Posted by: suekenney | March 29, 2013

What’s So Special About That?

The Parr family. From left to right: Elastigir...

The Parr family. From left to right: Elastigirl, Mr. Incredible, Violet and Dash. Bottom: Jack-Jack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I’ve been meditating a lot lately on a couple of lines from one of my favorite intellectual films:  The Incredibles.  Most of you probably know the basic plotline:  the superheroes of the world are forced to go undercover, forswear their superpowers, and forever pretend to be just ordinary non-superpowered citizens.  The Parr family – dad Bob (Mr. Incredible), mom Helen (Elastigirl), and children Violet, Dash, and baby JackJack – are the central focus of the movie, as Bob is increasingly unhappy concealing his true powers, and son Dash is chomping at the bit to show off his super-speed.

Early on in the movie, as Helen is once again patiently explaining to Dash why he must conceal his speed in school, she comments, “Everyone’s special, Dash.”  In response, Dash mutters, “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

Later, the villain of the piece, Syndrome, is explaining his nefarious plot to the captive Mr. Incredible.  Syndrome is a genius, with apparently a LOT of money to throw around, and has invented all kinds of gadgets that give him, a non-superpowered individual, a variety of super abilities:  flying, force shields, tractor beams, etc.  As he tells Mr. Incredible, when he gets too old to enjoy them himself, he’ll make these inventions available to everyone so that everyone can enjoy super powers

Syndrome, the antagonist of the movie, was wel...

Syndrome, the antagonist of the movie, was well received. He was No.64 in Wizard’s top 100 villains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Everyone can be super,” he says; “and when everyone’s super – no one will be.”

To paraphrase:  “When everyone has the same awesome abilities, no one will be considered special anymore.”

That line – that concept – has been bothering me.  Do you have to have super powers or incredible natural talents  to be special?  Does that mean that anyone who isn’t a super hero – or a phenomenal athlete – or a Pulitzer Prize-winning author – or a world class musician – or a scientist who has discovered the foundational secrets of physics or chemistry – or an entrepreneur who amasses enormous wealth – or a military leader who defeats every enemy with spectacular ease – or a medical researcher who has discovered the cure for cancer – does that mean that anyone who isn’t regarded by the world as outstanding in his or her field, isn’t special?

If you look at “special” as meaning “outstanding; distinguished by some unusual quality; being in some way superior” – then the answer is yes.  The ordinary citizen on the street is not special at all.

This is how our American culture tends to view “special.”  We idolize sports heroes; popular singers and musicians; the super-wealthy; the super-glamorous; actors and actresses who have made major box office hits; politicians who wield great power – anyone who stands out from the crowd.  We want to be special ourselves: rich, famous, powerful, incredibly talented; and we are encouraged in our fantasizing by the advertising media, by the TV shows and movies we watch, even by our politicians who insist that we as a nation (or state, or county, or city, or township) must be Number One.

But there is another definition of “special.”  Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary also defines “special” as “held in particular esteem.”  Again to paraphrase, “regarded with respect or admiration or affection unique to that one.” So what does that mean?  Do you have to stand out from the crowd to be “held in particular esteem”?

Hardly.  I’ll use my grandsons (my favorite examples).  One is three years old; the other is six months old.  Obviously both of them are far too young to have exhibited great athletic prowess, or literary genius, or financial acumen, or musical talent, or political savvy.  Neither one has won any Pulitzers, Nobels, Grammys, Emmys, Purple Hearts, Medals of Honor, or any other award.  Their names are known only to a few people, mostly relatives.

And yet, I find them very special; I hold them both “in particular esteem.”  I take great delight in being with them, in playing with them, in laughing with them, in just holding them.  I cherish every moment I am able to spend with them.

Here’s another example: Mother Teresa.  No, not she herself, although I agree that she was an incredible woman.  No, I am talking about those whom she served for all those years:  the incredibly poor, the incredibly sick, the downcast and downtrodden, the abject rejects of the society.  Why did Mother Teresa daily expend her life to serve these people, so insignificant in the eyes of everyone else?  Because each one was special to her.  Each one, no matter how poor, or sick, or ugly, or old, or young, or downtrodden, was precious in her eyes.  Any why would that be?  Because she saw each one as a life created by God, cherished by God – but horribly abused by this sinful world we live in.

