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When I was young there were people in our town who were called “pillars of the church.” We lost a significant one from our Bloomington church on Saturday. As a newly hired office manager of a church whose denomination was new to me, I depended on key people to provide guidance and support. Jerry Gilliand was church treasurer and he seemed to be around whenever I needed him. Jerry handled the sound system on Sunday mornings. He also sang and played guitar and fiddle in our “house band,” Zenith Avenue, for special services. Jerry was a handyman when things needed fixing. He knew whom to call to get things done quickly, often asking experts from our church family for assistance. After his retirement from Northwest Airlines where he was a pilot, he became someone for the minister, also new to the church, to consult. He was generous with his time, talents, and financial acumen and was among those who kept our small organization growing and solvent. His good sense and sense of humor defused tense situations over the years. Not many of the successful decisions in the church are without his imprint. He initiated a program of rides to the airport. Members called a driver from their neighborhood who made a contribution to the church in gratitude for the ride. The children sought him out after services as his briefcase held treats.
On a personal note, I am grateful to Jerry and Marv Gish for getting my husband back into tennis after a break of almost 20 years.They put together a foursome after the spring picnic one year. After that time Jerry joined a group playing at Match Point in Lakeville, and later at Lifetime. He and his wife Barb have many friends in the congregation as they became part of the fabric of our church life. A dependable presence in our midst, he has been missed as his illness kept him from us. It is always difficult to reshape ones world when someone is no longer a part of it.

Jack is one of those people who make us smile, sometimes groan, but never despair – except maybe now. As a member of our choir he is a baritone, and he can switch from tenor to bass as needed. His often booming voice during hymns can also be tender when necessary in the choir.

As former English teachers, Jack and I often quoted poetry at each other, sometimes recalling obscure works, but ever comfortable with Shakespeare. He is a story teller who seems to know a little bit about a lot of things.

He and Carmen loved to travel, often as Road Scholars. In our church family they quickly became leaders and friends. In the beginning, Carmen tells me, Jack wasn’t sure he was interested in joining a church. After the first visit, Jack was the one who was eager to attend. Before long he joined the choir, regaling us with stories from his travels, corny jokes, and good humor. For several years he was our Santa Claus for holiday music Sunday, passing out candy canes and smiles.

He is a skilled photographer with a wonderful eye for just the right picture. A gallery of his photographs presently hangs just outside the sanctuary in our church. Each is a sample of that special eye for his subject.

Jack is now in the late stages of cancer. We who care about him despair. It is never easy to watch someone’s positive spark grow dim. He remains in our hearts as our own, inimitable Jack.


“Once upon a midnight dreary…” It was Halloween night, well actually it was 5:30. We had been running errands, and we stopped for dinner at one of my favorite haunts. After we were seated, I noticed a distinguished-looking elderly gentleman in a tuxedo. Was he in costume for the holiday? Possibly. My muse was aroused after a long hibernation. During the next thirty minutes the man was joined by thirteen graying others similar in age and dress. Oh, my imagination was in full gear. The last man to arrive had what appeared to be a laptop in an elegant leather shoulder bag. This group, seated in a private room, probably meet every Halloween in this place. Their business was none of mine, but I conjured up many things. They were benefactors who selected their next project each Halloween at this gathering. Or they were politicos grieving the state of this election, planning their exodus. Maybe they were college classmates who met to eulogize those no longer in their number. They appeared serious and purposeful. It was an interesting moment in time, and best of all, my creative juices are flowing once again.

The explosion in our circle last Thursday has taught me a few things about myself and my relationship to my world. I’m troubled by some things I’ve identified.

My first thought was for our safety. Even before I knew the location of the blast, the jolt frightened me. As I reflect on that feeling, I realize there are people right now in countries with turmoil for whom blasts are ever-present. Can one ever become accustomed to sounds of destruction? To bombs and gunfire and the chaos and terror of not feeling safe. Must that be reality?

As the afternoon wore on, I focused on our granddaughters’ visit which always brings us joy. The girls are sensitive, bright, seem to enjoy our company, and make music for hours with piano, guitar, and harmony. I can add a few low notes to the singing, and I never tire of it. The big bang and its aftermath made it all about me. I didn’t know whether the neighbor was alive or not, but I thought about myself. I’m not proud of that.

