My Mom is my Hero

My Mom is my hero. She recently celebrated her 80th year walking Planet Earth. Her journey hasn’t always been an easy one. Truthfully, it has been filled with extreme difficulties starting with fleeing her childhood home ahead of the advancing Russian Red Army. She hadn’t turned six years old before she watched her mother and grandmother pack up their belongings–except for the valuables they’d buried in the backyard–and attempt to catch a train to Berlin. By the time she turned seven, she had survived a World War. She was a happy girl, in spite of living the life of a refugee, with no place to really call home. Her youth was filled with hardships, but she kept her spirits up, and somehow through it all, managed to hold on to her innocence.

Mom met Dad at a church camp one Summer. She loved him instantly and hoped he would be the one God intended her to marry. And get married they did, but not until after they buried her future father-in-law, who died a hard death from a combination of cancer and other ailments. She stood by my father’s side as he grieved the loss of his dad and looked after his mother. Like me, my Dad grew up an only child.

They got married and lived in small apartment hosted by the owner’s of a small café and inn in a tiny German town near Lake Constance. From their they moved to Switzerland because the jobs were more plentiful, due to a burgeoning economy. When I was born they met some friends at the hospital who would later invite them to come to America, continuing my family history of migration.

The Bantaus

When we came here, neither of my parents spoke English. Like me, they had to learn. And learn my Mom did. She adjusted to a new life in a new land, leaving behind her parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, and friends. Marshall, Texas was a hospitable place, but not one used to foreigners. Certainly not Germans.  But Mom, who has displayed an incredible friendly spirit through her life, made friends quickly. The list of people who helped her adjust to her new home is long. You simply can’t make it in this world without a good support network.

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As a young lady, Mom was a beautiful, gregarious soul who never met a stranger. This continues to be true today. Mom makes friends, through church, through community outreach, and through her artwork. Though life has thrown her more than her fair share of challenges, Terri and I have witnessed my Mom rise to the occasion, exemplifying what it means to be an overcomer. Through it all, I’ve seen her faith blossom and her love for people grow. That ain’t easy in this world. That’s why Mom will always be my hero.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who have been blessed to raise children and who have been a blessing to so many. You may not always realize it, but you have had an incredible impact on more people than you can ever imagine.

God bless you all.

Mom is my Hero

Going Home and Making Memories Celebrating Mom’s 80th Birthday!

After kick starting the week by diving headfirst into my courses as I begin my final semester of graduate work at Amberton University, I reflected on the extended weekend celebration of my Mom’s 80th birthday. What a tremendous time honoring a life well-lived!

My Sweet T and I surprised Mom at Thursday night’s Spring Event at the Marshall Arts Center. If you’ve not been to Marshall lately, you’ll be surprised to discover the thriving arts scene that continues to blossom thanks in large part to the efforts of the Arts Center and local artists helping get the word out about the work they are doing.

After the Art Show, we popped over to Pietro’s, a new Italian restaurant located on Austin Street in Historic Downtown Marshall.  Superb food and excellent service topped off a great evening out on the town. During our time in my old hometown, we were excited to find a vibrant Downtown area bustling with people and activity–a site long overdue in this historic East Texas community.

We spent Saturday afternoon partying it up at the Dinner Belle on Grand Avenue. The home-cooking dished out by owner April Ridgeway-Hamblen and crew has totally transformed a building that was once  home of the local Dairy Queen. The service is down-to-earth humble and friendly and the food is tasty and reminds you of Southern home cooking once served at the family dinner table.

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After our time with friends at the Dinner Belle, we capped Saturday night off with a visit to Second Saturday and a tour of the old timey cars and local shops. Several shops were open to the public, showcasing their wares ranging from original items to antiques. Again, we were happy to see the life filling the streets of Downtown Marshall.

Sunday morning, we went to church at Summit Methodist–Mom’s home church for almost ten years now. I had the honor of teaching Sunday School that morning, which is always a privilege and joyous experience. We explored how God’s Word teaches us how to pray through an examination of the Apostle Paul’s prayerful words in Ephesians 1:16-19.

Through it all, Mom had a big, happy grin on her face. Her friends shared stories of how they met or funny anecdotes involving my Mom or one another. My Mom has done remarkably well since my Dad passed nearly 10 years ago. A big part of that success is due to her faith and her art,  her friends, and her church family. The little girl who fled Danzig, Germany during World War II as a war refugee has come a long way.

The next time you’re out in East Texas, stop in Marshall and checkout the little town that is thriving. Having grown up there, it’s great to see the signs of revitalization taking place in my old hometown.

