Carolina Wren

Picture taken from “All About Birds” website.

I love when all the people noise on the farm stills and you can hear the birds, tree frogs, crickets, cows, chickens and other animals singing, mooing, clucking, screeching and twittering their wings.

We have a Carolina Wren that sings every morning and at different times through out the day. But unless you are tuned to it you won’t hear it even though he loudly sings his praises. I think often of the Bible verse, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10). It is in the stillness after the morning rush, the quietness when humans aren’t running trucks, cars or tractors or when you dare walk out of your tightly closed up house with the tv and air conditioning running and sit on your porch, that you hear the songs of the happy birds with their heads tilted upwards, praising the God who designed and created them. They are unashamed or timid with sharing their song and it will bless anyone who pauses to listen.

This particular wren I have been trying for weeks to see. He usually sits in the tree by the shop very close to our store. The leaves on the tree hide him from view. Yesterday his song came from a different spot and suddenly I saw him, sitting on top of the stack of shavings on the dock at the warehouse.

As I clicked away on my camera, he lifted his head heavenward and sang his heart out. I had not sung any song of praise to God that morning, but he did. He exalted God with all his being.

I goggled “Carolina Wren” and found some very interesting facts and information on “All About Birds” website….”This shy bird can be hard to see, but it delivers an amazing number of decibels for its size. Follow its teakettle-teakettle! and other piercing exclamations through backyard or forest, and you may be rewarded with glimpses of this bird’s rich cinnamon plumage, white eyebrow stripe, and long, upward-cocked tail”. 

Psalms 66:4 All creation, come praise the name of the LORD. Praise his name alone. The glory of God is greater than heaven and earth.

Some “Cool Facts” taken from the website:

  • The Carolina Wren is sensitive to cold weather, with the northern populations decreasing markedly after severe winters. The gradually increasing winter temperatures over the last century may have been responsible for the northward range expansion seen in the mid-1900s.
  • One captive male Carolina Wren sang nearly 3,000 times in a single day.
  • Unlike other wren species in its genus, only the male Carolina Wren sings the loud song. In other species, such as the Stripe-breasted Wren of Central America, both members of a pair sing together. The male and female sing different parts, and usually interweave their songs such that they sound like a single bird singing.
  • A pair bond may form between a male and a female at any time of the year, and the pair will stay together for life. Members of a pair stay together on their territory year-round, and forage and move around the territory together.
  • The oldest recorded Carolina Wren was at least 7 years, 8 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Florida in 2004. It had been banded in the same state in 1997.

I have the “Merlin Bird ID” app on my iphone and really enjoy using it to identify different bird calls. I have currently captured the calls of about 20 different birds (this app is free).

Psalms 148:13 All creation, come praise the name of the LORD. Praise his name alone. The glory of God is greater than heaven and earth.

Box Turtle Fight

He almost has an evil gleam to his eye!

Did you know the pokey slow, retreat to your shell box turtles can have an attitude and bully each other?

Today we watched two male box turtles have it out. We have an area behind the store where we can watch wildlife (mostly deer) through a window. It is so interesting to watch what comes to our feeders. We know these two were both males because of their concave underside. When we found them, they were staring each other down with the bigger of the two the more aggresive trying to prove he was “alpha turtle”. According to Wikipedia, they were probably competing for the same female. He kept turning the smaller one over on his back and if left upside down too long it will die.

We separated them but left them together but it wasn’t long until the small one was upside down again. We finally moved them about 4 feet apart and pointed their heads in different directions. We were curious to what they would do. A few minutes later they both had slipped away. It is amazing how fast slow turtles are. I guess they had exhausted themselves and one had won. We didn’t see any female turtles nearby but it was near the edge of the woods.

Box turtles commonly live over twenty years but an internet search revealed they could live 40-100 years. I quote from Wikipedia...”They are omnivorous and their eagle eyes and keen sense of smell help them find foods such as snails, insects, berries, fungi, slugs, worms, flowers, fish, frogs, salamanders, rodents, snakes, birds and eggs. (It is hard for me to imagine a turtle catching a bird, frog, salamander or snake!) During their first five to six years of life they are primarily carnivorous. Adults tend to be mostly herivores, but do not feed on leafy greens. They have been known to feed on dead animals along the sides of roads…..Hatchlings and young turtles need more protein and prefer a carnivorous diet, but as they grow the incorporate more and more plants.

