Prairie View

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Last night I sat in a chair on the patio after dark to watch the fireflies flitting over the backyard.  A very rough count suggested that there may have been at least a dozen different winking insects present.  The first thing I thought of is how few fireflies I remember seeing in my childhood.  I have a few theories about why that might have been the case, but I don't know for sure.

The first theory has to do with the setting of the house I grew up in.  It wasn't very sheltered from the southwest wind, which was often pervasive in the summertime.  I don't think fireflies frequent windy sites.  Our backyard is more sheltered than was the case in my childhood home, and I think the winds are less--well, less prevailing.  It's a little hard to remember that, having just come through a week of very windy weather, but the past few days have been calm, and the windy stretches are more notable now than they were earlier--because they're less frequent--my theory, of course.

Another theory has to do with the fact that we did not have an irrigated lawn during most of my childhood.  In Kansas, not irrigating means the grass doesn't grow (especially so during drought years).  I usually see fireflies over vegetation-covered areas.  Our backyard is not a showcase, but it does have irrigated Fescue grass.

The third reason has to do with climate change.  I'm not talking about large-scale climate change (did that keep a few of you from clicking away from this post?), but about what I believe has happened right here in our county.  I think the air is often far more humid than it was earlier.  I attribute it to  lots of groundwater being pumped to the surface in order to raise more thirsty crops (corn and soybeans) than used to happen earlier.  These crops transpire and breathe more moisture into the air as they do so.  I thought it might just have been my imagination when I observed that the prevailing wind now more often seems to be from the southeast rather than the southwest.  Then I heard  my brother Myron say the same thing, and I feel more sure that I wasn't imagining it.  I think fireflies like higher humidity, like we have now.

I associate fireflies with wheat harvest.  The field that surrounds our three-acre property is still uncut.  I love this backdrop to the green barberry bushes at the edge of the backyard.  It spreads a lovely carpet under the expansive, often-drama-filled sky above it.  The tall dense golden growth also provides some ground-level wind protection for the little "island"  that is our homestead.  It's the only part of this 640-acre section (one square mile) that is not being field-cropped.  Firefly season and wheat harvest are probably events that often occur at nearly the same time, but have no direct connection.  It's phenology, but not cause-and-effect, with wheat or fireflies as cause or effect.

The first time I remember seeing many fireflies was the summer I lived in Hartville, Ohio for three weeks while I studied at a summer teacher's institute.  Sitting outside in the warm wet dark was mesmerizing.  I needed that time to refocus (or escape) for a variety of reasons, but that's another story.

When our boys were children, Hiromi taught our whole family a Japanese children's song about fireflies.  It begins with Ho Ho Taru Koi.  He says it's a child's invitation to the fireflies to "come over here where the water is sweet."  This  probably has reinforced my idea that fireflies and moisture go together.

Fireflies and children go together too--as do fireflies and nature-loving 65-year-old Amish Mennonite ladies.  I can vouch for that.

Monday, June 19, 2017


The Shenandoah Music Camp program folder contained the words to all the songs--a feature I highly recommend whenever a program is presented.  I used it throughout the entire event, and can't imagine having been without it.  Since then I've gone over the songs here at home, minus the music of course.  Only a few songs were familiar, which I will highlight here:

My Life Flows On--Text and music:  Robert Lowry--I've heard this before, but don't have the music.
Shine On Us--Text and music:  Michael and Deborah Smith--Ditto above.

From Hymns of the Church:
#63--Abide With Me, 'Tis Eventide--Lu. 24:29--Emmaus Road imagery describing a Christian's day of walking with God.  Lovely melding of words and melody.
#904--Teach Me Thy Truth--Rom. 12:1--Text:  Edith Witmer, Walter E. Yoder.  (Yoder helped compile one of the earlier Mennonite-published hymnals, if my memory is accurate.)  Lloyd Kauffman used this song to illustrate how well-written songs can encapsulate great, nearly comprehensive truths.  He also mentioned a related verse that was precious to his mother, who died in her early 40s.

