The last Thursday in November in the United States is proclaimed Thanksgiving Day. Tomorrow, my wife and I will gather at our daughter’s house with her and her family. Our son-in-law’s family will join us to celebrate the day, too.
We will have all of the usual Thanksgiving meal trimmings: roasted turkey and dressing, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and an assortment of homemade pies. It will be scrumptious.
We are grateful for this bounteous meal and warm home where we will feast. But more importantly, we will be most grateful to share it with family. Loving family relations can never be taken for granted.
We will also remember those who have passed on and those who aren’t as fortunate. Gratitude must come with the recognition, responsibility, and desire to help the least, the last, and the lost.
Our neighbors recently had us over for an evening of card games. When the late evening sun poured through their west window, my attention turned from cards to capturing this beautiful still-life portrait.
What was supposed to be the last leg of the trip wasn’t.
We woke up to the news that our flight home was canceled. Off to the airport, we went anyhow to rebook. It was chaotic at our airline’s booking counters, to say the least. But with a lot of patience on the part of all of us, it all worked out despite being there several hours.
Lufthansa worked with each group member and allowed us to pick our seats. Three members of our group were six feet eight inches or taller and needed lots of leg room. We were also given vouchers for an excellent hotel, dinner that evening, and breakfast the following day.
We did have to arrange on our own for yet another Covid-19 test since that requirement was still in place when we traveled. That process was equally chaotic. Though it took much too long, we all tested negative again.
Despite the confusion and frustrations of this day, there was a very positive upside for my wife and me. The open evening allowed us to meet some new friends.
Marie-Helene has followed this blog for a few years. She and her husband Oliver lived near Frankfurt and offered to come to say hello. Now that we had an open evening, they took us to a UNESCO World Heritage site, Mathlidenhohe in Darmstadt.
According to the World Heritage Convention, the historic artist colony is at the city’s highest point. The “finger building,” as locals refer to the art nouveau tower, serves as the centerpiece for this most unusual and striking community where much of the architecture is the art.
Our hosts led us on a walking tour of part of the area. We climbed the “finger building” that often serves as a wedding venue. From the building’s pinnacle, we had marvelous views of the city.
The golden dome of the Russian Orthodox Church reflected the evening sun just below the tower. We saw other public and private buildings that made this neighborhood the artistic wonder it is.
Particularly striking was the nearby Waldspirale. It was a sprawling apartment building that spiraled upward into an expansive structure. Erected in the 1990s, it was constructed so that nothing looked level, but everything was. The building even had a green roof where large trees grew. I found it an astounding piece of architecture.
All too soon, we had to return to our hotel in Frankfurt, where we dined with our friendly hosts. We bid them farewell with hugs and words of gratitude for their kind hospitality.
The next day it was off to the airport and a long flight home. The plane left as scheduled this time, and the flight went well. After gathering our luggage, we had a two-and-a-half-hour ride home, and just like that, our European adventure had ended.
My wife and I had just turned the corner onto Erickson Ave. just west of Harrisonburg, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. As we passed the Word Ministries Christian Church entrance, I noticed two large birds to my left, just south of the church.
Both birds furiously flapped their wings. But there was something extraordinary about what we were seeing. My wife observed that they both appeared to have white heads.
I initially thought we were watching two Bald Eagles interacting. But the eagle was riding the back of the other bird, steadily forcing it to the ground. I tried to keep an eye on the plummeting birds while slowly driving. Fortunately, there was no traffic.
The birds, still locked together, disappeared from view since the roadway was below the level of the sloping land. We were on our way home from church, so I dropped off my wife at the house since dinner was in the oven. I grabbed my camera and binoculars and hurried back to the scene.
The birds had flown northwest over a woods that lines the crest of a hill that separates the city from the county. The hostile interaction began when they got to the clearing south of the church.
I drove to the southwest corner of the parking lot and, from my vehicle, immediately spotted the Bald Eagle sitting in the open field. Through my binoculars, I saw the other bird. It was an Osprey, looking directly toward the eagle.
