Memorial Day was spent first at the Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis. I have two uncles and my Anderson grandparents buried there. Fortunately I got there a little early as the crowd later was huge and backed up to the interstate exit. Every grave had a small flag and personnel from Ellsworth Air Force Base were there to help you find the graves you wanted. I walked and walked and walked but eventually found them all. The grounds are beautiful. The wind was horrific. I stood near the honor guard from the American Legion in Ft Pierre. These older gentlemen were nearly knocked off their feet by the wind and the heavy polls they were carrying.
Then it was on to the Chapel in the Hills at Rapid City where I will be spending about 2 weeks leading an evening worship service. Last night was definitely a shake-down run. One hymn tune neither the organist nor I knew so it was on to plan B. Folks were understanding and it was fine.
This morning the calves of my legs ached -- everything here is uphill! And I am not used to that.
The stave church was completed in 1969 and is considered an outdoor ministry from the ELCA in South Dakota. They have some delightful Norwegian extras. I met Ole and Lena this morning, yah! sure, you betcha'! And walked a meditation path behind the church which leads up into the hills in the back.
This is a travel blog today as well as just a musing on the fact that it is Memorial Day and I've just had a visit home. Not home, home in Glendive, but rather my ancestral home and a place I spent many happy times with my family.
My mother grew up on a ranch in north western South Dakota, west river country, Perkins County. Her parents were homesteaders from Wisconsin arriving in October of 1912. Mom was the only one of the five children to be born on the ranch. She was schooled in the country schools in the area, attended the church her parents helped to found, was confirmed there and at last married there.
She also taught rural schools for many years in the area so whenever I am out in that country I keep thinking that I am seeing what she saw every day of her young life and what vistas my grandparents had from the time they settled until they died in 1959 and 1965.
It is not barren country. It is open country and there is a big difference between those two words.
After driving from Glendive to Miles City to Broadus where I visited a friend, then along Highway 212 east to Belle Fourche was my journey yesterday. Today I left Belle and headed east toward Faith SD, turning north at a little bump in the road called Mud Butte, SD. There used to be a gas station and small store, now it is a couple of microwave towers.
At Mud Butte you turn north, hit gravel and have seventeen miles to Zeona SD which used to be a store, a gas pump, post office and a place to get some friendly conversation.
Today the church remains. Some years ago the congregation hooked their phone up to the new fiber optics that came through. After years of paying a bill for a phone they never used, they took it out, saying most folks have cell phones now anyway. They leave the church unlocked for passersby who might need shelter. It is a long way between places on the Zeona Road.
My cousin's son and wife, scion of 10 children, have a buffalo ranch further north up the road. Three of their eldest children have formed a singing group called "Zeona Road". They are building a good following in Nashville and around the South Dakota Area. The youngest daughter of the family was named Quilla Zeona, so the name lives on.
I was about an hour early for church so I enjoyed the song of the prairies -- the wind, the birds and the sighing through the grass by the side of the road.
With the wind accompanying me, I walked among the graves for a bit. Beloved and loving, faithful grandparents, two aunts who married two brothers, (the third sister and her husband, also a brother are buried in Spearfish SD), a bachelor cousin, and a bachelor uncle. All precious.
After being welcomed by the church members which included another cousin, we worshiped together, prayed, sang and heard God's word besides sharing the news of the neighborhood -- who was sick, whose funeral was upcoming, who had a new grandchild.
I drove back to Belle, stopping at a roadside cafe in Newell SD -- roast beef sandwich, cottage cheese, and brownie delight ice cream! Also ran into some rain. Much needed this Spring on the prairies.
Our local cemeteries are never lovelier than on Memorial Day. The green, manicured grass, the myriads of wreaths and bouquets families lay on the graves of loved ones are a sign of the respect and love we show to those who came before. A drive through the cemetery of any community gives you some sense of how citizens view the history of their town and those who laid the foundations for what we have today. Love, respect, duty are all the watch words of the day.
My mother told how growing up in a ranching community, the children would pick wild flowers and take them to the various cemeteries laid out on the prairie. Called ‘Decoration Day’ back then, Memorial Day was established to remember those who served our country in the military, but also to honor all the dead who make up part of our own histories. To have lived a life on this earth deserves the respect of the living.
Glendive is fortunate to have two cemeteries that are well cared for. The summer crews have been busy preparing for this week-end. After the microburst last summer numbers of volunteers showed up to rake, gather branches, and cut down broken limbs. Broken tombstones were set right. It was the right thing to do. This year a new walkway has been laid in the military portion at the Dawson County Cemetery. Respect for the dead. To not forget we are part of that historic line which did not begin with us is a good ethic to teach our children.
