Category Archives: Stories

The Man Behind the Desktop

If you take your laptop into a coffee shop to get some work done, you’ll quickly notice that you’re not the only one. Lots of people do this: telecommuters, freelance writers, wannabe novelists, students…it’s not strange.

What is strange is this:

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Yes indeed, in this blurry photo you can behold what I beheld in my favorite ocean view coffee shop at Nye Beach. A man in a hat hunches behind a desktop computer setup. Monitor, computer, keyboard, and mouse, all dragged to a coffee shop and set up at a table. I could see his screen in the large mirror behind him. He was a writer.

Of course I didn’t want to be caught staring, so after snapping that creeper photo I went back to my own business. I ordered peppermint tea and set up my laptop at my own table.

Then I just sat there for a minute.

What should I work on? I felt completely at loose ends. After almost two months of obsessively completing the second draft of my memoir, it was in the hands of my editor. So, now what?

I toyed with the idea of writing a blog post, but nothing interesting had happened to me lately. Here I was, though, at the ocean, where interesting people tend to mill around. Should I find a stranger to talk to?

The barista set my tea on the counter, and I slipped off my chair and walked over to pick it up. I’d already paid for the drink, so I might as well stay in the coffee shop for now and get some writing done. I could find a stranger to talk to later. So setting my tea down beside my computer, I opened a new Google doc and typed out the first words of a brand new book.

A novel, this time.

An upper-middle-aged woman with stickers all over her laptop walked into the shop and sat at the table next to me. The man in the hat emerged from behind his electronic fortress and began talking to her.

Maybe they ran in the same circles. Writers of Newport. I was intrigued by the concept, and plagued by the question of what kind of person would bring a desktop computer into a coffee shop? So I listened to their conversation, in a very obvious way, hoping to find an opportunity to join in. But it was not as interesting as I’d hoped. The man in the hat was waxing poetical about philosophy, and saying very little that made sense to me.

I went back to my novel.

“What are you working on?” The man in the hat was right behind me.

“Um…I’m working on a novel actually,” I said. “I just started today.”

Now, I realize those words did kind-of make me sound like an amateur. But he hadn’t asked me about my writing career in general, he’d asked what I was working on. Which was a novel. That I’d literally just started.

“Well here’s my advice,” he said. “Never rush your key scenes.”

Already he sounded a bit condescending, but I’d wanted to have a conversation with a stranger, hadn’t I? And maybe he’d have some good advice to offer. I pulled out a notebook and started taking notes.

He told me to never write more than 2,000 words a day. He told me that I can always change things later, so I should keep my flow. He said that I should write a full 1’st draft before I begin correcting it.

This advice session was peppered with references to his own, apparently extensive, body of work. “So how many novels have you written?” I asked.

“That depends on if you count the historical stuff or not,” he said with a little smile. “In some ways those books were like novels, but in other ways they were more like philosophy.”

Then he started giving me publishing advice. “Find an Indie publisher instead of going with CreateSpace,” he said. “Everyone knows that CreateSpace books are…well, that anyone can make a CreateSpace book. But even if you do get into bookstores, your book won’t stay there for long. Bookstores keep track of how many books are selling each month, so when they see that no one’s buying your book, they send them all back to you. Basically, you can expect a small run of books, and then no one will care about it anymore.”

Then he talked about writing for the love of writing instead of for the money. I can’t adequately re-create the way he spoke, because I wasn’t jotting down quotes. But there was something almost pompous about it. He reminded me of the kids at college that tried so hard to sound smart by using words like “ontological.”

“Of course,” he said at the end of his speech, “you may be the one rare genius who can actually make it.” There was only a hint of sarcasm in his voice, but it still grated.

“What’s your name?” I asked. “I’d like to look up your books.”

“I only have one series of books on Amazon,” he said. “Amazon is kind-of the enemy, you know?” But he told me the title, and watched over my shoulder as I typed it into the search bar.

Of course I misspelled it, which he pointed out with the same little condescending smile. But I think I must misspell things in a very common way, because Google always understands me, and I found his book with no problem. But he was still there, behind me, and he told me to click the “look inside” button, and click through all the pages until I got to his writing. Okay. We’re doing this thing.

