mom & dad's engagement picture

During their 67 years of marriage—before Dad’s Alzheimer’s and Mom’s dementia—my parents had one major disagreement, and it happened on their honeymoon. The conflict was a disagreement over what to do and where to go, and it turned out to have a huge affect on the rest of their lives.

They were staying in a cabin near the Big Thompson Canyon in Colorado. After packing sack lunches, canteens of water and a blanket to spread out on the ground, they took off on a private hike. They had gone less than two miles and were in a meadow at the base of a mountain when a storm hit. It was a fast, hard-hitting August storm with wind, thunder, and the beginnings of hail.

Dad pointed to the only refuge in the meadow, a huge tree with thick branches loaded with leaves. His plan was for them to huddle at the base of the tree and cover themselves with the blanket.  But Mom, a Missouri farm girl who’d seen lightning set fire to an old barn, said they should use the blanket as cover and take their chances hurrying back to the cabin.

Long story short, they argued back and forth, holding the blanket over their heads and eyeing the building storm. In the end, Dad grabbed Mom’s hand and they ran in the direction of the cabin. Minutes later a bolt of lightning hit the tree and destroyed it.

One of my favorite college lectures was titled The Clarence Reminder. It was named for Clarence, the angel in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, whose job was to remind George Bailey that a world without him would have been a very different world.

The picture above is my parents’ engagement picture. It could have also been their last picture if they’d decided to huddle against the tree that day. The pictures below–with our parents holding me as a baby and my brother as a toddler, and then more than four decades later another picture of us as adults posing with them–would not exist. David’s sons, and my daughter and her children, also would not exist.

There’s a reason that lightning never strikes twice in the same place ~ it’s because no place is ever exactly the same after being struck by lighting. The same is true with people.  My mom said that after the close call with the lightning hitting the tree, she never forgot that every thing we do makes a profound difference in the lives and futures of ourselves and others. We can’t see all the dangers ahead or choose only the safe paths, but we can celebrate every day as precious.

THE CLARENCE REMINDER is a good lesson for all of us.

family_photo_1949        Mom, Dad, me, David

Dead End 15 mph



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons for great-grandchildren, life questions, Spiritual connections

73 responses to “THE CLARENCE REMINDER

  1. juliabarrett

    A powerful post. Pretty much blows me away. Hard to even comment except to say– how true.

    • This summer Colorado has had the plague, Julia, and now we also recently had a young honeymooning couple hit by lightning. The wife died and the husband is still in the hospital. When I read the report of the lightning, it brought back the memory of my parents telling their story. We’ll never know all the generations that died with the young wife in that Colorado lightning storm.

      • juliabarrett

        Tragic, Marylin.

      • Molly

        Wasn’t there a father and son also struck by lightning up in the mountains this summer?

      • This summer? I don’t think so, Molly, though there have been a lot of close calls. A couple on their honeymoon were hit by lightning on the western slope this summer, though; the wife died, and the husband is still in the hospital. It was one of the news reports that made me decide to write about my mom and dad’s close call on their honeymoon.

  2. What an amazing story. Definitely puts life in perspective. And it certainly gave them a honeymoon story like no other!

    • I know, Carrie. And it set the tone for their marriage, too. They trusted each other’s input about things, and in the final decision, they held each other’s hands and moved ahead.

      • That’s a lesson for everyone who wants a lasting marriage to heed. Sometimes it’s important to say, “No — I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to do that.” And couples who respect each other, try to argue only about the truly important survival issues, then the move on together.

        What a beautiful story!

      • As I was growing up–and after I got married–I truly appreciated my parents and how they discussed things and trusted each other’s opinions, Tracy. As a child, I never even heard them disagree. When I asked Mom about it, she said they did disagree, but they waiting until we were asleep and then sat on the porch and went into their bedroom and closed the door to discuss things.

  3. It’s just as well your Mom won the argument that day. I’m so glad he did.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Thanks, David. We just never know on any given day what what directions our lives will take. I’m just glad they made the choice they did during that storm. Massive Hugs back to you!

  4. Amazing tale!

    “Trees are conductors of electricity” was one of the lines I remember from our after dinner conversation around the table this evening. And then I read this prize-winning story.

    I’m speechless except to say one of their progeny is sitting on her mother’s lap, eyes full of wonder and mouth open wide, ready to tell stories!

    • Either that, Marian, or I was sticking my tongue out to get my brother’s attention! But thank you for the kind words, especially the prize-winning story part. I appreciate it very much, especially from a fellow teacher! 🙂

  5. That’s a fabulous story – true family folklore. And I love all of your pictures here – even the last one which made me chuckle.

    • And I wish you could have seen my parents as they told this story at the dinner table (several times in my growing up years, and to several different groups of people). This was before the Alzheimer’s and dementia, of course, so I especially enjoy thinking of it, Jenny.

      • Molly

        And when they shared the story with the grandchildren in Estes Park in their 50th and 60th wedding anniversary.

      • But at the 60th Estes Park celebration, your grandpa was already showing the signs of Alzheimer’s, so your grandma did most of the telling. I liked it better when they both told the story at their 50th anniversary, didn’t you? Those were good memories, all of us with my mom and dad in that big cabin.

