Thursday, August 26, 2004

A Life Well-Lived

“Honor thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
~ Deuteronomy 5:16

I’m seein’ my father in me
I guess that’s how it’s meant to be
And I find I’m more and more like him each day
I notice I walk the way he walks
I notice I talk the way he talks
I’m startin’ to see,
My father in me
And I’m happy to see
My father in me

Lyrics to “Seein’ My Father in Me” ~ performed by Paul Overstreet

Our Dad
Written in 1973 for my dad’s 59th birthday

Our dad is something special,
He’s not like all the rest
He’s funny, charming, good-looking, too
He’s got to be the best.

Our dad takes good care of us,
With him we have fun,
And if we were to rate him,
He would be # 1

Our dad is really great
He’s our most favorite pop
You could look all over the world
And find our dad comes out on top!

Our dad means a lot to us
We love him so, you see
And that is why he holds the name,
Pleasant Padre or P.P.

Our dad is special in so many ways
I couldn’t begin to count them
You can talk with Dad and joke with Dad
He really is somethin’

So you see, there are dad’s in Singapore,
And dad’s in Timbuktu,
But there isn’t a dad anywhere,
Half as great as you!

This is an excerpt taken from the diary I kept when I was a teenager:

April 1, 1974

Dad is so funny. Every morning he leaves off to
work singing some made up song. Like this morning he
sang, “I don't think I'll ever see...a guy as cute as me!”
Then he joined in laughing and said: "You know, that bugs
your mother...she doesn't like me telling her how lucky
she is." Then he went on to sing: "Lucky, lucky thee, you
have gone and married me!"

As I mentioned in my last column, the highlight of the annual Van Kirk reunion was the celebration of our father’s 80th birthday. What an amazing milestone! After putting our heads together, we tried to “honor our father” in a way that did justice to a well-loved man and his well-lived life.
Our brother Bill came up with the idea to have everyone send him a list of “Dad-isms” – quotes that they remember our father saying when we were growing up – and have them printed on the back of a T-shirt. Bill ended up with more Dad-isms than he could fit on the shirts, so he had to narrow them down to about forty.
Here’s a list of my personal favorites:
How are you, Dad? Better now.
That’s a good idea, Dad. It’s the only kind I have.
Are you ready? I stay ready.
I’ll review it with a forward moving posture.
You’re a gentleman and a scholar – and there’s damn few of us left.
Some of the world’s greatest people are left-handed.
You'll never know unless you ask.
Now don't go getting your Irish up!
Are you trying to give me a heart attack? You drive like a drunken sailor!
“Que, sera sera" – followed by a rendition of the song.
What was your contribution to society today?
If you have a tongue in your head, you’ll never be lost
You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
Moderation in everything
Less said – easier mended
If the Good Lord’s willing and the creeks don't rise
I'm going to pull the car over and spank every one of you to make sure I get the right one.
I'll give you something to cry about!
You can’t kid a kidder
I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I wouldn’t do it for all the tea in China!
Where’s my ukulele?
The world is your oyster!

When Bill was reading them at the reunion, someone hollered out from the crowd: “And you thought we never listened to you, Dad!”
On the night of his birthday party, Dad was pleasantly surprised to see a whole group of our dear family friends from Hudson. It really made the celebration special to be able to share it with all of them.
The festivities were emceed by Bob, who presented Dad with a scrapbook filled with cards, letters and poems sent in from friends who were unable to attend the birthday party. The scrapbook was put together so creatively by our nieces, Emily and Jenny (Joe & Cindy’s daughters).
After that, the grandkids all participated in performing an entertaining production by The Van Kirk Cousins – co-produced by Joanne’s two talented children, J.P. and Amy. (They write and direct a cousins’ skit every year.)
Next, Peggy read a heartwarming poem she wrote for Dad titled “Memories of a Daughter.” How she was able to keep her composure while reading it, I’ll never know.