Within a minute, the eagle flew up and began circling overhead in vast swaths. I drove up to be closer to the Osprey. It was clear that this beautiful bird of prey was severely injured.
Ospreys and Bald Eagles often use the same habitat since both species are skilled at plucking fish from bodies of water. If one catches a fish, the other will pester the bird with its lunch to get it to drop it. Usually, it’s the eagle that chases the Osprey.
But we were nowhere near a large stream, lake, or pond. I wondered what had happened to cause the eagle to be so aggressive toward the Osprey. I took some photos and then turned my attention to finding help for the poor bird.
I posted on a local bird club Facebook page about my dilemma. Within minutes, birders suggested I contact the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro. That’s what I did.
Since it was a Sunday, I expected the call to go to voicemail. But on the second ring, a young woman answered. I explained the situation, and she sent me a text with five names and phone numbers of trained wildlife rescue transporters to contact.
All the while, word quickly spread in the local avian network. Black Vultures, American Crows, and Common Grackles began circling overhead. A Cooper’s Hawk zoomed into a nearby tree. The eagle, however, was gone.
The first transporter I called answered right away. Unfortunately, the woman couldn’t help because she was driving to her daughter’s bridal shower. None of the other people responded.
Then I thought of Clair. I should have called him right away. Clair Mellinger is a retired biology professor emeritus from Eastern Mennonite University, and he lives just a quarter of a mile away.
Fortunately, Clair was home, and he told me that he was a trained transporter and had taken birds to the Wildlife Center before. He and his wife arrived in a few minutes.
Ospreys have razor-sharp talons and a sharp beak designed to tear apart the flesh of the prey they catch. Clair was ready. His pants were tucked into his hiking boots. He wore a thick jacket and gloves and carried a blanket to throw over the bird.
As Clair approached the Osprey, he could see just how badly injured the bird was. Its left wing was broken, and it wasn’t able to walk. So, picking up the bird was easier than we had expected.
The bird didn’t squawk or even try to move as Clair carefully carried the Osprey to the trunk of his car. He placed it in a plastic milk crate, put another one on top, and bound the two with bungee cords.
Before he left, Clair told me that he had never seen an eagle be so aggressive. The injuries were that bad.
I hoped the Osprey and its human escorts were on their way to a good outcome. The Virginia Wildlife Center is a noted rehab center.
Unfortunately, the eagle severely injured the Osprey; there was nothing the veterinarian at the center could do. An email informed me that the bird died in surgery the next day.
As an avid amateur birder, the news saddened me. I was happy to have an expert and trained birder like Clair to call on in this time of urgent need. And I was grateful to the rehab center for their efforts in trying to save the Osprey.
Clair told me that he figured that the Osprey was on its northern migration and passed through the eagle’s territory. Nesting eagles in the Shenandoah Valley are either currently incubating eggs or feeding young that have hatched.
This fact could have accounted for the once-in-a-lifetime altercation that my wife and I witnessed. We only wished the events would have had a better outcome for the Osprey.
My wife and I and another couple toured a greenhouse in the Shenandoah Valley for their Christmas Open House. I was expecting Christmas wreaths and lots of poinsettias. They had those, but these festive calla lilies dressed in their many holiday colors really caught my eye.
My wife and I were sitting around a roaring campfire with friends when the clouds to the north began to reflect the rays of the setting sun. I slipped away from the genial conversation and snapped this photo at the peak of the lavender sky above this glorious autumn landscape.
From that point on, the conversation freely flowed, the radiant fire grew warmer, shaking off the evening chill. It was an evening to remember, most grateful for the all-sensory experiences.
Paul Sauerbrey and Halloween just naturally went together. My late friend was born on October 31, 1915.
Whether he intended to do so or not, Sauerbrey, which was his preference, lived a trick-or-treat lifestyle. Ironically, he never wanted his birthday celebrated, nor did he particularly enjoy all the Halloween commotion.
Sauerbrey taught elementary school for 43 years and claimed never to have missed a day. He loved teaching that much.
Sauerbrey also enjoyed both tricking and treating people. He either liked you, or he didn’t. There was no in-between for the Halloween baby.
