Godfather, 4438 Shoreline Drive

godfatherI am the youngest of four siblings, yet my memories have always gone back further than my sisters and brother. This is a painting of the house where I lived for my first six years (June 1955- June 1961). It still stands. The outside finishes and windows have been updated, but it is still the same tiny Dutch Colonial. It is almost totally obscured by trees on Google Earth.  When we lived there, those Google Earth shots would have been impossible! The place was literally crawling with children! (also skipping, jumping, climbing, hiding & seeking, chalk drawing, running,etc.) 1955 was the crest of the Baby Boom after all. Crystal Lake was across the street. That is where the Ericksons, Hostermans and DeLays lived.

Our house was at 4438 Shoreline Drive, Robbinsdale, 22, Minnesota. Postage stamps were 4 cents. Flags had 48 stars. Everybody liked Ike. Our phone number started with KEllogg 7. I knew all this when I was three. My earliest and most powerful memory was being held in the arms of my godfather, Gordon, when I was just two years old, in the dining room of that house. He was looking out the door to the screened-in porch. I remember the feel of his laugh, and that it was one of the few times I felt truly happy and safe in that house.

Not long after that party, Gordy committed suicide. It wasn’t clear that he intended to. There was no note. Gordy had the form of acrophobia that would cause him to have a strong urge to jump from open heights. I have it, too. It is actually an idea, seemingly hardwired in the brain, that the scariness of being on the precipice would be relieved, if one would only throw oneself on the wind and fly.  Gordy flew. His wings burned up like Icarus’ in the Sun.  I simply never saw Uncle Gordy again; never smelled that smell; never saw that smile; never felt that embrace; never felt that laugh again.

That’s me, in the red jumper, asleep in Gordy’s arms. My therapist asked me, yesterday, when I showed her this painting, “So safety must be a big concern for you. What do you do to make sure you are safe?”

I asked her if that was a trick question.

We had much tears. The fact of the matter is, I have had little consciousness of safety since we moved away from that house. First Gordy disappeared, then we moved away from the Ericksons.

When a man strung out on heroin pulled a gun on me, I was too numb to be afraid. My safety is not on my radar. It was beat out of me at an early age. I just calmly sized up the man, determined what his real motives were and helped him achieve them in a way that was best for everyone concerned. It involved me driving with a gun poked in my ribs for 17 miles, but he got into rehab not prison, and, as a side benefit, I got to live.

(If you want to purchase this painting, or others by me, visit www.shoutforjoy.net)



Oh, to be young again!

Or, in my case, for the first time. I spent most of my time as a child with adults, or at least older children. I would help my older sister with her homework. My brother took me to college when I was 13, got me drunk; and I still held my own in theological discussions with the divinity graduate students into the wee hours of the morning. I still remember the discussion nearly 50 years later! I was born old! This was not the case for Nebraska.

Even though Nebraska had had a pretty hard knock life so far, he remained childlike, cheerful, confident; just a downright happy guy and a joy to be around! We hosted Nebraska (yes, that is his real, first name) for a weekend in our home, while he was staying at Liberty House prison aftercare program in Schwenksville, PA, in 1986. I was Mennonite Chaplain and Volunteer Director with Liberty Ministries at the time and had helped reorganize the aftercare program there, after it had closed in Phila. Nebraska was one of the early residents. He was just 20, and had already been in prison. He had been raised in the foster care system.  Who knows if he actually committed a crime? He was a dark skinned, black youth. He was irrepressibly cheerful. That is enough to get one locked up in any number of towns and neighborhoods in Pennsylvania.

