MUCH-AFRAID, BELTS, AND SWING SETS
By JIM NICHOLS
Fellow Spirit of Abilene contributor Nancy Patrick recently referenced the book Hind’s Feet on High Places. It is a story following the character Much-Afraid as she encounters guidance from God.
Hearing about that book I had read long ago, I searched our bookshelves at home and found our yellowed copy. As I opened the cover, I was surprised to see it inscribed in my father’s handwriting to my wife, Jeanenne. He had added the date, 1976, and was clearly giving the book to her as a present.
He has been gone for many years and it did something to my heart to see his handwriting again. It caused me to rethink how some simple item can bring up such large memories. It might be an inscription in a book, a song, or even some common physical entity. Sometimes specific items tell you something about a family.
Today I am wearing my father’s belt. It is a nondescript leather belt. The only unique feature of it is that one side is brown leather and the other is black leather; thus, by reversing the exposed side, one can wear it with two different colors of pants at different times. One of the small bits of fashion sense someone tried to teach me once was to avoid mixing brown and black pieces.
Although I have a couple of other random possessions, the belt is one of only two items of usable clothing I have that once belonged to him. The other is a heavy winter coat that I seldom get to use because the winters are so mild where I live now. When I do get to wear it on a rare January day, however, I somewhat feel that my father is wrapping around me and I like that thought. I seldom wear the belt, but have some of the same intimacy with him when I cinch it up around my waist.
I know I am not alone when I suggest that something can trigger a multitude of memories and say something about a family.
Google Earth is magical for me because I can type in a street address and a photo of the building or piece of land will appear. As odd as it seems to imagine an automobile-mounted camera taking photos of houses on a street, it is quite captivating to me. Not long ago I typed in our Ann Arbor, Michigan address from 1966. A photo of a large, two-story, white house appeared. There remain two separate driveways. When we were first married and living there, one driveway was used by the couple occupying the first floor; we had the upper floor and the second driveway. Seeing that house prompted a flood of memories of Jeanenne’s first kindergarten-teaching position and my first venture into graduate school. After attending a freezing afternoon Michigan football game, we would return to that apartment, get in bed and cuddle up just to get warm. All that was due to a simple photograph.
I secured a series of satellite images of a land area near Stornara, Italy. Overgrown with vegetation now, it was the position of an air base during World War II; it was my father’s base. Those simple satellite photos were the focus of a trip we took to that site. Standing in that place, breathing that air and looking at that sky now devoid of planes was deeply moving.
Early in our marriage, our ownership of a classic VW Beetle was descriptive of our family. The Beetle was gradually replaced by larger cars, finally climaxing with a Chevrolet Impala station wagon. With a larger family, that Chevy said something about us.
The backyard of our current house looks different now. We had our first family swing set decades ago in another state. With children grown but then grandchildren arriving, this current house needed a swing set twenty years ago. Several strong young friends carried a set from a neighborhood donor house, lifted it over the fence, and we were in business. Apparently, we were the third owners of that set; many children have swung and climbed there.
However, there are no young grandchildren now. The swings sat unused. I tried in vain to give it away. We had workers at the house recently and I requested that they remove it. One of them said he would take it for his children. It was a fine plan.
The yard looks strange now. It will be easier to mow, but important sounds and images are gone. It says something about our family.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain