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Summer Fires

With hundreds of raging fires now spreading across the West, I recall another fire—a smaller one, to be sure, but one that could have killed my mother, dad, my little sister and me.

During the summer of 1948, our family camped in the Rockies. Dad had purchased an old army surplus tent, which he dutifully packed up, unpacked, pitched, and packed up again at each stop along our way. Other gear included a Coleman stove for cooking and a large kerosene lantern for light. However, after spending several cold nights at the higher elevations, Dad thought we needed another kerosene lantern for heat, so the next day he drove down the mountain to buy a new one.

That night, as Cathy and I lay cocooned in our woolen sleeping bags inside the tent, Mom and Dad mumbled outside as Dad wrestled with the new contraption. He vigorously pumped the fuel, determined to make “this darn thing” work.

Suddenly, a loud explosion and bright flash illuminated the wall of our tent. “Fire!” Dad screamed. Cathy and I burst into tears, zipped to our chins in our bags! “Fire!” Dad screamed again, “Get water! The trees, the trees!”

I heard him scrambling down the bank to the mountain stream below.

Several terrifying moments passed. Then the flickering light went out as quickly as it began. All was dark again—and quiet. Back from the stream, Dad asked. “What happened to the fire?”

“I threw our drinking water on it,” Mom said. “It was right there, so I just used that.”

There was no response. I guess Dad was completely stunned.

In the morning, Cathy and I saw the charred lantern on the picnic table. Limbs of nearby trees hung directly above the table. I think about that now as I watch the news.

 

Today, August 8, is our 57th wedding anniversary. Hard to believe we’ve been together that many years! We celebrated with friends on Wednesday evening, but this afternoon, we’ve had fun reading a stack of old letters that we wrote to each other during August of 1957, the year before we married.

Robin and I had been seeing each other almost every day in college since early spring of 1957. That’s when we began to be serious about each other, so this was the first time we had been apart for any length of time. Late in July, we finished summer school at Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and then I left with my parents and younger sister, Cathy, to go to Blue Ridge Assembly, the Y.M.C.A conference grounds in North Carolina, for several weeks. My dad was helping conduct several conferences, and I played the piano for group singing at the worship services and other events.

In the meantime, Robin was down on the Louisiana Gulf Coast, working on an oil rig off shore from Morgan City. He helped in the kitchen, bussed tables, made beds, and even did a little painting on the rig to earn more money for school.

Our letters are full of love! Each of us was so lonesome for the other! We’d tell each other about the events of our day, but we’d always end with our desire to be together again. We could hardly wait!

You might be wondering how we happen to still have all those old letters. Well, sentimentalist that I am, I had saved them in an old corsage box! After we married in 1958, I stored them away, and then we carried them with us when we moved from Shreveport to Tupelo in 1971. Thirty-two years later, in 2003, I found that old box in the attic. It was tattered and brown, but I rescued the letters and stored them in a clear plastic case to bring them along on our move to Hot Springs Village.

I guess you could say these old love letters have been on the same “journey” as we have these past 57 years.  What a great journey it has been!

Today, July 31, is my sister’s birthday. Cathy would have been 74 years old today. Shortly after her death in 2002, I wrote a tribute which I gave to her new Methodist pastor who would be conducting her funeral. He had only known her for a couple of months, so I wanted him to have a better sense of who she was. Today, I will share it with all of you.

A Loving Tribute to My Sister, Cathy

Madelyn F. Young

My younger sister, Cathy, was a very loving wife, mother, grandmother, and sister, and she devoted many hours of her life to her family. However, Cathy had many other personal interests and talents.

Cathy’s career as a public-school art teacher in Louisiana, and later in Arkansas, was short-lived, but she continued using her artistic talents while working with preschool children in Kinder-Care for many years. She also enjoyed drawing and painting at home. Some of her original artwork now adorns the walls of her home, and mine too.

Another favorite pastime was reading. Cathy was always a strong supporter of her local public library. She enjoyed recommending authors to me, and she and I would share books back and forth. We often gave each other books as gifts for Christmas.

One of Cathy’s greatest accomplishments was her excellence in swimming. As a teen-ager, she participated on a swim team, and she also worked as a life guard during the summers. As an adult, her interest in swimming continued. Cathy was a member of the Y.M.C.A., and up until the onset of her illness, she would go the “Y” pool three or four times a week, swimming a mile or more in laps each time. She and her husband, Del, also enjoyed boating. While Del would fish, Cathy would plunge overboard into the water and swim. They spent many happy hours together on all the nearby lakes.

When I think of Cathy, I also think of her great love of cats. Growing up, we girls always had kittens and cats for pets. But Cathy continued to own and care for cats through all her adult years. Now, her little pet, Tiffy, will miss her greatly.

We are all very sad that Cathy’s earthly life has ended. But we also rejoice, knowing that she is now in a beautiful place free of pain and disease. I envision her completely surrounded by the glorious love of our Heavenly Father. I can see her laughing and talking and walking hand in hand with Mother and Dad.

The last time I spoke with Cathy was Monday night in the hospital, four days before she died. Later that evening, the doctors would begin giving her strong sedatives to keep her comfortable and asleep until her death. I was thankful we had some time to talk.

She told me how she had always admired me. I told her that she was the one whom I admired! She had been such a brave woman to accept the harsh treatments over and over again to fight the cancer. When it was time for me to go, I kissed her on the forehead and told her I loved her, but I did not tell her “Good-bye.” Instead, I merely said, “I’ll see you later.” Cathy understood. She nodded her head and smiled.

Trip to Tennessee and North Carolina, July 10-20, 2015 049Last Saturday I did something I never thought I would do— I’m not much of a risk-taker. While we were visiting our son Marty and his family in Maryville, Tennessee, he took me up in his little light-weight two-seater aircraft! I loved it!

I wouldn’t have even considered it with anyone else as the pilot. But I know how safety-conscious our son is and how meticulous he is with all the preflight details. He also has a calm, reassuring demeanor—which has served him well as a paramedic—and he was able to communicate with me every step of the way.

Trip to Tennessee and North Carolina, July 10-20, 2015 048

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to Tennessee and North Carolina, July 10-20, 2015 055

The view from above was beautiful! During our early morning flight, the air currents weren’t too turbulent, so Marty took me on a long ride over the French Broad River. The rolling countryside with its tiny homes, green fields, miniature cows, picturesque churches and tombstone-dotted cemeteries looked like a diorama spread across the foothills of the Smokies.

Robin went up the weekend before when we were visiting them, and I watched the take-off and landing. It looked like such fun! So this past weekend, when we came back through to spend several more nights, I decided I’d do it too. I am so glad I did!

Yesterday’s Village Voice listed Robin’s name in its “Ageless Wonders” golf column. Those who score their age or under their age are recognized for this special honor each week, and Robin’s name appeared at the top of yesterday’s list of eleven: “Robin Young, 82, scored an 80 at Cortez on June 19. Witnesses: R. Lovett, R. Richards, D. Kahle.”

What the readers of the Voice didn’t know was that Robin shot that good score on June 19 with a 99 percent blockage in one of his main arteries!

He’d been having problems with occasional episodes of sudden dizziness, so he’d worn a heart Holter monitor for two weeks to see if anything irregular would show up. That report revealed nothing abnormal.

Then, during the past week or so, Robin began to experience more shortness of breath after exertion. He’d go out to play eighteen holes but begin to tire on the back nine. Also, he’d be working out at the Fitness Center and have to stop pedaling the elliptical after 8 minutes instead of 12. That’s when his doctors scheduled an angiogram.

Happy News! Yesterday’s procedure revealed that Robin did have a severe blockage in one of his arteries, but this time it could be remedied with a couple of stents instead of a bypass. (In 2012, he had triple bypass surgery.)

We’re home now, and I am so thankful my “Ageless Wonder” will have a good chance of scoring another 80—or maybe even a 79—later this month!

The 71st Annual Arkansas Writers’ Conference was held in North Little Rock this past Friday and Saturday. Although I wasn’t able to attend this year, several members of our Village Writers’ Club were there, and from all reports, everyone had a great time. The speakers were good, and the interaction with other writers from across the state was as stimulating as always.

One of our new Village Writers attended the conference, and I was so excited when I learned that he had won an honorable mention for a free verse poem he submitted to one of the writing contests and a first place award in one of the short story contests. Another member won an honorable mention for his essay.

What a thrill it is to hear one’s name called as a winner and to step up and claim a certificate and a check. The judges liked my writing! Winning an award is a great boost to a writer’s morale.

However, there are other times when one’s name isn’t called. Does that mean that the writer did a poor job? Not necessarily. Perhaps there were other pieces in that contest that appealed more to a judge’s emotions or that focused on a theme with which a judge could identify. Of course, a winning entry needs to follow all the contest guidelines and be written with skill, but an entry must still pass a more subjective test—did the judge actually “like” the piece?

This year I submitted four entries, and I had a dry run. No awards. Nada. Nothing! In past years I have won some and I have lost some. However, I have learned that whatever happens, I need to keep writing. Sharing my writing with others is fun! And I’m thankful for all of you who continue to support me.

Recently, the Presbyterian Women’s group at Presbyterian Kirk in the Pines honored me as their “2015 Woman of Faith.”  I was surprised and truly humbled by their award, but it has led me to ponder once again, who is this God in whom I believe? Today I’d like to share with you an essay I wrote several years ago.

DOES GOD EXIST?

For thousands of years, we humans here on Planet Earth have pondered that question. Is there a supernatural force that existed before all matter and that will still exist after all matter is gone? If so, we must realize we will never fully comprehend a power beyond this natural world in which we live. As finite creatures, we will always be limited in our understanding of an infinite entity. Science may give us more and more answers about our world, but it cannot give us answers to what may lie outside.

We who have grown up within a Judeo/Christian tradition have called this force “God.” Our ancient writings describe a Father God who revealed himself through prophets and ultimately through his son, Jesus Christ, and whose Holy Spirit continues to move among us. These writings are collected in our scripture, the Holy Bible.

But the Bible has contradictory statements about this god. Some passages say God is jealous and vengeful, a god who condemns the unrighteous. Other scriptures affirm God is omnipotent, all powerful but loving—a god of grace and mercy. Can we find truth in stories handed down by word of mouth and later written by humans who were influenced by their cultures and experiences? Perhaps, but many biblical scholars warn us that literal interpretations of scripture can be misleading.

And how did our Bible come to be the way it is today? Church leaders selected which stories to include in the canon. Why did they choose these stories and not others? We also need to remember that what we have now are not the original writings but translations. Do we have accurate texts?

If we agree that ancient writings can not give us a complete picture of God, then can observations of the world around us help us discern the attributes of this god who may exist? Natural laws may indicate a god of supreme intelligence and power but one unmoved by human suffering. On the other hand, laws of nature may also indicate a god who provides beauty and bounty beyond all measure for his creatures but one who allows them to fight over the abundance and destroy the world.

I believe we humans need to step back, take a deep breath, and recognize our limitations in describing a force that might exist beyond the universe. Any of our dogmatic statements about this supernatural being may be erroneous, or at the very least, incomplete. None of us has all the answers.

Does God exist? Perhaps. But if so, then God is more magnificent and more mysterious than any of us can ever imagine.

 

 

 

 

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