Friday, December 14, 2018

Letter from Harrisburg: Goodbye

Letters from Harrisburg: Thank you for the shared experiences
By Dorcas Smucker For The Register-Guard
Posted Dec 9, 2018 at 5:00 AM
Updated Dec 10, 2018 at 7:14 AM

You would think that being a little Amish farm girl was poor preparation for writing for a large newspaper 50 years later. But it was that very limitation that began the discipline of choosing words in my mind and placing them onto the paper, one by one.

Being Amish, we couldn’t pick up the phone and call our grandmothers, so my mother seated us around the dining room table on a regular basis, gave us lined paper and pencils, and told us to write to either Kansas Mommi or Iowa Mommi, or maybe Aunt Vina or another relative.

It didn’t matter if we felt like it or not, or if we were inspired with great ideas. It was time to write, so we knew we couldn’t go play until the task was done. I happened to see one of these letters, years later. “Dear Aunt Vina, How are you? I am fine. Are you very busy these days?”

It turned out to be great training for writing “Letters from Harrisburg” for the Register-Guard for the past nearly 19 years. Month after month, as the deadline approached, one word after another formed in my head and oozed down to my fingertips and onto the keyboard.

You also wouldn’t expect a Mennonite mom and minister’s wife from a farmhouse in Harrisburg’s grass fields to write for a paper in Eugene. For that I credit my friend Ilva Hertzler and a risk-taking editor.

Ilva had mentored me during our years of teaching in the northern reaches of Ontario, Canada. “You need to write for a bigger audience,” she would say whenever I sent out my monthly form letter to a growing list of interested friends and family.

“But I live way out in the bush, and I have little children,” I would protest. Ilva’s gentle, nudging voice was undeterred. “I still think you need to pursue this.”

We moved from Ontario to Oregon in 1994. Hoping to earn a bit of money from home, I tried to break into writing for the Christian magazine market but was mostly unsuccessful.

One day I noticed a Write On feature in the Sunday edition of The Register-Guard. Anyone in the community could submit an essay, and the editors chose one for publication each week.

Impulsively, I sat down and wrote about living beside Interstate 5 and all the people who came in off the freeway and asked for help.

Before church the following Sunday, I walked out the driveway in my dress and heels, pulled the newspaper from the box and leafed through it.

There it was!! My article! With my name! Thrilled, I raced back to the house and showed it to Paul and the children.

A day or two later, I clipped the article out of the paper and sent it to Ilva. “See?” I said, “I’m finally doing what you said!”

Two weeks later, the phone rang. “This is Grant Podelco, the features editor at the Register Guard. You got some fan mail, all the way from Canada!”

Ilva had not only written an appreciative letter, but she had also suggested that the paper would do well to use this writer more often.

Podelco, who was new at the Guard and searching for new material, pursued her idea. “Would you consider writing a column once a month?” he asked me.

Yes. I would love to.

“I think we’ll call it ‘Letter from Harrisburg’,” Podelco went on. He had no way of knowing that that title looped back and connected to all the letters I wrote as a child, a teenager — to a long list of pen pals — and then as an adult, turning life in the Canadian bush into paragraphs on paper.

The first column appeared in March of 2000.

Podelco worked at the Guard for less than two years, but it was enough time for me to find my footing before I was handed off to a new editor.

At the beginning, my joy at this opportunity was interspersed with panic: What could I possibly say to the readers in Eugene? They seemed different from me in every possible way — lifestyle, religion, worldview, education, entertainment, everything.

I wrote what I knew, since I had no other options, and was astonished at the responses. “This reminds me of my life,” people said. Or “My grandma, my dog, my teenager.” “My fears, my kids, my love for the Oregon Coast.”

This has been the best and greatest gift and lesson for me: We are all human beings, and stories have the power to connect us. Our differences are actually tiny, our shared experiences endless, and our similarities significant and enormous.

At first, our five children ranged from 13-year-old Matt to 11-month-old Jenny. Steven joined us via adoption five years later. I wrote about Legos, slumber parties, sibling rivalry, choir concerts and learning to drive. I shared the woes of trying to feed a houseful of teenagers and of telling them goodbye when they left for road trips, college and work overseas.

“Do your children mind that you write about them?” I was often asked. The kids were surprisingly nonchalant about having their names in the paper regularly, but I learned to have them vet the column if they were mentioned in it, before I sent it in. We tweaked this arrangement at times, such as the time I called Jenny at school. “Listen, I have a deadline at noon and there’s one paragraph about you. I need to know if it’s OK.”

