Starry Night

So it’s 3:00 AM.  A noisy truck went by outside the window and I thought it was the trash truck doing its rounds.  It wasn’t, but we are overloaded with trash from Christmas and I realized I hadn’t put it out to the curb, so I had to get up and do that.  It’s a beautiful night, crispy cold and a bit hazy but with bright stars twinkling in the sky.  It reminded me that I had not posted the “next” part of my reminiscing.

* * *

In 1960, my family moved to Hutchinson, Minnesota, because 3M had transferred my Dad there to a new magnetic tape factory.  We moved before I started third grade that fall.  My parents had lived in the city of St. Paul their entire lives, but now we lived out in the country, albeit in town, not on a farm.  However, at the end of our street there was a big cornfield and there were a lot of woods to explore.  I specifically remember that in the spring there were enough frogs around that we could fill jars with them.  Little boys, what are you gonna do!

Anyway, at about this time of the year, probably in the early part of 1961 after Christmas break, my teacher finally figured out that I couldn’t see the blackboard and she told my parents.  So I got my first pair of glasses.  I was amazed at what the word looked like and how much there was to see!  I remember one cold night I was walking back home from my friend’s house across the street, and I looked up into the moonless sky.  I mentioned earlier that tonight there are some bright stars in the sky which are very pretty, but this is, after all, New Jersey, and there are only a few and with the air being what it is and the ambient light in these parts, you really can’t see too many.  But in Hutchinson, Minnesota, in the winter of 1961 you can see them all!  Here there are trees all around, but not so in the Midwestern plains.  There were stars right down to the ground!

I had never seen anything like it.  I had only recently turned eight years old, but I was profoundly affected.  Ever since I could remember I had been told about God and how He had made everything, and now I understood what that meant.  I knew then that He was real, and that He had made each one of those stars, and that He was amazing!  Later I learned the words from Psalm 8:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

That was my reaction.  This might seem like a lot for an eight-year-old to take in, but I believe that this was God’s intention all along.  In Romans 1:20 we read:

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Part of the reason for the work of creation is to reveal the nature of God to us.  And from that day on I don’t think I ever doubted that there was a God in Heaven and that He had created everything we see.  I didn’t know much about Him, but that would come later.

In a previous post I quoted the first verse of the hymn “How Great Thou Art” in reference to thunderstorms.  But it also mentions the stars:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

I love this hymn because it represents the simplicity of my youth, and it shows to me that God has made things so that even little children can begin to understand the majesty of God and all that He has done.  The last two verses are:

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
To take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And there proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

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Sound Bites

As I noted in my first post, right after my twentieth birthday I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, and I have been reading and studying the Bible ever since. Certain verses in the Bible have more significance to me than others and bring to my mind a wide range of thoughts and memories. It occurred to me that these verses are similar to “sound bites” that are used in our fast-paced news world to convey important events and to make the information “stick” in everyone’s mind. Over a period of time I went through the Bible and selected those passages that have the most meaning or are the most memorable to me personally. Here is the first post about these sound bites which I hope to present along with my observations and, of course, stories.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Let’s start at the very beginning (did I just hear Julie Andrews singing?). Everything I believe starts with God. I make no apologies for my belief in him and I write with the perspective that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who loves each one of us individually with an everlasting love. That being said, let’s look at this verse.

It’s pretty straight-forward and simple. It says that God made everything. I remember from my earliest days in Catholic school that the very first question/answer in the Baltimore Catechism was: “Who made the world? God made the world.” And another one: “Why did God make me? God made me…” There was probably more to that last one, but that’s what stuck in my mind. Someone made me, and that seemed to imply that I had some responsibility to whoever that was. I suppose that impression never left me, and it shaped much of what I did throughout my life, both good and bad.

I am also a mathematical, science-oriented kind of guy, with particular interest in astronomy and cosmology on one end, and quantum mechanics on the other end. My faith in God and my agreement with Genesis 1 does not in any way conflict with my scientific view of the world. The universe exists because God made it. Not just the physical components of it, but all the laws that govern it. God is an orderly God, as indicated by a couple verses in 1 Corinthians:

“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1 Cor 14:33)
“Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor 14:40)

So how do I reconcile the story of creation as told in Genesis with what I know to be true about the age and condition of the universe? To put it bluntly, I don’t. There are any number of theological, metaphysical, philosophical, and scientific books and websites that deal with this conundrum. My thought is this: science can only provide answers to things that are physical and observable. Many definitions of scientific reasoning require that a scientific hypothesis be falsifiable, i.e., it must be able to state conditions that would prove the hypothesis wrong. For example, many scientists maintain that string theory is not scientific but only philosophical, because its adherents are unable to state any feasible experiments that could show it to be false. So science is not capable of answering all questions.

