Getting into the Holiday Spirit

December 19, 2011 § 5 Comments

I love Christmas and I have no trouble getting into the spirit of the season, as a rule. But this year is different. You see, we’re in construction … we’re adding a Florida Room on the back of our house where the Lanai and birdcage used to be.

New Florida Room

Who wants to use an unfinished Florida Room as a backdrop for a gorgeous tree? Next year we will have a great new place to decorate and party … but not this year!

What to do? What to do? How can one get into the holiday spirit without decorating and baking?

I know! We’ll go to Disney World. Now, don’t get me wrong. We’re not planning to spend Christmas week with the swarms from around the world. We’re smarter than that! We went the first week in December!

Wilderness Lodge Tree

We  “ooo’d & ah’d” over huge, theme decorated trees in all the hotels. My favorites this year were the trees at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge.

After contemplating these trees, we proceeded to count ‘hidden Mickeys’ on all of the gingerbread creations – the Gingerbread House at the Grand Floridian,

Stitch's Bakery

Stitch’s Bakery at the Yacht Club,

The Carrousel at Boardwalk.

Hidden Mickey!

(I found all the hidden Mickeys on these last two this year!)

Nothing like the smell of gingerbread and the sounds of carols in the air to get me in the holiday spirit!

I’ll finish my shopping this week – I don’t believe in buying Christmas presents before Thanksgiving – no fun in that! Of course, stocking stuffers are different – I find these all over, in craft shops and in catalogues. Those are fun!

And while I’m shopping I’ll listen to my Christmas CDs in my car – Josh Groban, John Denver, Liberty Singers, King Singers, Boston Pops. Let’s see … that’s five different versions of Silent Night, Little Drummer Boy, and the Twelve Days of Christmas … hmmmm!

As to Christmas Day itself, Sarah has invited us to her house this year (it was our turn, but she graciously volunteered). After worship and the Christmas cantata (Christmas is on Sunday this year, after all), we’ll return to her house for presents and a dinner of ham, green bean bake (why not!), twice-baked sweet potatoes, fried apples – to go with the ham, don’t you know! – dinner rolls, orange slices from the oranges of our own trees, and salad. The desert will depend on what I get for my birthday – cake or chocolate pudding pie. We shall see! I will probably add a pecan pie, however. Pecan-anything is a Summers-Sanders’ favorite!

After dinner, we’ll call family and wish them a Merry Christmas and tell each other that we loved the presents received – and we always do. I have a philosophy – whatever someone gives me, I love. Then it will be naptime (another Summers’ tradition from days of old!), followed by a favorite Christmas movie.

The spirit of the season will have been fulfilled; old traditions observed; new traditions begun.

Whatever your traditions, I wish you joy this holiday season!

Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah – or, as in the case of some friends, both!


Christmas Birthdays are Cool!

December 8, 2011 § 6 Comments

You might not think so, but Christmas Birthdays are COOL! Everyone is in a good mood (mostly). Everyone decorates for the season (mostly). And special bargains abound for present givers. And the best of all, the birthday child gets to celebrate a special bond with the meaning of Christmas – “For unto us a child is born”. As a child, I always liked to think they were singing that song in the Messiah for me, too. My birthday is December 23rd.

Christmas Tree & Birthdays

But having a birthday during Christmas celebrations can pose problems.

First problem – when to give the birthday party. Oh, yes! There must be one, else the birthday child will feel cheated. My brother’s birthday is in April – he always got a party! My sister’s birthday is in August – well, her party was usually just family, since we were always on a family cross-country vacation then. But we made a big deal about it!

[Actually, I did give her a party one year – with cake and presents – when she was a camper and I a camp counselor at Camp Crestridge for Girls in NC. That party included all of her camp friends and I think she enjoyed it.]

But birthday children whose big day is just before or after, or even ON Christmas Day, need a party, too.

Peppermint Birthday Cake

Mother’s solution – I got a party two weeks before the actual day, so that all my friends in school and church could come. Of course, that posed another dilemma – what to do on the actual day? No problem! Celebrate again – just family this time – with a special dinner, followed by my favorite – Mom’s Chocolate Pudding Pie with whipped cream topping – MMMMM GOOOOOOD – and she even put another candle in the middle. So, actually, I had two birthday parties – not bad!

Second Problem – presents. Now, I’ve heard of families giving one big present for both, but is that fair? Mother didn’t think so. “If you give MLS one present for both, then consider your Christmas present from her as your birthday present as well,” she’d tell my siblings. I got two presents each from David and Sarah.

Fast forward from childhood to graduate-student-hood. Sarah and I were planning a ski trip for the week following Christmas and I wanted my own ski boots. Now, by this time, I had developed a tradition, that of giving myself a birthday present. I usually waited until I received other presents before deciding, but this present would be something I knew no one would think of and was really too expensive anyway to expect anyone to give. Such a present were the ski boots, but as a graduate student on limited funds, how was I going to afford them?

Sister to the rescue. She was also in grad school, in Fort Worth, and when I finished my classes at the University of Texas opera theater, I drove up from Austin to visit her. We went to the mall (doesn’t everybody?) and there, in a sports shop, I found a pair of ski boots that just were perfect – but without a perfect price.

