L.J. & Pat; “He” and “She”; “They”

Pat and L. J. ~ November 2, 1951

L. J. and Pat

“He” and “She”



He was born in Louisiana and grew up on his parents’ cotton farm. She was born in Chicago and moved frequently from urban area to urban area, depending on where her dad found work. He was the younger of two boys with eight years separating them. She was the third of six children, each born two or three years apart. He wore a leather jacket with slicked back wavy hair and drove a Harley Davidson, the epitome of “cool.” She dressed demurely in modest dresses and sang in the church choir. Their paths converged at Louisiana Tech when he saw her across a room and was smitten. He asked her for a date, which she accepted on one condition: he had to attend church with her. He didn’t have to think long or hard for that was a small price to pay for a date with this gal. Yes, he was smitten. The rest is history.

They married on Nov. 2, 1951 in a small church wedding. He was heading to seminary in North Carolina, and they had stars in their eyes about what the future might hold for them. But whatever it was, together they would forge their path through life.

He became a minister for a while, and church remains a vital part of his life. Even after leaving the ministry, he ponders the deeper meaning of life, its joys and its vicissitudes as any true existentialist would. He wrote the stories of his imaginings, being the creative thinker and writer that he was and is. Eventually he became a bookkeeper at a nearby mission, followed by providing the same services at their church home, the place where they have worshiped for over 40 years. He finally retired during his 80th year.

She was the pragmatic one. In the early years she worked as a lab technician in local hospitals. Eventually she would leave that work to become a middle school life science teacher where she earned accolades for her creativity and enthusiasm in the classroom. When she retired from teaching, she became a naturalist at a state park until her retirement from that position when she was approaching her 80th birthday. Through the years she sewed her own clothes, reupholstered furniture to make others’ discarded junk a piece of art in her home, grew her own vegetables to preserve, and fed the family throughout the year. She sang in the church choir into her 80’s, teaches Sunday school, chairs the mission committee, and continues visiting friends and friendless alike. Today she makes doll clothes for dolls that are given to hospitalized children, hoping to alleviate each child’s fear . . . at least a little bit.

Through the years they relocated many times, reinvented themselves almost as often, raised four motley children, enjoyed the blessings of nine grandchildren and now three great-grandchildren with two more on the way. They traveled extensively and embraced life in all of its beauty and complexity—good and bad.

Camping was a salve for their souls as they hiked through woods, forged mountain streams, spelunked through caverns and repelled down cliffs.  As a young family, they began their camping “career” in an old, smelly baker tent (that was often sworn at . . . poor tent.) From that humble beginning, they quickly graduated to a full-scale teepee modeled after the Oglala abodes. They made the teepee themselves. She sewed, wearing out at least one sewing machine. He cut down tall Louisiana pines, then stripped the bark and dried the poles. They hauled the teepee throughout the country, east and west, north and south, on annual family camping trips. When they retired the teepee, back packing became their mode of camping and seeing the country. For years the two traveled when they got the chance, hiking with their packs to places most of the rest of us have only seen in photographs. When the two adventurers and life-long lovers finally hung up their packs, they converted their van into a makeshift camper so that they could continue their travels. The two did not slow down. But even the van eventually became too difficult to “camp” in. Not thwarted however, they bought a small camper trailer to pull behind their van and they continue their journeys, albeit a little slower and closer to home than in past years.

In addition to the adventures of travel and camping, the two spent their lives supporting the downtrodden, visiting the sick, grappling with issues of social justice, poverty, inequality, racism and more. They stood by their beliefs and their love of the human race when others wanted to silence them. They appreciated the simple things in life, were thankful that their needs were met, made do with what they had, and as a result their lives are far richer today than if filled with tawdry material things that eventually wither away and become burdensome objects for their children to dispense of.

You see, L.J. and Pat have spent over 60 glorious years building a life together and inspiring all who know them to be better people, to do better work, and to think better thoughts.

L. J. and Pat, the “he” and the “she”, his motorcycle “Fonzie” to her modest “Pollyana” created a masterpiece with their lives that we, the privileged observers, now celebrate.

 November 2, 1951 – November 2, 2011

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.



Lessons in a Seashell: 2nd Time Around

Last weeks photo challenge was “Oceans.”  As I hunted through photos to post for that challenge, I was reminded of one of my first blogs back in Nov., 2009.  Having recently moved, I  uncovered the shell which originally sparked this post, so I thought it would make an apropos repost (with minor modifications) and a couple of pictures of the shell in question.  Enjoy!

Years ago, a favorite family vacation spot was the Outer Banks, North Carolina. In good weather the water is a clear blue-green and warm. The sand is hot. The sky is clear. The kids and I, once we arrived at our destination, would gather our paraphernalia, walk over a sand dune to the beach, spread out our blankets, set up our umbrellas and lie around or play in the waves all day long. The beach is where we could be by ourselves, relax, be far away from the news, the phone, the computer and other distractions.  Today, of course, our distractions travel with us, but that is another story.

My absolute favorite activity was to stroll along the sand with waves nipping at my feet looking for seashells that had washed ashore.  Through the years I acquired quite a collection.  I always looked for the most perfect, most colorful, most different, most brilliant seashells I could find.  I would take only the best and prettiest of shells.  But one year, that changed.

Early one morning, while strolling along the beach at water’s edge, I spotted a very large conch shell some distance away.  The shell was upside down so I first noticed its beautiful colors– sunrise colors—marbling its inside.  Also its size was much larger than seashells generally found on those shores. What a find!  But there was a problem with this shell. As I reached it and picked it up, I discovered that this gorgeous shell had a large hole in it. Normally I would reject a flawed shell such as this one.  As I turned the shell over in my hand and ran my fingers over its surface while studying its contours however, I began to imagine the life of this shell, more specifically, the life of the conch that once inhabited this shell.  Back in elementary school I had learned that shells are actually homes of animals. They are the strong outer protection of very vulnerable, soft creatures that live within its confines.

As I gazed at the shell I held in my hand, I thought about the purpose of that shell, and how it provided shelter for the life within it.  The shell protected the inner self from predators.  It was carried with the tides from briny depths to sunny beaches.  In the course of its lifetime this conch saw good weather. The ocean supplied food in abundance and salt water necessary for its survival. There were peaceful, calm, sunny days and quiet, star-filled, moonlit nights. This conch experienced a lot of good in life.  But that is not all.

The conch had been washed ashore, and as you may know, with the tide’s ebb and flow waves pound the beach– going out and coming in. This conch shell lying on that beach was being pounded and broken in places by the waves that had once provided its sustenance.

Something happened to this shell in the process of living.  Not only had it seen tranquil times, but it had also been tossed about on rough seas.  At times it dove deep.  At times it floated shallow. And in all that time, slowly, methodically, this shell was being smoothed and polished.  A different kind of beauty emerged in the process, something not so obvious with younger more perfectly formed shells. This shell had character.  I saw beautiful colors.  I saw a home.  I saw protection.  It took life to bring out its complicated nuances, its depth, its very real self.

After that experience, I began to look for shells in a different way. No longer did the young, flawless shells appeal to me as before. They are beautiful in their own way, but I discovered I needed to know the lessons of those shells that had weathered many storms, too. Since that day, my collection has come to include shells of all ages, sizes and shapes.  Some are broken, some are worn, some have beautiful colors, some are drab. All have done their job of protecting life.

It strikes me that G-d has provided the means for us to survive the storms of this life, too. Granted, our shells are different than that of the conch.  But we, too, will be nourished, nurtured, and pounded by life.   We may find that life at some point in time washes us up on the shores where the waves will pound us and our beliefs will be shaken to the core. Would that our shell would protect us from pain. Would that our shell would prevent sorrow.  Would that our shell would create a peaceful, harmonious environment within which to live at all times, that it would always remain intact.

We may feel worn, fractured, cracked.  But I am convinced, that as with the conch shell I found that day at the shore, the shell that G-d has provided to protect and guide us does do its job.  Our shell is Torah.  Within the Torah we discover how to live, how to protect ourselves, how to be thankful for the good and prayerful when in pain.  Most importantly, Torah reveals to us how we are to relate to each other and to G-d.  When we are shattered, Torah reminds us that G-d is still with us, still our one and only G-d.  When in times of plenty, we are reminded who has provided that plenty.  In residing in this shell provided by G-d, in abiding by the Torah, in heeding the guidance of its words, our inner selves begin to emerge: selves of compassion, selves not so quick to judge the vulnerabilities of others, selves which have become wise with age, selves which are strong for having weathered many storms, selves that are holy, selves which reflect the very image of G-d.

If you go to the seashore, keep your eyes and spirit open. You may see many seashells. Undoubtedly, most will be broken. You will see shells that are beautiful to look at, perfectly formed. You will see shells that are functional–they hold water, or healing ointment. You will see shells that are hardly shells at all. They have been pounded into shards, multi-colored slivers of membrane through which the light shines for others to see.   As with those shells, we too will be sustained, even if we are broken in places.  G-d’s presence is not only with us through all of life; G-d’s presence is around us, in us, over us and under us.  G-d has provided the Torah as our shell, and in residing in that shell, beauty and wonder shine forth as a beacon for others who are on this journey, too.  For it is in G-d that we find strength, beauty, and wisdom to weather life’s storms and enjoy life’s blessings.