Finding Friends & Hatching Plans

A toy train and a baby doll. That’s what these brother and sister pairs are exchanging with each other.

My Bible Book 1948, page 32
My Bible Book, 1948   ( 32)

Trading is fun among friends, no matter what their size. Big or little, old or young – most people like to exchange gifts, conversation, sometimes even big ideas.

It is a giant leap from tots trading toys to literary giants exchanging thoughts, but the principle is the same and so are the benefits.

C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, both scholars at Oxford University fired one another’s imaginations in a small group called The Inklings. Both yearned to write science fiction with faith and morality as a central theme. Legend has it that “they literally tossed a coin to decide who would write a book on space travel versus time travel.” Though their early attempts were not completely successful, C. S. Lewis went on to pen The Chronicles of Narnia, and J. R. R. Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings series. Generations since then have enjoyed the fantasy of Tolkien’s hobbits and elves of Middle-earth and Lewis’ charming children and Narnian nymphs.


Their haunt? Frequently The Rabbit Room, a snug space tucked away in the Eagle and Child pub, Oxford, where a roaring fire, animated conversation and pipe smoke fueled their imaginations. At least twice weekly these brilliant minds hatched plans for plots and both nurtured and challenged one another’s brain children.

The Eagle and Child - Tuesday morning meeting place of the Inklings including Lewis and Tolkien
The Eagle and Child – Tuesday morning meeting place of the Inklings with Lewis and Tolkien

* * *

Christiane Northrup, M. D. a frequent PBS-TV presenter, promotes friendship as one of the paths to glorious agelessness. A sub-topic on her website exhorts women of all ages to cultivate varied friendships that she dubs “tribes” of friends. Though I never thought of my friend groups as tribes, I do recognize various kinds of friends I’ve been privileged to know at various times and places in my life.

Church Friends

4 friends party hars

Writer Friends

Standing: Janet Givens, Kathy Pooler, Marian Beaman Seated: Shirley Showalter, Joan Rough
Standing: Writers Janet Givens, Kathy Pooler, Marian Beaman
Seated: Shirley Showalter, Joan Rough at Chincoteague Island, February 2015

Colleagues at Florida State College in Jacksonville

FSCJ English faculty women, friends and former colleagues
Retired FSCJ English faculty women, friends who lunch

Friends at the Gym (They’re bashful!)


Friends from Eastern Mennonite College

Other room-mates and friends: Our name tags imprinted with college yearbook photos.
Other room-mates and friends: Our name tags imprinted with college yearbook photos.

Even sisters can be friends!



My friendship with Verna Mohler Colliver is one I’ve maintained since college days as room-mates at Eastern Mennonite College (now University). I caught up with Verna at our last college reunion.

My college room-mate Verna Mohler Colliver and me
My college room-mate Verna Mohler Colliver and me at EMU Homecoming, 2013


Since the reunion, Verna and I have exchanged photos and slides of ourselves as beginning teachers at Lancaster Mennonite School in the 1960s. Indeed, she helped me hatch a plan to reflect on those early years in our careers by providing some photo “fuel” for two upcoming blog posts. That’s what friends do. And I appreciate it too!

As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

Proverbs 27:17    King James Version



Do you have “tribes” of friends? Do you see them often? How do you keep your friendship(s) alive?



Blurry Images: The Mothering Instinct

Looking at indistinct footage from 16 millimeter home movies of the 1950s has invited me to examine from a distance the much younger, and in many ways different, version of myself. Not surprisingly, I appear in the “mothering” mode in many of the shots. I have always assumed such behavior was because I was the first-born child.

But where does the mothering instinct come from? Is it inborn? Learned from one’s own mother? Are some born without it? Who knows. The jury is still out on the answers to some of these questions.

Mother guiding me with pigtails for the photo shoot with Grandma
Mother positioning me with pigtails for the movie shoot with Grandma

My mother was not the firstborn in her family but she was the oldest girl, so when her own mother died when she was nine, there were high expectations for her including milking two cows in the morning before she went to school. All too soon, she became a little mother alongside the house-keeper, nurturing her two younger siblings.

