Letter from my mom

January 2002

Dear Favorite Sons:

I am late as usual, but I certainly have not stopped thinking about the wonderful anniversary celebration that you each (with the help of your most wonderful and capable wives) were part of. And, of course, the time would not have been complete without our precious grandchildren – the ones who were there as well as the ones who could not be. You who could not make it were greatly missed, but we do understand. To my way of thinking, 2+5+5+6+6 adds up to a perfectly wonderful family. We could not have planned it more evenly. We thank God always for his evident goodness to us.

We pray for you always that God will keep you through life – especially when things are going well, because somehow it is easier to stray when life “is good” and we have no big reason to trust. If, however, we learn to walk with Jesus in the good times, I can assure you His love and grace will be sufficient in the hard places. We have found it so. Personally speaking, I have often said that I would not be happy just to say that my kids had received Jesus Christ as Savior, but that my joy would be in knowing that you are committed to Him and to God’s will for your lives. After all, 50 years of wedlock is not all-smooth sailing, but God is faithful , and all credit is due Him, that when the waves came we had an anchor. Yes, Jesus Christ is the “glue” that has kept us in all circumstances.

While this is “our” thank you, I would like to make it an opportunity, with God’s enabling, to personally share some things with you. I trust you will understand. I wish I could remember more about my childhood and the difficulties of being a “depression baby” – in those days when Uncle Harold and Aunt Irene lived with us and my uncle and my dad had to share one pair of jeans (one had a day job and the other a night job). The moves were numerous, as men “followed” jobs. I vaguely remember one move (perhaps from Maine to Massachusetts) when all our earthly belongings and we were packed into the back of a truck. I don’t think we had much, but I can’t prove that, which says that I must have had enough. I also remember one move when we had no place to go and so stayed with my Uncle Red and Aunt Blanche. I think my mother was “overly stressed”, and again, I vaguely remember her crying (maybe the one and only time). That was when my brother Ray decided to “run away”. We slept at least 3 to a bed. I remember also that about the time I started school in Waltham, MA, my mother had what was called Quinsy sore throat and nearly died. I believe that most of her family had gathered at our house fully expecting her to die, but God was not finished with her and she got better. My dad was always very shy and quiet, but he always found a way to provide, doing all kinds of work, I.e.: selling eggs, farming, laying railroad tracks, automobile mechanic, whatever was available. I really don’t recall much about those days, but I can’t remember that life was terribly unbearable either.

I started first grade at age 5 1/2, and they apparently consented to let me begin at that age only because of the great crying job I did. That was the year that I came out “on top”, but regrettably, like the “hole-in-one” it was all down hill after that. There were lots of moves and new schools and I only know that I have made it this far by God’s grace. There were 3 moves during one school year, and I was always too shy to get acquainted and “enter in”. It may have been the same for my siblings. Eventually God’s leading took us to Sheldonville, to church and into the family of God and a measure of stability. My mom got a job, and through the pastor God enabled us to buy the “block” (3 apartments and an unfinished storefront). We first rented an upstairs apartment, but moved downstairs when we bought, eventually finishing and incorporating the storefront into our living quarters. Some years later, perhaps with Kenny’s insurance money, they bought an adjacent piece of land in back of the block and built a house.

My mom took us all to church and S.S., and I believe that most everyone in our family came to profess Christ as Savior (unfortunately it didn’t last). I believe that it was first due to the patience and perseverance of people in the church who genuinely cared, and the close relationship I had with them. In 1944 at age 13 I went to a youth retreat at the Providence Bible Institute (PBI) where a very young and still relatively unknown Billy Graham was speaking, and I got his autograph (in pencil) in the back of a Bible that I still have. That is probably when I first raised my hand and expressed an interest in salvation. There were many recommitments following that time, and I am not sure which one was the one. Our family came to be very active in the Sheldonville Church, and I owe my Christian beginnings to God’s people there. Ray does not share my feelings regarding the church, though he had made a profession of faith during that time. I think the others may not have had the same encouragement as I did through other young women in the church. Ray’s friends were unsaved school buddies. I might add that at that time much of the home responsibility fell to me as the elder daughter and my dad said at one time that my brother, Bobby, had two mothers. Incidentally, Aunt Carol told me a few years back that Bob had said; “things were not the same after Barbara left”. Dear God, please forgive my weak testimony, missed opportunities, regrets. There are too many others to begin to list here. On her deathbed, Aunt Billie shared with me that during those years in Sheldonville, I was influential in her coming to Christ. Thank you, Lord, for that encouragement. Anyway, I was responsible for things at home when my mother was working, and it was not easy! How does a 13-year-old girl manage 5 little brothers and a sister? I also did the laundry in a wringer washing machine, hung it out to dry and then ironed it. We did a lot of starching in those days and there was no such thing as permanent press. I also did some of the cooking. Here I need to mention the “old days” and some bad habits that were very difficult to break. I prefer to completely block out of my memory of the profanity that came through my lips. It did, and recollection of it brings much pain. Thank God for deliverance. I guess Ray and I could not have been very old when we were trusted to baby-sit, and I have recollection of my folks and their friends coming in and being at least slightly inebriated, which also caused me a lot of pain. After my mother “joined the church”, we had to be sure my father’s bottles were all hidden when the pastor came. I guess I come by “keeping up appearances” naturally though, thankfully there have never been any bottles for me to hide. With 8 kids and my mother working out, our house could come to be pretty untidy at times, but when my mom cleaned, she REALLY cleaned, and this was usually done when company was coming. Sound familiar?

We entered Central School in Wrentham in the 7th grade. In Franklin where we had finished 6th grade and started 7th, they were just getting into fractions or decimals (something like that), whereas in Wrentham they were just finishing them. We were told to “never mind”, we would soon be into something new. Mr. Richardson was not my favorite teacher and I was glad for the end of that year. In 8th grade I was almost tormented by the boys, who did everything just to try to get my attention – such as to push my desk with me in it to the front of the room. For a shy kid, that was traumatic! Five years later when we graduated there were guys in my class that I had never spoken to – there were 24 in the class. I had some good and close school friends during those days, but mostly my friends were at church and not from my school district. I fear that my testimony at school was not effective either. I was just quiet and didn’t do a lot of things. I guess that here I should mention another decision that helped shape my future. Occasionally I would go along with Ray and some of this friends, but was not impressed with any. An older guy was really pursuing my attention and even bought me a pair of skates. My father said no way and I returned the skates. Finish. I realized that as a believer I shouldn’t be interested in anyone who was not and I prayed that if God didn’t want me to be interested in nonbelievers He would have to find a Christian fellow for me. He is faithful! As shy as I was, I fear I could easily have been taken advantage of, and I thank God for His watch care. That, by the way, is my concern and prayer for each of our granddaughters. At the end of my junior year I met Dad through the Franklin Gospel Mission. His parents had started attending church in Sheldonville and I knew them before meeting Dad. They liked me! I guess you know the rest of that story. It was all Providential – God knew my need and I had committed that part of my life to Him. I don’t think I ever had a whole lot to say to Dad, as I probably was scared to death to open my mouth and say the “wrong” thing which I now do all the time! He always was interested in almost everything and very knowledgeable about so much. I was taking piano lessons but would hide my books whenever he came over. You know how he used to play the piano! He probably got to know my family better than he did me, which was all my own fault, but I just couldn’t seem to help myself. I was so shy and introverted that when we rode the school bus, the older girls used to call me “woebegone”. How I wish I were outgoing, positive, happy and more expressive – maybe in Heaven, or maybe it’s not as important as I like to think.