  6. What an amazing story!
    I too am glad they followed your mother’s instincts that day.

  7. You always make us reflect on life, Marylin, and always for the good. A very good reminder to us all.

  8. What a story, Marylin. I could picture your parents, under the blanket, arguing over the safest refuge. I’m glad your father listened to your mother that day. Great photos!

    • I love the sequence of photos, Jill, beginning with the engagement and then the babies who then become adults. If I’d had a group picture of my parents with their great-grandchildren, I would have used that as the final picture. But by the time the great-grandchildren were born, Dad’s Alzheimer’s had dulled that realization, so it was too late. So I like the image of my parents under the blanket, arguing about which way to go, too!

  9. How smart your mother was. Being a farm girl, she knew about storms and trees. I’m glad your father listened to her.
    It is true how sometimes one decision can alter an outcome. One of my favorite movies is Mr. Destiny. It stars Jim Belushi and Michael Caine. It is about a moment with life changing results. Have you seen it?
    Have a wonderful weekend Marylin.

    • I had forgotten about Mr Destiny, Joanne, so thanks for reminding me. It is an excellent example about one moment with life-changing results. Now I want to watch it again!
      A wonderful weekend to you, too!

  10. Claudia

    A very lovely post. Never can hear this lesson too often and you reminded us in such a sweet way. Loved seeing your pictures! Thanks for sharing.

  11. We were taught, as prairie children, never to sit under a tree in a lightening storm. I am so glad your dad was willing to listen to your mom. I am sure it did set the tone of their marriage. A great story to pass down to the next generations. Love the pictures, especially the one with you as a baby trying to say something already!

    • Now that’s two trusted blogging friends who think that in my baby picture I’m already trying to say something! I love it, Darlene; I’ve been teased about that picture many times, but never giving me credit of maybe having something to say already at that age. Thank you! 🙂

  12. Don

    Funny how little decisions can have such ultimate significance. Existence and coming in to existence is a supremely vulnerable thing subject to the most minute of decisions. Wonderful post Marylin.

  13. Oooh, this gave me the shivers! In a good way!

    • Good shivers! I like that, Jane.
      I remember getting goosebumps the first time I heard the story. Of course it was during a thunder storm and I was worried the lightning striking our house! 🙂

  14. Jim

    Whew! Close call. Thank goodness for Mary’s down-home knowledge, or we wouldn’t have our Mor Mor or anything. Great family story to cherish.

    Gotta love that cemetery “Dead End” sign. How appropriate is that! 🙂

    • The Dead End sign is part of a cemetery about 25 miles west of Fort Scott, honey. The next time we decide to take the blue highways instead of the interstate, I’ll show it to you. And I really wish my mom’s dementia would lift long enough to hear your comment about her down-home knowledge. She would love it!

    • Molly

      Dad, remember when you taught us all how to do the special “sit”/”crouch” that you do if you are caught in a storm with no where to go for protection? I wonder if that is still considered the best option?

      • I asked Dad, and he thinks it’s still the best option when there’s no place to go for protection. But he hopes we don’t have to ever do it!

      • Jim

        Hi, Mo-Mo. A building is always the best cover. If you can run to one in a reasonable time, do it. A car with the windows up is the next best bet. If you are caught too far from these choices, then crouching may be necessary. WHERE you crouch is the most important thing. Crouch in a clearing several yards away from the nearest trees or tall object. You want the lightning to hit something else, not you, so let the tallest conductor in the area be the lightning rod. Do not crouch near water, big rocks or overhangs. Crouching on the balls of your feet with your heels together might mitigate ground-lightning moving to you from a direct strike on a taller object some distance away. If you are caught on a ridge, get off immediately and find a good place to crouch, even if it means leaving the trail until the storm passes. The best rule for hiking in Colorado is to start early and be off the mountain by noon.

        DISCLAIMER: I am no expert, dear readers. I am simply a recreational hiker. These are just my own personal rules. Each person must make his/her own decisions about lightning based on your own acquired knowledge, experience, and the circumstances.

  15. Hi Marilyn, this post is very touching. Powerful. Beautiful. Heart-warming. Thank you for sharing this story with us. Indeed, the engagement photo would have been the last had they not run toward the cabin. Kudos for mom! High five for dad for listening to your mom. Have a lovely weekend.

    • You, too, Elaine, and thanks for your responses. When I look at their engagement picture, I think the same thing…and it makes me very thankful that Mom did not let them hide under the tree.

  16. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Interesting story, Marylin. So glad they ran for the cabin!

  17. There was obviously a reason for that disagreement, as without it things could have been very different – and it’s great that it gave your mother such a perspective on life.

    • Andrea, I have a friend who once was adamant that the honeymoon storm was Divine intervention, a throwing down the fleece for my parents as they began their lives together. I’m still not sure if that example works, but the story seemed to make her think it was. What I do agree with for sure is your comment, that it gave my mother a lasting perspective about life.

  18. This was serendipitous, i just finished writing a story to post next week with a similar theme.
    I love your dark sense of humour with the dead end sign.

