Columns

Sometimes the Simplest Prayers Mean Most

We eagerly scanned the swarms of blue-robed students filing into the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday evening. The strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” swelled, and then we spotted our baby boy – not much of a baby anymore.

As Sam received his diploma and was recognized as an honors student who’s already earned 87 credits through the Running Start program at Eastern Washington University, another chapter in our parenting lives closed.

Our fourth and final son graduated from high school.

It was an occasion I couldn’t even imagine 18 years ago when he struggled for every breath in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at now-Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

On a golden September day, Sam, our grand finale, had entered the world weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

He also had a hole in his diaphragm.

Within hours of his birth we were told our baby had congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Only Sam’s right lung was fully formed. Our newborn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Milestones like a commencement ceremony remind us of how close we came to losing this child.

Late Friday night following the celebration, while the rest of the household slept, Derek and I quietly recalled Sam’s desperate first days.

He’d been flown by helicopter from Holy Family Hospital to Sacred Heart Medical Center an hour after his birth. Having just given birth I was forced to stay behind while Derek drove downtown.

“When I walked into the NICU, they had Sam restrained on a table,” he recalled. “His back was arched, his face red. He was screaming his head off. They told me he was a fighter, but that I needed to leave the room for a minute. They said they were going to sedate him, that his blood pressure was dangerously high. When they let me back in, Sam was silent and still. So very still.”

And 18 years later, the tears fell as he remembered his helplessness in the face of his son’s need.

My own memories of that day still haunt.

Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to Sam’s bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of a voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

I believe in the power of prayer. I always have. But that morning I could find no words. So I reached two fingers under the maze of wires, rested them on his laboring chest and whispered, please. When he exhaled I whispered thank you.

In the weeks that followed those words became a ritual.

Even as he grew healthy and strong, with no lingering complications, each breath simply seemed miraculous to me. Life is a gift, but how casually we treat it, until we’re forced to confront its fragility.

More nights than I can count, I’d slip into Sam’s room, lay my hand on his chest and whisper please and thank you as he breathed. Over the years that prayer grew to encompass much more than his physical health.

Like his dad, Sam’s going to continue his education at EWU. He plans to become a high school English teacher and will live at home for a while, so our nest won’t be empty anytime soon.

Following the commencement ceremony, we posed for photos. Sam now towers above me, and when I wrap my arms around him, my head rests near his heart.

Once again I found myself whispering please when he inhaled, thank you when he exhaled.

It’s a prayer that’s served me well.

Sam's graduation

War Bonds

Celebrating 70 years of a marriage that is “so much more than friendship”

Barbara and Ray Lewis have a lot of reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving – 70 of them, to be exact.

The couple married Nov. 23, 1947, so in addition to the traditional turkey day feast, they’ll be celebrating 70 years of wedded bliss.

She was born in Texas, he in Ohio, but they met in Indiana, and 3 1/2 months later, they married.

Barbara was traveling with a group of students who were going door to door inviting people to special church services. It just so happened that the services were being held at the church Ray attended in Fort Wayne.

“He made a point of meeting all the girls,” Barbara, 94, said, smiling.

Ray, 92, was finishing up his engineering degree at Indiana Tech and had indeed met all the girls in the traveling group, with one exception. An exception he rectified as quickly as possible.

“He saw me because I was wearing a big black hat,” she said.

Ray doesn’t recall the hat, but he does remember approaching her and saying, “I believe your name is Barbara.”

He’d done some reconnaissance.

When he discovered Barbara was staying with a couple who’d asked him to photograph their newborn son, Ray an avid amateur photographer, decided now would be the perfect time to take that photo – even though the child was now a year old.

The family asked him to stay for dinner, and he didn’t hesitate. He also invited Barbara on a triple date the next night.

“There wasn’t much to do in Fort Wayne in those days,” recalled Barbara. “We went to the drugstore and had a soda and then walked to the park where they had a lighted fountain. We watched the colors change.”

She still has a postcard featuring the park and the fountain.

The next day, his sister, Mary, came to visit. She was dating Ray’s roommate, Ted. Eventually Mary and Ted would wed as well.

