Tag: family

Romancing The Stone . . . er, The Tom

750x450 turkeys (1)

Stock photo of turkeys

Getting under the hood

My son, Byron, and I went turkey hunting a few weeks ago in central Nebraska a couple of miles west of the little town of Wolback (population 257).

It was a guided trip with Gobble and Grunt Outfitters.  While by no means cheap, for city slickers like us a guided trip represents the best chance to get one of these gorgeous, tasty critters.  And also get a peek under the hood of a rural way of life that we, otherwise, have become almost entirely disconnected from.

Let’s cut to the chase

Might as well get right to it:  I got one bird; Byron got skunked.  But only because mine was the only bird we saw that we could legally take.  Mike, the owner of G&G honored their guarantee and invited Byron back, gratis, later in the season to try again.

Toward the end of the first day, our guide, Nick, set us up  in a “double bull” blind about 10 yards away from our three decoys on the edge of an alfalfa field.  After the obligatory crow calls to see if we got a quick response from a nearby tom, the three of us climbed into the blind. Where Nick then started using a mouth and slate call to imitate a hen and attract a love struck gobbler. 

And sure enough, there came the unmistakable “oble, oble, oble” behind us and to our left.  At which point Nick really got after it, yelping, purring and cackling to signify an amorous hen.  And a then switching to the frantic gobble of a strutter angry that a rival was muscling in on his harem.  As the responses drew closer and closer, time seemed to stand still.  Although my heart certainly didn’t.  Until, finally, what looked like a gaudy bowling ball appeared no further than 10 feet to our left.  Strutting like a little Napoleon, he turned to the right straight in front of us and sashayed forward to challenge our tom decoy.  Where he met his Waterloo.  See the instant replay above.

Country kitchen

We got back to the “hunting lodge” as the sun sank into a reddening western sky.  The home of Mike’s parents when it isn’t being used for guiding, the walls were covered with the heads and racks of huge white tail deer. Side tables displayed monstrous, stuffed gobblers.

Ray, the cook, lives in Wolback.  Apologetically, she told me that her grandfather was a “moonshiner” in town back in the ’30’s.  And about a tragic night years ago when her dad, and a sizable percentage of the town’s youth, were killed in a car wreck caused by the kids drag racing down the highway.

Of German stock, she’s a firm believer in carb loading.  Dinner that night was mashed potatoes and noodles garnished with a smattering of cubed beef and thin, gray gravy.  And some very tasty home-grown sweet corn that Mike’s wife raises and freezes.  Don’t let me forget the dinner rolls.  Or sheet cake dessert.  Did I mention the tossed salad sitting next to the Dorthy Lynch dressing?

Roger and his son, Hunter, a couple of good ol’ boys from Arkansas, shared our dinner table.  After hearing how their guide had driven nearly 400 miles that day in a monstrous Dodge Ram crew cab to get them three birds, I asked Roger, “what do you guys do?”

“We do baseole.”

“I’m sorry,” I responded, “what did you say?  Base hole?”

“No.  Base OIL.  We reprocess used OIL.”

“Oh.”

The Wicked Witch

After dinner, all 8 or 10 of us went out on the south facing front porch where more big pickups occasionally roared by on Highway 22 before they crested a rise and slowed into Wolbach.  Every room in the cabin was wired for radio. Occasionally the country western music and ag reports were interrupted by severe weather warnings about a storm cell boiling up to the west.  Coming from our right, lighting brilliantly flashed time and again, making the the branches of the bare, early spring trees in the front yard stand out in stark contrast.  And the black clouds overhead swell white.

I looked, but never saw Dorothy’s Wicked Witch of the West riding by on her broom.

Grease.  And gumbo.

The heavens opened that night.  And reduced the majority of the back roads we used the next day to a vicious combination of grease.  And gumbo.

Our guide, Nick, also piloting a huge pickup, was a last minute addition to the guiding crew because two of Mike’s regulars had medical emergencies.  Responding to an SOS sent out over Facebook, Nick applied, got the gig, and drove nearly straight through from his usual happy hunting grounds in New Jersey.   He only made it to Nebraska a couple of days before the season opened.  Which wasn’t enough time to really get the hang of the back roads that ran like rat mazes through this vast, rolling country.  Especially when Nick had to keep us on greasy roads and steer clear of ditches and deep ravines with one hand.  While holding his cell in the other.  And stealing looks at its GPS maps.  My seat belt remained buckled, my knuckles were white.

By the end of the day, the mud was caked on so thick I expect you’d have to take a hammer and chisel to it.  Before you went to the car wash.  But for all that, we never saw a bird we could shoot.

Strange fruit

We came up empty again the next day.  But it was at least under sunny skies and roads that were slowly drying out.

That afternoon, Nick set me up in the blind on the edge of a field of cut corn with a line of trees to my back.  He and Byron took off on foot to see what they could scare up in a heavily wooded ravine to the west.  Just emerging buds shrouded the tree tops in a faint green mist.

Time moved at a different pace.  During the three or so hours I sat out there in a folding chair, my shot gun pointed out over the field, maybe four cars went by on the dirt road to my left.  Traffic isn’t measure in vehicles per hour.  It’s per day.  And your average kindergartener could count that high.  A squirrel’s repeated “chrrrrrrs” was big news.

Several weeks before, record rain on top of a heavy snow pack had turned usually placid creeks into raging torrents in that part of Nebraska.  The evidence was plentiful on the far side of my field that ended at a row of trees before plunging into a stream that, again, was scarcely more than a trickle.  Trees from upstream that had been uprooted and swept away were piled up, helter-skelter, against the trees that were still standing.  Ten feet up in those branches, and who knows how much farther above the stream bed below, shreds of plastic fluttered in the gentle evening breeze.

As the evening shadows stretched across the field, I heard that “oble, oble, oble” again, to my back and up a woody draw.   My heart raced.  I strained to get a look.  But never saw anything. Byron and Nick walked up to the blind and we packed up.

Time to head home.

 

 

Project Sanctuary Redux

Project Sanctuary Bus at Snow Mountain Ranch

What is impossible for man is possible for God

Well, here I am again.  At a Project Sanctuary retreat, the only organization designed to serve the entire military family, helping them reconnect after a member returns from one of our perpetual wars.  Except it’s winter this time and we’re at Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA camp just over the Continental Divide from Denver.

