Happy Anniversary

My grandparents exchanged these rings seventy-five years ago today.

Grandpa had just been discharged from the Navy after six crucial years of service. With his customary decisiveness, he called up Grandma and asked her to marry him. Three days later, she did. They had met in 1943, when a war bonds tour took him to the factory where she installed instrument panels on B-24 bombers. Grandpa had been picked for the tour because he had survived the sinking of his ship in the Pacific, but probably also because of his swagger; and he must have figured he had nothing more to lose because he told Grandma he liked the color of her lipstick and asked her on a date.

They exchanged letters for the rest of the war, sometimes waiting months to receive a bundle of censored mail. I don’t know what was in those letters, but I doubt it was much more than pleasantries. Still, neither hesitated when it came to promising their lives to each other. Grandma got married in a yellow suit and a pair of borrowed nylons. Grandpa wore his uniform, although the jaunty angle of his “cover” might not have met regulations.

Their marriage lasted until his death, more than 64 years later. Grandpa worked with boundless energy as a barber, a rural mail carrier, a volunteer firefighter, a little league coach, and whatever else anybody needed him to do. Grandma took pride in setting a bountiful table for anyone who happened by, with all the lovely goodness that she had never enjoyed in her youth. Their home was full of tchotchkes and warmth, and any passerby was welcome.

I used to love spending the night at their house. Grandma could make food appear out of nowhere, and Grandpa would tell stories about the war. Looking back I realize there was a lot he didn’t tell us, and he would always turn jovial before the story came around to something that hurt. He loved to tease Grandma too, but he always gave her a kiss when they said good night.

There weren’t a lot of books at their house. Both had grown up hungry during the Great Depression, and barely finished high school. For them reading was a struggle and a necessity, not a pleasure. Grandpa did read the local paper, and he had a whole cupboard full of books about the war, with every mention of every ship he was ever on carefully circled in pen. His lack of prospects and family support after graduation was why he had joined the Navy in 1939. But education mattered to my grandparents. They were proud of every spelling bee, every report card, every honor roll. They gave to my parents and my brother and me the support that they had never had growing up.

They loved the arts too. If a school or a church was putting on some kind of program, my grandparents would be there: half an hour early and wearing their Sunday best. They didn’t really distinguish between Paganini and the Andrews Sisters: “That’s good music,” they would say. And they knew that work went into it, as with anything worth doing. Grandpa was a stickler for regular practice, but he was always delighted with whatever discordant pieces I played for him.

Every year on this day, Grandpa would get up early (the man always woke at 4:00; he always rolled his clothes too, as sailors do at sea) and he would go out to buy a dozen doughnuts for breakfast. He would make coffee in the microwave and he and Grandma would each have a doughnut for breakfast. The rest would be on hand for anybody who might stop by. And they were so genial that someone always did.

There is so much I could say about my grandparents on this 75th anniversary of their wedding. I wish that my children could have known that crowded little house that smelled of gravy and mothballs, and the two plain and generous people who made it a home. I wish that my grandparents could have known all of my children; they would have spoiled and adored them, just as they did me.

But that cannot be, and time in this world cannot be overlapped in the way we might desire. Still, when I consider my own influences in the making of a family and a home, the legacy of my grandparents looms large. I know that my own family feels that security and affection that my grandparents gave to me. Every time they sit down to a hot meal with a pretty cloth on the table, every time they ask for a story, every time they sigh and practice that tricky song one more time, every time they make a mistake but know they are still fiercely loved, they are a part of that adventure my grandparents began 75 years ago.

Happy Anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa. You began with so little, and built so much. You put up with each other and kept your promises. You had little more than kindness, determination, and the belief that everybody deserved a chance. You gave me that chance, and showed me what a loving home is like. I pray for you both, and for the marriage that continues to give so much life.

We love you.

Week of Wishlists 2020: Books for Grown-ups

Our week is at an end, and I hope that you have discovered some beautiful new books to enchant the children in your life. If purchasing is not in your budget, most of these books should be available in your library system. The important thing is that children have constant access to a variety of excellent books.

But what about you? You cannot give what you do not have, and in order to form children for a life of wisdom and holiness you must be formed thus yourself. It is all too easy to neglect your own needs, but here are three titles that will, I pray, refresh you for the tasks ahead.

