Wednesday, October 13, 2010

50 cents and a bag of oranges

On November 7, the church that I belong to will be hosting an ofrenda event. If you’re not familiar with that term, an ofrenda is a tradition of Mexico where the souls of those who have departed from this earth can be honored. On that day, people of the congregation will bring mementos of a person they wish to honor, and place them on the display table. After the service, there will be an opportunity for some of the members of the congregation to offer a brief oral remembrance of those being honored.

This year, in addition to the usual pictures, medals, and scrapbooks, there will be a rather unusual addition to the traditional offerings: a bag of oranges and two quarters.

The oranges and the quarters will be there in honor of my late father-in-law, Dick Lennartson, in remembrance of a Christmas that he endured many years ago.

When Dick was 12 years old, he contracted rheumatic fever. By that point in his life, his mother had divorced his father, and had remarried. Since she now had a new baby daughter to care for, she did not feel that she was able to provide for her son Dick, so she sent him off to a foster family on the other side of town.

During one of the Christmases that he was at the foster family, probably in 1938 or 1939, Dick took a street car across town to spend time with his mother and brothers, Gordy and Ray. Times were tough for Dick’s mother, and she really couldn’t afford to spend money on anything that wasn’t essential for survival. At a time when a lot of kids were getting Lincoln Logs or new puppies for Christmas, Dick got a bag of oranges, and 50 cents.

He also had to take the street car back “home” to the foster family.

As he would freely admit, he had an unhappy childhood, but he still turned out to be a good, decent man.

When he was 16, he lied about his age, and joined the Navy in order to fight in WWII. For many years after he got out, he vowed that he would cross to the other side of the street if he saw his mother coming towards him. However, as they got older, they both mellowed, and they had a cordial relationship when she passed away at the age of 90.

Like a lot of members of the group of people that Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation”, Dick was pretty quiet about the things that he suffered through, and he never really developed the ability to have long, heartfelt discussions with his three daughters.

All that he knew how to do was to work hard, and to try to teach by example, and he did the best that he could to do just that.

Fortunately for Dick, he met the right woman when he got out of the service, and their marriage on October 2, 1948 ultimately produced three daughters, one of whom I married nearly 40 years ago.

From time to time, all of us struggle with our everyday problems. However, if you ever feel overwhelmed by your problems, think for amount about Dick Lennartson, and the things that he endured, and you’ll feel very fortunate.

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