Too Much Down Time?

By Jessica Cannon, Riverbend wRiters


Is there such a thing as too much down time? Is it like saying “I had too much vacation time this year”? I cannot imagine saying that before retirement – or ever.  The opposite has certainly been true – having too much unused vacation time because work was too crazy busy. And, this year has been an entirely different approach to vacation.

You know where I am going with this… the “Pre-Covid” versus “Post-Covid” world: Going from Human Doing to Human Being; the time when we never seemed to have enough time for household chores, families, or even vacations; the time when life just ran away with meeting someone else’s demands or expectations. The familiar old adage, “time is money”, certainly rings true with these economies.

Now we are living history as time slows down. The coveted down time begins. Streets became somewhat empty with little to no road rage to worry about, yet store shelves ran bare of vital products like toilet paper and Clorox wipes. We experience new times of panic wondering what happens next, or when this down time will end to allow us all to return back to another time other than the present. Ironically, we go from living in the past to preparing for a future, to being forced to accept the present as it is.

At the beginning of our pandemic we had just let our beloved ‘fur baby’ go to the ‘dog park in the sky’. I was hurting and wanting this down time. At the same time, I did not want the loss to linger so I kept finding things to do in and around the house. Running errands was a way to simply to get out of the house and listen to loud music as I drove around, but being mindful enough to consider what lyrics might be imprinting on my disgruntled mind. Either way, music has been the winner when it comes to avoiding the quietness of this down time. I was continuing to practice ‘Human doing’. Distracted. Disconnected. Lost in anxious thoughts.

Then the down time became mandatory stay-at-home/shelter-in-place. Routines shifted, as school for our youngest son became on-line learning from home. At some point, the usual routines stopped, and the days began to run together. It was in this new down time that I relearned what it means to be a Human being. The simple ingredients are: time plus grace.

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Huh? Did I lose you? Haven’t we had the time all along? Yes. I have had countless hours where I chose not to be still. I chose to surf the couch while engrossed in Netflix instead of exercising. I chose to clean house rather than sit under my meditation tree. I chose something else in the moment when I could have chosen to be still.

At least the earth was healing from the reduction of cars on the roads all over the world. At least many others were able to rejoin their families for quality time together. At least groceries and meals could be delivered. Thinking positive seemed to be the only way to cope with this changing world in this down time. Somehow, thinking about the ‘at least…’ list of the endless possibilities I could convince myself to feel positive – even though I just wanted to get in somebody’s face in Washington to say, “What the HELL people?” Don’t they know how hard it is to be still, think positive, and remain hopeful as a Human doing so much all the time?

I should not have been surprised when I finally ventured back out to the meditation tree to attempt to enjoy this down time when I began to hear the Spirit speak. The reassurance that everything was going to be okay did not seem to sink in until we turned the news off. The walks on the trail, the time spent under the trees, returning to the yoga mat to hear the Spirit say, “He’s got this” (which means: “Do what you can and know He has the rest. Become a Human Being and stop doing everything to avoid the uncomfortable silence.”)

At first, grace was as simple as setting the alarm a little later in the morning or taking a nap as needed. Being alone with my own thoughts seems to be exhausting, so the restorative sleep was needed. Reading a book seemed to be difficult to do when my thoughts kept intruding. Rather than think about what was wrong with me, I asked what would grace look like if I let those thoughts run free? Once again, I hear the Spirit speak, “Don’t be afraid.” In the midst of the morning meditations following the night of letting my thoughts run, from my conscious into my subconscious dreams, thoughts of family bubble up. Past, present, and a wishful future bubble up with tears. The imaginary obituary begins to roll through my thoughts.

If I did not have so much down time would these thoughts have ever surfaced? By divine design, the COVID down time has not only been the time to relax and reflect it has been the time to bring about much needed change. Family is where that change begins for me. The family which brought me into existence and shaped me has changed. The stories we tell ourselves has taken us in different directions. During this down time, I began to wonder if this were it and I never see them again what would I say if given one last chance? What would I need them to know?

How could I show them grace? I can become my own best friend, but how could I reconnect in such a way it helps them to let go of the past? What is more important than old grudges in a time when the world is burning and raging for all sorts of reasons? If Turkey and Syria could agree on a cease fire during this time, then why couldn’t we come to a better understanding? Now is the time because once we all go back to normal, business as usual, would we have as much understanding or compassion for others?

Of all the conversations I have meditated on and planned on having, the answers come by way of grace. In a raging, changing world trying to cleanse itself, grace simply says I love you. From one Human Being to another – I. LOVE. YOU.

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P.S. Giving yourself grace is a practice that becomes routine. Until it does, I added my personal reminder.




This is Us

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By Bob Burton, Riverbend wRiters

[A friend sent us a note signifying that the older generation will continue to lead in terms of overcoming the impact of the Coronavirus on our people and economy. This is my response. I offer this in response to a request to share our personal written opinions during this time in our journeys.]


When driving to the store, parking and placing a mask over my nose and mouth, my time as a boy was recalled. Growing up during WWII, cars had stickers to alert gas providers how much gasoline a specific car was permitted each month to have pumped into it. We had ration books to allot each family a precise monthly amount of meat, sugar, flour, et al.

