Saturday, July 15, 2017

Joy & Laughter

I wrote some stories (and edited one) for our church e-newsletter. This is one:

Joy & Laughter
by Mavis Moon

I have lots of memories of different women in our church family. They were and are a source of great kindness and wisdom to me and others. One of these was Gertie Butterman. Gertie and her sister Pat Vriend were both faithful members of our church and have passed on now.

Once, years ago, our women’s group at that time decided to meet at Gertie’s home for a poetry reading night. If we had a poem we wanted to share, we would bring it. I brought a couple extra books in case some people did not have a poem at hand. Gertie read one of those poems, called “Greasing the Windmill,” by Sietze Buning (the pen name of Stanley Wiersma, an English professor at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI).

Gertie did not have an easy life. She was in the Netherlands during and after World War II, her husband went to a concentration camp because of his work in the resistance, her brother was killed by the Nazi’s -- but Gertie was full of joy.

My favorite memory is the image of Gertie sitting in a chair in her living room, laughing so hard she could barely speak while reading this poem. I know that it looks long, especially to us now, used to bullet points, quick tweets, and even having an acronym (TL;DR) for “Too Long; Didn’t Read,” but if you take the time to read this poem, I think you’ll appreciate why Gertie cracked up as she read it. I love remembering her laughter and joy.

How thankful I am for Gertie and the many others in our church family who exhibit the joy in their hearts that comes with a deep love for Christ.

Greasing the Windmill
June 11, 1944
by Sietze Buning

It took Dad and me from afternoon on one day
until sundown the next
to grease the windmill.

The first afternoon we went to town
for a six-pack of beer,
put the beers into a gunny sack,
and hung the sack in the well on clothesline.
The mill above the well looked shorter than forty feet.

The next morning after milking the and breakfast
we walked into the pasture.
Dad had an empty bucket to drain the old oil into
and I a new oil can.

Dad sighed
and started up the ladder,
each foot on a step for five steps,
then both feet on one step for three steps,
and then stood on the eighth step
complaining of dizziness
He came back down.

It was my turn,
I made it twelve steps up,
one foot on a step but breathing hard,
when Dad called up that I had the new oil.
I had to go back for the empty bucket.

It was harder my second time
and slower with the bucket. The whole mill
shivered in sympathy. I managed only to peek onto the platform, to lift the empty bucket above
my head with my free hand, and tip the bucket
onto the platform. Then I too was dizzy.
I came down, the old oil
still undrained.

Getting the better of ourselves
proved time-consuming. By now it was
coffee time. In the kitchen we admitted
to Mother that all we had achieved
was an empty bucket
on the platform.

Mother reminded us that my brother Klaas,
now, alas, in service,
used to grease the mill on his way to catch
the school bus,
starting out a half hour early. And he never
even had a drop
of grease on him at school that day.

Mother reminded us that Gerrit Henry,
Klaas’ friend around the corner,
not in service and available,
went up his dad’s windmill
with the full can and
the empty can,
drained the old
oil, spread-eagled
himself flat against
the wheel, and had his dad
put the mill in gear. Afterwards
he said it had been better than a
ferris wheel. Running the mill
had got the last drop of oil
out, and he added new oil
before coming down, all in one trip.
Why couldn’t we be like that?
She might as well have said,
“Napoleon:
now there’s a hero for you!”

In the pasture after coffee
Dad said, “We’ll never make it
without the beer.” He had hoped
he could bring the six-pack back to
Doc’s Cafe, untouched. The trickle
and then the drip from the gunny sack,
the haul of the cold clothesline, and then
the beer itself, all would have restored us
if we had been thirsty and tired. We were
afraid, not thirsty and tired, and the
beer was our bitter anesthetic.
We needed a bottle apiece
for a full dose.

