Monthly Archives: August 2015

Beginnings…of my writing (and my family tree)

IMG_0423I have been on vacation this week so I was unable to put together a new piece.  Instead of offering you more “fish,” I thought I share with you the first piece I ever wrote (outside of required school assignments).  I entered this story in an international genealogy writing competition and came away with 2nd place, which included a small a cash prize.  I tested my “luck” again the following year with another genealogy piece and was awarded 3rd place.  After two awards in two attempts I had to consider the possibility that I had some writing talent.  My article included many citations, which I removed to make it easier to read.

“The Search for Grandpa Peter”

My adventure began almost two years ago at a summer family gathering. After everyone had eaten, a handful of us settled into lawn chairs for a chat. At some point during the conversation the subject of genealogy came up. For years I had avoided becoming involved with genealogy, mainly because I already had enough hobbies. I listened, however,  as my father and my brother-in-law, Paul, discussed the “brick wall” that stymied everyone researching our family history for decades. The unanswerable question was, “where did our ancestor Peter B. Roushey come from?”

As I listened to the conversation, something stirred inside me and I found myself wanting to get involved. I had just finished graduate school and there was a part of me that was looking for another challenge. This could be it I thought. What could be more challenging than to discover something that was believed to be unknowable?  Just like that I was hooked.

The next day I jumped in with both feet. I had no experience as a genealogist so I decided that I would use my grad school research training. One of my courses in college was called The Integrative Project, and in it we learned a multiple step approach to solving significant problems.  I shortened the process to four steps and adapted it to work for my needs. My first step was to create a research statement using the information that was already known about Peter. I was taught that the reason for doing this was to keep the research scope narrow and maintain focus on the objective. The second step was conducting the actual research.   My research would include researching Peter and his environment (the people around him, period history, culture, geography, etc.). The third step involved producing a theory based on the results of my research. The final step was proving my theory. If proof were not available, then at least I would have a strong theory. Likewise, if the proof I sought refuted with my theory, I would return to step two (research) and continue from there.

I photocopied the information my father had acquired on Peter B. It didn’t seem like much, but it would prove to be valuable data in the months to come when I attempted to prove my theory. The information included a biography written about William Carr Roushey, the son of Peter B., copied from the book, The History of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.  The other resource my father had was the unpublished genealogy notes compiled by his uncle, the late Reverend Herbert Roushey.  Uncle Herbert had spent his retirement years collecting information from cemetery caretakers, government agencies, and family members. He had documented our family tree back to Peter B. Roushey, but due to our brick wall he could get no further.

The William Carr Roushey biography yielded several important pieces of information. William C. was born in Hope, Warren County, NJ.  His parents, Peter B. and Rebecca Wolfe, were born in Warren County, NJ.  Additionally, Peter was a tailor by trade who removed to Luzerne County, PA in approximately 1816.

Uncle Herbert’s notes mentioned a family story about Peter that was handed down over the years. Tradition told of two brothers who came from Germany and settled in New Jersey. One of the brothers was said to be Peter B. Roushey and the other unnamed brother migrated west and was never heard from again.  As I worked through the exercise of reviewing the known information on Peter, it was obvious to me what my problem statement was. Who were the parents of Peter B. Roushey, tailor, born in Warren County, New Jersey?

I was convinced that my success or failure would depend on how much information I could gather on Peter and his surrounding environment. By trial and error I developed a systematic approach to gathering information. I used the Internet to locate people, places or groups that I could network with or visit. I also used keyword Internet searches to look for anything I could find on Peter B. As a practice I tried to validate any information I took directly off the Internet. This approach enabled me to join genealogy groups, find historical societies and libraries, correspond with newly discovered cousins, and locate other unique resources.

One of my greatest finds was locating the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, genealogy group referred to as The Courthouse Gang.  I credit this friendly, tireless group of volunteers with helping me locate Peter’s tombstone. They were also able to help me locate resources in Warren County, New Jersey.  The “gang” represented a wide cross section of experience in the field of genealogy and I have learned a lot from them. One of the joys of being a part of this group is being able to assist someone else looking for their ancestors.

