Tag Archives: husbands

Hitting the Water

Today is July 21, 2011.  It is Nicholas’s seventh birthday. And as much as we are thrilled for our little boy and his seven candles, it was what happened yesterday that has us truly rejoicing.

Orlando was hired to teach in Lincoln. Finally.

Okay, so it took a bit longer than we expected, but he was offered two jobs and took the one at the school that he really, really wanted to be part of this entire time. The school he had worked for previously in Nebraska. A school that had just one job opening this year. A position they were happy to give him and he was honored to accept.  God truly had his hand in this because believe it or not, the timing was just about perfect.  I think our entire family heaved a collective sigh of relief upon hearing the news.

Through the whole adventure I’ll admit not allowing myself the luxury of considering a Plan B. I didn’t want to even begin to think of how we would restore the  life in Pennsylvania we so neatly dismantled to come here. But when the word finally came and the reality of our move was finalized, I had to take a moment to catch my breath. Wow, I thought, we’re really not going back. And for just a second I was struck with all those mixed feelings of loss and joy that have so marked the journey here. It felt like we jumped to take the plunge so long ago, but even after the long way down, the shock of hitting the water was still, well, a shock.

So here we are. Residents of Milford, Nebraska. Population 2052. So on our first day of being real residents, the boys and I went to town and did the right thing: we applied for a library card. And tomorrow, the search for an internet connection on the farm begins. Can’t do the blog from the library forever!

And tomorrow we figure out how to get our stuff from there to here in the next week. Orlando begins his new job on August 2!

More later friends. Thanks for your patience with the sporatic blogging. I promise to catch you when I’m connected.

The Storm–The Trip, Part Two

We arrived at Dawn’s house in northwest Ohio at about 2:30am on Saturday, June 24. I don’t think Orlando or I had ever been more tired.

We knew the moment we stopped that we would not be getting up early to leave. We decided instead to take a day off. We decided to spend the entire day at Dawn’s house, lay low all of Saturday and leave early on Sunday morning. And that is exactly what we did. Sunday morning at 6:30 our vans departed again. Our goal: make it to the farm by sundown. The only chink in my armor—my left headlight was blown out. No problem. It doesn’t get dark in Nebraska until well after 9pm.

Refreshed from the day of rest, I was absolutely ready to be on the way. We breezed through Indiana, didn’t slow a bit in Chicago—a minor miracle if you’ve ever driven that way—and rolled through the hills of Iowa with only the minor slow downs that come with the regular construction zones that occur on those roads. Crossing through that way, the unusual sights were all the water standing in the fields, the rivers that were running over their banks, and the small bridges that had been washed out. The effects of sudden storms so full of water that even the dry, Midwestern earth couldn’t contain it. I wondered, as I crossed what seemed to be just minor waterways, what kind of rainfall has to occur to get little runs like these so high they knock out a bridge?

It didn’t take me long to find out.

As we hit the familiar territory of the Omaha area and crossed the Missouri River, ominous clouds were gathering in the west. “Look at those cumulonimbus!” the budding weather geeks in the back seats declared. The sky grew dark, glowing strangely as we circled Omaha and headed toward Lincoln. My weather meters were pegged—this could be very bad. And then I remembered that my headlight was out.

The rain hit us halfway to Lincoln. The sky just opened up and poured. I could barely see right in front of me. Growing up in Florida, I’m used to these kinds of deluges so it wasn’t a big deal at first beyond worrying that I was going to get pulled over for that headlight. But then the lightening started to bang, and the rain began to mix with hail, hammering the car topper above us and the windshield in front of me. And my weather self was well aware that I should be looking for tornadoes in these parts. As my van started to shimmy on the swamped roads, I noted that cars were pulling off the road all over the place. The underpasses were now parking lots on either side. But we needed to get there before dark because my headlight was out. And it was so dark already. I couldn’t see Orlando’s van any longer.

