Friday, January 5, 2018

My Amazing Mom Chicken Soup For the Soul

Another story accepted for Chicken Soup for the Soul, Book Title| My Amazing Mom. On Sale March 20th.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Christmas Doll

During the Christmas season of 1958, my family was going through some pretty rough times. It had been a very difficult couple of years for my parents. In 1955, polio had rocked our world, followed by the loss of my fathers business and our family farm.
In the late summer of 1956, our little family farm, as well as my fathers furniture business, had been sold at auction to pay off my family’s considerable debts. My father had never blinked nor considered the cost, which would be necessary for me to overcome the crippling effects of polio. In order for me to learn to walk once again, my Dad totally neglected the farm and his business. He never left my side throughout all the months of my recuperation. And he never flinched at spending every spare dime we had, to find the medical help available to help me regain my ability to walk again. Unfortunately, this lead to our losing all the temporal things, which we owned, with the exception of the clothes on our back.
Looking back, I can still see my fathers unwavering faith, as we all stood on the grounds of our little farm for the auction to begin. My mother was understandably beside herself. Of course she was worried to death about where we would live and how we would survive, but I was devastated, when she burst into tears and lamented that it was all my fault for getting polio. My dad quickly picked me up into his arms and said: “Margaret, we can always find another job, and another home, but we could never replace our Christy.”
And so our journey began. We had always been a farm family nestled in the familiar sand hills of Nebraska. With no money to start over, my dad’s family scraped together the money for us to move to Texas, where a Marine buddy of my fathers, had a furniture store. MR. King had offered my dad the position of manager for his store and a small house for us to live in. After a year in Texas, we moved back home as my mother hated Texas and all it stood for. Mom was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Once again, with the help of family and Mr. King, we scraped up the money to make the journey back home to our roots.
By the time Christmas rolled around, once again in 1958, it didn’t look like we would have a big celebration that year either. Mom worked scrubbing floors to scrape up extra money for our Christmas dinner. That was one thing my mother missed the most…the Christmas table loaded with all the tradition Christmas foods. No matter what else might come our way, she was determined we would have a wonderful meal to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.
Even a modest Christmas celebration that year, was almost entirely out of the question. Of course, children never seem to give up their dreams nor understand that Santa can’t always provide the things we want. But I, in my child’s mind, had no doubt that Santa could do anything, no matter how bad things may look. I just knew he would bring me a doll for Christmas. Not just any doll, mind you. He was going to bring me a grown up lady doll, dressed in a formal gown with a tiara and high heels.
As the weeks of Advent arrived,I sat down and wrote a note to Santa. I had decided that even though he had stopped coming by our house, because we were so poor, maybe, just maybe he would have an extra lady doll which he could drop off for me that year. My note of course explained that it was ok, if he could not bring me a new lady doll, but if he could spare a watch for my sister Peg, a sling shot for my brother Bill and maybe a nice fire truck for my little brother, I would be very happy with that. And most of all, if he couldn’t do that, could he please just leave my mommy a note, and let her know that it would be ok and that God still loved us?
That Christmas morning, we all gathered around the tree as usual before Mass. Wonder of wonders, besides our stocking stuffed with oranges and apples, each of us had a gift carefully wrapped and placed beneath the tree. Billy’s gift was a slingshot, Mikey a fire truck, and Peg a watch. And wonder of wonders, I received the most beautiful lady doll I had ever envisioned. The best gift of all was for my Mom. It was a beautiful Christmas card, which exclaimed God loved her and all of us.
Years later, I would learn that one of the woman my mother worked for, had found my mother in tears one day. Mom, had my note in her hand and was sobbing about the fact, there was no way she could provide the gifts I had requested. Lila wasn’t wealthy either. She and her husband Frank lived in the back of their little shoe shop. Lila took the time to remake and old doll, which had belonged to her daughter. She had lovingly sewed an elegant silk dress out of one of her own dresses. How she managed to find the Tiara, I do not know. But the doll was more beautiful than any in the toy stores that I have ever seen. The slingshot, was one Frank made by hand. Peg’s watch had belonged to Lila, a gift from her first husband who had died in World War II before she married Frank. The fire truck had belonged to Frank’s son when he was a child. Frank had repainted it for Mike. The best gift of all of course, was the beautiful card to my Mom, which assured us of God’s love.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day at the Vietnam Wall

My brother Bill. KIA Vietnam 1967 

As I approach the wall, in the early morning light, the sky is gently showering everything with dew. Here at the break of day's new dawning, I come much like Mary to visit the empty tomb. 

