Skip to main content

My Day with Kay

 In order to set the stage for this story, first you must understand the setting and the two central characters. Ephrata, my father-in-law and me.

Ephrata is a train town, and the Grant county seat since it's been there the longest. It's not like Seattle and not like Spokane; the exact center of Washington state is dry and dusty and reminds me of Nevada with two key substitutions: delete the casinos and add in the farmland. Ever since they dammed the Columbia River, irrigation makes for great farmland. They grow apples and potatoes, asparagus and corn, pears and grapes. This is the setting where my husband was raised. 

My father in law was raised in a large family in southeast Idaho, not too far from Idaho Falls, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. He's one of 13 children. There are some overarching results of his humble childhood. 

  1. A person must never waste food.
  2. A person must never overspend. 
  3. A humorous remark is worth its weight in gold.
Once you understand these operating procedures, you're good. His precision with numbers is a fun fact. He worked as a meter reader for many years, and grew to love the symmetry of a number like 1771 or 876543, etc. (For birthdays, he'll often go to the bank and withdraw brand new currency if it's available, so that he can send crispy bills to grandkids in sequential order.) When it was time for his son to leave home and make his way on his own, he wrote something like this on the college application: "I'd sell my soul for my son to have a chance to go to college." My husband was awarded a scholarship, certainly based on merit but perhaps also based on need. Kay never had the opportunity for higher learning or a mission. He served in the Air Force. I never realized until recently, how much it hurts to let that big boy leave home. I imagine it is one of the greatest joys and sorrows of his life, that he gave his son a chance to have a better life, but it meant sending him away and not seeing him much for the next twenty five years.

Now we introduce my favorite character: me. ;) Years ago I was a church music snob. My favorite color was red, Mary's least favorite color, a detail which went unnoticed until recently after her passing (see Mary's Blankets). I grew up in the city and ultimately married the son of the country boy. I didn't major in music in college, but was certain I was really good at it. At church I'd enjoyed playing piano and picking the songs, waving my arm at the congregation as chorister, you name it. If there was a job in the music ministry, I'd done it (see here for a post about church music, or here for a post about ward choir).

When Norm and I were newlyweds, the first time that my in-laws Kay and Mary came to town, they sat with us in church. During the opening song, from across the pew I noticed a booming baritone voice. There were a few irregularities: the volume, the tone and the tempo. For all my musical training, I hadn't yet learned to sing with my heart. I'm ashamed to admit that I couldn't see this at first, and was put off by the singing. In the early years, I'd duck my head in shame, pretending to look for something under the seats at church. You guys, I'm not making this up. I honest to goodness thought it wasn't cool to sit next to such a unique singer. Well, years passed and eventually I grew accustomed to his style. Even my neighbors in our ward in Lehi came to appreciate his visits to town, because the church music was much better and more interesting when he was around. Slowly I learned to accept, then appreciate and ultimately respect the differences between his singing and mine. He never cared if the people nearby noticed. He wasn't doing it for them, he was singing to worship and praise God. He didn't mind when people commented, "Wow, that's some voice." He took it as a great compliment and carried on with the song of his heart. He was content with what he had and chose to offer praise in the best way he knew how. He still does that today, but the days of sitting with him at church are few and far between, as the years have diminished his ability to travel.

The following song is a perfect tribute to him. With All the Power of Heart and Tongue. Words by Isaac Watts and written in the early 1700's. I love this musical arrangement by Rob Gardner. (Don't tell the people in SLC, but arrangement #79 in the green church hymnbook is super lame.)


  1. 1. With all the pow’r of heart and tongue,

    I’ll praise my Maker in my song.

    Angels shall hear the notes I’ll raise,

    Approve the song, and join the praise.

  2. 2. I’ll sing thy truth and mercy, Lord;

    I’ll sing the wonders of thy word.

    Not all thy works and names below

    So much thy pow’r and glory show.

  3. 3. Amidst a thousand snares I stand,

    Upheld and guided by thy hand.

    Thy words my fainting soul revive

    And keep my dying faith alive.

Okay, now we're familiar with the setting and the characters. Recently I went to spend a few days with my father in law, mainly to keep him company and help sort through Mary's things. Her collection of dolphin figurines is extensive. She loved sea creatures, and every time a birthday or anniversary or Christmas rolled around, people would give her dolphins. In later years, she started getting sick of them and asked people to switch to sea horses instead. So her room had dozens of sea horses too. It was my privilege to dust off some of her favorite treasures last weekend. Norm's two sisters are Liz and Nancy, and they've become some of my dearest friends. I've known them for over twenty years now, and am grateful for their love and acceptance all these years. We've never lived in the same state or even in the same city. But now the heavy burden of sorting and organizing, dividing and distributing is on their shoulders. I went to see if I could lighten the load just a tad.

But first, we needed to have a grand adventure. Kay and I started out before sunrise. The day I arrived, the air was thick and hazy with smoke from wildfires all around California and the northwest. During the night a storm blew in and I commented that 'It smells like rain.' He gently corrected, 'It smells like the possibility of rain.' That seems really poetic. I'll have to think on that for a minute later.

Before seeing some grand sights, we made a stop in George. This is George, Washington, home of the cheapest gas for miles around. If you go inside and pay with cash, the price is even lower.

We were heading to Frenchman's Coulee. I don't read maps very well or very often, so I really can't tell you much about how we got there. I can tell you that parking within the lines is very important to my father in law. He was gracious enough to loan me one of his rigs that weekend, and after seeing my first attempt at parking, he humorously remarked, "Well, at least you got it within the lines." I chuckled. I view things like stop signs and parking stalls as suggestions, not rigid instructions. He couldn't see a few key details which had impacted my parking the previous night. It's super dark out in the sticks; I'd been driving on a two-lane country road which is not my norm; I'd been awake for like 20 hours and was kinda tired, AND there was no backup camera. In my defense, I soon realized he was greatly concerned about the possibility of denting, so I quickly offered to move it. He said, "You think you can back it up okay?" I said, "Sure," and promptly drove it around the lot and out to a dirt area where there were NO painted lines. A perfect compromise. I said, "At least I borrowed the pickup and not your new one, right?" I'm realizing now that he was genuinely concerned about safety. Not just about the safety of the truck, but about the safety of the driver. I couldn't see that at first. I guess there were invisible details that both of us missed.

We listened to some great tunes while we drove. I asked about all his favorites: Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, and Hank Snow; he said that Floyd Kramer on piano is pretty good, also Chet Atkins on guitar. I asked about vinyl, and he commented that finding the right record in a stack was a lot of trouble. It would be easier if they were in alphabetical order. Just for kicks, if you want to hear two novelty songs that are super funny, check out Sweet Violets by Dinah Shore, and Wolf Creek Pass by CW McCall.

I learned a lot about the past that day, by asking good questions and listening. Norm did a similar field trip with his dad back in August. The following two photos are from a day with better weather and blue skies. If you look closely on the second one, you see the cliffs where rock climbers like to camp and practice.

We talked about what we might do for Sunday dinner and settled on baked beans and Green Bean Casserole, the one with water chestnuts and french fried onions on top. He's learning to cook now, and brainstormed about renaming the kitchen. He's not sure it's safe, so he named it Ptomaine Gulch. I'm super proud to report that one night he made steak AND potato salad, and both were delicious. I think his cooking skills are better than he realizes, even though sometimes it is difficult to want to cook for only one person.

Part of the local dialect: Soap Lake is pronounced So Plake. You don't understand him neither; we need to gas up the car; we was goin... Maybe normal people don't notice the tiny nuance in language, but remember how I've lived in a lot of weird places? This is my thing, I LOVE to tune in to accents and inflection of voice. On the front door of the house is a sign: Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape. "It's from your weddin,' because your mama was fussin and fussin," about all the little details. I think I almost laughed out loud. I'd always thought that Mary put that sign on the front door. I think I messed up the magnets when I was looking at it, but he fixed them later.

But I've digressed. We saw the most cool things. First a hint of fall. Happy day, summer won't last forever! I even wore a sweater that day.

I love fall because it's a time of harvest. One of the most important things on my WA bucket list was buying a box of apples. I love apples and especially the smell of a fresh apple that hasn't spent half its life in transit. To pick my own apples from a huge barrel at the foot of an amazing orchard, well, that's a miracle and certainly doesn't happen very often in my world. Kay was concerned that we'd have too many, but I promised that we'd either eat or give away every last apple that I bought. I kept my word, and had a wonderful time making deliveries to a few good friends of the family.

I love this old tree. It stands out in this landscape.

It reminds me of one of my Favorite poems ever. Good Timber is by Douglas Malloch, and it applies to some of the great men I know. I mean this as high praise. You really need to go read that poem.

