Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Doctors Without Borders
I first met this French medical group near Sangklaburi, Thailand when I was working at the Kwai River Christian Hospital on the Thai/Myanmar border in 1994. A dusty pickup truck would occasionally arrive bearing a patient in need of surgery or some other crisis they could not treat in their rural clinic across the border.
The paved two-lane highway that went past Sangklaburi was probably the shortest road between Thailand and Burma (now called Myanmar), following the old “death railroad” of World War II notoriety, crossing the border at Three Pagoda Pass. It was a convenient way for smugglers to sneak illegal imports into Burma, a caravan of eight luxury sedans, for example, that we met on the road one day.
But the road was unique in other ways, too: it had a branch going due westward passing right by the Hospital (20 km west of town) and proceeding another 10 km to a point on the national border that Mon tribal rebels controlled, at the village of Holokani.
Many Burmese enter Thailand looking for jobs. Thai Immigration police jail those lacking proper documents and ship them back to Myanmar, but not where the Myanmar police can arrest them. In Mon territory they have a long border over which they can infiltrate without much risk. Every Wednesday two or three truckloads of deportees, a hundred per truck, would pass the hospital en route to Holokani. Often there would be several who were too sick or too malnourished to walk across the border, and they would be dropped at the hospital. Immigration had a standing agreement that they wouldn't hassle them while under treatment, and we would send them on their way when they were strong enough. We had a safe house with exercise equipment where they could stay in the meantime.
Lois and I went to visit Holokani one day, accompanied by a couple of locals. The pavement ended 3 or 4 km beyond the hospital, and the road got progressively worse over the rest of the way. Holokani turned out to be a population of some 5,000 people, living in bamboo thatch-roofed houses, crowded on both sides of the road for 2 or3 km. The town had no electricity, no running water or farmland; everything was provided by the Thai Border Consortium, a volunteer group. The Doctors Without Borders had a larger bamboo building with room for about 20 patients lying on the floor. They had a microscope using sunlight-and-mirror, were able to give IV fluids and blood. By contrast, our little mission looked like a city hospital. with its lab, X-ray and operating room.
I never again gave a hard time to the people in the dusty pickup, and I still make contributions to the Doctors Without Borders, God Bless them!

Thursday, February 15, 2018



In 1979, Communist Viet Nam invaded Communist Cambodia, where Pol Pot had set up his Khmer Rouge government. The Khmer Rouge are said to have executed between one and two million of their own citizens during Pol Pot’s doctrinaire rule. During rainy season, the mud kept the two armies apart. But in late October, the Vietnamese tanks could move across the land again, pinning the Khmer Rouge army against the Thai border.
Each army had tried to deny food to the other, and so each side had destroyed crops wherever they found them. Hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees, mixed with fleeing Khmer Rouge soldiers, were caught in the hill forests of southwestern Cambodia. They had no food except leaves on the trees, and no protection from malaria and other forest diseases. As the Vietnamese army drew closer, a half-million or more sick and starving human beings fled across the border into Thailand.
There was nowhere to put them. The daily newspapers carried pictures of dying children and mass burials. Thirty-thousand refugees flooded across the border in a single day, near the border town of Aranya Prathet, and were vulnerable to the mortar shells of the pursuing Vietnamese. The Thai army assembled dozens of buses to move the refugees away from the border, and set up the first of many camps by clearing a field near the town of Sa Kaew.
Up in Mae Sariang. 500 miles to the northwest, I wrote to our former neighbors Bob and Pat Coats who now worked at mission headquarters in Bangkok:
"We understand that some 91,000 have come across the border from
Cambodia this month, that a great many need medical help, and medical workers are swamped. We try to look at this realistically and not let our emotions run away with us. But the thought persists that here we are, in our slack season, [in rice harvest time]
seeing patients for only 3 to 5 hours a day, when there is this shortage of
medical help down on the border. We could spare a doctor for a month
or so if you can use us. We don’t know if this is God’s will or not, but thought
we would make the offer and see what he does with it."

A telegram asked us to come as soon as possible. Lois and I were in the first group to go, along with Rosa Crespo-Harris, Mala (a Karen nurse) and Weena, a Karen nurse-aide. We drove to Chiangmai next day and took the overnight train to Bangkok, where Bob and Pat Coats met us. They explained that we would be on loan to CAMA Services, the relief arm of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. We would work at the Sa Kaew camp, three hours drive east of Bangkok, where Red Cross was setting up a tent hospital. CAMA had a permanent medical team coming from Holland, but they wouldn’t arrive for two weeks. Rescue workers said thousands more refugees were scattered about the border area, many of them too weak to walk. The camp had existed for four days when we arrived, and of the 30,000 refugees, 1,200 of them were in the make-shift camp hospital. Some ill Communist soldiers were among them, but those strong enough to fight were still across the border in Cambodia. Sa Kaew was far enough back from the border to make hot pursuit by the Vietnamese unlikely.
Our driver turned off the highway and stopped at a Thai Army checkpoint, where a Red Cross worker gave us ID cards. My first impressions were of a sea of mud, surrounded by barbed wire. Thousands of make-shift lean-tos― blue plastic sheets supported by a few sticks― crowded the fields. Our first problem was to navigate the deep mud. We picked our way from rock to tree root; at one point, Lois had to reach elbow-deep into the mud to retrieve a shoe. The hospital area was on slightly higher, more solid ground.
The refugees were deathly afraid of the Khmer Rouge among them, and we had no way of telling who was who. We just treated them all as the severely ill humans they were. We didn’t even have a translator for the first two or three days.
That first day was chaos. We were put to work immediately on arrival, I with another new doctor, Lois over in a large tent full of orphan children, and we lost track of the other team members. None of us knew where things were, or even what was available. Each of us scrounged through the supply tents to find whatever might be useful. At dusk, another convoy of army trucks arrived, bearing yet more starved, feverish, even unconscious people, with meager bundles of cook pots or other small possessions. Some made no move to get down from the truck, and workers clambered up to pass them down to those of us waiting on the ground. Another worker and I struggled to carry a comatose man on a piece of box-cardboard over to the perimeter fence and pass him through the barbwire to others inside.
Severe starvation resembles being isolated in a blizzard. First you burn the firewood to keep warm. When the firewood is gone, you break up the furniture, and finally the walls of the house itself, to ward off death. Many of these people had lived off nothing but their own body tissues for weeks, and had arms and legs scarcely bigger around than their skin-covered bones. They had lost all fat and most of their muscle, to fuel the remaining small spark of life. Even the proteins to make digestive juices were gone.
We had to be very careful not to overload their digestive tracts those first few days. We started with clear broth, with a little rice and vegetables added. Some couldn’t even handle that, and quietly died after reaching the camp. After a day or two, we added protein gruel, “Kaset food” made by Kasetsart University in Bangkok. Weena carried a pail of it back and forth, ladling out a cup twice a day to each of our ward’s hundred and fifty patients. Later still, rice and curry came from a central kitchen for all 30,000 in the camp. Different volunteer groups managed each of the dozen or so tent-wards; we cooperated with each other, but we were too fatigued to socialize much.
We treated malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, parasitic worms, anemia, and nutritional deficiencies. The chief deficiencies were iron (malaria destroys red blood cells) and beri-beri (lack of thiamine, one of the B vitamins, causing nerve weakness and heart disease.) That first day, we had nothing to clean patients with, nor any change of clothing for those who had soiled themselves. Each morning when we came to work, those who had died in the night had been left outside the tent, rolled up in their bamboo mats. We took the dead to the penetrating stench of the morgue tent at the far edge of the hospital area, to await burial in mass graves by Buddhist monks who volunteered their service.
Those first few days, silence reigned in the hospital tents except for coughing. Not even a baby crying. Everyone lay there on mats, too weak to move. I remember how, during the first week, they gradually began to talk and even smile and walk around as they grew stronger. In particular I remember two men, an amputee and a blind man, who often walked together, the cripple on his crutches, holding a guide-stick for his blind friend to grasp and follow.
Daily bus-loads of volunteers swarmed out from Bangkok to respond to the need. Leaders of Bangkok society mingled with students, digging ditches, feeding patients, acting as go-fers. Our daughter Nancy and some of her schoolmates from International High School used their "Senior Sneak" holiday to come help. One elderly European man, with whom I could only converse in Thai, adopted an old Cambodian who was too weak to lift a spoon by himself, and stayed with him night and day until the old man died.
Bob Jono, a CAMA supervisor about half my age, saw to the medical team’s needs. He found us a Khmer man who spoke Thai, and a Khmer girl who had returned from her home in New Zealand to help her fellow Cambodians, despite her terror that the Khmer Rouge would murder her. That made our job much easier. Through an interpreter, we could hear the patient's symptoms; we no longer had to practice "veterinary medicine."
Jono and his crew also made sure that a hot meal awaited us back at our house in town each night. The camp had a security curfew, not even medics were allowed to stay after dark, except for a single team to keep watch over the whole thousand-bed hospital from six pm until eight a m. Jono and I had to stay after the rest of the team left, for staff meeting at the Red Cross tent, where the day’s problems were worked out. I got back to town each night about 7:30 p.m. after a thirteen-hour day, ate supper, and fell into bed.
The second week was a little better. Fewer died, and many were obviously recovering. A lab technician appeared from somewhere, and set up a blood transfusion service. He split every pint in two; even a half pint is enough to help someone with a hematocrit of only two. By mutual consent, the medical teams refused interviews unless the reporter could show his receipt for donating blood.
An orphan girl in our tent, eight or ten years old, pointed excitedly one morning at the passing people. Her father and sister had just passed by; she had been separated from them a year ago! And a little girl who had been bed-ridden with beriberi heart disease squealed in mock alarm as her sister told her I was going to give her a shot. (I wasn't.)
Lois and I had even taken our turn on the all-night hospital crew. There isn't much you can do for a thousand patients, most of whom you've never seen before. The four of us (another nurse, Ruth Jones, and Tan, the translator) tried to visit every ward at least every three hours and be sure the IVs were running properly. We removed two patients who had died; checked one teenager with severe diarrhea, and a couple of women in labor.
About three o'clock in the morning, I took a few minutes on a break to gossip with the Israeli military doctor from the triage tent, the one other medic who was allowed to stay all night. We watched a team of workers adjust the new lighting on a scaffold outside, where a drilling crew was sinking a well. As we looked up at the scaffold, I said meditatively, "Haman built a gallows, fifty cubits high . . ."
Startled, the Israeli demanded, "How did you know what I was thinking! Where did you hear that story?"
"Hey, the book of Esther is in our scriptures too, just like yours."
News media were everywhere, every day. A man squatted beside me with a hand microphone as I treated a boy with pneumonia, and asked me to describe the case. I am told I was on Voice of America Radio the next night. A few days later, a television crew from NBC taped the hospital. I happened to be the only doctor available who had an American accent. Letters from back home later told me I had appeared in all the bars in Kellogg, to shouts of “Hey! There’s Doc Dahlberg on TV!” The broadcast was repeated several times all over USA and Europe, probably the only time in my life I will ever speak to over a hundred million people. At the time, I was more concerned with tucking my feet under me so the camera wouldn’t show how swollen my legs had become from long hours without rest.
Rosalynn Carter talked with Lois when the First Lady toured our tent. (I missed that because I was at a meeting back in town that day, orienting a group of newly arrived doctors.) Mrs. Carter asked her several questions, but Lois says her own finest moment was in response to all the newsmen, who nearly trampled our patients as they shouted at her, “Get down! Get down!” so they could get a clear photo of the President’s wife. Lois said, “If the reporters would move back a few feet, they wouldn’t be standing in the patients’ latrine ditch.” A lady in the group said, “Oh dear! I wish I’d known that a little sooner.” And one of Mrs. Carter’s Secret Service men grinned to Lois, “Say it louder. We’re being recorded.”
We were more tired every day than I can ever remember being. And I felt a dull anger as I watched some of my patients die, anonymous and alone, an anger at those who start wars and let others pay the consequences. But you suppress your emotions after the first day or two, because you have to choose between emoting about the tragedy, or doing something to fix it. I found I don't have enough personal resources to do both.
But the feeling I remember most, and am most grateful for, came to me one evening after the nightly staff meeting, as I drove back to town alone in the warm night air. Through the open car window I inhaled the pungent, vinegar smell of the tapioca crop drying in the farmyards I passed. I felt at peace, tired but no longer drooping with fatigue.
We had taken everything that Sa Kaew camp had thrown at us, and most of our patients were getting well. And I thought, I can do this! I can practice medicine under the worst conditions, and still look anyone in the eye and know without any doubting: I am a doctor! No one can ever take that away from me.
And I shall always remember the effect a single letter or action can have on one's life when mailed at the right moment, not only on other people's lives, but on my own as well.


The United States Constitution addresses the right to bear arms. I don't have much problem with that. Guns are useful to hunt food or protect one's family from danger. But when the writers of the Constitution were alive, there were no automatic rifles, no machine guns. They did not even exist on a drawing board.

No one who lived then could conceive of a young man buying multiple guns, and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition. Nor would they have waited to hold such a person accountable to civil authority until after he has already committed mass murder. Am I the only one to imagine that fifty men could conspire to each buy that much, to start a civil war or terrorist plot?

Police, military, and publicly organized disciplined militia conceivably might have reason to own such weapons. But common sense and the daily news media show that free market sale and ownership of semi-automatic weapons are not controlled by licensing alone, no matter what the NRA claims.  Private ownership of bombs, antiaircraft guns, howitzers, armed tanks, are all forbidden. Even the cannon in my home town's veterans park had to be neutered before the army released it.

Weapons similar to the AR-15 have no use other than to kill multiple human beings rapidly. Individual trade, sale, or possession should be a felony. How many more school children have to die to get this idea across ?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

book review: PIZZA FOR PRESIDENT by Brian R Lee

Pete Pachentelli is manager of a local Pepe Le Pizza restaurant. He and two friends, Sam and Curley, are at his house on a day off, watching football on TV. Political ads break in too often. 

“If these candidates really want to get elected, they should offer a free pizza to every voter,”  
Curley jokes. “Everybody likes pizza, so they'd have everybody on their side.” Silence, as the game continues.

Then Pete speaks up. “You might have something there.”


“I'm going to look into it,” Pete says. “If I can get the pizza chain I work for to give me a super discount on a million pizzas, I'm going to run for president”

“You can't be serious.”

“I don't know. Maybe. . . Susan is majoring in political science at school. I can talk to her about it.”

“You don't mind if your girlfriend laughs in your face?”

But poli sci class has never been very interesting, and most of Susan's classmates take the attitude “what the heck, if free pizza is involved, I'm in!” 

Professor Jones, seeing the enthusiasm the idea generates, tells the class, “All right, if you can get Sue's boyfriend's name on our state's ballot in the upcoming election, I'll give everyone an 'A'. If you fail, everyone gets an 'F' factored into their semester's grade.”

“Uh, Mr. Jones, where do we start? What paperwork will we need?”

“This is your campaign. Do I ever give you the answers to your assignments? These are things you are going to have find out on your own. The professor walks out of the room.

Whether everyone in the country likes pizza or not, every student in the class wants to get an “A”. The next day, Susan talks it over with Pete. They both understand that Pete will never be elected president of the USA, but Professor Jones's assignment is only to get Pete on the state ballot. 

Pete finally tells her, “You know what? I've never really done anything special my whole life. I would rather tell my kids I once ran for president, than tell them I could have, but chickened out. What do I do to get started?”
Susan has done her homework; she gives him the forms to complete. The class will get all the 10,000 signatures needed.
Pete gets an unexpected boost by an inspection visit from the pizza company's central office. The inspector warmly approves Pete's sales record and methods, and asks what else Pete needs from headquarters. 

Pete replies, “I have a potential customer who may want a very large number of pizzas for an event – maybe ten thousand or more. Could the company provide that many?”

The inspector believes someone is pulling Pete's leg, but says he'll find out. “Have your guy call me.” 
Pete knows little about political issues, “but I shouldn't have to look smart to make the other candidates look dumb. Is free pizza any dumber than cutting taxes while raising benefits?” With Susan as campaign manager and one of her classmates as financial chairman, the project copes with local TV interviews and news reporters. That is, until national public TV and the Republican leadership get into the act. 
The Republican party doesn't want Pete on stage as one of its debate panel, and that situation delights the national Democrats. Pepe Le Pizza's CEO likes the publicity Pete's campaign gets his company. Pete sees the debate as an opportunity to present his personal philosophy: gathering opponents around food – pizza for instance – creates possibility for settling disputes and promoting harmony

 On debate night he brings a supersize pizza to share with the other candidates on stage, but the stage manager whips it out of sight. The moderator asks Pete only one question during the debate. The Democrats accuse the Republicans of plotting to sideline him. 

Actually, the audience gives him a more favorable rating than a rookie might expect, though not enough to make him a serious contender for the Republican nomination. And public opinion polls after the debate place him sixth in the field of seven – one point ahead of a senator. His campaign committee, [the college students] propose a public rally. 
What! Speeches? Even the suggestion terrifies Pete. His staff persuade him to make no decisions until after the primary elections . . . .
Author Brian R. Lee has a fertile imagination, producing a thought-provoking and credible finale to this entertaining tale. He makes his home in Osburn, Idaho.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Book Review: BORN A CRIME

 by Trevor Noah (non-fiction, 2016) “Stories From a South African Childhood”

The author Trevor Noah, as an adult, earns his living as an international comedian, basing his humor on the inconsistencies of the people and the society around him. He grew up in South Africa in the era of apartheid, when the white South African minority declared it a crime to have social contact with anyone of the colored majority races. Separate schools, separate public seating, eating places, neighborhoods, were enforced during the rule of South Africa's National Party, from 1948 to 1990. With a black mother and a Swiss father, his parents could face five-year jail terms, and he himself could legally be seized and sent to an orphanage simply by the fact of his birth.
His mother raised him; contact with his father was secret and infrequent. His mother was a rebel by nature, working as a typist for a pharmaceutical firm, defiantly attending several churches – black, white, or mixed – prudent, but not caring about other people's opinion of her. But she loved her child unconditionally, and vowed he would have a better childhood than hers had been. She disciplined him when he needed it – which was often – made sure he attended school and church; and saw that he had a safe home.
Apartheid never made sense to Trevor, nor did the Catholic church, which refused his mother communion, because she wasn't Catholic.
Trevor pointed out to his Catholic school teacher, “Jesus wasn't Catholic, he was Jewish.”
Well, yes.”
So you're telling me that if Jesus walked into your church right now, Jesus would not be allowed to have the body and blood of Jesus?”
Well . . . uh . . . um . . .
One morning before mass,Trevor was hungry; he sneaked behind the altar and drank the whole bottle of grape juice and ate the whole bag of Eucharist. He was caught, and laughed while he was being punished. The school principal recommended he see a psychiatrist. “Mrs. Noah, your son was laughing while we were hitting him.”
Well, clearly you don't know how to hit a kid. That's your problem, not mine. Trevor's never laughed when I've hit him, I can tell you.” His mother thought the school rules were stupid.
She taught me to question the system,” wrote Trevor. “The only way it backfired on her was that I constantly challenged and questioned her.”
Trevor had other problems. In a land where blacks and whites were separated, he was neither. Nor was he Chinese nor Indian. He was “colored”, and belonged to no group in schools he attended. Rather than risk exclusion, he found himself accepted when he could make the other kids laugh. When apartheid ended in 1990, he discovered his niche in the entertainment field. His story of his partnership with his mother is a mixture of hilarity and terror.
He almost lost her when she later entered a marriage that turned very, very bad.
Thought-provoking and a good read.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

Book Review: HILLBILLY ELEGY by J. D. Vance (Non-fiction 2016)

“A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”

J. D. Vance's book tells two simultaneous stories. One is the migration of working whites from the factories and mines of the “Rust Belt” – roughly the Appalachian mountain region – to the cities and villages of the Ohio River valley, seeking jobs. The other is about his family, trying to survive with little education but with a system of honor stretching back to the feuds of the Kentucky Hatfield and McCoy clans.
His grandfather at age 17 married his grandma, age 13, in Jackson, Kentucky in 1947. Low pay in the coal mines was the only option around Jackson, so Papaw and Mamaw joined the post-war flow of people out of Appalachia to Ohio. They settled in Middleton, where Armco Corporation was recruiting workers for its steel mills. J.D.'s Uncle Jimmy was born there, and ten years later, after eight miscarriages, Mamaw gave birth to J.D.'s mother Bev in 1961, and his aunt Lori in 1962. Just three kids. But the grandparents' marriage grew more and more violent, despite their being financially better off than those who stayed in Kentucky.
Perhaps it was Papaw's heavy drinking, perhaps Mamaw's gradual withdrawal from the world around her. Perhaps it was a “code of the hills,” with sincere love for their own children and grandchildren, but their insistence that no one outside the family must ever know about the violence within it. The grandparents wanted their children to have better education and a better future, but misread the effect that their own violent fighting caused. Yet J.D. sees his Mamaw and Papaw as the greatest people he knew in his youth. Neither had ever set foot in high school, yet Papaw would explain multiplication and division; Mamaw would see that J.D. got a library card and books to read. Both encouraged him daily.
His Mom was the smartest person he knew, salutatorian in her high school class, yet she had a growing drug habit, and many marriages. Her temper could rise from zero to murderous in a heartbeat that often made J.D. and his sister Lindsay take shelter with their grandparents. It reached a point where Mamaw told J.D. he could stay at her house whenever he chose to, and if his Mom ever had a problem with that, Mom could talk to the barrel of Mamaw's gun, “This was hillbilly justice, and it didn't fail me,” writes J.D.
He had done poorly in grade school, living with his mother, her fights and her parade of father-figure husbands, but living with grandparents during high school, his grades came up. He had time to look around him and see how others worked. On a summer job packing flooring tiles for shipment, the boss also hired another young man whose wife was expecting her first baby. The boss also gave her a job in the office. J. D. noticed the man rarely came to work on time, and took frequent toilet breaks lasting half an hour or more. His wife hardly ever came to work three days in a row. The man soon got fired, and blamed the boss, not himself – “How could he take a job away from a man whose wife was pregnant!” But J.D. knew his grandparents always expected him to do work, not just talk about it.
Not all the white working class struggles . . . My grandparents were self-reliant, hard working. My mother was another type: consumerist, isolated, angry, distrustful. I always straddled the two worlds, but there was always a safe place and a loving embrace if ever I needed it. Our neighbors' kids couldn't say the same.
He wanted to be the first in his family to go to college, but he couldn't afford tuition costs for even Ohio State U. Instead, he joined the Marines and found he still had a lot of growing up to do. He came out of the next four years fit and forty-five pounds lighter, a self-confident adult after deployment in Iraq and nine months as a media relations officer in a large Marine base on the east coast. J.D. entered Ohio State University in 2007, went on to study law at Yale, and met and married the woman of his dreams.
Some might accuse this reviewer of spoiling the story by telling the ending. But the point of this book is not what happened, but how and why it happened, and why it is still among the top ten best sellers on the New York Times non-fiction list, a year after being published. While so many low-income earners in USA remain chronically struggling and dis-enchanted, what choices did J.D. make differently?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Book review: IT'S ME, HANNAH

Book review: IT'S ME, HANNAH by Carleen Bunde ( fiction, 2017)

A Novel About Growing Up

Hannah is an eight-year-old girl as the story opens with the sudden death of her mother in a gruesome auto accident in the town of Munich, North Dakota. Her only nearby relatives are her father, Johan, who is a Swedish immigrant farmer, and her maternal grandma, Lieula. But Munich is a small town, where most people know each other, and Hannah has many friends, especially Annabelle Murger, her same age; their mothers were best friends.
This is a well-written series of fast-forwards of Hanna's life, mostly her teen-age years. She and her father are both devastated by her mother's death, but Johan takes charge of his home, his farm, and his daughter's needs. She gets into many adolescent scrapes, tries to hide them, but ultimately can depend on both her father and her grandma for emotional support and help. She does her part well in the farm chores along with her father, and in her studies in the little one-room school; she even copes with a mentally disturbed school teacher whom the school board finally dismisses. She becomes an able cattle herder with the help of her horse Sally, and her dog Maggie.
Puberty and high school in town, both beginning in the same year, are difficult times, shared with her friend Annabelle. Hanna and an older boy are attracted to each other, causing arguments with her father. She gets a part-time job as a car-hop at Nick's Drive-In and loves it, gets along well with the other workers. Gets in trouble driving Papa's pickup without his knowledge, and gets stuck in a ditch in the middle of the night.
She is stressed out when her Papa, after several years as a widower, starts dating Lucy Swan, a newcomer to town. Some weeks later, after work, he tells Hanna, “ Get in the car and go pick up your grandma, I have something to say to you both.” When they return, Papa's best friend, Jacob, is sitting with him at the kitchen table.
Grandma arrives, worried about what trouble her son-in-law may be in. Says, “Johan, do you want us to sit in the parlor?”
No, Lieula, vat I got to say, I can say right here in the kitchen.” He took his pipe out of his mouth, leaned back in his chair . . . “Now jou know as vell as I do dat I've been courtin' Lucy Swan for some time. She's a mighty fine voman.”
He turned to me. “Hannah Marie, you're almost grown-up now.”
I nodded.
All of a sudden, I'm grown-up?
Vell, folks, vat I've got to tell you is: Lucy and I are getting married.”
The news almost took my breath away.
I can't imagine Papa married to anyone but Mama, and I really can't imagine Papa and Lucy kissing or anything like that.
Papa, did you say that you and Lucy are getting married?”
I've asked her and she said yes.”
Grandma's mouth dropped open and her face went white. “Well, I never.”
Jacob scratched his head hard and fast. “The hell you say, Yohan.”
In a faint voice, Grandma uttered, “What's this world coming to? She's half your age. Johan, you could be her father.”
Age is yust a number.”
Don't you care what people will say?”
Papa rubbed his chin and looked over his bifocals at Grandma. “Jah, I care, but I care more about Lucy. I yust told you, I'm marrying her and dat's dat.”
Jacob slapped the table with his big hand. “Goot for you, Yohan.”
Grandma pushed back her chair, stood up and strode right out the door.
Come on, Hannah,” she wailed.
In a hurry to leave the table, I nearly turned over my chair. Papa heaved himself from his seat and walked with me to the back door with his arm across my shoulders.

This story is easy reading (although an author's written version of a foreign language dialect can be a stumbling block for the reader.) It will be of interest to those parents and teen-agers hoping to someday understand each other. Author Bunde relates family conflicts in brief, vivid scenes. The constant theme is that children are much more likely to prosper if there is an adult in their life who loves them unconditionally.
The last ten pages summarize the rest of Hanna's life and end in a surprising sign-off.