Peter B. Roushey’s tombstone established a birth date of September 1, 1787, placing his parents in the Revolutionary War period. This discovery, coupled with the family story suggesting our German origin, seemed to be pointing to the possibility that Peter’s father was a Hessian soldier. This conclusion placed me on the same path taken by the other Roushey researchers, and led directly to our family’s brick wall. Maybe they had missed something. Could my use of the Internet permit me to succeed where the others before me had failed?

I returned to the Internet to search for resources or authorities on Hessian soldiers. I knew that there were thousands of Hessian soldiers who remained in America after the Revolutionary War. I had to narrow the list of possibilities if I was going to be successful. Family tradition held that Peter’s father was also named Peter, however I was not able to determine where the story originated. My research led me to a book written by John H. Merz, which I purchased. The book, along with the author’s assistance, helped me narrow my research to Peter Ruechert and Johann Peter Rosenberg.  However, neither of the two soldiers appeared to have set foot in New Jersey after the Revolutionary War, and neither of them had a son named Peter.

It looked unlikely at this point that our family originated from a Hessian soldier. Somewhat discouraged, I set my Hessian soldier information aside. There was still quite a bit of certainty about our German heritage so I turned back to The Courthouse Gang for more ideas. Someone in the group recommended the Wyoming County Historical Society in Tunkhannock, PA as a great place to conduct research with very helpful staffers. I still felt like a novice around other researchers and the causal atmosphere I was likely to encounter in Tunkhannock appealed to me.

By this time my wife and I were enjoying my new hobby together, and our road trips down the turnpike to Pennsylvania were becoming more commonplace. On our second trip to the Wyoming County Historical Society I made a discovery that I will remember for the rest of my life. The discovery was even more special because on this particular trip my Mom and Dad were with us.

That day, with four of us researching, we were able to consume the historical society’s resources at a healthy clip. The plan was to photocopy anything that looked like it might be useful with the intention of studying the materials sometime later. I had located the section of materials on New Jersey and was leafing though a binder of genealogy articles. One of them was an article on the Hope, New Jersey, Moravian Cemetery records.  I was on my way to the copy machine, scanning through the cemetery records, when I stopped dead in my tracks. This was no simple listing of tombstones. There was information given about the family of the each person who died. To my astonishment, while gazing at the R’s, I noticed there was a Peter born September 1, 1787, listed as one of the sons of the deceased Frederick Rauschenberger.

Rauschenberger???   I was not sure of what I had found. Euphoria and skepticism immediately IMG_0425began to battle in my mind. Had I made the amazing discovery I had set out to find?

After telling practically everyone I knew about our adventure in Tunkhannock, I realized I had better get to work and find the proof to back up my claims. My official theory was that Peter B. Roushey was born Peter Rauschenberger, son of Fredrick and Anna, and that at some point he elected to change his name. The facts already known about Peter B. Roushey would need to agree or compliment those I hoped to find on Peter Rauschenberger. I had now begun the last step in my research process, proving my theory that the two Peters were the same person.

The second most important word in the article I had found on the Hope, cemetery records turned out to be the word “Moravian”.  Over the next several months I learned all I could about the Moravians. They were Protestants who came from Germany as missionaries to minister to the Native Americans.  The Moravians lived in closed settlements (congregations) here in America, speaking and writing in German.

Once I knew that I was looking for the Rauschenberger surname in a Moravian setting, I was able to uncover a wealth of information. I learned that Peter Rauschenberger was born in Hope, New Jersey, and that his middle name at birth was Benignus, a German word meaning blessed.16 Peter learned the tailor’s trade between the ages of 13 and 15, while he was a member of the Moravian congregation in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.  I was a little concerned that Peter’s father was named Frederick, and not Peter as our family had originally thought. However, I was able to find a reference listing him as Peter Frederick Rauschenberger in his father-in-law’s will abstract.