Not only do we respect the dead, but of equal importance is our respect for the living. Memorial Day can be a time of new commitment to the future.Sometimes that is more difficult. The current tax bill coming to Congress threatens to cut trillions of dollars for the poor in the form of food programs and medical needs. If those proposals pass we will need to be ready to have a steady stream of food for our food bank to keep children and their parents fed. We need to advocate for the poor as a sign of respect for their needs and our ability to assist them. We will need to dig deeper into our pockets to help our churches and local and global programs to feed the hungry.
One author has written that to speak of leaving a dead planet Earth due to pollution and climate change and head out to the stars to find other places to colonize is not a noble venture, rather it is only taking our problems with us. We are all together on this single space ship called Earth, hurling through a Universe so vast we have no comprehension of its boundaries. We have to respect the past and those who lived in it; we have to care for today and give our children a future to grow up in; we have a beautiful, bountiful creation full of wonders that diminish anything humans can create.
Life, death; present and past. We have only this moment to make it work.
I was having some fun thinking about the men in my family that have served in the military (happens as I get closer to Memorial Day). Most of the warriors with whom I am familiar are on my paternal grandmother's side of the family. The first that I know of was a Methodist preacher named Rev. John Foster, born in 1735 in Maryland. He was a Revolutionary War Veteran. His grandson was Joshua Foster, born in 1794 in Bedford Co. Pennsylvania. He served in the War of 1812. Next of note was my Grandpa Anderson, an immigrant from Sweden.
Frank Sigfrid Oskar Anderson, F. Raymond Anderson, Harry Anderson and Bruce Anderson all served in the United States armed forces. Harry and Bruce served in the Navy, my Dad in the Army so there was always good natured rivalry. These are my heroes and nearly every family in America has their own. Honor them always.
Sometime last fall I wrote about what I thought was the most perfect day I had ever experienced. I was in Ekalaka, Montana, and had just finished a committal service at the small cemetery on the edge of town. The sky, the breeze, the clouds, the scenery -- everything was perfection itself. Well, Thursday I had another perfect day -- at Savage, Montana. I was out walking close to the river at their Riverview Cemetery. Everything is sporting that green fuzz that tells you Spring is here. The hills are green, the trees are a lime green. Some farmers had their irrigation sprinklers going; the irrigation ditch was running full. Our Yellowstone River is running high right now -- runoff from the snow pack in the mountains. In history this was the time when the steamboats could haul their loads from St. Louis, Missouri all the way up to Fort Benton, Montana near Great Falls. The steamboats would make one trip in the spring after the ice went out on the river and again when the snow pack melted, otherwise the river was too shallow. But, history aside, it was a beautiful day. Thank you God!
A day like Thursday and last fall is the gift that comes from living in the moment. That instant when God is very near, when all your senses are on high alert and all the pieces of our busy lives shift and move into a whole.
My hair couldn’t be more gray than what it is. As I get older perhaps I have some small claim to wisdom, at least some experience in watching the world go by for almost seventy years. So the older I get, the more concerned I become about the great inequality in the distribution of wealth throughout this country and the world. So much of that inequality is the result of the accompanying lack of political power by those who are poor or at least middle income and lower. We have this strange idea that we are ‘in control’. To my way of thinking nothing could be farther from the truth. As the middle class and/or poor, we are so desperate that throughout history we have elected leaders who use the cry ‘for the common good’ for their own good. The Emperors of Rome used the old “bread and circuses” to keep the people pre-occupied and fed. It was a premise built on a shaky idea. That was proven later in the French Revolution when hungry people went on a rampage against the wealthy who saw the poor farmers and shop keepers as rabble and only to be used to their benefit. In South Sudan today we are seeing two politicians using age-old tribal hatreds to tear their newly found country apart. The wreckage is a land where millions have become refugees, where rape is used as an act of power, where people are scrambling for food wherever they find it, and horrible, horrible acts are being committed. There is nothing decent nor compassionate.
It is too easy for us to dismiss what is happening by saying, “Well, that is a different culture. They do not value human life and peace as we do.” The seeds for disruption and political breakdown have been appearing on the scene for years. The most troubling facet of our life in this country is the rise of the influence of money to control our elections. Party animosity has seeped into religion, and culture to the point that unless you define a political party, explain how you practice your religious faith, and align yourself with ‘the big bucks’ you will not survive.To climb the corporate or social ladders in any part of the world you have to be in the right group and you have to follow all the right rules.
The power brokers in Washington today and actually throughout the world are a club of billionaires. Their obsessive need to be in power, to control the fate of their particular nation keeps the world on edge. For many generations it was believed any young man or woman who worked hard could be president. That is a myth. You have to have money, come from money or be backed by those behind the scenes, the king makers. They don’t want to be seen or even known, but they are the power brokers and politicians need their money in order to survive. I heard one Senator make the comment that ten of the richest counties in this country are grouped around Washington, D.C. Money and power attract.
