Sunday, July 8, 2018

Alien landing 60 years ago--as discovered at my local public library

I was going to write about this more than a week ago, but it was sixty years ago this summer that my father-in-law listed as “stateless,” left the Port of Southampton in England aboard the Queen Elizabeth, and 10 days later arrived in New York City.
How do I know this?  Citizens of Milwaukee have access to the library edition of at any City of Milwaukee library location.  I was having fun looking up people I know as a way of getting familiar with this resource, and found his ship’s manifest. 

I also found his petition for naturalization.

Friday, June 15, 2018

An Office of a Minister

The above picture was taken on my wedding day.  While my mother was fussing about getting everyone to the reception, my father had gone from the receiving line back to the church office and was finishing the paperwork that would make my wedding official with the state of North Dakota and then taking the time to enter the occasion into the church records.  He liked to take care of those things right away.  Sometimes it made my mother a bit impatient.  There were times when after a baptism, the family would be invited to a dinner at the baptized family’s home and we would all be waiting, because after everyone had left the church my father would be in the office setting the information down in the church record books.  He would be neither delayed nor rushed in these things. 

The importance of church records was something my father understood.  In 1930 the North Dakota state capitol burned down and the state’s official records were destroyed.  Citizens who had lost their own copies of birth certificates and were needing official documentation for the purpose of collecting retirement benefits were able to make use of church records and my father was on occasion called upon to look things up and make copies for people. When St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church celebrated its centennial a book was made that contained copies of all the baptism, confirmations, weddings & funerals in the church’s history.  I could go on about this process and the way names of people changed during World War I to down play their German heritage and the challenge of reading other pastors’ handwriting but I digress. 

My dad described the church office as a  thoroughfare.  The room, as tiny as it was, had three doors.  One to the nave (seen in the picture), one to the chancel coming out behind the pulpit, and one to the small set of stairs that could then lead either outside or down to the church basement .  It was a sort of all purpose room that held the office equipment, church records, paraments and vestments (in a small closet that had a full length mirror on the door),  the sound system, the numbers for the hymn boards, folding chairs with arm desks (these were used for Confirmation instruction and any meeting with fewer than five people and thus the congregation could save money by not having to heat up the basement), a chalk board, the locked fireproof file cabinet that the trusties used to store the offerings before the official counting and a bank run was done.  (Counting was done on the desk in the office after church.  This use of my father’s desk lead to the need for what he called “the Saturday night drawer” where he put everything he needed to stash out of sight for a Sunday morning service.  When we first moved there the altar guild even filled the communion ware on that desk, but my father convinced them that this could be done in the kitchen and then brought through the office to the altar.)   The room contained a large portion of my father’s personal library and these added filled bookcases probably helped give the room extra insulation in the winter.  Still as crowded as it was my father had my Confirmation class (all four of us) take a break to stand up and jump up and down and try to touch the ceiling.  He believed that students could think better if they took time to get the blood pumping.  If the weather was nice he’d tell us to go outside and run a few laps around the building. 
For me as a kid the office held many wonderful little curiosities.  There was a small bust of CFW Walther on one of the top shelves.  My father had to explain who that guy was.  The desk had a small North Dakota state flag that was a gift to my dad from the District President our first summer in North Dakota.  The center desk drawer contained a small vial of water from the Jordan River that someone had given him as a souvenir from a trip to the Holy Land.  His desk also had his smallest recorder that he would sometimes use to play the melody of a hymn over the phone to one of our church organists if they might be unfamiliar with it.  There was also this really nifty push button phone directory with a slide-out drawer that the desk phone sat on.  It didn’t have any numbers in it, but it was fun to see the drawer slide open to the corresponding letter that was pushed.  On the bulletin board above the copy machine were various calendars and information and then there was a map of North Dakota marked in my father’s own fastidious colorful way.  Every LC-MS church in the District was marked with a straight pin.  The pins had colored beads on them with a different color for each circuit.  Each pin held two beads but the congregation that was home to what was then called the circuit counselor (now circuit visitor) had three beads.  Our circuit the beads were red then white with the circuit counselor having a green one added to the end of it (let the Hungarians understand) the District office had five beads.  It was a fascinating little map. 

