And We Laughed...

It was one of those special times, and it caught us all off guard. We all ended up convulsed with laughter, the pure kind of laughter that makes your sides hurt and tears run down your cheeks. The kind that comes from something completely unexpected, that feeds on itself and then just keeps going. The kind of uncontrollable laughter that got you and your little brother in trouble during church. The kind of silliness that just won't stop, perhaps because we don't want it to stop.

We were driving back from Hinckley when IT happened. We had gone to pick up Becca, who had just spent the weekend with her Auntie Eva (my wifešs sister). Becca was telling us about the Catholic church she and Eva had gone to that morning. She was quite hyper, whether from a large latte a half hour earlier or from a weekend full of latte's and fun with her cool aunt is hard to say. She was telling us about the nuns in church and how excited they were to meet Eva and Becca. My wife and Eva have an aunt who is a Mother Superior General and these nuns knew her and wanted to get caught up on all the news about Sister.

By way of providing background information, let me just say that we have been attending Salem Lutheran Brethren Church for about six years. I was raised Methodist and my wife was raised Catholic. Lutheran seemed like a compromise of sorts, and besides, Adam's best friend at the time was the son of Salem's pastor. We liked the church and stayed. Becca was confirmed there in May, and she and I help lead the music on Sunday mornings. When Becca was confirmed, her speech was about the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Consequently, she had to study up on the subject quite a bit to put together an A+ speech. It is because of that same research and knowledge that the incident was all the more humorous.

We had dropped Becca off Friday night in Hinckley after meeting Eva at Tobie's Restaurant (famous for their cinnamon rolls), and had agreed to meet back in Hinckley on Sunday night for supper at Subway (now with six different types of bread). We had a nice time getting caught up on family news with Eva, and Adam had the night off and was able to ride with us.

*Note: Since moving into his own apartment in April, Adam has become much more grateful when receiving food or other staples or services. It's simply amazing! He stops by almost every day on his way to work for a bite to eat and a hug from his mom, and to tell us about new things he has learned. The funny part is, the new things he's learned are the same things we tried to teach him when he was living at home!!

We were zipping along on I-35 at 70-em-pee-aytch when it struck out of nowhere. Becca was telling about the Catholic Church she and Eva attended that morning. The congregation that morning consisted of about 50 nuns and Becca and Eva. Becca had chosen to not take Communion that morning, but said staying in the pew while Eva went forward was not an option. She said there were others who went up and did not take the cup or the bread, instead receiving a blessing from the priest, so that was what she did. She went on to say that this church used actual bread instead of the usual Communion wafers. When she was telling us about what she did when the priest offered the bread, it happened.

"The priest said 'This is the bread of Christ...' I mean, he said, 'This is the BODY of Christ."

The priest had said it right. She had said it wrong when she was telling us. A slight verbal faux pas. A bobbled phrase. A slip of the tongue. Very minor. But we were like hyenas with a crippled gazelle and pounced on her helpless form.

"The BREAD of Christ? The BREAD of Christ baked specially just for you. If you liked manna, you'll really like the BREAD of Christ." Ad slogans and phrases just burst forth, each new twist bringing new roars of laughter. "What's that HEAVENLY aroma? It's the BREAD of Christ. Do you have stone-ground BREAD of Christ? No, someone ROLLED THE STONE AWAY!"

Yes, some people would say it was cruel and insensitive, but it couldn't be stopped. For fifteen miles we rocked and rolled and hooted and guffawed. Even Becca eventually joined in; she does have a good sense of humor and recognizes a good joke when she hears it. It was simply too good to be ignored. "He made everything else in the world and now He brings you: The BREAD of Christ! From the makers of manna comes a totally new taste...thousands of years in the rises on the third day..." We couldn't stop. We would drive silently for a minute or two and then someone would quietly add another line, and we would all break up again. The glasses had to come off and the eyes had to be wiped. No one could drink anything for fear of someone saying something else funny, which would have caused the quick expulsion of liquid through the nasal passages. A week later, and we still crack up when someone says "I could sure go for a slice of that Christ bread..."

It was almost as delicious as getting the giggles in church. You know what I'm talking about. You're sitting in the pew, and the kids have been fidgeting and poking at each other and you've had to shush them more times than you care to count. Suddenly one of them does something very silly, but very covert, and they both get the uncontrollable giggles. Their shoulders jump up and down, and they try to hunker down in the pew a bit so they're not so noticeable to the minister. You try and shush them again, and catch sight of the silly face/thing/drawing and WHAM! you get sucked right in, too. You try and maintain a stern face, but it's nigh unto impossible. It's even better when BOTH parents get drawn in. Those are memorable times.

