Category Archives: Memory Monday

Baseball Links Generations Together

ICubs GameWendy and I headed to Principal Park in Des Moines yesterday afternoon to attend our first Iowa Cubs game of the season. It was great to sit in the sun, get sunburn, eat a hot dog, and quaff a few cold ones despite our boys of summer getting trounced by Oklahoma City.

One of the many reasons I enjoy baseball is the history and traditions of the game. Given my love of history and my tendency to be nostalgic to a fault, it makes sense that I would love a game that has roughly been played the same way for almost 200 years. It’s a game that binds generations together.

My first trips to Sec Taylor stadium (now known as Sec Taylor Field at Principal Park) were in the early 1970s. About once a summer my grandpa Spec would drive me to Sec Taylor (with a requisite drive by of the Iowa State Capitol building) for an afternoon game. In those days the home team was known as the Iowa Oaks, the AAA farm team of the Oakland Athletics. Grandpa would get us bleacher seats in the shade of the open grandstand roof, behind home plate. We watched some of the great players of Oakland’s  World Series winning “mustache gang” as they made their way up to the bigs.

Today, when I sit and enjoy the Iowa Cubs in a much nicer park I am reminded of my grandfather. I never fail to have memories of bringing Taylor and Madison to games when they were young. They still humor dad with an occasional trip to the park even though neither of them really cares about the game. I relive memories of bringing our young friends Nathan and Aaron. And, God willing, I dream of the day I get to bring my own grandchildren to a game at the same park, just as Grandpa Spec brought me.

Principal Park

Baseball links generations together.

Easter at Grandpa Spec & Grandma Golly’s

Easter with the Hall family last week got me thinking about family Easter celebrations when I was a kid. The day would always begin with mom having hid a bunch of small, bright, foil-wrapped milk chocolate Easter eggs around the house. My sister Jody and I would take our baskets and scour the house. When I was younger there were what looked like bunny tracks the folks made with flour and their fingers across the counters and tables of the house. We usually took in a pretty good haul of candy. Mom always had a sweet tooth. I remember her giving us warnings about not eating too much, but she never really policed it. Our older brothers, Tim and Terry, were seven years older than me, so by the time I can remember the easter egg hunt, they’d already kind of outgrown it.

More often than not, I remember going to my Grandpa Spec and Grandma Golly’s house for Easter dinner. They lived on the east side of Des Moines on Hull Avenue. After church services at Immanuel United Methodist Church, where my family attended until I was in high school, we would make the cross town trek in our Mercury Marquis station wagon (complete with wood paneling on the sides!).

Our "Merc" was a lot like this one from a 1973 ad.
Our “Merc” was a lot like this one from a 1973 ad.
A Mercury dashboard with 8-track player.
A Mercury dashboard with 8-track player.

The “Merc” (as dad called it) was stylin’ transportation in those days. There was a rumble seat that flipped up in the “way back” so that two children (that would be Jody and me) could sit and look out the back window as you drove along. Tim and Terry are always in the back seat together. Mom and Dad were, of course, in the front. Tim and Terry would make sure they had their favorite 8-track tapes in the car and would encourage mom and dad to play their requests on the 15-20 minute drive across town. We might have listened to the best of Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, or the Guess Who.

Me with my Grandpa Spec & Grandma Golly
Me with my Grandpa Spec & Grandma Golly

When you got to Grandpa Spec and Grandma Golly’s the first stop would always be a hug and kiss from grandma and grandpa. They were both smokers. I can still smell the smoke from grandma’s cigarettes and grandpa’s pipe as you hugged them. The next stop was the candy dish that sat on the end table next to the living room couch. Jody always beat me there. It was always filled with Brach’s hard candies or maybe some mint patties.

I loved my grandma, but cooking was never her strong suit. So, when a lot of family came over she often let “the Colonel” do the cooking. There would be a big bucket of chicken with all the “fixin’s” and sides. I always wanted the drumstick. On big holidays, we would occasionally get grandma’s sister, Aunt Ardie, joining us. I remember inexpensive red wine being served. Grandpa might enjoy a beer with his meal, though he often saved that for later in the afternoon when he’d have a “beer and a bump” which was a can of beer (e.g. Schmitz, Pabst, or Old Style) with a shot of Old Crow whiskey. Some people’s motto is “Go big or go home,” but Grandpa Spec’s motto would’ve been “Go cheap and go home.”

