On Hope, Peace, and our Future

During this tumultuous and challenging time, today’s holiday to remember one of history’s honored leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gives a chance to pause and reflect on some of his favorite speeches. Excerpts from addresses of Dr. King through the course of his career can be found engraved in granite at the MLK memorial in Washington, D.C.

Out of the mountain of despair, a Stone of Hope

We visited there a few years ago. The impact of those words gave a hush of reverence to the area. Today, I remember Dr. King, and ponder his life and his words, in the spirit of hope that the memorial offers to a divided country and world.

A few of Dr. King’s words, surrounding the massive mountain and engraved for posterity in granite, testify to the power of our spirit, through language. Long may the words provide hope for those in the midst of a struggle for justice and equality, until the day when everyone on Earth is valued as an equal member of the worldwide community.


I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.                                                                             (Norway 1964)


The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.          (1963)

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.          (Norway 1964)

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.    (Alabama 1963)

Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.     (District of Columbia 1959)

I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.  (California 1967)

It is not enough to say, “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not only on the negative expulsion of wat, but on the positive affirmation of peace.    (California 1967)

Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.  (New York 1962)

If we are to have peace on Earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical, rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation, and this means we must develop a world perspective.  (Georgia 1967)

We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.   (District of Columbia 1968)

Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.    (1963)

This is not a complete collection of the quotations at the memorial. But it is most of them. One could spend hours there, meditating on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and pondering his legacy which is forever established through the power of his words. Located amidst the awe-inspiring memorials in our nation’s capital, it is fitting to remember this man’s life today, on the holiday declared to honor his life and legacy. And we return to that stone of hope during these difficult times, with renewed anticipation that a corner of our history has been turned and we will look toward renewed progress to uplift every person, and every living thing on Earth, with honor and respect.




A New Chapter

Earl Nightingale said the hardest job you can tackle is thinking a thought through to its end. That’s what writing is. You get an idea and not only have to think it through but revise it many times to make it more effective.”

— Marvin Swanson

This morning I headed to the college in Arkansas City to prepare pianos for the spring semester. My mind was drawn to the day I worked at that same task one decade ago. While busy twisting tuning pins, getting the fleet of pianos tuned up after the dry winter air soured them, my phone rang. It was the hospital in Winfield. My dad had arrived and was having “a little heart attack.” To this day, I cannot fathom why the medical person called it “little.” They had decided he should go to the Heart Hospital in Wichita. Do I need to drive him there, I asked. No, she said, we will send him in an ambulance.

Thirty-six hours later, after a procedure in Wichita, after  my sister from northern Kansas arrived, after a lengthy visit or two in his hospital room, laughing and remembering, and saying “I love you,” after a last phone message recorded on my answering machine while I was en route home, (“Please bring my walking stick next time you come up. Don’t make a special trip.”), another heart attack took his life. It was January 13, 2010.

We were called back to the hospital late at night by a nurse who didn’t think he’d make it through this one. This was the Heart Hospital. She ought to know. Kay and I dressed hurriedly and rushed back, fretting through a cantankerous stop light that refused us a green, running it red, racing to the parking lot and dashing in, only to learn he had just passed.

And so, in that moment, the role of grizzled and wise family elder passed to my sisters and me. We were orphans.

That was ten years ago. I marvel at what he and my mother missed in those ten years. Though I miss them more than ever, life goes on. Things my dad missed include weddings of several of his grandchildren, and break-ups of others, births of my three grandchildren, as well as several of my sister’s, watching them grow,remodeling our house—complete with geothermal heat pump, solar panels, and wind turbine,


remodeling a building in downtown Winfield into an art gallery,

friendships renewed, new friends made, international travel opportunities, heartaches and joys, hopes, dreams, and disappointments.

Life goes on.

I also marvel at the way my dad’s death opened a new chapter in my avocation. He was a master at new chapters. And he taught me well. When you face inescapable changes in life, it is far better to embrace them and turn a corner to new adventures than to wring your hands in despair. Losing my dad reminded me that you can’t take life for granted. If there’s something your heart urges you to do, do it. Conversations and events in the days following his exit convinced me to return to writing, an ambition from my early years. It was time to finish a book I’d started 28 years previously. I’d put it aside to raise a family, and to get beyond the emotional upheaval of those times. For ten years now, I have risen early to put pen to paper. And I have finished three books in those ten years.

