Monday, December 24, 2012

Lumpy Socks and Charlie Brown Trees

It is Christmas Eve 2012! Where has the time gone? While many of you are making merry with your family and friends about now, it's just me and the doggies hanging out here. When you have a hubby with a crazy work schedule like mine, you get used to it. It's okay though. Most of my holiday preparations have been made and now I have time to just sit here. Quietly. Reflecting. Thinking about what an awesome God we have. He who sent His only son to earth as a little baby so we could all have this wonderful Savior! Also thinking back to the Christmases of yesteryear and how truly blessed I am to have these memories. Oh, there are so many but here are just a few that come to mind.
It looks like it's dancing!
Christmas was without a doubt the most anticipated time of the year when I was a little girl. I imagine it is for most children.  First of all, the Christmas season didn't even begin until Thanksgiving was over. The stores didn't put the Christmas items out on the shelves along with Halloween decorations like they do today. Isn't that just ridiculous? We had to practically beg Mom and Dad to let us put the tree up well into the second half of the month of December. I've read stories and watched old movies where families didn't put any decorations until Christmas Eve since they left them up for the twelve days of Christmas. Now I must admit that there is something kind of cool about the idea of waiting until Christmas Eve to put your tree up. It brings to mind a picture of an old Victorian Christmas card ... a family gathering together, trimming the tree with real candles (yikes!), singing carols, all the while sipping on eggnog. Something right out of a Dickens novel. Anyway, when you are an impatient little girl, it's hard to wait. What am I saying? When you are an impatient big girl it's hard to wait! As I remember, it was usually about two weeks before Christmas when our family would drag out all the decorations and start decking the halls. Artificial trees were unheard of when I was really young so it wasn't until several years later when we got our first faux tree. As you can tell by the photo, our trees had c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r! Charlie Brown's tree had nothing on ours! Charlie hadn't even been born yet so we didn't actually use his name back then to describe our trees - they were just what we were used to. I remember it being an extra luxury when we had one that was actually tall enough to sit on the floor instead of on top of the desk in the living room! Oh and see that round thing on top? It is actually and angel standing on clouds. There is a reflective, prism looking thingy (the round part) and a glittery bulb when lit, makes it all "heavenly" looking. I just found out the other day that my sis, Barb has that tree topper now and uses it every year!

It was a family affair, the decorating of the tree. Dad was the boss. The boys were in charge of getting the lights on. We had those big ol' bulky colored bulbs that got very hot. Back in the day, they were hooked up "on a series" meaning that when one went out, they all did. It was a pain when one would go bad and it was usually the very last that was checked that was burned out. It never failed. We all had a hand in placing ornaments, tinsel and the rest as Dad sat back and eyeballed the scene, offering his supervisory skills. Mom offered her opinion only when asked. Once the tree was up and all decorated, the excitement of Christmas really started to fill the air, along with the smell of Mom's homemade sugar cookies and Dad's fudge.
The original Barbie Doll
Secret trips to Woolworth's or our local dime store followed by whispers between brothers and sisters kept all of the excitement going. We didn't have a lot of money to spend on elaborate gifts, in fact, we knew nothing of such things. Each one of us kids would get maybe 2 or 3 presents each from Mom & Dad. By then, some of the older ones had jobs and did some gift-giving as well. Most of the time our gifts were something practical like much needed underwear, new night clothes or socks. I remember one year in particular when I received a new baby doll. She was the kind that didn't have any "real" hair and what she had was just a textured part of the molded plastic. That little baby doll was precious to me and I remember so well the scent of the vinyl that she was made from. To this day, I love that smell! I think it may have been sister Janet who bought Barbara and I our first and probably only Barbie Dolls. These were the original Barbies too! Remember, Barbie just recently turned 50 so we really did get some from the first batch! When we got a little older and wanted to do some shopping ourselves, I remember Mom would always save back a little money and give us each a few dollars to go buy gifts with. Sometimes, certain scents still remind me of those days ... and those large bottles of cheap toilet water (yes, that's what it was called) that we would sometimes buy for each other.

Before my sibs and I (the last three of us at home) actually received our first ready made Christmas stocking with our names on them, we hung our white knee socks up and woke to find them filled to the brim with oranges or tangerines, walnuts in the shells and candy canes. What a sight they were! They looked like huge stuffed sausages hanging from our make-believe mantle! Regardless of how they looked, they were also filled with love and I will always remember those lumpy socks as one of my favorite Christmas memories. Mom always made sure she put the exact same thing in all our socks because she knew we would dump it all out and compare what we got with each other. Mom was very  careful not to show "partiality" as she put it, to any of us kids. I guess when you have so many children you must be careful to treat them all the same to keep fights from breaking out!

Thinking back to those Christmases of days past warms my heart and I can't help but miss the simpler times. I absolutely love the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" and I don't consider my yearly Christmas experiences complete without watching it ...the version with George C. Scott. The Ghost of Christmas Past came to remind Scrooge of the joy Christmastime had brought to him in years gone contrast to the way he was living when the ghost visited him. His life was full of regrets because somewhere along the line he lost hope and became a lonely and bitter man. Oh sure, I too have a few regrets in my life ...most of us do, but when Jesus is your Lord and Savior, those regrets have no place because He takes them all away and replaces them with His love and grace.

