Books, a crackling fireplace, and Mother...

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(Tim) I have tender childhood memories of sitting in front of the fireplace roasting my back, my two younger brothers lying on the floor falling asleep, while Mud (affectionate diminutive of Mother) read to us. Dad was on the road speaking at conferences much of the time those years, and when he was gone our evenings had a certain leisure. Not that we lived under joyless discipline when Dad was home, but like most men, Dad was sort of daddish.

So the Life without Father routine was that, following dinner and devotions, a fire was built, and as it crackled, Mud read to us by the hour.

Books were the main course in our home, just as they were in the homes of three other families whose children were all growing up at the same time within the same congregation, College Church in Wheaton: the Ken Taylors (Mary Lee's family), the Ken Hansens (ServiceMASTER's founder), and the Hudson Armerdings (Wheaton's prez). All the children of these homes loved to read.


Because none of our parents were willing...

as Dad put it, "to allow that huckster into our living room." "That huckster?"

Television, of course. None of our families ever allowed a television in our homes, so we read. All the time.

For instance, my earliest memory of my in-laws, the Taylors, was going to their tiny farmhouse after church one week for Sunday dinner. At the door Mrs. Taylor welcomed us and, leaving Dad and Mud in the hallway for a moment, she led me into a very small living room with comfy couches all around its perimeter. Seated around the room were seven or so of her children. When I entered, two of them on one of the smaller couches scrunched to the side to make room for me and I sat down.

Mrs. Taylor left, taking Dad and Mud back to the kitchen where Mr. Taylor was. They talked as Mom Taylor prepared lunch.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Taylor poked her head back into the living room to see how things were going. There I was, a blank look on my face, staring into space. No one had spoken to me. After inquisitive glances to see who the newcomer was, they'd gone back to their books. Maybe it was a good thing Mary Lee and I didn't really meet that day. The ninth of ten, she would have been in that room, but neither she nor I have the slightest recollection of each other that Sunday.

Mrs. Taylor understood the situation and asked if she could get me a book to read?

I responded, "Sure," and joined Janet and Mark and Cindy and Gretchen and Mary Lee and Alison (at least), reading until lunch was served. Now, back to our fireplace.

With books, Mud's choices ranged widely. My favorites were the Five Little Pepper series. The story line was a widow working herself to the bone to keep her five children in clothing, shelter, and food. The children adored their mother and did everything in their power to lighten her very heavy load. For her part, Mrs. Pepper did everything she could to make them safe and happy. She was cheerful with her children, but the older ones sensed her worries--particularly her concern to provide them proper "schooling."

So why was I thinking about the Five Little Peppers just now?

My mind was carried back while reading a PDF I'd downloaded a long while ago called "Goody Two Shoes." As you all know, it's New Years Day So here in Bloomington, it's time for some cleanup. I was sorting and deleting very old files on my desktop when I came across a copy of Goody Two Shoes. I'd downloaded it because I was familiar with the expression and became curious as to its origin.

Goody Two Shoes is a sweet story about a little boy and girl who are both siblings and orphans. The little boy had shoes while the little girl had none. Not, that is, until one day a rich man gave her two of them--hence Goody Two Shoes.

The book has beautiful illustrations and it's about a seven minute read. If you have wee ones and you don't want to spend the money to print the book out, gather your flock around the computer and have them click the trackpad or mouse to turn the pages. Just click on the link above to download the book, then open it in Preview (Mac) or Acrobat Reader (Mac or PC). And if you have a laptop, you're computer may well give off enough heat to approximate a fireplace. But I'm ranging far afield...

Goody Two Shoes is a bit saccharin, but the theme of hardship and making the best of one's circumstances, eventually earning a sterling reputation within the community despite being an orphan, is a good one for our children, today. Our culture of entitlement is so very corrosive to Christian faith. Both Goody Two Shoes and the Five Little Peppers (start with Five Little Peppers and How They Grew)

will help you inoculate your sons and daughters against growing up copping an attitude that the world (and really, God) owe them something.

The Five Little Peppers books aren't as moralistic, but the themes of hardship and cheerfully bearing up under life's burdens are at the heart of each of these stories. Read the Five Little Peppers to your children starting about age six or so--and certainly continuing through the teenage years.

I'd particularly recommend these books if you have an adopted child. It will serve well to move him away from any cultivation of a posture of grievance and ingratitude toward you, his precious adopted parents, as he comes of age.

So, put a week's moratorium on Facebook, drop the laptop on the garage floor to see if you can get its hard drive to crash, wash your television with ammonia and rubbing alcohol, split some wood, build a fire, send Dad out on the road; and then, read.