Back in the day….

As I swabbed off the top of my dryer recently — not a normal procedure, since I don’t really care whether the laundry room is dusty or not — memories of our first house in Greenville came rushing to mind.

the original RameyDomus
the original RameyDomus

Back then, I not only dusted the top of the trusty Maytags, I also disinfected them daily. See, our kitchen was miniature, probably smaller than our guest bathroom now. The washer/dryer hookups were in the kitchen; thus the W/D provided a couple feet of very valuable counter space.  I chopped plenty of onions on that washer! lol  Baking was the worst — flour got everywhere.

Life in the 20’x20′ cottage was uber. A perfect ‘first house.’
Back in the day …

  • when we got back from our honeymoon, our dear friends had kindly unloaded all our wedding gifts into the house and stocked the pantry with a few staples. They also went around labeling all household furniture and surfaces with sticky notes in different languages. haha
  • we never locked our front door. Ever.
  • we had only one outside door. And 6 windows. LOL
  • we took down the bedroom door from its hinges because 1) we didn’t really need it and 2) the bedroom was so small that you couldn’t open the door into the bedroom once we got a queen-sized bed!
  • The door went into the attic along with everything else we couldn’t fit downstairs.  A lot of books up there. A lot.
  • putting up a Xmas tree required creative geometry. (We usually disassembled our table during December.)
  • we owned a W/D and our friends next door owned a dishwasher, so we each used the others’ appliance as needed.
  • we’d come home to find a random college friend folding laundry on our couch.  If they were a really GOOD friend, they also were cooking supper. 
  • we packed about 20 people into our tiny living room one time for a party.  So awesome.
  • we lacked good A/C, so when Jeff & Kirsten moved out next door, we sneaked over there and took theirs (which was the university’s) and installed it in our living room window. Ah, relief!
  • we laughed the time Jeff was watering his lawn sitting on the hood of his truck after church (since honestly, the yard was small enough that you could spray the whole thing from one spot) and soaked Jeff Stegall (on purpose) as he drove by on his way home from Sunday dinner!
  • we also laughed at Jeff Stegall’s secret plan to quietly install a swimming pool under the very nose of Provost Smith and against campus housing regulations… he was going to call it a “rain cistern.” hahaha
  • the time Jeff came over and begged to have the beat-up antenna someone had left in our attic because he was desperate to watch March Madness b’ball games, and Kirsten wouldn’t (yet) give in to let him order cable…..  he managed to pull in a very fuzzy basketball game.  Kirsten eventually relented. 
  • Mrs Harris invited us to that Christmas party for the neighborhood. We and the Alexanders were the only two couples there under the age of 45, I believe. Most people were in their 70s and 80s and discussing ‘back in the day when the university first moved to greenville in 1947’ (!)
  • speaking of Mrs Harris — remember “The Eye of RA”?  …. I think we’ll put that on the tree this Christmas just so people have to ask. haha
  • we contributed to the destruction of several marriages by teaching our friends how to play Settlers of Cataan.     Thus far, no one has won a game faster than John Ingold, who beat us & Dawn in about 20 minutes. Still bitter about that one….
  • I can’t tell you how much I miss Jeff’s “boss burgers” cooked on his grill. Those were the best….

Good times.

Catch-22

200px-Catch22Just finished reading Heller’s classic anti-war novel last night, Catch-22.  I understand that the writers of the M*A*S*H TV series drew a lot of their “feel” from Heller’s novel — the idea that war is just nuts. Insane. Absurd.  And most veterans say few books or movies even come close to the real horrors of the insanity.

I teach a war lit unit to my oldest students every couple of years. It’s one of my favorite units, not because the literature is fun or easy, but because it means so much to my students as they work through it. I think war is the ultimate illustration of sin, its destructiveness, and the cost of redemption (victory of good over evil).  But I digress….

If you decide to read Catch-22, prepare yourself for a barrage of idiocy. Everyone at first seems to make no sense. Sorting the sane from the insane seems futile. I nearly quit. (This is my second attempt to read the book.)  The story focuses on American bomber pilots stationed in Italy during 1943. I took time to soak up some of Coart’s WWII knowledge before I plunged in, and I highly recommend you do a little background reading on the Italian campaign before you start.  You need to understand how futile things appeared to be in that part of the war to get Heller’s point.

I’m glad I stuck with it. About halfway through, Heller begins to weave powerful ‘story-truth’ into his novel (as Tim O’Brien says). The absurd ironies remain, but a deeper message arises — one that mourns the loss of life and common sense during times of war.  Heller’s prose turns thick and beautiful at the most horrific points — when the young man is accidentally sliced in half by a low-flying plane; when plane after plane is shot out of the sky on seemingly useless bombing runs ordered by a commanding officer who merely wants his unit to look good by flying all the most dangerous missions; when Snowden spills his horrible secret in the back of an icy bomber.

While I think O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a far more literary exploration of the human cost of war, I have a new respect for Heller’s attempt to catch us all with his Catch-22:  Only an insane man would voluntarily put himself into the horrible dangers of being a bomber… but asking to be removed from flight duty merely proves you are indeed sane, and thus fit to fly.

Of Mice and A Man

Reynold John DeAngelis
September 30, 1932 – June 7?, 1999

I like to post stories about my dad. He passed away 9 years ago today (probably — we’re not entirely sure of the time) so I’ve been wracking my head for a good story….