While riding to the store, one could not help but notice the number of stores and commercial buildings that were closed. In addition, the roads were virtually empty of passenger cars and trucks.

When entering the store, my hand reached for the bottle of Purel  and paper towels in order to assure that my hands were antiseptically clean. I adjusted my mask to make sure that my mouth and nose were covered.

A limited number of people were permitted in the store at one time. Everyone wore a mask. Many brands of goods were no longer on the shelves.

Again, I thought of my parents and relatives. My father was an air raid warden. He made sure, when the air raid sirens went off, that neighbors closed down their lights and drew their black out shades. We lived near the airport. As the  sirens wailed, search lights would bracket the sky. Anti aircraft guns would be trained above. Dad would place a white helmet on his head, grab a baton, and go out into our neighborhood.

Uncles were killed or maimed by the war. When they came home, they were changed. I will always recall the blank stares, the shaking hands as if a palsy had infected them. Also, I recall the little flags in the windows signifying soldiers killed or injured. The movies showed soldiers running up hills or dropping into the ocean to attack beaches.

Yes, those of us born into global conflict are all now older, somewhat slower but never overwhelmed by something as simple as a virus. As kids we had lived through the fears of WWII, then the killing of our Uncles and Cousins in the Pacific, Europe and then the fields of Korea. As teens we hid under our desks with sirens indicating a Russian Atomic Bomb attack. And then as soldiers we served during the Vietnam War.

We have lived through the 1987, the 2000-2001, the 2008-2009, now the 2020 financial collapse. We are hardier than we look or may feel. Our parents warned us to save, to prepare, to overcome obstacles. They survived the Great Depression.

We are all older now. We may no longer be the future. But, we are not only the past. Our country will survive this. The young will survive and perhaps learn something as well.

In the Midst of Unknowing

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By Caren Upshaw, Riverbend wRiters


In the midst of Unknowing,

the Human mind

goes back down

an evolutionary

elevator floor to









Rise Up.


Humans reason,

see a bigger picture

use intellect to problem-solve

and yes, calculate, calibrate,

figure & worry.


But somewhere

Above it all

perhaps another dimension

where Knowing

came from.

The assurance that things will be OK

(even when physically not)

that our days are numbered

either way

it will be a blink of the eye

love is the measure

lilies of the field



The Trinity

inside each of us


permeable membranes,

world without end.

The Shoebox Chronicles: Letter Written During the 1918 Flu Pandemic Offers Advice for Today 

By Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters

1918 pandemic 4.jpgDuring this time of unprecedented disruption of our lives due to the global pandemic, many human-interest stories we hear are very positive as people try to offer help to others. However, media outlets continue to report disheartening examples of extreme hoarding and blatant greed of people trying to capitalize on this crisis.

Recently, a cousin shared with me a century-old letter written to her great grandmother from her twin sister about how her small Texas community dealt with the horrible flu pandemic of 1918.  The human kindness articulated in this inspiring letter contains many positive messages and examples that will help us get through our own pandemic.

Writers note: I am publishing this letter as written with misspelled words and all. Also, the date on the letter is illegible; however, it appears to be October 25, 1919.  This was amid an influenza plague that killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people worldwide.   

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Dear Martha,

God bless us all.  Bobby went to the mail today and I received all three of your sweet letters. We have been in quarantine for almost a month and just yesterday we got word that the plague had lifted. The immediate news is for the most part we were spared.  Just a minor case here.

Everybody is still talking about why our town got hit so hard.  Doc Bradly thinks it started at The Summer Festivel [sic].   The town square was filled with more people than ever before. Less than a week later Lucy Shelton lost her little Annie who was one of my third graders. Before it was over her two other children died and her mother also died.  She had already lost her Elroy in a combine accident two years earlier. Bless her soul.

Looking at Lucy, I know what our daddy meant when he always said tragedies brings out the best in folks. When the plague hit Lucy had already done her winter canning mostly fig and peach preserves.  When word got out lots of people were running out of food, she put them in smaller jars and placed um out by the street for people to take.   With her family gone Lucy said she had no use for them and just wanted to share.

I guess you remember Mr. Jonas down on the corner who always gave us the vegtables [sic].  He is fighting in France but before he left, he got his huge fall garden in.  His wife Cora got the word out for everyone to just come help themselves to whatever they needed.  Bobby and I watched it from the kitchen window and just like at Lucy’s everyone entered the garden one at a time and nobody took more than they needed.  I understand the McShane’s over on Sycamore did the same.

We were ordered to stay in our home with doors and windows shut though we did go out a little.  Most of our news came from Billy Johnson who works for Sherriff Owens.  Every three or four days he would leave a Mason of kerosene or turpentine on the front steps.  We were instructed to wipe everything down with it.  The kitchen counter, the table and the floor.  Doc Bradly said we also needed to constantly wash our hands with soap and hot hot water.  We were good there because I had made my soap at the end of August. When Billy hollered through the door people were running out of soap, I got busy with all the Lye I had left over and just kept the batches coming.  I had to cook it on the stove so I don’t know if we will ever get the smell out. We boxed them up and Billy delivered to folks who was out.  I was just glad we could do something.

