Gimme a Sign

Gimme a Sign

During college I worked part-time at the university library, mostly at the circulation desk and the adjacent reserved reference book counter. It was probably the least amount of stress I would ever experience at a job, and it helped me meet some interesting people. One young lady was very bright, but had limited verbal skills because of her deafness. One day I saw her at one of the upstairs library tables, surrounded by books and documents. When asked if she was working on a research paper, she replied that she was studying for a big test. Drawing on my limited knowledge of American Sign Language, I gestured to the materials before her, then touched the tip of my index finger to my right temple while asking “Do you know it?” Her face lit up and she smiled broadly, recognizing my attempt to communicate in the way that she knew best: a combination of lip-reading and signing. While I was sad to have to explain that I actually knew very little sign language, the mere fact that I had tried seemed to mean the world to her, and any time thereafter when I was working and she exited or entered, she always threw a smile and a wave my way.

A couple of weeks ago my dad and I were looking through old photographs he’d scanned into his computer, including the one featured in this post. Mr. Owen Parkey lived on a farm near the small town where my parents grew up. With a 1940 population of 243, the number of people in town on Saturdays was substantially higher as the farm families all rolled in to do their weekly shopping, trading, and visiting. The feed store, the meat locker, the barber shop, the hardware, the grocery, and both taverns were abuzz with conversation. For Owen Parkey, however, there were usually only two guys in town with whom he could “talk”:  the men who would become my dad and my grandpa. Owen and his sister were both born deaf, and had gone to a special school to learn sign language. At the shops, he would present his list for purchases, written in perfect penmanship. But in Charlie May’s radio and TV shop, he could pass a bit of his perpetually quiet time in animated conversation, hands and fingers flying through the rapid movements that made up the letters, words and phrases that he knew. As my future father began hanging out more and more with his future father-in-law, he quickly picked up on signing, and joined the party. Decades later, he still smiles at the memory of the those pleasant encounters, and recalls Mr. Parkey as one of the nicest guys he ever knew.

The story reminded me of a video I’d seen recently, and with a quick YouTube search, I was able to play it for Daddy. Here’s the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otUJzNtRPhw, and it’s called The Most Emotional Surprise of the Year. (Warning, have your hanky handy!) It made me cry. It made me grateful that I can hear. It made me appreciate the efforts of my Grandpa Charlie, and of my dad.  It made me want to learn sign language. It made me want to be a better person; to be more understanding and accommodating to folks less fortunate. It made me feel. And it made me wish I could hug Mr. Parkey.

photo credit Howard Weilmuenster

Chocolate Gala

Chocolate Gala

Cole Camp is a small, historic Missouri town on Highway 52 with strong German roots. It boasts several good restaurants and antique shops, it’s not far from the Lake of the Ozarks, and the folks there really know how to throw a party.

Last week I saw an advertisement for the annual Chocolate Gala to be held at their American Legion Hall, with proceeds to be going toward a new Community Building.  It sounded interesting (they had me at “chocolate”), but this Sunday was going to be my one day of the week to just relax at home, maybe put my feet up and read a good book. Last night, however, I saw a post on social media from Thaney Brockman–a lovely business owner of my acquaintance who lives and works in Cole Camp–stating that tickets were still available.  A quick telephone call to one friend, a text to another, and I was able to message Thaney that she could consider three of those tickets sold.

Not knowing quite what to expect ahead of time, the gals and I were blown away.  The Hall was decorated with white, silver and blue, the banquet tables were beautifully set, the background music was festive, and the folks working the event were warm and welcoming. Excited voices hummed like a busy hive of happy bees. There were display tables of door prizes and raffle items, wine tasting tables and bottles available for purchase, cream pies with mile-high meringue for auction, and even a classy drawing of the much longed-for Community Building to remind us of the purpose of the event. And, of course, there was the food. OH, MY, there was food!

With great wisdom and forethought, a long buffet table in the middle of the room held platters of thin-sliced meats and cheeses, savory appetizers, chicken salad and crackers, along with large chilled water dispensers at each end. These items presented a perfect counterpoint to the round tables before and behind, which were loaded with dozens of various sweet treats, all featuring some form of chocolate. From truffles to brownies, pretzels to green grapes, marshmallows to mint, there was chocolate galore!  It was all so good, I’m fairly sure I foundered myself.

Throughout the event, the buzz of conversation would lower occasionally as the master of ceremonies would hold up and describe a door prize or two, and announce the winning number for the drawing. Everyone present would check their ticket and then a cheerful exclamation would erupt from one corner or another, whereupon we’d all applaud our congratulations. My friend Karen won a gift certificate from a local restaurant, and then Michelle won a big basket with several goodies in it. And me?  I basked in the glow of fun, the prize of long-term friendships, the pleasure of helping out a Big Cause in a Small Town, and the sugar rush from all that chocolate. It was an incredibly good time.

If you haven’t been to Cole Camp, and would like to check it out, a good website is here:  http://www.colecampmo.com/    Just be sure to take your appetite!