We had a great time with Nebraska. The one memory that sticks out is our trip to Ikea. We all went to Ikea together, all seven of us: Bethann and I, our four daughters and Nebraska. Now Bethann and I were about 30. The girls were 9 and under. In the store, we got a little spread out, but we could see each other. One or another of the girls would exclaim, “Mommy, come see!” or “Daddy, come see!” when they saw something they liked. Then Nebraska exclaimed, “Mommy! Mommy! Come see!” loud enough for the whole floor to hear, and they all watched Bethann answer. We have been tickled by that scene every time we have recalled it, in the 30 years since!

nebraskaWe don’t know what happened to Nebraska after that weekend. I was so busy overseeing over 500 volunteers in eight different jails and prisons and starting several tutoring and other programs. We never saw him again in prison or in aftercare, or on the street, so I’m taking that as a good sign. But I don’t know.

This I do know. Nebraska was not a thowaway. He was not a ‘taker’. He was, and hopefully still is, a beautiful human being, and our brother someplace.

I the mighty robin, am quite a feeble bird.

3playmatesMy playmates for the first six years of my life were my sister Sue Ann and our neighbor across the street, David Ericson. They were two years older than I was. I was the youngest of four in my family. David was the youngest of four in his family. There were other children in the neighborhood, but these were my closest friends and constant companions. Our family built a bigger house and moved two miles away in Golden Valley, MN, the summer between kindergarten and first grade, but we stayed in touch. We spent 4th of Julys together and got together around Christmas and did some other outings, as well. We ended up going to the same high school: Robbinsdale Senior High.

When we were little and playing cowboys and Indians, David always managed to get killed right outside his back door. He would lay there for a moment then he would get up and run into the kitchen  and pour some ketchup on his face and lie back down; you know, to add bloody realism. The next time we would come by, he would still be lying there, but he would be scraping the ketchup off with potato chips and eating them. You just can’t waste food like that! There were children starving in Africa.

I have written about the Ericsons before. David’s parents, Les and Lois prayed for our family daily and brought us kids to church whenever my folks didn’t go, and to vacation Bible school, to their little Bible church in North Minneapolis. Lois particularly prayed for me daily from the time she heard my mom was pregnant with me until the day she died just a couple of years ago. I played with David’s toys while he was in school and my mom was working for the 1960 Census. The Ericsons’ house was the safest place I knew as a child. Playing with David’s Lincoln Logs in the middle of the living room floor with Mrs. Ericson in the kitchen was as good as life could get.

David grew up to be a serious, well-mannered, Christian, young man. He graduated RHS, Class of 1971. He decided to take a year off to do a short term missionary assignment with Wickliffe Bible Translators, helping his sister and brother-in-law, Jim and Carol Daggett, in Peru, instead of starting college. While there, he was accompanying a young girl on a flight to Quito, to get to a hospital for an emergency surgery. It was Christmas Eve. The flight went down and we did not know for weeks of what had happened. Finally, we learned that only one German girl survived. The plane had broken up in mid air in a bad storm. Pieces of the fuselage had fallen from the sky. Her mother died in the seat next to her. She was carrying her wedding cake on her lap. That may have helped save her. A tribe of natives who were known to be cannibals took her in and treated her wounds. She was finally found and rescued. So we lost David. He died on a mission of mercy. He was Les and Lois Ericson’s only son. Later that year, each of his three married sisters gave birth to sons.

When I was little I would tag along with Sue Ann everywhere. Of course, she was trying to tag along with our older sister, Alison, much of the time, so there were times they were trying to lose me. By the time Sue was in junior high, we were tight. I was a couple of inches taller than she was. She would take me to the 7th grade dances. Some people would assume that I was her date. Others would assume I was her twin brother. I would dance with all her friends. The 7th grade boys just sat there. I was in 5th grade and I was dancing with 4 or 5 girls at a time. I would help her with her math homework. By the time I was in junior high, she and I helped replace the useless student council with a Student Service Organization. We both served on the executive council. We were involved in the musical together. I was the third Ozian general. Sue Ann did make up.

