The Story Behind the Book Trailer

With all the ill health, tragedies, and general unpleasantness of 2020, I didn’t have the energy to make the Big Splash with my book release that I’d hoped to make. There was no launch party, not even a virtual one. Currently there are no book signings planned. When I finally had a release date and a pre-order link, all I did to launch it was post a picture to my Instagram and a picture to my Facebook.

That’s all.

But I was so amazed and blessed by all the ways people stepped up and supported me; they shared pre-order links, and commented their congrats, and seemed happy and willing to help promote my new book.

That very day I got a text from my friend Chris Miller, offering to make me a book trailer. (Chris is married to my cousin/BFF Stephy, and is a very creative person. We’ve collaborated on projects before, most notably the Christmas play last year.)

Chris came over the next morning and we sat on the porch and discussed themes and camera angles. He wanted to go for a golden hour autumn look, so the plan was to shoot an interview the next day, and then get together on Saturday to film some b-roll footage.

Unfortunately the next day was foggy. Not the golden sunlight look we were going for. That’s fine, we’ll just cram it all into the Saturday photo shoot. That will work, right?

Saturday morning found me frantically washing the bird poop off my car and the mud off my red rubber boots, and cramming all my stray car junk (including a beard and cane from that previously mentioned Christmas play) into some brightly-colored suitcases I found in the attic. Chris showed up around 11 am with everything…camera, microphones, lighting, a script-ish thing (shot list? I forget the official name), etc. He had this whole vision for the video. It was so much fun.

First there were shots of me walking out the door with my luggage, which was harder than you’d think because they were heavy with all the junk from my car. Also, I was trying to juggle a suitcase, a duffle bag, a mug of tea, and my red rubber boots. I was supposed to heave an excited sigh at the top of the steps, which sounds easy enough, but just try it once. Try heaving an exciting sigh that doesn’t sound silly. Are you trying it right now? It sounds silly, doesn’t it?

Yeah. We decided I should take a sip of tea instead.

Then there were shots of me packing up my car, which was when I noticed that I’d done a pretty bad job of washing it. Oops. But Chris said no one would notice, and truly, when I watched the video, I didn’t.

After that it was the drone shots, first of me driving down our road, and then of me crossing the Harrisburg bridge.

By this time it was long past lunch, and when we stopped to pick Stephy up I begged her for some snacks. Ha. She obligingly fixed me some sausage and crackers, and we were off, this time with Stephy in tow to hold the clipboard and cross off the shots as we did them. We were headed to Finley Wildlife Refuge to get some hiking shots.

Well, before that there was this treacherous GoPro shot. It was suctioned to the outside of my driver’s-side window, and Chris wanted me to roll down my window while driving. This was all well and good except I wasn’t supposed to look at the camera. I was terrified of rolling it down too far, so that the GoPro would become un-suctioned, snap off my window, and go bouncing and rolling down the road.

But everything was fine, and the GoPro stayed firmly in place, even though I did roll it down a little too far once.

At Finley, a few casual wildlife-refuge-goers watched us with increasing interest. After we’d filmed for a bit, they approached us. “Can we ask what you’re doing?”

“I wrote a book called The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea, about a trip I took around the USA living in a different Mennonite community every month,” I said. “It’s coming out on November 16, and Chris here is filming a book trailer for me.”

The older of the two pulled out his phone. “What was the name of it again?” he asked.

I told him, and he tapped it in. Either that or he was just pretending to, so as not to be awkward. I don’t really know. In either case, he then asked, “will it be on Kindle? I kind-of like just reading books on my phone.”

I told him that for now it’s not, but in the future, who knows? I guess I’ll ask you readers…do you have interest in a Kindle version of my book?

Anyway, after that it was a lot of hiking shots. These were mostly fairly straightforward, although there was one where he balanced precariously on a sign, held the camera out over the path, and filmed me as I walked underneath it.

Through all of this, Stephy was there with the clip board. “Does this remind you of all the times I used to coerce you into making weird little films with me?” I asked her.

She laughed. “Kinda, yeah.”

It was getting late, and we still needed to film the interview. “What do you think?” Chris asked. “Should we film here in the woods, or on your front porch? Which would fit the vibe of your book better?”

“I don’t know,” I said. Then, for some reason I started describing the photoshoot Janane had taken for my book cover and promotional photos. She’d done some photos of me in nature, some with my car, some in the city, and some in a coffee shop. “That’s it!” said Chris. “We need a coffee shop. Should we drive into Junction City and film at Starbucks?”

“I feel like we don’t have the time,” I said. “What if we stopped somewhere in Monroe?” Monroe was the next town we’d pass through on our way home.

“Yes, let’s do that,” said Chris, making a snappy decision. We went to our cars and drove out of there, me following Chris, Stephy in Chris’ passenger seat googling for coffee shops in Monroe.

I guess there are no coffee shops in Monroe, though, because all we really found was the library.

It would have given a similar vibe, I think. After all, I did just as much writing in libraries on this trip as I did in coffee shops. Maybe more. But as Chris set up his multiple cameras, fancy lights, and three types of microphones, the sun slowly slid behind the Coast Range. I shivered in the cold October twilight.

Photo by Stephanie Miller for Brantbury Studio

The interview went fairly well. I enjoy talking to a camera, and Chris had emailed me, several days previously, with the questions that he wanted me to answer. The only problem was that Chris kept asking me new questions, or questions worded slightly differently.

“So, why should people read your book?”

“Um…because…I think they’ll like it? This wasn’t on your list of questions!”

“It wasn’t?”

“No, you asked…” I flipped through my notebook. “You asked what I hoped people would get from this book.”

“Oh, well what do you hope people will get from this book?”

“I hope reading this book will inspire people to try new things, to reach out to strangers, to reach out to their family, and overall, to pursue what really matters in life,” I said. But see, I couldn’t have thought of those things on the fly. Goodness.

By the time we wrapped up it was really quite dark. “If the lack of lighting becomes an issue with this footage, would you have time to re-shoot next week?” Chris asked.

“Sure,” I said. Privately I also wanted more practice on what I was going to say.

We shot the interview again on Monday, at Max Porter’s in Junction City. Well, we were planning to shoot at Max Porter’s, but then a couple sat down in our shot and we moved to the outdoor seating area of the bar next door. “No one will know,” said Chris. “I’ll blur out the words on the door.”

Chris had arrived at Max Porter’s, hurried and dusty from a different video shoot at my Uncle’s pellet mill. “The lighting is just right!” he’d exclaimed, and he’d pulled out one camera and one microphone. No tripods, no extra lighting, and no cables needed. He wasn’t going to let the sun disappear before he got his shot.

This time it was such a simple, smooth process. I’d taken notes on the previous interview and just written down everything I wanted to say. So Chris didn’t ask questions at all, just turned on the camera and sat there while I rattled off my entire monologue several times.

And that was it! By Wednesday he had the first draft to me, and after I made some suggestions, he sent the second draft to me on Friday. Or was it Thursday? It was super fast. I had to watch it quickly, before I went out of service, because I spent last weekend in the Colorado mountains.

Anyway. Please, if you want a promotional video for your business, check out Chris’ company, Brantbury Studio. It was a fun, collaborative experience with great results.

And of course, if you want to pre-order my book, you can do so here.

Find Me On

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month. My latest two posts were titled Thank You, and Chapter 1 of The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea. I’m currently working on a post about the election.)

The Story Behind The Story

Photo by Janane Nguyen Photography

Yesterday I got the news that my books have been printed. Soon they’ll be shipped to me, and then I’ll start packaging up and sending out the pre-orders. Yay!!!

Today, I thought I’d share the story behind the story. How did I come to write this book?

According to my Google Docs archives, I started it on March 8, 2019. At 1:01 pm EST, I opened a new document and typed:

“I’ll drive if you’ll give me this coffee,” I said.

