Saturday, June 17, 2017

For My Father

William Morrell French

April 11, 1916 - March 25, 2002

 just might be my favorite smell
because it is the smell I most associate with my

Hardware stores, 
wondrous places 
with lumber stacked to the ceiling,
two by fours on shelves,
saws, table and hand,
knotty pine,
painter's hat and brushes,
remind me of you, Daddy.  

How I loved when he would call out and ask 
if I wanted to go to the hardware store.
I think he liked that I loved those hardware stores so much.
I'd say,
"I love hardware stores."

Daddy, you took us camping in the Colorado mountains.

Coleman lanterns,
Coleman stoves,
percolators that made coffee over an open campfire,
camp cook kits made of aluminum,
were packed up and put in the back of the old station wagon
as we headed out to find our favorite "green spot."

After sunset,
 pine trees, 
looming larger than they seemed during the day, 
became a backdrop for a scene where family and friends gathered around a campfire,
 with cigarettes flickering around the edges of the fire,
grey smoke spiraling in the dark sky,
to listen to and to tell stories.
Oh, how we laughed.
You, Daddy, were the Chief Storyteller.
I loved your stories,
You were the best storyteller ever.
Oh, how I miss you and your stories.

Snuggled in smelly green World War II era mummy bag sleeping bags,
scratchy green Army blankets spread over and under me as I slept on the ground,
staring at the stars,
thinking of those stories,
and pondering the vastness of the world, 
the universe, 
and what lay beyond,
sounds of the stream finally lulled me to sleep
in those magical days of childhood when my father took us camping.

Songs, we sang songs.
Daddy would start out with,
and he would drag that "O" out forever.
I had a little pony,
His name was Dapple Grey,
I lent him to a lady to ride a mile away,

She whipped, she slashed him,
She rode him through the mire;
I would not lend my pony,
For all the lady's hire.

I never hear that song these days,
but if I did, I'd think of my dad.

Homemade rootbeer bottled in empty Coors beer bottles was my favorite summer treat.
I loved it when Daddy made homemade root beer.

Games, we played games at the dinner table.
We were not allowed to read at the table, but we played games.
I spy...
"Is it vegetable, mineral, or animal?"
We were allowed to ask those questions when you had us stumped.
Actually, he stumped us a lot.
Little did we know that he used that game to teach us deductive reasoning.

My father and I on graduation day.
B.S in Business Administration 

Books, we read books.
My father always had a book in his hand if he wasn't building something,
or fishing,
or working on the house or the yard.
In his younger years, he worked hard at the railroad and on the house and the yard,
so to went to bed early to read.
In later years, he read large print books from the lending library of books for the blind in Denver.

It was expected that we would be readers.
T.V., or the "boob tube" as he called it, was not in our home until I was a teenager.
I still don't like to watch T.V.
I read.

He taught me to believe in myself,
to stand up for myself,
to think for myself and not blindly follow others.
He spoke truth to me when I didn't do those things.

My father had a temper.
He never liked any of the boys I brought home.
He chased most of them away.

He liked things neat and orderly and insisted on square corners on the bed.
We made sure the kitchen table and surfaces in the kitchen were not sticky.
He hated a sticky surface.
Every table setting better include a salad bowl or salad plate for the salad and bread.
Oh, and there had to be a knife, a fork, and a spoon in place for each meal.

He was demanding.
He was as gruff as a bear on the outside,
but I've known fewer as 
kind and generous as he was on the inside.
He gave to those in need,
and even when you weren't in need, but he seemed to sense you needed a little gift,
or some gas money,
he opened up his wallet and he gave.
He was so giving.
That was one of his best traits.

He wrote.
He wrote family histories and collected family genealogies.
He carried on a correspondence with his parents,
his children,
his cousins,
his siblings,
his relatives that were connected generations back.
I even found letters he wrote to his grandparents, signed,
"Love, Billie,"
in his papers.
I have a large file of the letters he wrote to me.
He was a great writer, communicator, and keeper of the family histories.

In his later years, he became a born-again Christian.
The transformation that Christ made in his life was dramatic.
His faith was strong to the end.

During his last days, I was by his side with my sisters.
I'm so grateful for those days when I was able to witness the 
firmness of his faith
 while trying in some small way to give what little 
rudimentary comfort
 I could to his physical body in its final decline.