I discovered that Peter had a rough childhood. At age ten his father died, and at age eleven his older brother Heinrich suddenly became ill and died.  Two days after his brother’s funeral Peter showed up in Nazareth, PA and asked the Moravian elders if he could live there, which they permitted.   That same year Peter’s brother Jacob petitioned the Northampton County Orphan’s Court to have a guardian appointed for Peter, as he was without a father, and the court appointed Joseph Schweisshaupt.  At age 15 Peter’s involvement with the Moravians came to an abrupt end. He left without giving a reason, setting off into the night on his own.  Due to the above mentioned childhood events, I now had reason to speculate why our surname was changed from Rauschenberger to Roushey.

I was told that the only way to prove with almost certainty that the two Peters were the same person was to find a will record, death certificate, obituary, or cemetery record that mentioned both names in the same document. Since I wasn’t able to find any of those records in my research, I decided to keep adding to the circumstantial evidence I already had. If I could link one or two of Peter Rauschenberger’s brothers to the Roushey surname, then that would make the evidence overwhelming. I found references to a Henry Roushebre and Michael Roushy while searching for information on Peter. Was it possible that Henry and Michael were also Rauschenbergers?

I had previously located Michael Roushy of Southport, New York, on Joyce M. Tice’s website.  Returning to the Internet I searched for a place near Southport where I could find more information on Michael. The Steele Library in Elmira, New York, turned up in one of my searches. While at that library, I learned the name of the town historian, Sylvia Smith.  I contacted her by email, and she was able to give me vital information on Michael Roushy. From her notes on the Roushy family she stated that Michael was thought to have come from Germany.  Sylvia reported that Michael’s date of birth was August 7, 1781,  which matched the exact birth date I had for Michael Rauschenberger.28 Her last comment gave me chills when I read it. A great granddaughter of Michael stated that the Roushey name was originally Roushenberger, or something similar, but it was changed because it was too German.

I believed at this point that I had all the proof I needed to claim my Rauschenberger heritage, but I felt compelled to try to bring Henry Roushebre into my newfound family. I visited the Moravian Archives building in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to gather information on Heinrich Rauschenberger, hoping it would lead me to Henry Roushebre. At the Archives building, I encountered a problem – all of the Moravian records there were written in the old German script. Through the network of contacts I had established, I was directed to the “Transcribe” users group website that offered old German translation.

The Hope, New Jersey, Moravian Church diary stated that Heinrich Rauschenberger and Catharine Digeon were expelled on 22 January 1798, for secretly pledging themselves to each other in marriage without first bringing the matter to the church elders (a Moravian requirement).  According to the book, Sussex County, New Jersey, Marriages, by Howard E. Case, the two married 6 days later.  The marriage record indicated that Henry Roushebre (of Oxford) and Caty Disyoung were married on 28 January 1798.  This was a significant find for me because it dated an alteration of the Rauschenberger surname and linked it to a variation of the Roushey surname. In fact, Peter B. Roushey’s marriage to Rebecca Wolfe (26 April 1809) was captured in the same book three entries later spelled Roushberry.

The Heinrich Rauschenberger (Roushebre) story did not end there, however. Even though the Roushebre family was expelled from the Moravian town of Hope, they were still able to have their son baptized by the Moravian Church. Tragically Henry (Heinrich) never saw the birth of his son, because he died suddenly one month before his child was born. The baptism entry on 11 August 1799 identifies their son in the following statement, “Heinrich, (the) little son of the deceased Heinrich Rauschenberger, (black)smith, and his left behind widow Catharina, nee Digeon, residing not far from here in Knowlton Township”.   At this point I considered the evidence overwhelming, and knew that our brick wall had fallen.   The collapsing brick wall revealed three new generations of Rauschenbergers that I added to our family tree.

