Life Story – Dad

In the last few posts I’ve shown how descriptions of special places in your life and love stories can shape your personal history. Character vignettes can also speak volumes about an important person in your life and yourself as you delve into the relationship. Who remembers being 14? What an awkward age! I love my dad and wrote a life story essay about him as part of my own personal history.

Walking with Dad

The lawns glistened with dew, the morning sun slanted through the trees, and my dad and I headed out for a walk. dew on grassI was 14 and our relationship was tentative as two reserved introverts struggled to connect. Dad had spent long hours immersed in the formative years of his company Quintron and didn’t have a lot of time left to spend with his kids. My brother had rebelled, rejected Dad’s values, became antagonistic to the Christian faith and conservative principles Dad held dear. Perhaps Dad decided to spend more time with his girls after his experience with Larry. I’m not sure why we started walking, but I loved that time with Dad.

A lot of the walks were silent, and we just enjoying the morning. I had not spent a lot of time alone with my dad. As a little girl I loved watching him as he developed one new passion after another. I watched him tie fish lures with his tiny forceps and vices, I watched as he pushed his wheelbarrow through the backyard when he began organic gardening and landscaping flower beds. We enjoyed asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and sweet corn. I was amazed when he turned the bathroom into a photo lab dark room complete with photo developing slanted sink. He built Heathkit radios and a stereo system for Larry and I, and was a ham radio operator.

The project I loved the most was when he ordered a kit for a 22’ houseboat and built the huge boat in our garage and had a party so his friends could help him turn the hull over. He soaked the wood strips so they flexed to form the rounded hull. We even water-skied behind it on the Mississippi River and anchored at Hogback Island to relax on the beach. Dad sat on top of the boat with a beer and a little transistor radio to listen to the Cardinals baseball games. houseboat kidsHe went to Harvard business school for a program in entrepreneurship and spent hours in the living room reading business books as Quintron became a successful reality. He was also a runner and kept a detailed record of how far he ran. He ran the Duluth Grandma’s marathon when he was 59.  By the time he was 81 he had logged 31,833 miles of running and walking!Runner dad

I watched him hard at work with his hobbies, but we didn’t talk much. I was delighted when he wanted to walk with me. We kept a brisk pace and I remember sneaking furtive glances at his face. On one walk, wanting to connect, I finally started a conversation with my geeky engineer father. “How does a refrigerator work?” Not exactly fodder for a father/daughter heart to heart, but interest lit up his face and he proceeded to tell me all about how a refrigerator works. I just enjoyed hearing his interest, hearing his voice directed at me. The topic didn’t matter. How does a refrigerator work? I think it has something to do with compressed gas becoming liquid and then converting back to a gaseous state and becoming very cold in the process!

Out of sheer exuberance at the end of our walk I often burst into a sprint, arms pumping as I sped by the suburban driveways that emanated from the houses like spokes on a wheel. Our techie talk was a connection of sorts. I knew my dad loved me enough to spend time walking with me, and that was enough for me!

Life Story – Lake Okoboji

We all have special places where our memories live on. You could write a whole family history book just remembering the places where the moments unfolded that impacted your life. Where did you go to college, or meet the love of your life, go on your honeymoon, or vacation with your family? Sad memories also have those places we wish we could forget but still plague our sleep. The cemetery where a loved one is buried, the school hall where you were taunted as a child, your yard with the oak tree that dropped a branch that crushed your house during a storm; all places with inseparable memories.  Paint vibrant word pictures of the places your memories reside. Your life history will come alive. One such place in my life is Lake Okoboji in NW Iowa. My mother went there as a little girl, as did I, as did my kids. Writing about that wonderful lake teased out more details about me and my family, and still beckons across the miles.

Okoboji Patterns

I was chilled lying on the bottom of the boat, rocking gently. I stared up into the fading light and watched the bottoms of the clouds brushed with gold. I felt happy, it was true. I was 10 years old and out fishing with my grandparents in an old boat on Lake Okoboji in northwestern Iowa. I squirmed into a jacket, slightly damp. It smelled fishy and I ignored the slime on the cuff. I sat up to watch the sunset, the light dancing on the rippled water shimmered rose and orange. The patterns of the small waves and sound of endless lapping mesmerized me. A sliver of a moon was rising in the sky.lindaboat