Sauerbrey loved math, English, and science. He subscribed to magazines that promoted the latest scientific gismos, and he often ordered the ones that caught his fancy and that he could afford.
He would buy dozens of clickers and popup buttons that would react to changing temperatures. Once the metal reached a specific temperature, the seemingly dull device snapped loudly and popped high into the classroom air, startling students.
He also tormented his sixth-grade students with crazy word puzzles that required mathematical equations to solve. He praised the few students who figured out the correct Venn diagram and chastised those clueless as to what a Venn diagram was.
His students mirrored their teacher’s inclinations. They either liked him, or they didn’t.
I especially remember one particular prank Sauerbrey pulled on a warm summer day. Sauerbrey arrived at his favorite hangout, the village gas station.
A father and his two sons, one of whom was legally blind, owned the popular town hangout. Sauerbrey loved to pester the blind man, John, who was no saint himself. I was talking with John when Sauerbrey quietly approached from behind.
John had just poured a cup of water when Sauerbrey let loose with an air horn that he had recently purchased. John immediately turned and threw the water towards the sound and soaked our ornery friend. Sauerbrey’s trick had turned into John’s treat.
Sauerbrey loved to tell stories, especially about his younger years growing up on a farm in rural Coshocton County. Sauerbrey didn’t hesitate when a neighbor offered to take him and others to a Cleveland Indians baseball game. Sauerbrey had never been to a major league game before.
The neighbor had his passengers sit on chairs in the back of his pickup truck. Long before interstate highways, the 100-mile trip took them three hours each way through both country and city settings.
The group sat in old League Park’s leftfield bleachers. When a player hit a home run, Sauerbrey caught the ball. He promptly threw it back onto the field to the surprise and ridicule of those around him. It was a long ride home for my friend.
Sauerbrey had a soft side, though. When my family visited his three-room home in Killbuck, Ohio, he always spoiled us with Cokes and Hershey bars. Of course, we had to help ourselves.
Sauerbrey was generous, far beyond offering candy and soda. After he died in 1993, the former teacher left a majority of his estate to the Holmes County, Ohio, Education Foundation to assist future Killbuck students in attending college.
Some of the students have been the first in their families to attend university. Their majors have run the alphabetical listings of college catalogs: chemistry, education, English literature, diesel mechanics, physical therapy, speech pathology, sports management, and many others.
To date, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been awarded to students to assist with their higher education expenses. That’s quite a philanthropic trick for someone who never graduated college or earned more than $6,000 a year.
Finally, it happened. The six Rohrer cousins were in the same room at the same time.
We originally intended to gather on April 30, 2020. Of course, that wasn’t possible with the pandemic raging. That didn’t discourage us, however.
The cousins all made it a priority to Zoom every two weeks until we could meet again in the flesh. Spouses often joined in. Stories, old photographs, and laughter filled each session.
But it wasn’t the same as being there with one another. In the cousins’ formative years, the Linder, Miller, and Rohrer families all lived in northeast Ohio, no more than an easy drive from one another.
As the five women and one male married, fulfilled careers, and reared children, we dispersed into different locales, including other states. The trend even continued when we all retired.
Cousin Barb lives in southern California. Her sister Brenda moved from Ohio to North Carolina to be close to her granddaughters.
Pastor Larry and his wife moved from northern Indiana back to her family farm near Dover. His little sister Cathy and her husband settled in her home community of Columbiana.
My wife’s sister Audrey and her husband Bob have spent most of their lives in their beautiful home with envious views near Sugarcreek, where we agreed to meet. Of course, my wife Neva and I relocated from our beloved Holmes County to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, also to be close to grandchildren.
The timing of this cousin reunion revolved around two criteria. First, we all needed to feel comfortable that it was indeed safe to gather together. We were mindful of the ravages of the Delta variant of the coronavirus even though we were all vaccinated.
The second element was when cousin Barb could fly in from California. Once she finally solidified her travel plans, we settled on a date to meet. We all headed to Sugarcreek for a day of frivolity, childhood memories, and remembrances of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
Of course, we started the day with food, a carry-in style brunch that provided plenty of options to stay fueled for the next few hours. Our hosts had everything perfectly arranged.
