Generosity drives Foundation’s iPad contest

I worked as a lineman for an electric utility for about 15 years, climbing poles and towers, using heavy equipment and special tools, working with high voltage lines and restoring electric service in the wake of storms or other events.

It was a job that I am proud of to this day, as I had to overcome a number of fears and ineptitudes to do it justice — not the least of which was growing up with a significant fear of heights.

A lineman wears a rather heavy leather utility belt, with pouches and loops for the necessary hand tools of the trade. All the tools are heavy duty and sized for the work. My colleagues and I used to joke about being Neanderthals. It was not far from the truth.

In 1990, I was brought into a very different part of the utility. There I was given a desk, and for the first time in my life, a computer. I longed for a hammer.

I was pleased to visit recently with young folks who claim computers aren’t so bad. I had spent the better part of a day delivering iPads to four Catholic schools in our diocese: St. Mary of Mount Carmel School in Long Prairie, Christ the King School in Browerville, Sacred Heart Area School in Staples and St. Henry’s Area School in Perham.

The “Great iPad Giveaway Contest” is the brainchild of Alice Coudron, my colleague at The Catholic Foundation. To enter the contest, students are invited to answer questions related to our faith. They have been given opportunities to write essays or film skits or use other art forms to tell their stories. A small group representing Catholic Education Ministries and The Catholic Foundation reviews the entries and decides the winners.

The true engine of this contest is generosity. You see, Alice asks businesses to consider purchasing an iPad, or sending a check for one, so that we can provide access to the latest technology in all of our Catholic schools. Thanks to our donors, 43 iPads were distributed among 19 Catholic schools, grades one through eight, this year. Over the three years of the contest, 119 iPads have been given. Not bad!

It was an honor to deliver the much-welcomed iPads. But my highlight that day was witnessing, at each school, the energy and enthusiasm of students and staff. I know that same enthusiasm is abundant in our public grade schools as well, but it’s different when you know Jesus is a welcome guest and daily prayer and praise echo in your house.

Busy year ahead

There are so many great things going on in our diocese. I’m blessed to be here, among the generous, the faithful and the tech-savvy.

Pay attention to The Catholic Foundation’s calendar this year. Once again we will host “The Bishop’s Charitable Breakfast” on the campus of the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph.

The first “Bishop’s Charitable Golf Tournament” is slated for June. “ACT-oberfest,” to benefit youth activities and retreats, is coming to the Falls Ballroom in Little Falls in October. Also that month, the Foundation is presenting a pilgrimage to Fatima, Lourdes and Barcelona.

All are opportunities to bring people together to have a great time while building the Body of Christ here in our diocese. God bless!

Unforgettable memories of my first Christmas as a newlywed

Mary Beth and I were married in October of 1977. After a brief honeymoon, she moved into the tiny house in Crosby, Minn., that I had purchased just days after she said “yes” to my proposal of marriage.

It needed a lot of tender care, so I gutted it and “fixed it up” with advice from others and very little know-how of my own. In hindsight, it was a shack, but for us at the time, it was a palace.

As our first Christmas together approached, Mary Beth became more and more excited. We purchased a real tree and went shopping for lights and ornaments at the Ben Franklin store in town. She spoke often of Christmases past and her family’s traditions — her mom’s delicious spaghetti and meatballs for Christmas Eve dinner, followed by opening presents; “Santa” leaving a filled stocking for each family member to appreciate on Christmas Day morning, and later in the day, a ham supper with Uncle George and Aunt Marg.

I admitted to her that I had never had a stocking; my family didn’t share in the stocking tradition. I also suggested that a 21-year-old should know by now that her dad probably filled the stocking. That turned out to be a not-so-good way to suggest a new tradition.

“I like to wake up on Christmas morning and open my stocking to see what Santa brought,” she said flatly.

