Saturday, August 4, 2012

To the Storm Cellar Kresdane!!

Note: This is a big one. Worth the read, if it takes two days, I promise.

Uncle Henry: Come on, everybody to the storm cellar! 

It sure would be nice to have someone that could predict the future and prevent us from running into the things that might bring us grief or sadness. And it sure would be nice to have a place that you could hide while life's tempestuous weather swirls above us. 


(and there's always a butt)

We have to go right through life. We have choices sometimes, but we can't avoid the occasional tornado that picks us up, swirls us around and tosses us down into some unknown land. We know this land, it's just different because we're different. We've gained something from the tornado. We've gotten courage. Or heart. Or knowledge. 

There was a girl. 

Ernestine and Lloyd
She was growing up in Adelaide, Australia, with her mum and dad. She was an only child. Which is a certain dream of mine sometimes and sometimes I feel really bad for kids that don't have a sister to call or a brother to play cards with. She always longed to have siblings, to be part of a big family network.  She craved it. But we know that the great and powerful protector cannot always give us what we want. He has rules he must keep. would just be a big magic trick, wouldn't it? A dream, perhaps. And... it's not. 

She was born to a mum and dad that didn't know God. They were Agnostics. Even though they had embedded Christ in their daughter's very name. 

But from an early age, she had a feeling that there was someone watching over her that she couldn't see all the time. But, strangely, sometimes she could. In fact, one night she was laying down with her mum (who didn't feel well most of the time) when her dad was working late shifts. She said "Mum, do you see all those people on the ceiling?" Mum was concerned. This was not the first time her daughter had pointed out beings she could not see herself. Why did she constantly want to know about Jesus Christ and God?  Why did she beg to have family prayers and go to church?

One night, her grandmother was complaining that her pet crow, Blackie had flown away for good. They had not seen Blackie in days. The little girl suggested, to the room full of Agnostics, that they have a prayer and they burst into laughter, but because she was a child, they were smart enough to remain tight-lipped while she prayed. 

The next day Blackie was back. 

Ernestine "Mum"
When the little girl was six or seven, her mum started getting headaches and things around the house "got tense." Her mum spent a lot of time in hospital and with dad working, the little girl began searching for a family in earnest. She surmised that the key to peace in their house was within the bible. So she asked her mum to give her a bible for her birthday. 

As her mum spent more time in the hospital, the girl was farmed off to neighbors and distant relatives that didn’t really want her. She started reading her bible from page one. A neighbor took her to the Assembly of God and she witnessed a visiting Pastor from America, exorcise a woman "full of demons."  The Pastor warned the audience, "if you have sin, when these spirits leave this woman, they will try to enter your body. All they want is a body. So if you have unresolved sin, leave now.” To the little girl’s surprise, no one left. She was terrified, because she knew she had told at least one fib that week. Surely the evil spirits were going to come straight for her. The Pastor waited for someone to leave, but when no one did, they put large wooden boards on the doors to prevent people from leaving once the spirits were loosed. The little girl started to pray "please don't come into me, please, please don't come into me." Her faith was strong and she survived the demons.  ;-) But her curiosity had peaked.

When she got home she refused to sleep with the light off and her dad refused to let her go to church anymore because of it. But dad was either at work or at the hospital and soon enough, the Assembly of God was her refuge. There she could pray for her mum to get well hour after hour. She would go to school and walk home in prayer, "please don't let her die today, not today. Please, God, don't let today be the day." Over and over again. 

The girl heard that Billy Graham was proselyting in Adelaide and she begged her parents to attend. Mum was home and wearing a real hair wig. There was an air of hope in the house and they decided to attend the mass conference with their little religious fanatic.  Thousands of people gathered to hear the young and dynamic preacher. He said...and she quotes "We all have shortcomings in the sight of God. But it doesn't matter what you've done. If you come to Him right now, if you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, you will be with Him in Paradise."

It was the only thing she needed to hear.

Her dad was sitting there smoking a cigarette, waiting for it to be over, when she stood up and headed for the saving. Both parents leapt forward to stop her getting lost in the multitude. She begged. She promised to stay visible in the line. And because they had nothing to lose, as Agnostics are bound to feel, they let her go. She knew her dad was following her at a distance and would rather be at home, but he sacrificed his precious time off for her. This sacrifice, was a lesson she internalized and applied the rest of her life.