I have got to sign off now, but I just wanted to let you know we are blessed and okay.

All my love to you and Roy,


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Shooting the Time Away

By Dan Naden, Riverbend wRiters

tattered net.jpgI miss sports. It’s not just that all athletic events have been curtailed as we practice social distancing. It’s the men and women who compete, pouring out everything they have into the contest. For the seniors in high school or college, this is probably a bitter end to their athletic competition. A rare few will play beyond college, yet the vast majority will no longer lace up their sneakers for their high school or college.

I know sports is insignificant in the big scheme of things — our safety and security always needs to be our top priority. [A big shout out to the caregivers, doctors and physicians who are caring for those who have the COVID-19 virus.]

Sports is a distraction; a respite from divisions over religion, politics, education, health care. No matter your political or religious views, the shared excitement around your team’s success transcends all which separates us.

As a college basketball junkie, and former play-by-play voice for the Valparaiso Crusaders, I miss all the games. The Cinderellas trying to make history with a colossal upset or the favorites trying to sustain their success from a dominant regular season campaign. The omission of the first weekend of games, which would have tipped off today (uggh!!), is the most painful to endure. Seeing the outmatched and higher seeded teams (Coastal Carolina, East Tennessee State, and UW-Green Bay) scrap and claw against college basketball powers (Duke, Kentucky, Kansas) is high-drama, scinitllating television.

My son, who also desperately longs for the basketball tournament, took matters into his own hands. He printed off a mock bracket; we made our picks and now we are playing out the tourney, game by game, round by round, in our front driveway. Sometimes the game is HORSE; sometimes it’s ‘best out of 10 free throws’; or sometimes it is a timed event to see how many shots from the corner you can make in 30 seconds.

The bad news for me is two fold: my son is a much better shooter than me and he wants to play all the time, making the ‘work from home’ situation especially challenging. The stark reality of my shooting woes has me seeing my bracket the same way it always appears about halfway through the tourney — many of my ‘picks’ are already eliminated, a train wreck of dashed dreams and ill advised prognostication.

This mock tourney has been so one-sided in my son’s favor, I’ve requested a change of venue. It seems he knows the rim in our driveway hoop better than the back of his hand. My change of venue request (Sun Tree Park) was accepted after much consternation. Sun Tree Park did help me squeak out a few games on a rare lucky bounce or two. Wisely, my son redirected the tourney back to our driveway so he could continue the drubbing.

We’ve nearly made it through the entire tourney before the actual competition had even completed a few games. In a huge upset, Louisville (my son’s favorite team) is playing the Texas Longhorns for the National Championship. Imagine the odds on that final pairing coming to fruition. My bet is on whomever my son is playing for in the final.

We’ve already discussed playing out the NIT and the CBI, although I might have multiple repetitive stress injuries by then. If we are lucky, and I am still standing, the winners of those two tourneys will play the winner of the NCAA in some type of round robin athletic extravaganza.

If you are sports-crazed like our family, find some creative outlets to pass the time until the long-awaited competitions begin again in earnest. And stay safe!!

Cherish the Family Bible

Lehman Bibles.jpgBy Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters

“There is a family Bible on the table. Its pages worn and hard to read. But the family Bible on the table will ever be my key to memories.” – The Family Bible Music and Lyrics by Willy Nelson

Growing up in my home, and in every relatives’ home I visited in my youth, there was always a worn and read Bible either on a bedside table or near the primary family gathering place. The Bibles were viewed as almost reverent ground and I never dared touch them.

Recently I ran head on to an issue that dramatically displayed, yet again, why modern technology is eroding a tradition as sacred as the family Bible.

The day was exciting and filled with anticipation as a most admired friend, and a man of great faith, was being sworn-in to office as a district judge. As I was preparing to go to the ceremony, I received a call from the judge-elect. In a rather disjointed voice, he asked if I could bring one of my Bible’s to the swearing-in for him to use when taking the oath of office. Of course, I agreed. But the situation begged the question: “What’s wrong with your Bible?” His answer stunned me when he sheepishly admitted they could not find it, and what’s more, he was not sure they even owned one. He then defended this shortcoming by saying he had 4 Bible Apps on his cellphone. My sarcasm was not well received when I suggested his wife just hold up his phone and let him take the oath on it.

Make no mistake I love my Bible App. It provides quick and easy access to Bible passages in several translations and I can take it places not convenient to lug my personal Bible. But convenience is not a replacement for a hard-worn and hard-read family treasure.

I am so glad my family has chosen to save all our old Bibles and have passed them down through the generations. In addition to recording a family’s history of births, deaths, and weddings at the front of the Bible, these treasures tell us so much more about the person who read them and the history they were living. As the Willie Nelson song says the family Bible is “the key to memories.” It is these memories that connect the dots of our history through the generations.

In reading old family Bibles I get a glimpse of the thoughts and values that guided the owner. In my grandparent’s and great grandparent’s times it was almost sacrilege to write or underline words in a Bible. Instead, they stuffed them with letters, photos of loved ones, birth announcements, and faded newspaper clips of weddings and obituaries. Even today these Bibles are literally museums of a family’s history.

