Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Along with a stop at the White House, The Capitol, the various monuments and memorials, no visit to Washington, D.C. is complete without a visit to the Smithsonian.

Officially begun in 1836, the Smithsonian is comprised of 19 museums, a zoo and nine research center facilities. These are primarily located in Washington, D.C., but there are other sites in New York, Virginia and Panama as well. The museum has over 136 million items in its collections. A person could, quite literally, spend weeks, if not months, taking in all that these incredible resources have to offer.

Every spring and fall, we had our own mini version of the Smithsonian come to Prairie. Conference, as it was known, was a very big deal, not only because we didn't have to attend school, but relatives and friends would travel many miles to attend and there were always exciting things to see and do. To make room for outside guests, many of the students in the dorm would move out and sleep in the gymnasiums which were lined with dozens of mattresses on the floor. The conference was held in the large auditorium that we called the Tabernacle.

Hundreds of missionaries from around the globe would set up missionary booths in Tab East and Tab West and parts in between. The booths would contain literature, artifacts and pictures from the represented country and most had signup sheets to receive additional newsletters and information from the mission. For years after I left home, Mom and Dad received mail which I had signed up for. In between the main meetings and seminars these displays would be open for our perusal. If dramatic tales from the likes of Dr. Arthur Mouw, Don Richardson and Dr. Helen Roseveare didn't thrill and challenge, you could be sure to find something of interest at the booths.

When I was about 8 years of age, I decided that I was going to learn Swahili. A most kindly retired missionary by the name of Ruth Schaefer, who lived in X dorm, (at that time all of the dormitories on campus were named by letter), would patiently try and teach me every Saturday morning. Mrs. Schaefer had been a missionary in Kenya and had mastered the language. At 9 o'clock I would go to her small room in the dorm with my little notebook and try my best to become a world class linguist. It probably comes as a bit of a shock to you that not much stuck, but I do remember "Hello" - "Jambo" and "Friend" - "Rafiki", so I guess I can at least greet you with . . . "Jambo Rafiki"!

Missionaries from the many countries and organizations would be manning the conference booths. Beautiful Japanese dolls, soapstone carvings from the Inuit, fancy beadwork from native American Indians, intricate ivory carvings from India and tribal masks from Africa were all on display. The dried skins of leopards, cheetahs, tigers and lions along with the mounted heads of exotic African animals took their place alongside anacondas, cobras and python skins that were stretched along the top of the walls. Black adders in big pickle jars along with scorpions, tarantulas and other deadly spiders joined beautiful dried butterflies and beetles, making a veritable cornucopia of color. Most of the missionaries would dress up in authentic native clothing - kimonos, saris and dashikis all added to the authentic flavor of the conference. Among the tribal spears, knives, bows and arrows and indigenous work tools, there was one thing that caught my attention. These were the shrunken heads. Real human heads that had been shrunk down to the size of a softball by a very time consuming and tedious process. When you are six years old, that will get your attention!

As I wandered around these many booths, my mind would be transported to all of the exotic locations that these artifacts represented and I would wonder if someday, I, too, would  be a missionary.

Before the obsession with body modification became de rigueur in western culture, we saw pictures of elaborate tattoos, piercings of all types, scarification, extended ear lobes, elongated necks and lip discs. We seemed to take all of this in stride and I can't remember being that disturbed or traumatized by these sights.

Some of the booths featured slide shows or special viewers where you could get a better overview of the work. Displays from South America and Papua New Guinea featured partially clad or fully naked pictures of the residents. Large groups of people all staring at the camera with nothing on but a smile on their faces. Some of the women were dressed in grass skirts, suckling small infants, proving that Newton's law of gravity is more than just a theory. It would seem that Victoria's Secret had not yet opened a franchise in any of these countries. Many of the men in the pictures evidently had never heard of Calvin Klein either as indicated by their state of undress.

A group of us curious boys were fascinated by some of the pictures of the male members of the tribes. On closer inspection, we could see a very long bamboo looking column sticking straight up from slightly below the waist of the adult men. WHOA! Was there something wrong with us? Could IT really be in there and was it really THAT long? Was it a lotion, a potion perhaps, a special massage technique? We were pretty sure that our local IDA drugstore didn't sell anything of that nature! Remember, this was long before the little blue pill came onto the scene. No one bothered to explain that this was called a koteka or horrid. It is a phallocrypt or phallocarp traditionally worn by native male inhabitants of some (mainly highland) ethnic groups in New Guinea to cover their genitals and is not sexual in nature at all. We didn't need to worry . . . we were just fine!

