When I Got Married, Mom Gave Me an Erma Bombeck Library

From Aunt Erma’s Cope Book

My mom, Mary, loved Erma Bombeck. She bought her paperbacks and read her newspaper articles, often clipping them out and sending them to me…a young wife and mother. Bombeck’s timeless humor was an encouragement in those days of stress and struggle. I saw myself in some of her predicaments like wrangling a car seat onto the counter, clinging to a crying kid on my hip and trying to wrangle a third thumbsucker while pushing a shopping cart with my hip through checkouts, avoiding eye contact with the rack of candy bars beside us.

Too often I looked for answers in women’s groups, psychology, in pop gurus and those folks that were great attention grabbers. I wanted to be organized, to be relevant, to be slim and loved (our society often equates these two things.) In this chapter, “Tidying Up Your Life”, Bombeck’s mother finally suggests a class on getting organized. Erma struggles through the class and leaves with a classmate.

“I walked with Ruth, who offered to drive me to where my car was parked. (She had also arrived late and had parked her car in a towaway zone.) We discussed our frailties.

“The trouble with me,” said Ruth, “is I’m a perfectionist. Do you have a coat-hanger?”

“What for?”

“I locked my keys in the car. I’m one of those people who can’t settle for mediocrity,” she explained, taking off her necklace and making a loop in it to pull the button up. “Easy now…I got it!” she smiled. “Do you know I even used to iron diapers? The only reason I’m taking this class is so I can learn who to compromise. If I don’t, I’m going to drive myself crazy. What’s your problem?”

“It’s my mother,” I said. “She thinks I need organization. She plans her next headache.”

Ruth nodded. “I know the type.”

“Her spices are alphabetized. She cleans spatters from her stove every time she uses it. Every year she changes her closet over from winter to summer.”

“You’re kidding!”

“No. I have never seen my mother carry a suede handbag in the summer. She’s what I call a box-saver.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It’s the difference between youth and old age, I think. When you’re young you believe that somewhere around the next bend is always a box when you need it. Old age never wants to take that chance.”

“You know, I think you’re right,” nodded Ruth.

“She’s got boxes inside boxes. I’ve received scarves in a stationery box, a blouse in a shoebox, and once on my birthday I got a small pendant in a box marked ‘Rectal Thermometer.’ Every Christmas, I get something from Mother in a Nieman-Marcus box. It’s the same box. My Mother has never been in Nieman-Marcus in her entire life.” (Bombeck 1979) Fawcett Crest, NY

When I read this, I saw how my friends from over the years became their moms. I didn’t inherit the buoyant and joyful flippancy I thought I saw at the core of my mother. Yes, she was very smart and very experienced, but I thought too youthful in her cheerful attitudes. I was stubbornly determined to plan, organize and tidy every issue I came in contact with, feeling the condemning stare of some in my aegis who like Death in “Christmas Carol,” pointed a stern bony finger at failures to dissuade me from moving forward.

It took years of counseling, and prayer to let joy seep back into my outlook on life. I began to open new doors and while stepping into the unknown, I discovered I had forgotten to love and to honor myself. I over-valued the opinions of those who judged me and found me inadequate, something my mother would never do. I discovered that there is a God who loves me exactly the way He created me. Obviously, He has a great sense of humor. I think appreciating good humor in my Erma Bombeck collection is a great place to find my way back home.

Crystal Clear Moments

Someday when I see perfectly clearly
a feeling preserved forever
in some connection within my flesh and blood,

it’s a “crystal clear moment.”

Oh, bring these moments in a parade
to me when I am old and my newnesses slow to nothing.
Give me these happinesses to grin
absently at and speak to again across time.

When you see me some day my child
and you think I am sad and lonely
staring silently out the window
in my room, oblivious to today
I hope that I will be seeing so clearly
these crystal moments we share right now,
saving in some quiet recess to relive.
But let us make some memories right now,
so happy, gentle and so soft,
of sweet-smelling wildflowers, golden days and azure skies,
of moonlight, whippoorwills and fireflies.
And they will seep through the tough times,
when sad and troubling thoughts override.
I can store them up to remind me later,

Will you dear?

