Monday Memories: Faith Sees Us Through

Photo by Giuseppe Russo on Pexels.com

Throughout much of my teaching career in Montana, I personally witnessed the labors and hard work of farmers and ranchers on the eastern plains.  Their faithful perseverance will always be a testament of their faith in a God who will see us through.

The labors of a family wait for another harvest.  Fields of spring wheat are maturing rapidly under the blistering hot, August sun.  The heads of grain are filling out and turning harvest gold.

A year’s worth of income rests in these fields.  Three generations view God’s bounty with praise and thanksgiving.

An aging grandfather has witnessed the good times and bad.  While he has slowed down a bit, he still looks forward to operating the combine at harvest time.  He becomes as excited as a young boy while watching the header cut the ripened grain.

His son, now a mature and tested father, has followed in his footsteps.  He returned to the farm ten years ago when his father suffered a heart attack.  He manages the day-to-day operations as skillfully as his father ever did.

A teenage boy, both grandson and son, has observed his father’s long hours and hard work.  He values his grandfather’s wisdom and experience.  He plans to attend the state’s land grant university during the upcoming fall semester, but first he needs to help out with harvest.

One evening, with harvest set to begin soon, these three generations of men view a field closest to their homes.  The grain is heavy, filled with high protein content, and will fetch an honest price at market.

Dark clouds loom to the northwest as a storm appears heading away from their farm.  The three men turn in for the night, feeling confident and safe.

The next morning, the sun comes up right on schedule, but this season’s harvest has been cruelly cancelled.

Overnight the storm changed its route.  Heavy rain, strong winds, and large hail shredded every bit of grain far and wide.  Not even a cow would be able to find any nourishment.

The grandson has never seen such devastation, and he is emotionally numb and filled with shock.

His father knows the coming year will be filled with hardship and uncertainty.  With God’s guidance, somehow he will carefully balance the books. 

The grandfather prays to God, asking the Lord to provide for the family as He always has—in the best of times, and now the darkest.  He opens his Bible and reads the following verse from Isaiah 40:10: 

“Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Photo by Eduardo Braga on Pexels.com

Grandparents Love Story (Episode One)

From 1939, a scene of downtown Billings, Montana. This is the eventual home for a young couple moving to Billings about 20 years earlier. (courtesy of Pinterest)

Grandparents Herman and Annie experienced a most unusual courtship.  Little did they know where life planned to take them in the years to come.

Herman was born in 1890 in Brainerd, Minnesota.  He moved to North Dakota in 1911, then to Forsyth in eastern Montana.  In 1916, as Europe filled with the winds of war, he arrived in Billings, Montana.  He had been hired to be a mail carrier.

Annie was born in 1895 on a small farm in Harlon County, Nebraska.  Not even a blizzard dared to delay her birth.  Her early schooling was spent in a sod school house.  In 1915, her family moved to Leavenworth, Washington where she finished high school, worked in a photo shop, and was employed as a staff operator by the Great Northern Railroad.

Both of their unassuming lives intersected along the railroad tracks of the Great Northern.  Herman was traveling to Fort Lewis outside of Seattle on a troop train.  He was being trained to serve in the American army which was shipping troops to Europe during World War I. 

Along the rail line, many young ladies passed out slips of paper with their name and address.  Herman received one from Annie.  Later, he sent her a card, and thus began a courtship by correspondence. 

The two of them met briefly at Fort Lewis before Herman shipped out to France.  Upon returning safely from the war, Herman met up with Annie to be married in 1919.

They moved to Billings where Herman still found his mail carrier job waiting.  Together they raised a large family of six sons and two daughters.  Ultimately, the siblings witnessed the blessing of 32 grandchildren.

Taken from the front of the house along Jackson Street, the family home (built in 1920) as it looks today. Nearly all of the large trees have been removed. (courtesy of Pinterest)

This story recalled the start of my father’s family.  Being the youngest child (born in 1935), Jim started a family of his own with the birth of his first child in 1956 (Richard).  Eventually the family would number five sons and one daughter.  My youngest brother became the final grandchild when he was born in 1967.

