Memories of a Lifetime How Commitment and Risk-taking Led to a Measure of Fulfillment and Wholeness in Self and Others ÂŠ 2010 by Jacob D. Goering, North Newton, KS. All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without prior written permission of the copyright holder. Cover and text design by Jim L. Friesen Library of Congress Control Number: 2010923732 Printed in the United States of America by Mennonite Press, Inc., Newton, KS Contact information: Jacob D. Goering 3043 Ivy Court North Newton, KS 67117
Dedication I would like to dedicate this work to our first great-grandchild. Jacob Henryk Naylor, born January 28, 2010
Acknowledgments I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to the following without whom this project would not have come to fruition. My family of origin for giving me a start in life. To Beth, my wife, for sometimes being firm, yet always pleasant and supportive. To the many incredible friends and mentors who both challenged and inspired me along the way. To Laurie Oswald Robinson for encouraging me and helping me get the writing project started.
ome years ago I heard Laurens van der Post, a South African author, say that every person has a story, every story is unique and every story wants to be told. I am somewhat ambivalent about telling my story, because in doing so I may become more vulnerable in the process. But a quote from C. G. Jung gives me courage to share my life experiences. “The great decisions in human life usually have far more to do with the instincts and other mysterious unconscious factors than with conscious will and well-meaning reasonableness. The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no universal recipe for living. Each of us carries his own life-form within him/ her--an irrational form which no other can outbid.” Here Jung says the unconscious motivations are responsible for far more human behavior than are the conscious decisions and resolves. But they are also more difficult to apprehend and understand. This is a life view I have come to accept through the years. It is woven into all the seasons of my life, and the following pages tell about many of my experiences through the years that I think reflect that belief. Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, said “the goal of life is to become that person who you truly are.” This implies that each person is a bundle of potential which, if properly approached and engaged, can help a person to become progressively more and more mature or fulfilled through a lifetime of
living. Jung paraphrased that statement and said “the goal of life is to become that person that you were from the beginning.” This slight modification by Jung makes room for his concept of the Collective Unconscious which he developed early in the 20th century, as well as for the organic DNA molecules found in every individual as discovered and formulated by Watson and Crick in the 1950s. Jung called this “becoming” the “Individuation Process” during which a person gradually becomes psychologically and socially more mature as an individual, and thus differentiated from the collective. A person increasingly becomes a unique and distinct individual. Jung took the position that life is at its core a religious or sacred process constantly engaging the Unknown. He essentially corroborates Kierkegaard’s statement, but also points out an additional and interesting dimension to the process which he called “synchronicity” — a “meaningful coincidence.” This individuation process occurs through countless interactions between a person and the milieu in which he finds himself. This milieu consists of both the natural universe and the culture, the way of life, in which the individual is immersed. This framework helps me understand, at least to some extent, what I have experienced the past ninety-plus years. My family of origin lived on the prairie where trees were relatively scarce, but early in my life, trees became for me a symbol of what I began to see as the wholeness and interrelatedness of all forms of life. With the roots going down into the earth and the branches reaching up into the sky, the tree seemed to bring heaven and earth together. This concept became increasingly important through the years, and was reinforced by some early encounters with two specific trees. The first was a large mulberry tree located in our front yard near the well which supplied all the water for our family and the farm animals. It served many needs including shelter and comfort, but was especially valued because it provided some much needed shade in the hot summer months. The second was
a very large cottonwood tree about one mile north of our house. Our home was located three miles east of Elyria in Lone Tree Township of McPherson County, Kansas. The township derived its name from this huge cottonwood tree on the edge of Running Turkey Creek. Before the European settlers came to the area, trees generally did not survive the prairie fires on the plains with only few exceptions along waterways. The precise age of this particular cottonwood tree was not known, but it was already a large tree in the mid-19th century because it was visible from the Santa Fe Trail about three miles north. The tree was clearly a dominating factor for miles around and served as a landmark for travelers going west along the Santa Fe Trail. Over a period of time, several institutions took their identity from the tree. In addition to the Township taking that name, a Lone Tree Post Office opened in 1880 about two miles east of the 19th Ave. and Comanche road intersection, but closed in 1884. The Lone Tree School opened in 1881 less than a mile west of the post office, and remained in operation for 70 years until it was closed in 1954. The Lone Tree Church of God in Christ Mennonite is located farther east and a bit south. The post office dated from the time of the Pony Express, but was operative for only a few years. The Lone Tree School District No. 15 was where I took my eighth grade county examinations prior to graduation. This school went the way of most rural one-room elementary schools in 1954 when many consolidations occurred. The Lone Tree Church is still active today. A memorable incident involving this Lone Tree occurred when I was eight years of age. One summer day my Dad arranged for several of us to go fishing in Running Turkey Creek near the Lone Tree with the Schelsky family whose home was located less than a quarter of a mile from the tree. Dad, my brother Erwin, sister Amanda and I boarded our spring wagon, and drove over to the Schelsky home about a half mile north, where Mr. John Schelsky
