Learning how to apply the Pythagorean theorem while on a construction site, earning competitive wages per hour, all while working toward a matching scholarship that can be used for future tuition or employment needs—this is the model by which unCommon Construction hopes to encourage youth to explore a career in the trades, and break stereotypes about the industry.
Aaron Frumin, founder of the New Orleans-based after-school program for high school students, unexpectedly found his way into the construction industry. He went to a standard, four-year college after graduating high school, but he dropped out in his third year when he was unsatisfied with the education he was getting. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Frumin traveled there to help out as a Red Cross volunteer. He ended up working as a day laborer on a construction site, and he stayed in the city. “I was using my brain and I was using math skills and engineering principles and social skills. I was making good money. … No one would have ever thought of that career path for me,” Frumin said. He later went into teaching, and while working as a reading and social studies teacher in middle school, he realized the traditional classroom experience was not for him.
That’s when Frumin thought about a program that could make education more relevant to developing students’ real-life skills. “How can we have a real return on investment for them so that they have a little more skin in the game?” So in 2015, Frumin started unCommon Construction as a nonprofit that would hire students to build houses, with the employees being selected from partnering schools that would recommend highly motivated students to apply for the after-school program, while earning school credit and wages.
Students work 10 to 12 hours a week, with 6 to 8 hours on a job site and 2 to 4 hours in the classroom on “framing character”: learning career building and professional development skills, as well as receiving technical training. They spend most of their time in the field because “we want to treat young people like they have value, and that their time is valuable, and we’re not just doing worksheets that are easy for them to dismiss,” Frumin said.
At the same time, Frumin wants the program to develop skills in the students that will be helpful no matter what career they pursue in the future. “We put a very intentional emphasis in our alternative learning environment on the development and demonstration of soft skills,” Frumin said. That includes learning teamwork, ethics, problem-solving, communication, and professional attitudes.
The program operates much like a real-life construction company, with students completing the building of a house in a school year. The house is then sold on the market. When the house is purchased, the company matches their paycheck with a scholarship, which can be used during their first year after graduating high school—whether for tuition, school supplies, or paying expenses related to their future job, should they pursue a career right after graduating.
Frumin hopes the program can help eliminate the stigmas associated with the construction industry, such as that it’s a dirty job primarily for men or “the non-college material,” as Frumin put it. “Some young people who may be seen as college-bound, like I was, may never be presented with opportunities that help them become self-actualized members [of society],” Frumin said. “They’re held up or put down by a society that does or doesn’t value blue-collar jobs.”
But the fact of the matter is that the industry employs a great variety of professions. “Big construction companies still need lawyers, and they still need an accountant. They rely on emergency medical services, they have security positions, and they require insurance,” Frumin said.
It is time to value the construction industry, he added. “There’s a whole economy that surrounds our industry, and in fact, our industry makes up the backbone of the American economy. … We have to be part of changing the narrative for all the different people who are involved.”
After a career of working on Savile Row with Sir Hardy Amies to produce the Queen’s day-wear, then moving to Ontario with custom tailor Coppley, Warwick Jones thought he was ready to retire. While planning a paradisaical retirement of fly-fishing in New Zealand, he was called by the head of the Individualized Apparel Group (IAG, the parent company that owns Coppley and Oxxford, among others) and asked to run the Oxxford Clothes factory in Chicago.
Today, he is enjoying it hugely, and he is passionately dedicated to the craftsmanship of making garments by hand. Jones said, “The difference between a machine-made and a hand-made suit is like night and day.”
Oxxford Clothes was established in Chicago, an epicenter of the Arts and Crafts design movement, in 1916. Despite global changes in methods, machines, and mass-production, Oxxford has remained faithful to its mission to produce the best bespoke, hand-sewn men’s apparel out of the finest fabrics in the world.
At Coppley, Jones was working with clothing that was largely machine-made. When traveling for business, he encountered “scores and scores of Oxxford Clothes in places like Neiman Marcus, just hanging on horrid little hangers, and I would put them on and immediately have the beautiful feeling of the coat as it melded to my body.” The first thing you notice, he says, is that the collar of the coat “hugs your neck; it is not too high or too low.” Also, “when you move your hand forward in the coat, it moves forward with you,” he explained. “It sings to you.”
The secret to the special song of the Oxxford garment is in the stitches. When Jones first went to Oxxford Clothes, the CEO of IAG told him to put a suit through the factory and follow it every step of the way. So he did, and it was the best way possible to learn about the process and, importantly, the art of the stitches. Jones said that there are on average 14,240 stitches in every suit: “I counted every one of them!” he said.
There are 4,000 stitches in the pants, and 900 stitches “just to put the roll on the canvas of the lapel so that it will stay that way forever.” Every button hole is sewn by hand and takes about 20 minutes to do, in contrast to the one-and-half seconds it would take a machine.
The most important thing to understand, Jones added, is that “they’re putting in the needle in such a way, and tightening the thread in such a way that, the reality is, they’re not just sewing a stitch. They’re putting personality into the garment with every stitch.”
This personality comes from the artisan working on a piece, and “the stitches are all quite unique, actually,” Jones marveled. For example, in the padding of a lapel, they aim for 25 stitches per square inch. Some tailors will do 20, and some will do 30, and “that’s their character going into what they’re doing, and it makes a difference.” Each Oxxford suit becomes a collector’s item. Jones said that all the tailors working in the Oxxford Clothes factory have their own way of doing things, and when he looks at their work, “I could tell you who sewed it.”
The individualized character of the stitches is matched, of course, by the individualized nature of bespoke clothing. Even if a client orders six suits at once, they will all be made from different materials, and they each make their way through the factory as a one-off. Every garment will have its unique characteristics, and no two garments will feel the same.
This attention to detail, this personal approach, is mirrored in the daily work life of the factory. Jones greets every artisan in the morning and says good night to them all in the evening. In the Oxxford Clothes factory, Jones described, “the most noticeable thing is the quiet. When you walk out onto our shop floor, you don’t hear anything.” There are 100 people working there, he said, and “I know every one of them by name. It’s a place you enjoy coming to every single day.”
It is hard work, requiring great concentration and dexterity. It takes eight weeks to make a suit. Every hand-sewn stitch gives meaning to the final product, but it is never seen. It is hidden by fabric on the outside and lining on the inside. However, the artisans know it is there, and “they believe in it,” Jones said. All the hard work is worth it because “there’s nothing better than seeing a man walk out of a showroom in a new suit. Nothing feels as good as that first time you wear it. You feel empowered.”
It’s nearly a 200-mile commute home for historian Victor Davis Hanson from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he travels once a week, to his quiet family farm in the fertile Central Valley of California.
As a classicist, he’s at ease with the ancient world but often brings a historian’s insightful perspective to current events. And he’s also a fifth-generation farmer.