The Word on Fire Bible

This beautiful new Bible from Word on Fire Ministries is a treasure for busy families. Alongside The Four Gospels are articles, quotes, definitions and more to aid in the understanding of Holy Scripture. Glorious depictions of sacred art fill the pages, inviting one to delve deeper into the richness of our faith. The commentary, from both historic and modern Church sources, is erudite but accessible. If you struggle to fit meaningful daily Scripture reading into your life, take a closer look and consider whether this lovely volume might help.

Awaking Wonder

Many parents have experienced some disruption in their children’s education this year, and this new book from Sally Clarkson could not be more timely. In her warm and beautiful way, Sally reassures us that we are entirely capable of encouraging our children’s natural desire to explore and understand. From her wealth of experience she shares both practical ideas for creating a home culture that is vibrant with opportunities for discovery, but also an underlying philosophy that empowers children to become who the good God made them to be. Whatever schooling option you are currently pursuing, and whatever the stage of your family, I wholeheartedly recommend Sally’s wisdom.

Sensing God

Here I’m failing in my sworn duty to help you with your Christmas shopping, because this new debut book from Sally’s son Joel Clarkson is not due out until January 2021. But from the excerpts I have seen and heard, it is not to be missed. Himself a composer and musician, Joel delves into a deeper understanding of the Creator’s love for us through beauty and sensory experiences. He considers the wonder of the Incarnation through nature, the richness of worship, intentional family experiences, and all manner of everyday beauties; exploring how we encounter God in those moments. This one is on my wishlist for sure.

Additionally, I encourage you to peruse afresh these selections from last year. These devotionals, poems, and stories are timeless, and will renew your spirit for the work that lies ahead. Likewise, don’t forget simply to enjoy the books you read with your children. If they are chosen wisely, they will nurture your soul as well as theirs.

May you be blessed with a joyous Christmastide as you lead your family to adore the Christ Child.

Week of Wishlists 2020: Series

Thank you for following along this week as we page through some of my favorite family book selections. I’m rather choosy, as forming young minds and souls through literature is a serious business. But it’s also tremendous fun, as I found through the discovery of several wonderful series this year.

A good series often appeals to children and parents alike; the first because they love to immerse themselves further in the lives of favorite characters and places, and the second because it grants a short reprieve from wondering what everybody is going to read next. Last year I shared with you some of my very favorites, and this year I am eager to add to the list.

The Green Ember

When their cozy home life is suddenly destroyed, two young rabbits are chased into a world of danger and decision. Will they be as brave as the heroes in the old legends? This exciting series is extremely well-written, and everyone from my preschooler to my preteen begs me to keep going. The intrigue is thrilling and the character development is strong. There are four books in the original series (which are currently sold separately): The Green Ember, Ember Falls, Ember Rising, and Ember’s End; plus several spinoff titles. I can’t wait to read more.

Swallows and Amazons

This classic British series follows the adventurous imaginations of four siblings on holiday. A rowboat on the lake becomes a ship on the high seas in these wonderful stories that deftly combine old-fashioned outdoor playtime with genuine resourcefulness and skill. Find my full review of the first book here; there are twelve books in all.

Strega Nona

The world of children’s literature lost a gentle giant when Tomie dePaola passed away in March. Of his many rich folk tales – where kindness and gentle humor always triumph – his own Strega Nona is perhaps the most beloved. No children’s library is really complete without her magic touch. A treasury of six of the Strega Nona books is available, but there are other titles and I suggest collecting them individually. Read my review to see which ones should not be missed.

Anne of Green Gables

I just reread this classic for the first time in 25 years. It strikes me very differently now; then I admired and identified with the spunky redhead, but now I’m more of a Marilla and I see the real heartbreak in this story. I have some concerns about Anne’s unwarranted hatred of poor Gilbert, and the prim religion of the day; but the breathtaking descriptions that seized me as a girl are still there, and the warmth and love that pour out of Green Gables toward that little orphan girl are just as true as ever. Wherever you or your family might be in life, do give the whole sweet series a try (it’s also the only one available as a boxed set).

Tomorrow I will share my final wishlist for the year, and this one is for you: the parents and caregivers who have responsibility for the precious little souls in your charge. You must be nurtured yourselves, my friends. Please check back tomorrow, and sign up to receive new posts via email.