and Amelia, Olga and Paul joined us. We all walked over to the tree. Dad and John Schelsky had a seine, or “fish-net,” which they drew against the stream which was flowing at a depth of about 12 to 18 inches. They caught a lot of channel catfish, some up to 15 to 20 inches long. We brought along a washtub, about 30 inches in diameter and 12 or 15 inches deep, to contain the catch. This adventure provided a sumptuous meal for both families. Before we left for home, Erwin encouraged us children to join hands and try to reach around the tree. By all six of the kids coming close to the tree and touching fingertips, we were just able to reach clear around the trunk. Unfortunately, this large historic tree is no longer living, and so far no photograph of this tree has been located. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, oil was discovered in the area, and in time the Ritz Oil Field was established over much of the Running Turkey Creek watershed. As was the custom during the drilling process, a slush pond was built to contain the highly toxic saline sludge which was an inevitable by-product of the drilling activity. Unfortunately, sometimes these slush ponds were not adequately constructed. After an extremely heavy rainstorm, some of the barriers broke and the toxic contents drained into Running Turkey Creek. In a very short time, this toxic waste destroyed all creatures and vegetation in that creek for several miles both upstream and downstream from the Lone Tree, and it took several years before any vegetation was restored. Sadly, the ancient Lone Tree was among the casualties. After Beth and I moved back to Kansas in 1996, I helped launch a project with the McPherson County Historical Society that resulted in placement of a Lone Tree Historical Marker near the Comanche Road and 19th Avenue intersection. The foregoing provides a glimpse into a few of the geographic and socio-cultural factors that provided a base for ensuing experiences throughout my life’s journey.
Infancy and Childhood
Infancy and Childhood
was born on a very cold January day in 1918 in the wake of a severe snowstorm with drifts that blocked all roads in the area. It made automobile traffic completely out of the question for days. No doctor could come out under those conditions to deliver a baby. I was told several decades later that when my mother began to feel labor pains, my dad hitched a team of horses to a sled and drove five miles to get his mother who had midwifery skills and experiences. It took several hours to complete that trip, but they returned in time. I weighed 10 pounds at birth. Large babies sometimes presage a difficult birth, but in this case the process proceeded without complications. Before I reached my first birthday, however, I contracted Erysipelas, a severe dermatological disorder. It is defined as â€œan acute infectious disease of the skin or mucus membranes caused by a streptococcus and characterized by local inflammation and fever.â€? My mother told me many years later that much of my body was covered with suppurating blisters, most particularly over the entire pelvic area. The family doctor could offer no cure. He advised my mother to simply dab up the pus with cotton as much as possible, and otherwise take care of the baby as best she could. Few if any adults in the family as well as the attending physician expected me to survive. The disorder lasted for months but gradually receded and eventually healed. It left some major scarring
Memories of a Lifetime across the body but no permanent dysfunction. I firmly believe it was for me a near death experience. I have no cognitive, conscious memory of that experience. But I believe that “tissue memory,” or “cellular memory,” helped my body remember the trauma. Recent research shows that there are psychological and spiritual effects following such near death experiences. Often there is a marked reduction of the fear of death, and an enhanced willingness to take risks in life. Still another is the inclination to follow a bright light. Serious illnesses in infants usually challenge the organic immune system. Sometimes it weakens it or even defeats it, and the organism is more vulnerable to a variety of illnesses thereafter. Sometimes the immune system rallies its resources, defeats the infection and builds up a network of immunities which provide heightened protection for the organism thereafter. I suspect the latter was true in my case. Throughout my life, I have been a risk-taker--I hope not too heedless or reckless--but willing to take chances in a variety of situations. Mostly that tendency has been a positive influence in the years that followed. I have also been basically healthy my entire life and to this day take no internal prescription medication. I do have some minor dermatological residuals and experience some gradual degeneration, but I am not aware of any major life-threatening disorders. Tomorrow may be different, but at this time I must say that I am extremely fortunate, grateful and humbled by that fact. My earliest conscious memory is of an event that occurred when I was about 2 years and nine months old. A baby sister, Mildred, was born, but died at birth on Oct. 6, 1920. I remember my older sister Amanda lifting me up so that I could see the deceased baby lying in an open coffin in our parlor. On that day or the next, a brief funeral service was held in the bedroom adjacent to the parlor, because my mother was confined to the bed. I also have a very vivid picture in my mind of the Rev. C. J. Goering standing near a
