Month: July 2019

Ho-hum. Just another day at the library

750x450 arapahoe book

This is not your father’s “World Kissing Day”

I spend a lot of time in Koelbel Library, a very nice facility in a suburb south of Denver.  While I could blog at home, I prefer the library because it lacks two very tempting distractions:  the refrigerator and television.  True, there’s usually a lively background hubbub of little voices who don’t have a clue about traditional library courtesies.  But at this point, that’s white noise I easily tune out.

Each day as I walk in, joining swarms of little kids and their moms, we pass displays that highlight books and themes that are featured for the week or the month.  This July’s?  “World Kissing Month”.  Or was it “World Kissing Day”?  No matter; it’s the books on display that count.

And “Soft Place To Fall” was enough to push me over the edge.  Front and center, it was right where hordes of little kids walked by; I think I’m finally pissed off enough to do something.  More, that is, than complain to the low level library functionaries I’ve spoken to before.  Who patronizingly pat me on the head and say, in effect, “How could you be so prudish?  We have to appeal to all audiences.  Move on; nothing to see here.”

OK.  I can buy that.  But let’s quit kidding around and start appealing to all audiences.  Why not Larry Flint’s Hustler up there next to “Soft Place”?  Or, if that’s a bit on the rough side for the little tykes, at least Playboy?

An attractive nuisance

750x450 arap library door

Once the kids have navigated the gauntlet of “World Kissing Month”, most of them veer left to the children’s section of the library.  It’s the kind of place that draws kids to it like a magnet; a full size sculpture of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat beckons them through a child size door that, obviously, is made just for them.  And they love it; whenever I’ve come with my little granddaughters for “Story Time”, they invariably make two or three passes through their “own door”.

And most of what goes on in that special space that’s been reserved for little children is just fine.  But why not keep it that way?

But no.  In one shelf, literally right down at floor level, in reach of even the smallest hands, is Lesléa Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies.  It’s no wonder that the book, published in 1989, is described as “groundbreaking”; it was the first LBGQT novel aimed at the children’s market. The American Library Association ranked it the 9th most frequently challenged book in the United States in the 1990s.

But by comparison with another “children’s” book, It’s Perfectly Normal, Heather is child’s play.  In the stacks, but at eye level for our four year old grand daughter, Normal‘s only a hop, skip and a jump from Heather.  And, indeed, it is an eye full.  Full frontal “cartoons” of male and female genitalia, many images of people performing intercourse, and an introduction to anal and oral sex and masturbation.  Take it from me, this is one book where words are completely incapable of capturing its “charms”.   Particularly for little kids.

“I READ BANNED BOOKS”

450x450 banned book van

Koelbel is part of the Arapahoe Library District.  Every day as I walk into the building, I pass one of their “Bookmobiles.”  The folks that run the District seem to have a “thing” for bumper stickers.  “I BRAKE FOR LITERACY”  is one.  But the one that grabs me when I’m  in this kind of mood is, “I READ BANNED BOOKS.”

Now, bear in mind that neither Heather Has Two Mommies or It’s Perfectly Normal are banned.  The Library District has, obviously, given them their seal of approval.  In fact, they’re right out where little kids can freely pick them up and page through them.

Which makes me wonder.  Just what kind of books are sufficiently lewd for Library District employees and their bosses to ban them?  And therefore read them?

 

 

 

 

It’s All About Family: Part II

swalm family reunio 800x400

When it finally quit going wrong

Just good folks.  That’s how I’d describe the 150 or so people, overwhelmingly Canadian, who attended our Reist/Archer family reunion near the little farming communities of Didsbury and Olds north of Calgary.

Sure, there was a nuclear physicist and linguist among us.  But they were the odd exceptions.  Many more were things like cement truck driver, bear hunting guide and professional paint baller, electrician, missionary, gold prospector, welder, retired minister.   And, of course, farmers, dairymen, and ranchers.  Hard working, blue collar types.   Many full, grizzled beards were in evidence.  In short, a bunch of good ol’ boys.  And their good ol’ wives.  And a passel of their good ol’ kids.

