Making Memories with Grandchildren – Part 1 – A Grandfather Who Never Got Old

BLOG #41, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MAKING MEMORIES WITH GRANDCHILDREN
PART ONE
A GRANDFATHER WHO NEVER GOT OLD

October 8, 2014

Many years ago, I was privileged to spend my eighth-grade year with my maternal grandparents in Arcata, California. That one year proved to be pivotal in my own life journey. Pivotal because my grandfather, Herbert Norton Leininger, was a Renaissance man whose passion was truly global: encompassing everything that was going on in the world. Tacked to the walls of the entire second-floor living areas were National Geographic maps, so that Grandpa could keep track of everything that was happening in the world, and the people who made them happen.

Never can I forget Leininger Christmases, when all six daughters and their husbands and families, one by one, arrived and gradually overflowed the big rambling three-story home. Once assigned quarters, everyone gravitated to the second floor where the action was. We kids were tremendously impressed by how little time it took for Grandpa to subjugate these authority figures, our fathers. Grandpa gave hem no time in which to claim any turf for themselves, but instantaneously dominated his second-story stage, vigorously showing his cowed sons-in-law where world events were taking place, lashing out at world leaders who failed to live up to Grandpa’s high and rigid expectations, and occasionally praising the few who passed muster. All the while like a stage actor, he’d vigorously stride back and forth from map to map.

Periodically, Grandpa, with an impish look in his eyes, would glance around to see if those guardians of our morals—his daughters—were listening, then launch into the opening lines of what many in that semi-Victorian Age considered rather “naughty”: Rudyard Kipling’s “And I Learned About Women from Her.” At least that’s what we kids thought it was called, because of that recurring line in each stanza.. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the poem is simply titled The Ladies.” In it, the persona, obviously—to our mothers at least—a womanizer in then British-run India and Burma. The opening lines run thus:

“I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it;
I’ve rogued an I’ve ranged in my time;
I’ve ‘ad my pickin’ of sweethearts,
An’ four o’ the lot was prime.
One was an ‘arf-caste widow,
One was a woman at Prome,
One was the wife of a jemadan-sais [head-groom]
An’ one is a girl at ‘ome.”

In essence, in this poem, Grandpa was teaching his grandchildren about the birds and the bees—specifically this fascinating creature we call “woman.” Each stanza having to do with a specific woman the persona in the poem had learned from. But long before Grandpa reached concluding stanzas such as this:

“I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it,
An’ now I must pay for my fun,
For the more you ‘ave known o’ the others
The less you will settle to one;
An’ the end of it’s sittin’ and thinkin’,
An’ dreamin’ Hell-fires to see;
So be warned by my lot (which I know you will not),
An’ learn about women from me!”

Yes, long before his daughters had vainly attempted to quench the orator, we kids—perhaps because our mothers were so upset with their father—were inwardly enthralled that we’d been permitted to listen to such a wicked poem. Not that we understood why it was supposedly wicked: it was enough that our mothers thought it was.

Grandma Josephine, who’d long ago learned that when the Lord of the Manor was on a roll, he never stopped for breath (for, perish the though, that momentary pause might enable one of his squirming sons-in-law to launch a contrary opinion), consequently, Grandma immediately took the stage in a much quieter manner) with her daughters, discussing family personalities, foibles, idiosyncracies, etc., and the daughters giving as much as they took, there was much laughter.

We kids sat enthralled on the floor taking in both tracks. The experience reminds me of certain contemporary TV interviewers who continually interrupt their interviewees who attempt to answer their hosts’ questions; and when these interviewees interrupt other discussion participants—all these individuals talking at once—, the hubbub is indescribable. In retrospect, I’m convinced that those holiday gatherings were one-of-a-kind. The age of large cohesive families, print-driven education, patriarchal family structure, and children-are-to-be-seen-and-not-heard [we were the last such generation], is no more—and will never come again.

Then, one by one, each car-load would disappear to much hugging, kissing, and waving, each one leaving the house lonelier. And, before long, it would be just us left. Early next morning, religiously at six o’clock, I’d hear the sonorous radio voice of Gabriel Heater (with a fair amount of static) downstairs, and know that Grandpa was once again setting his inner sails for the day.

Only in retrospect do I realize the impact of that one year with my maternal grandparents. How Grandpa’s persona seeped into my own goals and philosophy of life. Nor can I forget Grandpa’s late-life soaring. When he reached the age of 75, he announced that for 50 years he’d pleased the world and his wife—now he was going to please himself. He purchased a snazzy Lincoln hardtop, grew a goatee, and, with the help of a fellow conspirator we knew only as Mr. Smith, he constructed the first camper I ever remember seeing: such a long body grafted on to a Studebaker truck that it was a miracle the front wheels didn’t lift off the ground! Grandpa then found enough bargain paint—the most hideously ugly shade of pea-green I’ve ever seen—to complete the job; loaded it with supplies and grub, and headed north. Only when they reached the last road separating them from the North Pole did they turn around.

When they returned, they didn’t stay long, but headed south into the jungles of Mexico.

But even that wasn’t enough: Grandpa next announced that he was going to explore all of California’s western rivers from their headwaters to the sea. Never can I forget one of those expeditions: the day I joined family members waiting for Grandpa’s outboard-driven rubber raft to round the bend; sometime later that day, here he came; veered in to shore, bequeathed his garbage to us, noblesse obligedly accepted our grocery contributions, restarted the outboard, and he was once again heading down-river. A jaunty last wave—and he disappeared from sight.

Nor can I forget the times he regaled us with Shakespeare—especially Hamlet, which he knew by heart. He was Prince Hamlet when he treaded the attic boards of his house.

His was the only funeral I can remember where all the “mourners” could do was laugh. In my eulogy, I did my best to recreate his unique persona.

* * * * *

Next week I’ll continue this series of blogs about this thing called grandparenting.

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KPOF RADIO, AM91, THE POINT OF FAITH

BLOG #35, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
KPOF RADIO, AM91, THE POINT OF FAITH
STUDIO IN A CASTLE TURRET, ROUND TABLE BROADCAST, MARDEL’S,
OWLS, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, COFFEE, AND DAWN OVER DENVER
August 28 2013

How is that for a mouthful of a title?

It was still dark when my alarm clock shattered my dreams that morning of August 14, two weeks ago. I was out the door of the Grey House high on Conifer Mountain by 5:20. By 6:30, I could see the castle with its red-lighted beacon silhouetted against a cloudy dawn. As I approached the Westminister destination, I stopped, got out of my SUV, and unlimbered my legs so I’d be ready to sit down for the two-hour broadcast.

Afterwards, as I walked up the time-weathered steps, dawn’s gilding paintbrush gave the castle an otherworldly glow. Inside, all was already in progress for “The Breakfast Table Show: table-in-the-round, headphones and mikes, cups of steaming coffee, Roy Hanschke and Gordon Scott,–glaringly absent: Denise Washington Blomberg—, and an empty chair for me. How often, over the years had I thus joined this precious circle!

Fortunately, Denise would be back; but I gained a renewed sense of the fragility of life when Roy later shared with me the story of the dark days and nights when cancer came way too close to ending his part of the morning broadcast.

I thought back to the day in March when the station celebrated 85 years of broadcasting of KPOF Denver. 85 years under the same ministry ownership sharing the same gospel message.

What a milestone!

My thoughts drifted back even further, as I looked out the turret windows, to the days when the castle was a stagecoach stop. Yet here it still was, an anachronism when compared to the steel and glass skyscrapers just waking up to our southeast.

My reveries were abruptly terminated by a motion from Roy: In seconds, the commercial would end, and we’d be on the air. Ah the magic of radio! Still magical even in this age of nano-technology-driven instant obsolescence.

Once again, I was introduced to the listening audience–only, for the very first time, I was not here to talk about my latest Christmas in My Heart® book, but rather about my just-out Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories (Howard/Simon & Schuster). It was also announced that, periodically during the two-hour broadcast, we’d be giving away copies of the book to listeners who called in when invited to do so.

And, it was noted to listeners that I’d be sharing several stories with them each hour.

Denise’s empty chair reminded me each time we missed her effervescent presence–which was every time we looked in the direction of that chair–how irreplaceable each of us is. For each of us is a one-of-a-kind: in eternity itself, there has never been, nor ever will be, another Denise, another Roy, another Gordy, another me, another you.