Much is the same.  Lots of hyperactive kids who, before the week is out, have made some new buddies.  Plenty of opportunities to unwind:  ice fishing on Grand Lake, snowmobiling on the Continental Divide, a trip to the Fraser Rec center for the water slides or flips off the tramp into the foam pit.  Like last time, I’m sous chef for Tom who, despite laboring under the handicap of institutional raw materials, manages to whip up pretty tasty meals that satisfy the whetted appetites of everyone from kids in high chairs to their parents.

And, again, more of the darker aspects of a Project Sanctuary retreat.  The Post Traumatic Stress workshops.  The “Reconnection With Your Family” sessions.  The presentation from the Cohen Veterans Network on how to access mental health care for service members when, as is too often the case, the VA system falls short.

A Well Oiled Machine

Since I was there a couple of days longer this time, I had the opportunity to get to know a few of the families better than last time.

One of those was the Johnson family.  The husband, Jeremiah, is a military nurse.   His wife is Felicia.  They live near San Antonio, Texas.

My acquaintance with the Johnsons began when I sat on a bench next to an older daughter, Toby, looking across Grand Lake where one of the P.S. kids squealed with delight as he pulled a trout through a hole in the ice.

“So,” I asked, “what grade are you in?”

“Well,” she replied, “I’m in about 11th grade.  But my mom home schools us.”

“That’s nice; home schooled kids usually do very well.  How many brothers and sisters do you have.”

“There’s 8 of us, the youngest is 1, the oldest 20.”

“You’re kidding,” I said, looking over at her dark eyes under the Prince Valiant haircut.  “And you guys all drove up here?”

“Yep,” she said, “all except my oldest sister. She lives in Colorado Springs.”

“Amazing.  And what do you think you want to do when you’re done with school?”

“I want to be a farrier.  We have a horse and I like to work with them.

“Not easy work,” I said.  “Is that why you have that splint on your wrist?”

“No,” she replied, “I’m accident prone.  I cut myself.”

But wait.  There’s more.

That evening I got the chance to speak briefly with Toby’s mom as we stood in line for supper.  

“Toby,” I began, “tells me that you guys have eight kids.  And that you have a blog.  How in the world do you do it all?”  

Without skipping a beat, and holding the one year old on her hip, she pointed upward and said “We get some help from up there.”

“I have a blog also,” I said.  “What do you write about? And how often do you post?”

“It’s about Christian homeschooling.  And I post once a week.  Here’s my card.”

“The ‘Zoo I Call Home,'” I read.  “That’s a good one.  I’ll definitely take a look.  Here’s the card for my blog.  With all your spare time,” I concluded, as a little boy in boots that looked like they’d been through several kids before him began tugging at her, “maybe you can take a peek at mine sometime.”

Life with an open hand

In the “liberated” ’70’s, when I was a new believer and a student at C.U. Boulder, I knew a guy named Mike McElroy.  He ran the Christian bookstore on The Hill.  Mike was a brilliant, thoughtful guy who had a way of forthrightly challenging my comfortable assumptions.  I’m sorry I’ve lost touch with him.

Mike and I both attended the Hillside Church of the Savior, a Protestant church that met in the home of Gene Thomas and had a vibrant outreach to college kids.  

Once, for reasons that I’ve entirely forgotten, we got into a discussion about sex, contraception, and children.  Mike’s opinion was that the Catholics had it right.  And Protestants had it wrong.  “Catholic doctrine forbids the use of contraception.  And it’s not because the Pope wants us to procreate like rabbits.  It’s because sex without contraception is to be open to how God may want to intervene in our lives.  Contraception is our way of saying “No” to that intervention.”

Mike’s argument impressed me.  But it wasn’t something we adopted for our marriage; I had my tubes tied after our third child.  The prospect of the financial burden of having more kids frightened me.  And a good case, of course, can be made that fear is the opposite of faith.

I didn’t ask, but given that they live smack dab on the buckle of the Bible belt, I’d be stunned if the Johnsons are Catholics.  But regardless of their denomination, the Johnson’s, with their 8 kids, took a different path than ours.   One that, at least from the perspective of an outsider, is driven by faith.  One that’s radically open to how the Lord might choose to disrupt their lives with little ones.  A life that puts up with cars that have 350,000 miles on them.  A life that grins and shrugs when a hand me down boot has a hole worn through the top.  But one that that allows the Johnson’s to know, first hand, the promise and, no doubt, the challenges of Psalm 127:3:

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” 

 

He who must not be named

750x450 polar express

Out of the mouth of babes

Our two little granddaughters spent the night with us a few days ago.  It was the first time we’d had them both at once.

Although we were a bit concerned that the movie picked out for the evening, The Polar Express, might go over the two year old’s head, she was entranced.  Her four year old sister, of course, was all in right from the beginning.  In part, no doubt, because my wife practices what Toy Story preaches:  No Toy Gets Left Behind.  At least when it comes to the grandkids.  There was the conductor’s cap.  And the silver bell.  Not to mention the bottomless bowl of buttered popcorn.

And, because nothing succeeds like excess, a live, repeat performance of the story a few nights later at the Colorado Railroad Museum.  But this time, the grandkids dragged along their parents.  It was a fine evening, too.  Especially chugging around a loop about 10 times, sitting in a beautiful old narrow gauge passenger car, while the coal fired steam engine blew it’s whistle every time we crossed a road somewhere out near Golden.   (Warning!  Don’t even attempt to find the museum without tuning up your GPS.)  The conductor and the white jacketed chefs, replete with toques, served hot chocolate and cookies.

When the silver bell falls silent

The story’s about a kid who’s an agnostic when it comes to Santa Clause.  But as he’s dozing off one Christmas eve, a big coal fired locomotive and passenger train mysteriously whistles to a stop in front of his house as snow drifts down through clouds of smoke and steam.  Despite his skepticism, the boy climbs aboard and off the train goes on a wild, gorgeously animated ride to the North Pole where Santa and hordes of elves await.