By Peggy Van Kirk

I know a father who…
•Let us dance on his feet around the living room
•Taught us to behave in church and restaurants and to always say, "Please and Thank You”
•Put on funny hats, strummed a ukulele, sang and made us laugh
•Drove our toboggan on icy winter days and yelled "Bombs Away!" from the top of the hill
•Skated gracefully across a frozen lake to join his children in their new found past time

I know a father who…
•Agreed we could enter a contest to win a puppy and watched with pride when we appeared on TV to claim our prize
•Took us on car rides down dark, windy roads so we could have fun being scared
•Bought wagons, swings, a Whirl-Around and bikes to enjoy and then had to move our toys to get into his garage each evening
•Gave us the first air conditioned house in the neighborhood and a new station wagon for cross country trips to Pennsylvania
•Carried his young, sleeping children from the car to their beds
I know a father who…..
•Saw that music filled our house and his songs filled the air
•Spent an arduous week on the road and the week-end at play with his children
•Finished the basement in our new house all by himself so his children would have more room to play
•Taught his children to speak French at the dinner table, and…
•Always asked about their day

I know a father who….
•Ensured that each of his 9 children were given all the opportunities in life that he could provide and who…..
•Replied when they came asking – “Did I ever say no to you?”
•Gave his teenagers the freedom to make their own decisions and taught them to accept responsibility for their actions.
•Made sure we treated our “elders" with respect
•Believed in the importance of telephone manners

I know a father who….
•Valued, his work, play, family, and religion
•Took regular vacations to renew his spirit and relationship
•Remained intensely loyal to his employer, co-workers, and customers
•Made time for daily physical activity to protect his health
•Modeled the importance of honesty and integrity in his actions

I know a father who…
•Cried when he should and laughed when he could
•Offered advice and suggestions when we started something new and congratulations when we accomplished our goals
•As we grew, he remembered us by singing the happy birthday song each year on our voice mail and ….
•Years ago started the tradition of reunions so we could join together each year to strengthen the bonds of family and who today….
•Finds candy in the ears of his grandchildren and sings to them about the Elephant's Fair

I know a father who….
•Cuddles sleeping grandbabies in the church pew
•Climbs on swings and takes a spin
•Has a zest, vitality and joy de vivre that has earned our admiration
• Is loved and honored by those here today

Happy 80th Birthday, Dad, Joe and Grandpa!

Ish Ka Bibble!

Finally, we all watched a video tribute to Dad’s life that I put together with the help of my sister, Patricia, who contributed countless pictures to the project and shared in half the expense, and my brothers and sisters who took the time to go through their photo albums and send me pictures of their family members with Dad. Gordon Schmid, owner of Story2Tell in Council Grove, worked a miracle by putting all the pictures and music together on a single DVD.
By the time the evening came to a close, it was all my dad could do to utter a few short sentences. As he choked back his tears, he turned to our friends from Hudson and said, “It’s like this all the time….really….all the time.” Then he went on to say that the credit belongs to our mother. “And those of you who knew Peggy understand what I mean.”
In short, when it was all said and done; he laughed, he cried; he sang, he danced – and it just doesn’t get any better than that.
I’d like to close by sharing a few lines from a letter Dad recently sent to all of his children.
“[I am] struggling to find words to express my feelings of gratitude and appreciation for one of the more memorable weeks of my entire life; the Family Reunion and the tribute you paid to me on my 80th Birthday!
“Let me say, I felt your affection and I felt your love! Who could ask for more at any age and at my age please know that if I’m lucky enough to make it through those Pearly Gates, I shall then, as now, be Eternally Grateful!”

“…the glory of children is their father….”
~ Proverbs 17:6 (NKJV)

God bless ~

The Van Kirk Family
Peggy, Patricia, Connie, Joanne,
Joseph, Mary, Eileen, Bill, Bob
and Dad

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Remember When

"But call to remembrance the former days…"
~ Hebrews 10:32

Remember when ~
Thirty seemed so old
Now looking back,
It's just a steppin' stone
To where we are,
here we've been
Said we'd do it all again ~
Remember when

Lyrics to "Remember When" ~ performed by Alan Jackson

This year's annual Van Kirk reunion took place near Brainerd, Minnesota at a wonderful family-owned resort called Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge ( All nine of us were there, traveling from as far away as Nevada, Seattle and Virginia. It was an extra special reunion on several fronts, but primarily because we were celebrating our father's 80th birthday which falls on August 24th. (More about that in next week's column.)

In the middle of the week, Keen and I decided to take a road trip to our hometown of Hudson, Wisconsin. My father's job with 3M required us to move quite often, so very few of us were even born in the same state. I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, for instance, and we later moved to Edina, Minnesota. The next stop was Hudson, where we lived for the longest stretch of time - eight years before being transferred overseas to Singapore.