There were about two inches left in my sister Amy’s paper cup of gas station coffee. It was cold. But I wasn’t drinking it for the coffee, I was drinking it for the caffeine. 

“Okay,” said Amy.

From The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea

But in my memory, I started the book six days before that, on a cold dark evening, as I was driving north on that long road that stretches between Lancaster City and Myerstown. I was thinking about death, and life, and love. I’d spent the last four days with some of my dearest friends as they grieved the loss of their cousin Ian, and I’d seen grief so up close, so raw.

And then, a song came on the radio. “Love Alone is Worth the Fight,” by Switchfoot.

I listened, and in my mind a movie played, of all the pain and heartache I’d witnessed in the past four days. They were hurt so deeply only because they’d loved Ian so much, and yet, it was all worth it to them. They never regretted loving him so much.

Because love alone is worth the fight.

I’d been traveling for six months at this point, and the whole time I’d had a vague idea that I would probably write a book about this experience. But up until now, the trip seemed like a random assortment of haphazard events, the most interesting of which I could never write about. (Yes, I did have some romantic drama. No, I didn’t write about any of it.)

But now, I had something. A vague ghost of a theme. Something that went a little deeper than “I did this crazy thing, and then I did that thing, and then I locked my keys in my car again.”

I’m going to start this book, I decided. And six days later, I did just that. Those exact words are in my book now, only on page 5 instead of page 1. (Also, with a couple of light edits. “My sister” was deleted, and the last “said” was changed to “agreed.”)

Despite the fact that my first words made it into the final draft relatively unscathed, most of that first draft wasn’t so lucky. I began it with only a vague idea that I had something deeper to say about my trip, but I didn’t have a firm grasp on the themes.

Partly just because I wasn’t even finished with the trip yet.

It’s kind-of funny, actually. When I returned to Oregon on June 8, 2019, I thought the trip was over. It hadn’t been a calendar year, but it had been a school year. By August I was starting on my second draft.

But then at the end of August, Grandpa had a stroke, and I flew to Minnesota to help care for him in his last days.

By this point I’d found the real opening line of my book: “When Justin shoveled dirt onto his son’s grave, it rattled like thunder.” (It was actually a line from my diary, originally.)

Because that’s how my story really began: not with asking my sister for her coffee, but with me, at a funeral, on the day I’d planned to leave Oregon. My cousin Justin’s son, little Asher Kai, was stillborn a week before his due date. He passed away on September 11, 2018, and his funeral was on September 15. I left for my trip on September 16.

A year later, on September 11, 2019, my 102-year-old grandpa passed away. His funeral was on September 15, and I left Minnesota and came back to Oregon on September 16.

This, I decided, was the real end of my trip, and I added two chapters accordingly.

Still, figuring out the themes didn’t come naturally to me. For that, I have to deeply thank my friend/editor Janessa Miller. I know that there can be all sorts of issues with hiring your friends, but I so needed my editor to also be my friend. Someone I could honestly and openly talk about my feelings with.

It was she who forced me to really look deeper into my story, not just as a series of disconnected events, but as events that I had feelings about. Events that shaped me, and changed me. (I’m an enneagram 5 and feelings are hard. Not because I don’t have them, but because it feels weird to talk about them. And also, I don’t always know I’m having feelings while I’m having them. I have to think about it for a while first.)

(Example: during my whole trip, I never realized that I was lonely. I didn’t discover it until I started writing about it, and sending drafts to Janessa, and hearing her say, “but how did that make you feel?”)

By the third draft, with the help of Janessa, I’d finally ironed out the themes.

The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea is a story of adventure, exploration, identity, heritage, community, faith, and loss. Follow Emily’s story as she embarks on the road trip of a lifetime, haphazardly finding her way through community after community in an attempt to figure out where she truly belongs.

From The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea

In total, I wrote five drafts of the book, although I’m not sure if the last two “count” as drafts.

The first draft was just a brain dump of events. It was also incomplete, since I “finished” it before my trip had technically “ended.” It took me five months to write, but I took it pretty slow.

The second draft was the hardest. It took me six months, and then I sent it to Janessa for her first round of edits.

The third draft took 2 1/2 months, and then I sent it to Janessa for a second round of edits.

The fourth draft took 22 days. It was just polishing up a lot of little things. Then I sent it to the proofreader, and I also sent bits of the book to all the people I’d written about, just in case they were uncomfortable with anything I’d said about them.

The fifth draft, which was just correcting all the little things the proofreader had found and adjusting a few things people had asked me to change, took 15 days.

And then, on August 8, 2020, it was done!

That is the story behind the story of my book, The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea. Sometime soon I’d like to tell the story behind the cover. And also, I’d like to tell my self-publishing story. So there are two future blog posts you can look forward to.

***

Pre-order My Book Here

Find Me On

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month [or more if you’re feeling generous]. I try to post twice a month. My latest two posts were titled Thank You, and Chapter 1 of The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea. I think I’ll write about the election next, if I’m brave enough!)

The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea

Yes. It’s true.

After months of delays, I finally have a release date for my book: November 16, 2020. You can pre-order it now on our brand new website.

It’s been a journey, but honestly, this book is one of the greatest achievements of my life. I’ve never, ever done a project like this. (It was completely different from writing my first book, which I might elaborate on in a future blog post).

Anyway, here is the back cover summary:

When Emily Smucker decided to spend a year traveling around the United States, living in a different Mennonite community every month, the world seemed exciting and limitless. She was ready to find her place in the world and begin her career as a freelance writer and editor.

Emily’s trip took many surprising twists and turns: visiting an Amish church in Ohio, swapping travel stories with homeless people in Delaware, and attending far more funerals than she expected. But through the adventure and excitement as well as loss and loneliness, Emily clung to her faith, experiencing a deep connection with her Heavenly Father.

The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea is a story of adventure, exploration, identity, heritage, community, faith, and loss. Follow Emily’s story as she embarks on the road trip of a lifetime, haphazardly finding her way through community after community in an attempt to figure out where she truly belongs.

***

Thank you guys for following along with me on my journey. I appreciate you endlessly.

Fire, Book Problems, and Other Things that Stress Me Out

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted in a month, there are two very specific reasons:

  1. I’ve been stressed out
  2. I’ve been waiting to post until I could give an actual release date and pre-order link for my book.

When I last posted, I thought I’d be able to give this information within a week or so. But self-publishing is a journey, especially when you’re doing it for the first time. And one leg of the journey, which I expected to take less than a week, has now taken over a month.

So. I’m not releasing my book on September 16 after all. Maybe…October sometime?

If nothing else goes wrong, I’ll be able to make an official release date within a week or so. But it’s 2020, so WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT.

August in Oregon is a hot, dry, dead sort of month. Burn bans become even more severe than usual. Some years we have wildfires, and some years, when the wind is right, a haze of smoke drifts in from a distant fire, making the whole world look like an Instagram filter.

For some reason, I expected we’d have an Instagram filter August this year. Maybe because of how hot and dry it was. Maybe because I heard there were fires in California. Or maybe just because it’s 2020. I expected it, but we had clear, non-smoky skies instead.

But then on Monday, September 7, I looked at the sky at suppertime and said, “does it look a bit smoky out there to you?”

“Maybe a little,” said my sisters.

We cleaned the dishes, and Mom and Dad went out onto the porch to talk to some guests. Jenny took a walk. I went into my room and got on my computer.

Perhaps 20 minutes later, I started smelling smoke. That’s odd. Then Jenny came rushing in. “Emily! Look out your window!”

I looked, and the smoke was coming in, whirling in whitish-gray swirls over the fields. I couldn’t believe it. Never had I seen smoke descend upon us in so hasty a manner.

