Just Chattin’


It has been a long time since I posted, and I thought it might be a good idea to check in, just so friends know I haven’t died or something.  Writers aren’t supposed to ramble.  We’re supposed to make every word count.  I love to ramble, so today I’m going to do it whether anybody else likes it or not.

You might say I have dual personalities — not as in multiple personality disorder, and I am not making fun of people with that tragic problem, so don’t even go there.  But I do have a very serious side, which peacefully coexists with my thoroughly wacky side — my extremely innocent version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  In real life, most people never guess I have a funny bone until they’ve known me  for years, and if I occasionally get a little mischievous and let some of the wacky leak out, their eyes get wide and they run away screaming.

I love humor essaying  just for the sheer joy of a laugh, but  serious writing on Christian themes provides the bread and butter, so that’s where the majority of my writing time is spent.  Income  is really only a part of it, though.  It’s almost a case of, “You mean, I get to write stuff that helps people, and I actually get paid as a by-product?”   I have a passion for communicating the how-to’s of growing in relationship with God. 

Sometimes humor leaks into my serious writing, and then I get myself in trouble with religious folks who no doubt chew aspirin tablets for a good time.  That type takes issue with everybody just for the sake of feeling good about being eternally mad at the whole world, so I don’t worry about them — much.

That said, I do so hope to get back to humor writing in the near future.  My friend Ornesta has been bugging me about it for a while.  She is threatening to hack this blog and do the writing herself if I don’t get busy.  Ornesta, you are even scarier than I am.


Merry Christmas and a Happy Newsletter


Dear friends,

We  wish you a very merry Christmas!  I hope everything is going well with you and all your family.

We’re all ducky and ecstatically happy with each other at our house, as usual.

Having Paul home, now that he’s retired, has taken a bit of getting used to, but I am thoroughly spoiled.  I love having him around the house.  He keeps pretty busy with household projects, and he likes to go downtown and share Jesus with people on the street at least once a week when the weather isn’t frightful. 

He is done with one year of Bible school, and has one year to go yet.  After that he plans on being a televangelist.  He really likes class a lot.  Our pastor is a fine teacher, so Paul gets into it.  He is a bit of a godzilla to live with in the week leading up to exams, though.  He frets that he will not do well on the tests – but he always does.

Paul is a good sport about me picking on him in the silly blog posts I write. If one gets too outrageous, I always let him read it before I put it up for the world to see, just to make sure it isn’t something he objects to.  He has never refused to give his stamp of approval.  I think he likes the persona I have created for him.  Perhaps he enjoys having a fuss made over himself.

Beebee is a sophomore in high school now.  She is learning to play guitar from one of my friends, and she sings on the worship team at our church.  We will home school her until she is forty or marries and has ten children, whichever comes first.

We are thinking of going to Pittsburgh the day after Christmas to spend a week with Susan and her husband Chris – if the forecast is clear.  It’s a long drive for such stay-at-homes as us – about twelve hours – and we’d rather not hit a blizzard in Indiana.  (Encountering the highway patrol there isn’t such a super experience, either.)  So, if it even hints of snow, I’ll plant my feet firmly in the home snow banks and refuse to budge. 

Susan’s little boy Ezekiel is almost five and Rachel is two.  The parsonage that they live in is very large, so we have enough room to spread out and have space to ourselves if we all get too much for each other.  After several days together, we always get to be too much for each other!

They have a woods and a creek behind the house instead of a backyard.  It’s nice for a walk at this time of year, since the poisonous snakes and disease-carrying ticks are all asleep right now.  There is a beaver dam on the creek, and they have seen a beaver.  Chris said it is just a woodchuck, but they probably don’t know a beaver from a woodchuck in Arkansas, where he comes from.  Beebee saw it and said it had a big old flat tail – beaver, not woodchuck.  Other than the woods, they don’t have a lot to do there.  Perhaps I will bring popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue along and entertain myself making a fruit bowl out of them with Ezekiel, so that I feel like a proper grandma.  I don’t have the grandma stereotype down yet, somehow.