Sue Ann & I became the ones that people would call if they were depressed and considering suicide. We appeared to be so stable. We were not always successful. There were attempts. Sometimes I would drink half a can of root beer, fill it up with six ounces of Scotch and drink that, just to go to sleep at night, in 8th grade. We played hard, too. We snow skied and water skied together. Sue Ann would waterbike while I would swim three miles around the lake in the summer. We read all the works of Hermann Hesse together, sometimes by firelight in the basement, while listening to psychedelic music on the Magnavox. I helped her on her English papers. She was a perfectionist, and I used to read dictionaries and the thesaurus. I tend to remember everything I read. She joined the yearbook staff in her junior year. I secretly helped her with that, even some of the all-nighters. I was still in junior high. The next year they had a poetry contest for the yearbook. I submitted a bunch of poems. They wanted to include several. Sue Ann already had me secretly working on staff. They made an exception and made me the only sophomore on staff and limited my published poems to one short one. We had the most intense year working together. The book won national awards, including one of my spreads, for which I had done the writing and she had done the most ruthless editing. I must admit, it is her voice in my head, editing, when I write. It is a painful process, but I tend to be succinct. I am told that people appreciate my style, even if they don’t always agree with my content.

We were so busy with things in high school that I didn’t see David much apart from family gatherings. We were all very involved with different things, but enjoyed our times together when we did see each other. It hit us hard when we got the news of his plane crash and we were in touch with his family daily, when it happened.

In the Spring of my sophomore year in high school I joined a fundamentalist, Baptist church, getting re-baptized with the whole born again thing. I was as serious with that as I am with anything in my life. We had our arguments over that, but she stuck by me. I still pulled all-nighters with her and helped her write some of her English papers for college. I even helped one of her girlfriends write a theology paper. It was kind of funny at one point. She had a prof. at Augsburg who was the husband of my British Lit. II teacher at RHS. They compared notes. I said there was good reason why our styles were so similar. Sue Ann had taught me how to write. And I edited her papers. They had a good laugh over a glass of Chardonnay that night.

By the time I was 21, three of the 100 kids in my 6th grade class had committed suicide. One had killed his sister and his parents with him. Another six friends from junior high and high school were gone by the time I was 24.

Sue got married in 1974. Bethann and I got married in 1975. Our friendship continued. She introduced Bethann to Creative Circle and I learned all sorts of needle crafts to help build the sales presentations. We stayed in constant communication, even though we were in PA and she and Bucky were in MN. Then communication fell off and I got a call from my older sister, Ali, that Sue Ann had checked herself into a rehab for alcoholism and was wanting everyone in the family to seek treatment as well. She had started the process by trying to do an intervention on our dad. While she was in treatment, she accused him of doing unspeakable things to us as children. My sister, Ali, would call me, at night, and ask me if these things were possible. She started the first phone call by asking me what the color of the living room was in our house on Shoreline Drive. That was the house where I was born. Then she asked me what my earliest memory was. I told her it was being carried through the crowded dining room in that house by Uncle Gordy. Uncle Gordy died when I was 2-1/2. I have the longest, most reliable memory in the family. She wanted to know whether what Sue Ann was accusing our dad of were at all possible. I told her, absolutely not! Apparently Sue Ann had been subjected to that regression “therapy” and given suggestions of false memories.

So I read the books about adult children of alcoholics that Sue Ann sent. When we visited MN and stayed with Sue Ann’s family, we went to AA with her. They would all come out and start chain smoking as soon as the meeting was over. It was like they had traded one addiction for another, or maybe for two: AA and smoking. She was more obnoxious about us joining AA than I had ever been about her being born again. But turnabout being fairplay, our friendship tolerated it. Unfortunately, she did have an addictive personality and that was a foreshadowing. We were out to MN for my dad’s wedding in 1994, we stayed at her house. Late at night she and her girls were talking to our girls about some of their Young Life activities. She said I could take part in the conversation. I said that of course I could. She talked about how they went out “witnessing” with a Muslim and a Christian paired together. I asked, “How could that possibly work, since Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.'” She went ballistic. It was 0 to 70 with nothing in between. She was going to throw us out of the house then and there, on the edge of Minnetonka, at midnight, at about 0°, with no car, before cell phones. Bucky got involved. We came to a truce after he scored a few points. We got to stay the night and catch a ride to the train station the next day. She never spoke to me again. That was just five months after our mom had died. (I guess we exchanged pro forma Christmas cards for the sake of our children, after that.)