One of the few letters my father wrote me after leaving home was written some months after this picture was taken.  He was writing to me to let me know that he had received a request for the transfer of my membership from St. Paul’s to University Lutheran Chapel in Milwaukee.   At the same time he also recorded receiving my nephew David as a member since my Sister’s family attended services at Wittenberg Chapel a place that was not officially recognized as a congregation by the district and thus could not have a membership roll.   It was a bitter sweet moment for him to sever his bond as my pastor.  He expressed his hope that I would remain faithful and always have a church home where the gospel was faithfully preached and the sacraments were rightly administered.

Happy Father’s Day Dad: my first pastor, who baptized me, confirmed me, officiated at my wedding and then made sure all those things were properly documented. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Something to do with old yard signs

Milwaukee Public Library has redesigned it's whole summer reading program logo.  The new yard signs look great but our library had several (over 100) left over from past years that we need to get rid of.  So what is an industrious librarian to do: figure out how to make stuff out of them of course.  So far I've made flowers and a co-worker figured out how to make a kite, but I have spent quite some time making dozens of pompoms that we plan to give away next week during the neighborhood Juneteenth Day street festival celebration that takes place right outside our door.

During that festival we usually do a big under-a-tent-in-the-parking-lot push to sign up kids to be part of the Super Reader Squad.  Summer reading is something to cheer for--better done in the parking lot than in the library.  

After I figured out how to make the pompoms I made these directions and it was shared with all the children's librarians in the system.  I even got cudos back from the Deputy City Librarian for this fun example of upcycling.  

Monday, May 28, 2018

Occasionally God Moves Mountains

In 1980 my family moved to North Dakota from Northern Indiana.  My father had accepted a call to serve the saints at St Paul’s, in St. Thomas, and St. John’s, in Crystal.    In taking that call he turned down a call from Montana and left his call at St. Paul’s, in Otis, Indiana.   Months prior to all this he had also been the pastor at Trinity, in Westville, Indiana. But that congregation decided at a voters’ meeting to treat my father as if he were an employee and not a called and ordained servant of Christ.  I was quite young at the time and understood very little of what was going on.   All I knew was that we no longer went to church and Sunday School at the church that we shared a driveway with, and that my mother was eager to move because the powers that be in the membership were getting ready to evict us from the house. 

It is a story that is all too common in our church.  It is a tragic story that all too often ends there.  The pastor leaves, the congregation struggles on, finds men willing to do pulpit supply, eventually they call someone else or become a permanent vacancy.  The pastor who has left may or may not serve other congregations, but will always have to endure the bitter way that he left.  If that was the way this story ended I would not be writing about this church.  I’ve heard too many similar tales.
 Fast forward almost two decades.  My father is retired and living in Eau Claire WI, I am married and living in Fort Wayne IN. Driving between Wisconsin and to Fort Wayne takes us in near the town of Westville IN, but while my parents might visit some of the Christians that supported us in our difficulties the idea of worshiping at the church is seen as unthinkable.

Enter God’s servant Rev.  Thomas Obersat. Westville called him to serve and he took the time to learn the history of the congregation and there in the records learned of how they had treated their former shepherd.  Rather than justify their actions and try to make nice, he did a bold thing and preached the law to them.  The Holy Spirit did His work on the hearts of the members and the seemingly impossible happened.

My father in his retirement received a letter via registered mail from the congregation asking him to forgive them for removing him as their pastor.  With great joy my father forgave them and when my folks next visited me in Fort Wayne they made a point of worshiping with the saints at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Westville, IN.   I became acquainted with Rev. Obersat while he was taking classes in Fort Wayne and let him know how much his work there meant to me and my family.