To be regarded as special, or “held in particular esteem,” these things don’t really matter:  age, sex, sexual orientation, race, nationality, political party, economic status, individual talents, personal preferences, health, accomplishments.  Every life has been lovingly crafted by God; as His agents here on earth, we are to cherish each one and do whatever is in our power to imporve their lives here on earth.

So I reject the elitism inherent in both Dash’s and Syndrome’s remarks.  I choose to view every person as special, despite age, sex, etc. (see above).  And there is a great easing of the pressure to feel that we have to perform or accomplish something awesome to be regarded as special.  My “specialness” lies in the facts that God made me, He loves me, and other people love me as well.  Nothing greater is required.

Posted by: suekenney | February 14, 2013

Long Overdue Update – In Praise of NOOKs

Well, well, my last blog post was at the end of October.  And here it is, the middle of February.  Over three months in between.  I never did get that novel written – I think I gave up after about a week or so, because I couldn’t possibly keep up.  Haven’t gone back to it since; maybe later this winter or this spring.

My “brand new” grandson is now over four months old and growing by leaps and bounds: already over the 95th percentile for height, but only around the 60th for weight.  He’s going to be a tall lad!  Very likely taller than his older brother, who is no miniature himself.

Little brother Simeon staring up in wonder at older brother Owen - December 2012

Little brother Simeon staring up in wonder at older brother Owen – December 2012

And Owen, age 3, is progressing very well.  Such a smiler!

(Can’t tell Grandma’s proud of her little munchkins, can you?)

On another note, I got a NOOK Simple Touch for Christmas.  Hadn’t expected it – hadn’t asked for it – but boy! am I having fun with it now! 

English: A Nook Touch Deutsch: Ein Foto eines ...

English: A Nook Touch Deutsch: Ein Foto eines Nook Touch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve learned a lot about NOOKs since I got mine.  There are different kinds, which was news to me.  Mine is just a reader; others are of the tablet variety, so you can surf the Web, do apps, and more, besides read.

All you young folks must excuse me here – I’m of an older generation, and all this is new to me.  The technology amazes me.  I hadn’t realized how much you can pack onto these things.  I currently have well over 100 items in my “library,” and yet still have 80% of its capacity unused. 

Granted, a number of those items are fairly short, like short stories or poems, or essays; but there are also some whoppers in there at several hundred pages.  My New King James Bible is probably the longest; or maybe the topical Bible I downloaded. 

And my collection is so eclectic.  So much better than a magazine.  I have a couple different Bibles, some Bible resources, and several Christian works of both fiction and nonfiction.  Then there’s a smattering of history – science fiction – philosophy – farming and gardening – murder mystery – genealogy –  economics – grammars and dictionaries – papermaking – bookbinding – Jane Austen and Shakespeare, of course – and even a cookbook.  Something for just about every reading mood I will ever be in.

Sources have been various:  Barnes & Noble, of course, the makers of the NOOK.  Project Gutenberg, which has digitized thousands of books whose copyrights have expired, putting them in the public domain.  My public library (Flower Memorial Library in Watertown, NY, surely one of the best libraries around), which has ebooks for loan, and also gives access to several books like those from Project Gutenberg.  And now even articles online or various items on my computer, now that I’ve learned how to make a PDF file from a Word document.

Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library

Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

It has certainly been fun, and I find it’s actually changing my reading habits.  For several years now, I have mostly read fiction, aside from my Bible.  Now I have several nonfiction books at my fingertips – literally! – and I have begun to delve into books about history, science, education, politics, and other fun subjects.

So thanks for my NOOK!

Posted by: suekenney | October 29, 2012

A New Challenge

I think I’m probably crazy.  I’ve been gone from home for almost a month and a half (helping tend brand new grandson!), and I have SOOO much to do to catch up.  But I think I’m going to give a shot at the National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo, as some fondly know it.  It means trying to write a 50,000 novel in 30 days, at an average of approximately 1670 words per day.

Yep, crazy.  I really do have SOOOO much else to do.  But I think I’ll give it a go, see what comes of it.  No, I certainly don’t expect to come up with a clean, polished, ready-to-be-published novel in only 30 days.  I’m old enough, and have corrected enough high school English papers, to know that’s not going to happen.  Good writing, worthy to be published, takes time and effort, more than is possible in just 30 days.