My grandfather’s Bible is a crumbled mass of aged paper. But it is packed with handwritten notes on scraps of paper about what specific verses meant to him. These notes are the only thing I have of his writings as he talks about how Gods Word helped him through crop failures, the death of a child, and his struggles providing food for his family during the Great Depression. He often concluded his notes with words about how God never disappoints and always provides. This old message from a family Bible is as relevant today as ever before. However, the question of our time remains: How do you pass down your cell phone to the next generation?


I Am a Man

IMG_2774.JPGBy R. Burton, Riverbend wRiters

It is 1961, a hot summer evening in Georgia. And another week at Fort Benning, as we are continuing Officer’s physical training and leadership tests. This Saturday is special. We have time off to relax.

Being trained by Army Airborne Officers and Army Ranger troops is awesome. At the same time, there is no letup in terms of pushing us beyond physical and intellectual limits.

Ray, John, Steve, Henry and I are showered and dressed in civvies. I have my car with me at the post and so become the designated driver.

We drive into the small city of Macon, Georgia and park on a side street. We are wary of the inhabitants of this city. Many stories are heard of the Colonel. He runs the town and is heralded as a very bad and brutal man.

A recent article in a national magazine indicates that this is the most corrupt city in America. The Colonel runs the city with an iron fist.

In addition, the people who live here have little regard for soldiers. This is one reason that we come here together. A number of Army Officers training at Fort Benning, visiting here alone or in pairs, have been attacked and injured.

As we leave the car and walk along the sidewalk we see small signs in front of the homes: “GI’s, Dogs & N—r’s Get Off The Grass”.

We turn the corner into the main street and see the sign for the local bar. There are many pickup trucks lining the street.

An elderly black man, walking toward us removes his hat as he steps off of the sidewalk and into the street. “a good day to you Sirs” is his greeting as he bows his head and keeps his eyes focused upon the ground.

It is embarrassing to see him standing in the street, hat removed and offering a slight bow as five young white men continue walking by.

As we enter the front door of the bar, the conversations stop. All heads turn toward us as we hear a number of throaty sounds, much like a momma bear in heat lusting to kill.

As we walk to the bar, the conversations resume. The bartender is a huge man with a florid complexion. His forearms are swollen, presumably from weight lifting. With a deep voice he tells us, “you can stay for two beers each, then get the f____ out of here. I don’t want to be responsible for your losing your life or being beaten like a drum. In addition, do not, I say do not ever approach the Colonel.”

He then pours the beers and leaves us alone. While drinking, each of us surreptitiously take a brief look at the table where the Colonel is sitting. He is a small man with white hair and a goatee, surrounded by large young men who glare in our direction.

Although we take our time drinking our two beers, it is clear that we are in danger if we stay here.

So, we finish, pay the bill and leave. We can’t help but notice as we exit that two to three of the men sitting at tables close to the Colonel rise from their chairs and follow.

Our only comfort is that there are not more of them behind us. We figure we are five and they are three. Our martial arts physical training should help us. At the same time, their size is intimidating.

As we walk toward my car, one of the men following us yells, “stay the f— out of Macon. If you come back again, we will kill you army bas—rds.”


Once safely back at the barracks, lying in bed, I can’t help but think about my introduction to the South.

When arriving at the Atlanta Airport, it is shocking to see the signs over the water fountains, “Coloreds Only” or “Whites Only.” A door to the men’s room is pristinely clean with a polished brass plate to push when entering.  The sign above the door indicates, “Whites Only.”

Nearby is another door. It is filthy with handprints, dirt and grease. This one reads, “Coloreds Only.”

As I think about the first few weeks of training and the little time for relaxation, I am reminded of my trip, with other Officer’s, to the city center of Atlanta.

Hearing drums and bugles, we are surprised and enthusiastic when we see a parade. Marchers make their way down the center of the main street.

We hear the cheers of those waiting on the sides of the streets or passing by. Shock is registered as the men pass by. They are wearing what looks like white sheets and pointed headgear that covers their heads, ears and neck. It is my first exposure to the KKK.

A few years later, living on the East Coast, the television news is filled with stories of a black religious man and many other men marching across a bridge in Selma, Alabama.

I am reminded of my time in Georgia and perhaps have a perspective as to why these brave men are pressing ahead amongst a gauntlet of anger, danger and cruelty.

The signs they hold read, “I am a Man”.

Martin Luther King’s struggle for freedom becomes the Civil Rights focus of decades to come.

When I close my eyes, I can still see the men in sheets and hoods, parading through Atlanta. White men, women and children are cheering.

I can envision the Colonel surrounded by young thugs and the signs on the lawns denigrating soldiers, and black citizens. It is easy to recall the airport “Colored Only” bathrooms and the “Colored Only” water fountains.

It is shameful to remember the chill when an elderly black man humbles himself by moving from the side walk, to stand in the street, allowing four young white men to pass.

I can recall seeing on television a man of the “cloth” and other black men, doing no more than asking us to see them as men, with the same rights as everyone else.

This year, 2020, we again recognize the changes wrought by Martin Luther King.

At the same time, we mourn the continued divisions in our country.








