Enemy Pie

Another one of my favorite children’s books, Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson, was published  in 2000, so it’s been around for a while. Written in first person, a little boy tells about having an enemy list with only one name on it. It’s a new boy named Jeremy who laughed when he struck him out in baseball and who neglected to invite him to a party that everyone else, even his best friend, Stanley, was invited to. Our main character talks to his dad about the situation and his dad seems to know all about enemies! In fact, his father has a secret recipe for something he calls enemy pie! It’s guaranteed, says his dad, to get rid of enemies. What he needs to do, his father advises, is invite this Jeremy over for the day. After they’ve played together, they’ll have dinner. For dessert they’ll serve the pie! You can probably guess what happens. When it comes time to serve the dessert, our main character no longer wants to give what he believes will be some horribly yucky pie to Jeremy because, it turns out, he’s been having fun with this “enemy.” Jeremy isn’t so bad after all. In fact, he’s becoming a friend.

This is a well-written story that can be enjoyed by both children and adults. It’s refreshing to see a dad depicted as smart and clever, a switch from today’s trend. Enemy Pie is a great read for Father’s Day!

Same People, Different Labels

In the Aesop’s fable The Man, the Boy and the Donkey (See my March post) did you notice that the same boy who was viewed as a “poor little son” by one group was considered a “hulking” one by others, and that his father, who was viewed as a person to be respected by some, was a “lazy lout?” to others?

It’s not hard to be aware during a political race, that the same person who is cast as a hero or genius by some is  presented as a villain or fool by others.  Glad the politicians (and their families) are up for it. I wouldn’t be. I’m convinced that how others perceive us, is just as much a reflection of who they are, as who we are.

When a relative took a job for a while as a used car salesman, he’d just barely gotten out of training when a customer asked to see a particular SUV. It was the very SUV our relative had been the most impressed with during the test-drives. “Oh that’s my favorite,” he said naively.

“Yeah, right,” said the customer. “You would say that no matter which car I asked about. You’re a used car salesman.”

Is that how I’m perceived now? thought this relative. As someone distrustful? He’d been a teacher just a few days before.

When she filed for a divorce, a friend of mine said basically the same thing. People who had admired and loved her just weeks before, viewed her oppositely. “Even what I’d done that was good in my life and in our marriage was suddenly painted as bad and evil. I had no redeeming qualities (to some.) “Almost over night I went from being a hero to being a villain,” she said. She was thankful there were those who remained her friends, and many wise and kind people who reserved judgment not only on her but on her ex-husband.

I once posted on Facebook (in essence) that I would love to be even close to as smart, as wise, as angelic and ready to sprout wings as some individuals claim I am. Then I added that I was very glad I am not anywhere near to being the stupid, foolish, or villainous human being that others seem to see. I was once told in the same week that I “hardly did anything” (I got this secondhand) to that I was “such a hard-working and productive person.”

All around us we see those who dislike others because they worship differently, don’t dress or look the same, have a differing opinion, belong to an opposing political party, or even cheer for the “wrong” team.

When and if we are mislabeled it can be painful. Few of us are perfect, but we always hope others will choose to see our strengths and the good we’re trying to do and not our faults or weaknesses. Whenever we feel misjudged or mislabeled or misrepresented, it might help us to recognize that we are in excellent company. Some of the greatest people weren’t considered so great by everyone. We think of Winston Churchill as the strong and inspirational leader who would not surrender to the Nazis. But it wasn’t just the Nazis who didn’t like him when he was alive. A woman (possibly a member of an opposing party?) seated next to him at a dinner party once told Mr. Churchill that if he were her husband, she’d poison his coffee. Churchill had an interesting comeback. “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

So many great and honorable men and women were not necessarily considered so during their lives or by some of their contemporaries. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake; Sir Thomas More, now recognized for his integrity for refusing to condone the actions of Henry VIII, was convicted of high treason. In American history, we’re surprised when we learn that there were those who criticized George Washington, John Adams and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. And then there’s Jesus. We are fully aware that there were those who hated Him so much that they chose to crucify Him. But then there were those who loved Him, and revered Him to the point that they gave up everything to follow Him. Even now, 2000 or so years later, there are still those who hate or disrespect Jesus. There are also still those of us who love and revere Him.

