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Lessons From a Little Brick Schoolhouse

LESSONS FROM A LITTLE BRICK SCHOOLHOUSE

By Sharon Sheppard

Some might say we were educationally deprived, growing up as we did in a small town.  But just because there were only 350 of us in the whole village–most of us dirt poor–doesn’t mean we didn’t get a proper education.

These days you have to go to a fancy private school if you want small class size.  When I was growing up, all the classes were small.  My younger brother’s senior class fit into a phone booth—all 13 of them.  Not that we had any phone booths in our town.  They had to drive nine miles to Pine River to find one.  My graduating class boasted 22 members.

The town fathers knew good and well that kindergarten was a lousy investment, so, ready-or-not, we jumped right into first grade when we turned six, and most of us turned out none the worse for the wear.

I adored Miss Lyons, my first-grade teacher, but she quit mid-year to join the WACs, and in all my years of schooling that followed, no other teacher ever quite lived  up to her angelic status in my eyes.

Our little school had a motley spectrum of teachers over the years, and while small-town salaries tended not to attract the cream of the crop, we did truly have some bright and conscientious role models.  Murray Warren, my high school math and science teacher, set a terrific example.  Smart, articulate, and patient, he brought out the best in us—which for some of us was, unfortunately, none too good.

Georgie Sycks, a local boy who went away to college, came back home again to teach—all grown up and polished as could be.  He was a fine teacher, but even after he became high school principal and had all that authority, he never succeeded in shaking his old nickname:  Georgie.

Others who shall remain nameless include the eccentric English teacher, rumored to have kept a flask in the adjoining cloak room, and the unmotivated music teacher who also taught social studies and history and business and a raft of other courses he never trained for.  He often slept through class.

Also remaining nameless is the superintendent who forgot to send in the registration for our musical group after we’d qualified to compete at the state level (under the direction of the above-mentioned sleeping music teacher).

After placing at the regional vocal music contest and spending countless hours perfecting “I Heard a Forest Praying,” and after a four-hour ride from northern Minnesota to Minneapolis, our triple trio arrived at Northrup Auditorium, as excited as any of us had ever been.   This was to be our crowning fifteen minutes of fame—a chance to put Backus, Minnesota, on the map.  Dressed in our Sunday best, we’d prepared to knock the socks off those snooty University of Minnesota judges and show them that we weren’t your average small town hicks.  But we never got the chance.

Imagine our dismay when we learned that because of our superintendent’s snafu, we wouldn’t be allowed to compete.  Our fearless but disorganized leader had goofed again.  Dismay was only the first of a whole slew of emotions I won’t bring up here, some of which triggered more than a few choice words for the superintendent of schools whom we thoroughly trashed during the four-hour ride back home.  I can now empathize with the host of people who have throughout the millennia been turned away from the Pearly Gates because they didn’t have the right ticket.

I suppose there may have been a lesson to be learned from this disappointing experience, but I haven’t yet figured it out.

We had a lot of good times too, and small classes meant less competition, which, come to think of it, probably wasn’t the best motivator either.   A small school meant anybody could become a big fish in a microscopic puddle.  Any high school male could letter in all three sports. Any warm body could join the choir.  And almost anybody who cracked a book a few times could become valedictorian if she set her mind to it.

An ongoing tradition in our town dictated that the junior class trek out to “the point” on Pine Mountain Lake each spring and gather a truckload of cedar branches.   Poked into chicken wire, the boughs created a fragrant on-stage backdrop for the graduation ceremonies—a sort of Christmas-in-May effect.  It also fell to the juniors to make and suspend letters across the stage spelling out the senior class motto in front of the cedar background.

Principal Georgie Sycks provided a booklet of motto options he considered appropriate, and our class had no trouble choosing one.   It was a no-brainer.  The longest would mean the most work for the juniors.  We ended up with “Failure to hit the bull’s eye is not the fault of the target.”  A profound sentiment that inspires me to this day.

