Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Mug of Joy

A single candle and the glare of my laptop, the only light in my “crawl space” above the book store, glowed with as much intent as myself; both of us laboring through the night to finish my final term paper before winter break. Frosty, my dingy white Persian kitty butted her head against my leg. Looking down, her scowl brought me back to reality of my own growling stomach.

“OK, buddy. Let’s see what I can scrounge up for the two of us.”

Finding a can of tuna, I split it, mine slapped on a stale piece of bread. A bit of tea left at the bottom of the canister, awakened my nostrils. No running water, my showering and personal needs took place at the Y, at school, or if needed, the shop below. I reached around the back of the computer and found one of my favorite things, a glazed teal ceramic mug, hand-crafted by an artisan-hippie girl who caught my eye one day. One of those “True Believer” types, her passionate naivety convinced me to invest in her “save the world” dream. I sat the mug on the warming plate after unscrewing the cap of my almost frozen water bottle. Upon midnight, the clear liquid slowly infused with tea flavoring while scents of cardamom and orange wafted up through my musty space.

Smiling to myself, how ironic, I thought. My psychology paper’s topic talked about masks people wear to conceal the secrets of their past. The strong tea aroma temporarily filled the room with a sweet fragrance, one I rarely experienced in my many harsh days in youth. Hugging the cup of tea with both hands, the night, silent, all but the pa rum-pa-pa-pum hum of the old building’s furnace that did not quite make it up here. My screen stared me down, taunting me to a duel of stamina to finish my paper. Now energized with tea and tuna, the night was young, wholly mine. I resumed to plow through my paper like a sleigh ride through a blizzard, blinded by shear determination to find safe passage through the semester—through my life.

Cold, I shivered; more like a tremble of sleep-deprived loneliness ran down my spine. My paper finished, I loaded it unto my flash drive for printing at school. Frosty, nestled under my desk where a miniscule amount of warmth came up,  twitched her whiskers with kitty dreams. The freezing drizzle that began this evening, now decorated the windowpanes with snow crystals and a strange reflection of Christmas lights strung on the deck of Mr. Halls bakery across the street. Glowing silver and gold, majestic, I thought. How many days until Christmas? No returning home this year, the only real home I ever really knew. I thought about my foster parents, Harold and Gloria Littleton. Adopted at age 13 after living most of my life a ward of the state,  both lost their life in a car crash last year, another cruel twist in my tragic life. Determined to get an education, at 19 I relied on nobody but me. Christmas, just another mask, another phony gimmick way out of control. 

I held the mug to my lips, hoping for one last drop. Tipping the cup up, I saw the letters appliqued on the mug,  and then the inscription I never noticed before, on the bottom.  

JOHN 15:11

Wow! Another irony. My paper also spoke of my experiences at the Joy Home for Children, where most of my days I spent in survival mode. Hah! —Now I find joy in the bottom of a mug? 

The hippie girl, what was her name, Gabriella?  (I remembered her name because she also sold angel jewelry). She asked me if I knew joy; thought she was talking about a person. Soon I knew her agenda; getting “religious” on me. She said true joy came from knowing God. Giving me a little pamphlet, I stuffed it somewhere and dropped an extra $2.00 for her cause, grabbing my mug. “Support the arts;” I say, her own creative therapy I surmised. Now this inscription, and these numbers seemed like a clue to a gift I truly wanted, joy. Was this a formula?

I reopened my laptop despite an overwhelming urge to join Frosty in dreamland, Googling the name and numbers. I wondered for a moment what might appear.

“I have told you this so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Suddenly, a memory of a bus, a Bible bus that used to come by the Home. The teachers taught us songs and told stories, stories about God from the Bible. Never gave it much thought until now.  “Joyful and triumphant…” a song began to play in my head…weird.  I reached over to pull my jacket up and around me, the chill deepening within my bones. Stuffing my hands into the pockets, I pulled out the little book hippie girl gave me. The front cover said, The Gospel of John.

Startled, the web site I clicked on began to play a song. Soft acoustical guitar strings and children’s voices sang a tender song,

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head…”

My sleepy eyes, so heavy, my heart, truly heavy with so much disappointment, needed joy. My lids closed, my cup of joy close by, I said my first real prayer.

“Jesus or God, I think I’ve talked to you before, not sure. My name is Noel. If you give joy, can you spare some for me? I ‘ve never believed in anything except for myself and some days I’m not too sure of that either. So—wow, this is so weird.”