There’s No Honest Retail

I met an elderly glove salesman many years ago, when I was working at a hardware store. That may seem rather uninteresting. He was nondescript as well. He drove an old car and wore an old brown overcoat. For many years, he would show up out of the blue one time in the fall and then in the spring. His white hair was a little too long but his handshake was strong and his smile was kindly under his shrewd blue eyes.

I enjoyed talking while I picked out gloves for our store to sell. It was complicated. There’s so many categories – kids, womens, and mens, working gloves, gardening gloves, hunting gloves and then many sizes. I made spreadsheets about how many gloves we sold by season and what kind sold the best. I had a list of customers who had specific needs. That old guy wasn’t our only glove salesman; young, pushy, hurried, etc. but this guy was my favorite. I would listen to him tell me what was the best buy and then his best sellers and I would choose several hundred pair of gloves to purchase out of his trunk. His prices were always the best.

I loved this process, the buyer’s sense of retail vs the seller’s need to earn. One day the old man sat down with me in the hardware breakroom, and proceeded to tell me his personal story – about how all his life, he had sold gloves out of his trunk in three states. He said he knew this kind of business was going away and wanted to know if I would type up his story. It was hand-written on notebook paper. I agreed and we parted.

Not long after that I received his story in the mail and over a period of a couple months, in my spare time, I typed it into book form. Then I mailed it back to him. I never heard from him or saw him again. For many years, I kept his story in my computer. He was a very interesting man.

This salesman taught me a very important lesson about life and salesmanship. When I asked him what he thought I should sell gloves for he said “There is no honest retail.” He said that nothing has a real retail but it does have a true cost. Knowing the real cost is what we all need to know in life. He said that the big stores were no better than a canny glove salesmen. He had been able to live in the margin between his cost and his sales but the big companies undercut that margin to the point where he and other salesmen couldn’t survive.

Now I find myself that old person. I look around and see small businesses are disappearing. Everything I buy has an inflated retail. In this modern economy, how do we interpret the lesson of the canny traveling glove salesman? Businesses and government know what people want and what they are can pay. But nowadays, how do we establish the real cost? What is a life or survival worth, for example? Can you pricetag happiness? What are we deserving of; and what must we earn? I don’t think I am as shrewd as that old glove salesman. I can’t answer these questions.

What, Me Worry?


Did the news today make you feel over-worried and insecure? Are you struggling with fear about daily things in your life? Perhaps you should adjust your focus.

Normally we don’t worry about lack of gravity or about the solar system. Our planet is a tiny blue bubble of water and rock, compelled to swing around the sun in a grand waltz by an invisible pull that holds her and her seven sibling planets in orbit. A teeny-tiny deviation in those orbits would affect you and me in a huge way.

Think about your focus. We humans tend to only see things that are right here in our faces, like today’s weather report, politics, family issues, community affairs, or network media. But WebMD.com says that chronic worrying can affect your daily life so much that it may interfere with your appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep, and job performance. People who worry excessively can be so anxious that they seek relief in self-harming lifestyles including overeating, cigarette smoking, or using alcohol and drugs. Can you focus on the things you can control and allay your worries?

Write down a list of those troublesome issues. When you write worries down, it helps to visualize which ones are actually not in your control. Perhaps having someone review the list with you will relieve your fears. Cross off those fears that you can’t or won’t deal with. Focus on the issues that give you the most satisfaction to handle right now and cross them off. If you are worried about politics, write a letter to your representatives expressing your fears and opinions. Give your worry about the weather and the universe to God. Psalm 34:4 “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears”.

SUNDAY MORNINGS, Picture by Theresa Kocha

I love Sunday mornings. There is a special aura in the rising sun and a nuance in the song of the birds.  I wake in confusion usually…I always struggle to figure out what day it is and what my schedule for the day is…and then I remember that it is another blessed Sunday. I will either preach or sit back and listen. I am filled with the beauty of His Word and feel transformed. I read His Word and converse with Him every day but I find that when another preacher is teaching and translating – it takes on a different glow. It isn’t about the sanctuary or the building- it is my attitude of feeling more, inviting more – yearning for more. In my praise and worship there is a sense of giving and servanthood in giving up myself to another.