God is gracious and long-suffering and your Dad is a good example of those attributes. The Gospel Mission mentioned above was an important part of my life during my high school years, and you could probably find me there on any Friday evening or Sunday afternoon. Mrs. Lanagan was quite a piano player and singing was fun. The windows would be open and the music could be heard out on Main St., which was our shopping area – no malls in those days! The stores were open on Friday night until 9 o’clock, otherwise until about 5:00 p.m. weekdays. It was not all bad either. I don’t recall how long my friends and me attended the Mission before Dad finally showed up, but on a Saturday just preceding our Junior Prom the Lanagan’s daughter was married and Dad and a mutually good friend were ushers. I attended the wedding and caught the bouquet. The next day Dad showed up a the Mission and played his trumpet. I was not impressed one way or the other, but our mutual friend caught my eye and said “he wants to meet you”. No way, I thought, but as it turned out we did meet, and we somehow ended up with a date for my prom. I didn’t dance and didn’t think he would either. When we got saved our church taught no movies, no dancing, no makeup, no earrings, etc. I don’t remember where my formal dress came from, but I got all fancied up and nervously waited (along with family and neighbors) for his arrival. Everyone was impressed when he drove up in his father’s brand new 1947 Chevrolet! We got through the evening and I had to decline when he asked me to dance, but obviously that was not the end of our relationship. Somehow we stayed together through our senior year and even exchanged class rings. I was sooo embarrassed when I lost the ring probably the next fall when he was away at Houghton College, and it was a small miracle that someone found it and turned it in to the Millis H.S. office. On the basis of his initials in the ring, they had a hunch that I had lost it. I don’t know how they knew of the connection or where they got my address (must have been his parents), but I did get a letter from them and was able to go pick it up. I think I still have the letter!

Dad wasn’t sure of college, and applied late to Houghton. They accepted him and he actually got there after classes started. I believe he signed up as a music major. Meanwhile, what would, or could, I do? I had an after school job as a sitter/helper for a well-to-do Jewish family, and a Christian nurse who also worked for them and had taken a liking for me offered to pay my way through Bible school. My father, however, did not take to that at all. How was I going to be able to make a living as a Bible school graduate? Okay, “children obey your parents”. God honored that decision. When I graduated from high school, I was living and working at the Anderson farm, again as sitter/helper, and Mrs. Anderson was the one who encouraged me to attend the Fisher Secretarial School on Beacon Hill in Boston. The Lord, of course, knew that I would need that preparation for these years of service with SIM. For the next two years, I had that one hour each way train ride and then a long walk from the station to the school. Depending on the time of year, it could have been dark and in the wintertime, very cold. The train schedule was such that I arrived at school plenty early, and at least in the beginning I would climb the three stories of the one time prestigious house of Beacon Hill upper crust, where I would kneel by the old fashioned tub and pray. At lunchtime I would go out on the Esplanade by the Charles River and read my New Testament. When classes were over I did secretarial work there at the school until time to head back to the Back Bay Station for my ride home. I had a couple of pretty good friends there, but they were not Christians, and again my testimony probably was not very clear. Would you believe I joined the Glee Club and got to wear a formal. Fortunately no one discovered that I couldn’t sing and I probably got an “A” in music! I didn’t do so well in typing and even after all these years of practice I am still not doing well. God is faithful and His grace has always been sufficient. Prayer and grace got me through, even those three weeks at the Harvard Dental School! Well, I graduated and got a job in RI as a vacation-relief secretary. I really was not that good, but apparently the people liked me and created a more “permanent” job for me in the bookkeeping department (of all places) with no adding machine or calculator. A job opened up with my own dentist and since I had taken a dental secretarial course at Fisher, I worked there until we were married. Before that though, I should mention that during the break between Dad’s sophomore and junior years our relationship was kind of put “on hold”. We would keep the rings but not wear them, and would be free to date others. We agreed. When Dad came home for Christmas break we were engaged. We had a date one night and prior to his picking me up he stopped at Anderson’s farm where my father was working and asked if he could marry me. We went to a jewelry store in Woonsocket, RI and picked out an “affordable” engagement ring. I loaned him $5 to complete the payment. We were married the following June and I returned with him to Houghton College for his senior year. I worked as a secretary and we lived in that 18 foot (including hitch) trailer. That was a good year and we certainly had opportunity to see God at work in our lives. Applications were sent to only two medical schools, and two rejections were returned. What to do? Dad then considered teaching as a missionary in the Belgian Congo and was about to complete the application when word came from McGill of an opening. Did we have enough for the entrance fee? Dad chose to wear the “right” pair of pants and found the needed additional $10 in a pocket! God’s faithfulness is a sure thing! Maybe this is a good place to share another commitment that I made. I was driving home from somewhere (in my little green apple colored 1939 Studebaker) when I told the Lord that no matter what I ever thought I wanted, I really wanted Him to overrule and have His way in my life. Thank God for the right decisions I did make.