In the sit-com Everybody Loves Raymond, “Mother-ish” is the word Mama Marie Barone has used to describe her modus operandi.  Although I cringe to compare myself at any age to meddling mama Barone, it did seem natural for me to take on such a mothering role in my family. After all, I was the first-born, always ready to “tend” the younger ones.

Big sister helping little sister Jean to walk
Big sister helping little sister Jean to walk

Even looking straight ahead, I was aware of wiggly little sister, who would spoil the photo if she crawled away in this video clip:

*  *  *  *  *

Several years later, with a prayer covering almost as big as my mother’s and with motherly aplomb, I held my baby brother Mark.

13-year-old "mother" holding baby brother Mark
13-year-old “mother” holding baby brother Mark, with sister Jean

Alfred Adler was one of the first theorists to suggest that birth order has a profound effect on personality. However, his ideas about birth order have been repeatedly challenged by other researchers, like Cliff Isaacson, who argue that birth order is not a fixed state but subject to other influencing factors. Other studies (Scientific American) claim that family size, rather than birth order, is a better predictor of personality than birth order. Yet the concept of the take-charge, bossy (did I say “mother-ish?”) first-born persists in popular psychology.

Question Mark w border1_1x1_300

I wonder where you are in your family’s birth order: first, middle, last, or an only child?

Do you think this has influenced your personality at all?

Thanks for replying. You will always hear from me and probably learn from other commenters too. The stories continue!

Grandma’s: A Wedding under the Willow


Here we are, Juliets without our Romeos

When Mom says “sca-doo!” at home, we know we can find amusement at Grandma’s house. Aside from the mysteries of the woods behind her house, other attractions include a slope where lilies of the valley blossom in April. A chicken house big enough to actually play house in. An out-house equipped with a Sears & Roebuck catalog for wiping, its little roof-top smothered by lilac bushes–wonderful air freshener! And a willow tree. We love that willow tree by a trickling brook where we play Bride, with a cast-off piece of netting like my mother, aunts, and grandmas use for prayer veilings.

At ten, I’m the oldest, so I direct my sisters at first. “Jeanie, go to the chicken house for the veil.” There are no chickens in Grandma’s chicken-house anymore, just a bunch of crates and wooden boards we use other times for make-believe. Jean goes off to retrieve the big square of white netting in its hiding place inside the door in a crate on the right. “Janice, let’s find some flowers for the bouquet.” Off we go in different directions, and Janice comes back with dandelion blossoms, and I find some irises.

Blue Willow book from parents early 1950s

Blue Willow book from parents early 1950s

We meet back at the willow tree, its arching fronds our sanctuary for many a glorious wedding. We need a bell ringer, a bride and a groom. Before I can get a word in edgewise, Jean pipes up, “Let me be the bride this time; I wanna be the bride, pleeease.” Well, I guess we can give in this time. Then Janice and I dicker for who plays groom and who rings the bell. Next, we have to get the bride ready.

Janice places the netting on Jean’s head just so, and I pull her pigtails up behind her ears and use the light brown braids to tie the veil securely to the top of her head. Now, we’re all set: Groom Janice loops one arm around Jean’s, and I rush over to the longest willow branch I can find and pull on its thin, sinewy length until the wedding bell chimes overhead, and then we all, including the bride, sing together in warbly voice: “Here comes the briiide, please step asiiide.” It’s a magical moment. A breeze blows gently through the willow branches and fans the bouquet of purple and gold. But before the bride has a chance to whisper, “I do,” we hear Daddy’s truck drive in the lane. He’s come to pick us up and bring home a big kettle of saffron-flavored pot pie from his mom’s stove for our supper at home on top of the hill.

There are no crystal balls to visualize our own weddings in the future, but we are careful not to duplicate color choices for our attendants. Jean starts with blue, Marian with pink, and Janice has yellow, a pleasing bouquet of hues. But our veils are white.

Yodeling and Duets with Daddy

“Keep your hand upon the throttle and your eye upon the rail,” my Dad sings in his top-of–the-lungs baritone, the volume of his voice amplified by the force of his hands on the keyboard. Every Saturday night Daddy sits down at our mahogany Marshall and Wendell upright piano in the living room and reviews songs in his repertoire. Fresh air is blowing through the open windows. Probably the whole neighborhood can hear.