I’ve always wanted to write something worth reading.  I’ve got mounds of unfinished stories stashed in various drawers and cupboards; most of them, quite frankly, are awful.  Blogging has become my new creative writing outlet.  There is, however, a world of difference between writing a few hundred words of condensed thought, and writing several thousand words of novel with characters, plot, theme, all the rest of it.  I think I’ll take the challenge to write something longer than I’ve done in a long time.

I already have some ideas about what I’m going to write about.  I may share more about it as the month of November progresses – if, of course, I can find the time to both blog and write a novel.  Should prove to be interesting.  I’ll let you know in December if I actually succeeded.  Stay tuned!

3 Days Until National Novel Writing Month (NaN...

3 Days Until National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) (Photo credit: smittenkittenorig)

Posted by: suekenney | September 14, 2012

My Grandmother’s Scrapbooks: An Introduction

 

Esther Corinne Lambert, July 1936 – or “CTL” as she called herself, Corinne Tyson Lambert

My maternal grandmother, Corinne Tyson Lambert (1894-1993), was a great one for looking into family history.  My mother has often told me of how Grandma used to take entire days going to the various venues in Worcester, MA, for genealogical research:  the historical society, the library, the museums, etc.  She took copious notes, many of which I still have in my possession (having inherited the family historical materials when we had to divvy up the contents of Mom’s house), and painstakingly copied those notes into ledgers and journals, which I also have. 

She inherited much of this interest from her own father, Edwin Comly Tyson (1864-1946 or 48), who had done much of his own research in what time he could spare from his business.  I have seen, amongst the masses of papers and such, letters written by my great-grandfather to various folks asking about bits and pieces of family history, and their replies.  At least one of the hand-drawn family trees in my possession was begun by him, in his elegant 19th century handwriting.

My great-grandfather, Edwin Comly Tyson, not sure of the date

In turn, Grandma passed this interest on to my mother, who eventually was able to consolidate some of the most basic information into a self-made book, copies of which she gave to each of us kids, to her mother and sisters, and possibly to a few other folks I don’t know about.  The book only covers what Mom always called the “Four Quarters,” the four families of my grandparents – Watson, Plummer, Lambert, and Tyson.  Mom had always hoped to get to the other family lines, some of which had been traced back several generations to the very beginnings of the American colonies, but never finished that monumental work.

And now the torch has passed to me.  I would like to carry on the tradition, but am somewhat daunted by the sheer volume of material now in my possession.  I have written a few blogs before about various little bits of family history – William Bartlet (a many-times-great-grandfather), Richard Lambert (my grandfather), Kitty Niles (my mother’s sister), John Watson (my father).  But nothing very connected.

Well, my grandmother had taken some of the material on her husband’s family, the Lamberts, and put it into a couple of scrapbooks.  I thought I would give a try to go through the scrapbooks, page by page, picture by picture, and see what was there.  Organizationally my grandmother was definitely a bit challenged – skimming through these books, there is plenty of jumping from one century to another, from one ancestor to another with no warning.  But perhaps I can make some sense of it as I go through it in detail; and when I redo these scrapbooks (as I must, because they’re not in the greatest of shape) I would hope to get things more in some sort of order, chronological or otherwise.

So, to begin – much of Grandma’s research focused on Henry Calvert Lambert (1812-1899), her husband’s grandfather, and the first Lambert of the line to come to America, in the 1830’s.  The very first picture in the first scrapbook is of “the Little Store” in Rye, England.  According to Grandma’s caption, it is “where Henry Lambert went as a boy, for sweets.  The very same house.”

The Little Store, Rye, England, where Henry went as a boy for sweets

Note that the picture was taped into the scrapbook – not what would be recommended today.  I am not as hyper-conscientious about using only the most archival-friendly materials as some people I know, but even I cringed as I went through the books and saw how Grandma had put them in.  Maybe this can be corrected; maybe not.  I’ll see what I can do.

As far as Henry and Rye go – according to the records I’ve got, Henry was born in Winchelsea, England, the fifth of ten children.  Since the father, Luke, was a military man, those ten children were born in a number of different places, including England, Ireland, Scotland, Malta, at sea, and Italy.  Rye was obviously one of the places the family stayed for a while, in between travels.  More on Rye and Winchelsea to come.  Next time, though, I want to look at the introduction my grandmother wrote for this scrapbook.