The presents!

“You go away now,” SNS said. “Shoo! I’ll meet you at El Chico’s.”

“You can’t afford them,” I said.

“Never you mind!” she responded.

On December 23, after my birthday dinner with the family, out came the presents (gone were the days of the two-week-prior-party-for-school-friends. Too old for those at 24!). When I opened Sarah’s present there were the ski boots – or I should say the “ski boot”! Two days later, I received the other boot for Christmas. Fair is fair – two boots, two presents. And exactly what I wanted!

Chocolate Pudding Pie

Two weeks from tomorrow, I will celebrate my birthday with Tom and Sarah. We’ll go out to a favorite restaurant (Ipanema’s in Ocala, I hope … great Brazilian food) and afterward return home for “cake” and presents. I say “cake” because sometimes it’s a Chocolate Pudding Pie (Marie Callender’s is about as close to mother’s as you can get!).

The point, of course, is that all birthdays are special, even the ones that fall on holidays.

This year, I’m already gearing up. Next week we will begin the “house decorations tour” in The Villages and surrounding areas. We’ll sing carols and light Advent candles in church, and on Christmas morning, our church choir will present a cantata.

Angel Tree

And during all of this fun and frolic and remembering the reason for this best of all seasons, I’ll celebrate by picking up another  “Angel child” card (Sarah and I’ve already done one for Christmas) and go shopping for a child who needs some Christmas love this year. The child will receive my gifts and enjoy them, I hope, and I will enjoy giving them. However, only I will know that these gifts are for my birthday, too!

Thanksgiving Means Memories

November 24, 2011 § 4 Comments

In the spring of 1978 … that’s November in the southern hemisphere … all of the missionaries from the US studying at the Escola do Portugués e da Orientação in Campinas, São Paolo, Brasil, decided to come together for one large Thanksgiving Dinner. We invited all of our Brazilian professores e professoras, and other missionaries from the UK and Canada also studying at the school.  

Turkey, Yumm!

Our traditional menu included turkey and dressing, giblet gravy, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows baked on top, green bean casserole, salad, yeast rolls with butter, cranberry relish, pumpkin pie, and other deserts.

I volunteered to bake a turkey and make cornbread and sage dressing, and giblet gravy. As soon as I got back to my apartment, I called Mom and Dad … collect. They promptly declined the call and hung up. Yikes you say? No, that was our signal. In those days, we found it cheaper for them to call me than for me to call them. Within five minutes, we were on the phone talking turkey. Mom promised to send me her recipes. I promised to journal the whole experience in a letter. We blew kisses into the phone and said our “talk to you Sunday nights” and hung up.

True to her word, Mom included her guidelines and recipes, complete with her secrets of success, in the 8 x11 envelope in which Dad sent the latest Sunday sports pages (he did this each week I was on the field, bless him).

I had no trouble finding the ingredients. Turkey was a favorite in Brazil and the birds came in all sizes. But what size to buy? My little oven was about half the size of a standard US model and powered by bottled gas … heat settings in centigrade!

I called Mary Burt—veteran missionary and go-to person for all things culinary. She recommended a 10-12 lb bird, the heat setting, and timing. The rest was up to me.

Cornbread & Sage Stuffing

On the day, I presented a nicely browned bird with cornbread-sage-stuffing-ala-Mom, two quarts of giblet gravy, and two pecan pies made with my horded pecans (brought in my crate from Texas!). This was my first Thanksgiving culinary effort and a success. I was proud as a peacock!

Pecan Pie

I learned something about serving buffet in Brazil, too. Brazilians love to eat and wanted to taste everything, even every pie and cake! The old hands knew this, and cut my pies into bite-sized pieces, along with all the rest of the deserts.

Dona Aidé, my private lesson teacher, and my other professoras, wanted all my recipes. I had come prepared, as Mary Burt had forewarned me, and made copies. Well, after all, Dona Aidé had taught me how to cook arroz brasileiro (Brazilian rice) and how to order carne moida (ground beef) at the butchers!

[BTW, if you are ever in Brazil and want to make hamburgers, order half a kilo (app. 1 lb) not a kilo and a half (3 lbs!).]

These days I seldom cook on Thanksgiving. Once we discovered that Cracker Barrel serves a special Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, including pumpkin pie, we started a new family tradition—we let CB do our cooking! (No carcass to boil for stock; no leftovers to get freezer burn before we remember to use them!)

Today we watched most of the Macy’s parade, drove to CB and ate our sumptuous dinner—all that great nap-inducing food we love—and then took a drive through the newest construction areas of The Villages. Now comes football and naptime!

We also Thanked God for all of our blessings—good health, good friends, loving family, the freedoms we enjoy in these United States, and our armed forces around the world who go in harm’s way to preserve them.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and that you have had a great year to give thanks for … I know I have.

In closing I’d like to share with you my favorite hymn of thanksgiving …

“For the Beauty of the Earth”

For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye,
for the heart and mind’s delight,
for the mystic harmony,
linking sense to sound and sight;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For thy church, that evermore
lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
her pure sacrifice of love;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For thyself, best Gift Divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of thine,
peace on earth, and joy in heaven:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

To Family & Friends Everywhere!

