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…

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Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum

By the way, for some thoughts on Easter, see Some Easter Thoughts.

I remember as a small child going to the big St. Paul Cathedral in St. Paul, Minnesota, with my grandmother. This was definitely in the “old days” when it was in Latin and you pretty much sat there and listened. But there were a few times when the priest would turn to the congregation and say something in Latin and we were expected to answer in Latin. The one I remember hearing first was “Dominus vobiscum,” to which the response sounded to me like “et cum spiri 2-2-0.” I kept looking in the missal for those numbers, but I couldn’t find them. Of course in English it is “The Lord be with you,” followed by “and also with you” or “and with your spirit,” the Latin being “et cum spirtu tuo.” So no numbers at all.

During a High Mass the priest would sing (chant, actually) some of the words, and the congregation would sing back. One expression I remember that the priest sang was “Per omnia saecula saeculorum,” to which the congregation would reply “Amen.” Later, when the Mass was set in the English vernacular, this became “for ever and ever, amen.” It is a Latin idiom that translates as “unto the ages of the ages” but simply means “for ever and ever.”

Which brings me to what I was thinking about. In John chapter three, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, one of the teachers in Israel. At one point Jesus says:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:14-17)

Why are there two different expressions, “eternal life” in verse 15 and “everlasting life” in verse 16? Are two different thoughts being expressed? Well it turns out that in Greek they are the same word. But after doing a little more research there are some subtleties in the usage of the word. It can mean “without beginning or end”, “without end”, or “without beginning”.

An example of the last usage is in 2 Tim 1:9:

Who hath saved us, and called [us] with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (2 Tim 1:9)

God’s purpose and grace existed without beginning, before the world was created. An example of something that never ends can be found in Hebrews:

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)

Hey, there’s that “for ever and ever, amen!” Here we see that there is an everlasting covenant that will never end, which was sealed with the blood of Christ at Calvary. God Himself is, of course, an example of the other usage, having neither beginning nor ending. So is there a difference between “everlasting” and “eternal?” In the King James Version of the Bible it appears that the words are used interchangeably even though they sometimes have slightly different meanings. I thought of it this way: when everlasting life is being contrasted with perishing or death, it seems to have the meaning of “never-ending,” i.e., you won’t perish (end) but will live forever (everlasting). On the other hand, when it is mentioned in the context of the life of Christ, it seems to mean “no beginning or ending.” since Christ has no start or end. As an example of the first:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father’s hand. I and [my] Father are one. (John 10:27-30)

Once saved our life will never end, we will never perish, we will live forever. In contrast to that we have:

And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; [and] he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13)

Here we see that we have obtained an eternal life that in God’s Son, a life that is “eternal” in the sense that it has neither beginning nor end. So when God saved me, he gave me the life that is in His Son, not just to live forever, but having that eternal character that stretches into the infinite past and into the infinite future. This may seem like a difference without a distinction, but as a one-time math major I see a difference. I will live forever since God saved me. But I will always be able to tell exactly how long I have been saved (at least relative to time on Earth). Since I was saved on Feb 18, 1973, today on April 20, 2014, I have been saved 15,036 days (Excel is very useful). So even though the time ahead of me is infinite, my experience of that time always has a finite measurement. The last verse that is usually sung in the hymn “Amazing Grace” alludes to this:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

But we have more than that, we have the life that is in His Son, an eternal life without beginning or end, a truly infinite life:

And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:1-10)

On this Easter, know that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and through Him, His work on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead, God is able to save everyone.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4)

The choice is yours. Where will you be “for ever and ever?”

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…