His house, surrounded by almond orchards, holds many stories—from the generations who sacrificed all of their soul, sweat, and hard-earned money trying to save the farm, to later generations who decided this wasn’t the life for them and moved away with no intention of ever returning. Of the original 180 acres that were passed down through the years, only 42 remain—rented out to a farmer who owns 12,000 acres in the surrounding region. This is California, where agriculture has gone almost all corporate, leaving farming families with few choices: mainly to scale up vertically and jump into agribusiness, or to sell and move away.
The America where 40 acres per family was the norm is now long gone. But its personality, the strength of its communities, and its work ethic were all deeply shaped by family farming. In this conversation, Hanson talks about this important aspect of our nation’s heritage.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
American Essence: Looking back at America, and its early days as a nation, what was interesting to Europeans about what American farmers were doing?
Victor Davis Hanson: The history of Europe was always too many people, and too little land. When the American nation was founded, 95 percent of the people were homestead citizens, and they had their own land. They were completely independent and autonomous; they raised their own food. They were outspoken, and they were economically viable.
Observers who came from Europe, [for example] Alexis de Tocqueville, noticed that the American citizen was not a peasant. He was not indentured, he was not attached to a manor, or he wasn’t like an English subordinate. He wasn’t a Russian serf. He was an independent person because he had all of this land. And until the mid- or early 20th century, that was a peculiar characteristic of America—there was so much farmland, and there were so many people from all over the world that wanted to be independent farmers. That had been impossible in their own land.
And even today, when we have people from Asia, or India, or Mexico, it’s astounding how many of them want to buy land, because that was an unavailable, yet they have it deeply ingrained in their psyches: If you have land, you’re going to be protected, you’re independent, you can raise your own food.
American Essence: You mentioned a quote in an opinion article you penned in 2015. Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1787, “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries, as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become as corrupt as in Europe.” What is the connection between farming and preserving a virtuous society?
Mr. Hanson: That’s an old idea that farming serves two purposes. It’s not like agribusiness. It doesn’t just produce food, but it [also] produces citizens. The idea behind it goes back to Greece, if you read Xenophon’s “Oeconomicus” or Varro the Latin agronomist, the message that comes out of that is that farming requires your brain and your brawn. So you plan an orchard, but then you physically have to enact that, so if you’re a farmer who can only think, you’re not going to succeed in a pre-industrial society, but if you’re just a brute, you’ll make mistakes. So they felt that farming gave a person the perfect balance between the head and the body. And then it allows them to connect in a realistic fashion with nature. People in town … were either afraid of it or they romanticized it. But the farmer was a partner with nature. He knew that he had to kill bad bugs to produce wheat. But he also understood there were good bugs that ate the bad bugs. So he tried to find a balance.
In classical agronomy, the idea was that that process created a different type of citizen. In other modalities, people either didn’t own the land that they worked, or they were indentured—in other words, they had small plots, but they didn’t have a title to it. So if you give a man a title, and they own it, they improve it, and you have inheritance laws that allow them to pass it on, then you create an involved citizen. If the citizen is a serf, or peasant, or renter, then you cannot have a constitutional government because they’re restless, they’re envious, they’re angry, and they don’t improve the property when they rent something.
American Essence: Thomas Jefferson saw the yeoman farmer as key to the preservation of a good government. Yet over the centuries, that ideal has been displaced. A smaller and smaller chunk of the population farms the land, pushed out by agribusiness and government.
What then is there to conserve when we speak of conserving the farm and traditional food production?
Mr. Hanson: When the Founders ratified the Constitution, 95 percent of the constituency was farming. … By the end of the Depression, World War II, we’re down to 20 percent. It’s now down to 1 percent of the population is involved directly, or maybe 2 percent. So it’s maybe 4 or 5 million people out of 330 million.
The Founders were worried about a number of things. People wouldn’t know where their food came from. They wouldn’t have that experience of working physically, with nature, to grow something. They wouldn’t have a compound rather than just a house. The farmhouses, when I grew up, in the last vestiges of farming, were multi-generational.
So this house, I was told, in 1935, had 28 people living in it, and the other buildings around had another 30 during the Depression. When I grew up, this house was full: My grandparents lived here, they had a daughter who was crippled, we lived down the road, the kids free-ranged, cousins were here, neighbors dropped in. It was just booming. And that was what farmhouses were. So my grandmother had the Wednesday Walnut Club [consisting] of all the people who had walnut groves, and they tried to do self-improvement. Or they had the Eastern Star or they had the Masonic Lodge or the Elks Club. And when you look at them, they were all about self-improvement.
So it was the type of sinews and community that encouraged Little Leagues, hospitals, PTAs, community schools, but it’s wiped out now. All the houses around 40 acres, they’re wiped out. The person that I rent 42 acres to, he owns 12,000 acres. And the houses that he rents from used to be homesteads. They’re now usually inhabited by people from Mexico, many of them here illegally. There is an MS-13 group down here, there’s a gangbanger there. There’s prostitution there. There’s dogfighting. Because people are renting the home, and the land has been farmed by a corporation. So there’s no community. It’s rich and poor. And so that’s what Jefferson and other people were worried about. [Family farming] was a way of maintaining a middle class.
The $64,000 question is, can that ideology be transferred to a modern industrial society? So if you have an independent trucker—to take just one example—he owns his own rig, he’s a mechanic. He is an expert in refrigeration, and he’s responsible for his own load. He’s very different than a teamster that works for Walmart. In other words, he goes to a trucking dispatcher, and they say, “Mr. Smith, you’ve got to take 20 tons of steel to Dallas,” and he figures out the route, he works on his own truck, and he does it. And that creates an independent-minded person. And you can see that when parents run into a school board and say, “You can’t teach my child this,” or “We’re not going to take this.” Often, they tend to be small business people. You have to have people like that in our society. You can’t have everybody working for the government or corporation.
American Essence: How can we maintain the values without that farming family backbone?
Mr. Hanson: It’s very hard because their values are based on shame in traditional societies, and we have transmogrified that into guilt. So if I was in this house 60 years ago, and my grandmother said to me, “You said the word ‘darn.’” She just wouldn’t have said, “You said the word ‘darn.’” She said, “Are you gonna go out there and say that word in front of everybody? What are they gonna think of us? They’re gonna think we taught you that. You don’t say that or you’re going to shame the entire family.” Whereas today, it’s maybe at most private guilt, “Oh, I feel so bad I said it,” but there’s no mechanism to enforce behavior.
I remember my grandfather would say, “Now you’re driving to high school. So I know what you boys do. You all go have a beer on Friday night, but you’re under 21. You want your parents to wake up on Saturday morning and it [a newspaper headline] says, ‘Hanson boy caught with Coors beer in his car’? They will do that, and then what are we going to do?” So that was the emphasis. That’s what the modern therapeutic society rebelled against and said, “That’s judgmental,” but they didn’t replace it with anything other than, “Oh, it wasn’t my fault,” or “I had a bad childhood,” or “I was offended,” or “It was unfair,” or “They did this to me because of my race or sex or gender.” That was a very different method of maintaining a more collective morality.