Infancy and Childhood bureau conducting the service where he read from Scripture and made some comments. Several aunts and uncles were present, including Felix and Katie Krehbiel, Ben B. J. and Anna Goering, J. S. and Mary Kaufman, and probably several others who were siblings and in-laws of my mother. Sometime during the following year or so, I remember my mother holding me on her lap. I had a fleeting awareness that I was privileged to have her attention for such a long time as the youngest in the family. Mildred died at birth, and Eldon was born 14 months later. So I held that position in the family for almost four years. I have often pondered over the significance of such an extended period of infancy. I had the primary attention of my mother for those four years before my brother was born. I think that was significant, because Mother love is usually unconditional, and as such is an indispensable ingredient in the development of a healthy self-esteem. This Mother love says to the child, if a boy, “You are a good boy –period.” You are accepted and valued just for being. Father love is usually more conditional and achievement oriented. It says, “You are a good boy--if you do what your parents ask you to do.” You are valued for being obedient and for what you achieve. Today, it is more common for mothers to also make demands, and fathers to also be forgiving. Ideally, there is interplay between these two. If they exist in moderation, it is a healthy milieu. In my case, I felt reasonably comfortable in my own skin. Most of the time, I felt I was OK and that other people, whether inside or outside the family, were OK too. I was close to my mother, who offered me much unconditional love. But I found it more difficult to connect emotionally and to identify with my father, who was more conditional in his love. My brother, Erwin, four years my senior, played a much more active and significant masculine role model for me. I was always very grateful for his excellent modeling. He was protective of me in the
Memories of a Lifetime earliest years but gradually allowed me more autonomy and independence. He remained a very special confidant through the years. My relationship with my father was improved when I was about 20 or 21. Thatâ€™s when he purchased a threshing machine, and for two summers, he and I together ran that threshing rig. Later, as I moved on in my academic and professional career, I felt he basically respected me and approved of my career. I associate electricity coming to our home in the country with the birth of my brother, Eldon. It was either late in 1921 or early 1922. I looked down into the holes that were dug or drilled for the poles that held up the electric power lines, and it seemed very scary. The holes may have been as deep as four or five feet or more. And it was difficult to get all the loose dirt out of the hole. I remember that the workmen had a long-handled shovel with a small cup attached at a right angle to the handle. They used it get the hole ready for the pole. The introduction of electricity to our farmstead brought about many changes in daily routines. One electric light bulb suspended from the ceiling in each room of the house gradually replaced the use of kerosene lamps in the house. Outdoors we had a yard light attached to a power line pole located near the windmill. It lit up the entire yard between the house and the barn. One electric light was also installed in the barn, and one in the milk house. This brought revolutionary change to the way we did our morning and evening chores, especially during the winter. The need for the kerosene lanterns and the even more dangerous gas lamps was greatly reduced. In many ways, our family took a major step into modernity, and perhaps felt a bit superior to some neighbors who did not have electricity. Adapting to this new technology inside the house as well as outdoors was done over time as more and more appliances were invented and became available. They included the electric motor that powered a washing machine, a cream separator, an emery wheel and other shop appliances. It was truly a
Infancy and Childhood major turning point in rural family living. In 1924 we obtained our first radio and this added further changes in our family lifestyle. Our house was connected to a public rural telephone line which kept us in touch with our relatives and friends in the larger community and the outside world. In addition, we also had a separate, private telephone line connecting us with the Borths and the Schelskys, our two neighboring Lutheran families who were tenant farmers and had limited access to the outside world. They would come to our house to use our line when they needed to contact someone on the outside. My mother and Mrs. Schelsky were especially close and trusting friends. I recall very vividly that when my younger siblings-- including Eldon, Melita, Luella and Evelyn-- were about to be born, my mother would ask my oldest sister Elizabeth to take us younger kids over to the Schelskys until Dad called to say we can come home. For some years in the 1920s, we owned a steam powered wheat threshing rig in common with the Borths and Schelskys. Summer threshing time was probably the period of highest drama and excitement of the entire year. The family bedrooms in our home were on the second floor with a guest room on the first floor. The younger children were put to bed early, about 8:00 p.m. or so. When I was ushered upstairs and tucked in bed at age 2 or 3, I felt uneasy and fearful in the dark. What would become of me if someone or something were under the bed? What is in that closet? I could hear the coyotes howl outside, and wondered if they could come in through the window. My parents, mainly my mother, accepted these fears as real and did not ridicule me. Rather she taught me to say a short prayer, â€œIch bin Klein; Mein Hertz sei rein; Soll Niemand darin wohnen; Als Jesus aleinâ€?. (I am small, my heart is pure (clean), no one shall live there but Jesus alone). She told me that if I would repeat that prayer once or even several times before I fell asleep, I would be safe and nothing bad would happen to me during the night. It worked. In reflecting on