Growing up, Sunday morning meant the CBS  Sunday morning program which I loved.  But as a kid, I rolled over and groaned on Sunday mornings when I realized there would be no school and most neighborhood kids would be unavailable because they were at Gramma’s house or at some church activity while I had to avoid the darkened living room where my father was watching football on two TV’s. There was no reason to go to town so we were stuck at home to entertain ourselves with games or in my case-immersion in a book in a corner.My Gramma lived thousands of miles away and didn’t cook.

When my five kids were growing up Sunday was a gardening day or extra time to catch up on laundry. Ron and I were usually busy with something on Sundays so church seemed out of the question. I would talk to God about a million things while I worked. He was always available, always ready to comment on my thoughts. On Saturday afternoon our kids went go to church with Leona and Fred (my in-laws), so I didn’t feel I was neglecting their spiritual growth. They went to Catechism on Wednesdays with Gramma and I would have time to clean up after supper and maybe write, work or study for a little while.

Somewhere in the middle of all the chaos of growing older, I discovered that I longed for Sunday morning to be more meaningful. I wanted to luxuriate in the Word. My pastor seemed to speak into so many of the thoughts I had during the week. He addressed my sorrows, my fears – my angst. When I thought I was going crazy from sickness and life strain, I would lean back and let those words remake me and guide me. Fortunately I had a pastor whose message was so loving and full of understanding. There was none of the condemnation I heard from other people. “Come, come to the water…” he’d say. We would sing songs like “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants after You.” Then, I was healed one Sunday morning. I actually felt the wound stop bleeding and the skin close. The pain was over and I was renewed.

Sunday morning is my solace and my prayer. Thankyou Father for resting with me here.

Am I White?

Enoch Marple1790-1886
My great-great Grandfather, a typical Englishman named Enoch from the mid 1700’s

I sent my DNA spit-sample to Ancestry.com and discovered I am:

  •  36% Scandinavian
  •  28% Europe Western
  •  20% Irish
    • 9% Ibero-European-mostly centered in France and Spain
    • 1% Mali
    • 1-2% South Indian
    • 1-2% Caucasus

I’m mostly white. That is, if the Western European percentage is still considered mostly white. I imagine they were swarthy. Some of my ancestors came from the Middle East…is that white or not? If not; then I am about two-thirds white. That is, my family is mostly Swedish, some English and a little Irish. That is certain from my father’s careful forty-year study of our genealogy. So I’m pretty white, I suppose. Actually, my skin is pretty transparent-you can actually see my blue veins through my skin… I am pasty white-like plaster, the underside of a mushroom white or a fish’s belly. I am so white I’m reflect-the-sunshine-white. I should be called “Snow White”. When I go out in the sun I burn bright red and blister within minutes…I don’t tan. I am actually allergic to the sun. So I live in the north where most of the year is colorless like me (except my odd, blue-green eyes).

I guess I take after my mother’s, mother’s, Eichman family who  came from somewhere in Austria-Hungary but more likely they were generally Celtish. Her father’s Conklin forebears were Irish and Welsh. My short, tough, feisty little mom, with her tiny feet was of nominal Welsh/German ancestry. They came to America to escape the Great Potato Famine and the rigors of mining. Poor, and decrepit they washed up on the shores of the American East Coast- met and married in Prescott.

Still, all in all, I really look white. Even my hair is now grey, streaked with pure white. I like to eat white foods like sugar, fish, potatoes, cake and bread. I’m allergic to shellfish. I speak Spanish and French haltingly-those are “white” languages. My red-headed gramma, Elin Ackenbohm, was from the southern plains of Linkoping, Sweden. Her people were probably farmers. My very tall, dark-haired and hawk-nosed aunt, Ina, was a dark Swede (my dad said) but she spoke fluent Swedish. My grandad Charles Marple’s ancestors were Quakers who came from England and Wales.