Lost and Found!

October 19, 2011 § 5 Comments

For several years now, I’ve lived in fear of locking my car keys in my car. Or leaving them somewhere. Or letting them fall out of my pocket. I’m not sure if that’s a phobia, like arachnophobia (which I believe I do have!) but it probably should be. You see, Tom lost his own car key (the one with the key at one end and the “clicker” automatic door openers at the other) and we’ve been using my set ever since.


I think I’ll make up a word here – clésperdantaphobia, i.e., a phobia of losing keys – that’s in French/Greek because the Greeks have no word for key (I think). How’s that? Honestly, when I’m getting out of my van, I do a thorough body search to make sure I have the car key in hand before I lock the doors!! (Fortunately, our van won’t allow us to lock the doors when the motor is running!)

Then there’s the lost folder – you know the type – clear plastic one holding the contract from the builder who is to extend our roof at the back of our house so that it covers the whole patio (birdcage) and then encloses the present lanai and part of the patio so that we will have a VERY LARGE Florida Room?

Let’s see, I think I’ll call this one … oh, who cares, I’m not the one who lost that one either!

However, I have lost some things … important things, too. Along the years, I’ve lost some friends, especially my high school friends. Our family only lived in Louisville, Kentucky, for five years – 1959-1964. I graduated Atherton High in 1962 and left for college the next fall. I never returned to Atherton, even for a visit. During the summers, I worked at Camp Crestridge for Girls or Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center, both in Black Mountain, NC.

Then, in 1964, Dad accepted the position of Chairman of the Religion Dept. at Baylor University and we moved back to Texas for good. I graduated from Baylor, taught in a couple of universities, got my Doctor of Music Arts degree in Church Music and Voice and headed to Brazil. After eight years teaching in the North Brazil Baptist Theological Seminary, I returned to the US and married. Tom and I lived in Kansas City, MO, for almost three years, then moved to New Jersey – 15 years there – and finally retired to Florida in 2003.

In other words, I never looked back! I’ve stayed in touch with more recently acquired friends over the years, but lost touch with others. Why do I do that?

I guess I do it – inadvertently – because I tend to look forward. I look at the future and see adventure and new experiences and rather quickly let go of the past.

This was brought home to me over the weekend when a lost friend from Atherton High School reached out and found me … through the internet and my web page. She wasn’t the one who called me, however. That was another high school friend who told me she’d been looking for me for years – every time the Class of ’62 geared up to reunion – and next year is our 50th.

Atherton HS, Louisville, KY

Will I go? I don’t know. We’ve already made plans to be in Fort Worth, TX for a convention that same weekend, and then the “every-other-year-visit-with-family-and-friends-in-Texas” tour. But we’ve been to two of Tom’s high school reunions and I think this is my turn! I looked at the contact list Susie sent me of our class and began recognizing names from my past. Choir buddies, Aerial (newspaper) colleagues, cheerleaders, jocks … I wonder if I’ll remember them when I see them, or if they will remember me? I’ve taken steps. This very morning I went to the Atherton website and registered as an Alum … now we shall see!

But what of others?

I occasionally talk to friends in New Jersey. We visit with folks at CBF Assemblies and Pearl Harbor Reunions (see past blogs for those activities!). And I’m in contact through Facebook with more and more friends from Brazil and college and church.

But the one friend I miss the most is Judye Mac, my best friend from Camp Crestridge and Carson-Newman College days. Judye died of uterine cancer several years ago, even as we planned for her to visit us in Florida. She never told me she was ill. I was mad at her for this … I didn’t want to go to her funeral, I wanted to visit with her even for one last tearful time. We would have talked of fun times and laughed … or not … but we could have said goodbye and that’s important.

When I left Brazil to marry, I lost another friend because she isn’t a good correspondent. Back in the days when letter writing was the ONLY way, besides overseas long distance, to keep in contact, she didn’t answer my letters and I stopped trying.

This morning I have resolved to try again – this time through the seminary website. Life is too short to lose important things, and friendships are the most important of all.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”  – C. S. Lewis

Old Friends Remembered

October 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

This past week, Tom and I have been reunioning with a wonderful group of friends – makes for great story telling to get together once a year and remember old times. I’m a late comer to the group actually … a member by marriage. Nevertheless, I have been adopted into the fellowship with open arms.

1st Southern Baptist Church of Pearl Harbor

The group – “The First Southern Baptist Church of Pearl Harbor Reunion” – represents the members of that mostly military church during the first 12-14 years of its life – 1957 – 1970.

The church building is built is on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Members are from the Navy, Marines, Army, and Air Force. They are officers and enlisted and their families. Some have been members during more than one tour of duty there. One was not military at all, but CIA.

Tom joined the church while he served as an officer aboard the Tang, a diesel sub, between 1963-1966. He didn’t get to know many of the church members during that time as he was often at sea, but since 1990 we have met with the group for reunions each year and the stories shared are amazing.