Lesson in Patience

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

Fred and Wilma return home with a purchase from the Bedrock Mall, and their daughter, Pebbles, is so excited to have her Daddy set up her brand new Kiddie Kamp tent.

With both Wilma and Pebbles’ encouragement, Fred is more than willing to take a few minutes to pitch the tent.  As Fred unpacks the materials from the box, he looks at the directions and pitches them aside. 

After all, Fred is set to be the next foreman at Slate Rock and Gravel Company, where he has worked for several years as a bronto crane operator.  He certainly won’t need to follow any directions.

Pebbles watches her Daddy as he begins to pitch her new tent.  She is excited to show it to her next door friend, Bamm-Bamm.

Bamm-Bamm’s Mom, Betty, is on the phone with Wilma.  Wilma tells her, “Pebbles is really looking forward to playing in her new tent.  Fred should have it up quickly.”

Patiently watching from a few feet away, Pebbles smiles as her Daddy finishes up.  Fred tells himself, “Another piece of cake for the next foreman at Slate Rock and Gravel.”  Pebbles claps to show how happy she is.

Meanwhile, Betty has finished her phone conversation with Wilma.  She remarks to her husband, Barney, “Perhaps you should go over and see if Fred needs any help with pitching this tent.”

Fred steadies the tent.  Because of the summer heat, heavy sweat is running down his face.  His patience is wearing thin.  Suddenly, the tent collapses and falls into a disheveled pile of canvas and sticks.

Barney takes a glance out of his backdoor to witness something he has never seen before.  He steps back in and tells Betty, “Too late!  Fred has already pitched the tent.”

Poor Pebbles!  Her brand new tent is piled up by the trash.

Monday Memories: Trusting in the Lord

ground group growth hands

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The teenage boy has been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer for months.  Mark has shown the unwavering courage of a young man who follows God without flinching.

His pastor, Wayne, visits Mark one afternoon.  The teen has been at the hospital for several days as he is undergoing another round of treatments to battle his cancer.  Wayne wants to share some of God’s Word with this courageous teenager.

Mark’s hair is gone.  His slender frame looks even thinner than Wayne remembers.  His young body is marshalling all of its resources to battle the foe within.

Mark’s bubbling smiles lights up when Wayne walks into his room.  He is thrilled to have a visitor stopping by.

To prevent transmitting any germs or infections, Wayne is gowned up.  He looks more like a skilled doctor than a pastor.

After several minutes of conversation, Mark surprises his pastor by sharing a verse from Proverbs 3:5:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.”

The fourteen year-old’s faith under such harsh circumstances is truly remarkable.

At the end of his visit, Wayne asks if he can pray over Mark.  Mark quietly says, “Certainly!”  The two of them share a few moments in prayer.

Walking down the hallway after leaving Mark’s room, Wayne thinks to himself, “I feel like Mark has ministered to me.  I come to bolster his spirits, yet he is the one who reminds me to always trust in God.”

Published in March, 2020, this story was based on a true life experience of a fourteen year-old boy.  An entire community rallied around him as he continued to battle cancer.  He shared the verse from Proverbs in a video which was shared with many believers.  His witness to his Lord was inspiring indeed.   Sadly, Mark lost his long battle with cancer, but his courageous spirit will live on.

Hey Neighbor!

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

Fred’s backyard shed is filled with his treasures.  When he is busy tinkering and grooming his immaculate yard, he is often seen heading to his shed to find another tool or implement of some kind.  Because he works from sunup to sundown every weekend, he is known around the neighborhood as “Farmer Fred.”

His next door neighbor, Milt, is a sociable and friendly sort of guy.  However, he has one irritating flaw.  He doesn’t own too many tools and such to help with his own yard work.  And of course, he feels a need to keep up with Fred’s pristine garden oasis.

Every day or so, Milt walks over to Fred’s backyard.  With a smile and a familiar voice, he calls out, “Hey neighbor!” 

He asks Fred if he can borrow one of his precious tools from the shed.  Fred always gives Milt the “okay” and watches him take it back to his place.

