Cows and Plumb Lines

Our older son called me just before Father’s Day last spring to tell me of a gift he wants to give me in appreciation of my efforts to preserve the mailboxes and old barns of my life.

He recently bought a new camera with lots of digital doo-dads and special features. The point-of-purchase goodies included this: the retailer from whom he purchased the equipment will produce a single copy of a full size, four color coffee table book featuring DS’s photography. It will always be a one-of-a-kind item.

He plans to photograph mailboxes and old barns that he finds in his work-related travel across Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming. When the book (titled Mailboxes and Old Barns) is completed it will be my keepsake, eventually to return to his hands.

He was just checking to see if that would be ok.  Oh, yes. That would certainly be ok.

He was concerned whether it constituted taking my idea. Oh, no. That’s not taking my idea – that’s blessing mom’s heart.

What love is it that puts into the hearts of our children some grotto of life that shelters the same heritage that holds our own hearts steady?

It doesn’t get much better than that.

mailboxThe intangible plumb lines of life that frame our days are made of stuff that came from others. Our response to what came from others somehow becomes part of what is handed along to those who follow. The percentages will vary – sometimes a great deal gets passed along. Sometimes a bit falls to the side.

It was intended to have a nostalgic touch, I suppose, but the gift of a wooden plaque from Knott’s Berry Farm, circa 1973, seemed to have a bit of a bite to it.

While giving your children all the things you didn’t have,

don’t forget to give them the things you did have.

The timeline of parenting seems to be designed specifically to prevent us from knowing how we did until it’s past time to fix what might have been done better. Lots of grace is needed, both during and after the process. But when such grace is then extended from those toddlers turned twenty-somethings and now men in their forties – oh, that’s something.


We had never been to the farm home of our new friends and were headed out there in the fall of 1994. We were told to drive eight miles straight south, turn left on the old state highway, drive two miles, and then turn right on the gravel road. The final instruction was this: “Turn right where the cows are grazing under the old oak tree.”

“What if the cows move before we get there?”

“They won’t. Just turn right when you see the cows….”

The cows did not fail us that day and we easily found their home.

But somewhere in the 1950s we heard our dad and uncles having a pretty good laugh after Sunday dinner. Turns out they were enjoying the report about the farm kid who just last week had cowplowed a pretty crooked furrow for his dad.

He had been instructed to pick a visual target out toward the horizon and, in order to plow a straight furrow, lock in on that point and drive. His dad forgot one detail: your visual reference should not be a moving target.

Dad and son analyzed how the son’s insistence that he done just what dad said had ended up with a curved furrow from end of the field to the other. Turned out that his distant visual cue was a cow that was grazing her way across some other farmer’s pasture.

plumb lineSo – what to steer by? Cows? Or plumb lines? Plumb lines are probably a better bet….

…and then how do things go from being events to being plumb lines?


When I first wrote stories about my young years for our sons I was doing it so that they would know about  and be able to trace the plumb lines.

There was something else cooking in my mind: This is my country and that reality is not time stamped – it’s a slice of now whenever that NOW may occur.


Do you remember the old flannelgraphs in Sunday School and VBS? I suppose they were used in school classrooms sometimes as well but for the most part we flannelgraphexperienced them as the low-tech attention-getter in Sunday School.

Somehow Gideon was just more lifelike if a ten inch Flannel Gideon was stuck to the flannel graph board by the teacher. Flannel King David and The Flannel Lion he had just killed impacted us as though they were a 48 minute Discovery Channel presentation of the wildebeests trekking across the African plains. Again.

We left Sunday School that day knowing, somehow, that we were going to be a little bit like David. Or a little bit like Gideon. A little bit braver. A little bit more practiced with our kitten barn doorslingshots.

On Sunday afternoon, big brothers got talked into helping their sisters throw some stones with the slingshot. The girls were never as good at it – but that didn’t matter. It mattered that they understood a bit – about what a well-aimed stoned could actually do. What a well-aimed stone had actually done at one time in another place. Might have to do in the future – in some time and place yet to be discovered.

Flannel. Part of the plumb line.

The mailboxes and old barns of our lives didn’t just drop out of the sky like marshmallows to be caught by our mummies and daddies every morning and sprinkled over us as we slept. They were constructed with motives, choices, emotions, and loyalties – and now, internalized, they provide fuel in the present.

They need not be framed and set high as though they are untouchable antiques.

Put them into the everyday silverware drawer,

Use them.


I have ordered a supply of soft cover Mailboxes and Old Barns to have on hand if anyone wants to order a signed copy directly from me. The price is $18 and includes shipping costs, so is a bit of a savings over Amazon.
Orders can be placed by emailing me at Payment can be made by PayPal or by check to Sharon Torgerson, P O Box 513, Woodburn, OR 97071.



This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s