I learned today that Trinity will soon close its doors for good.  The congregation had been in slow decline for years as so many of our churches have.  This is sad news.   I have many happy memories of the years I lived in the red brick parsonage next to the church.   Still Trinity Westville will remain a shining example of how occasionally God moves the mountains of pride and feelings of personal hurt, and reconciles Himself to us sinners and us to each other.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Kindergarten Graduate

 Forty years ago this month I completed the first formal milestone of my academic career and graduated from the Kindergarten of St. John’s Lutheran School in La Porte, Indiana.
A few years ago my mother returned all my report cards to me and I had fun today looking at how I did. The report card showed categories that were not based on subject areas, but on habits like: “learning about God,” “getting along with others,” and “things I can do.”  Each item listed under those headings has four boxes next to it, one for each quarter.  These boxes are filled with symbols:   + for “outstanding,” x for “needs attention, and ΓΌ for “satisfactory growth.”

 I was pretty much “satisfactory” in all areas.  I had all pluses in “I take an interest in many things.” I speak clearly and in full sentences” and vocationally significant “I am interested in books and pictures.”  I also got three pluses for “I can make short prayers of my own.”  The only less than satisfactory mark was in the second quarter when I had a “needs attention” for “I listen when others speak.”

On the back were some notes about the struggle the teacher, Mrs. Marlene Will, had in getting me to participate in action songs, and other activities where children are required to make fools of themselves.  The report card did not say “fool of themselves” but I had and still have a strong resistance to any song or game where one is expected to flay one’s limbs about on command.   I however had no trouble singing these songs in the privacy of my own home or in leading others in such songs.  Which goes to show that I don’t really mind looking like a fool, I just don’t like being told I have to.

Kindergarten Graduation at St. John’s Lutheran School was an elaborate affair.  Months were spent planning and weeks practicing, with a dress rehearsal before the entire student body the same day as the evening event.   Three times we had to go back to the classroom to change costumes.
The first part we wore our Sunday best and sang religious and patriotic songs.   We were standing on risers for the show and it was a very warm May night.  They placed a box fan under the risers to help us stay cool.  I was wearing a sun dress Mom made me.  It had wide horizontal stripes of four different colors of pastel gingham with rows of lace between each stripe.  The dress was somewhat billowy and I spent that part of the program constantly pushing my dress down as it filled with air.
After that we filed out and went and put on our costumes (just hats and head gear) for the theme performance.  

Our theme that year was Sesame Street and many of us lent our teacher any records we had so she could plan out the program and decide characters.   I was less than thrilled to be assigned Kermit the frog.  Of course everyone wanted to be Big Bird, but Heidi -the tallest student in the class- was the natural choice.  Matt L, whose father was the fifth grade teacher, read at a 2nd or 3rd grade level and was given the roll of Bob who sort of led the program and read from a script.  I didn’t really want to be Oscar the Grouch.  That roll was given to Mark who got to spend the show standing in a trash can.  There were not quite enough characters for all of us (these were the days before Elmo) so Mrs. Will also pulled some other Muppets.  I remember feeling sorry for Cindy who was Miss Piggy.   Still I was less than happy about how small my part was.  This became apparent to the audience during a counting song when I sighed audibly before delivering my line “Five coconuts.” It got a big laugh.
Sarah using my Kermit costume for Halloween a few years later

When the show ended we headed back to the Kindergarten room and some mothers helped us put on our caps and gowns.  We were given glasses of water and encouraged to use the bathroom if we needed to.  When we were ready we filed back in and sang a final song and then got our graduation certificates. 
Mrs. Will and her class.  I am in the front row 2nd from the left

Rebecca had attended kindergarten in Japan and Sarah had completed kindergarten at Westville Public Elementary School the year before Dad and Mom decided we would go to St. Johns’, so Mom had no idea what a big deal it all was.  We were given tickets for guests to attend. Grandparents liked to come to these things, but our grandparents were much too far away to consider being there.  So mom offered the tickets to some people at church.  Irene Bose who was my Sunday School teacher and Ruby and Dean Boss -or as we girls called them, “Grandma Ruby” and “Uncle Dean” (it was Rebecca who determined that Dean was more like an uncle than a grandpa). Mom gave them the tickets and they came, but she did not count on the fact that they would decide to bring me gifts.  I think mom was embarrassed by that. Certainly my sisters did not get gifts when they completed kindergarten.   I was thrilled.  The Boss’s gave me a small locket and Miss Bose gave me a bracelet with charms that had the Ten Commandments on them.  (Dad made a point of explaining that it was a non-Lutheran numbering of the commandments with 2 being about graven images and 10 combining what we number 9&10 -the ones about coveting. But figured that there was no harm in my keeping it as long as I understood that.)

