I'm going to start a new series of posts called "I Call Zees One...". If I was normal, I could call it "A Picture I Never Posted" or something clear and straightforward, but... I don't feel like it! Anyway, this series will allow me to share some of the random shots that don't fit into other posts. And it will give you a chance to practice your heavy French accent, as you should always do when you read the words "I call zees one," as well as whatever caption I put under each photo. Seriously, if you're reading this, I want you to get ready to be a really intense French artiste about to unveil his latest masterpiece to a hushed and expectant crowd of wine-sipping intellectuals. Make you sure you include some dramatic pauses.
I call zees one...
Esme with Hummus.
See? Way more fun than "A Picture I Never Posted."
The only outings we did while in Merritt were to nearby Lake City, a cute little town with a great coffee shop, a sweet ice cream stand, and a small slice of beach just perfect for a family day trip. The first morning we went was b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. Perfect weather, perfect, non-threatening beach for little people. They could get right into the water and go way out, since there were no waves. (Being a born and bred East Coaster and a dedicated Atlantic Ocean girl, I actually prefer the majesty, power, and noise of the big waves, but it was nice to be able to let down my guard and not worry about children getting knocked down, swept away, or half-drowned by a breaker.)
Little-known fact: my husband is an expert stone skipper. The first couple of yards of the lake floor were pebbly, so Matthew had the chance to take some lessons.
Meg had a great time bossing working with Grandma on a sand village.
(My apologies to those of you who may have seen an earlier draft of this post a few days ago. I accidentally hit "publish" when I was still in process, and I'm sure what I had at that point totally confused anyone who subscribes via a blog reader.)
On Friday morning I drove to Taylorstown, VA with my dad, mom, and sister Lena. Taylorstown is a tiny hamlet that lies somewhere between Leesburg and Lucketts, and it's the home of Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church, where Uncle Don loved and served for... somewhere between 40 and 60 years, I guess it has to be. Don's church family did a wonderful job of hosting the day's events. They showed up in force to honor Don at his memorial service, and they pulled out all the stops with a truly Southern, small-church-style, delicious potluck lunch for all of the mourners. (Don would have called this "the big feed." We had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, baked beans, pasta salads, creamed vegetables, gelatin salads, rolls, a whole table laden with cakes and pies, huge vats of sweet tea, and more... with not one leafy green in sight. Quote from my dad as he was filling his plate: "This is MY people! I want to taste everything!")
In this post I have attempted to capture some of the meaningful moments from this day of celebrating Uncle Don's life and mourning his death. I have tried to remember the exact words that people used as they honored Don, but I am sure that some of my "quotes" (in Italics), are really more like paraphrases. I was so grateful to be able to hear from so many people who knew and loved Don Fry. He truly was, to borrow a phrase that he might have used, "somethin' else."
* * *
The Nalle clan was in pretty rough shape that morning, and our primary contribution to the service was the sound of sniffling. However, I was so grateful that my dad pulled it together enough to share a bit of what Don meant to our family. I don't remember many of his thoughts, but I know I lost it when he said:
The affection that flowed between Nancy and my girls and Don would be hard to overstate.
When Don was still a young man, he served in the Korean War. Many years later, for the last three years of his life, his church retained Pastor L, a man from Seoul, Korea, who spoke the following words as he presided over Don's memorial service:
Without men like him, who fought for the independence of my country, I would not be here today.
Uncle Don had a great sense of humor and never hesitated to express himself in the plainest of words. I was so grateful that his cousin's wife, N, told this funny story, even while her husband C sat silently weeping for his life-long friend and kin.
Don was at the gas station one morning when a man who was lost stopped by to ask for directions. Wherever he was trying to go must have been pretty far away, because I guess Don couldn't tell him. The man looked at Don and said, "Seems to me like you don't know very much." "Maybe so," said Don, "but at least I ain't lost."
One of the best tributes at the service was written by K, a man who was much like a son to Don. K's wife delivered his tribute in a trembling voice that clearly explained why K didn't attempt to speak on his own behalf. Here are some bits and pieces that I remember.