My plunge into genealogy began with a promise to my father to find the parents of Peter B. Roushey, and turned out to be an intensely gratifying experience. My research strategy proved to be a good road map, however it was my use of the Internet and the ability to network with other resources that made the difference. I owe a debt of gratitude to my network of friends, cousins, and some people I have never met, for without their help I would still be searching. It should be noted that I experienced numerous disappointments and dead ends along the way, all of which seem trivial now that I have removed the brick wall.

It seems, however, that I have encountered another brick wall in my search for “grandpa” Peter’s ancestors. I cannot locate the great grandparents of Peter B. Rauschenberger in Germany. Maybe I need to get rid of some of my other hobbies, so that I can devote more time to genealogy research!

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Tool or a toy

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“Your talent can be either a tool or a toy.  Glorifying God with your talent makes it a useful tool.  Glorifying yourself with your talent makes it a useless toy.  Tools help others.  Toys help only you.  God wants our talents to be His tools, not our toys.”

from the book  Whatever the Cost, by David and Jason Benham, brothers and former hosts of a home-improvement television show.

I have wrestled with this dilemma (tool or toy) for the past 6 years.  During that time, my writing has not progressed and I have yielded zilch in the way of finished work.  My mind dreams of following an easier path, to use my writing talent creatively to serve my own purposes.  My heart says God gave me this talent and I need to use it to accomplish his purpose.  For some this statement sounds devoid of fun and lacking personal satisfaction.  But the God I serve is aware of my need for fun and satisfaction.  He created me in his image.  By serving him, I am saying, “God, you choose if or when, and how you will reward me”.

“Writing is my tool.”  There I said it.  Have you given some thought to how you will use your talent?  (Matthew 25:14-30)

Fish, part 3

saltwater-fish-720
The third decade of my life was without a doubt the most unpredictable, the most wondrous, insanely gratifying period of my life. It began my senior year at Roberts Wesleyan College.  The cast of characters in my life remained essentially the same except for the appearance of – her.

I was determined to play out my senior year in college like a grand finale at the end of fireworks display. Out of the starting gate I ran on the RWC varsity cross-country team.  We were an unusually close-knit team and often participated in group social activities.  Wouldn’t you know it, she happened to be there.

I continued to immerse myself in campus life, escorting the homecoming queen and serving as
one of the lead characters in the all college play.  As busy as I was during that time, I always seemed to be running into her.

At some point that fall I started taking an interest in her.  She took her sweet time acknowledging my interest.  Finally, she agreed to go out on a date with me if I was able to run a personal best time in our last home cross-country meet (a sub 30-minute race for a distance of 5 miles for you running enthusiasts out there).  For me, the race itself was a journey to hell and back but more important than our team winning the meet was my prize, a date with her.

IMG_0409…Maybe it was the anticipation of having to wait a month to go out with her but after that first date magic was in the air. There was no question I was like a deer caught in the headlights, enchanted by the inner and outer beauty of this woman.            

Patty and I corresponded over the weeks separating first and second
semester. Our letters deepened our mutual affection, and each of us hinted of a future together. A flame was now lit within my heart and it danced wildly like a flame on the bare wick of a candle fighting to stay ablaze as it burns itself down to the renewing and sustaining body of the candle wax below.

Bill Roushey, from the book Junior’s Hope

I became engaged to Patty in the spring of the following year at my parent’s home. Immediately she was welcomed into the family. Patty called home to notify her parents. If memory serves it was around midnight when she placed the call.

“Mom, I’m getting married,” she told her parents.

“To who?” Her mother asked, not expecting news of this sort at this hour of the night.

“Bill Roushey asked me to marry him and I said yes!”

“When are we going to meet this boy?” Her dad inquired, wondering what in the world was happening.

“We’re coming home on spring break.”

The thought of inheriting another set of parents was something I hadn’t put a lot of thought into until that moment.  I had just about finished separating myself from my own parents and now I was inheriting another set. Never in my life had I been this nervous about something, but then again never had I been more in love either.

Sweat pooled under my armpits as I sat in an empty living room waiting for her father to come out and meet me. The sound of water running in the bathroom shower indicated it wouldn’t be anytime soon. Patty and her mom were off in another room having a mother/daughter reunion of sorts.  When her father finally came out and laid eyes on me for the first time, our conversation went something like this.