This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.
Her name alone is nearly poetic, but it is history and grandeur that give Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave her befitting nomenclature.
She is the great-granddaughter of Henry Villard, a Bavarian native who came to America with only 20 borrowed dollars in his pocket—only to make groundbreaking financial ventures and become president of the Northern Pacific Railroad and owner of the New York Evening Post. He also built what has become one of Manhattan’s most recognizable architectural landmarks: the Villard Houses, a Gilded Age mansion that today houses the luxurious Lotte New York Palace hotel.
He believed so much in the greatness of America that he put his whole soul into the railway company—allowing it to complete the country’s second transcontinental railroad—and funded Thomas Edison’s early experiments in electricity, Alexandra reflected. Meanwhile, the Villard Houses remain one of the few surviving examples of stunning design by the acclaimed architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White.
The American Story
Villard immigrated to the United States in 1853 from Germany at the age of 18. Within five years of arriving in America, he mastered the English language and began working for leading daily newspapers at the time. Villard covered the famous presidential debates between Abraham Lincoln and Democratic Illinois senator Stephen Douglas over the issue of slavery. Lincoln took a shine to him, and included him in his entourage. Villard was the only correspondent, then working for the Associated Press, to accompany the president-elect on his inaugural train from Springfield, Illinois to the nation’s capital. Then, during the Civil War, he was a war correspondent for The New York Herald and later for the New-York Tribune. In his coverage, he made sure black soldiers were properly commemorated for their service.
He was there when Thomas Edison famously lit up the first incandescent light bulb at Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1879. Villard would later hire Edison to install lighting aboard his new steamship, the S.S. Columbia. That was the first commercial installation of Edison’s invented light bulb. The installation was successful as the ship made its trip around South America. “Ofall of my patrons,” Edison said, “Henry Villard believed in the light with all his heart.”
In 1881, Villard secured control of the Northern Pacific Railroad company through what modern-day finance would call a leveraged buyout. At the time, Villard was the president of major railway companies operating in the Pacific Northwest. But one major competitor, Northern Pacific Railroad, stood in the way. He started buying shares of the company quietly. But it was not enough to gain control. He came up with the idea, known as the ”blind pool,” of raising money for the venture by asking his friends to invest in a secret opportunity. By not revealing the plan, the investors became eager to get in on the novelty. Meanwhile, his intentions would be hidden from the competitor company. The tactic worked, and he became president of the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Later, he bought two of Edison’s electric utility companies, Edison Lamp Company and Edison Machine Works, and formed them into the Edison General Electric Company in 1889. He served as president until its reorganization in 1893 into the General Electric Company.
Villard built his wealth from the ground up and was generous with it, paying off debts for universities and financing some of America’s most iconic colleges and architectural preserves, including Harvard University, the University of Oregon, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
He was so inspiring to his great-granddaughter, Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave, that she honored his legacy in a 2001 biography co-authored with John Cullen called “VILLARD: The Life and Times of an American Titan.” The book tells of his remarkable rise from humble beginnings, eventually becoming a powerful financier and befriending luminaries like then-general Ulysses S. Grant (while covering the Civil War), and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, among many others.
As a photojournalist, Villard de Borchgrave built a reputation on the merits of her own talents, with her work appearing on the covers of international magazines such as Newsweek and Paris Match. The late president of Egypt Anwar Sadat, Henry Kissinger, and the late U.S. president George H.W. Bush are among the many world leaders she photographed, and her portraits hang in government offices around the world.
She went on to establish a charitable organization called the Light of Healing Hope Foundation, which gifted books of hope to comfort patients receiving treatment at hospitals and hospices. With an eye toward helping those in the military, her foundation donated thousands of gifts to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Navy Seal Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, and American Gold Star Mothers. During its 12 years of activities, her organization also provided uplifting books and journals to several children’s facilities, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing. Villard de Borchgrave donated over 70,000 gifts which included her books of poetry and musical DVDs, for those who could not read, to over 100 medical centers nationwide. She developed and shared a total of eight inspirational publications including her first book, “Healing Light: Thirty Messages of Love, Hope, & Courage.”
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, United Nations secretary-general during the 1990s, wrote the foreword for “Healing Light.” Villard de Borchgrave and her husband Arnaud, who enjoyed a long career as chief foreign correspondent for Newsweek, had become friends with Boutros and his wife Leia while in Cairo in the 1960s. The couples were having dinner together in Paris when Villard de Borchgrave asked him to write the foreword, and so he did. “He just took a paper napkin on the table,” she recalled, and “penned it.”
Despite her many accomplishments, Villard de Borchgrave is most proud of her long marriage. She and her husband Arnaud, who passed away in 2015, were bonded for more than 45 years by their love of adventure and for each other. “In the 47 years since the first moment we met, Arnaud never failed to inspire me with his courage and determination,” Villard de Borchgrave passionately professed.
She also humbly pays homage to her parents, describing her mother as “a warm and giving person” and her father as someone who instilled a good work ethic in her, having worked on the U.S. Marshall Plan that helped rebuild European countries after World War II. Most of all, Villard de Borchgrave said, she draws inspirational humility from those who have been forced to overcome unspeakable tragedies. “I’m most inspired by the ability of those who are suffering,” she said, “to find a way to express gratitude despite the pain and hardship they are experiencing.”
Not only has Villard de Borchgrave honored her great-grandfather’s legacy through her biography about him, but has also, through her own work, continued to carry forth the same message of hope, courage, and resilience that he displayed throughout his life. “Henry Villard believed in America,” she said. “To this day, our country offers unique opportunities to anyone with the courage and determination to realize a dream, just as he did.”
This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.
Adam Brand, fourth-generation co-owner of M&S Schmalberg Custom Flowers, joined his family business about 12 years ago. “My dad was a flower man. I never really appreciated what that meant,” said Brand. “The business was 90 years old at the time, and I didn’t appreciate that either.” It was only when Brand started coming into the factory and seeing the passion and admiration through the staffs’ eyes, that he finally realized the importance of his family legacy. Brand’s pride and ambition in continuing this legacy stem from his ancestor’s love for the craft. “It’s absolutely morphed into something that I love, and I’m proud of,” he said.
Located in the heart of New York City’s historic Garment District, Schmalberg is the last remaining artificial custom flower factory in the entire city. The flowers are still handmade by expert flower makers, using traditional techniques and vintage molds passed down in the family.
