December 4 Post Updated

For those who read last week’s blog, The Process of Writing a Novel, I must let you know that I’ve re-written it since then, improving it somewhat.  This should have been done before I posted it.  I’m sorry.  The re-written version has now replaced the inferior posting and, of course, is available for re-reading.

The Process of Writing a Novel

by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of twelve published suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

THE PUBLISHING of books is presently undergoing a drastic shakeup, with the sales of e-books having caught up to the sales of printed books, and then just recently surpassing them.  This has various ramifications in regard to distributing and promotional procedures; however, the methods for writing a novel remain the same.

I suppose there are some people who think that writing a book is a simple matter–you just get a computer, typewriter, or pencil and paper, and you put some words together in the form of sentences.  And, of course, you need the time and patience to keep doing that until you have enough writing to make up a book.  To believe that is the way books are written is like believing that all there is to building a house is to buy a saw and a hammer and some boards and nails, and then to cut up the boards and nail them together.  If that was all there was to it, then just about anyone could build a house.  Well, I suppose that actually just about anyone can build a “house” in that manner, but who would want to live in it?

And who would want to read a novel that was just a bunch of words thrown together by a would-be writer who didn’t have a real grip on how novels are built?

Now this is not to say that every professional writer uses exactly the same methods; we don’t, but still there is some basic stuff that, in some ways, we all sort of follow.  So, let’s have a look at that, and let’s do it as though you, the reader of this article, are going to write a novel.

(This article will not go into the foundational matters of grammar, spelling, punctuation and paragraphing.  These are all important, and anyone planning to pursue any kind of serious professional writing might consider brushing up on these basics.  This article takes off from where that leaves off.  Keep in mind that writers who know the basic rules quite often break them in order to get some particular effect; but you can only break the rules in a clever way if you know what the rules are.  So a good grip on the basic rules of English writing is important.  Now, assuming that you have brushed up on those things, or will before you actually start writing a novel, let’s carry on with the more creative matters.)

MAIN IDEA

To start with, you’ll need to get a great Main Idea for your story.  This may come to you without any noticeable effort on your part, or you may come up with it while you’re mentally, emotionally, very actively looking for such an idea.  It needs to be a truly worthwhile one if you’re going to be spending months writing your novel around it.

So you decide that your story will be about a Bengal tiger who is really a human being.  (That’s probably not such a great idea, to put it mildly, but it will do for the purpose of this article.)  Then what?

DAYDREAMING

Then you daydream about it for a while–maybe for a week or two.  This is a very important and creative part of the process, and a lot of fun.  In your mind only, you try out various ways that the story might go, never pushing anything too hard, but always looking for the most interesting angles and plot turns to bring about a page-turner novel.  But there’s nothing very orderly about this step.  It’s the only step of the whole process that’s delightfully hodge-podge, with various elements being thought about, including: ideas about what some of the characters are going to be like, what some of the great action scenes, backgrounds, settings, etc., are going to be, but seldom firming up anything, at least not on paper or in your computer.

At this time you’ll likely start getting greater and greater urges to write down some of your good ideas so you won’t forget them, and at some point you’ll need to start doing that.

STORY IDEAS

Using pencil and paper, write a heading: Story Ideas.  You should keep the page, and some extra blank ones, handy, and write down those ideas that you think you might actually use, but not in any kind of chronological plot order.  Number 1 might be, “When the tiger begins to recognize his seeming humanity, it disturbs him to the point of not being able to function well in his tiger community.”  Another point might be, “An anthropologist studying big cats notices the peculiar behavior of our feline/human protagonist.”  And so on.

THE OUTLINE

The next major step is the writing of an outline.  Not all novelists use them; a few outline the whole thing in their heads, and an even smaller number–including some of the best–don’t outline at all.  Yet in my opinion these authors could probably do even better if they did write outlines, for now and then, as one reads their works, one gets a slight sense that they may have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble with a couple of early chapters that they don’t quite know how to deal with in later chapters.  In any case, I think I’m safe to say that most professional novelists by far avail themselves of the effective foundation power that a written outline provides.  When using an outline one can catch weaknesses and correct them before going many pages down a less effective road.

But you should never think that you need to slavishly adhere to your outline.  I often disregard mine and sometimes take time to rewrite sections of them.  An outline is only a roughly drawn map of where you’re going, and sometimes you may even change your destination in mid-stream.  Usually, however, departures from the outline are less major than that.

My outlines are written in pencil on standard sheets (I use green-tinted paper because it’s easier on the eyes), in the present tense, thus reminding me that this is not yet the actual writing of the book which will be in the past tense (as novels usually are).  Your outline can be full of dumb mistakes in grammar, spelling, weak sentences, etc., and you shouldn’t bother correcting them.  My outline for a full-length novel generally runs from about forty to sixty handwritten pages.

RESEARCH

Once you have the outline written you’ll have a pretty good idea of what subjects you’ll need to do your preliminary research on–Bengal tigers, anthropologists, jungle flora and fauna, etc.  Make a list, then look for the needed material.  You’ll have plenty of resources available: the internet, libraries, encyclopedias, almanacs, magazine articles, etc.  Get this material together in one file, or pile, and study it.  I generally find a cardboard box to keep it all in.

WRITING THE NOVEL (AND MORE RESEARCH)

After some days, maybe even weeks, of this preliminary research, you may be ready to start writing your novel.  But you’ll find that you’re probably still not done with research, because as you write, more specific things will come up that you need information on.  So keep a running list of questions that you need answered; then periodically take time out from your writing to research and find answers to those questions.  It’s great if you can have someone helping you with this.  I have my wife, Yvonne, who is a whiz at finding needed info on the internet.

KEEPING UP THE FLOW

Writing a novel works best when it’s done as a daily thing, so that you can keep up the flow.  Sometimes, however, one needs to take a break of a few days to stave off mental, emotional fatigue.  No matter how much you enjoy writing, it is hard work, and there’ll be times when you feel as though your brain is melting and running out of your ears.

How many pages per day?  This varies greatly from author to author, and you’ll need to find out what works best for you; but I think most book writers find it important to set a goal for themselves–so many pages per day.  You don’t need to always reach that goal, but having the goal helps greatly in keeping up a steady progress toward finishing the novel.  Dean Koontz does only three pages per day; so did Harold Robins.  (However, with today’s writers who use computers, as does Dean Koontz, I don’t know if the pages are computer pages, or the way they come out after being printed into manuscript form at about 260 words per page, or is he talking about printed book pages of about 300 words per page.)