“Hello, Mr. Pickering.” I said warmly trying to hide my nervousness.

“You must be Bill,” he responded trying to assess the character of the man about to steal away his daughter.

“Sir, I’d like to marry your daughter.”

“Do you have a job? How do you plan on supporting her?”

“Yes. I have a full-time job lined up after graduation.”

“We want our daughter to graduate from college,” He said. “Are you planning to let her continue on with her schooling?”

“Yes sir, that’s important to both of us.”

IMG_0377“Well then, okay,” he said, “we’d like to pay for her tuition.”

I realized at that moment what kind and generous parents she had.

Several years later Patty and I had the means to build our own home.  It was during that time we entered into what I call the Noah’s ark phase of our lives, acquiring fresh and salt-water aquariums, birds, cats and a dog.

The Lord soon blessed us with two boys, which we taught to fish among other things. They experienced the thrill first hand of having unseen objects tug on their fishing line as they dangled a worm on a hook into the watery abyss.  Eyes went wide when they reeled in their prize. One son wanted to catch “chomper fish” after seeing his daddy bring home a northern pike.IMG_0368

In the previous decade of my life I used the example of fresh-water fish viewed through an aquarium to portray the beauty of relationships. The example just doesn’t seem adequate now that I’ve experienced a slice of heaven here on earth. More fitting of this decade is the unfathomable splendor of gazing into a salt-water aquarium, which Patty and I have had the pleasure of setting up together. The personal cost to acquire and retain such beauty is far greater, the care more delicate and tedious, the hardships more severe but the final result is breathtaking. To this I would add, the result of just being with her is priceless.
My spiritual journey this decade was one of continuance. The God of my grandfather became the God of my father. Later, IMG_0364
I began serving the same God, and together with my wife we introduced Him to our children. The closer I walk with God the greater my appreciation of His continuance, an eternal God whose love has no limit or end. (Psalm 36:5-7)

For all practical purposes this is a storybook ending, but as it turns out this is not the end.

To be continued…

Milestones

2015 is one of those milesIMG_0401tone years in my life.  I’m talking a big milestone of twenty plus years (sorry, I’m not disclosing how big).  My high School and college reunions are both categorically recognized in 2015 as is our wedding anniversary.  Another milestone I hadn’t considered at all up until this weekend is tent camping.

Early on in our marriage money was hard to come by (some things haven’t changed).  We decided to borrow a tent and go camping as evidenced by the photo.  I loved that Buick Century with the bench front seat, but I digress.  We built a fire and sang songs while I strummed a guitar.  The thrill of the evening was chasing away a skunk that invaded our outing.
Lately, I’ve been feeling nostalgic about the decades of experiences I enjoyed at a Christian campground on the shores of Lake Ontario.  Since 2015 is a big milestone of both our wedding and our first camping experience as a couple, we decided to celebrate in style.  We purchased a tent and an air mattress and headed off to the campground.

The weather was a tad on the hot side but it is summer after all.  Setting up our campsite couldn’t have been easier.  The tent IMG_0396practically erected itself, while the air mattress was self-inflating.  We ate sandwiches for lunch purchased at an Amish grocery en route.  Hand in hand we walked along the dusty roads, waded in the cool lake water and read books in the shade offered by a tree as a gentle breeze made the hot air manageable.  All the while trouble was brewing from an unseen source.  Our fun continued to unfold.  One of us floated on a inner-tube on the now tranquil water, while the other purchased an ice cream cone at the camp store.  Together we baked a peach pie in our campfire.

At some point in the afternoon I did not feel well.  I suspected the culprit was the breakfast sandwiched I purchased at a sporting event earlier that morning.  The words the server offered, “it might be a little slimy” carried much greater significance in hindsight.

