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Covering a lot of ground…

Page one of my uncle Henry's letter. Despite all he faces, he's still sharp and insightful.

Last week I retyped in this space a letter from my uncle Henry in Portland, and to a good response from several of you.  Thanks much.

I responded in kind to Henry.  That letter is shown below.

Although my letters to Ellen and Reid are evolving as we speak (see “Behind the woodshed”, October 29) what Henry will read is a product of necessity.  He will read a little bit about a lot of things.  Since I don’t write to him very often there is an urge to cover a lot of ground.


November 3, 2010

Mary and Henry: Henry, you have to be careful in what you wish for because here’s the latest installment of my church newsletters.  It was only eight pages this month because A) there just wasn’t as much news and B) I ran out of steam as the issue deadline approached.  But people still like it, and you’ll like that in November, I’ve persuaded my Pastor to take part in a Pastor vs. Pastor column (the title will likely change) (eds. note: http://www.caldwellpresby.org/news.shtml) where he will face off against some other Presbyterian minister on some pressing issue of the day.  They won’t so much take opposing sides as just write differing views.

Thanks for your handwritten letter that arrived a week or so ago.  It was a wonderful read.  If anyone has had a lifetime of experiences, it’s you.  I’m impressed that your handwriting is legible enough for the average person to read, and doubly impressed that you confess to not using e-mail and the other avenues of Internet communication.  If I hand wrote my September letter to you, you’d still be trying to decipher it to this day.

It looks like us Democrats took a licking in yesterday’s election.  I just don’t get the voting public.  In 2008 they put a black man in office, but with their short attention spans and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality, they forget the prior eight years of economic and diplomatic sins that cannot possibly be overcome in the space of two years.  I think we get what we deserve.  There just seems to be more of a mean-spirited, attack dog approach these days.  I didn’t turn on the TV or radio last night or this morning to listen to the talking heads talk, talk, talk.  That’s not reportage.  Things seem to turn on very shallow, small picture issues.

I’m trying to persuade Tom and others to join me on a backpacking trip in Wyoming next summer.  He said he, Eli and Ben rode their bikes past the very spot where we would propose to enter the high country.  If the people who say they want to go actually do go, we may split into two sub-hiker groups.  I’ll take the slow pokes and Tom and Reid can take the faster crew.  We’d both end up in the same places but at different rates of speed.  I’ll really be excited to have Tom up there.  He’ll like it.  It’s not like the Cascades or Olympics, but drier with good views.

Thanks for calling mom.  That seems to greatly lift her spirits.  She really seems to be doing better these days.  Ralph has her with a doctor who has throttled back her medications and that has evened things out a great deal and removed her moments of anger.  I’m not quite sure what the doctor did but we all ought to be very appreciative of it.

Well, my nose had better get back to the grindstone so that everyone here perceives I’m holding up my end of the bridge.  It was wonderful to get your letter and I hope this one finds you hale, hearty and well.


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Hearing from Henry…

Over the years I’ve hoped against hope that my handwriting could be prettier, more legible and thus more pleasurable to read.  In the mail the other day came a reminder that it is time to renew my wish.

I received a handwritten letter from my uncle Henry in Portland, Oregon.  This past year’s circumstances of my father’s passing and the health issues of my mother, Henry’s sister, created a reconnection.  I have always liked uncle Henry.  When my dad’s final days were evident, Henry and his wife Mary made the pilgramage to Omaha for a final visit.  Since then I’ve written to him and him to me.

Henry is in his 80s and the passing years have exacted a toll on his own health.  As he ministered to others for so many years as a Presbyterian pastor, it is time for others to minister to him.

His handwriting was labored but legible, the lines a little crooked but neatly spaced on both sides of high-grade paper ideally suited for personal correspondence.  Most of what he wrote he’d already told me, but no matter.  His gentle way of writing was exactly how I would presume him to write.  He wrote in the same manner and passion in which he spoke.  I’ve not asked his permission to reproduce it, but he won’t mind.  That’s the kind of guy he is.


October 8, 2010

Dear Dave:

We greatly appreciated your September letter.  I do not do “emails” nor do I type.  “More’s the pity.”  Fortunately, Mary does both!  Mary is exceptional in every way – beauty, brains and behavior!  I’m very lucky.

Glad to hear you’ve come back to church and editor of the “Caldwell Good News”!  (My pen is about gone!)  That “paper” is one of the best church newsletters I’ve seen.  They’re lucky to have you as one of the contributing editors along with the pastor.  He looks like a good fella, from the small photo.  What seminary?  I always ask!  We’d be glad to be on the mailing list!  Barbara is better.  I call her every week, sometimes twice a week.  The tone of her voice is always what I’m attentive to.  I have great love & empathy for her.  I’m 85+, Mary’s a year and a few months younger.  Interestingly, my two sisters married two friends of mine…Tom Benson & Ralph.  They often came over to play catch with me and then turned to my sisters!  Your dad was a good student and a very able guy!

Mary is on the pastor nominating committee.  It’s a church of about 900 members.  They’ve received over 200 applications!  The process used now is different from my days.  In order to get a “southern” Presbyterian church to unite with the “northern”, we had to make a great number of concessions sometimes for the better!  I have a deep prejudice about the south I can’t seem to overcome.  Before I went overseas in W.W. II I was in several army “camps” in the South.  That experience confirmed my prejudices.