In church yesterday (Shane leading)--

Opening Songs (both sung once before this year):

#89--Holy God, We Praise Thy Name--Ps. 47:2--This song has been sung often by the Kansas Mennonite Men's Chorus--which numbered as many as 500 people.  They present a program every year as a fundraiser for MCC.  Traces the history of praise, the present reality, and the eventuality--in heaven.

#9--A Gladsome Hymn of Praise--Ps. 107:8--Lilting and joyful.

During the devotional meditation--

#58--Still, Still With Thee--Ps. 16:11--This was a fitting part of a meditation acknowledging the extreme busyness that many of us are caught up in, especially those who are farmers, and the necessity of leaving it all behind in order to worship.  (It's wheat harvest and haying season.)

#475--I Will Abide in Thy Dwelling Place--Ps. 61:2--We sang only the first verse during devotions, and the remaining verses later, as Sunday School ended and people gathered. I'm always pleased when I hear the descant on this song, but I'm  not brave enough to attempt it.  I've loved this song ever since I heard from one of his nephews that John Overholt wrote this song during a time of feeling . . . . betrayed perhaps? . . . after his ministerial role was taken away (I know nothing of the circumstances.).  The soaring notes in the descant may have been written to feature the "perfect" soprano voice of John's wife Vera.  (The "perfect" adjective comes from a college voice instructor who told her she didn't need him--when she showed up for her lessons.)  For me this song speaks too of a man's love for his wife.  Did we really sing this song only once this year as my record shows?

Transition Song:

#516--Savior, Who Died For Me--Rom. 12:1 (This is the verse from one of the above songs as well--#904.)  A song of consecration.

Offering Song (First verse only--sung by heart):

#102--Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah--Ps. 148:1:--Yes!  Giving and praising go together.

Closing Song

#359--Father Eternal, Ruler of Creation--Mt. 28:19,20--In some of the references to fatherhood in the sermon, Gary referred to the brokenness of life on earth, some of which is revealed in those who parent.  Because this song also describes a great deal of brokenness, to accentuate the meaning of the words, we sang the three middle verses in unison, and verses 1 and 5--and always the chorus--in harmony.  What a relief to be turning our minds repeatedly to "Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done."

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Wrapup--June 19, 2016

Today was the first Father's Day since my Dad died.  I thought of him often today and missed him.  In church, Abe Y., who grew up here, recalled something he heard Dad preach while Abe was a child.  That was nice.  I remembered that on the last card I gave my Dad I wrote that I never wished for a better father--because I was blessed with a very good one, and I was grateful.  I'm glad I got that said, since there was no time for a goodbye when he died suddenly.

So very often, when something good happens in the church community, I remember how much he enjoyed such things.  He loved to listen to good public presentations,  and loved to interact with others who were present.  He also liked talking on the phone to distant friends and visiting local ones in their homes.

Today I opened a composition notebook to record some ideas I had for teaching Language Arts next year, and found that it contained, in Dad's handwriting, an article he wrote for the Mennonite World Review.  It was a response to an article published on October 24.  It was not published in the Letters from Readers section, but in regular article form.  It was about the Miller case, and was one of the very last of his published writings.  I must have picked up the notebook when the household belongings of my parents were dispersed.

We've just come through a stretch of really hot and windy weather, with some weather drama thrown in--high winds, hail, rain, and phenomenal skyscapes.  Today was idyllic--a high of about 82, sunny, with a light breeze.  We ate lunch on the patio to celebrate the lovely weather and the Father's Day holiday.


Last Tuesday evening the Shenandoah Music Camp Chamber Choir sang here.  Their director, Lloyd Kauffman, commented that well-written hymns contain enough truth to [show us the way to God].  I can't remember exactly how he finished the sentence.  Many of the pieces they sang were simply scriptures set to music.  Only a few were familiar hymns, but some of the names of composers were people I know.  And yes, the songs were full of truth--well stated and well-sung.