I have so many fond memories of the years spent growing up in the quaint little town nestled near the St. Croix River on the Minnesota border. My parents built a seven bedroom house at the bottom of a winding road called Proehl's Trail. It was named after the Proehl sisters - Ida, Sophie and Mag, and if my memory serves me correctly, only one of the sisters ever married. I became close friends with Mag and enjoyed many visits in her home. In fact, I still have the antique paper weight she gave me when I was a young girl.

Proehl's Trail, or Proehl's Point, as it is sometimes called, was a dead end road that circled around Lake Mallalieu. Our house was built right on the waterfront, which provided year around entertainment for the whole Van Kirk family - and all of our friends! In the summer we swam, fished, canoed and water skied. In the winter we skated, ice fished and went sledding on the hill in the woods behind our house.

From the moment Keen and I crossed the city limit sign into Hudson, my childhood memories started flooding back - beginning with the Dairy Queen on the edge of town. That was where my sister Peggy used to take me every year for my birthday. She told me I could get anything I wanted, but I always ordered a butterscotch sundae. It was such a treat! I'm sure Keen was a bit puzzled when I asked him to pull over and take a picture of me in front of the Dairy Queen. It was the first of many pictures I would ask him to take during my walk down Memory Lane.

Hudson has grown considerably since we lived there when the population was only about 5,000. I'm not sure what it is now, but as we drove down Main Street, I barely recognized it. The only storefront that jogged my memory was Sandeen Insurance, which has been owned and operated for over 50 years by the Sandeen family, our close friends and former neighbors. I also recalled the corner pharmacy, although I think the name has changed.

We managed to find our way to St. Patrick's Catholic School, where I attended school from 2nd grade through the 8th grade. What a blast from the past! There was Sr. Cornelius' music room - she was the only nun who wore a white habit. I remember how she called my mom to report that I was "crisscrossing" the suspenders on my plaid uniform in order to make my pleated skirt a little shorter. She used to get the ruler out and measure the distance between the bottom of my skirt and my knee.

Our next stop was the old home place on Proehl's Trail. The current owners, Herb and Karen Till, are long time family friends, and were nice enough to offer tours to any member of the Van Kirk family. So we decided to take them up on their generous offer. Tears filled my eyes as I walked from room to room through our former home. In my mind's eye I could just picture all of us running down that wooden staircase on Christmas morning into the living room filled with gifts.

The kitchen brought back memories of all those dinners spent talking and laughing around the table. My Dad used to constantly remind us to keep our elbows off the table. He'd say things like, "Your napkin fell on the floor" to get us to put our napkin on our laps. After dinner I remember how all nine of us would yell, "I scream! You scream! We all scream for ice cream!"

The corner of the kitchen, on the other hand, brought back some not-so-pleasant memories of time spent on my knees on those hard ceramic tiles as punishment for fooling around in church!

Even the intercom system brought back memories. It was piped into each of our bedrooms and every button was labeled accordingly. There was one master button that went to every room in the house so when it was time for dinner, Mom just pushed that button and made one mass announcement.

It was especially sentimental to see my old bedroom and look out the window at the same view of the lake I used to see when I would do my homework at my desk. But the most nostalgic moment of all came when Karen showed us a forgotten memory inside a built-in planter by the staircase leading to the basement. There, etched in the cement, were the names of all nine kids - Peggy, Patty, Connie, Joanne, Joe, Mary, Eileen, Bill and Bob, as well as Mom, Dad and Nanny - our maternal Grandmother.

Coincidentally, the house is currently up for sale. My brother, Bill and his wife, Connie and their four kids toured the house after the reunion and are actually considering buying it. Connie's entire family lives in Minnesota, so they would really like to live closer to them - and the rest of us would love nothing more than to be able to visit our old home in Hudson once and awhile. My idea was for us to buy it as a permanent location for the annual Van Kirk reunion! In any event, we are all storming Heaven in hopes that we can reclaim our family homestead one way or another.