    • Oh, I love serendipity, Rod! I’ll watch for your post.
      If it weren’t for Mom’s dementia now, she would appreciate your second comment. She (almost always) loved my dark sense of humor, and she would have laughed out loud at the dead end sign at the cemetery.

      • Molly

        Perhaps your dark sense of humor is what made me “not afraid of Stanley”! 🙂

      • Now I know why that story never sold, Molly. It was horror–not humor–and so it was supposed to show my dark sense of story telling. Yep, that explains its lake of success. 😉 And it was like, what, 25 or 30 years ago?

  19. What an incredible family story and worth repeating, Marylin. The depth of young love is one thing, but the depth of trust is another, especially in a generation that was raised to not question a man’s decision. Your mom spoke up and was listened to. Wisdom and respect certainly prevailed.

    • You are right on all counts, Lynne. And I never remember my mom being pushy, loud or combative; but she stayed calmly resolute if it was something she felt strongly about. And you’re so right about the trust, too. She trusted him to hear her and listen; and he trusted her instincts and opinions. That trust was the cornerstone of their marriage.

  20. What a great reminder that everything we do affects others and other things. We may never know the effect, positive or otherwise, so it’s always important to be mindful of choices we make.

    • Oh, I know, Norah. Every time I think of that day when it could have gone wither way for my parents–and indirectly, for all of the next 3 generations –the message rings through loud and clear for me.

  21. This is so moving and beautifully told. Thank you for the reminder.

  22. Molly

    I love the lightning story, I remember Grandma and Grandpa telling it when we went Estes Park for their 50th and 60th anniversaries. I also Grandma always telling me that she and Grandpa never fought…just had disagreements sometimes.

    Although to the outsider it may not be obvious, I really think Trevor and I are just like Grandma and Grandpa. We love our kids like crazy, and both try to be as involved as possible. We both work together as a team on almost all tasks. We both love small, Kansas, towns. Mostly we are like them in the sense we don’t fight, we just sometimes have disagreements.

    Thanks for reminding me of the lightning story…it is a great one!

    • You’re welcome, sweetie. After all, it’s your story, too, as their granddaughter and the mother of their great-grandchildren, so we’re all very grateful they made the right decision that day.
      They’d both be so happy to know that you and Trevor share many of their qualities, Molly.

  23. That is one adorable baby picture of you! Your parents were a team — I’m sure there is another great story you could share about a time his decision was the best of the two. I really love how they seemed to work together throughout their marriage, each respecting the other, all for the good of the family.

    • They really did, Darla. Mom told me that they never fought or raised their voices to each other, but they often disagreed. She said they’d decided early on that they would both, quietly, privately talk through things rather than fight about them. Dad’s respect for Mom was what made it so hard when the Alzheimer’s changed him and confused him, and his rage stage was very hard on her and all of us. But it was not him; it was the Alzheimer’s.

  24. Marylin … This is a beautiful story and a powerful reminder that nothing is promised. Your advice is on target: we do need to celebrate each day we have together.

    It sounds like your father was a very wise man. He listened to his wife even though he disagreed. I love the idea of “The Clarence Reminder.” “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my favorite movies and that scene really hits home.

    Florida is the lightning capital of the U.S. and we have more deaths by lightning strikes than all other weather hazards combined. That factoid is why I duck indoors as soon as I hear the rumble of thunder. 😉

    • Florida is the lightning capital of the U.S., so I’m glad you don’t take any chances, Judy.
      For me, The Clarence Reminder is a powerful and important nudge to celebrate each and every day, because there are no guarantees.

  25. very clever, and a great reminder of the Clarence factor – I will remember this, thanks Marylin!

  26. Thanks, Roxie. Clarence was the hero of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, even if he dove into the water to save George Bailey just so he could get his wings. For a silly little angle, he was also the teacher of the best lessons of the movie.

  27. Very poignant and very sobering message indeed. We can so often look back and say ‘if only’ when we wish things could have been better (or so we think), but how amazing when we can look back and remember those times when we were saved from that very ‘if only’ as your parents were from the lightening strike. I will now always remember The Clarence Reminder for that very reason, thank you Marylin! And what a beautiful photo of your mom and dad, and your family photo too. Thank goodness they ran back to the cabin that day 🙂

    • The Clarence Reminder pops up for me when I least expect it, Sherri. Especially when I wonder why bad things happen…and I should also be thankful that we might not even realize when bad things are kept from happening. 🙂

  28. Nancy Gibbs

    Loved it!

  29. So well written and such a good reminder. Your parents were quite adventurous to spend a honeymoon camping in that country. Even without the near miss!

    • Thank you, Sallie. Actually, their honeymoon “camping” was done in a nice cabin. It was their picnic and hike that set them on the path to the meadow where the lightning hit.

  30. Your parents were “really meant to be together” confirmed by this scary close call, Marylin I really cherished this amazing true story of their honeymoon picnic. My Dad had an old fashioned expression, “Life can turn on a dime.” This works for a simple reminder to be grateful for what we have.

  31. Your dad and my parents were on the same page with that expression, Robin. And we all need to be grateful for what we have.
    Thank you.

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