East Texas Memories

 

 

 

 

God Is Always At Work

Recently, I took one of those online facial recognition tests you see floating around on your favorite social media sites. This one claimed it could decipher my ancestral heritage simply by analyzing a full-frontal photo of me. You’ve seen memes like it flow through your “news” feed. You know–the ones that entice you to learn what celebrity you look like or what famous person you most likely would be if you were to be famous or how old you’ll look when you’re ninety-nine. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll live to be ninety-nine, even if you take the test. Just like there’s no guarantee that if you and that famous person you look like miraculously switched places at birth that you’d be any more famous today than you are now. Maybe they would have gone on to be the famous you and you would simply still be you. Aside from that ol’ Cajun Gourmet Justin Wilson, life don’t offer any of us much on guarantees. Besides…notoriety is overrated.

Justin Wilson “Duck Hunting”

Curious to see what results it would come up with, I took this facial recognition ancestry test. Answer? According to the test I’m 50 percent Viking, 40 percent Native American and 10 percent German.Yep. I had the same reaction. 

Quite an accomplishment for a kid raised in East Texas and born in Switzerland to German parents. But then, God is always at work.

My parents where both born near the coast of the Baltic Sea (or Ost See). Family legend says that’s where our ancestral roots first dug in eons ago. My Mom was born in the seaport once known as Danzig. After the Second World War, Danzig became part of Poland and is now called Gdańsk. 

My Dad is born in Königsberg, East Prussia. His family lived in the seaport fishing town of Pillau. Shortly after Christmas in 1944, my Dad and his Mom boarded a boat to flee Pillau ahead of the rapidly advancing Russian Red Army. After nearly flattening both communities, the Russians gave them new names along with a Communist face-lift. Königsberg is now Kalingrad and Pillau became Baltiysk. Both are part of what is known as the Kalingrad Oblast, a central point for the Russian military. If there are zombies, I’m sure they make them there.

It is highly probable that Viking sailors left their home ports and landed at the seaport towns my parent’s forefathers called home. But for the American Indians to make it over there….now that would be an interesting twist of history. So maybe the test is right…but I’m not banking on any guarantees.

My Mom is a tough cookie. Gentle soul, but resilient and brave. Imagine losing your older brother to the whooping cough before you could barely talk and then at three packing up everything you can and leaving home and then at five or six packing up all over again. 

So Sweet T and I weren’t shocked when my Mom told us that after falling on the stoop of her doorway, she crawled on the ground GI Joe style to her bedroom. We were heartbroken, but not shocked. Initially, Mom didn’t think she’d hurt her ankle all that bad. Mom planned to sleep it off and wait to see how she felt in the morning before maybe going to the Doctor. Frankly I’m surprised she didn’t just snap her bones back into place. Thankfully, she pressed her Life Alert button and paramedics rushed out in the middle of the night to take her to the ER. That’s my mom…toughest woman I know.

Publicly, you won’t see that side of her much. She’s a sweet gentle soul that eats like a bird and gushes kindness from every crevice of her soul. Sweet T calls her “our social butterfly”. Mom lights up the room and brings a ray of sunshine to people’s lives. Mom doesn’t wear her past on her sleeve for all to see and admire. “Life’s hard sometimes,” she might say. “You take the good with the bad. In the end, life’s what you make it.”

Mom’s older brother Peter Eckhart, died of a whooping cough before he was two years old. They didn’t really even have time to get to know each other on this side of Heaven. What a reunion that will be.At age 3, escaping the advancing Red Army, my Mom fled Danzig with her Mother and Grandmother, a few suitcases and a set of keys. Mom’s mom, my Grandmother, hoped to return one day. They made it to Nakel an der Netze. That’s where Mom’s brother Gerfried was born. A couple years later, Mom was getting ready to start school before they found themselves on the run again, boarding a train in the Bahnhof Nakel and heading to the Harz, living in the small village of Förste, outside of nearby Osterode.  

Bahnhof_Nakel and der Netze

Bahnhof Nakel an der Netze

Meanwhile, shortly after Christmas 1944, my Dad and his Mother boarded a ship, sailing to Denmark  to escape the advancing Red Army. Eventually, they headed south towards Baden-Württemberg, setting the stage for my parents to meet one Summer day at a Baptist Bible camp.

War always has more than one side fighting it. Casualties of war fall on all sides. Innocent victims having nothing to do with the differing ideologies and agendas of grown men are impacted by the decisions of their leaders. In war, no one escapes without any scars or wounds. Some are just more visible than others. Until we fully understand the cost wars carry, I imagine we’ll continue to have them. 

Through it all, God remains at work. It took the dispersion and dilemmas of war to bring my parents together. Apart from the War to End All Wars, it is unlikely that they would have met and highly unlikely I would be here. 

The price of freedom is tremendous. No greater price has been paid than by those who have died so that we may live free. Sure, we have our problems and our disagreements but don’t mistake that for failure. Don’t let that lead to hate. Don’t let that end in war. Freedom doesn’t come easy. Like marriage, liberty takes work. And yes, to preserve it, sometimes you do have to be willing to fight for it. 

Have A Blessed Labor Day! Don’t forget those who came before you and remember God is always at work. Even if at times, from where you’re standing, it may not seem like it…Godspeed.

What’s Cookin’?

Goat Rodeo Sessions Live | Here and Heaven | PBS