Memories of a Lifetime that incident many years later, I came to believe it formed the beginning of my lifelong commitment to the “Jesus” religion. It was pure process, practice or “experience” and was not encumbered with a lot of dogma or theological formulations and speculations. It extended my sense of security, and it freed me to explore the complex world around me, even some scary places. The concrete magical aspects of the Divinity gradually receded and evolved into more symbolic meanings. In time, it formed the basis of the core religious code that I tried to accept and practice: “Love the Creator God with all your heart and mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” I believed the life and spirit of Jesus to be the “Way-Shower,” and in that sense I would say Jesus served as a model for my life through the years. In fall 1922 when I was 4 years old, a traumatic incident occurred. I was playing alone in the yard in front of our house near the entrance to our outdoor cave or root cellar which was located just outside the lawn fence that encircled the house. Our flock of sheep passed through the yard, and I thought nothing of that since the sheep were not strange to me. Suddenly, a ram broke from the flock and charged at me, butted me, knocked me over, and then backed off. Frightened, I screamed and got back up, but by that time the ram knocked me over again. I panicked and screamed for help. I got up again, and the ram charged me for the third time, and I rolled to the ground. My mouth was bloody and I was crying, but I got up again just as the ram charged a fourth time. Right then my mother and my oldest sister Elizabeth, age 12, came running out of the house. Elizabeth grabbed the ram and wrestled him away. Mother picked me up and carried me to the house, comforted me and treated my wounds. It was very traumatic, but there were no serious physical injuries. After that, I always carried a large stick when I thought I’d encounter the ram again. Some years later, the ram did approach me menacingly. I swung my stick at him and hit him across his nose, and he backed off. I felt triumphant.
Infancy and Childhood Other incidents with animals in my childhood occurred primarily with gentle pets. For most of my early childhood years, we had a white Spitz dog. He barked incessantly when strangers came onto our yard, but he never bit anyone. The Spitz breed is not a hunting or herding dog, and most often are kept simply as house pets. At the same time, the Spitz are also territorial and bark fiercely at anything new in their space. In our family, we did not allow dogs in the house. Our Spitz, who was referred to as “Puppy” even long after he was fully grown, stayed outside and found shelter in the barn, garage, or under the front porch of the house. Fortunately, he had a thick coat of long, shaggy white fur which kept him safe and warm even in cold winter weather. Our nearest neighbors, the Borth family, had one or more hunting dogs, probably of mixed breeds, that were larger and ran faster than our Puppy. The Borths’ dogs occasionally caught a cottontail rabbit, but our Puppy could never catch one. My brother Erwin told me that short haired dogs run faster than long haired dogs, and that explained why our Puppy never caught a rabbit. One warm summer day, I decided to remedy the situation. I borrowed my mother’s scissors and gave Puppy a clipping. The front yard was covered with the white hair I had cut off, and it didn’t occur to me to rake or sweep them up. Instead, I felt triumphant, and went indoors and announced that “Now our Puppy will look very funny.” I think Dad did not like the idea very much, but I do not remember that he scolded me. I know Mother was embarrassed with the white fur all over the front yard, but mostly I think the family took it as a ridiculous joke. In later years, they often teased me about the silly incident. Puppy never caught a rabbit, but for a few months he had short hair. The annual school Christmas program was always a very important cultural event in the community. It might not have been as important as the Christmas Eve Program in church, but probably
Memories of a Lifetime a close second. It was usually held a week or more earlier than the one at church, and the two were really not in competition. After the pupils completed their part of the program, the teacher usually asked for contributions that members of the audience might wish to make. This might consist of reciting a poem, reading something or singing. My parents decided I should sing a solo, and I was prepared. I marched to the front of the room, mounted the stage and sang three stanzas of SANTA CLAUS LAND. I sang it flawlessly and then marched back to my parents to vigorous applause. I was not frightened and enjoyed the performance. I felt that if my parents asked me to do it, it was simply what I was supposed to do. I think it made my parents feel proud of me, but I do not recall that anyone in the family made much fuss over the event. Others in the community did make mention of it in my later elementary school years. Many years later my sister Ann helped me locate a copy of this song, and we sang it at one of the C. B. Goering family reunions.
To finish reading Memories of a Lifetime, contact the author: Jacob D. Goering 316.284.2226