Raise Up a Child
by John C. Westervelt
This story was recorded in October 1999.
Nelda and I moved our family into a new home in Tulsa’s Sungate addition during the summer of 1964. At that time, most of Sungate was still open fields. In the fall Mary Kim began the first grade at Jonas Salk elementary school and Paul began the third.
The neighborhood children all walked to school with their friends. During the rainy season, the old-fashioned mothers made the children wear their boots. Knowing that the children took a short cut home through the fields, Nelda told Mary Kim on this day to stay on the sidewalks because the fields would be muddy.
After school a helpful woman rang our doorbell to tell Nelda, “Your little girl is stuck in the mud in the middle of the field two blocks away.”
Nelda put the shovel in the back of the car, even though she had never used one. By the time Nelda arrived, Mary Kim had not been successful in pulling her feet out of the stuck boots. Mary Kim explained, “I just followed my friends!” as Nelda purposely marched toward her. From Mary Kim’s vantage point, the shovel mounted over her mother’s shoulder appeared as a weapon of sorts. Nelda began to dig with fervor, breaking a few nails at first, but quickly becoming adept at using the shovel. She freed Mary Kim from the suction of the mud, which came over the tops of the boots and down inside her new school shoes.
The engineering design decisions on Apollo support equipment had been relatively easy that day. The tough decision was to follow my greeting at the kitchen door. Nelda, standing at the stove, told her story. Mary Kim repeated her defense, “I just followed my friends!”
This parent on this day under these circumstances decided that Mary Kim would pay half the cost of new shoes. I would pay the other half. The compromise gave due punishment, but let Mary Kim know that I cared enough to help. The six-year-old explained, “Dad, I don’t have any money.”
“You can pull weeds. You save them in your little bucket, and when I get home from work, I’ll give you a quarter for a bucket full.” Several weeks of after school weed pulling paid the debt and my daughter began to use the sidewalk at the slightest hint of rain. The lesson was apparently learned.
As adults, my children returned home for the holidays. Around the dining room table, I heard the rest of the story. After weeks of honest labor, when Mary Kim couldn’t easily fill her bucket with weeds from my yard, she topped it off with weeds from the vacant lot across the street. This adult child now explained, “Dad, you just said weeds.”
There were a thousand other decisions made in raising up a child. Some better. Some worse. With God’s help the child became a responsible adult.
In June 2012, I moved to Crestwood on the campus of Oklahoma Methodist Manor in Tulsa. I left my house, but my memories, including those of a six-year-old daughter, will remain with me forever.
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