I read it to her over the phone.

“No, Mom, I don’t think so.”

“What’s it worth to you?” I asked, desperate.

“Five bucks.”


I made my deadline.

As the children grew older and left home, there were fewer stories to tell about them. Instead, I wrote about aging parents, chickens, the gray days of winter and my vast fabric collection.

Still, readers responded: “This sounds just like me and my life.”

Every three years or so, I collected the “Letters from Harrisburg” into a book. Six of these books have been published.

Today, my oldest child is 32 years old and the youngest is 19. I’ve had a growing sense that this crazy and beautiful stage of my life is coming to an end, both in mothering and in writing.

It’s time for other types of writing, new avenues of service and different adventures, so this will be my final Letter from Harrisburg.

I am indebted to so many: my husband and children, first of all. On deadline days, they knew better than to open the office door unless there was smoke or blood. My friend Ilva, who advocated for me. The Register-Guard, for giving me a chance and keeping me on board. The four editors at the RG who worked with me and seldom altered the manuscript.

Most of all, I am grateful to the many readers who followed the column and let me know that my words spoke to them, and they understood.

One of my favorite responses was from a woman who found me at the authors’ table at the Lane County Fair. “I’m a single, childless, Buddhist,” she said, “and I connect with your writing.” She looked puzzled, as though she wasn’t sure how this could be.

Who can understand these mysterious winds that cycle through our lives, or the impossibility of these random people, one after another, following an inner nudge that opened a door for me at exactly the right time? How is it that words form stories that unite us in a common experience, and we find we are more alike at heart than we ever imagined?

We are part of a story bigger than ourselves, and I am blessed, grateful and endlessly surprised.

Dorcas Smucker is a writer from Oregon. To order her books, go here or email her at
To read the Register-Guard feature and photos about her retirement, click here:

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving Poem: Callings

I have a tradition of posting a poem on Thanksgiving. This was inspired by my friend Bethanie.


My crock pot army's lined up on the table
For marching orders at the crack of dawn.
The carrot cake is frosted. Pies are baked—
Two apple pies, a pumpkin, and pecan.

I used a cup of butter in the stuffing—
The sage and onions in a steaming bliss
Sour cream was dumped into potatoes:
No skimping for a special day like this.

We pulled outdated food from both the fridges
And fed it to our flock of spoiled cats.
Yet still we had to push and reconfigure
To make room for heaping bowls and pans and vats.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and I'm ready
To set a table bounteous with food,
To welcome guests and family all around it
To feast on food and conversation good.

While I'm here rubbing pepper on the turkey,
A friend of mine, full half the world away
Dispenses medicines to refugees,
And dozens come to see her every day.

One of them was my age, so she says,
Desperate not for medicine, but for
A chance to tell her story and be heard—
A ghastly tale of loss and shocking gore.

My friend could only listen to her briefly,
Unable to repair the broken life.
"Oh Father, how much less can I, from here,
A simple, cooking, stirring mom and wife. . .

Do anything to make the slightest difference
In all the world's disaster and despair.
How happily I'd give up all that butter
If it would give that grieving woman care."

I felt the Father say, "I placed you here.
In this white farmhouse kingdom you are queen.
The door is yours to open, the food is yours
To minister to wounds and loss unseen.

Tomorrow you will gather strangers in
Your children will be bringing lonesome friends.
Ask me to bless the words and mashed potatoes,
So stuffing ministers and salad mends.

Not only far away are broken lives
Not only half the world away are tears.
The hopeless souls are closer than you know
So that is why I chose to place you here."

My crock pot army's lined up on the table.
Ready to march, and similarly I'm
Getting up to roast that massive turkey
And love the world one meal at a time.

