Indian Turnips

Life is full of odd things, full of extremes, and full of older brothers who enjoy antagonizing younger brothers. My older brother Roy and his companions of folly, frivolity, and fumbles spent many hours in the woods. At times they would spend an entire day in the woods, sometimes shooting a rabbit and roasting it over an open fire.

My twin brother Ivan and I wondered what they did in the woods all day and wanted to go along, if nothing more than simply being accepted by the older boys. The answer to the question of whether we could go along was always a resounding “no!” The question of “why not?” was considered so preposterous that any kind of lengthy explanation would be unworthy of consideration. ‘Cause was their answer, and that was that, like it or not—‘cause!

Of course Ivan and I were persistent and clamored for our rights. Just because we were a little smaller than them, why couldn’t we? ‘Cause! We would grow up soon enough, so why could we not go along? ‘Cause! We can keep up, we know we can! No! Why? ‘Cause! The clamor was met with more clamors of perfectly good reasons why little people were unworthy to be considered. Little people, bah! Why, I could almost touch the red gas lantern that hung from the kitchen ceiling.

One day the three companions made plans to go to the woods and do things that boys do in the woods. This time our clamor to go along brought our mother into the fray. This time the companions’ arguments fell on futile ears and mother made the big boys take us “little boys” along.

Ivan and I were a jolly pair as we kept pace with the three bigger boys walking through the tall, prickly grass of the un-mowed meadow. The boys were a boisterous bunch as they led us into the woods, boasting what they would do if they were Indians, cowboys, Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, or anyone else other than who they were. Ivan and I had fun as we ran, slid, and stumbled along pretending that we could do what they could and that we knew what they knew.

Suddenly one of the older boys stopped, got out his hunting knife, and stooped to dig up a root that he insisted was the best eating you could find in the woods. “Indian Turnip,” he called it. He cleaned up the root and offered it to me and Ivan. We were skeptical and refused it. But after convincing us that they had eaten it before and it was very good, we took it, if nothing more than to prove that if they could eat it then we could eat it, regardless of taste or fear of death.

After taking a bite and gingerly crunching it, my taste buds brought the reality of scheming older boys into sharp focus. The root was strong as fresh horseradish mixed with old onions but more pungent and cruel than both could muster at their best. We spit, coughed, and spit some more. I finally took out my handkerchief and tried to wipe the inside of my mouth with no results. Our eyes watered as we spit and suffered. Gloating in their revenge for our persistence, clamoring, and interference with their big boy activities, our companions laughed with glee at our misery.

We continued miserably along, not enjoying ourselves as much as before, scheming what would be the best way to get revenge in the woods. Though the boys got a big thrill at seeing us suffer, little did they know that they were not yet out of the woods. As we walked along, our misery gradually subsided and we began to enjoy ourselves again.

The boys were looking for a special grapevine they could swing from. It was not long as we frolicked along before Eli saw the right one. “I found one!” he shouted gleefully as he ran for it.

It was a long vine that had attached itself to the top of a tall tree and then had detached itself at the bottom. The tree stood tall at the edge of a steep gully. The vine was at the exact right place for boys to optimize their pleasure and boasting rights of having found the perfect vine at the perfect spot, and no one else knew where it was, so there!

Normally when you found a vine you tugged at it, pulled on it, and proved it, but only if you were not Eli. If you were Eli, you just grabbed it and went over the edge. Eli grabbed that vine and ran with it with all his might, knowing that this was the thrill that would fill.

When he got to the edge of the gully, it swung him far over the edge much to his youthful delight. When he swung back for a landing, hanging on for dear life, the vine, way up in the solid tree, let go. Eli, vine, future rides, boasting rights, and pride all came crashing down into the gully.

Since Ivan and I were too young to know that Eli could have killed himself, we shouted for joy to see our antagonist come to such a painful end. Eli got up stiffly off the ground as we laughed with glee. Though neither Ivan nor I had anything to do with his situation, we gloated and laughed for a long time. Every so often during that day one of us would shout, “I found one!”

We came home that evening feeling good that we had made it through the day and that misery had begat misery. We wanted to do it again, this time without the Indian radish but definitely with the vine!

We should not have gloated over Eli’s misfortune, but we were young and ignorant. The Golden Rule was not clear to us yet. The lesson to be learned is that what goes around comes around. That goes for the antagonist and the antagonized.


A Sacrificed Shirt

My wife bought me a new shirt. It was an appealing blue, my favorite shirt color. I was going with a group to volunteer for four days in a prison. I would be away from my family for a whole week since it took a day to get there plus a day for orientation. That new shirt would help me get through the week.