He smelled like fish in the summer and foxes in the winter, and I thought this was the greatest thing in the world... I started trapping and fishing with him... every time I see a fox now, I'll think, "You're one of the lucky ones." ...Don saw things in wildlife that most people will never have a chance to see... My father died when I was still pretty young. No words were spoken, but Don stepped in as a father figure... When we had [my son], guess who was the first one at the hospital? Don. And when we had [my daughter], guess who was there first again?... He was the greatest man I ever knew.
Don served as the superintendent of Mt. Pleasant's Sunday School for the last 40 years of his life, and he taught a class for even longer--no one seemed to know exactly how long. It was so sweet to hear women who are now in their 50's recounting fond memories of their school days in Don's class. They even told how their hungry, teenage tummies started what became one of Don's famous traditions--arriving early for class each week so that he could prepare pancakes for his students in the church kitchen.
After the graveside portion of the service, which included the painfully moving military honors (folding of the flag and playing of Taps), we returned to Don's church for a lunch reception. When we first reentered the building we passed the sanctuary, where they were playing a slideshow of Don's life. They showed it at the viewing on the previous night, and now they had it on continuous play so that people could drop in and enjoy it whenever. I sat across the pew from one of Don's fellow church members, who shared this anecdote about how Don continued to serve his church faithfully, even as he began to suffer from the effects of cancer and cancer treatments. (This was about as close to complaining as Don ever got.)
He would still be one of the first in the church on Sunday mornings. I would come in, and he would be making his pancakes [for his Sunday School students], and I'd say, "How are you, Uncle Don?" And he'd say "Not worth a nickel! But I'm here."
Possibly the highlight of the whole morning, for me, was when one of Don's Sunday School students shared a brief but very eloquent tribute. I'd guess that this young man was about 17 years old, and I believe he said that he had been in Don's class for eight years. In just a few sentences, he told how Don's love for the Bible had impacted his life, and he closed with these words:
His teaching is what makes me able to bear his loss well.
* * *
My dear mother-in-law sent me an email wishing us her kind condolences. "He certainly," she wrote, "must have been a giant of a man."
I know that Don would scoff if he heard those words spoken of himself. I can hear him now: "Shoot! I ain't much! Just a simple old country man." And of course, that's exactly what he was. But Don proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that even the simplest life, well-lived, can cast a giant shadow.
Don Fry won't be forgotten soon by any of us who knew and loved him.
My husband has been working some cuh-razy hours since we got home from vacation. Worship God, the bienniel Sovereign Grace Ministries conference for musicians and worship leaders, wraps up today. I pray that my David is still standing when the dust settles. I think he's going to need to sleep for two days straight to even begin his recovery process.
Anyway, since we haven't really seen Daddy at home much, on Thursday we went to see Daddy at church. (Funny: we arrive in the church lobby, and I'm charging through there, so excited for the kids to see Dave. We get to the auditorium door, and there he is--just a few yards away--and I'm waiting for the kids to take off running toward him. Esme does, but the other two are frozen at my sides. I look down, and they are both bawling, screaming, "The music is too loud!" The band that was leading worship that night was rehearsing, and... well, it was on the loud side. Remind me not to take these kids to a rock concert any time soon.)
But this was supposed to be a short post.
After our visit to Dave I took the kids to Chick Fil A for dinner. Unbeknownst to us, our local franchise was celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, and they had hired a face painter to be there for the whole evening. So guess what we looked like when we left?
And a cute baby.
(Esme very much wanted to sit in the decorated director's chair that the face painter had for all the kids but, once there, she declined to be painted.)
And the restaurant manager came out just before we left and handed out "mini moos" (little stuffed cows clad in fire-fighting gear) to all the kids. Suffice it to say that the kids thought it was a great night!
Even in the midst of sorrow, my sweet little people keep bringing me reasons to laugh...