Monday, November 19, 2018

November Column: Simple Gestures Make a Difference

Sometimes the smallest gesture makes the biggest difference.
Recently I spoke at a Church Women United gathering in Eugene. I noticed that much of the conversation around the tables and from the speakers focused on changing homelessness, global warming and other ills through voting, marching at the courthouse, and speaking up at city council meetings.
It’s a universal urge, I think, to want to change the world from how it is to how we think it ought to be.
When we were in Kenya 15 years ago to set up a school at a home for street boys, the country’s rampant corruption was a frequent topic of conversation. You couldn’t buy property, get a driver’s license or get a package at the post office without paying a bribe, we were told.
One day my husband, Paul, was driving me and two of the Kenyan teachers, George and Benard, to school. Once again, the teachers were discussing how hard it was to get anything done in that country.
“In order for Kenya to change,” I asked them, “does it need to begin at the top, with the government or at the bottom, with ordinary people?”
--to continue reading the article, go here--

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Book Events In PA

Paul and I are going to Pennsylvania in November for a few days of classes at Life Ministries, a counseling center.

We decided to fly a day early and schedule some book signings in the Lancaster area. Paul can rent the car, drive, navigate those nightmarish roads, haul books, and handle the money while I talk to people and sign books. Win win.

If you're in the area, we'd love to meet you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What I Did This Summer: Hiking

When skills come easily for you, you don’t learn to push through the hard things.

You also learn to avoid anything that you aren’t naturally good at.

School was easy for me until one day in the fourth grade I ran into the brick wall that was long division. Two digits on the left of the little frame; four or more on the right. It didn’t make sense. Write a number on top, write another below--I couldn’t understand it, and I dissolved in tears.

I cried about everything back then, so that wasn’t so unusual. Facing a math concept I couldn’t immediately understand—that was something new. I would never advance another step in arithmetic, I thought. It would all stop right here at long division.

Dad was my teacher. He found my theatrics amusing but he wasn’t unkind. He had me stay in at recess and explained it further, and I began to understand. The numbers started cooperating—on top, multiply, down below, subtract, repeat. I recall going back outside in something of a daze. I had pushed through, and I wouldn’t be stuck at long division for the rest of my life after all.

Otherwise, I don’t recall running into an academic impasse again until 11th grade chemistry when I didn’t do so well on a quiz and slammed into the wall of needing to study for the class. Whoa. I couldn’t just slide through with a quick read on the bus.  I learned my lesson and did well in the class.

Pretty flowers to keep you reading this long prologue.
At the same time that I was breezing through most things academic, I was enduring the daily humiliation known as Phy.Ed. and the monthly tortures known as nursing home visitation with the church youth group, in which I perfected the art of air singing, hoping that everyone thought that that nice alto from Ruth Yoder to my left was actually from me.

I learned:
1.       I am good at academic and creative things, therefore I should choose those pursuits as much as possible.
2.       I am not athletic or musical, therefore I should avoid anything involving physical activity or music.

Fixed mindset, it’s called. It turns out to be a bad way to live life.

Growth mindset is a better way to live. You can learn to do things for which you lack natural talent. It takes planning, work, and slow, incremental steps rather than intuition and osmosis. It will take you longer than it will others, and you’ll have to work a lot harder. But you can both reach the same goal.

This is how I learned to have a growth mindset about hiking.

I’ve never been diagnosed with any physical limitation besides asthma, but I wonder if I have some strange malfunction in muscles or mitochondria, because I’ve always been slower and had less stamina than other women, and not only in Phy.Ed. One summer in Ontario, in one of those personal-growth exercises that missions like to inflict on their people at orientation, a bunch of us moms were dropped off three miles from camp and told to walk or run back. The other women, some significantly older and plumper than me, took off jogging. I dragged along alone, walking slowly, far behind the others, unsure if I would survive.

Most of the time, I've avoided situations that would highlight this unflattering truth about me.

A few years ago, as our son Ben began to go on more and more hikes, I slowly absorbed the truth that I am living in a beautiful state filled with breathtaking hiking trails, and I am sitting here in the Willamette Valley and walking down to the warehouse now and then.

It’s like if someone would pay for my dinner at Sizzler and I'd sit there among all those lavish buffets and eat a peanut butter sandwich I dug out of my purse.

A year ago in June, Ben said the mountain meadow flowers are at their peak, and I really ought to go with him to Horse Rock.

Ben the hiking expert who wants his mom to see the mountain meadow flowers.
When you only tackle tasks that come easily for you, you don’t learn to handle the humiliation of doing something badly, in front of others.

We were not far up the trail when I was already breathing noisily, stopping to rest, and turning red. It isn’t fun to look this pathetic when you’re with a bunch of teens and twentysomethings casually loping up the mountain like goats.

So I told begged commanded the others to go on without me.

I made it about halfway to the top, feeling triumphant but completely bushed.