I don’t know how we develop a culture where compassion and kindness are how we define ourselves. Where simple living is joyful living. The anger that has torn us apart for many decades has resulted in a country that is divided and still angry. There is no civil discourse, there is no attempt at understanding. Even our president says, “My way or the highway.”
My own personal ethos comes most often from the words of Jesus and those men and women who have followed his teachings through the centuries. It is not Republican or Democrat, it is not liberal or conservative, it is not white or people of color; it is not legal or illegal aliens. If nothing else perhaps we could take a lesson from Creation. All around us we see ecosystems that depend on each other. Clean oceans, breathable air, mountains, trees, wildlife, the passing of the seasons. Disturb one part of it and the balance is destroyed.
I don’t know how we bring our lives, our thinking, our personal philosophies back into alignment with each other. I can’t make it through this life alone. I need people and for that reason I am willing to be needed. Those billionaires in power have no understanding of the way we live our lives here in Montana or anywhere in the small towns and corners of this country. They line their pockets and we struggle.
Not every politician is this way, of course, but those folks cannot defeat the establishment. There are millions of people in this country who need what help we can give for food (volunteer to help in the Food Bank), for employment (support job training), for housing (support low-income housing or groups like Habitat for Humanity), for medical care (support free clinics backed by government assistance). If our focus is on helping and supporting each other, politics becomes less important. It is up to us to create a decent place to live and an environment for our children to grow in peace. It seems the rich will continue to get richer and Washington will continue to be removed from the realities of real life. When they get done with their silly little games that make them feel good, perhaps something really worthwhile can then happen.
A nice, quiet Monday morning. The sun woke me up earlier than I would have liked, but that happens in the summer. But it is a nice, slow awakening as the sunshine slowly creeps in. The wind is blowing, so it is chilly to be outside. I’ve been watching my new bird feeder I set up in the front yard. I have attracted some American goldfinch. They have not visited my feeders before so that is a treat. It is amazing, even the little bit I feed the birds, how fussy they are and won’t come unless the food and conditions are just right. Currently the starlings are chasing the smaller birds away but after awhile a new wave will come through.
It is definitely Spring. My tulips I planted last fall are all up, but the colder weather hasn’t cooperated in giving them some help. They look a little worn out, but they are trying. My iris and daffodils are still struggling, but it will happen. I love the lime green of the trees as they get their new foliage. As I was traveling last week in Minnesota and South Dakota the prairies were so green and pretty. I saw lots of new calves and antelope babies throughout the countryside. And deer, oh, my, yes!
Last week-end I traveled with a group of ladies, young and older, to Broadus for a women’s church gathering. We had perfect weather. No wind—-. Sunshine and high spirits. It was such fun to travel with a couple gals in their late 30s. We who are older can really learn from their world and how they see the things to which we have grown oblivious. I couldn’t have been more delighted with my traveling companions that day.
I am winding down on my work at Savage. Since starting in Baker the end of October I have been once again immersed in the life of the church. It is such good work with people who are compassionate and who care deeply about the world in which they live. I just find my energy level has shifted down and I am ready to return to retirement and the occasional pulpit supply. It was a challenge, occasionally an adventure, and a joy to immerse myself in the Word of God on a regular basis.
Small town living is something else which focuses my attention on many and various issues and concerns. Early in the year the State legislature decided to cut back on funding for our little community college perhaps leading to closing it and combining it with another community college. It was a blow and many folks stepped up to the plate to travel to Helena, write letters and speak on behalf of this institution which has served our community since the 1940s. Both Greg and I took a year of junior college before we headed out to a four-year school. That issue is not settled yet even though the legislature has ended. We don’t get a lot of support from Western Montana. They are very parochial and don’t travel our direction very often and think about our needs even less. Geography does make a difference.
(Had to go out and chase the squirrel away from one of the bird feeders. We have this meeting on a daily basis. I yell at him. He runs through the fence to the yard next door and then after I am gone he comes back! He has me well-trained.) Then the Burlington Northern Santa Fe laid off 55 workers from the roundhouse. One of the spokesmen said it was the downturn in oil and coal production in this area. Someone here said Warren Buffet, who owns the company, is tired of playing with his trains. I think we sense the despair something like this sends through the community — school population funding, mill levies for schools, price of homes and just the general attitude of folks wondering what could possibly happen next. It reminds me of some of the stories we hear from the places where car manufacturing plants closed and closed steel mills and coal mines are part of the picture in the lives of folks. It is a difficult place to be. Those still in the wage-earning years find it particularly hard. A person begins to realize how very little control we have over anything in our lives.
So life continues and one learns it is the small things that make up our lives — the little acts of kindness that come are way or the things we can do to improve the life on our neighbor. God is good, all the time and certainly God’s grace is enough.