But some fundamental questions are of the utmost importance. The first question is, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Another is, “Why am I here, and what is my purpose (I guess that’s two questions)?” In Acts 16:30 a jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” In other words, what can I do about my shortcomings (sin) and how do I answer to my Maker? So there are “big” questions about the universe, and there are very personal questions about individuals. The Bible has answers to many of these questions and I intend to stick mostly to the ones about individuals. So the first thing to know, the first answer, is presented in the very first verse: God made everything, including you.

There are some other interesting things about this verse and about all of Genesis. Genesis means “origin” and many of the ideas presented in the Bible’s first book are expanded upon in later chapters. The verses can also be contrasted with later verses. One of the origins described in this book is the existence of sin, “original” sin if you will. Although it begins with “In the beginning God,” Genesis ends “in a coffin in Egypt” (Gen 50:26). The Old Testament ends ominously with this:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. Mal 4:5-6

Pretty bleak.

But the New Testament begins with “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matt 1:1)
And it ends with

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you all. Amen. (Rev 22:20-21)

The Bible starts with God in the beginning; it ends with a personal request for the Lord Himself to return, and a request that His grace be with you all. I always preferred the New Testament ending to the Old Testament ending – not a curse, but God’s grace, grace that is available to everyone, including you.

School Begins

I know that school is actually ending for the year, but this is a continuation of memories of my youth and includes when I started school. The previous installment is here.

In 1957 we moved East. Not to New Jersey (that came later), but to the east side of St. Paul. My parents bought a brand new house in a development on Wilson Avenue. It was still being built and my Dad used to bring the workers beer (liquor?) on Friday afternoons, so our house got special attention and was done first. We moved in after school was out, so that would make it 57 years ago (YIKES!). The land was very steep in that area so the house was one story in the front and two stories in the back, with a walk-out basement. My brother Bob and I has a room in the basement and the five (at the time) girls had rooms upstairs. This set a pattern that lasted most of the time we were at home, keeping us two boys away from all the women. It was a good plan! My sister Joni was born that fall, bringing the number of sisters up to six. We lived there for three years.

As I think back on this time in my life, it seems that my memories are all very visual. It occurred to me that this is probably the case because I couldn’t read yet. A lot of what I remember would be pretty hard for me to describe, so I’ll just hit some high points.

One day in the late summer of 1957, my Mom put me in the car and drove me a little ways from home and without warning dropped me off at this big building and told me I was now going to Kindergarten. I took issue with this and screamed my head off, so Mom had to come back and get me. They ended up putting me in a different class with some of my neighborhood friends so I calmed down and my school career began. Anyway that’s how I remember it. My Mom told me later that she had told me every day for three months that I was going to be starting school, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention. It happens.

In those days we spent all our days outside playing with what seemed like fifty kids in the neighborhood. There were at least twenty of varying ages since families were a lot bigger then. We played wiffle ball in the summer and there was a skating rink at the bottom of the hill that we used in the winter. I learned to ride a bike and how to climb around in the half-built houses. I suspect that the latter activity was done without the “grown-up’s” approval, but we have already determined that I wasn’t paying much attention to what they had to say. There were a number of reasons we were outside a lot, including the fact that the house was crowded with eight kids (see above) and in the summer there was no air conditioning.

It was an experience sharing a room with my brother who is six years older than me. I assume I was a bit of an annoyance most of the time, but we did do a lot of stuff together. He always had chemistry sets, short-wave radio stuff, Erector sets with motors, and all kinds of other interesting things that a five or six-year-old wouldn’t normally get to play with. One of my favorites was the lead soldier kit. We had a crucible that probably held about a cup that we would melt lead in. Then we would pour it into molds and make a few soldiers. We would make a “plank” using a wooden ruler stuck between some books and have the soldiers fight on it until one fell into the crucible and melted away. It is hard to believe that we had our faces stuck in lead fumes and this was considered good clean fun for children.

We also always had a dart board. One time my brother and one of his friends (Pat Whistle, I think) were playing with the darts in our room, throwing the darts backwards over their shoulders. I walked into the room at just the right (wrong?) time and a dart stuck in the side of my head. It just grabbed the skin a little so it hardly even bled, but I think Bob lost ten years off his life when he saw me with a dart stuck in my head!