One of the few things on my bucket list is writing a poem that someone will set to music.  I've prayed for several years that God would give me a message.  Within the past few weeks, inspiration came, and I've been writing and tweaking ever since.  I'm just as reluctant to share what is only partially finished as I've always been, so I won't say a lot more about it now.  I will say that the subject of the poem is one that had never occurred to me as being appropriate hymn material.  Yet since I started writing, I've found references to what I'm writing about "all over the place"--in my morning Scripture readings, in fragments of existing hymns, in Christian publications, even in Facebook discussions.  Each of these references have served to clarify my thinking.  When meanings and rhythms and cadences didn't sound quite right, God has given me the words I needed to change things till they sounded much better.  Every time I make enough handwritten changes to make the paper messy, I make the corrections in the document and print out a new one.  I think I'm on the fifth copy.  I always tuck the newest one in my devotions notebook.


Last week I had obligations away from home every single day except for the day I had Grant and Clarissa's boys here.  That was a good day--better than those medical appointments.  One was for seating a new crown--in my mouth--not on my head.  The others were routine and boring.

On Monday I spoke to the other Master Gardeners about Field Grown Cut Flowers, and Saturday I joined other family members in cleaning the church building.  I had to skip the regular workday at the HCC Demonstration Garden (conflicting appointment) and got back from the appointment just in time to listen to most of David A. Miller's funeral online.  Four of his children were former students of mine, and his son Dwight is one of our pastors--married to my cousin Karen (Troyer).


In the past few weeks, at least four of the local extended families have had a reunion here.  This week it was the Melvin Yoder and the Ora Nisly family.  Many of the Fred Nisly descendants were together this weekend too.  Last week it was the Ed Nisly family.  The week before that it was the John (Hans) and Emma Miller family.

Daniel Nisly has been hospitalized for most of the past number of weeks, with seriously diminished lung function.  At the end of last week he was transferred to hospice care.  All of his siblings and their spouses were present at the Ed Nisly family reunion, and for a short time, in a hospital room, Daniel and Iva and the rest were all together.  I saw a picture as proof.


Joel and Hilda and their family are headed shortly to Switzerland for a conference (retreat) and vacation.  So far they have escaped the chikungunya that is running rampant in their city, but Joel's boss is ill now with this mosquito-borne disease.  Since the boss's family is leaving soon for a year away, Joel will have increased responsibility at work, and I'm sure this vacation feels like a calm before the storm, or maybe smooth sailing in contrast to the doldrums is a more apt analogy.


Yesterday Shane brought over his mower and Grant's extended-reach chain saw to help Hiromi with some outdoor chores as a Father's Day gift.  He accomplished in short order what would have taken Hiromi much longer, both because of Shane having better equipment and possessing youthful energy and skills.  One of the tasks he accomplished was cutting off a branch that had partially broken off in the high winds we had last week.  It still hung suspended high in the Kentucky Coffee tree.  Another large branch from the Ash tree has grown over the spirea bushes and threatened to overwhelm them.  He made short work of that too.

I had already mowed the yard around the house with the push mower--which I started doing voluntarily to avoid having to look at what the riding mower does to the grass.  There seems to be no remedy for the mower deck tilting and creating uneven lines in the grass, to say nothing of the damage to the grass from its frequent near-scalping.


Wheat harvest is in full swing, but the high humidity and occasional rains have inserted some sputters into the operation.  Dire forecasts for large hail prompted a lot of prayers, and the worst-case scenarios did not materialize here, although we did have some hail as big as round cheese puffs--mostly marble size though.


I'll do the hymn post tomorrow.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Garden Conversations and Church Hymns

I've had an interesting week, full of visiting and working with gardening friends.  On Saturday I assisted with the annual garden tour, which is the major fundraising effort of the Master Gardeners, a group I joined in the fall of 2015.  Last Tuesday, I worked in the garden for which I served as tour guide, weeding, deadheading, etc.

Earlier today I gave a 15-minute talk on cutflowers to the other Master Gardeners, at the monthly meeting.  Afterward, one person, who helps plan programs for the horticulture club, asked if I would talk to their group as well--not till next year, fortunately.

