The Jewel of California’s Central Valley

filled drinking glasses in tray

It’s going to be one of those over 100 degree weeks in Modesto – where we are known for water, wealth, contentment and health. I bet you’re wondering why I stay here, aren’t you? (Truth is: when I have to get out in this heat, I wonder why I stay here.) However, Modesto is a good town, mostly. We still smile at you on the street, most of the time. We still have an A&W. Our movie drive ins have given way to theatres with recliners. I wonder if that’s a response to the graying of the nation. We have a Costco and a Winco, and what else do you need? Gallo Winery is here and we’re in a valley that grows a good deal of the food consumed in the whole world. We have a junior college and the four-year is right down the road a bit. You can get frozen yogurt to beat the heat or you can swim in one a bazillion pools. And we’ve got a whole bunch of churches, I mean lots. All good.

But why I like Modsto the most, past that most of my kids, my friends, and my doctor are here, is that we look out for each other. I think that has to do a lot with there being a whole bunch of peope who love God in Modesto. We’ve got Love Modesto in April when thousands get together and do projects all over town. But that’s once a year. We also help relocate refugees through World Relief, care for the poor through a bunch of agencies. Lately, we’ve set up MOES, a tent city for the homeless, and people all over town support that, too. The Shower Shuttle folks, who offer free showers to the homeless in these really cool, decked out vans, have just added a laundry van, so the homeless can get their clothes clean. Imagine if you were on the street, how much those two blessings would mean to you. I like this part of us most because Jesus said to look out for the little guy, the one who can’t help himself. The one who, when you do something kind for him, can’t pay you back. We don’t need organizations to help us do that, by the way, or government. We can pull on our boots and do it on our own. Just a thought.

 

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The Odyssey of a Diamond

Way back in 1968, a thin, blonde, blue-eyed man asked a hippy, brunette, green-eyed woman to marry him, for the third time. This time, she said yes. Phew! The man was the hubs, better known as “Bake,” and the woman was, you guessed it, me.

I had had this principal in high school, Mr. Carson Wilcox, of whom I was terrified. He must have been ten feet tall, and he definitely had the brow ridges of a neanderthal. Bushy black eyebrows and jet black hair. I turned and hurried the other way every time I saw him coming down one of the hallways of Mariposa High. It was rumored he had been a wrestler before he went into education.

As life will do you, he became my Sunday school teacher. Correct, I had to sit within ten feet of him every Sunday. I found out on those Sundays that under that screechingly fearsome exterior beat a heart of compassion. He played devil’s advocate every Sunday to help us strengthen our faith in Jesus.

I bring Mr. Wilcox up because he and his wife offered to throw an engagement party for us. And we accepted. So the plan was that on the day of the party I would meet Bake at Judd’s Jewelers in Merced, where we had found my rings. We had looked in what seemed like every jewelry store in three counties. The ring I chose, and love to this day has three gold leaves, with the diamond set like a flower at the top of them. I love gardening, nature, the outdoors, and it spoke to me. Loved it then. Love it now.

But I digress. I drove down to Merced on the appointed day to meet Bake at the bus station. But he wasn’t there. so I thought maybe he’d walked over to Judd’s. But, he wasn’t there. So I asked Mr. Judd if he’d seen him, giving the above description. Nope, hadn’t seen him. So I drove back to the bus station, thinking I’d missed him. Searched all over among the benches and travellers. No Bake. Drove back to Judd’s, and asked again. This time, Mr. Judd said, “Oh yeah, a young man did come in here. He left this suitcase.”

About that time, the bell on the door rings, and Bakes slows from a dead run to a screeching halt. With a Mickey Mouse grin I have come to recognize as he’s been up to something, he said, “I lost track of time, sorry.”

“Where were you?”

He hesitated. … “Playing pool down on the corner.” He pointed in the direction he had come. We got the rings and headed for Mariposa.

