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The Great Gift

July 22, 2008

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Did so while doing Laundry Load #17 for the day, and I'm not kidding. Washed all the bedding before the kids got home from camp, then it was sleeping bags and sweatshirts and towels and a whole mess of blackened socks I might as well have tossed into the garbage. Between loads, I whipped up some taco salad (Nothing grilled or boiled! the kids pleaded) and got them fed and bathed and into bed before the ten o'clock news. One more week of camp and then it's time to visit the grandparents.

That's pretty much how the summer's gone. Filling one duffel bag and emptying another, dropping off and picking up, a ball game here, a grocery trip here. Back to the duffel bags. Summer day after summer day. Gets to be a kind of routine, which was broken yesterday because I went on a road trip and I took the kids along. We got up early and drove about two hours to my little hometown in northwestern Wisconsin. A farm town, with a good basketball team and a great school and a Lutheran church that serves up tater tot hotdish and rye bread spread with Cheez Wiz and crushed potato chips sprinkled on it, and a whole slew of cakes—including red velvet and lemon and chocolate and carrot—for funeral luncheons. Exactly what they served yesterday after the funeral service for my high school choir teacher, the reason I was compelled to get into the car and drive in the first place.

I won't say much about this wonderful man and his lovely family, or I'll come apart and I've got a lot to do today. I will say he was a great teacher and church choir director who touched many lives and whose presence will be felt for years and years to come. If it weren't for him, I don't know that I'd have the privilege of listening to my own children practice their violins each night while I make dinner. I wouldn't have the words to "How Great Thou Art" and "Just As I Am" in my head whenever I need 'em. What I will say is that the funeral was just right and the pallbearers were all exceptionally handsome. The kids were well-behaved and the food was good (it seems red Jell-O is not a staple at Wisconsin funerals) and "Abide with Me" was among the chosen hymns. I saw former classmates and old neighbors and teachers from long ago, and had the rare privilege of hugging all of my old English teachers—not that they're OLD themselves, just that they were at one time my teachers, and that time was some time ago.

"You look the same's you did all those years ago," someone said. "You haven't changed a bit." I smiled and it was hard to say anything at all because the great gift of a funeral is the chance to come home again, if only for a day. And in the midst of all that deep, deep sadness, home is a fine, fine place to be.

Next time you leave the house, take a batch of this along, in a container you can do without, and give it to the first friend you run into. You'll hear from them within 24 hours. Guaranteed.

THE Artichoke Dip

1 can (14 oz) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 package (8oz) feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

Mix all ingredients.

Spoon into a pie plate or a shallow baking dish.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Serve with crackers or cubed bread. Makes 2 cups.

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