Mary Beth then expounded on the stocking and what it might contain. “I would be perfectly happy with anything,” she lied, “so you can put an orange into it and maybe some candy. And something personal, like bubble bath.” (Another product I’d had little or no history with. I was a Palmolive man to the core.)

Still somewhat bewildered, I looked into Mary Beth’s eyes, nodding from time to time as she continued the litany of potential gift items.

Proud stocking stuffer

I wanted our first Christmas to be special, so I dutifully set about filling her stocking. It was almost big enough to hold a surfboard. I popped in a couple of oranges, assorted chocolate candy, a couple pairs of warm, Christmas-themed socks, a porcelain knickknack and other stuff I can’t recall.

The final gift — the first one she would behold on Christmas morning — was a large container of bubble bath. As I (“Santa”) set it under the tree on Christmas Eve night — just before coming to bed — I gazed once more at my handiwork and congratulated myself. I slept like a log.

We awoke to a brilliant winter morning sun, brightening the snow around our house and casting shadows across the drifts. I was tingling with excitement, eager to see the look on MB’s face when she dove into the treasure trove I’d prepared for her.

We sat by the tree. “Merry Christmas,” I said. “Merry Christmas,” she replied with a smile. “It looks like Santa was here,” I observed, pointing toward the large red stocking with white trim. “Oh!” Mary Beth said, as if she were truly surprised. (The surprise would come soon.)

MB gently picked up her stocking and looked at it from different angles. She smiled at me and gave a tiny nod, then put the stocking on her lap and began reaching inside. Her hand found something solid, which she began to slowly extract. My smile broadened as the head of a sea horse — dull and dark green plastic, with a white plastic cap on top — began to emerge.

MB’s mouth was still half-smiling, but her eyes were beginning to tell a different story. She continued uncovering the seahorse. I informed her with a proud grin, “It’s bubble bath.” “Yes,” she said without turning to face me. I said, “It’s a whole quart.”

She thanked me for being a great stocking stuffer, and said, “I love you.” A few days later, I realized the bubble bath was nowhere to be found. In fact, I hadn’t seen it since Christmas Day.

Good stewards, I pray that your Christmas and New Year’s Days were joyful and memorable, filled with love and laughter. God bless you all year long.

Gratitude highlights the richness of our lives

Holidays encourage us to celebrate all that we are thankful for

Each year draws to a close in high stewardship style. The Thanksgiving holiday encourages us to look beyond our difficulties and shortfalls and celebrate all that we are grateful for. Many of us honor the spirit of gratitude through sacrificial giving of our time, talent and treasure.

Advent follows, veiling us in the mystery of our Catholic faith, as we — and millions of our sisters and brothers throughout the world — pray in anticipation for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, grateful for the joy ahead.

Jesus is with us on Christmas Day — He is here! Once again we are moved by gratitude to forgive our enemies, feed the hungry, clothe the
naked, minister to those in prison, comfort the poor and lonely and increase our faith. As stewards and disciples of Christ, we are set ablaze in the world by all that we are thankful for. Here is a small sample of things that I am thankful for as 2014 nears its end.

Problems. My wife, Mary Beth, and I have lots of them, and they come in all sizes and intensities, from a broken dryer and a washing machine on its last legs, to a kid going through an extremely tough period. Problems are a consistent condition in our lives, and I used to curse them. But I’ve learned that difficulties shine a spotlight on ourfriends, family members and even strangers who, through the grace of
God and urging of the Holy Spirit,assist us. I can’t express an act of loveany better than watching my friend and neighbor remove snow from
our driveway because I’m recoveringfrom foot surgery. Problems remindus of God’s mercy. Big problems drive us to the foot of Jesus’ cross.

Memories. Mary Beth has beencooking and baking for the holidays. She told me recently that she could sense my mom’s presence in our kitchen. It warmed her heart, even as it created a sense of sorrow and longing within her. Mom was very proud of her cooking (deservedly so), and she passed a great deal of her skills to Mary Beth.