She told my dad a completely different  story about what happened that night, a total fabrication. He wrote me lambasting me about it, without hearing my side of the story. I was completely blind-sided, since what I was accused of was so outrageous. Bethann had been there. She was equally shocked. My dad and I had had a rocky relationship. This was part of why my sister and I had been so close. It was part of our protection. My dad had physically thrown me out of the house when I was just shy of 16 just for asking him if he wanted to listen to a gospel quartet; actually it was at the lake place in Wisconsin, at night. My mom came after me and said, “If he goes, I go.” My dad said, “B.J., You know that isn’t fair. I will take you, even with him.”

Way to make a fellow feel loved, dad.

So, when I got that letter, I had had enough of the ups and downs, of the manipulations and intrigues. So rather than explain myself, I wrote my dad a letter telling him that he obviously had no interest in the truth. He had already judged and condemned me. I reminded him that he was a lawyer and he had taught me better; that people were to be considered innocent until proven guilty. I told him I had just had enough. I wasn’t  going to play his games any more. I would grieve for him now. I didn’t want to hear about it when he died. So I lost my mom, my sister and my dad, in the space of six months. I did wonder why my dad believed her implicitly, after that which she had previously accused him. Later, I did try to reconcile with him, but he would have none of it.

In late 2002, I got the call from my sister, Ali, that Sue Ann had been found dead. I’m glad she got a hold of me before I checked my email with the subject line “Regarding my sister’s death” from my brother, who was too cheap to call. I flew out for her funeral. It took my sister, Ali, and I several months to uncover that she had committed suicide by a drug cocktail. My dad had told my brother and brother-in-law and the kids to keep it a secret. Sue had become addicted to gambling and had embezzled money from her boss. Her boss had just called her to talk about this. She had just separated from her husband. It was her old girlfriends from college that had the super unlock her apartment after she missed their dinner date, who discovered her.

It was just so awfully sad. I wish we had not fallen out so badly. I am not sure why I am writing this now. I just know that I love my sister. She was a wonderful person. She was a wonderful and creative mother. She was beautiful and talented. She had painted herself into a corner and couldn’t see any good way out. She should not have been alone with her illness.

So my earliest playmates have been gone for some time now. This month is Robbinsdale School District’s all year, all high school reunion and my class’s 40 year reunion. I can’t afford to go. The people I most would want to see are all dead. This is not where I thought I would be.

I just remember being so much happier and four and saying, “Alison, can you help Sue Ann and me cross the street so we can play with David?”


Rent Party at Charming House

charming gateWhen a realtor describes a house as charming, we have four words of advice: RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! Our house is charming. It is possibly the oldest house in town. The new part was built in 1845 to be the hotel for the railroad when it came through. The last owner was an Irish woodworker. He did some lovely work on the trim. He made a nice back door and beautiful window over the kitchen sink. Why he used single pane glass is beyond me. He restored the hardware to period. He did level the floor in one of the rooms. He made it into one house out of three tiny apartments. (sort of) It still had three electric meters with two wire, knob and tube and old romex to much of the house.

The oil burner was on its last. The old iron pipes to the upstairs bathroom were mostly occluded. The drains weren’t much better, but the switch plates had fairies and waterlilies on them. The wood trim in the kitchen has charming little crosses drilled in it. I have basically replaced the heat system, the plumbing and the electrical service. I am working on rewiring, bit by bit, sorting out the mess. I won’t even start on the shape of the barn. But they say the value of real estate is mainly location. It is a great location.

