On many occasions I have been asked where I got my interest in caring for the veterans. I wish I could say for certain what the reason was. I’m not sure, actually. I do have my suspicions and a true story to tell: My grandmother was a loving, faithful woman who brought up a family during the Depression. My grandfather was away a lot building highways way up north, which left my grandmother alone most of the time to care for 13 children. She often got help, as they were able from those who were older, but no matter how you looked at it, these were tough times. On Sundays she made sure that the family got to church and was proud of the fact that all 13 children were baptized. Church was were she got her strength. She carried this with her throughout her life and passed it on to her children. Community was different back then compared to now. Families lived close and there was always a gathering around the table. The table may have been a kitchen table or a dining room table but often it was in a fellowship hall around a church table. This is the place that potlucks were held, stories where told and things were made. The men often gathered and made plans to help the neighbor down the road who needed a helping hand. The women had their circles and friends who gathered to crochet or knit or make quilts. If a member of the church community was ill and the holidays or a special occasion was upon them, the women would go to the home and help bake those cookies, donuts or meals. From as far back as I can remember, the harder the times, the more the struggles, the more people come together. They count on each other and it’s a good thing. Come December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Now it hadn’t seemed that long ago when grandmother’s brothers had fought in WWI, now it was her 4 sons. By this time, the family had moved to La Crosse. The family church was St. Paul’s and the gathering together continued, but around the kitchen table. She lived 6 blocks from church so walking on Sundays became a regular routine. With sons in service and a couple overseas, the pastor often came to the house. When grandmother knew the pastor was coming, she would bake the donuts and have that aroma of fresh-baked goods throughout the house. The church, the congregation, the pastor—this is where she got her strength. The crocheting, knitting and quilting continued but now it was within the home. A dining room or a living room was set up and grandmother’s friends would come to the house and create together. The coffee pot was on, the cookies were in the cookie jar, and time passed by. WWII ends and the boys finally come home. Now, having 13 children 2 years apart except for the oldest and youngest which were a year apart from the closest—spans many years. Some of the older daughters found their husbands and the older boys found their wives—and so it goes, grandchildren. The gathering changed some; it was mostly the family around the table. My grandparents moved, by this time to a house on 5th Street. The church stayed the same. Every Sunday was a walk to church unless it rained, in which case other means were found. The table around that all gathered and that is remembered to this day, was the round oak table that sat in the dining room. This was the place where children, friends and grandchildren gathered. But, yet again another war. Not ever called a war, the Korean conflict was upon us. Now the younger girls were sending off their boyfriends and fiancées and turning to grandmother for support. On August 2nd, my Aunt Dorothy received a telegram. My uncle Clayton had been fighting at Pork Chop Hill and was wounded. They flew him to Japan. My Aunt Dorothy has always been a woman of faith, much like her mother. During these hard times, she found her strength through her mother, her church and that dining room table. Time passed by. The Koren conflict ends. Grandmother’s children continue to marry, and the grandchildren grow in number. My grandmother got sick in 1959 and died. She was not here to see her grandchildren involved in such things that her children had been. But not many years go by and yet another war. Vietnam. This is the war in which I can most relate for now I was old enough to understand. Vietnam, my friends from high school were drafted and fought there. Some were injured and died there. The church was where we got our strength. The table became the fellowship hall where all gathered in prayer and conversation. I couldn’t tell you what our parents were doing, those of us preparing for graduation were worried about our classmates and friends who had been drafted. We as high school students didn’t turn to our parents, they wouldn’t understand our fear, or so we thought. Church, pastor and the table in the fellowship hall is where we got our strength. The war ends. Time passed.
The true story I have told, comes from countless stories told by my aunts and uncles who lived it. Some I observed and witnessed myself. What I see from back then and now is that we all still need community. Those men and women who fought WWII, Korea, Vietnam are still with us. The new challenges bring home men and women who are changed forever. We need that sense of community, of belonging, of caring. I get that sense from you. When our veterans have had a need, this congregation has stepped up to the task. Through the veterans ministry at First Lutheran Church, there have been offers of services by a social worker. A chiropractor has offered services. Members of First Lutheran Church have offered air miles to veterans in need. For Veterans Day, I asked the congregation to consider giving to purchase Bible Sticks that could be sent to those men and women serving. If we could collect $2,500, a whole unit of 100 could receive Bible Sticks. Over the course of three services on Sunday and Wednesday, just under three hours, the congregation gave enough money to supply a whole unit with Bible Sticks. More people than I can count have offered to volunteer for whatever is needed for our veterans. There is work to be done, and I will be turning to you for strength and time.
My grandmother had a hard life. She never complained. Her strength was her church, family, friends and whatever table she gathered around. I am 63 years old. My strength comes from church, family, friends and the table that I gather around. Where do I get my interest in what I do? I’m not really sure, actually.
Blessings and Peace