The Paxton Family remembers

Tomorrow, on Memorial Day we will remember the soldiers who fell in battle to protect our freedoms. One of those who remembers is Lester Paxton Jr. His uncles and father Lester Paxton Sr. fought in World War II. Paxton Jr. served as a gunner during the Berlin crisis. His grandchildren joined the Army Reserves.

His father served on the Phoenix in the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific. Worried about his brother on another ship, Paxton Sr. would run “After every exchange of fire, to see if his brother’s ship was hit. When the island had been secured, he found his brother and they had a picture in the Philippines,” Paxton Jr. said.

“He kept a diary through the war. (Years later) when he was reading about a kamikaze strike, he closed the diary and tossed it in the trash. He did not want to talk about it.”

Paxton Sr. told Jr. that during the battle for Corregidor Island he was on watch and saw a lot of paratroopers coming down. “When they were hit, they just folded up as they came down.”

In the heat of battle, gunners received sandwiches as they worked the guns, except for the time when a stateside strike delayed the delivery of supplies. Then Sr. had to eat rice for 13 days. “After the war, he refused to eat rice,” his son said.

Lester Paxton, Sr. did talk about the Japanese kamikaze planes. “Some of the men would get so scared that they would jump overboard. One Sunday, they were having services on the bow of the ship with orders to cease fire. One sailor saw the plane and just kept firing until he knocked the plane away from the ship. One of the wings landed on the deck. They chopped it up and handed out pieces as souvenirs.”

During his time in the Pacific, the chaplain came to tell Paxton Sr. that his brother Earl had been killed and buried in Europe. “Four brothers went in the service and three came home,” Paxton concluded. With that in mind Lester Paxton, Jr. says “I enlisted because I wanted to go Europe and Belgium to see the grave of my father’s baby brother Earl.”

Assigned to Company C of the 66th battalion at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas Paxton Jr. waited and, as a gunner, “fired tanks in demonstrations for officers from overseas.

Then the Berlin Crisis came. “We went over to Germany and out on the Autobahn about six miles from the Russian border. They sent the 2nd armored division to show the Russians we could put an armored division on their doorstep in 24 hours. We thought we would have to fight. We were there for seven months with operation ‘Big Lift.’”

“I did go to Belgium to Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery. There are at least 8,000 soldiers buried there. I took a picture of Earl’s marker with his name and serial number. He was in his 20s, a young boy. I gave the picture to my grandfather. My grandfather really thanked me a lot for that. I am the only family member that has ever been to his grave.”

While there, his wife had an appendectomy. “The Red Cross came and told me what was going on and suggested they get me home. My tank commander said, ‘You can forget about that.’ So just as soon as I got back from Germany, I got in my VW and went to see her.”

With the family history in mind (and with two grandchildren serving in the Army Reserves) this Memorial Day, Lester Paxton will again pause and remember, as should we all.

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John R. Rice Revival results in 50th anniversary

Posing for their golden wedding anniversary picture they knew they could never claim to have lived in perpetual wedded bliss. Still through thick and thin they had clocked 50 years except for one year that no one ever spoke about.

Meeting and marrying during the onset of the Great Depression, they labored to make a living as they welcomed babies, worked the farm and accrued a house of furniture rejects. No one wanted the old wood pieces except the little woman who stripped, sanded and refinished junk into valued antiques. He managed the farm until finances forced him to work in the factory.

And, perhaps there the problem began. No one says much about what happened, just that it did happen. This man from a strict religious family stepped out of the bounds of marriage with an unencumbered woman. She offered a life very different from his house full of children, stack of bills to pay and chores to be done. He fell and he fell hard.

His little wife of more than a decade felt her heart fall just as hard. She had promised to stick through sickness and health, through rich times and poor, but nowhere had she agreed to another woman. Quietly, with as much dignity as she could muster, she saw her marriage dissolve in the courtroom. They went their separate ways, their paths crossed for family events.

One week, the father of five heard that evangelist and author John R. Rice planned a local revival. Rice came, set up a tent and advertised a community wide revival. Dad took the older children to hear the famous preacher.