Yes, the Charlie Brown trees, the lumpy socks and the smell of a plastic baby doll are all fond Christmas memories of mine. But all of those silly little things I remember would be just silly little things had they not have been wrapped up in a lot of love. Love for God. Love for each other. These things remind me that memories, Christmas ones especially, are the best gifts we could ever hope to receive.

Merry Christmas! And may God bless us...everyone!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's About Time

When I decided that I wanted to start journaling my childhood memories, I got a tablet and started listing them as they came to mind. Most of them came quickly. Some I had to ponder more. But they came to me, knowing that as time went on, others would make it to the forefront of my brain. It has been nearly nine months since I started this blog and it wasn't until just a couple of days ago that I inadvertently came across something that popped up on the internet. Something that I actually grew up with, yet somehow, I had forgotten completely about it! I guess that's how the mind works when we get...uh-hum....more mature :)

Anyway, some of you who visit my Facebook page, might have gathered that I am always doing some sort of decorating project in my home. You may have also seen my fireplace re-do and the large round clock hanging above the mantle. Well, I was looking on Google Images for some Christmas decorating ideas and typed in something like "Christmas fireplace with clock" in the search box. Of course all these pictures appeared and then ... I saw IT. The heck with the Christmas decorating ideas. What I saw stopped me in my tracks and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.


The search of images for "fireplace and clock" brought up exactly just that - a clock shaped like a fireplace. OMW! Where had this memory been all of these years? When I was a little girl, this identical clock sat on the desk in the livingroom. Sometimes I think I remember it on the end table as well. After finding some old pictures, I noticed that it kind of shows up in several places throughout the room. As you can see, it is a darling little clock. The fire in the fireplace actually lit up and a revolving something-or-other behind the logs made it look just like a real miniature fire that was burning. I remember gazing into those flames and wishing that I could somehow shrink down so that I could sit in front of it and warm myself. Or hang Christmas stockings from the mantle. Or toast marshmallows. I envisioned a cozy little cottage with this little fireplace creating a warm, comfy atmosphere.

We didn't have a fireplace in our home and I remember wishing so much that we know, so Santa could come down the chimney, of course! Instead, I just imagined that the old wooden desk in the living room which was always where we sat up our Christmas tree—as well as hung our stockings from—was really a fireplace in disguise. Don't ask me how, okay? I was just a little girl with a vivid imagination!

Here it sits on the old treadle sewing machine cabinet behind Mom's chair...
...and on the bookshelf behind Mom and Dad...
...and on top of the TV.
Oh, and let's not forget... there's that imaginary fireplace (the desk) I was mentioning before :)

Anyway, the day the picture of this clock appeared on my computer screen, not only did it surprise me but also puzzled me. How could I have forgotten such a fond memory from my childhood days? Isn't it funny how some things just seem to get lost in the deepest recesses of our brain? It doesn't happen to me often but it really surprised me that I had forgotten about that little clock. I immediately clicked on the picture to find out why this clock was even on the internet...OK what isn't on the internet, right? It opened up a whole page of them on ebay! I found out quite a bit of information about this little fireplace clock that day. First of all I discovered that this is one popular little collector's item. The clocks were manufactured in 1957 by Mastercrafters Clocks. The company actually made many different and unique types of clocks using various other whimsical elements. The main part of the body was made from bakelite, if you know what that is. I didn't before but I do now, thanks to Wikipedia as you see below.

Bakelite (play /ˈbkəlt/ BAY-kə-lyt), or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, is an early plastic. It is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from an elimination reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. It was developed by Belgian-born chemist Leo Baekeland in New York in 1907.
One of the first plastics made from synthetic components, Bakelite was used for its electrical nonconductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings, and such diverse products as kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, and children's toys. Bakelite was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark in 1993 by the American Chemical Society in recognition of its significance as the world's first synthetic plastic.[1] The "retro" appeal of old Bakelite products have made them collectible.

Now that we have all been educated about bakelite and it's history, don't you just feel so enlightened? Anyway, back to the story...
Ebay has many of them to bid on and I got so excited when I went down through the list and found a couple for under $10.00! A closer look at the description and I was disappointed to see that they were not in working order but just selling them for parts. There was one for $149.95 that was in very good condition and another in mint condtion for $265.00! Wow! I couldn't believe that we owned such a gem! I don't know how my family acquired this clock but I know Dad surely didn't spend a lot of money on it...probably didn't cost more than $10.00 back then. 
I checked with all seven of my siblings and no one seems to know what became of this sweet little clock. It makes me kind of sad to think about it getting away from the family but it sure has blessed my heart for the memory of it to have re-surfaced.
After all these years, it is about time :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Music To My Ears

Music has always played an important part of my life, especially as I was growing up in the Billheimer family. I think I was about three or four years old when I joined in with my brothers and sisters and learned "my part" in the family harmony. Now, family harmony is a little different than the typical harmonies that are learned in music classes or choir. Anyone who sings with family knows exactly what I'm talking about. The melody or lead part is always the same but there is no perfect tenor, alto or barritone. Sometimes anyone singing a part other than lead usually crosses over onto another one's part at one point ... just at the exact same time the other crosses over onto theirs. There is no written music to follow...I can't really explain it. It just happens. Somehow it just blends together perfectly. Finger nails on a chalkboard come to mind when I think of harmonies that don't blend together well...kind of like the music from the movie "Psycho"...if you follow. Many years later when I started singing in the choir at church and  since I couldn't read music, I had a hard time staying on my part when I wasn't singing the melody. That's why I decided to sing soprano. 