When I’m at my best I do ten or more manuscript pages per day (260 words per page), but with research and time off for recuperation, and doing other things that need to be done, it takes me five months or more to complete a book–assuming that nothing major interferes with my output.

My novels usually run to between 90,000 and somewhat over 100,000 words per book, although one of them, CARPATHIA, is 300,000 words long.

REWRITING

Rewriting is extremely important, and a lack of it is one of the things that sets the amateur writer apart from the professional.

Before computers, when writers worked with typewriters, they would write what was called a first draft–namely the first effort at putting the words down on paper.  Many writers would do the first draft of the whole novel before doing any rewriting.  Some would write a chapter and then rewrite it and then go on with the next chapter.  But with computers rewriting is so much easier that many writers prefer to rewrite their daily output on a daily basis.  Some start out in the morning writing their daily quota of pages and then spend the rest of their working day rewriting those pages–perhaps three or four times.  Dean Koontz works that way.  I prefer to start out the day rewriting the previous day’s output of pages; then, having gotten my mental machinery warmed up, I write my daily number of pages.  I highly recommend this method, and I rework my pages about three or four times each.

When I’ve basically completed the novel, I let it cool for a couple of weeks or so, then go through the whole thing two more times, making improvements and polishing everything to the best of my ability.  Each change I make gives me a great sense of satisfaction, knowing the book will be that much more enjoyable to its readers.

SUBMITTING YOUR WORK

Next comes the worst part: sending out a query letter, usually by e-mail, sometimes with sample chapters, to an agent or publisher, and waiting to hear from him.

You can find publishers and agents on the internet, but you should probably also get the book, WRITER’S MARKET, published yearly by Writer’s Digest Books, available in bookstores everywhere.

The question now is: will the agent or publisher want to see your complete manuscript?

If it turns out that someone actually does want to see it, I go through the whole thing again; that is, I rewrite and polish it one more time before I send it off.

If you get a rejection notice, you send out another query letter to another agent or publisher.  (Most of them highly disapprove of a writer contacting more than one company at a time.)  Probably some writers stomp on every rejection slip before ripping it to shreds, and you’ve likely heard that some use them as a cheap wallpaper.  If you save them in a drawer and then eventually make a sale, those rejection slips will be a testimony to your patience and courage.

You might want to consider the e-book route.  Amazon’s e-book distribution system seems to be open at this time to good writing (it has been for me).  And with e-book sales in general surpassing print sales, what’s there to complain about?–except that you need to do a lot of advertising so readers will be able to find your stuff among all the rest.

But the chances of having your story accepted by a regular, traditional type of print publisher is in the chance category of winning a lottery ticket.  And on that cheerful note, I’ll end this article.

But hey, it can happen.

 

Medieval Times

by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

(This poem is from the novelette, “The Dungeon of Valor Castle,” which is the third story in Johnny Carlton’s book, SWORDPLAY, available as an e-book at www.amazon.com.  “Medieval Times” is written as though from the viewpoint of someone living in that era.)

 

In damp, chilly castles when winter winds blow,

Sit nobles and ladies, pink noses aglow.

The jester froze solid while juggling with money;

The times that we live in are not always funny.

 

There are blaring trumpets and steeple chimes;

The chimes speak of honor, the trumpets of crimes;

The trumpets are many, but few are the chimes,

And that means we live in evil times.

 

The peasant must crawl or his head will fall;

He must be content with his life.

While the nobles brawl, for fight do they all–

Oh, we live in a time of bloody strife!

 

The knight in bright armor fights to stay free,

Yet kneels for a lady and weds her with glee.

Then she kicks him around for the whole world to see.

Oh, we live in a time of great chivalry.

 

Brave men-at-arms crown every castle tower,

In this great age while knighthood is in flower.

While just below in perfumed chambers fair,

Sit lovely ladies preening at their hair.

 

And in the feast hall somewhat farther down,

There struts the liege lord in his kingly gown.

His noble friends are there with wine and song,

All faces happy in that brilliant throng.

 

But pray do delve yet farther down below;

Into the darkness of the dungeon go,

Where prisoners lie and rot for paltry crimes.

For those poor souls these are … the terrible times!

 

Those Other Worlds

by Johnny Carlton

This poem was first published in the World Vision magazine under the Johnny Giesbrecht byline. 

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

 

There are worlds of hollow pain,

Where stick-legged babies look like pregnant dwarfs.

 

There are worlds of violent noise,

Of rocket fire and blood,

Where angry men destroy each other’s dreams.

 

There are worlds of walking dead,

Whose present ant-minds, once by God for freedom made,

Now cower before the god called State.

 

There are worlds of sand and sea

And palm trees waving peacefully

Over voodoo drums and hearts that know no peace.

 

There are worlds of hollow needles

Puking poison into ruptured veins;

And souls, marked up with needle tracks,

Float in and out from shores of paradise to shores of hell,

And now and then cry out for help.

 

There are worlds of shoulder-padded suits,

And women’s hemlines changing every year,

Where credit cards are wielded

With an awesome power, like Merlin’s wand.

 

Does the hungry child believe

That somewhere out there gleams a world of food

And warmth and pretty neon lights?

 

Do people torn by war from birth to death

Believe there is, somewhere and far away,

Some Shangri-La of peace?

 

Do human puppets

Moved about by strings of steel

Believe there is a world where all are free?

 

Does the voodoo witch believe

A world exists where magic spells are scorned?

 

Does the creature with the needle scars

Look past the cockroach crawling through a plaster crack

And see, beyond, a world

Where men are masters of their minds?

 

And does that man in suit and vest,

Sixth pew from the front,

Whose bank account and will and lawn

Are all kept tidy as a robin’s nest–

Does he see, in the message with its mission theme,

Those worlds where hunger, pain, and fear run wild?

He looks, he reads, he hears,

Then speaks with sorrow in his voice of all those tears.

But does he, in his heart,

Believe those other worlds exist?

 

There are many worlds where Jesus is not known,

Nor is the peace he gives,

But only darkness waiting for the light.

 

 

REMEMBERING THE WAR

by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

WHEN the Second World War began in 1939 I was only four years old and don’t remember the actual start.  But I quickly became aware of it as I heard grownups talking about the “war overseas,” and it was easy to tell that this was not something good.  And then when young men from our hillbilly farm community got “called up” and had to go “train in the army” and then came back for a “leave” before going away for a much longer time “far away over the ocean,” it altogether seemed just a part of the way things were.  After a while I felt that the “war overseas” had always been on and always would be.

But then as I got a little older and we moved to a small village, and the war carried on into the forties, I began to see the picture somewhat more clearly.  We listened to newscasts informing us about who was winning and losing particular battles, the comic section of the papers were full of war stories (Superman, Little Orphan Annie, and other fictitious heroes were busy fighting the Nazis), and, much more to the point, we would hear the sad news of soldiers from our own community and nearby having been killed or wounded or gone missing in action.

I began to realize that there were people who were actually hoping for the war to end through a victory by the Allies, and although I was all for that, it was difficult for me to imagine it.  This was because I could remember no time without the war, and so a part of me felt that it would just naturally go on for the rest of our lives or longer.

But then, in 1945, it did come to an end.  It was hard to believe.  I was very happy.

Why was I so happy about it?  The war had not given me or my family any hardships worth mentioning.  While the young men from our communities had bled and died to keep us safe, the older ones and the very young had dealt with nothing more serious than a few food and gasoline shortages.

No, that’s not true, for there were many mothers, fathers, and children who didn’t go to war but who suffered terrible anxiety while they waited, and then often unbearable losses when those soldier sons and siblings did not come back–or came back with lifetime injuries.

Although no one from my little family circle had been of the right age to go to war, I knew of many who had.  I was only nine years old when the war ended, but I was overwhelmed with happiness.

The little village we lived in had a town hall, but to celebrate the return of the soldiers, one of the grain agents cleaned out a huge annex so that it could be used as a dance hall for this very special occasion.  Hung inside was a large banner welcoming the boys home.

It was a great night, the dance being attended by adults, teenagers, and children–and by the triumphant heroes who had come back from the hellish world of war to the peaceful village they had been protecting.

May we always keep a warm and honorable place for them in our hearts.

 

 

Man Versus Ice

by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

With the full joys of winter soon to be upon us (as in having our ears and things frozen off while ruining our backs shoveling that beautiful white stuff), it seems appropriate to explore one of the ways humans have found to actually wrest pleasure out of that harsh season.

I’m talking about the unlikely concept of ice skating.  Looking at the matter reasonably, one would assume that it could never have happened.  One would think that in the past, as in the present, when man or beast came to a patch of ice he would try to find a way around it, or, if that didn’t work, cross over it slowly and carefully.  Given mankind’s bent for inventiveness, it is understandable that we would have come up with footwear that would help to prevent us from slipping on ice–and we have done that–but, as though to purposely keep the rest of the universe from acknowledging our sanity, we have also come up with footwear that purposely causes us to slip more easily.

No one seems to know when skates were invented, but there is a serious theory that at some point a winterized caveman type of person fixed some animal bones to his feet and went sliding on them over a patch of ice.  Primitive skates made of bones have actually been found in Asia and central Europe.

The earliest records of skating are dated from about 1175.  These accounts tell of London residents on skates made of bones and of using sticks to push themselves around over the ice.

The next area to carry on this unlikely but true history of mankind trying to bring on extinction of the species through a new ice age, is the Netherlands.  This does make a certain amount of sense because Holland had (and has) all those canals.  In summertime they could be traveled by boat, so, when they froze over in winter … skates?  Yes, that’s what they used, but wouldn’t it have been safer for humans to use dogsleds and put the skates on the dogs?

It seems the Holland skates were made of wood and had iron blades.  No doubt the first such skates were made out of regular wooden shoes with the blades attached to those.  In any case, the skater no longer needed a stick to push himself around on the ice, for the sharp-edged iron provided the needed grip and push.

These innovations worked their way back to Britain and in 1742 the first skating club popped up in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The United States didn’t have one until 1849, and Canada followed with its own in 1862.

Around this time the iron blades were replaced with steel ones; these kept sharp edges considerably longer, thus allowing for greater control.

For a long time skates were made to clamp onto regular shoes and boots, which tended to ruin said shoes and boots by ripping their soles off.  Eventually this concept was replaced by skates with the blades permanently attached to the boots, which gave the ankles much better support.

Skating rinks developed along with skates.  The first one with mechanically produced ice was built in 1876 in London–where Londoners could now challenge their man-made ice on steel blades.  This was just 701 years after they had been sliding around on bones tied to their feet.

And just 72 years after that, in 1948, Barbara Ann Scott was the first Canadian to win a gold medal in Olympic figure skating.

 

 

 

 

Halloween Fun

by Johnny Carlton

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

Halloween, that strange entity celebrated on October 31, is more weird than most people realize.  In the first place, it’s highly ironic that the word Halloween means hallowed or holy evening because it comes on the evening before All Saints’ Day; and, of course, All Saints’ Day was intended to celebrate the holy lives of some particularly good people–rather than the lifestyles of pimply-nosed witches and the walking dead.

How did this contradictory thing come about?  Apparently it had a lot to do with the Druid religion.  The Druids were an ancient cult in Gaul and Britain who believed that on the night of October 31 all sorts of ghosts and supernatural beings came out boldly to mess around.  The Druids also had an autumn festival for celebrating the end of summer and the harvest.

Somewhere in the 700’s, the Roman Catholic Church named November 1 All Saints’ Day, and there was a combining of that Christian festival with some Halloween- style pagan customs–which, I suppose, the general populace wanted–and these two slants together became the Halloween festival.

That’s worse than trying to mix oil and water.  It’s more like trying to mix healthful vegetables with poisonous loco weed to make an interesting soup.

I once read somewhere (I wish I could remember where) that the above mentioned general populace who were expected to be extra good on November 1, All Saints’ Day, thought that it would be nice to prepare for it by raising hell on the preceding evening of October 31, Halloween night, and did so, getting dressed up as demons, etc., and participating in drunken orgies.

In any case, the idea of Christians being involved in a night dedicated to the glory of followers of Satan (witches and warlocks), flesh-eating zombies, and blood-sucking vampires, etc., even if it’s done in a spirit of fun and games, is repulsive.

For years now, Yvonne and I have refused to have anything to do with Halloween.  If you’re a follower of Christ, we strongly encourage you to take a stand against this fun-and-games glorifying of evil.  On Halloween night put up a polite, non-preachy notice on your door saying that as a follower of Jesus you do not participate in Halloween traditions which go contrary to your beliefs.

By the way, a little research on the matter of real witches will reveal that there are hundreds of covens across North America and in Europe.  Although you won’t become a witch or a warlock by having a little fun with Halloween, you will be sort of playing games in the witches’ backyard, figuratively speaking.

Do you really want to get your hands into that muck?

 

Cowboy Hero

by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

(I dedicate this essay to the memory of my Mom whose birthday was today, October 11, 1903.)