Our reunion location this year was Pigeon Forge, TN, home to Dollywood, and a Branson-like atmosphere that’s just full of country music and fun. During the day some of us just visited, but others did Dollywood, and shopped at the outlets. One night a bunch of us did Dixie Stampede – Dolly Parton’s arena of entertainment and food. On Thursday morning most went to the Hatfield and McCoy Theatre to attend the breakfast show starring the Blackwoods – absolutely fabulous!

The rest of the time, we spent remembering and laughing, with a few tears for missing friends. We grow older every year.

One, a WWII vet, told of flying a B52 bomber with the test rocket-powered Jet Plane X-1 attached to the bottom. Inside that rocket was Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947.

Another WWII vet was a member of the ground crew for the Enola Gay – the bomber that dropped the A-Bomb on Hiroshima. His name was Shorty Vaughn. Shorty died this summer. This week we celebrated his life. He was a joy to know and he will be missed. Everyone had a  “Shorty Story” to tell at the memorial service.

Although I haven’t known Shorty as long as the others, the “Shorty Story” I like best I actually witnessed …

In the late 1990s Shorty Vaughn’s wife Mary died of cancer, and he was lonely. He traveled everywhere on “Space A” – that’s military jargon for space available on transports from one base to another (and may be used by retired military). Mostly he carried his “Wal-Mart luggage” (a paper sack with just what he needed in it). He loved to hop a Space A flight to Hawaii and visit his son John, pastor of a church there, and then travel the world. But he never missed a reunion!

Another couple in the group were John and Jean Hipps. John was a Navy veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. He had served his country well, and suffered physically because of it. I met him whenhe volunteered to make the coffee at one of the reunions – seems I didn’t make it fast enough! I thought that was great – he drank most of it anyway!

In 2000 a group of us flew to Hawaii to tour the islands. We had a great time – John just kept saying over and over how much he was enjoying the trip. Not long after we returned, however,  John became ill and died. Jean continued to come to our reunions. We are part of her family, after all.

Then, in 2002, we gathered in Gulf Shores Baptist Conference Center, Pass Christian, MS, for our annual reunion. Shorty asked Al to introduce him to Jean. He said he thought it was time to take Al’s advice and meet some of the single women in the group. Al thought that was great and agreed.

Hawaiian Lei

That night, before the actual introduction, I believe, Shorty’s son John walked into the worship service. He was to be our guest preacher. He wore a beautiful Hawaiian shirt and a lei of yellow

Next, I noticed two handsome men in dress white Navy uniforms take seats with their families. Who were they?

When the wedding march started, everyone gasped and turned to see Shorty Vaughn and Jean Hipps walking down the aisle in matching mu’u-mu’u and Hawaiian shirt – royal blue with white blossoms. They both wore leis and she carried a bouquet.

Al leaned over and asked me, “Is this for real?”

“Looks like!” I said.

Sure enough, Shorty and Jean were married that night, with their sons and daughters in attendance and John Vaughn officiating. When asked about the timing, Shorty and Jean said the Pearl Harbor church group was family and this seemed like the best place.

Shorty added, with a grin, that he thought it great to pull one over on Al, too!

Each year we celebrate and remember the “when’s” and “who’s”. This year we celebrated Shorty.

A Lame Duck!

September 16, 2011 § 9 Comments

In olden days, a “lame duck congress” referred to that time between an election and the seating of the new congress, when the congress-people voted out still held the seats, but did nothing much of anything. After all, they would soon be supplanted by the victors … why bother?

Lame Ducky

An outgoing president also found himself in a state of lame-duckness, whether he was at the end of his two elected terms, or just not re-elected for a second term—this was especially true if the House or Senate was controlled by the other party! No matter what he did, or tried to do, nothing much happened in those two-plus months between the Second Tuesday of November and the January Inauguration.

However, I’ve been observing the State of our Union, and I’ve come to the conclusion that “lame duck season” now begins when the presidential candidate processions hit the road … as in RIGHT NOW … and the next elections are 14 months away!

At this very moment, Republican presidential candidates are engaged in caucusing and debating and jockeying for positions in the polls to determine who will run against Obama next year. Obviously, the Republicans want to win the election, but this time they seem particularly bent on getting Obama out – no matter the cost. In support of this, it would seem that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has no intention of doing any serious legislating until after they’ve won the 2012 presidential election. This puts us in a LONG “lame duck session”, one we can’t afford!

If the last paragraph isn’t enough of a hint, I will say here that I’m a registered Democrat—a moderate Democrat, to be sure, but still a Democrat. There are a lot of us out here, too. We sit just to the left of the dividing line between the Red zone and the Blue zone, and wonder what our country is coming to when so many extreme right or left candidates think only of upping their party agendas instead of giving positive voice and action to bolstering the people – economically, healthfully, emotionally.

Although some candidates would like to abolish it, I am a First Amendment advocate. All candidates have a right to voice their opinions on their favorite issues, just as I have a right to speak out if I don’t agree, and I speak out best with my vote.

I will not
vote for a candidate who advocates a one-issue-only platform—anti-abortion, anti-gays, anti-Obama … at any cost!

I will not
vote for a candidate who refuses to acknowledge his/her own party’s culpability in the economic woes we now face.