It is hard for me to imagine a turtle catching a bird, salamander, frog or snake! All of those can either jump, fly, slither or skitter fast! Maybe the slow methodical movements of a turtle are all a ruse! I don’t think I will stick my finger in front of his mouth.

Spot-She Was One Of A Kind

Through the years I have written several times about Spot, our rogue, fence walker, gate checker, “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” kind of cow. She was one of our favorite. When you have 200-250 brood cows you don’t give them names or make them your pets. But once in awhile, one is different and Spot was one of the different, she had a unique personality!

In a herd of mostly black Angus, she stood out like a beacon on a dark winter night as she looked more like a holstein. She was white with black spots. She also developed a unique reputation. She was our fence-line mower. Whenever she was near a fence, she would drop to her knees and stretch her neck under the bottom wire, and stretch out her tongue to get every available blade of grass. When that area was cleaned, she would get up, move a few feet and repeat the process.

Yesterday Gene came in and said, “Spot passed away.” It wasn’t a total surprise as she had loss some weight and wasn’t feeling well. Gene had penned her up and was keeping a watchful eye on her. He didn’t know what was wrong but suspected either hardware or cancer. She had some mastitis in her udder which he treated with LA200.

In looking back, my first blog post about her was written in December 2014 and the second one was in 2015 announcing the birth of her sixth calf. This spring she would have had her fifteen calf! She would have been about two years old when she had her first, making her approximately 18 years old. If a cow lives to be 20 she is old! She was a productive, valuable brood mama.

You did good Mrs. Spot. Rest in peace. We will not forget you!

Other blog posts about Spot:

My Hula Hoop

A really cute and hilariously funny video popped up on facebook this week of a little girl trying to hula hoop and memories came flooding back.

Dance Queen

I was in second grade when the hula hoop and baton twirling rage hit by storm. All the girls came to school with the hoop or baton in tow. I was smitten and had to have a hula hoop. I was not as impressed with the baton. Mother agreed I could have one if I purchased it with my own money. They cost 60 cents plus tax. I got an allowance of 5 cents a week. The deal was I had to save my money and when I had half of it, she would buy it for me and then I could finish paying for it. The 5 cents a week was my weekly allowance for ice-cream on a stick that we could buy at school or I could choose to spend it on something frivilous such as a hula hoop. I diligently save my nickols for a total of twelve weeks with anticipation that equaled waiting for Christmas morning!

I can only imagine how cute and funny I was as I swayed and wiggled my hips until I finally mastered the art of hooping! I learned to not only maintain a good twirl around the waist but also the knees, ankles, neck and arms, and could switch from one arm to the other. A person who was really good could swirl it around the waist and drop it to their knees and back up without loosing their stride or use multiple hoops at once. A pro could have multiple hoops doing different things such as one on the arm and another around the waist! It also made a good jump rope.

I took good care of my hoop and always hung it up on a nail on the garage wall when I was done playing. I did not have to be reminded. But one day several years later disaster struck.

Mother was hosting a family reunion and there were lots of energetic cousins running around looking for fun things to do. Two boy cousins found my hoop and used it for tug of war. I saw it happening and went running and shouting to intervene but it was too late. My beloved hoop had popped apart. I was crushed. My hoop would never stay together after that but I refused to part with it. I had an invested twelve weeks of no ice-cream in that hoop! I have often wondered why daddy never tried to fix it.

When I got married at twenty, that broken hoop along with my bicycle, doll baby and a plastic toy boat were put in the back of Gene’s pickup for the trip to Powhatan where it was carefully stashed in a storage room.

Quite a few years later, I finally decided it was time to part ways with my hoop. After all, what good is a broken hula hoop? My grandchildren are not going to want it! It just really had no earthly value.