And, not gonna lie, his book didn’t give the best first impression. He’d started by copying in parts of a classic novel that were public domain, and the formatting was atrocious. When I finally got to the parts that he had written, I saw a block of text with big words and no paragraph breaks. My eyes swam over it, trying to skim but struggling. Now what? Am I supposed to read it right here, right now? 

There was an awkward pause. Then, “Just read it sometime and tell me what you think,” said the man. He sat down in the other seat at my table. “So, what are you writing?”

Finally! After basically being told I could never hope to be a successful writer, I had a chance to defend myself. But I didn’t know how to make my novel sound promising. I struggle with plots, so I’d chosen a very simple romantic comedy plot line, and made all the characters Mennonite.

I decided to gain credibility by playing the Mennonite card. “There aren’t really novels written about people like me,” I said. “The closest things we have are Amish novels written by people who have little-to-no Amish background. So my idea is to write a novel that’s purely a lighthearted, fun romance, to give Mennonites something enjoyable to read that’s about us and our culture.”

I guess the Mennonite card worked, because instead of the usual condescending smile, he gave a short philosophical monologue about Mennonites. Then he went back to his desktop computer to write more philosophy, and I returned to my novel, watching the waves lap the shore outside my window.

I spent maybe half an hour in this way, leisurely typing. And then…

“Can I read some of what you’ve written?”

It was the desktop computer guy again.

What do I say? I don’t usually let anyone read my first draft. “I don’t know, it’s pretty rough,” I said. “I mean, I just started typing. Very much a first draft.”

The little smile was back. “It’s okay if you don’t have much of a voice yet,” he said. “It takes a while to develop a strong voice. Maybe I could give you some pointers.”

“Okay, sure,” I said, opening up the Google doc. Because people can only make hurtful comments if you take them seriously. And I was beyond the point of taking him seriously.

He read the first page of my document, softly, out-loud, like I do when people show me memes on their phones. And since there’s little-to-no chance that the first half of the first page will actually end up in the novel, I’m going to copy it here for context:

At some point in life, we all eventually come to the conclusion that what we thought was normal was not, in fact, what everybody else did. At this juncture, you have two options: you can choose to believe that you are weird, or conversely, you can choose to believe that everyone else on the planet is weird, and you, you are still the normal one.

It’s alarming how many people choose the latter.

The odd thing is, I didn’t even know how many people out there operated this way until I came to Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute for fourth term. I didn’t realize how many people think that being Mennonite is normal, and not being Mennonite is weird. That just never crossed my mind.

Maybe it’s inevitable when you grow up in Oregon. You will always be a minority, and if you’re a minority, you just have to deal. It’s really hard to pretend you’re not. It’s really hard to pretend that you’re the normal one.

“But you don’t understand,” Kate told me. “A lot of these kids come from Lancaster County. If you live in Lancaster County and you don’t want to ever talk to people who aren’t Mennonite, you don’t have to. We’ve got Mennonite grocery stores…Mennonite gas stations….”

“Hold up,” I said. “Mennonite gas stations? Really?”

That’s how I happened to began it–with a partially formed idea that didn’t fully make sense. I mean, not everyone in Lancaster thinks it’s “normal” to be Mennonite. Probably not even most people.

But ironically, it was that very thing that made desktop-computer-guy take me seriously. Or at least, semi-seriously. He still had that little smile as he said, “you know, I’ve been exploring that very thought in my philosophy writing today.” But he didn’t make any more snide comments about my voice.

Instead, he philosophized again.

He loved that point I made at the beginning. It’s so true, he thought. People’s religion is all they have sometimes. He told me about Mormons, and how we can’t tell them that Joseph Smith was a sketchy crook, because their religion is all they have. Oh, those poor delicate souls that would be crushed if someone as smart and enlightened as desktop-computer-man came and told them the truth!

Yep. I’m for-sure deleting those paragraphs now.

He spoke on the matter for a very long time. I tried my best to remain engaged, because I had, after all, wished to converse with a stranger. “See, that was the problem with colonialist missionaries in Africa,” he said. “They thought that their ideas were the only truth, and they didn’t think that the natives had any knowledge to contribute.”

He said this unironically, while confidently believing that his own ideas were all that needed to be said on the matter. It didn’t seem to occur to him that I might have some knowledge to contribute.

The philosophical ramblings on religion ended only because it was 5 pm and I had a 2-hour drive to my small group at 7 pm. But I did manage a word in edgewise enough to ask him about his computer. “Do you always take a full desktop computer into coffee shops?” I asked.