We would sit as a family around the dining room table and enjoy conversation while we ate. Grandpa liked to tuck his napkin in the top of his shirt and let it drape over his tie like a poor man’s bib. Dessert would usually be homemade pie (Grandma Daisy’s chocolate pie recipe or Graham Cracker Cream which was basically vanilla pudding in a graham cracker crust) along with ice cream. Grandma also kept a steady supply of ice cream cookies and fig newtons on hand. When dinner was over, grandpa would push back from the table and light a Dutch Masters cigar.

The adults would continue to visit while we kids would go off to find things to do. We often would hit practice golf balls with grandpa’s clubs in the backyard or play croquet. There was a park right across the street, so we also loved playing on the swings and jungle gym if the weather was nice. If we were confined indoors, then the fun was in the unfinished basement exploring through grandpa’s huge desk or all of the junk piled on the shelves. The basement was one giant room and you could kind of make an oval track out of it and chase each other around in circles or have races if you had a mind.

It’s funny the things you remember. Some things change, but it’s nice to know that there is still family, good food, good conversation and good times spent together.


The Big Christmas

I grew up in a middle class family in Des Moines with my parents and three siblings. It was a great childhood, and my folks provided for our every need. At the same time, there were not a lot of extras in life.

As the youngest of the four, I was used to hand-me-downs. I got my big sib’s clothes, toys, books, and games. As much as I’d like to whine about this in retrospect, I don’t remember feeling cheated as a kid. This was simply the reality. I knew no different. Times were tough and you do the best you can with what you have.

There was a period of years in my childhood in which my parents decided that each Christmas they would do a little something extra for one of the kids. As the youngest, the fact that one of us got a little more than the others was not something I noticed. I must have been so enamored by my G.I. Joe with kung fu grip that I didn’t notice the extra presents in Jody’s pile.

Then it happened to be my year to get a little extra. I distinctly remember being shocked and amazed that everyone had unwrapped all their gifts but there were still more gifts for me! That was the year I got a train set and this, to me, was a genuine Christmas miracle. You see, we had this dog eared copy of the Sears Wish Book catalog that sat on the edge of the bath tub for bathroom reading. There were toys in the catalog that I knew from experience Santa might bring me. Then there were toys that I’d come to realize, in the economy of the North Pole, my good deeds could never afford. Train sets were definitely on the latter list.

Years later I still have fond memories of that special Christmas when there were a few extra presents under the tree for me. Besides the train set, I have no recollection what the gifts were. I’ve come to realize that the greatest gift that year was my parents making me feel loved in a special way. I unwrap that gift every year when my memories take me back to The Big Christmas.

Sinatra Memories

This week marks the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra, so I’m doing a Sinatra tribute in honor of ol’ Blue Eyes. My first real memories of Frank Sinatra came from the album Songs for Swingin’ Lovers that constituted one of a handful of albums my parents managed to hang onto through multiple moves and a young family. There were a few LPs that sat next to our stereo/8-Track/Record Player console in the living room which I ignored for most of my childhood.

I think I was bored one afternoon when I began actually going through and listening to my parents albums. There was Dave Brubeck’s essential Take Five and LPs by the likes of Vic Damone. I remember my first reaction to the Sinatra album cover when I picked it up was, “How lame.” Nevertheless, I gave it a shot. When I put the needle on Side 1 and heard Frank’s flawless baritone voice start into You Make Me Feel So Young, I was mesmerized.

This 80’s teenager, used to cranking southern rock and bands like Kansas at unsafe decibel levels, found himself listening to the entire album. It transported me to another time and place. It was so smooth and so cool. I was hooked.

I’ve been a fan of Frank ever since. My girls were raised on a diverse soundtrack in which Frank was an essential part. He still plays a prominent part in almost any dinner mix if I have anything to say about it.

He’s just to marvelous for words.