By the time I was probably about four, I had already recorded my first solo (hehe). The name of the song was "I Love My Rooster" and it was recorded in our livingroom on our family's reel-to-reel tape recording machine that weighed about 100 pounds...state-of-the-art technology, to be sure. Actually, at the time, it probably was! The following are the touching, heartfelt lyrics to that song:

                 I love my rooster, my rooster loves me
                 I cherish my rooster on the green bay tree ... (what?)
                 My little rooster goes cock-a-doo-doo
                 De-doodle-ee, doodle-ee, doodle-ee-doo

I swear, these are the words. After this first verse, it went on about a duckie that goes quack, quack, quack and a hennie that goes cluck, cluck, cluck. Really, I'm serious. I never did understand how one cherishes anything on a green bay tree. I don't even know what a green bay tree is, although they must grow somewhere in the state of Wisconsin :) All I know is the song must have bored me silly because during the recording, I was actually falling kidding...I still have that recording to prove it. My voice would just trail off to places unknown every now and then. God bless those brothers though...they just kept on playing the accompaniment, slowing down and then speeding up to follow my every lead.

Doug and Jerry, all ready to perform
All three of my brothers played musical instruments. In fact, I think everyone one of us kids have played (or tried to play) a guitar or mandolin at one time in our lives. But the boys were our true instrumentalists. When Jerry and Doug were very young, they "toured" (I use that term loosely) with a local country-western singer from our area named Kenny Roberts and did a few performances on local TV and radio. Jerry used to have an old poster in his guitar case (I'm sure it's still there) from when he and brother Doug's performance followed the Zig-Zag Mountain Boys...I mean, we're talking about some big named talent here! In reality, it was "big time" for them! When they played their music at home, Dad would often join in on his harmonica, which he played very well. Mom just sat back and took it all in with a quiet smile.

My oldest brother, Bob, was married and living in South Carolina by then and it was always such a special treat when he and his family would come home for a visit because that meant only one thing...we would be having one of our infamous "jam sessions". When the weather was warm, we would gather out in the front yard - sitting on lawn chairs, the picnic table, the porch or where ever we could find a place. Sometimes our neighbors would come over into our yard or sit out in their own so they could enjoy the music too. Oh, it was so much fun...everyone singing and playing, acting crazy and just having a grand time! We all had our own special songs that we sang....some were solos, some duets or trios and then those that we all joined in on. Some were silly songs, some were love songs and many were hymns. When I was bit older, Janet, Barbara and I sang a Spanish love song titled "More". If we were to get together today, we could still sing every word to that song and still not pronounce them all correctly! We learned many of the songs we sang by watching "The Lawrence Welk Show" every Saturday night. The Lennon Sisters from that show were our idols. Out of all the of songs the family sang though, Mom's favorites were the hymns and sacred songs.

Doug, Bob and Jerry showing off :)

The Christmas season was without a doubt the most anticipated time of the year, at least for me when I was a little girl. On Thanksgiving Day, without fail, my family would usher in the season right by having what would become a Billheimer family tradition. Right after everyone had eaten and tummies were full, anyone who wasn't helping clean up the kitchen would find a seat in the living room and the boys would break out their instruments. We girls would chime in from the kitchen as we finished up the dishes and then made our way into the crowded space to join the others. Before too long, we had sung every Christmas song that was in our repertoire. I will never forget one certain Thanksgiving when while we were singing, the first snow of the season started to fall and by the time we were finished, the ground was covered in white! Never doubt the power of the song, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas"!

As the years passed and everyone was becoming busier with their own families, these special times of getting together became fewer and farther between. Our annual family reunions (on both Mom's and Dad's sides) were also times I remember looking forward to, knowing that we would all be together to sing as a family and the anticipation of it all thrilled me. These days, I don't get to enjoy those get togethers very often since moving away from Ohio in 1981. They are more special to me now than ever before.
Janet, me and Barb singing at church
Today, music still plays a major role in all of our lives. Bob was minister of music in his church for many years and still has a prison ministry. He has worked up many different musical monologues that he performs which also opens the door to share the love of Christ with them. Jerry is currently and has been the worship leader at his church for many years as well. Doug and his wife, Iris, along with their daughters when they were young, sang together as "The Billheimer Family"....what a unique name! He has also written many really good gospel songs that are yet unpublished. Maybe someday, right Doug? Janet had lead roles in musicals in her high school days and in later years went on to become worship leader for a time. Lois, Ruby, Janet, Barbara and myself all add to each of our church choirs and praise teams.