“Oh, yes! My friend set that computer up for me, so that’s just what I use.”

“Do you have, like, some sort of dolly to carry it on? Or do you just carry it in your arms?”

“I just carry it in my arms.”

There was nothing left to say on the matter. Was it strange? Sure. But even after the condescending nature of our conversation, I still found the strangeness charming.

Still, I decided something, right there in the coffee shop. When someone tells me that they’re interested in writing, never, ever again will I assume that they’re not good at it.

Until I’m proven wrong, I’m going to assume that they have a beautiful career ahead of them.

Blogmas 2019 Day 7: Childhood Christmas Memories

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Today I’m googling “Blogmas post ideas,” because I spent all my blogging energy editing a video for tomorrow’s post.

Hmm…”Childhood Christmas memories” looks like a semi-promising idea. Let me recall a few Childhood Christmas memories.

Memory 1: The China Tea Set

When I was a kid I absolutely adored the book A Bargain for Francis. In it, Francis longs for “a china tea set with pictures all in blue.” And of course I longed for one too, after reading of her adventures.

One Christmas I opened my presents, and behold! There it was. A china tea set with pictures all in…well…blue and pink. But close enough.

I mean, it was a very cheap tea set, but I thought it was the best thing ever. I started having tea parties with my sister Amy. Mom would give us grape soda to put in the teapot, and I called it “purple mint tea.”

I think of myself as immune to product placement from internet influencers, but I’m totally susceptible to product placement in books. I wonder if that will become a thing. Or if it’s already a thing and I just don’t know about it.

Memory 2: The Christmas Play

When I was still young and cute, I was in the Christmas play at school. I don’t remember what it was about. I just recall that my character’s name was “Jessica,” and I had funny lines that made everyone laugh. “Clothespins anyone?” was one of them. Another was “is it raining?”

Then I grew into an awkward age where I was too young for the serious parts and too old for the cute parts. But I still wanted to be the star of the show. We were doing “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and I was the first to volunteer to play Alice Wendleken, so I should have gotten the part. But instead, the person in charge (I don’t even remember who it was) gave the part to my cousin Jessi.

Instead, I was given this dumb role that had, like, two short lines or something. My character’s name was Maxine.

Well, I decided that I was going to rise above my circumstances. I was going to play Maxine to the best of my ability. Since she seemingly had no personality, I was going to create a personality for her.

I decided that Maxine would be a shy character, and I tried to say my lines in a shy way. Unfortunately, this also made me hard to hear. “Talk louder, Emily!” Sigh. How frustrating. They didn’t understand my true acting abilities. They didn’t understand that Maxine was supposed to be quiet and shy.

In adulthood, I’ve tried to milk a moral out of this story, but I can’t figure out how to do it. When I direct a drama, I want the actors to be content to make the most out of small roles. But I also want them to speak loudly.

Memory 3: My adorable brother

As a child I thought my brother Ben, who was three years younger than me, was the most adorable, hilarious human.

One December I saw him with a pair of my purple craft scissors, trying to wrap them up. He was giving them to me for Christmas, even though they already were mine. I thought it was the cutest funniest thing ever.

Another Christmas we got a box of gifts from Grandma, and one gift had developed a small hole in the wrapping. We all noticed the hole, and we all saw what appeared to be socks inside, but we were all too polite to mention it.

Then Ben said, “I know what this present is! It’s SOCKS!!!” And I thought it was the best “Emperor’s new clothes” moment ever.

Memory 4: Forcing Myself to Like Gifts

As a kid, I made up some weird Christmas rules for myself. Like, the worst thing ever, in my mind, would be to know what your present was before you unwrapped it. I did everything in my power to not know what I was getting until I pulled off the wrapping paper, and if I did find out earlier, I felt cheated. (That was part of the reason I refused to acknowledge that there were socks in the package in the previous story.)

Another Christmas rule was that I had to like my presents. No matter what I got, I forced myself to like it. If nothing else worked, I pretended that it was magic.

One year my brother Matt got me plastic African animal for Christmas. Little cheap ones. Normally, I was much more into girly presents like china tea sets. But I was determined to like this gift. I forced myself to play with those plastic animals all the time. I made them all into characters, and acted out stories with them. I told myself that African animals were much cooler to like than china tea sets. Because even though I liked girly things, all the characters in my favorite books were tomboys, so I wanted to be a tomboy too.