In his classic dark suit and tie, Rice preached a simple gospel, “Christ died for your sins. He wants you to choose the narrow way of righteousness that leads to Heaven.”

The wayward father of five felt God touch his heart, burning away the sin of adultery and pointing him in a different direction.

“Come and pray,” Rice urged at the end of the sermon. The struggle with pride and sin ended and the single father stood and walked the saw dust trail to the front, confessed his sin and that day made a decision to change. He had been wrong. He would make things right. He said good-bye to his mistress and said hello again to the mother of his children.

Once again he asked and she again said, “Yes.” They chose to remarry on the same date when they first took their vows. They picked up where they had left off, except this time he sincerely prayed, “Deliver me from evil,” and sought the way of escape when temptations came. He prayed it and he lived it. When temptation came, he changed what he was doing to avoid the temptation.

It wasn’t easy. Like every other couple, their marriage was built on hopefuln promises and tested through the daily routines of two humans. She still had five children to supervise, feed and train. He still had chores to tend and eight hours of work every day.

Years passed as they daily renewed their vows to be faithful through sickness and in health, in rich times and poverty. The children grew, went away to jobs, the military, college and marriage.

The 50th anniversary year drew near. The children planned a party, ordered the cake and decorated a hall. Everyone counted the years from the first time mom and dad took their vows. No one subtracted the months of separation and divorce. That time no longer mattered. With God’s guidance, forgiveness had healed the wounds and left behind a smiling family.

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From Trash to Kit Bash

My eyes crossed counting tiny plastic pieces from the tattered, dirty box holding an unfinished plastic model I had rescued it from the trash. I cautioned any Ebay bidder, “looks like all the pieces but no guarantees.”

One person made a bid. We worried, “What if I miscounted? The winner would be unhappy.”

My husband re-counted, “It is missing two unimportant pieces.”

I did not want an unhappy bidder. I sent a note, “the kit lacks these two pieces.”

Three viewers each offered a bid. The second place bidder from Illinois wrote, “Unfortunately I got ‘skunked’ at the last minute on this auction. I wonder if you would … email the winner and let them know I will pay (15 percent of the cost) for part no. 59, the ‘crane’ which is the only piece from that model I really need to complete my kit bash. If he is also using it for a kit bash project, he may be willing to part with one small piece in a way that helps defray the price he paid.”

I forwarded his message and added, “If you are willing to sell this, I will help the two of you connect.”

The Pennsylvania buyer responded, “I am certainly willing to consider that. I am not sure what the crane part is, but I am using it for kit bashing to finish my own project, so I may be able to help out.”

I found the tiny piece, took a picture and sent him a copy.

The Pennsylvania buyer understood, “It is a small, but very dedicated group of people, who build replicas of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica models using the same parts as the folks at ILM did back in the 70s. [This] kit model has never been reissued. Rumor has it that the molds were damaged. It’s uncommon to find one.”

“He is a Y-Wing builder probably. You can send him that part for free with my compliments if you can figure out the postage.” He then listed his code name for an online kit bash group that made absolutely no sense to me.

I googled ‘kit bash’ and discovered a new hobby. Folks purchase plastic models for specific pieces to build a different scene, exotic creature or futuristic vehicle.

My husband found the crane, tucked it between two pieces of stiff cardboard, slid it in an envelope and sent it to Illinois.

From Arkansas I wrote, “The crane is coming to you. The buyer asked you contact him in case there is a part you might be able to send to him sometime.”

Such an evening of learning we had. My husband googled images of kit bash builds. Most looked like cars transformed into robots. The Illinois bidder sent me a picture of his space ship. Maybe it is like one in Star Wars. I have no clue. I never watched the movie.

I shook my head in disbelief. Such a fuss we made verifying all those pieces and neither bidder worried about it. They sought specific pieces and were willing to pay more than I would have ever considered paying for a hobby. Good information to know if I ever find another trash worthy model. Somebody might want one of the postage stamp sized pieces. Next time I find an incomplete plastic model I will count and photograph parts hoping a kit basher wants just one tiny piece for an absurd price.

