Grandmama and Granddaddy Pt 3 of 3

I’m told when I was an infant and maybe till I was 2 or 3, our family would leave Wichita on December 24th to spend Christmas at 1007 Nelson Street in Ruston, Louisiana.

By the time my memories started sticking, we didn’t leave Wichita until December 26th. Our seven cousins and seven Aunts and Uncles impatiently waited on the Kardatzke’s to arrive for Grandmama’s famous chicken n dumplings dinner every 26th of December. Grandmama wouldn’t allow anyone to eat until we were there! As soon as we showed up, hugs were properly given while everyone kept joking about starving in honor of the Kardatzke’s and we would quickly sit down for chicken n dumplings, cornbread, purple hull peas, turnip greens, and pound cake! Grandmama made everything from scratch and her dinners were the best I’ve EVER had.

Grandmama and Grandaddy would give us presents such as a turtle foot-cushion, a crocheted blanket, or a handmade Humpty Dumpty. All 10 grandchildren slept in the attic. Every morning we would wake to the smell of frying bacon and would make our way downstairs into the kitchen for Granddaddy’s amazing breakfast…bacon, scrambled eggs, grits, and toast with jam. He would have already taken his 5am walk and always started coffee and breakfast when he returned home.

Later in the day, we grandchildren would sometimes walk to the local Handee Mart and get icees and candy. Sometimes we all would go shopping in downtown Ruston which consisted of a handful of gift shops and one nice department store called Lewis’s.

When we were very young, we would hold our own Christmas pageant for our parents’ enjoyment. One year, I was chosen to portray Mary across from my cousin Paul’s Joseph. I took the part very seriously with great reverence, though Annie O didn’t seem to respect her role as baby Jesus and cried during the portrayal.

We spent four days a year together and shared some of the most wonderful, happy times of our lives. 21 people in a small home can either be a nightmare or a dream depending upon the people themselves. For us, it was an experience of love bursting at the seams of the house and of our hearts.

After one of Grandmama’s fabulous dinners, we would often gather around the piano singing as Granddaddy played hymns and carols.

As we all prepared to return to our home states of Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky or Florida, and Massachusetts, Grandmama would say, “Glad to see you come, glad to see you go!” Annie O would valiantly hold back tears until she couldn’t, and I took for granted that those four days would always come, no matter how many years passed.

Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever and after Granddaddy and Grandmama both “went on to glory” the house at 1007 Nelson burned and had to be bulldozed. Each of us have one of its old crystal doorknobs because Aunt Marie and Uncle Dave salvaged them and sent them to us. They are but a small physical reminder of the house that held our hearts, our laughter, and the best meals we’ve ever eaten for a few days every Christmas season.

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Tristan Jon Noller

Most people have a third child because they’ve always planned on having three or they have an “oops”. My reasoning was different, to say the least. What initially planted the thought in my brain was a huge, colossal mistake I made in parenting.

Keenan Chase, our second, has always been very precocious. The name Keenan actually means, “wise little ancient one,” and he certainly fit the definition at age 5.  One day he came home from Kindergarten, sometime in September I believe, and insisted I tell him the truth about Santa Claus. Now I had already gone through something similar with our oldest son, Dillon around the same age, but he had been satisfied with my answer of, “Of course Santa is real! He’s as real as the love in our hearts and I believe in Santa like I believe in love.” Not so with Keenan.  We went round and round for at least 30 minutes, and he finally threw his arms down, looked me in the eye, and said, “Mom, I want the truth!” I did not receive the ugly nickname “the truth Nazi” for no reason.…I caved and told him the real story of St. Nicholas and what really happens at Christmas, and he calmly relaxed his shoulders and pursed his lips.  “I thought so.”  I then told him not to spoil it for other children, including Dillon, since they will find out when they are good and ready. I immediately had a sense of foreboding.

The next day, Dillon jumped off the bus and ran in the house, “Mom, you have to stop him!  Keenan’s telling everyone there’s no Santa! He kept saying it on the playground, on the bus, he even told ME, and I told him I didn’t want to know!” I called Keenan in to the kitchen for a heart to heart.
“Why did you tell everyone? I told you to keep it to yourself!” Keenan burst into tears, exclaiming, “I wish I’d never known!”
Oh the crushing blow those words were to my mama heart!  I had single handedly ruined Christmas not just for my 5 year old, but also my 7 year old, all of their classmates and even myself!!! I might as well change my name to Ebenezer!!! It was at this crisis moment I first had the thought, “I might want another baby…” I needed another chance at doing Christmas right! An opportunity for redemption…oh please!