As the film winds down, Santa is preparing to take off in a sled dwarfed by a bag of toys.  But before the sled leaps into the air, he turns to our young, but now converted unbeliever and announces, “You get the first gift of Christmas.  What would you like?” In response, the boy points at one of the silver bells hanging from the harness of Santa’s eagerly plunging reindeer and says, “One of those, please.”  With that, it’s in the boy’s hand and from there into the pocket of his night robe.

Unfortunately, there’s a hole in the pocket and the silver bell goes missing.   But, next morning, hidden away in a little box under the tree, the silver bell reappears.  But when the boy eagerly rings the bell, only he and his sister can hear it; their parent’s are deaf to its beautiful tones.  And, with each passing Christmas, fewer and fewer of the children’s friends can hear it either.

Until, at last, even the boy’s sister goes deaf.

Meanwhile, back on the train.  And away in a manger . .

After the cookies had been eaten, the cocoa drunk, and a few spills cleaned up, the conductor and chefs serenaded us.  They had great voices, no doubt. They’re professional actors who have to knit together Lord knows how many acting and other gigs to keep body and soul together in a town like Denver.

And the songs’ sentiments were nice enough.  Santa and his elves.  Warm and fuzzy holiday feelings.  Songs that would have felt perfectly at home on Broadway.

But any mention of what Christmas is actually about?  The birth of the Savior?  Or any of the wealth of traditional carols that so joyfully and beautifully express the real significance of the season?

Not on your life.

Until, that is, I heard a small voice, down and to my left, coming from the mouth of our four year old granddaughter who was butchering the lyrics to one of those wonderful old carols:

Away in a manger, no hay for his crib,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on his head . . .”

When life is stranger than fiction.

So, when is it going to dawn on us that things like The Polar Express is a near perfect illustration of the ludicrous contortions we’ll put ourselves through to avoid mentioning what Christmas is really about?  How we’ve grown tone deaf to the One who started it all so long ago in that manger in Bethlehem?  How so much of the real significance of the season has been driven into hiding by relentless commercialization?  By the cowering fear of giving offense by even uttering the word “Christmas”?

And, above all, of mentioning the Name of He who must not be named:  Jesus.

On marriage.

750x450 p&p double wedding

When the movie’s better than the book.

Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, is one of those stories I’ve never grown tired of.  I’ve read it repeatedly.  Listened to it in the car at least twice.

And, on more occasions than I’m willing to admit, watched the 1995 BBC TV version starring Jennifer Ehle, as the lovely, strong willed Elizabeth Bennett.  And Colin Firth as the imperious Mr. Darcy.  (Spoiler non-alert.  If you’re not familiar with the story, this post won’t do much to change that.) 

Blame my wife; she’s the one who made watching it a Christmas tradition as she wrapped presents.  So, I now binge watch it around Christmas also, staying up far too late, guiltily creeping up the stairs, bleary eyed, hoping not to wake one of our out-of-town kids.  Or, far worse, one of the infants that now tag along with them. Talk about living on the edge.

Perhaps I should start a support group: “Hi.  My name’s Spencer. And I’m a P&Paholic.”

How can TV-of all things-improve on perfection?

Don’t get me wrong.  The TV version of the story isn’t better because it deviates dramatically from the original.  The novel’s sparkling repartee is faithfully recreated on the small screen.  As are the novel’s twists and turns that keep readers and watchers in suspense right up to the last few pages.  Or the last reel.  (Unless, of course, this isn’t your first rodeo. . . but, let’s not go there.)

No, in my book, the TV version excels because it wraps with the wedding liturgy that is taken straight from the 1552, Anglican Book of Common Prayer:  “Dearly beloved . . . ”  

But perhaps you’re dismissive of that scene, with the four newly weds standing shoulder to shoulder, because it was just too sweet.  Too “everything tied up in a pretty package with a lacy bonnet on top.”

Well, I beg to differ.  And, in fact, what makes the scene a winner is its bracing astringency.  A badly needed tonic in our world where marriage seems to owe more to the Mary Poppins’ variety of piecrust promises: “easily made, easily broken.”  Than to the solemn vows that would be commensurate with a recognition of the central-nay, crucial- role that marriage and family play in a healthy society.

Checking the boxes

The TV version of the wedding liturgy tics all the important boxes.  

“Matrimony is a holy, honorable estate, signifying the mystical union of Christ and his Church.”

Check.  

“It is not to be entered into unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy man’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts, but reverently, discretely, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.”

Check.  Again.  But, how dare these religious fuddie-duddies talk about the proper role of sex right in the middle of a day that’s supposed to be about nothing but gauzy veils and getting the wedding cake frosting just so?

Well, get ready.  Because there’s more.  “The procreation of children.”  “A remedy against sin and fornication.”  “For the help and comfort of one another, in both prosperity and adversity.”

But in the end, don’t take my word for it.  Watch the show.  Right to the end.  Give it some thought.  Maybe, even, make it a Christmas tradition.

But take care.   You may wind up as a member of P&Panonymous, too.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

III. The Communion of Saints.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Past.  Present. And FUTURE.

Hit the rewind button.  Again.  Back to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore for a couple of nights at the beautiful State Game Lodge.  I stayed there as a kid with my mom and brother on two trips we made to visit her relatives in far southeast North Dakota.

The Lodge seemed huge then; small now.  One night, my brother and I sat out on the big front porch, watching a fierce storm, the lightning bolts turning the surrounding hills white before they were plunged into an even greater blackness.  Thunder claps coming from just over our heads and then tumbling down the valleys, the rain sluicing in curtains off the roof in front of where we, mesmerized, sat.  The show was over too quickly.

Those were lean times for our family; my dad had gone from driving big Cadillacs with those outrageous tail fins to a little VW bug with faded, orange paint.  But it did the trick, laboring up those long grades in Wyoming, getting us to mom’s relatives’ farms in southeast North Dakota.  Those farmers-those relations-are mostly gone now.

Angry hornets.

Custer State Park is something like a beekeeper’s veil:  it keeps at bay the annoying swarms of tourist traps that would otherwise overwhelm Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Badlands National Park.

Mount Rushmore in a driving rain, sleet mix is less than ideal.  But look on the bright side-I pretty much had the place to myself.  And the weather did nothing to deter those stoic, gray figures, their faces wreathed in mist, gazing out towards the horizon.