I closed my computer, content and bemused that from Arkansas I crossed paths with kit bashers in Illinois and Pennsylvania and, as one kit basher said, “ … made two people happy.”

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Everyone loves a winner


The lady pushing a full grocery cart grinned at me, “Did you text for the discount?”

My daughter made me do it. I got $5.”

I got $25!” she announced triumphantly. “There’s a lady loading up on landscaping. She got $500 off! She thought it was a scam, but once in the store she tried and she won a $500 discount.”

We both smiled, happy to know someone had won the big one in the free game of chance.

These days, the luck of the draw determines winners. Decades ago, winners wrote short jingles, hoping to catch the judges’ attention. In the 1950s and 60s Evelyn Ryan supplemented her family income with her catchy slogans. Her daughter Terry Ryan relates winning in the biography: “The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 kids on 25 Words or Less.”

Evelyn submitted numerous jingles to each contest using variations of her name, her children’s names and address. One memorable win provided the family with a deep freeze and a five minute run through the grocery store with a limit of one of any product. She kept anything that stayed in the cart. Before the event, Evelyn and the store manager plotted out the best path and the most expensive items to grab. He had the butcher cut large slabs of meat to wall in the cart to hold more. She plotted exactly what she wanted and where to go. The day of the five minute shopping spree, she ran, grabbed, loaded and then triumphantly took it all home to put in the new freezer. The family ate well for several months.

Evelyn kept meticulous records of which jingle she sent and under which name and address variation. It entertained her and even small wins made a big difference to the family of 12. The book became the basis for a movie with the same name. In the midst of the daily plodding along to survive: going to work, paying the bills and fixing meals, winning gives life a sparkle when we see someone win.

For Jacob Schulte, who participates in triathalons and half-marathons, winning began before signing up for races. Sure, he rises early to train swim, run and bike, but registration for the events costs money as does the equipment and clothing. He wanted to participate, but his family’s needs came first. He could not justify the cost for transportation, meals and hotel rooms the night before the race. Like Evelyn, Jacob researched ways to stretch the family dollar and racing. Instead of flipping through magazines and watching for ads, he went to the Internet.

Six years ago, he found the Chocolate Milk promoters quest for athletes to join the Chocolate Milk Team. Like Evelyn, he had to write an essay. Unlike her, he then had to get votes from supporters. The rules limited voters to one vote per day. The person’s essay with the most votes would gain the privilege of wearing the orange t-shirt with the logo as a member of the Chocolate Milk Team at triathalons, marathons and half marathons.

“Hey, would you please vote for me every day on the website,” Jacob asked everyone he knew, barely knew or met in passing. Every day relatives and friends voted. He won, and everyone smiled with him. Now he wears the Chocolate Milk shirt and cap and videos himself drinking chocolate milk after a race to replace his energy and electrolytes. He smiles a tad more when he places in his racing group as does everyone who knows him, because everyone loves a winner who works hard to achieve their goal.

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Fancy Shmancy SUV

One grinning husband stepped out of the silver SUV. He had found a vehicle big enough to carry everything we once had in the back of our now wrecked van. SUV looked fine to me. I wanted to load up and leave.

First, he insisted, “Look! leather seats, very clean, CD player, no DVD and for its age, low mileage.” He opened the passenger door for me to test the seat and pointed at the name stamped on the door sill. He had found a 12 year-old high end model vehicle in great condition for a great price.

I slid into the seat. “I get about the same amount of space as I did in all the vans we have ever had,” I shrugged and turned. “The back looks a bit small. Will it carry everything we have?”

“No problem,” he said. He bought the fancy shmancy vehicle, packed it full and we went home. I couldn’t tell the difference between his usual brand and “Oh Wow! You have a …!” He discovered the difference at the gas station. “Only use premium gas,” the tank sign warned the man who has driven 20 miles out of the way to save a nickel on regular.