The increasing gun culture and the mass shootings reside at the edge of my reality; I tremble when an annoyed motorist honks his horn at me as I follow the speed limit: road rage. I worry about being places with large crowds that could be targeted. My world gets smaller and smaller. I resent that.

I’ve always seen the glass half full in the past. I want to regain that confidence in humanity that made anything possible. I’ll keep working on it.

Mid-afternoon on Thursday, a huge explosion rocked our neighborhood. The house felt it, and we certainly did. My heart was pounding. I was sure a bomb had gone off somewhere, maybe at the Mall of America.

Sirens seemed close, People in our circle were out of their homes, not sure how to react.

In a few minutes the first responders arrived on our street at the north end of our circle. A neighborhood man was in the ambulance headed for HCMC when we joined the curious crowd on our street. Rumors began. We were told the injured man had been handling flash powder when it exploded. The first story we heard was that he’d blown off his hand and injured his legs and his dog.

There were many police cars, firefighters, thrill-seekers – one man had heard the blast from 93rd Street – we are on 111. Soon the bomb squad arrived, the crowds were dispersed, the road was blocked off by police, houses were evacuated in the area nearest the man’s home. No one was allowed to enter or leave the area.

We were expecting two of our granddaughters to spend the night. I texted both families with the problem and the uncertainty of an “all clear” message. We finally postponed their visit as it grew close to 6. We got cleared at about 7, and we have since been told that the man is alive, a quantity of flash powder was removed from the home; the area seems back to normal.

We joined several tennis friends in hairnets for a Feed My Starving Children event this week. In two hours many volunteers, 8 – 10 to a table, filled meal bags to be sent to countries in Central America, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. A major recipient is Haiti where conditions are bleak, especially for the children

The process is well-organized and efficient. Each bag is filled with a scoop of vitamin powder, a scoop of dried vegetables, a cup of soy, and a heaping cup of rice. Bags are weighed, and sometimes rice is added to make the designated weight.

Once filled and weighed, each bag is passed on to two people who seal it and stack it on a table with the numbers 1 to 18 written on it. Two bags are placed on each number, and when 36 bags are ready, they are packed into a box to move to the next location in the process. Someone assigned to the box-moving did that task.

There are six servings to a bag, and different preparation methods are possible. Some villagers make soup, some make a “rice-a-roni”- like dish, and some take out the soy for patties, prepare the vegetables and vitamins, and cook the rice separately. I was partnered with a staff person who answered my questions about destinations and preparation. In the two hours we worked, we packed enough to feed 153 children for one year.

The process became a friendly competition with someone at each table calling out a completed box, “Table six, box 25.” There was camaraderie, laughter, and a feeling of accomplishment. I hadn’t known what to expect of the activity. Assembly lines suggest tedium and seriousness. We’d looked up the non-profit and learned that it was one of the higher-rated charities. It is also a Minnesota organization. We would do it again.

Ray Bradbury’s 1953 vision of a dystopian world speaks of many troubling signs in our present. Conversations are often replaced with text messages that dance across the surface of thought, avoiding substance. In Bradbury’s future world books became condensed and simplified, made into comic books, then finally forbidden. People were discouraged from discourse, front porches which had been gathering places in earlier times were outlawed and removed. Information was disseminated in sound bites on wall-sized screens in homes. Schools no longer existed.

Following a performance of Fahrenheit 451, one of the actors told of wanting to read the book before getting into rehearsals for the play at Theatre in the Round. He got the book at his local library and read what he later learned was an abridged form – the only version that library had.

Today we are faced with history books being altered to eliminate parts of our past that doesn’t speak well of us as a society. School libraries remove from shelves books that someone finds objectionable for personal reasons. Reading is often done on electronic devices, if at all. Society’s pace doesn’t encourage leisure for reading, enjoying nature, having real conversations about ideas.

I am not ready to concede that now is an improvement on earlier times when creative, thought-provoking ideas were considered and encouraged. I miss those days.