There was great excitement for me that beautiful sunny morning in 1941.  Some real cowboys were driving a herd of cattle down the road past our farm home.  My dad had called me to the living room window so I wouldn’t miss out on this event, and now the four of us–Dad, Mom, my nine-year-old sister, and myself–stood watching.

I was five years old and entirely in tune with Western lore–as much as I knew of it.  Although I hadn’t yet heard of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne, I did have a great cowboy hero, and I dreamed of the day I’d have a horse and saddle of my own.  But I knew there was more to being a cowboy than riding a horse; I wanted to be a rancher when I grew up.

My hero was a man named Wilfred Perrin, a real-life ranching cowboy who lived near Bapaume, a town about seven miles from our place.  (One of his riding horses, a red roan, had the unusual name, Spider, but I didn’t know about that until some years later.)  Hero Number Two was Wilfred’s son, Robert.  I had never seen either of them but had heard about their Western style of life, largely from my dad, and was tremendously impressed with the fact that they were the real thing–real cowboys.

Well, that’s where the excitement came in on that bright morning at our farm home in Saskatchewan.  It was young Robert Perrin and his dad’s ranch hands who were driving the herd of cattle down the road.  Robert Perrin!  There he was in person!  He was riding a beautiful red roan horse and had a hat and everything, including batwing chaps with a row of silver conchos down the side!  How those conchos glinted in the sunlight, and how my heart beat with excitement!  Soon the cowboys, horses, and cattle had moved out of sight down the dusty trail, but I had daydream material to last me for months and a boyhood memory to last me a lifetime.

We didn’t stay long on that farm.  We had moved there in the spring from a homestead ten miles to the south and we stayed only about a year and a half before we moved again, but it seems longer.  Time goes by more slowly for children.

While we were still on that farm, my dad traded off a big work horse for a perky little riding horse so that my sister, Rosella, would be able to ride to school that winter.  I didn’t start school until the following autumn.  We were fortunate in that the school was only about a mile away, but in thirty-below Fahrenheit even that can be a long walk, so the horse was a good idea.

She was a dark-brown mare, old enough to vote but still full of spunk–and she was wise.  If an adult or older child got on her back she would go anywhere at any speed, but when a small child–like myself at five and six–got put up on her, she would slowly walk the short distance of our lane, turn around and walk back, no matter what her small rider did or said to try to make her go farther.

I had a happy normal childhood for that time and place.  We had come to the end of the “dirty thirties” but money was still scarce for most people and our friends and neighbors were poor farmers like ourselves.  Some still lived in log houses or rough-lumber shacks, while others, ourselves included, had upgraded into regular lumber homes; but even these were shabby by today’s standards.  Although there were a few boxy looking cars around, and even an occasional “streamlined” one, stirring up the dust now and then, the horse still figured as an important and completely acceptable means of transportation.  Like many other farmers in the area, my dad did not own a car, truck, or tractor.  He used horses for all his field work.  In summertime we traveled in a horse-drawn wagon, in wintertime in a horse-drawn caboose sleigh (all covered in and with a little stove in it the front to keep us warm).

Another winter came with all its white glory of snow and sleigh bells and frosty horses breathing out huge clouds of vapor.  During many long winter evenings there were pleasant times of visiting with relatives and other neighbors.  At times someone would haul out an accordion or a fiddle and play some old-time music.  We also had battery-powered radios in those days (the battery was a huge dry-cell affair that sat on the floor under or behind the radio) and spring-wound record players, so we weren’t without music.  But most of the time the get-togethers were passed in lively conversation, eating, and, for the grownups, drinking coffee.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember much of what the grownups talked about, only that they all talked at the same time.

We were just a mile from a little town with the intriguing name of Spiritwood, and it was always exciting to go there with Mom and Dad, shopping for groceries or hauling a wagonload of grain to one of the elevators.  There was a movie theatre in Spiritwood and that quickly became the main center of my interest there.

I was fascinated by the magic of the moving images–the moving, talking pictures up there on that big screen.  Most films were in black and white in those days, but occasionally there would be one in color.  At that time the motion picture screen had not yet been polluted, at least not nearly so much as today, with immorality and irreverence.  Films of the thirties and forties were comparatively wholesome for the most part, and viewers could expect to see a clear-cut confrontation between good and evil, with the filmmakers obviously being on the side of good.  I’m glad they were like that when I was young and impressionable; but I feel sorry for the kids of today who so often see films with blasphemy and anti-Christian sentiments, and stories in which obnoxious characters are glorified as heroes.

Well, my appreciation of cowboys, horses, and the Western life was intensified by the movies I saw.  I can remember in particular watching a wild stampede of cattle across the screen (this was in Billy the Kid, starring Robert Taylor), with cowboys galloping their horses at breakneck speed on all sides, risking their lives to bring the herd to a halt.  My mother was sitting beside me, enduring all this, and in the midst of it I told her fervently, “I want to be a cowboy when I grow up!”  That went over like a lead kite.

Even though I had seen a few screen cowboys by this time, my greatest hero continued to be Wilfred Perrin, the real-life cowboy and father of Robert, whom I had been privileged to see riding past our place.

One summer day my sister and I were walking to town on a shopping errand for Mom.  We had come to the end of the road that led north from our place and were now on the “highway” that would lead us the remainder of the short distance to town.  This was the main market road and actually had ditches that you could look down into.  It was dirt, unpolluted by gravel, and barely wide enough for two cars to meet and pass, should that unlikely thing have happened.

We heard hoofbeats behind us, quickly turned and saw a lone rider galloping in our direction.

Rosella said, “It must be Wilfred Perrin!”  She was probably right; somehow or other the matter seemed to have been later verified.  As for myself, I had no doubt about it.  I was really going to see Wilfred Perrin at close range.  It was too good not to be true!

Wilfred’s horse was moving at a brisk gallop.  In a moment horse, rider, thundering hoofbeats, and a cloud of dust were all close to us.  Although there was no time to take in a lot of details, I’ll never forget the overall impression I got of my hero’s appearance.  Because of the wind created by his fast riding, he had his hat off and was holding it against his chest, and was leaning forward slightly in the saddle.  And he looked happy.  As he galloped past us he yelled out, “Hi, kids!”  And then he was growing smaller on the road ahead of us, and the hoofbeats were growing fainter.  I never saw him again, but he had left me with a wonderful childhood memory image that I have never forgotten.

A few years later when I was about eleven and we were living in a little hamlet ninety miles from Spiritwood, my dad bought a beautiful red roan from my Uncle George.

We learned that this had been Wilfred Perrin’s saddle horse, Spider.

I was amazed and thrilled about it; in fact, I pretty much relegated it to the miracle category.  And in a year or so my dad gave him to me to be my own horse.

With Spider saddled, and me on his back in hat and batwing chaps with silver conchos, I was possibly one of the happiest kids that ever lived.

 

 

How Positive Are We?

by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

We’ve heard a lot about the importance of being positive in our lives, rather than negative–in our thinking, in our feeling.  Books have been written about it.  I think they’ve been mostly secular, although a fair amount of Christian material has also been produced on this important subject.

What does it mean to be positive?  What does it mean to be negative?  What are the results of lifestyles based on either one?  How do we get to be one or the other?  A lot could be said about what constitutes being positive or negative, but let’s try to boil it down to the most important elements.  In doing so we’ll see how utterly important the issue becomes.

To be positive means to be victorious, powerful, happy, and good.  To be negative means to be a failure, to be weak, to be miserable, to be evil.  Quite a contrast, isn’t there?  Important?  Yes, extremely important.

This being the case, one would think that a great deal of prayer, thought, and mental-spiritual effort, on the part of Christians, would go into acquiring a positive nature.  Is this the case?  It doesn’t seem to be.  It seems, rather, that most of us are content to occasionally remind ourselves that it’s important to be positive, and then go on much as we have been up to that point: being positive part of the time and being negative part of the time, being victorious and loving part of the time, and being selfish failures part of the time, being happy part of the time and being depressed part of the time, and so on.

Jesus once asked the question:  “… when the Son of Man (himself) comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  (Luke 18:8b NIV.  My word in parenthesis.)  It seems that Jesus was talking about his second coming, and I think there was a positive warning for us in those words.  I know that when I read them, I tend to look at the present situation regarding my own faith and the faith of my spiritual brothers and sisters, and start thinking about what we could do to improve things.

Born-again people, who have the power of Christ living in them, are supposed to be the distinct leaders in the field of being positive.  I think we are; nevertheless, since the competition is pretty lightweight, we don’t have a lot to write home about.  I would say that in general the positiveness of us Christians is pretty wishy-washy.

But let’s not forget that God doesn’t make us perfect in one day.  He causes us to be born into his family the moment we fully put our trust in Jesus as our Savior, and after that begins the long process of growth of the new nature that God has given us, along with the simultaneous destruction of our old nature.  This is wonderful and just the way God planned it.  What should bother us is a situation in which the growth process slows to a halt, or a near halt.

Each of us can look at ourselves and ask:  Am I the same person today that I was five years ago?–or can I see a substantial change for the better?  If there hasn’t been much change, we can ask ourselves, “How positive do I really want to be?”

That doesn’t sound like such a dumb question, does it?  Well, in a way it is and in a way it isn’t.  It sounds kind of silly because naturally everyone should answer it by saying that they want to be completely positive; but it sounds kind of sensible in the light of present reality in which we see a great many Christians apparently quite satisfied with being in possession of a limited amount of positiveness.

Let’s get to the roots of this.  At some point all Christians should ask themselves, “Do I want to be completely positive in this present life here on Earth or don’t I?”  Rephrased:  “Do I want to live a victorious Christian life all the time or just most of the time?”  I hear someone saying, “Well, of course I want to be victorious all time, but I don’t think that’s possible.”

What an interesting statement that person has just made.  The first part of his sentence is positive, the second part negative.  There is a contradiction here.

Does it make sense, or is it even possible, to want something that you believe you can’t have?  In a sense it is possible.  There can be a certain kind of desire, or yearning, for things we assume we will never have; but in a different sense of the word want–the real basic meaning of the word–it is not possible to want something without thinking that there’s at least a chance that you’re going to get it.  Look at it carefully:  If you want something only in the sense that you know you’ll never have it, but you like to daydream about it, then what you really want is just that–you want to daydream about it; and that want is actually being fulfilled.  You are daydreaming about it, so you’re really getting exactly what you want.  I’m saying that there’s something logical about how the mind works after all, and it just isn’t reasonable to really want something that you fully believe you can’t have.  Let’s look at it through the perspective of the word hope, in order to better understand the principle I’ve just put forward.

Is it possible to hope for something and at the same time believe that you won’t get it?  No, because to hope for something is the exact opposite to believing that you won’t get it.  When you cross a street, you have hope that you’ll get to the other side without being hit by traffic.  If you didn’t think that there was any chance at all that you’d make it, you wouldn’t have any motivation to make the effort.  When you decide to lift a cup of coffee to your lips, you expect to accomplish it; without that motivation it would be impossible for you to make any effort to raise the cup.  I’m saying that wanting something in a realistic sense–not in a daydreaming sense only–is the same as hoping for something.  When you say, “I want it but I can’t have it,” you’re really saying, “I want to daydream about having it, but I don’t actually want it to become a reality for I know that won’t happen.”  I think it’s logical to say that true desire and hope always go together.

I have read the Old Testament of the Bible twice, and the New Testament at least five times, without counting all the in-between studying of that great book that it’s impossible to keep track of.  I know this isn’t a very impressive record; some Christians have read through the Bible up to eighty times or more.  Nevertheless, I think I’m safe to say that nowhere in the Bible can be found any suggestion that Christians are to become partly good in this life here on Earth, but remain partly evil.  Nor does it say that we are supposed to become as high as ninety-nine percent good, but to make sure that we remain one percent evil–that one percent to be taken away on the day our bodies die and our souls go to Heaven.  On the contrary, the Bible teaches emphatically that by the power of Christ living in us, we are to go all the way to perfection.  The instruction of Jesus is:  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NIV)  In 1 Corinthians 15:57, the same translation, we read:  “But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Wouldn’t it be strange and unhappy if this scripture instead told us that God gives us a partial victory through our Lord Jesus Christ?  Praise God that this is not the case, and that nowhere in the Bible will we ever find such an un-Godlike philosophy presented.

Yet there are many Christians who are convinced that for the rest of their earthly lives they must be controlled part of the time by their old, evil nature.  They look forward, they say, to the time when this evil nature will be taken away, when they will be released from this “body of death” that regularly causes them to fall back into sin.

So far as I can make out, the Bible teaches that now, in this life here on Earth, is the time to totally defeat the old sinful nature–to do that by the power of Jesus working in us.

A completely positive person would, of course, not sin at all after he has accepted Jesus into his life.  Sinning is negative behavior.  But do we want to be that positive?  Can we be that positive?