I’m sort of a political animal.  I am a liberal, but that hasn’t relieved me of my prejudices.  Unfortunately my pastoral days only confirmed my prejudices!

I miss being engaged.  These days, it seems to me everything is blase.  I came from a generation that was very engaged.  Even in high school we were out “marching”.

Glad you’re in touch with Tom.  He is a good fella!  He and Jessica come up every Sunday for the three “B’s” – Bible, Brunch and Bridge.

We don’t do much traveling these days.  Earlier in the decades we were in Europe every summer for at least a month.  Mostly in France (10 times maybe) – my favorite country.  We have very dear friends in Paris.  We met them in a “smart” restaurant near their apartment.  After dinner we chatted, they invited us up to their apartment.  An unheard of thing!  We still are in touch.  Just today I received a letter from Jean Luic Reamont.  He calls me his brother.

The war (World War II) had a profound experience and impact on me.  I went into the war with my pre-law courses finished, and came out of the war and switched.  Several incidents contributed.  The most profound happened after the war when I was sent to Berlin to be a member of the “Elite Constabulary”.  (I may buy a new fountain pen one of these days and study my spelling!)  We were all over 6 feet tall, blond, blue eyes.  Pure “arians.”  We marched every day up and (down) the street.  One day we were ordered to ransack one of the few remaining apartments in Berlin (one of five!)  Ostensibly to hunt for “Black Market” goods, but actually it was an attempt to further harass the Germans (mostly old widows).  I made up my mind I wasn’t going to do it.  I took a few K rations in my pocket.  We went two by two.  We were told to knock on the door – no answer – break it open.  We opened the door to, of course, a little old woman.  I told her to sit down and not be afraid.  I gave her what few K rations I had.  My “Buddies” went off to tell the lieutenant.  He came in and said “Andersen, you’re under arrest.”  I said, “for what?”  He said “don’t give me that…”  I was handcuffed and sent down the steps.  A huge crowd of Germans had surrounded the building, watching what was going on.  They saw only one soldier arrested, and assumed, I suppose, that I was the chief black market guy.  They (the U.S. Army) sent me in handcuffs all the way to an army prison camp outside Marseilles, France.  It was one tough place!  I walked into the warden’s office, still handcuffed.  the warden looked at me and said, “Take off his handcuffs, we don’t need any more guys in the prison; we need big guys like him as guards.”  And so I finished my army career as a prison guard.  What fun!

Marseilles was a “fun” town to visit on my day off.  WIDE OPEN.  Everything going on.  Incorrigible!  But there was a big mess hall on the hill overlooking to town and the sea.  What a place it was.

After I was discharged, I decided not to be a lawyer, that was too tame, no fun.  Entered seminary & spent some forty years in Ellsworth, Kansas, Wichita, Kansas, LaGrange, Illinois and Cleveland, Ohio.  See what your letter prompted!  Great to hear from you Dave!  Let’s keep in touch in paper.


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Letters to mom…

There were a few weak nanoseconds the last day or so when it crossed my mind that “whoa, there won’t be any more letters to my parents.”

Thankfully those faulty, short sighted moments were shelved.  I’ve made a mental U-turn.  There will be letters to mom.

Although my mother cannot read, she can listen up a storm.  So, the plan is to continue writing to her every Friday at whatever address she is at.  The staff will be told that when a letter arrives addressed to my mother from me, they have my permission to open the envelope and read the letter to her.  There will be a few minor tweaks to sentences and paragraphs; maybe fewer words, simpler (and hopefully easier to grasp) sentence structure.

It will be a jolt to remove dad’s name from the salutation.  The intent will be the same; convey our love for her, let her know what I’m up to, keep her informed on her grandchildren, and assure her that she will remain a central force in my life.


Here is today’s letter to mom.

July 2, 2010

Dear mom:

Well, it has been a week of all weeks, and now we’ve got to move things on from here.  I was very proud of you these last few days.  As Jennifer told you, it would be very hard and you came through with flying colors.  Dad would have proud of you, too.  You really hung in there.

I am really proud of dad, too.  He closed things out in the way you would expect him to.  He was strong to the end – and he knew when you were in the room – and he was pain-free and relaxed and composed.  The hospice staff did a marvelous job.  Now that he is at rest, all of us will have the memories of decades and decades of fun and good times.  That’s how I will remember him, and I hope you do, too.

The services were incredible and lovely.  Could you believe all the friends that flocked to you during the visitation and at the Memorial Service?  Honestly, they were just waiting in line to talk to you.  I’m glad Ellen was there to help you sort through people.  She really enjoyed that.

The minister did just an incredible job.  Even though you two didn’t really know him, he made things sound like he was an old family friend simply retelling stories.  That was very nice.  What was impressive (even before the service) is that when he was talking to us about how the Memorial Service would be, he never turned away from us when his phone rang.  The altar was filled with beautiful flowers, some of which we’ve toted out to your place, while others will stay at the church so others can enjoy them this weekend.

Mom, it’s been a tough thing to try to help dad in his final days, but I want you to know that now you will be the center of our attention.  Your other son and I love you very much – just as we did dad.  I’m going to keep writing to you every single week, and if the nurses can stand it without laughing at the way I write, then they can read the letters to you.  So you keep in there, keep your chin up and remember dad for what he was, a great husband, a good friend, and an incredible father to your two boys.

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