Saturday, February 6, 2016

Memories of My Pa

February 1, 2015 marks my father’s 100th birthday.  It’s odd how normal life seems without someone when you have never met them, but once a person enters your life you can’t imagine life without them. The depth one life brings to another leaves an irreplaceable mark. Fortunately for me I knew Jack Shaw from the minute I was born. Although I only knew him for 37 of the 79 years he was alive, his love, guidance, and sense of humor are constantly with me. I feel so blessed to have known him and to be his daughter. Here are some of my favorite stories and memories of my life with him:

When I was a teenager my parents were in their 50’s and 60’s and close to retirement. Every night before I went to bed I would go into their room to say goodnight. They were almost always both asleep and snoring under a newspaper or book that had dropped as they nodded off. I would go to each side of the bed,  take off their glasses, turn off their lights, put their book or newspaper on the nightstand, and give them a kiss. When I went to Dad’s side of the bed to do this nightly ritual he would invariably wake with a start and start scolding me for taking his glasses. I would settle him down by telling him that it was night and it was time for him to sleep. He would calm right down, roll over and go to sleep. 

He loved telling stories about his experiences of the day. I can picture him sitting in the green and gold chair in the corner of the living room with his head thrown back and laughing as he told a story about an encounter he had in his dealings with someone along the way or one of his adventures with the grandkids. I loved how he got so much joy out of looking at daily life through the lens of his sense of humor.

He loved to tease. My friends were always a little scared of him and he loved that. When someone would call on the phone and ask for one of his daughters he would say, “Is this a girl or a boy?” This was his way of letting any male suitor know that he had his eye on them. 

Dad wanted to be identified as a man of the wilderness, not as a city dude. He had me call him Pa instead of Dad and he gave himself the nickname of “Charlie Chopperwood.” When mom would have her school friends up to the farm for dinner, he would tell me that we needed to help these “city dudes” ride a horse. He hated motorcycles and had me believe they were the handiwork of the devil. He professed that mountains and trails were made for horses and breathing deeply -- they were not made as as a playground for noisy thrill seekers or as an overflow for rich city slickers to inhabit and dominate.

He and I were over at Grandma & Grandpa Shaw’s while somebody (probably his brother, Uncle Grant, or his Aunt Florence & Uncle Slim, Grandma’s youngest sister and her husband) was visiting. Even though I was probably only four years old, I can vividly remember him holding me and telling everyone, “This poor little girl doesn’t have a daddy. She only has an Uncle Charlie who lives with her mom.” Everybody laughed, but I didn’t get the joke at all. 

Going Christmas tree shopping was a big deal. First of all, we had to convince Dad that it really would be okay to let someone chop down a tree in the forest so we could put a tree in our house for a few weeks and then throw it out. Once we finally got him to agree that a tree was a good idea, we spent what seemed like hours looking for a tree. Most people look for a tree that looks just right, but we looked to identify EVERY tree on the lot. Not only did we have to prove to him that we knew the difference between a pine, a fir, and a spruce, we had to take it one step further and identify the name of each species of pine, fir or spruce.  By the time the whole ordeal was over I was cold and tired, but happy to have anything!  

We had what was called the “summer menu,” which was: 
Sheepherder potatoes (potatoes, onions, and bacon cooked in Dutch ovens);
Swiss steak (ground steak covered in mushroom soup and cooked in the Dutch oven);
Cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions swimming in sweetened vinegar.  

Mom prepared it all at home in Ogden and Dad cooked it on the fire at the farm. This is what they fixed almost every time they entertained at the farm. Those city dudes thought Pa’s potatoes were out of this world! As often as we had the summer menu, I never got tired of it.

The two of us had a battle that went on almost every morning. His job was to get me fed and out the door for school. My job was to be as grumpy and miserable as I could be. He won because I was at school every day with a full stomach, and I won because despite all talking-tos and bribes, I never gave in and smiled. It took me a lot of years and self-discipline to learn to be pleasant in the morning and to see that my attitude made us all losers in that game.

I often got math answers wrong because I wasn’t very good at memorizing my addition facts or times tables, but I was pretty good at understanding the concepts. When Dad helped me with my math, he would be so patient and encourage me. I don’t think calm and patient would be the words that most of my siblings would use to describe Dad while he was doing math homework with his children, but that’s how he was with me. He would always tell me how good I was at it and that I caught on easier than the older kids. It left me with a sense of capability and a feeling that math wasn’t bigger than I was. Even though I still use my fingers to add, I never think that I might not be good at math. I’m very grateful to Pa for this.