It was guilt
and not the beer
that got Dad to the top.
He had to prove to himself
that the beer had been necessary.
How explain the beer to God come Judgment
Day if he couldn’t show that the beer had helped?
I cheered when he made it: Oranje boven!* and I cheered
again when he opened the petcock and drained the old oil out
into the bucket I had delivered earlier at such pain. But his eyes
were bright as brimstone looking down, the guilt still there.
How could he ever know for sure he hadn’t faked the fear
to justify the beer? He trembled all the way down,
step by step, rung by rung, the full bucket
tilting ominously as he changed it from
one hand to the other. The wind
whipped spatters over his bib-
overall and cast-off Sunday
tie. I remembered Klaas
greasing the mill,
clean.

We put the windmill in gear.
Three revolutions would have cleaned it
but we let it run longer to get it really clean.
Need I add that nobody was spread-eagled against the wheel?
We talked about the relativity of height, depth, space, and time,
postponing the minute when I would need to go up with the new oil.
When we could think of no more to say, I started up.
On the twelfth step I glanced at my wristwatch.
We had talked for a half-hour; it was an hour
since our beers, “My beer’s worn off,”
I called down, “I’m dizzy from the height.
I’m coming down for more beer.”
But what would Mother say
if she smelled the beer
at dinner?
We decided
to wait till
afternoon.

At dinner Mother assumed
we were finished.
She greeted us like conquering heroes.
We had to admit only the old oil was drained out.
Had she known that, she muttered,
she would have made sandwiches
and not killed herself fixing porkchops
and apple pie, and
enough was enough,
we should get Gerrit Henry.

I waved her still
with bravado I didn’t feel
and Dad prayed at the table.
He might was well have prayed outright
for God’s blessing on my perilous journey.
As it was, he prayed for God’s blessing
in all difficult circumstances
and paused and swallowed.
No doubt from that moment legions
of angels hovered around me
but I was too frightened
to consider angels.
At prayer I considered
these fragile folded bones called
hands and at dinner I choked
on my porkchop and refused
my pie.

After dinner
the windmill had doubled in size
in the full glow of an Iowa afternoon.
Dad and I began with a beer apiece on the ground.
Who knows? If I failed again, he would need to be ready.
Actually, I surprised us both. I scrambled up, poured the oil in,
closed the petcock, and threw the empty tin down. It bounced higher than Dad’s
head! What a height, to make a can bounce higher than Dad’s head.
Promptly I was paralyzed.
“You done real good,” Dad called, “come down.”
“Wait till I get a notion,” I said, and didn’t budge.

“I’ll go home for tea without you.”
I could do nothing.
“You got a piece of pie coming.”
I could do nothing.
“There still are two beers in the well.”
I still could do nothing.
“Must we get Gerrit Henry to fetch you down?”
Mention of Gerrit Henry
made me go prone on the platform,
clutch the edge, hunt for the spokes
and undertake my quavering descent.

Then it was tea time.
Mother poured us tea
but gave us no hero’s welcome.

After tea, we did chores,
after chores, we milked,
after milking, we ate supper,
and after supper, Dad remembered the beers.
You couldn’t return two beers out of a six-pack to Doc’s Cafe.

That beer--
with Dad in twilight
at the mill
all fear gone,
well, as gone as fear ever gets--
that beer is the only beer I have ever enjoyed.

But Mother’s diary is too spare for June 11, 1944:
“Dad and Sietze greased the mill today.”
If ever I did a day’s work, I did it that day.

* Oranje boven - A Dutch saying meaning, literally, “Orange top”. The Dutch royal family is called the House of Orange, and orange has come to symbolize the Dutch nation. It is also the nickname of the Dutch soccer team. The cheer means something like “Orange on top!” or “Orange above all!”

Gertie Butterman's obituary:
http://www.deeganfuneralchapels.com/tributes/Gertie-Butterman

Patricia Vriend's obituary:
http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/mercurynews/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=172985418

San Jose Christian Reformed Church:
http://www.sjcrc.org/

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