The Harmattan Community Center where we met was a former one room school house.   To the east was an infrequently traveled gravel road.  Beyond that, fields of golden rape seed and barley stretched to where the sky reached down to touch the prairie.

The Center was surrounded by a couple of acres of closely mown grass.  When Linda and I checked in Friday evening, the field around the building was largely empty.  When we’d returned the following morning, husky pickups and big trailers with pop-out sides had sprung up like mushrooms after a spring shower.

A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet

Untitled design (12)

Much of my time at the reunion was given over to trying to figure out just how I’m related to all these people.  And trust me, after a day and a half, I barely scratched the surface.

Why?  Our ancestors had big families.  It wasn’t so much the challenge of deciphering the family tree-as the forest.  

One example, in particular, stands out.  A man, I believe he was an Archer, married a woman who, I believe, was a Reist.  They had four or five kids before she died.  

He then married her sister-and they proceeded to have at least four or five more.  Most of these kids were girls.  (I’m confident that the man marrying two sisters part of the story is accurate.)

My grandmother, Mabel, was one of these Reist girls.  She, in turn, married my grandfather, Wesley Swalm.  (That my middle name is Wesley is pretty good evidence that he’s the right guy.)

Wesley answered the Lord’s call to be a Nazarene minister.  So, the young couple moved to Pasadena, California where he studied at a Nazarene Bible school.  From there, they went to Berkley where he earned an advanced degree.  Wesley then got a job as the librarian at the fledgling Nampa Nazarene Bible College just west of Boise.

By now, it was about 1918 and Wesley and Mabel had two children of their own: Paul, my father, and his big sister, Alice.

Wesley, however, also had something a good deal less cuddly:  TB.  His health failing, the family resorted to a desperate expedient to try to cure the deadly lung disease for which no real cure was known:  cold.  And there was no better place for cold than the Alberta prairies in winter.  So they returned to Didsbury where, during the day, Wesley did his best to pastor a church.  And where, at night, he was put in a frigid tent in the hope that exposure to “fresh air” would cure the “consumption” that was destroying his lungs.

The “cure” didn’t work; Wesley died in 1922 at the age of 32.  But Linda and I were able to find his gravestone in the little Didsbury cemetery.

Reunion.  Repeat.

After dinner on Saturday night, there was an auction of a table full of white elephant type items to provide “seed money” for the next “Reist/Archer Reunion” three years hence.

The auctioneer (don’t even ask me which grove of the forest he hails from), owns a nearby spread numbering in the hundreds of acres.  He wore a smudged baseball cap with a seed company logo perched above his deeply tanned face.  Despite the small potatoes at stake, he did an admirable job calling out the “Who’ll give me eight?  Eight?  Eight?  Eight!  Nine? Who’ll give me nine?  Nine . .?  Nine?  Last time . . .  No?  Eight!  Sold,” he cried, gesturing with an outstretched palm,  “to the young lady there on the side!”

Auctions are fun, but they make me nervous.  It’d be just like me to not pay attention, absent-mindedly raise my hand when chit-chatting in the back of the room, and find myself the owner of something that would be very difficult to explain when I got home.

But I managed to avoid that pitfall this time and actually bring home something that both fit in my suitcase.  And makes me proud to own.  It’s the

Archer & Reist Family Cookbook

So, for only $15 Canadian, I’m now the owner of what the sticky note on the plastic bound book describes as “Good item for auction as is the last one left!”  It’s no surprise that it’s the last of the Mohicans; it was produced for the 2010 Archer Reist Reunion.