Nana showed me how she spit on a worm before casting her line into the lake and swore that’s how she always caught the most fish. The segments along the worm’s back lined up neatly as she threaded it onto the hook, spit and cast away. I watched the end of her rod vibrate and bend to the water. The click of the reel and her gentle laugh always meant another fish and I watched a perch dangle over the water, dripping and twisting in the breeze, fins quivering. Nana grasped it and worked the hook out of its mouth and held it close to my nose before she plopped it in the wire basket hooked to the side of the boat. Granddad pulled in the anchor and the basket of flopping fish. I knelt down and tried to count them and watched the fish mouths open and close, the shiny pattern of the blue green scales, the eyes staring. At me. I felt happy, it was true.

nana with Okoboji fish

The motor started and Nana put her arm around me. We putted along the smooth water as the stars followed us across the sky winking in and out of the clouds. The boat nudged the dock and I jumped out onto the gray splintery dock swinging the basket of fish. I counted 32 steps straight up from the lake to the grass where a winding dirt path led to my grandparents small home, plucked a fluffy seed pod on the way and put it in my pocket for later. I plunked the basket down on my granddad’s workbench and waited for him to catch up so I could watch him clean the fish. He had to crank the big wheel that lifted the boat up out of the water, the squeaks of the boat lift drifted up from the dock. He brought me a dripping tendril of wet weed from the bottom of the boat and laid it on the cement to dry knowing I would want to examine it the next day. I felt happy, it was true.

“So you gonna split those guts this time, Linda?” my granddad said as he tousled my hair and thrust a perch in my face. I giggled and stepped back. He picked up his special knife and quickly scooped out the guts and filleted the fish, one by one, throwing the translucent fillets into a bucket of water and stacking up the fish heads neatly to the side. Even the fillets had an intricate pattern; I lifted a hunk of fish flesh up to the light bulb and studied the even lines where the bones had been. Granddad snagged a fish head on his finger and carefully sliced out the eye, “These eyes are tiny magnifying glasses, see on this newsprint?” I had my own little bucket of water and carefully cleaned the eye lenses before drying them off and storing them in my little metal Sucrets box. A bunch of them rattled inside and after a whole week at the lake I had 73. I felt happy, it was true.

From a young age I noticed patterns; the ridges and whorls of a shell, the lace of a dried leaf, the bumps on an acorn cap, and the tiny sparkling frost on a windowpane. I counted, collected and catalogued. Fish eyes, leaves, pebbles and even soil. On one of those trips to Lake Okoboji from my home in Illinois I was a young girl in the backseat watching the spring fields change slowly from the dull brown clay of my hometown to the startling rich black soil of soil patterns “Dad, stop!  Please, can I collect some soil?!”  My dad understood. He catered to my whims. I got out and filled a baggie left from lunch with the black soil; fine and crumbly, so different from the sticky brown Illinois clay. I felt happy, it was true.

Someday I wanted to be a scientist and one summer took a small microscope to the lake to examine a drop of water dancing with miniscule life, an insect wing, or a maple seed helicopter. I looked at nature and the amazing complexity and something resonated in me, I wanted to know more. As I grew and studied I continued to be amazed by the small things. The study of the mechanism of a cell, tiny machines moving to and fro with specific purposes, fluids moving in and out, not random movement but an orderly orchestrated dance worked to crack my soul wide open, incredulous at the life force, the grand scheme of cells stacked up in such a way as to create.. me. I felt happy, it was true. It was true.

I eventually went on to Iowa State University and studied microbiology, so many wondrous things, a microscope opened up whole new worlds. I got a job as a research assistant and as a young adult got paid to count, collect and catalog. But then I met a man, and married. For a while I found pleasure in teaching biology labs at a small college in our new town. But when our first child was born I made the choice to stay home to raise her and her two siblings who came along in the next few years. Until my firstborn was old enough to talk and notice the world around her, I wondered if I had a made the right choice. When she was about 4 years old, I looked out the kitchen window and watched her play in the backyard. She was squatting down looking intently at something in the grass, and came running to the house waving a Blue Jay feather. “Mom, look, look!  See the stripes of blue on this feather!” That was the confirmation I needed, nothing satisfied me as much as teaching my children to appreciate the small things, the amazing world around them. I was happy, it was true.