“Come here ol’ faithful friend,” I said to Frosty.  She jumped up on my chest, warm and comfortable. We rested.

Late afternoon the next day, I ran over to the Y. A Salvation Army Santa faithfully ringing his bell,  called out to me.

“Joy and rest to you today, gentle man! Merry Christmas!”

Later that day, I found myself at the park where hippie girl, I mean, Gabriella, hung out.

“Hi, Noel, she said. You’re my first customer today, Merry Christmas Eve. Would you like some tea?”

“Ah, sure, I just happen to have my ‘cup of joy’ with me.”

“Mine never leaves me either”, she said.

“Tell me more about that joy, I asked.  I’d like to know what you know.”

A few snowflakes fell, mixed with cold rain, “Hey, come sit under the tarp. Let me move some of these boxes and prepare you room, ” she said.

Glancing down at the boxes, I helped her move a few back under her tent, each box repeating the words “Joy Mugs” labeled on the side. Those words resounded into my head.

She began to tell a familiar story,  a story I thought a myth, but this time it was different. I felt her words, like a chisel carving a new heart. 

I believed in more than Frosty and me that year. I believed in JOY. 

The End (But really, a BEGINNING!)

How many references to a favorite Christmas carol can you find?  Spread the Word! Please comment and add your guess. For every new follower and comment, I will add your name to a drawing for your own "Mug of Joy."  So, Count your blessings of Joy!  Merry Christmas!  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Under My Boot-SOULS

John 5:25 (NIV) Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

The morning started out with a song. "I can only imagine...," she sang, standing with Jesus in the Heavenly realms. How apropos for my sister Lauren and I, finishing up our breakfast in Springerville, Az. to hear these words.* Soon enough we'd head on out to St. Johns, Arizona, the birthplace of my grandfather. A visit to the cemetary where many of my mother's father's ancestors lay at rest, topped our agenda. 


St. Johns, a small ranching community in the White Mountains of Arizona sits unassuming and almost forgotten; a step back in time by at least 70 years. Stopping at the family history research center, we made our aquaintance to staff working their volunteer shift, quite excited to help us piece together a few unanswered questions and point us to the stories archived in their quaint library. The Greer Boys, known in the area as ranchers and cowboys, and more than likely, a few rabble rousers, came back through this part of Arizona returning to Utah after a stint in Texas, where they originally settled.  This place though, caught their attention and they stayed. Better suited to raise cattle then the cold climate of Utah, The Greer Ranch, sprawling, grazing land, was not without territorial issues. The Mexicans herded their sheep on these same fields and the town known then as San Juan, frequently experienced unpleasant words amongst these two rival clans staking out pastures. The famous gun battle of San Juan Day brings the two interested parties packing their pistols to protect their interests.  

Wild Celebration of San Juan's Day
There was a wild time in St. Johns on the day of the Mexican population's patron saint, San Juan, June 24, 1882, when Nat Greer and a band of Texas cowboys entered the Mexican town. The Greers had been unpopular with the Mexicans since they had marked a Mexican with an ear "underslope," as cattle are marked, this after a charge that their victim had been found in the act of stealing a Greer colt. The fight that followed the Greer entry had nothing at its initiation to do with the Mormon settlers. Assaulted by the Mexican police and populace, eight of the band rode away and four were penned into an uncompleted adobe house. Jim Vaughn of the raiders was killed and Harris Greer was wounded. On the attacking side was wounded Francisco Tafolla, whose son in later years was killed while serving in the Arizona Rangers. It was declared that several thousand shots had been fired, but there was a lull, in which the part of peacemaker was taken up by "Father" Nathan C. Tenney, a pioneer of Woodruff and father of Ammon M. Tenney. He walked to the house and induced the Greers to surrender. The Sheriff, E.S. Stover, was summoned and was in the act of taking the men to jail when a shot was fired from a loft of the Barth house, where a number of Mexicans had established themselves. The bullet, possibly intended for a Greer, passed through the patriarch's head and neck, killing him instantly. The Greers were threatened with lynching, but were saved by the sheriff's determination. Their case was taken to Prescott and they escaped with light punishment. http://www.logoi.com/notes/mormon-arizona/little-colorado-settlements.html

(L to R) Joe Woods (cowboy/hired hand) William Nathaniel "Nat" Greer and Frank P. Drew (cowboy & hired hand - he married Deseret Dianah Greer, sister to Nat and Thos Lacy)


My Grandma Greer wrote limericks. Let me share one of my favorites.

Here comes Cowboy Vaughn
Just rode in from St. Johns.
He is one of those Greers,
Still wet behind the ears.
But always up before dawn.

My Grandparents, 1920 
What did "wet behind the ears mean?" I didn't know, but I giggled at my sweet grandma spouting her rhymes about Grandpa. Vaughn Harris Greer eventually rode into Alburqurque where he met my Grandma, never to return to the red dirt trails of the Southwest.  

Did I know my Grandpa came from real cowboy roots?  

He fixed people's watches and put diamonds in rings. He always wore a suit. He didn't look like John Wayne or the Lone Ranger to me. 

The dark, black clouds gathered against the mountains. Warm, in the high 80's, we back-tracked on small country roads outside town, past beaten down farm houses and barns missing most of their roofs, past car graveyards and forever-rest stops of farm equipment, out to a bluff over looking the desert-valley floor.  The wind met us there, while the lightning cracked and the thunder bellowed in the backdrop of pinks and grays, reds and gray-greens. Our family name carved repeatedly, with dates in the 1800's, marked a time gone by.  Yes, "A dark and stormy night," no one for miles in this sleepy town all ready tucked in for the day at 4:00 in the afternoon; My sister and I stepped out to visit the dead. 

So, I thought I'd embellish this blog by authoring my own "family" limericks.  

Here lies James H. Vaughn
Murdered in the town of St. Johns
Friends with the Greers 
Which ended his career. 
Now pink rocks, no lawn.

Thomas Lacy Greer

Here lies our Great Great Pa
Thomas Lacy's grave we saw.
Georgia roots
Arizona boots
When the West was still quiet raw.

"The first tme I saw Mr. Greer, he was wearing a large white beaver hat. I knew he was a Texan, but I didn't like the hat. We soon got aquainted. He asked me if I would go to church with him. I said, "yes." We did not stay apart much after that. On the 25th of Nov. 1855 we were married in my father's house by Judge Sprouce, a Justice of the Peace. I was 18 years old the 17th of Oct., 1855 and he was 30 the 2nd of Sept., 1855. We had $50,000 when we were married. We had a merry time that winter. Mr Greer didn't have to take care of the cattle that winter. He was bookkeepper at the store and I went to dancing school."   --A page from Ellen Camp Greer's history.  

Catherine Ellen Camp Greer, 
Pioneer woman, sincere
 She crossed the plains
Gave thirteen children names,
Held in high esteem, revered
The original, very large picture of my great great grandmother Catherine,  hung in my grandfather's house for as long as I remember.
This picture taken at the World's Fair, San Francisco, 1915.  My great great grandmother,  Catherine is 2nd from the right, bottom row, and two of her daughters, Oasis and Ellen are on the ends, same row.

Lacy Greer

Great Grandpa Greer fell dead
When the cattle stampeded ahead.
The corral crashed down
Lacy was found
"The railroad at fault," was said.

Uncles and cousins at rest
Greer Cowboys, a very good guess.
Tombstones don't tell
Of a life lived well?
What of their dreams and quests?

 Gilbert Dunlap Greer & Hyram "Hi" Hatch (cowboy and ranch hand).
An Arizona cattle drive 

The "Greer Ranch" today.


All goes onward and outward, nothing collaspes, 
And to die is different from what any one supposed, 

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains
of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me, 
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the
shadow'd wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another
I stop somewhere waiting for you. 

Excerpt from "Song of Myself," Walt Whitman, Great American Poet. 


Credit:  I like to thank my sister, Lauren for taking me with her on this once-in-a-lifetime Sister Trip,  providing the "color" and history of all the genealogical research she's done so excellently and for her passion for history which she finally (to her joy) has ignited in me.  

I'd also like to thank Vem Sherman, English teacher extrordinaire,  who, when inquiring about a poem I wanted to add on this yet uncompleted blog, she immediately shared this Walt Whitman piece, which not only fits perfect but brings tears to my eyes as I read it.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick or Treat

 Trick or Treat, or Halloween, as the calendar so names it, arrives.  As a kid, I remember this night well.  Adorned in clever costumes, hand-stitched and/or constructed by my parents, school fun, and safe neighborhood walk-abouts, I looked forward to this night. The candy stayed in a bowl on top of the fridge and only with permission could my sister and I dip into it after dinner.  I always loved the Hershey Bars—the big ones, the best. 