I would have been okay if it had gone on for five minutes like these storms do in Florida, but instead it just went on and on. Fifteen minutes of rain and hail. Now twenty minutes of feeling the van lose grip on the road. Not only couldn’t I see the road, but I couldn’t see the familiar sights of Lincoln either. The skyline. The capitol building with the Sower welcoming us to The Good Life. And it was at that point that I began to be terrified.

Orlando called me on the On-star phone. “I can’t drive in this anymore!” I declared, my terror evident in my voice. “I can’t see! The van is shimmying across the road!”

“Calm down,” he said. “The sky is getting lighter in the west. It’s almost over.”

Generally speaking, I try to remain calm in such situations so that my children remain calm. But this time, I knew they were as afraid as I was. So I decided the best course of action for all of us was to recruit the members in the back seat for more than weather watching. “Boys!” I said to them. “Pray for us! Pray that mom can drive through this and we all get there safely!”

“I’m already praying, Mom.” said Anthony. “Me, too, Mom.” said Benjamin. “We’ll pray!” said Nicholas and Dominick.

Orlando pulled us over the side of the road under the last overpass around Lincoln and let me calm down. He held my hand. He pointed out that the sky was bright ahead, that the storm was about over, and that we were almost home. And knowing I had an army of little warriors behind me, a godly man ahead of me, and a great God to protect me, I found the courage to continue.

And sure enough, as we headed out on the road again, the clouds broke apart and the beautiful, Nebraska sunset came into view. The furious storm, now to the east of us, was slowly floating away. And suddenly, we were exiting the interstate, bounding over country roads, and pulling into the lane.

We made it. We were home.

The farm lane

Cemeteries, Funerals, and Mickey Mouse

There was a funeral at my church yesterday.

I can tell you with all honesty that serving at funerals has not been one of my favorite parts of being a pastor, but it has been a meaningful one. You would think as a children’s pastor I would not have much to do with funerals, but at our church we have an “all hands on deck” approach to ministering at said events. The pastors all come and do whatever needs to be done. I have been, among other things,  an usher and a greeter and a book-signer person and a door holder and a line organizer and a waitress.  Today the parking attendants were all pastors. (I stayed in the building and monitored the lobby instead,  probably because I was the only one of us wearing a skirt. :)) The truth is, even though we help with all the odds and ends, the primary reason we serve this way is to be a presence of comfortable familiarity for those in our congregation who are walking though the valley of loss, kids included.

As usual, the service was both inspiring and sad and I ended up crying for the loss of this dear man I didn’t really know. Not for him, of course, but for those he left behind. Even through their loss, they were still so grateful for the life  he lived. That’s a beautiful ending for anyone, don’t you agree?

But after the service, I had the opportunity to sit around a table and talk to the other pastors.  And of course the topics were centered around death and funerals. They were sharing different experiences they had, so I chimed in and shared one of mine–the unique experience of spreading my mother’s cremated ashes around Disney World. And of course they  looked at me like I was from Mars, but those of you who knew my mother surely understand how that request was not out of the ballpark for the person she was. She definitely enjoyed the outlandish. Trying to get six Anabaptist pastors to understand the person whose final desire was to become one with Space Mountain and The Pirates of the Caribbean , however, was no easy task!  “What did I think of that?” they wondered.

I told them the problem that I have now, years later , with my mother’s cremation and subsequent “scattering” has nothing to do with where the scattering took place at all. Rather it is in that there is no place to go to remember her. No memorial. And even though I know she didn’t really want a memorial, I think it would be nice now to have one. I would love a place to go and remember her and be able to talk about her with my boys. I think it would be meaningful for them to be able to put a flower on her grave or even just read her name on a beautiful stone. I would like that because I think it would say to them “This person was special to you, and just because you never got to meet her on this earth doesn’t change that fact.” My pastor friends agreed. A person needs a memorial to help those left behind.

Strange as it seems, Orlando and I occasionally have conversations like this. Just last week, as I was drifting off to sleep,  he asked me what I want him to “do with me” (meaning my dead body) should I die in Nebraska. How’s that for a sweet dreams kind of question! My first thought, of course, was “send me home!” but I then I quickly realized that maybe by the time I die, Nebraska will actually feel like home to me. And then I had another thought. Truth is it won’t matter to me, but it might matter to my boys. It will be important for them to have a place to remember me, and even though mine would probably seem like the gravestone of an alien out there in the cemeteries of Nebraska, (Toni Juliano Roth–who?) I’m guessing that my boys won’t really see it that way.

