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Growing Up on Free Fun
I have a great mom, Pauline Bernadeen, and dad, Floyd Leon, and I'm thankful for
my mama and daddy. Now, those really are their names: Floyd Leon (he's
six-feet-two-inches tall) and Pauline Bernadeen (she's only five feet tall). I thank
God every day that I'm named Dennis. Let me tell you why.
My grandpa's name was Elof. He came from Sweden to Texas when he was only fourteen.
My grandma's name was Agda. I also had an Uncle Ungvi, an Uncle Turi, and an Aunt
Signi in my family. Now can you see why every day of my life I thank God that my name is
We Swanbergs are just regular folks. When I was growing up, we didn't always have a
whole bunch of money, but that was all right. We learned to do things that were fun but
didn't cost us anything.
For example, we'd load up the family in our '49 Ford and drive from our country
town down to Congress Avenue, the main street of Austin, Texas. Then we'd park in
front of the Paramount Theater. We never went to the movie; we just watched the people
lined up to go. It didn't cost us a thing. People would line up to buy their tickets,
go in, and come out—and we'd just watch.
I remember how closely my mama and daddy wouldwatch—especially my mama, Pauline
Bernadeen. She would sit there on the front seat and lean up next to Floyd—they were
still in that stage of life where they liked to be close together. My older sister, Sherry
Darlene, and I would sit in the back seat. (My little sister, Teri Linn, wasn't born
yet.) Pauline would snuggle close to Floyd, and he'd put his arm around her. They
would just look at people and have the time of their lives.
Once Mama said, "Look, Floyd, look. Would you just look at that woman? That woman in
red, behind the man in the blue. Look what she has on. Can you believe she's wearing
that? Could you imagine if I wore something like that? Oh my!"
I remember my daddy watching that woman walk all the way down the sidewalk. Then he looked
at us kids, shaking his head sadly, and said, "Isn't that pitiful? Now that is
pitiful." Of course, Daddy was a deacon, so he was especially picky about what people
Sometimes we'd drive over to Robert Mueller Airport and do the same thing. We'd
watch people get on and off the planes. We never flew in a plane, but we enjoyed just
watching people get on and off and watching the planes take off and land.
I remember one time a whole family of five came off a plane. Old Floyd Leon, watching
them, smacked his forehead in disbelief. "Good night, looky there! A family of five.
That is ridiculous. Lord have mercy. One of them could have gone and come back and told
the rest of them all about it."
We kids spent a lot of time at the automatic doors. The airport had just put in some
pressure-sensitive rubber mats. When you stepped on the rubber mats, the glass door
automatically opened. My sister and I could play on that thing for hours. Now I was raised
a Methodist, so I knew how to shake a leg. I would just get a goin', and I'd get
that door a goin' until old Floyd Leon would come over and say, "All right, get
on off there now. Let some other kids play on it for a while." That was the closest
we ever came to Six Flags over Texas.
I learned an important lesson from Daddy and Mama when I was young; I learned how to be
happy, even when we didn't have everything we ever wanted.
Food for Thought
I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.
The apostle Paul wrote to his beloved church at Philippi, "I have learned in whatever
state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere
and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to
suffer need" (Philippians 4:1112). What is remarkable is that Paul was a
prisoner in Rome when he wrote these words. He was on trial for his life. Paul understood
that he could have plenty or little and that he could be content with either.
Bill Gates, who is worth thirty-seven billion dollars and rising, has a
sixty-million-dollar home that took seven years to build. It is a "smart house"
with every conceivable electronic device. Yet I am certain that Bill Gates is not more
content in his multimillion-dollar "smart house" than I was in our happy home in
Austin. There is absolutely no evidence that complexity and materialism lead to happiness.
On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence that simplicity and spirituality lead to joy,
a blessedness that is better than happiness.
Sometimes the people who appear the happiest are the least content. In the earliest days
of Freudian psychiatry, a very depressed man sat in the office of a London psychiatrist.
The doctor could do nothing to cheer the man up. Finally he gave up and suggested to his
patient, "Why don't you go see Grimaldi the clown?" Grimaldi was the
greatest clown in nineteenth-century Europe; surely he could lift this man's spirits.
The patient sighed and remained silent for a long time. Finally he answered, "I am
Grimaldi the clown."
True happiness and contentment cannot come from the things of this world. The blessedness
of true joy is a free gift that comes only from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Excerpted from Swan's Soup and Salad by Dennis Swanberg Copyright © 1999 by Dennis Swanberg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Part One: GROWING UP ON FUN
1. Growing Up on Free Fun
2. Funeral-Home Fans and Tongue Depressors
3. Escalator Excitement
4. Nip It in the Bud
5. Softball Nights
6. Thumpin' and Pinchin'
7. The Toni
8. Jell-O Cubes
9. Swanberg Vacations
10. Hug Your Mother
Part Two: LIVING OUT THE CALL
11. Till They Bubble 67
12. Struck by "The Call"
13. Easter Sunday Surprise
14. A Charmin' Sunday
15. Baptismal Drain
16. Rotel and Relaxation
17. "You're on the Wrong Side!"
18. "How about Those Cowboys?"
Part Three: LAUGHING WITH OUR FRIENDS
19. Biscuit Dough
20. Zipper Revenge
21. Rat Raid
22. Cindy's Praline
23. Hairnets and Halos
24. A Graveside Jingle
25. Weeping, Wailing, and Gnashing of Teeth