In the Shadow of the Wind went to press in 2014. Two years later I finished Sundrop Sonata, a novel of suspense started in my wild imaginings 12 years previously during the summer following my mother’s death.

And as I write this today, Sonata of Elsie Lenore, a sequel to Sundrop Sonata, is ready to upload to the printer. It should be accessible by February 9.

Book #3 has been an adventure of another kind, taking me to Cuba ten months ago, bringing new friends into my life and bolstering old friendships. (More about this in future posts.)

Three books in ten years. I think my dad would be pleased.

With his career thriving and a baby on the way, life looks good to Stefano Valdez, a Cuban classical pianist. Then a postcard from the past shatters his world. Days before the expected birth, he heads south to find the author of the card, a sister he long believed to be dead. Trailing her to Cuba, he unwittingly places his Kansas family in the sights of the crime ring that destroyed his sister. Will he discover the hidden message in her hastily-penned words in time to save his family?


For the last few weeks, I’ve contemplated the question raised by Marvin Swanson decades ago. What things do hamper our awareness of our immediate surroundings? Things that distract our minds, keep us focused on inner dialogue, perhaps. Though he noted several young friends who were television addicts forty years ago, I suspect Marvin would be amazed to find that today we can take our screen distractions to any place at any time and ignore what’s happening in front of us.


From Marvin:

I’ve been thinking of what puts blinders on awareness: feeling down, worry, being an eccentric wheel around an unproductive crush, too much alcohol or drugs.

And what increases awareness? How can one develop greater awareness? It often seems to take a change from the ordinary—a change of feelings, of routine, of environment. How can we make the familiar stand out in freshness and newness? Go outdoors. Enjoy stimulating conversation with a new acquaintance. Read a good book. Listen to music. Sometimes a good TV show or movie works. A change of season helps too.

Awareness is increased by (1) change (2) time to analyze experience. Can we add more to our list?


What have I missed by being self-absorbed? How can I break out of that box?

What works for you?

Internal Photograpy

(I have given much thought lately to people from my earlier years who gave encouragement for my endeavors and advice for life. Marvin Swanson was foremost among them. From his desk, his correspondence, and his mechanized wheel chair, he sought adventure and celebrated life like nobody else. I’d like to return to my plan to share some of his gems of wisdom through quotations from his letters. Miss you, Marvin.)

“I’m going to concentrate on photographing pictures with the film between my ears. Then I will classify and store them and run them by at night when I can’t sleep–instead of sheep.”

Marvin Swanson


What is a Hero?

In the middle of August we flew to Wisconsin to honor the life of a dear aunt. This lady was another August hero. Friends at her service commented that the best leaders are those who walk beside you, shoulder to shoulder, rather than way out front. PICT0836Jean Meyer lived the life of a serving leader. Her daughter, Kathy, summed up her life by saying that Jean’s legacy would be, “The more love you give away, the more you have. And when you help others carry their burdens, your own becomes lighter.”

Within Marvin Swanson’s letters, I found this quote:

“People seek worldly power, one-upmanship, popularity, recognition and fame to the degree they are lonely and empty inside . . . The real heroes of human existence are least noticed . . . They blend into their surroundings so naturally they are unnoticed until their work is felt.”

Pondering this, I realize that the giants who surround me with their wisdom are my unsung heroes. Marvin showed me how a man could live with dignity and have unbounded influence even when faced with a severe handicap.

Jean and her husband Phil welcomed us into their family with enthusiasm and love. Based on shared memories at Jean’s celebration of life, their influence spread to people in many other countries as well.

These people certainly stand tall in my mind. Perhaps my heroes are those people who have taught me something, even unintentionally–the teachers in my life. The people featured under this category in my blog are heroes to me, whom I will always remember for their exemplary lives. How do you recognize your heroes?PICT0838

August Birthdays

           ??????????????????????????????? A theme for the chronicles of summer has emerged. In the midst of chaos, when my feeble brain overloads to the point where I feel one more thing will surely short-circuit the whole affair, a new revelation presents itself. Through hours of mind-wandering road trips, bustle-to-wait airport adventures, and the monotony of slathering new paint over walls of a vacant house, or peeling buckets of apples to preserve, I realize the month of August carries significant import for me. August was the month when several of my significant people were born.