As the Aesop’s fable I mentioned indicates, it seems to be human nature to pass judgment on others with very little information or knowledge of who they really are. I like the simple admonition of a leader in my church, Dieter F. Uchtdorf.  “Stop it,” he said.

Today Was a Perfect Day

A friend reminded me of something else that I wanted to remember from the funeral I attended on Saturday. (See my previous post) I wanted to remember the words President Petersen would often say as a day drew to a close. According to his daughter he would say, “Today was a perfect day!” He would then talk about friends or family members he had seen, love expressed, and the wonderful things that had happened that day. Despite the fact that he was dying, this man saw each day in a positive light.

As I think about my day today, I realize that it was a great day. I talked to a couple of my children and several of my grandchildren; I visited with my mother; chatted with some neighbors and friends, cleaned out some foilage from last year and planted some red geraniums and pink snapdragons; did some cleaning, straightening, and organizing; watched a niece on a local television program; and enjoyed some mushrooms sauteed in butter with our dinner. Later I took a walk with my husband, talked to more grandchildren, and did some church work. How could any day be more perfect than that?

What I Learned at a Funeral on Saturday

The trend we’ve seen the last several years of close family members speaking at at a loved one’s funeral, has always struck me as cruel and unusual punishment. What could be harder? But last Saturday, as the four adult children of a man that my family called President Petersen but that they called Dad, spoke to us, I heard insights that inspired and motivated me. I once again realized that it’s at funerals I often learn the most. Did funerals seem as inspirational before close family members began to speak at them? I’m not sure. I just know that the funeral this Saturday was truly motivational and thought-provoking. Here are some things I hope to remember from our stake president’s funeral:

One of President Petersen’s four children (and I apologize that I can’t remember which child said what) let us know that like the rest of us, their father had faults and was not perfect. His father, he said, didn’t love himself enough, for instance. He also didn’t seem to feel he was demonstrative enough in showing love to others. Then this son  said something that struck me as very comforting.  He said that his father was a testimony that we can each have great impact for good in spite of our weaknesses and imperfections. What a beautiful thought!

Like so many others, I tend to grieve over my weaknesses and faults and dwell on them. The spirit testified that this speaker’s words were true. What matters most is the good we do even if we’re still works in progress.

Another one of President Petersen’s children made the point that we end up doing what we love to do, and our lives end up being what we love. He said that his dad loved to serve and it was evident in his life.  His father also liked to joke and play and had a great sense of humor. It was these things that all those who came in contact with him, but especially his own family members, will remember and always cherish. This man’s life did indeed become what he loved.

Another comment I remember clearly was this: God’s love is not exclusionary. Every one of us is precious in his sight.  These are comforting words in a world which is often exclusionary. Whether we don’t make the team, aren’t welcome in a certain group, or don’t get that job, it is comforting to be reminded that God’s arms are open to each one of us.

Still another of President Petersen’s children reminded us that both birth and death are part of the plan. Just as we are all born into this world, we must all die. We welcome birth but generally do not welcome death.  He spoke of all the prayers of his family members that their father’s life would be spared. He went on to say that we do not always get the miracles we ask for, but that their family received other miracles. He spoke of the miracle of sacred time together. He spoke of the precious words that were exchanged and the letters their dad wrote to each of them. He mentioned increased gratitude and a clear understanding of what is important in this life. He spoke of increased hope. “I saw in my mind’s eye my father being welcomed by those on the other side,” said this speaker.

I’d already chosen the topic of hope for a discussion I needed to lead in Relief Society that next day and the Petersen children’s words at this funeral and then the culminating words of Elder Steven Snow dramatically increased my own personal hope. I’m grateful I attended that funeral where once again my faith and desire to do better were rejuvenated. I’m grateful to President Petersen’s children for the courage they showed. The fact that they were able to express their thoughts and feelings so beautifully at such a difficult time was, in my estimation, one more miracle.

Three Hens and a Peacock!

The chickens are annoyed when a peacock shows up on the farm. All this newcomer does is strut around screaming, while they have to stay all cooped up sitting on eggs all day. When the peacock fans out its tail near the country road, and people pull over to take pictures, the hens are even more irritated.

The hens let the peacock know how they feel– that they don’t think she’s being useful! The peacock feels bad and agrees to a trade with the hens—give them a break. While the chickens start strutting around in their finery and accessories, the peacock does her best to squeeze into the chicken coop where she’ll take care of the eggs.

