Mailboxes and Old Barns: Which is better – Cows or Plumb Lines?

checked corn4 - CopyOur older son called me just before Father’s Day to tell me of a gift he wants to give me in appreciation of my efforts to preserve our MBOBs.

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 be ok.

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, and we easily found their home.

Somewhere in 1950 we heard our dad and uncles having a pretty good laugh after Sunday dinner. Turns out they were enjoying the story 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. 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. It turned out 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? Something to think about.


When I first wrote stories about my young years for our sons I was doing it so that they would know.

When I began writing MBOBs for the Treehouse I was doing it because Sundance and the admins just thought it would be a neat idea. Hmm. So it was.

There was something else cooking in my mind when I start writing for the Treehouse: This is MY COUNTRY and that is not time stamped – it’s a slice of NOW (whenever that NOW may be).


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 old MBOBs 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.



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8 Responses to Mailboxes and Old Barns: Which is better – Cows or Plumb Lines?

  1. partyzantski says:

    That is absolutely awesome in a most heart warming way! 🙂
    The MBOB at times seems like a whole different country in the same polity. Thank you for these!


  2. rashomon says:

    You’ve made me again pay attention to family farming. We now have a large segment of chefs that buy from small farms and ranches who pay attention to the product as well as the environment. While far from me, Vermont seems to be very active in this area. The ever-expanding EPA, however, is tying the hands of those interested in this movement. SO MANY regulations that only reward the Federal employee who is picking up the paycheck or the corporations with endless lobby dollars.

    Meanwhile, keep writing your stories as they do twang some memories in the heart of America. Perhaps that will lead to more interest in small operations interested in preserving quality as well as their environment. Thank you.


  3. Spar Harmon says:

    That is a beautiful plumb bob in your picture, very elegant in it’s geometry and illustrative of something perhaps unintended:: that what we humans set up to go by may be aslant from true. After my geometer’s mind satisfied itself as to why church and bob are askew one another, my eye settles on the church, stone stacked on stone in aspiring plumb, as more satisfying my sense of reliability in important matters — — — there is strong emotional, mental, and spiritual fullness in me looking at that picture from the perspective of a hard and difficult life. There is a deep truth shown in that the true plumb of the present does not match the true plumb of the past. Perspective

    I have, sprinkled back through time, various ‘lode-stone’ moments which are oft visited ‘defining’ moments; some are like sore teeth at which tongue compulsively probes, others are epiphanies which shifted everything thereafter, then scattered moments defying questions of why.
    In 2008 I went to the 50th Reunion of my high school class. I had never been to one before, and not since. There I re-met a grammar/high school classmate who was my first and only date in HS and who I dated one more time 4 years later, after my military service.
    I must leave this story for an hour or so , but will return…..


    • Spar Harmon says:

      Of all the others there, she was the only one with whom I had a lasting re-connect. We established an email relationship and gradually over the course of a year, we filled each other in on the intervening 50 years. Finally I proposed an experiment which she enthusiastically endorsed. The idea was to each write up a remembrance of each of the 2 dates we had had; store each in draft form, and signal readiness; on receipt of readiness from the other, send the drafts in chronological order and immediate succession; on receipt to open each, one at a time, and respond and hold response in draft before reading and responding to the other one; signal readiness; Send responses in quick succession and send one big fat response to both — — — It was amazing how in all but some small details and agreement that these were among our most significant life memories, our memories did not match at all, but we were very strong and loving friends, and very lonely people. And HS sucked, we totally agreed on that.

      This had a profound effect on my reviews of life experiences thereafter.
      May God bless this Tree and all who flit in it’s branches — — —


    • Sharon says:

      I love your observations.

      I found that image on Bing where it had actually been adopted by a Christian group for use on their site apparently (determined by the link there). Apparently their application was, mistakenly or perhaps perfectly-tongue-in-cheek – that they were using it to suggest that individuals should measure their own lives by “the church” (hopefully – the truth of the perfect Gospel presented by an imperfect church).

      But I like your bottom line very much: aspiring plumb.

      There are lots of shifts and mental perspectives to draw from. Love it. Thank you for laying out the word picture.


  4. Cyrano says:

    This is, indeed, YOUR COUNTRY, Sharon. You are the mother of it. And, despite the grumblings you may have heard to the contrary, the world gazes in awe at what you have borne. I’m so very grateful to be a part it. I once raised my right hand, and vowed to give my life if necessary to protect Your country. The hand is still raised in my heart. Thank you for once again reminding me of why I raised it to begin with.


  5. twolaine says:

    Beautiful Stories, Great Lessons! ❤
    I shared, and have been posting the song all over, prepping every American for July 4th :)!


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