I made a resolve: on my 56th birthday, I would make it all the way to Horse Rock.

Later that summer, the girls and I took a long walk at Shore Acres, near Bandon. They are all excellent walkers, as Miss Bingley said of Elizabeth Bennet, and once again I puffed along behind.

I had a double goal--Horse Rock and keeping up. When a skill doesn’t come naturally, you have to plan it out, step by step. I started timing my walks, starting with 10-minute slogs to the railroad tracks and back, then slowly increasing.

All winter, I walked on the treadmill in the laundry room, one of the most boring activities ever. I’m not savvy enough to do much with podcasts, plus there’s no wifi out there. So I listened to old Knox Brothers and polka cassettes. 

Eventually I’d walk a mile, varying my speed and the angle of the treadmill. I wasn’t terribly ambitious or consistent, but it usually got done, grudgingly. I wasn’t sure I was getting any stronger or faster.

Summer came. I went back outside for walks and even jogged for short distances, dripping hairpins on the asphalt with tiny clinks.

Eventually, I knew it was time to go hiking.

At the end of May, Amy and I took a Memorial Day morning hike up what I call Hostetlers’ Hill, a happy nearby jaunt through cow pastures and woods. I made it to the top—a lot more slowly than Amy, but she was gracious and patient. The important thing was that I made it happen.
Just after my birthday, Ben took us to Horse Rock and I made it all the way to the Rock that looks like a horse's mane on the bare hillside, and then on through the woods to look out over the valley. I can’t tell you how amazing that felt.
Exhausted but thrilled at Horse Rock.
View east from Horse Rock
At the Smucker reunion, I hiked down to the suspension bridge over Drift Creek. The trail starts at the parking area and goes steadily down for a long time, and I walked it with an increasing dread. I would have to come UP all that way! So while the agile people were still inspecting the falls, I slipped away and started start walking back up, pacing myself, hoping the others wouldn’t pass me as I huffed and puffed, or, worse, what if they waited for ages in the parking lot until I finally arrived?

Drift Creek Falls
I walked to the first little wooden bridge. So far so good. Then on to the funny corner with a fence beside it. Up and up. Still doing fine. Wow! But surely the hardest part was still to come. On to the little stream over the path. On to another bridge. Well, this wasn’t bad, but surely the UPpest part was still ahead, and the crowd of fast-paced young people was right on my heels, striding at twice my speed while carrying on conversations and laughing.

Then I heard a car door slam.  I had reached the parking lot. WHAT?!

I felt silly, but seriously! When did I get this good?

We climbed up Mary’s Peak in the Coast Range when Matt was home for a visit.
Mary's Peak. Left: wildflowers. Right: Matt and Amy
When we housesat for friends near Lincoln City, Amy and I hiked Cascade Head, past a garter snake, up endless steps, and through long furlongs of woods until we reached a meadow above the ocean with a view that was truly unbelievable.

It was hard. I wouldn’t have made it if Amy hadn’t kept saying, “You can do it, Mom! You’re strong!”
The views at Cascade Head are truly breathtaking.
Ben took us to Tire Mountain in the Cascades on a Sunday afternoon, where we waited for a shower to pass and debated whether or not to skip it and go home. We stayed, and the hike was long but gentle with the ups and generous with the views.
I was so proud of myself.
Magical path at Tire Mountain.
Earlier this month, the daughters and I took another trip to the southern coast for four days. We once again went to Shore Acres and took the long scenic walk. This time, I kept up with them. I don’t think they were slowing down for my sake.


Another day, we walked several miles to Blacklock Point. I stopped and admired the view while Amy and Jenny ventured out on that knife-sharp ridge of the point. I didn’t have the nerve to join them.
Near Blacklock Point
Two fearless daughters are out there in that circle I drew, which also represents a ring of guardian angels.
My hike still counted.

“You’re constantly reinventing yourself!” a woman told me recently. I took it as a compliment. I love the idea that this phase of life doesn’t need to mean settling into a placid routine that will continue for the next 40 years. I am free to change the things I don’t like and to learn the hard but new and valuable skills.

Stomping heavily down Powerline Road, being sporadic and not too consistent, dripping hairpins, staying home when the smoke and pollen were bad, marching determinedly on the treadmill, listening to hymns via the phone in my fanny pack, mouth-breathing and sweating, leaping like a startled rabbit when trucks suddenly passed—nothing about this process was pretty except for the sunsets and scenery.