I made egg salad by taking hard-boiled eggs and grating them very fine with a chocolate grater. I loved turning the crank on this rarely used tool, then adding mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip) and salt. When Dad ate one of my egg salad sandwiches he would rave and go on and on about how I was the only one he knew who could make an egg salad sandwich that good. I felt so special, like there was something I could do that no one else could.

There aren't words to describe how grateful I am to have been influenced by this great man and to feel his spirit near me. I believe in a life hereafter and that we will literally be reunited once again. But for now remembering and sharing these experiences brings him to life once again for me and passes down his legacy to his posterity. I love being a link in this chain. 

Anita Wiggins
February 1, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

The First Law of the Wilderness

My cousins, the Larkins, had a cabin a little ways up a dirt road from our cabin. One evening I was up playing with Janie Larkin while my dad and other family members were down at our end of the property working on projects and getting ready to go for a horseback ride.

As it got later in the evening the Larkins were ready to go. On their way home they drove me down the road to our cabin, where I hopped out of the car, and then they continued on their way.

But when I looked around I couldn’t find anyone! I went to the barn and I could tell that Dad and the others had gone on the horses.  My seven years of life hadn’t prepared me to be alone in the mountains and I was scared to death! I took off running down the road screaming and bawling like a wild child.  I thought maybe my dad had gone to George Handy’s, his friend who had a cabin not too far away. When I got to his property I charged down his dirt road howling hysterically for my Dad.

Lucky for my sake, Dad was there. He immediately got off his horse and hugged me while I cried and cried. Once I settled down he got back on his horse and put me in front of him, straddling the saddle’s biscuit.  Then he proceeded to tell me that the first law of the wilderness is don’t panic. 

We rode all the way home with him saying, “What is the first law of the wilderness?” and me replying back, between deep, shaky, post-hysteria breaths, “Don’t panic.” This exchange happened at least ten times as I sat on the back of a horse in the safety of my dad’s arms. 

I learned my lesson well and it has served me ever since. There have been many times (for example a major earthquake, losing my six-year-old at a water park, our Christmas tree falling over a few hours before a party, and a mountain bike accident that put my husband in the hospital for seven days) when most people around me were freaking out while I was calm and collected. I was prepared to do what needed to be done with a clear mind. I instinctively knew that adding more frenzy to an already tumultuous situation wouldn’t help anyone.

I attribute the quality I possess of composure amidst turbulence directly to this experience with my dad. I am so fortunate to have been schooled in the laws of the wilderness, on the back of a horse, by Jack Shaw.

It just doesn’t get better than that!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bitten by Forgiveness

In my first year as a preschool teacher there was an incident where one child, Brett, was biting his friend Ryan almost every day. I did everything I could think of to get him to stop. My “time outs” and his mother working with him at home helped temporarily, but invariably, Ryan would again fall prey to Brett’s teeth. 

I focused a lot on working with Brett to change his behavior. But I didn’t realize I was only dealing with half the problem until Ryan’s mother came to me and told me she didn’t feel good about leaving her son at school when he came home with teeth marks adorning his arm day after day. I was so focused on Brett and teaching appropriate behavior that I was oblivious to the pain Ryan was tolerating every time Brett sank his teeth into Ryan’s flesh.

As soon as my eyes were open to Ryan’s plight, Brett was asked to leave the program. It was tough for everyone, but it was obvious that one child’s learning couldn’t override the safety of others. I learned that there is a point where a classroom management issue becomes a safety issue. Ryan and Brett taught me where that line is.

Ryan’s mom came to me to find out what she needed to do to make sure her son was protected while he was at school. Her purpose was not to let me know that I was a horrible teacher, even though her son was not being taken care of properly while he was in my care. 

Because of her kindness, I was left with my self-worth and confidence still intact as I learned my lesson. As painful as it was, this incident made me a much better and empathetic teacher for every child I taught from that time forward. I’m sorry I had to learn my lesson at Ryan’s expense.

I saw Ryan’s mom again nine years later. She was happy to see me and was surprised that I remembered her. The truth is, I think of her every time I hear someone badmouth a teacher.  I’ll never forget the generosity and kindness she displayed when the interaction could have been so hostile.

We all make mistakes that affect those around us.  What a blessing it was for me that day to have forgiveness offered to me instead of condemnation. Ryan’s mother showed me that seeing people through eyes of love and innocence is one of the most humane gifts we can give another person, whether it is a member of our family, a complete stranger or someone in-between.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In my writing class we were given a challenge where we all wrote the first paragraph of a story and then gave that paragraph to someone else to finish the story. This is what I wrote from the paragraph that my friend Pat gave to me.

                                   Tasmanian Devil

Anne Marie described her 2½-year-old granddaughter, Betsy, as a Tasmanian devil. I started laughing at her on the phone and told her that was quite an interesting description. “Why do you call her that?” I asked.