(Oops! This just in: Weather.com says forget about Pittsburgh.)

A few days ago, Ezekiel told Susan that he wanted to “fire” the house.  I would have freaked out, but she manages to stay calm under such astonishing announcements.  She asked him why he wanted to burn the house down.  He said he wanted to get rid of the clocks.  When she probed further, he said they don’t say it’s lunch time often enough.  I hope she finds a constructive avenue to steer his inquisitive mind into, so that he invents useful things to keep himself occupied as he gets older.  A chemistry set would probably never be a good idea.

 I hope you have a lovely Christmas, and that the new year is full of good things for you!

Random Twisted Thoughts


Random thoughts:

If we could find a way to preserve all this lovely, pristine snow until next July, we could make a Warren Buffet-sized fortune selling snow cones.

75% of all Wisconsinites buy underwear for their loved ones at Christmas.  85% of that underwear purchase is long johns.  It is just too cold here.  Suggestion for the white collar worker: buying long johns for your boss is not going to help you climb the corporate ladder — unless they are the frosted kind you find at the bakery. 

Wisconsin postal customers who buy long johns of either type for their mailman for Christmas will be adored.  In addition, have a hot coffee for him when he trots by, and you’ll receive premium treatment all year long.  Your mail will get delivered on time whether your neighbors’ does or not.

Funny article about Alan Greenspan’s solution for the economy.  Yes, it IS buying underwear for everyone at Christmas!  (We’re ahead of ya here in Wisconsin, Alan!)  http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20081130/LIVING/711309980/1021/BIZ07

I have proof that evolution is not true.  Fossilization does not take millions of years.   When my teen does the dishes, the dinner remains fossilize on the plates in the mere hours’ time before she gets around to washing them.  No more Hogan’s Heroes videos for you, Beebee!  Dishes first from now on.

Putting your holiday turkey outside the back door to cool is not a good idea.  The Great Dane next door might saunter over and have it for a snack.  I know.  Anybody want beans and weenies for Christmas din-din?

The Santa Claus at the mall makes $30,000 for approximately six weeks of work.  I know two of him personally and got the scoop.  There are a lot of overhead costs, though.  Eating at the Old Country Buffet five days a week in order to maintain his portly figure taxes his wallet.  And the gout medicine needed as a result of all that buffet eating is expensive.  Not to mention that Santa’s arteries won’t make it to ninety years of age.  Next time you see the old codger, sympathize a bit.  His life isn’t all that jolly. 

Regifting is not only acceptable in Wisconsin; it is our duty — to save on landfill space.  No one should have to permanently hang onto Grandma’s rummage sale purchase of three-feet-tall plastic butterflies, still shrink-wrapped.  It may be her way of saying “Merry Christmas” this year, but it’s going to be mine next.  If she waxes real forgetful in the coming twelve months, I’ll just give them back to her next December 25th.  She’ll never know the difference, and at last the butterflies will have a happy home.  Grandma will love them!


Things I Discovered While Sponsoring a Writing Contest


At Over 50, Still Kickin’, we just finished sponsoring our first-ever Baby Boomer humor writing contest.  I had noticed that there were a lot of literary and poetry contests available, but not much in the humor line.  So I thought it would be fun to provide an opportunity for the funny folks to show off what they can do.

I enjoyed the project immensely, but it was an eye-opener.  We tried to keep the directions uncomplicated, with as few rules as possible.  Still, we had a number of disqualifications on basic points, like word count.  The rules stated it must be clean humor — clean enough that I wouldn’t be ashamed to read it to my small grandchildren.  Wouldn’t you know, we got some entries with four-letter words and sexual themes.  Tsk!

