catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 1 :: 2007.01.12 — 2007.01.26


The Big C's of Vernon J. Boerman

Editor's Note: The following is a speech given by the author at her father's memorial service on December 30, 2006.  Vern was a Bible and English teacher at Illiana Christian High School in Lansing, Illinois for over 40 years.  At least a third of the attendees at the service, including the editor of this publication have enjoyed his famous chicken soup.


Would you all please indulge me (as one of the many teachers in this family) in a little classroom-like exercise?  Would you please indicate—by a raised hand—all those who have at one time or another partaken of our dad’s famous chicken soup?  Hands up, please.  Let’s see:  if each of you represents at least 3 other people who are not here to raise hands, that makes approximately 17,120 batches of chicken soup—each made with onion, carrots, too much celery (including tops), and usually brown rice (with the occasional substitution of the subpar noodle).  Oh yes, and chicken of course, although there was the special batch Cliff and Mavis Van Beek got without any chicken!  All this soup delivered in coffee cans or (recently) in gallon milk jugs with the top cut out making delivery only possible if one drove 2 miles per hour and didn’t actually turn a corner.

But why bring up chicken soup at a memorial service?  Well, because lots of people call cancer “The Big C,” and I’d like to propose that cancer was NOT the big C in our father’s life.  Rather, many other things competed for that spot in his life, chicken soup being one possible candidate for Big C.

Other possibilities?  Caulk comes to mind.  Again according to my statistically accurate methods, we Boermans estimate that 17,120 tubes of polyurethane caulking came through the front door on Marie Drive, some of it still in the basement but most of it put on windows of houses and condos throughout the Chicagoland and northwest Indiana region.  Perhaps the word canoey work also starts with C.

Cigarettes also make the top contenders list, not because our dad was a smoker, quite the opposite.  If you polled the Boerman offspring during their growing up years, most of us would have agreed that it was quite possible that our paternal figure would meet his end at the hands of a large, tattooed, illiterate person who did not appreciate Vern’s Chaucerian or Shakespearean subtle reference to the damage he was doing to his lungs or the blatant suggestion that kissing a smoker was like licking out an ashtray.  If this smoker had been a student of Dad’s, he or she could have taken advantage of Mr. B’s famous offer of $100 to quit smoking (to be returned upon resuming)—and that’s in 1970s money!

Other possible scenarios for our father’s demise—we surmised—included a similar encounter with another surly, possibly tattooed person who did not appreciate our father’s perspective on her loud rock music choice in the car beside our pink Rambler at a stop light.  It’s amazing just how low one can actually sink in a back seat while still wearing the required seatbelt.  You see, our father loved music—classical music.  “No good music was written after 1750” and “if it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it” he used to say.

But even with all those LP’s with stained glass windows and silver trumpets on the album covers, classical music doesn’t make the top Big C spot.

Controversy is another strong candidate for our father’s Big C.   Letters to the editor written under the clever pseudonym Vernon J. Norman.  Letters to constituents decrying white flight.  Articles written against Sesame Street.  Sesame Street!  And when Time magazine featured a cover story on the death of John Lennon, they got a one-sentence critique with his real name and address attached:  “Has no one got the guts to call John Lennon what he was:  an existentialist pied piper who led countless kids down the rocky rat hole of drugs, rebellion, and purposelessness?”  All these missives typed on the IBM Selectric typewriter until the computer arrived at retirement.

Many other C’s could make Dad’s “Big C” list. Chicago—the city that many of our peers and neighbors never visited, but was a big part of our youth:  Grant Park concerts, Field Museum lifetime membership, Greektown.  Cockpit would qualify as a C in Vern’s life, especially pre-9/11 when his notes to the pilot resulting in a seat in the cockpit for a pilot’s view of landing in San Francisco.  Church, coffee cups, compassion (especially for the poor even though he was often one of them)—all these vie for the Big C spot, but they’re not quite big enough.

We’d be getting closer by suggesting that our dear mom was a huge part of Dad’s life.  That’s right, you think, but how does it fit with C?  A little known fact is that Nancy Vanderzyden’s middle initial is….you guessed it, C!  “Nancy Claudine!” our father was known to bellow across the room.  “I’m going to Thornton!”  Dad would kiss mom—right in front of us!  And then talk about how wonderful it was.  “Why should I go out to eat on my anniversary when I can have the best food in the world right here at home?”  Dad had a sign over his desk that read “The best thing a father can give his children is to love their mother.”  He did that.

Children and grandchildren would certainly vie for the top C spot.  Did you notice how many pictures of Vern feature him reading with a grandchild or two placed in his lap? Dad read to all of us children too:  the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the Arch books with a special voice for the Pharisees, the Narnia chronicles (long after we could read to ourselves), the dictionary and the encyclopedia when questions or debates regarding pronunciation or definition came up at the dinner table.  Children and grandchildren—certainly Big C reasons why Dad wanted to go through treatment these past two years—making possible the first ever Boerman family reunion and his attendance at the first wedding of a grandchild.

But each of these C’s pales in comparison to the real Big C in our father’s life:  Christ.  From that source alone came his comfort in life and in death.  Because of the finished work of Christ crucified, Vern Boerman lives though he has died.  Because of his connection to Christ we his children mourn but not as those who do not have hope.  Because of Christ our Dad who was larger than life in some ways is in fact larger than the Big C—cancer!  Bah!—and he is larger than death itself.  “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  Death has been swallowed up in victory.  ‘Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” 

Now there’s a C big enough to live by—and live for!

your comments

comments powered by Disqus