God With Us

(Stories Our Church Family Tells)

                As a new and different way to uplift the members of our congregation and draw us closer as a church family we introduce the “God With Us” story page.  It is our hope to share a new one once every month or so.  We hope that they will warm your hearts and encourage you in your walk with the Lord.  Have a story of your own to share?  Brenda would love to hear it and include it here!  See her after service on Sunday, or call or email anytime!

Stories indexed by COLOR on this page:

V.  A Prayer and a Poem

IV.  Rainbows In Winter

III. Redwing

II.  Cocoa Comes Home

I.  Tim Fittin’s Fishing Pole

 

 

 

V.  A Prayer and a Poem

A Prayer and a Poem

          Today is the 10th day of March.  Spring might be just around the corner, but as is typical here in the north country, the weather just can’t seem to make up its mind.  Tonight, the temperature is predicted to drop below zero, and we will spring our clocks ahead in defiance!  Never mind that the cold threatens to hang on through the weekend, and a Nor’ Easter is expected to blow in by Tuesday!  Winter will give way eventually.  It always does.

I watched a pair of geese fly overhead this morning.  The sight of them filled my heart with hope, and an aching longing for the greens.  It reminded me of another springtime, when my children were only toddlers, and we traveled to Moriah to visit my family there.  My father and his brothers were “sugaring,” and they sent us home with a mason jar full of sweet, and a beautiful memory. . . and I’d like to share it with you.  Spring is coming!  Halleluiah!  Hang on to your hope and your hats . . . and enjoy a prayer and a poem . . . “Tis the season!”

 

 

May the raindrops fall lightly on your brow.

May the soft winds freshen your spirit.

May the sunshine brighten your heart.

May the burdens of the day rest lightly upon you.

And may God enfold you in the mantle of His love.

(An Irish Blessing)

 

Between the Greens

(A loving tribute to North Country spirit)

by Brenda Tsimekles

 

Long awaited in these mountains, spring arrives

on fragile wings of indecision,

And the view from the window doesn’t quite match up

to the calendar curling up on the kitchen wall.

The sun might warm just enough to pull back a corner of winter’s blanket,

uncovering a patch or two of field, dead and brown.

The uncles rock back on their heels, hands dug deep into pockets,

and throw back their heads to test the air.

One sends out a stream of tobacco juice, leaving a brown stain in the snow.

“Ayup,” he says.  “Tis a good long time between the greens.””

 

Like as not, the heavens send another storm,

but the sun rises just enough warmer next day to start the sap runnin’.

Crunching out to the sugar bush, the uncles hang buckets to catch it,

and build up a fire to boil it down.

They feed the fire all day, with blue-veined and calloused hands.

And they sweeten the syrup with stories

as they pour it in to mason jars.

The view from the sugaring shed doesn’t quite match up, but hope rises,

and so they say, “Tisn’t much longer ’til the green.”

The sky might spit snow awhile longer,

but the sun is warm enough now to melt it to mud on the path to the barn.

The uncles wade through and hunker down,

waiting in silence ’til the moment comes to roll up sleeves

and help a new, little lamb out on to a bed of hay.

Steam rises from wool jackets and the sodden white coat of the new born.

“Ah, here’s our little lambie,” says one uncle to another.

“Ayup,” the reply. “A fine little fellar, thank the Good Lord above.”

And handkerchiefs are pulled from back pockets

to mop at wet cheeks and running noses.

“Won’t be long now, ’til the green.”

At last, the sun stays long enough to harden up the mud.

The uncles tip back their gray heads and their hats,

and squint up at the sky with watery, blue-gray eyes.

Come the geese, goin’ north this time . ..

Come the bluebirds, back home to nest . . .

Come fat robins hunting worms

beneath knurled old apple trees with swelling blossom buds

“Ayup,” say the uncles.

“The winter, she’s crept in colder . . .hurt harder . . .lasted longer . . .

Naw, t’wasn’t long, between the greens.”

 

 

 

IV.  Rainbows In Winter

Rainbows in Winter

 (by Brenda Tsimekles, as told by Lyn Duffy)

 

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalm 19:1 NIV

“God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in the dreariest and most dreaded moments – can see a possibility of hope.”  Maya Angelou

         

        It was that just past Christmastime time, when the sun hides so long beyond the gray and the hope of spring seems so very far away.  I shut my devotional with a bit of a sigh. Today it seemed as if  God was hiding with the sun.  Hoping that some fresh air and a bit of bird watching might draw me closer again, I pulled on a thick, wooly sweater and stepped onto the front porch.  I looked out across the winter meadow . . . lifted my eyes to the northern sky . . . and there it was!  There was the sun, lightening a patch of gray, and painting a cloud with a rainbow.  The cloud that had stolen over my heart lightened too, and it felt like God had come near!