The guidelines also indicated that entries would be heavily graded on writing mechanics — and then explained in detail what that meant.  Alas, writing mechanics were a grave problem in the majority of entries, which just about drove my perfectionist brain bonkers!  I may be naive, but I always thought good writing went beyond an excellent story angle to constructing a grammatically-correct sentence, tense consistency, conciseness, and knowing how to use direct quotation marks.  I’m not trying to be mean, just honest.  If any of our contest entrants are reading this, know that my intent is not to criticize, but to put out a cry for improvement in the writing world.  Reading Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and The Writer’s Harbrace Handbook will fix a lot of problems.

A few entries were not humorous by any stretch of the imagination.  Literary journal material, yes.  Humor, no.  A couple were lovely, heart-warming anecdotes.  I fell so hard for one of them (probably because the writing mechanics were perfect ) that the other judges had to remind me that, well-written or not, it was not humorous, no matter which way we turned or stretched it.

There was one that was laugh-yourself-into-cardiac-arrest material, but the writing mechanics were not only poor, but not even there.  Such wonderful raw material!  I would love to be that lady’s copy editor!

Perhaps I should take up copy editing.  It would be tempting, if I had the time.  Maybe I’ll make time.  Just ask me; I might nibble at the bait.

Hey, It’s Dave Calling


I’m waiting for the call.  I know it’s going to come any day now.  I can feel it.  I will glance at the Caller ID, and there it will be — Dave Barry.  My heart will pound for a moment before I think, “No.  Can’t be.  Must be a local guy calling about the lawnmower we have for sale.”  But then I will notice it is not our area code, and with trembling pinkies I will reach for the phone.


“Hi. Is this the Over 50 lady?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t give out my age to strangers on the phone.  You’ll have to visit my web site to get that kind of private info.  It’s www. — “

“I know, I know.  Been to the web site.  That’s why I’m calling. Listen, my name’s Dave Barry, and I’m a world-famous humor columnist, and — “

“Yeah, I know.  I was kind of hoping it was really you. You’re not calling to buy the lawnmower, then?”

“You got one for sale?  I could use one.  But, hey, that’s not what I called about.  I’ve got a business proposal.  I’m a little busy, running for President and stuff, and I was wondering if I could use some of your material.  You know, you write it and I sign my name to it — for a hefty wad of dough, of course.”

“I don’t know, Dave.  I might want to make several millions on it in my own right.”

“Look, I’d make it worth your while.  See, I’m putting together a new collection about me living year-round in Wisconsin after retirement.”

“It’s going to bomb right from the starting gate, Dave.  It’ll make Big Brown’s run in the Belmont look like a victory romp.  Nobody’s going to believe you are doing that.  Every Wisconsinite who has any money at all winters in your neck of the woods.”

“Well, but, there must be some way to pull it off.  Everybody understands that humor writing isn’t about giving the real facts like an encyclopedia.  I mean, you folks don’t really run around with blocks of Swiss cheese on your heads and a bratwurst in each nostril like you say in your blog.”

“Um, Dave, I can see you really don’t understand Wisconsin culture.  It’s all true.  We really do those things.  I’m not making this up!  Honest.  Let me give you a little lesson in Humor 101.  People have to be able to relate to some reference point in real life, and living in Wisconsin in the winter if you don’t have to is just not going to cut it.  Still, I see you really need some help, so I’m a little bit open.  What’s your offer?”

“How does a five with a dollar sign in front and six zeroes behind sound?”

“I’ll have to think about it.  Give me a day.”

“Great!  I’ll have my man call yours at noon tomorrow.”

At this point my euphoria will start to fizzle, as I glance in the direction of “my man.”  Hubby has been known to market himself online as anything from the company gofer to the consulting vice president, all in order to get a free pen or T-shirt out of unsuspecting salesmen.

“Uh, Dave?  My man is on vacation right now.  Just have your guy call me personally, OK?”

Sure, I know you’re thinking, “Yeah, right. Dave Barry.  Next, she’ll tell us Erma Bombeck’s going to call her, too.”

