Posted in Longreads & Essays

The Unknown Soldier – Remembering a Veteran of Peace

CPS31dormOn this Veteran’s Day, I honor my grandpa who, rather than go to war, joined Civilian Public Service (CPS) as a Conscientious Objector (CO) during Word War II.

He left a young wife and did not return, except on brief furloughs, for four years. My dad, born during that time, wondered who this visiting stranger was.

Rather than destroy, Grandpa, like the many other men in CPS, helped build the infrastructure of this country. They made fences, harvested food, built roads and dams, planted trees, worked in mental hospitals (and as a result helped change the quality of care of mental patients). They gave their sweat, toil, and sometimes, their lives, to care for this land and her people.

His younger brother was killed by a tree at another CPS camp, one of the many casualties that occurred among these men, deaths that are not memorialized in monuments or with parades. Grandpa never recovered from losing his brother or those four years of his life.

When he returned, they called him yellow. How unkind and so very untrue.

Life was never easy for my grandpa, but he was one of the most courageous men I have ever known, willing to face adversity, leave family and community, go against the flow, because his conscience and God forbade him from taking the life of another. His faith was something strong and real. His ultimate allegiance was to the Prince of Peace and to the Kingdom above all nations and kings.

Grandpa passed away in 2011. He will never receive a medal for his service nor would he want one anyway.

But he is the unknown “soldier” I honor on this and every Veteran’s Day.

Originally published here 2012

Posted in Longreads & Essays

The Unknown Soldier

On this Veteran’s Day, I honor my grandpa who, rather than go to war, joined Civilian Public Service (CPS) as a Conscientious Objector (CO) during Word War II.

He left a young wife and did not return, except on brief furloughs, for four years. My dad, born during that time, wondered who this visiting stranger was.

Rather than destroy, Grandpa, like the many other men in CPS, helped build the infrastructure of this country. They made fences, harvested food, built roads and dams, planted trees, worked in mental hospitals (and as a result helped change the quality of care of mental patients). They gave their sweat, toil, and sometimes, their lives, to care for this land and her people.

His younger brother was killed by a tree at another CPS camp, one of the many casualties that occurred among these men, deaths that are not memorialized in monuments or with parades. Grandpa never recovered from losing his brother or those four years of his life.

When he returned, they called him yellow. How unkind and so very untrue.

Life was never easy for my grandpa, but he was one of the most courageous men I have ever known, willing to face adversity, leave family and community, go against the flow, because his conscience and God forbade him from taking the life of another. His faith was something strong and real. His ultimate allegiance was to the Prince of Peace and to the Kingdom above all nations and kings.

Grandpa passed away ten year s ago. He will never receive a medal nor would he want one anyway.

But he is the unknown “soldier” I honor on this Veteran’s Day.

Posted in Longreads & Essays

Finding My Place In Life’s Pattern – Relearning Inlay from Grandpa

In a recent post, I wrote about visiting the North Country and missing my grandfather, who passed away ten years ago this month. Upon my return, I resolved to be more diligent in applying the lessons I learned from him in the making of wood inlay. I had done a few smaller items over the years, but doing it as an ongoing craft had eluded me.

image

The acclimation of the multitude of life’s experiences is an ongoing process. The difficulty lies in determining what remains on the fringe and what is invited into one’s central core. My time in New York has reawakened in me one such invitation.

Once home, I dug out the three boxes of wood pieces and book of patterns from the attic in my shop. I’d pretty much used up all of grandpa’s inlay over the years in renovating the Homestead cottage at Rolling Ridge and other small projects.

image

So most of my time has been spent sorting and otherwise getting reacquainted with the patterns and various types of wood I have.

I set the table saw to 1/4 inch and made some tentative cuts. Then I decided to make a pattern. Over the course of the week, I glued each strip separately until the section was completed.

image

There is deep sense of completion within me as well. I turn the piece over in my hands and remember grandpa saying in his booming voice that my being there was “a shot in the arm.”

image

Here in my 50th year, it is time that I let his teachings flow through my veins and out into the works of my hands.