            I smiled, even as I watched the colors fade away, and remembered . . . once upon a time. . .long ago now. . . before I’d ever seen such a lovely, hopeful thing . . .when my sweet little brown-eyed daughter, not quite three,  taught me a lesson I’d remember all of the rest of the days of my life.   Another new year had just begun.  It was our first winter in our new home.  The tractor was in the shop for repairs when the first major snow storm of the season blew in.  Three days later,  we were still house bound.  Four foot snow drifts made our long drive impassable. Darkness was falling again, as I settled Abbey into her bed for a story.  I’m sure she must have sensed the tension I felt as she reached up her hand to touch my cheek.  “Close your eyes, Mama,” she whispered.  “Maybe it will rain, and then we’ll see the rainbow.”

            “Rainbows in winter.  Imagine that!” I thought. “God’s sign of hope and promise.”  And the cloud that had stolen over my heart had lightened.  It had felt like pure gift. It had felt like God had come near.  I don’t remember how we got the driveway cleared, but I do know faith survived the storm, and I’ve been watching for those “rainbows in winter” ever since.

             I know of another family that knows something of the gift of rainbows in winter.  Recently,  I visited my friend, Lyn.  I brought my pen and my notebook.  She served up tea and her story, which I will, with a grateful heart, try to unwrap for you here.

            Lyn’s dad, Douglas Baker, was born on September 19, 1931, in the little farming community of Ellenburg Depot.  On Christmas Day, 2014, he left his home there, for his new home in Heaven. He had spent the years  in between,  living and working in that same little community, where he was well known and respected as an honest and trustworthy man. He’d spent those years growing his faith, loving his family, and planting seeds of that love and faith in the hearts of his children. Doug Baker had lived and loved in such a way that his children would say, “The Lord blessed us with a perfect example of His love, which has flowed from the head of our family through the generations.”  I wonder.  Could there be a more lasting and beautiful legacy to leave behind us when we go?

            Doug grew up on a farm during the Great Depression.  Though he never completed high school, experience taught him to be hardworking, frugal, and resourceful.  As Lyn shared, with a grin, “My dad could fix anything! When Gary and I got married, I just thought all men were “fixers.”  Boy was I surprised! Poor Gary.  He had big shoes to fill.” 

            Life launched Doug into adulthood well ahead of time, by 21st century standards.  He married the love of his life on March 11, 1950.  He was just 18, and Gwendolyn, his bride, was not quite 16. Together, the couple raised four children.  “They were just kids having kids,” said Lyn, “but I think that helped my dad to understand us.  He always seemed to understand just what we were going through at each stage of our lives.  He was always there when we needed him.”

            It was during one of those times, when Lyn especially needed reassurance, that her father’s witness  brought her great comfort. . .  

            “I often close my eyes so I don’t see the truth when it’s hard,” Lyn confessed.  “When my brother, Randy, was in the hospital, I was hoping and believing till the day he died that he would get better. ”  

            Though Randy wasn’t healed of the cancer that seemed to have stolen him away from his family before his time, Lyn is now believing that her brother’s healing did come. “On the day that Randy died, my dad was driving home when a bright ray of sunlight hit the hood of his car.  For a minute that was all he could see . . . just that bright light.  He said that, at that moment, he was filled with a sense of perfect peace, and he just knew in his heart that Randy was just fine!  He just knew. . . and I believed him. ” Lyn smiled then.  “Dad always believed in those signs we get from God,” she said.

            Surely, faith and family were Doug Baker’s most cherished possessions . . .though he might have added that his collection of antique Ford tractors ran a close third on his list!  Each year, as the trees put on their red and gold coats, Doug’s family would gather for the annual wagon ride to the pumpkin patch.  “My dad was always a kid at heart,” Lyn shared.  “He loved it!  One year, Dad had gone out and painted his pumpkins to surprise the kids. They were so excited when they got to the pumpkin patch and discovered that Dad had “grown” gold pumpkins, and silver pumpkins, and even pink pumpkins! He loved bright colors, and paint sales at the hardware store!  He was always painting things, the brighter the color the better!”

            Perhaps it was that “kid in him” that lit up the house with brightly colored lights every year at Christmastime, too.  “Dad decorated for every holiday, and at Christmastime he would string colored lights everywhere!  He would string lights inside and outside, on the trees in the yard, on the front porch, on the fence. . . and he made stars.  Dad hung his homemade stars everywhere.  Over the years he’d made stars for all of us in the family, and for many of his neighbors. A lot of the houses on Canaan Road were  lit up with Dad’s stars at Christmastime.”

            Doug Baker decorated for every holiday, every year  . . . except for the Christmas of 2014.

             “We decorated for him that year,” Lyn said.  Mom had been really sick and was in the hospital before Thanksgiving.  Dad went to the hospital to see her every day, and when she came home he focused on taking care of her.   We saw that Dad was starting to decline, but we discovered that he had messed up his medication while Mom was sick, and we thought that was the problem.  I just thought, ‘He’s Dad, and he’s strong. He’ll be fine.”