I tried to hang in there and contribute to making our day a memorable one.  Finally as the day turned to twilight, I turned to my darling wife who appeared to be having the time of her life and said, “I can’t do this anymore.  Can we go home.”  If loving at times is sacrificial, then she paid a high price.  An hour and a half later I felt loved and blessed as I snuggled under the covers, recuperating from my illness in my home sweet home.

What a person desires is unfailing love…Proverbs 19:22

Fish, part 2

IMG_0392St. Andrews Lake was not huge, but you couldn’t see the far end of it even from our elevated vantage point. The lake was kidney-shaped and its clear water darkened to blue as it deepened…Most importantly, lurking in the water like buried treasure, were largemouth bass, northern pike, pan fish and perch. All of them hidden from view…  

Bill Roushey, from the book Junior’s Hope

The August sun beat down on Dad and me as we waited for the fish to surrender or make another run for it. Impatience bubbled up inside me. Holding on to my fishing pole kept both my hands occupied but the rest of my body squirmed, longing to do anything but remain pinned against the sun baked boat seat. The life vest hanging around my neck made me hot and sweaty. It started to smell rotten as it wicked up the moisture from my body.  My standoff with the fish showed no sign of ending. It was becoming evident that the huge northern pike had done something to prevent me from reeling it in. Now, my head hurt and I was ready to give up.

“Dad, the fish isn’t tugging on the line anymore,” I complained.

“That doesn’t mean its not there. Don’t give up,” Dad said trying to encourage me.

My father was not ready to give up. An engineer by profession, part of his job involved coming up with solutions to problems. He took an oar out of the oarlock and pushed it into the water following the fishing line down, hoping to gain some understanding of why I couldn’t bring up the fish. Unfortunately, the depth of the water exceeded the length of the oar. Then, he began rowing the boat in a wide arc around the spot where the line plunged into the water. He stopped four or five times during the trek to give me a chance to pull on the line from different angles. Nothing he tried worked.  We both knew there was only one thing left to do.

“Billy, pull steadily on the line so you don’t break the pole,” Dad said, voicing his solidarity.

“Like this,” I replied as I stood up and leaned back against the line.

The tension broke before I had a chance to brace myself.  I was pitched backwards by the sudden release of the line and landed in a heap between the seats.  I didn’t cry as I reeled in the empty line. Instead, I felt more like one of Dad’s fishing buddies and less like a kid who got to sneak off early that morning to fish with his father.

Fish or fishing in my earliest years validated the idea that just because something couldn’t be seen it didn’t mean that something didn’t exist.  Fish, though unseen, were real and could be interacted with. To this day one of the most exhilarating things about fishing is the feeling of an unseen object tugging on your line. Being a person of faith, the picture of unseen fish models the existence of God who is present though not seen. (2 Corinthians 4:8).

My fish story does not end here, however.

The next decade of my life was one of drastic changes. Our family vacations to Canada continued. Fishing became truly a family affair. As our skill improved, so did the number of fish we caught. For me, fishing with Dad became an important way of relating to him.

Those carefree years came to an abrupt end, however, when I graduated from high school. I no longer had time for family vacations. Holding down a job and going to college were my priorities now. The remaining years of my second decade afforded me little or no time for fishing.

In my second year in college I happened to meet a freshmen who turned out to be a very funny guy. I don’t make it a habit of hanging around comedians but for some reason we hit it off and become good friends. He made me laugh more than anyone I knew.  Our definition of fun, however, sometimes clashed with our college rules.   I’ll call him Boris to protect his identity.

Boris and I made plans to room together our senior year. Oops, I just gave away his identity. Anyway, we arrived early on campus in the fall and immediately began decorating our senior “bachelor pad.”  Because we arrived early, we were able to pillage the best room furnishings out of nearby dorm rooms. Conversations between us went something like this.

“Boris, our room is missing something.” I said

“All my stuff is here,” he countered.

“I’m not missing anything either. The room is missing something!”

“You mean besides the stereo, speakers, sofa and television?” Boris said.