The SUV only had one key. He researched where to get an inexpensive second key. Short answer: nowhere. Not from the local key duplicators. Not from the Internet. Only official dealers could duplicate the key and then only if he had proof of ownership, his driver’s license, birth certificate, passport, blood type … Okay, I might have lied about the blood type.

It cost three to four times the price of any other key we had ever duplicated.

We drove hours to the closest dealer. A huge door of windows slowly raised to welcome us onto the tiled garage floor. No dirt, no grease, no grime anywhere.

While the men talked keys, I went to the waiting room and whispered, “Oh, this is ‘why’ it costs so much more.” No cracked and worn chairs, no ancient magazines or sad looking coffee machine. A pristine popcorn maker and new, comfortable leather chairs welcomed me. A well-dressed young woman asked, “Would you like something to drink?”

I thought a goblet of the good stuff, but said, “Water would be great, thanks.”

Emerging from the office Hubby said, “They will have the key ready in a few days. They can mail it or anyone we designate can pick it up.” Such a nonchalant solution after such a fuss.

A week later a package came in the mail, “Here’s the key for the fancy-shmancy SUV.”

We only lacked the state issued title to settle into life as owners of a “Wow! You have that kind of vehicle?!”

Then flooding rains came. Errands still needed to be tended by the proud owner of a vehicle that used the most expensive gas and would not consider an off-brand key-fob in its ignition. He encountered a couple other vehicles on a water covered street. A fast moving, smaller car sent the wake of a high tidal wave of water over the SUV. The engine faltered and stalled. The mechanic said the engine had to be replaced.

The insurance adjuster totaled the SUV and ended six weeks of luxury car ownership.

Tomorrow he finalizes the purchase of another van just like all the others we have had for the last 25 years, The price for a second key fob and regular gas will have Hubby grinning in no time. And, I will be sitting on the passenger side with exactly the same amount of space as always.

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Stay-cation in St. Louis

 Sweets, sights and service in St. Louis inspired Sam’s parents to stay home and vacation during spring break this year. 

Inside the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate factory a sign cautioned, “Shhh. The Oompah Loompahs are sleeping.” Sam, 8, sniffed the rich aroma of natural chocolate and watched the white clad workers bend over conveyor belts arranging rows of caramel cubes for their immersion in chocolate. As each piece exited the chocolate, a gloved hand carefully pinched enough chocolate at the back of each cube to drag a distinctive line across each block. Since she did not look like an Oompah Loompah, Sam figured the real ones slept behind the doors labeled “Employees Only.” 

The tour guide held a platter of chocolate samples. No one can eat just one piece of chocolate in a room permeated with the smell of rich chocolate and the only exit being through the candy shop. Shopping followed. “I want the ones with raspberry and honey filling. And one with nuts and one with peanut butter. I love chocolate!” Sam rubbed his hands. He really loved the chocolate tasting feast at home around the table with jugs of water and tiny square plates holding samples. Chocolate with peanuts. Chocolate with pecans. Chocolate with raspberry filling. Chocolate with soft chocolate filling and, of course, the Elvis Presley specialty: Chocolate with bananas and peanut butter. 

Once I wanted to test what the difference between half a dozen very similar flavors,” the tour guide had said. “So I tried a bite of each and felt awful.” Sam tasted. He did not feel awful, he felt wonderfully full of chocolate. 

The family ended the day with a trip down memory lane at Game Haven STL with flower covered couches and plenty of original Nintendo, Atari and Play Station games. 

The Mario was really pixelated,” Sam observed. He knows today’s more familiar high definition, detailed pictures. Still for $3 an hour per person, he experienced a glimpse of his dad’s childhood games. 

So many free or historical things to see and do close to home including the city’s landmark The Arch soaring over the skyline. Sam had not been to the top of the Arch. Friday the family went. First, each placed belts, jackets and loose change in bins for the metal detectors. The past may have had pixelated digital games, but it never had such security checks. Sam and his dad studied the museum portraying the history of this ancient crossroads of North America until the time came to take the slow tram to the top of The Arch.

