Archive for the ‘family stories’ Category

Moving to Africa was definitely a huge decision in our lives.  Neither set of grandparents were too excited about having us move half way across the world.  And although Bob’s parents were going to miss seeing us all it was devastating for my parents since Heather and Danny were their only grandchildren.

The summer before we left, Bob finished up his masters and I attended the World Mission’s Institute at the same university. It could be said I went overseas kicking and screaming and it certainly was true I had a plan as we both attended our various classes preparing us for the next phase of our lives. It goes without saying, then, that I was somewhat of a reluctant Jonah and to this day think I did a remarkably valiant effort to demonstrate how inept and inappropriate I was for mission service in hopes the review committee would determine we (me) were not fit for mission service.  Unfortunately, not to be thwarted God was determined to have His way with me and my best laid plans to convince others I was inept didn’t go exactly the way I had hoped.  Indeed, when the committee came to my name they reflected and discussed and came to a quick conclusion since my expectations were so low what I experienced by comparison would be fantastic!!

While we studied (and I unsuccessfully maneuvered)  my parents watched the kids over the summer. Although there was considerable nostalgia with our departure growing ever closer their moments together were clearly one of delight and full of special outings. Not quite a stern taskmaster but certainly a savvy one my mother utilized a menu of parenting options that are fondly remembered by the kids to this day. And certainly, one of the delights of staying with grandma and grandpa VanBelle was the easy access to water and swimming whether it was at their cottage in the Irish Hills or their place (at that time) on the shore of Lake Erie.  But, the mounting evidence of our stint overseas in the ever growing mountain of “stuff” we were buying to take with us was a constant reminder to us all of the impending move and grueling good-byes that awaited us at the end of the summer.

At that time missionaries made a three year commitment to their posting. There were no annual leaves—and because we were being sent to a very remote and isolated mission post you planned ahead and took even some of the most common things (like toilet paper) in a three year supply.  Trying to figure out how fast the kids would grow during that period and anticipate the clothes and shoes they’d need was challenging.  Trying to spread the meager allowance we were given to get all these supplies was even more of a challenge.  But, adept as I was at finding bargains and hitting garage sales, thrift stores and flea markets helped considerably to spread the limited funds we had.

But money wasn’t our only restriction.  The shipping weight was another so every purchase decision was weighed very carefully—figuratively and literally.  Two items that made it onto our bill of lading might have been reconsidered.  One was a hefty player piano.  It seemed like such a smart purchase when we saw it in the seller’s house.  We imagined all the hours of fun we would have pumping away playing the music—singing along to tunes we’d know.  Certainly the piano rolls could tickle those ivories much better than I could so we paid for the piano and made the necessary arrangements to get it to my parent’s home in Michigan for storage in their garage that was becoming the holding tank for all the items that would soon be steaming their way to the dark continent.  The second was a 5 gallon plastic bucket of good Canadian honey.

What seemed like such a great idea then would take on a totally different perspective nearly a year later when our shipment FINALLY arrived in our home nestled in the mountains just a short drive away from the equator.  Little did we know when we packed those two items what excitement they would create for all the villagers huddled together watching the muzungu family get their long-awaited-for belongings. It soon became very apparently to all gathered round as more and more bees began wildly buzzing around a certain crate that the precious bucket of honey had come undone during the rough trip over the bumpy Africa roads and coated many of our things with a layer of honey.  Not folks to waste anything–particularly something as valuable and sweet as honey–the villagers aggressively swatted off the bees in their frenzied efforts to scrap honey from boxes, crates and our wonderful piano.  Those dreams of all the fun we’d have huddled around it never came to pass; but images of villagers dancing around the piano fighting the bees for honey were a wonderful trade off and equally entertaining!

Heather and Danny took all the preparations in stride.  We’d talk them almost daily about our upcoming move invariably referring to all the wild animals they would see once we’d moved to Africa.  After all, what would spark a child’s imagination better than seeing a giraffe or maybe a lion or elephant in the distance just outside your car window? To be honest we really didn’t know whether those animals WERE anywhere near where we’d be living but after years of Tarzan and other Africa movies we were just certain there would be some not too far away.

