February 4th, 2012
Friday was something of a rare day for February in Kansas. Starting at about 2AM, the wind picked up, blowing so hard that our windows rattled. That part isn’t so rare. Then the cold rain started, dropping almost 2.5″ throughout the day.
As I worked, I had the blinds on the windows open, but they didn’t let in very much light. Still, the wind had calmed down, so the intermittent rain outside was peaceful. Jacob went out to play for a little while, so every so often I saw a warmly-dressed and excited-looking 5-year-old run past my window. A little while after he came in, I told Jacob, “I saw you playing outside.” His response: “Oh good! I got wet!” Which, despite the fact that it was about 50 degrees, seemed to excite him.
After the blustery start, the calm, slow, and peaceful rain was a pleasant thing to see throughout the day.
My great aunt Alice Goerzen passed away last Sunday. So today, for the third time in a little over a year, I was at the funeral of a Goerzen relative and neighbor. Alice’s husband, Milt, passed away in late 2010, and it was while I was at his funeral that Jacob got run over by a tractor. That memory certainly came back to me today.
But I think I should set the stage and explain what funerals are like in this small, rural Kansas community.
At the church, while people file in, family and close friends — generally defined as loosely as desired — meet in some other room before the funeral. Memories may be shared, or songs sung, or maybe just a brief meditation or prayer.
Then the man from the funeral home — there’s only one in town — will step in. Ivan Miller owned the business for decades, and although he’s now retired, his replacement seems pretty similar. Kindly, respectful, and pretty much unchanging. This group then files into the church sanctuary to sit up front, while the rest of the congregation is standing and music is played.
We typically sing some hymns, hear memories from the family, a message from a pastor, and then do downstairs for faspa: an light meal with coffee, zwieback, “funeral cheese”, and some relishes and dessert. You can, by the way, go to the local grocery store and find a product labeled “funeral cheese”. It’s a sharp cheddar, sliced thick and cut into pie piece-shaped wedges.
After everyone has picked up their food, microphones are passed around, and anybody that wants to can share memories and stories. These are often hilarious, or touching, and can be more random than anyone could expect.
Today we heard a lot about how Aunt Alice loved her flowers and garden. We even saw a video of her giving a tour of her garden, with Milt’s mower in the background occasionally accidentally causing a distraction (or maybe it wasn’t so accidental; he’d never miss an opportunity to cause some mischief…)
I tend to think of attending funerals around here as a good time. Sadness is inevitable, but there are so many amazing stories that it is hard to leave feeling sad.
This afternoon, Jacob found me in the office and as he often does, said, “Dad, I want to do something with you.” Usually I ask him what he’d like to do, but his first instinct is usually to ask for watching train videos on Youtube. So sometimes I make other suggestions. Today we played “hide and seek with radios,” in which the person that is counting is supposed to radio to the other person when they are done. Today was the first time that Jacob came up with the trick of talking into the radio while I was hiding so he could hear where I was. I was sort of proud of him, and he failed to completely hide his smile when I told him I had to turn off my radio or else he’d find me too fast.
Then later, we played with Jacob’s computer, a Linux-based command-line-only machine. I have set up a few shell scripts and aliases for him. Since it doesn’t play videos, he doesn’t use it as much as he does mine, but it is really fun to watch how his interaction with it changes as he gets older.
He can now read amazingly well for a 5-year-old, and is starting to learn how to spell. He loves word games, writing, and typing. I thought I would install an ASCII art program for him. I told Jacob I had some ideas for a new game, and he was irresistibly intrigued. I offered him a choice between figlet and toilet. And, as is probably no surprise to anyone with a 5-year-old, he chose toilet based on its name, Jacob and Oliver both loved typing things and seeing them displayed bigger. I showed Jacob how I could make a freight train by typing ,<@--(*)-@> (that’s the comma-shaped snowplow, engine, boxcar , tank car (*), and caboose @>). Then toilet drew them big, and though abstract, caused great excitement.
I hooked up one of the speech synthesizers in Debian to a simple shell script named “talk”, which is a huge hit with the boys. They enjoy typing in nonsense and hearing the funny result, or in typing in real words and hearing how the computer says them right (or doesn’t). All told, we had a good hour’s worth of excitement up there.