Sometimes the children dictated the activities: Do you want to play UNO?” Henry, Sam’s kindergarten brother, asked as he held a stack of cards hopefully. He lost. His dad won. The next day he asked, “Do you want to play Candy Land?” The kids only added a few extra rules to insure Henry won. 

Sandwiches at the park. Pizza in the car. Lunch at the cloth covered table with real dishes and napkins and the last supper at the church feeding the homeless coming in out of the cold for the night. Big sister Sophie helped hand out filled backpacks. Henry quickly found a new friend with a smartphone. Sam greeted people and talked with a young man lacking shoes. 

Sam pulled out the dollar he had found on the ground. “Here, you can buy shoes.” 

The man shook his head. 

No, you can have it,” Sam insisted. The man relented, allowing Sam to give a little back after a week of taking – a great ending for any vacation away or at home. 

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Picker estate sale

Tucked back in the dusty attic beneath a trash bag lay a plastic Winchester toy rifle from the 1960s. Heat had melted a hole on its barrel and sealed the end of the barrel, but the gun still cocked and clicked lacking the requisite roll of red paper caps. The last owner of the home had raised her sons and then aged there, “she became a hoarder her last few years,” the seller said.

It began with saving a few of her sons’ clothes and toys. Stepping carefully over books and lumber, I opened the small closet door and found Boy Scout uniforms with hard-earned badges. Behind me a couple of crumpled boxes held the pieces of unfinished plastic models. Books, boxes and electronic equipment covered the floor of the attic. The son offered to help remove books I chose, “Mother loved to read,” he said passing a books down the ladder. “She never climbed the ladder. Whatever went up here stayed,” Her son said. “She also did not do stairs not even when she showed homes as a Realtor. She would walk through the house with prospective buyers until they came to the stairs and then wave them on ‘ya’ll go take a look.’” he laughed lovingly at her foible.

And now he had returned home to clean out the dirt and debris. He cherished the memories made around the dining room table. “I’m taking it back with me to repair. I don’t know when I’ll have time,” he said and listed his commitments including the care of disabled adults.

My last visit to the house coincided with his last day to remove the remainder of his mother’s hoard before the new owner took ownership. The old family home needed repairs. During my first visit as I made my way around boxes and furniture in the back room, the seller said, “be careful that you don’t fall in.”

I stopped abruptly and studied the floor. The boards did look less than sturdy. The tub in the corner bathroom had not held water in years. Overflowing metal and plastic shelves lined two walls. Forgotten furniture and garbage bags draped carelessly with blankets littered the floor.

Boxes of Christmas ornaments and stockings and had taken over another bedroom floor. Age had dulled the once brightly colored package of toy airplanes she had given one Christmas. Nothing remained of the toys from the family dime store. “When we visited my grandmother, we could choose one toy each day and two on Saturday. The store was closed on Sunday,” the son explained.

In this house, his mother had stitched needlework pictures of birds, arranged a table using her fine dishes and crystal, encouraged her sons in Scouts, given them toy rifles and welcomed neighborhood kids who came to play. Well some played, the son laughingly recalled one who, “used to come over, but he was more interested in the girl next door.”

Workers moved another bin of debris to the dumpster. A wooden index box appeared on the window sill. The son opened it and flipped through the alphabetized cards, “These are my mom’s contacts. They all had the same handwriting,” he mused. He set the box aside to carry home. Each name reflected a long ago friend of his mother. So much time yet even with all her hoarding, so little of value remained when all was said and done. He packed up his truck and trailer. He and the workers swept the floors and locked the door for the last time. The time had come for the house to begin a new chapter.

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Come in from the cold, rest and have supper

The cold, wet rain sent the homeless who sleep outside over to a local church in search of a warm night in the gym with a mat and a blanket. This night the rich smell of baked chicken, black-eyed peas and collard greens welcomed them.

“They always open the doors to let us sleep in the gym, wash clothes and take showers but they don’t usually have supper,” white-haired Betty said.