Schmalberg has worked with numerous top fashion designers like Vera Wang, Marchesa, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, and J. Crew. The company has also produced flowers for theatrical productions and TV shows—typically used for costumes or to emulate flowers in vases—like “The Gilded Age” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” “We’ve worked with the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the Australian Opera, and even Walt Disney,” Brand said.
The company was founded by brothers Morris and Sam Schmalberg in 1916, when the Garment District was considered the fashion manufacturing capital of the world. “There’s a picture in the hallway of 35th Street in the ‘40s,” said Brand. “And you see all the trucks and pushcarts. It was like a highway of just fabrics and dresses going from one factory towards another to the designer.”
Brand’s grandfather, Harold, was a Holocaust survivor from Poland. Harold was 17 years old, and living in their attic, when he first started helping out at Schmalberg, a company started by his uncles. Harold eventually got married and had children—Adam’s father, Warren Brand, and Warren’s sister, Debra—who took over as their father got older. Adam now runs the family business, assisted by his team of expert flower makers.
Traditional flower making is on the decline, as an increasing number of companies have turned to Chinese manufacturers and automation. “As the last competitors in New York closed down, a lot of the time, my dad would buy out their old tools,” said Brand. “There’s nobody who owns a factory like this that could make thousands, 10 thousand pieces or more, that pays New York wages. That’s really a true American-made company.” Every single flower that leaves their factory is proudly made with vintage molds that have remained in the family for decades.
The Gift of Flowers
The company produces flowers using a variety of materials: silks, synthetic polyester, leather, suede, cotton, velvet, felt, and velour, but they are capable of using almost any fabric. “Most of what we do for clients is with their own material. That’s kind of what makes us special,” explained Brand. He has transformed many old wedding dresses that would have otherwise been forgotten in an attic somewhere, into beautiful flowers. Customers often gift them to their children or loved ones as tokens to cherish forever.
The company often gets approached by clients for unique projects, from making flowers for weddings, to crafting florals from curtain drapes that match a bouquet on the dining table. “We had a bride once send us fabric from her wedding dress, and we cut 100 flowers that she put on the plates of every guest,” Brand said. They also work closely with milliners who purchase flowers for their hats.
Brand has also worked with Eagles and Angels, a company that salvages veterans’ old army uniforms, and repurposes them into high-end accessories. Together, they took old uniforms and created limited-edition fabric carnations from them. Brand said that these types of custom orders give him the most joy, because the company is helping to repurpose something with a lot of memories into something beautiful, while offering loved ones a way to honor these heroes’ sacrifices.
One of the perks of working with an American-made company is the versatility, customization, and level of detail that goes into every product. “We did a project with Marc Jacobs, who wanted flowers with specific color graduations on them for a runway piece,” recalled Brand. “They came in on a Thursday and needed everything by the weekend, like five thousand flower petals.” The company brought fabric that had been pre-dyed in-house, and Brand’s team cut it to achieve the unique coloring they wanted on the flowers. This would not be possible if manufacturing was off-shored.
M&S Schmalberg has a special crafting process that allows them to produce detailed pieces for their clients. He explained that the company either offers its own fabrics, or clients send in their own. Then, the team will cut the material into panels and apply a fabric stiffener to it, to provide the material a little extra body, and allow its shape to hold better when placed in the molds. This also allows the embossing molds to imprint on the fabric better.
Brand explained that, in the old days, workers would use vintage die cutters and a rubber hammer—swinging hard over the mold—to cut the fabric. “As long as I’ve been alive, we don’t have to do that,” he said. To make the process easier and less hazardous, the company sawed the long handles off the molds and now uses a mechanical machine to automatically do the cutting. “We’re still using the same fundamental process, but we’ve modernized it. It’s safer; it’s faster, and it’s more efficient.”
Next the fabric is embossed with vintage molds inside a modified electric hydraulic press. The operator simply has to place the petals on the plate and push a button on the side, allowing the machine to press the flowers into unique shapes. “It’s just a more modern way, but still using the same molds that have been in the family,” said Brand. The final step in the process is assembling the flower petals to make a complete piece, which is done by slipping flower petals through a wire and using a special paste to hold them together.
Family and Legacy
Each member of Brand’s team has been working with the family for decades and has formed a special bond with them. “Alex, who does the cutting in the back, used to come over for Thanksgiving and different holidays when I was 3 or 4 years old,” Brand recalled. Miriam, who weaves flowers together by hand, “was here long before I was even born.”
Brand hopes to someday hand over the reins to his daughter, Skylar, who is just over a year old. “To be able to have the opportunity to pass it down would be really, really outrageous,” he said.
When Sean Washington was growing up in Shreveport Louisiana, the only free summer program he had access to was golf.
“I grew up in a single parent household,” Washington said. “My mom raised me and my brother and we lived right up the street from the city golf course. It was a good way for all the kids on the block to go do something constructive.”
Washington was only 9years old but he says he will always remember the caliber of men he met there every summer until he was 15 years old.
“All the African American professionals went to that golf course,” he said. “It was a raggedy golf course but it was their country club, so to speak, and I got to see solid men like doctors and lawyers talk business while they had fun. I was part of a group of 8 boys who got to caddy for them because there were no golf carts at the time.”
Washington, who works as a financial advisor, now lives in Frisco, Texas where he recreated his childhood experience to benefit others with Golf 3:16, which he co-founded with Eric Williams.
“Golf put me in a place of seeing the positiveness of men and being around them and getting that culture and understanding of the ability of what I could do,” Washington said. “With Golf 3:16, we are exposing kids to the possibilities of what they can do versus where they see themselves today but, bigger than that, they are introduced to God.”
Both Williams and Washington, who play golf every weekend, consider themselves to be men of God who serve as mentors in their local church. They envisioned using Golf 3:16 to teach at-risk students life skills like perseverance, leadership and overcoming challenges. That was 11 years ago.
“What’s invaluable for us is the core values that we teach our kids, which include faith, self-discipline, respect, servanthood, accountability, and integrity,” said Williams who works as a pharmaceutical executive. “While the game is played, within the ropes, these core values transcend the game and can help the students be strong citizens in whatever city they end up in by leveraging those core values.”
Since then, 130 children have participated in Golf 3:16. At least one has received a college scholarship for golf, specifically.
“We’ve had kids come through the program and end up excelling in other sports or academically,” Williams added. “We have several students who are now playing in Frisco Independent School District who otherwise would not have been interested in the game.”
Some 6 percent of all National Collegiate Athletic Association (N.C.A.A.) golfers are black, Latino, or Native American, according to media reports, with Asians representing 5.9 percent of all players. But with programs like Golf 3:16, Washington hopes more golfers of color will emerge in the future.
“If there was more exposure to the sport by family members and a commitment from people who are already engaged in golf, I think we would have a bigger number of kids interested in golf,” he said.
Golf 3:16 is an acronym for God Offers Love and Forgiveness from the Bible verse John 3:16.