I spent much of last week getting ready for our first year of in-earnest homeschooling. This week the first pieces of curriculum that I ordered starting rolling in, including a little booklet we plan to use for science, My Body, from Teacher Created Resources. (I am super excited about this one--thanks for the idea, Kel!)
When it arrived, Matthew pulled the book out of the package and examined it for a moment.
"Hey," he exclaimed, "he has vegables on his body!"
Of course, I took the opportunity to acquaint him with the word organs, but from a three-year old's perspective...
My Uncle Don is at Home. I don't know much detail yet, but it seems that the doctors put him on morphine sometime during the night, and he passed peacefully today.
These two pictures are from our last visit to his house in Lucketts, VA. It was just a few months ago, on a very windy afternoon in April.
Actually, it was the kids' only visit there. I'm so glad they got to go once, at least.
These are from Fourth of July 2009, I think. Uncle Don with Lena...
...and churning ice cream that same day, with Grandpop, who preceded Don to Heaven by three months and a day.
And one of my very favorite pictures ever--Uncle Don holding Meg, Mother's Day 2006.
This picture captures so many things that I cherish about Don. The weather-beaten skin of a true outdoorsman. The work-worn hands. The ever-present flannel shirts and cap. And the amazing, tender love for children in a man who never had any of his own.
Many tears today, with many more to come, probably. I keep thinking how blessed I am to be part of a family where a great uncle was more than an acquaintance, where his death is truly, as my mom put it, "a terrible loss." Please pray for my Gran, Sharon, if you would be so kind. Despite the assurance that they are both with Christ, the loss of husband and then brother in one summer is pretty stunning. Please ask God to make His nearness very real to her.
Tonight and last night I've found myself sobbing over the sadness that I find all around me. Parents lose their babies. Marriages fall apart. Churches struggle--sometimes they hemorrhage or break apart altogether. Families grieve as loved ones suffer wasting disease. Young women pour out their lives on ground that can only yield them pain and despair. People are broken. Saints die.
My Uncle Don, my great uncle, is dying of cancer. He's my dad's mother's brother, my sweet Gran's only sibling, and... oh, God, is he a precious life. I can't even begin to do him justice. Does it help you understand if I tell you that he had 22 visitors today? Twenty-two people who love him came and saw him... in one day. And that won't stop, either. He's headed for the palliative care (hospice) wing of the hospital tonight and, boy, those nurses better get themselves ready for the crush, because Don Fry is in the house, and he comes well loved.
As I cry tonight, and think of the grief and the pain and the confusion that seem to be all around me, this song keeps playing in the back of my mind:
"It is Love who mixed the mortar
And it's Love who stacked these stones
And it's Love who made the stage here
Though it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadow
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's Love that wrote the play..."
-David Wilcox (no relation)
I know it's not Scripture, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend the whole lyric as a treatise on God's sovereignty. But it does bring me comfort tonight, because it reminds me Who is really in charge of this messed-up world, even when all appearances are to the contrary. Love--Christ--has been here. Love is at work. He is the unseen director. He wrote the story. He will reveal the ending, in His perfect time.
He loves Don Fry. He's waiting to welcome him Home with loving arms. He's waiting for me too. Death and evil and brokenness will not have the final word. It's Love that wrote this play.
So we just got back from our wild and wonderful Midwest tour. We left home early on a Tuesday morning, spent two days traveling to Chicago and the next two visiting family there. Then it was back on the road for the day-long trip to Merritt, Michigan, where Dave's mom and stepdad retired after their teaching careers. We were in Merritt for almost a full week, then we headed west toward Holland, MI, where my husband grew up. After two busy days there, we spent two more days traveling home... and there you have the overview.
Our times in Chicago and Holland were great--busy, full of cousins and aunts and uncles and sun and activity and fun. But I have to say that our time in Merritt was the best time of all. Ahh, Merritt--a tiny, little speck on the map that just barely qualifies for a post office. And Mom and Tom don't even live in Merritt. I mean, their address says Merritt, but it takes a good ten minutes on country roads to get from the post office to their place, and the last two miles are unpaved.
