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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Revisiting Anne of Avonlea

I found an old copy of Anne of Avonlea a few weeks ago and decided to re-read it. I've never liked this cover because of all the PINK and hello, we all know that Anne never wore pink because of her red hair.

She used to say that when she got to heaven, she'd finally wear pink. I always thought that was so sad and decided that life was too short to not wear pink if you liked pink. So my daughters with reddish hair and freckles wore all the pink they wanted.

I had kept the book because we bought it when Stirland Lake High School was closing, back in 1992 or so, and then we loaned it to the school library at Round Lake.

But it is time to say goodbye, because even with lots of packing tape it's falling apart, so I read it one last time. And I am more impressed than ever with Lucy Maud Montgomery.

For one thing, Lucy Maud somehow wrote wonderful fiction while raising a family, running a house, and being a pastor's wife.  People said she would often be muttering dialogue to herself as she marched down the street to the post office or the butcher. I had a recent conversation on Facebook about how much I resent women [such as Ann Voskamp and Ree Drummond] whose lives have many similarities to mine but whose writing success has been astronomically more.

But Lucy Maud doesn't rouse the same resentment. I think I would have liked her a lot.

While you are psychoanalyzing that, I will go on to say that once again, I loved how she creates so many memorable characters, and she makes such insightful and funny observations about life through her characters' voices.

In Anne of Avonlea, she talks a lot about singleness.

"Then I shall die an old maid," was the cheerful response. "I daresay it isn't the hardest death by any means."
"Oh, I suppose the dying would be easy enough; it's the living an old maid I shouldn't like," said Diana.

Mrs. Andrews observes:
"I don't see that Anne needs any more education. She'll probably be marryng Gilbert Blythe, if his infatuation for her lasts til he gets through college, and what good will Latin and Greek do her then? If they taught you at college how to manage a man there might be some sense in her going."

Davy the little foster boy says
"Why don't YOU get married, Marilla? I want to know."
…she answered amiably…that she supposed it was because nobody would have her.
"But maybe you never asked anybody to have you," protested Davy.
"Oh, Davy," said Dora primly, shocked into speaking without being spoken to, "it's the MEN that have to do the asking."
"I don't know why they have to do it ALWAYS," grumbled Davy. "Seems to me everything's put on the men in this world."

Miss Lavendar:
"I'm really a very happy, contented little person in spite of my broken heart. My heart did break, if ever a heart did, when I realized that Stephen Irving was not coming back. But, Anne, a broken heart in real life isn't half as dreadful as it is in books. It's a good deal like a bad tooth…though you won't think THAT a very romantic simile. It takes spells of aching and gives you a sleepless night now and then, but between times it lets you enjoy life and dreams and echoes and peanut candy as if there were nothing the matter with it."

Lucy Maud had a few broken romances before she married at age 37, so I would think she had plenty of conclusions about singleness.

Then, as a pastor's wife who once told a reporter that those women whom God wanted to destroy He would make into the wives of ministers, she probably had plenty of thoughts about church, like this:

[Anne and Diana discussing the candidates for minister:]
"I hope they won't call Mr. Baxter from East Grafton here, anyhow," said Anne decidedly. "He wants the call but he does preach such gloomy sermons. Mr. Bell says he's a minister of the old school, but Mrs. Lynde says there's nothing whatever the matter with him but indigestion. His wife isn't a very good cook, it seems, and Mrs. Lynde says that when a man has to eat sour bread two weeks out of three his theology is bound to get a kink in it somewhere…"

Mrs. Lynde is certainly the character that says out loud what everyone else is thinking.

…"Dora is a lovely child, although she is…kind of…well, kind of …"
"Monotonous? Exactly," supplied Mrs. Rachel. "Like a book where every page is the same, that's what. Dora will make a good reliable woman but she'll never set the pond on fire."

It's interesting to see Rachel Lynde's progression through the books. In the first one, we hate her along with Anne when she disparages Anne's red hair and her looks in general and then her temper.

But the interesting thing about LMM's skill is that her characters are a mix of good and bad, and she has very few characters that are entirely one or the other. Which is much more real life than many characters in today's novels that have either no flaws or no redeeming factors.

Marilla recognizes this duality when she floats the idea of Rachel Lynde moving in so Anne can go to college.

"She says she'll have to go and live with Eliza and it's breaking her heart to think of leaving Avonlea. A woman of her age doesn't make new friends and interests easy. . . . the thought came to me that I would ask her to come and live with me. . ."
"Do you think...are you would like it? Mrs. Lynde is a good woman and a kind neighbor, but...but..."
"But she's got her faults, you mean to say? Well, she has, of course, but I think I'd rather put up with far worse faults than see Rachel go away from Avonlea. . . I think it could be managed so that Rachel and I wouldn't clash at all. . . she could have the north gable for a bedroom and the spare room for her kitchen as well as not. . ."

I love that mixture of bluntness and consideration, and even though it came from Marilla you know it was actually Lucy Maud putting words in her mouth. I'm sure there was much she couldn't say, especially with being a minister's wife, and this was a sly but acceptable way of saying these things out loud.

I wish I could have met Lucy Maud Montgomery and had a conversation over tea. Successful or not, I'm pretty sure I would have liked her a lot.