That Sunday evening on the road back from Hinckley was a memorable time. It was a good time, a nice family time. I like having times like that to round out the not-so-good times we have as children grow up and try their wings (along with their parents' patience!). I just hope I can keep a straight face next time we have communion in church.


Copyright ©2000 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

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A Flag-waving Spring

Sometime in the summer of 1993, Bob Spranger, my father-in-law, decided that we needed some purple flags (iris) at our house. Mainly because we didn't have any and he had way too many. So on one of our quarterly trips to his house, I brought back a five-gallon bucket loaded with tubers. This was ok, because I had a new flower bed which needed something easy to care for and that would spread a bit and fill the space. The following summer I had beautiful purple flags. They did well in the relatively poor soil they had been assigned to, and slowly began spreading and filling. Everything was going according to plan.

The summer of 95, Bob was called home to work in the Master's garden. He had a heart attack on July 3rd, leaving behind a wife and eight grown children, a vegetable garden in southwestern Minnesota and a bunch of purple flags in northern Minnesota. As we worked through the pain of our loss, the flags continued to grow and spread and show off their rich purple beauty.

The summer of 96, the purple flags waved in the June breeze, growing straight and sturdy, splendid in their purple finery for the week or two they bloom. A week or so after they had died back, we noticed that there was a late comer. One more flag put on a single bud. We didn't pay very careful attention, perhaps because we had just finished having a full bed purple blossoms. Here would be one last burst of purple before the bed went back to sleep.

A few days later, we came home for lunch and noticed that the flag had opened. We congregated around it and stared. Because where we had expected another purple flag bloomed a brilliant yellow flag. We called Paula, my mother-in-law, and asked her if Bob had ever had any yellow flags. No, she said, he only had purple ones. Are you sure, we asked. As long as he had them, they had always been purple, she said.

It was almost as if Bob was reminding us, almost a year to the day after his passing, that he was still around in spirit. For a few days we had this shining reminder, a virtual hug, an assurance that life goes on. Were we reading into it? Making more of it than it was? Were we acting like a grieving widow who visits a medium to talk to her dead husband? No, I don't think so. If you believe in a God who is involved in your personal life, you look for the little nudges, the little benefits. It didn't hurt anyone to think of this flower as a reminder.

The following year everything was back to a normal purple. Same purple flags in 1998, too. In the spring of 1999 I did away with the bed where the flags lived, moving them to a different bed I had cleared out. They bloomed rather haphazardly and raggedly, but all bloomed purple. Last year they looked more lovely than when they were in the other bed. Apparently the new digs agreed with them. All bloomed - you guessed it - purple. There were also more than in the past. So many, in fact, that I moved some to another bed last year. This year, I had to move some more.

Flower beds are a work in progress. There's always something going on there: weeds to pull; spent blossoms to deadhead; shaping and pruning. One of the nice things about iris or flags is the way they fill in without much care from you. Let them go on their own and they'll be just fine. Snip or pinch off the dead blossoms (deadheading for those of you not in-the-know) and don't make them compete too much with grass and weeds and they'll reward you with burst of color every year. They'll fill a bed and beyond if you let them. They don't hang around for very long, though, so you'll want to mix them with other plants which bloom at different times. In my case, I'm starting to watch the asiatic lilies I planted last year. I have some which should be blooming in the next couple weeks, and some which won't bloom until their cousins have finished, and some more which should wait even longer. Constant color, constant change. I never thought I would be a fan of change, but...I guess I've changed some.

Now it's late June 2001 and the blooms have already come and gone on my flags. They all bloomed in early June just like always, and all purple just like they have every year except 1996. All of them, that is, except one. When the snow receded this spring, I noticed one which had not died all the way down to the ground in the fall like the rest. This particular plant came through the winter still standing about 4-inches tall. I thought perhaps it was like the queen-bee of the group, so I have been watching it. When the rest of the flags put on their purple finery, it did not. However, about ten days after the rest of the purple blooms had died back, this maverick started putting on flower buds. Finally the flower on top opened; a brilliant sunshine yellow. Five years after the last time we had a yellow flag, we got another but this time it has one bloom for each of the last five years. Five blossoms on its long stalk instead of one. Five shining reminders that we are loved and cared for.

Life does continue. It doesn't always take you on the same smooth roads you are used to traveling, but it does continue. Change is inevitable. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is "different," as we say here in Minnesota (sometimes it's "not too bad, either").