I will not
vote for a candidate who is so out of touch with the rest of America that he/she will advocate the abolishment of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.

[I often wonder why these candidates and their supporters don’t take this “back to the good old days” rhetoric to its logical conclusion and advocate abolishing ALL social programs—minimum wage, military health and retirement plans, pension plans, work sponsored healthcare insurance. Oh, and let’s do reinstitute the 12-hour work day, and laws that allow children to work in factories instead of go to school.]

I will vote
for representatives who can see both sides of all issues, work together in Congress to solve these issues, and represent me when they vote legislation that affects my life and the lives of all Americans.

I will vote
for representatives who believe in helping Americans get jobs, survive disasters, retain freedoms, and share responsibilities for those less fortunate.

I will vote
for representatives who will bite the bullet and seal the loop holes that allow big business to gouge profits while cutting jobs and raising prices on goods made outside this country.

If that means raising taxes on the ultra rich, so be it.

If that means legislating benefits for corporations that keep their manufacturing in the US and give jobs to our citizens, so be it!

If that means spending my tax dollars to put Americans to work rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of our nation, so be it!

I want candidates to tell me what they are for, not what they are against. I want them to tell me how they will vote to make all lives in America better, not just keep some Americans in clover while others suffer (isn’t that how the French Revolution got started?).

But it won’t really matter what the candidates say or promise, if we don’t exercise our right to vote. On election night, it’s common to hear that, out of the 25K voters in such-n-such precinct, only 10% voted that day. What a waste of a precious freedom. What an abdication of our civil responsibility!

The Ballot Box

One election day in the 70s, I stopped by the precinct to vote in a local election—school board, commissioners, district attorney. I voted for the candidate I thought best for DA – the incumbent. Mother liked him, too, and when he didn’t win re-election, she kept complaining—what were the people of our county thinking?

I asked, “Mother, did you vote today?”

“Well, no, I’m on a deadline with my editor…”

“Then you have no right to complain!” I said.

It’s a simple truth … if we don’t vote, we lose our right to complain about the result!

So, I’ll be voting Democrat next year. Tom will be voting Republican I imagine. That’s okay. We still love each other even when we cancel out each other’s votes. The important thing is – WE WILL VOTE!

Thus endeth the harang!

Thank you for listening … I just had to get that boulder off my back!

On This Day …

August 19, 2011 § 8 Comments

On this day of August 19, in 1992, both my parents passed away.

On August 15, I was in Salt Lake City for the Mu Phi Epsilon National Convention, when I was called me out of the nominating committee to tell me to “call this number”. I had been expecting that call for nearly six years.

My favorite photo - Ray & Jester Summers, Aegean Sea Cruise

“Dad’s prostate cancer has come back,” Sarah told me when I reached her. “You need to come now.”


Mom and Dad had always looked at Baptist Memorials Retirement Village in San Angelo as a possible “last stop.” But for a number of years after retirement they remained in Waco in their home near Baylor. There was no rush.

After Mother’s debilitating strokes in 1986, she was bed-ridden. She went into a nursing home in Waco, and Dad visited her every day – all day! A year later, Dad had a series of little strokes that scrambled his short-term memory. He could no long drive to visit Mom or live alone. With his consent, we moved them to Baptist Memorials, she to the Geriatric Hospital, and he to a one-bedroom apartment in the ‘high-rise’.

After four years, Dad asked to be with Mother – he was becoming more confused. Sarah and I had already discussed this possibility and were happy to have him make the decision and not us. They lived together in the secure care section for nearly a year before the call came.


I flew out early the next morning, connecting through Denver to Dallas/Ft. Worth International where I boarded a 21-passenger “tree hopper” to San Angelo. I arrived in the afternoon with the temp hovering between 110° and hell. Sarah met me at the little airport and filled me in as we drove to the hospital.

Dad had had prostate cancer while I was in Brazil and been treated with radiation. All seemed clear. Even his recent physical had shown no new developments. Only when the nurses realized Dad was in distress did they discover that the cancer had returned with a vengeance, blocking his urethra. He needed dialysis to survive.

But there was another complication. His cancer had already spread to his bones. Our choices were not easy – life with dialysis accompanied by bone cancer chemo and radiation, which might not be successful, but would be terribly painful. Or do nothing. According to the Urologist, Dad would die of uremic poisoning within five days and his passing would be pain-free.

At 82, Dad lived with confusion. He could quote Bible verses and poetry learned in high school, but he couldn’t remember what had happened five minutes before. He knew where he was when he saw Mom in her bed every morning, but was mentally stuck on a cold November day six years before when he’d had his strokes. No matter the time of year or the temp outside, he woke up, put on a flannel shirt, turned up the heater to about 80° and shuffled through his confused day.

To us, the choice was simple; but Sarah was the only one on site when the decision had to be made.

“If one of the doctors asks,” she said as we entered the hospital, “I consulted you and David before deciding not to put Dad on dialysis and just let him go peacefully.”

Of course. We three had agreed – whoever was on-site when a decision had to be made, the other two would back him/her up.