And what do you know, I liked that Christmas present after all.

This has been Day 7 of Blogmas. If you’re interested in reading a (fictional) Christmas story I wrote, click here. And come back tomorrow evening for what will be (in my opinion) the crowning jewel of this entire Blogmas series. That is, a fun video I did with my little sister Jenny.

 

The Engagement

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My brother Matt and his girlfriend Phoebe are both originally from Oregon, though they currently both live in Washington DC. But Phoebe’s grandpa was turning 100, and Matt needed a vacation, so they both came to Oregon for a week and a half.

Hmmm.

“Have you bought a ring yet?” I asked Matt.

He winked at me. Then dug in his backpack and pulled out a small wooden box. Inside was a glistening diamond ring, custom made to be tiny enough to fit Phoebe’s finger. “I helped design it,” Matt said.

“You did?” I was impressed. My brother Matt, designing diamond rings!

“Yes. See, normally the diamond is held by these four prongs, but those can loosen over time. So I had the jeweler add these extra…well…I call them ‘support brackets.'”

I laughed and laughed. Of course Matt would make sure Phoebe’s ring had proper support brackets.

Thursday they went to the coast for the day. How suspicious. I was up in my room when they came home, and I heard muffled voices downstairs. No screams, but…I had to make sure. So I went downstairs, and there were Matt and Phoebe, looking as casual as can be. Maybe too casual.

“Hey Emily,” said Phoebe.

I looked at her hand. There it was. The glistening ring.

I’m gonna have another sister! I haven’t been this excited since Mom was pregnant with Jenny. Or maybe when we decided to adopt Steven. But there’s something about a sister.

Matt went upstairs to get Amy and Jenny, and there was laughter and hugs and screams all around. Mom was weeping.

It’s been a long time, folks. I’ve been dreaming about my siblings getting married ever since Matt went to Bible College…what was it…fourteen years ago? And yet here we are, unmarried. All of us.

“Is the curse broken now?” Jenny whispered to me, and we giggled.

Mom said, “did someone sacrifice a goat in the backyard?”

I laughed, but I wasn’t quite sure what the joke was. “Wait, what do you mean?”

“Wasn’t there something with the Red Sox being cursed, and a goat?”

That made me giggle for real. “Well, um, first of all it was the Cubs. And killing the goat would have probably made things worse. But sure.”

As much as it felt like a “curse” that no one in my family had any romantic luck until now, the truth is, Phoebe was well worth the wait.

When Phoebe and Matt first started seeing each other, one of Phoebe’s friends was aghast. “But is he a Calvinist?!?” she wanted to know. We laughed and laughed about that one. “But it’s even funnier now,” Matt says, “because our whole relationship seems predestined.”

The truth is, if Matt had married the girls he crushed on in his early 20s, he…well, perhaps it’s too drastic to say he’d be miserable. I’ve seen people enter unwise relationships before they were ready and, by the grace of God, live to tell the tale and still love each other in the end.

But the way it ended up worked out so perfectly. He’s done with grad school, and well established in a successful career. She is also done with college and financially stable. We all love her to pieces. And her family loves Matt. They both love DC, but go “home” to the Willamette Valley on holidays.

Suddenly the narrative in my head has shifted. From “we’re that loser family that can’t make our relationships work” to “we’re taking our time and doing it right.”

“What if we all just get married when we’re 33 or so?” I asked Mom.

“Then,” said Mom, “I would say that I probably should have adjusted my expectations from the beginning.”

I felt that. Because if we’re gonna be honest, most of my family members would probably be happier marrying at 33 rather than 23. The wait, then, is not hard because we are so miserable, it’s hard because we start to wonder if God has forgotten us.

But perhaps we should have adjusted our expectations from the beginning.

The End of the Road

There were eight of us: Four siblings, two spouses, and me, the lone granddaughter. All gathered at the bedside of Amos Yoder, a 102-year-old man who was bedridden following a stroke.

We thought he was dying, and then he started to improve. We thought we should put him in a nursing home, and then he seemed to deteriorate again. We prayed that God would take him Sunday night, before we had to make the Nursing Home Decision. But the next morning there he was, chest still rising and falling, pulse still beating steadily.