Posted by: suekenney | August 31, 2012

Once in a Blue Moon…Is Now

Full Moon

Full Moon (Photo credit: kennytyy)

I’ve heard the phrase “once in a blue moon” all my life.  It was always used to refer to something not very likely to happen.  For instance, “Does that bum down the street ever pay his rent on time?”  “Oh, once in a blue moon!”  Or, “Does my brother ever clean his room?”  “Once in a blue moon!”

 For whatever reason, we never delved into the origin of the phrase, so it wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I learned that it was used to refer to an actual astronomical phenomenon.  I don’t recall where and when I first heard this, but I learned then that a “blue moon” referred to the second full moon within a month.  Such as today – August 31, 2012, hosts the second full moon of this month, the first one having occurred around August 1 or 2.

I normally don’t keep close track on what the moon is doing, but the nearly full moon I saw last night was hard to ignore, and I had also heard a few mentions of the upcoming phenomena on the radio.  So I thought I’d whip up a quick article on what a blue moon was, and proceeded to do some digging.

Well, well, well.  Look what I found!  “Blue moon” referring to the second full moon within the same month is NOT the original meaning of the term.  Traditionally, according to the Maine Farmer’s Almanac from the 19th century, “blue moon” was the term used for an extra moon within a season.  Usually, each season of the year has three full moons, and many cultures have assigned names to each of those moons – such as the “Egg Moon” of early spring/April or the “Wolf Moon” of midwinter/February or the “Harvest Moon” of early fall/October.  About every two or three years there is an extra full moon within a season; so as not to disrupt the naming sequence already assigned, the third full moon in a season with four is called a “blue moon.”

The switchover in meaning was actually a mistake made in a 1946 Sky & Telescope article, where an amateur astronomer misinterpreted what had been said in the Farmer’s Almanac as referring to the second full moon in one month, rather than an extra moon in a quarter.  Sky & Telescope has since published a correction, but the misinterpretation has stuck in modern folklore.

Another Interpretation:  According to the Wikipedia article I read, the earliest reference in the English language to “blue moon” is from the early 1500’s, when some folks were complaining about their tyrannical clergymen:  “If they say the moon is belewe / We must believe that it is true.”  As we might say it today, “They’re trying to make us believe that black is white, and white is black.”

Yet Another Meaning:   One last meaning of “blue moon” is that you can, on extremely rare occasions, have a moon that actually appears blue!  It can happen after volcanic eruptions or large forest fires:  large particles just slightly wider than the wavelength of red light are put into the air, with no particles of other sizes, so that red and yellow lightwaves are scattered.  After the 1883 eruption of Mount Krakatoa, there were literal blue moons for upwards of two years.

So there’s my take on blue moons.  And this is my 50th post for this blog.  Let’s hope the next 50 come a bit quicker!

 

Posted by: suekenney | August 24, 2012

Brief Interlude

I ran away from home yesterday.  Oh, not very far, and only for the day.  I motored down to Clayton, on the mighty St. Lawrence River, parked the car, and spent a few hours wandering on foot through part of the the town, but mostly just sitting by the river, in the breeze and the sun.

The St. Lawrence River…Clayton is just a bit east of the easternmost Great Lake, Ontario.

I found a handy bench overlooking the river.  I could see dark blue water with little tiny whitecaps formed by the breeze; I could hear the waves lapping against the rocky shore, and also hear the wind in the nearby trees.  I could see and hear a few motorboats out on the river.  I could see a short line of Canada geese moving from one small bay to another; I could hear their plaintive honking.  I could see puffy white clouds all around, except for clear blue sky directly overhead.  I could see a black and orange butterfly go by, struggling to maintain some semblance of control in the breeze, which must have seemed like a hurricane to its delicate little frame. 

There was a lone sea gull sitting on the water, riding gently up and down in the swell.  And there was a little tour boat, built on a catamaran hull, just leaving the dock.  It was very peaceful there, more peaceful than I had anticipated, with far fewer people, at least here outside of the downtown shopping area.