H - is for the haven that you were for our family
U - is for the unbelievable warmth we felt from you
D - is for the delight you brought to our souls
S - is for the sunshine you brought to our lives
O - is for the one and only town for us
N - is for the never-ending memories we cherish in our hearts

On our way home, Keen and I stopped at a hospital in St. Paul to visit some dear family friends, George and Pidge Lindner. (They were married in Salina, Kansas, right before he went off to war.) Mr. and Mrs. Lindner were frequent dinner guests in our home and they were always our favorites because Mrs. Lindner used to bring us bags and bags of candy. Whenever we heard Mom and Dad were having a party, our first question would be, "Are the Lindners coming?" In a family of nine, sweets like that were a real rarity, so we would all be waiting on the edge of our seats for the Lindners to walk through the front door bearing treats for all. Mrs. Lindner always looked so beautiful. She was an impeccable dresser and her hair was perfectly coiffured. We thought she was an angel sent from Heaven. After we gave her a hug and thanked her over and over, we would scurry up the stairs to one of our rooms to divide up the spoils evenly.

Sadly, unbeknownst to us, this time we would be saying good bye to our dear friend. We knew Mr. Lindner was ill, but we didn't realize how ill until we arrived at the hospital. Mrs. Lindner led me back to his room in the intensive care unit. I grasped his hand as she kissed him on the forehead and said, "George, Joe Van Kirk's daughter is here to see you." Mr. Lindner struggled to open his eyes and look at me. Then he clenched my hand firmly and shook it up and down repeatedly, as if to say, "I see you, I know you and I thank you for coming." I said, "We all love you, Mr. Lindner."

Before we left, Keen asked if we could all hold hands in prayer. So Mrs. Lindner, her daughter-in-law and Keen and I all stood in the hallway of the hospital while Keen prayed that God would give Mrs. Lindner strength and Mr. Lindner peace in death until he was welcomed home into the arms of Jesus.

Mr. Lindner did pass away peacefully the very next night, just one week before their 60th wedding anniversary. We were all saddened by the news, especially my father, who wept over the loss of his lifelong friend. It was a week of joy and sadness; celebration and sorrow. It was a week to remember.

"Finally, all of you should be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds."
~ I Peter 3:8 (NLT)

Blessings ~

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Be Still

"Be still, and know that I am God….."
Psalms 46:10

Sunset in Alma - Taken in our front yard by our daughter-in-law, Lisa

This past week I've been suffering from a severe case of "post-vacation blues" - so much so that I decided to write to Joann and tell her that I wouldn't be sending a Reflections column this week. But before I sent the note, I said a quick prayer asking God if He would give me something to share. After browsing through my computer files, I came across the following story that really touched my heart.
I pray that it will touch your heart, too.

Be Still with God
(Author Unknown)

All day long I had been very busy; picking up trash, cleaning bathrooms and scrubbing floors. My grown children were coming home for the weekend. I went grocery shopping and prepared for a barbecue supper, complete with ribs and chicken. I wanted everything to be perfect. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I was dog-tired. I simply couldn't work as long as I could when I was younger. "I've got to rest for a minute," I told my husband, Roy, as I collapsed into my favorite rocking chair. Music was playing, my dog and cat were chasing each other and the telephone rang.

A scripture from Psalm 46 popped into my mind. "Be still, and know that I am God." I realized that I hadn't spent much time in prayer that day. Was I too busy to even utter a simple word of thanks to God? Suddenly, the thought of my beautiful patio came to mind. I can be quiet out there, I thought. I longed for a few minutes alone with God. Roy and I had invested a great deal of time and work in the patio that spring. The flowers and hanging baskets were breathtaking. It was definitely a heavenly place of rest and tranquility. If I can't be still with God in that environment, I can't be still with Him anywhere, I thought. While Roy was talking on the telephone, I slipped out the backdoor and sat down on my favorite patio chair. I closed my eyes and began to pray, counting my many blessings. A bird flew by me, chirping and singing. It interrupted my thoughts. It landed on the bird feeder and began eating dinner as I watched. After a few minutes it flew away, singing another song. I closed my eyes again. A gust of wind blew, which caused my wind chimes to dance. They made a joyful sound, but again I lost my concentration on God. I squirmed and wiggled in my chair. I looked up toward the blue sky and saw the clouds moving slowly toward the horizon. The wind died down. My wind chimes finally became quiet.

Again, I bowed in prayer. "Honk, honk," I heard. I almost jumped out of my skin. A neighbor was driving down the street. He waved at me and smiled. I waved back, happy that he cared. I quickly tried once again to settle down, repeating the familiar verse in my mind. Be still and know that I am God. "I'm trying God. I really am," I whispered. "But You've got to help me here." The backdoor opened. My husband walked outside. "I love you," he said. "I was wondering where you were." I chuckled, as he came over and kissed me, then turned around and went back inside.