I think this is all leading up to something if you can stand to hang in a bit longer. Perhaps you have heard me say that there was no show of affection in my family, except maybe Aunt Irene once when she seemed to understand and try to encourage. We learned to hug through our church family. I don’t think I really knew anything ab out love when I married or later when I started having you all. I guess the thought that love was commitment ( and I know that’s part of it), but I think you can be committed and miserable – maybe that’s what I was. Anyway, I think that those years in Montreal were happy when again the Church was our family. For the first year, living in the one room was difficult, and “grabbing a job” was difficult, and a shy person on her own in a foreign city was difficult, but God was gracious and we enjoyed the time we had together, and our friends. I did eventually “grab a job” through an ad in the paper. The office was on the streetcar line, but I was afraid that if I ever got on one of those things something terrible would happen, like not knowing where to get off. So I elected to walk the mile down and back, picking my way around the “rubbies” occupying the sidewalk outside the Salvation Army Hostel. I was working for an office furniture store with an odd assortment of salesmen, and again I thank God for His hand on me. My boss, Jim Laffoley was a big old cigar-smoking Irishman, and he was kind to me. His daughter did my job so that I could take summers off to go to MA during Dad’s breaks. The Lord wonderfully supplied through Jean & Henry Robinson when Stephen was born and I could no longer work, so that we could finish McGill debt-free.

Thanks for letting me think these things through as I relate them to you. For some time I have contemplated putting my life in writing. It seems like I am off to a good start, so let’s continue. If you don’t want to read it now, save it until I’m gone – whenever that time comes. For now, work is slack and I have as much time as I ever will.

That year spent in Detroit for Dad’s internship was not easy and we barely had “2 pennies to rub together”, but God provided and we managed. Uncle Jim was staying with us once when we got a dollar bill in the mail. We went to the store and bought all we could with it – got some stale potato chips that were pretty bad, but we enjoyed them anyway. Another time, we received a five-cent package of Kool-Aid that really made our day! I was often alone and had no real friends. I did get to know an odd assortment of other young wives there in our apartment building, but they certainly did not contribute to my spiritual walk. I knew that I never wanted to return to Detroit, and Stephen’s eczema was a sore trial to him and me. I am sure it was to Dad too when he was able to be home. His hours were rough – 36 on, 36 off I believe. Not much social life and I don’t even remember if or how we got to church – whenever Dad was off I guess. Unfortunately, I was not inclined to profitable use the time I had in reading my Bible and praying. That’s when I used to listen to Lawrence Welk on our picture-less TV as my Saturday night entertainment.

In 1957 Dad went into the Air Force, leaving Stephen and me in MA with my parents while he attended flight school in Alabama and I gave birth to Jonathan. My parents dropped me at the hospital during their lunch break and came back to visit that evening when it was all over. And yes, barely 3 weeks later there was that memorable first airplane trip following my brother’s death in an airplane. Shy me with a 2-year old on a leash, a new baby and an overstuffed diaper bag (remember, no such thing as disposable diapers, and breast-feeding was not in vogue). It was not easy, but by God’s grace we made it. Those years in the Air Force started out good, but by the time Mark came along, I don’t think I was doing so well. That was a difficult pregnancy, in that I felt so desperately tired, and Dad spent 3 of those months in the Azores, arriving home after Christmas. We were involved in the church and I had other young doctor’s wives as neighbors and Ray and Billie living off base. I don’t really know when it started, but I do know that in those days I was angry and perhaps a bit depressed. I apparently didn’t even find 3 delightful babies to be enough reason for going through another day. I certainly didn’t have any suicidal thoughts, but just wondered what was the point of doing all of this again. I am sure it was that as usual I was involved with church, but I didn’t have a meaningful relationship with the Lord, and you know that’s what makes all the difference. Maybe for that reason, church itself was an added stress. I believe I looked after you all well and you were a joy to us, but definitely something was missing.