When I got to the motel that would be my home away from home for a week, I carefully hung up my shirts. There was little room to hang anything else. The rod was right against the lavatory. My new shirt hung first in line. Seeing it was a constant reminder that my wife was home keeping the home fires going, while I tried to light some fires of hope in the inmates at the prison.

Of course I would not wear that shirt the first day. I did not want it languishing in the laundry bag for a week! It was about the third morning that I decided this was the day. This was when I would wear the gifted shirt. When I reached for the shirt, I noticed something peculiar. Lifting it off the hanger I took a closer look. It was covered with spots. Puzzled, I stared at it for some time then opened the faucet and held a small area under the water, vigorously rubbing the defiled spot. No difference. I rubbed it some more; still no difference.

I stared at that shirt for quite some time. The spots were lighter in color than the rest of the shirt. It took a while, but eventually the proverbial light went on in my brain. I thought I knew the answer. I stared at the shirt again. My blood pressure went up. My frustration level went alarmingly high. I realized two things about my precious shirt: it was ruined, and I could do nothing about it.

A little later when I went out of my room I saw a cleaning lady a few doors down. Walking up to her I bid her good morning and then asked if she had cleaned my room the day before. She acknowledged that she had. I then asked if she uses cleaning agents that might contain bleach. She affirmed that she does.

I asked her to check out something in my room. I turned, and she followed. I left the door open and walked to my shirt. When I showed her the shirt, she became pale. She knew immediately what she had done. When she cleaned the sink, she had splattered the cleaner on my shirt, thus bleaching it for life. The woman clutched her throat and looked at me with sad eyes, apologizing mournfully. I pitied that poor, apologizing woman. She did not let up. I began to feel like the perpetrator in a crime.

I quickly assured the lady that I completely forgave her and that I was not going to tell her superiors about it. She looked at me with gratitude, but continued apologizing. I told her that I had been forgiven many times and I forgave her as well. I had to do this a number of times before she realized that I really did forgive her. She left the room still apologizing.

Later as I left the room, I walked up to her and told her that God had unconditionally forgiven me of terrible sins, so I wanted to extend the same to her. She then began to share her troubles. Her mother was terminally ill, her brother had to go to prison, and she was struggling with her children. She poured out her heart.

As I listened to her, I realized that my precious shirt was sacrificed so I could encourage this dear lady. After she poured out her struggles, I tried to encourage her. I assured her that there is always something to hope for and that her situation would get better. Slowly her face brightened and hope shone in her eyes. When I left her, she felt better and so did I.

I took that bleached shirt home with me. It was a trophy from God. My wife gave it out of love, God used it to minister love, and I sacrificed it with joy!

Feathered Angel

This is a true story. Ike told it to me some years ago.

Ike enjoyed watching his graceful swans. But he also enjoyed his children and was concerned that they not fall into the pond. So he built a fence to keep the children safe.

Things changed over the years. After the children had grown up, Ike decided to take the fence down to make mowing easier. Eventually the children grew up and moved off the farm. But one thing remained constant. Swans always swam the length and breadth of the pond. Ike never tired of watching them.

After the children had moved away, Ike slowly began to realize that he was not able to do all the work himself. The farm was eventually sold to a nephew. But the swans stayed on the pond.

After the nephew had moved onto the farm, Ike talked to him about the fence, “I usually kept a fence around the pond to keep the children out, but after they grew up, I tore it down to make it easier to mow. But you have small children, so you need to think about that.”

Time went on and the nephew did not build a fence. The swans swam on. The nephew’s wife would periodically check on the children when they played outside. The children were to play in the yard and the swans were to swim on the pond. It was how life was meant to be.

One day when the good wife checked on one of her little boys, she was alarmed to find him missing. She looked all around the house but failed to find him. She called his name, but he did not answer. She walked to the edge of the spacious yard and peered toward the pond. She thought she detected something at the water’s edge but was not certain what it was.

Quickly she hurried to the pond. When she came closer, her heart beat fast. Her little boy was at the very edge of the pond, ready to walk in, or fall in, as fate would have it. Afraid that her cry would scare him, she silently ran to the pond.

When the dear mother was within a few steps of the boy, she noticed something else that stopped her dead in her steps! She clutched her throat as she stared at the scene before her. The boy was at the very edge of the water, ready to fall into a wet grave—except for one thing.