In my journal on March 23, 2002, just two days before he died, I wrote,

It is good to be here with him.  Yesterday, he told me over and over again, "You're a good girl." He would say, "Sally Lulu, you're a good girl."  I would say, "You're a good Daddy."  

He was that.
He was the best Daddy ever.
He was my Daddy.
And, I was his Sally Lou.
I remember when he died, I was filled with absolute certainty that 
he loved me,
that he was proud of me,
and that was enough for both of us.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Graduations and Grandbabies ~ Part II

The past week and a half have been a whirlwind of activity as this grandmother had two grandchildren graduate from high school during the same week. The first graduation was on Wednesday, May 24,  for granddaughter Gillian in Ogden, Utah.

The second graduation was for grandson Mason on Saturday, May 27, in Erie, Utah.  Thankfully, the graduations, unlike the births of these two, were spread out a few days apart so Grandma Sally could attend both milestone events.

One day back in 1998, daughter Amy called with the unexpected and exciting news that she was expecting a baby.  With tears of joy streaming down my face, I celebrated with her while also dreading that one of us was going to have to let her sister Keicha know that Amy was expecting.  Keicha was at the same time trying to conceive a baby, but all attempts had been unsuccessful.

I don't clearly remember the chain of events, but it was within a few days after Amy's announcement which was not yet made known to the rest of the family that Keicha called with the news that she was expecting a baby.  Along with my joyous reaction, I gave a big sigh of relief!

Both babies were due in October.  I was teaching at the time, so I could not travel to be with Keicha for the birth of her firstborn, but I was there with Amy when Mason was born on October 4.  Thirty-six hours later, Keicha gave birth to Gillian.

Those days when these two were babies were such fun.  Soon they were toddlers, and then in school. We tried to all be together for many special occasions as the two cousins grew up in separate states.

Those precious times together were documented through photos by this grandmother trying to capture those fleeting moments of her grandchildren's childhoods.  I don't think that I realized just how fleeting those days would be.  In a flash, the grandchildren were growing up and now these two have graduated from high school.


Artistic, creative, and quite soft spoken, this girl just keeps surprising me with all of her maturity and resilience.  I've seen her transformed into a young woman whom is not only smart and talented, she is also a young woman who has great competence.  

On the morning of graduation, she walked into her mother's kitchen dressed for a pre-graduation photo shoot at the school.  "I'm doing this just for you," she announced to her mother.  The big smile showed off her beautiful teeth and displayed her easy looking confidence.  Neither the beautiful teeth nor the confidence was easily won, but here they both were on full display for graduation day.  

Gillian in front of Ogden High School
May 24, 2017

I'm so very proud of this girl.  Nice job, mom and dad.

Gillian, Keicha, & Jeff
Graduation Day

We had a wonderful party with great food at daughter Keicha's boyfriend's house after Gillian's graduation.

After all of the graduation celebrations were over, Keicha, Gillian and I boarded a plane for Colorado so that we could attend Mason's graduation.


Since I have lived closer to Mason and his sister Hannah as they have been growing up, I've been able to be more involved in their lives and activities.  When Mason was a baby and toddler, I'd babysit him quite often.  At first, he was going to be a hockey champion, and so at a very young age, there he was out there on the ice with a last name emblazoned  on his shirt that seemed bigger than he was.  Then, he took up baseball.  Then, there was football.  Perhaps his best love is skiing.  When he isn't working for his dad at Outback Steakhouse, or participating in sports, or hanging out with friends, Mason will either be skiing or boating. 

Along the way in the small town where he lives in northern Colorado, Mason made many lifelong friends whom have gone to school with him and played sports with him from kindergarten through graduation from high school. His high school years have been well-rounded and grounded in friendship and family.

Graduation ceremonies were to be held on the high school football field, but it rained on graduation day.  Plan "B" meant that while Mason was walking across the stage in the gymnasium to receive his diploma, myself and other family members watched on a large screen in the auditorium.  While it wasn't quite the same as watching him graduate "live," it worked and I was quite thrilled for him.  