Days before our departure date some strange tiny pink spots appeared all over Heather and Danny’s body.  A quick trip to the doctor confirmed they were suffering from a mild case of chicken pox.  Not a terribly great way to start such a momentous trip but undaunted we headed for the airport. Final good-byes all said we began the journey to the Mirabel airport in Montreal where we’d take a Sabena flight to Brussels where we planned to meet Bob’s younger sister, Joan, and her boyfriend, Marcel, for an overnight stay there.  However, the chicken pox paled in comparison to the dilemma we met when we arrived at the airport later that day.

When we first arrived at Mirabel it was empty except for a few janitors slowly and methodically cleaning the terminal floors.  We piled p our luggage and sat down waiting for something to happen; for someone to arrive. After what seemed like an eternity things started happening;’ people began arriving. It was with mounting excitement we finally found the Sabena ticket counter open and ready for business.

Not ours, however, for shortly after checking in we were told that the tickets that were supposed to be waiting for us there had never left Washington, DC.  Seems an over-worked and less than competent secretary had forgotten to fedex the tickets.  Thanks to the tenacity, generosity, kindness and trusting Sabena ticket agent, however, the airlines issued new tickets with promises from the overworked secretary she’d send the tickets to him that very day for cancellation.

So, it was with a bit of foreboding and a general sense of high anticipation that our motley crew boarded the plane for Brussels that night. I’m sure if anyone scrutinized the 2 year old toddler with the stuffed chimpanzee strapped to his back that beloved Aunt Barb gave him, a rambunctious frolicking 3 year old girl hugging her doll and toting her precious books and other special travel gifts in her backpack and an over-tired and stressed out mom and dad lugging way too much carry-on luggage very carefully they would never have guessed all the adventures and mishaps awaiting them just around the bend.

Arriving in Gisenyi, Rwanda: The Adventure Begins



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From the minute Heather was born she enchanted her admirers. She weighed in at a hefty 9 lbs 7.5 ounces and 21 inches long. I’m sure that the good start she had in life was a contributing factor for all the strangers who would stop to ooh and aah over “what a beautiful baby she is.” After all, dimpled fleshed out babies look so cherubic with their plump rosy cheeks and chunky limbs. There was no doubt she was a cutie. Indeed, many strangers suggested we enter her in baby contests because she was so cute. Her blonde hair and brilliant blue eyes never failed to charm all those around. But let me assure you—despite her fair looks Heather had a decidedly darker side.

She was a stubborn little girl who was determined to do things her way. When it appeared that wasn’t going to happen she would thrust out her lower lip in a pout and scowl that would scare the toughest set of parents. Even at a very tender age of 6 weeks she would hold her breath and turn a tinge of blue in temper tantrums that scared me to death despite the doctor’s reassurance that she would pass out before she’d pass away. As she grew older this stubborn trait of hers manifested itself in various ways.

One time when told “no” she stamped her little feet in a fit of rage—each step taking her backwards and closer to the basement stairs just behind her. Before I could stop her little fit of rage and safely grab her she tumbled down the stairs. Undaunted she picked herself up and barely missed a beat or breath between her cries of fright and her howls of anger.

The older Heather grew the stronger the bond also grew between her and her daddy. There was no doubt it was a mutual love fest. A few months before her brother Danny was born we moved into an older two story house just a short distance from the primary school were her father was the principal. Her father, who had studied in France during his college years and was a true Francophile, would walk hand in hand with her up and down the stairs counting each step in French. “Un, duex, trios, quatre, cinq,…..quinze, seize, dix-sept, dix-huit, dix-neuf.” Heather learned to count to 19 in French quicker than she did in English. This began a mutual love of French that grew as she grew until many years later she would go and spend a year at the same school in France where her father had studied decades earlier.

When heather was just 19 months old her status as a single child was soon going to change. School was ready to start and Mommy and Daddy were busy working at the school getting things ready to start the new school year. One of the things Bob was going to work on that momentous day was an electric plug that had shorted out the previous year and needed a new cover. Although it’s hard to remember exactly what distracted both her parents our attention was abruptly brought back to the moment the minute Heather began screaming in fright and pain as she pulled her tiny finger from the damaged socket.