But it was more than just a broken hoop. It was something I bought and paid for with my own money. I valued ownership of it. I didn’t have many toys but what I did have I took care of as if they were valued treasures. My bicycle was always put in the garage when I was done riding. My doll was cared for as a baby, never thrown on the floor or tossed in a toy box. She had her own little bed and was tucked in every night. Susan is still in perfect condition and she was well loved and played with.

Me with Susan and my sister with her doll Phyllis.

I don’t remember ever getting new toys on a whim except for the plastic boat. Mother came home from town one day with a small plastic boat for each of us children. We played with our boats for hours in the creek meandering through the farm. We received one gift at Christmas and one on our birthday. Toys were a luxury we valued. Our play mostly consisted of creative outdoors activities such as climbing trees, hide and seek, sliding on the garage roof, riding bike, and playing in the creek or barn. My sister and I spent hours in our playhouse pretending to be grown up moms. We each had our own playhouse room in the old smoke house behind the house. We used rocks for food and discarded tin cans for containers. If it rained, we played board games inside.

Today kids do not value their toys. They have an abundance with overflowing toy boxes even when they are toddlers and could care less. They receive many gifts at Christmas, elaborate birthday parties and on the whim, stuff in between. I watch children in town throw a hissy fit, crying and yelling, to have a new gadget they just then happened to spy. If you watch, the mother almost always gives in. They get it at no patience, no anticipation or sacrifice on their part just because they can. As kids we used to pour over the Sears and Pennys catalogs weeks before Christmas trying to narrow our lustful desires down to one toy.

Then I remember my hula hoop and wonder, have we done our children any favors?

Our Fourth of July Weekend

We celebrated a little early, over the weekend, with my siblings and spouses at Ed and Eileen’s cabin in Sugar Grove, West Virginia. It is a lovely drive to their cabin. At Staunton we headed west on 250/262. We drove through farmland, small hometown villages, and finally entered the National Forest as we crossed over North Mountain on a very curvey, windy road with S-curves, horseshoe and 90 degree turns, the kind that can make you car sick if you are so inclined. At the top of the mountain was an incredible view of mountain ranges that stretched for miles and miles. It is a true throwback in time to how I remember the mountain roads into West Virginia as a teen.

I thought about John Denver’s song Country Roads, Take Me Home. I never lived in West Virginia but it holds many precious memories for me. During my teen years, I, along with three other girls, would go to Harman, West Virginia for two weeks every summer and teach Bible School in the mountain churches. It was a highlight of my youth. Sometimes we taught morning and evening in two different churches. I have so many precious memories of the Kanagys, Millers, Goods, Buchers, Miningers, and others whose names I have forgotten. West Virginia forever holds a special place in my heart.

After the mountain, we turned on Cow Pasture Road which truly lives up to its name. It runs along the base of the mountain for about twenty miles with houses built on ridges, beef farms, mountain streams, chicken houses and plain rural living. It is a beautiful drive and at times the road runs through canopies of trees. When we cross the concrete bridge at the base of Heatwoles’ driveway, we are at the same elevation as the top of Afton Mountain.

Their cabin hugs the edge of a mountain ridge. Their driveway is steep with a horseshoe turn. There is a magnificaant view of a tall mountain range in the distance stretching from one end of the horizon to the other. We watched the full moon rise over Reddish Knob in the distance. Wildlife abounds with deer feasting at Ed’s feeder, coyotes yelp and howl their eerie bark, bear roam around the area (we didn’t see any) and we listened to whipperwills whippering their evening song.

Ed made his house animal proof with metal siding and metal porch posts. His screened in back porch is a quiet oasis of rest. The inside of the cabin is Eileen’s masterpiece. She has a good decorating eye and is very unique in her style and design. It is homey, comfortable, inviting and pleasant.

My family enjoyed a wonderful weekend together catching up, processing daddy’s situation, praying for him, and resting. I wish I had taken a few more pictures.

Sunday morning Ed lead our worship and directed our thoughts on communion and the price Jesus paid for our sins because of his love for us. Our sins they are many but his mercy is more. He invites us to come to his table and celebrate as we remember his broken body, the bread and poured out blood, the wine or grape juice. His blood flows as a fountain, deep and full, overflowing with abundant mercy. Come. Drink. Be forgiven. Drink deeply.