I grabbed my camera and went outside. The east wind blew, weirdly and warmly and furiously. The guests, choked by the sudden smoke, had to come inside despite it still being Covid times. And then, not long after they eventually left, the electricity went off. I spent the evening trying to sort out book problems using Dad’s hotspot and whatever was left of my laptop battery.

I woke up the next morning with an odd uncertainty about what time it was. Confused, I looked out my window.

It was 9:00 am, and the world was orange.

The funny thing is, you might know more about the Oregon fires than I do. I try to keep up, and then I stop, too overwhelmed to try and make sense of them all. Little towns I’ve visited here and there, up in smoke. Beloved hiking spots on fire. Friends and acquaintances evacuating. So many people evacuating.

My house, surrounded by ploughed fields and farmers who own water trucks, isn’t really in danger. We stay inside, for the most part, charging our phones in case the electricity goes off again.

Tuesday was orange. Wednesday was gray. Thursday and Friday were thicker gray. Today I took Dad in for physical therapy, and the air in Eugene was even thicker than the air in Harrisburg, borderline yellow.

And it was frigid. This week was supposed to be sunny and hot, in the 80s, 90s, even 100s, but I suppose if you block the sun long enough, the air cools down.

On a semi-related note, this spring I bought a camera with my Patreon money, because I wanted to make YouTube videos. Sometimes I take pictures with it too, whenever I need something nice for my blog or Instagram. (Turns out it’s much easier to take passable photographs with a nice camera than with a cell phone.)

When the sky turned orange, I grabbed my real camera. My cell phone was not capturing the true color. I went downstairs, intending to go outside and snap away. But then I saw Dad, sitting between the window and the patio doors, working on his computer. It was dark, because the electricity was out, and the blue of the screen light on his face contrasted with the fiery orange out the windows.

I snapped a picture.

When I looked at it, I thought it was quite a nice picture. It seemed to sum up the trauma and drama of 2020, since Dad’s arm was in a sling. “It’s only missing a mask,” I told Mom, showing her the picture.

“Hey, I should put mine on him!” she said. She’d been wearing her mask around the house. Since the electricity was off, the air wasn’t being filtered, and it was getting rather smoky inside as well.

Mom put her mask on Dad. “Your ears!” she said, trying to work the mask loops over them. “I never realized how floppy they are!”

Longsuffering as ever, Dad went on with his computer work, now masked. I snapped one more picture, and put it on Facebook and Instagram. Mom shared it.

And people have said extremely kind things about it. One person even asked if I ever considered a career in photojournalism. Which I found funny, because photography has always been my least favorite part of blogging. I’m a words girl.

But maybe I should have more of a growth mindset about it. It was fun, after all, to see something cool, take a picture of it, and have the picture look cool too. So if you know of any photography-learning-for-beginners resources, sent them my way. I don’t think I’ll ever be a photographer, but I might become a blogger with better pictures.

Anyway. Life is stressful, but I will publish this book. I am determined. It will be a good thing to happen in 2020, after so many bad things, and I am here for it.

Find Me On

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker (This is where I post bonus blog posts, about more personal/controversial subjects, for a subscription fee of $1 a month. My latest two posts were titled Crisis to Crisis and The Power of “Sorry.”)

Update on Everything

Part 1: Update On My Book

Self-publishing is a process, I’ll tell you that.

Throughout the past couple months, I’ve been finished with the writing part of my book, and just trying to figure out everything else: Hiring a photographer, having a photo shoot, hiring a cover designer, hiring a copy editor/proofreader, sending out portions of my book to 26 people I’d written about (just in case they had any objections/corrections), choosing a printer, and hiring someone to format the interior. Whew!

Finally, over the weekend I made ALL the final corrections. Most of these were from my copy editor/proofreader, so I just had to click “accept, accept, accept” a lot. Although there were a few larger issues I had to think through, like giving a bit of explanation about words like “Beachy” and “Anabaptist.”

Then, I had to make all the corrections from the 26 people I’d written about. Well, maybe only about 10 of them issued corrections, and most of those corrections were pretty small, but sometimes it took a bit of brain power to make the narrative still flow well.

But finally it was done. Done! Hands shaking, I sent it off to the printer.

I still have a few hurdles to jump through, and I don’t know when I’ll have books in hand. But hopefully before too long I’ll be able to announce the cover, official release date, and pre-order link.

Part 2: Update On My Dad

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I feel like a lot of my life is still oriented around caring for Dad, but there aren’t really a lot of updates to give.

His right hand is healing very well, and his legs and feet are great, so he could really do almost everything for himself if it wasn’t for his left arm and his neck. He still can’t lift his left arm. And his neck brace prevents him from fully watching his feet as he walks. So he can walk around the house with his arm in a sling, but on the road, where it’s more uneven, he needs to use his walker still.

Part 3: Update On My Family

IMG_4926 (2)

My family is in this very interesting stage of life right now. I never thought we’d be a family that all lived in the same area, and yet, here we are.

Jenny, Amy, and I live in the upstairs rooms of our house, while Mom and Dad inhabit the downstairs. Steven was downstairs too for a while, but he moved to Corvallis to live with Ben so that we could have a guest room again. One or the other of them often comes down and spends a night in the guest room.

And Matt and Phoebe are in an Airstream in the yard. I love having them so close.

Part 4: Update On My Life

At the end of my year of travel, I decided to stay in Oregon at least until I could get my health and finances somewhat sorted out. I had basically no travel scheduled between September and February, but after that I had a lot of random stuff I was going to do, like take a trip to India, and take a trip to Italy, and maybe live in Houston for a while.

Of course Covid canceled all my plans, but on the other hand, the health and money angles of my life are much more optimistic. I have all kinds of ideas about what fun stuff I want to do as soon as I can get myself properly vaccinated.

For now, I find myself deeply content despite my circumstances. I miss adventures, but I know this lifestyle is temporary. Between Covid and Dad’s accident, I’m in a unique stage of life. The adventures can wait.

I enjoy having family so near. I enjoy all the visitors who come sit on our porch and chat. And besides that, publishing a book makes me feel so creatively fulfilled. Which brings a deeper, more lasting contentment than adventures do.

*****

Find Me On

Instagram: @emilytheduchess

Twitter: @emilysmucker

Facebook: facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog

YouTube: youtube.com/emilysmucker

Patreon: patreon.com/emilysmucker

 

The Aftermath of Dad’s Accident

What a strange summer it’s been. With the virus still looming, we had the first wedding in our family, I turned 30, I worked (and am still working) through the last stages of getting my book published, and my dad had a terrible accident that changed everything.

The first week post-accident, I drove to the hospital over and over again, hauling people, supplies, or emotional support. I made the trip in the cool of the morning, before the dew dried on the grass and I had to go to work. I made the trip in the evening, when Simone, my boss’s wife, took my place on the combine so I could get off early and spend some time with my family, perhaps spread out on the hospital lawn, sorting through the mountains of paperwork and decisions that faced us.

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I  never went inside the hospital, except once, when I had to use the bathroom. Hospital rules said only one visitor every 24-hour period. Amy took a shift, Ben took a shift over the weekend, and Mom took the rest of the shifts.

People on Facebook told us we ought to be thankful that someone could be with him in Covid times. But though I had been perfectly willing to quarantine, social distance, and wear a mask to stop the spread of Covid, I found myself burdened and upset by this limitation. I wished I could go inside with my mom and provide emotional support, as Dad lay there at his worst, with the brain trauma, pain meds, and surgery anesthesia making him not quite himself.

They told us that Dad needed to go to a skilled nursing facility for two weeks. Amy called around to various places, but they all said the same thing. “No visitors. He can talk to you through a window.”

