Harvesting a Life: Never to late to create

Janet Riehl with father Erwin A. Thompson


by Janet Grace Riehl

My brother and I exchange what has become our ceremonial morning text messages.

Janet: “Daddy’s still breathing.”

Gary (my brother): “Good.”

At 95 my father is in sharp decline. Not bed ridden, mind you, though
he sleeps and rests a lot. But still creating. Still offering himself to the

Still whittling his little critters with his pocket knife and giving
them away—even though he can barely see and his hands cramp.

Still writing. He just started a new novel “Almost Sixteen” and has made it to page 74.

Still singing snatches of old songs to punctuate a conversation or a thought as he
goes about his day. At a family dinner we talk about an exciting baseball game.
He launches into “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” That’s one we all know, so we
join in.

He’s harvesting, you see; we reap the benefits. He’s not just harvesting. He’s still planting seeds for generations to come. He lives to serve. This will serve him well up to his dying breath. Up to the moment when I text my brother: “Pop stopped breathing.”

As long as we are breathing we can write. As long as we are breathing
we can write to serve. We can continue creating a life worth living. We can
harvest our lives to enchant the world as we die. We can harvest our lives so
that even after death our life and work nurtures the generations which follow
us down the long rows in the vast field.


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21 responses to “Harvesting a Life: Never to late to create

  1. An inspiring and insightful post, Janet. What a great family of writers y’all are. May your Dad keep breathing and writing, planting and harvesting for a good while yet.

  2. Thanks, Arletta. We’ll see. The final harvest may well come by harvest time. But, it’s been a life, that’s for sure. And, he’s made a difference.

    Janet Riehl

  3. A lovely memento, Janet. It’s occurred to me just as I began to write this that, while writing is important, even critical, the spoken/sung word has something going for it, a harvest, that even the best writing often can’t quite capture. Thank goodness for recorders! My SO’s grandmother was 105 (at least) when she died and I feel so blessed that he got the slightest bit of her story recorded. Hearing her whispery voice, even in a language I don’t understand, carries a life story to me that I can only wish to try to capture on paper. Thanks for this. Sam

  4. Sam,

    Thanks. One of the things I love about “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music,” is hearing my father’s voice reading his poetry and dueting with me on my poems. Hearing his violin. His singing. When I was in Africa in 2008, I’d listen to him on the CDs with no need to call home.

    We have his stories and songs archived in multiple libraries.

    Janet Riehl

  5. This touched my heart. My mama took her last breath when she was 95. She had her lace knitting in one hand and her TO DO list by her elbow. How enriching. I finished her list and her knitting.

  6. I wish I could say the same about the times when my mom and her brothers and sisters got together and sang and played. I can remember those times, of course, but when I’m gone, they’re gone. My other sisters were younger than I and don’t recall the same things. But there weren’t personal tape recorders then, so… I’m really glad you have your recordings to keep your dad alive. Sam

  7. Pop is my hero! Will you tell him the girl in Dayton, Ohio still thinks he rocks! I have my Pop carving in a place of honor and think of him often. I love hearing him, and you, on Sightlines. Thanks Janet for setting such a generous example of care giving, including making time to nurture your own creative soul as you have in this post. I celebrate you both!

  8. Katherine,

    Love it. “I finished her list and her knitting.” Bodes well for when you are 95, hey?

    Yet…somehow that music is in you and the spirit of it is communicated through your life. Somehow, nothing is ever wasted.

    Janet Riehl

  9. Jude,
    Thanks. I’ve been reading the post and all of your comments to him. He is sitting her in “Mother’s Chair” by the window looking out to the bird feeder. He smiles. And then tears up.

    His carvings are all around the world.

    For those of you unfamiliar with my series “Pop on Mondays” on Riehlife, you can read his story of courage in WW II “The Hardest Decision I Ever Had to Make.”

    In the search box at the top right type “Erwin A. Thompson” and the archives of posts he’s authored and post about him will lead you to additional riches.

    Janet Riehl

  10. I haven’t plugged into your posts in quite awhile, and this is such a lovely re-entry for me. What a graceful and lively exit your father is making, dropping gift after gift by the roadside. Love and hugs and photos – http://gallery.me.com/goslow#100467,


  11. Janet ~ I am struck by your last paragraph. I take this as your gift of harvest to me. Just the words I needed to hear today. Thank you!

  12. Love the picture, Janet. Thanks for sharing these moments.

  13. Thanks, Selena. The photo was taken for a 2010 Father’s Day article that featured Pop and me on the front page. It was so BIG. I was flabbergasted.

    Janet Riehl

  14. Jake, “Graceful and lively exit.” I like that. Words to live and die by.

    Sharyn, I’m glad. I decided to do a looser post this month about Life and Death with Pop…rather than the more structured posts we usually do. I’m glad for the responses.

    Janet Riehl

  15. Oh, yes. Do follow the link to Jake Lorfing’s photo. They are transcendent.


  16. Great blog. Great photo. And your last paragraph went into my journal. It’s a great thought to grow old with. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Nice piece Janet. How lucky for your Dad to still be creative at his age. A lesson for us all who are too tired or busy to write after a day’s work.

  18. You see, a prodigy can bloom later in life, even at 95 years old.

    Erwin’s activities reminds me of this scene:

    Zorba came upon an old man planting an apricot seedling and asked why he, an old man, was planting a new tree. ‘I live life as though i would never die,’ was his reply.

    ‘And me, i live as though i might die tomorrow,’ said Zorba, ‘which one of us is right?’

    Nikos Kazantzakis,
    Zorba the Greek

    Nice shirt, Erwin.

  19. Love this and LOVE the pic!

  20. Janet, Erwin looks very fresh and an epitome of the view that age is not the name of counting years of existence but the harmony of heartbeat and breathing with work and rest. Erwin is truly living. What else can define life better? What else can one desire?

    To me, Eriwn is truly a life model!

  21. Thanks to Pat, Renee, Eden, Judy, and Ernest for your comments on the post, the picture, and my father’s late-in-life creativity in life and work.

    The picture for the father’s day article that appeared on the front page of the newspaper was taken at the last minute on Pop’s porch after a long photo shoot with at least 100 snaps.

    We were just saying good-bye to our photographer guest, at our ease, Pop regaling her with yet another story…when she snapped this one, and said, “That’s it. That’s the one.”

    Her persistence is also a model of pursuing our creative disciplines. Never give up. Don’t settle for less.

    Janet Riehl

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