The days of those types of missionary display booths are over. So, now, if you are wanting to see lion skins, shrunken heads, poisonous snakes or other exotic artifacts, you just may want to take a little visit to the Smithsonian . . . just be careful what you sign up for!

© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Friday, January 14, 2011


In August 1965, when Howard Crane packed up his earthly belongings and headed to the western plains of Canada, I'm sure he had no idea what his life would have in store. The Cranes lived in Wellsburg, NY, a small town right on the Pennsylvania border. Together with his wife and four children, Howie traveled in their 1956 Chevy for five solid days to arrive at the school. Big changes awaited the family, but they were able to settle in and slowly assimilate into Prairie life.

Howie had trained as a tool and die maker and upon hearing of the need for another machinist at the school he responded. Having had some previous connection, as his youngest brother had attended Prairie High School and his sister had attended the college, he was somewhat familiar with the school. Later on his mother served on staff, working in the Prairie Bookroom. Prairie President L.E Maxwell had also shared the work of the school in the Crane's church and so it was not a complete culture shock when they arrived on campus.

For the first few years Howie worked with Mr. Zweifel or "Pa" as we knew him. Pa was from Switzerland and was a highly trained machinist in his own right. The Zweifels were our neighbors when we lived on Prairie Crescent and in the winter I would often see Pa on his cross country skis coming home from work. He also loved the mountains and made many trips to Banff and area for hiking and climbing.

You may wonder why Prairie needed two machinists but let me assure you that these "behind the scenes" workers kept the place alive and humming. Parts were machined for literally every department on the campus, from the garage to the electronics department. I remember when I was doing student work in the recording studio and we needed a bearing or some other part to keep the old tube Ampex tape recorders rolling, we would pay a little visit to the machine shop. Many of us wondered if there was anything these two couldn't make!

Prairie had a fascinating potpourri of shops. It was enough to give a young boy ADD. Every time you opened a door you would discover a new piece of machinery or someone hard at work on a project. Many a staff kid was the recipient of this unique gift. I remember times when Mom would have to deliver the little red Ford Falcon to the garage for an oil change or to have the winter tires put on and I would duck into the many shops in that area of campus. John Hamm and later Forest Cummings were right next door, always in the middle of a spark show. They ran the welding shop. We would take our broken bikes to them in the hopes that maybe the front forks could be fixed one more time. We invented "offroading" before it was popular! On some of these trips I would visit the machine shop, home of Howie Crane and Pa Zweifel.

Entering the door to the shop opened up an entire new world. Howie would greet us with a big smile and a twinkle in his eyes. Wearing a blue shop apron and clear eye protectors, he would welcome us to his place of service. Large metal lathes, milling machines and drill presses were strategically placed around the shop. Small tools of a precise nature were also important. Punches, scribers, tap wrenches and micrometers were the instruments with which these two men implemented their craft. But there was one fixture that had nothing to do with machining and everything to do with people . . . measuring people.

On one side of the shop was a dedicated wall where Howie would measure every visitor who was willing to stand against it - heels in, shoulders back, chin out. Howie would get his stainless steel ruler from his desk and placing it on our heads he would carefully mark a small line on the wall and write our names and the date. As the years went by hundreds of staff kids were measured on this wall in many colors of ink and pencil. A real work of art. It was fascinating to watch the growth of not only yourself but also your friends. Howie always engaged us in meaningful conversation as he patiently went about the documenting of our heights. I have often said I wished Prairie had been able to preserve that section of the wall for the museum, because of the enormous human element attached to it.

In a recent note from his oldest daughter Gil, she shared the following memories: "We kids used to hang out at the machine shop when we could. I would sweep the shop for him and clean the sink. With the dime he would give me, I would go to the Staff Store for a box of Smarties to share with him. Dad had a big metal block with different sized holes in it, and a box of various sized screws - a puzzle block. I would try to fill as many holes as I could with screws. A wonderful way to keep a child busy. It was always fascinating to watch him create parts for various machines on the variety of lathes. He taught me how to use vernier calipers. He was amazingly particular, down to thousands of an inch, incredibly precise, always calm and patient. Even as a young child I realized that he was of amazing character."

Sometimes it is the seemingly little things that we do that can have long term impact. Howie's soft spoken demeanor and thoughtful care for people won him friends young and old, many who are still in touch with him to this day. Thanks to Howie we also began a wall at our home when we were kids. Dad would measure us up against the cinder block wall of the Crescent house. When Cathy and I got married and had children we carried on the tradition. From our kids to their friends and visitors, sometimes even pets, all were logged on the wall. When we sold our last house in Three Hills, my Aunt Lois painstakingly transcribed every line off the wall to a long sheet of paper to be copied over to a new wall.