I had to move out of the direct sun – tough on a pale Anglo-Saxon like me – into the pavilion just erected by the village of Clayton.  The pavilion is meant to be reminiscent of the old train depot that was once nearby; it has plenty of chairs and benches, and even a platform for small outdoor concerts.  Very nicely done, I must say.

The Clayton pavilion under construction, seen from the river side. Photo from the Clayton Local Development Corporation.

Another bird flew over the water’s edge.  Large, dark, a fairly longish neck, about the size of a goose – but NOT  a goose, nor a heron, by the way it flew.  I wondered if it might be a cormorant.  I checked later, and am reasonably certain it was indeed a cormorant, a double-crested cormorant, common in these parts, though this was my first sighting on one.

It was just a bit noisier there in the pavilion, since it was that much closer to downtown.  There were some folks fishing from the docks off to my right; some people swimming directly in front of me; and some sunbathers off to the right, beside a lovely double-masted sailboat.  A little later, one of the huge lakers chugged slowly downriver.  The breeze began to get a bit stiffer as I sat there.

A lake-going freighter on the St. Lawrence River

I stayed there for just a little while longer.  It was nice to be out of the house, away from the phone, the housework, and all the million and one things that needed to be done.  I was extremely reluctant to leave.  But all such little interludes must end, sooner or later.  Life’s demands beckoned.

Posted by: suekenney | July 20, 2012

Did He Really Say That?

Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

There has been a big buzz in all manner of venues over what President Obama said on Friday, July 13, at a campaign stop in Roanoke, Virginia.  Sound bites and talking points have been extracted with great liberty, and those same little bits and pieces disected with gruesome relish.  Most popular in this regard is the sentence, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

Conservatives from all over have grabbed at that and declared that now Obama is saying that entrepeneurship and individualism are no longer viable ideas; you did not build up your own business by your blood, tears, and sweat, but by someone else’s.  Obama  is denigrating the value of hard work and individual effort.

Really?  Is that really what he said?  As has often been said, “Context is king.”  Let’s put that sound-bitten sentence into its proper context.  Here is the text as I found it at ABC News online:

We’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts.  We can make some more cuts in programs that don’t work, and make government work more efficiently…We can make another trillion..and what we then do is ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more.

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me, because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t – look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to created this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together.  That’s how we funded the GI Bill.  That’s how we created the middle class.  That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.  That’s how we invented the Internet.  That’s how we sent a man to the moon.  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president – because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

If you read the whole thing, our poor sound-bitten sentence is in the third paragraph.  Looking at the surrounding sentences with the eye of an English teacher who has spent an inordinate amount of time harping on pronoun antecedents:  (a) it’s not the best-crafted sentence I’ve ever seen, but (b) the most likely antecedent for “that” is the “roads and bridges” of the previous sentence; this comes out even more clearly if you actually listen to the speech.  So what Obama is really saying is that business owners don’t build the infrastructure that helps serve their businesses, NOT that they didn’t build their businesses.  You can also see that in the next-to-last paragraph, President Obama does acknowledge the value of personal initiative and effort.

His main point here is that nothing happens in a vacuum.  We do build our personal successes on what has been done, attempted, invented before.  Look at putting a man on the moon, for instance:  this would never have happened without countless contributions from physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, engineering – from the people who built the rockets and modules, to the people who built the roads to transport materials and personnel to the launch site, to the people who calculated exactly when to launch the rocket, to the people who in whatever capacity (cooks, janitors, housecleaners, gardeners, etc.) maintained a livable environment for the scientists, engineers, and astronauts.

Obama is very right: there are many things that we do better together.  As the old man in the fable showed his sons:  each stick individually was easy to break, but the sticks collectively were much harder to affect, because they were far stronger as a unit.

All that being said, I do feel that Obama was saying something just as insidious as what many people think he said.  Read through his words again.  He isn’t saying that a bunch of individual entrepreneurs gave each other some useful assistance; he is saying that government was the driving force behind most, if not all, of the listed accomplishments.  Notice that most of his examples involve things that we now see primarily as government-sponsored:  education, road and bridge construction, firefighting.  Notice that “government research created the Internet” (stretching the facts of the case).

Government should not ever be the driving force behind our accomplishments as a nation and as individuals.  Government is a tool.  We would not have reached our current level without those individual inventors and business builders who poured their hearts and souls into what they were doing – regardless of what the government had to say about it, often in spite of what the government had to say.  Yes, we must work together – but the individual is still paramount in value over the faceless bureaucracy that keeps trying to justify its own existence.