Well, the truth is that the power of Christ is infinite–it has no limits.  Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 19:26 NIV)  And the good news of the Gospel is that it is God’s power that saves us, not our own; and it is God’s power that renews us, not our own.  Therefore it follows that we can be completely victorious over sin by this Godly power.

The question, then, is not if we are able to be completely positive–but do we want to be?

 

 

 

My Grandparents’ Place

 by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at www.amazon.com

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of going to visit my grandma and grandpa on their farm home in Saskatchewan, Canada.  These were my grandparents on my mother’s side, the Martens family.

During the years that I’m thinking of, from 1935 when I was born to about 1950 when I was a young teenager, my mom and dad and sister and I lived in two different areas, first about ninety miles west-northwest of my grandparents’ farm.  The changeover from horse transportation to motor vehicles was still in progress and many families, like my own until after we had moved much closer to my grandparents’ place, still did not own a motor vehicle and relied entirely on horses for transportation.  This meant that ninety miles required a three-day journey, one way.  So it was not something one did every weekend.  When we moved to a little hamlet in central Saskatchewan we were only about twenty miles from my grandparents’ place; and, also, my dad bought a truck (for work purposes), so we got to visit Grandma and Grandpa Martens a lot more often.

A long lane led from a country dirt road through emerald-green, quaking aspen trees onto their farmstead.  This large yard was more or less surrounded by bush, but close beyond that were open fields under cultivation.

As one came out onto the yard from the lane, the most prominent feature was the house on the left side.  It was a handsome two-story white structure with a wrought-iron fence closing off an inner yard.  This fence had two wrought-iron gates in it, and from the gates two narrow concrete sidewalks led toward the house.  The sidewalk farthest away from the lane led toward the kitchen door, and the other one led toward a door into the dining room.  The upper half of that door displayed a fancy frosted glass window.  These sidewalks leading to the two doors were a unique concept that I’ve never seen anywhere else.  Adding to the charm were circles of colorful flowers that Grandma had planted beside the walks.

Near the kitchen corner of the house, but outside of the wrought-iron fence, was a small one-room building called the summer kitchen.  It held a big, black wood-burning cook stove, wooden table, a bench for sitting, and a large serious looking machine with sprocket wheels and rollers that was used for pressing bed sheets after they had been washed and dried.  It was called a mangle.  The main purpose of the summer kitchen was for cooking meals in warm weather without heating up the house.  Most farm homes had them.

On the side of the yard opposite from the house was a fair sized barn of a dull red color.  It had once been busy with horses, cows, colts, calves, and there had also been pigs and chickens housed in other buildings on the yard; but over the years things had slowed down and more and more of the Martens farmland was being rented out to neighboring farmers.  Grandpa was getting older and one of his sons was farming elsewhere and the other one did not really take an interest in farming; hence less and less farm animals.  I can remember the barn eventually sitting empty and I think there was old farm machinery parked here and there around the yard.  Yet the farmstead was not falling into dilapidation, but rather was kept clean and tidy and prosperous looking.

For me the barn was a malleable thing that my wild imagination could turn into anything from a castle to a Buck Rogers space ship.  And my sister Rosella didn’t hold me back either.  I remember that under her guidance, on one occasion, the empty barn hayloft became the deck of a sailing ship, and from it we watched in wonderment as a ghost ship called The Flying Dutchman hove into view on the misty ocean, frightening us considerably before it passed on by.  (Rosella got the idea from a poem in her school reader.)

The two of us also enjoyed walking together, in single file, on old cow paths that meandered here and there through groves of aspen trees.

The wave of hospitality that swept toward Mom and Dad, Rosella and me upon arriving on the yard for a visit was overwhelming.  The four people who lived there would not wait for us to come into the house but always came out to meet us and greet us with a flood of happy small talk–all administered in Low German, their first language, as it was ours.  (My sister and only sibling and I had been quite well anglicized but we could speak the Low German language well enough.)

The four people who lived on the farm were Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle Henry, and Aunt Susie.

Grandpa John Martens was a tall, slim man from Russia who, with his wife, had sailed for Canada in 1893.  They lived in Manitoba for nine years before moving to the homestead in Saskatchewan.

Grandpa always had his hair clipped short, and instead of shaving he took the clipper to his face as well, every few days, so that he always had a beard stubble.  (As we’ve all seen, this style of grooming has made a comeback among some young men in recent times.)  He wore the normal shapeless pants and flannel shirts that farmers wore, and on a cool day added an old coat left over from a suit of which the pants had worn out.  When he was outside in summertime, he topped off the outfit with a felt dress hat (sort of like the one Indiana Jones wears) that had seen enough years to render it satisfactorily shapeless so that it matched with the rest of his everyday clothes.  On Sundays he sometimes wore a suit and tie, and I think also a newer dress hat.

Grandpa didn’t talk a lot, but whenever he said something it was in a confident manner, giving a bit of a bulldozing impression, yet his manner was always friendly and good natured.  For the most part he was not at all a showoff, but he had one little act that he sometimes performed for the entertainment of others.  Although he had never experienced war action, he had received military training in the old country.  His act was to pick up Grandma’s broom and, holding it the way a marching soldier holds a rifle, he would go through various marching movements and turns, at the same time barking out a sergeant’s orders to himself.

In contrast to Grandpa’s tallness, Grandma was a short woman, medium wide.  She always wore a long dark dress, an apron, a little flat hat, and a kerchief over that, tied under her chin–all pretty much standard stuff for married women of her generation of the Mennonite religion and ethnic group.

She was dark of complexion with eyes as deep brown as a native American; but that she was one was highly unlikely since she came from the old country.  My dad used to say that he thought she was a Gypsy somehow displaced into a Mennonite community.  Actually, she had been adopted, but no one seemed to have much background on her birth history.

Grandma was charming–totally friendly, generous, patient and good natured.  She was an all-around good worker and quick to jump up to help anyone with their needs; but her favorite work seemed to be the tending of her large garden.  This was situated on one side of the house and reached all the way to the road.  I’m sure it produced a great variety of important vegetables, but I remember it mainly as a delightful orchard where I spent happy times spoiling my dinner by filling my face with blueberries, raspberries, currants, plums, etc.

All the meals cooked by Grandma, with the help of Aunt Susie, were good, but somehow breakfast sticks in my memory the most.  (We often stayed overnight, at least when we still made the long trips.)  Breakfast could include corn flakes or porridge, but that was just a start.  We would then get serious with fried potatoes, fried eggs, and cracklings (little delicious crumbs of high calorie meat rendered from pork lard).  To soak up some of the grease and not let it go to waste we used Grandma’s delicious home-baked buns, and everything was liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper.  In those days people knew how to eat.  Somehow I can still remember eating this great breakfast off a classy looking blue and white plate that had pictures of windmills on it.