Copyright ©2001 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

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A Life Lived Well

She passed gently, dying the way she lived: gently. Grandma Zimmy was 103 years old. She was one of the select few who get a chance to live in three centuries. Born September 10, 1898, she quietly slipped away June 14, 2002, having witnessed the arrival of two centuries and a new millennia. She leaves behind four children "orphaned" in their seventies and eighties.

The past several years have been hard, watching her health decline, trapping her in a body - a shell, really - that wouldn't die. When she was in her nineties she often said she didn't want to live to be a hundred. But she did and several more years, too. And though none of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren or even great-great-grandchildren wanted to let her go, we all knew it was time. Our desire to keep her here among the living was selfish, a contact with our memories of our childhoods. As long as we had Grandma Zimmy we had a physical connection to that simpler time. They say you can't go back, but getting a hug from Grandma Zimmy always made me about four-years-old again.

After Grandpa Zimmy died in 1985, she lived alone in the house on Emily Street in Jackson. To my four brothers and I, though, the real Grandma Zimmy house was the one up the hill at the end of Branch St. by the grain elevators and train tracks. The last time I was there the house had fallen into disrepair and was vacant and scheduled for demolition or as a training exercise for the fire department. When I was little, though, it was the place to go to see Grandma. Grandpa had his rabbits and chickens out back, and there was the ravine to play army in (there was even an old car down there!) and the garage to get in trouble from Grandpa in. The upstairs at Grandma's had been an apartment but was vacant as far back as my memory goes. There were always treasures to dig through in the closets upstairs. The upstairs was more like a museum than anything else. The downstairs was always busy with activity, usually women making food in the kitchen and men solving the world's problems in the living room. That's where Grandma and Grandpa Zimmy lived when I was born, and we lived next door until I was four. Talk about luxury: living next door to the quintessential grandma. You really can have your cake and eat it, too. Not only cake, but at Grandma's you could have cookies and bars, too.

I have some of Grandma Zimmy's cookbooks; the good old church cookbooks with her name sprinkled in liberally and with her own notes on how to make a recipe better. It also contains hand-written recipes she heard about, read about or made up as she went along. Not every one is a winner, but they are in her own hand, and when I try them out I feel a connection with her. She loved to cook for her family and have us come and stay with her at the little house down on Emily Street, the only other house I ever knew her to live in. It didn't matter when we came to see her, she always told us she had a feeling we might stop in that day. Then she'd pull out a pan of bars or a cake or cookies she had made just for us, and together with homemade bread, homemade jam, meat and cheese we'd have a little lunch.

At night she prayed aloud in her bed, and without her hearing aid in she prayed loudly so she could hear herself. We were always included in her prayers. I know we were always included when we were not there, too.

In the morning there would be bacon and eggs, with the eggs fried hard in the bacon grease and big slabs of homemade bread toasted and slathered with real butter. My doctor would not approve, but my stomach sure did.

I think that was one of the things she missed most when she was living in the nursing home: being able to provide for the people she loved. Sure, after she moved into the Good Samaritan Nursing Home we would go for coffee and bars in the dining room whenever we visited, but it wasn't like having a little lunch at her house.

The last couple of years robbed her of perhaps the last thing that made living into a new century bearable. A series of small strokes left her unable to carry on a conversation. Most of the time she spelled: A-D-A-M Adam, A-M-A-N-D-A Amanda, A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N American, A-N-D-E-R-S-O-N Anderson, A-R-N-O-L-D Arnold and then back to the beginning. Sometimes she would take your face in her hands and look you right in the eyes and very earnestly spell her five words like she was telling you the secret of life itself. After listening to her spell for two hours one day, she stopped and said, "Well, I guess I've said it all." Then, after a very slight pause that left us staring at one another in amusement and amazement, she started again, "A-D-A-M, Adam ..."

The last time I visited her, I took her hands and placed them on my face so she could feel my beard - something I had been doing for about ten years since her eyes had gotten so bad - and she hugged me close and whispered "You've turned into such a fine young man and I love you very much."

She and I said our goodbyes a few years after she went in to the nursing home. I think she had an idea that her last years wouldn't allow her to say goodbye the way she wanted to, so we did it early, so any extra time we had was a bonus.

Grandma never liked to be the center of attention. She was always working behind the scenes in a support role, something she did very well. I know she would be very embarassed at all the "fuss" we have been making over her.

She passed quietly as life continued around her, which is the way I'm sure she wanted it.


Copyright ©2002 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

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