And I was reminded of a scripture that someone read at our wedding. It comes from the book of Ruth: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

So there you have it. “There I will be buried.” I guess that answers that question. Definitely not as fashionable as eternally resting with Mickey Mouse, but probably every bit as outlandish for an east coast Italian.I think my mother would like it.

Me and my mom at Disney World, 1975

O Piano Man

Orlando plays the piano. Did you know that?

Last week we had a piano tuner here working on restoring the working innards of our upright.  We bought an antique piano from England for each other as a wedding present years ago. It’s a unique piece, the kind of thing that piano tuners just love to poke around in and investigate. So as the piano tuner was poking and the boys were curiously checking out the strange pieces and parts he was lifting onto our rug, Orlando turned and looked at me and said, “I wonder if the boys even know I play the piano?”

Funny, they might not.

The truth is Orlando seldom plays anymore. If you would have told me that could happen when we were dating I would have told you you were totally nuts.  When I met him, Orlando and the piano were practically inseparable in my mind. He played for faculty worship, he played for his students, he played for his family, he played for fun, he played for me. We sat together many an hour going through songbooks and he would play and I would  sing this or that song. Even his hands are meant to play–so big and graceful. I remember during our engagement, waiting and wanting to see our wedding ring on his finger when he played. It seemed like such a part of him. I just wanted to be a part of him, too.

Well, you know how things go. We moved and moved and moved. We worked and worked and worked. And then we had baby and baby and baby and baby. And somehow in all the chaos, the piano was left behind and became nothing more than a big object that needed to be routinely dusted. There was no time to play. There was no time to sing. Even the music seemed to change on us. So we left it behind as something we simply used to do.

Until recently, when the piano tuner came. For our 15th anniversary, minutes after we officially decided to cast doubt to the wind and move to Nebraska, we decided to give each other the gift of a tuned piano. The truth is we never really wanted to stop making music, we just found ourselves in a place where you don’t get to do everything you want. And since we were shaking the dust off our dreams, we decided to shake the dust off the rest of us as well.

So as I finish my very involved church work and he finishes his very hectic school year and emerge from the tunnel that comes with multiple births, multiple babies, and multiple jobs, we are looking at a new season in our lives.  Nebraska is waiting for us, yes, but so is the newly restored piano.

And the older, but still graceful hands that touched it once are eager to begin again.

Could you help me by answering the following question?

It’s Not Personal. It’s Strictly Business.

With the cabinets sparkling and the kitchen floor gleaming from the scrubbing it finally received, we met with the realtor last night.

How strange it was to sit there and hypothesize on the value of our home as determined by an endless series of cost analyses, market scores, and buying patterns. She told us that our home is no longer a home, it is a product, so we should work to de-clutter and depersonalize. I’m sure this is perfect advice, but she might as well have said that we should detach and dematerialize, because I don’t have any clue how we could ever bring somebody into this house and act l like it’s a product. Like it isn’t our home. Like we don’t live here. Like we haven’t loved our time here.  I’m sure long after we move away and other people have come and gone, we’ll drive by this place and it will still be “our house.” I know that because I know us.

Having watched enough episodes of Flip This House, I get it. I’m just wondering if we can manage it.

Can we manage keeping the debris of our everyday lives hidden from the view of potential buyers? Math papers and crayon drawings, Nerf swords and Legos, dirty underwear and stray socks? Not to mention The Loud Ones themselves—how do you hide them from a house tour so they don’t broadcast telling comments like “That’s Great Grandma’s cabinet—we caught a mouse under there once ”or “I pulled that towel bar clean off the wall last week” or “That wall is scratched up there because Molly the dog wanted to dig underneath it.”