One look made it clear to both of us that she had seriously burned her index finger on her right hand. We rushed to the emergency room that was bursting at the seams with women in labor and other untold urgent medical calamities. Heather was sat atop a gurney that was sitting in one of the busy corridors in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of the over-crowded facility. Hospital staff would stop in sympathy and gently coo to her “poor little thing—she’s so cute…” as little Heather would hold out her burned finger whispering to everyone passing her way in her frightened tiny voice “hot”. It was enough to break the heart of even the most hardened soldier.

We left several hours later with her hand swaddled in gauze and an appointment with a plastic surgeon and burn specialist the following week. Unbeknownst to us however, we wouldn’t make that appointment. A second rush to the hospital was in our future instead. So it was, several days later on the first day of school Danny decided it was time to welcome the world to baby number two. Little did Heather realize how her life was going to change. Indeed, little did mom and dad realize how their life was going to change too!

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A Year Ago…

A year ago today I held his hand for the last time.

A year ago today I gazed on that incredibly handsome face I loved so much.

A year ago today I clung to a lifetime of memories of someone who labored tirelessly and sacrificed willingly to give me a better life.

A year ago today I listened for the last time to him breathing ever so faintly.

A year ago I said good-bye to my father.

A year ago today a part of me died too.

Daddy I love you and miss you so so much.

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Omens and Signs

I’m not much of a believer in these things but there have been two things that happened in my life that would lead you to believe (twight zone music here….dah dah dah dah….) they do happen.

I had a unity candle at my first wedding. We each had an individual candle we used to light a one BIG candle that symbolized our individual lives joining together in wedded bliss.

Nice idea–if it works that is.  Ours didn’t.  We ceremoniously lit the BIG candle and when we blew our individual candles out we accidently blew out the BIG one too representing our new life we just began together. The flame didn’t even burn to the end of the wick…that was impressive indeed. Fitting metaphor for two lives coming together don’t you think?  Ended before it even begins maybe?

A lady who lived across the street from my folks was sitting next to my uncle at my wedding.  This lady was a bit odd—she had long dark hair, pronounced arched eyebrows like you see on caricatures of women who portray the evil stepmother in stories like Cinderella, or snow white or the mom in the Adams Family’s Values movie.  She was actually a nice person but did things that we definitely considered a bit weird (like reading tea leaves and the palm of your hand)—and she was forever telling us she was a fortune teller.   So, when we accidently blew out the BIG candle I learned she shuddered and turned to my uncle and said, “Oh, this is a very bad sign for their marriage. This is not good at all.”

Hmmm….like I said this happened at my FIRST wedding.  Nuff said.

So, sign number two.  Again, it comes from my first wedding.  A really good friend of my ex-husband gave us a handmade gift as a wedding present.  It was a decorative plate that had the following poem painted on it.  It read:

He my husband

I his wife,

United are we

Now in life.

August 12, 1973

Cute huh?  Well, fast forward 8 years.  Danny, my oldest son, is playing with a ball in the house  (how many times did I tell him NOT TO PLAY WITH BALLS IN THE HOUSE) and he makes a dead on hit on the plate. It falls to the floor and shatters into about 20 pieces.  I glued it back together again.

The glued together plate certainly became a fitting metaphor for a working marriage. Our marriage ended about 15 years later.  There were good years and there were bad ones. The good definitely outweighed the bad.  But the plate said it all…..we were working at it but all the stress, accidents, moves, ups and downs in our lives together had weakened the fiber of our marriage and it just couldn’t hold together anymore just like the glue on that plate just gave out many years later too.

Two omens predicting the same fate.  Makes you wonder.

What do you think?  Are there omens and signs?

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Can there be anything more wonderful than being a grandma?

Yep.  A grandma to such sweethearts like these little cherubs.  Isn’t this delightful of Annika and Kiki?

And look at how sweet Kardy is.  How fast she is growing.  Each year the girls look more and more alike.

I can see so much of Heather, Jonny and even a touch of me in this.  With me I think it’s the bangs..I had bangs like that when I was her age.  What a cutie she is.

And here’s three of the four little Engines….just puffing along.  She how Oskar is leading the pack? Oh, how quickly they grow up!