I come not with spices but with my heart wanting to speak to you once again. Today I come to meet with my brother, my friend. I know deep within me that we are still kindred in spirit, together and yet apart. We have shared the days of our childhood and we have felt the sting of death. Yet, for all of this, nothing can really ever separate us.not even a broken heart. sweet I long to see you once again. Can you hear me? Do you see me as I search for your beloved name? Many years have passed since I last spoke with you and beheld your dear sweet face. Yet it seems like only yesterday that I stood beside your open grave. Brother, teacher, companion and friend,how the memories do ebb and flow. Can you see me? Do you hear me as I search for your beloved name?

Suddenly, as though from a lighthouse.a tiny ray of sun seems to point out your beloved name.Billy.dearest brother, I know that you still watch over me. Can you feel the mist that is falling? Do you see how the dew drops look just like teardrops as I caress your beloved name? I counted 16 teardrops for each letter and character in your name.

Do you remember bat-light, butterflies and fishing in the rain? Do you remember how you taught me to fish and then threw them all back into the lake again? You said: "We should never waste God's beauty or abuse the bounty of his land."

Do you fish the lakes of heaven, still teaching the little ones? Do you walk the fields with Jesus and. OH! Do you still sing slightly out of tune? Here in the misty morning sunrise.I feel close to you once again. I can almost hear you singing."Halleluiah! To Christ our King!" Best of all, sweet sounds perfectly in tune.

William, my sweet William.I shall always love you so. Billy, dearest is time for me to go. I know now, deep in my heart, that you are well and happy. Now not even 16 teardrops falling can take away my joy for you. "Vaya Con Dios," until we meet again.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Barney and the outlaw

I was first introduced to Venerable Father Solanus Casey in the mid-1980’s. I bought a book called “Thank God Ahead of Time” written by Michael Crosby. As I read through the book I found I was very much in awe of this gentle servant of God. I soon came to think of him as my friend Barney. That was his given name before he became Father Solanus Casey OFM.
Reading about Father Solanus early life I was intrigued that he once was a prison guard in Minnesota. Reading further about this part of his life the book mentioned that he had struck up a friendship with Jim and Cole Younger. The Younger brothers of course were notorious outlaws. They were members of the notorious “James Gang” from Kearney, Mo. Both of the Younger brothers became prisoners in the Stillwell, MN prison where Barney was a prison guard. Jessie James eluded capture and met his demise in St Joseph Missouri trying to hide from his past.
I lived in the very town where Cole Younger moved to after his release from prison. As I read further I was startled that Michael Crosby had written something to the effect, “No one could ever understand this life long friendship that Father Solanus developed with common thieves and murders like the Younger brothers.” That really got my attention and interest. 
Cole Younger is buried in our cemetery and our town had always celebrated our famous citizen each summer with “Cole Younger Days”. We did not celebrate his notoriety as an outlaw and murderer. We celebrated the good that Cole did in our little Missouri town until the day he died. In our little town of Lees Summit, Missouri Cole Younger was known as “Uncle Cole” to young and old alike. 
I read and re-read that part of the book several times. As I thought about it I decided perhaps the rest of the world needed to know more about Cole’s life after prison and the fact he became a model citizen and a mentor for the youth in our town until his death in the early 1900’s. I felt certain that Barney Casey knew that Cole, although notorious for evil, had the grace of God in him. He repented of his youthful life of crime and spent the rest of his days trying to keep other youngsters on the straight and narrow. Cole became one of the leading men of the “Youth for Christ” movement in the early 1900’s. Maybe Father Solanus had been a remarkable influence in Cole’s life, which the world did not know about was my thought at the time.
I soon made a call to the guild and a very sweet lady named Leona Garrity answered the call. After speaking briefly to Leona she advised me to speak to Brother Leo Wollenweber to see if he might be interested in more information about Cole Younger. As I spoke with Brother Leo, I explained about the connection of Cole with our town and his conversion to Christ after he left prison. Brother Leo suggested I research it some more and see if we could find any historical information, which might be of help. Thus began my first adventure and experience with Father Solanus intercession. 
Going to the library I discovered a few old microfilm news articles which gave scant information on Cole. The articles made mention of his stint in Wild West Shows all over the country, of his service to the community, his work with young delinquents, etc. but little else. As I made calls and inquiries I discovered that most of the recorded records of interest on Cole had been stolen from the library several years before. The only thing I found that might help was a reference to a book, which Cole wrote later in life. It was a self-biographical book listed in the Library of Congress. Our library copy was stolen with the other artifacts so they did not have it. From there I made calls all over the country to the Library of Congress, out of print booksellers and libraries trying to locate the book. Everyone told me the same thing. Yes, Cole had written a book but it had been out of print for more than half a century. There were no copies still in existence as far as anyone knew. 
After much effort and little hope for success, I finally began to speak to Father Solanus about this particular problem in prayer. My prayer was pretty simple and direct. I just said: “Well, Barney looks like we cannot vindicate your friend Cole. Unless I find a copy of the book I am at a dead end.” 
A few days after this less than confident prayer I decided to give it one last try. I took the afternoon off from work and drove to Kearney MO to visit the “James Farm Museum.” When I entered the gift shop and museum I was beginning to feel pretty foolish. I browsed through the Museum and actually felt pretty sickened by the memorabilia glorifying the life of the notorious “James Gang.” The main thing I noticed was there was little to no mention of the Younger brothers. I decided I was just wasting my time trying to find the book here. A book written by a former gang member lamenting his life of crime with the “James Gang” was hardly gong to show up in this museum dedicated to glorifying the life and crimes of one such as “Jessie James.”
As I turned to leave and go back out through the gift shop, some small nudging thought made me hesitate. I decided I should at least speak to the manager of the museum and inquire about the book after such a long day’s trip to get there. I found her in the gift shop and asked her if she knew where I could find a copy of Cole’s Biography. The woman just shook her head and said:” No, I have never heard of it. We don’t have anything on the Younger brothers here.” As she finished her sentence, another worker came out of the back room with a very puzzled look on her face. She came over to the manager and said: “I was just unpacking the box of gift items we ordered and found this strange book in the box. I called the supplier and they have never heard of it. It’s not on our order manifest. They said it’s not theirs so what should I do with it?” The manager took the book and let out a bit of a gasp! There in her hands she held the very book I had been inquiring about. They were both so awed by my tale of Father Solanus they gladly let me purchase it for the princely sum of $7.00. Today that little book is in the possession of the Father Solanus Guild. 
Minor miracle perhaps, but to me it was the beginning of a friendship, which I treasure. My friendship with Solanus and his marvelous Irish sense of humor. Today I think Father Solanus smiles down as he looks over the new center which everyone worked so hard to build. I think that little area, which relates the prison cell and his friendship with Cole, must make him smile. From this little adventure I have learned to “Thank God Ahead of Time.” Barney looks after his friends

