Monday, March 26, 2012

BORN IN A BARN

Coming Soon . . . !

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW


When you're six years old and sitting in the largest religious auditorium in Canada, you feel like you are but a tiny flea on the backside of a horse. Back in the day the Prairie Tabernacle was a cavernous edifice that sat 4500 people. With its curved ceiling the architecture was the perfect distraction for bored students trying to stay awake through some pretty long services.

A real student of the Tabernacle could tell you how many beams there were, how many purlins between the beams and how many boards were between the purlins. The really bright ones could tell you how many hanging fluorescent fixtures were in the building.

Dad pastored a small church 5 miles out of town, so our family didn't attend the Tabernacle very often, so it was always an adventure any time we were able to go to the "big church".  We would be there for special occasions and conferences. During many of these conferences and meetings, Dad played a part in the services and would sit up on the platform. It was a very rare occasion when he was actually able to sit with us as a family.

On the last Sunday night of fall conference, one October, Dad didn't have any platform responsibilities and decided that my brother and I should accompany him to the evening meeting while Mom stayed home and prepared for guests that were coming over later after the service.

When listening to any preacher or speaker, my Father always takes meticulous notes. It didn't matter if it was the worst presentation or delivery on the planet, Dad still took notes. As soon as I could print my name, he encouraged me to do the same. Somehow it didn't seem nearly as much fun as drawing or sketching. Every once in a very blue moon, I would actually convince Dad to join in the fun and do a little drawing himself. Imagine my delight when he made a couple of sketches for me during that meeting.

I come from a long line of artistic Scots on my Dad's side. My Grandfather, James Rendall was a very talented artist with one his specialties being that of constructing ships in a bottle. He would carve the tiny ships, fabricate the rigging, paint it and the water, before final assembly and corking. My Aunt Margaret attended Art College after High School and is a gifted painter. Uncle Gavin is a wonderful watercolor artist and has been teaching art classes in his retirement years. One of my second cousins, Edwin Rendall operates a fine art gallery in Westray, called the Wheeling Steen Gallery. Visit his website here: http://www.wheeling-steen.co.uk  Art flows through Dad's DNA and he has a lot of artistic talent. He is a natural at drawing horses and ships.

That evening, Dad, who was quite proud of my ability to read, leaned over and whispered to me during one of the songs. "Stevie, can you tell me what the motto up at the front says?" Of course I could! After all I was a champion reader of the entire collection of Dick and Jane books in the school's library. I stood tall on the bench and, peering at the front of the church, prepared to take on the challenge. I cast my gaze across the entire front of the auditorium. I didn't immediately see any sign, so squinting, I tried again. Nothing. I finally turned to Dad and said, "What motto?" I could see the lightbulb go on in his head. Houston, we have a problem! Looking back at me, he said, "Son, I think you might need glasses". And with this exhaustive scientific experiment concluded, I was dispatched to the optometrist the following Monday. There I joined the bespectacled ranks and became familiar with the nicknames of "four eyes", "specs" and "googly eyes". I would have much preferred the moniker of "studious" or even "serious looking", but for some unknown reason those never seemed to come my way.

We have all heard the saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees. Evidently, I couldn't see either the forest or the trees! The motto in question was gigantic and positioned about 80 feet from where we sat. Approximately 24 feet in length with lettering about a foot tall, the sign read:  

IS THERE A SOUL WHO DIED, WHO DIED BECAUSE OF ME, FOREVER SHUT AWAY FROM HEAVEN AND FROM THEE, BECAUSE I TIGHTLY CLUTCHED MY LITTLE EARTHLY STORE, NOR SENT THY MESSENGER UNTO SOME DISTANT SHORE?

The motto had been placed at the front to emphasize not only the missional goals of the school but also to reinforce the importance of sacrificial giving, a concept that staff and students were to become very familiar with during their tenure at PBI.

How many times as we journey through life do we need some glasses? Lenses that lend some much needed perspective; or maybe for some of us, a brand new prescription? Specs that give renewed focus, vision and clarity of judgement. Since that day in 1967, I have been trying to see as clearly as I can with the help of some glasses and a good optometrist.

Check out Uncle Gavin's website at: http://thirstybrushes.com


                                  Canada Geese at Ashburnham © Gavin Rendall

 www.prairieboy.com

© 2013 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved. 




PET CEMETERY

It was a blustery Sunday in early June. I had just turned 10, finishing the fourth grade, (I hoped) and all was well in the world . . . at least in my world . . . or so I thought. As the school year was winding down, I was looking forward to a two month vacation to Britain and Europe with my parents and my brother Dave. The lilacs had finished blooming and were beginning to turn brown. Gardens were in full growth in the neighborhood. The days were long, the nights short and it felt good to be alive.

That Sunday my brother and I took our usual places in the back seat of the red Ford Falcon and off we went to church. As we passed the Three Hills hospital on our way east out of town, I spied what appeared to be a dead rabbit in the center of the road. Its coat not fully turned from the snowy white of winter, it lay lifeless on the black asphalt. I pointed the roadkill out to the family, Dad avoided the carcass and we continued on our way.