All those "busy" things, however, weren't the major pleasure of the past week.  I saw so many plants that I have only known by pictures and words so far, and each one delighted me.  I also made new friends, heard lots of interesting stories, and reconnected with old friends.  Some of the people I visited with are fervent Christians whose life is an inspiration.   Others offered a perspective on world events and current issues that I loved hearing.  Some of the political references echoed what I have been reading about but don't usually hear first hand--dismay at how divisive things have become.  ("I really like her, but I sure don't agree with her politically.")  I listened just long enough to figure out where these people "belong," but did not enter into the discussion at all.

As  happens too often, people knew me, and I couldn't place them.  As soon as they said their names, however, I did know them.  Several of them were Hiromi's past employers or spouses of the employers:  Judy, who teaches dance, and Dean and Renee, dulcimer players extraordinaire, but, of course, those were avocations for the owner of a computer business and an electronics business.

Hardy, another Master Gardener, used to deliver our newspaper.  He once spent an evening in our home, looking for help in translating a Japanese "owner's manual" that came with a doll for his daughter.  His childhood in Hawaii where many Japanese people live prepared him to recognize Hiromi's name as a Japanese name.  Hardy's mother has moved here from Hawaii and regularly attends our Arlington church.

One person remembered me as Shirley Hinkle's friend.  Shirley was like a mom to Hiromi before I knew him.  This person goes to Shirley's church and remembered that we had visited there once.

I worked in the Krehbiel's garden.  Alice is the main gardener.  She has a horticulture degree, and knows everything by its scientific name.  It's soooooo satisfying to hear these names spoken with confidence and humility.  Hers is a cottage garden--which means that it is quite informal, with reseeders allowed to do their thing, as long as the more timid plants don't get elbowed aside.  When I asked Alice if it gives her pleasure to see other people enjoying her garden, she said she had asked the Lord to give her an opportunity to share it with others, and she's really delighted with how this prayer was answered.  She came today to hear the talk on cutflowers, even though she's not officially a Master Gardener.  She's worked for Stutzmans in the past, and worked in the Dillons floral shop, and really wishes to be able to grow cutflowers to sell.

I learned that Alice has spent time as a missionary in four different countries.  Those were all fairly short term commitments, while she tried to settle on a long term option.  At some point she got married, and together she and her husband began to plan to go abroad.  A scouting trip to Russia, however, convinced her husband that that was not a good option, and he entered the work world in Hutchinson.   They're still here.

Alice's husband works for Electrex.  Hearing about this company was another inspiration.  The owner is a Christian with a big vision for serving his employees and for sharing his skills and finances for alleviating poverty elsewhere.  Part of the company's work happens inside the local correctional facility, with inmate labor.  The inmates are paid (by some convoluted, indirect system that makes it legal) and profitable for everyone.  When some of those who work inside the walls are released, they had a ready-made employment opportunity with Electrex--the part of the company outside the walls.  Offering employment to ex-inmates meets a huge need for these people.  Finding gainful employment is often very difficult for them.  Recidivism is very low for these people.

Many of his employees are single parents who have poor marketable skills.  I didn't hear specifics about how he works with these people, but Alice said he really tries to help them.  I know a single mother who did work for them, and it was the best job she ever had.  They make wiring harnesses for motorized equipment.  Excel in Hesston is one of their big customers.

The company owner has initiated the construction of a dam in Honduras, which provides electricity through hydroelectric power to the people in the surrounding area.  He has plans to construct several more dams in other areas.

Hiromi once applied for a job with Electrex when the company was still fairly new.  The person who got the job he applied for was Reuben, a young man whose mother is Japanese--someone Hiromi knew.  Hiromi didn't resent being passed over for that particular job (I don't remember details about how it happened.).  Knowing what I know now, however, I really wonder how our lives might have been different if Hiromi could have grown with that company instead of working where he did.

Today Alice told me that she put two and two together and realized that she knows Hiromi, who is "always so friendly" when she checks out through his lane at Walmart.


Another lady I worked with at the garden was Karen, who owned a "sky taxi" service.  What that means is that she piloted her own plane, and flew people wherever they wanted to go, if they hired her and paid the going rate.  Her husband is a retired orthopedic surgeon.