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse Memorial

Persistence and determination are alone omnipotent.

A few miles down the road, it was the same story at the Crazy Horse Memorial, where the massive sculpture pranced in and out of the clouds.

In 1939, Lakota Sioux Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote a letter to the well known Polish-American sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, asking him to create a monument so that “the white man would know that the red man has great heroes too.”  Although Ziolkowski answered in the affirmative, the start of the work was interrupted by the sculptor’s WWII Army service; he was wounded at the Omaha Beach landings.

The first blast on the sculpture didn’t come until June 3, 1948.  The work hasn’t stopped since.  Not by Ziolkowski’s death in 1982.  Nor his wife Ruth’s death in 2014.  It’s now carried on by their 10 children and even grandchildren.

When I first visited Crazy Horse with my mom and brother back in the early ’60’s, you had to have an active imagination to have any idea what was taking shape on that distant pile of rocks.  No longer.  Crazy Horse’s face is finished, even though it will be years, if not decades, before the entire sculpture is.  (This glacial pace of progress has been the object of some criticism and charges of family nepotism.)

Why has it gone so slowly?  It’s all been done with admission fees and private donations.  When federal aid was offered, Ziolkowski and the tribes he worked with refused.  When I asked one of the museum attendants, “Why?” he answered, “The federal government took our land.  We’re not going to take money from them.”

Past. Present. And future.

When Monique Ziolkowshi, Korczak’s daughter and now CEO of the undertaking, is asked when the sculpture will be finished, she replies, “I’ll be dead before it’s done.”

Is this monument, which this woman will never see completed, a strange project to devote one’s life to?  Maybe.

But isn’t it a sort of picture of how life should be lived?  Hopefully, our ancestors have bequeathed something to us we consider worth preserving.  A tradition, or, as Burke had it, a “prescription,” that we carry into the present.  And that we, in turn, live, move and have our being in such a way that makes “the Permanent Things,” as T.S. Eliot described them, beguiling to our descendants.

 

 

I. The Communion Of Saints.

Mom's old home in North Dakota

My mom and her family were blown out of their North Dakota home during the dust bowl days.

PAST.  Present.  And Future.

I’m on the road.  Again.  Marleen and I flew to visit our son in Omaha.  But, because she’s not a fan of long road trips-and I still am-I rented a car and took a circuitous, sentimental  journey back to Denver.

On the way, I listened to hours of recorded books: one of the pleasures of road trips for me.  One was The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk.  The other was The Heart of the Mattera novel by Englishman Graham Greene, considered by many to be one of the best writers of the 20th century.  More later.

My first destination was the far south east corner of North Dakota.  It’s where my mom grew up during the Great Depression in a small farm house with her parents and six siblings.  The family was blown out during the Dust Bowl.  After selling all they could at a farm auction, they headed to west to Yakima, Washington to work in the fruit orchards and canning factories.  For some reason, the last two to leave North Dakota were my grand mother, Hazel, and the youngest daughter, Connie.  They hitchhiked the 600 some miles from North Dakota to Yakima, Washington.  Real Grapes of Wrath stuff.

The nearest towns to where my mom grew up are Lidgerwood and Wahpeton.  My mom’s last remaining relative in the area, Clark Williams, was my gracious host and guide on what was a cool, grey day.   Wikipedia characterizes Clark as one of the Wahpeton’s “notable people” because he represented the area for years in the state House.  Not much older than I, his health isn’t good.  While we were waiting for our hamburgers at Dee’s Bar & Grill in Lidgerwood, he stepped out the back door for a smoke-before coming back in to hook himself up to his oxygen tank.  I was disappointed to learn that his side of the family seems fractured and that I wouldn’t be able to participate in a family reunion-because they don’t have them.

It wasn’t easy to tell if my mom’s old house hard by the Wild Rice River is still occupied; Clark thought it was.  Brown William’s house, my grandma’s brother, was just around the corner.  Although the house is no longer in our family, it still looked good with a fresh, grey tin roof.

The geography of the area is peculiar.  Although it’s not far from the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota, this flat, extremely fertile country is drained by the Red River that runs north to eventually drain into Canada’s Hudson Bay.  As I drove north from Omaha on a dark night, it was disorienting for a Coloradan to see a road sign flash by telling me that I was crossing the Continental Divide hundreds of miles west of the Rockies.

The Past: Custom and Tradition.

In his frightening novel, Nineteen Eighty-FourGeorge Orwell depicts a world in which “Big Brother” manipulates everything, including history.  An entire bureaucracy, the “Ministry of Truth,” is given over to rewriting the past to make it conform to the current party line-which changes from day to day.  Inconvenient historical facts are consigned to the “memory hole.”  The fickle nature of the past adds measurably to the hellish world that Orwell, drawing on the hellish world that Joseph Stalin had created in reality, depicted in his novel.

The antidote for the horror of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Stalin’s gulag?  Russell Kirk’s 1953 tome, The Conservative Mind.  The book-be prepared for a long one-surveys conservative thinkers and their ideas from Edmond Burke (1729-1797), an English politician and philosopher, to T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), the Nobel laureate author of what is perhaps the most famous of modern poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  

For a book that was written as a doctoral dissertation, The Conservative Mind is remarkable not just for the breadth and depth of its scholarly content.  It also played an enormously influential role in reinvigorating conservatism when the movement had been almost entirely written off in the wake of what seemed the irrevocable triumph of New Deal liberalism.  The book’s a “must read” for anyone who wants to understand the rise and meaning of modern conservatism.

It’s Burke that casts the longest shadow over the pages of The Conservative Mind.  His extended essay, Reflections on the Revolution in France, profoundly influenced both the England of Burke’s day and the modern conservative movement.  Written as a warning against the bloody excesses and turmoil of the revolution, Burke was not an advocate of putting society in a straight jacket. However, he believed that change in a healthy society should be evolutionary and guided by tradition and custom-or, as he put it in the language of his time, “prescription.”  In so doing, society fulfills its obligation to generations past, present, and future.

Bonanza!