We decided not to put Grandpa in a nursing home after all.

We decided not to buy a ticket home, yet.

“I live here now,” I thought.

On Wednesday, a week and three days after I’d first arrived in Minnesota, I finally got a chance to borrow a vehicle and go all-by-myself to Caribou Coffee and get some work done. This was magnificent. I settled down in a quiet corner by the fireplace, opened my laptop, and prepared to float away into a new brain space for hours and hours.

But first, I checked my phone. Oh! A missed call from Mom. And a text.

Gpa just passed away

What! Grandpa passed away? It felt unreal in my brain.

Silly. Of course he was going to pass away. He was 102. He’d had a terrible stroke 12 days ago. He was miserable. He hadn’t had any food or water since Monday morning.

And yet…

This had become routine. Getting up at 1 am for my shift. Meeting Mom at the foot of the basement stairs, and knocking on Uncle Fred’s door as we walked past. Peeling the blankets back, and checking Grandpa’s diaper. Carefully rolling him, cleaning him, re-positioning him, apologizing as he winced in pain from his sore arm. Taking the used diaper out to the incinerator.

And the days. Sitting with Grandpa. Asking if he wanted water. Hearing Uncle Fred tell the magnificent stories he collects from people. Eating the massive meals prepared by mysterious fairies and delivered to our doorstep. Reading through Middlemarch. Hitching rides to nearby small towns from whoever happened to be going.

Trying to find places and spaces to get some work done.

Escaping to the canning closet when I needed to be alone.

Or taking long walks down the country roads.

This is my routine now. This is what we do. But I drove back to Marcus and Anna’s house, and as soon as I walked in the door, It was obvious that the routine was no more.

“Did you let so-and-so know?”

“No, I thought so-and-so would.”

Mom, on the phone: “Paul, I don’t know when the funeral will be. We haven’t discussed it yet.”

“Shall I tell the funeral home people to come get him?”

“No, I’m not ready yet. Maybe in a few hours?”

I stood by Grandpa’s bedside, and it was the strangest thing. Almost seeing his chest rise in another breath, like it had so many times before, when he’d stop breathing for 20 seconds or so before starting up again, more laborious than ever.

But laborious breathing was forever in Grandpa’s past, now.

I thought back to Ian’s funeral, last winter. I remembered the way his mother would reach into the casket, smooth his hair, rub his chest. Loving, motherly touches. It had never occurred to me to touch a dead body.
To me, a dead body seemed rather a frightening thing. The gap between the living and the dead seemed vast, and long.

But in this space, having watched Grandpa hover between death and life for so long, the gap didn’t seem so enormous. “Can I touch him?” I asked Aunt Rebecca. “Is that weird? Can I hold his hand?”

“That’s not weird,” she said, pulling back the blanket for me. “Now is a good time, when he’s still warm.”

I grabbed Grandpa’s hand. She was right. It wasn’t weird. And it was warm. Again, the disbelief that this man was actually gone.

“But look,” said Aunt Rebecca. “Look at how his hands are yellowing, already.”

Yes, he was gone. Gone forever from the terrible pain in his arm, the struggle to drink and eat, the annoyance of flies landing on his face, or his pajamas bunching up behind him. I felt a deep relief, but also a melancholy sense of finality.

Now, the family begins to trickle in. Cousin Jason came yesterday. Dad and Amy arrived early this morning, cousin Keith came at noon, and Matt and Phoebe are booking it from the East with cousin Annette and her husband and children. We gather here, here in Minnesota, like we have for so many Christmases and assorted family gatherings.

It’s sad to know that this is The End of the Road. Not only with Grandpa’s life, but also with having a sense of connection to Minnesota as the gathering-place for assorted Yoders. The only relative left here is Uncle Marcus, and his wife Anna. None of my other Aunts and Uncles stayed. None of Marcus’s children stayed.

If my relatives seem to wander the earth, it’s in our blood. Grandpa and Grandma came here from Ohio, and before that, Iowa, even though Grandpa was born in Oklahoma and Grandma in a different part of Ohio.

I don’t have Yoder roots in any particular place, anymore.