We met around tables in the airy garage since we’re all vaccinated baby boomers, some with compromised immune systems. Neva and I had taken along games, but the dominoes and cards never saw the light of day.
We were too satisfied with finally being together that nothing was going to interfere with the free-flowing fellowship. We listened, laughed, and basked in the wonders of our lives.
From a non-blood relative perspective, it seemed to me that these were more siblings than cousins. Close, supportive families are a rare treasure today.
I admired the genuine appreciation and interest the cousins showed to one another. Retired preacher Larry shared snippets of genealogical discoveries that he had made.
I marveled at the life that each of these good people has lived, is living. Their vocations and avocations, their service, and their faithful commitment to family, friends, church, and one another comprised their lives.
Respect for another was paramount. It’s a character seemingly forgotten in today’s divisive world.
The group got a pleasant surprise before I left to pick up the pizzas from a local pizzeria. A niece and her husband arrived from Michigan to join the party.
With only two slices of pizza left, it was photo time. We took shots of the group, couples, and siblings. And then, it was time to say farewell for now.
To both witness and participate in this manifestation of familial love brought pure delight.
Anniversaries of momentous events are generally worth celebrating. Even though we kept it low-key, our 50th wedding anniversary earlier this year was a memorable milestone.
Birthdays fit the bill, too, especially if they end in zero or five. That’s our western culture for you.
Even the anniversary of a loved one’s death needs to be remembered, reverently, openly, and most certainly emotionally. My dear mother would have been 100 on June 22. I can still hear her comforting voice, soft and clear.
Some anniversaries, however, give me pause. I always feel that way each year I get the all-clear pronouncement from my urologist.
I have been cancer-free for 10 years post-robotic prostate cancer surgery. My PSA continues to be immeasurable, meaning no detectable cancer.
When I posted those results on social media, I did so with hesitancy. I hesitated because I know too many people who have not made it through their cancer journey or are currently struggling with the disease.
I am a sensitive old guy, and posting about my good fortune could be tantamount to rubbing it in. I certainly didn’t want to come across with that attitude.
Research shows that such a mindset stems from survivor’s guilt, also called survivor’s remorse. It’s a circumstance where a person survives while others in the same situation don’t, and you feel conflicted, guilty, and remorseful about your outcome versus theirs.
It might seem irrational, but the condition applies far beyond dealing with cancer. People who survive motor vehicle wrecks or a military conflict while others are maimed or killed exhibit survivor’s guilt.
A friend of mine survived the bombing of the Marine base in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983. He happened to be away from the barracks at the time of the explosion. Guilt and anger ebbed and flowed throughout my friend’s life.
I empathized with him at the time but didn’t fully comprehend his feelings until I went through my own traumatic experience. When I met other prostate cancer patients who didn’t have the same successful outcome as me, I understood my Marine friend’s agony more fully.
Despite my reluctance, I am glad that I shared my decade of good fortune on social media. I credited my skillful surgeon and expressed thanks for the excellent medical insurance that got me through physically and financially.
A few of the comments in response to my post drew my attention and perhaps sent me over the hump of the lingering compunction. One particularly caught my eye. A former student shared about her current struggle with cancer.
She thanked me for sharing my good news. She said that seeing that others make it through the Big C gives her and other patients like her hope. Reading that brought me great joy.
Signs of hope in nature.
Her response deeply touched me because she has already been through the cancer medical mill with her husband. As a young man, he fought the good fight and won. His humility concealed his challenging journey.
Now his wife is traveling down the cancer highway. I wish her and her family all the best and will endeavor to stay in touch.
Society can easily be dismissive of others without really knowing their unique situations, hardships, and achievements. Friends need to pay attention.
Venezuelan visual artist Carlos Medina captured my sentiment with this quote, “A soul that carries empathy is a soul that has survived enormous pain.”
We can empathize by recognizing and being with the hurting, listening to their stories, or simply holding them in prayer. In those encouraging actions, there is no remorseful guilt.