The fountain symbolizes the constant flowing of abundant mercy.
Left to right: Eileen Heatwole, Gene and Pat Hertzler, Phil and Ev Borntrager, Marj and Rich Heatwole. Ed Heatwole was the picture taker.

The song “My Sins They Are Many, His Mercy is More” sung by Acappella Harmony has become one of my favorite songs. The original version is “His Mercy is More” written by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Quaker Hill Bull Sale-February 2023

I know I posted a few pictures on facebook but I want to write a little bit more about our “date night” to the Quaker Hill Bull Sale at the Knights Livestock Sale Barn in Orange, Virgina.

Gene really enjoys going to the Quaker Hill sales and has bought most of his bulls from them through the years. When Charles Rosson called and invited us to this sale, we both knew we wanted to go. He did not have to twist my arm! We knew this would not be a buying sale for us but a very interesting “watch” sale. It was called “Moment of Clarity” sale. Most of you probably will not know what that means but every animal in the sale was a direct descendent of Connealy Clarity who was one of the best bulls every used in the breeding program at Quaker Hill. His untimely death was a tragic loss to the Angus breed, but his calves have been topping many sales around the country. I quote from Quaker Hill, “They excel in calving ease, true muscle expression, high volume capacity, moderate frame size, quiet dispositions, good feed and legs with maternal prowess second to none”.

Quaker Hill Black Bandolier-the number one sire of the evening and a son of Connealy Clarity.

The big feature of the evening was Quaker Hill Black Brandolier. They said that he is the very best bull they have ever raised hands down! He sold for $105,000. Before the sale, we went back to the sale pens. King Bull walked over to the gate where I was standing and I got to rub his head!

Everyone one of the heifers and bulls in the sale were top quality. The other bulls ranged in price from 3,400 to $15,000 and went all over the country. I heard Georgia, Montana, Texas, and New York. The famales went from $3,000 to $13,500. They also sold some straws of semen but we didn’t stay for that.

Quaker Hill usually provides a very good meal using Summy’s Catering. The meal is always the same but it smells and tastes wonderful. They put up a tent for the food.

Barbecued chicken, pulled pork, baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, pumpkin cake and lemonaid.
The entertainment while we ate was this talented young lady, Carrie Brockwell, with her dad from Chester, VA. She tried out for American Idol but didn’t make it.
Sale time-getting ready to start.
Quaker Hill Black Bandolier-first in the ring.
Excitement ran high.

Number 2 bull was Quaker Hill Transparency. He brought $6500.

It was a fun evening and very interesting to see these amazing bulls sell.

A Chocolate Infused Puzzle

This week I made a mess, a frustrating mess and I can not blame it on anyone but myself!!!! I had a cup of steaming hot chocolate and sat it down by the puzzle I was working on. I intended to work on it while a drank the chocolate. I knocked over the almost full cup on the puzzle. It ran off the back and sides of the table, down the wall and on the floor. About a third of my 1000 piece puzzle was instantly soaking wet. Cardboard puzzles act like a sponge and soak up the moisture immediatly.

The whole right side is soaking wet. I am surprised the picture looks so good!

I quickly dabbed up the mess with a dry tea towel. I put all the wet loose pieces upside down on a plate to dry. Fortunately I didn’t have many on the table. As carefully as I could, I lifted up corners of the puzzle and wiped underneathe. The wet pieces had already swelled so they stuck together amazingly well. Then I cleaned up the floor and wall and set a cookie sheet and plate over the wet puzzle as the pieces were starttng to buckle. I let the puzzle rest overnight.

The next morning the pieces were still damp but the tray had pressed them flat. I removed the tray and let them finish drying. Amazingly, the puzzle is not harmed or discolored. Tonight I finished the puzzle. It is beautiful with just a whiff of chocolate!


I have been having so much fun with putting together jigsaw puzzles, it has become quite addicting! My love or addiction for puzzles started in 2020 when Covid hit and the ladies at church started a puzzle table. We all brought puzzles to share. After a while it was time to get rid of the puzzles so I decided to take the puzzles and start a puzzle library. This year I put together a whopping 70 puzzles while recouping from all our health issues including my torn ham string and broken ankle. I had to have something to do! One little interesting tidbit I learned this fall was that Queen Elizabeth loved to do puzzles. She and I could have had a lot of fun together!