We were rebuilding the barn to make the ministry and the business more efficient. Then I got sick. That messed everything up. There have been a series of setbacks. Bishop Thomas really wants to see a team of college kids come here to help finish the barn. I don’t know how that is going to happen. Bethann lost her job last summer. We have to pay for Cobra health insurance out of pocket. That takes more than her Unemployment Compensation. We had the court case against the city to keep the ministry going. that put the business on hold and hurt the business. We were both sick around Christmas, so that hurt the business. I was very sick last month, so that hurt the business again. We are on the verge of being able to make some major progress in helping the homeless in Philadelphia, if we had a basic facility there and could be full time working at that, instead of being distracted by the icon business. At the same time, we are on the verge of possibly losing our house, losing our current base of operations, and joining the ranks of the homeless ourselves.

So we are making an appeal.

We are having a rent party this Saturday evening, March 16, starting at 6:30. Since it is Cheesefare Sunday next week, we will be serving vegetarian chili, “Tender Hearted Shepherd’s Pie” (vegan), some cheese and veggies, chips and dip, dessert, etc. The $10 cover charge includes the food and soft drinks. Beer and wine will be available for additional donations. If you want to play an instrument to add to the festivities, please make it unplugged. Kevin Paige is bringing his guitar and his keyboard and his great talents to make music. We are hoping that the Ackers will favor us with some music as well. We are clearing out the furniture, so if you want to dance, you may.

We live at:
27 North Front St.  (in the middle of beautiful downtown)
Souderton, PA 18964

Call or email to let us know if you plan to attend, so we know how much food and drink to prepare.
phone: 267:497-0267
cjoseph@shoutforjoy.us  (If you can’t attend, but want to help, you can Paypal gifts to this email. If it is designated as a gift from one Paypal account to another, neither one is charged fees. Thanks! God bless you!)

Here is the link to RSVP on Facebook.

It’s a cheap date for a good cause. We are going to try to have green beer in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Hey, I was tickled that the first one to RSVP to say that he was coming was Philly rock legend Kenn Kweder! Please come join the fun.

Faux Mashed Potatoes?

I read an article in the Reader’s Digest about a better approach to nutrition and weight management about a new book by Gary Taubes, Why We Get Fat – And What to Do About It. He advocates a modified Atkins style diet which limits carbohydrates, but does not limit fiber, protein and fat. It is an especially good approach to managing diabetes and, as it turns out, reduces blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health. In one of the sidebars, was an example of a day’s possible food intake. One of the items on his dinner menu was “faux mashed potatoes” made from cauliflower, sour cream and bacon. Well I have been looking for more recipes that are diabetic friendly, so I bought two heads of cauliflower at Produce Junction. Then I Googled “faux mashed potatoes.” Several recipes came up. I chose one, then looked at the ingredients that we had and used it as a very loose guide. I think I am discovering how my mom, B.J., really cooked. She would always deflect when she got raves on her cooking, with “If you can read, you can cook.” But anyone who followed the same recipe she said she had used would not come up with anything quite like she had made. She collected cookbooks like crazy. I think she would mine them for ideas, then get creative with the ingredients she had available. I’m discovering that good cooking is less like science and more like jazz.

The advantages of substituting cauliflower for potatoes are that you end up with a much lower carb intake and you raise your intake of dietary fiber and cruciferous vegetables. Of course, it’s hard to eat healthy if it isn’t tasty. All of us loved this. Hilary even told me that I could make that again! So here is my recipe for mashed cauliflower. You can follow it or read it, then improvise.


2 small heads of cauliflower (~6-1/2″ across)
~ 1/2 cup celery root diced to 1/4″ cubes
4 Tablespoon butter
~ 1/2 cup sour cream
~ 1/2 cup milk (more or less depending on how wet you like your mashies)
1/4 teaspoon Vegesal (or your preferred seasoning)


Cut up the cauliflower into ~ 1″ pieces including the stems, but not any green leaves. Dice the celery root. Boil the cauliflower and celery root for about 20 minutes (until fork tender). Drain them in a colander, pressing down with a small plate or bowl to extract more of the water. Throw it all into a food processor along with the butter, sour cream and Vegesal. Process it until it is fairly smooth. Leaving the processor on, add some of the milk. Test it for consistency and flavor. Add more milk and/or seasoning and chop it in until it meets your desired consistency and flavor. Serve.