Posted in The Sunday Driver: Life in the Slow Lane

Missing Grandpa – Working With My Hands

Here in the North Country, I have been missing my grandfather who passed away ten years ago this August.

image

He was a master carpenter and while he was still living, I came up on two occasions to stay for a week and learn wood inlay from him. Those were special times. I have made a few things since then but I still dream of doing inlay on a regular basis.

image

Rummaging through the shop, I found some of grandpa’s inlay and various other wood scraps. As the memories flowed, a project began to take shape.

image

I felt the hand of grandpa on my shoulder as I worked and heard his voice giving me advice.

image

I must remember that I feel best when working with my hands. Seeing the end result, I realized something had shifted in me and I couldn’t help but smile.

Posted in Leaves on the Poet Tree

I Am A Man of Dust and Dreams

img_20160705_131047.jpgAt first I did not hear the soft sound
or feel the fluttering shadows on my face.

I was working, cleaning out the shed at the place I am moving to.
Coughing, breathing in the dust of the past,
making the future come clear,
thinking of Grandpa and the time he spent teaching me wood inlay,
hoping to honor him by building in here.

Then I heard, and saw,
something in the light of the window,
a tattered-wing moth banging against the glass.

It did not like my enclosing hands
but outside when I sprung them wide
it soared with joy into the trees.
My eyes followed it up until I saw Grandpa looking down.
Build a good life, he said. That is true carpentry.

I am a man caught in dust and dreams, but I don’t have to be,
grace looks down, caresses my face like wings,
and like the moth in the morning I fly free.

November 3, 2007

Posted in Musings

Memorial Day Ballgame Conversation

image

So I am watching the Nats play the Cards at their annual Memorial Day Ballgame (my birthday gift!).

The guy beside me strikes up a conversation about May birthdays. He’s a May baby too.

We start listing family members who have birthdays in May.

He tells me that today is his father’s birthday, that he would be 90 if he was still living.

I say my grandpa has passed away too.

“He served our country,” he says.

“Mine too,” I reply.

“Air Force,” he tells me.

CPS during World War II, I think.

But I don’t tell my neighbor that. He, like most Americans, has never heard of these forgotten heroes.

But I remember, Grandpa.

How your first born thought you a stranger because you only saw him briefly on furloughs.

How your brother died in an accident at another CPS camp.

How you put miles of fence posts in the ground, day after day, building a country rather than destroying one.

How you wrenched your back so badly that you had to have surgery and it pained you the rest of your life.

How they called you yellow at the factory when you came home.

They don’t remember.

But I do, Grandpa.

I remember.

Posted in Longreads & Essays, PEACE GROOVES

War Games

I consider my grandfather one of my peace heroes (see The Unknown Soldier). He sacrificed everything rather than betray his conscience. During World War II, he served in CPS (Civilian Public Service) as an alternative to joining the military. During the four years of the war he only returned home on brief furloughs. My dad who was born in 1943 was afraid of this stranger when he saw him on these rare visits. Grandpa’s baby brother, Art, died in an accident, one of several deaths that occurred to those who served in CPS. This incident in particular scarred Grandpa for life. While working in CPS, Grandpa hurt his back and as a result, suffered from back problems throughout his life. When the war was over, Grandpa was called yellow and labeled a coward by coworkers at the factory where he worked.

Yet this same grandfather, when I was a teenager, made rubberband guns for my cousins and I to play war. Perhaps he just wanted us to stop using his wooden window props as machine guns. I know he regretted it later and banned those types of games around the house. If my memory is correct, he stopped making and repairing the guns and we found more peaceful things to make in Grandpa’s shop like a chess game and later, wood inlay. Rather than shooting each other, we played Eggs In The Bush, UNO (or “Bluno!” as Grandpa shouted out once), and Boggle to name a few.

So the question I ask is; why did my pacifistic Mennonite grandfather whose entire life was molded by his years as a CO, make guns for his grandchildren to play war?

Parents and grandparents want to make their children and grandchildren happy. Often it is easier to say yes to a questionable request. The rubberband guns were well-made, forged by Grandpa’s skilled carpenter’s hands. But my grandfather did realize that he may have opened up a can of worms and he did make a decision to no longer make us guns or allow us to play such games at his house.