One of the early conservative statesmen that Kirk describes is John Adams.  Founding Father, our first Vice President, second President, and rock ribbed New Englander, Adams sired a host of descendants. Including John Quincy Adams, the sixth President.  Somewhere down the line, another John Quincy Adams came along who lived in Wheaton, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

In 1881, this particular Adams took advantage of cheap railroad land in the Dakota Territory to purchase 9,600 acres and gave it to his daughter and son-in-law as a wedding gift.  It eventually became the Adams Fairview Bonanza Farm, about 15 miles from Wahpeton.  Making the most of the flat, fertile land, Bonanza farmers put together armies of workers, mules, and capital to grow enormous quantities of mostly grain to feed the world’s rapidly expanding population.  At one point, the Adams farm was a virtual small city, with bunk and mess houses, several barns, an office building, and a grain elevator at the end of a rail spur.  There was a herd of 10,000 sheep.

Now, the original rambling farm house is now a lovely B&B; I stayed two nights in the master bedroom suite.  One gray morning, to stretch my legs, I walked to the nearest section crossroad.  It might not have been in the middle of nowhere, but I think I saw it somewhere out there beyond those fields that ran as flat as a table to the horizon.

 

John and Tuula Kube,my gracious hosts

John and Tuula Kube, my gracious hosts.

My gracious hosts, John and Tuula Kube, are, just like my mom’s family, good Scandahoovians.  (They’re no relation to the original Adams family.)  Great French toast and Swedish pancakes were served up for my two breakfasts.  It goes without saying, slathered with plenty of butter.  And, despite my having invited myself to dinner, a wonderful meal of local beef and steaming bowls of fresh vegetables out of their garden.  While they don’t farm the place themselves anymore, they do rent it out to other local farmers.  Their daughter and her family live just across the gravel road.

Was it an accident that I stayed in a bedroom in a house that had once been owned by a descendant of a man who’d played such an important role in our nation’s history?  And whose story I’d been listening to?  Probably.  But it sure was a nice serendipity.  And more than enough to slingshot me on to my next destination, far across those lonely plains, as John and Tuula shrank in my rear view mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembrance of things past.

750x450 stew potLike a fish out of water.

You’ve seen, of course, that Sears is going bankrupt.  From its humble beginnings selling watches, Sears grew to be the world’s largest retailer, selling everything from insurance to car batteries.  Before, that is, it went into a long, painful, and, now, terminal decline.

My wife, Marleen, and I were married in November of 1979.  That’s 39 years ago.

Marleen’s uncle, Bud Pickford, was a long time Sears employee.  For our wedding, he and his wife, Peg, gave us a set of Sears stainless steel cookware.  There was a large pot for pasta, soup and the like.  And a frying pan.  Both of them were in use last night at our home.  The original small grooves etched on the bottom of the pots have been worn nearly smooth; countless trips through the dishwasher have left the bakelite nob of the lid cracked.  The bottom of the fry pan is a richly burnished black.  The sauce pans, after decades of faithful service, fell apart years ago.  Bud and Peg, along with their quirky senses of humor, have also been gone for decades.

My wife, to put it mildly, has had a rough few days with a nasty stomach bug and an even nastier reaction to antibiotics.  Talk about your cure being worse than the illness.  A few day ago a neighbor rushed her to the Sky Ridge hospital ER room when they couldn’t track me down.  When I got there, she was in more pain than I’ve seen her in since child birth.  They gave her some pain killers and we eventually went home.  At 3 a.m., I rushed her back.

750x450 spencer stew

After last night, however, I’m convinced she’s finally turned the corner.  Why?  Because I made this delicious  recipe from Bon Appetit in the Sears frying pan.  It’s buttery richness is enough to turn any stomach that isn’t in pretty much perfect working order.  Marleen even went back for seconds!  Except that rather than pasta, I served it over roasted sweet potatoes.  More flavor. And healthier (slightly) to boot.  I warned her, however, that if another trip to the ER had to be made, she was Ubering it.  She took that crack in the spirit in which it was intended-and even sent our clan a Telegram recounting it.

But chanterelle mushrooms?  Who, aside from a few high brow French chefs, had even heard of them when those Sears pans were made?  Now, the most affordable place to get these still pricey seasonal delicacies is where my wife picks them up, the defiantly déclassé Costco.  A store that was scarcely more than a twinkle in its founder’s eye when we got those pans.

But the point of this little tale of domestic agony and ecstasy?  Where does 39 years go?  Sure, those pots are showing their age.  But not nearly so much as I.  We’ve welcomed three wonderful children into our lives.  And now four, nearly five, grandchildren.  And so much more has happened.  How could a life so full and eventful go by so quickly?  After all, time is the only medium that we actually know.  But the way it seems to so rapidly slip between our fingers is perpetually strange to us. Why?

C. S. Lewis, perhaps the best known of 20th century Christian thinkers, offers a winsome explanation in his little book, Reflections on the Psalms:

“For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished by it.  ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty.  It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water.  And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”

By “land” Lewis was, of course, referring to that “heavenly country,” that New Jerusalem the saints of old yearned to one day see.  And which, in the fullness of time, they will.

There I Go. Part II.

600x450 marcus asmus

Truckin’ Like The Doodah Man.

As Jane Austen’s novel, Pride And Prejudice, works so deliciously toward its satisfying conclusion, Mr. Darcy’s housekeeper says of Darcy’s sister, “. . . and so accomplished!-She plays and sings all day long.”

Also true of my Albuquerque sister, Linda.  But playing and singing is just the beginning.  Yes, she’s good on the piano and guitar. And she’s sung in choral groups that have taken on some of the most demanding works in the repertoire.

She’s also multilingual, including fluent Swahili.  During her career teaching English as a second language, heaven only knows how many languages she picked up.

A serious birder, she has somewhere near near 6,000 species, of the world’s 10,500, on her life list.  A good enough seamstress, in her younger years, to make her husband, Jim, a work suit.  (My wife’s also very good, but that’s something she never even attempted.)

And, something I particularly admire, she’s given to hospitality with their elegant adobe style home that she largely decorated.

After retirement, and nearly single handedly, she ran a school for children in Tanzania for several years. She’d gone there originally to climb 19,340 foot Mt. Kilimanjaro-which she did.  But she fell in love with the people of Tanzania.  However, this was where the force of her irresistible personality ran up against the rock of African corruption.  Despite hiring a personal guard, the rock prevailed.