Sinatra Song for Swingin Lovers Back

Top Five Tuesday: Five Things I Miss About My Toddlers

Speaking of the toddler stage…I know that pre-school kiddos are a handful. As a father who is about 20 years beyond those years there are things that I truly miss about parenting between when the girls were out of diapers and walking to when they were off to school. And, since I missed my “Memory Monday” post yesterday, let’s do a two-fer today. For the Top Five Tuesday and Memory Monday mash-up, here are the top five things I miss about parenting my two little toddlers:

  1. Bedtime stories.
  2. Cuddling (especially when they fell asleep in my arms).
  3. The screams of “Daddy!” and the sound of four feet running to greet me when I came through the door.
  4. The most hilarious things that came out of their mouths.
  5. Wrestling and rumbling on the floor, tickling, and the giggles, giggles, giggles.

The Nose Guard

The Nose Guard - 1

As I was sorting a bunch of old family photographs, Taylor grabbed this one. She stared at it for a long moment before asking me what on earth was on her Grandpa Dean’s nose. Ha!

This photo was taken in the early to mid-1970s on the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. It’s where our family vacationed every year at a place called Camp Idlewood. Dad spent his two weeks of vacation fishing as much as he possibly could (notice my mother’s “How long are we going to be out here?” posture – not to mention her courageous attempt to mix stripes and polka-dots) and that meant his pasty white CPA’s skin was exposed to the sun’s rays for a lot longer than usual. A painfully sunburned nose was usually result.

I’m not sure who discovered the wonder cure. It was a plastic triangle that clipped onto the bridge of dad’s sunglasses and covered his nose, protecting it from the sun. My dad and both my grandfathers got one and wore them all day while they were out fishing. If you look closely you can even see the chic little red jewel that adorned the middle of it.

For some reason, the fad (fake jewel and all) never caught on. I can’t remember my dad wearing it for more than a summer or maybe two. BUT, if you want to look as stylin’ as my dad did back in the day then today is your lucky day, my friend, because you can still buy one on Amazon:


Warning! Amazon says that if you buy it you can't return it (shocking).
Warning! Amazon says that if you buy it you can’t return it (shocking).

Popping the Question 10 Years Ago

It was just over ten years ago that I asked Wendy to marry me. These days it seems that video technology and social media have made popping the question an industry unto itself with ever crazier stunts and extravaganzas. In August of 2005, however, few people had heard of Facebook (it started in February 2004) and Twitter did not exist. So, in the small town of Pella, Iowa I was just this one guy trying to find a creative way to ask the woman I love if she’d marry me.

The theatre seemed a good place to do it. Wendy and I met in community theatre and the stage was our shared passion. The other thing that I wanted to include were friends who had walked with us through this particular tumultuous stretch of our respective journeys. And so, I staged a little production for Wendy’s surprise that began with scheduling a dinner at Monarch’s restaurant with our friends, Kevin and Becky.

I picked up Wendy at her apartment that gorgeous, late summer evening. She’d just gotten home from work at Goalsetters and it had not been a good day for her. She was running late and wanted to get freshened up before dinner. As she prepared for the evening, I received a call on my cell phone from Pat telling me that he was at the Community Center auditorium and needed some help. Our community theatre’s summer production had just finished a week or two before and there were a few large, straggling set pieces that needed to be put away. At least, that was the story I fed Wendy. She was a bit annoyed at the interruption and asked why it had to be right then, but I assured her it would just take a moment and that Kevin and Becky would understand.

We arrived at the Community Center and I encountered the first hiccup to my master plan. Wendy was still putting make-up on in the car and told me to go in and help Pat while she finished. I went in and informed my co-consipirator that Wendy would be in momentarily. The moment lingered, however, and I became increasingly nervous as it became obvious to me that she was not planning to come in.

My heart was already pounding with anticipation as I stepped out of the Community Center door and motioned for Wendy to come in. “We need your help!” I yelled to her in the car. I could feel her increased annoyance as she got out of the car and trudged up the steps. Hastily I improvised a story about needing help holding the curtain back while we hoisted a flat up into storage. I ignored her grumbling as we made our way into the Community Center, into the auditorium, and up to the stage.

The stage was empty and the overhead floods were on. I led Wendy onto the stage telling her that we just needed her to hold the curtain at the far end while we lifted a flat. What Wendy didn’t know was that when she hit her mark, center stage, she was going to get the surprise of her life.

As she reached center stage the lights went out to the pitch blackness of a closed auditorium. Amidst the darkness, all of our friends who had been hiding behind the tormenter curtains lining the back of the stage came out to their places in front of the curtains. A spotlight came on suddenly and highlighted the two of us. I turned to look at Wendy whose eyes had grown huge in shock.