Orlando has these grand plans of Old Englishing away the wood scratches and touching up the paint jobs and putting our bulky stuff away out of sight in our storage unit. All good plans. But I’m not enjoying the idea of trying to erase ourselves from existence, acting like we’ve been nothing but ghosts haunting this space. I know “nothing is as hard on a house as kids are,” but they’re our kids. It’s our house, our junk, our worn out carpets, our scratches, our holes, and our life under the magnifying glass. You just can’t get more personal than that, can you?

“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” The famous, telling line Michael Corleone slurred to his brother Santino right before he went out and shot the Turk and the cop and had to run away to Sicily to be safe from the vendettas. (It’s from the Godfather. After all, I am Italian.)

And you know what I think about that? I didn’t believe him, either.

Missing Nelda

Nelda Stutzman Yoder Vogt  was my friend.

I can even go as far as saying that Nelda was one of the best friends the great state of Nebraska ever sent my way. Nelda was Orlando’s aunt, the wife of his mother’s brother. I must admit that our friendship was somewhat unexpected and unlikely. When I met her, back when Orlando and I were first married, she was about 60 years old and working as a waitress in my in-laws’ restaurant out on the interstate. She was short, wore big-framed glasses, and had beautiful white hair that she wore fluffed up on her head. She always buttoned the top button of her shirts, and I never, ever saw her in a pair of closed toed shoes. Even in the middle of the harsh Nebraska winter, she would come to work with sandals and socks on. Let’s suffice it to say that Nelda always did things her own way.

I got to know her working the evening shift at the restaurant. We would wait on tables together and close up the place. Nelda was quite independent, and at first I thought this was going to drive me crazy. She loathed the ice cream machine, but always felt it was her job to clean it every single evening. And by golly, did she clean the thing. She’d get out this little step stool because she was too short to pour the bleach water in the top. She would stand there with the bucket of water, teetering enough that I would feel the need to stand behind her, and scrub scrub scrub. It took a long, long time of my working with her before she would let me dump that stupid bucket of water in there for her. But after a while she let me. And then she started to ask for my help doing the daily jumble puzzles in the newspaper. Eventually we began to do things outside of the restaurant and she would come over sometimes and we would all go to Lincoln together. She enjoyed fajitas and seafood and well, you just couldn’t get those things anywhere but in the city. And over time we grew closer and I learned her story.

First I discovered that Nelda was an identical twin. Her sister’s name was Elda, and they were such similar creatures it made sense that they had such similar names. Of course, they were very close and so not surprisingly, Nelda and Elda married brothers. Two of the five Yoder brothers married Nelda and Elda in a double wedding.  They farmed together and had a dairy together for a number of years. Wallace and Nelda had two children together, Madge and Shane. But then Wallace was involved in tractor accident and  was tragically killed.  She told me that it took her a long time to come to a place where she could grieve her loss because “Darn it, she had kids to raise and a boy to get better.” (Shane had been injured in that same accident.) So she moved her mind off her grief and she did her best to set it squarely on her kids and what she needed to do to next.

Somewhere in there she owned a business, she fought cancer, and she married a jovial truck driver named Lonnie. She loved Lonnie, but still I remember her telling me one day that “Wally” had been the love of her life and that’s just the way it was. Even though I never walked in her shoes, I think I understood that. Even so, Wally may have been the love of her life, but her children and her grandchildren were certainly the apple of her eye. Her admiration for them was well known. Her daughter’s intelligence, her son’s talents, her grandchildren and their beautiful singing voices, her new grandbaby and her lovely eyes. I was able to share with her the struggles I felt at the time, battling infertility and not being sure if we would ever have the family that we wanted. She  encouraged me that even though life “isn’t always what you expect,” I should look for the good in it and the good will come.  If she could do it, she said, then I could do it.

And she helped me think that yes, maybe I could do it.