As the auction continued, I sat to the side and and enjoyed skimming recipes like “Pickled Pineapple,” and “BBQ Stuffed Peppers,” both by Marybelle Archer.  But it wasn’t until I got to this one, that the book really spoke to me:

DAVE ARCHER’S SECOND-BEST COMPANY DINNER

Go to a nice grocery store, and find the frozen food section.
Look for the package with the best-looking meal pictured on it.
Buy it and take it home.
Put in microwave.
Serve.

By the time I finished, I was in tears.  I immediately searched out Dave-and got his autograph.  (He’s the guy who organized the paint ball war outing.)  When I got home, I proudly showed my family my acquisition and asked our daughter Jocelyn, who’s a chef extraordinaire, to read the recipe around the kitchen island.  Halfway through, she was laughing uncontrollably.  As were the rest of us.

So, am I going to the Archer/Reist reunion three years from now?  Johnny Cash puts it best for me:  If the Good Lord’s Willing and the Creek Don’t Riseyou can count on it.

 

 

 

 

 

If it could go wrong, it did . . .

Welcoming committee in Banff - Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Our welcoming committee in Banff.

…except when it mattered.

With a tip’o the hat to that rode-hard-put-away-wet cowboy crooner cum hippie, Willie Nelson, I’m:

“On the road again,
I just can’t wait to get on the road again . . .
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again”

But this time to Canada for a family reunion with the Reist’s, a branch from my dad’s side of the clan.  We’re going to spend a weekend together near Didsbury, a farming town of about 5,000 north of Calgary.

I’m traveling with my chronically peripatetic sister, Linda.  In a rental car, we’ve front loaded the reunion by several days to first go down the east side of the Continent’s spine from the Calgary to Glacier National Park.  Then turning west over the Divide and heading north through Banff and continuing to the iconic Fairmont Hotel on Lake Louise.  Then crossing the Divide again for the reunion before taking in the last day of the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Calgary Stampede.

A comedy of errors.  That wasn’t so funny.

But this little story comes with a sub-plot that, infuriatingly, just keeps on giving.

It began early in the morning when Linda flew in from her home in Albuquerque to DIA where we were scheduled, we thought, to catch a Frontier flight together to Calgary.  But when she got to the gate she was told that the plane had already left.  And that Frontier wouldn’t have another flight to Calgary for three days.  Information that she immediately communicated to me while I was in my Uber to the airport.  Talk about that sinking feeling.

“But,” she continued, “I might be able to get us on another airline that leaves this afternoon.  But it’ll probably cost more.”

“Well, what choice do we have?” I replied.  “We’ve got all the other arrangements made.  I think we have to take it if you can get it.  But I wonder what happened?  I have it right here on my calendar that we should have had plenty of time to catch this flight.”

“Well, I’m not sure, but I think the travel agent messed up and didn’t send us the notice of the change.”

“Great.  And, of course, it’s my travel agent.   Well,” I sighed, “you better get the tickets.  I’ll deal with the travel agent later.”  And you can bet your bottom dollar that I will.  ‘Cause those tickets, purchased at the last possible moment, cost so much that you couldn’t get me to confess how much even if you put thumb screws on each of my fingers.  And toes.

But wait.  There’s more!

When we got to the rental car desk in Calgary, the hits just kept coming.  I’d forgotten my driving glasses-didn’t really need ’em to sit in the Uber on the way to the airport.  And it didn’t seem quite fair to have my sister do all the driving.

Seriously abashed, I had to call my understandably resentful wife to have her ship them to the Lake Louise where I could take up the slack for the last few days of driving duty.  And, at the time, it seemed like a good plan.

Until, that is, I got this text from my wife:  “Took the glasses to the UPS store.  $165.09 to have them shipped to Canada!”

“Oh, my Lord!” I exclaimed as I stared at the little letters on my phone.  But my sister didn’t seem much surprised:  “Lake Louise is remote.  There aren’t any airports around there.  I just hope they get there in time.”

But wait!  There’s still more!