The Park Bench

I am sure that anyone who has ever needed desperately to sell a house can relate to how hectic and exasperating an experience it can be. During the summer of 1989, we had been in just such a predicament. My husband was very ill and we were financially strapped to the hilt.

I had asked Venerable Father Solanus Casey to intercede to help us sell our house and find an affordable home we could rent when ours sold.
One of the lovely things I have always appreciated about Father Solanus, was his rich Irish sense of humor. Being Irish myself, it certainly kept me amused as each new obstacle came into the mix that summer. At each new challenge, some amusing thing would happen to solve the problem. And it was always as a result of a direct prayer to Venerable Father Solanus. When the A/C broke, and we had no money to fix it, Father Solanus promptly came through. A bolt of lightening struck it one night and melted it. The insurance company paid for a brand new one. From then on, I grew to expect an answer with an impish Irish twist to it.

Whenever our friends would ask,”Where will you move to?” I would reply with a smile…”Knowing Solanus, it will be a Park bench, but it will be a nice one.”
By mid August our contract with our realtor was running out. My faith was getting a bit shaky by then. On August 14th, I exclaimed to Father Solanus in my nightly prayer…”Times running out. You better ask Our Lady to intercede, because Gods not listening to you. “

Early the next morning…on the feast of “The Assumption,” we received an offer and sold the house. It was such a good offer that, we only had 30 days to find a rental house and move. In the weeks that followed we were having no luck finding a place we could afford. On September 5th, I said one more prayer to Solanus. I simply said…”Solanus, we are indeed going to end up on a park bench if you don’t do something quick. Within 30 minutes the phone rang. The man on the phone said he had received my call on his answering machine, but he exclaimed he was very puzzled. He said he didn’t have an ad in the paper. He had just decided to rent his new town home that very day instead of selling it, so he had no idea where I got his number. In the end, Father Solanus once again came through in our need. The house closed and we were able to move on schedule. And the icing on the cake was that the home was on ‘Park Drive.” Solanus I know punctuated his answer with his Irish sense of humor once more. WE lived on that Park bench quite comfortably for the next seven years.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Let the Children come to me

On a bright summer’s day a few years ago, I arrived at my friend Elaine’s garage sale to help her out with the crowd who usually turn out to garage sales in her neighborhood. She said it would take several volunteers as she had accumulated a lot of items in the last thirty years of her husband Marcus’s running a Christian Book and Gift store. She was trying to raise some money to keep the business going and pay for an additional employee since her husband Marcus was very ill and unable to work. Marcus was the backbone of the store as Elaine had another job and wasn’t at the store except on Saturdays. We all gathered in a prayer circle in the living room and joined hands before we opened the garage for the sale. We asked God to bless the sale with enough money to keep the business going until Marcus could return to work and of course send his angels to watch over us all during the sale. We knew it was going to be hectic, but never could we dreamed just how hectic it would become.  