But here we are now. In Minnesota together, one last time. Mourning the death of this man who was unlike anyone else we’ve ever met. This man who has shaped our lives in so many ways. This man who wanted to know everything, discover everything, see everything. That’s the legacy he left for all of us.
It must be said that our relationships with him were complicated.
But we loved him.
And we miss him.

There’s No Map for This Journey

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You know that week between Christmas and New Years, when everyone is off work but all the Christmas parties are over, and you just kind-of sit around and feel disoriented and pig out on leftovers and forget what day of the week it is?

That’s what this week in Minnesota has been like.

Well, not exactly. I can’t think of anything that describes what it’s been like exactly. Maybe if New Years were a sad holiday instead of a happy one, and maybe if you didn’t quite know when New Years would come, but no one could go home or go back to work until after New Years had happened.

Yeah, okay, that analogy doesn’t quite hold up.

In any case, it has been a strange week. I came here feeling sad that Grandpa was dying, but I’ve come to regard death as a beautiful, blessed mercy.

If only Grandpa would die, he could go to heaven and hang out with Grandma, and Lenny, and his parents and siblings. He wouldn’t have to endure the terrible pain he feels in his right arm. He wouldn’t have to feel the shame of his children and granddaughter changing his diaper. No longer would he feel the awfulness of having thoughts but being unable to communicate them.

Please, God. Please just take him.

What do we do? What do we do with our lives back home? We can’t just leave Marcus and Anna to care for him alone. Do we put him in a nursing home? Are there even openings in nearby nursing homes? But poor Grandpa, in a nursing home!

“We were not given a map for this journey,” Mom said on Facebook.

So true. So true.

How long will we remain in Minnesota?

Honestly, I have no clue.

But I should say, before I go, that I’ve been incredibly blessed by the amazing comments on my blog, and on Facebook. And by my friends who have reached out, asking how I am, and saying they’ll pray for me. I know I haven’t responded to nearly everyone, and I’m sorry. I keep forgetting that the Internet exists, and that online communication exists, which is weird since it’s not like I’m doing much here in Minnesota.

Dad called the other day and said, “Did hurricane Dorian hit you?”

“No,” I said. I thought that was a weird thing to say. I didn’t realize he was making a joke.

“Next thing you know, Trump will be saying that the hurricane is going to hit Minnesota,” Dad chuckled.

“Huh?” I was quite confused.

“You didn’t hear about Trump saying the hurricane would hit Alabama?” Dad asked.

“No, sorry. I guess I haven’t really kept up with the news and stuff since I’ve been here.”

“You didn’t miss much,” said Dad.

We’ve also been tremendously blessed by the people at Grandpa’s church that keep bringing us food. We’ve started calling them “the magic fairies.”

“Who re-stocked the fridge with eggs? And where did all this banana bread come from?”

“I guess the magic fairies brought them.”

My Aunt Anna is responsible for some of these blessings, but when we thank her, she deflects and says that it’s church people giving us these things. She just places them downstairs for us.

“If there were magic fairies like that at my church, I think I’d leave my car doors unlocked all the time,” Uncle Rod said.

“Well you still have to lock your doors in late summer, or else your car will fill up with zucchini squash,” said Anna.

We all laughed.

It is good to be with family, it really is.

But it’s a hard journey, and we have no map.

Oh, Grandpa!

Mom and I got to Minnesota on Sunday evening. We were picked up by my Uncle Rod and Aunt Rebecca, and taken to my Uncle Marcus and Aunt Anna’s house. Marcus is Mom’s brother, and Grandpa lives in his basement. Rebecca, Mom’s sister who lives in Chicago, is the next-closest, location wise, so she and Rod drove over on Friday as soon as they heard about Grandpa’s stroke.

That first day-and-a-half was extremely meaningful.

Grandpa was sleeping when we arrived, but he woke up, and seemed to recognize us. He could move the right half of his body somewhat, but not the left. Every once in a while he’d manage to say a word, but he couldn’t really talk.

When he saw me, he said “Jenny!” which I thought was kind of funny. “No, I’m Emily! Jenny’s sister!” I yelled into his good ear. But I think he actually knew it was me, just the wrong name had popped out. That happens to a lot of people.

He held my hand very tightly and cried and cried.

Grandpa wasn’t eating, but he could drink water from this nifty little sponge on the end of a stick.

(I’m planning to buy some of these, when I get home, and use them to clean out window tracks.)