From Calgary, Linda drove us back across the U.S. border to Glacier National Park.  There, we planned to spend a night and then take a ride in one of the famous open top “Red Bus Tours” that navigate the Going-to-the-Sun-Road to see the spectacular peaks, glaciers and wildlife.  To make sure we were on track to be at the proper bus stop to answer the early morning “‘Board!” we scouted out the area after dinner at the rustic Lake McDonald Lodge where our table overlooked the lake and the rugged peaks beyond.

While on the road the next morning, we got engrossed in one of the several nourishing conversations that occurred during the trip.  Since Linda moved away from home for college when I was a kid-and she never lived in Denver again-this was the most time we’ve spent together for decades.  As she drove us down the winding two lane highway that followed a powerfully sinuous river coursing beneath pine clad slopes, we talked about war, peace, Christianity and my relatively recent conversion to near pacifism.  So, rather than going just a few miles to the turnoff to catch our bus, we, completely absorbed, drove miles by it before she realized where we were.  And so we missed the tour altogether!

Oh, well!  All’s well that ends well.

Turned out, however, that it wasn’t altogether a bad thing.  The drive back up across the Canadian border to our next layover in the tiny tourist burg of Radium Hot Springs on the west side of the Divide pretty much burned up the day even without our “going to the sun.”  And even though the summer days that far north are anything but short.

True, the glasses fiasco continued to plague us for a few days; something, said the email from DHL, about getting a tiny pair of glasses across an international border.  So Linda was at the helm for the rest of the drive.  And I gave up and just told DHL to “return to sender.”  Which they did.  Has to be about the most expensive round trips that a pair of glasses has ever made.

But at least they were there to greet me when I finally made it home.

 

 

There’re no atheists on the back of a . . .

BRAHMAN BULL!

Jim Lovell is one of three men that, for years, has led the Bible study that I attend on Wednesday mornings.

Jim’s an interesting guy.  He grew up on the Baptist buckle of the Bible belt of western Oklahoma.  Somehow got to Denver where he joined the Evangelical Presbyterian church I attend.  Before moving on to, of all things, the Wellspring Anglican Church.  Which, never fear, is affiliated with the charismatic Rwandan Anglican Church.   And isn’t even within sniffing distance of the “all smells and bells” churches of its English brethren.   I’ve been to Wellspring-and I like it, too.  So do my daughter and her family-they’re members.

Jim runs a successful, high-end residential construction company.   During the 2008 financial collapse in the building market, Jim defiantly said this about the mortgage meltdown’s impact on his business:  “I refuse to participate!”  And, as far as I know, he didn’t.

Size doesn’t matter.  But heart does.

Jim has a grandson, Nathan Hatchell, who’s a little wisp of a guy.  But all muscle and sinew.  And a winsome smile that he tends to hold back for company.

One of the first things I noticed about Nathan was his clothes.  Stove pipe blue jeans-of course.  White western shirt with the tricked out yoke and pearl snap buttons.  But it was the belt that really caught my eye: a shiny buckle about the size of a tea cup saucer.  Big enough to cut the kid in half if he wasn’t careful when he stooped over to pull up his cowboy boots.

Sooner or later, it came out that Nathan attended a university in Oklahoma that offered rodeo as an intercollegiate sport.  And that Nathan rode Brahman bulls for the program.

Now, I went to the rodeo when I was a kid here in Denver.  And the bull riding was always a highlight of the evening.  Especially when the clowns scampered out to lure the bulls away from the cowboys who’d been twisted like pretzels before being thrown in a heap to the dirt on the coliseum floor.  I was always astonished when those skinny guys stood up, dusted off their chaps with their cowboy hats, and swaggered over to join their buddies ringside.

The rest of the story

But it wasn’t until the time, years later, that I happened to get a seat right above the shoot where they loaded the cowboys onto the back of the animals that I really understood what bull riding is all about.

Peering over the railing, I was there with my own now young son.  Each cowboy went through a similar ritual as they climbed into the shoot.  Watching them get on the back of the bull made the biggest impression on me.  It was like trying to get your legs around a heaving, infuriated Volkswagon bug that was blowing snot out its nose.  The rider then tightly wraps a thong around his hand that, in turn, gripped a handle that was strapped around the bull just behind its shoulders.  To more securely anchor his leather clad “riding” hand, the rider alternately tugs on the thong and pounds on his riding hand with his free hand.

Now ready, he lays back on the bull’s haunches, gives his hat a final tug and then raises his free hand over his head.  With that, he gives the guy handling shoot a curt nod.  The gate swings open.  And the now even angrier bull explodes into the ring.

A good comparison?  Think of the condemned man nodding to the hangman to drop the trap door.

This isn’t your father’s bull rider

But to actually meet a bull rider?  Not ’til I met Nathan.  And what’s more, he isn’t your average bull rider.  He’s in the running to be the national intercollegiate champion.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve only met Nathan once or twice in passing on a Wednesday morning; he wouldn’t know me if he saw me.

But there’s a nice article here about him in the Rodeo News magazine.   He comes from a bull riding family but it wasn’t all smooth sailing; his dad rode bulls before going to work as a roughneck in the Oklahoma oil fields.  But there’s no mention of a mom; Nathan was bounced from home to home as a kid.  The article also discusses the sport’s occupational hazards: broken jaws and death as if they were all in a day’s work.  Which they are in this “profession.”

For obvious reasons, it’s the kind of sport where you grow up in a hurry.  Just out of college, Nathan’s engaged to be married this fall.  He’s also looking to join his grandfather’s construction business and, perhaps someday, take it over.

For a kid, he’s wise beyond his years:  “Follow the Lord and your dreams will follow you. Everybody is chasing their dreams, but I’m chasing the Lord and my dreams have come to me. Don’t let anything set you back from that.”

Nathan, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Now, if I could only do it as well as you have.

 

 

 

 

It’s just one damn thing after another.

And then you die?

Did you see the recent stories and pictures of climbers stuck in a human traffic jam trying to get to the top of Mount Everest?  I saw them while on my recent trip to Scotland and England.

At least 11 people died attempting to scale Earth’s highest peak this year.  Some of the “mountaineers” clambered over dead bodies in their desperate attempt the “bag” summit.   I hesitate to describe all of these folks as mountaineers because I’m convinced that at least some of them pay tens of thousands of dollars to be largely dragged to the summit by their Nepalese guides.

One of the casualties, an Austrian, was survived by his wife and children.  Another, a 62 year old Coloradan, died on the way down from the top.  He thus became a short lived member of the “7 Summit Club”-a group who’s members have scaled the highest peak on each continent.  Surviving family members were uniformly quoted as saying that the deceased “died doing what they loved.”

Adventure?  Or mere dilettantism?

There can’t be much question that climbing Everest is an “adventure” in the dictionary sense:  “a bold, risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome.”  But is that really enough?  Is it really enough just to be frightened half to death?  Or even fully to death?  Doesn’t  real adventure require that there be a higher purpose?  A reason other than cheap (or very expensive) thrills?

It’s not, after all, that Everest hasn’t been climbed before.  What’s going on there now isn’t remotely connected with “boldly going where no man (or woman) has gone before”.  Since the first serious efforts to scale the peak were made in the early 1920’s, over 300 people have died on its slopes.  Which means who knows how many thousands of others have successfully or unsuccessfully made the attempt-but lived to tell the tale.

Real adventure

By contrast, think, for example, of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Yes, Huck had his share of heart thumping, life threatening adventures rafting down the Mississippi.  But it became more than that; it was a quest for nigger Jim’s freedom (don’t blame me, blame Mark Twain).  Think of Harry Potter.  Or the Biblical accounts of Abraham or Moses.  Or Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey.  Jesus.  The list goes on and on.  Sure, plenty of narrow escapes.  And sometimes lethal failures to escape.

But success or failure really isn’t the point.  To put your life at risk, shouldn’t there be something really important at stake, a quest?  Adventure for it’s own sake is just amusement.  Go to Disney World for tittilation; it’s a lot cheaper and you’re not going to leave behind a widow.

“But,” you might ask, “how can someone like me get involved in real adventure?”

Well, try this.  Join the Army or Marines and volunteer to go to Afghanistan. I’ll bet you’ll get to see and do some things that get your adrenaline going.  And, depending on your point of view, you’ll be involved in a something that has a higher calling.

Or how about this?  Some old friends of ours, Roger and EvaJean Dockum, have been missionaries with tribal people in Bolivia for many years.  Some of their predecessors, a group of five men, pioneered the work in Bolivia with what they knew to be a dangerous and virtual stone age tribe in the 1940’s and ’50’s.  During one of their first encounters, there was a misunderstanding and the five men were murdered.  Like the Everest climbers, they left behind wives and children.  But their calling was much higher than a mere mountain top.  

Education?  Or amusement?

Of course, this was all brought to mind by my recent trip to England.  “What,” I asked myself, “is the point of a trip like this?”

First, let’s be honest, this is nothing more than amusement.  Sure, we went to museums and saw ruins beyond counting.  We dutifully read many of the countless explanations of the displays we saw on exhibit.  Hadrian’s Wall.  What’s left of the Roman Baths in Bath.  Bewildered and overcome by the sheer volume of information, I listened to the audio guide of Windsor Castle.  (Where I was dismayed that I saw exactly none of the Royals!)

But educational?  Sorry.  I ain’t buyin’ it.  You might as well claim that the best way to build a strong body is to do nothing but eat.  And never work out.  Sure, you’re going to build flab.  But muscles?  Not unless you somehow make the information your own.

Adventure.  Without leaving home.

One of the ways I tried to make things my own was by attending church services.  See how people in England worshiped.  Or, even better, meet some of the locals.

We attended an Evensong service at the ancient York cathedral.  But my sense was that most of the other attendees considered it yet one more stop on the de rigueur tourist circuit.  I got a similar feeling when I attended mass beneath the dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London.  Both structures spectacular.  Both services solemnly beautiful.  But with tourists wandering around, chattering, and snapping pictures on their cells, something, including anything like a true “local,” was missing.

But that wasn’t the case in the lovely little town of Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds where, one Sunday morning I attended a service at the Campden Baptist Church.  They meet in a school gymnasium.  No, the building wasn’t ancient and beautiful.  In fact, it was nondescript.  But neither were there tourists wandering around yakking and taking pictures.  Instead, I met locals whose hearts were in the service-and who seemed to be pleased that I was there.  The sermon was something I needed to hear:  “Pray as you can, not as you aught.”  I met a guy who’s a shepherd and his young family.  And a CPA on the side.  Don’t ask me exactly how that works.  But that’s my story-and I’m stickin’ to it.

Campden Baptist has a great history.  In the ’70’s, the “congregation” had shrunk to three elderly folks sitting in a chilly back room praying for new members.  But, as James puts it, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Now, the church has grown to three different locations.  And for my money, that’s a real quest.

On the road again?

So, would I do a trip like this again?  Probably not-and certainly not for three weeks.  Too many museums.  Too many ruins.  Too many sheep.  Too many miles.  Too much living out of a suitcase.  Too many undigested experiences piled on too many undigested experiences.

But don’t get me wrong.  It’s’ not as if there weren’t positives.  It gave me the opportunity to see the world from a very different perspective.  And, on a few occasions, to write about them.  But, for this dreadfully slow writer, it was like drinking at a fire hydrant; heck, here we are two weeks out from jet lag and I’m still pecking away!

But, I promise, you’ve heard your last about “This Scepter’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars . . . This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”