Then we left the “affluence” of the Air Force and moved back to Detroit, and moved and moved and moved and moved. Tim’s birth was not easy. Dad was totally occupied with his residency and could not be away from the hospital. Aunt June came, but Tim didn’t and she had to return home. No family, no friends, what to do? Again, God supplied and some old friends from our previous time in Detroit “just happened” to pop back into our lives and saved the day. Friends from the church offered to pick my “nursery” and me up for church and I went because I guess I thought it was the right thing to do. Talk about miserable! Gratefully, the Lord brought friends into my life that were the encouragement that I needed. Sue Haney and I became very close and spent a lot of time together. That family was God’s blessing and a huge encouragement for me and for you guys as well. And then there were the other friends that gradually became a part of our existence in that area and remain dear and wonderful friends even now and even with the absence of correspondence. God is good and we have been blessed.

We were very much involved in church and it was an important part of our lives, but I fear that also in those days television was somewhat of an addiction that nearly swallowed me up. Dad was away long hours and I didn’t have a car. Perhaps if I were to be honest I would have to say that my little brood might have been somewhat of an interference to my TV viewing. I will always regret the time I “neglected” my children for TV. Early on I had suggested to the Lord that after 6 brothers I would just as soon not have boys. I think He may have had a good laugh over that one, and I am absolutely sure that His way is best. Others have done a far better job of raising daughters than I ever would have been capable of doing, and now we have each of you and our “daughters” as well. I just had trouble handling the rambunction or roughhousing that naturally comes with healthy, normal boys. I feel this has contributed to the fact that you did not grow up to be “best friends”. God has forgiven me, and I think you all have as well, but I can’t help but wonder how it might have been. I never did have a role model for raising children or for expressing love, but I thank God day by day that He is long-suffering and faithful and that he gives 2nd chances. I think that your relationships can and will strengthen through the relationship that you have in Christ. He is the “glue” that holds all things together, especially relationships. I am so sorry for all the things I should have and didn’t do. Most of it comes I guess from my lack of confidence in me and the fear of being wrong. Silly, but what to do? God has helped me in so many situations, but I know I have missed out on too many others. Having a friend to do it with helps, but I seem to be hopeless on my own. Being a friend is easy, getting to be one is something else. Why am I like this, and why have I deprived myself of so much all through life. I can’t believe I have come this far. It is only by God’s grace and I expect He will not forsake me now. Back to that TV addiction, which continued until long after we had moved to Romeo and become involved with the church there. God, however, was gaining on the TV and I finally desired prayer and Bible study ahead of it. Is it any wonder that you all watched TV? Do you remember when I said “if that thing doesn’t break, I am going to push it out the window!” Thank God for that decision we made to get rid of the TV.

Back to Ferndale and David. Dad had finally become a “real” doctor and we bought the Ferndale house. I also remember at that time wanting “more of God”. I don’t remember if that was before or after the Liberia experience in 1967. Until then I had no desire to be a missionary, and anyway, who did I think I was that God might even call the likes of me to be a missionary? All that changed too, and God didn’t call me until he had prepared me some years later. Things were beginning to be “easier” when David came along and he really was a joy after having 4 babies in fairly rapid succession and not really being able to completely enjoy any one for very long. Now there would be four brothers to help. You were a wonderful help with David and he grew up loving and admiring you. He was and is special, as each of you are, and no way could I choose one over another. You are each unique, and loved because you are YOU.

Here I apologize for yelling at and hitting you in my frustration and anger. I wish I could bury those memories along with the profanity, but because I can’t, I ask God for forgiveness and know that those things and all my sins are covered by Jesus’ blood and buried in the deepest sea. My mother used to yell at us, and I hated it. I wished she would just swat me and get it over with, so why did I repeat her bad habits? I am truly sorry, Guys, and I thank God that He is able to help you forget too. I know that my mother loved me as much as she knew how, and I trust you know I love and appreciate you tremendously. You are God’s very special gifts to us and we are privileged to pray for you and yours that you may find him faithful and His grace sufficient in time of need.

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