Category Archives: Life

#TBT: groups

As I was going through photos this summer, I discovered various photos that I had totally un-remembered.

Plaza Heights Baptist Church youth choir, 1986. I was leading the choir, and we were performing the musical “The Witness.”

This must be 1984, just after I started at Southwest Baptist. Two of these guys were suitemates of mine two years earlier. This was the Admissions recruiting staff at Southwest Baptist University. I’m at right.
Jacomo Chorale, ca. 1995. I’m in the white tie.

Ancestors

My heritage . . . how I got be here . . . my ancestors . . . the tree that rooted from immigrants and produced this one bow . . . this has all been on my mind the last few weeks.

I really don’t know why.

After my sister Beth decided that our family meal this last week (I spent 24 hours in Lee’s Summit) would be a re-creation of a Blocher family Sunday meal, I knew that we’d spend some time reminiscing too.

That led to an all-out few hours of genealogy conversations.

The meal?  I made brisket.  Karen brought green rice (broccoli/rice casserole) and a peach pie.  Beth made funeral potatoes and opened a can of Le Sueur peas, just like Mom and G-ma used to do.  I contributed the lime pickles.

And the genealogy.  Beth had asked me some questions the other day about who people were in various photos, as she continues to sort through my father’s belongings.  (We are now down to century-old photos, but of both sides of the family.)  Karen has the Ancestry.com family tree, and I had much of it in mind myself.

I’m the only one of us three old enough to remember the great-grandparents.  My mother’s paternal grandfather was alive when I was born, and I met him, but he died less then nine months after my birth.  I do remember Gram Blocher (Edna Stolp Blocher), my maternal grandfather’s mother; and Alvin Carter and James Slade, my paternal great-grandfathers, both of whom died when I was five or six.

Gram Blocher (d. 1964), my sister Karen on my mother’s arm. I’m standing. This would have been not many months before Gram Blocher died.
James and Belle Slade at their 50th anniversary celebration. I have the vaguest recollection of Belle, and only slightly more of James.

The Carter side great-grandparents were named Carter and Slade and Fields and Ratliff.  That’s a pretty British bunch.  And the Blocher side greats were Blocher and Stolp and Gutshall (anglicized from Gotschalk) and Ficklin.  Only that later name is British.  The rest are German.  From what I can tell from the lineage, these folks tended to marry within similar countries of family origin, and within similar faith groups.  One of my great-great-great-great-grandfathers was an elder in the Dutch Reformed Church in New York.  Many of the ancestors were Methodist or Baptist.  And of course I am the child of two Baptist missionaries whose parents were instrumental in their own faith journey.

Alvin Carter with two of his grandsons. My father, Richard, is at right. This would be 1953 or so.

From my journal this last week:

Visiting the cemetery yesterday, I prayed for the repose of my parents’ souls, and gave thanks for their example.  Some day they will be but a memory only to us three children.  Mom is warmly but hazily remembered by Blayne and Kristen [Karen’s two children, now adults and parents themselves].  All will be gone, and I for one want them to live a while longer in my own memory.  Mom is not quite sainted for us, but she’s on the short list in spite of her foibles and all-too-apparent humanity.  Their memories are sacred to us, though — as parents, as exemplars, as guides to how we might live and die, even as we learn from their clay feet too.

As we examined photos and unraveled genealogy, my mind filled over and over with memories.  I remember visiting Gram Blocher at her small house south of G-Ma’s, and her funeral — how fascinated I was by the accordion device that held the casket.  Of course, that device was at my eye level!

I remember visiting James Slade in his upstairs apartment on Jefferson, and in the nursing home.  And I remember that we were farmed out to Harold/Shirley Ward on the day of his funeral.

My paternal great-grandfather visited the Clayton house in Columbia.  That’s my only recollection of Alvin Carter.

Beth told me a story last evening that I never heard, of my first Christmas and a blizzard and Mom peeing into one of my cloth diapers and me drinking cold milk since we were stuck in the blizzard.  She heard this from Mom or G-Ma.