One of the swans was standing in the shallow water directly in front of the small boy, its body raised above the water. Its wings were spread out on either side of the little fellow. The boy could not enter the water. Those wings were a wall in front of him. The swan had turned into an angel guarding the boy from drowning!

The mother snatched the little one out of the water, holding him tightly to her bosom. The swan swam away. It was how life was meant to be.

A Big Shaggy Dog

It was 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and I was dreaming about an air horn. Or was it a train whistle? No, I think it was a bomb. Suddenly I dreamed the roof was crashing down on me, and I was jarred awake. Someone was trying to beat down the front door!

I willed my brain awake and stumbled across the bedroom for some modest apparel. I walked down the hall and peeked through the window. It was my Amish neighbor. Opening the door, I greeted him in a cheerful I have been up a long time manner.

“Do you have a big, white, long-haired, shaggy dog?” he inquired.

I thought for a moment through the fog. Big—white—dog. Suddenly a light came on. “Ah, yes, it is my brother’s dog. I decided to let him loose the other day, and he did not return.”

“The dog is at our place. He killed our beagle and somehow got tangled in the chain. We tried to get to him, but he growls at us. We cannot get close to him. I don’t know how we are going to get the beagle away and buried.

“We are leaving early to go to a church service a distance away and that is why I am up this early,” he apologized.

“I’ll come over,” I told him. With a satisfied smile he left. I soon followed.

When I got to his house, I stood in line with my neighbor and his children and gazed upon the scene. The big dog was lying beside the limp beagle. We edged closer to the dog. He showed his white teeth and snarled. We stopped the approach. I took a few more steps. He showed me more of his very big teeth. We soon realized that we were on enemy territory. Someone had to come up with a plan.

I never trusted the dog. Every time I went to visit my brother, the dog would try to sneak up on me. My brother would tell me that if I ignored the dog, he would leave me alone. Everything went well until one day we went to visit my brother and did not find the family at home. The dog came creeping around the house, snarling. Edging to the barn, I found a pitchfork. Coming out of the barn with lance in hand, I barreled toward the dog like an arrow out of a bow. The dog stood his ground. I ran straight toward him. He braced himself, showing me that he had teeth. I kept going. At the last minute, the dog turned and ran for the house. I followed like a race horse bent on his first win. The dog kicked it in high gear. High gear did not work for me. I lost him. That dog had it in for me from that time on. It really was a foolish thing to do, since I am not sure what I would have done if I would have caught up to him.

When my brother moved out of state, he asked me to care for the dog until he could pick him up. The dog and I had a mutual mistrust of each other. I fed him and got out of his way. It took a lot of nerve to finally edge my way to his collar to let him loose. When the dog was free from his chain, he sniffed a couple bushes and took off for the woods. That was the last I saw of him, until now, when he was lying beside a dead beagle, snarling at me.

“We have to get the beagle away and buried. I don’t know how to get the dog away unless we shoot him,” my neighbor intoned. I did not want him to shoot my brother’s dog. I don’t like guns, and I don’t like dead things. I had received orders to attend to the dog, which meant feed and shelter him, not kill him. But what else could we do.
I finally consented to the evil deed. My neighbor’s son ran to the house for his big gun. As I watched him go, I thought I detected a little too much eagerness to get that gun.

When Eager came back he held the gun on the dog while Eager Junior held a huge spotlight on the target. I did not think I wanted to watch this. I also did not want to tell my brother that we had exterminated his dog. I looked away. The gun roared, and I had to look. The dog was kicking in the dust. When we were assured that the dog was dead, we walked up to pull him away from the beagle.

We were almost to the dog, when suddenly the beagle lifted his head and looked at us! He took one glance at the dead dog and then rose to meet us. In shock, I gazed at my brother’s graveyard-dead dog for a long time. I tore my gaze away and looked at my neighbor’s living dog. He looked much better than my brother’s dead dog even if we had not been the best of friends.

I wondered which one I would look like once I told my brother that we had exterminated his dog!

The Truck, the Tree, and the Trooper

Sometimes breaks end up needing breaks. Maybe brakes as well! You see, the world made more sense whenever I drove my beautifully rusted and scratched 1987 Chevy pickup truck. I was driving home thinking nice thoughts about supper, my family, and the world we lived in. It never occurred to me to have negative thoughts about anything. But, that was before I met the tree.

The tree was taking a walk in the middle of the road. Trees are not supposed to do that. Trees are supposed to stay off the road. When I saw the tree I knew that I was going to hit it. I slammed the brakes. I must confess that only the front brakes worked—kind of. Then, with white knuckles, I gripped the steering wheel. I tried to ease to the side as much as possible and closed my eyes. I waited. But I did not have to wait too long. The crash was deafening as the tree matched perfectly with the windshield. That was the fastest I stopped since the back brakes gave out back in the late nineties.