Pets played a very important role in our home when I was growing up. Both of our parents realized the importance of animals and went above and beyond the call of duty to indulge our whims for various creatures. I have often quoted the saying, "watch how a person treats an animal and I will know a lot about their character". While I realize that there are exceptions, this has proven itself to be true many times in my observation. Neither Mom nor Dad grew up with pets and Mom was not a big fan of most of them, even on a good day! At any given time, we had turtles, fish of every description - goldfish, guppies, sword tails, angel fish, cats, dogs and rabbits. We even tried to keep minnows alive that we had caught in Pine Lake. This doesn't count the creatures we brought home like salamanders, butterflies, bees, beetles and anything else that moved that we could stuff into a box or jar.

As we were leaving the parking lot after church, Dad pulled the car over to the side of the road."Boys", he said. "I have some very sad news to tell you." Dave and I sat in the back of the car wondering what on earth could be so life shattering that Dad needed to tell us right then and there. He continued, "You know that dead animal we saw this morning on the way out of town?" "You mean the rabbit?" I said. Dad paused, "I don't think that was a rabbit," he said. "I am quite sure that is Blue Eyes." We sat there in shock. Blue Eyes was our very favorite Siamese cat. Ever the optimist, I declared, "I don't think so." I knew that the rabbit coats were still changing from white to the brown of summer and thought for sure that's what it was.

Mom chimed in, "We really hope it isn't, boys, but Dad and I felt we should tell you before we went home. He didn't pull over and check this morning, because he didn't want you to be upset all through church." We were speechless . . . Dad slowly pulled the car back out on the road and we continued back to town. That five miles was stone silent. They seemed to take forever. As we approached the spot on the road, Dad pulled over and got out of the car. He walked over to the carcass lying on the road and lifted it up. He was right, it was Blue Eyes. Dad gently placed the lifeless little body into the trunk. Opening the car door, he told us how sorry he was for our loss.

Siamese cats have gotten a bad reputation in certain circles and in come cases, rightly so. They can be territorial and temperamental and have been known to attack on occasion. They can also be extremely smart and loyal. Ours was the latter. We boys bonded with Blue Eyes. He could open the door of our bedroom at night by getting one paw underneath, and shaking it until it opened. He would then jump up on one of our beds. We received Blue Eyes as a small kitten from Doctor Paulsen, the local optometrist. At the same time, my friend Stan Kirk and his family acquired male and female kittens that they named Ahab and Jezebel. Our name was not nearly as creative, but Blue Eyes was intelligent and affectionate and we loved our cat. He even had his 15 minutes of fame, starring with my brother Dave on the cover of the school's magazine, Young Pilot. Not quite Rolling Stone, but it was a start!



This was the first time that either of us had dealt with any serious loss. For those of you who have loved a pet and lost it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. We did lose two box turtles when I was about 5 and Dave, 3. Dad brought them home and we decided the was no better thing to do than to hold a turtle race. Taking them outside and placing them on the same line on the sidewalk, we waited for the action to begin. On your marks, get set, go!  . . . nothing. The turtles didn't move an inch. In fact they didn't even stick their heads out for a look around the neighborhood. We were so disappointed. Then, all of a sudden one of them poked its head out of the shell and slowly began to inch forward. We got so excited we began jumping up and down, screaming and laughing. Unfortunately for the turtles, neither of us were very good dancers even then and our clumsy steps resulted in our little shoes making contact with the turtles and they came to a sad demise. But our beautiful Siamese cat? That was something altogether different.

Over lunch, we decided that the dignified thing to do was to give our beloved Blue Eyes a proper burial. The four of us gathered out in the ditch, about 60 feet from our front yard at 102 Prairie Crescent.  By now Dad had put the body in a cardboard box. He dug a hole, put the small casket in and covered it over with dirt. Dave and I cut some beautiful pink peonies from one of Mom's favorite bushes, and placed them on the little mound of dirt. We put a small stake on the grave with a little placard that simply said, "BLUE EYES".We stood in that grassy ditch in the wind and rain, we boys in our little yellow raincoats, Mom holding her blue umbrella, trying to come to terms with our grief.

I took my place in class that Monday morning a little worse for the wear. After the events of Sunday, I hadn't slept very well.  Just before class started, a boy who sat in front of me made a very loud proclamation. "Yesterday when we were driving out of town, a cat ran out in front of our car. My Dad hates cats, so he sped up and hit it. He killed the cat!" This was all said triumphantly, almost like someone was announcing a battle victory. I couldn't believe my ears. A light bulb went on in my head as I had never realized that there were adults who held such disdain for animals. Choking back tears, I sat at my desk in stunned silence. I didn't have the emotional fortitude or the words to say anything to this boy. So I said nothing. Not at recess. Not even after school. Actually, not ever.