Enjoy! It will serve six to eight. The leftovers microwave nicely.

New Icon Corner

Bright CornerI finally finished our new icon corner. The two things in a house that a man should make himself, even if he makes nothing else, are the front door and a proper bright corner. A bright corner is a special place for prayer for the family. It is called the bright corner because it faces the rising sun and because it is where the icons are. Icons are windows to heaven, hence “bright”. It is either in a corner or along a wall, if possible toward the East. As Orthodox Christians, we face East to pray, because Christ was called the Sun of Righteousness in Malachi 4:2. We orient (face East) toward the rising sun as we anticipate Christ’s second coming in glory.

The bright corner is where morning, noon and evening prayers are said. There are many variations on the bright corner. Ours is not to be taken as typical or normative, but it works for us. Our bright corner is in the East corner of our den. There is a Cross on the wall near the corner. To its left is an icon of the Theotokos. To its right is an icon of Christ. This is the same basic arrangement as the iconostasis at church. This immediately connects us to church. Next to the Theotokos is an icon of the Conception of the Theotokos showing Ss. Joachim and Ann embracing. My wife, Bethann, has St. Ann for her patron. To the right Christ is the Epitaphios, because St. Joseph of Arimathea is my patron and it was the Burial Service and Lamentation Matins that really converted everyone in our family. Around this central cluster are arranged, in no particular order, icons of the patron Saints of our children, grandchildren, godparents, parents, godchildren, a couple of good friends, nieces, great nieces & great nephews. Some icons do double or triple duty as multiple people share the same patron. We chose to do it this way so our bright corner forms a very visual, permanent prayer list. As we see each person’s patron Saint we are reminded to pray for him or her and ask for their Saint’s intercession as well.

A vigil lamp is hanging from the ceiling, in front of the Cross and the icons of Christ and the Theotokos. This is to honor them. It also calls us to prayer. Our lamp was made by Nick Papas. The icon of St. Nicholas is on our wall as it his his patron and one of Fr. Bonifaces’s patrons, as well.

What I just made, was the cabinet below the icons and lamp. It is made of no VOC melamine from recycled materials, no VOC wheatstraw board, locally harvested and milled poplar bead board and stone tile. This was my first attempt at stone tile installation. Some of the tiles are partly upended. This is to form a plate rail to hold festal icons and prayer cards. The back boards are engraved with daylilies. I took a photograph of one of our daylily blooms and my neighbor and I used his Shopbot to carve it into these boards. There are open spaces around the daylily medallions so we can use 12 Gospels ribbons to tie palms and willows to the icon corner during Great Week.

I chose the daylily motif, because it is especially meaningful to us. This is an excerpt from an entry that I wrote on shoutforjoy.net:

Daylilies are amazing. They put forth a beautiful bloom and it is gone in a day, only to be replaced the next day with another glorious bloom. Jesus told us to consider the lilies of the field in order to encourage us to have faith in God’s provision for us. This in turn is to encourage us to share what God blessed us with today with others, knowing that God will have new blessings for us tomorrow.

Daylily Detail

To be reminded of this as we say our daily prayers is encouraging.

On top of the icon corner are a candlestick, an incense burner, a prayer book, a box containing charcoal and matches. In the top compartment of the cabinet is a box of incense, a lighter, a New Testament, a Festal Menaion (hymns and prayers for the 12 major feasts), a service book and a supply of wicks for the oil lamp. We burn incense in our home as this also calls us to prayer. Incense is present in every prophetic vision of Heaven and was used in the Tabernacle and the Temple and has always been used in the Church. It is always associated with prayer. Using all of our senses in worship and prayer helps us to focus on eternal priorities.

The lower shelves of the cabinet holds other spiritual books and festal icons.