            The entire family had planned to gather together on the day after Christmas that year, so on Christmas day, Lyn and Gary went by themselves to spend the afternoon with her parents.  ” It was quiet, and we just had the nicest conversation,” said Lyn.  ” We talked about life.  And then Dad talked about dying.  He said, ‘I’m not afraid at all, and I don’t want you to cry.  I’ll just be going home to my Father.’  I said that of course I would cry because I would be sad.  I said I didn’t want to think about that . . . I hoped he would be with us for a long time to come.”

            “Whenever  we were leaving his house, my dad would always walk us out to the car.  He’d  say, ‘Good-bye.  I love you,’   but that day, I had to help Dad out of his chair. It seemed he didn’t have the strength to even hug me. He just nuzzled my neck. We hadn’t been home for a half an hour when we got the call that Dad had collapsed.”

            Doug Baker had gone home to his Father’s house.   After hearing his story, I can almost picture him there,  happy as a kid at Christmas! After hearing his story,  I can imagine his delight when, a few days later,  his family received one last gift.

            On a mild and windy winter day, the 28th day of December, long lines formed outside the building as those who knew Doug Baker, and his children, and his grand children, and his great grand children, came to say good-bye.  His wife and his daughters wore bright yellow sweaters in celebration of his life, and in the heart-deep faith he’d passed along to bless them all, I imagine that they chose not to say “good-bye,” but only “I love you.  One day, we’ll see you again, there in our Father’s house.” 

             Next day, on the 29th day of December, the men in Doug’s family fired up his antique tractors and led the way up Sheldon Hill to the cemetery.  There, they  lay his body down, in the beloved soil of his homeland, in a grave they had dug by hand. There is family gathered to let go, sending brightly colored balloons floating heavenward.  They carried love and thanksgiving, great sorrow and longing, and greater hope and faith, into a bright blue and cloudless sky.      

            After a good, long while . . . after the last of the balloons had drifted beyond their sight . . . Doug Baker’s family headed back down Sheldon Hill.  Lyn was a ways back in the procession, and she was wondering why  those in front of her were pulling onto the side of the road at the foot of the hill.  Then she wondered why they were climbing down from tractors, and getting out of cars, and staring up at that December sky.  When she reached the bottom of the hill, she did the same. Lyn pulled off the road, climbed out of her car, and lifted her eyes in wonder.  There it was!

              There in that December sky . . . there in that most dreaded and heartbreaking of times . . . a ray of sunlight had painted a cloud with a rainbow. . . had painted a rainbow in all of the bright, hopeful, delightful, kid colors that Doug Baker had chosen to paint the world in his lifetime . . .

            It felt like pure gift.  It felt like one last Christmas gift from Heaven. It felt like God had come near!  It seemed to say, “Let this be a sign unto you.  Doug Baker, the man who loved Me, the man who loved you, the man who loved to paint the world in color, has come home. He wants me to tell you that he says,  ‘I love you, and I’ll see you all here in our Father’s house, one day.'”

           

God’s version of facebook?

 

 

 

III. Redwing

Preface

                At our house, each of us in our family has a special mug.  This morning as I write, I am drinking  my coffee from my step-daughter, Sophia’s.  I’m not sure just why I chose it, for we have a sort of unwritten rule about that, but this morning Sophia’s mug inspired me, and I think she will forgive me for using it if I promise to be extra careful!  Sophia picked out the mug herself.  It is a heavy, creamy white, pottery mug which was turned in such a way that it is not perfectly round in shape.  It is decorated with five wildflower stems.  The flowers have gone to seed.  Above them the word “HOME” is  spelled out in simple, black type.

I smiled as I remembered the day she picked it out.  “I like it because it’s not perfect,”  she said. . . And I thought, ” Kind of like our homes.  Kind of like our families.  Kind of like our love.”

Today, as the breathtaking colors of the hills in October  fade to deeper fall, November opens our hearts to Thanksgiving . . . and our hearts rightly turn to thoughts of HOME, and FAMILY, and the LOVE that is the golden thread that holds them all together. This year as I count my blessings,  I’m especially grateful for the witness of the golden love lived out all around me.  In this modern age, stories of those who have lived life together for fifty years and counting have much to teach us of love that holds on tightly in adversity, and love that stands strong when the storms of  life threaten.  In this modern age where everything is instant, automatic, microwavable, and disposable; these precious, golden, love stories teach us by example that  . . . Love never fails.  (1Corinthians 13:8)

Today,  with thanksgiving, I dedicate our November story to the kind of love that never fails.  I dedicate this story to my parents, Laura and Allan Groshans; to our pastors, Gary and Wendy Rhodehamel; to my in-laws, Joan and Paul Fittin; to my dear friends, Pete and Mary Laura Barber . . . and to Millard and Eleanor. . . This is their story . . .