I often think of my Grandma and Grandpa Bratt. They were definitely characters. Grandpa was serious, a teetotaler and quite opinionated. He did not value idle time, seeking instead something to fix, tear apart, clean or maintain. He taught me a lot about work and priorities.

Grandma, on the other hand, was almost childlike. She loved to play cards, but cheated as often as possible, because she also loved winning.

She was thrilled to pull her grandkids’ baby teeth. Grandma and Grandpa had 27 grandchildren, so I assume she pulled 27 teeth. I know she got one of mine, but I didn’t go near her with a loose tooth again, and I can’t imagine my cousins being any less cautious. Mary Beth and I spent many hours with them over the years. I love them dearly to this day and will forever miss them.

Faith. It seems there is always a news story or magazine article about “the richest person in the world.” I understand it changes hands from time to time. Do you apply for the title? If so, I think I’d give it a whirl. Watch the sun rise slowly above the horizon, sprouting shoots of brilliant light that morph into colors almost impossible to describe. They fade, commingle, disappear and reappear at random. This short event has been going on since the beginning of time. It’s set to cease in infinity. I’m friends with the One who orchestrated it all along. And sunrise is just a tiny part of the whole show. You know that air that we’re breathing? Yeah, that too. How rich must I be to have a friend that loves me that much?

Good stewards, seek gratitude in everything, and recognize it every day. May God bless your Advent and Christmas this year.

House painting job was lesson in leadership

Mary Beth and I had a whirlwind courtship. Our paths first crossed in February 1977. We encountered one another again in April, at which time I invited her to a movie. She still lived at home with her parents at that time, while I was living in Crosby and working for an electric utility. Before long I was driving to Duluth every weekend.

I proposed to Mary Beth in June. She said “yes” with little hesitation, which I soon learned was not her style. We were married at St. Michael Parish in Duluth on Oct. 8, 1977. Like I said, it was a whirlwind.

A long-distance romance over a relatively short period of time is not the best way to really get to know your in-laws. I would say my relationship with Mary Beth’s parents, Bob and Claire, was tenuous at best for the first few years. I was thankful to be two hours from Duluth, but my new wife was homesick, so we made many trips northward.

In the third year of our marriage, I bid on another position within the utility, which included a welcome raise in pay. We moved to Pine River, along with 1-year-old Eric in the back seat and soon-to-be Daniel in his mom’s tummy. Mary Beth noted that I was dragging her further from Duluth. It wasn’t by design, but I considered the extra distance a benefit at the time.

My father-in-law was a self-employed small business owner who had survived the Pacific theater of World War II along with the malaria he contracted there. He’d survived bladder cancer, a near-fatal car accident and heart disease. He was set in his ways.

We developed a tepid friendship that blossomed into a much warmer one over the years. After Bob retired, he and Claire came often to our Pine River home.

Bob shopped at just about every store in town. Shop owners knew him by name. He liked khakis with an elastic waistband and swore the only place he could find them was at Silbaugh’s in Pine River. He’d walk to Carl’s IGA for a box of frosted animal crackers (a particular favorite) and share them with his grandkids.

Lending a hand

One summer, during a phone call to Mary Beth, he mentioned that he was going to paint his house. When I heard this, I told her to call back and tell him we will help. There is no chore in the world that I disdain more than painting. But, I didn’t want him doing this by himself, especially with his heart problems.

We took a long weekend to complete the job. Bob and I took a break each day at noon to enjoy a beer. A neighbor or two would stop by (usually around break time) to comment on the project and have a refreshment.

It’s amazing how working together so often brings men into the same spirit. From that day on, the relationship Bob and I shared was never the same. Painting the house with Bob remains one of my most-treasured memories.

I heard once that the definition of leadership is “getting someone to do something they don’t want to do — because they want to do it.” Bob was a leader, and I still miss him.