Last evening, lineage tracing back to Staffordshire, England on the Ficklin side, and to Germany for Gutshall and Stolp.  I’m a seventh-generation American on the Stolp side; sixth-gen on the Blocher side; and seventh-gen on the Ficklin side.  I have maternal ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary (Johannes Peiters Stolp) and Civil Wars, and one who was listed on the first USA census in 1790.  Jacob Blocher’s house was used at Gettysburg as a hospital.

Tearful

I’m a sap.  And I know it.

Charlie Ingram, several years ago, was elated when I reacted to his singing with joyful tears at a voice lesson.  “Everyone knows that when they get you to cry, they are singing really well,” he told me.

At my first viewing of Les Miserables, years ago in Kansas City, I sat in tearful silence during intermission, and proceeded to cry through the second act.  The Nutcracker inevitably reduces me to tears at the final scene.  My niece Anna didn’t understand my body-wracked, Merkel-esque tears and quivers the last time I saw (with her in NYC) the big “Seize the day” dance break in Newsies.

Give me a happy or meaningful moment with a student, a dying moment in a movie, any dog in duress, and I’m gone.

So I’ve spent a few days trying to figure out what about the Apollo 11 anniversary makes me so weepy.  Memories of a happy moment in my childhood?  Wonder at the incredible determination of hundreds of thousands of Americans those many years ago?  Awe at the vital spirit of discovery and exploration?  Loss of a time that was easier, when we believed our leaders and revered Walter Cronkite? Grief over the fact that those days will never come again?  All of the above?


Sunday morning. Two weeks since I’d last worked up the sourdough, so after making and resting the dough on Saturday evening, I baked on Sunday morning.


Why did a whole pot of petunias die?  I’m replacing them with vinca.


Summer holiday is down to ten days and counting.  And I still have so much to do.  My new compost barrel is not going to build itself. And the basement is not going to clean itself.  And the books are not going to read themselves.


I’m hurting today for one of my private students who is in some duress.  Kids can be so insanely cruel.

50 years

I’ll leave it to those more eloquent than me to write paeans about the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

And I’ll link an article later.

On this day 50 years ago, I had just turned eight years old.  Space launches were a big deal in the late 1960s, and I remember watching almost every lift-off . . . the thrill of the countdown, the excitement of all that smoke from the launch pad, and then the amazement of seeing that Saturn rocket take men toward outer space.

July 20, 1969 was a Sunday.  I don’t have any recollection of the afternoon, of the live broadcast on all three channels (imagine that!) of a simulation of the moon landing.

But I do remember being ready for bed after church that evening — we attended Fifth Street Baptist Church in Hannibal, and Sunday included two services — but my parents wisely telling me to stay up and watch the telly.  “You will want to remember this, to tell this story some day,” they said.

So I’m telling the story.

Thus it was that on this day, 50 years ago, my eight-year-old self watched Neil Armstrong take a step onto the moon.  And heard those immortal words:  “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

I don’t recall how long I stayed up that evening.  But I do bless my parents for requiring me to stay awake to see this world-changing moment.  As I age, the memory of this moment, now distilled through 50 years and sentimentalism and my own tendency to revere life-changing moments, reduces me to tears. As it does right now, as I write.

I was dimly aware of the turmoil of the last three years of the 1960’s.  I remember asking my parents about Viet Nam and death counts on the news, about Bobby Kennedy, about who they were voting for in the 1968 election (they wouldn’t tell me, but Mom said “I think our votes will cancel each other’s” and I’ve always assumed Mom voted for Humphrey while Pop voted for Nixon), about why students were killed at Kent State.  I was a precocious kid.

And easily moved, too.  The Olympics opening ceremony made me cry.  So did “My old Kentucky home” at the Kentucky Derby.  Still does. Still do.

So the memory of the moon landing and what happened 50 years ago today is emblazoned in my formation.  Thanks be to God.