“We create an environment of learning and we make that experience fun with gift cards and extra snacks if they do something different or putt or share a Bible verse, for example,” Washington said. “That helps break up the monotony of just hitting a golf ball.”
Golf 3:16 was among the 20 nonprofits this year that received a grant from the Village Giving Circle, a philanthropic organization dedicated to funding black nonprofit organizations in North Texas. Golf 3:16 plans to use the $11,000 to invest in their students and provide greater access and opportunity for them to learn.
“We wanted those funds to be able to purchase a vehicle so that we can get kids to our program who don’t have a ride,” Williams said.
The program takes place year-round on Sundays from 2 pm to 5 pm at the Lake Park Golf Course in Lewisville and includes monthly service projects as well as four life skill classes.
“The golf course we went to initially for about the first eight years was in The Colony, Texas and we didn’t have to pay anything because they believed in our vision,” Washington said. “It was a very small course and we were limited in what we could do. That’s why we moved from that course to Lake Park where we do now pay.”
To navigate around the cost of golf, Washington and Williams have turned to grassroot resources.
“We have a few fundraising events,” Washington said. “One is a big golf tournament we have held every year over the last six years, which is probably one of the biggest golf tournaments in North Dallas. It has given us the great opportunity to secure the resources we need from people who connect to our vision of introducing children to God with the game of golf.”
New Orleans is passionate about its bread, especially when it comes to the po-boy. Some say the city’s signature sandwich, usually stuffed with fried oysters, shrimp, roast beef, sausage, or meatballs, isn’t the real deal unless it’s served on a locally baked Leidenheimer loaf.
“The most important part of the po-boy is the bread,” said Joanne Domilise, one of the family members who runs Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar. “Leidenheimer’s bread has a crispy crust and is light and airy inside. It’s not bready or doughy like a hoagie or submarine. If you don’t have the right bread, it’s just not a po-boy.”
Like Domilise’s, and many other local institutions, the G.H. Leidenheimer (pronounced LYE-den-high-mer) Baking Company is a century-old family food business. It’s been a hub of New Orleans French bread baking for 125 years.
A Family Legacy
Founder George Leidenheimer immigrated to New Orleans from Deidesheim, Germany in the late 1800s, and established his namesake bakery in 1896. Initially, he made the dark, dense brown breads popular in his homeland. But he found success perfecting lighter French-style breads to complement the local cuisine, which draws from the bounty of the Gulf waters and the city’s Creole and Acadian heritage.
As the nation’s interest in regional American cooking and artisan foods grew over the years, and New Orleans became a tourism hub known for its outstanding restaurants, recognition for Leidenheimer’s distinct breads grew.
Being a local family-run business was also important.
“Family culture is everything in New Orleans,” said Robert J. Whann IV, known as Sandy, a fourth-generation member of the Leidenheimer family. “People return home to this city to be with their families. That’s why it has many multigenerational families who run businesses.”
Whann’s grandmother was George Leidenheimer’s only daughter, Josephine. Her husband, Robert J. Whann Jr., took over the company with his brother, Richard.
Sandy Whann joined the company in 1986, after college, and today, he runs it with his sister, Katherine.
“I’ve been fortunate during my 35-year tenure to work with Katherine to manage the company. My brother-in-law, Mitch, has served as operations manager for 20 years. My son, William, and daughter, Katie, are now also involved with the company.”
Whann takes carrying on the family baking tradition seriously. You won’t see a gluten-free loaf coming out of this bakery.
“We produce traditional New Orleans French bread, and we are blessed that we are kept busy doing it. When we are approached about doing something new we have to consider it very carefully. We are not going to jump on the bandwagon and bend to trends,” he said.
Since 1904, Leidenheimer’s baking headquarters have been in a large white brick building on Simon Bolivar Avenue in the central city. Many of the company’s 100 or so employees represent multiple generations.
“Being family-run with many long-tenured employees is a potent combination for success. We have route salesmen who have been with us over 40 years, and many bakery employees for 20 years,” said Whann.
A Time-Honored Process
My mother used to tell me New Orleans’s bread has a unique texture because of the water. Whann acknowledged that the local water has a good pH level for making bread, but explained the time-honored process in further detail.
Leidenheimer’s bread is made with flour, yeast, water, and a little salt and sugar. Lard was removed in the 1960s and replaced by small amounts of soybean oil. The flour is milled from a high-gluten spring wheat, sourced in the Dakotas and shipped to Ardent Mills near Baton Rouge. The company has been milling flour for Leidenheimer’s for 70 years.
“We start with the best ingredients and let time and temperature do their work through natural fermentation,” Whann said. “All our po-boy loaves are hand-stretched. Our bakery workers know by touch when the dough is right, from how much water to add to how long to stretch it to achieve that light consistency.”
Once the dough is ready, the baking process involves copious amounts of steam and monitoring the temperature to achieve just the right texture.
Weather is also an important factor. “New Orleans is an inhospitable place for bakers. We have two seasons: It’s either hot and cold [in the winter] or hot and hotter [in the summer],” Whann said. “Our bakers need to be aware of the weather conditions since the dough is sensitive to atmospheric conditions such as humidity and temperature.
“For French bread, which is inherently light, on a day with 100 percent humidity, it acts like a sponge. We have to bake the bread more to keep its texture. On colder days, we need to bake the bread less.”
Leidenheimer produces a small variety of artisan breads, sold locally and distributed nationally. There are three main types:
Its signature pistolet is an oblong loaf with a very crisp crust and a fluffy interior—a texture many compare to cotton candy. Available in different sizes, up to 12 inches long, the pistolet is usually served warm, wrapped in white napkins, at fine dining restaurants like Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s.
“I can always tell locals from the visitors when our pistolet is brought to the table,” Whann said. While visitors reach for a fork and knife, “locals just grab the bread and tear it apart with their hands to share with their table companions.” Either way, the light-as-air loaf is heavenly slathered with butter.
The po-boy loaf is a 32-inch-long French bread loaf used for the namesake sandwich. Unlike a traditional French baguette, which has tapered ends, a po-boy loaf, like the pistolet, is uniform from end to end.
The muffaletta is a large, round, seeded bread used to make a sandwich by the same name. Another New Orleans icon, the muffaletta sandwich is a savory combination of salami, ham, provolone cheese, marinated olives, and giardiniera, said to have been created in 1906 by Central Grocery in the French Quarter, to feed the Italian immigrants who worked at the nearby dockyards.
Locals Loyal to the Last Crumb
New Orleans has many family-run bakeries known for their signature products, whether cakes, pastries, or breads. But when it comes to New Orleans French bread, loyalists always look to Leidenheimer’s.
“Leidenheimer’s is the only bread in town with that crackly crust. It’s both an art and a science to make it with such consistency,” said Justin Kennedy, general manager and head chef at Parkway Bakery and Tavern. They sell about 2000 sandwiches a day. “We lightly toast our bread to bring out that crunch even more.”