Oh, I hope not!  That’s what I’d call a l-o-n-g distance call.  Besides, I don’t do anywhere near the same style of writing as she did.


Writing Grants Galore!


I have been learning a few things since I embarked on the freelance writing route.  Did you know that there are wealthy people out there who are just dying to pay me to do things and go places that churn their butter (but don’t churn mine)?  I’m talking about grant money for writers.

Some grants are quite specific, and I would not qualify in the slightest.  They go something like this: “The Reebok Foundation is awarding a $5,000 grant to three women under twenty-five who have a desire to write biographies of current great basketball players.  To qualify, the writer must have lived on government assistance for at least two years and not be able to afford Reebok athletic shoes.”

My family should be very grateful right now that I am a homebody to the core, because there’s a rich someone who wants to throw money my way to sit in a cabin in West Texas and have nothing more strenuous to do than write whatever I’d like for three solid weeks.  I imagine the rules allow for a few strolls through the countryside each day (to improve the flow of inspiration).  I could get into that, especially if they’ve got a horse all saddled and at my disposal.  I could don my Stetson and chaps (purchased with my grant money), mosey on over to the local cattle ranch and gawk at the longhorns, chat with a tumbleweed here and there, and hunt rattlesnakes and fry them for dinner.  It sounds like fun.  I’d settle back in the evenings with my Sons of the Pioneers music in the background (that is, if the cabin had electricity) and I’d start my illustrious career as a western writer.  Just call me Lady Zane Grey.

There’s a grant that will let me live in a mansion somewhere out East for a couple of weeks.  I would have to share it with a few other writers, but hey, with dozens of rooms at our disposal and a front lawn the size of my home town, who cares?  I’m sure we could all stay out of each other’s hair.  We’d probably have to put up with sharing the butler at mealtimes, but I’m good with that.  We would all be useful to each other, too.  Other people’s eating quirks are very inspirational.  My own eating quirks are very inspirational.  An etiquette-based mystery could emerge from the depths of my grant-motivated brain — Who Stole the Vichyssoise? 

I would jostle the aplomb of my fellow grant winners with lively table conversation: “Escargot’s OK, but have any of you folks ever sampled bratwurst?  No?  Make sure your next grant settles you in Wisconsin for a week or two.  You haven’t lived until you’ve had a brat — succulent little section of piglet, nestled in a bed of meticulously aged cabbage … artistically surrounded by cheese curd rosettes ….”  At that point I’d be grabbing for my hankie, overcome with emotional memories of the cuisine back home.

There are residencies to be had with prestigious colleges.  Author in Residence.  Sounds good.  All I’d have to do is hobnob with the students, tell them cool anecdotes about my buddy Edna Ferber and the big bestseller that got away, and drop a few political harangues here and there.  I suppose I might have to do a lecture or two on the similar writing styles of Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Dickens, and I might have to write something, but hey, none of that would be difficult.  The hard part would be living somewhere other than home-sweet-home.  I could probably bring the family along, but the bratwurst — what about the bratwurst?

There are some grants that aren’t at all attractive — unless you are an Indiana Jones wannabe.  How many people really have a yen to go to Tehran to write?  If I did that, I might end up being Lady Jane Grey instead of Lady Zane Grey!  I’m known for being sensible and not losing my head here in Wisconsin, but I’d be certain to do something taboo there, and … well!

Postscript: I’m getting some questions from folks who seriously want to get writing grant money.  C. Hope Clark has a couple of wonderful weekly e-mail newsletters that will tell you what you need to know.  Sign up at Funds for Writers.


Where Life’s At


I have been one busy little person lately, and haven’t blogged much as a consequence.  I hope to get back to writing my favorite wacky stuff soon, but just haven’t had the time or the inclination.  (Besides, the retired mailman and the teenage princess haven’t been doing anything outlandish enough to tattle about in the last few weeks.)

For those of you who don’t know, I am an author and publisher.  We publish Christian prayer and character building materials, some of which cater to the home school community.  At this time of year, I am up to my earlobes in book-packing for my wholesale customers.

Although I work pretty hard and get a little tired, at least I get to stay home.  The folks who buy wholesale from us are out on the road, traveling with their vans full of kids from one home school convention to the next, trying to make a living.  They travel all week, and then spend Fridays and Saturdays giving speeches, doing workshops, and, most importantly, selling books.  Some of them travel the entire length of the country and do not get home for months at a time. 

I would not want their lifestyle for the world, but I guess they enjoy it.  I’m happy to take their orders, ship their boxes of books to wherever they hope to show up next, and relax in the recliner with a heating pad on my sore back at the end of the day.  They are all surprised that I do not want to do the circuit with them, and they tell me I am missing a lot of fun and fellowship, but it’s just not me.  I would rather spend my time in prayer and with Beebee and Paul, and I certainly would not want to miss being with our beloved church family on the weekends.

I’ve been spending a lot of time writing stuff for this magazine, that newsletter, and the other anthology.  Being a freelancer is fairly new for me, and I’m still learning the ropes.  I’m finding out which writing things are time-wasters (writers’ forums where people socialize over their desire to write the next best-selling murder mystery fit this category) and which might be worthwhile (paying articles and ministry writing fit here), and I’m improving my writing skills in the process (I hope).  I’m also discovering I can crank out stuff on a wide variety of subjects, if need be.  I love the funny stuff, but I can do the heart-warming reminiscence of Grandpa or the totally serious informational report on something boring, when required. 

I even waxed imaginative a while back and did a fiction piece about an environmental cop.  A problem developed, though.  It was for a writing contest sponsored by some folks who are really, really, really serious about living the green lifestyle, and my quirky sense of humor refused to be denied, and it ended up being a spoof on environmentalism.  Realizing I would be making a total idiot out of myself if I submitted it, and not being fond of doing that unintentionally, I decided it was best to sit on it until I find a market where

a.) the editor hates the green movement and wants to take a few pokes at it,
b.) the editor is green to the gills, but doesn’t mind laughing at himself and his royal environmentalness, or
c.) the editor doesn’t care whether he is green, brown, blue, or purple, just as long as he can laugh ’til his sides ache.

So that’s how it’s been lately.


Retirement Dinner


A couple of weeks ago, we attended the postal retirement dinner held in honor of my husband.  You might think it is odd to have a retirement party five months after the fact, but hey, they don’t call it Snail Mail for nuthin’.  Truthfully, they always have them in March, and all those who have retired during the entire previous year get their moment of glory … unless they have died before it gets a chance to happen.  The party happens even if no one has retired — because of the free dinner.

This year there were two retirees — a conventional one and the not-so-conventional one (my husband).  They both wore suits and ties, much to my surprise.  Beebee and I managed to keep our man from wearing the bowtie, so we were happy.  The conventional guy’s suit was ill-fitting, in keeping with how postal workers normally dress when not in uniform.   I have noticed this tradition before, at every retirement dinner I have attended over the last thirty years.  Mr. Not-So-Conventional looked dapper.  His suit fit him.  It did not sag and bunch in weird places.  My coaching on attire had absolutely nothing to do with it this time.  He pulled off a proper appearance all by himself.  I was proud of him.  (I married him for his elegant figure.)

We ate the standard banquet affair victuals.  Postal parties truly must be abhorred by banquet facility owners, due to letter carriers eating so much.  I do not know where they stuff it all.  Even the skinny ones manage single-handedly to put more chicken in their gullets than a whole pack of foxes invading the hen house could ever hope to accomplish.  I suppose a ten-hour day out in the cold contributes to this talent.  They slide it all down with the help of the cole slaw and jellied cranberries.

They all talked about the ten-hour days. Sixty-hour work weeks are the norm right now for everyone, and have been for the last few years.  It costs less to work them to death and then get new ones than it does to hire more help.  The morale is low.  They all thought the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, but it has not taken effect in the U.S. Postal Service yet.  (They must have an exemption clause.)  Paul was one of the fortunate ones: he had a bum ankle and a consequent doctor’s excuse that kept him to a forty-hour work week.  If that had not worked, he might have tried what some of the others did: mental distress exemptions from the psychotherapist.  (I would have felt bad if he had had to stoop that low, but some did, in order to survive.)

The union representatives’ speeches were all the same as they are every year.  We heard about how much better working conditions are now than they were before the Rebellion of 1970 (the year of the illegal postal strike, which brought the Postal Service, the President, the Congress, Wall Street, and Joseph’s Fish Market to their knees, and introduced collective bargaining).  Even with working sixty hours a week, the guys were encouraged to be grateful that they no longer work seven days a week for $.35 an hour (my slight exaggeration) and live on cat tuna and welfare assistance.  Whenever the president of the union’s name was mentioned, there were little ripples of reverence in the speaker’s voice.  Someone should have played ethereal music to enhance the moments of awe, but I guess they didn’t think of that.

The speakers encouraged us to vote for Obama or Hillary, whichever gets the upper hand, so that all our postal workers do not have to go back to cat tuna or worse.  And the guys were also encouraged to think about using the hours left after working sixty hours a week to campaign for whichever Democrat eventually wins the nomination.  They wanted them to work hard campaigning for the incumbent Democrat in Congress, too, but most of the guys probably aren’t fool enough to do that, because in the last election, he promised the postal workers at our office a big box of free doughnuts if he won, and he never came through with the food.

When the union mucky-mucks got done with their speeches, the retirees got their chance.  The conventional guy made a standard speech of gratitude which was very nice.  He had to behave himself, because he had brought a whole tableful of his relatives to the dinner.  Mr. Not-So-Conventional behaved himself relatively well, considering he can always be a bundle of surprises.  He paved the way for the rest of his speech by telling what a wonderful support his wife had been to him through thirty years.  (I was, too!)  He had gone to all the effort of tallying up how many sandwiches I had made for his lunches in all that time (about 6900, by his count — that’s a lot of Wonder Bread!).  He went on to tell his funny dog stories in his engaging way.  And he topped it off the way they had all known he would, by telling them about Jesus, and how they could be as happy as he is, if they would give their lives to Him.

They gave us gifts.  Paul received a watch, and I got a green plant the size of a cedar tree.

I think Paul enjoyed his evening immensely, and the rest of his little family were pleased for him.


Funeral Quirks


We all have our stereotype expectations of how people in certain vocations should be.  My experience of undertakers from my childhood on up was that they were very prim and proper sad-looking beings, dressed up in penguin attire, with great big black circles around their eyes.  They floated through the funeral home with soundless steps, bringing comfort here and condolences there, always using exactly right, highly dignified phrases. In the small town where I grew up, this is just what the funeral director who lived down the street was like.  So was his son.  They both had the same sad expression, with the same big black circles around their eyes.  They both knew how to float.  One was a carbon copy of the other, except for a slight discrepancy in age.  As I grew older, my stereotype expectation of people in the funeral trade was continually reinforced — until it came time to make arrangements for Dad’s funeral.

Mom decided to use the new-kid-on-the-block funeral home.  (It has been there for a number of years, but not for decades.)  Our funeral director did not have the black circles around his eyes.  (My older daughter speculated that perhaps the peculiar eye-look was intentional, as in makeup, and that this one did not use it.)  He wore a more casual version of the penguin costume.  He did not float; he swaggered.  He reminded me of a cowboy.  I cast a glance at his midsection — nope, no six-shooters.