Karen knew Nasser, a young Palestinian man our family learned to know years ago--soon after I was a student--through Sterling College connections. Nasser's brother is a successful Sterling businessman who sometimes utilized Karen's taxi service.

A daughter of hers is married to a Palestinian man from the West Bank in the Middle East.  She had nothing but good things to say about him.  He is the president of the American division of a Japanese pharmaceutical company--a company name that Hiromi recognized immediately.  Their family lived in Japan  for four years.

Karen was eager to set the record straight about what is transpiring between Israel and West Bank.  She said, "The US gave the Israelis 3[?] billion dollars in aid, with the understanding that they would cease building settlements in the West Bank [and perhaps the Gaza Strip].  The Israelis took the money and kept right on building settlements in those areas."  Karen had a chance to share with her church her son-in-law's perspective on this conflict.


I also toured the garden of Ed, who is a neighbor to the Krehbeils, and ended up visiting with Jim, who was in my Master Gardener class.  We talked about writing.  He is set to have his second book published in October--a novel.  The first was Cop in the Classroom--true stories about his years of being the school resource officer for one of the local law enforcement agencies.

The artist who painted the lovely design on the concrete was Naomi Ullum, the sister of our dear friend Eunice.  Eunice used to live in Partridge, but lives now in the Missouri Ozarks.  We've visited her there a number of times.

Ed took my name and contact information so that he can give me some of his cactus "pups" when he divides them.  He gave free instructions on how to care for them.  I might even have some to share with Heidi and Tristan--the two family members I know who are besotted with cactus plants.

Ed's wife is from Guatemala.  I remembered her from having toured their garden 15? years ago.  She is much more comfortable with English now than she was then.

I remember Ed's garden from the earlier tour as the garden with daylilies and vines--and Green and Gold Artemisia and Jacob Kline Bergemot--can't think of its other names right now.  Those plants are still there.


And now for the Church Hymns Report for Sunday:  (Willard M. was the song leader.  Shane was in Texas, and probably John couldn't be there because of having been on duty the night before at the hospital.  He's a nurse--and an amazing tenor.  Willard is a bass.)

Opening Songs:  (Both of these really rang, probably because they are quite familiar and they are triumphant songs.)

#261--Rise, Glorious Conqueror--Eph 4:8 (second time this year)
#266--Hark!Ten Thousand Harps and Voices--II Pet. 1:11 (first time this year!)

End of Sunday School Song

#385--Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross--Heb. 12:2 (another first timer for the year--a tune arranged by Lloyd Kauffman--who is directing a Shenandoah Music Camp group singing here tomorrow eve.)

After Share Time

#416--O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done!--I Jo. 3:16 (We were told that this is the new song for the month.  No reason to argue that, but we did sing it also on 5-21-17, so it's not really brand new.  I thought it seemed somewhat familiar.)

Closing Song

#889--Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus--Heb. 12:2 (We sang this short song by heart--probably partly in consideration of the closing time having come later than usual.)

Monday, June 05, 2017

Church Songs

Since January 1, 2017, I have been writing down the song numbers of each song sung at Center from our hymnal during a service.  I started doing this after I had bought Hymns of the Church for myself as a Christmas gift.

John D. Martin is the compiler of this hymnal.  He was my teacher years ago at a 3-week summer teacher's institute I attended in Hartville, OH, and he later married Pat, one of my sister Carol's dear friends.  Incidentally, it was also during that summer at Hartville that I heard another hymnal compiler, John Overholt, a local resident, speak about his project in compiling the Christian Hymnary.  Something in the air in that community must invigorate those with a passion for hymns.

I started writing down song numbers after I began to frequently feel deeply moved by the words of the songs we sang in church, and I wished for an opportunity to go back over the words at a later time.  Writing down the song numbers was the simplest way to keep track of those songs, and I loved using them as part of my private devotions later--usually the same week.  Right in the songbook, underneath the title, I've been keeping a record of when songs were sung.  Songs sung today will be noted like this:  C-6-4-17.  That means that we sang it in church on this date.  If the first letter is an "H" it will mean that we didn't sing it in church but I meditated on it at home--perhaps because it was based on a text from the Sunday school lesson of the week.

