. I forget whose ideas were which, but we concocted a brilliant plan: We would build a little writing cabin beside the creek, using the lovely old weathered boards and beams from the shed.

“But wouldn’t it get flooded every winter?” I said.

“Not if it was on concrete pillars,” Paul said.

So he got a permit, and he and his nephew Keith, who combines both practical skills and great ideas, poured four concrete posts, 8 feet tall, to hold the building safe and high when the winter rains came.

Paul began building the structure in a storage shed at our seed warehouse. I was giddy with excitement.

I imagined old boards on the floor with a gentle whitewashed look. Paul and Keith figured out how it could be done. Old corrugated tin on the roof? Sure, why not? Shiplap on the walls, rustic beams to make a little loft — it would all be mine for the asking.

Then an official from the county did his best to destroy my dream. “That road guy, may a hundred chickens peck his ankles,” I referred to him, bitterly, as he came by to find fault and wrote letters to other county departments insisting that we shouldn’t be allowed to do this.

Paul stayed calm. He went to the Linn County offices and asked questions, filled out forms and pursued permission. He made phone calls, waited, filled out more forms, and made more trips to Albany.

On evening walks, I would look at the building site and those lonely posts and wonder if they still would be there, standing useless, 20 years from now.

Paul spent hours drawing detailed blueprints at the kitchen table. He had an engineer inspect them, and he refused to tell me how much he paid for this.

“I think I’d have given up,” said our friend Nelson after Paul told him the whole story recently.

I’m sure I would have, too.

It takes a rare gift to out-stubborn unsympathetic county land-use officials. Paul eventually got that precious yellow permission slip through plodding determination and none of my bitter deprecations.

Cold weather, a huge new storage shed for our business and church responsibilities further delayed the building. Finally, Paul hired my nephew Austin to come out from South Carolina for the month of August. Austin builds portable sheds for a living. The cabin came together delightfully fast when he showed up, daily acquiring a layer of insulation, beams, roofing or siding.

Our son Matt came to Oregon for the eclipse and helped as well.

On a brilliant day in late August we gathered on the side of the road as a large crane lifted my beautiful cabin off a trailer and high overhead, up and up as I held my breath, and then gently down into the slots on the posts, just as Paul had designed it.

Paul still works on it almost every day — sealing the old siding boards, building steps, and installing windows and doors.

While he works on the outside, I sit inside and type as the wind blows and acorns fall from the oak trees all around.

At 18, it never crossed my mind that I could accomplish more if I got married to a polar opposite. I never thought to wish for a husband — and also sons and nephews — who would invest time and effort into making my crazy impossible dreams come true.

I think the posters in that 1980 catalog should have had wise sayings like this: Life seldom transpires as you predict or plan. Sometimes our dreams choose us, rather than the other way around. The best things come through waiting, sacrifice and loving even when it’s hard.

There’s a rustic little cabin by the creek that proves them true.


  1. Love love this! Agree with so much of what you have written. N I used to peruse Argus posters too! Would buy one every once in awhile. Keep on writing from your little cabin. N by the wy, do you type using a computer or a vintage turquoise Corona?

  2. I needed to hear this tonight.......thanks!

  3. Thanks for this perspective on marriage and dreams. This is God's plan for marriage, and encourages me to keep pressing on to find the best in our marriage of differences.
    Just a question: I laugh when I read your description and title of the road guy. However, I also wonder if it's Christ-like? If he reads the Register-Guard, what impression will he have of Christian people? Just questions I ask myself, and to you as a sister in Christ. Sarah

    1. No, it wasn't Christ-like, which is why I contrasted it with Paul getting the job done without bitterness.

  4. I, too, married a man who is yin to my yang. I am the one with the plans and dreams...but he, rather than being a dedicated plodder and planner like Paul, is more a "dragged-along-kicking-and-screaming" type. I have no doubt that my dreams have ultimately enhanced both our lives, but it hasn't always been a smooth road. BTW, we just celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary last week...