Of all the things I’d heard so far, this terrified me the most. More than the bleeds on the brain, or the pinched spinal cord, or the broken back, or the shattered wrists. The idea of Dad, at his lowest, being alone like that, chilled me to the bone. “Surely we can just bring him home?” I asked. “There are eight of us. Surely between the eight of us, we can take care of him?”

Indeed, there were eight of us. Imagine that. We’re never all in Oregon at the same time, but right now, we are. Amy hasn’t moved back to Thailand yet. I’ve come home from my coast-to-coast wandering. Ben’s still in Corvallis, 30 minutes away, with a year left to go before he graduates with his PHD. Steven’s living at home again, briefly, while he completes his Paramedic internship. He’s planning to move in with Ben soon. And Jenny, of course, still lives at home too.

Matt and Phoebe had planned to move to Houston a couple weeks after their wedding, but they were already considering delaying that, and staying in Oregon longer. Both their families are here in Oregon. The weather is so much nicer this time of year. And Covid is exploding in Houston, while Oregon has done relatively well.

When Dad had his accident, then, they delayed their move to Houston indefinitely. For a while they lived with Phoebe’s parents, but then they bought their first home, an Airstream trailer, and just last night they moved into our side yard.

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So there are eight of us: Dad’s wife, six children, and one daughter-in-law. Surely we can figure this out? The hospital people were dubious, but they were impressed with Mom’s care taking and Dad’s progress, and decided maybe we could handle it after all.

Monday was a frantic scramble to get all the equipment he needed. I was on the combine, utterly useless at the moment, but watching the drama via our family WhatsApp group.

There was a list of items we needed, most importantly a hospital bed. Amy called Love Inc. in Eugene, and they said they had everything we needed except for the shower chair. Okay, perfect. The shower chair wasn’t urgent.

Then, at 3:30 Matt sent an urgent message. We’d run into a hiccup. Love Inc. had said they’d call Amy back when they had the items ready for her, but they never called. They close at 1:00. She tried calling the Corvallis branch, but no one was answering.

This was a problem, because Dad was supposed to come home the next morning.

A flurry of messages ensued. Mom sent Matt some more numbers to call. Matt called, and then told us different prices for different types of hospital beds. But none of them would be delivered in time. Oh dear. Well, finally we found one that would only be several hours late. Surely Dad could survive on the couch or something for a couple hours. Or, could he just get discharged from the hospital a couple hours later?

Matt said he’d call and reserve the hospital bed that could arrive the soonest, when suddenly a message came in from Amy. “No no we got everything!!”

What!?

Turns out, there’s been a miscommunication. When Love Inc. hadn’t called back, Amy and Steven had decided to just drive in and see if the stuff was available, even though they were technically closed, and it was! They even had a shower chair after all, that had just arrived. And it was all free.

Apparently Amy had her data turned off, so she didn’t see the other messages until we’d almost ended up with two hospital beds. But thankfully, she managed to stop Matt in time.

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Amy and Ben setting up the hospital bed

We brought Dad home on Tuesday, July 14, a week after his accident. (Also, interestingly enough, it was Matt and Phoebe’s one-month wedding anniversary.)  Everyone except Steven got off work long enough to see Dad come home. But Steven’s job, as a non-emergency medical transport driver, allowed him to be the one to drive Dad home! So we were all there when Dad arrived.

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Dad, just after he came home.

Dad was having trouble sleeping through the night. When things got dark, it did strange things to his brain, causing him to have agitated obsessive thought spirals about bins at the warehouse, and what should be moved where. So we left the kitchen light on, and made a schedule of who would get up to check on him when.

But what if he needed someone in the middle of the night?

Mom thought maybe she should sleep on the couch, but she couldn’t sleep with the light on. Could we go buy a doorbell somewhere? We concluded that it was too late.

“Is there any way we could put his bed next to the piano, and he could bang on it?” I asked.

We experimented with this. At the time Dad had very little use of his arms and hands, so we swiveled the bed to where he could bang on the piano with his feet. It worked very well, under the circumstances, although he didn’t end up needing to use it. Just as well, as it probably would have woken the whole house. And the next day we bought a doorbell, which we’ve been using as a call button ever since.

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Dad was pretty much bedridden at first. He could sit up in a wheelchair for a little bit. And we bought extensions for a walker that he could lay his arms in, since his wrists are shattered. But he mostly lay in bed, and visitors conversed with him through the window.

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Dad’s first visitors were Kevin Baker, who is his fellow pastor, and Kevin’s son Chavon. Chavon does odd jobs for Dad, and was the first person to find Dad after his accident. According to Chavon, Dad’s face had been so coated with blood that Chavon didn’t recognize him at first, but eventually he identified Dad by the shape of his nose.

As time has gone by, Dad has been spending more and more time in his wheelchair. He likes to wheel onto the porch to chat with people, unless it’s really hot, in which case he sits in his wheelchair and talks through the screened patio door. Already, talking through the window is a thing of the past.

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The boys have been building a wheelchair ramp, which is almost completed now.

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This morning, Mom realized that Dad’s head stitches have been in too long. Skin was beginning to grow over them. So, after getting permission from the home care nurse, Mom decided to take them out herself! It was very fascinating to watch.

Today, Dad has been home for a week and a half. Already, he’s made amazing progress. He can mostly feed himself now. He’s just so much better at adjusting himself to make himself comfortable. He’s sleeping well, with no more agitated thought spirals. He can tap at his phone with his good hand well enough to make phone calls, and he loves to wheel around the house with his phone on speakerphone, merrily chatting with whoever.

It’s really nice to watch him doing this. It makes him seem like my dad again, moving around, making decisions, and entertaining himself, instead of lying there helplessly.

This whole journey has been emotionally taxing for me, but seeing Dad’s rapid improvement makes it much easier. Also, receiving so much support from our community has been so helpful. And I finished up my combining job last Monday, which has made things so much easier for me. I don’t have the energy for a real job + a care-giving role.

Of course we have a long road ahead. Although Dad’s legs and feet are in great condition, allowing him to walk with a walker, and his right wrist is healing well, allowing him to feed himself and make phone calls, his left arm is still limp. Dad is unable to move himself between the bed, the wheelchair, and the walker, because he can’t lift his arm. We have to help him.

In fact, with all his injuries, from his wrists to his neck to his skull to his back, I’m sure we’ll have to help him for quite some time.

But that’s okay, because we have plenty of help.

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Endnote: I’ve been posting a number of updates on my Instagram stories (https://www.instagram.com/emilytheduchess/). You can view everything I’ve posted so far under the “Dad’s Accident” story highlight.

The Story of Dad’s Accident

It was a damp chilly morning, the day after my birthday, and I couldn’t help but think about what a nice birthday it had been.

I’d been afraid that my 30th would pass with little fanfare, since we’re still rather in Covid times. But it had been so lovely. Many people had reached out to wish me many happy returns. On Sunday I’d had friends over for an outdoor tea party. On Monday, the actual day of my birth, I’d arrived at work to find a light-up “Happy Birthday” sign in the combine. And this morning, my whole family had gathered for breakfast, both to celebrate my birthday and to have one last get-together before Matt and Phoebe left for Houston.

“What time are you going to work today?” I asked Jenny.

“1 pm. You?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’m waiting for a call from Darrell.”

Jenny and I both work as combine drivers, me for our neighbor, and Jenny for a farmer north of here. On these cloudier mornings, it takes a while for the grass to dry out enough to harvest. So after the rest of our siblings went to work, Jenny and I hung out in my room.

At 11:57 am I got the call, not from Darrell, but from his wife Simone. I thought it was strange that she was calling, but whatever. “Hello?” I said.

“Hi Emily. I just want to let you know that if you don’t want to come into work today because of your Dad’s accident, that’s fine.”

“Wait…what? Dad was in an accident?” I exchanged a horrified look with Jenny, who was close enough to also hear Simone’s words.