The rain in the skies did not damper our emotions which ran quite high on Mason's big day, nor did the wetness on his mom's face come from the rain.  When she saw her handsome boy dressed in his black robe and orange stole, as he handed her an orange flower thanking her for all she has done throughout his school, his momma's big smile and tears said it all.  This photo captures a mamma's graduation day emotions: great pride, exhilarating joy, and a touch of sadness.

We all were thrilled and happy to celebrate in the school parking lot after graduation.

Keicha & Gillian with Mason
Grandma Sally & Mason
Brother and Sister moment ~ Mason & Hannah
After graduation, Mason and his mother's side of the family went to Boulder for a celebratory lunch.  Mason was thrilled with his graduation present from his mom.  Grandpa Jim helped him get it all set up.

Graduation time is filled with so many emotions for both the graduates and the parents and grandparents of the graduates.  There is a sense of relief for the grads that high school is finally over. And there is a bit of anxiousness and uncertainty about the future.  When each of these two graduates took the tassel on their caps and moved it from side to the other to signify that they had completed all of the requirements to achieve high school graduation, I hope they felt pride for their accomplishments.  I know I felt great pride in them.  I can't wait to see the next chapter in their lives.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Graduations and Grandbabies ~ Part I

Photos Tell A Story

 When my grandchildren see me coming camera in hand, most of them run and hide.  I admit it.  I am obsessed with documenting the times I've had with my children and grandchildren by taking photos.  Since the advent of the digital camera, I have literally amassed thousands of photos of my offspring. My photos are sent to my computer to an app created by Apple called Photos.  These same photos are also stored in iCloud.  One feature of the app Photo is called "Memories."  Photos are collected in the memories feature of Apple's Photo app by date and appear on my Apple products in the Photo app nearly daily.  I am always fascinated to see what photos may appear each day with the title "On This Day."

Today, it was a treat to see photos of the day twelve years ago when my youngest son Jonathan and his wife Samantha graduated from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS).  I've spent the remainder of the day thinking about these two and the incredible journey they have been on since the day they met.

The Backstory

Jonathan must have been seventeen, or maybe he was eighteen, when he started talking about Sam, this new girl he had met.  Then, one day, he announced that Sam was driving down to Pueblo where we lived from Colorado Springs to pick him up for a date.  Jon didn't have a car at the time.  I don't even know if he had a driver's license, but Sam obviously had both.  Jon was not attending high school; he'd dropped out.  He was in his phase of wear grungy clothes.  I was more than curious to meet this new girl in his life as Jon had never brought girlfriends around the house.  Did he ever even have a girlfriend before Sam?  I don't think so.

I think we were instructed by Jon to be cool with Sam and not ask too many questions of her because she was shy.  I think she died a thousand deaths when we answered the door because she had to do the dreaded meet the parents gig.  When the doorbell rang, it seems Jon ran to answer the door first because he just wanted to rush out the door without making introductions to save both of them from going through the formalities.  Of course, I wasn't having any of that.  I wanted to meet Sam.  Quick introductions were made at the door.  Sam was polite, and cute, and dressed very similarly to Jon.  I approved of her, but of course I would never say that to either one of them at the time.

As soon as Jon was out of the door, Sam turned and together they walked across the porch towards the driveway.  That is when I saw that they each had heavy chains hooked to their belt loops that were attached to a wallet in the back pocket of their jeans.  My husband and I turned and looked at each other when we saw the way they both had those chains on their jeans.  "Soul mates." I said with a smile.  "I think Jon found his soul mate."

The Academic Journey

It was a number of years after that day, that these two graduated from college.  They had already lived on their own but together in New York, Austin, Texas, and then returned to Colorado Springs to marry and begin college.  Soon after they were married, they also had a child, dear Atticus.

Atticus Roberts Christiansen

Those two had a lot going on in those years.  They were working to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, and keep a car running.  Jonathan mostly rode his bike everywhere.  They also attended college and that meant they were constantly studying and writing papers.  They also showed themselves to be fantastic parents who spent a lot of time enjoying and nurturing their adorable and bright son.

Those years were not easy as they plugged away and worked hard and earned those college degrees.  It seems hard to imagine that is has been twelve years since the day when they met the goal they had set and accomplished that milestone of earning their bachelor degrees.