I ran home at lunch and blurted out the whole story. I had found the murderer of our cat. I wanted Dad to do something. While both Dad and Mom were extremely sympathetic towards us, Dad wisely counseled that there was very little he could do. The man could very easily say it was an accident and there was no way of proving his son's rendition of the story. Dad said if the man did do it on purpose, we would both need to work at forgiving him and suggested maybe we could pray that in the future he would be kinder to animals. (I am still working on the forgiveness part!)

Enjoy your pets. Appreciate them. Be kind. Care for them. If you don't have a pet, consider it . . .

Maybe don't start with a turtle.

www.prairieboy.com

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.



My brother Dave with Blue Eyes our favorite Siamese cat.

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

The story goes that in England there was a very famous banker who would take the 6:30 a.m. train into work each and every day. He would arrive at the bank promptly at 7:30 in time to say a hearty "good morning" to the night watchman as he was ending his shift and getting ready to return home. One day as the banker entered the bank and gave his usual greeting to the night watchman, the fellow asked if he might have a word. The banker graciously answered, "Of course", and ushered him into his office. Sitting down the night watchman said, "Last night I had a dream. I dreamt that you took your usual 6:30 train and there was a terrible accident and many people were injured and killed. May I suggest, sir, that tomorrow you take the 6:45 train?" The banker thanked the night watchman and sent him on his way. The next day, the banker thought about what he had been told and decided that it really wouldn't make much of a difference if he was 15 minutes late for work. So, just to be on the safe side, he took the 6:45 train. Sure enough, the 6:30 train was in a terrible accident and many were killed and injured. Arriving at the bank, he called the night watchman into his office and fired him. Why did he do this?

This riddle and many others were some of the delightful morsels shared by J. Sidlow Baxter, the famous British preacher, when he was in our home for a meal. I count it a great privilege to have been included, along with my brother, at many meals and coffee times with guests in my parents home. Stuart Briscoe, Ivor Powell, Don Richardson, Dr. Helen Roseveare, Dr. Stephen Olford, J. Edwin Orr and countless others are some of the people that I remember who were invited over to enjoy one of Mom's home cooked meals or fine desserts. Mom took a lot of pride, not only in the meal, but in the whole presentation. Her china was a Scottish pattern, Brigadoon, with a beautiful purple thistle pattern. This large set of china is now in the proud possession of our daughter Christy, and it brings me great joy to recognize that Mom's legacy of hospitality lives on in our daughter.

Our home was always a beehive of activity. Mom and Dad entertained constantly. It was not unusual for my Dad to show up at meal time with someone in tow that he had just met. Mom would rise to the occasion and set another plate . . . or two . . . or three . . . . From members of the church, to students, visiting preachers, missionaries, politicians and dignitaries, all were made to feel welcome in our home. A guest book was kept and it's amazing to look back through those hundreds of names and realize the impact of my parents' hospitality.

In those years Prairie had a large board of advisors made up of some of Canada's brightest business, legal and accounting minds. This board met twice a year and was always invited to our home for a meal. I have a distinct memory, that when I was about 6 years old, Frank Reimer (one of the founders of Reimer Express) handed my brother and me each a five dollar bill. He very emphatically encouraged us to get down to the bank the following Monday and start a savings account. I should have listened!

For many years, until Mom's health made it impossible, Dad would invite 15 of his students for dessert every Friday night. Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of students came to our home to see their professor outside the classroom and visit with him in a more informal setting. Mom would prepare one of her famous desserts for the occasion. Baked Alaska, rhubarb custard pie with ice cream or fancy parfaits were the order of the day.

There are a couple of life lessons, learned from observing my parents' hospitality for which I will be forever grateful. The first lesson is that they treated everyone the same. From child to student, business executive to staff member, preacher, teacher, to the odd millionaire and even billionaire, (not that millionaires and billionaires are odd, but . . . ) all were respected and honored. This sent a huge message to us as children about the value of every single person. The second is that most of the time they included us in these meals and coffee hours. Mom and Dad did not buy the axiom, "Children should be seen and not heard", but instead encouraged us to interact with these folks. Of course we needed to be respectful and wait our turn to speak (which was sometimes pretty hard, especially for me) but the experiences were rich in that they taught us a lot about different cultures, viewpoints and various styles of communicating. I believe we received an entire education just from these experiences alone.

Today, as cell phones, facebook, email, texting and twitter seem to have become the main forms of communication, human interactions seems few and far between. In this fast paced world we live in, where communication can be so very impersonal, why not consider inviting a human over for some real genuine "facetime"? As we approach summer, what a perfect time to invite that neighbor, co-worker or friend over to your home for a barbecue or pancake breakfast. Get to know something about them–their heart, their family, their interests and what they are passionate about. You could even text them the invitation!

O yes . . . the nightwatchman . . . remember he said, "Last night I had a dream . . ."?

The bank manager fired him for sleeping on the job.

www.prairieboy.com

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.