This is a little rabbit trail, but my mention of Queen Elizabeth reminded me of another unique encounter of sorts with her. In July of 2004, Gene and I flew into Salt Lake City and drove north through Utah, Idaho, Montana to Calgary in Alberta, Canada to visit a processing facility that we were buying our compressed hay from. It was very interesting. After watched the slicing, compressing, and packing process, our salesman took us out to the huge warehouses where they stored large square bales of hay and told us to pick which stack we wanted. After considerable evaluation, Gene picked out his hay. The salesman said, “You can’t have that stack, it belongs to the Queen of England for her horses”. We touched the hay, paid our homage and took a picture!!!!

Now back to the puzzles…. all the following puzzles are in my puzzle library in our store for check out, just like you would a library book. To date, I have 156 puzzles in inventory; 300, 500, 550,750, 1000 and even one 48 (pieces are huge) and one 1500 piece. Someone recently added about 25 to my collection but before that I could say I had put together most of them. In counting this post, I did 75 puzzles this year. I had no idea I had done that many!!!

“Christmas in the Cabin” (a wooden puzzle by Mosaic Puzzles)-1000 piece, January 2022

This was a very challenging puzzle and you had to have patience and think differently. The worse part was the pieces did not connect together tight (from looking at them you would have thought they did) and I was constantly bumping them and having to fix the issue. When I first started it, I was overwhelmed. My sister-in-law was helping me and she was intrigued and kept saying we could do it. By the time she left she had done the left chair and I was working on the right one. I kept plugging and did it. It felt like quite an accompolishment and I didn’t want to take the puzzle down. And no, I do not have room to glue them together and hang on my walls/

This is a sample of the pieces to the wooden mosaic puzzle. They were all kinds of shapes. There is no need to do the edge first as you can’t tell what the edge pieces are! They just happen as you go.
“Home Sweet Home”-300 piece, January 2022
“Lakeside Cottage”-300 piece, January 2022
Amazing Natures “Hidden Birds”-1000 piece, January 2022
“Library”-1000 piece, January 2022
“Summer House”-500 piece, January 2022
“The Candy Store”-500 piece, January 2022
“Farm Scene with Round Bales of Hay”-500 piece-January 2022 (missing 2 pieces) by Golden Guild
“Mom’s Pantry”-1000 piece, January 2022