Over the next several days, Milt borrows a nearly endless list of Fred’s treasures . . . shovel, rake, wheelbarrow, trimmer, and even his brand new lawnmower.

On Saturday morning, Fred walks out to his nearly empty shed.  He thinks to himself, “Yes sir!  Milt has just about taken every piece of my valuable equipment and more to his place.”

With a scowl hidden by his ever-present smile, Fred swiftly marches over to Milt’s yard. 

“Hey neighbor!”

Final Showdown

Photo by Kristu00f3f Sass-Kovan on Pexels.com

After a couple of hours of card playing, the final stakes come down to this rivalry between two players.  Their card-playing skills have outlasted the rest of the field.

The final hand is ready to go with cards now being shuffled and dealt.  The room’s atmosphere deals out its own stillness, filled with the sharpened concentration of these two savvy card sharks.

The old man’s mind strains to stay focused, and his eyes fill with intensity.  The master has traveled down this path many times in the past.  His experience is sure to overcome his younger opponent.

The young, upstart challenges for the master’s crown.  His fearless, confident approach attempts to break through.  Will his skills and luck be enough?

Looking over their cards again and again, both competitors try to gain one last advantage before this final, dramatic hand plays out.

The room’s activity grows quiet.  The small gallery of onlookers silently waits for the night’s final outcome.

The young man understands that the next play will determine the winner.  Victory is within his reach.

Grandpa boldly asks, “Got any four’s?”

His determined grandson replies back with a smile, “Go fish!”

Monday Memories: Coffee By the Cup

Originally published in February, 2020, this humorous short story features the wills of a serious coffee drinker and a determined server, who wants to have the last word. 

assorted variety of foods on plates on dining table

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Wednesday morning broadcasts the arrival of another breakfast meeting for Billy and his other retired friends.  Once a week, he meets his five best buds for hot coffee, delicious food, and welcome conversation at Bob’s Diner.

He always wears his favorite plaid, flannel shirt (perhaps you recall Al Borland from “Tool Time”).  His faded, tractor green “John Deere” cap covers his nearly bald head, but his smile always catches his favorite server’s attention.

Flo has been working for the diner ever since Mel’s Diner closed (you might remember Mel and Alice—they became quite an item).  She holds her own with humor and a smile, always managing to take care of Billy and his pals every Wednesday morning.

As Flo is scurrying around the diner with her always full coffee pot, she sets it down near Billy’s table as she takes another order.  Billy appropriates the full pot of freshly brewed refills for his own private use, and sets it right next to his nearly empty cup.  He tells Flo, “Thanks my dear.  Now you won’t need to worry about refilling my cup.”

Billy remarks to his friends, “Ain’t life great!”

Billy enjoys his coffee, probably too much.  The manager takes a look and shakes his head . . . as his profits shrink with every coffee pot Billy drinks.  He motions Flo to come over for a moment, and they share a quick word.

Flo formulates a plan to take care of Billy’s endless and bottomless coffee drinking.

By the end of the breakfast meeting, the gray-haired trio times two has solved just about all of the world’s problems for another week.  Billy has nearly eaten a whole hog as he has devoured crispy bacon, honey-baked ham, and perfectly browned sausage links, along with the usual fixings of hash browns, eggs, and pancakes.  It’s time for the check please.

Billy surveys his bill, and his smile stretches to a frown.  Reading on, he sees that he has been charged for a whole pot of coffee.  He thinks to himself, “What’s this?”

Billy’s check has a special note at the bottom, “Cheaper to drink coffee by the cup instead of by the pot!”

red and white coffee set

Photo by Marcelo Chagas on Pexels.com

Monday Memories: Vacation Paradise

Written and published in June, 2019, this short story is an early attempt with humorous, flash fiction.

field of trees near body of water

Photo by R. Fera on Pexels.com

Pete has been planning a well-deserved, solitary fishing trip for months.  His actual plans have remained a secret—especially from his nauseating cousin, Wilbur.

Wilbur always meddles in Pete’s affairs.  So much so, he even frightened away the love of Pete’s life.