I consider it a gift from the Father -  this musical heritage. In life, we face all kinds of trials and sometimes even tragedies. Speaking for myself, there have been many situations when I have been unable to even utter a word of prayer to God. When those times occur, I am so thankful for beautiful, uplifting worship songs that I have learned through the years. Somehow the songs will come when spoken words won't and often times I have found so much peace just by singing a chorus or two. We all have used the phrase or idiom (a new word I just learned :) "music to my ears" probably many times in our lives. Well, I got a little curious and decided to see what Google had to say about it. Here are some definitions that I found:
  • a welcome sound 
  • very pleasing information to hear
  • excellent news
  • a favorable outcome after some initial confusion or delay
I think these are all examples of how our Lord feels when we come to him, whether in spoken prayer or lifting our voices in song. Whether it is in a time of sadness, desperation, uncertainty or when we just want to worship and praise Him for who He is... this is music to His ears!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Things that make me go "aaahhhh"

Back in the day, it didn't take much to excite us Billheimer kids. Sometimes, all it took was for my dad or one of the older ones to drive down to Notter's Market, our little neighborhood grocery store and bring back a few cartons of "pop". That's what we called it in Ohio. It would usually be on a Saturday or Sunday evening when we were awarded this special treat. These were the 6 or 8 pack returnable bottles that at the time were worth 10 cents each. Everyone had their favorite one. Mom's was 7-Up. Dad loved Barq's Red Cream Soda or Frostie Root Beer. I remember Pepsi and Coke were favorites of some of the older kids but for me, Sun Crest Orange was my choice. When I was really little, I couldn't quite tolerate the "bite" of a carbonated drink because it burned my throat when I swallowed. I remember wanting so badly to drink something more "grown up" but I just drank my Sun Crest or occasionally a Choc-ola. Remember Choc-ola? (love that stuff!) I remember considering it quite an accomplishment when I was able to graduate to a more mature drink! 

On many of these occasions, we might enjoy a huge bowl of freshly popped popcorn... not the microwave kind. What in the world was a microwave, anyway? We made it a family affair...some made their drinks into a root beer or cream soda float and some drank right from the me! Compared to what families do for excitement and entertainment today, I'm sure this seems pretty dull to some folks. We took nothing for granted. Special things like bottles of pop were actually just that ... special things

Ah, yes... those were the days! There was absolutely nothing that could cool you off better though, on a hot summer evening, than a tall glass of ice cold root beer poured from a frosty gallon jug - the glass kind - that came from our local "root beer stand". That's what we called it. I'm sure it had a real name ... I can't remember to tell you he truth. It was actually a drive-in type restaurant that had a ginormous revolving root beer mug on the roof where you get other things such as burgers or hotdogs. Root beer never tasted as good as it did back then! 

We lived in a area that was at one time a summer resort called Crystal Lake. The area was developed around two small lakes and at the main part of the lake was a swimming beach with a concession stand that was open during the summer months. Another treat that I remember thrilling me so was when someone would go down to the "beach" and bring back a huge box of Popsicles...the kind with 2 sticks in them that you broke apart down the middle. These were the real thing. I still remember the wrappers with red polka dots...every flavor that they ever made. Not just the cherry, orange and grape that come in most boxes today - we're talking blue raspberry, lemon-lime, and Dad's favorite, root beer!

Loading up the old Buick, also known as "Old Soapy" (I'll explain later) for a drive in the country on a Sunday afternoon was just about as good as life got. It was great fun. We would all pile in after Sunday dinner (that would be the noon-time meal) and Dad would drive us around to places not that far away, even though when I was little, any place other than our neighborhood seemed far away. Heck, just walking down to the end of our dead-end street seemed far away to me back then! Sometimes during our rides we would go by the houses where my parents had lived previously when my older siblings were youngsters....actually, some of the houses were their birthplaces as well. Out of eight children, Mom gave birth to the first four or five at home. I remember riding by a little house - not on the prairie - but way out in the country somewhere near Castown, Ohio comes to mind, and Mom and Dad referred to it as "where we went-to-housekeepin". That term of course, referred to where they lived when they first got married in case you didn't get it :) Or maybe we would set out for one of our aunt and uncles' homes to visit. We had tons of cousins because Mom and Dad both had large families of their own. Most of the relatives that we had the closest relationships with lived in small farming towns and rural areas not too far from Troy, Ohio....if you know where that is.

This isn't the real "Old Soapy". I couldn't find any pictures of her
but if she was still around today, this is what she might look like.
On these Sundays when we would go out riding, one thing was required of my dad - that he would find as many roads with the steepest hills as he possibly could and to drive down them as fast as he possibly could (safely of course). This was not an easy thing to do in the part of Ohio where we lived. It is pretty much flatter than a pancake around there and you can see for miles and miles in most rural areas. My dad was awesome though...he knew exactly where the hilly roads were! We didn't have amusement parks to go to - maybe an occasional visit to the Clark County Fair if we were lucky. Well, let me tell you...the thrill of riding down a semi-steep hill at probably 55-60 mph and losing your stomach at the bottom was all it took to satisfy our need for dare-devil activities! Stopping by Bobo's in New Carlisle on our way back home for a hand-dipped ice cream cone topped off the afternoon. Before I forget...the reason the Buick was named "Old Soapy" was because once upon a time, the transmission started slipping or something and my dad, the fixer of all things, put some Joy dishwashing liquid in the transmission fluid. Don't ask me how he knew to do this (Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet :) but it fixed 'er right up! From that day forward, that's what he called her! A few years later, after there was no more life in her, Dad traded her in on a big old Ford station wagon the size of a Sherman tank. It had a third seat in it that faced backwards and Barbara, Janet and I had many memorable moments making faces at the people traveling behind us!

