My father’s 100th birthday will roll around in April. He is no longer living, but as his daughter I find one hundred years worth remembering. Dad was a romantic. He loved my mother passionately from their earliest courtship until her death. He never left her side during the fifteen years of her journey with cancer. He was a pleasant man. After he moved to the Veterans’ Home I once told him, “Dad, if you aren’t having a good day, if you have a day when you have pain, you don’t have to be pleasant. You are allowed a bad day now and again.” He looked a little puzzled and told me, “You might as well be pleasant. It makes life so much easier.” The CNAs enjoyed coming into his room because his “Please” and “Thank yous” were so genuine.
The son of a Swedish immigrant who left his country for lack of opportunities, Dad’s life was one that many people here in the West experienced. His parents gave each one of their children one year of college. Dad started out as a rural school teacher in Perkins County, South Dakota, and then after his time in the service in World War II, he used the G.I. Bill to finish his undergraduate education and move on to a Masters’ degree.
Where Dad sometimes had a little trouble being practical, Mom was pragmatic. She kept the family’s direction headed in a straight path where and when she was able. She was a rancher’s daughter and a rural school teacher as well. She and Dad met when he was teaching and she was County Superintendent of Schools. They decided to wait until after Dad returned from the service before getting married.
They built a solid life together. They were both frugal. Their one dream was to own a home and see to it their children got a college education. They achieved both. In Scripture, Jesus talks about a man who built his house on a solid foundation and it did not fall. My parents built this together. Dad always said his recurring nightmare was losing his job and not being able to support his family. He worked Saturdays some years and every summer from the time school let out until it resumed to see to it the bills were paid and there was food on the table. He was honest and hard-working. And he was patriotic and believed in citizenship and its rights and responsibilities. I will fly the flag on his birthday.
Every family has people like this. Sometimes we let them slip away as time goes by. It is important to lift up those who really made a difference in small, but profound ways. We are the result of their hopes and dreams. It is these people who have forged our nation and it is their legacy we preserve and protect in our hearts, in our families from generation to generation and this country.
For a couple of weeks, like most of the nation, I have been deeply disturbed by the events of January 6 and the insurrection at our nation’s capitol. For me the date was doubly significant because it was Epiphany, a time in the church year that talks about light and revealing. In the Christian faith the coming of the Magi from foreign lands to find the Christ Child shows salvation has come for all the nations. So coming as it did on the same day, the riot at the nation’s capitol building was a revelation of the hatred and violence that lie deep within the human soul. That the appearance of civilized society and organized government is a thin veneer. White supremacists and racists showed their true colors. It was an experience that left us all badly shaken, especially when forces within the government seemed to be aiding and abetting the rioters.
The days found me pacing and restless and wanting to speak out and not knowing what to say. So many words had already been dedicated to this extremism I certainly had nothing to add that was worth hearing.
Then several things happened that seem small by comparison, but were full of grace and promise. The first occasion was getting my Covid vaccine shot. I have been waiting for this day because it seemed like a breath of freedom, a loosening of the bars which have surrounded us and kept us from those people we love. As I watched the nurse (again the angels of mercy who have been with us on this journey) pick up the vaccine and prepare to give me my shot I thought that little tiny vial is the product of hundreds of hours by dedicated men and women in medical research around the world. There are billions of people waiting for this same shot so they can get on with their lives as I want to get on with mine. And here on the prairies of Montana, I am privileged to receive this vaccine. It is a great gift that in time will change the world with its healing abilities.
Secondly, I am so proud of the GROW Glendive group that has organized into a non-profit and have worked out a way for us to recycle cardboard in town. I have been a passionate recycler for decades. A friend and I take turns hauling what we can to Miles City, so what a treat that a load of cardboard I had accumulated this month could be delivered to this group of like-minded folks right here in town. It is a gift back to the community and it is a “green” activity which I whole-heartedly endorse.
Lastly there was inauguration eve with the 400 lights in the reflecting pool at the base of the Washington monument in memory of the 400,000 Americans who have died of Covid. It was a brief, but moving memorial service that was needed by us all. And then inauguration day and the historic transfer of power in which we take great pride as a nation. This year the election process was maligned and threatened, but the process held firm. Democracy may have been bent, but it did not break and today we saw its resilience in a pared down, Covid aware official act. To think that for 250 and more years we have gathered to witness this event. Given what abuse Lady Liberty has had to take, it was an emotional moment to see it happen because for a time we had our doubts. Flags flying high, the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and to see a mixed-race American woman of immigrant parents take her place as our first woman vice-president. These have been days of promise, hope and deep gratitude.