Pete is ready to make his “secret” trip for some rest and relaxation.  He anticipates fantastic weather, superb fishing, and time all to himself.  Paradise awaits!

As Pete enters the lobby of the sleepy, little motel in a tiny, isolated town, he agonizingly hears, “Good Buddy!  How ya doin’ cousin Pete?”

Vacation paradise . . . Never!

 

[Story Archives] Panic on the River: Heroism Arrives

abstract background beach color

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In case you missed the opening chapters of the story, here are the links: 

Panic on the River:  Friends Join Up

Panic on the River:  Disaster Strikes

Here’s a short excerpt from the previous chapter to help us to navigate better before we plunge into the final chapter:

The raft dashes to catch up to Fred, who is looming closer and closer.  With a few more yards yet to go, Fred may soon be saved from the clutches of the river.

Out of nowhere, a large tree limb cuts between the raft and Fred.  Like a large water snake gathering speed, the enormous splinter of wood rushes through the water towards Fred.

Whack!

Fred’s grip loosens as he is knocked back into the main waters of the Little Gulch.

Randy and Bill groan in utter disbelief at Fred’s terrible misfortune.  Pete senses that it is now or never for saving Fred.  He alerts his boat mates with a shout that he will try to save poor Fred.

Before Randy and Bill have a chance to persuade Pete to remain safely in the boat, he jumps into the high tide of the Little Gulch.  Unlike Fred, Pete’s life vest assists him as he manages to keep his head above the surface of the river’s furious charge.

Calling upon his swimming prowess (remember those high school medals), he furiously sets a pace to reach Fred as quickly as possible.  Fred, who is about to breathe his last gasp of air, begins to feel the final power of the river upon his tired, weary soul.

Stroke after stroke, Pete’s “state championship” swimming form propels him forward as he cuts the distance quickly.  Ignoring the aching pain in his long-dormant swimming muscles, Pete doggedly pushes himself to reach a nearly unconscious Fred in time.

Meanwhile, Randy and Bill struggle to keep the bulky rubber tube plowing a straight line towards their pair of friends in the water.  Randy hopes that both of his friends survive the death grip being applied by a nasty and angry river.

The Little Gulch prepares to take Fred with her, and possibly Pete, too.  The river’s “Grim Reaper” stands poised to claim another drowning victim or two.

Feeling his last bit of strength giving way, Fred succumbs to the river’s never-ending power.  He is totally out of energy; out of any more willpower . . . the river stands ready to claim final victory!

Pete is reaching his physical limits.  He feels his arms and legs beginning to cramp, but he tries to push on.  If he quits now, Fred’s final doom is sealed.

Death, the river wins!

Looking ahead, his water-filled eyes can no longer locate Fred.  Yet, Pete finds a hidden reserve of energy to continue his sprint to where he last saw Fred.

Where is Fred?

Has the Little Gulch pulled his lifeless body to her rocky bottom?

Where will she spit out his body for others to find so that his passing can be treated with dignity?

So many questions to answer as time seems to stand still momentarily.  Randy and Bill trail behind in the cumbersome boat.  Pete is pushing himself beyond his physical capabilities.  Fred seems to have perished from an “accidental drowning” (as the weekly Clifton newspaper prints in its next edition).

Fred and Pete may well have met their match with the Little Gulch, which stands poised to render both of them as new victims on the river’s scorecard.

Randy and Bill strain to see what lies ahead.  Unbelievably, their eyes locate something or someone rising out of the water just ahead.

Hooray!  Fred is back!

The unforgiving Little Gulch has made a tactical error.  Her death grip has maneuvered Fred to a gravel bar, hidden just below the river’s violent surface.  The guys cannot believe it!

Slowly Fred gains more consciousness.  He realizes that his nightmare has finally ended, and he will live to see another sunrise.  He ungracefully stands on his feet—a bit wobbly, but slowly regaining more strength and balance.

By the same miracle, Pete is also deposited upon the same narrow gravel strip.  He is exhausted, his lungs appear to breathe no more, and he lies there silently and very still.  Fred looks down at his would-be rescuer, and he begins to weep.  His own stupidity and panic have allowed the river to take away his dear friend.