But things don’t work out so well. For some reason nobody stops to take pictures of the hens. The farmer notices that egg sales are down and wishes the peacock were still out there attracting people to the farm.  The peacock realizes she’s useful after all!

This fun picture book helps both children and adults remember that we each make a contribution and that we don’t need to envy each other. This new “Anya’s favorite” is a great read for Mother’s Day!

She Wrote My Name Across the Board

By the  the middle of third grade I’d already attended three elementary schools in America. Then, finally, the small blue and white house my uncle had been building for us on 27th south— far on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, was finished—well, close enough, and we’d been able to move in. Now I stood in what seemed like an an enormous classroom at a new school called Nibley Park. The teacher, a Mrs. Hall, seemed nice enough. She asked my mother a lot of questions and listened carefully to her answers.

“The children are at lunch but will be coming in soon,” she let us know, answering my unspoken question. “We’d better find you a desk, young lady!” As I watched my mother walk out the classroom door, a hopeful smile and wave in my direction, Mrs. Hall led me to a desk on the second to the last row. I sat down quickly and lowered my head.

Only a few seconds later the bell rang and the children hurried in, joking, laughing, but then almost immediately quieting down, their voices softening into inquisitive whispers. “Who’s that?” I heard several say.

Mrs. Hall called everyone to attention, and asked the children to take their seats quickly. It was only after the group was facing the front, that I dared look up. That’s when I saw it: my name. Mrs. Hall had written my name in huge letters across the entire blackboard. I’d never seen my name that large, and I stared up at it in warm amazement. “We have someone new who will be joining our class,” Mrs. Hall said with a lilt in her voice. “Anja wasn’t born in our country. She’s from a country called Holland, and she and her family came over the ocean in a large ship.” Mrs. Hall read my name for them then, pronouncing it  correctly.  She explained that the j in Dutch was pronounced like a y, and she asked the students to repeat it, which they happily did. “Isn’t that a wonderful name!?” said Mrs. Hall.  “And aren’t we lucky to have a girl from another country in our class!?”

I’d felt different in the other schools in America, but it hadn’t felt good to be different there. In one school someone had pushed me down the front stairs. In another, a boy had relentlessly flipped me with rubber bands. I hadn’t had anyone to play with at recess, and the children had walked past and around me as if I had a rare disease. Now, thanks to Mrs. Hall, being different seemed important and special. The children took turns looking my way with great respect, maybe wishing they had a name so wonderful that it needed to be written across the blackboard. During afternoon recess a group of girls asked me to play. Another girl asked me to be her friend. A boy gave me a note with a heart on it. It was a good start to what ended up being a glorious school year in which I not only gave a special report on Holland, but Mrs. Hall moved me to the top reading group because, she said, I read with expression!

At the end of third grade, our class received some wonderful news. Mrs. Hall would be moving up with us. She would be teaching fourth grade! I couldn’t have been happier. I was sure I knew why Mrs. Hall was moving up. It was because she couldn’t bear the thought of not having me in her classroom! I realize now that probably every child in Mrs. Hall’s third grade felt that way—that she was moving for him/her.

I’m guessing Mrs. Hall was already at least in her mid to late forties when I had her as a teacher. It’s almost certain she’s passed on by now to wherever patient, caring teachers go after they die. I only saw her once more after elementary school. I went back to Nibley Park when I was a teenager to tell her thank you, and well, just to say hello. The classroom seemed smaller, the halls narrower, the blackboard half the size it had once been.  Mrs. Hall herself was far shorter than I remembered.  She asked me questions about how I was doing and what my hopes and plans were. Then it was my turn to say what I’d come to say, but the words didn’t come out like I’d hoped they would. Instead I just stammered out an awkward sentence or two.  Still, Mrs. Hall thanked me sincerely, and let me know how happy she was to see me again. I felt bad afterwards that I hadn’t said what I’d wanted to say. I particularly felt bad that I hadn’t let her know how much it meant to me when she wrote my name across the board my first day in her class.

As time passed I always meant to write Mrs. Hall a follow-up note, but I never did. I went on to write other things. I remember the thrill of seeing my name on my first published short story, and a few years later, on the cover of my first book. But I’m not sure those instances meant any more to me than seeing my name across Mrs. Hall’s blackboard all those years ago when I was a lonely, quiet, frightened little girl from another country.