Suddenly I realized how quiet it was. I slowly opened my eyes and saw I was wearing the windshield. I put it in reverse, eased the gas pedal down, and slowly backed away from the tree.

Another motorist came from the other direction and stopped. He called the state highway patrol. Then we waited. They did not show up for a long time, and since I was almost to the house I decided to carefully drive home.

After I got home the state trooper stopped outside the house. I went out and told him that I was the person who had an affair with a tree. He went down to the bottom of the hill to look at the scene of my troubles and then came back.

He shone his big flashlight at the truck and exclaimed, “You really did hit it, didn’t you!”

“Yep, sure did!” I exclaimed proudly.

“I have to give you a ticket,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. The trooper wanted to cite me for hitting the tree! I disagreed with him and was not bashful in telling him. He acted like I was hunting trees out of tree hunting season. I do not hunt; especially not trees. But what do you do when the tree steps right out into the middle of the road?

“Do you mean to tell me,” I asked the trooper, “that if a tree falls out of the sky and you hit it, you get cited?”

“Did the tree hit you or did you hit the tree?” he asked. “You may not hit anything in front of you,” he intoned.

“Well sir, if I would have only known, I would have turned around and backed into it.”

I soon saw I needed to do a little more explaining, and I knew he really wanted to know. “All I know is that I was driving merrily down the road thinking happy thoughts when suddenly this tree is standing in the middle of the road. I slammed the brakes, held on to the steering wheel for dear life, and closed my eyes.” That was the exact truth. I looked at the trooper who was thinking deep thoughts.

How could I explain to the trooper the pain I felt to see my pickup truck get so bruised. It was a great pickup. Sure, the back brakes, the right rear turning signal, and the left front turning signal did not work. But that was minor. The lights were bright enough to drive during the day, or at night if you did not go over 30 miles per hour. The power steering fluid only slowly leaked out. I only had to add fluid every few days. The springs and the frame were only broken some. The bed might have jumped up and down a little but it had never fallen off. The truck did not shake too badly unless you drove over or under 50 miles per hour. There were other minor things wrong with it–but it was my truck. And, I loved my truck. It fit like an old, worn pair of trousers. I was against trees that took walks on roads. It was not good for trucks, or the men who drove them.

How was I to know that the tree would choose to blow across the road? I am not God. I do not know these things. Now, this trooper wanted to give me a ticket for hitting the tree. That excited me a little. After I explained the event as effectively as my imagination allowed, the trooper looked at me (I was hoping he liked what he saw).

Finally he spoke, “Okay, I am not going to cite you.” (He liked what he saw.)

But my poor pickup! It got all bruised up. It was simply humiliating. Even though I forgave the tree for bruising my truck and making me wear a new coat of glass, I was still emotionally stricken. I did get even with the tree. It was cut into little pieces.

Footsteps in The Night

It was a dark and gloomy night in Ukraine. The wind whipped the trees against the house. Rain tiptoed across the window panes. We had driven a few hours in the rain, and Michael, my host and guide, had just dropped me off at the large guest house. He helped me carry my luggage up the steps and through the front door. After examining all four rooms circling the foyer upstairs, we found one that was ready for guests. The bed was made and inviting. It was next to the bathroom. We lugged the suitcases upstairs. Michael informed me that I had the big house all to myself.

After Michael left, I took the clothes I needed the next morning out of the suitcases and hung them up. I went downstairs to explore a little before I went to bed. Many rooms were scattered throughout the house. It was a large house indeed! I found a magazine to read in bed that should help me unwind from the long day.

Rain continued to pepper the window, while the trees beat the siding without regard to my desire for quiet and comfort. The walls creaked under the weather’s relentless assault. After I turned off the light, every sound seemed to amplify the dismal attack on the house. It took a while to relax under the stress of another culture and the effects that the weather made on the house. As I lay there, the house became rather creepy. I should never have done it, but I fell asleep, in a very large empty house groaning and creaking on a dismal night of pounding rain and angry wind.

With a start I awoke. I had heard something. I lay very quietly and listened carefully. Something had awakened me. Did it come from the outside or inside of the house? Suddenly I heard it—the sound of footsteps at 1:00 o’clock in the night! Footsteps were investigating the house! Since the house was so large, the footsteps would fade as the intruder investigated the various rooms, but when the footsteps came back to the foyer at the bottom of the stairs, they became louder.