The raft approaches a standing, remorseful Fred and a motionless Pete.  Randy and Bill fear the worst for their stricken comrade while thinking that Fred’s transgressions started this terrible sequence of events in the first place.

Without warning!  Another spectacular outcome is witnessed by all.

Pete’s lungs begin to take in fresh, life-supporting air.  He sluggishly feels his exhausted body trying to recover some of its misplaced energy and strength.  He has no idea of what has happened to Fred.

Glancing up, he notices a shadow above him.  “Is that really you Fred?”

Fred kneels down and gives Pete a big hug!  He feels overjoyed to see his good pal, who risked his life to rescue him.

Rushing in, Randy and Bill beach the raft a moment later.  The disheveled boat is partly filled with water from their ordeal.  Everyone helps to bail out the remnants of the Little Gulch’s fury and to examine their possessions.

Bill finds the empty rope at the bow, which used to be securely fastened to the cold beer.  Now like an empty fish hook, the beer has been swallowed up by the thirsty river.  Much of the lunch is water-logged and will have to be thrown away.  Actually, food doesn’t sound too tasty as this particular moment.  Perhaps the steakhouse at Clifton will offer a better tasting menu.

But at least, the men are safe and together once again.  They are feeling an urge to celebrate just a little bit, but their mood will need to stay calm until they reach Clifton.  The three look at Fred with more than a morsel of disappointment and frustration.  His brazen insanity has ruined a “memorable” float trip on the Little Gulch and nearly taken two men to their graves.

From his pocket, Fred retrieves an unopened can of beer.  He hurriedly pops its top, and begins his own private celebration.  Afterall, he has survived the river’s best shot, and his heart is still ticking!  Amazing!

Pete gingerly walks towards Fred, and rips the can from his grasp.  Pouring the liquid out slowly cannot conceal Pete’s hidden anger and annoyance with Fred.  While Fred protests, Pete pays little attention.  With the empty beer can gripped in his right hand, he crushes the aluminum cylinder into Fred’s forehead.

Fred crumbles to the bottom of the raft, and Bill quickly dresses him in a life vest.  The men make haste to finish their journey without any more adventure from Fred or the Little Gulch.

Eventually, the quartet of river adventurers reaches their final destination at Clifton.  While trying to enjoy a delicious four-course dinner at the well-known steakhouse, the men feel exhausted and rather subdued.  There will be no celebration tonight!  Even Fred looks tired and rather apologetic for his actions.

As the evening’s full moon shines brightly in a cloudless sky, everyone (with the possible exception of Fred) feels that this will certainly be the only time that Fred will ever float the Little Gulch.  The worn out trio of river rats still desires to return again in the future to enjoy their friendship along with safe, adventurous fun.

Without crazy Fred . . . stirring up another day of panic on the river!

[Story Archives] Panic on the River: Disaster Strikes

river between green leafed tree

Photo by Baskin Creative Studios on Pexels.com

In case you missed the first chapter of the story, here is a link: 

Panic on the River:  Friends Join Up

As we rejoin the story, let’s take a quick look at where the story last left us.

As the oversized boat journeys downstream, majestic cottonwood trees line the river bank.  The guys relive past stories and throw out a few new jokes.  The sun is heating up the raft’s surface, and Fred feels thirsty.  Sitting at the bow, he slyly pulls a cold beer from the chilly river water.  Nature provides a perfect way to keep these barley pops cold, and Fred intends to enjoy a few.

Bill and Pete, sitting in the middle of the boat, pay close attention to the river as they paddle and assist with the steering of the craft.  Randy, the mighty river navigator, hardly notices Fred pulling a beer out of the water.  Steering the raft from the stern, he notices that the Little Gulch is running much higher than he expected.

With the river cresting at such a high level, the boat continues to pick up speed in the churning waters.  Randy glances at his watch, and he figures that they will reach Clifton about an hour earlier than expected.  “No worries,” he ponders.  Thinking to himself, perhaps the gang can enjoy a longer lunch break several miles away.