Good stewards, let’s do something we really don’t want to do today. Because we want to do it for someone we truly love.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

Keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t bring happiness

We have much to be thankful for

As a 10-year-old, I would daydream about being rich some day. I was a “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” kind of guy. I envied what others had, and felt sorry for myself for what I felt I lacked.

Sure, I wore patched jeans, hand-me-down shirts and shoes sized for me to “grow into.” But, in truth, most of the other kids in our neighborhood wore the same. Our mothers cut our hair, and most of them took the easy way out with a “buzz cut.” I’d beg my mom to let my hair grow longer, and she would reply, “OK,” while simultaneously circumnavigating my skull with a hot clipper set at an eighth-inch.

From time to time, my friends and I would play “genie.” One of us would ask, “If you found a lamp with a genie in it, and the genie gave you three wishes, what would you ask for?” My first response was always, “A million dollars.” My second and third wishes were usually for “a mansion” and “a beautiful wife.”

Whenever I was invited into a neighbor’s home, I would inventory their treasures and compare them against my wants and needs. For example, our closest neighbor always had Wonder Bread on the dinner table and often had Oreos for dessert. Wonder Bread was advertised on the “Howdy Doody Show” and promised to “build strong bodies 12 ways.”

I asked Mom why we couldn’t have Wonder Bread once in a while. Mom baked bread every week — white, rye or cracked wheat. In fact, throughout her life, Mom never had “store-bought” bread in her home, or any other “store-bought” baked goods. We had to cut our own slices, and it was never uniform like Wonder Bread. She told me not to ask for it any more.

Desires transformed

Over the years, I found many more instances where I was shortchanged. One of our neighbors would regularly put out a bowl of potato chips. Another had bottles of soda pop available for their kids whenever they wanted one. I was aghast. Neither of these was on hand in our home. The neighbors all had color TV years before my parents. I couldn’t understand why Mom and Dad were stalling. Mom simply said, “The old TV still works.”

My desire for riches never waned, but it was certainly transformed. The beautiful wife that I wished for as an afterthought came into my life in 1977. I had never even given thought to beautiful children or grandchildren, but they turned out to be part of the deal as well.

Our mansion is a red brick rambler on the Mississippi River. I know it is just an ordinary house, but it features a most extraordinary view of God’s creation. I’ve been told it’s a “million dollar view.” I will forever miss Mom’s delicious breads and cinnamon rolls.

Good stewards, let us pour gratitude into our prayers this week, for the seeds of friends and family that God has sown into our lives, for the glimpses of paradise sprinkled into God’s creation and for the banquet set for us by God’s only Son.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

Putting God-given talents to work, even the ‘little’ ones 

Gustave Hanson — my Dad — was born in Sweden, the youngest of seven children. He was just 1 year old when his parents packed him up and fled to America, in search of better economic conditions.

Some of Dad’s siblings, who were a good deal older than he, had already come to the U.S. Before long the whole family resided in or near Brainerd, Minn., where the Burlington Northern Railroad had work to do, and jobs to fill.

“Gus” dated my mother for quite a long time, until one evening during a double date, when she teased him somehow. She thought it was funny. He stood up and walked out of her life for more than two years.

OK, I don’t need to say this, but Dad was capable of extreme stubbornness. He was also quiet and introspective. Leaving school after eighth grade to help earn money for his parents, Dad read voraciously, teaching himself and building an impressive vocabulary.

He did not talk about himself. Just about everything I know about my Dad was told to me by my mother. I was able to learn two things about Dad, however, just by being around him: God blessed him with the most beautiful singing voice I have ever heard and he was madly in love with my mom.

Heavenly voice

Following his two-year hiatus over the double date teasing incident, he and Mom crossed paths at a ballroom and rekindled their romance. Mom told me, many times over the years, that Dad was the worst boyfriend anyone could imagine — and the best husband.