I gave Grandpa some water, on Monday, and he said, “Emily!” That was special.

He was still peeing, so his kidneys hadn’t shut down yet, but his pee was a bit more reddish, and Aunt Rebecca thought this meant he was nearing the end.

Fred arrived late Monday afternoon. He’d thought Grandpa was beyond the point of recognizing him, but when he learned that Grandpa could still recognize people, he got in his car and drove north. When he walked in, Grandpa said, “Fred!”

Mom, Aunt Rebecca, and I were taking a walk when Fred came. We could feel that the wind was shifting. A midwest thunderstorm was coming! That evening, I could hear low, soft rumblings of thunder.

I stepped outside and stared at the sky in awe. The whole thing, flickering on and off with such brilliance, like God was a small child playing with a light switch. I ran inside. “Mom! You have to come look at the sky!”

We ran out, together. “Don’t go out in the middle of the lawn!” said Mom. “If you go into an open area, you might get hit!”

“Can’t we go over by the barn and get a better view?”

So we dashed over to the barn, and watched the purple and flickering sky, and then the giant drops of rain started hitting us. I had a blanket over my head, so I didn’t feel the wetness, but they were so large I felt the impact as they hit me.

Giggling, we dashed back inside.

Still breathless and giggly, I walked into Grandpa’s room and saw everyone sitting soberly around his bedside. Aunt Rebecca, close to his ear. “It’s okay to go, Pop.”

Hail rattled against the windows. Grandpa seemed to be seeing something beyond this world. “My parents,” he said in Pennsylvania Dutch. “My sister!”

His breathing had changed. There was an odd sound when he drew in breath, like a distant gunshot. Then his breathing would pause for a bit before he’d breath again. Was it my imagination, or did the pauses get a bit longer each time?

So we sat there, in silence, as he raised his good hand and gestured at the air in front of him, at something we couldn’t see.

And we all thought, this is it. He could go any second now.

The moment was oddly suspenseful, like when you’re watching a movie, and someone is walking down some abandoned corridor, and you’re sure something will jump out at them.

And then, everything went black.

The electricity was out!

Uncle Rod and I went rummaging through the kitchen, looking for candles and matches. Meanwhile, in the darkness of Grandpa’s bedroom, Aunt Rebecca asked Mom to pray. So they bowed their heads, and just as Mom was praying, people’s phones began to blare. “Tornado warning!”

Well, we were already in the basement. What can you do?

Uncle Marcus looked out the window, and saw a funnel cloud come down from the clouds, but it didn’t touch the earth. The danger passed. But in the meantime we’d lit a lot of candles, and I couldn’t help but think, what if the house catches on fire and we have to drag poor dying Grandpa out of here in the middle of the night???

Thankfully that didn’t happen. Instead, we all calmly gathered around Grandpa again, and he continued to gesture at the sky. His breathing continued to pause.

This is it. He could go any second.

But then, it grew later and later, and Grandpa didn’t go. I was so tired. Can I go to bed? What if I missed Grandpa’s death?

This situation, I realized, had grown truly bizarre. Here we were, all sitting around waiting for Grandpa to die.

Earlier I’d felt this deep, transcendent thankfulness that I could be here for Grandpa’s final days. It seemed like the most special thing ever. And now, here I was, wondering when Grandpa would die so I could go to bed.

I mean, it sounds so bizarre to say I wanted Grandpa to just die. But he was bedridden, could barely communicate, and couldn’t move one half of his body. But his mind was still there…I mean…he knew that we were changing his diaper. How embarrassing must that be for him? If only he could just slip off peacefully to heaven, to be with Grandma and Lenny.

But he didn’t.

I finally dragged myself to bed. My alarm woke me at 3:30, and Mom and I got up and changed his diaper. I sat in the chair by his bed for the next two hours, awake enough to hear that he was still breathing.

And he was still breathing. In fact, the next morning the long pauses in his breath were gone. He was breathing normally again.

Wait wait wait. Is Grandpa dying or isn’t he?

And then, there was today. “Are you hungry?” Aunt Rebecca asked Grandpa.

He nodded.

“Do you want some oatmeal?”

He nodded again.

So we fed him oatmeal, and he was able to eat it! The first thing he’s eaten since his stroke on Friday.

Suddenly, we’re all confused. Might he live for a while yet? What do we do?