“Pasture With Horses”-300 piece, January 2022 (missing 1 piece) by Golden Guild
United States- 1000 piece, Janaury 2022, by Master Pieces
Snow-Deer-Bird Feeder-500 piece, January 2022, by Bits and Pieces
“Yoga Cats”-1000 piece, January 2022
“Cobble Walk Cottage”-500 piece, February 2022, by Eurographics Puzzles
Assorted Wild Birds-500 piece, February 2022, by Springbok
“Lures Fishing Tackle”-1000 piece, February 2022, by Charles Wysocki
“Beautiful Butterfly”-500 piece, February 2022, by Mega Puzzles. This one was not as hard as it might look. The two sides are mirror images. Usually if I found one piece, I would find the matching one also.
“Millside Picnic”-1000 piece, February 2022, Hometown Collection by Bonnie White
“Songbirds”-1000 piece-February 2022. This one was challenging. Almost gave up and then a burst of determination got me going again.
“Songbirds”-750 piece, February 2022, by Hautman Brothers Collection
“Frederick the Literate Cate”-750 piece, March 2022, by Charles Wysocki. Also have in 300 piece size.
“Country Meadow”-300 piece, March 2022, by Hautman Brothers
“Old Pumpkin Farm”-300 piece, March 2022, by Eurographics Puzzles
“Three Sisters”-500 piece, March 2022, by Charles Wysocki
“Rule the Rooster”-1000 piece, March 2022, by Lori Schory. I loved this puzzle. It is the onlyp puzzle I bought.
“Chickens”-1000 piece, April 2022
“Home is My Sailor”-300 piece, April 2022, by Charles Wysocki.
“Lichtenstein Castle”-300 pieces-April 2022, by MB Puzzles
“Mountain Lake Lighthouse”-300 piece, April 2022, by MB Puzzles
“Prairie Wind Flowers”-300 peice-April 2022, by Charles Wysocki.
“Tea By The Sea”-300 peice-April 2022, by Charles Wysocki.
“Volkswagons”-1000 piece, April 2022 by Muchos Pieces.
“Morning Deliveries”-300 piece, April 2022, by Master Pieces.
“Old Cape Cod”-300 piece, April 2022, by Charles Wysocki
“Family of Owls”-1000 piece round puzzle, April 2022, by Lori Schory.
“Weekend Market”-1000 piece, April 2022, by Master Puzzles.
“1856 Country Store”-500 piece, May 2022, by Puzzle Bug.
“Old Store”-500 piece, June 2022, by Puzzle Bug
“A Day Out At the Farm”-1000 piece, July 2022
“Castle Country”-1000 piece, August 2022, by Hometown Collections.
“Dog Days”-750 pieces, August 2022,
“Dream Day First HOme”-1000 piece, August 2022
“Fireside Companions”-1000 piece, August 2022, by Charles Wysocki.
“French Estate with Vineyards”-1000 piece, August 2022
“Union Square”-1000 piece, August 2022, by Hometown Collections.
“Sunset on the Farm”-1000 piece, August 2022. (Borrowed from a friend. Not in my library collection).
“Quilts”-1000 piece, September 2022, by Arlette Gosieski at Ceaco Puzzles.
“Spring Fawn”-1000 piece-September 2022
“San Francisco Conservatory”-1000 piece, September 2022, by Hometown Collections.
“Spring Mill”-1000 piece, September 2022, by Abraham Hunter.
“Toadstool Cottage”-1000 pieces-September 2022, by TCG Toys.
“Wooden You Like A Ride”-1000 piece-October 2022, by Charles Wysocki.
“Family Pride”-500 piece, October 2022, by TCG Toys.
“Small Town Christmas”-1000 pieces, October 2022, by Charles Wysocki.
“Winter Treats”-500 piece, October 2022, by Bits and Pieces.
“Beauty and the Beast Falling In Love”-1000 piece, November 2022, by Thomas Kinkade.
“Cabin In the Woods”-1000 piece, November 2022, By David Maclean.
“Spring Patio”-1000 piece, November 2022, by TCG Toys.
“Sasha Salutes the Flag”-1000 piece, November 2022, by Linda Nelson.
“Summer Afternoon on the Farm”-500 piece, November 2022
“Toyland”-1000 piece, November 2022, by Master Pieces.
“The Bluebirds Song”-1000 piece, November 2022, by Country Life Puzzles.
“Sempione Italy”-1000 piece-December 2022, by Springbok.
“Labor Day”-1000 piece, December 2022
“Carpathian Mountains, Europe”-1000 piece, December 2022, by Mind Blogglers.
“Christmas Traffic Jam” (Corkboad back & scalloped edge)-500 piece, December 2022.
“Christmas Train”-300 piece, December 2022, by Gift Craft.
“Winter Barn”-1000 piece, December 2022, by Susan Winget.
“Rooster” (Mosaic Wooden), December 2022, by Mosaic Wooden Puzzles.
“Glow in the Dark-Family 8 Traditions”-300 piece, December 2022. If you expose this puzzle to 20 minutes of bright light it will glow in the dark. I forgot to try it!

And now for the fun gag gift this Christmas…..

My dear friends, Donna and Sheila, gave this to me as a fun gag gift. They designed and made even the packaging. They knew I would get a big kick out of it and I did! I was tempted to open it and try to put it together but decided to keep it instead. There are three canes in the package.

Puzzles 2020-21: I did 36 puzzles.

Christmas 2022

I love Christmas. I love the family time together, the special holiday baking and all the traditions that go along with it. But I try to stay focused on the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Every year we put a star on the barn as a reminder to the community of the wise men that followed the star and found him. Are you following and searching for the true Light of the World? His name is Jesus, the Son of God who took on human flesh and lived among us to show us the way to God.

Following are some of our family Christmas pictures.

We put three different puzzles together.
This puzzle was a Christmas present.
Pat and Ryan playing Splendor, a family favorite.
Emily and Ryan
Two games going at once: Azul and Eurorails
Christmas lunch.
Grandkid craziness. They called it yoga-ninja.
Jill told me Ryan wanted to learn to make bread. So he and I had a bread-baking afternoon.
Finished loaf of wonderful smelling, hot, soft bread. Good job Ryan.
My recipe
Obe rode with Gene to feed hay to the cows.
Gotta watch some football! Emily held down the fort while Gene fed his cows.
Family tradition: We have to listen to Peter, Paul and Mary’s Christmas Special every year.

We also watched “I Heard the Bells,” the inspiring story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the author of the beloved Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and produced by Sight and Sound. It was really good.

Two very short video clips of our crazy grandkids. They were a hoot. We really do enjoy our time together. We were missing Keith, Susan and Noah this year.

Christmas Craziness-Video 1 (Lauren won)

Christmas Craziness-Video 2 (Karla won)

His Name Was Gus

It was the last day of November, and I got a call from my sister, Ev. It was her birthday and I had planned to call her. But she had something pressing on her mind that turned out to be very, very interesting to me and my extended family. She had turned on the TV that morning to listen to the weather. She is not a TV person, so this was not something she normally did. They were airing a story about an adopted girl who was searching for her parents. She found her mom and had a relationship with her for about twenty years. But her mom took an important secret to her grave that left her daughter with a deep unfilled void in her life. She refused to tell her daughter, Deanna, her daddy’s name. Her mother did reveal two crucial tidbits of information; he lived in Richmond and was a Greek. It became an intense desire of Deanna to try and find her dad. One day while praying, God revealed to her his name was Gus. After years of searching, she found her dad. The story that was aired is “Woman adopted as a baby is caring for her biological father after lifelong searach for him: It’s the most incredible miracle.”

Ev found the story very interesting and amazing. Later in the morning she was mulling over the story and suddenly it hit her; Richmond, Greek, Gus. Could this possibly be the Gus that we knew, the long-time friend of our Aunt Ruth? She called me. My husband and I live on a farm about 30 miles west of Richmond and our Aunt Ruth had lived on the west side of Richmond. Ev knew we had a fair amount of contact with both of them. She started telling me the story and I was stunned. The only thing that raised a doubt was Gus being a ballroom dance instructor. I had never heard that, nor could I visualize him as one. We called a sister of Ruth, and she confirmed that yes, that was true and had taught Aunt Ruth how to ballroom dance. Oh me, oh, my! I immediately had to hear the story! This was too coincidental for it not to be the Gus we knew! I goggled and came up with the story. As soon as I saw the picture, I knew it was him. We very quickly learned some things about Gus that we never knew; a history that had never been revealed, a life he had kept secret. Did Aunt Ruth know? My suspicions are she did since a nephew on Gus’s side of the family knew where to point Deanna when DNA testing linked them together. Aunt Ruth passed away in March 2016 so we will probably never know for sure.

The story of Deanna that was aired, is not the story of our family except for the fact that Aunt Ruth was a friend of Gus Nicholas for many years, probably going back to the early 70’s. Living close to Richmond and being close to her, Gus became a part of our lives in special ways. To learn this story about him has intrigued us and made us reflect on the man we knew but didn’t know.

Gene and I were married in 1972. Aunt Ruth was a single aunt who never married. She was next to the oldest in a family of twelve children. She got her nursing degree and in February 1966 moved to Richmond to further her education at VCU and worked at MCV Hospital. She was an excellent nurse and nursing instructor, and her specialty was the cardio-vascular unit, helping with some of the first heart transplants in Virginia. Another aunt who was a younger sister of Ruth, Carolyn Reed, her husband John, and their two children Doug and Cathy, moved to Richmond in 1974. It was really special for me to have two aunts so close by. I will always treasure the times spent in their homes and the special family friendships we developed.