Dad loved to sing. He sang in barbershop quartets, sang with the Brainerd Glee Club, sang spontaneously by invitation at dance halls and nightclubs, sang with the Arrowhead Chorale in Duluth, Minn., and sang around the house. He could harmonize with any song. Dad’s vocal range was impressive, and his tone as sweet and warm as a cup of cocoa.

After my parents and siblings moved to Two Harbors, Minn., in the late 1940s, Dad sang for nearly every funeral in town. For decades. He could sing in Swedish and Norwegian, which brought great comfort to the Olsons, Carlsons, Nelsons, Andersons, Johnsons, Petersons and Hansons who monopolized the Two Harbors phone book.

I noticed early in my life, that when Dad sang in church, his voice was even more beautiful.

A life-long gift

Dad passed away in June of 1990, ending a 10-year downward spiral into dementia. His final months were spent in a nursing home.

Near the end, he could no longer communicate, but spoke gibberish with a smile when I’d see him, and this seemed to satisfy us both. On one occasion, my brother, Donn, and I went to sit with Dad and sing him a song. As we were leaving, I said, “Let’s sing ‘It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,’ ” an old-time song that Dad enjoyed. “I’ll sing melody,” I told Donn, “and you can take the harmony.” As we began, Dad’s eyes brightened and he immediately joined us — singing “la, la, la” in a third part, in perfect key.

Good stewards, let’s put our God-given talents to work for Jesus’ church. And let’s be extra grateful for those “little gifts” God gives us — like harmony sung in perfect key.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud


Our Creator’s perfect timing — the splendor of spring

Mary Beth and I live along the banks of the Mississippi River, just a few miles south of Little Falls. Our house is a late 1960’s vintage brick rambler. It is best described as a combination work farm and money pit, as we’ve put a good deal of TLC into it. For a few years now, I have ranted on and on — mostly in the winter — about it being too much space for just two people, too much yard and snow removal work as we grow older, too much area to heat and cool, too everything. I am grateful that MB tolerates my bombasts, but peeved when she simply pretends not to hear them. She’s a very good pretender.

There is, however, an annual ritual — orchestrated by God — that changes my heart, refreshes my soul, and rejuvenates my spirit. It is called the “spring thaw.”

Creation’s gifts

How splendid it is to see the river’s ice darken a little more each day. Ice, whose talons have been stubbornly affixed to the shoreline, begins to loosen its grip and ultimately amble downriver alongside sticks, branches, and sometimes chairs and dock sections.

Pelicans calculate the thaw with precision, showing up as soon as the river is open wide. A parade of brilliant white pillows meandering in dark blue water, they feed and commune for at least a few days before continuing their northward pilgrimage. As do their cousins, the trumpeter swans.

Canadian geese speed low past our windows, whooping and calling, “We’re back!” Eyes aflame with confidence, they remind me of that scene in an old cowboy movie, where the proud Sioux warriors practically fly down a hillside on horseback, yipping and whooping, to battle their enemies.

Not to be overlooked

I’ve come to realize that God is not simply the catalyst of creation. God is creation. I breathe God. I drink God. The beauty that surrounds me, and the unbroken orbit of the watery stone God has thrust around a flaming star, bolster my faith.

Creation. How often we overlook the wonder of our world. It is, to me, a glimpse of paradise, a harbinger of what is to come. Look around you and see what God has done, and continues to do. Let the perfection of God’s plan strengthen and uphold your faith.

Good stewards, gaze at your river, your field, your mountain, your child with new eyes; and never again doubt that our Creator is intimately involved in your life and the lives of those you love.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

Felix, my unlikely angel

Felix was a tall, rangy 62-year-old when I met him in 1973. Over the course of two or three months I learned quite a bit about him.

Felix had fought — often hand-to-hand — in the European theater of World War II. After the war, he worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority, helping to build miles of high-voltage electric lines through the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. Felix was raised in those mountains and had many colorful and downright funny anecdotes regarding the characters that prowled about them, often plying the illicit liquor trade.