Posted by: suekenney | July 18, 2012

Big Day!

Thirty-one years ago today, I married the man who had diligently pursued me for several years.  We had met at a Christian meeting at the home of one of our professors, after I had graduated from college.  Jim was impressed; I was not.  It took him another three years to convince me that I too was impressed.  Thirty-one years later we’re still together and going strong.

Our big day did not begin auspiciously.  We had planned for an outdoor wedding at a nearby Christian camp/conference site, and we woke up to thunder and lightning and buckets of rain.  Oh dear!  As the rain started to slacken off, we made a judgment call and continued on with the outdoor plans.  (Note: this was well before the days of weather.com or other Internet sites that would give you an idea of the coming weather through radar images; in fact, this was well before the Internet!)  It turned out to be a glorious day, even if the grass was a bit damp.  Thankfully, none of the electrical equipment (sound system, mostly) got shorted out.

I tend to be an emotional person, and had always cried at other people’s weddings, so I anticipated crying at my own and had a goodly stash of Kleenex in a sleeve or in the bouquet, I forget which.  To my surprise, I didn’t cry at all; I just laughed and smiled a lot.  Jim did a lot of smiling too.

My wedding dress was the one my mother had worn at her wedding, thirty-two years earlier.  It had suffered a bit of damage in the intervening years, but some artfully placed appliques solved those problems.  No veil, but I wore a broad-rimmed sun hat – wise move on my part, since the sun seemed to shine twice as hot after the morning storm.  Jim wore his best suit, no tuxedo – we were doing this wedding on a shoestring budget, and tuxedos just wouldn’t fit the monetary plan.

It wasn’t a huge wedding, nor a very fancy one.  We sang a few songs, my maid of honor sang a solo, and my pastor preached a short service about marriage.  No, I didn’t remember then what he said, even five minutes after he said it, and I don’t remember now what he said.  I just had eyes for Jim.  After the ceremony, and the taking of a few pictures, we had a simple buffet-style reception.  Then we left for our new apartment up north, not far from Jim’s dad’s farm.

It has been thirty-one years now, and a lot of the details have long since slipped out of my head.  I distinctly remember fretting over the weather, and laughing a lot before, during, and after the ceremony.  Perhaps one of my clearest memories shouldn’t even count, since I didn’t actually SEE it; I just heard about it afterwards.  As I said, it was an outdoor wedding, and after the storm, very bright, hot, and sunny.  Jim had a lot of older male relatives who attended, many of them with little or no hair.  They all went home with the unfortunate souvenirs of sunburnt pates!  Except for one or two who had thought to bring umbrellas.  So, a rough day for bald men, but a great day for us.

Sue and Jim, July 18, 1981, at Ontario Bible Conference, Oswego, NY

Posted by: suekenney | June 16, 2012

Just Another Dad around the House

My own father died twenty years ago; my husband’s father died five years ago.  But there is still another man in my life who is a father – the man who is the father of my two sons.

I have known Jim Kenney for about 35 years, and been married to him for almost 31 of those years.  Is he a perfect man?  A perfect husband?  He himself will agree that he is not.  But let me tell you some of the good stuff about him.

He is a hard worker.  He works hard while he’s at his paying job, and when

JIm on a friend’s tractor, taken a few years ago

he’s home, he’s almost always working on some project or another.  Right now it’s his tractor – an old Ford 800 series jobber that he is refurbishing.  It’s taken a lot of his time and energy – but boy! is it going to look sharp when he’s all done!

He is painstaking and thorough to a fault.  He wants to get the job done right.  So it may take him longer than it would take other people – but when it’s done, it’s DONE.

He is faithful.  In all our years of marriage, he hasn’t ever run off with his paycheck to drink it away or spend it on totally frivolous things.  He comes home every night (except for the very few times when his job has sent him elsewhere).  He hasn’t abandoned me for some other, younger, prettier, less obstreperous woman.  When he makes a commitment, he does all he can to fulfill that commitment, however hard it turns out to be.

