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Archive for September, 2018


My family home was torn down today… and I am broken-hearted.

 

For the last month, it’s been effectively gutted, leaving it a shell of the home I once knew.  It was necessarily stripped and sold of its old wooden trim and hardwood flooring, exterior doors and windows, cupboard doors, paving bricks, and even some items I was glad to harvest – flowers from the yard, a birdbath which we had even while living in town, and my mom’s china cabinet which housed her china with the silver wheat pattern.  Now seeing the pit in the ground and all semblance of home gone, it all seems so very final and I feel very lonely.

 

Dana has said that the sale of his family’s business has seemed like a death of sorts and I know what he means.

 

Remember the movie You’ve Got Mail where Kathleen Kelly has had to close the bookstore that’s been in her family for generations?  As she’s walking out for the last time, she says that she feels like her mom has died all over again and I know what she means.

– – – – – –

 

Although still thriving under new ownership and with a new name, selling the family business meant a passing of an era and wrapped up in that sale was a lifetime of events that are now memories of a business and a way of life that his dad and mom, Rol and Lois, began so many years ago in 1973.  They began with just their young family (four boys and a girl) manufacturing a humbly increasing demand for their drywall lifts and portable scaffolding.  Dana was in the 6th grade then. The designs were all his dad’s and his mom ran the office needs – as well as providing the coffee and cookies (and occasionally home-made donuts) for coffee breaks for the little growing crew.

 

 

In those days, no drywaller worth his salt used a machine to raise those heavy sheets of gypsum (usually using a mess of boards to prop up their work or lifting them on their heads).  This family set out to re-shape those attitudes and practices and by God’s grace for a season they became the world’s supplier of drywall lifts – The World’s Best Drywall Lifts™. Hardly any drywaller these days, concerned with time and costs, would be without a lift!

Rol - early Panellift - 1971                                                                          Panellift® prototype, c1970

 

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (2 Cor 10:17; Psalm 118:23).

 

With the selling of the business, it feels like something living has passed, and indeed, so much of life was wrapped up in that business – the family’s move to the country; living in the shop until their house was finished; car trips by Mom and Dad to tradeshows to get their products known; Mom answering calls and Dad always planning the next building addition or the next product design (he’s received over a dozen patents); Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, and America played on various WalkMans around the shop with the overhead doors wide open in the summer or by the heat of a wood-fired stove in the winter.  This is the lovely, small, and home-fashioned shop I first toured when Dana and I started dating our senior year of high school.

 

But much more has come and gone during those years.  All the kids grew up (working in the shop through their college years), moved from home, got married and had families.  Most found other jobs, but Dana and his brother, Larry, stayed with the business (Dana in marketing and later, the financials; Larry in manufacturing and later, engineering). Mom passed away in the summer of 1988 and the company began to change from a small cottage industry into an organized, strategic business.

In those years, a Kingdom vision for the company took root as Dana and Larry traveled to FCCI conferences (Fellowship of Companies for Christ International).  Dad, Larry, and Dana were awarded the Small Business Persons of the Year award for our state in 2000, which meant a trip to Washington, D.C. and getting to see President George W. Bush.   Many more employees came and went (once employing about 80).  Occasional employee lunches, Christmas parties, and fishing trips dotted the years.  As business grew, several additions were added to the original 42 x 70′ shop and eventually a new facility was built away from the family property.  Then the housing crisis of 2008 hit and was followed hard after by a presidential administrative policy which simply could not or would not produce an optimistic business climate – the nation slumped under it.  The lost decade followed – a decade of hardship and loss for us.

 

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

 

The Lord used those grievous days in our lives to grow us in ways we wouldn’t have sought but in ways we knew to be for our good.  The three (Dana, Larry, and Dad) trusted heavily day-by-day and often hour-by-hour for God’s provisions and guidance.  Throughout those years, Dana often preached truth to himself and to me.  It helped to physically recite again and again the truths of what we knew of our all-good God and His redeeming, purposeful ways with his children.  We didn’t always feel it, but we always believed it.

 

Where previously, the product line had been fairly focused (construction material handling), the Lord amazingly brought specialty tool work from wide ranging sectors during these years – University Berkley Ergonomics Program, a chemical weapons disposal plant, an underground potash mine in Canada, a facility which manages a particular nuclear chemical, and a wind energy plant right in our town.

 

In the end though, there was no silver bullet nor enough money from anywhere to keep throwing at the need; there was just a very tired building and three very worn out owners.  Different decisions might have been made over the years, but they would have cost the three their fraternity and when all is said and done, that cannot be regretted.  With all their frenetic efforts, doors still shut before them even while unexpected doors opened for a season around them — it was impossible to miss that the Lord was doing a working — and we trust Him in that.