 

Redwing

by Brenda Tsimekles (as shared by Mary Laura Barber)

“Of all the music that reached farthest into heaven, it is the beating of a loving heart. ”  Henry Ward Beecher

 

One gray and rainy day in mid-October, I was warmly welcomed into Pete and Mary Laura Barber’s home.  After hugs all around, and much wagging and wiggling from their sweet dog, Bella, Mary Laura and I settled down in the dining room.  There, Mary Laura held out her hand and drew my attention to a lovely, old-fashioned, diamond ring which  she wears.

“This is the engagement ring that Dad gave to my mother,” she said softly.  “After he passed away, I found the receipt, marked “paid in full.”  He bought this ring in 1942, while he was stationed in Troy, working at the arsenal there. It cost $49.50.”

With that,  Mary Laura began to lovingly unwrap her gift.  It was the gift of a love story of the “Greatest Generation;” the story of her mother and father, Millard and Eleanor Eggleston.

They were high school sweethearts when WWII began, growing up in the rural farming community of Bangor, just outside of Malone on 11B.  Perhaps it was Eleanor’s bright, blue eyes that first captured Millard’s attention, or perhaps it was the spark of grit and determination he saw in them.  It might have been that, somewhere deep in his heart Millard sensed that she had, somewhere deep in hers, just what she’d need to face the challenges and trials that life would hand them.  Then again, perhaps it was that, when he looked into those beautiful, blue eyes, Millard could see that Eleanor adored him,  and that he would forever be the number one love of her life.

So it was that, being drafted into the Army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and stationed for a time in Troy, Millard saved his pay and purchased a beautiful ring to place on the finger of the one he adored.  $49.50.  Paid in full.  He married his blue-eyed beauty in Troy, on April 13, 1942.  Millard was twenty-two.  Eleanor, still in her last year of high school, was just eighteen.

Shortly thereafter, Millard landed on a beach at Normandy.  Eleanor finished high school and moved in with her parents. There, on April 19, 1943 their first child, Mary Laura, was born.  There, Eleanor watched anxiously for the mail to arrive, and began collecting  precious letters from Millard.  We can only imagine what fear and longing the newlyweds  must have held in their hearts during those days, as the war raged.  We can only guess what love and faith sustained them.

“My mother kept all of those letters.  They are in a box upstairs, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to read them,” Mary Laura shared.  ” And Dad never talked about the war.  He only told us one story from that time in his life as a soldier.  He said he was making his way through the forest, nearing the German border, when he met a young, German soldier there.  The two young men stood still and stared at each other.  Then, they simply turned and walked away.”

Soon  after that encounter in the forest, Millard was wounded in battle.  His wounds were serious enough that doctors wanted to amputate an arm.  Millard refused to let them.  I’m sure he knew that he would never been able to play his fiddle again if he agreed to such a drastic plan, and with the grit and determination characteristic of so many of his generation, Millard eventually recovered full use of his arm.

His wounds brought him home again (like our wounds do for all of us, I hope and pray)  . . . brought him home to blessing. . .

Millard and Eleanor were married for 67 years. They were years full of life.  They were years  of joy mingled with sorrow.  They knew good times and hard times and all of the simple, everyday, just-living-life times.  And all of their times were faced with love and devotion.

Two more children, Daniel and Barbara, were born.   Millard and Eleanor moved their family to a home on Maple Street, here in Dannemora.  Millard built a solid and reputable business in lumber.  He worked long hours to provide for his family.  With Eleanor being the exception,  Millard’s greatest love was music.

“Dad could play anything you put in his hands,” Mary Laura offered.

And  Eleanor worked equally hard, caring for the needs of home and husband and children.  Her life’s greatest pleasures revolved around them.  She was a seamstress, and enjoyed making` clothes for her children and their dolls.   It was Eleanor who made time to play tag, and flooded the lawn each winter so that the children could learn to skate. And it was Eleanor who made her youngest daughter’s dream come true!  The Eggleston’s littlest one wanted a high chair for her doll. Though Millard was the carpenter in the family,  he worked such long hours that it seemed he’d never find time to get around to making one. Tired of waiting for Millard, like the Little Red Hen, Eleanor decided that she would just do it herself!

Today, that chair stands in a corner of Mary Laura’s dining room,  a testimony to Eleanor’s resourcefulness, love, and her own fierce determination.  Those qualities served her well when, at age 32, she spent two months in the hospital in Montreal following a car accident which nearly ended her life.  She would draw on them yet again when, at age 47, she suffered a debilitating stroke.

“She had gone to Malone to visit her friend, Hazel,” said Mary Laura.  “They were shopping in Ames when she collapsed.  When they brought her to Plattsburgh they didn’t think she would survive the trip, and once there, they said she wouldn’t survive the night.”

Though her road to recovery was long and arduous, Eleanor did survive.  Though she might never dance or run, she learned to walk again.  Though often misunderstood, she learned to speak again.  With that great longing to care for her home, and for Millard, she learned to do amazing things with the use of only one hand! And though this new normal was a painful thing for both of them to bear,  Millard and Eleanor walked along together still, sharing their joys and their sorrows for another 40 years!

Now we come to the most amazing truth of this, and all great love stories . . .

Love never dies!  (1 Corinthians 13:8 (MSG))

Millard and Eleanor had begun their life together in April of ’42.  Springtime.  The time of new beginnings.

Millard passed into eternity on April 22, 2009.

After that, unfolded a beautiful mystery. It offers assurance that God, in His great love and mercy, can provide just what we need to comfort and keep us as we near the end of this earthly life.  For this, it seems, He did for Eleanor.

The year was 2011.  Winter was waning, and the long-awaited spring was just around the corner.  Eleanor’s caregiver, Brenda was downstairs doing laundry when she heard a male voice calling her name.  She hurried upstairs to see who it was, but found no one there.  Then she went in to Eleanor’s room to see if she had a visitor, and finding Eleanor alone, asked if she was alright.

Eleanor responded, in her way, “Me good.  Millard here.  Couch.”

Not knowing quite what to make of that response, Brenda went in to the kitchen to make lunch.  While tending to that task she heard Eleanor laughing.  As she brought in Eleanor’s lunch, Brenda asked if she had heard something funny on the television.

Eleanor shook her head.  “Not TV,” she answered.  “Millard.  Millard funny.”

The mystery continued to unfold as the days and weeks passed.  “Millard here,” Eleanor would say.  And she could hear him play his fiddle.  One morning, Eleanor got up and said  . . . . “Me tired.  Millard play fiddle.  Fiddle all night.”

After that, it seems, that Millard disappeared.  When Mary Laura stopped in to visit, Eleanor seemed distraught.  “Millard hurt,” she cried. “You go find!” When Mary Laura lovingly reminded her mother that Millard had gone to Heaven, Eleanor would not be deterred.  “Millard hurt!  You go find!”

It wasn’t until Mary Laura showed her Millard’s obituary that Eleanor understood the truth.  She cried. . . and then . . . Millard came back to her, and his fiddle sang sweetly for Eleanor once again.

Eleanor wasn’t the only one to experience this mystery playing itself out in the Eggleston’s home. “Mom and dad had a doll that played the fiddle,” Mary Laura went on.  “Brenda told us that every time she went by that doll, it would start to play.  She said it was driving her crazy, so one day when Dan and I were there we said, ‘Why don’t we just take the batteries out of it.’  We took it apart and discovered that there weren’t any batteries in it!”

“A little while after that,” Mary Laura said, “a friend of the family who is also a Hospice nurse came to visit my mother.  She had heard about Dad’s visits, so she sat down at the piano to play and said,  ‘Come play a tune with me, Millard!” But the only music that could be heard in the room was hers. A little while later she said good-bye and drove away, and Brenda told us that she heard a fiddle playing “Redwing” before our friend could have reached the end of Maple Street.”

Eleanor’s time was drawing ever closer to an end.  She no longer left her room.  Then, she no longer left her bed, but her caregiver often heard footsteps.   “Millard here,” Eleanor would say, and she seemed content and comforted by his presence.

“Dan and I wondered why we never heard anything ourselves,” Mary Laura said.  “Then my sister Barb came to visit. She lives in New Mexico, and the night before she was going to leave we all got together at Mom’s house.  We were sitting in the living room, and we had a baby monitor set up so we could hear Mom if she called. That’s when we heard the sound of footsteps in her bedroom.  Wondering if she had somehow gotten up, Dan went to the bedroom door and asked if everything was ok. Mom was still tucked in her bed.  ‘Me good,’ she said, ‘Millard here.’ and then every light in the living room blinked on and off.”

Mary Laura really can’t explain the beautiful mystery that enfolded Eleanor in peace at the end of her earthly life.  She and her siblings only know it is truth.  I surely can’t explain it either, but I believe that it happened just as Mary Laura said.  Maybe Eleanor was visited by an angel who chose to take on Millard’s form, or perhaps there is truth in the Celtic belief that the veil between heaven and earth grows thin at certain times and places in our lives.  What I do know, is that if I could understand all there is to know of God and His mercy and grace . . . if I could truly plumb the depths of His great love . . . then my God would be too small.  So,  I am so thankful for the deep mystery, and stories like this one that cause me to lose myself in the wonder of it all.

This too, I know.  On April 5, 2011, Eleanor slipped through the door into forever. And this I see with the eyes of my heart.  I see Millard playing his fiddle for her as their last April on earth melts with the sugar snow into their first new spring.  I hear his fiddle singing to welcome his blue-eyed beauty home.  I believe that Millard understood her every word . . . and I know that Eleanor danced.

