Friday, May 22, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column-- May 20, 2015

An excitement, a special sort of energy is in the air on Christmas Eve. If you’ve ever been to a Christmas Eve candlelight service, you know what I mean. It’s a joy that threatens to spill over, a happiness that doesn’t want to be contained.

When I walked into our church the first Christmas Eve we lived here, the energy seemed even in excess of that normal Christmas cheer. Was it just my own excitement of celebrating the holiday for the first time in our new home with our first baby?

No, it only took one look around to see what that extra buzz was all about. Standing tall and proud in his dress uniform was a handsome Marine, smiling and greeting all who approached him.

It didn’t take long before somebody let me know that Steven was home on leave. I’d never met Steven before, but I had heard many church members speak of him with admiration. I could see why. It was obvious that he was sincere in his greetings of young and old alike. He warmly spoke with me, a stranger, when we were introduced.

I could tell Steven was proud to wear the uniform, and the people in our church were proud of his service to our country.

What was the first time I met Steven, all too soon became the last time I met him. In October of the following year, Steven Szwydek was killed in action.

A couple of years ago, I walked into church on a Sunday morning and experienced a feeling of deja vu. Standing tall and proud in his dress uniform was a handsome Marine, smiling and greeting all who approached him.

This time I knew that Marine. That first Christmas Eve here when Steven came home, Joel was not much older than my son is now. I’d seen him grow up. He’d held my babies when called upon to do so, and he’d corralled a few of my rambunctious kids on occasion. My preschool daughter even affectionately called him “my Marine.” 

I was proud of him, but I admit that I grew a bit teary-eyed for reasons other than pride only. I couldn’t help but make a comparison to that other fine Marine in my mind, and I didn’t even want to consider the real possibility of losing this loved one.

On Memorial Day we honor those who have died fighting for our country. I’ve been blessed to live my life reaping the benefits won for me by those individuals, like Steven, who’ve served and make the ultimate sacrifice. 

Even as we honor the fallen and respect the cost of freedom, we can recognize that those left behind continue to sacrifice much, too. We should support our troops who keep putting themselves in harm’s way, sacrificing their safety to preserve ours. And let us also remember those who still look across the table at empty chairs and place flags and flowers on graves with both pride and sadness in their hearts.


Memorial Day is often seen as the unofficial kick-off to summer. For many of us, that means a season of outdoor cooking at it’s finest.

This week’s recipe is one enjoyed by Joel, the Marine our family dearly loves (along with his Navy brother, of course!). I’ve been told he especially enjoys meat smoked with this rub, but the rub is tasty on just about any type of meat that you grill. I even use it in hamburgers and on roasts in the oven. Joel’s family calls it “Pastor’s Rub” because they were given the recipe by my husband, but you can call it whatever you want, just so long as you keep a jar of it standing at the ready in your spice cupboard for your summer barbecuing. 

Pastor’s Rub

1/4 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup brown sugar (dark or light)
1/4 cup paprika
3 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. dried onion flakes or powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (less or more, to your preference)
1/2 tsp. celery seeds

Combine all ingredients together and store tightly closed in a jar. Double or triple the recipe to make enough to last for a while. 

The night before grilling, rub some of the mix into the meat, cover and refrigerate until you’re ready for the meat to cook. Or rub it on last minute; the results are still amazing.

*This post has been shared at Strangers & PIlgrims at Home for The Art of Home-Making Mondays.

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