            This realization started with an invitation to the 100th birthday party of a lady, born on August 2, 1913, who demonstrated to me what it meant to be a good neighbor. At a time decades ago when repeated crises in my family nearly got the better of me, she was there to help, quiet and dependable. Once I despaired. “I don’t know how I’ll ever pay you back.”

            “No need to pay me back,” was her reply. “Just do the same for someone else someday.” Pay it forward. Don’t pay it back.

            Then, of course, there is my youngest child, born the 25th day of August twenty-four years ago, whose impact on my life continues to this day, wondrous and unique.

            Between these two, the old and the young, I think of my niece, the precious and oldest grandchild of my own parents, now capably raising a family of her own.

            There is my sister-in-law. The better I know her, the more clearly I see our kindred spirit and I understand why I love this family so much.

            I have been reminded that my good friend, writing coach, and life mentor, Marvin Swanson, celebrated an August birthday, on the 23rd day of the month, if my notes are correct. Marvin left the earthly life fourteen summers ago, but through the collection of letters he sent me, he lives again, almost as if he was still nearby.


            Born in western Kansas in 1923, Marvin became afflicted with debilitating arthritis when yet a teenager. For over thirty years, he was a correspondence instructor of writing at Fort Hays State University and the University of Kansas. Living close to the campus of FHSU, he rented rooms to students and served as a mentor and a kind-of-foster-parent to those who shared his walls.

            Marvin was a founding member of the Western Kansas Association on Concerns of the Disabled. The founding principle, possibly penned by Marvin himself, reads:

            We, the members of the Western Kansas Association on Concerns of the Disabled, believe that all disabled persons, regardless of their disability, have the right to choose their own lifestyle. Along with this right comes responsibility. Therefore, we also believe that all disabled persons, no matter the degree of disability, can and should contribute something to society. We have dedicated ourselves and WKACD to the continuation of these principles.”

            If contributions could be measured, those of Marvin Edgerton Swanson would rank among the highest humanity has to offer. Though imprisoned in a body wracked with pain, he transcended that condition. His mind, ever observant and quick to compile subtle nuances into gems of wisdom, connected with young and old to contribute to the betterment of life for all.

            I met Marvin when I attended college at FHSU. We corresponded regularly for decades, until shortly before his death. His arthritis compromised his ability to wield a pen. Thus the thoughts he inked onto his monogrammed stationery were deeply considered and well-planned in order to wring the most meaning from each word. Reading them again today, he comes to life in my mind. The years drop away and it is almost as if I am young again, curled on his sofa, relating my thoughts to him in exchange for his ageless wisdom.

            This new blog category will feature gems of Marvin’s wisdom, gleaned from his letters, because they are worth sharing with the world. His writing career lacked a blog site. Were he still here, that situation would likely be much different. Thus, Marvin, here’s your blog. Should other friends of this remarkable man eventually find their way to this page, I welcome additional gems they have savored from their relationship with him.



            Today’s gem, in honor of those letters, and in celebration of Marvin’s birthday, reflects on the importance of writing letters. His letters, surely, carry vitality on their invisible and timeless wings.

In his words:

            I’ve been working on an article about the dwindling act of writing personal letters. Up to 80% of our reduced 1st class mail consists of business letters. Will the personal letter exchange gradually disappear in the electronic communication revolution? The personal letter has many unique advantages.

            Ellen Terry, an actress, began writing to George Bernard Shaw when they were both single. They never met. Both married. They wrote for 25 years. Shaw wrote about their correspondence, which has been published: “Let those who complain that it (the Shaw-Ellen Terry “romantic correspondence”)was all on paper remember that only on paper has humanity yet achieved glory, beauty, truth, knowledge, virtue, and abiding love.”

            Imagine, I can read a letter Christopher Columbus wrote describing America or Edgar Allen Poe’s letter revealing the secret of the real tragedy of his life. They’re in a book with many more entitled The World’s Great Letters.  I have it.

            “Letters . . . are, of all the words of men, in my judgment, the best.” (Francis Bacon)

 Letters are poignant keys to the souls of friends long gone. We can live through our letters, as Marvin lives on his pages. For the young generation of today, which is so dependent on quick, electronic messages, how will their words echo in bits and bites for those yet unborn?

To Live is to Change: A Tribute to My Father


Today is Father’s Day, a good time to feature the life of Wally Harris. Why hasn’t he already appeared on this blog? After all, his influence in my life was second to none. I was (still am) my daddy’s girl. He made each of his daughters feel cherished. Some of our favorite memories are those times we spent alone with our dad.

I can credit this blog to his influence. Wally embraced and celebrated change. This blog symbolizes my own fumbling attempts to learn something new and step out of my box.

Thirty years ago, Daddy wrote an essay he entitled “Efil and Htaed.” It described his philosophy of life and his experiences with death through the loss of family members and friends. Having grown up on a Kansas farm in the thirties, his view of life drew analogies from the seasons of a typical farm year. Spring, summer, fall and winter—for him life metaphorically followed the cycle of seasons. The events of life are as changeable and perhaps as unpredictable as the weather. As comfortable as we may be in one set of circumstances, something is bound to change. Our lives continually evolve into new and often wondrous directions.

It is futile to resist those changes so we might as well embrace them. Wally Harris celebrated the changes in his life. With an active and inquisitive mind, his pursuit of new adventures made life sparkle, as surely as the twinkle in his eyes.

My life’s metaphor is drawn more along literary parallels. I view life as a book. Each chapter is marked by changes. Turn the page. Here’s a new chapter in life. Daddy’s chapters began thirty years before I entered the picture. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time he was a family man, his principles were well established. He enthusiastically included his family in life’s escapades.

There was the Colby chapter. His work at the K-State agriculture station was mysterious to me. But his love of photography was not. On weekends and evenings, he transformed our home into a photographic portrait studio. I spent hours helping him develop black and white photos in our basement darkroom. He was my first photography teacher and I became enthralled.

Then there was the Hays chapter, when he worked as an instructor of agriculture at Fort Hays State University. Though my interest in photography remained strong, Daddy switched gears and threw himself into management of his family’s farm, including the purchase and operation of a sawmill to mill lumber from our river bank acreage in eastern Kansas. His weekends, vacations, and summer breaks were devoted to milling and farming activities a couple hundred miles from our home. The sawmill chapter drew to a close after retirement. He and Mother moved back to Lyon County, into a house he designed and built.

Sharpening the sawmill teeth
Sharpening the sawmill teeth

His focus shifted to an interest in small gas engines. He and Mother traveled the entire country to attend engine shows. He acquired hundreds of models and devoted hours to their repair, delighted to see them run again. During this time, he began writing a journal to record memories from every season of his life. He enthusiastically endorsed the electronic age with purchase of a couple home computers. With his typical enthusiasm, he immersed himself into learning how to use and master the intricacies of the emerging technology. With many years of his journal recorded electronically, it is almost as if he is still here, trapped in the virtual medium.

Daddy’s final chapter began with our mother’s death and ended with his own, seven years later. His passing ushered in a new chapter in my own life.

Change defines life. How we deal with change defines us. We can weep and long for the good-old days. Or we can embrace the changes and celebrate a new adventure. It seems that everything I knew as a teen or young adult is different now. The skills I mastered have become archaic, their tools now museum relics. I feel like a dinosaur.

Photography has certainly changed. Gone are the days of tonging prints from tray to tray in safelight darkness. Images are now instantly viewable on new, ever-improving digital cameras.

Writing has changed. What’s a typewriter anyway? So has publishing and marketing your work. Email, e-books, and e-readers e-ventually e-liminate the piles of paper trash in my bin.

Pianos have changed. Today’s children are seduced by a hundred different activities so that few enter the discipline of learning to play piano. Electric keyboards are chosen by more families, schools and churches. Piano owners who want to convert to electronic instruments often can’t even give their pianos away.

And then we have climate change. We don’t know what to expect from any given year other than seasons and weather which are bound to be highly unusual.

Things change. So must I. After I spoke at Daddy’s memorial service, several in the crowd asked to know more about one particular memory. As a result I knew it was time to write again. Writers today usually offer a blog. A blog? What’s a blog? Simply put, it’s a way to put the thoughts of your heart before virtual readers, anytime, any day. This seems a bit risky. It’s also confusing. There are so many choices–how do I pick what will work best for me? Where to begin? It’s easy to feel paralyzed by indecision. But the best way to start is to metaphorically turn the page and write the first word of a new chapter.

This chapter in my adventure is exciting, suspenseful, discouraging at times, but also full of wonder and new friends. I can feel Daddy’s approval. He surely is smiling and nodding from somewhere. Life means growing and changing, so let the adventure continue!


Remembering Vic McClung

There are some people who continue to impact the world long beyond their days here. Vic McClung was such a person. ALS stole him away from his family, friends and community too soon. Gone now two years, he is hardly forgotten. This Memorial Day post is dedicated to Vic, with love for his family.

Vic with his four beautiful daughters. Photo courtesy of Allison Hughes.
Vic with his four beautiful daughters. Photo courtesy of Allison Hughes.

What kind of man was Vic McClung?

He was a listening man.  Never himself one of many words, Vic listened carefully whenever others spoke or provided answers to his thoughtful questions.

A perceptive man.  Not prone to jump on anyone’s bandwagon, Vic preferred to study all sides of an issue.  When he did offer his unique insights, they often lent fresh perspective to a divisive situation.

A fun-loving man.  He enthusiastically supported, planned and hosted various social get-togethers for his church group, as I’m sure he must have for other groups to which he belonged.  We enjoyed holiday parties, picnics at his house, a hay-rack ride to tour significant locations in the western part of the county, and a delightful afternoon at the Eastman cabin overlooking a bend in the Walnut River.

Vic did not lose his sense of humor even when faced with the diagnosis of ALS.  Early on, our group was studying a book called “If You Want to Walk On Water You Have to get Out of the Boat”.  Another friend in class was dealing with the loss of her husband through cancer and mentioned how her boat was sinking at the time.  She turned to Vic and asked if he didn’t feel his boat also was sinking. He replied, “Takin’ on a little water.”  When he introduced his new Dynavox voice to our class, he was asked if he had a choice of the voice that pronounced his words.  Through the box he said, “I wanted a Scottish dialect, but it was not available.”

Vic McClung was a quiet man.  Yet when he did express himself the words were filled with insight.  He could even communicate without words.  He made you feel valued and needed with nothing more than a glance in your direction accompanied by a little smile.

He was a hugging man, and was quick to bestow bearhugs on young and old alike.

Vic was a welcoming man.  He made a point to greet all who participated in the ALS walk on his “Strangers on Tractors” team.  He and Jan greeted every guest at the reception for his daughter’s wedding.  He made each person in our adult New Beginnings class feel important and needed.

A caring man.  Often Vic’s questions delved into a personal nature that would let you know he cared about you and your family, but in an unassuming way.  The concern he showed others, however, was dwarfed by his love and dedication to his family.  With intent, he searched for ways to help Jan and the girls adjust to a world without him in it.  Though faced with incredible challenges personally, his greatest concern was for the well-being of his family.

A giving man.  Vic’s caring nature was not more evident than in his generosity.  From serving as video photographer at various of our family’s celebrations, to loaning a stock trailer so we could move a grand piano to an outdoor stage, to helping extricate Walnut Valley festival campers from the campgrounds as the river rose one year, to donating pumpkins from the McClung pumpkin patch for a Halloween youth party, to leading our church group in numerous projects like helping folks move from one home to another, sponsoring dinners to raise money for missions, and donating the meat for such fundraiser events.  The list of McClung generosity goes on and on, to the very last donation of his body to research that would benefit others struggling with ALS.

In short, Vic McClung was a cultivator.  He was able to transfer his passion for raising healthy crops and livestock into other areas of life.  He cultivated a wonderful, loving family.  He cultivated friendships.  In his own words, he “cultivated his thought processes” as his questioning led to a deeper understanding of our world.  He nurtured the many groups he served, encouraging each of us in those groups to become better people.  Vic was a cultivator.

It was a great honor to call this man a friend. His gentle leadership will always be remembered.