As a Girl Scout Leader, my mother planned a spectacular party in our garage for our troop one year.  Hay bales lined the floor, spooky music played on a portable record player while dry ice fogged up the gathering.  My mother read a scary story as we passed around props under a blanket on our laps.  Giggly 11 -year old girls touching and passing “peeled grape eye-balls” and “cold sticky spaghetti brains” of a mad scientist’s experiment gone bad creeps back into my memory. 

Movies like “Psycho” and “Wait Until Dark” with Audrey Hepburn, bring back  more memories of a time in celluloid when your imagination scared you more than the images you did not see on the screen.  Jumping high and screaming loud left you cracking up in embarrassment but wondering if your heartbeat would ever be normal again. 

In high school, I belonged to a well-known Christian organization called Youth for Christ/Campus Life.  ”The Haunted House” secured funds to run clubs on many high school campuses and support staff for many months. We located an actual abandoned building or house and with city permission, transformed it into a maze of rooms of gore with strobe lights and monsters of the night scaring the “you know what” out of every brave soul who dared to wander down the dark halls anticipating what each new room might reveal, if they could even see around any corner.  Joining the staff myself in college, this event gained me the notoriety as “Monster of the Year,” at our staff after party.  Playing a witch in a graveyard, I welcomed you to my “garden” of  past visitors who somehow didn't quiet make it home.st visitors who somehow didn’t quite make it home. 

Eventually, the Haunted House became controversial among some supporters of YFC and alternative methods of fundraising became apparent. I can tell you that those days remain as great memories of hard-working young people “performing” on a 6-night a week, three week project, impacting many surrounding cities and its youth.  A very rewarding time in my life, the Haunted House brought many people to the Campus Life clubs where they heard about a God who is personal and wanted to come into their hearts to calm their fears and give them eternal life. 

As a parent, again, Halloween became an opportunity for creativity and family-fun. Active in my children’s classrooms, I took treats, sharing with other mothers and visited the neighbor’s homes for compliments and pictures of the kids in their costumes while candy plopped in their open bags. Quickly, we hopped in the car to trek over to the small campus of our little church, Chino Valley Community and “Harvest Night.”  Oh what fun pitching the baseball to “dunk” our youth pastor while eating chili dogs and popcorn as the children and adults in costumes as well, played the “carnival games” over and over for the handful of candy. 

This month, we begin a Season of Celebration among friends. Do we include a holiday that promotes blood and guts, screaming and terror, sugar surges and smashed pumpkins?  What can we celebrate?  Let’s not focus on the negative stuff, but let’s celebrate a candle inside a pumpkin as the light of Jesus inside our hearts. Let’s celebrate His sweet loved wrapped just for us in a candy kiss.  The Lord helps us to remove our “masks” of pride and secrecy, becoming transparent as a ghost.  He heals our scars by his precious blood and gives us a firm foundation that our bones can stand strong on.  Take the opportunity to get to know your neighbors by sharing some apple cider or homemade caramel corn, (three colors in one –bite!). God gives us reason to celebrate everyday as we put forth the empty pillowcases of our lives and he fills it with His goodness, even a day the devil wants to claim as his. As Christ followers, let your light shine in the darkness of hearts. Oh what a day to meet the Savior ringing the doorbell of your heart! 

Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Man the Victory Fleet" A Response of a WWII Merchant Marine Hero.

I received an interesting reply from my previous posting, "A Day in the Life of a Merchant Marine."  Apparently, my tag sent a flag to Google Alerts and  another fellow Merchant Marine who also served in the precarious seas during WWII, opened up my blog and took the time to send me a nice comment. With his permission, I am re-posting his letter to me here:  

Since I was a Merchant Mariner during WW2, I subscribe to Google 
Alerts-US Merchant Marine. Today it referenced your story about your 
father"s experience during the sinking of his ship.
I also served as a fireman-water-tender on the SS Pan Georgia during 
WW2. It is unfortunate that so many veterans did not discuss their 
experiences during WW2. The fireman-water-tender position was the most 
demanding in the engine room. The crew. on a merchant ship engine room 
four hour watch, consisted only of an engineer, a fireman-water-tender 
and an oiler. The fireman was responsible for the operation of two 
boilers. He worked in an environment that was at least 100F, on 
slippery oily deck plates and air polluted with low grade fuel oil 
fumes. As required by the speed of the ship, he adjusted the fuel-oil 
flow rate, controlled the water level in the boiler and air flow-rate 
to the boiler furnace box. He also cleaned the burner nozzles at least 
once a watch. The job was especially difficult when the ship was 
maneuvering and steam demands to the turbine varied rapidly
Your description of his escape from the engine-room was good but not 
accurate. There were no stairs. There was a relatively steep ladder 
which was difficult to climb under the best conditions. With the ship 
listing and others trying to escape it could be a very hazardous climb.
It is a shame that your father didn't give you first hand information 
on the escape and experience on the life boat.
Hope I was helpful,
Walter Schwartz