“Yes, he fell off a forklift at the warehouse. He has a gash in his head and his arm hurts. They’re about to take him away in an ambulance. Your Mom and Amy are here right now. So if you don’t want to come in to work today, that’s fine. We’ll figure something out.”

At that point I was too shocked and confused to make a decision about coming in to work.

It took a while for us to figure out exactly what happened to Dad, and even now there are a lot of things we don’t know. Only Dad was there when it happened. But here’s what we do know:

In one building of the warehouse, there was an auger high up on the wall. Dad had raised a pile of pallets on a forklift, set up a ladder, and climbed onto the pallets to fix the auger.

And then he fell.

He doesn’t remember falling. He remembers coming down the ladder with his hands full of tools, so for a while we were saying that he fell off the ladder. But the ladder itself never fell over, and his tools were still up on the forklift pallets. So did he actually fall off the forklift or the ladder?

We’re not sure.

There is a large pool of blood on the floor, where Amy later found his glasses and hearing aid. It seems he lay there unconscious for a while until his head wound clotted up. Then he got up, and called Mom at 11:15 am. How he called Mom when both his wrists were shattered and flopping unnaturally is beyond me. “It was hard,” he remembers.

Mom was taking a nap and didn’t hear her phone. Dad left a voicemail, but he didn’t manage to actually talk. So it’s a voicemail of eerie silence.

It was Chavon Baker, a 14 (I think?) year old boy who does odd jobs around the warehouse, who found him. And from what they say, Dad was a horrific sight, with blood all over his face, even in his teeth and eyeballs, and his bloodstained beard sticking out in all directions.

Chavon ran and got Kevin Birky, my cousin who runs the warehouse. Kevin called 911, and then called Mom. For some reason, Mom heard her phone this time, and she ran out the door without telling Jenny or I what was going on.

The warehouse is surrounded by the farm where I work, since it was all the same property back when my great-grandpa owned it. So Simone was driving through, saw what was going on, and ran to get Amy, who is also working for them this summer. Only Amy does housework, so she goes to work at a set, non-weather-dependent time.

In this way, both Amy and Mom were there to see Dad as he was splinted and bandaged and shuttled away in the ambulance. Then they came home, and we were all confused and agitated, trying to figure out what to do. Jenny had to leave for work, but I decided not to go to work, and to drive Mom to the hospital. Amy opted to stay home and make sure things ran smoothly on that end.

I’m not sure what I thought would happen. I did have a vague idea that I probably wouldn’t be able to go in and see Dad because of Covid, but I still wanted to be close by as moral support for Mom. So she went in, and I parked, and started wandering around the beautiful woods next to the hospital.

All alone.

The next two hours were achingly lonely. Mom sent a couple meager updates to the family WhattsApp group telling us that they were doing a CAT scan. Then, there was no info for over an hour.

I’ve been spotty with responding to texts these last several days, but there at the hospital I eagerly and instantly responded to everything that came in. I was starving for connection.

The grounds were lovely, though.

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Finally the CAT scan results came back.

“Talked to Dr,” Mom wrote. “Brace yourselves: Both wrists shattered. Skull fracture above left eye. A few bleeds on brain. Back broken in 3 places.”

Prior to this, all we knew was that there was a gash in his head and he had one sore arm. We had no idea it was this bad. Later, we learned that there were a few breaks in his neck as well, but nothing that was in danger of paralyzing him, thank God.

Finally, Mom had a chance to call me. Basically, Dad was going to be in there for a long time. He needed surgery. I might as well go home.

So I did, and there was something about sitting on the porch steps with Amy, talking about everything, that was so wonderful after being so alone. But it made me really worried for Mom, by herself at the hospital, with no support. I know we were lucky that there were no Covid patients at the hospital, and that Dad didn’t have to be there alone, but still, I knew that this must be so isolating and stressful for Mom.

Steven works an early shift so he came home in the afternoon, and Ben was unable to concentrate on his work so he came home too.

Oh yes, there was one added layer of weirdness to this whole day. The electricity was out! They were working on the power lines. So I was trying to make myself a late lunch on a propane camp stove, since I didn’t have anything to eat while I was at the hospital, and then just as I was finished it came back on. Ha.

Jenny called us frequently, and she was in a weird head space too. But when she told her boss what was going on, he told her to go home and be with her family. So she came home, and Matt and Phoebe came over, and all of us siblings were together.

Matt and Phoebe decided to delay their move to Houston. Matt is still able to work remotely, due to Covid. It’s so strange, how Covid is separating us in some ways yet bringing us together in others.

We all called Mom that evening, and she put us on speakerphone so we could talk to Dad. It was bizarre…he sounded completely normal and sane, but then the sentences that left his mouth didn’t quite logically connect to each other.

The hospital rule is, only one person per 24-hour period. So none of us could give Mom a 4-hour break to get some rest, and none of us could be in there with Mom. Dad hardly slept those first two nights because he was in such terrible pain. (Oddly, it’s mostly his wrists that hurt, not his head.)

Dad had surgery on his wrists on Wednesday. So far, the plan is to heal his back and neck by using a brace. We’ll see how that goes.

Thursday morning, Amy went in to take Mom’s place. Jenny and I went back to work, although I asked to get off early. And then it rained, so I got off extra early. That was nice…it meant I was home when Mom woke up, and was able to debrief with her.

Then, this morning I took Mom back to the hospital to switch with Amy again. It’s a little cloudy still, so I don’t need to go to work until 1:00 pm. So now I have time to write this blog post, I guess.

I guess the real question is, “how is Dad doing?”

This is a hard question to answer. In some ways, he’s very lucky he didn’t end up killed or paralyzed. He has a healthy body that should recover well, and he really is quite “with it” considering how hard he whacked his head open.

The two things, right now, that feel the most heartbreaking are his confusion and his pain.

He can’t seem to get on top of the pain in his wrists, and it’s making it really hard for him to sleep.

As for his confusion, he’s in that terrible place, almost normal brain function, but not quite. I sent a video clip to my friend Esta because I didn’t know how to explain what he was like, she she said, “it’s like he has a clear coherent thought, and then halfway through saying it he forgets it.”

Yes. That’s exactly what it’s like. And how awful that must feel! It seems like it might be more of a mercy if he were completely out of it.

Dad is a problem solver by nature, and he seems to be in constant state of wanting to fix things. The “things to fix” are mostly his pain, and warehouse problems. This is the beginning of harvest, and while Dad had trained Kevin to run the warehouse, there are still a lot of things Dad takes care of by himself. So he keeps remembering things he needs to do about the warehouse, but then not quite connecting all the dots, and not quite being able to communicate.

In his worst moments, right after surgery, he kept getting mixed up about the wedding as well. Once he said that if people want to know what’s going on with warehouse stuff, they should ask Phoebe.

Still, I think a lot of this confusion is due to the surgery anesthesia, not the head injury. Amy had a moment with Dad where he was back to his old self mentally, although it didn’t last. But hopefully these moments will happen with more frequency as the anesthesia wears off.

Anyway, that’s where we’re at now. It’s hard to keep people updated because we keep learning of new random problems. According to Mom, the nurse just told her, “This is what happens with trauma patients. New stuff shows up every day.”

I might write more when I know more, and I might not. Right now, we’re looking at a long and difficult recovery.

Matt and Phoebe’s Wedding, Part 2: The Drive-In Ceremony

(For Part 1: Preparation, click here)

The day of the wedding dawned, not bright and clear, but not stormy and rainy either. A sort-of in-between, with gray, shifting clouds, and patches of sun. The wedding was scheduled for 11:00 am, but Amy, Jenny and I arrived at 9:30 for family pictures.