 

The business sold to a worthy employee who has dreams of taking the company forward and with his fresh wind of capital, it looks promising. So that same business, begun so long ago, still goes forward (albeit with a new name), still making and selling those products (and more) whose humble beginnings were in a small family-owned shop on the outskirts of town.  But these days, when we walk through the old, disheveled shop on the family property it seems to be a parable for us of the brevity of life, the far-reaching effects of the fall, and the fragileness of what seems permanent.  The aging of the house that was new in Dana’s youth and his dad’s move to hospice are further reminders of the fleeting nature of our time here… and at times it feels to us like his Mom has left us all over again.

– – – – – –

Now today…  my family’s home has been demolished, its barn and outbuildings gone, so many of the trees my dad planted years ago have been chopped down to make room for city development.

 

We moved to the outskirts of town in the spring of 1975 (directions to it were always the last house on Belmont).  I was finishing up 7th grade (my sister Heide was finishing 4th and Holly was still a pre-schooler) when we moved.  It was a dream for my dad (who grew up farming) to own some acreage even while working by day for the city in civil engineering.  My personal dream of farm life was first awakened in 1st grade when sweet Mrs. Lore had reason to display a large poster of an idealized farm scene complete with animals, barn, and a boy and girl playing near the little brook that ran through it.  Later, when I was introduced to the Little House series, my pioneer spirit awoke and I longed to be a Laura on a farm.

 

These wishes were answered when we moved south of town to a ten-acre farmstead  which, get this, had originally been built and owned by Dana’s granddad’s brother (back in the day, Granddad McIntyre and his brother, Clifton, had run a dairy creamery from our place).  It was Clifton who likely planted all the graceful Cottonwoods which I love so much and which still stand sentry around the boundaries of the old property (I hope many survive the development).  Our soon-to-be hobby farm was christened Belmont Acres.

 

Over the years, the city limits (and its sure taxes) made its way to the very edge of our property.  With my mom’s passing in 2004 and my dad’s more recent failing memory, it was apparent that the land must be sold, and it was, to a local developer.  The property’s western two-thirds have already been developed.  Already gone to street and housing are the three plus acres of woods in which my dad spent hundreds of hours grooming his Christmas tree farm after his young family had grown.  What a very different view we have had from the house’s west windows these last few years.  But, the front third, with its old stucco house facing the sunrise, its grassy front mall and black-topped lane, has remained virtually unchanged save for white fencing put up here and there.

 

But after today, Belmont Acres will be no more.  And as that easterly front end begins to fill up with houses, who will remember that once a young man had a dream for himself and his family there?  He wanted something important for them, a bit of farm life like he had known growing up on his family’s working farm.  Who will know of the long, late hours my dad and mom (Ray and Myrna) worked to give the home a facelift before moving the family there or how they gave up their lake place to make this move possible?  And who could guess that this young town-dwelling wife would summon all of her will and her creativity to take on the role of a farm wife and all that that entailed – large-scaled gardening, preserving foods, butchering season (even making head cheese from our own pigs), and much more yardwork than she must have ever imagined, all while meticulously managing her home and working part-time in retail.

 

The house itself wasn’t exactly the home of her dreams.  All the rooms were small-ish and her kitchen badly needed and an update (and an expansion).  For most of her days there, there was only one bathroom (upstairs) and there was never enough outlets; their bedroom, directly off the living room, was way too small (with no closet but a stand alone piece that took up coveted space in the corner); her laundry room was an old concreted space downstairs and of course, there were the trying years (before being solved) when ground water would occasionally seep in and would flood portions of the basement.  But like so many from her generation – it was my life for yours and there it was!  To her credit, she took what she was given and employed her skills at painting, decorating, and gardening to make the most of that 50 year old home for the sake of her husband and family.

In those early years, there was much to do to make this man’s dream take shape.  So after finishing his day job, he would come home and work after supper until sunset and then up early on Saturdays to work all day long.  This was his pattern through the years.  He enclosed the ten acres in carefully surveyed tamarack fencing (did I mention he was also a land surveyor?), and he lined the property in three or four rows of tree seedlings which over the years the aforementioned daughters hoed (… and hoed… and hoed).

 

Belmont Acres Truck Farm was established when roughly a half an acre of the back third was planted, hoed, and harvested each year.  A variety of vegetables were grown (but heavy on the sweet corn).  Everyone worked the garden to some extent, but it was mostly the girls’ job to pick and sell it from the house, thereby earning their own money for back-to-school clothes.

