Fishing on the Thornapple River

This is a picture rich with story. My mother asked my aunt Dutch to tell her how much she spent on cigarettes every week. My mother put that much money away for a year. She took that money and bought this great big tent. Behind me. She told me this weekend that they set this tent up underneath the tree. And it was very hard to set up. They tied the top of the tent to tree limbs above to keep it standing..

This is what I remember:

We camped in a farmer’s field next to the thornapple River. No electricity. no water hookup. Primitive camping. It was my mom and dad and my two brothers and my sister and me. My mom cooked everything on a campfire. It was a lot of work.

We had a borrowed boat and we all went fishing in the thornapple River. I remember my brother Mark catching a big fish. It was a lot of fun. The fish in this picture were mostly suckers. We ate them and they were delicious. My mom was a good cook. A very good cook

During one of the nights we were there, there was a very severe thunderstorm. I remember the loud thunder and the wind buffeting the tent. Looking up, I could see the flashes of lightning through the openings in the tent. I also remember the water seeping through the tent floor. Our sleeping bags got soaked. We hung them out to dry the next day.

Mom said this weekend then if she hadn’t tied the tent to the tree limbs above, it would have come down. (I think it’s probably very dangerous to do that during a severe thunderstorm.)

I don’t remember this picture being taken. But I apparently wasn’t too thrilled about holding that line of fish. I also wonder if this was the only picture they took during this camping trip.

What will they do with all our stuff

“Downsizing in the next few years is a precious gift Rick and I can give to our children.”

I wrote that statement in March 2014. Before Rick became disabled in October of that year. Before he was diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

At the time, my parents were in the process of moving back to our state from Florida to live with my brother. A trailer of their possessions had come up north with my mother in November. My siblings flew down to Florida to help my father pack their remaining stuff into a moving truck, and drive back here with him. My parents already had had three yard sales to reduce moving expenses.

We had spent so much effort thinking about our children’s future that we had forgotten to plan for our future as our lives were winding down. The thought of them being faced with what to do with our earthly possessions was deeply disturbing. I imagine them bewildered. The fact that our oldest daughter is on the autistic spectrum complicated the situation. Better to give it away before then, I thought, while we still have the strength and will.

Our old house was 1600 square feet, 2400 square feet if we counted the mostly unfinished basement. We were not hoarders, but we had accumulated a lot of stuff over the 21 years in that house, 31 years as a married couple. Our house had a lot of built in storage and extra little rooms. Putting something away and forgetting about it was the path of least resistance. Still, when I thought about cleaning it out and getting rid of what we no longer used, it felt like a huge mountain I couldn’t climb. I sometimes felt a sense of despair.

I kept putting off “now.” I was too busy. Life got in the way. My job, my children, and my husband took up the available energy.

However, when Rick was diagnosed with cancer in June 2016 and the doctors set him up to be evaluated for a bone marrow transplant, the need to make a change became urgent. We could no longer take care of our house. In fact, due to his disability, and the earlier all out effort to get our kids through college, our house was in poor condition. Neglected. Run down. A hundred year old house with an open grey water drain in the basement was no place for a man about to be severely immune compromised by a bone marrow transplant. That was what I thought at the time.

“What am I going to do?” I prayed while doing the laundry in the basement shortly after the diagnosis. I think God heard that prayer.

A week later, we were looking at a condominium in Kentwood. Two bedrooms, plus an extra room off the living room. 1,338 square feet. Our oldest daughter bought it and signed the mortgage papers five weeks later. People from our church and some in our extended family helped us move. We rented a large dumpster, and they helped us throw away over half of the stuff we had accumulated in 31 years of marriage. What had seemed like a mountain was whittled down with the help of friends and family. They threw away the accumulation. We gave away the rest. It was such a relief.

God uses even the hard things in our life to bless us. I often look back at the hard places in our lives and see that time as a time of great blessing, even though it was very stressful at the time. God is faithful.