Okay, so I got over it, we had a wonderful engagement party and a year later, a little earlier than we had planned, in the midst of his enlistment because of Vietnam, we got married. Two weeks later he was in boot camp. At Christmastime that year, I lost the ring. I looked everywhere. Turned out it had fallen off in the backseat of the car when I was bringing home a Christmas tree. I got it sized.

fb_img_1548512187741  You can kind of see my new diamond in this pic of our 50th anniversary party.

Time passes, lots of time, like 40 years. Bake decides the ring needs a new diamond. He wants to give me a marquis diamond for our anniversary. So we take out the old diamond and put in the new. I don’t see any point in having a daimond laying around in my jewelry box, so I give the original to Maryann, my oldest daughter.

More time passes, ten years, and this year, 2019, the year of our 50th anniversary, Maryann’s oldest son, Ethan, proposes to the love of his life Elena.

fb_img_1557591314642  He needs a diamond, and there just happens to be one. This diamond is the symbol of true, lifelong love, and we’re delighted that our grandson put it in the engagement ring he gave his fiance just the other day when he had graduated from Modesto Junior College. Who knows where it may go from here.

Life

How’s that for a broad subject? Perhaps a little narrowing is in order.

The older I get the more I think I don’t know anything about anything.  Now there’s the topic.

grayscale photography of person using phone

This is not me, but it could be.

I’m a writer, at least most days. Sometimes I get published, and sometimes I don’t. Am I still a writer when I don’t? Should I just smile and wash the dishes instead?  And since the Bible says what pleases God is when we love each other, care for widows, orphans, immigrants, and so on; are slow to anger, etc., does writing – or any other occupation – even matter? Maybe I should just smile and feed an orphan. I don’t know. My mentor, Ethel Herr, who now looks at Jesus face-to-face, said our books can reach love, acceptance, etc. to a whole lot more people than our small circles of influence. So if I glue my face to my computer and knuckle down, what happens to the hubs, the kids, the friends? Ecclesiastes even says the writing of books is endless.

Maybe it’s about balance. Except, my days can blow up in a phone call. Sometimes the writing bite is huge, and sometimes the relationship bite is huge. Wait, am I starting to see something here?

Or how about truth and grace? I used to think telling the truth could hurt the people I love or cause them to get real angry. So I didn’t bother with telling it, thinking I was giving them grace. I guess I have learned one thing. Grace isn’t grace without truth, and truth isn’t truth without grace. Only, now I have to figure out how to tell the truth in grace, and I don’t even think I’m capable of figuring that out. Wretched woman that I am.

Maybe what’s really going on is that my plans aren’t God’s plans, and my understanding of life, or any part thereof, is way smaller than God’s understanding. What to do? What if I consider interruptions, not interruptions, but redirecting from on high? But wait, am I just making excuses? What if when I don’t have a clue what to do, I ask God? What if He doesn’t answer? Reminds me of when the grownups used to say, “We’ll see.”

Okay, here I go again. I used to come up with great ideas and go into implementation phase before checking in with Him. I’d look over my shoulder, having left Him in the dust, and say something like, “What do you think, God?” He put up with that for a lot of years. Over time, I found myself confused and exhausted a lot. What’s the verse, “Come to Me, you who are weary,” etc.?  I finally noticed the “Come to Me” part of the verse. Take it from an old broad, it’s much better to check in first, get your marching orders, and then strike out.  If there are no marching orders, stay put. That’s easy. Writing this conclusion at Christmastime seems supremely appropriate, now that I think about it. Merry Christmas, every one!

Planning

I love planning things–trips, parties, what I’m going to say. The other day, I said to Bake (my hubs) that I hope I don’t die suddenly, because I’d rather have a chance to plan it well. OK, you get the picture.

red roses close up photography

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

So — our 50th anniversary is coming up in January. Let me digress momentarily. That fact is a miracle all on its own. I’m from a divorced couple, Bake grew up with beatings that kept him from going to school some days–broken folks. I never expected, ever, to make it past our 14th year, but God. So, here we are, anticipating our Golden Wedding Anniversary.

