Remembering the saints who nurtured me

11/1/2011

Gathering for a celebration of Orvis and Joan Berg’s 40th wedding anniversary in 1985 are Thomas Berg (left), Barbara Dunlap-Berg (second from right) and Deb Sypersma (far right). A web-only photo courtesy of Barbara Dunlap-Berg.Gathering for a celebration of Orvis and Joan Berg’s 40th wedding anniversary in 1985 are Thomas Berg (left), Barbara Dunlap-Berg (second from right) and Deb Sypersma (far right). A web-only photo courtesy of Barbara Dunlap-Berg.

I have faint recollections of All Saints Day when I was growing up. I was raised LCA, but the Lutheran version of All Saints Day was much the same as the United Methodist faith I adopted as an adult. The pastor read the names of church members and family members who had died during the past year, and we lit a little candle for each of them.

I guess I’m all grown up now. My dad died in September 2006, Mom on Easter 2010 and my big brother, Tom, this past July.

So it is that on this All Saints Day, I remember loving parents who went with us to church every Sunday. If we traveled out of town, we visited another Sunday school class, had the teacher sign the Sunday school leaflet and took it back to our church so we could continue our perfect-attendance records. My siblings and I often remarked that we were easy children to raise, but I think our parents deserve all the credit. They expected us to turn out OK, and we did.

Dad, who dropped out of eighth grade during the Great Depression but could have sailed through college under different circumstances, was Sunday school superintendent, a church trustee and, always, an usher. He and other saints of the church — Ray and Bert and others whose names I’ve forgotten — shared their handyman skills to build an elevator for the “old people,” which they eventually became, and others who had trouble navigating the mountain of steps to the sanctuary. Dad had a quick wit and never met a stranger. He loved tinkering with old cars, and he and Bert restored a battered old paddy wagon to perfection. Children gravitated toward him, and he was a grandfather and great-grandpa extraordinaire.

Mom was a nurturer. The youngest of six children, she cared for her husband and three children as well as a host of older relatives who needed rides to the grocery, the doctor and church. She was a Cub Scout den mother, which I thought amazing when I accompanied her, my brother and his friends on various field trips. The most memorable one was to the city jail. I guess it was an early version of “Scared Straight.” It worked for me! Mom taught the preschool Sunday school class before today’s all-in-one copiers. Many a Saturday night, I traced simple pictures of the Good Samaritan and the Lost Sheep for the littler kids to color. One of my favorite memories is singing in passable harmony with her and my sister as we washed and dried the dishes every evening.

My brother Tom died much too soon and suddenly — at age 64. Two years ahead of me in school, he walked me to kindergarten and tried not to let it embarrass him. We were blessed to live in a neighborhood full of kids, and there was never a dull moment. He played the saxophone and was in a combo that excelled at the 1961 hit “Ja-da, Ja-da, Jing, Jing, Jing.” That may be the only song they knew, but they knew it well. Tom loved TV and was a master of words, so it was no wonder he ended up with a Ph.D. in mass communications. He taught on the college level for more than three decades, was a great dad to his son, Jason, and a mentor to many young adults. His puns were legendary, and his hearty laugh and ready smile were a staple of our family gatherings. We miss him so much.

Today I honor Dad, Mom, Tom — and many others who influenced my life. Miss Koontz, my third-grade teacher, who said I was a good writer. Mrs. Bankson and Mrs. Moline, my Brownie Scout leaders, who helped us make bubble-bath decanters for our moms for Christmas. Mrs. Newman, my favorite Sunday school teacher. Our neighbor, Dorothy Getty, who made lunch for my siblings and me when Mom went to work outside the home. And the list goes on … and on … and on.

I am surrounded by saints, the great cloud of witnesses of which we read in Hebrews 12:1. They are my family, my church community, my co-workers, my neighbors and people I may never meet. I thank God for every one of them.

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or newsdesk@umcom.org.