Matt and Phoebe had chosen not to see each other before the ceremony, so there was a limit to the pictures we could get. We took some sibling pictures, some family photos without Phoebe, and a picture with Matt and his sisters.

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Mom took this photo of the photographer taking our photo

After that, we did the last-minute preparations. You know, removing the plastic bags from the parking markers, putting tablecloths on the welcome tables, etc.

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About 45 minutes before the ceremony was supposed to start, we realized that some guests were arriving, and we fell into formation. Jenny and I handed out programs and water and took gifts. The parking attendants directed them to their parking spot. Amy took pictures of them.

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I stole this photo of the program from my Dad’s cousin Trish.

It was very strange, because I was seeing all these people I’ve known my whole life. And it took me a bit to understand why that felt so strange. Oh, yeah. It’s been Corona times for three months. I haven’t seen these people for three months. It is weird.

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This picture cracks me up. Way to almost-but-not-quite knock over the stake.

Essentially, there were 25-ish people who were out of their cars doing all the work, and everyone else was supposed to stay in their cars. I think technically Oregon is now at a phase where more people out of their cars would have been okay, but they’d planned the whole thing at a time when restrictions were tougher, and they were trying very hard to create a healthy and safe environment.

Those of us who were allowed out of our cars parked in a different place, along the edge of the field, and sat in folding chairs during the ceremony. The chairs were arranged in family groupings so that we could still properly social distance. There were also extra chairs, so that the members of the bridal party could use them as a place to eat after the ceremony.

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Everything was going without a hitch. The musicians were in their musician’s tent, playing soft prelude music, as people one by one got ushered to their places. I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth that process was. We could have used one more parking attendant, but my cousin Randy ran back and forth between the welcome tents, and we made it work. I was afraid everyone would show up at once and it would be a tedious process with lots of waiting, but no. People for the most part showed up early and it all went super smoothly.

By 10:55 or so, most of the cars seemed to have arrived. Randy told us that he could give water and programs to any last minute guests, so Jenny and I headed up front. Jenny went onto the platform with her ukulele and played a short song she’d written called “Love in the Time of Corona.” (If you want to hear the song, you can find it on my Instagram under my story highlights.)

Then the musicians took to their instruments again, and all the proper wedding stuff started. Matt ushered Mom in, and then Dad and the groomsmen entered as well, and stood up front in their proper, socially distant, groomsman formation.

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That’s when the first hitch in the plan occurred. We all craned our necks to see the bridesmaids, and the bride behind them, but they weren’t there. They were nowhere to be seen.

Huh?

The musicians kept playing pretty music. The groomsmen just stood there. We waited and waited and waited.

Eventually, one of the bridesmaids stuck her head out the back door and told the musicians what was going on. The musicians then announced to the rest of us that the wedding was slightly delayed because of technical difficulties. Since many people still were unable to come to the wedding because of Corona, it was important to have the service live-streamed. But the live-stream was just not working.

So we just sat there. And Matt and the groomsmen stood there. And we waited.

The musicians were just playing music to pass the time. They started on “Oh Danny Boy.”

Jenny turned to me. “That’s such a sad song!” she said. Then she paused. “That’s what they should play if Phoebe really does leave Matt at the alter.”

We laughed and laughed. It was weird…with everything outdoors, socially distant, in cars, etc, it felt like you could talk and laugh out loud in a way you just don’t at most weddings.

Finally, Phoebe’s brother-in-law came along with a cell phone and started live-streaming on Phoebe’s Facebook page. You can watch the whole thing here, but I’ll warn you, it unfortunately got switched sideways in the process.

Anyway, the live-stream started at 11:13 am, so I guess that’s when things properly got underway. We saw a car drive from the house around to the back of the field. The wedding coordinator waved her arms to signal the musicians, and the song changed. The bridesmaids walked up the aisle, one by one.

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The next hitch was so small that I wonder if anyone, besides those of us on the chairs, even noticed.

Usually in weddings, when the bride walks down the aisle, the congregation stands for her. Then the preacher prays, and then instructs everyone to be seated.

Of course most people were in their cars and didn’t stand, but those of us in chairs did. Only, I don’t know if Dad didn’t get the memo, or if he didn’t think of it since he was mostly talking to cars, or what. But he never told us to sit down. So we were all just standing there awkwardly, waiting, and finally some of us just sat down, and then others did, and finally everyone did because no one wants to stand for an entire ceremony. Unless you’re in the bridal party, I guess.

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You know how in weddings and movies, the preacher always says “Should anyone present know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace”? And it creates this dramatic moment for someone to leap out and say, “I object?”

Well, I’ve attended a lot of weddings in my life, but I’ve never been to one where the preacher actually said that. But at Matt and Phoebe’s wedding, Dad said, “Should anyone present know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, honk your horn three times.”

Ha. Such a Matt joke. Later, I heard several relatives talking about it. “Ha ha, I was just about to honk my horn twice.

“Well I almost honked my horn four times.”

But no horns actually honked, and the ceremony continued.

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One guest snapped this picture of another guest watching with binoculars! I loved it.

I thought Dad’s sermon was extremely good. One of the best wedding sermons I’ve ever heard. (I feel like I could do a whole blog post on cringy wedding sermons sometime.) He framed the sermon by telling Matt and Phoebe’s love story, which was so special. I love hearing people’s love stories. (If you’re unfamiliar with their story, and you don’t feel like watching the whole wedding ceremony video, Mom blogged about it here.)

Then came the fun stuff. The vows. The “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” The kiss. The “Mr and Mrs Matthew Smucker.”

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I was hoping so badly that people would honk their horns, and they did! First at the kiss, and then when they walked back up the aisle.

The bridesmaids and groomsmen then filed out, and went back to the food tent, which was right next to the welcome tent. The caterers had arrived, and were pulling out containers of pulled pork and beef stew.

Everyone who RSVP’d to the wedding had to note their food preferences. Phoebe and her friends had taken a stack of paper bags and marked each one with the parking number, the family name, and the food preferences of each car that was coming. So now, the bridesmaids, groomsman, and the others who were seated in chairs instead of cars took charge of handing out food. They would take a bag, put in “two pulled porks and one beef stew” or whatever it said, and deliver it to the correct car.

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While they started this process, Dad got up and explained what the food situation would look like. (In the live-stream, you can hear him in the background.) Then he explained that Matt and Phoebe would go around greeting guests, and my parents and Phoebe’s parents would go around greeting guests and handing out cookies. Jenny and I were laughing because he was asking people to know ahead of time what kind of cookies they wanted so that the whole thing could go smoothly and efficiently. Dad is obsessed with efficiency at weddings. Literally after every wedding we go to, Dad rates its efficiency. Mostly in relation to the food lines. When you give people choices, Dad says, it takes forever for everyone to get through the line.

My siblings and I were slated to help hand out food, but we were also going to do some entertainment while people ate. Ben, Amy, and Jenny were singing, and I was giving a toast. A few days before the wedding, Phoebe decided that we should do these things directly after the ceremony, so that it would be in the live-stream. But I guess the memo never got to the brother-in-law, because he didn’t live-stream that part, haha.

So anyway. After Dad discussed the efficiency, my siblings sang several songs, and then I gave my toast:

Hello everyone. I’m Emily Smucker, Matt’s sister. He is the oldest in my family, and I’m the 3’d oldest. He is four years older than me.

Matt is a goofy guy, extremely creative, and willing to try anything. I can’t count how many times in my life I’ve said, “Matt, I can’t wait for the open mic at your wedding.” 

But now that Matt’s wedding is here, and I’m reflecting on what it was like to be Matt’s sister, I’m realizing that behind Matt’s goofy demeanor he is an unbelievably kind person. Of course he teased me a lot growing up, and tried to catch me in elaborate booby traps inspired by Calvin and Hobbes comics. But I don’t remember him ever saying anything mean-spirited or unkind to me. 