David arranged to be away from work and flew in on Tuesday afternoon. Dad was peaceful. Though sedated, he could hear his three children talking politics and memories. He put his hands together across his waist and breathed his last. The clock read 12:39 AM.

We waited thirty minutes before calling the nurse … we just stood at his bedside and said goodbye.

By 2:30 AM, the funeral home had taken Dad to prepare him for transport back to Waco for burial. We drove back to Baptist Memorials and our guest room, and went to bed.

The next morning, after breakfast, we packed the car and prepared to visit with Mom and tell her what had happened. I wasn’t sure she would understand. She couldn’t communicate with  us other than squeezing a hand or smiling. Nevertheless …

As we stood in the parking lot of the high-rise, talking to their good friends, I saw the Director of Baptist Memorials walking toward us, his new assistant in tow.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you, but your mother just passed away,” he said. “She had her meds at 9:30 and when the nurse went back about 9:45 to bathe her and get her ready for the day, she
had gone.”

I looked at my watch … 10 AM. We had waited to go see her because we knew the routine.

“We were just coming to tell her that Dad passed away early this morning,” one of us said, I don’t remember who.

Silence. Then someone said, “He came and got her.”

The assistant looked a bit taken-aback and muttered, “Nine-and-a-half hours late?”

David and Sarah and I all spoke at once in response. “Oh, Mother was never on time for anything, Dad knew to wait.”

We laughed. We probably shed a few tears, too. We drove across the street to see her. She looked peaceful.

All of a sudden, I remembered the funeral home. I went to the phone and called.

“Has Ray Summers’ body left for Waco yet?”

“No, we plan to leave in about fifteen minutes.”

“Can you wait? Mom just passed away and we’d like them to go together.”

“Well, bless your heart. Of course. We’ll be right over.”

Within the hour, the hospital released Mom’s body. The funeral home director told us they would leave about noon and get into Waco about 5 PM. He would alert the Waco funeral home.

Once again, we said our goodbyes, this time to the staff as well as friends. Then we got in the car and drove back to Waco.

I will admit to being relieved. Throughout the years since their strokes, we had been in a constant grieving state, even without knowing it, with no end in sight. We still had the funeral and burial to go through, but now we could let the grieving process complete itself.

In the years since, on this day, I remember …

When friends lose their parents, I remember …

And then I can laugh again at Mother’s funny sayings and Dad’s jokes. They dated and were engaged a total of five years, and married  for fifty-eight. Always together – even now.

AARRRRG! or My 1st Writing Gig (for pay!)

August 3, 2011 § 6 Comments

I quote Charlie Brown at the onset of this post because there are days when no other expression fits! Such a day was that fateful Thursday in 1987 when I sat down at my husband’s computer to finish my first writing assignment – at least the first one I’d be paid to do!

But first, I must give you a bit of backstory – in a block – something I tell my editing clients NEVER  to do!

After Tom and I married in February 1986, I decided that it was time I did what I’d always wanted to do … write.

Mother suggested I “tryout” as a writer of children’s Bible study curriculum with the Baptist Sunday School Board of the SBC (now Lifeway®). Great! I’d been teaching children in Sunday School since I was 16, and I learned from Mom (a longtime writer of 1st-6th grade Bible studies). Why not give it a try?

The Osborne

The tryout unit of curriculum included writing a Bible study for the teacher, a Bible story for the students, and several games and directions for the “activity based learning” style the BSSB used for its children’s Sunday School literature. I typed the whole thing into Tom’s computer and printed out. Beautiful! I mailed it in.

The editors in the children’s department at the Board edited my materials and sent me their critique and the news that I had passed muster and my work would be added to the “possible writers” file from which I MIGHT be chosen for future work.

Wonderful. I wondered, though, how long I would have to wait for an assignment.

Not long, as it turned out. My mother’s editor called, inviting me to join her group of eleven other writers for the 1989-1990 curriculum year of Bible Discoverers (for 3rd & 4th Grade). I jumped at the chance and soon attended the writing workshop in Nashville. When I returned to Kansas City I began the project with enthusiasm.

The curriculum included the child’s Magazine (16 – 20 story/activity pages); Teacher’s Book(Bible study, lesson plans and teaching projects); Resource Kit (games, projects, activity helps); and Teaching Picture Pack (I had four pictures to design and describe to tell the artists what I wanted). My November 1989 Unit—Elijah—would be published in a quarterly of materials for September, October, November.

I researched. I read. I took notes. I wrote. I drew. I created activities … I must admit that I was good at inventing new games! I typed everything into Tom’s computer; I kept the character-count on the special manuscript paper the Board provided to 33 per column for the Teacher’s manual and 50 for the child’s mag.

I was so prepared! I loved it! This was great!

Finally, three days prior to the submission deadline, I sat down to make the final revisions in the files and print out the finished manuscript.

Did I mention that Tom’s computer was an early version of a portable, made by Osborne, and had no hard drive? That’s what I said – no hard drive! His computer operated with two floppies, one for the program and the other for the documents. (I’d had a desktop in Brasil with a hard drive, but sold it to another missionary because the CPU spoke only Portuguese!)

The Floppy Disk - 5.25"

I switched on the Osborne, inserted the program disk and waited for it to boot up. Then I inserted my manuscript disk and hit “enter”.