So many times during the holidays, when our kitchen smells were the ones I knew as a child, I thought about those simple, happy days in our small town. Mom was a wonderful, creative cook, and she loved to bake. Yeast and cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin were December aromas. Dad made batch after batch of English toffee, and that buttery scent was always present as well. We’d hang around the kitchen in case Mom needed tasters. Each of us had a particular favorite treat.

In our small community people rarely locked their doors. We played outside after dark without fear. The village did take responsibility for its children and we felt safe. In my earliest days many people had telephone party lines which were not very private. Neighbors knew the business and troubles of others, and they shared what they knew. Mostly that was not such a bad thing. Help was offered when needed, and in our farm community, harvests became times of cooperation and celebration.

The mischief we created was innocent. I remember swimming in the small lake near my home. We were not to do that as it wasn’t a swimming lake. I could never understand having a lake without swimming in it, so I ignored the rule. One afternoon, after swimming, I went to marching band rehearsal. When we marched past my home, Mom saw me with my wet, frizzy hair. As expected, I heard about it.

A whistle blew at noon and six o’clock. I’m not sure why that happened as we didn’t have a factory to signal. Kids knew to be home at noon and six when meals were served. Maybe that was the impetus for the sound.

In Bloomington we are an hour’s drive from my home town. I miss having my parents just down the road. Our extended families would delight them. However, the unpleasant events of the recent past would trouble them as they do me. School shootings, terror on the streets, poisoned water supplies, hungry children, people driven from their homelands made unwelcome in this country of immigrants – all would be unbelievable to Mom and Dad. While I miss them, I am grateful they are spared the news of this time.

On this quiet and beautiful summer morning, my flowers are shimmering in the dew, the tomato plants, all 18 of them, are lush and laden with fruit as is our apple tree. This is its year to bear fruit after taking the year off in 2014. In the midst of all that are weeds that seem to thrive anywhere. I wonder why those tender leaves don’t excite the rabbits the way the rosebushes do.

At the end of May I retired from a job I loved after 17 years of feeling useful and productive. Those years came immediately after my retirement from 30 years of teaching Language Arts, formerly called English. That was another career I loved. Every year was new and fulfilling. On these first days of the rest of my life, I find myself with no direction in mind. My hobbies are few. Reading, writing, and swimming continue to interest me. I like our vegetable garden, but it delights me mainly during the harvesting of the produce. We will can tomatoes, make pickles, and freeze apples to add to those we froze in 2013 as some remain from that big harvest.

As I search for a direction, I see people with much larger challenges than mine. Our climate changes have had far-reaching effects on wild life and habitats, on the dwindling water supplies, and on increasing severe weather events. Parts of our population are gun-crazy, some of our leaders are war-crazy, and people are hungry. I see bigotry spilling out of dissatisfied people who need somewhere to focus their frustrations and hatred. This is not a country in which I can feel pride.

I will continue to enjoy the family and friends that have provided stability, support, and love. I must think less about myself and more about others for whom I can be a resource or a friend. I have always seen the glass half full. I need to find my way back to that. It’s time to get back to life.

With our packed suitcase just inside the door, we turned in our room keys and joined the group to listen to a talk with a music producer. His current activities with Decca have him remastering cast recordings from long-ago performances. He works from glass or metal discs, and the quality of the recordings is excellent, better in some respects than the tapes of later times.

We had our final meal together at The Glass House Restaurant, eating more than we needed before the long flight home. Because the bridges across the rivers were closed for a bike race, we took a really circuitous route to LaGuardia through neighborhoods, “downtown” Queens, back roads with interesting small shops and row houses. It was much more fun than a straight shot to the airport. It took about as long as our ride on Thursday, but it didn’t feel that way. We hadn’t the pressure of deadlines, and we had more interesting scenery.

As we neared Minneapolis-St. Paul, we were told there was bad weather ahead. The pilot took us north toward Brainerd so we could come in to the airport from the north. We did avoid the storm, and our flight came in a bit earlier than scheduled. The man seated in our row received an email from his son with a picture of the hail-damaged roof and yard of his White Bear home. We had only evidence of rain at our house. It was good to be home. As in previous years, we plan to return in 2016.