Toc-Tic Time

IMG_E7166

Like it or not, it’s that time again.  Time to enter the cave of early darkness that gets compounded with colder temperatures and questionable precipitation impact.  Only two more days–really, just one-and-a-half.

I’m talking, of course, about exiting daylight savings time and re-entering standard time, with accompanying seasonal changes.  I listen as the clock on my office wall ticks away the minutes toward the inevitable Saturday night switch.  “Spring forward, fall back,” goes the rhythmic reminder.  Tic-toc, tic-toc.  The clock’s relentless movement reminds me that I’m a tic-toc person being forced into a temporary toc-tic world.

“Get over it,” says the world around me.  Good advice.  I should be “over it” after four score years.

“Are you nuts?” somebody says.  “Daylight savings time isn’t natural.  It’s just something somebody made up–perhaps a riddle about the old adage, ‘It’s later than you think.'”

Yeah, I know all that.  I know, too, about the cows who have to be milked no matter what the clock on the wall says.  I come from a dairy family.  I did my stint in the milking stall.  I never heard the cows complain about the time on a clock!  They don’t care whether it’s tic-toc, or toc-tic.  Every day’s the same…a swish of the tail says, “Just feed me and get this over so I can get back to the pasture.”

To me, it’s all a matter of perspective.  I like to live on the side of energy, forward movement, and light.  I enjoy the longer days, shorter nights.  My post-cataract eyes cope with driving in the dark.  My body chemistry, however, seems geared to DST.

So, here we are.  Tomorrow night I’ll heave a sigh and set my clocks back an hour.  Toc-tic.  I’ll begin counting down the days until the winter solstice when daylight begins to consume more of each day.  I’ll anticipate the return of tic-toc time in March.  After all, toc-tic time is just a temporary interruption!

The Big Five-0

IMG_4693

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

Mary sat on a couch in front of the fireplace in the COHOPE dayroom, a quilt wrapped around her shoulders.  Hymns emanating from a local radio station anchored the atmosphere with a calm sense of security.   It was Monday, Januay 21, 1985.

Outside the weather was bitter.  The coldest air mass in 86 years had the entire eastern third of the country in its grip.  Heeding weather forecasts, Hugh had spent the weekend making sure the water pipes under the building were protected, and the heating system working properly.  He had brought in extra firewood.  Mary and the cooks had made sure the pantry was stocked.  There was no storm associated with this air mass, just bitter, cold temperatures.

They had not picked up the day students because of the weather.  To conserve heat, they closed off the classrooms and everyone gathered in the dayroom.  The morning became a cozy time games, songs, stories, and “family” bonding.  After lunch, the students returned to their rooms for a rest period.  Some staff members left early.  Mary found it an ideal time for reminiscing.

Putting dfor own her Bible and journaling notebook, she leaned back and closed her eyes.  On days like this it seems like spring will never come.  She thought back to her childhood days on the dairy farm, and the warmth of the wood-burning stove in the kitchen of the old house, whose soul was rooted in the log cabin that had spawned it.

Mary’s thoughts turned to hers and Hugh’s fiftieth wedding anniversary coming up in May.  She remembered the vows they had wrapped around their lives standing before an elderly minister in her parents’ living room.  “I, Hugh, take you, Mary…I, Mary, take you, Hugh…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…until death….”

She wished she could whip out an album of wedding photos to remember everything, but there was none.  Why didn’t we think to have someone take pictures of the wedding? Dad Harris had a 16mm camera he loved to use…it doesn’t make sense.  I guess we were just in a hurry to get our lives going!

She thought about the journey she and Hugh had shared across these years.  We’ve had our share of both the better and the worse, she thought.  In the beginning, their resources were scarce, yet they felt like they owned the world.  Now we have so much to be thankful for…this place and the mission God has called us to fulfill.  Paying the bills had become stressful at times as they awaited influx of support.  It was humbling.  Thank you, Lord, for keeping us going!

Mary opened her eyes, got up and added a log to the fire, then fell back into her thoughts.  She felt especially thankful for the good health she and Hugh had experienced for five decades.  There had been a few glitches, to be sure.  She recalled the time Hugh had left early for a sales trip to North Carolina.  Suddenly he felt a pain so severe he had to stop the car.  It wouldn’t let up, so he turned around and drove back to Harrisonburg where he went directly to the emergency room at Rockingham Memorial Hospital.

She remembered the phone awakening her.  Picking up the receiver, she struggled to say something coherent.  The caller sounded urgent.

“Mary, this is Dr. Hearn.  I called to tell you Hubert is sick.  He has a kidney stone.”

She was awake now.  “Oh!  Well, does he know it?”

“Of course.  He’s lying here in a lot of pain.  Hurry up and get in here.”

Dr. Hearn,a friend as well as their doctor, was a supporter of COHOPE.  He performed surgery, and Hugh spent a couple of days in the hospital recuperating.  In recent years he’d developed some back trouble and had begun sleeping in a recliner chair instead of a bed.  There was no recliner in the room, and none available in the hospital.  True to form, he solved the problem…by having his own recliner brought in from home.

That’s Hugh!  No obstacle is too great…he always finds a solution.

Her mind drifted to her own hospitalization when Dr. Hearn sent her to the emergency room with dehydration.  It was about eleven o’clock at night, and they assigned her to a room that had been occupied by an unruly, intoxicated man.  He had kicked out the window before they subdued him, and removed him to another section of the hospital. Maintenance replaced the window temporarily with a sheet of cardboard taped to the frame, but it let in cold air.  Mary remembered receiving IV’s while huddled under blankets, trying to keep warm.  She shivered at the thought.  I think that’s the coldest I’ve ever been.

There had been some other hospital stays under much better conditions.  The causes included a hemorrhoidectomy, hysterectomy, and a abdominal tumor they thought was cancerous.  Surgery proved it was benign, but she spend several inpatient weeks while they searched for blood with platelets to match hers.  It was an ordeal!  She signed. Nothing, though, compared to what I’ve seen others experience.  Mary was stirred from her reverie by the sounds of people stirring about.  Rest time was over.

Such was one brief day in the midst of winter that soon morphed into spring.  In the background of that wintry day were preparations her family was making to create a special celebration for their mother and dad.  The anniversary would fall on a Sunday, so they planned a three-part celebration.

Finally May 5th rolled around.  The celebration began at Keezletown United Methodist Church.  All four of their family was there, including grandchildren.  Congregation members overflowed with joyful greetings.  They were in the sanctuary of the new church built some years earlier, after the merger of the two churches Mary had noticed the night she arrived in town.  The service was structured around the theme of marriage.

A retired pastor, and close friend of the Harrises, Reverend Frank Baker, was the guest speaker.   As he concluded his sermon he said, “Mary and Hugh have asked to renew their wedding vows this morning.  If there are other couples who would like to join them, please come to the altar rail.”

Many couples responded.  Mary and Hugh faced each other, joined hands, engaged each other’s eyes, then repeated the vows.  A warm flood of emotion surged through Mary’s body, finally moistening her eyes with tears of joy.  “I love you,” she whispered to Hugh.   Her words were caressed by the same from him.  All of the challenges, hardships, joys, and fulfillment they had known together were baptized afresh with God’s grace.

After the service, Mary and Hugh, along with their families and a few friends, drove into Harrisonburg where a special meal had been arranged at the Sheraton Hotel.  Following dinner, their four children presented them with a check for $10,588 they had raised to honor their parents.  It was made out to Community of Hope, Inc. to support the project in which their parents had invested so much of themselves.

Later that afternoon, a third piece of the celebration took place with a reception back at the church.  Friends joined family once again to express joy, appreciation, and encouragement.

At the close of the day, Mary and Hugh gave thanks to God for the sensitivity of their family and friends.  They dedicated the check to daily operating needs at COHOPE.  It was a time when financial needs pressed them every day.  Many factors contributed to this.

For one, they had been in operation for fifteen years, during which time laws had been passed to mainstream care for the handicapped in schools, and public accommodations.  Community awareness had progressed to the points where handicapped persons were no longer looked upon as strange, embarrassing, or frightening.  The dairyman’s daughter and her husband had been part of making that happen.

New terminology had emerged.  Their clients were no longer “handicapped, but “developmentally disabled.”–a more inclusive category.  The term effectively communicated who they were.  It also spawned changes in how the community perceived their purpose.  COHOPE was still held in high regard, perhaps higher than ever, but now they had more competition for financial support as new organizations with somewhat similar goals came into being.

To meet the urgent need for support, Hugh made fundraising a daily activity.  Retired now, he frequently drove around the community seeking contributions.  He went to community and church leaders, and often door-to-door.  When his parents died, he received an inheritance which he dedicated solely to Community of Hope.

From this perspective, the “Big Five-0” gift was a high moment for Mary and Hugh–just as renewing their commitment to each other at the altar was a high moment undergirding their life together, and their enduring faith and trust in God.

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter,” by Hugh Townsend Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris)

Can This be Patched?

img_5561

Nope!

It’s gone!

Nothing to do now but pick up the pieces.

In its day, this workboat plied the Chesapeake Bay with pride.  Its skipper took it out in all sorts of weather.  Sea gulls played in its wake.  Its crew dredged oyster beds.  The comradery of watermen sharing laughter, anger, anticipation, disappointment, triumph, and brotherhood echoed in its timbers.

One day, probably all too soon for its owners, the boat gave up its seafaring days. Propped up ashore to fade away with dignity, it is remembered by many.  Some will never see it again.  Few will know what it was like to walk its decks, man its equipment, or store fish in its hold.  It has made its contribution.

Life goes on!

This old boat that I photographed decades ago came to mind two weeks ago when I opened an email saying my publisher had suddenly gone out of business.  Tate Publishing and Enterprises is no more.

Gone!

Like the old boat, it can’t be patched up and refloated.  The watermark of its presence in the publishing and music world is left to fade into the background.  Hopefully, its authors and artists will not!

I have been a Tate author since 2013.  I signed on in 2012 when I had polished up a manuscript I had worked on over a twenty-year period.  In the confusing world of e-books, self-publishing, and predictions that print media was outdated, the editorial staff at Tate showed me how to lose 40,000 of my 122,000 words, ending up with my first novel, A Change of Heart.   

Since then Tate enabled me to develop my Dinkel Island Series, which includes book two, Return of Bliss, and book three, Secrets at Lighthouse Point.  When my wife, Sharon, and I had gone through the neurological sidetrack of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), Tate published the book we wrote together:  NPH Journey into Dementia and Out Again.   

So, what does Tate’s closing mean for us?  Is it the end of our books?  

We don’t know what’s next, but we’re not ready to have our writing propped up on shore to fade away.  Several publishing houses have contacted us.  I don’t know if the Dinkel Island Series will continue, or simply be allowed to live on as a trilogy.  Sharon and I both have other writing ventures underway.  One of my goals is to finish the biography of my mother’s life, Dairyman’s Daughter:  Story of One Woman’s Enduring Faith and Courage.  I also have another novel partially written.

Once we find a new publishing boat to board, we’ll be underway again.  Meanwhile, we have books available for sale.  Amazon has both paperback and kindle editions up on their site for all our books.  Barnes & Noble has them all up in Nook editions.  Soft cover books are still available at Book People in Richmond, and Buford Road Pharmacy in Bon Air.

Sharon and I are grateful to all the people who have bought our books.  We also extend our prayers for the Tate family, former employees, and our fellow Tate authors.  As we move on from here it’s good to remember that my books are about redemption and hope.

That’s our centerpiece!

 

The Launching Years

img_3578

Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016

Like clouds breaking open to reveal eternal expanses beyond the boundaries of earth, so our lives open as we journey through adolescence into adulthood.  These are The Launching Years.

Mary glimpsed this dynamic in her oldest son when he joined the Army and left home for three years.  His return in July, 1959, brought fresh transitions for the whole family.  He would live at home, but being out of the army’s “nest” meant he had two immediate needs–a car and a job.

“Look at this,” his dad said while reading the Saturday newspaper.  “‘Nineteen-forty-nine Pontiac for sale, good tires, runs well.  One owner.  Priced to sell.'”

“Let me see that.”  Hugh T checked out the ad and jotted down the number.  “Let’s call about this.”

“Go ahead.  You’re on your own now…but I’ll take you to look at it.”

He called and found the car belonged to two elderly women in the nearby town of Dayton. It turned out to be as good as advertised, and the price worked for him, so Hugh T bought it.

With the car issue settled, the next thing was a job.  He found an ad from a local sewing machine store seeking a salesman.  “Sewing machines!” he muttered as he read it.  “Guess I could do that.”  He went for an interview and got the job.  That’s when some new issues surfaced.  His first week went okay in the store, learning the features of each machine and how to use them.  The beginning of the next week was when things changed.

“Here’s how things work around here,” he boss told him.  “When you come in each morning we’ll have some leads for you.  These are people who have called in for service on their machines.”  He looked sharply into Hugh T’s eyes.  “I don’t want you fixing those machines!  Your job is to sell them a new machine.  You won’t get a commission from repairs.”

That set up a moral dilemma when he discovered that most of the calls were from elderly women, often widows, for whom sewing provided a sense of purpose.  Most of them lived very simply with limited resources.  He expressed his feelings to Mary one morning at breakfast.

“I feel like I need this job, but I can’t do what they want.  These are old ladies who know more about sewing than my boss will ever learn.  I just don’t feel settled about selling them a machine, no matter how advanced it is, when all they really need is a new bobbin, or some simple adjustment.”  He paused while he studied his plate, then looked back up.  “The trouble is, the boss says I either sell them new machines, or I’m fired.”

Mary felt his distress.  Her husband had been through issues like this a few times. “Sometimes you have to follow your conscience…your inner voice, even when you can’t see  where that will lead you.”  She put her hand on his.  “Besides, how do you know you’ll even have time for this job when your classes start next month?”

Hugh T’s tension seemed to fade a bit.  “Yeah, I thought of that, too.  I guess I just needed to hear it from somebody else.”  He paused thoughtfully.  “Glad I saved enough while in the Army to pay for the first year’s tuition.”

“That’s a blessing already.”

Hugh T got up from the table, stepped over to the kitchen sink, then turned back toward her.  “Actually, I hope to get a student pastoral appointment next summer…once I get my feet on the ground.”  She knew he had completed a year-long correspondence course while in France that had qualified him for a Local Preacher’s License.

Within a week he had quit the job, and shortly after that came student orientation and then the beginning of classes.   One morning when he was about to leave the house Mary handed him an official-looking  letter that had arrived the day before.  He had a puzzled expression as he opened it, then looked shocked.

“I can’t believe this!”  He waved the letter in the air.  “They say the Army overpaid me and they want the money back with interest.”  He sank into a chair, handing the letter to his mother’s outstretched hand.  “That’s practically everything I have in savings.”  He looked up at her.  “What am I going to do?”

Mary wished she could step in and help, but she and Hugh didn’t have the resources available.  She also knew this was something her son really needed to work out for himself…the first of many challenges that would require spiritual resources.

“I don’t know, but if God called you to the ministry, God will have an answer.  Your Daddy and I have faced some things like this, and we found God was bigger than our problems.”

Just a few weeks later an opportunity opened for Hugh T that he couldn’t have seen coming.  The Keezletown church was part of a circuit that included two other churches nearer to Harrisonburg.  When her pastor had a heart attack, he had to cut back on his activities. He narrowed his focus to the Keezletown conregation and hired Hugh T to preach at the other two until June.  This helped with his day-to-day expenses, as did a part-time holiday job at a men’s clothing store.

A couple of months later Hugh T announced that he was going to get married to a young woman named Gerry he’d met through a college friend.  They had been spending a lot of time together, so it wasn’t a total surprise, but some flags went up in her mind.  Then she remembered how she and Hugh had known each other only three months when they got married.  Maybe this is how my parents felt! 

“Since your Daddy and I had a brief courtship, I guess I can understand that.  But things are different for you.  You’re in college.  This is a big step.”

“I know, but several day students are married, and they seem to manage okay…”  He paused a moment.  “Besides, there’s something else going on.  There’s a small charge east of Elkton that might become available as a student appointment in June.  I just learned, though, that they won’t consider a man who’s single.  By getting married this spring, I can qualify for consideration.”

“And how does Gerry feel about that?  Is she ready to be a pastor’s wife?”

“She’s excited about it.  You know, her parents are both active in their church.  She says she looks forward to it.”

Hugh T and Gerry were married in March.  In June he was appointed student pastor at the Blue Ridge Charge.  Two-and-a-half years later they presented Mary with her first granddaughter.  An image of her own Grandma Mary came into her mind and she wondered if she was ready for this.  Looking in the mirror she thought, With my gray hair, I guess I look old enough to be a grandma, but I sure don’t feel like it.  

Getting her oldest son launched wasn’t Mary’s only task during these years.  She had already seen her daughter through nursing school.  After working for a while at MCV in Richmond, Sis had moved to Staunton where she worked at King’s Daughter’s Hospital, and lived in nearby nurse’s housing.  Mary praised God for her daughter’s accomplishments, but she was also anxious for her to meet some man who would love her and take care of her.  One day the phone rang with a message that eased those concerns.

“I have someone I want you to meet,” Sis said.  “His name is Bill Diehr.  One of my friends at work is dating his cousin, and they introduced us.  We’ve been seeing each other for a while and I want him to meet you.”

Mary and Hugh had them for dinner and got acquainted.  Bill had been in the Air Force, and had a good job with a major airline at Washington National Airport.  He was different from anyone Sis had been interested in before.  She had dated a man who was in the Navy who asked her to marry him, but Sis had been unsettled about it.

Mary recalled Sis asking her, “Do you think I should marry him?”

“I don’t know,” she had replied.  “How do you feel about him?  Are you ready to get married?”

That same conversation happened several times, and finally Mary had said, “If you have to keep asking me about this, maybe you shouldn’t marry him.”  Soon after that Sis attended the christening of the ship he was to sail on…and met his wife!  

Sis had told Bill about that, and now he told Mary and Hugh his story.  “I’ve been married before.  I’m divorced.  I married a beautiful woman and we lived in South Carolina…but I found out she was really married to herself.  She had no room for me in her life.”  Bill went on, “I learned a lot from that.  I learned that I wanted inner beauty from a woman, and Merle has that.  I also think I learned something about being considerate and supportive as a partner.”

So, Mary thought, they’ve both been through bitter experiences–two broken hearts–two hearts being healed.  She and Hugh gave their blessing.  Sis and Bill were married in December, 1964.  They would soon present Mary with her first grandson, Tony, and four years later a granddaughter, Shannon.

img_4808-001

Jimmy, twelve years younger than Hugh T and six years younger than Sis, was having his own launching experiences in the midst of all this.  His entrepreneurial life began at age eleven when he took over delivering the Grit newspaper.  The boy who had done it before had simply handed the papers out to anyone who wanted a copy.  Jimmy saw a better way. He got on his bicycle and delivered a copy to each home in the community, which made the paper more visible.  He was soon gathering new customers.

Mary complimented him on the way he did this.  “Just like your daddy,” she said.  “A born salesman!”  Early in his life Jimmy had exhibited artistic talent.  When he entered a contest connected with a local Saturday TV show, she wasn’t surprised that he won.  Local artist, Judy Preston, ran the show, and Jimmy was invited to appear as a guest.  He became a regular participant, and also took oil painting lessons from her.

Mary and Hugh’s friend, Bradford Cobb, owned a small cavern in the Massanutten Mountain.  When Hugh T was a high school sophomore, Brad was just getting started with the enterprise, and trained him as a part-time summer guide.  After Hugh T went into the army, Jimmy wanted to take his place.  He worked there three summers…first cutting grass, then selling tickets, and finally as a substitute guide.

In 1955 Hugh took a job selling oil and grease to large construction projects in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.  The company, Lubrication Engineers, was headquartered in Dallas.  Periodically they had sales conferences where the men brought their wives.  When Sis was working in Staunton, she was able to stay at the house and care for Paul and Jim while Mary went with Hugh to these meetings.  It gave Mary a break from her routines, and sometimes included sight-seeing.  One time they took Jim with them to New England where they visited Boston, where Hugh had gone to high school, and Cape Cod.

After high school, Jim entered Richmond Professional Institute (RPI) where he studied art. The campus, which later became Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), was located in downtown Richmond.  One day his dad made an unexpected visit to his son, whom he didn’t believe was getting along as well as he could in college.  Not long after that Jim joined the Navy.  He took his basic training in Florida, and then was trained as a photographer.

img_4812-001

While at Pennsacola, Jim had been assigned to help the protestant chaplain.  When he reported for duty on an oceanographic ship with a small Navy complement, he was again asked to be chaplain’s assistant.  He spent his enlistment on this ship in the Atlantic Ocean, then when he was released, got a job as a photographer in Cincinnati.  He lived there for a time with his uncle and his wife, Bud and Charl, in the old Townsend Dairy farmhouse his mother had loved visiting when he Grandma Mary lived there.  Since the family had moved to Virginia when Jim was two, this gave him a chance to connect with his Townsend roots.

The Launching Years!  Mary’s family was growing up and moving into their own life spheres.  Just as she began adjusting to the changes, her mother and dad called from Florida.  “We’ve put our place here on the market.  Florida has been a nice retirement place, but now we’d like to get closer to family.  We were wondering if you could help us find someplace near you in that beautiful valley?”

Mary was thrilled.  “Oh, yes, we’ll help any way we can.  Of course, the weather won’t be as nice as Florida.  Are you sure you’re ready for that?”

“Absolutely,” her dad said.  “It will do us good to have four seasons again.  Besides, your children are growing up and moving away, but Paul is still there.  You tell Mr. P. R. Harris that I can’t wait to fill up some of his empty space.  We’ll have a grand time together.”

Mary was energized with preparations.  Elmer and Merle bought a mobile home and had it placed on a spot just across the driveway from Mary’s house.  Hugh built an entry porch and storage room onto the trailer, poured a sidewalk to the driveway, and built a carport for Elmer’s Buick.  All was ready for the dairyman and his daughter to reconnect, away from the city…out in the country.

Thank you, Lord, Mary prayed.  How truly blessed I am!

img_4810

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter” by Hugh Townsend Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris)

 

 

 

 

 

Going the Extra Mile

img_4698-001

CP Mother of the Year

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

Mary and Hugh were challenged to go the extra mile when they got involved with a CP Parents group.  Here were people who wanted to create a center to provide schooling and physical therapy for their children.  They were actively exploring methods to fund their dreams.

The group provided good networking for Mary.  She thrived on their bi-monthly meetings that provided bonding around common experiences, ideas, frustrations and triumphs.  She got involved with the funding discussion.  Television was a new and powerful communication instrument.  The group decided to approach WLW-TV about doing a telethon to get visibility for their efforts.

They launched a contest to name one of their members “CP Mother of the Year,” and have this person presented during the telethon, which would be held at a prominent hotel. Over a period of time community business leaders submitted letters nominating someone for this honor.  Mary was overwhelmed when she received the most letters and was selected.  The night of the telethon her children were thrilled to see their mom on television.

From there on fund-raising efforts proved effective.  The group hired a professional fund-raiser to direct the program and soon they were able to move forward with the center.  That’s when Mary suddenly hit a brick wall.  When the center was ready to open she found out Paul wasn’t qualified to participate.  Several other children with similar levels of need were also rejected.  She learned that group leaders had set minimum standards for participation that said only children who could feed themselves and were toilet trained could qualify.

Mary was crushed and angered.  “I can’t believe this, can you?” she said over the phone to another parent whose child was rejected.  “Why did we all work so hard if this isn’t going to serve the children who need it most?”

She took her feelings to God in prayer.   Lord, I don’t understand this.  We found this group, believed in their cause, helped them raise money to create this facility…and now we’re blocked!  Why?  What did we do wrong?  Show us the way.

In response, she heard an inner voice saying, Wait!  Keep the faith!  Look deeper!

Mary found herself going the “extra mile” again.  She called the other parents of rejected children.  “Maybe this just wasn’t the right approach,” she found herself saying.  “Maybe we need to do something else.  Can you come to our house Saturday afternoon?  We’ll have sandwiches and talk this over.”

On Saturday five children and their parents showed up.  This was a different “coming together” than they had experienced with the other group.  They were all active caregivers who loved their kids and wanted to advocate for them.  They began to meet each week and dubbed themselves the CP Support Group.

img_4791-001

The impact on the children was noticeable.  Being a child with Cerebral Palsy was isolating.  People around them didn’t understand their condition or their needs.  The support group had the effect of normalizing their lives.  Now they could simply “be kids”–laughing and playing together in the safety this group provided.  Mary and Hugh were thrilled.

“Sometimes God has different ideas that we can’t see right away,” Mary said one day.  “We had to run into a brick wall in order to see past the boundaries we had helped set up.”  The support group began to feel energized and soon became visible, and people wanted to help.  One of those  was Paul’s Sunday school teacher.  She and Mary had become friends, and one day she said, “You know, I’d love to come over when your group meets and read some stories to the children.  It might help stimulate them to learn words.  Do you think that would be all right?”

Mary and the group welcomed her.  Soon she was innovating ways to teach these special needs children to speak.  She would put a word she wanted them to learn on a red ribbon that she pinned to their shirt or dress.  The kids squealed with delight and tried to form the words.  They began to have contests to see which child could get the most words on their ribbon.  This became such a stimulus that the group grew from six to twelve children.

About that time Clifton Methodist Church received a new pastor, Reverend Warren Bright. Mary invited him to her house for one of the support group’s meetings.  He was impressed with what they were doing, but noticed how crowded they were.  He made a suggestion.

“Have you ever considered meeting at the church?  We have a large social hall, a kitchen and bathrooms–anything you might need.  You would have so much more room.  I do hope you’ll consider this.”

It didn’t take them long to say “yes.”  The group became known as the Clifton “CP School.”  A woman named Mildred Martin emerged as a key leader who would keep the group functioning for many  years.

Mary and Hugh continued their trips with Paul to visit Dr. Phelps during all of this.  They were still thinking about moving to the Shenandoah Valley some day so they could be closer to Maryland.  Mary also remembered how the beauty of the area had attracted her.  They put their house on the market, but after a while took it back off due to lack of interest.

Hugh had been selling women’s hats, and had done well with it, but it took him out of town a lot.  Then he had the chance to open a business of his own.  He had become interested in woodworking and cabinetry.  A space suitable for a shop opened up on Vine Street, next door to a moving company.  It was an ideal location.  A major part of his work became refinishing furniture damaged in transit.  Applying his woodworking skills to the house, he decided to remodel the kitchen.  About this same time they put the house back on the market, still thinking about Virginia.  He was only halfway finished with the remodeling when the house sold.

Suddenly their world was turning upside down again.  The dream of living in the Shenandoah Valley was now a possibility.  Hugh drove to Harrisonburg where they had stayed at the Pure Village Court, and looked for a house.  He had limited funds and the realtor showed him several places, but nothing seemed right.  Then he was shown an old tenant farm house in the village of Keezletown.  It had once been part of the estate of Senator George Keezle.

img_4794

The property covered three-and-a-half acres that included an apple orchard…and a magnificent view of the Massanutten Mountain and the valley that spread out from it.  The house needed a lot of work, but the price was right.  He went home and described it to Mary.

“I bought the most magnificent view you’ll find anywhere in the Shenandoah Valley.  You can sit in the front yard and look out across miles of farmland.  She was fascinated with his description, and intrigued by the apple orchard.  Then she choked back some misgivings when he told her more about the condition of the house.

“It has a cistern for water located right outside the back door.”

Mary pictured the well outside the kitchen of the hold house on the dairy farm where She wasn’t sure how she felt about the cistern.  Then he told her the biggest drawback.  “It doesn’t have a bathroom, and it has no closets.”

“Hubert Harris, if you think I’m going to live in a house without a bathroom or closets, you are mistaken!”

He tried to console her.  “You won’t have to live in it like that, honey.  I’m going back for a few weeks and I’ll fix it up.  The soil perks, so I can put in a septic tank and build a bathroom…and I can build closets.  I’ll also turn the old back porch into an enclosed utility room.”

She thought about the view and her desire to live in the Valley.  This was the biggest “extra mile” she’d encountered yet.  After prayer and more discussion, she saw God’s hand in it. It was 1951 and they had lived in the house of her dreams on Howell Avenue for six years. She reckoned it was time to trade dreams and entrusted that to God.

img_4905

The dairyman’s daughter was about to move back to the country…not to a farm, but close. It felt good!

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter” by Hugh Townsend Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it REALLY Alzheimer’s?

10605992_1572720409611439_6177673061139324151_n

Not everything that looks like Alzheimer’s Disease, is AD!

I’m Hugh Harris and I worked with my wife, Sharon French Harris, to write this small book that journals our experience with a neurological condition that can mimic Alzheimer’s Disease and/or Parkinson’s Disease.  Dr. Adam Mednick (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus:  From Diagnosis to Treatment) states that as many as five percent of people who believe they have Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, may actually have NPH!  We wrote our book to try to make this condition that may be correctable visible to more people.

Classic symptoms that flag the possibility of NPH are:  impaired gate, falling, lack of balance; impaired thinking, including loss of short-term memory; and incontinence.  Any of these might be mistaken for normal aging.

The standard test for NPH is a spinal tap and then a three-day period of observation to measure effects when cerebrospinal fluid is periodically withdrawn.  Improvement can lead to implantation of a shunt in the brain that regularly removes the fluid and allows a return to normal functioning.

In Sharon’s case, she was slow to respond to the spinal tap and was diagnosed with irreversible dementia.  Then her responses emerged and she did receive a shunt…but all of that is what the book is about!

We’re not doctors, so this is not a medical/technical book.  It is the story our our journey through diagnosis, the shunt procedure, and recovery.  We have written it in a personal, everyday manner.  If you, a spouse or loved one, a parent, or a friend suffer with the three classic symptoms mentioned above, you and those you care about are the people for whom we wrote this book.

NPH:  Journey into Dementia and Out Again, by Sharon French Harris with Hugh Harris.  Tate Publishing.com   Amazon   Barnes & Noble

 

 

So What’s the Big Secret?

Harris_Cover_0406

There’s a big secret at Dinkel Island, but almost nobody in town is even aware of it.  That all changes when Fanny Grayson buys the old lighthouse and invites Gracie Love to help her turn it into a retreat center.  All kinds of rumors break out–things meant to intimidate Gracie and stop the project.  But…WHY?

The Old Geezers gather for coffee at the drugstore lunch counter and speculate about it.  Gracie’s cousin, Kate Sheppard, gets involved.  Ed Heygood steps in to help sell the retreat project to the pastors and churches in town.  Gracie has a nauseous reaction when she and Marty explore inside the old lighthouse.  Doc Patcher says the rumors are “fed by something or someone you can’t see.”  What’s that mean?

The plot thickens when two funerals draw media attention.  At one of those the speaker created “an air of electric silence, as though people were afraid the room couldn’t hold too much honesty.”  Whoa!

When a prominent businessman disappears, and then FBI agents begin floating around town things really get tense.  Hey, what were those guys in the opening page doing out there in an old workboat on a moonless night, running through a field of crab pots without running lights?  Any connection?  Might be!

2016-01-03 15.11.24

So finally things come to a head and all the secrets…yes, there is more than one…surface.  If you want a great read, try SECRETS AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT, by Hugh Harris.  Tate Publishing.com   Amazon   Barnes & Noble.  Also:  Book People, Buford Road Pharmacy.

 

 

The War Years

Hughs Wordquilts

IMG_4771

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

Wartime hit like the explosion of an artillery shell in the backyard of everyday American life.  Pearl Harbor’s “Day of Infamy” rained enormous consequences that touched every aspect of life.  No one was spared its impact!

In Mary’s family it touched two of her brothers directly when they were drafted into military service.  Both served in the U.S. Army–John in North Africa, and Bud as an officer at the Pentagon.  When Bud was drafted he qualified for Officers Candidate School. Upon completion of his training, as a second lieutenant, he was headed for the Pacific Theater.  Just before boarding a troop ship he received a change of orders sending him to the Pentagon where he spent the war writing training manuals.

Hugh’s older brother, Floyd, served on the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Merchant Marine throughout the war.  Hugh was not drafted.  The…

View original post 1,343 more words

Never a Dull Day!

IMG_4767

House on Berwyn Place, Downstairs Apartment

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

The charm of Mary and Hugh’s Walnut Hills “castle” crumbled within a few weeks.

It happened on a Saturday when Mary was dusting furniture in the living room.  From the corner of her eye she caught a sudden blur of movement on the floor.  She stopped, stood still, then ventured a glance over her shoulder.

Nothing!

She waited a minute, then shrugged and resumed her dusting.  Must have been my imagination.  Again she caught a sense of movement on the floor.  She turned quickly, then screamed.

“Eeeek!  Hubert…there’s a creature in here.  Help!”

Hugh had been drying breakfast dishes in the kitchen and came quickly.  “What is it, Mary?”

“There!”  She pointed in the direction of the wall and suddenly another little black figure darted, then stopped with its long feelers exploring its surroundings.  Hugh grabbed a section of newspaper, rolled it, swatted the insect before it could run again, and disposed of the corpse in the trash can.

“It’s okay, honey.  It’s just a roach.”

“A roach?  That’s awful!  Where did it come from?  How many more are there?”  She shivered as she spoke.

“I don’t know,” Hugh said, comforting her with a hug.  He started searching the baseboard and found some more.  A little investigation revealed the source of the roaches.  There was a laundry right behind the apartment.  It had a wooden floor that stayed damp most of the time.  That’s where they were coming from.

They lost no time finding another apartment, unaware that they were starting what would become a two-year period of apartment jumping.

Without leaving Walnut Hills they found an efficiency apartment–one room with a sofa that opened into twin beds.  Behind two doors they discovered a kitchen complete with a small sink, two-burner hot plate, small refrigerator and two shelves.  There was a nice bathroom, and the price was right, so they took it.  Since it was summer they left the windows open during the night to gain some breeze.  They’d hardly gotten to sleep when some nearby neighbors got into a heated argument.  Since they were still in honeymoon mode, this became an intolerable intrusion.

Moving again, they found a furnished apartment with an in-a-door bed they could roll out of a closet each night.  A small kitchen featured a full-size stove and refrigerator, and there was a nice bathroom.  A large house next door had a fenced yard where two Irish Setters with red satin coats lived.  Mary enjoyed them greeting her each evening as she came in from work.  All was well until night when they discovered the man upstairs beat his wife several times a week.  They stayed until they couldn’t endure this any longer, then went apartment hunting again.

“Honey, why don’t we look over in Norwood where you grew up?”

Hugh agreed and the soon found a second-floor apartment on Madison Street.  It had a private entrance, living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom and bath.  This place felt good.  They settled in.

It wasn’t long until Mary visited a doctor and learned that she was going to have a baby.   She shared the news with Hugh that night and they reflected on their situation.

“I’m so glad we have this place,” she said.  “It’s going to be just right for starting our family.”  They had a romantic dinner and then sat holding each other while he sang songs to her softly.  Things were looking up.

Hugh had a new job that required travel, selling machinery related to manufacturing bottle caps.  The drawback was that it required out-of-town travel, so she was alone many nights.  The landlord couple downstairs had a twelve-year-old daughter who would come up and keep her company.  They talked, and laughed, and she gave the girl manicures and fixed her hair.  Mary remembered herself at that age and enjoyed the relationship.  One evening the girl said Mary seemed to be unusually happy and wondered why.

“I’m happy because in a few months we’re going to have a baby.  Then you can come up and help me take care of it.”

When the girl told her mother about it she was forbidden to visit upstairs, and Mary was told that she and Hugh would have to move because small children weren’t allowed.  Hugh was upset about this and asked the husband why they objected to a baby upstairs.  The man seemed embarrassed and apologetic.

“It’s nothing personal,” he told Hugh.  “You two are great people and we like you, but we lost a baby early in our marriage and my wife just can’t emotionally handle having a baby around.  I really am sorry, but you’ll have to find somewhere else to live.”

That took the wind out of Mary and Hugh’s anticipation of childbirth.  He went to work and found a better apartment on Berwyn Place in the Oakley section of the city.  They rented the downstairs of a house located on a cul-de-sac that featured a garage and a wooded backyard.  Hugh had recently traded in a Model A Ford he’d been driving, for a Chevrolet.  The garage would come in handy.

The owners of the house were two older ladies of German descent, Anna and Doris Stenning, who had never married.  When they found out this new couple renting their apartment were expecting a baby, they were delighted.  Mary and Hugh settled in.

The baby was due in March and as the date drew near storms began blowing dust clouds into the area from the Midwest Dust Bowl.  Mary went into labor one stormy Saturday morning when it was raining mud.  Hugh took her to Christ Hospital.  Rain falling through the dust clouds created a muddy smear on everything, including the hospital windows.  Suddenly through the air came an unmistakable cry.  Mary’s first child had just been born!  They named him Hugh.

It was customary then for a new mother to remain in the hospital for ten days after childbirth.  Mary enjoyed this special time with her tiny offspring whom they had decided to nickname “Hughie.”  When they came home Hughie was an immediate hit with the Stenning sisters.  They spoke with a noticeable accent and called him “Little Chu.”

Mary was thrilled to have built-in baby sitters.  Anna and Doris were constantly around Little Chu, making sure he was safe.  One day Mary left Hughie in the playpen out in the yard and went shopping.  While she was gone Hugh decided to take his car apart, literally.  She returned to find the entire driveway filled with auto parts.  She was flabbergasted.  Hugh said there was nothing to worry about.  He just wanted to see how it was made and could put it all back together.

In a state of shock Mary looked toward the playpen.  It was empty!  “Where’s my baby?” she yelled at Hugh.  He looked completely baffled by her reaction.

“Oh, he’s alright.  He’s inside.  The Stennings have him.”

Of course.  That explained it all.  Her anger abated and she went inside the house.  The first thing she noticed was loud banging coming from upstairs.  She dropped her shopping bags and ran up to see what was going on.

The banging was accompanied by joyful laughter coming from the bathroom down the hall.  She stopped in her tracks when she reached the door.  There was little Hughie sitting in the bathtub, banging away with a bath brush.  Anna and Doris were applauding and rolling in laughter.  Mary couldn’t help but break laughing herself.

That day became etched in her memory.  Life had surely shifted for the dairyman’s daughter who now had a husband with all the parts of his car spread over the driveway, a small child banging recklessly on the sides of a bathtub, and two old ladies nearly going berserk with laughter at the sight and sound of it all.

Elmer had told his daughter she would never have a dull day if she married Hugh Harris.  He was right!  What would happen next?

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter” by Hugh Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris.)