Even without her, the old electricity re-ignited, having flared again and again during years past. What one didn’t think of, another did: thus there were no awkward pauses, but rather a continuous flow of Abraham Lincoln, the gentle giant who still rules over our hearts–both in America and around the world.

Every so many minutes, just before a commercial break, it would be announced that next, I’d be reading a story from the book–and so the conversational flow would stop: for “How Lincoln Paid for His First Book,” “Only a Mother,” “Tenderness in a Ruined City,” and “The Heart of Lincoln,” four of the shortest stories in the collection, yet each simple little story deeply moving in a unique way. Each revealing another dimension of America’s only Servant President: accessible to all, be it a broken-hearted little boy, a shy little girl pleading for her brother’s life, a dying young man in a makeshift hospital, or a young Confederate wife and baby in the still burning city of Richmond who apprehensively opened her front door, only to see a tall gaunt figure standing there, who, to her stunned exclamation, “The President!” simply responded, “No, ma’am; no, ma’am; just Abraham Lincoln, George’s old friend.” [“George,” being the now near immortal general, George Pickett, who led the greatest charge in our history, Pickett’s Charge, in a losing cause at Gettysburg].

We could all hear the voices of listeners as they called in, overjoyed that I’d be personally inscribing their books. We’d also hear the voices of those whose calls were relayed in from the switchboard during commercial breaks. More often than not, calls from those who were deeply troubled about illness, privation, inner torment, each asking for intercessory prayers.

It was at such times that I became more fully aware that this was not merely a commercial radio station, but rather a group of dedicated prayer warriors, each, from station manager, Jack Pelon, on down, committed to selfless service to all God’s sheep who looked to those inhabiting the Castle on the Hill as undershepherds to the Great Shepherd. All across the great city of Denver, they were listening to every word we spoke.

I thought too, both then and later, about the station’s 85-years of daily struggling to remain alive in an increasingly secular age, especially in recent years when Christianity and those who believe in God are openly mocked by a society that has apparently lost its spiritual moorings.

Every so many minutes, it would be announced that I’d be signing the Lincoln book at two locations that week: downtown Denver’s Barnes & Noble on Friday and Mardel’s Christian Bookstore on Wadsworth on Saturday.

It would be at Mardel’s where I’d fully realize the power of KPOF’s spiritual ministry to the people of Colorado: All day they came, all but two there because they’d heard Wednesday’s broadcast, they loved Lincoln and yearned to learn more about him in the new book and in my earlier biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage–, but mainly, they were there because they trusted those dear folk in the Castle they listened to so faithfully, day in and day out; spring, summer, autumn, and winter, year after year. And, because they’d heard me before, heard my voice breaking in deeply moving stories, they opened up their hearts to me, considering me also to be another undershepherd. What greater honor could there be? Furthermore, they were at Mardel’s because it was one of that dying-breed: an overtly Christian bookstore, courageously day by day fighting the forces of secularism determined to eradicate such spiritual holdouts as this one.

After we’d sold out all the Lincoln books early, I debriefed with Dana Oswalt, long-time Mardel’s bookstore manager, about all I’d experienced. Since she’d tuned in to the broadcast herself, she knew they’d be coming. She now confessed how deeply moved she’d been by what she’d seen and heard at my booksigning table.

* * * * *

But back to the Castle. All too soon, we took off our headphones, breathed giant sighs of relief that we’d made it through the two hours without a glitch–even without Denise. But mainly, we were almost incapable of speech because of the intensity of it all. Then G.M. Jack Pelon came in to thank us. Which led to some needed semi-comic relief. “Have you seen our owls?” His office, it turns out, is full of owl photographs he’s taken. Serendipitously, even though it was now day, several of the owls, high up the castle wall, blearingly peered down at us–but their owlet babies were evidently taking a nap so never got to see them.

It is said that owls are wise birds. Judging by this family of owls that condescends to share their castle with its human inhabitants, it appears that they too can sense the calming, peaceful, yet energizing presence of the Great God of Us All in the rooms below.

A Lincoln Civil War Stories                                                                                                                                                                                          Scan_Pic0049