Another thing I discovered at that point in my life was music – rock and roll in particular. My brother listened to a local station whose tagline was “Nighttime is the right time, To listen and enjoy KDWB…” (Listen here. The station is still on the air though now it is FM.) At first we had a crystal radio with earphones but then we must have had a larger one to listen to on speakers. Transistor radios didn’t show up until the 60s, so this was a tube radio. I have very distinct memories of certain songs: “El Paso” by Marty Robbins; “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston; “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. In fact, I heard Blueberry Hill on Sirius Radio earlier today. But my absolute favorite was “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Since my Dad worked at 3M making magnetic tape, we always had a reel-to-reel tape recorder. We used to have a recording of me singing this song when I was about five. Imagine a little voice singing this verse:

If you see me comin’, better step aside
A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
I got one fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don’t a-get you
Then the left one will.

Here’s another version that’s a bit more recent.

In 1960 my mother gave birth to my brother Joey, but he was born with respiratory problems and didn’t live very long. He was buried at Fort Snelling in St.Paul. My father was buried next to him in 2006.

Also in 1960 my father was transferred to the 3M plant in Hutchinson MN about 80 miles west of St. Paul. But that’s another story…

ST. PAUL

No, not the St. Paul from the Bible, the greatest of the Apostles, who was converted on the road to Damascus. The city St. Paul on the Mississippi river in Minnesota. One of the Twin Cities, along with Minneapolis. That’s where I was born back in late December of 1952. So this post is just some stories of where I got started, and some early memories and influences.

So I was raised by Indians in a garden where there were huge thunderstorms and we ate White Castle hamburgers. I guess I should clarify that.

I was baby number six for my parents, after one girl, one boy, and then three girls. Since I was a baby boy (instead of one of many girls), I became my Mom’s favorite. You can just ask my siblings about that. When I came home from the hospital, my Mom now had a newborn, a one-year-old, a two-year-old, a five-year-old, a six-year-old, and a ten-year-old. It was too much. She reached out to the church and she was connected up with a home for abandoned (perhaps troubled) girls. She chose a 16-year-old Indian girl named Jeri to come and live with us and help with the children. Evidently Jeri thought I was the cutest thing and carried me everywhere, to the point that they say I didn’t walk until I was two because I didn’t have to! Incidentally, to give you an idea of what times were like in the “mid-century” era, my parents had friends who would no longer come to visit or even associate with them because we had an Indian living in our house.

The house stood on a double lot, and in the “side back” yard was a flower garden that had been started by the previous owner of the house. The flowers were peonies, but not just any peonies. These flowers had won first prize at the Minnesota State Fair several years running and they were HUGE! So my mother would go outside in the morning to weed the garden, and she would sit me down next to her under the flowers. So I was raised in a garden. My earliest memory is of that garden. I remember watching the earthworms in the black, soft dirt, and the ants on the flowers. My mother told me (probably much later) that the ants helped the peonies to open up and bloom, so we always left the ants alone.

There be four [things which are] little upon the earth, but they [are] exceeding wise:
The ants [are] a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer. (Prov 20:34-35)

My first word was “flower”. My Dad worked for 3M as an engineer making magnetic tape, so we had a tape recorder even back then. I was getting a bath in the kitchen sink, my Mom floated one of the peonies in the water, and I said, “flower”. My Dad got his tape recorder to save the event for posterity, but to add some interest he took the flower away! I immediately started to cry and didn’t stop until he put it back. Maybe he had a bit of a mean streak. Unfortunately, we lost the recording in a fire we had at our house in the mid-60s.

My Dad had an upright piano that he used to play and he’d sing old songs for us while we sat next to him on the bench to sing along. Also, our house had a big wraparound screened-in porch and we would keep a couch on it in the summer. Now if you’ve never been in the Midwest, you’ve never heard a real thunderstorm. I liked to sit out on the couch with the rain pouring out of the sky and listen to the huge peals of thunder echoing off the neighborhood houses. I wasn’t scared because my Dad told me that it was just the angels pushing a piano down the stairs. That made perfect sense to me, so to this day I love thunderstorms. I remember the first time I heard the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” The first verse captures what I feel in a thunderstorm.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Then there is White Castle, the home of the Perfect Food. After church on Sunday we would sometimes trundle off to White Castle and get a “sack” (that’s a “bag” to you non-Midwesterners) of hamburgers and head over to Gramma Wanschura’s house. I was so impressed that I could eat four hamburgers! At the time you could get them “with” or “without” (onions). I think now they just make all of them with onions. Even then you could watch them make the burgers, which was really cool. It was located at “Seven Corners” in St. Paul but I couldn’t figure out if any of the current Castles is the one I ate at. There’s not one near me now which is probably a good thing since I would weigh another 100 pounds more. I do know where the nearest ones are, though (Howell, Eatontown, and Edison near the Menlo Park Mall). So if you’re near any of them, feel free to pick me up a sack.

I was about four and a half when we left that house and moved to another one on the east side of St. Paul. But that’s a story for another day…