Just because we didn’t have electives or up-to-date textbooks or more than a couple hundred library books for all twelve grades was no sign we didn’t learn the basics, one way or another.  Our schooling may not have been ideal preparation for college, but it made pretty good training for real life.  Rolling with the punches, making do, resolving conflicts, pulling together, learning to enjoy homespun fun.  Those lessons have served us well for a lifetime.

No matter how far I travel in either miles or time, in my heart I’m never far from my hometown.  I’ve always been disoriented when it comes to directions, and I think I must have been gone the day Mrs. Wirt taught map reading in fifth grade.  But if I want to figure out directions, in my mind’s eye I go back to our front yard and face the school.  To my left is Pine Mountain Lake—that’s west.  To my right is the cemetery out on the edge of town—that’s east.  And the school—that’s my north star.

Memories of freshly waxed, creaking oak floors, polished wooden desks with ink wells, freshly washed blackboards and a newly starched, scratchy homemade pinafore spell the first day of school in the fall.  The aroma of cedar coupled with fragrant bouquets of lilacs and the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” played on the school’s upright piano–these indelibly spell graduation night—my last in this humble building.

A few Backus High School graduates have gone on to earn advanced degrees–master’s and Ph.D.s.  Some became teachers, nurses, or pastors, and a few wrote books.  As for me, I went on to a state university where I majored in English (despite my being ill-prepared by my alcoholic high school English teacher’s sketchy instruction) and minored in music (drowsy, unmotivated high school music teacher notwithstanding).

Now that I’ve learned to proofread, the last time I drove by our hometown school I noticed that the L had dropped off the Backus Public Schools nameplate.  The sign gracing the front lawn now reads:  Backus Pubic Schools.

Somehow, it didn’t surprise me a bit.

 

 

My Friend, Shirt

ON FRIED EGGS, HAZELNUTS,

AND BEING RELATED TO THE KING

Remembering the summer I was ten

Backus, Minnesota, Population: 350

By Sharon Sheppard

 

My best friend Shirt and I (her real name was Shirley) shared a lot of adventures whenever we were lucky enough to sneak away from her little sister and my little brother, which didn’t happen nearly as often as we would’ve liked. If we could get away without the little kids’ noticing, our moms said, we could have our freedom.  But if they found us, we’d be responsible for seeing that they didn’t drown or get run over.  As if there was ever enough traffic in our small town to be a problem.

If we went someplace predictable like Pine Mountain Lake to fish for perch off Rocky Dock, either Judy or Carl was sure to show up almost before we got started.  But if we sneaked off to the hazelnut patch, we could sometimes hide in the brush long enough to keep from being discovered.  At the grain elevator where my dad worked, we could sometimes duck in and out of crannies fast enough to escape kid-sitting duties.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, somebody on Main Street said it was so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.  Shirt and I decided to check it out.  The trick was to sneak back to our chicken coop and snatch an egg without getting caught, because if either Carl or Judy saw us, they’d be sure to whine to our parents.  The kids were at that awkward age where they were too little to have fun with but not too little to tattle on us.

As it turned out, we did manage to smuggle an egg.  We made kind of a mess on the sidewalk, but sure enough, the transparent part of our easy-over egg turned a little milky, proving that “hot enough to fry an egg” wasn’t just an expression.  But we already had a pretty good idea of the temperature that day because our bare feet stung from contact with the hot tar road and the sun-baked cement sidewalk.

The day Shirt learned to sing alto was a red-letter day in our books.  She discovered that if she just sang a couple of notches lower than I did, we could harmonize.  We whipped through all the hymns and choruses we could think of, trying out our new sound, then we begged to be allowed to sing a duet in church.

Our mothers sewed us matching feed sack skirts and peasant blouses, and our debut number was The Spelling Song, a perky little jingle condemning some of the shocking worldly sins of the flesh.  The parts I remember went like this:

 

Some folks jump up and down all night at a D-A-N-C-E,

While others go to church to show off their brand new H-A-T.

They smear their faces with great daubs of P-A-I-N-T,

And then they laugh at us because we’re S-A-V-E-D.

Chorus:

I’m H-A-P-P-Y to know that I’m S-A-V-E-D.

’Tis G-L-O-R-Y to know that I’m F-R- double E…

 

You get the idea.  It was fun to see how fast we could sing it the second and third time around.

But our singing career came to an unexpected halt the day the doctor told my parents and me that I had rheumatic fever.  Not that there had been a lot of call for a couple of ten-year-olds in matching outfits speed-singing The Spelling Song after we’d done it once.  But now with my sore throat and fever, singing was no longer an option.

Things were pretty quiet in our old Model A the day we drove home from the clinic in Pine River.  There would have been more heavy-duty crying from the back seat if I’d known I would be spending the whole next year of my life in bed.

My legs had ached for weeks—growing pains, everybody guessed—but I was more tired than a ten-year-old oughta be.  Frankly, I was glad that the doctor’s diagnosis of a heart murmur finally gave me permission to rest.  Little did I realize that I’d miss out on my whole fifth-grade year of school.

At any rate, during many of those long, boring, pre-penicillin days when I was laid up, Shirley sat on the edge of my bed and kept me company.  Sometimes as we cut out clothes for our paper dolls or assembled toy-town villages from cereal boxes, Shirt and I were so quiet my mom didn’t even remember that I had company.

Nobody had heard of home school education in those days, so a year later, when the following school term rolled around, and I was finally up on my feet, I realized I’d had a growth spurt.  There I was—the tallest kid in fifth grade—except for one kid, who had flunked a grade or two.  Not only was I taller, but I felt more mature.  Who were these short, silly kids?  I belonged with the friends I’d grown up with who were now in sixth grade.  The only good thing about it was that I was now in the same grade with Shirt, who was a year and a day younger than me.

If I had known that the railroad would soon transfer Shirt’s dad to Guthrie, I’d have been really sick all over again.  But that’s a whole other story.

After Shirt moved away, life was pretty dull.  I spent more time with my older cousin Marilie, and she shared my love for music, but life was never the same.

My dad’s brother and family lived on a farm, and they went to the same church as we did.  After Sunday services were over, we’d potluck with them.  Later, when we’d polished off Aunt Emma’s roast beef, mashed potatoes, and gravy, along with my mother’s exquisite coconut cream pie, Marilie and I excused ourselves from the table and raided the hen house for real eggs to use in our mud pies.

They had a mean old bull with horns, and he was penned into the pasture by what seemed like a flimsy barbed-wire fence.  I was terrified of the ferocious bull, and it seemed like a dumb thing for them to keep him at all, especially when he didn’t even give milk.  But when I asked why they kept him, my older boy cousins just snickered like I was a dummy.

Later in the afternoon, their whole family would take out musical instruments—banjo, accordion, mandolin, and guitars, and sometimes a harmonica, and along with my tall, gentle uncle on the violin—they made wonderful music together.  For me, it was the best part of the whole day.  They played everything from old hymns to “Turkey in the Straw,” and not a one of them could read a note.

After Uncle Alfred died, an old friend sent condolences to my dad.  In the letter he wrote, “I will never forget the last time I heard Alfred play the violin.  It was on a Sunday evening in church.  When he played “I’m a Child of the King,” I had never heard anything more beautiful!  It seemed like the angels touched the strings that night.”

Many years later, after my cousin Marilie died, her husband gave me my Uncle Alfred’s violin.  It will never sound very good under my fingers and bow—I could use some help from the angels.  But I can still hear the echo of the music made by my ear-playing Norwegian uncle, the one who was the son of a King.

 

 

What is so Rare as a Day in June?

What is so rare as a day in JUNE???

Then come weddings, graduations, and celebrations GALORE!!!

School’s out, we’re free, time to loaf, and much MORE!

And speaking of weddings, this month’s wedding photo is from our Webmaster, Brad Tombers, who happens to be a wedding photographer!

Check out Brad’s photography (wedding and otherwise) at bradtombers.com

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We’ve all got a favorite WEDDING GLITZES story.  In honor of June, the most popular month for weddings, here’s Mary Z‘s favorite:

 

Love is in the air in June! Statistically speaking, there are more June brides than during any other month of the year. Weddings, no matter the month are usually not without “hitches or glitches,” and if something can go wrong…it usually does on the couple’s most treasured day. I am chagrined to admit this forthcoming escapade, but at the time, the laughs were worth every minute of the evening!

Many years ago when the Mall of America first opened, a girlfriend, Mary Jo, and I decided to stay overnight at the Embassy Suites near the mall and have a shopping weekend. Being nosey and looking for some fun, after dinner one of the evenings, we decided to see what might be going on in the hotel. All dressed up and strolling around, we discovered there were three wedding receptions happening that evening.

We wiggled and giggled our way into each one, checked out the wedding cake at each, and decided the cake looked the best at the last one. We joined the reception, ate cake, and made small talk with those around us. As everyone hit the dance floor, we hit the dance floor, too. It was there that, unfortunately, Mary Jo’s cousin happened to be dancing right next to us!  Somehow Stephen was a distant friend of one of the people in the wedding party!

Surprised, Stephen said, “What are you doing here?”

Busted!

We were gate-crashing, and we were forced to own up!                 ~ Mary Z.

 

 

Faithbooking

This month we are pleased to welcome Shelley Johnson, a vivacious mom, homemaker, and speaker.   We think you’ll enjoy this idea!

Faithbook Challenge for 2016

Have you ever made a Faithbook? It’s a book that chronicles all the amazing things God has done in your life. Have you ever taken the time to write down some of your personal accounts of how God rescued you, sustained you, strengthened you, and provided for you? If not, why not? Let’s resolve to make 2016 the year we follow the Lord’s commands to REMEMBER and SHARE all the ways He has worked in our lives and in the lives of those around us. It’s not only a positive reflection exercise that will change your personal attitude and perspective, it will be a blessing to all who read your stories for generations to come.

In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses tells the people, “Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen, or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.”

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up

And David adds in Psalm 78:4, “We will tell the next generation the praise worthy deeds of the Lord, His power and the wonders He has done.”

And the prophet Joel says in Joel 1:3, “Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.”

The Bible is pretty clear that we are to pass on our faith stories and not have them die with us someday. But how does one do that? It’s not as daunting as you may think. Start simple.

Take the time to write down the story of how you first came to know God personally. What led you to the decision to follow God? Did someone help you along? Did someone mentor you? In what ministry areas have you served where you have witnessed God doing mighty things? How did God provide for you when you needed something – money for necessities, direction in decision making, healing, or strength to get through an illness? Does that get you thinking and remembering?

If those around you don’t know your faith stories, make 2016 the year that you make a Faithbook and “tell the next generation the praise worthy deeds of the Lord, His power and the wonders He has done.”

 

Hunkering Down for the Long Winter

Hunkering Down for the Long Winter

By Sharon Sheppard

When my Washington friends hear that I’m from Minnesota, they give me a pitying look and predictably ask, “It gets really cold there, doesn’t it?”  or “You get lots of snow there, don’t you?”  One woman said, “I don’t know why anyone would want to live there!”

I could argue with her, but what’s the use?

I could tell her that in a recent ranking of the 50 states, Minnesota ranked second highest in the nation for quality of life.  It ranked highest in the nation for health.

Our poverty rate is one of the lowest nationwide, and the employment rank was 6th highest.  But all that most out-of-staters know about Minnesota is that it gets cold here.

Many Washingtonians (and others across the country) have never known the joys of bundling up (we know how to dress for the weather) and heading for the lake.  What could be more fun than ice fishing from one of those cozy (heated) fish houses that dot many of our 10,000 lakes?  Or tobogganing or cross country skiing or snowmobiling across pristine snow?

Few things taste as good as walleyes freshly caught out of a frozen lake, dipped in egg and crushed Ritz cracker crumbs, and deep-fried.  And few things rival the camaraderie of those frosty evening fish fries filled with laughter, conversation, and singing.

When I was a teenager we used to drive cars on the frozen lakes and ski behind them holding onto a rope that was tied to the bumper.  Not particularly safe, but great fun.

Our house was a little on the small side when I was growing up in northern Minnesota, and bedroom space was limited.  As the only girl in the family, I slept downstairs on the living room couch where it was warmer, thanks to our barrel stove—the main source of heat during those early years.  Dad had fashioned the stove out of a 50-gallon barrel—a common practice in that area.  It had iron legs and a factory-made door, and we burned wood in it.  One chilly night as I undressed for bed, I backed a little too close to the stove.  For the next few weeks I sported a tattoo on my bottom that read Farwell, Ozmun & Kirk—the name of the factory that manufactured the door.

P.S.  The tattoo is gone now, and all that remains are the warmest of memories.

 

 

Autumn is my Favorite Time of Year!

By Mary Zigan

Perhaps it is the fresh air, apple orchards, hot cider, campfires, and S’mores. More than that though, I like the way I feel when autumn beckons. In the Midwest we nest in, hunker down, and hope beyond hope we survive what’s coming…the blustery winter.

To capture the feelings that are so fleeting, every day of autumn counts. I think back to when my husband and I had our farm and we would take long walks in the woods together. Sometimes after breakfast Don would say, “Hon, would you like to grab your 4.10 and see if we can scare up some grouse?” I loved our times together in the woods. Guns in tow, we headed for the clump of red berry bushes. That was the most likely place to find these fowls eating. When Don heard a grouse drum, his gun was ready before I could say Jack Sprat. A fowl or two were bagged every time.

Autumn is a gathering time for more than a couple of fowl–although what a delicacy! The summer’s variety of produce needs to be cut, sliced, and diced to preserve all the goodness, and the kitchen once again becomes a hub in my home. Check out the Minestrone Soup Recipe in next week’s blog with fresh tomatoes, basil, and onion.  I think you will enjoy it.

Yes, autumn; beautiful fall sunsets, falling crisp and colorful leaves everywhere. It’s not uncommon to hear Minnesotans say, “Sure would like three more months of this,” knowing full well, it’s not going to happen. It is quite natural for our thoughts to become more centered on our Master artist, who has created a vast Sanctuary displaying His glory.

I am reminded of the Scripture (Psalm 104:24) O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. (NLT)

 

Learning to Savor

Learning to Savor . . .

A number of years ago my husband and I visited Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah.  We felt dwarfed among towering rock spires and awed by the stunning beauty of it all.  Nearby I saw a little girl—maybe six years old—who was likewise amazed by all she was seeing.  Enthralled by the small loose rocks, she picked them up off the ground, examined each one in the palm of her hand, and marveled at their varied colors and shapes. 

“Sara, come on!” her mother shouted impatiently.  “We’ve got a lot of miles to drive today.”

My heart ached for wide-eyed Sara, who was savoring her surroundings to the fullest, immersing herself in the beauty of the place.  And I was frankly annoyed at the mother until I reminded myself that I had probably spoken those same words to my own children in the past:  “Come on, we’ve got a lot of miles to go today . . .”

A Hungarian proverb says, Who doesn’t appreciate the small things doesn’t deserve the big.

 

NOTE:  Sharon Sheppard will be teaching a seminar on Living in the Moment on October 3 at a Faith & Fellowship God Chicks Conference for women, hosted by Advent Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, MN.  If you are in the Twin Cities area, and would like to attend, email for additional information at GodChicks2015@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

Happy Independence Day

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!!

 

The high price of FREEDOM

When our youngest US President, John F. Kennedy, uttered his famous pledge that our country would “bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and success of liberty,” it’s doubtful that he—or anyone else–had envisioned the true extent of the hardships our soldiers would endure during the Vietnam War.

As the costly conflict escalated, and for the first time in American history the media were allowed to dispense graphic footage of casualties to the public, the war became wildly unpopular, spawning massive demonstrations that sometimes became violent.   By the time this war ground to an unsatisfactory halt, veterans returned, not to the adulation of tickertape parades, but to scorn.

Among the thousands of young men drafted during the 1960s and ’70s and sent to the steamy, mosquito-infested jungles of Vietnam was my cousin, Randy Anderson, of Backus, Minnesota.  His return was a little bit different.

He was riding the Greyhound Bus on the last leg of his journey home from the war when the driver bypassed the hometown café where pickups and drop-offs were usually made and kept going.   A couple of miles out of town he explained to the passengers, “Folks, we’re going to take a little detour here, because we’ve got a hero on board.”

To the puzzlement of the other passengers, the driver turned his big bus onto a dusty, rolling gravel road and barreled through the countryside.  When he reached a crossroads, he turned into the yard of a small house and drove right up to the door.

To the applause of the passengers and a salute from the driver, Randy hopped off the Greyhound and into the arms of his family.

“Welcome home, soldier,” the driver said.

©Copyright, Sharon Sheppard, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Is so Rare as a Day in June

What is so rare as a day in June?” asked 19th Century New England poet James Russell Lowell.  “Whether we look, or whether we listen, we hear life murmur, or see it glisten.”

June brings some of the most eagerly-awaited celebrations of the year.  Graduations abound, dads are honored, and June is still the most popular month of the year for weddings.

WAITING . . .

Last evening Kimberly, daughter of my niece Kathy and her husband, Gary Aspen, graduated from high school.  The event was particularly sweet because of the long period of anticipation.  A couple of decades ago Kathy had struggled through the devastating disappointments of infertility.   Finally, the couple’s decision to pursue a foreign adoption brought hope, but also more months of forms, red tape, complicated arrangements, and frustrating minutia. -127808823936BC68E5

KIMCRIB

Then one memorable day my husband and I joined the excited family group waiting for Kathy to emerge from the Jetway, bearing a precious bundle she had carried half way around the world.

“I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that Kim is 18 and graduated,” Kathy says. “This was always something far in the future.  Then I blinked my eyes and that day arrived last night!”

Along with their Korean baby came a new culture, new traditions, and eventually a new Korean brother.

“We feel so blessed!” Kathy says.  “My infertility was all part of God’s plan to bring two bundles of joy from Korea to join our family.”

Some things are worth the wait.

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“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”   Romans 8:28   NLT

 

 

 

 

Preserve Those Special Childhood Moments!

Preserve those special childhood moments!

Ever had one of those special moments when your child did something so charming that it warmed your heart clear through?  Aah . . . if only you could freeze that moment . . .

PRACTICE SAVORING / Aim for the HEART ! / Get creative / SAVE CUTENESS

  • Ramp up your awareness so you’re on the lookout for small, but precious moments, and look for creative ways to preserve them.

 

  • Journal – Jot down cute things your child says, describe vignettes, little snippets of happenings, small acts that touch you, precocious words or actions. Record in a notebook, on your iPad, or on a scrap of paper.

 

  • Write a letter to your child on his birthday each year. Reflect on what you’ve observed about him and affirm him for progress.  Save a copy and give him a collection of all the letters for his high school graduation.

 

  • Record “A Day in the Life of (your child)” showing an ordinary day from waking up to going to bed–video, still photos, or journaled descriptions.

 

  • Keep a collection of the conversations or actions that touch your heart. Could be in a notebook, computer file, index cards . . . or ?

 

  • Save a collection of your child’s art work – from her earliest attempts. Jot down the child’s age on the back.

 

  • Jot down things that your child does that make you laugh!

 

  • Set aside a special box for meaningful mementoes: favorite toy, a clipping off her “blankie,” his first tooth, a clipping of baby hair . . . Remember to include a small note about the significance of the object.

 

  • Choose a few favorite photos and add some narrative for an occasional hardcover book (Shutterfly, or similar brand).

 

  • Make a recording of you or your husband or a grandparent reading a favorite book to your child. Could be audio or video.

 

Copyright ©Sharon Sheppard