My notes tell me that we've sung some songs as often as three times during the first six months of 2017.  That does not include the song-of-the-month, a new song which we learn and then sing at every service during the month.  That's the idea at least.  In my book those songs are marked with an asterisk.  We did not have a new song introduced today.

In the past decade or so, our congregation has been gifted with several song leaders who are exceptionally good at helping us interpret the songs as we sing them.  We don't always pick up on the signals as well as we might--singing softly when that fits the words, and vigorously when that is appropriate--but still, leaders who are immersed in the message of a song help us all to immerse ourselves in it too.  Sometimes we sing verses in unison--which creates an emphasis on words in a different way, but usually the four-part singing that Mennonites love so much and often do so well is what happens, with variations in speed and volume to accentuate the meaning.  I think this variety has contributed a great deal to my being able to gather meaning from the words of songs.

This morning, during the devotional at church, Arlyn incorporated songs that extended and emphasized the truths he read aloud from Scripture.  We sang them together, with Shane, the song leader of the day, leading them.  The approach was very effective.

With this post I'm starting something that I hope to do for the remainder of 2017--record what is sung in church.  Usually, I'll place it at the end of a post if other content is also present.  Obviously, it will be useful mostly to those who also have in hand a copy of Hymns of the Church--at least if a reader wishes to use it also for worship.  The format may vary somewhat, and obviously, I won't be likely to record what was sung when I miss a service.

Here is the list for today--June 4, 2017:

Opening songs:

#371--If My People--Is. 57:15  (The words are almost verbatim taken from II Chron. 7:14.)
#8--Together We Seek Thee--I Cor. 1:9 (This is in the hymnal section of opening hymns.  We've sung this twice before in 2017.)

During the Devotional:

#44--O Day of Rest and Gladness--Hebrews 4:9 (In the section on the Lord's Day)
#107--Immortal, Invisible, God--I Tim. 1:17 (Soaring and stately words and music)
#117--Great God, How Infinite Art Thou--Heb. 1 :8 (Minor Key, words focus on God's being all-knowing and eternal)
#114--Before Jehovah"s Awful Throne--Rev. 15:4 (We sang this song also about a month ago.)

After Sunday School

#30 Come, We That Love the Lord--Is. 51:11 (Most people know this by heart.  We've sung it twice before this year.  People were still dribbling in from their individual classes, so the "come" invitation may have carried a double meaning.)

After Share Time

#6--O Worship the King--Ps. 104:1 (Another majestic "opening hymn."  We've sung this one also twice before in 2017, once by heart--marked with a BH in my book.)

At the Close of the Service

#375--Be Thou My Vision--Jn. 14:6 (We sang the last verse in a higher key--perfect for a verse that starts with "High King of Heaven . . . "  This was the fourth time for this song in 2017.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Quote for the Day--May 22, 2017

Three of my grandsons were here today for several hours.  The middle one, Carson (3), made these observations:

"I heard that car go past.  That means I have sensitive ears, or it was a loud noise."

Later he added this:  "Or I might have imagined it."

I like how he reasons through all the possibilities, turning each one over for examination, and submitting them for others' consideration.  I also  like how he can articulate what he's thinking.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Time to Savor Memories

On Friday of last week, I spent several hours at the house that used to belong to my parents but is now becoming the home of my sister Linda.  The activity of the day was sorting through old letters.  Progress was slow because so many treasures surfaced.  Now and then I pondered briefly the ethics of reading the personal exchanges between people who are now deceased or aged.  But that didn't keep me from reading the next one.  One of the things that struck me is how many of the questions and struggles of young people in the late 1940s and early 1950s resemble the struggles of young people in 2017.

In one of my mother's letters to her boyfriend (my father), she asked what he thought she should do about some of the "indiscretions" she had indulged in while she was in Christian service (at Brooklane, a Mennonite mental health facility) away from her home community and Old Order Amish church.  She mentioned having posed for pictures and something else that I can't remember.  She wrote that she didn't think those things were sins in themselves, but she realized that they were a violation of what her church expected of her.  That realization troubled her.