That loyalty transcends distance. At Local Catch Bar and Grill in Santa Rosa, Florida, chef Adam Yellin, a transplant from New Orleans, only uses Leidenheimer bread for the restaurant’s po-boys. “When I was living in New Orleans, we’d squeeze the bread a little and listen for the outside crunch to know it was fresh,” he recalled.
“Good to the last crumb,” is Leidenheimer’s slogan—and it’s true. New Orleanians know to ask for extra napkins and a crumb catcher when they tear apart a pistolet or devour a po-boy. All that crust leaves a beautiful mess of crumbs!
The Po-Boy: Perfect End-To-End
The history of the po’boy explains how the unique loaf for the sandwich was created.
Louisiana-born brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin worked as streetcar conductors before opening Martin Brothers Restaurant in the French Quarter in 1922. In 1929, when the streetcar workers went on strike, the Martin Brothers, sympathetic to the workers’ plight, gave them free sandwiches filled with fried potatoes, gravy, and bits of roast beef on French bread loaves. When a striking worker would come into the restaurant, one of the brothers would call out, “Here comes another poor boy.”
As Whann tells the story: “Back then, the bread was a traditional French baguette with tapered ends. The person who received the middle portion of the sandwich made out like a bandit, but those with the ends were not as fortunate. The Martin Brothers asked a local baker, John Gendusa, to make a 32-inch loaf that could be cut into equal-size sandwiches. No one would be stuck with the ends.” The sizable, shareable sandwich was a hit and became part of the Martin Brothers regular menu.
Now, the ubiquitous sandwich can be found on many menus, from small po-boy shops to fine restaurants throughout New Orleans and beyond.
Melanie Young writes about wine, food, travel, and health. She is the food editor for Santé Magazine, co-host of the weekly national radio show “The Connected Table LIVE!” and host of “Fearless Fabulous You!” both on iHeart.com (and other podcast platforms). Instagram@theconnectedtable Twitter@connectedtable
Tea has always been a part of the Stowe family. What initially started as a traveling tearoom in 2011, bringing tea and baked goods to families all over Middle Tennessee and parts of Alabama, has transformed into what is now a physical tearoom on a 68-acre farm in Campbellsville, Tennessee. Three Sisters Tearoom is run by Jennifer Stowe and her three daughters, Julia, Andrea, and Meredith.
The Stowes would drive in the family car and set up base at various sites, including local senior centers, nursing homes, and libraries, to bring tea and cookies to local communities. The family would organize discussions about the history of tea, teach patrons about the different kinds of tea, and offer tea tastings.
Three Sisters Tearoom
After the family’s barn burned down in 2014, they had the idea of rebuilding and transforming the place into a physical tearoom. “We just thought maybe we didn’t need to travel so much bringing tea to people—we could have them come to us,” said Jennifer, mother to the three girls. Despite sitting on a large farm, the tearoom itself is tiny, with maximum indoor seating accommodating up to 20 guests at any one time. Weather permitting, there are an additional eight seats outdoors. “Six years on, that little tearoom has been home to all of our events and gave our traveling tearoom a home,” said Julia.
All three sisters have a role in the tearoom, from greeting guests, to baking the numerous sweet treats on offer, to washing dishes after a long day of entertaining guests. “Meredith was only six when the tearoom first opened. She was our greeter and just hugged everybody! And a lot of our clients are seniors, some of them widowed, so it meant a lot to them, getting a hug from a little girl,” Jennifer told me.
Jennifer’s second daughter, Andrea, is responsible for the analytical and organizational aspects of the family business, like filling out the spreadsheets, scheduling, sending newsletters, and other administrative duties. Julia oversees the baking. “She has mastered the scones. We have our signature lavender white chocolate scones, which she makes so well with lemon curd,” said Andrea. The youngest sister, Meredith, still greets all the clients, even at the age of 13. She also irons all the tablecloths.
Operating a family business has its advantages. Jennifer said if she didn’t have the chance to run the tearoom with her daughters, she probably wouldn’t run one at all. “For me, it’s really the best situation. I get to do something that I love, express creativity, extend hospitality, and work with my most favorite people in the world.” The tearoom simply serves as an extension of the Stowe family home, and this translates into the domestic comfort and warmth it provides to its patrons.
The most important part of running a tearoom is building a community, Julia told me. “It’s very much a place to build friendships, and seeing people through the years who were strangers now become very dear friends, both with us and each other, is a treasured aspect of having a tearoom.”
A Place of Deep Friendship and Community
The tearoom served an important role to the local community after the pandemic lockdown restrictions were lifted. “Mom brought a lot of joy into their lives,” said Meredith. “It was just a time for them to come and enjoy peace, and spend time with people after being home for so long.”
Jennifer explained that a lot of women who visit her tearoom have suffered many heartbreaks and tragedies, whether that be losing their husbands, jobs, or other family members. However, the tearoom offers them much-needed solace and friendship.
One of the most touching aspects is the uniting of patrons, regardless of age or experience. “When you see a senior and young adult who just find similar passions and can converse about it, that, to me, is just amazing,” said Meredith.
The tearoom also offers events, one of their popular ones being their Afternoon Tea Flight, which involves learning about a different country each month. “We enjoy tea the way they would have it, and we eat their food,” said Jennifer. The owners provide a small presentation on the origin of the tea, along with cultural aspects like music, food, and even the use of incense. The tea flight starts from China, continuing all the way through Europe, and eventually landing in the United States. Each attendee receives a little passport and gets a stamp for every Tea Flight attended. Jennifer said it offers customers the opportunity to experience different cultures, something they may never have gotten the chance to encounter coming from a small town.
They have even featured yak butter tea, a popular beverage in the Himalayas of Central Asia, particularly in Tibet. This drink was traditionally drunk by the Tibetan people of the North to provide energy and to keep warm in the harsh winters.
Literary tea events are another community favorite, where, according to their website, ladies of all ages are invited to join book discussions over delicious cream teas. The event features a perfectly curated, themed menu that reflects the essence of the book.
Fresh Produce Straight From the Farm
Three Sisters Tearoom uses locally produced ingredients in all the items on its menu, including eggs, greens, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, rhubarb, peppers, and even fruit. The family grows just about everything on its 68-acre farm.
The family also owns many animals, including chickens (for meat and eggs), ducks, and a small herd of Highland cattle (for milk and meat), as well as a few dogs and cats.
The tearoom is sometimes closed for a week or two during the height of summer, when the garden is bursting with fresh produce. This allows the family to finish canning and processing the food and to get ready to open again the following week.
Looking to the Future
Over the years, the Stowes have brought much joy to the lives of everyone they have encountered. They grew from a simple traveling tearoom to building a beautiful paradise for the local community to visit and relax in. But their journey doesn’t end here. The family has plenty of exciting plans for the future, from organizing tea talks on the road to taking their love for tea into classrooms, libraries, and historic homes in the form of educational classes and lectures.
Jennifer has also written many titles and tea-themed books, like “Book of Days: An Artful Guide to Life-Long Learning,” “Afternoon Tea: Rhymes for Children,” “Infused: Tea Time in Fine Art,” and “Wee Bites and Nibbles: Manners and Menus for the Tiniest Tea Drinkers.” Her daughter, Julia, is a graphic designer and frequently aids in the artistic production of the books.
Other short-term plans involve planting more perennials to liven up the grounds, building a courtyard garden, and building an outdoor room where they can serve tea and host more people.
Outside of the tearoom, the girls share their admiration for tea with their friends in college and while traveling. “It draws people and builds relationships, even outside of the tearoom business,” commented Andrea.
“Our tearoom is certainly very dear to my heart,” said Julia. “And whatever different paths it may take in the future, it will still be part of our lives in some way.”
The Isacs have always treasured the Thanksgiving holiday season as an important time to reflect on all things they are grateful for. Their appreciation has only increased after the untimely passing of Peter Isacs, a loving husband and father, in August 2020, due to an aneurysm.
After Peter passed away, the family were bracing themselves for a difficult Thanksgiving. But Nadine and her two sons, PK and Christopher, decided to channel their grief into something positive. “Historically, in our family, when one of us has a good idea, we all tend to remember it as our own. We have since joked about which one of us actually initiated the idea for this book, but we now know in our hearts it was Peter,” they wrote in their new book, “Gobble,” scheduled for release in October. “We’re very grateful for the inspiration that we had to write this book,” said Nadine in a recent interview.
“Gobble: The Quintessential Thanksgiving Playbook” serves as a guide on how to organize the perfect family Thanksgiving. It covers everything from festive games and activities to laying out a beautiful table for the occasion. The book also discusses the importance of setting family traditions for the holiday season, from taking a short stroll between dinner and dessert, to starting a “gratitude” tablecloth and getting everyone to write one thing they are thankful for every year.
Embracing Family Traditions
For example, the Isacs put up their Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving in their Litchfield Hills, Connecticut, home. They say they do this for several reasons: the first is to be able to enjoy the tree for as long as possible; the second is to enlist the help of guests to put up Christmas ornaments. “It’s a great way to kick off the Christmas season,” they stated in their book.
For both PK and Christopher, Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday, as it is a time to focus on family. “Traditions are a really effective way to share that love,” said PK. Christopher believes that traditions serve as a way to bond and for family members to express gratitude for each other. “Living in gratitude helps one appreciate the good times and get through the bad. Gratitude can be very similar to empathy in a lot of ways, especially when you’re with family and you’re sharing in the gratitude for the opportunity to be there together, grateful for everything you’ve done for each other, and grateful for everything that you’ve gotten out of the past year,” said Christopher.
Treasuring the Final Moments
Nadine remembers the days leading up to her husband’s passing as a particularly special time for the whole family. “We were in the middle of a pandemic, and had we not been, the boys would probably not have been home.” She is grateful for this time, as it allowed the family to be in each other’s company. “We had some incredible family time leading up to this death,” she recounted. The evening that Peter passed away was the most poignant day to her. “It was a gorgeous August day. If you could design a day for your last day, it would have been designed the way he lived it,” she said. He started the day by reading the newspaper and then riding on his tractor—something he loved to do.
“In the evening, we went to our meadow and had a beautiful summer dinner all together. And then, ironically, he came up and watched his favorite movie with the boys, which was ‘Star Wars,’” Nadine chuckled. After that, he told his family he loved them and got into bed. An hour later, he was gone.
The family shared many warm memories about Peter and his love for food, family, and tradition. Chris said, “My first memory of helping out in the kitchen was doing the onions, carrots, and celery and chopping them up for my dad, who was making stuffing for Thanksgiving.”
Fostering a Love for Thanksgiving
The boys’ father was influential in fostering a love for Thanksgiving. “He was the one who taught us about food, about wine. That all comes from him,” added PK. Every Thanksgiving, each member of the family would assume different roles to help prepare for the occasion. Chris would help with cooking, while his brother PK displayed a keen interest in wine and bartending. Nadine said, “As soon as he was of legal age, and maybe even a little bit before, PK started studying wines. My husband really knew wine, and he also instilled in them an interest in history and geography.” PK spent many hours in the family library, sifting through books about wine regions, varietals, and vinification techniques, while his younger brother Chris studied cookbooks.
Nadine was renowned for creating beautiful table arrangements for the festive season. During holidays, it was common for friends and family to use Nadine’s decorations as inspiration for their own table settings at home. Peter’s mother and grandmother served as influential figures for Nadine, who considered them incredible entertainers and hosts. “I always admired them for the tables they set,” she said.
The Isacs’ appreciation for food and wine has been passed down through the generations. PK and Chris’ grandfather (Peter’s father) kept many books about wine and was awarded the title of Chevalier du Tastevin, a French award given to top wine enthusiasts. While attending Tulane University, both boys hosted elaborate dinner parties for friends, using their cooking and bartending experience from helping out at Thanksgiving.
Gratitude remains a big part of the family, even outside of Thanksgiving. Living through the pandemic and losing a family member has provided the Isacs with a new perspective and a heightened appreciation for each other. “It’s been such an incredible experience,” said Nadine. It has allowed the family to spend more time together while prioritizing good health and maintaining personal connections. “We’ve always taken for granted being in the same room or, you know, giving a hug to someone or just getting together. And I think all of us right now are appreciating that like we’ve never done before,” said Nadine.
I promised myself long ago that if I were ever lucky enough to have grandchildren, I would be the best grandmother! I would read to them, sing to them, take them to wonderful places, and teach them all about life. Little did I know that they would be the ones teaching me.
Mia and Tyler marvel at the world around them, whether it’s a seagull flying high above the beach, or a deer or fox at the forest feeder, gobbling up tasty leftovers. They take great delight in watching these beautiful creatures. When the first snowflakes fell, little Tyler ventured outside and glanced skyward. A look of astonishment crossed his face, but before long he was twirling in circles and squealing with delight. The first time Mia experienced rain, she was mesmerized. Her little fingers reached out and seemed to caress the raindrops, her little nose pressed tightly against the cool damp windowpane. Neither child minds the rain, and actually looks forward to a storm because, as Mia says, “I know there might be a rainbow!”
(Revel in nature’s beauty, and even when it’s familiar, never take it for granted.)
The children like trees and rocks and even pretty weeds. They’re never in too much of a hurry to “stop and smell the roses.” A tiny blossom, a little feather, a shell on the beach, or even a “perfect stick” is special. On our walks, they take delight in a passing dog, a stray cat, or a garden lizard. Tyler is ever on the lookout for fire engines, police cars, and passing trains.