I did it anyhow.

When I wrote a newspaper article on this subject and detailed how hard I found the “easy” hike to Horse Rock, I emailed a hiking-book author to ask permission to quote him. He replied, “I’m a little alarmed that you might need to get out walking more often.”

That was humbling. Maybe it was a taste of how the garage sale lady felt when I looked shocked that she couldn’t figure my total in her head, or when someone didn’t know that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and I was horrified.

There is still an inherent unfairness in the fact that if I slack off for a week, I immediately lose strength and stamina, while Ben can work in his office at Oregon State all week and then hike for many miles on the weekend without any problems.

But we are choosing Growth Mindset here. It’s ok if it’s harder for me and takes much longer. I can still do it. That door is open to us all.

If I can do this at my age, with my short legs and asthma and weakness, and wearing skirts and a head covering, I’m guessing that you can do whatever you’re not good at but long to do anyhow.

When you make it to the top of an Oregon mountain, the views are beyond describing, and whatever you went through to get there, it was worth it.

I feel like I’m at Sizzler, cutting into the best steaks and tasting the shrimp.

Maybe next I’ll learn how to sing.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

What I Did This Summer: Hosting

My mom used to have nightmares about company coming. We called them her “gonzy loht psooch” dreams. A “whole load of company,”  translated from PA German. She never taught me how to host without panicking, so I inherited her nervousness.

Here are some things I’ve learned via trial, error, and observation about hosting.
1.       It is an honor to host people in your home. It is service and sacrifice, in some ways, but the best kind. Giving your guest a cup of tea or seeing a young person in a lawn chair watching the fire reflectively—something special is happening here. You get to make them feel valued and welcome.
2.       If you and/or your life and/or your house tend to be chaotic and messy, you can still have people over. You just have to keep the main areas maintained and give the bathroom a wipedown. You can even do a stash-and-dash, shutting the door to the office and pretending the living room is always this clean. Don’t apologize for how the house looks, or for the cobwebs. In summer, sit outside.
3.       So much of hosting is context. I was a lot more relaxed about hosting when we lived on a reservation in the Canadian bush and had a tiny house and few ingredients and a wimpy two-burner stove. I knew the guests’ expectations were low.
4.       You need only a few go-to menus. Learn to make a few things well, keep ingredients on hand, and make those foods. For me it's hamburgers and potato salad and homemade ice cream in the summer. Cheeseburger soup and bread in winter. Chicken and rice for Sunday dinners.
5.       Potlucks are blessings from God. A couple of times this summer I said, “I don’t want to do the cooking for this crowd, so bring food, even if it’s a box of donuts from a gas station.” No one seemed to mind. It all coordinated wonderfully.
6.       Planning ahead is crucial for me, especially if I’m recruiting help. Family members don’t like to be guilted into helping an overwhelmed hostess at the last minute when they had other plans.
7.       It’s ok if your house isn’t the cool house where everyone comes and hangs out and makes quesadillas. I guess. That’s what I tell myself, at least, even though I’m a bit jealous. What is their magic? What is the less-obvious magic you have to offer?
8.       Some guests just put you at ease and aren’t awkward about finding the coffeemaker and brewing their own coffee in the morning if they get up early. God bless those guests.
9. I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time, so I simply cannot get food ready and carry on a coherent conversation with guests. So I ask other family members to take one role while I do the other.
10. Weed out the fridge before you host a potluck. Otherwise you'll have three guests standing in the kitchen with salads in hand--"Can this go in the fridge? It's still so hot outside."-- while you dig Tupperwares of last week's leftovers out of the fridge to make room.
11.       My friend Rachel used to say that her mother used to say, “If there’s room in the heart, there’s room in the home.”

Here are some of the guests we had this summer and the events we hosted:
1.       Chad and Jenny Graber were Amy’s team leaders in Thailand. It was delightful to have them and their lively boys here.
Paul got attacked by a shark.
The boys helped Emily bake a cake.
Jenny and Chad

2.       Gary Quequish was the pastor of the church in the reservation in Northern Ontario where we lived for three years. It was super-special to have him and his wife Chris come to Oregon. Gary is still one of the best storytellers I’ve ever heard.
3.       Paul’s Aunt Nadine came from New Jersey, so we had to have a Smucker gathering. I hosted a potluck in the front yard.
Nadine is in the center, in glasses.