So what's so great about Mom and Tom's place? Well, pretty much everything except for the mosquitoes--which are twice the size of Maryland mosquitoes, brazen, and ravenous. But I digress to the cons. Allow me to make a list of pros:
-40 acres -almost no neighbors on the surrounding 1,000 acres -snug, tidy little white house -screened in porch for eating, playing and afternoon napping -sumptuous gardens -the buzz of an occasional hummingbird -sleepy ponds with overhanging willow trees -what our children called "jungle"--many acres of ferny, slightly swampy woods -golf cart to ride on the paths mown through the jungle -quiet, slow-moving river to visit via golf cart -a garden fountain -the two live frogs who hang out in the fountain -bird feeders that draw goldfinches, house finches, nut hatches, wood peckers, sparrows, and red-winged black birds (Mom calls them "junk birds," but they are pretty) -baby deer (twins) frolicking around the ponds in the streaming, early morning sunlight -three graceful lady deer strolling right up to the driveway for a chat and a snack of corn -determined turtles hauling their moss-grown shells from pond to pond -great blue herons rising out of the cattails at our approach -creaky old play set with three swings -kiddie pool shaped like an orca, with water shooting up from its "spout" -huge fire pit -an RV, for extra living space and the endless enjoyment of our children
Did I mention that we barely get cell phone reception there, and that Mom and Tom's dial-up internet connection is flaky? Paradise, I'm telling you. I know it wouldn't be everyone's cuppa, but for this farm-grown girl who finds herself raising kids in bustling, hyper-wired suburbia... Merritt looks almost like heaven for a change.
And I almost forgot the best thing of all about Merritt--the very last thing on my considerable list of pros:
-kind, generous, creative grandparents who love kids and love life
I have a couple of sets of pictures to share, but I'm going to wrap this post with the shots I took of Mom and Tom's lovely gardens, over which they have labored lovingly for the last decade. It sure shows!
(My usual disclaimers apply to these photos--slowly perishing camera, completely amateur photographer, doesn't do her subjects justice, etc., etc.)
Most happily married since October of 2003, we love Jesus Christ, each other, our wild and crazy kids, and serving our beloved church. David is the Ministry Teams and Tech Director at Covenant Life Church; Cara is a wife, mama, homemaker, avid reader, writing-lover, and novice home schooler. Our life isn't what you'd call exciting (though there's never a dull moment), but we love using this blog to share glimpses of our days with our far-flung family members. Even more, we love sealing the grace of God in our hearts by writing down [a tiny bit of] what He's doing in our lives.
At nine years old, our Meggie is a beautifully unique individual. Her defining characteristic is her irrepressible and contagious zeal for life. She gets excited about everything. She loves people, new experiences, books, school, dance, writing, and taekwondo class. In many ways, she sets the pace for this loud and affectionate brood of ours.
Matthew, seven, was born with a sparkle of mischief in his eye--I have the post to prove it. His number one goal and gift is making others laugh. After that, he likes to create stuff--cardboard-and-tape stuff, origami stuff, Lego stuff, zany and offbeat craft stuff. The best part? This funny and creative package opens to reveal a wonderfully tender heart.
Esme Rose is a five-year-old fairy princess in disguise--or at least, we're pretty sure that's what she believes. Even her daddy (who is not given to the fanciful) says that she was made with an unusually high ratio of pixie dust. Other ingredients include independence, cuddles, stubbornness, sweetness, spunk, drama, fierce flying hugs, and a highly developed sense of femininity.
Even going through a pretty terrible Terrible Twos isn't so bad when you're also the doted-upon baby of the family. Graham is an expressive, comical, joyful, demanding, feisty, talkative, passionate little bundle of a person. He adores trucks, airplanes, and all other things that go, doggies, clothes, and being outside. He gives killer hugs and loves getting kisses. We can hardly remember what life was like without him.