Big brothers have a lot of power to shape how their younger sisters feel about themselves. But Matt never made me feel stupid, never made me feel ugly, and never made me feel like my opinions didn’t matter. 

Four years is a large age gap when you’re young, but as Matt and I grew older, we became genuine friends. I began to wish that Matt would find a good wife, but I didn’t know how he would ever find the right person in the big city of Washington DC. But God knew what he was doing, and brought Phoebe into Matt’s life.

Like Matt, Phoebe is kindhearted, generous, and smart. She appreciates Matt’s goofy sense of humor, and is rather goofy at times herself. She enters happily into Matt’s strange fun world, buying him his favorite snack of mealworms, and acquiring her own hoverboard to match his. But Phoebe is also sensitive and kind. She understand people’s feelings, and she balances out Matt’s logical nature.

Matt and Phoebe, I love you both, and I am so grateful to God that you are part of my family.

After giving my toast, I reminded everyone that they could go watch the slideshow on their phones while they waited for their food. Although Matt had emailed it to all the guests, no one had mentioned it at the wedding, and I didn’t want my hard work to go to waste, haha.

By the time I walked back to the food tents, most of the food had been handed out already. It was an extremely efficient process. Dad was proud, I’m sure. I helped with the last of it, and then I just kind-of hung out, eating my food, being goofy with my siblings, and chatting with various guests.

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Somehow, Jenny managed to be part of the cool crowd that decorated the getaway car. Not sure how she snagged that gig. I didn’t even know it was happening.

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It’s so funny to me that they used our old family Kia as the getaway car. We’ve had that thing for ages. But Matt’s car is back in Houston, where his job/apartment are, and he’s been using the Kia since he’s been in Oregon.

This whole time, of course, Matt and Phoebe were greeting all the cars.

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But then, suddenly we realized that we’d never gotten the rest of the family pictures and such. So we hastily assembled. The photographer snapped away, and I grabbed a few photos on my own camera.

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Once people had eaten, watched the slideshow, greeted the bride, groom, and parents, and chatted with each other through open windows and such, they began to leave.

It had been an extremely successful wedding, all in all. Matt had put tons of engineering work into that parking diagram, arranging things so that everyone would be able to see. And he’d hooked up some sort of radio transmitter so that everyone could hear the ceremony through their car radio. Everyone I talked to seemed to have been able to see and hear quite well.

I helped with the cleanup some, but again, there wasn’t a lot to do. Comparing this wedding to other weddings I’ve helped with, I’ll say that by not having a traditional reception, with all those tables, chairs, and decorations, they saved themselves a LOT of work.

I really just wanted to go home, because I was exhausted to my bones. I was kind-of embarrassed by how tired and spacey I was, so I explained to people that I’d been up really late making the slideshow. Only I repeated that story multiple times, so that was even more embarrassing.

Looking back, though, I don’t think it was the loss of a couple hours of sleep that made me so tired. I think it was being thrust into so much activity and socializing after three months of Covid lockdown.

I went home and rested for several hours, but I was too tired to really even sleep. Finally I got enough of a second wind to go back outside, where a number of my relatives were socializing in our yard, roasting hot dogs for supper.

Thank God, we had nice-ish weather that day at least. Once I’d felt a slight sprinkle of rain, but most of the time it was nice enough that I was comfortable in short sleeves. And Jenny got sunburned. The slight coolness and periods of cloudiness were nice for those in their cars, who would have been quite warm if the sun had shone with its usual summer brightness.

And it was nice to be able to have an after-party of sorts, outside, where it’s much safer to be during Covid times.

My Smucker relatives were there, as well as the five Yoder relatives who’d managed to come. The two families know each other, although my Aunt Rosie (Smucker side) saw one of my Yoder-side uncles in the dark and called him by the wrong name, which she was embarrassed about.

“Isn’t it funny?” Amy said to me. “Some day, Matt and Phoebe’s children will be getting married, and we’ll come to their house and hang out with the Penix family. And we’ll see one of the brothers-in-law in the dark, and accidentally call him by the wrong name.”

It was so odd to think about.

But at last, the air took on a proper frigid chill, and the relatives one-by-one betook themselves back to their homes or motel rooms.

But it was the end of this wedding day. The day Matt and Phoebe got married. The very first ever wedding in my family.

Matt and Phoebe’s Wedding, Part 1: Preparation

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If you know anything about my family, you’ll know how long we’ve waited for this. There are six of us siblings, ranging in age from 21-34, and last Sunday was the first-ever wedding in our family.

We used to muse about which of us siblings would manage to get married first, and we all had different ideas. As time went on, we began to feel like it literally could be any of us. Jenny, the youngest, was technically old enough to get married before Matt even met Phoebe. But in the end it was still Matt, the oldest, who married first.

Matt and Phoebe had a unique love story (which Mom wrote about on her blog). And they are both unique people. So perhaps it’s fitting that they had a unique wedding as well. When COVID hit, they had no idea what things would look like in June. How many people would they even be allowed to invite? How would they decide which aunts and uncles could come, and which to leave out?

So instead of a traditional wedding, they decided to plan a drive-in wedding. The parents of one of Phoebe’s bridesmaids had a small field behind their house that they weren’t using, and they were able to construct a small platform for them to get married on so that everyone in their cars could see them properly.

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Matt made this parking diagram and emailed it to everyone who was coming to the wedding, along with a parking number.

Although we’d discuss wedding logistics every time Matt and Phoebe came over, and although we had a lot of cleaning and yard work projects around the house to do in preparation, the whole thing felt pretty low-key to me, and not super stressful. With Covid and such, there were a lot of us around to get stuff done.

Mom sewed new dresses for herself and Jenny, Amy re-purposed a nice dress she’d worn to a different wedding, and I pulled out a vintage dress I’d gotten for $3 at a thrift store. I had to modify it to make it fit me properly, and sew a lining for it, and of course sew a coordinating mask. But in the end we all had nice wedding clothes that coordinated with the wedding colors even though we weren’t in the bridal party. Our brothers were, and we wanted to coordinate for family pictures.

The first major hurdle in the wedding preparation was the weather. Oregon weather is a whole thing. We have these dry, sunny summers that are perfect for weddings, but June is still an iffy month. Sometimes it rains in June, and when we get rainy weather in Oregon, it’s not like, an hour of rainy weather, it’s a week of rainy weather.

And we hit a spell of cold, rainy weather over the time of the wedding.

In non-Covid times it wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but we were trying very hard to still keep things safe and healthy. We’ve had a rule for the past few months that we don’t allow anyone who doesn’t live in the house to enter our house, except to use the bathroom. Even for our Sunday dinners, Matt, Phoebe, and Ben always stayed outside.

But we had family coming from out of state, and we wanted to hang out with them. In the end, since not nearly everyone who wanted to come was able to, we decided to relax that rule. Our relatives all got their own hotels, but since there were only five of them, we let them in the house during the day.

Anna

Aunt Anna

My Uncle Marcus and Aunt Anna arrived Saturday morning, but we barely got to spend time with them before we had to rush off to the rehearsal. We arrived and got briefed on our duties: Amy would take pictures of everyone in their cars in lieu of a guest book, and Jenny and I would be at the welcome tent, handing out water and programs, and taking gifts.

Rehersal 1

I should note that Amy was using my camera (which I bought to film YouTube videos), and I asked her to snap some pictures for my blog. So most of the pictures in this post were taken by her.

This was the first time we’d seen the venue, so we wandered around looking at the setup.