She wrote a book about getting up the mountain called, Climbing Kili.   She still writes.  But, now I think, mostly indignant letters to the editor about Trump, guns, and New Mexico’s notorious drunk drivers.

Did I mention that she and Jim are inveterate world travelers?  Oh, yeah.  I did.

I could go on.  But I’ll leave it at this:  of us four siblings, Linda best fits “and so accomplished!”

On To Taos.

But I get ahead of myself; I haven’t even gotten to Taos.  Let alone Albuquerque.

From Cimarron and lunch at the St. James, I headed west and then turned right on 38 to drive the northern half of the loop around the state’s highest peak, Mt. Wheeler.  The shortest day of the trip, it was a scenic cruise to my room at the Taos Inn, where they’ve been welcoming guests since 1936.

Not sure what came over me, but while at the Inn, I sprang for a whimsical, colorful painting by Mark Asmus of a matador leading a parade of bulls past the Taos library.  Entitled Mayhemit was one of a series based on quirky police blotter reports.  Marleen wasn’t amused.  When will I ever learn?

Going Nuclear.

The next morning, and at Linda’s suggestion, I headed northwest from Taos on US 64.  Good thing, too.  Otherwise, I might’ve missed the “High Bridge” over the thin, green ribbon of the Rio Grande, an airy 800 feet below where I iPhoned this picture.

Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge

That third day was the longest of the trip.  A favorite among bikers, I saw more motorcycles on the sensuous two lane road than cars.  Punctuated by views that seemed to stretch out forever, by the time I’d loped around to Española, my right knee was feeling every inch of it.  Badly in need of a break, I pulled into a taco joint that, at best, looked greasy.  But, apparently, it’s tough to get a bad Mexican meal in New Mexico; the food was fine.

The couple in the next booth, although a bit rough rough around the edges, were very friendly.  When I started off with, “You look like you know your way around here.  How do I get to Los Alamos?”, he was ready with an answer. “No problem. Go left out of the parking lot, take another left at the first light, and then go left at the highway.  That’ll take you right up to Los Alamos.”

Model of the Gadget

Model of the Gadget

Forty-five minutes later, I was standing in front of a mock up of “The Gadget,” the nuclear bomb that had been built at Los Alamos and then tested in the New Mexican desert.  And which, thankfully, brought World War II to a swift conclusion, sparing American and Japanese casualties that some have estimated could have run into the millions.

Road’s End.

Given the highly toxic and sometimes dangerous experiments that took place at Los Alamos, Santa Fe seems a bare hop, skip and a jump down the hill from where the nuclear age dawned.

And, after a restful night at the elegant Four Kachinas B&B in Santa Fe, it was not much further to Albuquerque. Where I dropped off my six banger Camry at Hertz. And where Linda picked me up.  What’s the saying?  “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”  Probably not the smartest thing to have flit across one’s mind when visiting your sister. But it was going to be tough to top the journey.

However, if anyone could do it, Linda and Jim could.  They’d gotten a jump on it early that morning by taking Marleen on a day long excursion to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Reserve for bird watching on the lower Rio Grande.

And they were just getting started.

The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight

navy chief petty officersWe were recently on a family vacation in Cape Cod.  And when I say family, I mean family.  There were 10 of us in a house we rented a few blocks from the beach.  A lot of togetherness.  But we still had a great time-although when it came time to leave, I was ready.

Marleen and I had flown into Boston a few days ahead of the rest of the crew to take in some of the city’s sights.  One of the things we did was walk most of the Freedom Trail; a sidewalk tour that takes you past many of the locations where key events that led to our break with the Mother Country occurred. Well worth doing next time you’re there.

An unexpected bonus along the way was to witness snatches of the advancement ceremonies for an incoming class of Navy chief petty officers.  At intervals, we would see men and women in uniform, sometimes in formation belting out a spirited rendition of Anchors Aweigh, sometimes lounging around waiting to move on to their next rally point.

Prominent in the news when we were in Boston was the most recent of the four sleek Navy ships that have been involved in collisions with lumbering commercial vessels.  And which have resulted in the deaths of numerous sailors since the first of this year.  The latest incident, involving the destroyer the John S. McCain, resulted in the Navy ordering an “operational pause” for the entire U.S. fleet of 277 vessels to review safety procedures.

uss constitution

I ruminated on this alarming record during our remaining days in Boston, which included a visit to “Old Ironsides.”  Officially known as the USS Constitution, the beautiful three master looked her best, having just come out of dry dock following a two year restoration.  By then, our son, Byron, had joined us as we toured the ship.  Byron is our “Navy guy,” having served with distinction during his eight year career helping to run the reactor aboard the ballistic missile submarine, the USS Nebraska.

By the time we got to the beach on Cape Cod, we were joined by our son-in-law, Haden, who is the family’s “Marine guy.”  He did two tours in Iraq; the second was agonizing for our daughter, Lauren, who was all but engaged to him during his deployment.  “All but” because Haden is the kind of guy you would want your daughter to marry; he called and asked my permission when he got home.

At one point on Cape Cod, when the three of us were together, I asked Byron about the Navy chief advancement ceremonies Marleen and I had seen.  “I don’t know a whole lot about them,” he answered, “but given that they were going around seeing the sights in Boston, I expect that they have something to do with naval heritage indoctrination.”

“I’m sure,” I continued, taking the conversation in a different direction, “that you guys have seen the news about all Navy vessels that can’t seem to keep track of where they’re going and run into merchant ships.  I’m thinking of writing a post on my blog and calling it ‘The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight.'”

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Haden.  “With all the wars and deployments the military is stretched pretty thin.  I wouldn’t want to be in the military right now.”

I could have guessed what Byron would say:  “I agree.”  By the time his commitment was up, he couldn’t wait to get out.  In addition to the frustrations of military bureaucracy, exhausting, long watches were a way of life, even in the reactor space.

But despite their qualms, I decided to go ahead.  If the news stories are right about the military being overextended, and I don’t doubt they are, shouldn’t it be talked about?  Especially since, as it so obviously is, a life and death issue?