We met on the job in Akron, Ohio. Felix was an electric lineman who would take an apprentice along to make the final service connections at new home sites or homes that had upgraded to heavier service wires. I was the apprentice — and not a particularly good one at that.

On the job training

Our first morning together, he drove to the worksite in relative silence. When we arrived he drawled, “You go up in the bucket truck and take care of the pole. I’ll take a ladder to the house and button up that end.” I nodded and, because he was obviously a lot older than me, I immediately scooted to the back of the truck, dragged the ladder out, and headed toward the house. “Hey!” he snapped. “I told you to use the truck. I’ll take the ladder.” I tried to explain that I was just being helpful, but Felix clearly explained — in very few words — that he did not desire my assistance.

As Felix walked toward the house, I surveyed the aerial lift device (“bucket truck” to those in the trade), and then looked at my climbing spikes. Frankly speaking, my first year-and-a half with the Ohio Edison Company had been miserable. Deathly afraid of heights and lacking natural mechanical skills, I was lampooned by coworkers and obviously frustrating my bosses. I grabbed my climbers and began strapping them on.

This time Felix’s “Hey” had a good deal more bite as he hustled over to confront me. “I told you to use the truck. You never want to climb a pole if you have a truck right there.” I’m not quoting him verbatim. Felix had sprinkled a bit more color into his words, tempered only by the soothing lilt of his Tennessee drawl.

We were face to face as I answered, “Felix, I’m having all kinds of trouble learning this job. I still can’t climb well, no one wants me on his crew, and I make mistakes all the time. I’m afraid I won’t have this job much longer unless I turn things around.” Felix stared at me for what felt like a long time. “OK,” he said quietly. We went to work.

My angel

By “we went to work,” I mean we “really” went to work. Felix liked to get things done. However, he calmly and methodically coached me all the while, suggesting better ways to do things, accepting my mistakes with words of encouragement, and seasoning everything with stories — mostly regarding moonshiners in the hills of his youth. I became a lineman during my time with Felix, and a pretty good one at that.

Through hindsight and the lens of my Catholic faith, I have come to appreciate an angel named Felix who God had placed in my path when I needed him most. Good stewards, who were the angels in your lives?

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

A stewardship lesson in mom’s apple pie

My dad passed away in 1990, after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. His early symptoms were almost humorous; lapses of memory and simple mistakes that could be laughed away. The disease, however, is a relentless downward spiral that, in the end, erased the person I knew as “Dad,” and removed his loved ones from his conscious mind.

My mother was his caregiver over the entire course of Dad’s ordeal, except for the final six months of his life, as my brothers and I insisted that she have him placed in a care facility.

About the time Dad went into the nursing home, Mom sold their house in the country and purchased a small house in town. They’d lived in the old house more than 40 years, remodeling one area at a time, as funds were available, and making a great home for their kids. Mom was pragmatic about leaving the house she’d loved so well.

When she moved into the little house in town, her neighbors were quick to greet her, make friends and offer assistance if needed. She was grateful for their offers, but mostly turned them down because she enjoyed yard work, and work in general.

A number of her neighbors told Mom that the only bad thing about the neighborhood was that Joe lived there. Joe’s house was across the street and to the east of Mom’s. Joe had created a reputation for himself since his school days, where he was difficult in class, surly to most people, and generally troubled.

He’d had skirmishes with the law in his younger years, so some branded him an “outlaw.” They felt their doors had to be locked at all times. Mom told me she felt sorry for Joe.

Sharing a piece of the pie

At a family gathering at Mom’s home — after she’d become established in the neighborhood — we were helping her with the dishes and cleanup.

Mom was well known around town for her homemade pies, and apple pie had been part of our feast that day. As we were putting things away, she cut a generous slice of pie, plated it, and covered it with plastic wrap.

“What are you going to do with that piece of pie?” I asked. She replied, “I’m going to give it to Joe.”