Venue

The parking spaces were marked with stakes and numbered cardboard hearts, covered in plastic to protect them from the drizzle.

stakes

rehersal 2

The aisle was also marked with stakes, and there were kombucha-bottle vases glued to them.

rehersal 3

Again, everything felt so low-key and relaxed to me. There just wasn’t much to help with. It was too early to do the flowers. Finally Elaine, Phoebe’s mom, told us we could attach garlands to the platform to make it look pretty.

rehersal 4

rehersal 5

rehersal 6

After that we went home, ate lunch, rested a bit, and then prepared for the rehearsal dinner. That was a challenge. We’d planned to just have it in our yard, but it was much too cold and wet for that. So Dad cleared out a space in one of his three-sided storage buildings over at the warehouse, and we rented outdoor space heaters, and made it work.

dinner 1

My Uncle Rod, Aunt Rebecca, and cousin Jason arrived from out of state, just in time for dinner.

dinner 2

Catching up with our uncle and aunt.

dinner 4

Jenny chatting with cousin Jason.

Matt and Phoebe didn’t want to have an open mic at their wedding. Matt’s best man, Justin Doutrich, and I were each going to give a toast, but that was it. So we had an open mic time at the rehearsal dinner instead.

Phoebe’s sisters and other bridesmaids kept talking about the early days of Matt and Phoebe’s relationship, and what it was like from their angle. All the lengthy letters and phone calls from Phoebe, detailing her dates with Matt, before they were officially boyfriend and girlfriend. Down to the tiniest detail, like his crusts.

“His crusts?” Someone asked. “What was with his crusts?”

Apparently Matt had, on one of the first dates, cut the crusts off of his bread and not eaten them. And Phoebe didn’t know what to make of a man in his 30s who didn’t eat his crusts.

I was so jealous of Phoebe’s friends. Here they knew all the tiniest details of those early dates, down to Matt’s bread crusts, and we on Matt’s side of the family knew nothing. They’d gone out, we knew, and they were going out again. We were on pins and needles for details. What had Matt thought of her? What was she like? What was he thinking?

We couldn’t seem to get any info from Matt. Finally he told us that they’d spent three hours together at the Air and Space Museum, and we latched onto that and discussed it for ages around the kitchen table, clutching our cups of rooibos tea. Any girl who could spend three hours at the Air and Space Museum with Matt had to be a keeper, right? That had to mean something, right?

It was so funny to remember that era, two years ago, and how desperately we wanted a Happily Ever After for Matt. And now, here we were.

Daylight began to fade, and it grew colder. We began to pack everything back up and go home. I was completely exhausted, and thought I might go to bed early. It was so bizarre, being with people and doing things again after three months of isolation.

But then I went downstairs for a snack, and saw Matt in the living room at his computer. “How are you feeling?” I asked him.

Turns out he was frustrated and stressed. This process, which had seemed low-key from my angle, was not low-key from his. There were so many random last minute details he had to fix. The detailed parking diagram had taken up so much of his time, and now he couldn’t seem to get it printed to hand to the parking attendants. He’d had to go rushing back to the venue, because the tents had blown over. And he’d had no end of trouble scanning pictures for the slideshow.

“Wait, you didn’t make the slideshow yet?” I asked him.

“No, I’ll try to figure it out tonight if I have time.”

So of course I volunteered to make the slideshow for him. It actually took a while. Matt had no idea what music he wanted, and the only music I could find on my computer was some random country stuff from the ’00s that I’d copied from Matt’s computer over a decade ago. I finally found a halfway decent song, but then the video editing software I had on my computer was not designed for slideshows. It made me miss Windows Movie Maker.

I finally finished, uploaded it to YouTube, and went to bed around 12:45 am. Here it is, if you feel like seeing a load of cute pictures.

I felt like I barely got any sleep before I had to be up, washing my hair, and ironing my dress for the big day. But it really wasn’t so bad, when compared to Matt. He got only an hour or so, tossing and turning as parking diagrams spun round and round in his head.

Read Part 2: The Drive-in Ceremony.

P.S. I changed my comment settings, so now all comments must be approved by me before they’ll show up. So if your comments don’t show up right away after you post them, that’s why! Just wait a bit and it should get approved shortly.

Stop Trying to Fix the World with Condescending Love

black love and black heart on white background

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

When I was a teenager, a well-intentioned woman in my church decided that she wanted to “love on” us youth girls. To “connect” with us. To “hear our hearts.” Maybe I should give her credit for caring and trying. But the truth is, none of us liked her.

When she talked, she always sounded holier than us. Like we should be grateful that she, such a wonderful, godly, loving person, was taking time out of her day to tell us how to live our lives.

Spoiler alert: we weren’t that grateful. We’d never asked for this. We didn’t want to share our hearts with her. It was awkward.

Instead there was a different woman in our church, named Arlene, whom we kept begging to be our Sunday school teacher. Instead of talking with a soft voice and a tumbling stream of holy-sounding words, Arlene treated us like we were normal people. People she enjoyed conversing with.

Which one of them loved us more?

Your first thought may be, “Arlene, of course.” But I don’t think that’s true. They both loved us, and perhaps the other woman felt it even more deeply. I don’t know. The difference between the two woman was not one of love, it was one of respect.

The other woman was holier than us. We were supposed to be grateful for her. It was the sort of love you give to children, and what teenager wants to be loved like a child?

But Arlene respected us.

I thought about this again today, because of a comment I saw on the Internet. Ha. Actually, because of lots of comments I saw on the Internet. In response to George Floyd’s death in particular, and in response to racism in general, white people like to say, “we just need to love each other more.”

But the comment that struck me the most was in a discussion about George Floyd’s deep faith and apparent struggle with drugs. Some well-intentioned person commented about how they wish they could have known Floyd, to love him, and to help set him free from drugs.

Um. Wait a minute.

A man who has struggled with poverty, with drugs, and with crime, who then comes to Jesus and turns his life around, but who has to fight a daily battle with addiction…your first thought should not be, “I could have helped that person.”

Your first thought should be, “that person could have helped me.”

I mean, imagine what a privilege it would have been to hear George Floyd’s testimony. Imagine. I hope one day in Heaven, I’ll be able to.

I hear condescending love from Christians all the time. A classic example would be the mission trips to orphanages, which contribute to terrible attachment disorders in children.

Those children are being genuinely loved by the people who play with them for a week on mission trips. How could genuine love have such devastating consequences?

The truth is, love is not enough.

We can’t fix any problem by simply loving. We westerners should have listened to the native people of the lands we tried to fix. We should have asked them what they needed, instead of giving them what we thought they needed. We had the love, but we were missing the respect, and the humility to shut up and listen.

And we’re still missing it, right here in the United States of America. We’ve decided that maybe racism is real after all, and the solution is to love people more. But have you noticed? Have you stopped to listen? The black community isn’t asking us to love them more, like that will fix all the problems.

They’re asking us to listen, and to march with them.

They’re asking us not to leave when the cameras leave.

They’re asking us to put our money where our mouths are.

They’re asking us to say, “It should not have to be this way, and I will spend my life beside yours testifying to the values that the Christian tradition places on your black life.”

To invite them to speak, and pay them fairly. To visit their churches.

I’ve seen white person after white person say some variation of, “if only we could just love each other more!” But I haven’t seen a single black person say that.

Now, you may be upset at my apparent dismissal of the fact that “loving others” is the second greatest commandment. And I’ll give you that one. Loving others is extremely important. More important, it would seem, than even respect and humility. Second in importance only to loving God.

But I find it telling that the Bible doesn’t command us to simply “love others,” it commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Why add the “as yourself?” What does “as yourself” have to do with anything? What if you don’t love yourself in the first place?

As I understand it, the “as yourself” means that you’re loving the person as a peer of equal value to yourself, not as a child. Not as someone who pulls on your heartstrings and makes you think, “aww, the poor thing, I just want to give them a big ‘ole hug.” But as someone whom you could learn a thing or two from.

Someone you respect.

Someone you will listen to, in humility.