And, yes, the title of this post may be irreverent.  But is it inaccurate?  Despite spending trillions of dollars, has the U.S. military been on the winning side of a major conflict since WWII?  You decide.  Korea?  Seventy years on and it’s threatening to explode into an unprecedented calamity.  Vietnam?  You’re kidding.  Grenada?  I said “major.”  The Cold War?  Perhaps.  Unless we “succeed” in provoking Russia, a nation with a vast nuclear arsenal, into a shooting war. As so many of our warmonger Washington politicians seem to want.  Afghanistan and Iraq?  Out and out disasters.

Dwight Eisenhauer, President and Supreme Commander of Allied forces in the last major war we won, warned the nation in his farewell address of what he called the “military industrial complex.”  It’s an iron triangle of defense contractors looking for lucrative arms deals, Congressmen who want to bring home pork barrel projects for their districts, and a top heavy military bureaucracy out to aggrandize itself.   In 2015, the U.S. spent more on the military than the next seven nations combined.

Judging, in short, by this record, the U.S. military seems better at spending money-than winning wars.  Perhaps not too surprising.  Since when did “complexes,” rather than armies, win wars?

When we got home, I discussed the Navy’s problems again with a friend who, over the years, has repeatedly astonished me with the depth and breath of his knowledge; he may be the closest thing to a polymath that I know.

“You know,” he said, “there is another problem in the Navy that’s been largely buried.  It’s not just that tired sailors are falling asleep when they should be standing watch.  There’s a lot of sleeping around since Obama mandated that the Navy go coed.  Pregnancies are way up. That means ships are short handed.  And,” he continued, “it’s a politically incorrect thought crime to even notice it.  Obama did his best to deep six the story.

– – – – – – – – – –  – –

I attend a men’s Bible study most Wednesday mornings.  We’re currently making our way through the books of Samuel in the Old Testament.  A central figure is King David; one of the episodes in the book, known to most school children, is that of David and Goliath.

Our gifted teacher, Rich Pilon, (a Navy vet, by the way) has said repeatedly that a central theme of the story is, “Leadership matters.”  There are abundant examples in the book of the disastrous consequences of poor leadership at the highest levels:  corrupt priests whose selfish miscalculations result in slaughter and national humiliation.  Lustful kings, including David himself, whose misdeeds shatter families and nations.

The problems in our military aren’t, for the most part, caused by the Navy chiefs that Marleen and I saw along the Freedom Trail in Boston.  Like so many others in our all volunteer force, they are no more than cogs in the wheels of a dysfunctional military Borg.

Our political leaders too often see these sailors as tools to allow them to brag to the folks back home about all the jobs they’ve brought to the district.  And use them as petri dishes to try out misguided social experiments in the cause of political correctness.  And then abuse them by entangling our nation in endless, futile wars at a terrible cost to our soldiers and their families.

Defense contractors and lobbyists look on them as little more than a justification for their fat, steady paychecks.

And our top heavy military brass?  Well, I won’t say it.

 

 

 

 

Your Neighbor As Yourself

spencer neighbor pic

My wife and I went to Spokane recently to visit our daughter, Jocelyn, and her family.     I’ve gotten to know the city pretty well over the last 10 years or so.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, our older daughter, Lauren, got a nursing degree from Eastern Washington State in Spokane.  Lauren met her husband, Haden, at Whitworth, another Spokane university.

At least in part because she wanted to be near her sister, Jocelyn got a degree from Whitworth.  Where she also met her husband, Aaron.  They were married there on a beautiful, but searing late summer evening at a vineyard overlooking the Spokane Valley.  They now have a year old daughter, Lucy.  Named after, you guessed it, Jocelyn’s favorite sitcom.

I can’t tell you how many times Marleen and I have flown back and forth from Denver to Spokane for all these doings. But it’s a lot.

I wish I could still say that Spokane reminds me of what Denver probably looked like back in the ’50’s.  But I don’t think I can.  The city seems to be in the throes of a development frenzy that is more like Denver’s than the Spokane I remember from even two or three years ago.  Cranes and construction everywhere.  Half the downtown streets closed for one reason or another.

But, enough whining.  There are still plenty of aspects of the town that will make many more trips there rewarding.  And, as is invariably the case, they deal primarily with people.  Since it has been years since my wife and daughter Lauren have been in Spokane, they now primarily ripple out from Jocelyn and the roots that her family has sunk into the city’s flinty, volcanic bedrock.  Near their fixer-upper home in the South Hill neighborhood, it appears that hideous, black monsters of the underworld are forcing their heads into lawns that are perfectly manicured around them.

Since they were in college, Aaron and Jocelyn have attended New Community Church.   At that time, the church met in what was a store front in a shopping center.  The ceiling of the dimly lit sanctuary pressed down from just over the heads of congregants. The music of the band on the stage careened wildly around the room, beyond the ability of the sound crew, including my son-in-law, to tame it.  Just the ticket, in other words, for the many college students who go to church there.

This year, however, the church bit the bullet and bought a large old church, steeples, stained glass, organ, and all, from an aging congregation that was ready to fold its tent downtown.  And now, after several weeks of scrubbing and painting, New Community has moved into it’s new home.  The acoustics are still unruly beneath the domed skylight over the sanctuary, but now the energetic singing is matched by the light that pours in through the rose windows.  And the Light that is defused, as it always has been, through the faithful preaching of the Word.

They might not like me to say so, but the congregation is pretty much white-bread.  Which is fine with me.   Lots of young, white couples with little kids.  A stubborn remnant of the historic American nation which, despite the efforts of our political elite to extirpate it by electing a new people through mass immigration, endures.

For ballast, there are also some older couples at the church-which is important.  Our daughter and her husband hit a pretty rough patch in their marriage a while back.  One of those older couples took Jocelyn in while she and Aaron worked things out.  As a small token of my appreciation, I was very pleased to be able to prepare dinner for them with a wild turkey I shot which we had frozen and brought along from Denver.

At the heart of New Community are the many small groups that get together in homes around town, often on a weekly basis.  Jocelyn and Aaron have been active in theirs for years.

Hope and Derrick have also been part of their small group since college days.  Hope is a labor and delivery nurse that was at Jocelyn’s side when she gave birth to Lucy.  Hope also gave birth to her first right around the same time.  Derrick is in medical school.  They, to put it mildly, have their hands full.