He is loving.  He’s maybe not the most romantic guy on the block – but then, true love isn’t just a pretty feeling, it’s an ACTION.  He has done much over the years to SHOW that he loves me and is committed to our marriage.  He loves his sons, and his grandson.  Best and most important of all, he loves God and lives his life to serve HIM.

He is bright and articulate.  He keeps popping out odd bits of information that astound me with their revelation of the breadth and depth of his knowledge.  He can talk about this knowledge with both passion and precision.  He uses this skill in many ways, from writing installation manuals at work that real people can read and understand, to being our church secretary for the past couple of decades or so, to writing letters to politicians and editors and anybody in between, to his work on the local zoning board of appeals.

He is friendly.  Okay, so sometimes this trait drives me up a wall – such as when he runs into the local store to pick up ONE THING, and the rest of us are waiting in the car, and it takes him a HALF HOUR, not because of the lines at the cash register, but because he started talking to someone and lost track of the time.  Not even necessarily someone he knows, either; he’ll talk for an hour or more to perfect strangers.  But then again, friendliness is a wonderful trait; this world needs more friendly people, who care enough about others, even strangers, to give them time and attention.

He is a jack of all trades.  Seriously.  He knows a fair amount about plumbing – electrical – construction – gardening and farming – mechanics – computers – electronics…  Some days it seems like there’s nothing he can’t do.  There are limits to his expertise, of course, but he is an extraordinarily helpful man to have about the house.

And that’s another thing – he’s helpful.  Not just around our house, but to all manner of people.  I couldn’t begin to count the number of times he’s gone off to help a neighbor or friend or family member shift furniture, or fix a leaking pipe, or replace a water heater, or chase a bat out of the house, or whatever.  Sometimes, yes, he’ll get paid for his trouble; more often, he does not.  He’s just a very helpful guy.

He is steady.  When things go awry, as things are apt to do, he doesn’t have a screaming snit or burst into tears (like his wife).  He steps back, ponders the situation, looks to see what he might do better, and then wades right back in.  Oh, he’ll have those occasional moments when he might get really upset and go off the deep end – but I could probably count on one hand the number of times THAT has happened in the past 30+ years.  As keels go, his is an incredibly even one.

He loves God.  That alone encompasses a whole lot of other qualities, but just a few for now:  strongly moral character, compassion for others, a desire to see the best in others rather than their faults.  And all this because he loves God and has, for the past almost-forty years, been letting God mold him and shape him into a true light for Christ in this dark world.  Indeed, all the previously listed characteristics ultimately stem from this one.  If not for his love of God, he wouldn’t love me, and we would’ve been divorced a long time ago; he wouldn’t be nearly as faithful, steady, and hard-working as he is now.

This is the father of my two sons, who are both becoming a lot like him, in the best ways.  This is the man whom I don’t praise often enough, and who is the best man I could have ever married.  This is the man whom I love.  This is the father of my two sons.

Posted by: suekenney | June 15, 2012

Kudos to You, Dad

Dad as a handsome young man

Let me join the thousands (millions?) of other bloggers out there who are saying something about their fathers, since Father’s Day is almost upon us.    Fathers, in our current American culture, are often forgotten, often maligned , often misrepresented.  If you watch a lot of TV (or even just the commercials), the dads seem to be almost universally cast as a bit stupid, never as sharp as their wives or their kids, and maniacally focused on their TVs, beer, sports, with maybe some sex thrown in.  This is not at all faithful to those fathers whom I know personally, and certainly not to my dad.

Dad, hanging from a tree, age 14.

John Philip Watson was the youngest of six children, born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts.  His oldest sister was a good fourteen years older than he; he had a niece who was only eight years younger than he was.  His family loved to garden, and loved to take photographs – he inherited both traits, though his picture-taking grew less as he got older.   The gardening stayed with him until long after all of us kids had moved out of the house, and his health really started declining.

Not just gardening, either – he did some farm work as a boy and teenager, and later went to college for horticulture.  There was a world war in the middle there, and he spent a few years in the Army Air Force, but afterwards, using the GI Bill, he finished up his bachelor’s at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and went on for his master’s at Rutgers.  After graduation from Rutgers, he got a job in New York State at an agricultural experimental station affiliated with Cornell University; he retired from that same job in 1987, after 37 years working as a pomologist.