Suddenly everything was quiet—too quiet. I heard my heart beating against my chest. Rain tapped on the window; trees brushed the siding. Footsteps sounded on the steps! They were coming upstairs. I sat up in my bed. What could I do?

Slowly and deliberately the footsteps came upstairs, ever closer to where I sat in muted fear. At the top of the steps they paused. The silence was frightening, but still better than the sound of footsteps. Then the footsteps began again, going into a bedroom. After another period of silence they came out and went to another room. A few minutes later, they came out and went to the bathroom. My bedroom was next! I wondered what weapon the footsteps had? Was it a knife, red with the blood of others, a stained wooden club, or maybe a heavy chain to tie up the victim? I trembled. What would those heavy footsteps mean once they found me in bed alone and defenseless! Who was it? What was it?

The footsteps came out of the bathroom, walked deliberately toward my bedroom, and paused. This was it. This was the beginning of the end. A foreboding like the invasion of a dozen mice crept over me.  A footstep started again, and paused. Another, and another, and then they went into the next room. I strained my ears and listened. What was happening in that room?

Finally the footsteps came out of the room, went back down the steps, and retreated into silence. I quickly got out of bed to watch the front door under the window. I kept a watch on the door for quite a while, but nothing happened. No monster, no sinister murderer appeared at the door. No sound was heard on the floor below me. The monster stayed inside, with his blood stained knife. Did he, or whatever it was, know I was in that bedroom? Was he, or it, scheming my demise? After a long vigil at the window, I finally crept into bed and listened. Nothing. He, the footsteps, must have left.

“Okay, Lord, I need some sleep. It is already 1:00 a.m. and I have to get up at 5. Protect me, and give me rest.”

Suddenly the footsteps appeared on the stairs again. They were coming for me! Tensely I waited. Why would I have to die in a strange land? Surely Lord, you have a better way for me to die than to die in a strange country in the middle of the night in a dreary house!

The footsteps stopped in the hallway outside my room. Suddenly I decided that this would never do. These footsteps had no right stepping into my life like this. I would not be scared by, I did not know what. I became a little indignant. My indignation led to boldness. Maybe it was a foolish boldness, but before I could think through things, I heard myself speak, a little too loudly, “Who are you? What do you want?”

Everything was silent. I waited and then spoke again, “Who are you?”

The footsteps found a voice. It answered in a language I did not understand.

“I have no idea what you are saying. Speak English. What are you doing in this house?”

The footsteps spoke again, this time in a language I could understand. In German, the voice said, “I am Frederick from Germany. Do you speak German?”

Ah, the blessings of communication. A voice with words that could be understood! The monster had a harmless voice.

“Yes, I speak German. What are you doing here?”

“I am going to sleep here.”

I thought a few seconds. It seemed harmless enough. What could I do about it? I could not very well tell him he could not stay. It wasn’t my house. “Oh. Okay. Guten nacht,” I answered.

Guten nacht.”

“Lord, as I was saying, I need to sleep. I don’t know who this man is and what he is doing here, but keep me safe.”

I rolled over to sleep, confident that no one could murder me unless God wanted me murdered.  The footsteps went into the next room, the rain played tic-tac-toe on the window, the wind beat the trees, the trees brushed the house, and I slept.

The next morning I awoke very early to discover that I had not been murdered in the night. Tiptoeing into the hall, I saw the bedroom door next to mine open a few inches. I peered inside. Sure enough, someone was in the bed. I tiptoed to the bathroom where I noticed that the shower was not in the best condition. I decided to take a shower in the downstairs bathroom beside the entrance door.

When I was finished, I went back upstairs. It looked like the door of the bedroom where the intruder was sleeping was open a tiny bit more than I remembered. I tiptoed over and peered inside. The intruder was gone! Was he hiding in my bedroom ready to pounce on me the moment I went inside? Cautiously, I peered inside. No menacing footsteps, no foreign voice greeted me. He had left when I was in the shower, downstairs, beside the front door. He must have slipped past the bathroom and gone outside into the gloomy night. It was only 5:00. He did not get more sleep than I had.

I packed and went downstairs to wait on my ride. It was now about 6:00 a. m. when Michael pulled in and came to the door to help me with the luggage. I told him what had happened. He was stunned. “As far as I know, no one was supposed to be in the house.”

We left the house. The rain had stopped pelting the windows, the wind was no longer beating against the branches, the branches had ceased whipping the house, the footsteps had left, and I was safely secured in Michael’s van.

I thanked God for the day.