This was 1979, before the widespread use of cell phones, personal computers, flat screen TVs and all of the game consoles we can’t live without except for maybe Atari.

“I need something for my desk.”

“How about a lamp?” He said chuckling as only Boris could.

“I’m being serious.”

“How serious can getting something for your desk be.”

His cackle was contagious he soon had me laughing.

“Let’s go down and take a look at brother Jim’s room.” Boris said pressing his palms together as if to portray himself as a wise sage.  Boris was studying to be a minister and often got carried away with the whole brother/sister thing.

“What does Jim have that we don’t?” I said.

“You’ll see.”

We went down the hall to Jim’s room but he was not there. His door, however, was slightly ajar.  I had just recently met Jim but already I had him pegged as a bit of an eccentric.  Living in a dorm, it had been my practice to give eccentrics a wide birth until I understood them better.  Boris knocked hard on the heavy oak door, hard enough to make it open completely.

“Brother Bill, shall we enter?” Boris stated like he was rolling out a welcome mat.

“Can’t we get in trouble for doing this?” I said more afraid of being misunderstood by Jim than anything else.

“I’m an RA.”

Each floor in our dorm had a resident advisor, or RA, who was the liaison between the students and the dorm’s resident director, or RD. Boris was permitted to enter rooms on our floor as part of his responsibilities.  Tentatively, I entered Jim’s room and Boris followed.

“What do you think?” Boris said, gesturing towards the aquarium in the back corner of the room.

“Yeah, that would do the trick.” I said growing excited about the possibility,  “I wonder why it looks like he’s trying to hide it behind the door.”

“Are you working for the FBI now?” Boris said sarcastically.

“You’re the RA, you should be investigating stuff like this.”

“What kind of fish do you suppose those are?” he inquired, taking a closer look at them.

“Okay Sherlock, lets go get the fish tank.”

IMG_0374I can’t remember exactly how we acquired a fish tank, but I’m sure we did it legally. Putting fish in an aquarium drew me closer to them where I could fully appreciate their beauty. I felt like I was one of them as they swam by me at eye level while I sat working at my desk. It’s a much different prospective than viewing fish from afar or looking down at them from above.

I would characterize this decade of life as the discovery of genuine relationships. These were more personal and fulfilling than the juvenile ones of my earliest years.  I fully immersed myself in these relationships and learned the joy of putting effort into them rather than just taking what I could and moving on.

Spiritually, I was going through a major transition as well. As a child I believed in God because my parents did. It was their faith I held on to. In my second decade of life I discovered the beauty of a God who didn’t look down on me from above, rather his habitation was with me. He became my God. (2 Corinthians 6:16)

As wonderful as this realization was, I was unprepared for what was about to happen.

To be continued…

Fish, part 1

IMG_0360As I stumbled around my bedroom getting ready for work, I had no clue that inspiration was about to spring on me. I placed my wife’s coffee on her nightstand as a beeping alarm clock roused her from sleep. Being thoughtful, I shuffled across the floor to her aquarium thinking its light would be easier on sleepy eyes. The instant the tank flooded with light the epiphany came. I felt the need to write about fish. What? I questioned the thought immediately wondering what writing about fish swimming in an aquarium had to do with anything other than lowering someone’s blood pressure.

Immediately, I concluded two things. This thought had nothing to do with work since I am not a commercial fisherman, nor was it about food, because I don’t normally think of ordering a fish fry immediately after eating breakfast. I left the house confused.

I arrived at work and began making my way through the building. Robotically, I turned on a light to illuminate the corridor I had walked down a thousand times. On my left I noticed an expanse of blue paper hanging on the wall. Pasted on the paper was an assortment of hand-colored fish straight out of a coloring book. I wondered how long it had been there.  Another light revealed more fish. Hmmm.