 The old ice cream freezer bucket
I couldn't mention sweet treats without including Mom's homemade ice cream. There was nothing like it. I remember the old hand-crank ice cream freezer with the wooden bucket...that bucket which now sits on the front porch of our cabin in the mountains! Later on, after getting enough of all that cranking (all the older kids took turns as well) it was replaced by an electric one. We would enjoy this white fluffy stuff quite often, especially when the family would get together to sing. 

I could go on and on but I would probably only bore you. These things I have described here are just a few of the simple pleasures from my childhood that have special meaning to me.... so if you are reading this, I hope that it sparks a special memory for you - to brighten your day and to remind you to ask yourself ...."What are the things make me go "aahhhh?"

Until next time.....

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Goodbye, Old Friend

It all started in 1960. Once a week, that familiar whistling theme song echoed throughout the Billheimer household. Yes, believe it or not, it was only on once a week back then.

When I was growing up, having a TV was kind of a luxury. The first set that I barely have memories of (actually, I think I just remember it from old photos) was a teeny tiny little box with a round screen! Later on we got a more up-to-date model with an oval screen...a little larger though! No color set in our hadn't even been invented yet I don't think. All of the old shows were in black and white anyway, so it didn't matter. There were very few shows to watch back then, compared to what we have today and we only had three networks, CBS, ABC and NBC. Back in the day, there were a few TV shows that I was basically raised with, one of them being a story about a sheriff of a small town in North Carolina (who knew I'd actually be living there one day?) and a cast of characters that we grew to love...we almost considered them part of the family. 

Fast forward to Tuesday, July 3, 2012. This morning as I went through my usual ritual of reading the internet news pages, intermingled among all of the other bad news of the day was one story that stood out above all the others. I almost feel a sense of guilt that this sad story stood out. I mean, we are talking about terrible, out of control wildfires, horrific storms, record breaking heat with millions without power, etc., etc. And that is not counting all of the other negative stuff, including the awful stories of crime that has become the norm. But the one story that stirred my heart the most today was the story about the loss of one of the most admired men in television history - Andy Griffith. Now, this doesn't mean that my heart doesn't go out to everyone whose lives have been disrupted and torn apart due to these tragedies - it's just just that on top of all of the other "bad news", anyone that was a fan of Andy's ...well, I'm sure their hearts were broken as this news came to light as well. My brother, Jerry comes to mind. He loves Andy, Barney, Gomer and everything Mayberry. I think he has every season of the show on DVD.

There aren't many days that go by that I don't get to catch at least one episode of the Andy Griffith Show that plays repeatedly on TV Land and many local channels. On the days I am working, I get off at 5:00 and when I have the television to myself, which is about half of the time due to Jim's work schedule, one of the first things I do after I get home is turn the TV to our local Channel 2 and get set to watch "Andy" at 5:30...either before or during the time I am eating my dinner. I never seem to tire of watching those old shows. There was always an example to be set and a lesson to be learned....for the young and old alike. We even had a small group Bible Study at church called "Lessons Learned From Mayberry" that was based on right and wrong...something that too many people these days don't seem to relate to. It makes me sad that those types of shows aren't being made today - actually, they haven't been made in a very long time. Television shows reflect life. Is it any wonder why our airwaves are are crammed full of junk when we look at our world today? OK...I won't go any further with that one...but I could!

Anyway, back to Andy...and Mayberry. Out of all of the cast members of the show, there are only a few who are still living. Betty Lynn, who is the actress that played the part of Thelma Lou, Barney's girlfriend, is in her upper 80's and is living in Mt. Airy, NC, the town Mayberry was patterned after...also Andy's place of birth. Of course, most everyone knows it also as a well-known historical site for anyone who is an Andy junkie. Most of the others except for Opie and Gomer are gone now. Goober left us a few months ago and Barney and Aunt Bea have been gone for a good while now. Of course, Mayberry and everyone associated with it is fictional...we all know that. But what those wonderful actors portrayed was about as we knew it back in a more simple and innocent time. I hope the Andy Griffith Show reruns will be played on TV for a long time to come.

Rest in peace, Andy. You and Barney are a team once again.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Father's Healing Breath

No, you didn't read the title of this wrong. It is just as it says. I really don't know what else to call it. From the time I first started remembering anything about my life, I have memories of this. My dad had the God-given ability to make or repair almost anything...if it was broken, he could fix it. It seems his gifts went beyond this, yet I or no one in my family can explain it...only God knows how or why. Let me explain.

I can almost still hear the telephone ringing, sometimes late at night. They always seem to ring louder at night for some reason, don't they? The next thing I knew, my dad would be out of the house and in his car, driving down the road. Or someone might just stop by, anxiously asking for Joe (a.k.a my dad) and he would take them out into his shop or off to the side of the house, out of view, noticing that they were often wincing with pain. Sometimes it would be one of my brothers or sisters that urgently needed him in this way. Sometimes it was me. It was a strange thing that he was able to do by most folk's standards but that didn't keep them from calling on him when they needed him. To me, it was just something that my daddy did. Something that I probably thought every little girl's daddy did. You see, my dad had been handed down a "gift" from his dad and it may have been handed down from his dad as well...I'm really not sure who passed this on to him. This gift, for the lack of a better word, was the ability to blow the "fire" out of burns to the skin. Some of you are probably thinking, "uh.....OK...if you say so" right about now. I would find it hard to believe if I hadn't experienced it for myself...even I would probably think I was crazy! Well, I will tell you that just about anybody who knew the Billheimers could attest to it.

When I decided to write about this, I realized that there would be some people who might read it and think that I had lost all my marbles so I decided to do some research on the subject by Googling ... uh ... hmm ... what exactly do you call this strange phenomenon? I thought about it for a minute and typed in the search box just what it was - "blowing the fire out of burns". Not that I needed any proof that this was actually something my father was able do but I will admit that I was a bit curious to see if others had experienced it and what, if any information was out there regarding it. I have to say that I wasn't terribly surprised when I found what I was looking for on my first try...I didn't have to search any further. There are actually several websites with information on the subject and they all pretty much said the same thing. Here is an example from one website based right here in North Carolina:

Talking/Blowing Out Fire
        A 21-year-old student at East Carolina University gave this account of his father's special healing ability in 1992. "My father knows how to talk the fire out...I was a skeptic until the day I burned my hand. We were freezing corn one summer and I had the job of blanching the corn so I removed a bowl of corn from the microwave and when I attempted to remove the plastic wrap from the top of the bowl, the steam escaped and scalded my hand. I was in terrible pain and wanted very badly to believe that my dad could talk out the fire. My dad performed a rubbing motion over my hand while silently repeating a verse or chant. Dad told me that I must believe in order for the process to work. Within 15 minutes after he had tried talking the fire out, the sting was completely gone and left no blister at all. Needless to say, I'm a firm believer in this practice of talking the fire out."
       The tradition of talking out the fire, also known as blowing out the fire or drawing out the fire, is at least 1000 years old. It still exists in Europe and many parts of the United States.
       To heal a burn victim, fire talkers generally chant or repeat a certain verse from the Bible. At the same time, they make rubbing motions or gently blow on the burn. According to many of the burn victims, the pain disappears soon afterward and the burn heals without leaving scars in most cases.


As I read this, pictures from my past started revolving around in my brain. One of the first ones that came to mind was when one of my sisters...either Ruby or Lois... had been riding the motor bike that belonged to one of the boys. I can remember the incident pretty clearly except I'm not really sure which girl it was... anyway, the sister in question, got a little too close to the muffler and received a pretty nasty burn to the calf of her leg. Dad came to her rescue. Back in the day, my dad was a smoker (glad to report he was able to quit later on) and there was a time ...OK...two or three maybe...when I got too close to one of his cigarettes and was burned when the ashes dropped on me. Dad came to my rescue. I specifically remember the telephone ringing late at night after we had all gone to bed and someone on the other end of the line had experienced some sort of emergency and suffered a burn ...I don't remember the details...I just know that whoever it was knew who to call. Again, Dad to the rescue. There were many more occasions - probably many that I knew nothing about - but I'm pretty sure that just about everyone of my siblings needed his "services" at one time or another.

When I think about it, our home was actually a pretty easy place to get burned! Back when I was really little, our heat source was an old free-standing oil stove - you know, the kind with a big fat pipe that went up through the ceiling. That thing got HOT and we were always warned to stay clear of it when those flames were burning. Later on, after the natural gas line was available in our neighborhood, Dad installed a big floor furnace with a huge grate which was nearly as wide as the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. During the cooler months when the furnace was running, that got really hot too. It was quite important to be wearing shoes or slippers when you "crossed over" to the other side. This posed a problem for the next generation of Billheimers... also known as the grand kids. There were times when having a houseful of visiting toddlers running here and there ended in disaster and several of them over the years wore those perfect "grill marks" on various parts of their little bodies like medals of honor! Dear sweet niece, Kim (West)...if you are reading this, you are living proof. In fact, I recall an Olan Mills portrait in the Billheimer Family Archives of you, proudly displaying yours on the back of your little arm. Once again... GRANDPA TO THE RESCUE!

Now, I am not one of those people who puts any stock in psychic powers and all of that mumbo-jumbo but I do believe the the have to if you believe in God. Of course, no human being actually holds that kind of power in his or her hands...or in this case, heal. Healing comes from God, Himself, and I am a firm believer that He works through His people to help accomplish His work. I can't explain why my dad was able to blow the fire out of a burn or that he was only one among many it seems that have been given the ability to do so. What I do know is that God's ways are not our ways and that He is a mystery. I think He likes it that way to keep us humble... so we don't get so smart and think that we have everything all figured out...He is God after all. My dad wasn't some ultra-spiritual man who oozed Jesus. He was proud, sometimes loud, a little rough around the edges, and at times pretty ornery (I am my father's daughter :) He loved his family and loved and respected his Lord even more. He worshiped Him in his own private way... more ways than I will ever know, I'm sure. He was also kind and caring and was always helping folks out in one way or another. It never seemed to bother him when someone would call for his help - whether their lawn mower wouldn't start or they burned their hand on a hot pan - it didn't really matter. He was ready to serve his fellow man (or woman) however he was needed. That was my dad. That's who God made him to be.