When these two aren’t looking around, they’re looking up … at beautiful fluffy clouds, debating which animal they look like.
(Look around. Take the time to appreciate everything in your world.)
My little ones study people and gravitate toward those who are nice and friendly. They aren’t afraid to make new friends, and while playing in a park, Mia will go up to a random child and ask, “Do you want to be my friend today?” From his balcony or bedroom window, Tyler calls out to greet passers-by whether he knows them or not. And if either one is rebuffed, they aren’t bothered. They simply engage with someone else.
(Never take yourself too seriously. Sometimes you just have to move on.)
Before they could even walk, they couldn’t wait to venture out into the pounding surf, crawling like baby turtles, straight to the sea. And now they both charge full speed ahead to meet the waves, unaware of what they might be getting themselves into. As toddlers, they were afraid to cross over the three-inch gap leading into our home elevator and would wait for me to lift them across. I remember the day Mia studied that gap and then scurried over it! Once inside, she turned to me with the biggest grin, cheered herself with a big “yay,” and gave herself a hearty round of applause. These days after building up their courage at the park, they aren’t afraid to take chances. They’d climb the highest monkey bars or ride the zip line, their fear dissipating after the first try.
(“Sometimes the only method of transportation is a leap of faith.”)
These two are ever eager to try new tasks. Never mind the results. Mia insists on pulling weeds, deadheading flowers, or watering pots in my garden. Both she and her cousin love helping in the kitchen, stirring, baking, or dipping strawberries into creamy chocolate. They want to learn how things are done and “Please! Let me try!” is their mantra. Both have mastered bicycle riding, without training wheels. Tumble after tumble, scraped knees and all, nothing diminished their enthusiasm. Now they’re learning to swim, jumping headlong into their daddies’ arms and then attempting to reach the pool’s edge on their own. I can’t remember a time when either one has said, “I don’t think I can do that.”
(Never quit. Never stop learning. Have faith in yourself.)
If the children try new food and dislike it, they let me know. They feel free (very free!) to tell me where they want to go … the park, the beach, McDonald’s … and what they want to do (which rarely involves school work!)
Even if they don’t know all the words to a song, they sing out loud no matter who is listening. They dance like everyone is watching. If they’re sad, they tell me, ask for a hug, and then reach for a favorite toy or blanket for comfort.
(Say no to things you don’t want, and do what makes your heart happy.)
Mia and Tyler have learned to be very flexible. Their activities, meals, and bedtimes often depend on their parents’ busy schedules. Some days, they are popped in and out of car seats and shopping carts several times a day. When they travel, a change in routine, unfamiliar surroundings, and sleeping in a different bed doesn’t bother them. They’re aware that tomorrow might be completely different from today. No matter.
(Get some sleep. Tomorrow will take care of itself.)
My grandchildren are only 5 and 6 years old. Unlike mine, their skin is tight and smooth. Their hair is silky and shiny. They have energy to burn while my flame often smolders. But none of this makes any difference to them. They sense the gentleness in my heart and see the love in my eyes. They look past the wrinkles and the gray and love me just the way I am. I know, because they tell me so many times a day. They are the essence of unconditional love.
(Tell your loved ones you love them every chance you get … and love them with everything you have.)
I have much to learn.
Karen Brazas is a retired high school English teacher and creative writing instructor who taught in California, China, and Lithuania. She worked and studied in 35 countries with the Semester at Sea program. Karen is a wife, mother, and grandmother, and now lives in Nevada City, California, and Channel Islands, California.
The river’s cool water swirled around the young boy’s legs as he slowly inched his way upstream, hoping to get within casting distance of the beautiful rainbow trout feeding in the gentle current. Next to the boy was his grandfather, carefully watching, guiding, and encouraging him as they drew nearer to the prize. Roughly 20 feet away, the boy began stripping line from the battered fly rod and made his first false casts toward the fish, clearly visible in the late afternoon sunlight. The homemade fly landed lightly on the surface four feet upstream from the trout and began its drift, twisting and turning as a natural insect would.
Magically, the boy watched as the trout rose to inhale the fly, and the battle was on. “You’ve got him, son,” the grandpa said calmly. “Don’t horse him. He’s a beauty.”
Less than a minute later, the rainbow trout was scooped up in the net and smiles graced the faces of both fishermen, one young and the other quite old. At the time, there were no smartphones with fancy cameras to capture the moment. But the human mind has a way of storing away important images for a long time. In this case, that image has lasted for six decades. You see, I was that boy, and standing by my side was my beloved Grandpa Henry.
Since that time, I’ve been blessed to fish for many species in different parts of the world. Dorado in Hawaii, cutthroat trout in the mountains of Colorado, halibut in Alaska, tarpon in Puerto Rico, barramundi in Australia, and more. My fishing companions have ranged from professional guides to good friends. One of my favorites was my daughter, Jeni, who inherited her great-grandfather’s love for the sport.
Over the years, I have learned that fishing is more than the pursuit of a trophy—much more. One of the greatest benefits of fishing is the natural environment in which it takes place. Whether river, lake, or ocean, the amount of life in the water is astounding. The incredibly diverse aquatic life; the flying birds; and the sights, smells, and sounds combine to simultaneously thrill and calm the senses, especially for those of us who have spent too much time being bombarded by car horns, ringing phones, text tones, and demanding television.
There’s another profound benefit from fishing that is all too rare in today’s hectic world: fellowship. While some prefer to fish alone, many find family and friends that share in the joys of the pursuit. Fishing with friends leads to laughs when things go wrong, celebration when things go right, and quiet moments of connecting souls together—souls that are often starved for something deeper than just a quick cup of coffee or drink at the end of the day.
Perhaps the best part of fishing is that it has a way of connecting generations in deep and profound ways. It has a mystifying power strong enough to cause young people to put down their phones, get off social media, and focus on something real for more than a few minutes. Even an afternoon fishing trip teaches important life lessons of planning, execution, patience, celebration, and more.
Last summer, I had the pleasure of introducing my 6-year-old grandson, Zeke, to fishing. Standing at the edge of the water, I taught him how to cast and then stood by as he tried and failed, tried and failed, and then tried and succeeded. When the trout hit his lure, I heard a voice from the past saying:
“You’ve got him, son.”
“Don’t horse him.”
“He’s a beauty.”
Once the trout was safely in hand, Zeke looked up with innocent eyes and smiled. “Grandpa, that was awesome! Can we catch another?” My great hope is that one day, Zeke will stand next to his grandson or granddaughter and watch as fishing becomes an important part of another generation.
Brian D. Molitor has been married for 37 years, with four children and five grandchildren. He is CEO of Molitor International, an award-winning consultancy. Brian is also a filmmaker, author, and avid outdoorsman.
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