So if you come over for a visit and you see me fetching a pencil and a ruler, you had better measure up!

© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I will never forget the day my Dad showed up with a new stereo. This particular model was housed in a nice wooden cabinet with separate speakers and bore a gold embossed logo - Silvertone. Just the name alone conjured up mystery and stirred my imagination. This meant two things - that our family would now be able to enjoy listening in stereo with a much higher fidelity then we had previously and that my brother and I would be the recipients of the old mono suitcase phonograph player.

Dad proudly set up the new stereo in front of the big picture window in the living room of our little house. He placed the unit on a large wooden stand with room for storage of LP's down below and spaced the two speakers out on either side. Our new stereo system had a stacking mechanism allowing for the placement of a half dozen or so LP's on it. One record would finish and another would drop and they would play in sequence. This feature made the player almost like a small home jukebox. I'm pretty sure the scratches inflicted on these vinyl records falling on top of each other was quite damaging, but nobody thought of that at the time. Dad was very careful with his record collection, making sure that he held them with his thumb on the edge and a finger in the middle, so as not to get any fingerprints on the vinyl itself. He had a small cleaning kit which he used to remove dust with the velvet roller. Each and every record promptly went back in its proper sleeve and dust jacket. When Dad placed a record on the machine the glorious sounds of stereo filled the room. It might not have been heaven, but maybe it was a little taste?

Outside of books, Dad loved his records and collecting music. He would frequently come home from the Prairie Bookroom with the latest titles by Rudy Atwood, The Sixteen Singing Men, Tennessee Ernie Ford and a host of others. Christmas music was also important in our home and every Christmas a few more albums were added to the collection. Classics like Bing Crosby and Perry Como were brought home for us to enjoy. The Bookroom's strict music policies seemed to be more relaxed with Christmas music and a lot of "worldly" holiday music managed to sneak its way in the door. One of my Aunts, I'll call her Rachel, because that is her name, kept several of her records at our house so as not to incur any displeasure from Grandpa and Grandma. What better place to store them than at the house of her older sister who was married to a preacher! The original Sound Of Music soundtrack, featuring the clear voice of Julie Andrews and a sampler record that included Patti Page singing How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?, were a couple of the titles I recall.

Dave and I placed the little mono record player in our room and would listen for hours to the various story and song LP's that Dad would buy for us. We enjoyed Black Beauty, Seven at One Blow, Dick Whittington's Cat and a variety of Bible stories. Many nights we would fall asleep while the records played and Mom or Dad would come into our room, lift the needle off the player and shut off the machine. I remember Dad buying the soundtrack to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang long before we had ever seen the movie. As we would listen, our imaginations would fill in the scenes and action and in effect, create our own movie.

Dad, being the loyal Scot that he was, loved the bagpipes and had a few LP's of various pipe bands. Our family had experienced and enjoyed one of the largest drum and pipe festivals in the world when we visited Edinburgh in 1970. Each band, dressed in their kilts with tartans representing the various clans, cut a colorful swath across the vast lawns of Princess Street Gardens at the foot of Edinburgh Castle. Yelling out terse commands, the drum major led the group, holding a highly polished mace in his hands. One of the other highlights of that summer was being able to attend the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. This is an annual series of military tattoos performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and international military bands and display teams. The event takes place annually throughout August, as part of the wider Edinburgh Festival.

A recent article in the Edinburgh Castle paper describes the event this way:

"In the glowing twilight, the floodlit Edinburgh Castle draws all eyes, a hush falls and darkness deepens. Then the great oak gates of Edinburgh Castle sweep open, and the swelling sound of hundreds of pipes and drums cracks through the night sky. Emotions run high: the Edinburgh Military Tattoo unfailingly enthrals, symbolising the Scotland that everyone holds dear in their heart.

Now a dazzling show is spread out on the Castle Esplanade, a whirling and colourful kaleidoscope of music, dance and display. It may be exciting - daredevil motorcycles at speed and the breathtaking re-enactment of battles, or exotic - Turkish music and Chinese dancers, or simply the best of Scottish - Highland dancers wheeling and swirling to a fiddle orchestra.

Then the audience gather themselves together for the finale of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. All 1000 or so performers on the Castle Esplanade, column after column of marchers, dancers and bandsmen. The Tattoo audience joins in a great chorus of singing, cheering, and applause; cries of 'Bravo!' before a hush falls for the singing of the Evening Hymn, the sounding of the Last Post and the lowering of the flags on the Castle.