That Christmas, 1999, we visited Wichita and I rocked my infant niece, Alexa, to sleep. The motherhood pangs hit my heart! I begged Mike to consider another child, he looked at me in bewilderment, and said, “You realize this would push us into our 50’s for our empty nest…right?” I assured him I understood and it would be worth it. “You also realize we only make boys, right? Don’t expect a girl.” I said I wanted a boy, I know how to raise boys…and this time “I’m doing Christmas right!”

Tristan Jon Noller was born December 7, 2000. We had a healthy number of Christmases believing in Santa, and through Tristan’s experience Dillon and Keenan enjoyed the magic that I had taken from them. Today my baby boy, my “Sugar Muffin”😆 is 17, newly inducted in National Honors Society, and looking at colleges. He was so much younger than the other two I kind of thought he’d never grow up…he’d eternally stay 7 or something. Like Mike has always said, “We are raising adults!”
Tristan has been the easiest kid to raise. I’ve never once had to say, “Do your homework!” He’s been self-regulated since Kindergarten. He’s courteous, respectful, witty, intelligent, responsible, and one of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I am blessed beyond what I can express, and that’s saying something, cause I can EXPRESS! Happy 17th birthday Tristan Jon Noller! I love you so much and am so thankful I messed up Santa for Keenan, Dillon, and all of Harpeth Valley Elementary! You are worth it!❤️

Grandmama and Granddaddy Pt2

Myrtle and Frellsen had 4 children in 3 years. Anita Beryl in 1937, the twins, Myrtle Marie and Charles Robert in 1938, and Lorna June in 1939.

Frellsen was an English professor at Louisiana Tech, played the piano and organ, and led worship at church, while Myrtle ran their household, was active in both Girl and Boy Scout leadership, taught Sunday School, and kept their four children in line.

Lorna June reminisced about both of them in a journal entry, “Mother loved to sing. She often sang as she worked around the house…always hymns and songs of praise. She also loved to cook and was the best cook in the world. She could create a meal for many in no time. Mother loved people and reached out in love to everyone regardless of their station in life. My father loved to read Shakespeare. He would sit in the rocking chair in the living room rocking and reading quietly to himself. He encouraged us to read the classics. Daddy led singing at church. He had a great voice. He played the piano,many hymns,and would often play in a staccato manner.”

Alvin Frellsen was born eleven years after Lorna when Myrtle and Frellsen were 42. As you can imagine, they were much more relaxed the fifth time around. All five children ended up with Masters Degrees as education was extremely emphasized in the home.  In 1950 they moved a few blocks over to 1007 Nelson Street, a 1500 square ft. white house with green shutters that somehow eventually housed 21 of us every Christmas season. It had a special attic filled with treasures…and grandchildren…

More to come…

Grandmama and Granddaddy Smith Pt 1

I’ve deliberately waited to feature my mom’s parents until December because most of my memories with them are around Christmastime. Even during one particularly difficult time in our family’s life one February, Granddaddy (Frellsen) cheerfully encouraged us with the words, “Before you know it it’ll be Christmas.”

Frellsen Fletcher Smith was born on January 27, 1908 to Dr. Charles and Clara Fletcher Smith. His father was a doctor who had a heart attack in his early 40’s and was told to “get his affairs in order.” He begged God for more time and promised he would dedicate that time to preaching the gospel. He lived for 20 more years as a traveling evangelist and Frellsen witnessed first-hand the transformation of his father. This impacted him so profoundly that he made a personal decision for Christ and never looked back. In his late teen years he began to play the organ at his father’s revivals.

Myrtle Carver was born on August 7, 1908 to Martha “Patsy” Morrison Carver and George Robert Carver. She was the fifth of thirteen children. Myrtle was a well behaved intelligent child, so much so that her father mortgaged the farm in order to send her to Louisiana Tech in 1926.

Frellsen and Myrtle met when they were 14 at a revival that Charles held in Myrtle’s hometown of Simpson, Louisiana. An elder in Myrtle’s church told her to keep her eye on that fine young man (Frellsen) and she bluntly responded, “That ugly old thing??”

When the time came for Myrtle to attend Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Patsy arranged for her to live with the upstanding Smith family. Myrtle always said she first fell in love with Frellsen when he was playing the piano. They dated all through college, Frellsen’s two years at University of Texas for his master’s, and a year continuing his education at Harvard.

In 1934 when they were 26, Myrtle made an ultimatum while Frellsen was at Harvard. “You come back now and marry me or we’re through!” He returned and they drove to the minister’s house and asked his wife to be the witness as the minister married them. The ceremony was performed as they were sitting in their car. Through the years, Grandmama (Myrtle) always reminded us, “It’s the marriage that counts, not the wedding.”