She had, at last, formally, publicly, accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior!  Every month, all the years she was growing up, she received a little plastic set of scripture cards that she memorized. They are still there in her head when she needs them, which is something not many of us can say. 

Despite her constant and abiding prayer, when she was 11, her mother lost the war she fought with her brain tumor. But by then, the little girl was sure her mother had finally been introduced to God, and she smiled at the thought of it. God would take care of her, and her mother. 

Through her years of physical growth and change, she was raised by her good father who was deaf. One child. One deaf father. Imagine the quiet. Imagine the solitude. With only the occasional yelp of a terrier named Binky to help them through pre-teenage misery. 

So God set the girl on her yellow brick road. I’m sure He cried a little, knowing, what was ahead for her. But she had to go through it to get “home.” There's no place like home. 

She turned to pop-culture and music as teenagers do. It was 1964 after all, a veritable candy land of music. The Beatles had just toured Australia and she was in love. With them. She got to see them live in concert, which is something, again, not many of us can claim. Australia's population had just exceeded 11 million. The Aborigines had just been counted and added to the census for the first time. In America, a baby was born that would become her future daughter-in-law. Time they were a changin'.

Then one day her Aunty Nelda "threw an apple" at her. She said "Oh what a pity, you look just like your father and your mother was so beautiful." And it stuck. She never forgot it. It never morphed into a back-handed compliment, never got lost in the filing cabinet of memories. It polluted everything, as those kinds of off-hand observations do. And she was an only child, so sarcasm was probably lost on her, if it was meant to be sarcastic, as opposed to those of us that grow up throwing apples at each other and learning how to catch and throw back. 

She never learned to throw back. Not because she couldn't, but because she wouldn't dream of it. It wasn't in her character. She absorbed it. She collected the apples in her basket and they made her stronger, but eventually it erased her smile. 

Aunty Mona
The major female influence in her life was her mum's sister Mona. Aunty Mo adored the little girl and it was a mutual admiration society. Mo was very ill and bed-ridden one time when she felt her spirit leave her body. She was keenly aware that she was leaving the room, but her body, still lay on the bed. When she got to the door, she said "what will happen to this little girl if I leave her," and her spirit rejoined her body and she lived to help the little girl buy her wedding dress 7 years later.

Gorgeous! Mod!
Dorothy: Do you suppose we'll meet any wild animals?
Tin Man: Mm, we might.
Scarecrow: Animals that eat... s-traw?
Tin Man: Some, but mostly lions, and tigers, and bears.
Dorothy: Lions?
Scarecrow: And tigers?
Tin Man: And bears.

With her teenage awareness of pop-culture and the vocabulary and smarts of an only child, she learned to accentuate her assets. She was gorgeous; dark hair and massive blue eyes that could speak volumes on their own (and still do). Many older men were in love with her and she could have married any of them, but she was still carrying her basket of apples and her insecurities trapped her in love with a young American man who was in Australia helping his father build Mormon churches in the area. (I imagine he was very tall and handsome at the time because I know his sons.) 

In 1967, in her desperate search for a family, she believes The Great and Powerful led her to the wife of the church builder. It had been 6 years since she'd had a mother's influence and this young American man's mother entranced her. "She was so amazing, she slept with her lipstick on." (warning!) . They told her about the Mormons, what they knew anyway. The girl felt God had put this family in her path. Of course she grabbed hold of her church and her son.

We'll call her son...John.

John was drafted to Vietnam and they wrote to each other. Things happened to soldiers in Vietnam. I'm sure he came home with his own basket of apples. He had changed. But she would absorb that too. She dreamt of getting married in a Mormon temple, the reward for keeping herself chaste and focused. He promised they would, as soon as they returned to America. But when they returned, he did not qualify to enter that sacred place and his family, with their pride to protect, his mother staged a wedding reception for the good people in town complete with pictures and stories about how beautiful the Manti Temple sealing was. Just far enough away that no one would know, it didn't actually happen in the temple at all. 

It was the ultimate act of hypocrisy. And the first time she realized she had given up her freedom to this family. But she was blessed with good instincts and she already knew there was something very wrong with the church builder’s family.