I don’t remember when I first learned about Gus. Ruth and Gus frequently came out to our farm to target shoot their pistols. Ruth always drove as Gus had an eye issue and did not have good eye sight. He loved to shoot but he was never as good as Ruth. She could hit the mark! On one of their excursions to the farm we were getting ready to feed the baby calves and invited them to help. Our daughter Jill was really little, probably around 3, and she wanted to carry the calf bottle. It was almost too big and heavy for her, but she hugged it to her chest and waddled down the hill to the calf barn. Gus thought she was the cutest thing and giggled and giggled at her. Once he started giggling, he couldn’t stop! He snickered and giggled like a little girl while feeding the calves. He had never done such a thing and it struck him so funny. For Aunt Ruth it brought back memories of when she was a little girl on her father’s dairy farm.

This was in the early 1980’s.

Usually after they were done shooting, we would sit around the kitchen table, chatting and eating a snack while catching up on our lives. Gus was always friendly, chatty and fun to visit with.

I don’t know what attracted Ruth to Gus or how they met. They were so different in their family heritage and traditions, faith, lifestyle, ethnic background and education. But they found in each other a friendship that lasted forty or more years. There were times of frustration for Ruth and along the way there were several other opportunities that blossomed but never bloomed. Did she know his sorted past and wondering eye? They never shared the strong bond of a common faith and she never wanted to marry him. He was a friend and they enjoyed doing things together and the companionship it provided.

Gus’s favorite hat; the one he always wore. When I saw this on the video link at the top of the page I said, “Yes, that was his hat-the one he always wore.”

In her later years, Aunt Ruth moved to a retirement home in Harrisonburg. Gus took the move hard; he needed and depended on her, but Ruth’s mind was made up. After her death, I called Gus and told him of her passing. I made arrangements to pick him up and take him with me to the funeral. At the last minute, he backed out. He was not getting around well anymore and felt it was too much for him. I lost contact with him soon after that.

I realize we never really knew much about his personal life except his name was Gus and he was Aunt Ruth’s friend. I thought I had lots of memories of him but when I started to write I discovered time had stored the specifics of them on the unretrievable files of my mind. I will treasure the few I have.

Gus passed away on December 6, one week after the story broke. I was able to contact Deanna the following day and she told me the news. I asked if he had made peace with God and accepted Jesus as his Savior before he died and she said yes. Gus’s story is not about us or even Aunt Ruth but a daughter who found her dad and was able to make peace with her heritage, her past, and her dad at just the right time. It is an amazing miraculous story for Deanna and Gus. Their story was especially fascinating to us because Gus had touched our lives through Aunt Ruth.

We simply knew his name was Gus and accepted him for who he was, Aunt Ruth’s friend.

Other memories…..

My cousin, Doug Reed, who was Uncle John and Aunt Carolyn’s son writes the following memories of Gus.

I don’t remember the first time I met Gus. He was just so present in my life for my formative years. Our family moved back to Richmond, VA when I was about seven, and we spent quite a lot of time with my Mom’s sister Ruth. Gus was Aunt Ruth’s companion. In a family where respect for elders was strictly enforced, we were forbidden to address our Aunts and Uncles by first name only – “Aunt Ruth” always had to have the “Aunt” in front of it, despite the fact that she was such a familiar presence in our home. Gus was an exception. He was never “Uncle” Gus – he was pretty much the only adult we could address on a first name basis.

I remember him as a raconteur, telling stories around the dinner table – often hilariously off-color for our straight-laced household. He always included me in conversations, making my young self feel included in the foreign world of the adult’s table. I remember him sneaking me away from the dinner table and heading down to the basement for games of ping-pong. Gus had sharp reflexes, and I usually lost. Gus showed me how to put spin on the ball, twisting my wrist instead of just smacking the ball head-on. My ping-pong game improved after that, but he still usually beat me. He was a constant in our home for many years, coming to all of our Thanksgivings and Easter dinners. As a kid who enjoyed irreverent humor, I saw in Gus a kindred spirit. He was a man of good humor, with a smile for everyone he met. I am glad to have known him, and happy he found family and a home at the end of his life. 

On December 27, 2022 there was a Celebration of Life for Gus by youtube. Below is the link posted by Deanna Shrodes.

Celebration of Life Service for Gus Nick Nickolas

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