Part of me feels like I should be thankful to have my grandpa around for longer. But it’s like I said before…he’s lived a good life for 102 years. It seems to be his time. And yet he could be with us for a while yet.

But death, as we know, does not run on anyone’s schedule.

An Unfortunate Incident Involving a Truck

I have a fear of driving. As fears go, I feel like it’s a logical one. Many people die or are seriously injured in car crashes. Nevertheless, though it may be a logical fear, it’s not really a practical one.

This summer I’m driving combine for my dad’s cousin Darrell, on the original family farm that was owned by my great-grandfather. What I like about working for Darrell is that I’ve been able to learn some practical skills beyond driving combine. He’s had me take his pickup various places, and it’s a stick shift, which I’m not used to driving. I’ve also driven the truck in and out of the field at times.

Due to my fear of driving and my love of learning practical skills, I’ve been rather proud of myself for learning these things. I even kind of bragged about it on Instagram. But you know what they say about pride.

The fall, as it were, came the very next day.

We were working on a small field just off of Harris drive. This one required us to use the road for access, instead of just driving through little back lanes on the farm. When we finished, Darrell asked if I’d rather drive the combine back to the shop, or take the truck.

Eager for a chance to test out my truck driving skills on the road, I chose the truck.

The field had yielded more than Darrell had anticipated, and the truck was full to the brim with seed. Darrell had to tarp it, but he couldn’t find a bungee cord to tie it down with, so he used his bandana. It was a bit dubious, and he told me to just drive really slow.

So I got in the truck, and started pulling out onto the road. No one was coming from either direction, so I was good. I took it nice and slow. And then…

Clink!

Something shifted. Something was wrong. I thought about the dubiously tied tarp, and panicked. I stopped the truck, and it rolled backward a bit, and started tipping to the right.

Darrell came running up. “What did I do?” I asked, confused.

He had a frightened look on his face. “Pull the parking brake and get out!” He said. “You’re about to roll the truck!”

Now I was scared, obviously, and I jumped out. Somehow, the back wheel of the truck bed was in the ditch. I was confused. How had I not seen a ditch there?

Well, it turns out that when you’re driving a long truck, it doesn’t just neatly follow behind you when you turn a corner. Of course this may seem obvious, but it did not occur to me when I was turning onto the road. The back wheel didn’t hit the driveway, but rather cut the corner and went in the ditch. When I stopped because I didn’t know what was wrong, I rolled backwards further into the ditch, and with the bed full of seed and very heavy, I very nearly rolled it.

To make matters infinitely worse, the ENTIRE HOSTETLER HAY CREW was in the field across the road, eating their supper.

Not only that, but apparently the whole Hostetler clan–wives, children, everybody–who all know me because I was their school secretary–had come to eat supper with the crew.

And oh, yeah. My cousin Randy’s wife Shelly just happened to be walking by at that moment as well.

Darrell called Simone to bring the tractor, and then walked over to the Hostetler clan and asked Tina to give him a ride back to the shop.

I hid in the combine, mortified.

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My view of my failure as I hid in the combine.

Darrell got some chains at the shop, Simone picked him up in the tractor, and they returned and pulled the truck out of the ditch. All was, apparently, fine.

I didn’t know if I would ever be allowed to drive the truck again, but Darrell pulled it back into the field and gestured for me to come down out of my hiding place in the combine. “You ready to try again?” He asked me.

That made me feel a lot better, actually. Like I hadn’t screwed up beyond repair. It was a learning process. I could try again, swinging wide this time to avoid that ditch, as I now knew was necessary.

And so that’s what I did. I got on the truck, and I pulled out onto the road, and this time, I did not hit the ditch.

Shelly waved at me as I drove past. All the Hostetler wives waved at me. All the Hostetler children waved at Miss Emily, former school secretary and drama director, now apparently truck driver.

(The rest of the Hostetler crew, having enjoyed a show with their dinner, was already gone by this point. They’d squeezed past my truck as it blocked the road, and continued onward to the next job.)

Now I couldn’t understand why I, the person with a fear of driving and a fear of incompetence, had to face both fears in one day, and in front of so many people. But when I got home and told my family they laughed until their sides split. “You HAVE to blog about this!” They commanded.

Sigh.

I suppose the good news is that it does make a good story. And, after all, I probably won’t drive a truck into a ditch again.