The Scrooge Within

We went to The Man Who Invented Christmas opening night. Dan Stevens brilliantly portrays Charles Dickens as he’s wrestling with writing A Christmas Carol and Christopher Plummer is fantastic as Scrooge.

I’ve always loved Ebenezer Scrooge because he truly is the meanest most hateful, selfish person yet he has a complete transformation through self-awareness, compassion, and redemption. I began to think “from where or what does hate and bitterness stem?” These are not primary emotions, but are secondary to their mother seeds of hurt, abandonment, fear, disappointment, brokenness, and sorrow. The seed grows into small but strong roots of self- pity and distrust, and if left to take hold, develops into a huge weed of bitterness and hate.

Christians readily recognize hate as the opposite of love and know this is anti-Christ, but many people, including myself, have had deep feelings of self-pity and abandonment, and have allowed unhealthy self-talk such as, “No one cares about me,” or “I’m not important to anyone.” We even deceive ourselves into thinking we are righteous in our grief and this leads to false martyrdom. Such seeds are as wicked and anti-Christ as the bitterness they breed, and we must identify them. No one sets out to be hateful, but rather we allow our brokenness and hurt to warp us into bitter old Scrooge.

Dickens depiction of the Ghost of Christmas Present is the perfect personification of Galatians 5: 22. “But the Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Even Scrooge can’t help but soften in the presence of such unadulterated laughter and joy. As Christians, Christ followers, we must be wary of our own hurts, and that kind of understanding only comes through painful self-analysis and introspection. Often we want to claim our belief in Christ is all we need and Jesus does the rest. Without taking personal responsibility for our own emotional, mental, and spiritual growth we limit God’s power to use us at full capacity. We may be saved but we are not significantly impacting the world around us. The world will not recognize that we are Christ’s by our preaching, teaching, judging, or righteousness, it will not see Jesus in our boycotts or protests, our rules, scripture readings, or spiritual discussions. John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That kind of love grows from seeds of hope, joy, and trust, which only have room to flourish if we are continually searching for and weeding out the hurts, fears, and doubts.

So with that in mind, let us search our hearts and bow our heads in gratitude as we acknowledge the Scrooge within each of us, and choose to take the hand of love, joy, and redemption!

Miracle Grow

Some of you may remember my Christmas poinsettia story about Eevie Mulloy. In a nutshell, when Eevie was born with congenital leukemia on November 10, 2013, she was given a grim prognosis. The doctors in KC didn’t think she would even make it to Christmas. The extended family, such as myself, felt helpless and frustrated since Ryan and Brynne and Eevie were in KC and the rest of us had to just hope and pray. It was so hard not being with them in such a difficult time.

Mike gave me a poinsettia that season which has been a tradition since we dated in HS. In all the stress, I forgot to water it and it withered up. I was so upset and all the emotion I had been holding in came gushing out. I fell on my knees in tears and said, “Why does everything have to die??” I watered it and went to bed. The next morning it was beautiful again. It grew, flourished through the winter months, and still sat by my piano in May when Eevie finally got to come home. I repotted it and it became ginormous through the Fall, blooming again in January 2015. It continued to grow all through Eevie’s difficulties, including 2015’s terrible unidentified rash and weight loss. She and her parents and Gammy had to go to CHOP in Pennsylvania for 12 weeks. I saw the poinsettia as a promise. Eevie was going to make it. Everytime I was afraid I looked at the poinsettia and believed she would be okay.

Eevie came home with a hopeful yet serious diagnosis just before Christmas 2015. Chemo had compromised her bone marrow, ruining her immune system. If she didn’t improve on her own, she would have to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Within a few weeks of coming home, she began gaining weight, growing in height, and her skin completely cleared up. In January, the poinsettia had white flies and I tried for two months to get rid of them. They wrecked havoc on the plant, so I finally gave up in March and put it outside where it continued to die. Eevie continued to flourish, and in May of 2016 had gained 7 lbs, 3 inches in height, and her skin was beautiful! Brynne noticed the plant one Monday in May and felt the shock and fear of what it might mean. I told her I’ve decided it got us through the uncertain times and gave us hope, and now Eevie herself is that hope. I told Eevie to tell her Mommy, “I am the plant!” Eevie smiled with a mischievious look in her eye, and said “Mommy’s the plant!” I laughed and said again, “Say I’m the plant!” She smiled again and said, “Aunt KK’s the plant!” and I turned to Brynne with shocked realization that Eevie was right.
Eevie, Brynne, Ryan, Gammy, and even me….we all have grown so much in so many ways through all of it. We don’t need the poinsettia anymore to give us hope. We’ve got our Eevie girl!