Obviously, since he was my DAD, there was a family in there as well.  He

Newspaper announcement of Mom and Dad’s wedding

married my mom in June 1949, and the babies started coming in 1950.  Eight of us – four boys, four girls – with only thirteen years between the oldest and the youngest.  I was Number Four in the line-up, the second girl.  In 1953, the year before I was born, Mom and Dad bought a big house out in the country, where we all grew up.  (In fact, the house was only just sold out of the family this past spring.)  There were big lawns by the house for all kinds of running games, several acres of fields and woods on the property, and a few slopes just right for sledding in the winter: a child’s paradise.  And of course, a garden and lots of flowering trees and shrubs.

Dad was a hard worker, often going in to work on weekends to make sure a field or orchard got watered, or to check the progress of an experiment, or whatever.  He worked hard at home too, trying to fix up the house or fix up one of the family vehicles.  But he could also play – I remember lots of crazy games of badminton in the front yard, and an occasional game of catch or baseball in the back yard.

Dad, goofing around – age 14

He had his quirky side.  His method of reading a book?  Start in the middle, read to the end, and if it was good enough, THEN he went back and read the beginning.  Once, when my older sister was in high school, and a straight-A student, she got a test or quiz grade in the 80’s – very unusual for her.  My dad called her teacher, disguising his voice with a mock Italian accent, and really gave the poor guy a hard time about how he was not giving my sister good grades and all.  And one of his favorite places to read the newspaper was lying on his back on one of the picnic tables out in the yard; he often, after a hard day’s work, fell asleep there too.

He was a liberal politically – and I am not, though somehow we managed to avoid any knock-down, drag-out fights over politics.  He was a liberal in a cultural sense too, way ahead of the times in our small, all-white, backwater town; when one of my brothers married a woman of another race, my dad (and my mom) defended them vigorously against a lot of the small town prejudice that came their way.  He never treated their kids any differently than any of the rest of the grandkids.  I never heard him say any racial or ethnic slurs. 

Was he the perfect father?  Nope.  He tended to be uncommunicative, at

Dad with his parents, Lois (Plummer)
and William Watson

least with us kids, and often had little patience with some of our shenanigans.  (Well, that last was probably well-deserved; we did some silly things.)  I could never have confided any of my girlish dreams and secrets to him.  We generally stayed pretty close to home, not too many gambols around the countryside.  We didn’t do the vacation thing either, except for the yearly pilgrimage to Massachusetts to see all the relatives, and an occasional trek every five years or so to Ohio to see one of Mom’s sisters.  So I grew up with startlingly little personal knowledge of the towns and villages right around me, and none at all of other regions and states except Massachusetts.

But he was my dad, and I loved him.  I didn’t always feel loved in return, but looking back, I think he truly did love each of us kids.  A stolid New Englander, he was uncomfortable expressing such intimate emotions.  He certainly loved his grandkids though, once they started coming along.  He would get down and play with them, and take them with him to work on weekends (as he had done with us kids).  I think they must’ve given him a new interest in life, which was becoming complicated with increasing health issues.

Sadly, my dad died twenty years ago this past February, from a combination of emphysema (he was a lifelong smoker) and pancreatic cancer.  My older son was nine, so he had had some opportunity to get to know his granddad; my younger son was only seven months old at the time, so missed out on knowing him.  Even after twenty years I still miss my dad a lot; I wish he had been around to see my boys grow up – he would have been so proud of both of them – and to see the next generation come along, with my grand-nephews, grand-nieces, and my own grandson (and another on the way!).  There are so many things I wish I had asked him; so many gardening and farming projects I wish we could’ve consulted him about; so many lost opportunities to tell him that I loved him.

Another shot of Dad as a young man

Funny – the saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I don’t have pictures for all the times I remember with my dad, and not even 1,000,000 words would suffice to say all that I remember and feel and love and miss about my dad.  He was just an ordinary, hard-working man who supported his family to the best of his ability.  We are surrounded by so many men just like that in our society, who get short shrift from the media and the culture as a whole.  We can’t expect any of them to be perfect – but we can give them our love, our support, our attention.  Bless and thank a father today, to his face – if your own is no longer around, then the one you’re married to; the one you sit next to at work; the one next door; the one you see on the bus or the train coming home from an exhausting week at work.

Fathers, I salute you.  And Dad – you’re sorely missed.

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