The gift of reflection means that we can look at our past actions and make a change if need be. In this day and age, we as peaceloving parents and grandparents are inundated with constant decisions and child requests, some of which may not be a good reflection of the Prince of Peace. Sometimes we will say yes when we should have said no. We should not be afraid to change course and explain to our children why we did so.

Conscientious objection should not be relegated solely to the realm of war. For my grandfather it was a way of life. There were bumps in the roads as he integrated his life with the different worlds of his grandchildren, but he kept returning to his center. “The regenerated do not go to war” and I would add, nor should their children play at it either.

Lifelong learner is a positive idea that gets thrown around a lot. Play Theory suggests that play and games are some of the primary ways that humans learn. This leads to several questions. What are the play and games of our children teaching them? What “education” are we agreeing to when we allow them to play at war or engage in games that present violence as a way to solve problems?

Perhaps we should become more adept at practicing the words of the old song:

“I (and my children) ain’t gonna study war no more.”

Posted in The Sunday Driver: Life in the Slow Lane

It’s Always Worth Making The Trip

Where were you during the ice storm? We were driving in it.

My grandfather passed away a year ago and we had not been up to visit Grandma for over a year so my wife and I took a trip to upstate New York. We could have picked better weather to drive in!

A trip that normally takes 8 hours took 10.5. My windshield wipers were on the entire way. We started out in rain and then, in this order, we had sleet, ice, and snow. Say a blessing for the road crews the next time you drive in wintry weather. The plows were out and they did a masterful job of keeping the highway in relatively decent shape. I beeped my horn in thanks every time I passed a big truck.

NY Collage by KMLS

But we made it and it was nice to be there. Grandma is still down about Grandpa’s passing. She sits in the chair that he used to sit in with her head in her hands. It was good to be in out of the cold weather and to be with her. We played games, talked, laughed, and ate wonderful food as always. It was hard to go out to the shop and see Grandpa’s tools missing, as well as the reminders of his presence everywhere. I worked on a couple of projects for my aunts, painting a windmill duck and gluing a chair, shoveling snow.Grandma cried when we left. I asked her to pray for us on the road. She nodded. We left in an ice storm, drove through snow and ice most of the way. We parked at a gas station and ate the sandwiches Grandma and the aunts made for us. If we had gone into a snow drift, we had enough food packed for us to keep us alive until the spring thaw!

We stopped to take pictures once the roads got better. (Check out photos from the trip on my Flickr album). We were joking that the only weather we hadn’t seen on the trip was the sun. Then suddenly it broke through. We drove home with a gorgeous sky and clouds in ever changing red and purple hues leading the way before us. This time it took us 9 hours (still long) but we were happy to be home!

NY Collage 2 by KMLS

We called Grandma to let her know we were home. She was relieved. She said it had been a long day for her.

Here at home I eat one of Grandma’s famous pickles and wonder if I’ll see her alive on this earth again. Sometimes no matter how bad the weather is or how difficult the travel, it is worth making the trip. This time was one of them. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Hello, Grandma. Yes, we made it home safely. Thank you for your prayers. It’s still snowing there? No, just real windy here. Yes, it was wonderful to be with you too. Okay. We love you. Good-bye, Grandma. Good-bye.

Posted in The Sunday Driver: Life in the Slow Lane

Love Is Just A Phone Call Away

phonecall of loveMy grandma doesn’t have the internet. I can’t just send her an email to let her know I’m thinking of her. That’s refreshing in a way. In this day and age of lightning-speed technology, where a mouse click sends a message, I can’t do that with Grandma.

Ever since Grandpa died last August, I have been meaning to get up to New York and visit her. We’re hoping to do so this fall. But in the meantime I wonder how she’s doing and how I can stay connected to her.

You see, technology handicaps me in a way. I get so used to the instantaneous that I forget that I can write Grandma a letter and send it via snail mail. Which when you come right down to it is lot better than getting an email any day.

Or I can pick up the phone and give her call. Like I did today.

It takes a little bit more time, but its worth it
because love is just a phone call away.