“For starters,” Anne Marie began, “Whenever Betsy is up to something and sees her mother coming, she automatically starts saying, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.’

“Last week my daughter-in-law, Angie and Betsy went to the grocery store. When they got home, Angie took Betsy out of her car seat, carried her into the house and started unloading bags from the car. She was bringing in her third load of groceries when she heard ‘sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.’ Looking at where the ‘sorries’ were coming from, she saw Betsy sitting with an empty egg carton and 18 broken eggs splattered all around the kitchen.”

I couldn’t contain my laughter as I pictured this mess. And . . . I was thrilled that the scene wasn’t unfolding in my kitchen.

“That’s not all,” Anne Marie continued, “later, that same day, Angie put Betsy down for a nap. Two hours later when Angie went to check on her, Betsy was sitting in the middle of a massive pile of toys dumped on a blanket in the middle of the room. With a huge grin on her face she declared, ‘I made a boat!’ It took Angie and Betsy over half an hour to return every last Lego and piece of play food back to its proper place.”

“I remember when my kids used to do things like that. The playroom looked like a bomb blew up in Toys R Us,” I teased back.

“Then to top it all off, less than a week later, Angie was reading the kids a bedtime story. Betsy got bored and started wandering. Even though her mother called her back she kept going, ending up in the kitchen where she found a strange yellow object on the counter. It turned out to be a 10-pound kettlebell that Angie uses as part of her exercise routine. Thirty-five-inches of Betsy couldn’t reach it very well, but through sheer determination and persistence she maneuvered it to the edge of the counter where it promptly fell on Betsy’s big toe. Blood and tears infused the peaceful bedtime ritual. The rest of the evening was spent at Urgent Care getting x-rays and bandages.

“We thought maybe the run-in with the kettlebell would teach her a lesson about being obedient, but the very next day when Angie went into Betsy’s room she heard ‘sorry, sorry, sorry.’ Betsy was putting the finishing touches on her latest piece of art – scribbled on the bedroom wall. Angie was fit to be tied.”

By this time I was laughing hysterically. “I like that kind of kid.” I said, “I love to be entertained by them, but I’m always glad when they go home in someone else’s car! Good luck, Grandma!” 

~Anita Wiggins November 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kitchen Gremlins

 I remember liking everything my mom cooked except liver & onions and stuffed zucchini. You’ll likely never find liver & onions on the list of options to eat at my house (for obvious reasons), and it wasn’t until after thirty-six years of cooking for my family and a love for gardening that I even attempted to make stuffed zucchini (which, by the way was delicious).

I, like most gardeners, have experienced the bittersweet dilemma of what to do with a plethora of summer squash. Zucchini bread is delicious with its sweet taste and little flecks of green, but that only takes care of one or two squash.
A dish my children named “Gremlin” was a favorite at our house. I make it by taking the summer squash and grating it fine in the food processor. Next I stir-fry it with a little olive oil and garlic; then top it off with grated cheese. It got the name Gremlin from a popular eighties movie with the same name. In this movie the little monster-like gremlin gets chopped up in the food processor where it is hiding. Watching me make this side dish reminded the kids of that scene from the movie – hence, the name Gremlin for zucchini smothered in cheese.

I make something else that has no name but delights my taste buds every time I eat it. I start with an onion cut length wise into slivers (toe nails, according to my kids, but I won’t go there), sautéed in a little coconut oil and garlic. Once the onion is translucent and starts to brown, I add sliced yellow and green summer squash. Next come fresh mushrooms and the whole thing cooks just until the squash is tender and the mushrooms are soft. The final touch is a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan cheese to top it all off.

It’s a mystery to me why every time I eat this I’m so thrilled with my creation and why it never seems to get old or boring. I don’t know if it’s the fact that the majority of the ingredients I have nurtured from seed, or if I just like how it all tastes together, but I do love it.

It’s amazing how delicious simple ingredients can taste when put together with love, humor, and fond memories.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Naked Truth

He was little (3 years old, 35 pounds). She was big (85 years old, 225 pounds). He was with his baby sitter (he called her Sitter). She was taking a bath in her personal space (she called it home). He was helping dust in the hall. She was dashing naked from the bathroom to her bedroom. He saw her. She didn’t see him. He was devastated. She was oblivious. She got into bed. He cried, and said, “Sitter, I didn’t want to see that bum.”

How many times in life do we see things we don’t want to see, or do things we wish we hadn’t done? It seems like the more we try to forget them and push them away, the deeper they become tattooed in our brains. Let me explain.  

Recently I had a school assignment to go through my whole life and make peace with my past. As I dug around in my storage of memories and heartache, I found myself finding things I wished had never happened.