4.       One Sunday I had my Sunday School class here for dinner.

5.       We hosted another potluck in August, this time for all the Mennonite writers we could rustle up. We came from all kinds of places and had all levels of experience, but had a wonderful evening together.

6.        We had the youth over and roasted hot dogs.

I'd love to hear your hosting tips.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

LFH--Frogs, Humor, and Growing Older

Due to changes at the newspaper, [freelancing vs. work for hire] I can no longer post my entire column as a blog post. So here's the beginning, with a link to the rest of the article.

Letters from Harrisburg: Growing old offers endless amusements
By Dorcas Smucker For The Register-Guard

Something strange and shocking has been happening at our house. It’s hard to admit, but my husband, Paul, and I seem to be acting a lot more like our parents. We yell more than we used to, and small problems somehow turn into big theatrical events.
The “back pantry” of our old farmhouse has a concrete floor and a door leading outside that has a significant gap on the bottom.
A few weeks ago, I hunted for a container of blueberries in the old refrigerator in that pantry. As I reached for the berries, I was startled by a quick green movement right by my eye. A frog crouched there, inches away, on top of the open refrigerator door.
[You can read the rest here.]

Monday, September 03, 2018

Oh! Hello There!

I didn't plan to quit blogging for the summer. It just sort of happened. Sorry to alarm you, those of you who were worried.

And thanks to those who emailed and wondered if I was ok.

It's been a busy summer with the normal stuff like harvest and hoeing and hosting, plus a few new things like hiking and . . . let's see, how can I make "travel" and "a few fun new projects" and "a writers conference" also start with H?

I was going to add "hexercise" but that sounds like witchcraft so we'll skip that.

So it's been a full and fun summer. Then the page turned to September and suddenly it smells like fall. 

I hope to blog more often and regularly again.

As always, thanks for reading!

Here's something I wrote yesterday:

When I was little we lived in an old house in Ohio that had a little unheated alcove under the stairs, and Mom let Rebecca and me play there with our dolls. We called it the kemmaly which means something like "little closet" in Pennsylvania German.
We would wash the dishes after meals as fast as we could, because we could hear our babies crying, and then when we were done we'd take off running through the dining room for the kemmaly.
But then we'd screech to a stop and remind each other, "Fraue du'n net shpringa!" [Ladies don't run!]
Then we'd walk as fast as we could, with long steps and swinging arms, because that was more ladylike I guess, and we'd find our crying babies and feed them.
When we were 6 and 7 years old, we got a new baby sister named Margaret, and when she was only a few weeks old we got the bright idea to play with her in the kemmaly like she was a doll.
Before long, Mom realized Margaret wasn't in her crib. I thought she didn't need to get THAT upset about us playing with her in that freezing kemmaly.
Margaret survived and so did we.
Now I'm thinking about that Fraue du'n net shpringa business.
I try to walk for half an hour 5 days a week, a good brisk walk, and sometimes I go to the warehouse and climb stairs. Also, when I have the road to myself and there are filbert trees between me and any inquiring neighbors, I jog until I can go no more, which is maybe a hundred feet.
Then I walk again until I catch my breath, then jog some more, even though it makes all my hinges squeak and feels like I am leaving loose nuts and bolts strewn behind me and also like those bad dreams where the bull is after you and you can barely get your legs to work.
But I'm getting stronger, which is the whole point.
Today at church, as we merged into the Sunday school crowd, my friend Rita whispered, "I heard you've started running! I think that's great!"
What I should have said: Thank you!
What I said: WHO SAW ME?!?
Seriously. I'm 56. I wear a 90s poof in my hair because I want to. I wear comfortable shoes. Every year I have less patience with ridiculous people and am less afraid to speak truth without shrouding it in disclaimers.
I think it's time for Fraue to shpring if they feel like it.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

To the Dads Who are There

Dad’s powerful influence starts with just showing up

By Dorcas Smucker For The Register-Guard
Posted Jun 10, 2018 at 1:02 AM

I think Paul enjoys being the dad of this family.
[photo by Amy]

We went to a friend’s wedding last month, driving to Roseburg on Interstate 5 and then through Winston and out a winding road toward Lookingglass to a sunny backyard full of white chairs and happiness.

Paul, my husband, was in a rare nostalgic mood. After the reception, he drove us around the area to see the famous manhole cover in Lookingglass and all the places his family had lived when he was a boy.