The kids did us a bang up party for our 40th, so I’m thinking I can plan this one. Hipdewoops. We’re going to dance. And dance some more, to songs that put the lyrics to our life. We’re going to renew our vows. (Over that I am sweating blood because Bake can say some of the sweetest things to me, and I so want to do the same for him.) And we’re going to eat cake, and toast every good thing we can think of in life and marriage. People we love have already agreed to help us put this shindig together and now I am purusing (incredibly expensive) invitations.

Back in the day, 1969 to be exact, I planned my wedding on a shoestring. Bake was headed for Vietnam, so we had two weeks to get ready. I used the leftover of what my dad had paid for my dorm room to fund the wedding, since we would be moving into our $75 a month apartment, the second floor of these old people’s house (criminy, they must have been about our age now). Their only stipulation was that we take our shoes off when we came in at night.

Back then, we had a dorm friend who agreed to take photos. Tuesday, my buddy Leslee, graphic artist turned prize-winning photographer, will take our anniversary photo.

My mom made my dress, knee length. The dress I wear to our 50th will be floor length. I made my cake. Our pastor’s wife, Heather, is going to make us a cake on the theme of a rose garden, and it will be a doozy because she’s talented beyond belief.

At our wedding, sisters who sang well rendered One Hand One Heart. At our 50th party, my buddy of years will sing a beautiful song about soul mates, and her voice is honey.

My grandmother played the piano at our wedding, and my dad flipped the lights off because he thought candlelight would be nice. Good thing my grandmother could play by ear. At our 50th, there’ll be a sound guy.

Bake’s dad, pastor and heroic POW, officated at our wedding. He’s gone on to live with Jesus. Our pastor, Jim, who explains the Gospel better than anyone in the world, will introduce our vows at our 50th.

There were no written invitations to our wedding. The guy who ran the dorm cafeteria stood on a chair and invited everyone, and the little mission where I first understood the Gospel overflowed with folks. They were even looking in the windows on a snowy day. There may be no invitations to our 50th if I don’t find some that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

We decorated my wedding with pine trees, silk ribbon and a set of candlelabras. My family lived in the Sierras then. My bff, Georgia, who can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, will head the decorating team for our 50th.

The love Bake and I shared back in the day has blossomed and deepened, and I sure didn’t plan that. But I’m glad God did.

Family

It seems appropriate on Thanksgiving to say what I know about family. I think it’s possible there’s a myth of the perfect family we all think someone else has. Nobody farts at the table, brings less food than they should, or cusses in front of the children. The men do the dishes instead of playing or watching football, or the women do them without complaining, or they do them together and then all play football. I do not believe this family exists. Families can be “cussed,” as my beloved Pastor Yaeger used to say. That would be cuss-ed, not spoken ill of. So what do we do about that?

I’ve seen some folks turn their backs on each other. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for that. If you’ve explained to your relative, whom you did not get to pick, that their words or behavior are causing you a problem, let’s say at least three times, and the response is something like, “Can’t help it. That’s just how I am,” a little back-turning may be instructive. That’s assuming, of course, that in your heart of hearts, you are willing to forgive should they repent. See, there’s this stuff in the Book that says if we don’t forgive, God will behave in the same manner. Gives you pause, doesn’t it?

When the family gathers, like today, if the warring parties can put their differences on the back burner enough to acknowledge each other’s presence, that’s pretty good. At least it cuts the other family members a break. We just won’t sit you next to each other, being the considerate folks we are.

However, there are those, who shall remain nameless, who not only refuse to repent, but traipse blithely on dropping bombs on others just to show who’s boss. The outcome being that someone refuses to see someone else. Great, now what? Well, pilgrim, you gonna be having Thanksgiving all over the place. Now isn’t that an Irish way of dealing with it? I say that because the Irish believe you are never lost, you are just enjoying new vistas. These resilient people find a way. So, find a way. Divvy up the fam to various houses, or fly from one to another. That’s grace, right?

Just remember one thing. There is something about blood relation that God planned into us. It’s like our DNA calls back and forth, or something. That relative that drives you nuts is going to be in trouble one day, if not now, then later. When s/he is, all this hoopde goes out the window, and the family rallies round. So, if you can, why not do it now? Save a lot of stomach knots. Just sayin’.