”It’s the first time for the Red Circle to be here,” the volunteer explained.

Betty nodded and began sorting through her collection of cords to find the charger she needed for her phone. As one of the few folks at the meal with a phone, Betty called other “invisible people” as she identifies them to say, “Hey, supper is being served over here.”

She never said how she became homeless. Her son Travis did say, “a month ago our car burned up with all my papers, extra clothes and other stuff. I am trying to get a copy of my birth certificate so I can get my ID.” The process for someone without a vehicle or an address sounded daunting.

Although Travis looked neat he said, “I don’t feel clean. I can’t get a shower unless a church opens its doors and has a shower.”

“Some of the churches have clothes you can dig through. That’s where everything I have on comes from,” Betty said. She put her sneaker clad foot up on the chair, “my shoes were about worn out when this woman came with new sneakers in different sizes.”

The lack of reliable transportation, phone, cleaning facilities and address increase the difficulty of Travis finding a job – even though he has gone to college to study business.

At the end of the table a thin older man bent over coughing, He pulled out a nebulizer and took a breath. He looked at the meal, chewed on chicken and asked, “Is there any butter for the roll?”

A volunteer shook his head,”Sorry, no.”

He set the roll aside.

Later, one of the cooks sat down to eat and asked, “How did you enjoy the meal?”

“I would have preferred a hamburger and fries.”

“That would be a lot of grease,” she shuttered.

Someone turned to Katrina a middle-aged woman, “How did you become homeless?”

“I had a house and family until my husband died and left me with five children. I had to work two jobs and then I got sick.” She listed the variety of serious medical procedures she had had, her diabetes and the confusion and upheaval that followed for the children. She sat looking thoughtful and sad until she murmured, “I just need some quiet so I can think about everything I need to do.”

What did she need to do? Apply again for medical assistance with her diabetes, find a place to live, call the social services again about again not receiving the food stamps for which she qualifies.

“I call them and they say all the lines are busy and tell me to call back later,” she said. “Not an easy thing to do when you don’t have a phone. I applied for a government phone,” she added.

The list of needs grows. Activities that most can do quickly and easily thanks to cars, phones and houses, block the return to normalcy for the homeless who came out of the cold that night to sleep on the church’s gym floor and found a meal, clean clothes and a bag of toiletries. Not enough for the long run, but enough to tide them over for a bit.

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Whipping up a picnic


Mom could whip up a picnic in a blink of an eye. That’s what I thought before I grew old enough to help her whip up one of those picnics. With my dad’s yen for just hopping in the car for a Sunday drive and five kids to feed, clean and entertain, Mom knew how to fix food fast. As her daughters, she expected our help in the kitchen as soon as we could reach the counter.

Let’s take a drive and go for a picnic.” Dad told Mom before he went to milk the cows at 4 a.m. 

We woke up to the wonderful smell of chocolate cake mix poured into a loaf pan. If time ran out before the cake cooled, Mom mixed the margarine, milk and vanilla with a box of confectionery sugar and spread the frosting over the warm cake. The frosting seeped into the warm cake, glazing and sealing in the richness of Betty Crocker’s best.

On the surprise picnic lunch days Mom fussed about all the things she had to do before we left. She fussed, but she did it. She had to. She did not have today’s plethora of options in fast food restaurants, diners or even grocery stores open on Sunday, let alone the cash to feed seven people in a restaurant. With a well stocked kitchen and freezer, she had no problem boiling eggs and macaroni for a salad and fixing tuna fish sandwiches.

Her well packed picnic basket included either paper plates or a stack of melamine plates and Tupperware cups from the cupboard that we had to repack, carry back home and wash. With five children, Mom always said, “fill up that Tupperware dish with water and put a clean wash cloth in it.” Mom knew five children guaranteed sticky fingers and messy faces. She did not have the option of packaged wet wipes.

Dinner out did not mean less kitchen work. It did mean we left very little to add to the landfill. Not even pop bottles or cans because Mom filled a jug with ice and water. For planned picnics she bought lemons and oranges to squeeze and mix with water and sugar yielding a gallon of delightful citrus drink.