The Shoebox Chronicles: Old Letters Show Family’s Civil Rights Origins

IMG_2774.JPGBy Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters (re-posted from his blog:


“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.”                                                                                                                                           – Romans 12:9


My second Cousin Timothy (Tim) appeared to be the rising star in his family. He was the youngest of 3 brothers who, like their father and grandfather, were union workers at the Houston Ship Channel. In 1952 he showed real promise of improving his lot in life by enlisting in the Army where he hoped to ultimately take advantage of the GI Bill and go to college.

Tim served a year overseas during the Korean War where he moved up in rank, saw significant combat duty, and returned home injury free.  Unfortunately, his luck ran out during a brief discharge processing stay in Seattle, Washington where a motorcycle accident landed him in the hospital for a few weeks.

While hospitalized, Tim fell in love with his beautiful nurse, Hattie.  They were married by a Justice of the Peace before returning to his home and family in a blue-collar community near Houston, Texas. The only problem was it was 1955. Tim was white, Hattie was black, and they were returning to the highly segregated deep south in the waning days of Jim Crow era.

Letters flew back and forth between distressed family members. One well-meaning aunt wrote a letter to Tim’s mom with, what she thought was a workable solution.  She wrote, “We have met Hattie and she is an absolutely lovely Christian woman. I am just so sorry this situation has caused you so much heartache.  However, I just may have a solution. Hattie is very light skinned.  I have heard a lot of negro women are growing their hair long and straightening it with an iron.  Hattie could do this and dye her hair blond and I am sure she could pass for white.”   She added, “Rumor has it this is what singer Dinah Shore does.”  (Unfortunately for this aunt, her letter has survived and been the source of family amusement in recent years.)

Needless to say, the suggestion was politely rejected. However, while the family may have been divided internally, publicly they were fierce defenders of Tim and Hattie.  The situation came to a head when Tim’s oldest brother, Nathan, ended up in the hospital with stitches and a broken nose after a bar room fight defending his family’s honor.

This was the last straw for Tim and Hattie.  Tim left a letter on his parent’s door apologizing for the pain he had caused his family. To alleviate any more family discourse, he and Hattie had decided to move to the northeast where they hoped to find a more accepting environment to raise their unborn child.

By all accounts Tim and Hattie flourished in Detroit, Michigan where Tim moved up in middle management at Ford Motor Company while Hattie continued working in healthcare. Their only child was the first of our family to graduate from college and he was even elected to the city council of his suburban Detroit city.

There appeared to be little contact between Tim and his beloved Texas family after his departure.  However, this was the start of our family’s long-time involvement in the civil rights movement.  Tim’s mother, father, and both brothers participated in a civil rights march in 1967 lead by Dr. Martin Luther King. Also, his mother worked a picket line protesting the “whites only” cafeteria inside Houston’s City Hall.

All my life I have been very proud of our family’s outspoken involvement in civil rights issues. It is very gratifying that a few old letters from Tim’s family have introduced us to the origins of this lifetime and life-altering cause.

The Shoebox Chronicles: A New Spin on an Old Holiday Tradition


By Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters

For generations, a holiday tradition in my family was to string a wire across the fireplace mantel to display much-anticipated Christmas cards.   The cards would fill the mailbox in the days leading up to Christmas as loved one’s touched base with friends and family.   Almost all the cards came with a written correspondence of annual family updates.  I remember my parents sitting down each evening to read the cards as a rite of the holidays.

The notes were usually hand-written and sincere.  With one exception.  Our beloved Aunt Beth always typed out a long letter highlighting her families “to-good-to-be-true” annual accomplishments.  She would mimeograph (a lost term for a bad copy job) the letter in mass to send out to all us less-fortunate souls.  It was amusing to read about how her husband was getting yet another promotion, her son continued to be at the top of his class, her daughter was once again voted most popular in school, and Beth stayed busy going to meetings and decorating the new house. (I think every family has an Aunt Beth.)

As I continue to trace my family history through my own shoebox files, and in letters other family members have forwarded to me, I am so glad that many of these cards were saved and passed down through generations.  (Even some of Aunt Beth’s letters survived.)

This year at our annual Christmas Eve gathering, several cousins shared some of their family’s old cards that had survived through the years.  In reading these cards, we all learned so much about our family legacy.  We also mused at a letter from Aunt Beth’s sister where she spilled the beans that the rosy picture her sister painted of her ‘wonderful life’ may have been a bit exaggerated, or at least lacking information which included the daughter’s ‘shot-gun’ wedding and an embezzlement conviction by her philandering husband. We were not laughing at Aunt Beth and her woes – just celebrating more family trials, triumphs, and rich histories.

The wire across the mantel for holiday cards is a long-gone tradition as most modern Christmas cards are glossy postcards with a pre-printed message, or an impersonal post on Facebook. This is not all bad because, thanks to social media, we don’t have to wait for an annual card to get important family updates.  The problem is today’s cards are easily trashed as “insignificant” or discarded with a touch of a “delete” button.

While Christmas messaging may no longer be the answer, the need to look for ways to preserve our family heritage through the written word remains paramount.