Life Story – Passage of Time

Life stories can be written many ways. In the following story I include several vignettes from my life but also inject some fun observations on the passage of time. Telling about the incident of being late to meet my boyfriend because I was doing an experiment in a college chemistry lab shows details of our relationship and perhaps insights into my personality. You’ve heard the writing tip, Show Don’t Tell… here is my example of that:

Stuck in Time

When I was a kid bored in class, I escaped by reading a book under the edge of my desk. Books worked for me as I once again got lost in my own little world where time stands still. But during one such escape my shoulder was tapped and I looked up to an empty classroom and the bemused face of my teacher. She confiscated my book as my feet hit the floor joining the march of time as I headed to the next class. Late. Again.

God is eternal, not bound by time constraints, while the mere mortals He created are stuck firmly in time, always looking over our shoulders at things past or towards the future in worry or eagerness. Is this a celestial joke, with the constraints of time restricting our freedom to enjoy the moment? Sometimes I feel like one of my feet is unstuck. One foot is firmly stuck in time, but does the other  flailing foot allow my head to be in the clouds, lost in my imagination, so involved in the moment that my clock stops ticking? That unstuck foot is forever causing me problems, tripping me up.


As the years sailed by, my life was often suspended in the imaginary world of yet another book, another flight of fancy. I’ve learned to compensate. I can make it to appointments on time; can honor commitments to people and not rudely make them wait while I clamber back into their time zone. Is that my husband snorting in the background? He’s no doubt remembering the time I stood him up because I was too busy setting the air on fire in my chemistry lab. Okay, so I had a learning curve. Years ago when we were dating I had agreed to meet him on the steps of the chemistry building. He was adamant about the time but wouldn’t tell me why and annoyed me with his repeated reminders. Be there, don’t forget! Bunsen Burner life story

When I am involved in a project everything else fades away. I was juggling an intricate apparatus with my lab partner, a geeky guy with dark curls and wire frame glasses. We were trying to get some corks to seal our tubes before we released some fumes into them from our beaker. He painstakingly weighed the powder we were supposed to mix over a Bunsen burner. I added some liquid. Gosh I wonder what that was! We both leaped back as the mysterious invisible fumes bypassed our tubes and burst into flames inches from our faces. Instinctively we both checked our foreheads to feel for our eyebrows and stifled nervous giggles as the professor walked down the aisle to see what the commotion was about. That was when I glanced up at the clock, threw my stuff into my bag, an apology over my shoulder and ran for the exit.

My sweet guy was hunched over on the steps watching the sun sink behind the building across the street. How was I supposed to know that he had planned for us to climb to the top of the bleachers in the old football stadium? It was a special place we shared, the place where we first fell in love. How was I supposed to know he had planned to watch the sunset up there with me? diamond ringHow was I supposed to know that he had a diamond ring in his pocket that he wanted to give me as the sun sank beneath the tree line and that now he sat there trying to figure out plan B?  I ran down the steps. “Sorry I’m late, but I had to finish my experiment, I was flubbing up and set some fumes on fire.” “Uh, right in front of my face,” I added hoping his concern for my safety would trump his disappoint. He is a patient sort. We ended up going out to eat and he did give me that ring. So hey, it turned out alright!  Time marches on with or without me.

Years later after I married that patient guy (no, I wasn’t late for my wedding!) I lucked upon a job where I worked from my home. I had a required number of reports to produce each day, but my time was my own. I spaced out at will, surfed the web, read a book, took flights of fancy with no boss looking over my shoulder. As long as I got my work done by the end of the day it didn’t matter where I went, my boss never knew how convoluted the path. On glorious sunny days I suspended my work day, switched to full escape mode and went for a walk. Minutes snuck by unnoticed as I meandered among a stand of trees looking for buckeyes. The dark brown nuggets gleamed in the sunshine before filling my pockets. The sunlight filtered through the leaves and time stood still as I relished my escape.buckeyes

So many phrases try to capture the tyrant time. Time stands still, time is fleeting, you kill time, yearn for the time that has gone by or is still to come. Time is of the essence, time can be the enemy, passing by too quickly for all I want to accomplish. However I view time, happy in my moment, dreading its passage or wishing I could revisit the past, I am forever swept along like a piece of driftwood, riding the current, always moving toward the day I die. Ultimately there is no escape, but I can enjoy the ride!

So many books to read, buckeyes to find, meanders to make, delightful escapes all, but my computer calls. My work day marches on, I’d better reenter my time zone and get back to work!  Is there someplace else I’m supposed to be?