And then, of course, there was every manner of farm animal (except goats) which my dad brought home over the years.  I mean dogs, cats, chickens, pig, cows, and ponies and occasionally geese and peacocks (not to mention the homing pigeon coop).

 

In the summer, there was our daily to-do list from my dad and, of course, the rule was work before pleasure. The fall brought not only harvest but butchering time and many a 4H project was birthed (sometimes literally) on the farm.  All was done with an eye to teaching those daughters responsibility and industry while allowing that whole farm idea to have its full effect on them.

Now in a couple years, no one who drives by will know that this was the favored gathering place almost every summer for the extended family in one capacity or another.  Who could even know how much work the sometimes-hesitant mother did to prepare for those huge events?  But how much laughter and good memories came with them!  With aunts and uncles and cousins all around, there was always good food and lots of laughing and banter as we reunited and the day almost always ended around a great bonfire.  These gatherings served to plant a sense of history and belonging as well as general well-being deep down inside me which I carry with me still today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

And on holidays, a generous welcome was always offered to any and all as this hospitable couple threw out the welcome mat to any who needed a place to be on those days– family, friends, people from work, etc.  Many a bachelor uncle or co-worker whose family was too far away found a place at the table (the dining table early in the day and the pinochle table later on).

 

Time and memory would fail me to tell of the adventures my Dad and his good friend, Jim, had working side-by-side on all sorts of plots and projects as Jim willingly lived out his own farm-life memories on our farm; of this same Jim and his wife, Gerrie, who came oft on a Sunday to play cards (keeping a notebook for years filled with their men-against-the-women scores); of my dad’s childless co-worker, Charlie and his wife Bonnie (with nearest family in New York state and Texas), who joined us every year for Thanksgiving and always brought TX pecan pie.  Our hall-of-fame (or infamy as it were) wouldn’t be complete without mention of Heide’s friends, Charlotte (still a close friend today) and Lisa, and Holly’s friend, Mitch, who made Belmont Acres their home away from home many a day.

 

And who will remember but a handful of us that a young girl fell in love from that house and that the lane which used to be just there, brought her future husband to her door for their first date?  From her upstairs bedroom window, in which she used to watch for her school bus, she now watched for signs of his old white ’65 Ford station wagon.  And in the years to come, this was home to the great outdoors in which their young children would play without fear of traffic or stranger.

 

I know as a Christian that we are just sojourners in this world.  That all we see is temporary and we are making our sure way to our true home.  That one day all the deep-seated longings born in us in this life will be filled in Christ when we reach our heavenly home and all joy will be restored to us in the realm of our victorious King.  But I also know that our good God made us with the inclination to make associations and attachments which bind our memories to those we love.

 

It’s true that time will most likely allay my sadness, but today I feel lonely and heartsick and I miss my mom all over again (and my old dad before his memory issues).  However, I consider it all grace that I have been given the people and experiences I have had in my life even if some heartache must go with it.  And I am beyond grateful that I have a permanent home being prepared for me which neither moth nor rust (nor the backhoe) can destroy!

 

In her first book for childrena, the 65-year old author, Laura I. Wilder, paints a scene of her very young self lying awake in bed, listening to her mom and dad in the other room of their log cabin in the woods.  They are awash in firelight as Ma gently rocks and knits and Pa is softly playing Auld Lang Syne on his honey-brown fiddle.  When the fiddle quiets, Laura calls out softly, “What are the days of auld lang syne, Pa?”  Pa replies simply, “They are the days of a long time ago. Go to sleep now.”

 

But as children do, that simple answer yields a stream of thoughts.  As she looks at her Ma and Pa from the next room, sensing all is well with the world as children do, she can’t help think:  “This is now.  She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma, and the firelight and the music were now.  They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now.  It can never be a long time ago”

 

… and I know what she means.

 

 

 

 

a Wilder, L. I. (2007). Little house in the big woods. New York: Scholastic, p.238.

Tell me, where is the road I can call my own,
That I left, that I lost So long ago?
All these years I have wandered,
Oh when will I know
There’s a way, there’s a road
That will lead me home?

After wind, after rain, When the dark is done,
As I wake from a dream in the gold of day,
Through the air there’s a calling
From far away,
There’s a voice I can hear
That will lead me home.

Rise up, follow me, Come away, is the call,
With the love in your heart as the only song;
There is no such beauty
As where you belong;
Rise up, follow me,
I will lead you home.

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