 

 

II  Cocoa Comes Home

Cocoa Comes Home

by Brenda Fittin Tsimekles (as told by Joanne Becker)

 

The Beckers had long believed their son, Rick, was allergic to cats, but when Rick was nine or ten years old, they agreed to care for a friend’s short-hair for a few days, and were delighted to discover that they had been mistaken!

As we all know, kids and kittens go together like peanut butter and jelly, so we needn’t be surprised that one day shortly thereafter, when Joanne answered the phone at the dental office where she worked, she heard her husband, Dick’s voice on the line.  “Stop by the pet store after work,” he urged, playfully.  “They’ve got a slew of the cutest kittens!”

The Beckers met at the pet store later that afternoon, and watched the kittens put on their best, “Please Pick Me!” show. There were kittens of all colors; furry and plump and playful.  They were all so very cute, but the kitten that stole their hearts was the dainty, little,  gray kitten sitting quietly at the very back of the kitten kennel.

“She looks so shy and sweet,” Joanne said.  “I think she needs a home.” And so it was that “Lucy” was adopted into the Becker family.

Lucy long loved the Beckers, and the Beckers loved her. She slept at the foot of the bed.  She raced down the stairs to greet them as they returned from a day away at work or school.  She moved with the family to Chazy Lake, and when Rick, now all grown up, came home from work late in the evening, he would always find Lucy waiting up for him.  He’d find her perched on the table, ready for a good-night scratch behind the ears.

By the time grandson, Trent, came along, Lucy was nearly twenty years old, and at her advanced age, she’d become a bit grumpy. She wanted nothing to do with the new addition to the Becker family.  Little Trent was heartbroken, but there was little the family could do, except remind him that Lucy was just getting too old and tired to play with little boys.

The Beckers took a trip through Chateauguay, and on to Malone, a few times a year.  They liked to pick up McCadam Cheese and farm-fresh veggies at the Market Barn, and a stop at Alex’s Hardware never failed to delight little Trent.  There was a big, friendly cat at Alex’s who just loved a good petting, and Trent always looked forward to seeing him!

Sometimes, if the weather was nice, they would stop at  High Falls Park  in Chateauguay to enjoy a hike and a picnic. So it was, on a late September day, Dick and Joanne, and three year old Trent, did just that!  The leaves were just beginning to turn, and the sky was that beautiful, late September kind of blue.  The little family hiked to the falls, and enjoyed watching the water flow and splash over the rocks.  Then, they continued on to the playground for a picnic lunch. At the playground, Trent sat down in the grass to rest.  Much to Trent’s surprise, a handsome, black kitty appeared and sat down in the grass with him.  Soon, Trent and his new friend were getting acquainted, with much stroking, and petting, and purring, and scratching behind the ears.

There were several men working on the playground equipment that day.  “What’s the cat’s name?” Joanne asked, thinking it might belong to the owner of the campground at the park.

“Don’t know,” came the reply.  “Someone just dropped him off.  They do that all the time.  He seems to like your little guy.  Maybe you should take him home.”

“Oh, no,” Joanne answered, thinking of Lucy.  At her age, she wouldn’t adjust well to another cat in the house.  “We couldn’t.  We already have a cat.  Hopefully someone else will find room for him before winter.”

Returning home later that afternoon, however, Joanne couldn’t stop thinking about the handsome, friendly, black cat who seemed to have adopted Trent.  When her daughter, Amy called later in the week, Joanne told her about the cat at High Falls Park.  Amy LOVED cats.  She had three of her own, so her response was really no surprise. “Mom,” Amy urged, “you HAVE to go back and get him!”

Though Joanne was tempted, she thought again of Lucy.  “We can’t take in another cat.  He’s probably gone by now, anyway, ” she said.  “I’m sure someone has taken him in.”

It wasn’t long after when Lucy suddenly became very sick.  Soon, she wasn’t eating or drinking.   She grew weaker and weaker.  A trip to the vet confirmed the Beckers’ fears.  Lucy had come to the end of her days. They said a heartbreaking good-bye to a dear member of the family, and I wonder if you wonder, as I did, if Amy hadn’t been right about the black cat at High Falls Park.

September soon gave way to October.  The maples were ablaze.  Pumpkins piled up in wagons at the farm stands. Crisp, red, apples were ripe for picking, and over the long, Columbus Day weekend, daughter Amy arrived at the Becker’s for a visit.

“You know, Mom,” she said, “you always take everyone to High Falls for a hike, but you’ve never taken me!  I’d really like to go.”

When Joanne agreed that it would be a nice way to spend a beautiful, fall day, Amy snuck off up to the attic, and finding Lucy’s cat carrier, she snuck back downstairs again.  Amy was on a heavenly mission! Stowing the carrier away in the trunk of the car,  she said a little prayer, “Please, dear Father, let us find that beautiful, black cat, and bring him home.”