Finally, all faces turn to the Edinburgh Castle ramparts, where a single spotlight cues the Lone Piper of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo to play his haunting lament, the high notes echoing across the still night sky and over the dark Edinburgh skyline, as the flames of the Castle torch lights and the piper's warming brazier flicker and slowly die.

At the Edinburgh Military Tattoo fireworks burst out from the Castle against the black sky, but the spell is not broken, for when the crowd sing Auld Lang Syne and shake their neighbour's hand, the emotions linger, and the heart is full. Goers to The Edinburgh Military Tattoo all united in international friendship, the shared love of Scotland, its music and its traditions."

As the fog rolled in from the sea and the sound of the pipes echoed throughout the castle and across the city, it became an unforgettable experience for our family.

I'm not sure which is more maligned - the bagpipes, the banjo or the violin, but the bagpipes certainly receive their fair share of jesting. It is said that the Irish sent the bagpipes over to Scotland as a joke . . . and the Scots still haven't caught on! Alfred Hitchcock once said, "I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made object never equaled the purity of sound achieved by the pig". A friend of mine once asked me what the definition of a gentleman was. The answer, he claimed, was a person who knows how to play the bagpipes but doesn't.

A friend of Dad's knew he was a big bagpipe fan and presented him with a small gift. It was a 45 record with a bright orange label in the center housed in a plain white paper sleeve. The 45, was another musical reproduction device in a line of many, starting with wire recordings, wax cylinders, 78's and 33 1/3 LP's, to name a few. The 45 had a large hole in the center necessitating the use of a little plastic adapter to enable it to be played on standard phonograph machines. For many years this became the medium of choice for the record companies to service radio stations, hence the name "single", as only one song appeared on either side. Record stores would also sell them and I collected many throughout my high school years.

The title of Dad's gift was the classic recording of "Amazing Grace" by the combined bands of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. This recording had reached number one status in the charts in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada and South Africa. The recording was originally released in 1971 to mark the amalgamation of the Royal Scots Greys and the 3rd Carabiniers, to become the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Scotland's only cavalry regiment. The album first appeared on the RCA label and it was this recording which gained the band's world renowned fame, selling over 6 million copies of the tune when it was released as a 45.

Being the curious kid that I was, I decided to check out the B side of the little black vinyl 45. On this particular edition, the distributor of the single, had decided to put an unrelated group on the opposite side of Amazing Grace. What met my ears were the heavy sounds of a rock band a la Deep Purple or T. Rex . This was a brand new sound to me. The punchy drums and powerful guitars were something I thought I could get used to! As the song says, "It's Only Rock 'n Roll, But I Like It".

Occasionally, when we arrived home from school, Mom would have left a note on the table or door letting us know that she would be right home. Sometimes she would be called out on church business or be off on a project or committee meeting. We were pretty independent and would make ourselves a sandwich, grab an apple or some cookies and go outside to play or listen to the stereo.

Every Saturday morning the Institute held a weekly staff meeting. Attendance was mandatory for both staff men and women. To aid in this endeavor, the school provided a babysitting service. Bible school girls were assigned to different homes as part of their student work. The girl would arrive just before 8 o'clock and leave right at 9. Many times Mom and Dad would visit with other staff and wouldn't arrive home until 9:30 or so.

After the discovery of this new musical art form, I decided that a scientific experiment was in order - one along the lines of acoustic research. Taking advantage of the small time window when the babysitter left and my parents weren't yet home, I hauled both of the speakers from Dad's stereo into the front doorway and stacked them up one on top of each other. Pointing them in the direction of the elementary school, I enlisted my brother as my research assistant. I cranked up the B side of that little 45 and then dispatched Dave to walk down towards the school and see just how far he could hear the music. I kept an eye out for Mom and Dad or an annoyed neighbor or two. Evidently the stereo put out quite a healthy decibel level, because on Dave's return, he reported that he could hear the music all the way down at the elementary school. I'm sure that the noise emitting at that level was completely distorted, but it brought me a great deal of satisfaction that I had effectively "covered" the neighborhood with my gift. Working quickly, we had the whole thing put back in its place, playing the sweet sounds of the Sixteen Singing Men upon Mom and Dad's return. I don't think any neighbor ever reported us to our parents nor did any of them call the cops. They were probably all at Staff Meeting as well.

Every time I hear the haunting strains of the bagpipes, I smile to myself and think of the day I found Amazing Grace and discovered Rock 'n' Roll.

© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.