Jonathan and Samantha Christiansen
Graduation from UCCS
May 2005

Samantha graduated with highest honors and won a full-ride scholarship to work on her PhD at Northeastern University in Boston.  Jonathan was accepted to Boston College.  This meant that in the summer of 2006, we would proudly, but with sad hearts, send this little family of three off across the country to Boston.  Trips to see them and trips home to see us were not frequent, but at least we got to see each other as they continued their educational journey.

As part of the journey, Samantha was granted a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Bangladesh.  She gave up this prestigious scholarship to take a scholarship that would give her enough money to take Jonathan and Atticus with her to Bangladesh.

Boston seemed so far away, but it suddenly it seemed quite close to home when this adventurous and hardworking family took off to the other side of the world to Bangladesh.  They would live and study there for a year and half.  Atticus attended a bilingual French school while they were there.  They kept us intrigued with all of the stories of the adventures they were experiencing.

Once Samantha was finished with her research for her PhD, they returned to Boston from Bangladesh and were able to return to the same apartment building where they had lived before.  Since Jon had finished his MA at Boston college before they left for Bangladesh, he went to work as a researcher studying the effects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) grants in education.  He worked closely with researchers at MIT and Harvard.  Samantha returned to finish her PhD at Northeastern.  She also by this time had published a chapter in an edited volume about sixties movements.

Dr. Samantha Christiansen
Atticus and Jonathan Christiansen
Northeastern University, Boston, MA

In 2014, Samantha and Jonathan moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Samantha would begin her University career as a professor of history at Marywood University.  Jonathan was able to also gain employment at Marywood teaching sociology.  Their offices, like the two of them have been since they were teenagers, were side by side.

This past year has not been an easy one. Jonathan began working this past summer on his PhD in Binghamton, New York.  This has meant he has carried a full-load of teaching while also carrying a full load as a student.  He also drove an hour each way four days a week to get to and from  his classes in Binghamton. 

The journey these two began into the world of higher education has been a long one and a hard one.  It has also been exciting.  Today, as I looked at those photos of my son and his wife graduating from college twelve years ago, I just shook my head in wonder at all that has transpired since that day. 

Samantha & her mom Jonathan and his mom
Graduation from UCCS 2005

Jon and Sam were both mostly raised by single moms and those two moms could not have been prouder of their two kids on that graduation day.  Those same two moms have missed these two kids and their son terribly as they've traveled the world and accomplished so much. 

It has not always been an easy path that they have followed.  There has been a few rocks in their pathway, and quite a few twists and turns, but they have persevered and been successful in their academic, professional, and personal lives.

As a couple and as a family, Jonathan, Samantha, and Atticus are a pretty tight unit.  I think I was right the first time I met Samantha and saw her and Jonathan together.  They are soul mates.

As I said this past year has not been an easy one, but it has been so exciting because...

wait for it...

These two surprised us all with the most amazing news ever earlier this year. 

News I could not share at the time, but I can now. 

This couple has added to their family and presented me with my eighth grandchild!

 Leon Roberts Christiansen 

was born a week before the end of this semester on April 23, 2017.  

Leon Roberts Christiansen

Can you even believe how beautiful he is?  I know I might be biased, but I honestly don't think I've seen a more adorable baby in a long time.  Probably not since my last grandchild Atticus was born.  This grandma is over the moon.  I can't wait to see him!

True to form, Samantha gave birth to Leon on a Sunday night and returned to teach her classes at the end of the week.  Jonathan continued to teach and write papers for his program.  Thankfully, Grandma Rita flew out from Colorado to help these two with taking care of the new baby while she also kept meals cooked, dishes washed, laundry done, and got plenty of time to hold and love on this adorable baby. 

Atticus now fourteen is getting to know his new baby brother. 

 There is even more amazingly happy news.  

They are coming home to Colorado Springs to live! 

Samantha has been offered and has accepted a job as a tenure track professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.  In August, she will begin working as a history professor in the department from which she graduated twelve years ago.  Jonathan will have to stay in Scranton another year to finish up his PhD, so this academic journey is not quite over for him.

Quite honestly, I am so thrilled with all of this good news that I can scarcely believe it.  Come August, I will finally get to hold this precious new family member in my arms while I welcome this family back home.  They will have come full circle since that graduation day twelve years ago.  I could not be prouder of them.