“We used to hike that hill on Sunday afternoons,” he recalled, pointing east from a narrow lane. His parents, Wilton and Anne, had bought a farm in the Lookingglass Valley and mostly grew hay after an attempt at farming ryegrass that had to be hauled two hours to Harrisburg for cleaning. The farm didn’t have a house on it, so the Smuckers rented an assortment of houses in the neighborhood and then moved out as they were sold.

In addition to the houses, the hills and the haying, another theme kept repeating in Paul’s recollections.

“My dad built that building.”

“Dad built that shed, I’m pretty sure.”

“Dad and Steve and I built that pole barn.”

Their construction business had begun almost by accident after a freak snowstorm collapsed many of the roofs in the area. Wilton was a man of many skills, so he and his sons started a new job of building sheds in addition to farming. The boys would prepare the site with post hole diggers, and Wilton was adamant that the hole should be the same diameter all the way down instead of widening at the top. In fact, Steve used to say that Wilton could dig a hole that was wider at the bottom than the top.

Many years later, Paul told me that he has so many good memories of building with his dad. I asked him, “What would you guys talk about?”

He said, “We didn’t talk much.”

I didn’t understand. How could you have good memories if you didn’t have conversation?

Paul went on, “We worked together. He taught me everything I know about construction and a lot of other things.”

All right then. This was apparently a concept like gravity or the Trinity that I had to accept by faith because I couldn’t possibly understand it.

In the early years of our marriage, when we lived in Ontario, Canada, and came back to Oregon for a visit maybe every two years, Paul would always look forward to talking with his dad. We would arrive to Anne's hugs and happy exclamations and to Wilton’s reserved greetings, and then Paul and his dad and maybe a few brothers would sit in the living room and holler in their phenomenally loud voices about ryegrass prices and car insurance.

Paul was convinced that this counted as meaningful time with his dad, bonding and connection and relationship.

I thought it was very strange.

This photo was taken at Emily's graduation party.
I chose it because of all the dads it contains, discussing harvest I'm sure, because that's what dads do.
Though better at affirmation and emotional connection than his dad was, Paul still never resembled the cool spiritual dads in the Focus on the Family magazine that I compared him to, the ones who spontaneously prayed blessings over their kids or played hilarious pranks or sat on their adolescent daughters’ beds and gently talked about boys and prom dresses. Paul mostly ignored the earnest voices telling him to bestow a blessing, reach the children’s hearts, provide an identity, and model some impossible mix of mush and manliness.

Last week, our oldest son Matt flew to Oregon for a Smucker family gathering at a camp in the mountains east of Lincoln City.

Matt lives in Washington, D.C., and works as an engineer, but he comes home for visits at least twice a year. He and I stay up late and I ask about his work, his future plans, nice girls in his life, cooking, church, and of course his feelings, if he has any.

Matt and his dad, however, sit in the same living room where Paul used to talk with Wilton, and they not only talk in too-loud voices about ryegrass and insurance but also about Bitcoin, SpaceX and politics while I listen from a distance.

Strange as it might be, I’ve learned that this is sometimes what father-child bonding looks and sounds like, and I need to accept it by faith and trust the mysterious process.

Matt and his siblings respect, love and deeply appreciate their dad today. “How does that work?” I asked.

“I always know he will help me,” said Jenny, our youngest. “When I had a flat tire at Linn-Benton the other day, I knew I could call him and he would do something.”

“Dad is a fixer and planner. His favorite thing is helping people,” said Emily.

“He taught me the connection between work and money,” Matt said. He went on. "I think it was Benjamin Disraeli who said, ‘History is made by those who show up,’ Maybe we’ve made it too complicated. I think so much of it is just showing up and being there.”

Paul might not have been all that the magazines and I thought he should be, but there’s no question that he showed up. He worked hard, read stories, answered questions, packed the van, drove the van, fixed the van, made rules, built bunk beds, played games, planned trips, had discussions, took us all to church, and helped the kids figure out their finances.

Our six children are all sensible and hard-working adults. We moms and our sympathy and hugs are important, but there’s a powerful influence in a resolute dad who shows up for his family every day and does what needs to be done.

Forty-five years later, the Smucker-built sheds around Lookingglass are still standing, straight and strong.

Here Paul is serving a pizza supper to the kids who came and helped weed the hedge and haul off blackberry vines.