Use to the same followers who comment regularly either here or on Facebook, my excitement level ramped up when this came across my inbox. As a blogger, its good to know my attempt at writing into cyberspace really works! Then it dawned on me...how old is this gentleman and how "techy" is he to be using the internet and following blogs?  Wow...so cool!  

My sister (the genealogy expert) researched my father's time in the service several years ago. I quickly called her, sharing my response and asked her to pull her research, as wanting to respond with more info to Mr. Schwartz.  Finding  almost all of our father's service record and ships, there remains  a significant gap in time,which puzzles us. It's right smack-dab in the middle of the war. We're speculating this might just be the time my dad's ship sank and his rescue and recovery took place.  That actual event was verified by my dad's sister and brother, who also never discussed it in front of my mother or any family gathering.  My uncle told my Sis that among other "cargo" transported on his ship, gold from Saudi Arabia, possibly to protect it from enemy hands or who knows, found its way on one of his ships. (Where were they taking it?)  We know my dad spent a lot of time in Middle East ports as well as the South Pacific Theater.  Occasionally, while watching travel or National Geographic shows with my dad, (which we did a lot),  he would mention strange lands he had been to, like New Guinea and Ceylon.   (I wonder now what memories, what adventures, took place there?). 

My dad is the hunky guy on the right in the white T-shirt. 

After e-mailing Mr.Schwartz back, he kindly reciprocated again and shared with me a detailed diary of his service record.  Here is a portion detailing his job and one particular rough voyage. 

October 2, Boston to LeHavre to New York on the Liberty Ship SS Kemp P.Battle. The return from Lehavre to New York on the SS Kemp Battle was probably weather wise the worst experience of my short career. five hundred of General Patton's troops were brought aboard for return to the States. Although we were scheduled to sail the next morning, all ships were suddenly ordered out of LeHavre. My rating suddenly changed from maintenance engineer to oiler. The storm was so intense that we were driven fifty miles northwest of the English Channel. A number of ships ran aground. Since we were not carrying cargo or ballast, the ship rode high, was unstable and difficult to maneuver. To provide ballast, the two aft cargo holds were partially filled with sea water as a ballast to improve the maneuverability. Since the sloshing of the water in the holds caused an unusual and unstable rocking sensation, the holds were pumped dry. Because the large reciprocating engines of the liberty ships were manually oiled, the oiler's job was especially demanding under normal conditions. The oiling can would have to be raised and lowered in synchronization with the movement of the cranks or the can would be locked out of the oiler's hand. With the ship gyrating so wildly, oiling was especially demanding. 

Under the storm condition, when the ship went into a trough, the propeller would be uncovered. With no water resistance, the engine would accelerate rapidly. Between oiling, the oiler would alternate with the engineer on watch to operate a large butterfly valve to reduce steam to the engine when the prop came out of the water. A normal ten-day trip across the Atlantic took us thirty hectic days.

For more info check out these sites: http://www.dvrbs.com/monuments/camden/Camden%2cNJ-WW2-merchant-marine-memorial.htm

Very much of interest to me, I now imagined more what my dad's actual job entailed, for he worked as an oiler and a fireman as well,  in the "engine room" of his Merchant Marine vessels. 

So, I asked Mr. Schwartz for his picture.  He told me I could get it from his Facebook page! I just have to share this with you all. Love this!  Looks great for 89, wouldn't you say? 


Work and Education


  • Civil Engineering · New York, New York


Favorite QuotationYou are never too old!

Basic Information

About WalterI'm 89 year young and I feel like I am 39 at the very oldest. My body has been telling me different, so we are arguing with each other. I'll let you know who wins the argument.
So, thank you Mr.Walter Schwartz, for your candid biography and information sharing across the WWW!  More importantly, I thank you for your service to our country and keeping your memories alive by documenting and sharing.  Have a great 4th of July and God Bless you, 
Coleene VanTilburg