To this day, I'm not sure if Dad ever passed this on to anyone else in the family. If he did, they have kept it a deep, dark secret. My sis, Barb thought it was supposed to be passed on to the oldest daughter. That would be you, dear sister Lois :)  Well....? I have a feeling he may have gone to meet his Creator without sharing the secret. We may never know.

I struggled somewhat with the title of this post..."My Father's Healing Breath". When I pondered and pondered how else to title it, I couldn't think of any other possibility. Maybe it's because I know who did the the blowing...or breathing...that was my earthly father. But I also know who actually did the healing. That was my Heavenly Father.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew
that I may love what Thou dost love
and do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until with Thee I will one will
to do and to endure.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
so shall I never die,
but live with Thee the perfect life
of Thine eternity.

 Edwin Hatch, 1835 - 1889

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Black Patent Leather Shoes

Being raised in a large family with seven other children was really quite a joy for me and I will never forget those wonderful years of my childhood. By the time I came along, my oldest  brother Bob, who is twenty years older than me, was already out of the house and in the Air Force. My two oldest sisters, Lois and Ruby, were in high school and they were actually more like extra mothers to me...kinda like the Duggar Family but on a smaller scale. My dad worked hard at his manufacturing job in a small machine shop and when he was finished for the day he was usually out in his own shop where he worked on lawn mowers, rototillers and such. Almost everyone around the area knew my dad and by word of mouth he had more than enough work to keep him busy. Folks would call him for all kinds of things...water pumps and heaters, name it. There wasn't much he didn't know how to fix. Mom never worked a job outside of the home but raising eight children and running a household which she did so well, was more than enough to keep her busy. Any money that my dad made from the side jobs helped to pay the bills and buy things that we needed for our large family.

Me, Janet and Barbara all dressed up... 
Janet's dress (right) may have been store-bought.  
Mom made all of her own and nearly all of us girls' dresses when we were little. I remember making many trips to the fabric store where she would be sure to buy plenty of yardage to allow for the dresses...many times, we had matching ones since it was easier to just buy the same kind of fabric. As a little girl, I loved getting all dressed up for church and special occasions (still do!) 

One special memory that I keep in my "treasure box" is when I got a brand new pair of black patent leather shoes. I had gotten new shoes before but they were not like these. New shoes sometimes meant that they were just new to me...that they were actually just handed down to me since they no longer fit  my older sister. The times were few and far between when they were actually new but when they were they were usually the very practical and very ugly brown oxfords that I wore to school and to play in. It was always a special treat to get something new to wear because when you are the baby of the family and have four older sisters, you get a lot of hand-me-downs throughout your life. Don't get me wrong....I was very glad to finally grow into my sisters' clothes and shoes but it was much more exciting to get something new...just for yourself...something that no one had ever worn before.

Me and my shoes
So, the day came when I got "THE SHOES"....oh my goodness... it was like I had the most amazing treasure in the whole world! They were shiny black with a thin strap that buckled at the ankle and I also remember a little "bling" of some kind on the toe . I thought they were the prettiest shoes I had ever seen. I remember the first thing I did after getting home from the shoe store was opening the box, putting them on and prancing around the house in them, little white anklets and all. I felt like I was the luckiest little girl in the world with these pretty little shoes on and couldn't wait for the first occasion to get to wear them out of the house! I didn't want to let them out of my sight. That night  - and probably many more nights until the newness wore off  - I placed those shoes under my bed, at the head with the toes sticking out to where I could see them when I looked down. They were the first thing I saw when I woke up in the morning and the last thing I saw before I went to sleep at night! If I was lucky, Mom would allow me wear them around the house for a bit but never was I allowed to walk outside, let alone play outside in them unless I was wearing them to church or some place like that.

As time went on and long after I grew out of those little shoes, I'm sure there were other new pairs... perhaps not black patent leather... and some surely handed down from my sisters with Kleenex stuffed in the toes so they would stay on my feet! I'm not really sure what made those little shoes so special to me. I guess it was because they had been purchased especially for me and they hadn't been handed down from my older sister. Back in those days, we pretty much shared everything. It was just how we lived. It saddens my heart a little that so many kids today are given so many things and may be missing out on learning what it's like to share - let alone thinking they must get everything their hearts desire.  I realize we live in a completely different world was even different for my own children when they were growing up.... the grandkids, a different story even more so.  

So...I don't know why it is that certain memories are clearer in my mind more than others. I remember some things in my childhood as if they happened yesterday and other things have gotten a little fuzzy through the years. I like to think that they are given to me by God to remind me of where I came from and how blessed I am to be part of a family who shared so much love, all under that one roof.  No, it's not just about the little black patent leather shoes that were so special to me... but the history behind them and the sweet family memories surrounding them. It was a different day and time. The world was a different place. 

