This month, I will be celebrating my 40th high school reunion. It seems only yesterday I walked the halls of Snowflake Union High as a shy shadow of hopes and unfulfilled dreams.
I was born in Winslow, Arizona, on a rainy Labor Day, and I grew up on a ranch near the small farming/logging community, Heber, Arizona, that was settled by my great-grandparents.
My father, Jay Crandell worked at odd jobs, from firefighting and logging to driving school bus, and finally, to working in a pulp and paper mill to provide a living for our family.
My mother cared for her six children and her younger brothers and sisters while she drove a tractor, planting and harvesting the crops. She preserved the harvest in jars so that we would have food for the winter. She also sewed, quilted and cooked.
Both my parents worked hard and by example taught us the value of “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work.” Sunday, we went to church and poured out our hearts to God for the bounteous blessings we had received.
Sunday wasn’t the only time we said, “Thanks.” Morning and night my parents with their children knelt and paid homage to God, and expressed gratitude for the privilege of living in this free land of America.
When I was 3 years old I was scalded severely with hot soup. I teetered between life and death for months. I was in bed so long that I had to learn to walk all over again. It was through prayer and fasting and a kindly doctor that I was saved. Only the hand of God could have brought me back from the terrible infection that followed the burn.
Dr. Peterson, a common country doctor who trusted in the Lord, felt compassion for his patients. He chose not to send a bill for thousands of dollars worth of medication he had used on my burn. When my parents asked him about the medications, he simply said, “What medication?” He refused to remember.
My elementary years slipped away quietly in the midst of hopscotch, steal the flag and jacks. We read, solved math problems and colored pictures that were printed on a ditto machine. We sang patriotic songs and learned the pledge of allegiance, and childhood was gone.
In eighth grade, I changed schools. I went to Overgaard School. I walked through the forest, down the shadowed paths to school every day, crying because I could not be with my friends. But as the year drew to a close, I learned the value of being different and standing for the right no matter what way the winds of peer pressure blew. I was given the first Good Citizenship Award presented in the school.
High school, though just a small country school, was a milling city of people rushing to and fro. Break time was sheer torture for a shy girl who was accustomed to the quiet forests of home. It was all I could do to press through the crowds to find my locker and get to the next class. I was always relieved, at the end of the day, to sit down on the bus and take out my pad and paper to write.
Writing took me into the boundless blessing of my imagination. The noise, the fear and the crowds faded away into plots and characters scribbled on a page. With the fanfare of mortarboards and tassels, high school turned into college and the serious quest for Prince Charming.
You see, all I could see for my life was a log cabin in the forest with children running around. How could I have known that God had a different plan, and that I would like his plan so much better than mine? I spent a year at Mesa Community College taking classes to be a teacher. I also took a mid-day class of manicuring at a beauty school; then I worked at A&W in the evenings. No wonder I didn’t have time for a social life.
At the end of the year, I came home. I had a manicuring license and a few credits in college. For two years, I was a teacher’s aid. I was comfortable, but it wasn’t God’s plan. I went on a Christian mission to Italy.
There I learned to know and trust the Lord with every major decision in my life. I also learned a greater appreciation for my country. Italy was a place of political turmoil. The government changed as often as I changed clothes. The people were poor and steeped in superstition and tradition, but I learned to love them as my brothers and sisters in Christ.
When I came back to the U.S., I thought for sure I would meet Prince Charming and get my little cabin in the forest, but years passed. I finished my bachelor’s degree, and taught elementary school for four years. Then I went to the University of Utah and got a fine arts degree in theatre, which amounted to a double degree in playwriting and child drama.
Two of my plays were taken to Chicago as showcase pieces at a theatre convention. From there, I became a playwright in residence. I was flown to different schools that had chosen to do my plays. It was great fun. I was at the height of my career when God said, “Welcome to the life you left behind.”
He gave me a ready-made family. Reg Tenney had recently lost his wife to cancer. Six children needed a mother. Richard, 17; Holly, 16; Doug, 14; Marsha, 11; Toni, 7; and Chad, 9 months. Reg and I were married after a whirlwind engagement.
We had our first date and he asked me to marry him the next day. The whirlwind has become a tornado as I became a taxi driver, coach, doctor, councilor, scout leader, financial advisor, life planner, chief cook and bottle washer.
One by one Reg’s children were married, or had gone to live on their own. Chad was the only one left. Though we had tried, I was never able to have any children. One day I was praying, feeling sorry for myself.
“Heavenly Father, I don’t have any children of my own. I have been faithful. Why?”
The unmistakable voice of the Spirit whispered. “You will have a posterity beyond your greatest dream.”
I thought surely I would get pregnant with triplets or at least twins, but no. That was not God’s plan for me. A couple of Sundays later we learned that there was a Bulgarian boy who needed a home.
He would be sent back to his mother country to an orphanage if someone didn’t take him. We were drawn to him. At age 11, Paul became our son. What a journey! We soon realized that he was not a normal child.
He had what psychologists call, “Lost Child Syndrome” that mimics autism in many ways. The disorder comes from not having the care and nurturing needed as a baby. Paul would sit in a corner and stare at the ceiling on the swing by himself, and just ask a few questions.
He didn’t have to communicate. We were his only bridge to the outside world. He needed peers. We decided to give him some communication challenges. We went to the Internet and found a sibling group of four children to give Paul brothers and sisters.
Of course we prayed and found the perfect family. Ashley, Stephanie, Craig and Angel. Then my life was no longer a tornado, it was a hurricane of things to do. Reg and I grew to love these children. They have grown and soon will be gone.
Ashley has graduated from high school a year early and became student of the year in her heavy equipment program. She will probably marry Chad, Reg’s youngest son.
Paul has become an Eagle Scout and will graduate next year from high school and college with an associate’s degree in heavy equipment. Craig is on his way to Eagle Scout and Stephanie is wandering through the wonderful world of teenage trauma, but is making progress toward graduation. Angel, in sixth grade, is as her name, a breath of light and a blessing to all.
What happened to the 40 years since high school? I have no clue! I don’t feel any older. I look in the mirror and see my mother. I creak a little when I walk, and I have wrinkles around my eyes, but I still feel like the little girl running through the forest listening to the sounds of spring.
For more than 10 years I have written articles for Progressive Dairyman, and have been grateful for the blessing God gave me in having an audience who will read my ramblings and laugh at my humor. Thanks! PD
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