Eevie is now 4 years old and living a normal preschooler’s life. It’s Christmas time again and Mike and I picked out a beautiful poinsettia for this season. It is now not just a reminder of the love we have shared for 35 years, but also of the miracle we witnessed in Eevie.

Prairie Pines Day

Today is Prairie Pines Day. We wait all year for this exciting festive moment, the day after Thanksgiving, when our beloved Prairie Pines Christmas Tree Farm opens its doors to begin the Christmas season.

We started the tradition back in the early 80’s when I was in junior high and faithfully continued until our immediate family moved to Nashville in ‘97, but the rest of the family kept the faith and we rejoined the happy gathering in 2005. I didn’t realize how special this day was until a few years back when my niece, Brynne, said, “Prairie Pines Day is the best day of the year…it’s the gateway of the season, and the height of the joy and magic! Do you feel it??” I had taken it for granted, and realized at that moment she was right!

Our annual trip to the tree farm goes like this. We all wear tacky Christmas sweaters and meet in the big barn filled with a huge blazing fireplace and beautiful Christmas ornaments and decor for sale. We get our Christmas tree tags and walk to the other barn where the biggest Frazier and Noble firs are, look around, contemplate which are possibilities, go back over to the smaller trees to compare, stop off at the treat station for peanut butter ball Buckeyes, hot chocolate and cider, and return to the big trees to make our decision. Scott always brings a football that he passes to the boys as we’re walking back and forth from barn to barn, and we often spontaneously break out in Christmas songs with some harmony here and there. After arguing over which tree is “the one” we finally make a decision and circle around the tree with clasped hands loo-looing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in honor of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Then we sing “Fah Who Foraze(Welcome Christmas)” from “The Grinch,” we tag the tree, take family pictures in the sleigh, take the tractor ride around the farm(of course we’re singing the whole way), buy the tree, load it on top of the car, and take it home for decorating.

Prairie Pines Day has circled around every year, with each wedding and new baby growing the family and the love we share. The strangest year was 2015. Eevie Elouise had dwindled down to 14 lbs at age 2 with a horrific rash all over her body, and Brynne, Ryan, Eevie and her Gammy Nancy were in Philadelphia for 12 weeks, from early October to the end of December. After weeks of no answers, Brynne called, crying and said, “We won’t make it for Prairie Pines Day. My heart is breaking…all I want is for us all to be well, back home, loo-looing around a tree. I cry every time I think of you all being there without us.”

The day arrived and we got in the car to meet at Prairie Pines, but there had been an ice storm the night before, and the gate had a closed sign hanging on it. Prairie Pines CLOSED on Prairie Pines Day??? I texted the picture of the closed gate to Brynne and she was as dumbfounded as me. I saw it as a sign from God that Eevie would get better and the next year she would be loo-looing around a tree with us. She did! In fact, she made it home for Christmas and it was the best present any of us have ever received!

So, here we are again, at Prairie Pines, continuing the tradition with another generation of loo-loo singers, teaching them through our traditions, our consistent actions year after year, that as long as we are alive we will be together, grateful for every moment and cherishing each one as a priceless immeasurable treasure that can never fully be recreated.

 

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time of gratefulness and humility, a time of harvesting, gathering all that we’ve worked hard for including our most cherished relationships and memories.

As a child, the Kardatzke’s would gather at each other’s homes, trading years. Sometimes we would be at Gramps and Grammie’s, others at Chuck and Donna Thomas’s or Uncle Stan and Aunt Reta’s, and sometimes we’d be at our house. I loved going to the Thomas’s because they had one of those big yards with huge trees, and a sixties style house that reminded me of the Brady Bunch. Every year we would share one by one as we stood around the table something we were thankful for and Grammie’s brother Uncle Roy would say, “That I’m not the turkey!” It was a time of feeling full in stomach, heart and spirit!

Eventually we celebrated every year at Gramps and Grammie’s and Grammie would invite strangers to our family gathering. It annoyed me! Why did we need to have nuns from Africa or a missionary’s family, or pastors from some other church at our exclusive family holiday affair? She was always inviting someone, and if this was allowed to continue, Christmas would be open to the bums on the street!