Of course, it does not matter how beautiful or well appointed a bright corner is, if no one stands before it to pray. Lord, teach us to pray!

“Crazy is as crazy does.”

A painting from memory of Brad, acrylic on canvas 11"x14" by Cranford Coulter
A painting from memory of Brad, acrylic on canvas 11″x14″ by Cranford Coulter

After serving on the street tonight with The King’s Jubilee, I had occasion to recall a homeless man, Brad, whom I met almost twenty years ago on a similar late spring evening. He was under 25, white, of slight build, literate. He had just found himself homeless. His mom had moved in with her boyfriend and there was no room for him. His dad had disappeared several years before. Brad was afraid of what might happen to him on the streets. Nothing in his life had prepared him for this. He felt completely vulnerable.

The next week, Brad came to eat with us again. This time, he was all disheveled and he was talking to himself and arguing with himself the whole time he was in the line. I was able to speak with him privately after everyone had eaten and the crowd had dispersed. He told me that a couple of the old hands on the street told him that the number one rule of the street is that you never mess with a crazy person. So he decided to start acting crazy as a defense, so nobody would mess with him. He learned to survive and cope on the street. I tried to direct him to programs that might help him get off the street, but space was very limited, and he didn’t fit into any of the usual categories.

After a few months, Brad stopped coming by to eat with us. A few more months passed and he showed up again. He was acting like a full-blown, psychotic, paranoid schizophrenic or someone on a very bad trip. The problem was he wasn’t acting anymore. He had fully inhabited the role he had chosen and had forcibly driven himself crazy; like method acting gone terribly wrong. I still see him from time to time. Some nights he is better than others. Instead of the frightened young man, he is now a quite aggressive 40 something man and is quite direct in asking for or demanding what he wants. It reminds me of a program I heard on the radio about bullies. A psychologist described aggression as preemptive fear.

The irony with Brad is that his crazy behavior is not irrational. On one level, it has served him well. He is still alive after spending almost 20 years on the street, because no one messes with a crazy person.

He fixed a flat and served mankind.

The first time I helped to change a flat tire was when I was not yet ten years old. The whole family was in the station wagon on a lonely two lane road in the middle of Minnesota, on our way to a lake. A car was stopped on the side of the road with a flat, left, rear tire. The woman driving the car was just starting to try to figure out how to change her flat tire. This was long before the days of GPS and cell phones. My dad pulled over to offer assistance. He then backed the car up so that we were behind the lady’s car, so our headlights could help us see. He proceeded to change the tire, instructing my brother and me on how to properly foot the jack and remove the nuts while the tire still has contact with the ground. My brother, Tom, who is six years older got to help pump the jack and loosen the nuts. I was in charge of stowing the nuts in the hubcap. 

After the tire was changed and the jack and damaged tire secured properly in the trunk of the lady’s car, she thanked us and offered my dad payment of ten dollars. This was the early 1960s, so that would translate to be about $50 or $60 in today’s money. My dad thanked her, but told her to keep her money. I was just a little kid, so any paper money was a big deal. I couldn’t imagine turning it down. She insisted that my dad accept it. He firmly told her no thanks, and added, “The way you will pay me back is the next time you see someone in need and you are able to help, you will help them out.” When we got back in the car he repeated the conversation for my sisters to hear. He stressed that everyone is in need sometime, so if you hope to be helped in an emergency, you need to always do what you can when the opportunity presents itself. That was probably the most important life lesson my dad ever taught me.  

This was not the only time he taught this lesson. It was repeated by example countless times and by words a few. But this was the time it stuck with me. 

(Since then, I learned that stowing the lug nuts in the wheel cover is not always a good plan. If you step on the edge of the wheel cover, it acts like a catapult launching them in unpredictable directions.)


Charles Robert Coulter
Charles Robert Coulter | August 15, 1924 - February 24, 2009

Charlie was the baby of his family, the youngest of four siblings born to Mae Wise Coulter and “Freeman” Joseph Coulter.