Now he’s moved on to other tunes: “Turn Your Radio On” and “On the Jericho Road, on the Jericho Road, there’s for just two—no more and no less, no more and no less, just Jesus and you, just Jesus and yooooo. . . .”

TurnRadioOnI’m in the dining room studying my ninth-grade Pennsylvania history. “Marian come in here and sing a little,” he begs.

“Oh maybe after a while,” I half-promise and flee to the kitchen where my mother is standing over the stove, making salmon casserole to put in the oven while we are at church tomorrow. Even washing gooey dishes looks more appealing to me than competing with my dad’s loud volume and heavy-handedness. He attacks the piano keys like he’s hammering a bent piece of metal at his shop.


Now Janice is walking in the door, and Dad pleads, “Come on, just sing the second verse.” He wants her to join him on the long piano bench that holds piles of family photos bulging from the compartment under its lid. She sits down with him for a little bit, and I hear a soprano with a lot of tremolo join in with Daddy’s lower notes on another song: “Under His wings, under His wings, Who from His love can se-ver? Under His wings my soul shall abide, Safely abide for-e-ver.”

There’s still another sister, and when Janice moves off the bench, Jean keeps the bench warm and Daddy happily singing “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.”

Now Daddy has moved away from the piano, gotten out his shiny Gibson guitar and starts yodeling. My sisters and I think he is acting goofy: “Yodel-ay-ee-oo, yodel-ay-ee-ooo,” he bellows out joyfully as he strikes the strings of his guitar.

flag  Click for yodeling audio

In spite of his noisy outbursts, I like the silky red cord attached to the instrument with its sunburst design veneer and the variety of colorful picks he’s accumulated. They remind me of funny-shaped tiddly-winks. Dad sure does like music. I don’t think he’d object to a piano at our church, which deems “it improper to employ instrumental music in worship and church activities.” (Article III, Section 2, Public Worship)

Last year at the beginning of eighth grade, Daddy came home and out of a clear blue sky presented me with a violin case. Looking as pleased as punch, he put the faux-leather textured black case on the dining room table, gesturing for me to open it.

“It’s for me?” I look puzzled but start to fiddle with the metal clasps on the case.

“What do you mean, is it for you? Of course, it’s for you. Why do ya think I put it here in front of you. I paid only $ 70.00 for it. Noah Klaus, up at the music store wanted more, but I told him that was my best offer. I wasn’t gonna let him horns-waggle me.”

Slowly I open the lid and see a gorgeous violin inside, a caramel-colored wooden instrument, its curvy shape tapering to a fancy scroll. I peer inside the S-shaped openings and see a paper tag with the label: Copy of Antonius Stradivarius / Handarbeit / Garmisch bei Mittenwald – Made in Germany.

“Now I want you to take lessons, so you can be in the orchestra at school. You play the piano pretty good. I don’t imagine a violin would be a whole lot harder.”

“Well, . . I don’t know about that,” I hear my voice trailing off.

I wonder why Daddy kept these plans and dreams for me to himself. I would have liked to go with him to the music store and have seen the other choices. Why does he always leave me out of decisions like this? He makes choices for me just like he plays the piano, loud and heavy-handed. Yet he seems so pleased with his purchase; I’m sure he imagines that I’m just as thrilled. Anyway, I start taking lessons from Mrs. Santeusanio.


True to his inclination, mechanical themes ran through much of my Dad’s repertoire, songs of railroads, highways, and ships (Let the Lower Lights Be Burning). Why even the radio he sang about is a mechanism.

My musical preferences are more eclectic and include classical, pop and contemporary. Yet, I see that however clumsy his efforts, Daddy was transmitting to me his love for music. Often a melody or song floats through my head as easily as my Dad’s music did out our living room window. You might say the sound of music has masked some of my Dad’s missteps as a parent. For that I am thankful.

Statement of Christian Doctrine and Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church, 1968.

What interests or hobbies did a parent or close relative instill in your life? Was your experience a positive or negative one? Tell us about it.