My older brother, who lived close to Mom’s place, heard her and warned her not to get too close to him. “Joe is trouble with a capital T,” he told her. “You shouldn’t have anything to do with him.”

“Oh, they all say that,” she shot back. “I’d be hard to get along with too, if people treated me the way they treat him.” She went on to say that she brings him a slice of pie every once in a while. “He came over to shovel my sidewalk a couple of weeks ago,” she said, “and I didn’t ask him.    He just showed up.”

From 1995 until 2004, I had to drive, at least monthly, to Duluth for work-related meetings. Those most often required an overnight stay, so I would get a hotel room in Duluth, but go to Two Harbors for supper with Mom.

I usually had to wash her windows (“they’re the eyes of your home,” according to her), or see to some other item of maintenance before we could play cribbage. On one of those occasions, she fried up some speckled trout fillets. They were so delicious, and I asked, “Where did you get this fish?” “Joe brings fish all the time,” she said with a smile.

Mom died last year, a few weeks before her 96th birthday. At the funeral, her church was packed with people of all ages. People I’d never met came to me with stories of how she had touched their lives. She did it in the simplest way. She treated them like she would want to be treated.

My mom, the good steward.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

Helping isn’t always appreciated, but do it anyway

Simple act of shoveling snow transformed foreboding into friendship

In September of 1989, my wife and kids and I moved from Pine River to Duluth. This was a work-related move, and I was grateful for the opportunity to take on new challenges and learn new things. Mary Beth was less enthusiastic about the move, as we were leaving many great friends with whom we had grown very close.

After a profoundly frustrating process of shopping for a home, we moved into a lovely old house in the Chester Park neighborhood. The house had received meticulous care over the years. We arrived just in time to celebrate Christmas in our new home.

The large old houses of our neighborhood were planted on relatively small plots of land, lending a sense of intimacy to the scene. Our house was situated on a corner lot that was just 40 feet wide and 70 feet deep. Our next-door neighbor was a widowed octogenarian named Jane. Jane and her late husband had owned a liquor store in town. She kept pretty much to herself. Her kitchen window was about 10 feet from our dining room window. Her blinds were most often drawn closed.

One good deed…

We had a significant snowstorm in February. I should mention that I did not own a snow blower until the kids were pretty well gone. They would complain loudly and vigorously that a snow blower would save us a great deal of work, but I told them we didn’t need one. I had four sons who were fit enough (despite their continuous whining), and five good shovels in the garage. As this particular snowfall abated, I had the boys follow me to Jane’s driveway, where we set about shoveling.

Almost immediately, Jane came out of the house and told us this was unnecessary. “I can shovel my own driveway,” she insisted. I replied, “That’s OK, Jane. We’re happy to do it.” She went back into the house and returned with dollar bills, which she began stuffing in my kid’s coat pockets. (They were immediately impressed with this new concept of being paid for work.) I directed them to give the money back. We were not going to accept payment for helping a neighbor. Jane grew somewhat distraught, and said, quite sternly to me, “I can do this. I always shovel my own driveway and I’m perfectly capable.”

I set my shovel aside and walked over to her. “Jane,” I began, “my mom lives in Two Harbors. She’s about your age. She’s very capable too, but when the snow falls, her neighbors come over to shovel her walk and driveway. I can’t drive to Two Harbors every time it snows to help my mom. But as long as Mom’s neighbors are helping her, my kids and I are going to help you.” She stared at me for a few seconds, but her face softened and she nodded and went into the house.

Years later we learned that Jane had been apprehensive about a family with four young boys moving next door. She had visions of trampled flower gardens, bicycle tracks in her lawn and toys strewn about. She learned otherwise — and we became great friends and neighbors over our years in Chester Park. Jane’s kitchen blinds remained wide open. That way she could wave to the boys she grew to love.

Good stewards, let’s be attentive to all the blessings we receive . . . and pay them forward.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud