Sunday, June 14, 2009


Have you met my mom? She is a dynamite lady. She is so good at what she does I have yet to find an equal for her. "What's she do," you ask? Well, she is a mom. Here is a woman who's loyalty to her family is so complete, so consistent, that you never question what she'll do. With the regularity of the Sun you know when you're sick she'll be there, when you have a big event she'll be there, when your down she'll help you up. Her breads and cinnamon rolls, gladden mind and soul. Her pancakes help you start the day knowing you're loved. And if Helen of Troy's face could launch a thousand ships, Mom's banana cream pie can launch a son's car from a thousand miles away.

When I inadvertently posted a blog about my dad the day after Mothers Day, i figured I'd better get something about Mom up here around Fathers Day. This isn't a definitive look at the woman we call mother, its just a slice, a look at a tiny part of the home she made for us to incubate in.

Five boys and one girl. That's the family that Mom was dealt. I've never heard from her if she was disappointed or encouraged by the ratio. But knowing Mom, she was fine with whatever God had in store for her. Before my sister came along at number four she might have felt like a member of a fraternity. Our focus was sports, adventure, mud, building forts, digging holes--oh yeah, and fighting. We loved a good fight. I don't know how many times I sat in the wicker chairs at the far end of the kitchen for hours until I'd say sorry to someone I'd fought and I wasn't the only one to sit there.

I've heard its a woman's job to domesticate a man. I think the job is started by the mother, and finished by the wife. Some women think that means emasculate. Not Mother, but she did try to help us appreciate some of the finer things, that most young boys avoid like cooties.

I hated Hymn Sing. Each Sunday evening in the Packer household we would gather around the piano and each would pick one song from the Hymn Book. We learned very well hymn 61 one of the shortest hymns in the book. Of course every now and then someone would pick a long one like A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief just to tick everyone else off. And we never took it too serious, Mom at the piano knew that young boys would absolutely hate singing eight hymns at the same tempo some comatose wards sing them. Mom played the songs with life and exuberance. Some people would compare it to being on an illicit substance. But it worked. Somehow she got us teenage boys to sing songs like Master the Tempest in Raging, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, There is Sunshine in My Soul, and others in our best opera voices. It might have come from our tendency to turn everything into a joke.

(Sometime I'll have to write about the time we choreographed a musical number for a youth fireside, without the choir directors knowledge. Somehow she didn't kill us when we sprang it on her during the meeting.)

Mom also used Hymn Sing to help us with songs that would help us through life. She bribed us with dinner at Johnny Carino's if we memorized all seven verses to How Firm a Foundation. Its words have come to me in tough times and helped keep me on the path. When my younger brother went on his mission to England he sang Redeemer of Israel in his head on the plane ride over. That song has been a favorite at Hymn Sing for years.

During the years of doing Hymn Sing, we all somehow gained an appreciation for music, especially sacred. It came along at different times for everyone. Usually somewhere in the high school years. I think it was part of her strategy all along. She knew that by exposing us to music, even with all the push back she got, we would eventually feel the music, and realize how empowering, enlightening, and enriching music is. She could have mandated voice lessons, or forced us to sing the dirges that some think make up the whole of sacred music, but she customized it to us. Kept it lively, and threw in a reflective piece every now and then.

Now all her kids sing regularly. 5 of us have been in school choirs, high school or college, and most of us play the piano. Not bad for a family that is known throughout town for their athletic prowess. By coming through the back door, Mom soothed the savage beast, and gave us a gift to help us through life.


The PS

Here are a few of my favorite parts of Hymn Sing,

-The rules don't change. One song per person. When there's only three at home it gets over pretty quick; when the extended family comes over it can go for hours.

-Mom makes guests come in and pick a song. From stake presidents, to teenage girls bringing over cookies and cakes, if you come during Hymn Sing, expect to wait until its over to conduct your visit. President Rose our stake president came one week, he picked The Wintry Day Descending to its Close. Talk about a dirge! He might have been surprised to see we all knew it. (My dad has since instituted a rule that song can only be picked if there is snow on the ground and the sun is setting.)

-Hymn No. 342. Its one of my favorites. I probably pick it every time I'm in Idaho. Go check it out. You'll see why.

-In the Summer we have the window open. Our house in an acoustical oddity. Everything that goes on in our yard can be heard all the way down the street. Usually the neighbors hear our late night games. But in the Summer when we get the window open some of our neighbors have commented how much they enjoy the singing.

-Dead kids. The oldest teenager at home always brings in the beanbag chair, and lays like a corpse.

-We sing all the verses. You just do. Now I get irked when people don't sing the extra verses. Excuse me for a short mini-rant. But when did music in the Church become some sort of necessary evil. If you ask people to sing more than one verse in a meeting other than sacrament meeting its like you asked them to donate a kidney. Even in sacrament meeting if you want to sing the verses printed below the song, people act like you'll chase members into inactivity. Its just music. Its not some trial that if we make it though we'll receive blessings, its actually supposed to be a blessing to us.

-Knowing the hymns. There are some real jewels in the hymnbook that arn't sung very often 103 Precious Savior; Dear Redeemer is one of my favorites.

Thanks for music Mom. Without you I wouldn't have one of the biggest joys in my life.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I Spent Four Years Here and All I Get is a Lousy Piece of Paper

I fully expected my diploma to be withheld after the graduation services. I just hoped things didn't fall apart before I walked across the stage.

There are some things that just need to be done in life. Babies need to get potty trained, birds need to mate in the Springtime, and High School Seniors need a graduation prank. I never asked for the responsibility to help in this final high school rite of passage, but it needed to be done, so I helped. And once enlisted in the struggle, my high school career came to a climax I had never expected.

Simple plans are the best. There is less to go wrong. Our plan didn't involve cows, or lack of clothing or a cacophony. Earlier in the day I'd procured 200 marbles, and we had distributed them to the members of the class.

Unfortunately there was that women. Mrs. Stowell, was part of the committee of old women at the high school. A group of three elderly women who were the embodiment of crabbiness and the status quo. And if there is one thing young men crave its to break out of the status quo. Mrs. Stowell was the student government adviser, and over my three years of student government we had had epic struggles over homecoming activities, bladder busters, donut sales, and my refusal to give her back my keys.

I'd been nervous all afternoon that one of the old women would catch wind of the plot. The old women held the power of graduation. Like some unholy oracle you had to please to continue your life quest. If you did anything to displease them they would ban you from the graduation ceremonies, if your sin was during the ceremony they would hold your diploma until penance had been exacted over the course of three weeks community service.

Someone cracked! Minutes away from entering the gymnasium, Tagg, my co-conspirator gave me word that Mrs. Stowell was on the war path. She'd found out about the plan and was coming to ban me from the ceremony. So I hid-- I hid where she would never find me, the senior girls restroom.

The girls restroom in the senior hall is decorated in a nice shade of pale green. Its like twilight zone version of the boys restroom. Its got plenty of stalls, but missing my favorite toilet implement. I know this isn't news to anyone, but if you've ever had a chance to experience the other side you'll see how strange and alien it is to be in a restroom, so similar to what you're used to, but at the same time so different.

I don't remember how, but I got from the bathroom to the processional line without running into one of the committee of old women (henceforth referred to as COW). And finally I was seated in the gymnasium with 180 of my fellow classmates in the sweltering May heat. I was temporarily relieved. Mrs Stowell, and the other members of COW took their perches on the upper deck of the gymnasium to compile their lists of offenders. At least I'd made it to graduation. If they wanted me to endure three weeks torture I was fine with it.

Commencement started as usual affair. Speeches the top ten. Every now and then a marble would hit the floor, the sound ricocheting off the wooden floor and brick walls. Finally the time came to read off the names. The COW had impressed the importance of conformity as the names were read. No showing off, making gestures, or even having an expression that conveyed anything than the utmost reverence for being allowed to participate in their graduation.

As our class crossed the stage and received diplomas from the superintendent our plan was hatched. As we shook his hand we each slipped him a marble. At first he had now idea what was going on and put the marbles in his pockets. Soon his pockets were bulging, and Betty, the school's super secretary sprang into action and started taking the marbles from him. I'll admit the worked like a decent team, and were able to keep the decorum of the meeting. Soon Betty ran out of places to hide marbles and they were scrambling to find new places to put the marbles. All the time the COW members were writing furiously.

Finally the meeting was over and the race began. COW raced to Mr. Woodfin, the principal to get their list of over half the class approved to withhold the diplomas. We raced down to the commons to get our actual diplomas. As I descended the stairs I quickly scanned the room for the P-Z line. In the front was Mr. Torgeson. A jolly man, with a kind temperament. They were supposed to hold off on issuing the diplomas until COW got there. Torgeson knew better. You see once the school has given you your diploma there is nothing they can legally do to get it back. It is a legal document, and belongs to the graduate. I'd never seen Torgeson act so quickly. He went passed out diplomas like a man possessed. Like a machine gun he called out names and passed out certificates. I got mine, and stood triumphant in one last battle against Mrs. Stowell. Having succeeded not only in graduating, but in adding just a little bit of spice to the ceremony as well.

Our class partied way into the night and slept in the front stair case of the school, forcing all underclassmen to enter through a side door. Within a few years COW's reign of terror ended, old age finally forcing the women to leave the school. I later learned that when Mrs. Stowell had presented her list to Mr. Woodfin, he looked at it; looked at her and said, "I can't stop all these kids from graduating," crushing her last chance to exert power over these newly minted adults.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Normally I won't post stuff from other sources, but I think this gets at the core of why I write.