But go figure! The DNA test shows that I have genetic ancestors in Mali, Africa. Like a classic Mediterranean soup, I am also 1% black and 2% South Indian. Some people say that if I have any other racial characteristics, I am not white.

Is it a coincidence that all of my life I have wanted to sojourn to Timbuktu, an ancient dusty city in the African desert? The Mali Empire was a center of Muslim scholarship. It is still a wonderful and mysterious desert place. The Kingdom of Tombuto was probably founded in 1213 or 1214. Maybe my relatives could have wandered through there in those days.

South Indian? Like India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. I long desired to take the Orient Express and adventure the mountain ranges of the Himalaya, & Hindu Kush. Twenty years ago I planned to be a hospital missionary in Kathmandu, a city high in the Himalayas. Going more south, perhaps I am a distant relative of the famous Indian Mahatma Gandhi! Oddly, I thought my mom even looks East Indian and we shared an inordinate interest in ancient Buddhist beliefs. I mentored a little girl Nayani from Sri Lanka for many years and I just love two elaborately decorated elephants like those from S. India on the shelf in my kitchen. They are very out-of-place there among my other artifacts. Could my genes have travelled to Europe via a Mongolian Sherpa family from the steep slopes of the Himalayas or perhaps through the daughter of a fierce Gurkha fighter? My luck? More likely members of the lowest Indian caste, the Dalit, and total outcasts of society.

So if I am Caucasian, I’d come from the Caucasus region- extending from the Anatolian Peninsula and the nation of Turkey, (bordered by the Mediterranean), to the Caucasus Mountains, which form its northern boundary along Russia’s southwestern edge. There, the nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are nestled in the highlands between the Black and Caspian Seas. In the south, it stretches from Syria to Iran, reaching all the way to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.

A historical fascination I had as a child was the archaeological excavation of Troy. Remember the story of Troy in the Iliad- Homer’s retelling of when Mycenaean Greeks laid siege to the ancient Lydian city of Troy? This was most likely part of the ancient Hittite Empire. Am I related to powerful King Cyrus who freed the Jews from slavery in Babylonia? Is my blood linked with Cyrus’s descendants Darius and Xerxes? The arrival of Turkic peoples from Central Asia brought the Turkish language and Islam to the west.

Am I white? Probably not in “essence”. I am mongrel. I am a typical American, a product of thousands of years of miscegenation, of global culture-clashing and washing. Imagine a cosmic genetic mixing bowl or a DNA blender. My RNA and DNA are multi-colored and multi-directional. If I transplant to Mars, am I still American? If I am on a wandering space-ship, does it matter if I am white, yellow, red, brown, or black? Does my skin color define my essence? I’ve read about sloths that have changed their behavior and thus color by slowing down and absorbing green chlorophyll in their fur so they can camouflage their real color. Maybe that’s why young people are tattooing themselves and dying their hair in crazy colors. It is their camouflage.

I am a Jesus follower by my choice but not by my birthright, since a few of people in my genetic line were most likely Mohammedans. Some would say I need to split my fractured body and soul and send it back where it came from like small splintered shards of glass from a broken vase. Do you?

History’s Little Mysteries

One of the things I love about studying history is the sense of how interpretations are overlapped by time. So often what we think is “truth” is opinion, even when we are looking at “facts”.

In my Jewell Johnson Mysteries I hope to recreate the past and then several possible interpretations. In book one, “Let the Secrets Die”, I introduce the central character, Jewell Johnson’s father. In Epitaph, Sigurd Johnson meets his untimely end. Do we know why? Maybe.

You meet Sven, Mary and Jewell Johnson who each will play a big part in his life. Sven and his brother Nels come to Northern Wisconsin from Sweden and the things they see are real, from Minneapolis’s Depot to Lake Makoons. By the way, Makoons is the Ojibwe word for ‘Little Bear’. When I was a girl swimming at Round Lake there was a big old resort that sat on the side of Hinton Bay. I used to swim out into the lake and stare at that big ol’ place. It is no secret that Anthony Judson Hayward and Philetus Sawyer were very important to the past in Hayward. The man who did most to begin the town is Robert Laird McCormick and there is not a street or a monument of any kind left to remember him…why? That remains history’s mystery.

I studied local history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology all of my life, digging into local history in towns and villages all over America. I love the little inside stories and I will sit and listen for hours when elders tell their personal history. Have you ever seen a swarthy guy and wonder why he is so angry looking? I did-and I would make up stories about him in my mind. What about teachers, waitresses, clerks, bank tellers, bag-ladies and everyday people you meet and chat with? I am always interested in their stories no matter how big or small. Gangsters, lumberjacks, a sheriff or Tribal Elders are all fascinating to me. Those collected stories have become part of Jewell Johnson’s story.

Jewell’s next adventure again begins with a chapter called “Epitaph” and more details about how Sigurd died. In “Done Running” and book three, “The Secrets of San Pedro La Laguna” the reader will uncover deeper and deeper levels of the peculiar secrets of Sigurd Johnson and how events led inevitably to his death.



My Mother’s Knobby Knuckles

This is my thought for today. Of course if you don’t agree, that’s fine. Don’t get bent out of shape. Just reply or message me. It is kinda long because I am feeling sad for my jail students who nearly always recall some physical abuse in their childhood..

Real adults don’t hit, punch or pummel others. That means that if you are mature and adult, you have other ways to communicate. Some women want to gig men into hitting them to get attention and drama. They deride, degrade and disintegrate men to get what they desire! Some women get what they want with the poison of personal abuse. Some men hit because they are twelve-year-olds in large bodies and don’t know what else to do.

Hitting someone is generally a bully’s way of expressing their personal sense of hurt, frustration and pain. They lash out because they don’t know how to make life return to a comfortable ‘normal’ again. I have learned a valuable lesson in my life about discipline. Discipline is about a relationship of love, not physical abuse.

Kids get “hit” because parents don’t have a clue what else to do. My mom used to knobKnobby Knuckles me on my “bony little head” with her knuckle to get my rather lax attention and then look deeply into my eyes and talk to me at my comprehension level. When I was an adult I listened not because she knobbed me but because she looked me in the eyes and talked to her blue-eyed baby girl that she loved very much. I don’t remember ever getting spanked or slapped by my parents.

But, smacking a kid on the butt when they run out into the street is a pretty effective way to physically exclaim, “Don’t do things like that, I am terrified you will die and I love you with everything that I am!” On the other hand, waiting until daddy gets home to do it is saying “You’re stupid, you need a spankin’ for being stupid and I don’t wanna do it so your big, evil daddy has to do it.” Then who is stupid? Shaking and slapping a kid or spanking for dribbling cereal on the carpet tells the kid that hitting is just fine in these situations. IT IS NOT. It proves that you didn’t teach the kid well and you are frustrated with yourself for their errors.

What I have learned in 62 years is that kids don’t forget it, EVER. Do you want them to remember you as someone who hit them? If you care how you send them out in life, why not just knob yourself, show them how to clean it up, and be a better teacher/parent next time?

Love Your Brother, Sister, Neighbor

Did you ever sit down and just write down the names of your friends and acquaintances?

Do that, and then think of something good about them: maybe they are a good cook, a ‘fun’ partner, a confidant, have nice hair, pretty eyes, cute ears, an interesting or humorous attitude- just anything that is nice. It is hard to be angry with or hate someone when you find something nice about them. I know that sounds a little Pollyanna-ish but that is what my parents taught me.

I find it hard to dislike people for more than a short while. Something always pops up and I remember something I like about them…except Idi Amin. I didn’t know him well enough to get past the fact that he was a brutal murderer. Or maybe Caligula, but he lived a long time ago.


A New Job!

So I wonder, is working a few hours a week on top of my already busy days foolish? Still it looks so fun; well I don’t know, fun?

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