All photos used in this post belong to their mommy–a phenomenal photographer. I steal them from her on a regular basis to post on my blog.

This is called photo kidnapping. Fortunately, there is no ransom because if there were it would be spending at least a week with grandma so she can spoil them to their utmost delight!!!!  And then Boppa would spoil them even more.

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First off, where in the heck does that expression come from?  I can appreciate the worry part of it but WORT or some use wart?  That makes no sense to me at all.  So, I did a little research and learned that it may have come from a comic strip character that ran in the comics for almost 35 years starting in the early 20s. According to some sources it was the name of a kid named Wart who got himself into all kinds of situations that caused others to worry.  Plausible I guess.

Worry guts” seems to be the precursor to the expression worry wart which is what someone who stresses frequently and for long periods was called in Britain around the early 1900s. I am definitely GLAD they no longer use that term since I’m always being accused of being a worry wart.  Can you imagine having your kids or husband say to you, “Oh, Diane/Mom, stop being a WORRY GUTS.”  Bad enough being called a wart/wort—but guts? Ouch. Not nice for sure.

There appears to be an early reference in a book about state mental hospital patients that refers to folks who are persevering, nagging and delusional as worry warts. (Delusional? Come on—worry worts/warts usually have good reasons for their fretting.  Delusional is such a below the belt kind of hit.) They also refer to these “type of people” as bird dogs which again, makes no sense to me at all unless it’s linked to the characteristic of being tenacious like a bird dog and to stick to something with unrelenting zeal. Hence—a worry wort/wart doesn’t ease up on the stressing and fretting.  Again, plausible.  I can appreciate that—being one myself. We are pretty tenacious in our stressing and fretting.  But that’s a good thing to have a cause and stick to it.  Don’t see why it should be viewed in such a negative light.

Anyway, I’m digressing. So, why all this fuss over being a bird dog, worry guts or worry wart—take your pick. What’s the cause for this delving into the history of the expression?  Well, it’s because I’m preparing myself for the onslaught of accusations soon to be flung in my direction in a few weeks in reference to what I know will be my highly warranted behavior.

You see, it has to do with my youngest kid Jonny.  He’s a geology graduate student at an unnamed university in a state in the south. He’s a nice kid but WEIRD. For starters, I can NEVER understand what he’s talking about.  For years we’ve had this communication and intellectual disconnect. If you doubt what I’m saying—check out his blog “talking nerdy”—weird stuff—way beyond me. I’m not a stupid lady but his posts are beyond what I’m able to process cognitively–what ANY mother should be expected to process intellectually.

And then there’s the rock climbing and caving he does. Tell me—who willingly decides to hang HUNDREDS of feet in the air and all that’s between you and FALLING WITH AN OUCH, OOH, BANG AND CRASH TO THE GROUND is some ROPE?  Or—caving?  I mean there’s bats and all other sorts of unidentified things to freak you out in dark and damp caves. And the MUD and DIRT and grime (check out the photos if you don’t believe me.) I just do not understand it. But I try to support my kid in his strange activities and make sense of his ramblings about caving and rock formations and dinosaur droppings and a whole assortment of utterly incomprehensible things.

Anyway, Jonny leaves in a few weeks to spend the summer in the Artic Circle doing research. It has something to do with the structure of mountains and how North America broke away from Europe and caused all kinds of ripples and whatever in the Atlantic floor. At least that’s what I THINK it’s all about.  He’s explained it to me several times and I either don’t understand what he’s talking about or conveniently forget what he tells me because I don’t have the energy at my age to remember what isn’t relevant for me to survive out the day. And ripples in the Atlantic and continents drifting apart just doesn’t come up too high on my daily life management issues.  Until now that is.

So, back to worry guts…He leaves in June for the Artic Circle in Norway. And he’s going to be camping by himself.  I told you in the ARTIC CIRCLE right?  I guess there’s no bears to be concerned about but did I tell you he’ll be studying MOUNTAINS?  So that means he’ll probably be DOING ROPE CLIMBING HANGING FROM A ROPE HUNDREDS OF FEET IN THE AIR remember?  And he’ll be BY HIMSELF.

So, I asked him “What if something happens Jonny?  What if you get hurt?”