Now that I’ve had some years to mature, I can appreciate Grammie’s generous spirit. Not everyone has a huge eccentric family with whom to share holidays. Many are traveling from place to place and may be in our midst only for a day or two, and holidays are meant to be shared. Grammie took Christ’s parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 to heart. ““Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’”

I’m so thankful to be invited to sit at the table, to be included no matter my upbringing, status, education, financial situation, or even my past mistakes! All that is required of me is to come…to show up with a spirit of gratitude. I can do that! Jesus was always reminding us we’re invited, we are guests of honor, and so many scriptures describe heaven as a banquet, a feast filled with fabulous foods, rich wines, and family!

Let us be thankful for each other, for this food and drink, and for our Lord’s bountiful generosity so graciously shared with whoever will come sit at the table.

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭25:6‬

Perspective

Perspective is an intriguing phenomenon. Many never realize they only see things through their own eyes and that there actually are other relevant angles and points of view. Even as I write this post about perspective, I am fully aware I’m coming from my own. According to the Myers-Briggs personality test I am an ENFP-Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeler, Perceiver. By nature, I am able to “put myself in other’s shoes” and see different views. For this reason I have often struggled with knowing my own mind or opinion on certain issues. I don’t like conflict and it usually comes when two or more opinionated people clash on a subject and dig in their heels trying to change each other’s minds. I also believe the truth of most things lies somewhere in between polarizing views and is made up of many interwoven intricate colors instead of shades of black or white.

In my younger years, my perspective on the passage of time was one of sadness and loss. I saw each year as another gone that will never be relived, instead of feeling grateful for having experienced it. I cried when my oldest son turned one because the first year was over, instead of for the joy and privilege of having a healthy one year old. My cup was usually half empty and I treated the remainder as a ration that needed to be held onto and protected. Through counseling, I began to see with new eyes, to gain a more positive perspective. When the old point of view would rear its panic-stricken head and say, “You’ve lost another year…” I would counter, sometimes even out loud, “Ah but how privileged and honored you are to have lived it!”

Who am I to have such joy in my life? As I began to see things from my new eyes, I finally began to understand what Psalm 23 means concerning, “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” If I view time as a teacher, healer, and gift I won’t try in vain to hold it as it slips through my fingers. If I see love as something that lives and grows, then I no longer need to hoard it as if there’s not enough to go around. This week of Thanksgiving, I bow my head in absolute gratitude that I have a faithful and devoted husband of almost 30 years, three incredible sons who continue to amaze me with their resilience, kindness, and wisdom, a beautiful healthy grandson who brings such joy with every smile he gives, our miracle girl Eevie Elouise running, laughing and cancer-free, parents who love me and tried their best to do what was right, a job I passionately love with people I admire and respect, a home where I feel safe and warm, my precious furry friends that give me such unconditional love, good food and wine shared with family and friends held dear, and most of all, my God who is the Giver of all these good things and more. May I ever search for His perspective on all things rather than stay in the confines of my own limited vision and understanding.

Wonka Wisdom

1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of my favorite movies of all-time. Leslie Bricusse’s music is magical genius, and Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka is a perfect combination of eccentric fun, unpredictability and kindheartedness. The kids in the story are wildly out of control and always seemed too awful to be real. The worst are Veruca Salt who berates her father for not being able to give her everything she wants as soon as she demands, and Mike TeeVee who tells everyone to shut up, punches people in the gut, and watches tv 24/7. Like I said, behavior too bad to be real, or so I thought.

In the 70’s, our principal Mrs McElroy had a huge paddle with holes drilled into it hanging above her desk. It was legendary. We all were terrified of being sent to the principal’s office. I was never sent there because I was already a tap-dancing people pleaser and I was terrified of the stories I’d heard. Fear can be a great motivator.

While I am not an advocate for corporal punishment, I do believe the pendulum has swung much too far to the other side. Nowadays, everyone’s hands seem to be tied except for the Verucas and Mike TeeVees of the world and they’re multiplying! It seems many kids are not even given boundaries at home, which they desperately need to feel safe. What a scary and confusing world it is for a five year old when they are allowed to call the shots. Whether or not they realize it, they are desperate for consistent rules and boundaries that are clearly stated and lovingly enforced. Too much freedom is a rabbit hole that leads to Crazytown where up is down, right is left, good is bad, and no one finds peace, happiness, or purpose. In the words of the wise Oompa Loompas…

Oompa loompa doompety doo
I’ve got another puzzle for you
Oompa loompa doompety dee
If you are wise you’ll listen to me
Who do you blame when your kid is a brat
Pampered and spoiled like a siamese cat
Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame
You know exactly who’s to blame
The mother and the father
Oompa loompa doompety da
If you’re not spoiled then you will go far
You will live in happiness too
Like the Oompa Loompa Doompety do!