I made my way to my desk. Certainly a cup of coffee would help me think more clearly. I retrieved my thermos and a nearby coffee mug and placed both items on my desk. I flicked on the overhead light and sank into my chair already anticipating the positive effect pouring hot black liquid down my throat would have. As I reached for my cup, I noticed a card lying on the desk beside it. Believe it or not it was a subscription card to the “In-Fisherman” magazine. My immediate thought was, you’ve have got to be kidding me. I seemed to have just experienced a three-fold affirmation to write about fish. Since I subscribe to the belief in a Divine Being who works in all areas of my life, I resolved to give the subject matter a bit of serious thought.

I reflected on what I had to work with. All three instances involved fish-related subject matter already present in the darkness and appeared visibly when I turned on a light. I spent the rest of the morning physically working on maintenance projects while my mind tried to determine what direction to take this project.

I began by tapping into my earliest memories of fish or fishing. Several hours later I had a shirt pocket stuffed full of notes written on paper scraps spanning six decades. Here’s what I came up with.

During the first ten years or so of my life, going fishing with my dad would definitely make the highlight reel. Our family began taking vacations to Canada about that time. Somehow my parents managed to get in touch with a farmer who rented out a pair of cottages on a private lake. My most special memory while staying in one of those cabins involved Dad taking me out fishing early in the morning before my brothers and sister woke up. One thing became apparent during these outings; Dad could fish for hours even if the fish weren’t biting. Like any kid, I had a limited attention span so I had to find ways to fight off boredom if I wanted my imagined exclusive fishing rights with Dad to continue.

The following is a vivid memory of one of those periods of boredom. It was late morning, I had already finished my peanut butter and jelly sandwich but my stomach continued to growl. I remember boredom biting me as I sat in the front seat of a small aluminum rowboat we were fishing out of. I decided to make a game out of leaning over the side of the boat and trying to get my face as close to the water as possible. My father was oblivious to this folly as he occupied the middle seat and had his back to me.

It was hard leaning over the side with a faded orange lifejacket on but I somehow found a way to do it. I added interest to the game by grabbing my fishing pole and dangling a lure in the water close to my face. I used the same green rubber frog I fished with all morning without success. That was probably the reason I got bored in the first place.

IMG_0369The frog appeared lifelike as I manipulated it with the fishing rod. I stared into the dark water as I played. I was not holding my fishing rod properly when a pair of ghostly eyes bracketing a large gaping mouth full of teeth ascended out of the darkness and inhaled the rubber frog as it bobbed just below the surface less than a couple feet from my face. Immediately, the mammoth northern pike disappeared back into the blackness without the slightest splash.

I thought I imagined the whole thing until the fishing pole I held pinched my hand against the side of the boat responding to the strike by the fish. The reel made that grating sound it makes whenever line is being pulled off it. Holding the poll now with both hands, I tried to stand up. The boat rocked wildly. I almost fell overboard as I yanked my pole upwards to set the hook. From behind me I could hear my father yelling, “sit down!”

His words did nothing to quell my excitement, however, as I watched the tip of my pole bend down into the water. The fish swam away from the boat taking fishing line with it and I could do nothing to stop it. Dad got excited when he saw what was happening. He spun around quickly to face me.

“It’s a monster, Dad, I saw it,” I exclaimed

“Don’t pull to hard, you might snap the line,” he replied.

The fish suddenly stopped moving away. My line, taunt as a guitar string, felt as if I had the anchor tied to it.

“Dad, it won’t budge,” I said growing frustrated.

My father never attempted to take the fishing pole from me; he concentrated instead on offering me encouragement. He decided to row the boat towards the fish to take some of the pressure off the line. We left the middle of the cove overrun with lily pads and edged closer to a rocky bank that tumbled into the lake.

“Reel in some line and take up the slack,” Dad said. “Keep some tension on the line.”

He stopped rowing when the fishing line ran straight down into the water. The only evidence that something was still on my line was an occasional heavy tug against the thin strand of monofilament fishing line. We had reached a stand off. The fish wasn’t moving and I couldn’t make it move.

“Billy, he may have wrapped himself around something on the bottom,” Dad offered.

“Dear God, please don’t let this line break,” I prayed out loud as only a child could.

To be continued…