“Disk Empty” the screen read.


Breathe in … Breathe out.

Never fear. I was a good little computerist! I had made a backup! I inserted the backup disk and hit the enter key.

“Disk Empty”

I relentlessly followed this routine three more times. Nothing. My files were not on the disk.

I did a test. I took an old disk with unimportant (I hoped) information on it, and …

“Disk Empty”

The Osborne had eaten my disks – ALL OF THEM!

I cried. I ranted. I stomped around. I DIDN’T curse – Baptist preacher’s kids who are former missionaries don’t do that – but I wanted to.

I took the old version of the manuscript, with all of its penciled in corrections, additions, and deletions, and placed it not-so-gently on the table.

I pushed the Osborne to the other side of the table … resisting the temptation to chuck it through the brand new sparking windows of our in-renovations home … got out my old electric typewriter and started to work.

Tom arrived home to no supper and a rather heated guest bedroom/office.

“Why aren’t you using the computer?” he asked, innocently.

“It’s not working,” I muttered through clinched teeth.

“Maybe I can fix it—”


Slowly, he backed out of the room and closed the door.

Within twenty minutes, he was back, a tray of sandwiches, chips and soda in hand. He calmly and quietly put the tray on the card table next to my makeshift desk card table. Picking up my already retyped pages and taking pencil in hand, he began to proofread.

1st Writing Gig

Saturday night, after all mistakes had been corrected, and all drawings and games completed, I carefully boxed up the 200 plus pages of painstakingly types manuscript, and Tom drove me down to the main post office where I could still mail it by the deadline.

The first thing I did when I received my check was buy a new desktop computer. In fact, over the years, I have owned two desktops and am currently on my fourth laptop … the “N” has already rubbed off, as have half of the “M” and part of “D”. I’ve also discovered that the best way to backup files is on thumb-drives … I have four!

Note to all writers: marriages can survive almost anything … except one-sink bathrooms and joint computers!

The One about Harry Potter

July 27, 2011 § 5 Comments

I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, this weekend and, yes, I cried.

A friend asked me recently what I thought about the Harry Potter books. She wondered whether she should encourage her almost-3rd-grade grandson to read them.

I understand her concern. She’s not read the books or seen the movies, and has heard the criticism of some conservative Christians—that Rowling’s books promote witchcraft, and should be banned in Christian homes. I suggested she read the books for herself and decide. (That’s a lot of reading, too!)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (June 1997); Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (July 1998); Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (July 1999); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (July 2000); Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (June 2003); Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 2005); Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (July 2007)

My honest opinion? Although I think the books could wait until a child is in the 4th grade, I don’t believe in banning books, even the ones I don’t like, and I like Harry Potter! I even like the way Rowling writes … although, as a children’s writer, she breaks most of the rules for writing children’s books!

So, what is it about Harry Potter and the seven-wonders-of- kid-lit? And why do some think they are harmful? HP is fantasy! Kids know what fantasy is. Fantasy is Superman, Batman, Winnie-the-Pooh, Cinderella, and that Moose who ate all those muffins!

The Harry Potter books are fun, inventive, scary, and so chock full of imagination, details, characters, and twists and turns, that they are hard to put down, even for an adult. They are a tale of heroic proportions. They are also, individually and collectively, a morality play that uses the guise of an English boarding school for wizards and witches, to teach a lot of good stuff … and I’m not talking witchcraft!

The universal themes are amazingly clear without preaching or moralizing. Rowling shows the  drama, and leaves conclusions to the reader. She never has to say “the moral of this story is” because we get it!


For instance, in every book, Harry Potter has to make choices, and often, as at the end of book one, he questions thechoices he’s made. Professor Dumbledore reminds him that only he can decide whether he has chosen well, and that it’s the choices we make that inform our lives. (My words, not his).

Harry’s loyalties are tested at every turn, yet he stays true to his friends and those who have given their lives to protect him. Even when tempted to take the easier path—one less dangerous—he assumes responsibilities beyond his years, and forges ahead, ready to give his life to rid the world of the evil of Voldemort and his followers.

In the books, but not in the movies, Hermione champions the elves who are actually slaves of the wizards, even at Hogwarts. When she organizes the elves to strike for freedom, she proves that she really is “the greatest witch of her age” in more ways than one! Her fight for what is right and empathy with those in bondage, be they dragons or elves, are her strengths.

Ron is a comic foil at first glance, funny, wide-eyed with wonder and awe. He is the younger brother who begins to find his own true worth as he shares adventures and trials with Harry and Hermione. In the end, he and Hermione make it possible for Harry to meet Voldemort on an even field.

Throughout the books, these three and their friends show an enormous amount of ingenuity, deductive reasoning. and bravery. They become what every kid wants to become! Often, they also end up rescuing the adults instead of the other way around. In this, Rowling stays with one tenet of writing for children we should all remember … children in a children’s book must solve their own problems.

Other universal themes abound, but for me, two interlocking super themes over-arch them all … the ugliness of racism, and “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Harry’s world is made up of muggles, muggle-magicals (both referred to as mudbloods), and magicals.

A muggle is a non-magical person. Hermione’s parentage is muggle—she did not inherit her magical gifts from her parents and is, therefore, an anomaly. In book one, Draco Malfoy calls her a mudblood and we know immediately that it’s not a polite word.

Harry’s mother was a muggle with magical powers, like Hermione, but his father was born of a magical family. That makes Harry half-muggle/half-magical.

Ron’s family is magical, but accepting and supportive of those of muggle or mixed heritage in the magical community.

Others do not share these feelings. From the beginning, this conflict between the “races” is strong, hinting at a wish by some pure magicals to rid their world of the non-pure. By the end of the last book, when the threat of a purge of all Mudblood from the magical world is strongest, we finally see what drives Voldemort. He hates that half of himself that is muggle and would purge all mudbloods to fully deny his “impurity”. [Shades of Hitler!]

Finally, Voldemort’s obsession to wield absolute power is driven by what he fears most … death. All of this struggle leads us back to that first theme. Voldemort must destroy Harry, the only wizard who can prevent him from reaching his goal.

So, yes, I recommend HP and company, in spite of the witches and wizards; in spite of the clichés and the criticisms heaped on Rowling’s head by other children’s writers. In spite of those who say she’s too political, or too socially conscious for a children’s book.

As with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, in the HP fantasies, we find truths about ourselves and our world. Besides, I love it when the hero completes his journey, saves his world and gets his girl in the end! J.K. Rowling provides a whomping great rollercoaster of a read!

Sayings My Grandmother Taught Me

July 18, 2011 § 5 Comments

My maternal grandmother Mary Ollie Hayes Hilger, was born in northern Arkansas in 1882; came to Texas in a covered wagon before 1900; and married my grandfather in 1901 at the age of 19.

Jester B. Hilger, HS Graduation Dress made by her mother (my grandmother)

An excellent cook, she possessed a solid work ethic, was an expert seamstress, and otherwise  talented with her hands and willing to tackle any project. In fact, while my grandfather pastored a series of country Baptist churches throughout their married life, Grandmother Hilger was the partner who farmed their three-acre place just on the outskirts of Greenville, TX; sewed for the “gentry”; and raised chickens for eggs and eating. And if Granddad brought home a squirrel or two (he always took his shotgun when driving to his church of a Sunday) she knew exactly what to do.

No, she didn’t go with Granddad to church, although a faithful Christian woman. You see, Grandmother Hilger dipped snuff—a self-admitted bad habit, but none the less …

Even today I know the smell of her snuff, Joy. A musty rose bouquet smell. Glade® has a room deodorant with the same fragrance. If Tom brings that one home from the store, it goes in the guest bath!

MLS at 6 - My Favorite dress. Grandmother H. made the lace, too!

I have many fond memories of Grandmother H. She made most of the dresses I wore to church and school while growing up. And when I graduated from high school, her gift to me was a beautiful patchwork quilt—made from scraps saved from those dresses!

I can still taste her chocolate pie and sugar cookies. Her fried chicken has never been equaled—except perhaps by that of Grandmother Summers! And for a little woman—I was taller than she before I reached my 12th birthday—Grandmother H. had the strongest wrists. She could ring a fryer’s neck with only three quick twists … honest.

But my strongest legacy from Grandmother H. are her sayings. They have a properly elevated place in my own personal “thesaurus”.

“I could ring his neck.” She never had to explain to me where this one came from! And I never doubted that she could do it, either.

“Got a good scald on that one.” If you’ve ever made biscuits from scratch, or chocolate pudding pie, you will appreciate the importance of getting a good scald on the milk before adding the dry ingredients. The milk must not boil, but it has to be hot enough to coat the saucepan or it won’t make good … whatever. I am proud to say I mastered this art as a teen. However, for me and my sister, the phrase came to mean “You did that well.” We use it often.

“It squatted to rise and baked on the squat.” Another baking reference. Yeast dough for dinner rolls or bread must be beaten down in order to rise or it won’t bake light and fluffy. If the yeast is not good, or the baking soda in biscuits is flat, the dough will “bake on the squat”, so to speak. In other words, something didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to.

My mother clearly followed in her mother’s footsteps with a few colorful phrases of her own.

“My stars and garters.” You got me! Mother, Jester Buena Hilger Summers, used to say this all the time, but then Baptist preachers’ kids and wives never said “my lord” or “gosh” or … well … all those other “swear” words!

“I fell off the roof.” In my mother’s day no one spoke the name of “you know what,” therefore, a code was needed to inform female family and friends that you were “in your monthly”. Today that’s not so much a “curse” as it use to be, but somehow “Falling off the roof” seemed appropriate!

“Someone didn’t think that through.” Another Jesterism, good for any occasion in which a project or idea falls short of the intended result. I use this one A LOT.

I was once sorely tempted to use this last in my dissertation document The Soprano Solo Cantatas of J. S. Bach when analyzing a particularly uninspired opus. I probably should have done. The professors all criticized this part of the dissertation requirement as being “too reliant on other writers’ ideas” and not my own. Who knew?

My motto is “think it through”, i.e., plan for every outcome that I can think of, then get busy. Works for me!