He told stories.  I love stories!  But it was very odd to be entertained with them by an undertaker.  I heard why we were fortunate to be using his funeral home, rather than the other funeral chain in the area.  You are going to hear it, too:

Shhh.  Don’t tell anyone.  The other funeral home chain in the surrounding area is not owned by the people whose name is on the outside of the building.  The ________ Family in the _________ Family Funeral Home are all dead.  The ________ Family Funeral Home is now owned by the Spabigliani Family in Milwaukee, and they are — shhh! — Mafia.

The funeral home we were using was standing for truth and justice, the free market, and the chance to spit in the eye of the Mafia.  I rather like the idea of spitting in the eye of the Mafia — as long as they don’t spit back!

Mr. Undertaker told us about his own family funeral home.  He is a fourth generation mortician — started hanging around the mortuary when he was twelve, helping with body preps.  I think this is why people in funereal families do not think it is weird to choose the undertaker profession.  They have lived with the whole idea from the time they were toddling, so it is not odd to them.  (It is a good thing, too, because we need them to help us, and we appreciate what they do.)

Dad wanted to be cremated.  The funeral director explained to us why “Pa” would not be cremated in “the garage” on-premises.  He has an arrangement with a crematorium forty miles away BECAUSE when he was a younger man hanging in the bars around town, he ran into a guy who had a side job as a cremator.  The bar guy incinerated bodies in HIS garage.  And he told stories about the bodies in the bar.  Our undertaker did not think that was right.

“I take them to __________ forty miles away, where nobody knows ‘Pa,’ so nobody can talk about him in the local bars.”

My eyes were wide as saucers.  I forced the lids back down over them, and tried to look dignified.  If he wasn’t going to be, somebody had to.  But I felt relief that “Pa” was safe from the barfly crowd.

We heard about the various cremation ideas that other people have come up with.  You are going to hear about them, too.  Some are pathetic and sad, and we won’t go there.  But others ….

This is Wisconsin.  We have lots of lakes and rivers, and lots of beer.  I am not ashamed of the lakes and rivers, but I wish we did not have to deal with the beer.  One family, whose dearly departed enjoyed his free moments fishing and drinking beer at his cottage “up nort’,” decided to send him out in style.  They put his ashes on a rubber raft and floated him out a few yards from shore.  Keeping him company on the raft was a CD player belting out polka tunes.  Half-a-dozen beer bottles were strategically arranged around the rim of the raft.  The raft was attached to the family and friends on shore via a string, which was wrapped around the air valve plug on the raft.  The family and friends enjoyed a funeral dinner of beer and beer-marinated brats.  When they’d had enough and were tired of the polka music, they gave the raft string a yank, and sent dear old dad to the bottom of the lake.  I don’t think they had a church service attached to all this.  Dear old dad probably didn’t ever get to church, because he was too busy enjoying the pleasures of the cottage up nort’ on the weekends.

Mr. Mortician showed us an urn alternative, also for the river and lake lovers.  Beer had nothing to do with this one, but the paper-making industry, which Wisconsin is famous for, did.  The urn alternative was made of thick pressed paper.  There was a bottom section that the ashes rested in, and a lid with a grotesquely ugly floral design painted on top. “You float it on the water, and it lasts just long enough for a quick speech and a short song!”

He told us about the unique urn of one of our prominent business owners: they put him in the first milk bottle that ever came off the line of the family dairy.

I was overwhelmed, and very glad my mother chose a traditional box for Dad’s ashes, rather than a paper float or a milk bottle.  I am conservative by nature, and Appointment #1 was a total information overload.

The next day we had Appointment #2, which continued on in the tradition of Appointment #1.  It started out in a subdued fashion, but then Mom started asking some questions about legal things.  The funeral director was most helpful and knowledgeable, but the questions triggered an unfortunate train of thought in his mind.

“I suppose you read the bad press about me in the papers the last couple of days?”  (This elicited mystified stares from us, concern creeping into my wrinkles, a slight negative shake of the head.)