In the spotlight, I dropped to my knee and pulled out that little box. It suddenly dawned on Wendy what was happening. There, center stage, surrounded by friends and loved ones, I asked Wendy to be my wife as she melted into tears, said “Yes,” and then leaned down to kiss me.

Dinner at Monarch’s with Kevin and Becky turned into dinner at Monarch’s with all of those who shared the moment with us. It’s amazing to think that it was a decade ago. “A lot of water under the bridge,” as they say. Still, it doesn’t take much for me to be right back in the midst of that memory, and I’ll admit that my heart still skips a beat when I go there.

I should mention that I had our photographer hiding on the floor of the auditorium. As soon as the lights went black, he popped up from between the rows of seats and began snapping pictures. We turned the photos our our engagement into 5×7 notepads that were given out as gifts to guests at our wedding reception.

Two Lives; Two Memories; Two Outcomes

Yesterday morning in worship a friend shared with us about her family’s own difficult journey of late. I have known Deb and her family for a long time. Her brother, Dan, was a high school classmate of mine. We were all in youth group together and, while a teenager, I hung out at their house on  frequent occasions.

Deb shared about her younger brother, Doug, who is in the VA hospital losing his battle with brain cancer. Deb shared that Doug was exposed to some nasty gas on the battlefield while serving in Desert Storm. I have followed Doug’s story from afar as I have followed the family’s Facebook posts for the past few years and have quietly kept them in my prayers.

As Deb shared yesterday, my heart and mind were awash in my own personal memories of Doug. He was just “a little kid” in that seemingly huge age gap when you’re sixteen and have to endure the presence of a ten year old. The bulk of my memories of Doug are of him and his friend, Jon, who were constantly dressed in camouflage and playing army. Doug followed his boyhood passion and grew up to be a good soldier. Now, the lingering consequences of what he encountered and endured on the battlefield are having their undesired, terminal effect.

I find it ironic that last night Wendy and I attended visitation for another soldier; A soldier who came home from World War II and lived a blessedly long life. My memories of this gentleman across the eleven or so years that I knew him were all of a gentle man, advanced in years, continuing to faithfully serve his community.

Two lives of service. Two very different sets of memories. Two very different outcomes.

This morning I’m praying for Doug and his family as they continue to praise God together despite the difficult path they’re walking. I pray for another family who bury their father and praise God for being blessed to have him in their lives for so long. In the midst of my own memories, I find my heart asking the same questions and mulling over the same thoughts as the author of Ecclesiastes.

However many years a man ay live, let him enjoy them all….”

featured photo: elphs_rule via Flickr

Sweet Corn: An Iowa Feast

Speaking of traditions, our friends came down from Des Moines last night to join us for Fiddler on the Roof and see Suzanna performing in the chorus. After the matinee performance we all came back to the house for a traditional Iowa summer cookout. Burgers on the grill and freshly picked Iowa sweet corn.

For those of you not from Iowa, late July and early August are a very special time of year around here. The sweet corn is finally ripe and the landscape in every community is dotted with pick-up trucks in lawns and parking lots selling beds full of freshly picked corn on the cob. I have often said that a pint of Guinness tastes different and better in Ireland than it does anywhere else in the world. So I would tell you that sweet corn on the cob tastes different and is better in Iowa than anywhere else in the world. It’s nature’s candy and it comes on its own ready-made stick.

Between my sophomore and junior years in college I interned as youth pastor of the Community Church in Kamrar, Iowa (population 110, SAL-UTE!). I lived that summer with a sweet retired couple named Stoffer and Vianna Gelder. I will never forget the late July weekend when the sweet corn was finally ripe. Vianna cooked up several big pots of sweet corn and we feasted on sweet corn on the cob. That’s all we ate for two evenings straight. Cob after cob of juicy, sweet corn dripping with fresh, melted Iowa butter and salted to perfection.

If you’ve never had it like that, just swing by in late July or early August and let us know you’re coming. We’ll buy a dozen ears of peaches n’ cream sweet corn out of the pick-up truck just off the town square. It’s the honor system, by the way. Just take a dozen ears and put your money in the box. Then we’ll boil ’em up to perfection and have a feast.