Even though she had warned me there was a lot to sell, I was shocked at the sight of her three car garage which was completely packed from front to back with tables loaded down with items. It was such a tight fit we could not walk between the tables and closing and opening the garage doors was almost impossible. To add to the problem, the safety mechanism on her garage door opener was broken, so the door was a bit dangerous and would not stop if an item came in contact with it. It had to completely close and you had to hit the button again to get it back open. This would prove to be a danger beyond our imagining. In order to make it possible for people to shop, we had to move several tables out on the driveway and the lawn. And of course move the tables back in at the end of the day.



One of the volunteers was a neighbor of Elaine’s, who brought her two year old little girl Marcie with her. Marcie was a rather shy child and would not come to anyone. She clung to her mommy all day long and was pretty fussy. I tried several times to get Marcie interested in some of the toys we had at the sale, but she was not at all interested. It became quite a problem for her mother, but she valiantly tried to help even though she had her hands full with Marcie’s constant demands.  


As I was showing a garden statue of Christ to a prospective buyer, Marcie came running over to us and hugged the statue and began babbling and giggling. It was the first time all day long that she had done anything but cry and fuss. The statue was pretty battered up from years of being in Marcus and Elaine’s storage room, but Marcie seem to love it and spent the rest of the afternoon talking to it as though it were her best friend. We all got quite a giggle out of Marcie and her new found plaster friend which we deemed the best cure we had ever witnessed for the “Terrible Twos” stage of childhood. It certainly made the rest of the sale much easier since she now was entertaining herself and became content to let her Mother work undisturbed by crying fits.


On the second and last day of the sale, Marcie still did not want anything to do with anyone but her mother and the statue of Christ. She definitely was one of those children who would not come to strangers no matter how much we tried to entertain her. Thank goodness no one bought the statue as it was the only thing that kept her busy and out of harm’s way throughout the two day sale. By closing time on Saturday we were all elated that the sale had made enough money to help keep the store running for another few months and they could afford to hire another employee until Marcus could get back to work. After the sale we moved all the tables back into the garage and decided to order a pizza to celebrate.


Before the pizza arrived, I walked back into the garage from the kitchen to retrieve the one thing I had purchased…the battered statue of Christ. I decided that perhaps with a little paint it wouldn’t look so bad and would fit nicely in my small patio garden. Obviously no one who came to the sale wanted it except Marcie and her Mom said she was sure Marcie would soon forget all about it.


As I reached down to pick it up, I noticed that we had forgotten to close the garage doors and it had started to rain.  I hit the button to close them and in that instant I caught a glimpse of little Marcie as she came running up to the garage from the outside. Ice cold chills ran through me as I screamed desperately: “No, Marcy Go back!”


Instead to my horror, Marcie froze directly under the closing door. She had not obeyed one request from me since I met her and she was not going to start now. She stubbornly shook her head “no.”


As the door slowly moved down towards Marcie’s little body, I was in complete shock. The tables blocked me from getting to her and there was no time to run through the house and out the back door to snatch her from beneath the closing door. In anguish I cried out: “Jesus, help me!” and my knees buckled as I shook from sheer terror and helplessness.


As my knees hit the concrete in an almost prayer like position, I saw the most amazing answer to my prayer. Marcie was running towards me. She was so tiny she sprinted underneath the tables in a flash just before the garage door would have crushed her to death. She ran towards me with her arms opened wide as though to run into my embrace. By this time I was crying and shaking so hard, I could only utter, “Jesus, Jesus, praise you Jesus!” And as I cried out my praise and wonder, little Marcie ran right past me to hug the battered statue of Christ. She ran into Jesus arms and He had saved her.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Election Prayer

Election Prayer
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Lord Jesus Christ, You told us to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. Enlighten the minds of our people [in] America. May we choose a President of the United States, and other government officials, according to Your Divine Will. Give our citizens the courage to choose leaders of our nation who respect the sanctity of unborn human life, the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of marital relations, the sanctity of the family, and the sanctity of the aging. Grant us the wisdom to give You, what belongs to You, our God. If we do this, as a nation, we are confident You will give us an abundance of Your blessings through our elected leaders. Amen.
Composed by Father John Anthony Hardon, S.J.
Imprimatur: +Rene H. Gracida, Bishop of Corpus Christi, July 7, 1992