The buoyant raft slides into a long stretch of challenging whitewater.  Everyone begins to feel an adrenaline rush, excitement builds, and the men prepare to float the most exciting segment of the river.

Meanwhile at the bow, Fred pays little attention to what lies ahead.  Another icy, cold beer is sliding right down, and the deceptive Little Gulch will soon bring on more excitement than anyone can imagine.

The eight-man raft picks up speed again, and Randy steers the boat on a straight and steady course.  The large craft is handling the whitewater and rapids without much difficulty.

Out of nowhere, a swarm of mosquitoes attack the crew.  The fellas do their best to fend off the biting invaders.  Suddenly, the overwhelmed craft becomes airborne as it maneuvers more like a large rubber tube instead of a hardy and manageable river craft.  Jumping up and down violently in the quick-moving water, the overmatched boat swirls along as the river attempts to swallow it whole.

Bill and Pete, feeling perspiration running nearly as rapid as the Little Gulch, continue to perform yeoman’s work to keep the boat on a somewhat straight course through the ever-increasing rapids.  Randy, feeling a bit of panic, realizes that he must stay extra alert and as steady as those ancient cottonwood trees lining the river’s edge.

The buzzing mosquitoes are beginning to fly away when Fred excitedly stands up.

Rule #1:  Never ever stand up in a moving boat!

A final attack of the airborne, vampire bugs proves too much for a beleaguered Fred.  In the middle of his thoughts, he remembers his father, Fred Sr.  The elder Fred died a few years ago when he fell off the roof of his home and struck his head.  Perhaps he should sit back down before he falls out of the boat, but fate decides to intervene at its most opportune moment.

Fred continues to stand and swat wildly at the raging mob of mosquitoes.

Randy yells at him, “You need to sit down.  Now!”

Rule #2:  Always listen to the boat’s captain!

Well . . . sometimes worthy advice shows up a bit too late!

Splash!

Fred tumbles into the powerful waters of the Little Gulch.  The guys hear his screams of terror before the river surrounds him and pulls him under the violent surface.  Randy strains to keep the raft steady as the river seems intent on possibly dumping the large boat upside down.  The Little Gulch’s pace quickens—as if on cue!

Bill and Pete glance at each other, wondering what to do next.  Bill, who cannot swim, tightens the straps on his life vest and looks forward to where Fred was just sitting.

Oh no!

Fred’s life vest is nestled at the front of the boat.  In their haste to get the trip started, everyone missed Fred sliding his life vest under the bow area.  Fred is now fighting for his life—just the river and him!

Pete screams, “How could Fred be so incredibly stupid!”

He hurriedly scans the river, and finally spots Fred’s head and shoulders popping up above the foaming whitewater.  Fred, in a semi-drunken state, is splashing around helplessly.  Everyone hears his muffled cries of panic and despair.  How will these three men prepare a plan to save foolish Fred?

As their boat hurries down the wild river, the guys realize that Fred is likely doomed.  But . . . fate always finds a way to tantalize and tease at the most extreme of moments.

Amazingly, the Little Gulch’s ravaging current pushes Fred towards the shore where the ageless cottonwood trees conveniently dangle their branches just above the river’s boiling surface.  As a waterlogged Fred reaches and grabs one of the branches as a lifeline, the fellas watch as he tightly grips a lone branch for his very life.

“Help!  Help me!” echo screams of help from Fred.

The raft dashes to catch up to Fred, who is looming closer and closer.  With a few more yards yet to go, Fred may soon be saved from the clutches of the river.

Out of nowhere, a large tree limb cuts between the raft and Fred.  Like a large water snake gathering speed, the enormous splinter of wood rushes through the water towards Fred.

Whack!

Fred’s grip loosens as he is knocked back into the main waters of the Little Gulch.

Randy and Bill groan in utter disbelief at Fred’s terrible misfortune.  Pete senses that it is now or never for saving Fred.  He alerts his boat mates with a shout that he will try to save poor Fred.

Stay tuned to this same river channel for the exciting conclusion when we all witness “Heroism Arrives.”