Kay is kinda camera shy. But I am so glad for my day with my father in law, for driving in the countryside, for enjoying the quiet of the river, for teaching me about the possibility of rain. Maybe when I said it smells like rain, he thought, "Well, you're not from here, but that's a good guess." Or maybe since he's super old and better at weather prediction, he knew that it might rain, but it might not. Maybe he knows that when you make an assumption about stuff, well... You know what they say about that. 

I'm learning that I haven't learned all there is to learn. I still have lots to learn about music, definitely more to learn about driving pickup trucks, lots to learn about walking a mile in somebody's shoes. I guess my day with Kay helped me understand things better, but since I still have a handful of questions, I'm sure I'll return before long to see if I can hear the answers. Learning to see things clearly is the process of a lifetime. Learning to hear the unspoken is too. Learning to appreciate the beauty around you, and learning to praise God through song, those are both good gifts. My time in Ephrata last weekend taught me about all these things.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Be There at the Crossroads

  Last week I was looking through an old box, searching for letters that Norm and I wrote to each other before we got married. I didn't find the letters but instead found an old journal from 1987. Look below and see my handwriting when I was a ten year old girl living in San Diego. We’d just moved there from Grand Junction, and I talked about missing our cat, about making new friends, going to Disneyland with my dad and my brother. It was really fun to read through this old journal. I'm glad I wrote that stuff down!  In the middle of these memories from 1987, I was also searching for a quote about mothers and their great influence on their kids. And the quote was something like “be there at the crossroads” when your children are coming and going. Turns out that the quote I was searching for also came from the late 80's. A brilliant church leader and prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, talked to the women and spent time encouraging and reminding us why motherhood is impor

2021 Christmas Card

December 2021  Dear Friends and Family, We love you and and miss y'all that are far away in WA and UT and other places!! This year we skipped our tradition of sending a Thanksgiving card and opted for a virtual Christmas card instead. It saved a ton of stamps and envelopes, but I definitely miss the glitter and sparkle. We hope you can feel our love even through a simple email or blog post. One tradition we couldn't skip was our gratitude tree, where the little leaves are a list of blessings. We are so thankful for God's goodness and mercy every day. Here's the highlight reel:  Cade graduated, made lots of Domino's pizza, read probably a thousand books, and is currently living in Provo, UT as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's heading to Helsinki, Finland in January. We are so proud of him and his hard work, we miss him but are excited for his opportunity to learn and serve. Shad spent a zillion hours with Marcus Ban

Golden Anniversary

My parents recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. CONGRATULATIONS! Fifty years. An anniversary like this is remarkable for a few reasons: to stay together that long, to both be alive and well, and to still like each other after all these years. Let's take a quick trip down memory lane first.  My mom and dad met at a college dance.  When my dad proposed, he was working at a ski area, and she was skiing that day. My dad taught me to ski when I was a girl, and he taught me to love the mountains. My mom taught me to love the ocean. Marriage is a funny thing. In our culture we make a big deal about the wedding and plan expensive parties and receptions. But the real work begins AFTER the ceremony. Anytime my father-in-law talks about attending a "Wedding Deception," I have to laugh and cringe at his dry wit. I learned many great life lessons from my parents through the years. My mom taught me to serve, saying, "You love the people you serve."

Hair and random thoughts from a Brunette

Recently I've thought quite seriously about doing this to my hair. It might be so fun to have purple/blue highlights! I never dyed my hair in high school or college. Then when I was 37 the first few grey hairs appeared, ironically enough while I was pregnant. I've spent the last handful of years adding lots of blonde highlights.  Now my hair has a respectable amount of silver. It's kind of annoying. I'm learning to say farewell to being a brunette, because that young girl with the dark hair has grown up. Last month for Christmas, one of my favorite gifts that I GAVE to my little daughter was kinda fun. I spent like 20+ minutes at Target deliberating on which Barbies to buy. Finally I chose this group of friends for their amazing variety in hair!!  And I love each for different reasons. The dogwalking blonde is fun because my daughter really wishes we had a dog. The other three have accessories to be an astronomer, a teacher, etc. Ultimately, each Barbie is different fro