In another letter, one of Dad's brothers wrote him, asking for input on whether he could safely enroll in college without risking alienation from his home church.  The letter was written to Dad while he was a student at Eastern Mennonite College in Virginia.  It was mailed from Puerto Rico where the brother was serving under MCC.  The brother wrote that he had asked their parents and not gotten an answer.  In thinking about it, he realized that probably his parents did not wish to bear the responsibility of encouraging him to go to college, and that if he pressed them for an answer, they might feel obligated to say no.  He had also written his uncle Fred, who was an Amish minister in another state, and then ended up  not mailing the letter for the same reason--that he feared he would feel obligated to say no, even though he might not have personal scruples against the proposal.  My uncle made it clear that he hoped to use an education to teach school--something he would be able to do with a physical handicap he had acquired as a toddler.

You've paved the way, my uncle wrote.  In effect, he was asking, how is is working for you?  He ended up with a career in public education, while staying in the church his parents were part of.

I found the provisional teacher's certificates that were awarded to my father by the state of Kansas.

Another official set of paperwork gave my father permission to plant castor beans.  I remember that field of castor beans.  I don't know why he needed special permission to plant them, but it sounds like my dad to have wanted to try something a bit out of the ordinary in farming.

I have no idea why, but most of the letters we found were still in their original envelopes, nearly all opened by a neat scissors slice across the end--not by using a letter opener to slit the long side at the top of the sealing flap.  The letters sent to my dad while he was in college were simply addressed:  David L. Miller, Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, VA.  Three cents in postage was sufficient.

I came across a letter from Amos Yoder (Dorcas Smucker's father) while he was working at MCC headquarters in Pennsylvania.  I also found a letter from Chris Swartzentruber, who, after having lived in several states away from his home state of Iowa, was still contemplating where he might move his family in order to focus on outreach and escape some of the inconsistencies and trappings he experienced in various communities where he had lived.  He ended up in Costa Rica.  One of his daughters eventually married Pablo Yoder, my sister-in-law Judy's brother.

Another letter was from ___________Mancini (sp?).  I remember my dad naming him as a person not of Anabaptist background who was making an effort to reach out to those who were becoming open to mission outreach.  He wrote to my father, thanking him for his kind letter, noting that he was getting a lot of critical mail.  I think my dad said that eventually those who were moving in that direction did decide to disassociate themselves from Mancini because of opposition to him from fellow church members.

One of my mother's best friends, Miriam Hochstetler, (aunt to Jo--Mrs. Oren Yoder) wrote to Mom from Minnesota that the area she was in was beautiful.  "I know you've always been a nature lover," she wrote, "but here, I am too."  Miriam and Mom had worked together at Brooklane in Maryland, and Miriam had later moved to Minnesota to work in voluntary service there.  Hmmmm.  My mom was known as a nature lover in her young adult years.  So that's where I got that.  

In the world history class I taught this past semester I kept coming across things that I was sure I had learned from my mother.  Several weeks ago I heard in a student presentation that Joseph McCarthy had provided a valuable service by exposing Communists in American government.  I'm sure I remember my mother offering a very different version of Joseph McCarthy's role in the US political realm.  A quick check online revealed a Britannica Online entry that agreed with my mother's version--and with my memories of having learned about McCarthyism in later school studies.

Just recently, I also came across a mention of the Ural Mountains in world history class.  I remember my mother telling me that the the Ural Mountains are in Russia.  They're still there, just like she said they were.

On what occasions did my mom talk about things such as McCarthyism and the Ural Mountains?  I have no idea, except that I'm sure that it happened in the course of living what seemed to us all at the time to be an ordinary life.  It's only now that I realize how extraordinary it was.  The wider world was very present in our household, peopled though it was with twelve children and very busy parents.
Can you tell that I'm awash in memories of my parents?  Now that school is over for the year, I have the freedom to savor these memories.  I love it.