My baby brother died when I was two years old. Watching my parents deal with death was confusing and left me with many misunderstandings about how to relate to the world.

I had a terrible time learning how to spell, read and do math. This set me up with a habit of learned helplessness and a view of myself as having no talents.

My teachers didn’t know how to deal with my learning style. Some of my schoolmates teased me, were unkind and made fun of me. This left me feeling unworthy and worthless.

As a mother, I yelled at my kids when I should have held them close. Sometimes I held them close when I should have yelled at them. I got into their business when I should have stayed out. I stayed out of things that I should have paid attention to.

I took my husband for granted, wasn’t always nice, and didn’t acknowledge he even had needs. I spent money carelessly and blamed him for not controlling money –  or me –  better.

I spent more time than I want to admit caught in a vortex of depression spiraling down as I fought to get out.

I don’t like to have gone through these things; to have had these things done to me, and to have done these things to others. I wonder why I had to go through all that?

Having come through those experiences, I am now beginning to understand their purposes and the valuable lessons they provide. 

For example, I experienced the death of my baby brother at a very early age. I didn’t understand it, nor did I have the maturity to deal with it at the time, so I built up a defense of arrogance and hiding my light. This arrogance and hiding has been keeping a very tender and sweet part of my life and has kept me safe until I grew and matured to a point where I could let down my defenses and process the death of a loved one.

Early on I recognized that things are never as bad as they seem. As a result, I have been blessed to be calm in the midst of chaos.

I have discovered that there are many ways to learn. The human mind is amazing at adapting and finding ways around obstacles and challenges. By being patient and not giving up, I have seen miracles unfold. Giving a person the love and space to develop at their own rate and in their own timing is one of the most loving gifts anyone can receive. 

Although being a wife and mother has been a very painful experience for me at times, it has been a necessary experience for me to understand choice, taking authority over my life, and connecting to God. These difficult times are what made me know that I wanted something different and gave me the motivation to find a new way of doing things.

When I take my view and my truth as the only truth, I have no options. When I see my truth as the truth according to me, then I can change “my truth” and try something I like better. When I project my insecurities onto other people, I am a victim of them and I live a life that is lonely and separate. Not taking personal responsibility for my thoughts, my beliefs, my actions, and my life creates unnecessary pain and suffering.  A life with no place to turn and no God, is Hell on earth.

As I take the time and effort to see the blessings and lessons that are available to me in the seemingly unbearable incidences of life, my perspective changes. The seemingly bitter becomes important and a valuable part of life.

I think this must be true for everyone. Making a shift in attitude and perspective transforms distressing experiences into valuable memories.

With that understanding, a little boy  who saw a fat, old, naked lady, instead of being devastated, might laugh and say, “Holy Cow, Sitter, did you see that bum!?”  

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Today God told me I was anorexic-like.

He said He sees a magnificent, powerful being who is scared to death of own her power. “You’re like an anorexic that wants to be healthy, but refuses to look in the mirror and see the truth. You are like someone who is dying to feel good, vibrant, and healthy, but only sees fat and refuses to eat food – the very thing that would bring her what she wants.”

So, I ask myself, what would someone with anorexia need to hear? Eat! Can’t you see you are killing yourself? With you in control of your life, your body will die. What would the anorexic person answer back? If I eat and let you control me by living my life the way you want me to live it, my body will live, but my spirit will die.

No, what the anorexic person needs to hear is: You can choose for yourself. If you choose to continue controlling by refusing to eat, you will get the consequences that come with that choice, and I will love you. If you choose to do what you are told and let the outside world make your decisions, you will get the consequences that come with that choice, and I will love you.

Your freedom lies somewhere between control and being controlled.

Right now, you are at a point where you are beginning to see the choice. The choice is yours – Do you want to be in control and have your body die? Do you want to be controlled and have your spirit die? There is another way – stepping into faith and trust, co-creating, with God, radiant health, vitality and peace.

Be patient with yourself. Don’t worry if you volley back and forth for a while; you have never been here like this before. I love you. You are brave. You are strong. However you do this is just right for you. I am with you. Trust, have faith and let your spirit come alive through your beautiful body.

Truly, choice is before me as I have never seen it before. I am free to have faith and to trust God and myself as I dream and plan, making choices that make me feel powerful and magnificent. Or I can continue to refuse to deal with myself patiently as I wade through the mountain of resistance and pain I may face whenever I commit to a plan of action or structure that is the foundation for what I want.

Seen this way, the choice is easy. There is nothing I want more than to co-create with God a joyful, powerful and magnificent life.  And there is nothing I want more than to develop the attributes that are mine as I let go of fears and old hurt and stop insisting that I am broken.