"Where's the quiet time?" I asked God. My heart fluttered. There was no pain, only a beat that interrupted me yet again. This is impossible, I thought. There's no time to be still and to know that God is with me. There's too much going on in the world and entirely too much activity all around me.

Then it suddenly dawned on me. God was speaking to me the entire time I was attempting to be still. I remembered the music playing as I'd begun my quiet time. He sent a gentle breeze and a sparrow to lighten my life with song. He sent a neighbor to let me know that I had a friend. He sent my sweetheart to offer sincere sentiments of love. He caused my heart to flutter to remind me of life.

While I was trying to count my blessings, God was busy multiplying them. I laughed to realize that the "interruptions" of my quiet time with God were special blessings He'd sent to show me He was with me the entire time.

"Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; His going forth is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth."
~ Hosea 6:3 (RSV)

Blessings and peace ~


Thursday, August 05, 2004

Something More

“The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden….And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…..”
~ Genesis 2:8,9 (NKJV)

Since I’ll just be getting back from vacation when this article comes out, I’m going to send this off in advance and keep it short.

In my last column I wrote about who I am…. and who I’m not. Well, to continue with that theme, I would like to add that I am also not a gardener, a seamstress, a canner or an animal lover. Don’t get me wrong, I like animals – I just don’t want to own them. And I have great admiration for people like my mother-in-law who is a master seamstress and quilter, as well as a great gardener and canner. In fact, every time they come to see us we look forward to the box of canned tomatoes they bring along. It’s just not me, which used to leave me with a feeling of inadequacy…. but I’m over that now.

You’ve already read about my fiasco with using the wrong kind of weed spray on our entire back yard. I try to be helpful, but it always seems to backfire on me. I think the moral of the story is to find your strengths and know your weaknesses. Don’t frustrate yourself by trying to be like Aunt Janine or your neighbor, Suzy or your mother, father, brother or sister. Just be you. Like Rebecca Miller said – she is grateful for the talents God gave her and she doesn’t begrudge the fact that He didn’t choose to give her others. Isn’t it sad that many of us spend our time wishing we could be more like someone else, while they may be wishing they could be more like us? Part of being content includes being satisfied with oneself.

It reminds me of the lyrics of that song Sara Evans sings titled, “I Keep Looking.”

Well, the straight haired girls
They all want curls
And the brunettes wanna be blonde
It's your typical thing
You got ying - you want yang
It just goes on and on
They say, hey, it's only human
To never be satisfied
Well I guess that I'm as human as the next one

Oh, I keep looking
I keep looking for
I keep looking for something more
I always wonder what's on the other side
Of the number two door
Yeah, I keep looking
Looking for something more

Every spring Keen and I have great enthusiasm and high hopes for a beautiful garden. Keen diligently tills the garden and prepares the ground so we can plant our usual collection of vegetables. We start out with the best of intentions, but inevitably our garden ends up with lots of weeds, rotten tomatoes and zucchini squash the size of footballs.

Oddly enough, the two cherry tomato plants we placed as an afterthought by our backdoor always seem to do well. So recently I suggested to Keen that next year we might want to face the fact that we’re not gardeners and just go with the two tomato plants by the back door. Well, he’s not quite ready to throw in the towel and concede defeat yet, despite our dismal track record.

My new writer friend, LeNore Stumpf, wrote a great poem on this subject in her book of poetry titled “Wise and Otherwise.” With her permission, I’d like to share it with all of you.

Winner Take All
By LeNore Stumpf

Spring has come at last, I guess,
my garden is a muddy mess
and I'm quite willing to confess
I honestly could not care less.

Why fight the likes of grass and weeds
that choke out baby carrot seeds
and do some other heinous deeds,
concerned with only their own needs?

I've hoed and weeded, day and night.
I've battled bugs with all my might.
This spring I think the time is right
for me to just give up the fight.

This year I will not yearn for rain
or put myself through further pain;
enthusiasm I'll not feign,
the whole idea is insane.

No more gardens I'll be messing,
no grass or weeds I'll be suppressing,
I won't find bugs or worms distressing --
I give it to them with my blessing.

~ Eileen