Jonny’s response to worry guts:  “Hmmm, I guess I’m screwed.”

There’s nothing easy about being a bird dog or a worry wart/wort/guts. So, what’s a mom to do?   Well, at least I don’t have to do his laundry anymore. There are some consolations I guess.

P.S. This interest in all things WEIRD started at a very young age.  Here he is up on Mount Karisimbe in Rwanda–a 10,000 year old volcano and another photo of him examining a moth.  And then there’s the caving …ahem…MUD photos.

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Happiest: This one is easy. Holding my babies in my arms for the first time. Nothing can compare,

Danny and Heather.

Baby Ted with Grandma VanBelle.

Ted as a baby, Danny (5) and Heather (6)

My first baby.

Where oh where are Heather’s other photos of her baby brother Jonny?  (She’s the shutterbug NOT ME!!)

Saddest: Not being there to hold my mother’s hand as she died.  Being there to hold my father’s hand as he died.

Daddy three months before he died.

Mom one month before she died. This was her last precious visit with her oldest grandson Danny.

Unexpected: Meeting a wonderful, amazing man on the internet who is my best friend and nemesis at the same time.  Is that even possible?  Well, amazingly it is. And this weird combination makes for a very interesting life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Scary: Seeing my 2 year old perfect little boy being electrocuted and then many years later having my oldest boy drag in with two dangling broken arms and later learning he also had a ruptured spleen too.  It’s a fear that makes you physically ill.  I never want to experience that ever again. Nor do I want anyone I care about have to go through it either.

Embarrassing: This one takes some contextualizing.

MY first home after getting married (the first time many many years ago) was REALLY PATHETIC.  It boasted a wood stove to cook on that I had NO IDEA how to use.  It also had a TINY TINY indoor bathroom that functioned for only a few months a year. During the FREEZING COLD winter months when the waterline running just a foot below the ground from a HUGE hole in the ground that served as our source of water (from water that ran off the hill above us and only god knows what would fall into and die in that water) froze solid we would be forced to use an outdoor bathroom.

Using an outdoor bathroom on a regular basis as her ONLY bathroom is NOT something this middle class American girl was going to do.  So my new husband got up in the wee hours of the morning and worked late into the night in a true labor of love to dig through rock and something very similar to perma frost to dig the line down into the ground below the freezing mark.

Then  in the second phase of giving Diane a bathroom she could live with, he remodeled our tiny bathroom taking a huge part of the inside storage room and entry proch that abutted the  tiny bathroom. However, not one to really enjoy remodeling the home modeling job took Bob MONTHS AND MONTHS to complete.  So, for many of those months the wall between what would be the new bathroom and the entry was just exposed studs revealing our new TUB and shower (YEAH!!) and the stool.

Two customs on the island of Newfoundland where we were living and working as primary school teachers was  you  don’t lock your doors nor do you knock on a door and wait to be invited in—you just walk in folks and hope someone is at home. I think the open door policy comes from a history of blinding blizzards and freezing cold weather. If you get caught out in an unexpected bad storm seeking out a warm abode can mean the difference between life and death.  Unfortunately, the open door policy could lead to some rather….ahem shall we say….some interesting and somewhat compromising situations.

So, picture this.  Diane gets up from a lazy morning of sleeping in bed on a Sunday morning.

Diane: “Bob, did you lock the door?

Bob:  “Yes, it’s locked.”

So, Diane gets up and decides to use the bathroom. Shortly into her leisurely morning ritual looking at her favorite magazine as she “you know what”….well, the door to the pathetic little house opens wide and 4 of her students walk in.

You can well imagine the shock on their faces to see their teacher sitting on the toilet. You can also imagine I’m sure the horror on mine.  Definitely the most embarrassing moment of MY life!!  But no one was blinded from terror. Class resumed on Monday without any reaction. And I don’t believe anyone suffered long term emotional pain or suffering so…we all survived. But barely.

This is a rare photo of me –my school photo taken of “Miss” (as I was called by the students at the school where I taught) during her very first teaching job–during the year of living in her pathetic, little, bathroom-less shack of a house built on posts overlooking Goose Bay in Lethbridge, Newfoundland.  What a year that was!!!  And what a house that was too!!

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