But despite their medical training, Derrick and Hope, don’t quite seem to have this baby thing figured out: surprise!  Kid number two came along about a year after the first one.  Did it make any difference that Hope was still nursing?  Evidently, not in God’s economy.

www.kcengland.com

A foot shot of Jocelyn, Lucy and Aaron

– – –

The second Great Commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But to say that this is only a command doesn’t do full justice to Jesus’ words.  This is also an observation of a law of the universe that can’t be broken, pretty much like he law of gravity.   It might as well say, “You WILL love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

As young, white people Aaron and Jocelyn and Derrick and Hope face extraordinary challenges to living out the Second Commandment.  They are swimming upstream against a relentless barrage of leftist propaganda from the media, the political establishment of both parties, educational institutions, business, and, sadly, too often from the church itself, that merely because they are white, they should hate themselves.  You know, “white privilege.” and “black lives matter.”  In other words, the monotonous drum beat of the Left.

But assert that all lives matter, or even worse, that white lives matter, and the best you can hope for is the all purpose epithet, “Racist!”  And the worst?  A riot and a vicious beat down by thugs.  These racial crimes have been perpetrated all over the country.

The question is, of course, are white people willing to endure the slings and arrows that will come their way as they try to swim up stream to put themselves in a position to love themselves and, hence, their neighbor?    Not, of course, to claim that they are perfect.  Or that their forbearers were without fault.  But to claim that they, like everyone, are a mix of light and darkness, of good and bad.  And that they, like all humanity, are in need of grace.

And not to just wage this fight for themselves, but even more importantly, for their children.  It won’t be easy; there are already plenty of threats to the well being of their kids.  Affirmative action, which pretty much puts a target on their backs simply because they are white.  And, of course, particularly white boys.  Mass immigration, both legal and illegal, which, in only 30 years, threatens to make them strangers in their own land.  And if you think it’s easy to go against the grain to oppose either of these wildly politically correct orthodoxies, then you just haven’t been thinking.

This temptation for white people to, somehow, believe they are doing the world a favor by hating themselves plays itself out in a host of very practical ways.  But at it’s root, it is a spiritual question.  Do they believe the culture they represent, Western Civilization and their Judeo-Christian heritage, is worth preserving?  Or should it, along with themselves and their descendants, be consigned to the dust bin of history?

Charles Murray, the Harvard educated sociologist with the American Enterprise Institute, is, ahem, controversial.  His most inflammatory work, The Bell Curve, argues that there is a connection between race and intelligence.  It has caused the Left to lose its diminuitive, collective mind.  And helped trigger a riot at Middlebury College when Murray attempted to give a speech there this year that resulted in a left leaning female professor who was playing host for Murray being attacked by the college Brown Shirts.  For her thought crime of believing in academic freedom, she wound up in a neck brace.

Another of Murray’s books, Human Accomplishment, attempts to analyze and quantify human achievement world wide by quantifying the amount of space allocated to individuals in reference works.  It’s a fascinating book; you should read it.  But take care.  If you’re a leftist or a doctrinaire feminist it may drive you to another riot.  According to Murray, more than 80% of history’s highest achievers in the sciences, arts and philosophy are “dead white males.”

They are, in other words, representatives of Western Civilization and our Judeo-Christian heritage.

So what does all this mean for my Spokane daughter and her family and their church friends?  Just this: rather than apologizing for who they are, they should be proud of it.  In fact, they have every bit as much a right as anyone to be proud of who they are and what they represent.  And to ignore, if they can, the claptrap of the political elite, the liberal media, Hollywood, big business, the “white privilege” and “black lives matters” crowds.

And if they don’t?

Well, here are some dystopian, alternative futures they should ponder.  Especially if they believe their kids fall into the category of neighbors worth loving as themselves.

First, James Burnham’s, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism.

Burnham identifies the World War I as the “seminal catastrophe” that marked the beginning of the West’s decline.  And World War II was nothing more than the continuation of the catastrophe: a brief intermission to allow the combatants to catch their breath before continuing what Churchill described as a conflict in which “torture and cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves.”

But, as Burnham goes on, the real disaster of these bloody cataclysms wasn’t some external event, it was spiritual.  They may have caused the West to lose its collective nerve, to commit suicide.

And what will be the weapon of choice for this civilizational suicide?   Who knows for sure?

But unlimited Third World immigration would probably do the trick.  There’s even been a dark novel on the subject, The Camp of the Saints, by award winning French author, Jean Raspail.  In it, impoverished Indians commandeer a hulk fleet, come around the Cape of Good Hope, and, like the volcanic outcroppings in Jocelyn’s neighborhood, force their way into the perfectly manicured environs of the French Rivera.  From there, they lay waste to the rest of Europe.  And then the world.  The West, having lost its nerve, lays down and allows itself to be overwhelmed.

Far fetched?  Not hardly.  Consider what some are calling The World’s Most Important Graph.  While it deals with the exploding population of Sub-Sarahan Africa rather than India, you have seen the images of illegal immigrants surging across the Mediterranean and pouring into Europe.  Pay particular attention to the U.N. produced Utube at the end of the graph that tries to persuade us that such immigration is not only inevitable, but desirable.

–     –    –

When my wife and I fly to Spokane, we invariably take Southwest-I’m not even sure there’s another choice.  The plane is always packed and prices have gone up commensurately.  But really, how much longer can they expect our super-sized populace to wedge themselves into their mini-sized seats?

But one compensation for Southwest passengers is that the airline doesn’t take itself too seriously; some of their attendants could make pretty good stand up comedians.  And the best opportunity for these frustrated comics to show their stuff? The inflight safety lecture.  I wonder, in fact, if Southwest has ever been sanctioned by the FAA for their light hearted approach to a procedure the other airlines seem to treat as an opportunity to anesthetise their passengers to the ordeal they’re about to endure.  Not sure.  But Southwest’s has even been considered newsworthy.

But there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the numbing repetition: you have to love yourself before you can love others.  What else is the significance of the direction to “put on your own mask before assisting others around you”?

Those who are heirs to the astonishing achievements of Western civilization need to realize that they serve no one, not themselves, not their children, not any other potential neighbor, by failing to put on their own mask first-before assisting those around them.