When shopping days went longer than expected, Mom whipped up simplified picnics. She left us in the car (yes, folks actually used to do that sort of thing) while she ran into the grocery store for a few minutes and came out with a loaf of white bread and stack of thick cut baloney. 

She would put baloney between a couple slices of bread and that was lunch,” I once told my husband.

With some salad dressing,” he helpfully added.

No, just the bread and baloney.” 

He could not comprehend a dry sandwich.

It was a fast picnic. We were hungry. We ate.

Occasionally the parents planned picnics with cousins. No one packed toys, we had the forest. The boys built the forts.

The girls whined, “They have a fort. We want one. Daddy, will you make one for us?” So the men built the girls’ fort. Mom and the aunts spread cakes, salads, baked beans and casseroles on the plank picnic table covered with a real table cloth.

That’s how it happened while I was at home. Then three of us married and only my younger sister and brother remained. When they visited one day my sister whispered in a shocked voice, “Dad stops and we eat at the restaurant.” 

From then on Dad could whip up a picnic lunch in the blink of an eye. 

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I will always write back: penpals

Change happens when we look through a window into another person’s life. The authors of the auto-biography “I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives” tells the tale of teenagers discovering diverse worlds through their letters as penpals.

The name Zimbabwe caught the attention of typical suburban junior high student Caitlin Alifirenka when choosing a pen pal. Her letter went to Martin Ganda, the brightest, most promising student in his school district. His school paid to send his first letter, then the head master said, “we cannot afford anymore stamps.”

Neither could Martin’s family afford a stamp. They lived in a one-roomed house with a dirt floor and struggled to pay for his tuition in a country that did not have mandatory free education. Still, his mother found money for a stamp. When his dad’s job of 18 years ended, Martin carried suitcases at the train station to earn stamp money.

At first Caitlin wrote basic information about her life as a teenager, sent her picture and a dollar bill so Martin could see her and a sample of American money. His mother placed the money on a shelf.

“It stayed there for two weeks and then we had eaten sadza for days on end, no beans or even collard greens and our mealie meal was running low,” Martin wrote.

So Martin gave the dollar to his mother for food. With it she bought two weeks worth of groceries. He wrote to thank Caitlin for the dollar, but did not promise to send her a bill from his country. It would rob their table of the scant food they had. He did promise however that he “would always write back, no matter what.”

They both wrote. When she learned that he had to drop out of school because his family lacked the money for the fees, Caitlin looked at the $20 she earned for babysitting. “I was just going to buy another pair of stupid earrings.” she said and sent it to Martin. It paid for his semester of school and provided the first meat his family had eaten in months. Eventually monetary shortages forced Martin to write letters on garbage.

“After he sent the letter on the ice-cream wrapper, Martin started to open up to me in a way that made me realize how different our lives were. Until that moment I did not realize how privileged I was,” Caitlin recalled.

A part time job for most American girls pays for fun. Caitlin found a job so she could buy tarps, boots and rain clothes for the rainy season in Zimbabwe. Martin thanked her, “now I don’t have to sleep on a wet floor.”

Caitlin’s family joined her quest to keep the family alive, safe and in school during the country’s depression and political uprisings. As high school graduation neared, Caitlin’s mother began contacting colleges seeking a full scholarship for Martin.

Caitlin saw through another window when her family invited a German exchange student into their home for a couple of months. As the child of extremely wealthy parents, the visitor assumed Caitlin’s mom would bring her breakfast in bed and complained when she had to go to school. When her visit ended, Caitlin wrote, “I did a victory dance as soon as (she left).”

Through Caitlin’s mother persistence and prayerful pleas, one American college offered Martin a full scholarship. Caitlin’s family lavishly welcomed him to America. He worked hard in college and at part times jobs to have money to provide for his family. Everything he did, he said, “I did it for my family.”

Both families gained a broader view of the world thanks to their children’s letters from abroad.

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