My dad during his Army service, probably around 1954
My dad during his Army service, probably around 1954

For a man of his size and profession (blue collar, working man), Dad definitely had a soft spot for animals. We had numerous critters around our property through the years, including a couple dogs (he named the really dumb, lazy one after the current governor of PA! haha), many cats, my brother’s cranky horse, and a spurt of chickens. (“Spurt” refers to the fact that we kept chickens for a few years till he decided it wasn’t worth the trouble of fending off the possums.)

My favorite “dad & critter” story took place when I was in high school….

As most of you know, I grew up in the mountains of Western PA, a rather secluded place. Wanting to get out of the city, my parents bought 12 acres of wooded land on top of “Rich Hill” (definitely *not* named for its economic status, unless the surveyor had a sick sense of humor). Dad and my 2 brothers built our house up there in the midst of the forest. It’s a pretty part of the world, and I can feel my heart longing for the wooded hills whenever we’re in similar parts of Appalachia.

our driveway looks like this … which explains why people never seemed to be able to find our house! lol

anyway
We lived a solid 10 minutes from town (Connellsville, the not-so-bustling former coal town of 7,000 residents). Dad would usually make a Saturday run into town to pick up a week’s worth of mail from the Post Office and restock the family pantry. (He took early retirement due to disability — another story for another time.)  The trip down Hwy 711 into town is a thrill– lots of downhill and curves. 

Although dad was a manual transmission, truck kind of guy, he tended to buy automatic cars for my mom’s sake (who had to drive 20 or 30 miles to work every day).  By the time of my story, we owned a little blue Ford Escort that zipped up the mountain just fine and got decent gas mileage. Mom was driving the more reliable Buick to work every day. The Escort lost its spot in the garage and got parked outside near the wood pile. (And boy, did we have a wood pile! lol)

My dad noticed one spring that a mouse had decided to build a nest in the wheel well of the Escort (which didn’t get driven much except on weekends).  He cleared out the nest and tried to encourage the mouse to find itself a different home in the great outdoors.  But when he hopped in the car one Saturday for his weekly trip to town, he noticed the mouse scurrying around near the car.

Dad parked at the Post Office and got out to lumber inside for the mail. (I say “lumber” only because my dad — though not tall — was a sizable man with enormous shoulders and huge hands — hard-earned tools won through several years of woodcutting and hauling after he ‘retired’).   Anyway, he realized when he got out of the car that the mouse had hitched a ride!  It hopped out and scurried away. Dad chuckled, wondering whether the mouse had gotten tired of its country life and plotted an escape to the city. 

A few minutes later Dad returned with the mail …. only to find the mouse waiting patiently near the car for him to return!!  According to dad — I am not making this up — the mouse hopped onto the underside of the car for his trip back up the mountain!

I guess the city life wasn’t for him either? haha

I’m sorry that very few of you ever met my dad.  He had a hard life and a lot of problems to work through — but the struggle itself ground a good deal of patience into his soul by the time the Lord called him home.
He passed away a year after Coart & I were married, just a few weeks before we were scheduled to visit him in PA (our first visit after our marriage).

(a)lone

into_the_wildInto the Wild (recent film, now on DVD) recounts the true story of a young man –Christopher– who headed by himself into the Alaskan wilderness to explore his philosophy that man needs only nature’s honesty to live a fulfilled, enlightened life.

To him, truth is more important than love, than society, than anything (parroting Thoreau).
Many experiences swirled together in his life to strip from him any faith in society:  his parents’ constant fighting, their materialism, their hypocrisy.  He took his copies of Thoreau and Emerson and London and sold everything else in a search for wisdom. I’ll not say anything else lest I spoil the plot.

I recommend the film for several reasons, including its artistry and theme.

Early in the film, Jack asked us all whether the hippie lifestyle appealed to any of us — carefree abandonment to nature and a life unencumbered by responsibility.

You’d think, coming off a hectic and exhausting school year, my answer would be “heck yes.”
But it’s not. 

The more I think about it, the more I find Into the Wild an excellent incarnation of the selfishness that drives us to shirk the incredible effort it takes to overcome the Fall.

Think about it:  Why is the hippie lifestyle such a draw?

Because at its core, it’s always easier to walk away from humanity than work to overcome the effects of sin in this world.  

Christopher saw the hypocrisy and sin of his parents, but not his own.

He absorbed Thoreau’s Transcendental ideas without heeding the corrective warnings of Jack London. [By the way, his story doesn’t end there … so watch the movie or read the book.]

The transient lifestyle appeals because living in a commune “off the land” means you escape being encumbered.  No one can claim your affections or demand your loyalty. This kind of freedom brings no responsibility.  But you utterly lose the power to (by God’s hand) bring beauty from ashes.

You forsake the burden of redemption — the messy, painful truth that Grace always costs the giver.

At one point in the movie, I said, “This is sad.  If this kid were to die, no one would really care.  He’s done nothing that actually lasts.”

Coart replied wisely, “More importantly, if this kid lives, no one will really care because his life won’t matter.”

Our very burdens which weigh down our hearts and make us groan at times under the load (especially those rare moments of clear sight, when we see our sin for what it is or encounter brokenness in its harsh ugliness)– those very burdensome tasks are what make our lives count for something beyond ourselves.

Do you want this world to be different than how you found it?

It will cost you something.