Uncle Henry and Aunt Susie were the two children of the family who had not left home and in later years dedicated themselves to looking after their aging parents.  The other members of the family, Aunt Annie, Uncle John, Aunt Lena, and my mom, Agatha, married, left home, and were spread around a bit.  Aunt Annie and her family eventually moved to North Dakota, Uncle John and his family farmed in various places in Saskatchewan and then lived in the city of Saskatoon, about forty miles south of Grandpa’s farm.  None of these dear uncles and aunts were afflicted with wanderlust (in spite of the fact that Aunt Annie somehow found herself in another country), but Uncle Henry and Aunt Susie may well have been the champions of all stay-at-homes.  My dad, who could see humor in everything, used to comment on this, taking note that for some time even after they were grown up, Uncle Henry and Aunt Susie–and Mom too before Dad took her away from her home–had never seen a river, even though they lived only about seven miles away from one.

Uncle Henry was classic in other ways too.  So far as we could tell, he had no desire to become a successful farmer, a successful business tycoon, or a successful anything.  But he was very creative and talented, and one can’t help but wonder how he would have turned out if he had been born a half a century or more later, with all the educational opportunities and encouragements to talented children that we now have.  As it was, Uncle Henry, like a great many of the children of pioneers, never got past grade four in elementary school.

Uncle Henry was tall, broadshouldered, and strong, with a rugged face to match.  Unlike Grandpa, he kept himself clean shaven.  I liked the way he dressed.  I doubt that I ever saw him not wearing a checked flannel work shirt buttoned up tight at the collar, often complete with a necktie.  Over this he wore denim bib overalls.  On his feet he had ankle-high laced work boots, on his head a gray-tweed visored cap of the floppy kind.  These caps, popular in the 1920s and ‘30s, but still available in the ‘40s, looked kind of glamorous when worn at a rakish angle with the floppy part all hanging to one side; but Uncle Henry wore his dead center with the flop sticking out to both sides.  He wore this cap from the time he got out of bed in the morning until he got back into bed at night (although I never actually saw him in bed and simply make the assumption that he didn’t sleep with his cap on).  The only times he was ever seen not wearing it was at mealtimes–that is, while he was bowing his head to say grace and while he was actually eating.  At those times the cap hung on a post of his chair backrest.  Then, as soon as he had swallowed his last mouthful of food, he would reach for his cap and put it on his head, dead center.

His next step, without fail, was the relighting of a home-built cigarette, or the rolling of a fresh one and getting that one started.  And I’ve never seen anyone smoke a cigarette as fast as Uncle Henry.  You’d have thought he was sending urgent smoke signals regarding some emergency.

Getting back to his talent and creativity, he had taught himself to play the violin and was quite good at it.  But I think that even more than being a natural musician, he was, at heart, a writer of fiction–humorous fiction.  Or maybe he should have been a stand-up comedian.  So far as I know he never actually wrote a story, but he told many of them, always humorous ones, apparently making them up as he went along, and endangering his listeners with death by laughing fit.

I spent a fair amount of time with him in his room, watching him admiringly through a haze of tobacco smoke while he played his fiddle or got involved in entertaining me with exciting totally original stories.  The one I remember the best was about a frog making a long trip and having many adventures along the way, including getting stuck in a lake of snot.

Although I didn’t hear it, he had once spun a long fantasy yarn to a group of visiting young adults.  This involved their neighbor (who was not present) as the main character and had him making a trip to the moon with a horse and buggy–or was it a sleigh?  It would have been great if all his wacky stories could have been recorded for posterity.

Aunt Susie was a dark haired, pleasant looking, always neatly dressed woman.  She was a good worker and besides helping Grandma with everything, spent a lot of time doing housework for other people in the area.  This income helped to supplement the unfortunately decreasing revenue from the farm.  Like the other three, Aunt Susie always welcomed us warmly when we arrived for a visit, and kept up this openness and hospitality for as long as we stayed.  She also had a good sense of humor (which she needed with Uncle Henry around) and a pleasing enthusiasm and interest in the simple happenings of everyday life.

Having welcomed us royally upon our arrival, we were then ushered into the house–which was even more beautiful on the inside than on the outside.  By today’s standards it would have looked just a bit humble, but then, and particularly to my childhood eyes, it was a luxurious mansion.

The kitchen was long and relatively narrow, and furnished with the things that slightly classy farm-home kitchens of the time boasted:  There was a massive black cook stove with bright nickel trimmings, complete with a hot-water tank on the side and a closed-in warming shelf at the top; a long wooden table, chairs, and a cabinet (not built into the wall nor attached to the wall); and, near the door, a large box for firewood and a washstand with basin and pitcher, soap and towels.  Also near this door leading outside was a large wall mirror enclosed in a wide, dark-brown varnished frame which had pegs sticking out of it for hanging hats and jackets.

Four doorways, complete with doors, led out of the kitchen.  The one at the far end was pretty much a forbidden portal–at least I always felt afraid to go through it–for it led into the gloomy interior of Grandma and Grandpa’s bedroom.  I think I felt that if I entered it I might suffocate mentally and emotionally from contact with some kind of mysterious old-folks vibrations that emanated from out of the shadows, the effects of which only people forty or older could hope to survive.

On the inner wall of the kitchen (that is, on the side toward the rest of the house) and closest to the bedroom, was the door to the cellar.  This was not a full basement but had enough room for the storage of garden produce and home-canned food.  There was also a barrel of apples and, more than likely, a large stone crock of mustard pickles or sauerkraut, since these were popular at the time.

One of Uncle Henry’s rare true stories (as opposed to his many fictitious ones) was about how he had seen Grandma coming up out of the cellar with a mouse perched on the top of her head, on her kerchief.  Not wanting to frighten her with an announcement about the hitchhiker, he had flicked the little creature off her head before letting her know about it.

Next to the cellar doorway was the one leading upstairs.  This one had a door too, but that was usually left open.  The stairwell was walled in and the single flight of steps led to what could have been thought of as a hallway except that it was quite short.  It did, however, lead back on either side of the stairwell behind railings, but these spaces were pretty much filled in with clothes racks and clothing on hangers.  I think there were also cardboard boxes; and one thing my sister remembered as being there behind the railing, when we lately talked about that house, was a flour sack full of peppernuts.  I suppose the air was drier there, making a good place for some kinds of storage.

From the very short hallway one door led to the right and one to the left.  By the one to the right we entered Aunt Susie’s bedroom.  I remember that room as having sunlight streaming in through three windows, two in one wall and one in another, here and there reflecting off pretty glass knickknacks and jewelry laid out on her dresser.  I particularly remember the long strings of pearls hanging in loops from one of the dresser posts that supported the mirror.

When my mother and Aunt Lena had still been living at home, this room had been divided into two, but the separating wall had been taken out many years ago.  Now Aunt Susie had the whole area to herself, and she kept it clean, uncluttered, and cheerful looking.

The door on the left side of the little hallway led into Uncle Henry’s bedroom.  He had shared it with Uncle John before that older brother left home.  I don’t know what it had looked like then because I wasn’t born yet, but as I remember it from my childhood visits, it was totally Uncle-Henry-esque.

The room contained a cot where he slept, a little table in one corner with two chairs, and a big steamer trunk.  On the wall hung his beloved violin.  On the little table was a kerosene lamp, a tin of tobacco and an ashtray.

The room had a comfortable, pleasant atmosphere, part of the charm of which was a bluish tinge of tobacco smoke hanging in the air.  I spent quite a bit of time in that room, bugging my uncle and listening to his humor; you’d think I’d have been addicted to nicotine before I reached my teens.  We would park ourselves at the little table, across the corner of it from each other, and I still have a pretty clear mental picture of him sitting there, tweed cap dead center, a rapidly shortening cigarette never far from his mouth, as he worked at seeing what crazy story he could come up with to entertain and shock his nephew.

Back down in the kitchen now, we’ll check out the one remaining doorway leading out of it to other parts of the house, this one just to the left of the one leading upstairs.

It brings us into a dining room that I always thought looked cheerful even though it had a lot of dark wood, like the large table and chair set in the center, and a couple of gigantic cabinet affairs that held dishes and fancy china.  One of these cabinets (and I know this sounds incredible) also contained a hide-a-bed in its bottom parts.  So it wasn’t the best place to bed down a couple still on their honeymoon.

There was a door leading out to the front yard; the top half of that door held the beautiful frosted-glass window which I already mentioned.  Like the other rooms in the house, the dining room walls were done up in colorful, flowery wallpaper.

On the other side of the room from the outer door was another doorway, this one leading into the final room of the house, and my favorite one, the parlor.  (Today it would be called a living room–which doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense; don’t we live in all the rooms of our houses?  We should have stuck to calling them parlors.)

Grandma and Grandpa’s parlor was a fairly large room (it seemed huge to me) that had the classic look of the early twentieth century.  That would be at least one step back in time from when I was enjoying it in the mid-century forties.

The walls were tastefully papered and held some ancient looking framed pictures.  Rather than a rug on the floor there was smooth, flower-patterned linoleum.  Not centered in the room, yet a good five feet from one wall, stood a beautiful potbellied wood-burning heater, ornate with iron curlicues and nickel trimmings.  It had a hinged door at the front, and in this was a several-paned little window made of transparent mica, through which one could see (on winter days or on cool summer nights when the stove was being used) the flames bobbing cheerfully.  The four curly legs of the heater stood on a rectangular tin and cork mat that protected the floor from the heat.  A stovepipe led up through the ceiling into Aunt Susie’s room and from there to a chimney on the roof.  The reason for keeping much of the stovepipe uncovered was so that it could transmit more heat.  Where it went up through the parlor ceiling it was framed by a circular iron grillwork about a foot and a half in diameter.  This allowed more heat to come up from below into the room above.

One of the most beautiful items of furniture in the parlor was Grandma’s rocking chair.  It stood at an angle in the corner closest to a door that led into Grandma and Grandpa’s bedroom.  That already-mentioned chamber of mystery had two doors, this one and the one that led into it from the kitchen.  (With the two doors, a child that had wandered into the room and was suffocating from the strange emotional vibrations of gloomy old-folks bedrooms, would have a better chance to escape.)

On that wall of the parlor where the bedroom door was, there was an interesting piece of furniture that I suppose one could call a forerunner of the sofa.  We had plenty of sofas around in the forties–we called them chesterfields–but my grandparents didn’t have one.  What they did have was a piece of furniture called a sleep-bench.  It was upholstered like a sofa, although I don’t think it had springs, and it had no backrest and no armrests.  One end of it had an up-curve that was in effect a built-in pillow.  One could flop down on a sleep-bench and take a nap, but it could also be used for sitting.  Strangely enough, no one ever seemed to mind that it didn’t have a backrest to lean against.  But what if two people wanted to take a nap at the same time?  Answer:  Across the room from the sleep-bench was another sleep-bench, identical to the first.  There were also four or five chairs in the parlor, beautifully crafted, dark wood, varnished; there was no shortage of seating space.

Grandma’s rocking chair, complete with a crocheted white decorative panel on its backrest, won first place for furniture proper in my mind, but I was sure that the most beautiful thing in the room was the kerosene lamp that hung from a chain in one corner.  As well as its tall, graceful glass chimney, it had a glass shade that was decorated with pictures of colored, transparent flowers, causing it to look like part of a church window.  And all around its edge hung slender crystals that reflected the amber light of the lamp’s flame.

In the wonderful cozy atmosphere of this room everyone would be gathered in the evenings, sitting on fancy wooden chairs, sleep-benches, and Grandma in her rocking chair.  And what were we doing besides engaging in the Mennonite tradition of all talking at the same time?

We were eating apples that someone had brought up from the cellar, and cracking sunflower seeds.  We would spit the shells out on the floor with perfectly innocent abandon.  That was why linoleum was better than a rug on a parlor floor.  When the seed-crunching orgy was over, the shells could easily be swept up.

Uncle Henry was, without a doubt, the world’s champion sunflower-seed-cracker.  As he rapidly fed the seeds into one side of his mouth, a steady stream of empty shells arced out from the other side.  No, he didn’t smoke while he was doing this.

Some of the happiest days of my childhood and boyhood life were spent immersed in the warm and happy glow of that parlor, that house, that farmstead.

It’s all gone now.  There’s nothing there but an open field.  Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Susie, Uncle Henry, and other members of that family, including my mother, have gone on to other-worldly adventures.

But I have them, and the place where they lived, in my memory.  And by writing about it in this essay, I’ve been able to share with others a little bit of the beauty of it all.

(Just a reminder that all my previous postings are also available for your reading enjoyment.)