I’m sure Nelda was a lot of things I know nothing about, but for me, an unexpected twist  in her was her love for the weather. Since I am a weather geek myself, I found this trait particularly endearing. I think times being different, someone, somewhere should have encouraged the woman to go to college to study meteorology. I recall one summer evening Orlando and I were at the restaurant and we spotted a tornado out the back window, maybe five miles down the road. (You can see that far in Nebraska). Having not heard anything about tornado warnings, we called Nelda because we knew she would know. All of a sudden,  Nelda was calling us from her cell phone in her Buick–she was out chasing the stupid tornado and had spotted it in a field! Orlando was pleading with her to go home and take cover but she would have none of it and made it home to tell the tale.

Like I said, she always did things her own way.

Nelda died on September 11, 2007. She had developed a brain tumor that began by robbing her of her strength, then her memories, and eventually took her life. The last time I saw her, we had lunch at Red Lobster  . My boys were laughing with her and Lonnie about the live lobsters in the lobby, but even then she was noticeably changed. But what I remember most about that day was her smile. She couldn’t remember if she had ordered her lunch or what to call her food, but she would look at me and Orlando, surrounded by these little boys, and she would just grin. Somehow, in all she had lost, she remembered our story and was able to rejoice with us.

Nebraska without Nelda will be tough, but she would tell me to look for the good, so that’s what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll start by chasing a few tornadoes myself….

Thawing Out–A Resolution

As I sat down tonight, after a day full of piano tuners and baseball parks and boxes and sorting, I had a lot of fuel to burn in the Big Red blog. But instead of writing what I had every intention of writing, I find myself pondering the Big Red blog itself.

Why is a person like me, who already has so much in my ever evolving life,  spending an hour and a half a day putting out introspective thoughts for the cosmos to absorb? I must admit that at times I have found it worrisome. I’ve worried that perhaps I’ve morphed into someone who is incredibly narcissistic and this blog has become the proverbial mirror into which I’ve fallen in love. I’ve worried that it is fodder to promote some masked desire to be the center of the universe, or that I might have some buried, deep-rooted need for approval that surpasses the boundaries of normal. Suffice it to say that I’ve worried why I’m enjoying it so much. I’ve worried about what that means.

But it’s not a new concern. I’ve felt it before. I remember singing in a Christmas program at school when I was a little girl, maybe nine or ten. When the program was over, I approached my family, all excited about the concert. I don’t recall most of what they said, but I do recollect one comment–“Boy, could we hear you!”  And my heart “melted like wax” inside. I was totally embarrassed that I may have sung out too loudly and called too much attention to myself. Being showboat. Being a ham. Being a star. Strange as it sounds, I think I’ve fought against that fear my whole life–I SO don’t want to over speak, over run, over play, or over step. If I am a showboat, I despise it in myself and have actively worked against it in my life.

So tonight I took my anxieties to my dear Orlando, my reasonable listener and sounding board. His take on it is so simple. “Toni, if you have something that God gave you and you’re good at it, doesn’t it make sense to you that you would do that thing?” Well, yes, that does makes sense. He went on to tell me that he loves  the blog and wishes I had been writing down our family adventures all along. He doesn’t resent the time or energy or thinks it sends me out of focus. It’s a good thing. I should keep at it.

And of course that conversation has my wheels turning. Maybe I have indeed been frozen by that fear. What have I missed doing because I have held on to it for so long? What have I let go of because I’ve heeded that voice in my head that tells me I’m being too loud? If God created me to be someone who should be heard, why in the world am I worried about having a voice?

If you were to ask me why I took to writing the blog, I would tell you it’s because I want to look forward, yes, but I also don’t want to forget. I have lived so much life here in Pennsylvania. Maybe concentrating on small things like books or kitchen cabinets might seem petty, but those things have been the substance of my life for a long time. Writing them down seems to make them more than a memory; writing it out relieves my brain of the pressure of holding on to them. Maybe someday my boys will read it and get a better understanding of the choices we’ve made. Maybe someday my great-grandchildren will read it just to get an idea of who I was.

So here it is resolved. From here on out I will allow the thaw. I will write with no fear. For me. For my boys. For my husband. For my great grandchildren. For you, if you care to listen. And if you don’t care to listen, turn me off because I have every intention of being LOUD for those who do.

And by the way, I still haven’t gotten to that kitchen floor….