In my own small box of family mementos – stuffed between Boy Scout merit badges and baseball participation trophies – is a letter written to me and my brother from our mother, dated January 1, 1990.  She wanted to mark the end of a decade with some personal thoughts and memories. While her dedication to family and faith were unquestioned, she went on to list other important items in her life over the previous 10 years.  The list included: her favorite rescue dog, her favorite book and movie, and noteworthily milestones and personal accomplishments. Looking forward she was optimistic about all the fast-paced opportunities my brother and I would enjoy in comings years. She concluded her letter with some spiritual advice encouraging us to seek God’s will in all ways.

That letter turns 30 years old this week as we celebrate the end of another decade. This type of milestone is an excellent way to reach out to family members with a written correspondence that may just end up in someone’s family treasures that inspires and educates future generations.


A Christmas Song for All Seasons

christmas-carols-bells-with-music.jpgWhat is your favorite Christmas carol?

Most people seem to immediately reference the words of specific songs and how those words made them feel, how they resonated with them. My first inclination was that the song I was thinking of has no words. How would I be able to write something about how words can make me feel when there are no words? Oops. I was wrong. The song I’m thinking of does indeed have words. It’s just that most versions of this song I hear are instrumental. I am talking about “Carol of the Bells.”

It may not be the most traditional song, as I don’t think it’s really sung when people go caroling, and I can’t remember ever hearing it in a Christmas service. The reason this song is one of my favorites is that it has been remade and reimagined over and over by different people and bands – from orchestras, TV shows, video games, to even the metal band Metallica. There are countless covers of this song. And most of these versions have no words, just the music.

And the music is so moving – from one iteration to the next. One version can bring about emotions of joy and extreme happiness, while others can evoke a more ominous and dreadful experience. Some are short, others are drawn out with several movements.

This is why I think this song has always been one of my favorites: It’s big, small, bright, dark, happy, sad…  just like life. For some people, the holiday season can be all of these things, all at the same time. So this song, that mimics that aspect of the season and of life, can be the perfect companion.

But, as I said in the beginning, I was wrong. There are of course words to this song. In one line it speaks to the way it makes me feel: “Christmas is here, Bringing good cheer to the young and old, to the meek and the bold.” No one is left out. Everyone is included in the gift that Christmas represents. The Lord Jesus. HE is here for all, the young and the old, the meek and the bold, and He is here to bring Cheer. To bring hope. To bring love.

So let the bells ring their carol and bring you through the small into the Big – out of the darkness into the light, from sad to happy, because ‘Christmas is here’!

The Hopes and Fears…

bethlehem-at-night-background.jpgBy Andy Raiford, Riverbend wRiters

In 1868 pastor Phillips Brooks penned the words to O Little Town of Bethlehem after visiting the birthplace of Jesus. He carried his heart-felt lyrics to church organist Lewis Redner to complete it with music. Redner agreed, and 150 years later the piece remains one of our most cherished Christmas carols.

He wrote:

Oh little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

The truth about this world-changing event is that the very town, which the prophets predicted would deliver the Messiah and Savior of the world, slept through it. The central character of Earth’s history was born unnoticed by all but Mary, Joseph, a few sheep and oxen, and a small group of shepherds. This last group was told by the Angel of the Lord, surrounded by a great host of angelic beings singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased”, that they should get over to Bethlehem to be witnesses to the birth of the Savior.

I’m going to safely assume that the angels visited the manger also. Wouldn’t you? God became flesh to dwell among us and yet the town slept a deep and dreamless sleep. Great. The hopes and fears of all the years were met in Bethlehem that night and they’re sawing logs.

Nothing has changed in 2,019 years. Jesus remains the hope of the world, and the fear of the world and many sleep through it, spiritually speaking. When He returns, hope and fear will increase substantially. At that time, I doubt that anyone will sleep through it. These thoughts run through my brain every time I sing that tune.

The Comforter and Joy – A Read Aloud Story for Christmas

star-over-bethlehem-background-6.jpgCaren Roberts Upshaw (1997) – Riverbend wRiters


God Rest Ye Merry People, as I send Good Tidings of a little girl named JOY.

Joy’s smile turned on at Morning’s Light, and went to sleep with her last thought at Night.

Joy had a Comforter that was her favorite Lovey. It had been a gift from an angel friend and had been hugged so soft it was more like a friend than a blanket.

On Christmas Eve, Joy went to sleep listening for night sounds and thinking of potential morning surprises. As she drifted to the land where thoughts roam free and turn into Dreams, her Comforter became a Cloud! She glided through the Timeless Sky to an ancient village, pulled as if by a magnet to a Bright Star.

The evening air was warm, and Joy noticed a choir of angels robing up for a pageant.

She sensed the vibration of anticipation!

The cloudlike Comforter drifted gently toward the ground, to an outbuilding of no apparent consequence.

But you see, that is the Magic of Christmas….and Life!

Things are Not Only what They Seem to Be.

A mother and father were holding a newborn infant, suspended in Thankfulness.

Joy felt as if God had poured the amazing Love of the Entire Universe into the tiny baby, and the Warmth of Being Loved filled Joy also.

God, the Creator of all of the Universe wanted to connect to us through our Human Nature, so we were sent the Gift of a Comforter that can hug us from the Inside out!

Christmas is the Gift Wrapping of Faith.

It’s Invisible until Opened, then it is as endless as the Starry Sky.

 Continue Your Journey, with Comforter and Joy



Another World

lionel 1.jpgBy R. Burton, RIverbend wRiters

The train rushes down the track with signals flashing green as the powerful engine and string of cars move rapidly toward the intersection. The arms of the crossing gates slowly lower to a horizontal position blocking automobiles from travelling over the tracks.

The mournful sound of the horn can be heard as it echoes against the warehouses and residences clustered about the village.

Farms slide by as the train emerges from a tunnel leading into the countryside. Barns flit past as the cows and horses stand placidly in the grass.

The train slows as it approaches the bridge. The engineer must be certain that the westbound train is not crossing at the same time. From experience, the trains can brush each other, rocking from side to side, while simultaneously crossing the bridge.

The fear is constant that one car or another could fall into the lake below. The drop is perilous and the water hazard acute.

The engine whines as it pulls the cars up an incline and into the mountain range. It takes a deft touch on the controls for the engineer to be certain that the wheels do not slip on the tracks.

The curves here are tricky as well. There have been accidents in this area when pressure on the controls has resulted in a derailment.

Again, the pace is reduced as it begins the long descent toward the next town where the heavy load in the grain cars will be removed.

As the engine moves gracefully into the yard, the train master steps quickly down the stairs of his raised platform and swings a lantern. The engineer knows that it is okay to move forward.

He pulls in next to the unloading platform and waits while the grain is transferred to the holding tanks. It is time for a brief rest from the pressures of operating a long string of cars.

It was only last year when the accident occurred. The memory brings creases of consternation and pain to his face.

On the long run through the countryside, the engine bumped the heading of the bridge. The bridge, now misaligned, clipped the edge of the gondola and derailed all of the cars following behind.

It was a disaster with tank cars, cattle cars and coal cars strewn about the landscape.

Several cars fell into the shallow water below.

While investigation was underway, the damage took time to repair.

The final verdict is engineer error. The boss is not happy and the engineer’s pay is reduced. Well, it is not going to happen again.

The signal is given that the grain car has been unloaded and it is time to begin the remainder of this trip.

Routing the train through the yard is a tricky business, especially when the engineer is worried about another accident. The reduction of pay is hurting.

As the caboose passes the last switch in the yard, the engineer pushes forward on the controls. The train picks up speed as it again traverses the tracks, passing villages, towns and cities.

It curves around the airport and into the coal yard where the black chunks of coal are unloaded. The train speeds through the barren areas of sand and sage.

The engineer thinks, it is a good trip this timeas he contemplates the remaining route and the repairs needed on the tender.

It is also time to think about adding an additional engine and tender. With three trains, the engineer would be able to better utilize the expensive control system that took so long to save.

Suddenly, Mom calls, “lunch is ready”. The engineer, a boy of roughly thirteen years, turns off the transformer and walks quickly to the kitchen. The Lionel train set will be there when he returns.

As he walks away from his train platform, he considers the many birthday money gifts, Christmas gifts, lawn cutting and extra chores that have given him the opportunity to build this amazing railroad.

This Christmas is special with the new accessories of a village airport and a passenger station.

He knows that this is not really a toy but something to keep, build upon and rigorously maintain for the future. It is a gift to be able to spend his hard-earned money on such luxuries.

The Lionel Train set and the bicycle he won in a National contest are the two items he owns that are personal. There is no sharing of these with his brother or sister.

As Dad has taught, he must keep them in excellent repair, clean, maintain them and assure that they are not damaged in any way. The reduction in the pay for chores are a reminder.

The bicycle, won in a story creation contest, resulted in a visit and presentation to him at his elementary school. The kids were all excited when Roy Rogers, the cowboy movie star, presented the award to him. It ended with an interview on the local radio show.

Sitting next to the adult radio entertainer, answering questions about the contest and the meeting with his cowboy hero was scary. As a quiet kid, it did not go as well as he would have liked. In any case, he still can keep the bike that he won.

At the end of the Christmas holiday, he will religiously clean and oil the engine, tender and cars while returning them reverently to their original cartons.

Next year, assuming he can save enough money, he will have an additional engine and tender.

Life is good.












The ‘Giving’ Gene


By Bob Burton, Riverbend wRiters

“I can’t give you a company with the name Burton & Sons, a company that will provide you status, financial security and a career. I can’t give you an inheritance that will provide you with the financial means to begin your adult life with wind at your back and money in your pocket.

I can’t offer you a private school education that will give you an advantage in this tough world. I can’t offer you a famous name that will open doors for you where others will be unable to go.

I can, however offer you love and support as well as a secure family setting, principles to live by and as much college as we can afford and where you can succeed.”

As a teenager, listening to a serious discussion with my Dad, I am not sure I understand all that he wants me to absorb. I do not expect to be given a company, an inheritance, a famous name or a private education.

Certainly, it is my hope to be able to attend a college or university that will give me the grounding needed to release the energy and intelligence I believe I possess.

Tuition at a famous Ivy League University is not expected.

Life is hard. This I know. One must be able to secure his or her career. Without hard work, there will be no money. I know I will have to study harder, work harder, think more clearly and speak more intelligently than those who have been given the above advantages.