Joanne and Dick, and Amy, soon set off to explore High Falls Park.  Throughout the trip Amy continued to pray silently that, if the black cat was truly meant to join the Becker family, they would find him again that day.  Joanne’s thoughts, too, returned to the handsome, homeless, black cat who had befriended Trent three weeks before. Now that Lucy had gone, the house seemed a bit empty, and Trent surely would love to have a cat who loved him in the house!

Soon they arrived at the park, and Joanne spoke to a woman working at the entrance.  “I was here a few weeks ago and saw a black cat who needed a home.  Have you seen him around here lately?” she asked.

The woman at the gate shook her head.  “No,” she replied, “I haven’t seen him around in awhile.”

And Amy lifted her silent prayer again.

The hike was beautiful that day, under a sunny, warm, October sky.  The trees wore their coats of red and gold, and had laid down a red-gold carpet on the trail.  The waterfall sang out it’s soothing song, and the water sparkled as it splashed.  All the while,  Joanne and Dick and Amy chatted together.  All the while, in the quiet of the lapses in conversation, Amy continued to send her silent prayer heavenward.

“This is where Trent first saw the black cat,” Joanne said, as they came to the playground. Here, they all searched and called for awhile, hoping he might appear, but the black cat was nowhere to be found.  Still, Amy prayed her silent prayer.

Back in the parking lot, as they were getting in to their car to head home, Amy pointed in the direction of a dumpster, next to a garage where heavy equipment was stored.  “Mom!” she cried, “Look!  Is that him?? Is that the cat?”

“I think it is!” Joanne replied, hardly believing her eyes. “Let’s drive over and take a closer look!”

Sure enough, the handsome, black cat sat still, as if he’d been waiting for them.  The campground owner just happened to be there working on some equipment in the garage.  Remembering the Beckers, he said,  “Did you come back for your cat?”

And Amy replied, “Yes! Yes, I believe we did!”

All together at home at last,  Joanne told her delighted grandson, “He’s your cat, now, Trent!  After all, he found you!”

Trent named his cat  “Cocoa,”  and I wonder if you’re thinking what I’m thinking?  I wonder if God and Lucy sent him?

 

 

> I.  Tim Fittin’s Fishing Pole,

Tim Fittin’s Fishing Pole,

And an Old Irish Saint Named Kevin

(by Brenda Tsimekles)

Daffodils bloomed in my garden, the hills were clothed in limey-green, and the birds greeted the morning with their resurrection songs.  Spring had come again at last,  and as it always does this time of year, my heart returned  to another spring . . . our last season all together in this place.

Seven years have passed since then, but I remember . . For Mother’s Day,  Abbey gave me a statue of St. Francis for my garden, and a bleeding heart was to be my last gift from Tim.  I remembered  that the trout running in the river called, “come cast a line,” and Tim’s fishing pole had a beautiful story to tell. I’ve heard it said that, in God’s counting system, seven represents the number of completion . . .  so maybe it’s time to tell it.

Tim Fittin was once my husband. He had grown up on the Jersey Shore, and his love of the sea remained as steadfast as his love of these mountains, where he settled and raised his family.  He was proud of his Irish heritage, his paternal great-grandparents having emigrated from Ireland.  He loved Celtic music, and even learned to play the bagpipes a bit.  If I close my eyes I can see him still, walking across our mountain meadow, sending sweet strains of Amazing Grace floating heavenward.   Like the Pied Piper in the fairy tale; our children, the dogs, and the cat followed along behind him!

Tim loved children of all shapes and sizes, and animals of all kinds.  I used to quip that he was a regular St. Francis.  Sheep grazed in our rocky mountain meadow, guarded by a beautiful Great Pyrenees named Josey Wales.  Josey was a gentle giant of a dog who would put his paws on Tim’s shoulders and look him square in the eye!  Deer visited the orchard in the misty morning.  Birds flocked to our feeders and nested in the boxes Tim built

Tim Fittin was also quite a fisherman.  His fishing pole still rests right where he left it seven springs ago.  It hangs on a beam in the tool shed, a dusty bird’s nest perched on the reel.   I remember the warm day in mid-May when I came home from work to find him watching the bluebirds in the apple orchard.    “I heard babies in that nesting box,” he said, “and I’ve been watching for the parents to come back to feed them.  I hope the swallows didn’t scare them away.” Then, he turned to me and said, “You know, a funny thing happened today. I think it’s a sign. For a while now, every time I went in to the shed, this little bird would fly out.  Today, I thought I’d go fishing.  I went in to the shed to get my fishing pole and saw that the little bird had built a nest on it.”

“So what did you do?” I asked.

Tim grinned as he answered, “I bought a new fishing pole.”

Just a short time later, on the third day of June, Tim died unexpectedly. Behind him he left his two children and me, and three baby birds in a nest built on his fishing pole. I wished, then, that I had asked him what finding that nest with its tiny treasures had meant to him that day.  I wondered what he’d meant when he said he thought it was a sign, but I hadn’t asked.  Maybe I was meant to discover an answer for myself.

The first clue appeared during Tim’s memorial service, as my friend, Rev. Marty Conner spoke.  “Tim died Wednesday morning on the day of The Feast of St. Kevin,” she said. ” St. Kevin also died June 3rd, in the year 618.  He was the abbot of Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, just south of Dublin.  He was a great teacher of the outdoors.  He loved animals, and being in their presence.  He respected them and learned from them in order to teach the children of his parish how to live gently on the earth they shared. . . ”

The crowd which filled the church that day gasped in wonder of it all . . . the striking similarities between Tim and this Irish Saint who had died on the same day some 1400 years before.  Though I had never heard of St. Kevin before that day, I knew I had to know more.  You see, not only had St. Kevin and Tim shared  June 3rd,  but the year of St. Kevin’s death was significant, too.  The year 618 matched my birthday. I was born on June 18th.

In the weeks and months that followed, I learned all I could about St. Kevin, and found much to amaze me.  I learned that St. Kevin is known as the “St. Francis of Ireland.”  He is considered the patron saint of blackbirds.  He was known to spend much time in prayer, and legend has it that once, while praying, a black bird built a nest in the palm of his hand and laid her eggs within it.  It is said that St. Kevin stayed in prayer until the baby birds had flown away.

I wonder if you’ve begun to sense the wondrous mystery which I felt unfolding?  If not, perhaps this one additional piece to my puzzle will find you gasping, too.

In August of that year I visited a Franciscan Monastery in Maine.  While there I discovered a card in the gift shop printed with my name, its origin, and its meaning . . .It read,  Brenda . . . of Irish origin . . . means “the little raven.”

Somehow, the mystery and wonder of all of these “God-incidences” gave me great comfort.  I felt protected. . . safe . . . as though those three baby birds in the nest on Tim’s fishing pole were a symbol of my two children and me, kept safe until we were strong enough to fly again . . . as though I was a little, black bird with a broken wing, and like St. Kevin and the birds, God would keep me safely nestled in the palm of His hand.

As the years passed, the nest resting on Tim’s fishing pole remained empty.  As my friend Mary Laura says, my children and I learned to “live around the hole” left in our hearts.  Still, that nest remained a sweet reminder of God’s tender care for me and my children. That assurance would have been wonder enough, but the story really didn’t end there.

As we hope our children eventually do, my children were soon off chasing dreams and building lives of their own.  Loneliness began to feel even more lonely, and I was often overwhelmed by all that needed tending to at home.   Sadly, I let go of our sheep,  and Tim’s beautiful Josey Wales. Still, the dream of our little log home in this mountain meadow . . . this dream of a little farm with a garden, and an orchard, and sheep in the pasture . . .it had been my dream, too. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting go of everything I’d longed for.  I couldn’t bear the thought of my children not having the home they’d always known to come home to.

So, I prayed.  I prayed that God would send a carpenter to help me to finish building my house. And then I prayed  that God would send a new love, one who loved and worshipped Him, to sit beside me in church and to walk the rest of my life’s journey with. I never expected that God would answer both prayers in one person!

Spring  came again, and Nico had became the love of this next chapter of my life.  I was planning to marry for the second time.  I felt certain that God had brought us together, and I was so very grateful. Nico was all I had prayed for,  and so much more!   He was a carpenter.  He worshipped God, prayed with me, sat beside me in church, and even sang with me in the choir.  Perhaps the most wonderful of wonders was the discovery that, having grown up on a sheep farm, we shared a love of the pastoral life. Just how many sheep farmers does one meet in a lifetime?

Nico and I seemed perfect for each other.  He had brought joy and new hope into my life again.  Still, as our wedding day drew closer, and then  the date kept changing, doubts and questions crept closer too.  Was it really God’s will for us to marry? How would it affect our children? Would Nico find work here?  What about leaving Nico’s mom alone in New Hampshire?  Was it selfish of us to do that?  I walked and talked with God often, longing for blessed assurance.  Then, one morning I went in to the shed looking for something and I heard a faint cheeping sound.  There, in the old, dusty nest atop Tim Fittin’s fishing pole, three little birds were clamoring for their breakfast!  I gasped with the wonder of it all. It seemed as though God were saying, “Don’t fret so!  I’m still holding you all, safe and sound, in the palm of my hand.”

That summer, finally settling on the 16th day of August, Nico and I were married in the mountain meadow we now call our home. We felt God’s presence there with us, and I’m still thanking God for the gifts. I wonder if it were possible that we had the blessing of St. Kevin, too.  618 . . . June 18 . . . August 16 . . .816 . . . Another of those God-incidences? Perhaps. I don’t know for certain, but I do know that the older I get, the more it seems that all of life is truly mystery and wonder if we only have eyes to see.  And the story of Tim Fittin’s fishing pole reminds me to try always to live this earthly  life with the eyes of my heart wide open.