The irony in all of this is that after receiving hand-me-downs all throughout my childhood, these days I make my weekly rounds to several of the local thrift stores. I sometimes even refer to myself as the "Goodwill Queen". I actually dressed up as her last Halloween...oh my, she was a sight! Now, on any given day, you can pretty much find me wearing one or more of my many bargains...and yes, I'm pretty sure you may even find a pair of black patent leather shoes in the mix!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Her Crowning Glory

"but long hair is a woman's glory. Long hair is given to her as a covering."  1 Corinthians 11:15

Mary Elma Davis Billheimer
November 7, 1912 - April 30, 2010
She would have been ninety-eight if she would have lived a few more months. Mom was without a doubt the most meek, mild and humble woman I have ever known. If there were ever angels living here on earth, she would have definitely been one of them. You know the saying "if you can't say anything nice about someone ...'', you know the rest....well, she lived it. There have been times when I have wondered how I could even be her daughter because I didn't seem to inherit any part of her quiet humility. Our personalities were so different. I guess God decided to bless me with the Billheimer genes instead :) My dad's sense of humor and out-spoken mannerisms are still alive and well, living in me! 

I have so many special memories of Mom but there is one in particular that stands out.  Actually, it isn't just a one time memory but something that we shared on many occasions. It had to do with her "crowning glory" or in other words, her very long hair. As far back as my mind allows me to go, I can remember Mom's hair streaming down her back, past her waist, to where she could practically sit on fact, I'm sure she could at one point. This was not something that she would display to just anyone - this vision was reserved only for those of us in the family, in the privacy of our home. She would never have been seen with her hair down in a public place. She always wore it pulled back with somewhat of a little "poof" in the front and twisted around into a bun at the back of her head, usually covering it with a thin, white net cap which fit the shape of it perfectly. The cap was part of who Mom was - she had been born into a family of the Old German Baptist culture where this was part of the church's uniform of dress for the women. The only times she was ever without it was when she was doing some heavy housework, at bedtime or when she washed her hair.

Mom in her younger days with Barbara
Saturday was the day she set aside to wash her long brown hair and because it was so very long, it was quite an ordeal and drying it was another thing all together. I don't think we had an electric hair dryer when I was very young so after washing it and wringing it dry in a towel, she would comb it and and let it air dry. As she would sit in her favorite chair, waiting for it to dry completely, my sisters and I would take turns brushing those long strands, helping it to dry before she wound it back up into the bun. She would pull her hair around to the side or hang it over the back of the chair so we could reach the full length of it. The more we combed and brushed, the sleepier she got - it was unusual if she was able to stay awake during the process. I remember on more than one occasion when it was my turn to do the brushing, I would scoot into the chair next to her after I was finished, snuggle up to her and say, "Mommy, can I always stay here with you? I never want to leave you!" She would remind me of those times later on...especially when I got to that smart-alecky teenage stage in life when it wasn't cool to snuggle with Mommy anymore!

Mom was forty-two when I was born so by the time I was an adolescent, she was in her mid-fifties. Even as she got into her early seventies, she was still mostly a brunette with only a small amount of gray around the temples. I moved away from Ohio in 1981 and it seemed like each time I saw her after that, her brown hairs were slowly being replaced by some gray ones. Little by little, over the next twenty-five years or so, her thick, brown hair that used to be down past her waist had been transformed into a mixture of gray and white wispy strands - still long by most standards - but not at all like I remembered it as a little girl.

Me and my sisters, Ruby and Barbara with Mom
on Easter Sunday, 2010
 I remember the last time I saw her before she died. She had been in and out of hospitals and nursing homes for several months where she had been very sick and then recovered a little, each time making her more weak and feeble. It was Easter weekend of 2010 and I was blessed to have a good visit with her in her hospital room where she was in isolation due to contracting a "hospital bug". I was supposed to be wearing a gown, gloves and a mask but being the head-strong, stubborn girl that my daddy helped create, I chose not to wear the gloves and mask. I had a strong feeling that this would be our last time together on this earth and I wasn't going to let anything come between us...literally! I found her sleeping when I got there and after waking her with a kiss to the forehead, proceeded to "fix" her up a bit to prepare her for other company I knew she'd be receiving later on that Easter Sunday.  Her white, wispy hair was all over the place, totally unkempt and I knew she wouldn't want to be seen like that so I began brushing her thin and not-so-long hair. As I was brushing, I was joined by two of my sisters, Ruby and Barbara, and we finished by pulling her hair to the side and into a small, wimpy looking little braid - the little white cap nowhere in sight by then. Thinking back on it now, I find it ironic but also consider it a precious gift that God gave just to me on that day - that I was able to brush her hair for her one more time.

A little over a month later, I would tell her goodbye as my siblings who were gathered around her bedside held a phone to her ear. She didn't speak - I could only hear the last labored breaths she was taking. Within the hour, she would go home to be with her Heavenly Father, the One whom she lived for and patterned her life after. Her white, spindly hair is now probably brunette once again (or maybe golden, who knows!) and I have no doubt in my mind that it flows down her back too. I'm wondering if she is wearing that little white cap... not sure if those rules apply in heaven... regardless of that, I will always remember that beautiful hair of hers ... her crowning glory.