It is also clear that the love, family support and principles that my family offers to my brother, my sister and me should give us a grounding for our future decision making.

But, as I grew older the most important knowledge given to me was the example my parents set while dealing with adversity.

When our uncle was out of work, he and my aunt were invited to move in with our family. Having four adults and three kids in a row home, with three bedrooms, one bathroom and one wage earner, was a challenge.

But, again, through love and patience we were able to surmount waiting for the bathroom, stretched amounts of food at meals and what station we listened to on the one radio in the home.

Then there were the neighbors suffering from unemployment. My parents stretched the food budget to its breaking point as they bought extra food for yet another family.

Tasked to take a box of foodstuffs to our neighbor’s row house, I was told, “ring the front door bell and quickly leave”. My parents did not want our neighbors to be embarrassed by seeing who brought them the food.

The past two years had been difficult for blue-collar workers, when more than one neighbor found themselves in dire straits.  Mom and Dad continued to stretch their budget and funds to help out.

In addition, when we visited my Great Grandmother’s home, Dad quietly walked alone into the dining room, opened the top drawer of the buffet and left a small stack of money there. He quietly closed the drawer and walked back into the living room to continue the family discussion.

Again, I was told, “never say anything about supporting your Great Grandmother. We do not want to embarrass her. She does not have enough money to pay her energy bills”.

Our Great Aunt was widowed. Unfortunately, her son had pressed her to sign a document giving him power of attorney.  He took possession of her bank accounts and moved all of her funds a thousand miles away into his accounts.

Without a car and a bank account, my Great Aunt was marooned in her row house.

So, Mom and Dad stepped in to assure that she was being cared for.

Every week, Mom and Dad drove to our Great Aunts house to take her grocery shopping. They paid for her food and made sure she had her cabinets filled with healthy meals. In addition, they took her to Doctor appointments, paying for her health care and prescriptions.

Again, I was told, “please do not say anything to your Great Aunt that will embarrass her. She feels badly that her son is controlling her life and does not appear to care if she lives or dies”.

Then, my sister’s boyfriend was left homeless by his family when his Mother and Father moved away, locked the doors to their home and did not leave a forwarding address. He came to our home emotionally wounded and bewildered.

My parents did not hesitate to invite him to live with us. He was given the rules of our home that we all abided by. T— moved in with no more than the clothes on his back and limited change in his pocket.

Dad let us know, “T — is to be treated as one of the family, just the same as you treat your brother and sister. He is welcome to live here until he graduates from high school and is able to support himself”.

Wow! I did not know anyone else who would do this for a young man who had been abandoned.

When my sister had extended medical issues, following the birth of my Niece, my young Nephew moved in with us. I recall his cheerful smiles since his crib was located adjacent to the kitchen.

When my parents retired they took on the task of helping those elderly in the city that were unable to afford healthy food.

Each week they drove to the farmer’s market to purchase baskets of vegetables. The baskets were then taken to a Senior Center where the vegetables were separated into small portions and resold at the same discounted prices available from the farmers.

For those elderly who were unable to visit the center and home bound, due to infirmities, disabilities or fears, Mom and Dad took the food to them in their homes.

They charged the same discounted farmer’s market prices or nothing at all.

Finally, when our Grandmother found herself ridden with cancer, she moved into our home to be cared for by our Mom.

Many folks talked about giving or compassion. Others, like my parents, walked the talk.

This is one gene I hope I have inherited.

To Serve and Protect   

vets day 6.jpg

By R. Burton, Riverbend wRiters

Dad was a First Sergeant in the Army Engineers. He proudly marched with his military unit at the end of World War One under the Arch de Triumph in Paris.

My Brother, a First Lieutenant in the Army Artillery, fortunately was not exposed to war. He was however constantly vigilant in his training while on call for various conflict areas.

My Uncle, a Major in the Army Artillery was not as fortunate. He fought in the Pacific Theatre during WWII. And, then again, he fought in the Korean War.

While a young Lieutenant, he and his company of men were tasked to move into the atomic bomb devastated test areas in Nevada. They were to ascertain damage to buildings, autos and other structures. Later in life, he was riddled with cancer.

And, there’s my Brother-in-law – a Commander in the Navy. He fought in WWII commanding a ship in submarine infested waters.

Our son-in-law, a civilian, leads an effort to evaluate and treat active military men and women returning from overseas conflict zones. TBI and PTSD are frequently discovered and treated.

And, last but not least my experience was as a First Lieutenant in the Army Infantry. As with my brother, although we trained and were packed for various military engagements, fortune did not place either of us in danger.

Growing up during WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, then as older adults in the Middle East Wars and many other military engagements too numerous to mention, we were raised to respect military men and women who either fought or trained to fight to protect our nation.

Our family members’ mission in life continues to be to add value to our country, our community and our respective families.

Today, the culture in America continues to change. Pride in country is fleeting. Pride in those who risk their lives for others, at least in some parts of our country, is no longer respected.

Whether for young military men and women or first responders such as police, firemen/women, emergency medical personnel or civilians who step in to save or treat others, the respect appears to be diminishing.

Perhaps today it is time for all of us to be more vocal in our support of these brave men and women so valuable to our society and our ideals…