He went on to tell us about his personal family woes, involving a very close relative who ran off with $$$$$$ from the funeral home because the bank did not check carefully into who could still sign checks on the family business and who could not.  (It was part of an instructional comment  on how to take care of bank business when death or divorce certificates were needed to prove authorization.)  I felt very sorry for our undertaker, but he was messing with my stereotype expectations, and I was having trouble processing.  I mumbled that it must be very hard for him.  I think we had some role reversal going on for a moment or two.  The comforter and the comfortees accidentally got switched.

I breathed a sigh of relief on our way out to the car.  The funeral director came highly recommended by many people.  I’m sure he did exactly whatever funeral directors are supposed to do these days, but, the stereotype expectations!  What about my stereotype expectations?  Maybe if we had gone to the __________ Family Funeral Home, now run by the (shhh!) Mafia family from Milwaukee, I would have gotten my penguin with the big eye circles who could float noiselessly across the carpet.




I still have a few things to say about Paul’s years as a mailman.  Today’s thoughts are on the serious side.  I’m remembering the fall of 2001, terrorism, and how it affected our lives.

9-11-01: A horrible day in our nation’s history.  Our local newspaper never told why the Appleton post office closed immediately after the attack.  Not only was the post office closed to customers, but everyone who worked there was evacuated and sent home.   Hours before the 9-11 horror took place, two men of Middle Eastern appearance had been spotted outside the back of our post office, where the loading docks are, taking pictures.  An off-duty policeman that happened to be driving by noticed them and thought this was odd, because the building is anything but picturesque.  He stopped to ask what they were doing, and they said they were testing the lighting effects on their camera.  Two weeks previously, the same strange activity had been noted at another post office in a nearby town.  The policeman reported the suspicious activity to the postmaster, and when the airplane attack began, the decision was made to shut down.

Meanwhile, shortly before the 9-11 attack, our future son-in-law had been prompted by the Lord, for no reason that he knew of, to pray for Paul’s safety at the post office.  He obediently prayed and then forgot about it, with all the trauma that happened so soon after.  But when he heard the story about the two men with the camera, he knew why he had been prompted.  To this day, we don’t know what they were up to, or whether anything serious had been planned against the post office, but I do believe that Chris’ prayers may have kept something nasty from happening.  Perhaps his prayers were why the policeman just happened to drive by right then, and perhaps the men were scared off from whatever plans they had had, by having been discovered.

In days to come, another terror activity came into our lives, when deadly anthrax began to travel through the mail system.  Frankly, I was scared.  It didn’t matter that Appleton was not a major metropolis, and that no one would probably think to send anthrax here.  Mail travels hither and thither all over the country, through many postal centers, and there was no guarantee that mail my husband was handling had not come into contact with anthrax-tainted letters.  I pleaded with him to take all the precautions possible, without much success.  The precautions that were available wouldn’t have helped much.  He agreed to wear the little face mask that was provided him, but we’d already been informed the masks were not adequate to prevent inhaling anthrax spores anyway.  The gloves that were provided to protect skin from contamination got in the way of handling mail, so Paul chose not to wear them after the first couple of times.  They wouldn’t have helped either, because if anything had gotten on them, Paul would have gotten it on his hands in the process of taking them off.

It was a hard time to live through.  Christians are not supposed to live in fear.  They are supposed to trust the Lord for every breath of life.  I did not do very well at being fearless during this time.  I didn’t live in constant anxiety about terrorists blowing us up, and I’m sure I was more peaceful than the average American citizen, but the anthrax thing hit a little too close to home.  This was my husband, not somebody else’s.  My pastor helped me at a key moment of anxiety with a few kind, comforting words that meant the world to me.

I am grateful that my husband and the other people at his post office were not harmed.  I am grateful that it’s all only a memory now, not a present-day trouble we are living through.

May God continue to bless America and keep us from ever going through such a trial again.


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