They arranged a double date.

“Ray thought that gave him an excuse to sit by me in church Sunday morning,” Barbara said.

The church meetings concluded, and it was time to say goodbye. Ray went to the station with her.

“Barbara had to be the last one out of town,” Ray said.

That was fine with him.

“I wasn’t ready to turn loose of her just yet,” he admitted.

In fact, he made her promise to write to him. She agreed on the condition that he would write back.

As the train began to pull away, he stood outside her window and used his finger to trace the words “please write!” in the dust.

Back home in Texas, Barbara checked her mailbox every day.

“If there wasn’t a letter, I let him have it,” she said.

But Ray was taking his finals and the pressure of the letter-writing got to him.

“I got tired of that kind of romance,” he said.

So, when Barbara told him that she and her parents were moving to Erie, Pennsylvania, to help establish a church, Ray was delighted. Erie wasn’t far from his Ohio hometown. He quickly hopped on bus to visit her. Well, she did most of the visiting.

“She did all the conversation, just like she does now,” he said, grinning.

They both got jobs at General Electric, and one September evening Ray borrowed her father’s car and took her to see Lake Erie.

“It was a moonlit night, and the waves were breaking over the shore,” Barbara recalled.

It was the perfect place for a proposal. When she said yes, Ray went straight home to borrow money from his mother to buy an engagement ring.

They married on a Sunday night, just after evening service in the middle of a snowstorm.

She wore a dress and headpiece made by her mother and the preacher’s wife, and they caught the last train of the evening to Cleveland for their honeymoon.

While there, a duck nearly derailed their happy future.

They went roller-skating, and the rink was giving away live ducks and turkeys.

“Wouldn’t you know it – my name got called for a duck,” Barbara said.

Now, she happened to love ducks and even had pet ducks while growing up on her Texas farm. They resolved to ship the duck home.

“It was going to be our first possession,” she said.

Alas, there were no shipping crates to be found, and they finally had to sell the duck for a dollar to a guy at the Express Station. He said his family would be having duck for dinner the next day.

“That broke my heart,” Barbara said.

She shot a glance at her husband.

“I’ve never forgiven him!”

But they both chuckled at the memory.

That sense of humor got them through many moves in the next seven decades. Ray was a mechanical engineer for oil refineries, and they lived in 13 states and four Canadian provinces.

“Every place we were sent, I decided that’s where we’d retire,” Ray said. “I’m happy anywhere I am.”

His happiness grew along with their family. Daughter Linna was born in 1950, followed by Kent in 1952, Leslie in 1954, Laurie in 1959 and Lorinda in 1964.

Since they lived in so many snowy places, the family developed a passion for skiing. Great skiing opportunities led their son to move to Spokane, and 11 years ago when Ray finally retired, the couple joined him.

“I retired many different times, but they kept asking me back,” he said.

When it comes to advice for those who wish to achieve their own happily-ever-after, Barbara proved practical, Ray philosophical.

“Always make the bed together as soon as you get out of it,” Barbara said. “Making the bed takes five minutes instead of 10, and it’s very effective in introducing your husband to household chores.”

Ray said, “Don’t think about it (marriage) in terms of 70 years – think of it in terms of one year at a time, and go with the flow.”

Then he grinned.

“I’m still finding problems with her,” he teased.

Barbara smiled, acknowledging that Ray is her friend “most of the time,” but then grew serious.

“Marriage is so much more than friendship,” she said.

She looked at Ray.

“He’s one of the best men who ever lived.”

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War Bonds

70 Years of Adventure

20708109_1498992003472755_632359020316113008_n[1]John and Amy Roberson

Amy and John Roberson grew up in the same small community of Woodland, Washington, on farms about 2 miles apart. They attended the same school grades K-12, yet it took a world war to bring the couple together.

That’s not to say Amy went unnoticed by John.

“I had my eye on her,” he said. “She was very attractive.”

In their Greenacres home, Amy shushed him.

“Now, now,” she said, smiling.

But neither of them can recall a single conversation between them until they met again in 1945 in Washington, D.C., where both were serving in the Navy.

John had been accepted to the V-12 Navy College Training Program in 1943. The program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the Navy during World War II.

He thought the Navy would be a great fit for him.

“I loved the water,” he said. “I built my own boat on the Columbia River.”

It came as quite a surprise when the first place the Navy sent him was to the University of Kansas.

He shrugged.

“I studied engineering at the University of Kansas.”

Amy had to wait until she was 20 to enlist.

“My uncle was in the Navy in World War I,” she said. “I wanted to join the Navy, too.”

After basic training, she was sent to the U.S. capital to study decoding. Meanwhile, John was stationed nearby, in Norfolk, Virginia.

A mail carrier in Woodland kept track of the local youths in the service. He discovered there were eight Woodland youths in the Washington, D.C., area where his daughter was stationed, and he connected them.

They all got together and had a great time talking about home, and that’s when Amy truly noticed John.

“John asked me for a date,” she recalled. “We were supposed to meet at the movie theater. It was pouring rain, and I showed up with drippy hair.”

Wet hair didn’t deter him from asking for another date.

Soon John left for what would be the only cruise of his Navy stint.

“My sea duty consisted of taking a ship from San Diego to Charleston (South Carolina),” he said.

They stayed in touch and both returned to Woodland when they were discharged in 1946.

“We both qualified for the GI Bill, and I told him I was going to WSU,” Amy recalled. “John said, ‘I think I will, too.’ ”

They got engaged in April 1947 and returned home in August for their wedding.

Amy made her wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses from parachute silk.

“I got a whole bolt for $10, so we all wore white,” she said.

On Aug. 17, 1947, they were married at the Presbyterian church in Woodland. They honeymooned in British Columbia and then returned to WSU where John received a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 1948.

Amy, too, would eventually earn a degree in home economics, but first busy years ensued.

Son, Roger, arrived in 1950, followed by twins David and Janice in 1951.

The young family moved numerous times as John pursued a master’s degree, followed by a doctorate.

“It was hectic,” Amy said.

She recalled many late nights and early mornings when John would place Janice across his knees and jiggle her to sleep while he studied.

He taught at WSU, and their children were active in Camp Fire and Boy Scouts.

In 1963, they moved to Thailand when John accepted a teaching position with the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering.

Two years later the family set out to visit the famous Bridge over the River Kwai and the POW Memorial. As they crossed the bridge used by pedestrians, carts and bicycles, a train approached.

Roger and David took refuge on a pedestrian platform on one side of the bridge while Amy, Janice and John perched on the other side. As the train drew near, John reached out to help a Thai man on bicycle with a large metal ice cream box balanced on the back. As the train passed it hit the metal box which knocked the bicycle into the three of them. Amy, Janice and John were thrown against the bridge railing which broke, sending them plunging into the dry riverbed beneath.

“We hit hard,” John recalled.

Their sons scrambled to help.

“The first aid training they received in Scouts really paid off,” Amy said.

The boys cautioned the locals not to move them, checked for bleeding and signs of concussion and summoned an ambulance.

“I do think they saved our lives or at least made our injuries less severe,” said Amy.

As it was their injuries were substantial. All three suffered numerous broken bones. Janice recovered first, but her parents were in for a long hospital stay.

“We shared a tiny hospital room for 90 days and 90 nights,” Amy recalled. Then she grinned. “And we came out as friends.”

The severity of John’s injuries curtailed their stay in Thailand and the family returned to Pullman, where more surgery awaited. He was bedridden for months as his battered body healed. Amy took care of him and their three teenagers while her own broken bones mended.

Eventually, he resumed his teaching career at WSU and authored two textbooks: “Engineering Fluid Mechanics,” with Clayton Crowe and “Hydraulic Engineering.” Both books are still in print and used in universities here and abroad.

“Without Amy’s typing, editing and encouraging, the books may never have been completed,” he said.

For several years Amy taught ESL classes in Pullman for wives of foreign students.

Their adventures continued when John retired in 1980. They enjoyed more than 50 Elderhostel trips and visited 45 countries and all 50 states.

As they celebrate their 70th anniversary Thursday, the Robersons, both 92, marvel at the way the years have flown.

“She’s been a tremendous partner – we’re good friends,” said John. “I could not have been luckier.”

Amy smiled at him.

“I learn new things about him every day.”


Columns

On My Son’s 21st Birthday

I wrote this column for our number 3 son, seven years ago. The speed of the passage of time takes my breath away. He’s 21 today.

When your mother is a writer, your life can be an open book. Just ask my sons. Their names regularly appear in this space as well as in books that are sold all over the world. And readers often ask if the boys are embarrassed to have their lives discussed so publicly. I get a kick out of that.

The fact is they love to see their names in print. “Am I in this column?” they’ll ask, and if I say no, they don’t bother to read it. I often run stories by them to make sure they’re OK with the content, and not once have I heard, “Please don’t share that.”

However, when I look through my files and clippings, I see that one name doesn’t appear quite as often as the others. That would be Zachary. He’s a middle child. As I type this I can almost feel the collective sighs of middle children all over the world. They can relate.

Our firstborn gets lots of print because even at 18, everything we experience with him is still new. He’s the first to do just about everything – including being the cause of my first gray hairs.

The second-born is the family athlete. He’s a bit on the wild side and accumulates adventures like other kids add Matchbox cars to their toy collections. He’s got the scars to prove it.

Then there’s the baby – everything he does has added poignancy because he’s my last glimpse into the world of childhood.

But Zachary was the third child added to our family in a five-year span. His brothers expressed mild interest in his arrival. And though I remember every excruciating detail of his birth, the months and years that followed seemed to whirl and blend together in a kaleidoscope of bustling boys and sleepless nights.

Thank God for video cameras. The magic of Zack’s first bite of solid food, first giggle and first steps are preserved on tape. His birth is also on tape, but as Zack would say, “It’s best not to talk about that.”

This middle child has always had a way with words, though his vocabulary got off to a shaky start. His first word was uttered from his high chair as he watched his two older brothers attempt to communicate entirely through belching. Frustrated that he’d not mastered that skill, he hollered, “Burp”

That provoked gales of gleeful laughter from his siblings and only encouraged the now verbal tot. “Burp!” he yelled. “Burp, burp.”

Fortunately, he’s continued to sharpen his wit. A few weeks ago, after his younger brother’s birthday party, we waited in the car for Zack, who was still somewhere in the bowels of Chuck E. Cheese.

Finally, the van door slid open and Zack announced with great disgust, “They didn’t want me to leave without a parent!” He slammed the door shut and added, “However, negotiations were brief.”

He’s always been full of surprises. When asked to share what he learned on his first day of kindergarten he was momentarily stumped. He pondered the question deeply and finally had an answer. “I learned this,” he said, and jumping up from the table he inserted his hand under his shirt and began flapping his arm wildly. He’d mastered the art of armpit flatulence.

“He’s gifted,” his oldest brother opined.

But for all his words and talents, what I most appreciate about this middle son is his affectionate nature. Our firstborn was reserved, and we could never catch the second-born long enough to cuddle. But Zachary’s warm and loving heart spills over into hugs, kisses and spontaneous bursts of affection.

Last week I was driving the kids home after school. Traffic was heavy and my temper was short. “I love you, Mom.” Zack said. “I love you, too,” I replied distractedly.

We were quiet for a few blocks and then Zack said, “I want my last words to you to be ‘I love you,’ because you never know how long we have.”

He has a knack for reminding me what really matters.

His Sunday school teacher once said that Zack has the soul of a poet, and I agree. I’ve worried about his tender heart, watching the way unkind words can wound him. I’m torn between hoping that he’ll toughen up so he won’t get hurt so often, and praying that his heart stays soft. The world could use a little more tenderness.

A couple of years ago he asked for a guitar for Christmas. With wonder, I’ve watched the way he’s made a place for himself through music. He plays beautifully. Each afternoon, strains of Marley’s “Redemption Song,” or Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” wail through the house as our son unwinds from an arduous day of middle school.

Today is Zachary’s 14th birthday, and this column is for him. Zack, every home needs music, and I’m so grateful that you are the song in ours.

Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.

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