"How are you feeling about your son leaving soon?" has been my favorite question lately. My answer is kinda mixed. During July and August I was surprised and excited. Then on September 14 he flew to and from San Francisco by himself for a day. The purpose was a quick visit to the Finnish consulate for a visa. He had fantastic instructions to get from the airport to the BART to the consulate, but waiting for the interview took longer than planned. Leaving the consulate he had less than an hour until his flight was supposed to take off. That included a 32 minute tram ride, printing a boarding pass, airport security, etc. In all honesty, he should have missed that flight home. But he didn't. Call it a miracle or a test of faith, or whatever you want to call it. But for my boy who loves to be punctual, boarding a flight 7 minutes before take-off was pretty intense. Long story short, I think we all realized a few things that day. There are so.many.details I can't control,

The Invisible Woman

Today I'm thinking about my mom. She spent a lot of years building and serving and lifting. She poured love and time and energy into her children, in a never-ending pattern. She did a hundred things that we still haven't noticed. I wonder if there's a coming of age that happens for a young mom, when she begins to realize how much work it is to BE a mom. Then maybe about two dozen years into this parenting thing, she begins to see  more stuff she missed. Then another realization comes when her oldest is almost grown. I'm still learning to see my mom and appreciate her as a person. But how can you see somebody who's been invisible? This morning I was talking with a good friend, another mom like me. She's younger and in a different season of mothering, yet we both can relate to sometimes feeling lonely. Sometimes we need evidence of progress, or at least a friendly word from a girlfriend. Maybe sometimes we just need somebody to notice and say thanks. Years ago I h

How Controlling Are You?

Life is like Mario Kart. In the early levels, you're driving through Moo Moo Meadows and the grass is green and there's cows and fields and it's lovely. There's an occasional banana peel that gets tossed in the path, and sometimes the cows walk in the road so you try not to hit them. But overall the driving is pretty mellow.  Then later after you've unlocked other levels, there's stuff like Bowser's Castle. It's a maze with lava on both sides of the path, there's fire and brimstone all around, there's stone columns that try to smash you at random intervals. Just to know where to go and how to steer and stay on the path is complicated. Some stages of life are like Moo Moo Meadows. The details are easy-peasy and you just keep moving right along. And then there are years like Bowser's Castle where it's pretty intense and you pray a lot because the fire around you is pretty hot and you're trying not to fall in the lava pit.  During years

Companions - Notes on Home MTC

November 18, 2021 Most people know that missionaries run around in pairs. Some of my neighbors have seen this version of a companionship lately. Let me explain. During Covid, the church did a pivot and changed the missionary training experience from in-person to virtual. During this process they realized there were a few cool benefits that were worth continuing even after the pandemic. So the new version of missionary training begins  at home  with an Elder or Sister doing full-time training with a companion online. Then they transition to  in person  after a few weeks.  My oldest son began on November 8 with training at home. When they are in class or working together, they are meeting and making friends with other missionaries in their district. My son's cohort has four young women and four other young men, for a total of nine kids all going to Finland in January. BUT when they're not actively working or studying together,  I'm his companion . All of the places I'd no

Twenty + One Month

You know how life gets kinda messy sometimes? My version of messy looks like this: Four kids including a teenager learning to drive; a kindergartner learning to get herself ready in the morning; a senior learning about adulting; a middle schooler learning to ride her bike to electives every other day, a mortgage husband's career VIRTUAL PLUS church service pandemic, civil unrest, election year my own personal need for friends and connection even when my schedule looks like a revolving door Our big anniversary was last month and we were lucky enough to celebrate together this past weekend. We managed to sneak away for 24 hours. First I need to give credit where credit is due. There was a very generous friend who volunteered to parent the children during our 'Nelson marriage offsite.' And there was a generous benefactor who donated Marriott points to spring for the fancy room. I won't mention either party by name, but thanks to their generosity we had a great time. I'

It doesn't matter where you live, but how...

Thoughts on Houses This is my first post from Texas.  The blog lives on.  August was a whirlwind, September we started settling in, and now it's October.  Most of the boxes are unpacked.  Just last week I found the box that had cookbooks in it, and that makes me pretty happy.  I still haven't made whole wheat bread or cookies since we got here, but maybe I'll do that soon. We spent a lot of time this summer thinking about houses, getting ready to sell our house in Traverse Mountain (in Lehi, on the northern edge of Utah County), and brainstorming on what we'd need in a house in Texas. On the way to Texas, we drove south through Colorado and spent the night at Mesa Verde.  We found the Far View Lodge inside the park and stayed up high on the mesa.  The night sky was pitch black away from the city lights, and the weather was at least ten degrees cooler up high.  I loved it.  The next morning we learned a lot about the Native Americans who lived there.  A man ga