Celebrating with family and friends after the program
So forty years ago I finished the part of my education concerned with coloring inside the lines, knowing how to tie my shoes, and reciting my phone number and address.   Time was spent learning to share and to listen and to do all the things you have to do to get by in school.  I even got my first taste of being in the minority opinion, suffering through a December of being one of only two in the class who did not believe in Santa Claus.   

At times my current vocation requires that I cut letters out of paper, color signs, count things, alphabetize things & occasionally even identify things by shape and color (it was a short book with a blue cover).  At those times I will jokingly say to coworkers that my education has prepared me for this work.  I am after all a kindergarten graduate. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom

This picture was taken the day of my confirmation in 1986.  There is a general perception that my religious training was in my father’s domain.  Yet it was you who made sure we said our bedtime prayers, learned our memory work, asked if our Sunday School and Confirmation class homework was done.  It was you who decided that if no other time was going to work for family devotions then we would do them at 7:00am every weekday morning.  This practice continued for many years including when I was a high school senior.  There were several of those mornings my last year at home when you and I, being morning people, got silly and Dad would calmly wait for us to stop giggling, then with his growly morning voice ask a bemused “Are you done now?” That would, as often as not, be greeted with more giggling.   There were many of those earlier  years where I would be walking out the door and you, sitting in the lay-z-boy watching the morning news, would tell me that you loved me and that I should have a good day.  My sullen teenage self would roll my eyes and say “whatever” and leave, saving a more friendly goodbye for the cat waiting outside.   I was messy, lazy, stubborn, and often sullen, but you were always there being the mom I needed.  “Get your work done now.  You can do that procrastinating thing later.”  This admonition to get my homework done got turned into a classroom sign for Mrs. Hollis shortened to a more pithy “Work now. Procrastinate Later.” 

I thank God for you.  I am also thankful that in Christ you have been able to forgive me for all times I’ve failed to be the daughter I should be.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

A few King Library observations

This week’s library observations

Next week it will be two years since I quit my job at CUW to “go public.”  I am still loving my job at the Martin Luther King branch of Milwaukee Public Library. 

The adult reference desk is perfectly situated in the library for people who like the cold.  My colleague, Mary, and I are not such persons.  With the major shift in temperatures this week, we went from wearing sweaters because the furnace does not work that well in our area, to wearing sweaters because the air conditioner does. 

There are two sets of doors going in and out of King Library that share a common entrance.  Fifteen minutes before closing we lock the west doors (on the right when going out).   By the time they are closed the library is pretty much empty, but sometimes we have a crowd taking their time leaving and they, not being regulars at closing, do not know that the west doors are locked.  This leads to variations of what I’ve joked is the closing cries of King Library:  “Use doors on the left.”  “Those doors are locked”  “Doors on the left”  “Your other left”  “The other doors!”

The external book drop, which is only open when the library is closed, deposits books into a large bin that is in a closet in the corner of the library’s community room.  This door to that closet is never locked, though the community room is only open when it is in use.  When I was trained on closing procedures I was told that when checking to make sure that the room was vacant I must always open that closet door and make sure that “no children are hiding in the book drop.”  I have never found a person, but have on a few occasions discovered some books that got missed, either in the short window between when the book drop got cleared and someone went outside to lock the drop, or perhaps the locking the drop got missed entirely.  Anyway, those occasions have made checking the closet seem worth it.  But my newer colleague, Peter, thinks the whole idea of a child hiding in the book drop is very funny and will ask every time we work closing together if I found any. 

LHG edited and approved