She felt, she knew, that all Mormons were not like these Mormons.

Dorothy: Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more.

John threw a big rotten apple at her one day by asking her not to smile anymore because he thought she had “buck teeth.” If you look at the pictures of her life, you can almost tell when that happened. It makes me so sad to think a man had the power to take her smile away.

Family vacation with John at Disneyland
About a year into her marriage, her beloved father died in Australia and she went home to bury him. She already knew her marriage was a mistake, but how could she tell them she'd been wrong? Now she had no one. No father, mother or sibling to speak speak to. So she continued to speak to God. 

Professor Marvel: Better get under cover, Sylvester. There's a storm blowin' up - a whopper, to speak in the vernacular of the peasantry. Poor little kid, I hope she gets home all right.

She was not old enough to live on her own in a country she barely knew. So she fought to survive. Her Mormon family, it turns out, really didn't know much about the religion they'd grown up in. And because she was a scriptorian, the contradictions drove her crazy. They also told her that because she was not born in America, it was a sign that she had not been as faithful in the pre-earth life and would not be eligible for the highest degree of heaven…as they were.

She suspected that wasn't right. Remember, God had been protecting her since she saw the angels hovering over her when she was a child. She just knew...somehow...that what they said, was the evolution of truth that happens in the Mormon church when you… stop attending. But there were so many of them, and their circle of influence prevented her from making a single friend outside the family. They told her she spoke "too well" and she should speak like a "normal person speaks." So she tried to toss the Australian accent and dummy down her vocabulary. She didn't know who she was anymore. She surely didn't know her husband, whom she suspected, was having trouble keeping his promises and vows. But...

She was pregnant with his child. You might think this is just one more tragedy for her, But NO. At last, she had created H.E.R. O.W.N. family.Woot! And because she was a child of God, He did not let her down in the natural instincts department. She was an incredible mother. 

Having a child strengthened her in a way that gave her enough courage to threaten d.i.v.o.r.c.e. But when he turned their baby upside down, swinging him over a staircase by his feet, and said, "if you walk out that door, I will drop him." she realized she was…still…officially I.N. P.R.I.S.O.N. 

With no family to speak of in Australia, she had no place to go.

Four more years of affairs, abuse, emotional terrorism ensued. He told her he didn’t love her. He brought his other woman home to meet her. But she was stuck. And in a rare good moment, she had him tested for disease before she bore him another son. Her second joy. Her insurance policy. The heir and the spare. I'm sure he was a gorgeous baby! ;-) He still has the bluest dang eyes you've ever seen. His mother's rare eyes. But his birth did not stop the tomcat from tomcattin'.

There are more stories. But you can let your imagination go...and then double the horror of what you're thinking because it lasted…e.l.e.v.e.n. m.o.r.e. y.e.a.r.s.

Zeke: Listen, kid. Are you gonna try and let that old Gulch heifer try and buffalo ya'? She ain't nothing to be afraid of. Have a little courage, that's all.
Dorothy: I'm not afraid of her.
Zeke: Well then, next time she squawks, walk right up to her and spit in her eye. That's what I'd do.

His mother, the church builder's wife, even sent her son to a psychiatric ward which did him no good. To save the family face, she offered to buy the girl a trailer house until the boys were 18 and then the trailer would return to the family. But the girl had endured the tornado for so long, that she was strong now.

So strong.

And when she packed up the boys and her Pinto for the last time, she did not know where to go, she just drove.

Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage!

They lived in the Pinto for two weeks, on the run and terrified for their lives. They hid in a neighbor’s house until John found them, broke the front door off its hinge and threatened to kill them all. That door allowed them time to call 911 and a judge easily approved restraining order after restraining order, but they never worked.

Eventually, the girl found a basement to live in and went to work. Along her yellow brick road she met many wonderful and diverse people proving that, there are many kinds of families. She fought for her boys and paid $25 a week to the court to pay for John’s supervised visits. He wouldn’t pay it so she paid it. She had no choice.
Never a birthday card. Never a Christmas present. The money that the couple had deposited into savings accounts for the boys college funds was “withdrawn by the account holder” and suddenly, John was stalking their house in a brand new truck. She pulled up her bootstraps and went to work to save her sons.

Andy confronted him about it after his mission when he needed money to go to college and he said "Uh...yeah...I'll have to bring that by." And he's never seen him again.

Over the course of the next few years, many people, including a lady named Dorothy, helped protect them. That’s our job as humans you know? Sometimes you take a casserole over, sometimes you let people hide in your basement.

Andy's Mom and Dad
Knowing the kind of man she did not want anymore, she searched diligently for a man that would be a good example to her boys. She tapped into talents she didn’t know she had and started selling cars. She was good at it. A man name Max pursued her relentlessly. He could take her through the temple, and give her sons the priesthood - everything she ever dreamed. They all fell in love with Max. And I did too, on Thanksgiving day, 2005, when I was sitting at his table for the first time and he wielded The Spirit into that room so fast it made me cry. I knew right then…that I had found the family I would marry into. Max adopted Adam and Andy and we all ended up with his name. I'm so grateful. 

In 2010 (11?), the woman took a new vow.  She raised her arm to the square and promised to be the best American she could be. And I don’t know a better Australian-American citizen on the earth. What an asset! Like a birthday present to America.

Dorothy: Oh, but anyway, Toto, we're home. Home! And this is my room, and you're all here. And I'm not gonna leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all, and - oh, Auntie Em - there's no place like home! 

So today, I am obviously paying tribute to my favorite Aussie - Christine Hunsaker, or as the Aussies would say KRES-DANE HUN-SAKE-AH. Born in Adelaide, Australia directly in the path of the biggest tornado a person could ever imagine.

God gave her a very thin connection to Him through her spiritual gifts. Her son Andy, my husband, inherited those gifts. Her life-long faith has sealed her to a family that includes a priesthood bearing companion, two incredible sons that married two F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. girls (if I do say so myself) and two adorable grandsons…all sealed together for eternity, just like she dreamed when she was 17. 

On Monday she turned 39 again. I just want to tell her what a huge influence she has been to me in the second half of my life when I have felt the relentless tornado of wanting to give her grandchildren. She is the caretaker of Noah’s grave site and I’m eternally grateful to her for that, and for raising her son Andy into the gentle, lion of a man that he is.

As mother-in-laws go, just be jealous. A few years ago, we took her and my dad (who has Australian roots) to Baz Luhrman's Australia the movie.  I was on a diet (really?) and she found out that I like pears. So she cut a pear up and put it in a plastic bag in her purse. Then when we got to the movie she pulled it out and passed it down to me.  I was so shocked that she would search out a pear that was out of season, peel it, core it and bring it with her, just for me. But I sat it on the seat between my legs to keep me awake later SEVEN DOLLAR NAP and I forgot about it. Well you know what happens to a peeled, warm pear....  but she loved me. And I still know it.

Dorothy: Well, I - I think that it - it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em - and it's that - if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard.

She said “God knew that I would need to be able to survive certain things… so I believe my early life in Australia made me strong enough to do that. I always felt connected to God. He watched over me for so many years, and I never felt lonely when I called on Him. He’s allowed me to see my folks since they died and I know we’re all headed in the right direction.”

Can we survive tornadoes like she did and still have a testimony like that?

One thing…Tonight as I was talking to her on the phone I noticed that she is still carrying around that basket full of apples. I wish she would put that down. I hope this blog will help her do that by showing to the world, what a real pioneer, a hero does, when you get caught in a tornado. She said “I might not be as good as some women (referring to her insecurities as a homemaker). I’m not a real pioneer, in the sense of the Mormon genealogy that exists around here, but I kept my sons alive. So, I guess I’m a pioneer, of sorts.”

Bless us all to be that sort of woman.

Wiz of Oz dolls, a Phantom CD and a new jock strap. Happy Birthday!
Dorothy: Oh, you're the best friends anybody ever had. And it's funny, but I feel as if I'd known you all the time, but I couldn't have, could I?

Scarecrow: I don't see how. You weren't around when I was stuffed and sewn together, were you?

Tin Man: And I was standing over there, rusting for the longest time.

Dorothy: Still, I wish I could remember, but I guess it doesn't matter anyway. We know each other now, don't we?

Scarecrow: That's right.

Tin Man: We do.