A Frog of My Very Own

A Frog of My Very Own

While I often extol the many benefits of living the country life, the truth is, I really do mean it. This little piece of farmland in mid-America is a very good place to be. Nearly every day, I see something in my surroundings that makes me smile.

In the Spring when the weather was cooler, my sister and I were chatting on the phone when she asked: “What is that noise, a locust? Are they out already?” She knew I was sitting on the porch swing out front. “No,” I told her, “those are frogs. Tree frogs, I think.” Just then a baritone voice joined in the song. “And that’s a bullfrog,” I added. His voice was loud, as he was located near the vicinity of the ornamental pond in the flower bed just in front of the porch. We agreed that he was probably trying to lure a lady frog to his pad. Sure enough, the following evening there were two froggy voices bellowing from the area.

The photo above might not be the same frog as the one I heard, but it was fun to see one sitting on the artificial lily pad in the goldfish pond a month or two after that conversation. It brought to mind a memory from my childhood, one involving the bitterness of disappointment, and the sweetness of the eventual outcome. The story goes something like this . . .

Our parents had taken us to visit my dad’s brother and his family, and during the course of the summer afternoon, Daddy and Uncle David took my cousins, my brother and sister, and me on a brief outing to the creek.  It was either Coon Creek or Cuivre River, I’m not sure which. (That’s pronounced “Quiver”, and until about ten years ago, the correct spelling was unknown to me!) Anyway, as the men tried out a new handgun on a snake that was lurking in the shadows, we children looked for snail shells and dried locust skins and other sundry treasures. My brother and sister each caught tiny brown frogs with buff-colored bellies and throats, and cousin Bruce tried to help me catch one, too, but we failed in our efforts before it was time to leave.

“Noooo!!” my three-year-old self moaned to my dad, “I dinna get my fwog yet!” He sympathized, but explained that we had to go, that we’d already been out longer than originally planned, and that Mother and Aunt Evelyn would be worried. My sister assured me that she would share her frog with me. My brother named his frog Herman, and let me touch it gently on its little head. “But I wanna fwog of my vewy own!” I sobbed.

It was a long drive home.

Thirty years went by, and one day, quite out of the blue, the mail brought a little parcel, wrapped in brown paper, from my aunt and uncle. As I removed the paper, the words on the white cardboard box brought the memory rushing back. Uncle David had written “A Frog of Your Very Own” on the side, and within the box was a small, molded resin frog with the sweetest expression on its face. I laughed, and then I cried, and then I called my uncle. “How did you remember?” I asked him.  “How could I forget!” he replied.

So among the knick-knacks and souvenirs on the shelves by my kitchen doorway, there sits a smiling little green frog. He greets me each morning as I come downstairs and head to the coffee pot to start my day, and he’s one of the last items I see as I shut up the house for the night; a symbol of an uncle’s kind heart, and of a wish fulfilled.

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Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Sunday of last weekend being Father’s Day, I had to brag on my Daddy just a little. He claimed it was overdone, but I assure you, it was the mere Tip of the Iceberg, as they say. But in an effort to keep myself out of trouble, this week we’ll focus not on my dad, but on his neighbors. Oh boy, does he have great neighbors!

My parents watched their house as it was being built in 1955. Several blocks of similar-style homes were erected in those post-war years, and young families full of Baby Boomer children filled the suburbs. But as the kids grew up and went off to college or work, and moved in to their own homes, it seemed the ol’ neighborhood wasn’t as fun. Housewives didn’t visit over the back fence while hanging out the laundry to dry, because they were almost all gone to work now, or had the luxury of electric clothes dryers, or both. There weren’t as many school-aged kids on the block, or maybe it was just that, with their own offspring grown and gone, my parents had fewer connections with youngsters. It seemed a bit of a blue time.

But change is inevitable, and sometimes if you stick around an area long enough, you’re blessed to see things turn around for the better. My dad might be one of the few original residents on his block now, but some really fantastic people have moved in around him. And a few houses down, Leah and Forrest Hall have opened their front lawn–and their hearts–to create an area of welcome. Following the example of Kristin Schnell (http://www.kristinschell.com/the-turquoise-table/ )they set up a picnic table parallel to the street, delivered invitations to their neighbors, and are fostering a feeling of community every week with a bag of bagels, coffee and conversation, and smiles all around. Everyone is welcome. Ideas are exchanged, family news is shared, and an aura of peace prevails. It’s a ministry of sorts, and one of the best kind, in my opinion, as it involves reaching out to those in one’s immediate vicinity. For while it’s perfectly fine to write a check to provide aid to people half-way around the world, there is something true about the old adage that “charity starts at home”. In this case, it’s an offering of self; of time, of friendship, and of acceptance.

Now, if I could just figure out how to convey the concept of the Turquoise Table to my birddog Jethro BoneDean and the cats, there’d be peace around this ol’ farmhouse, too.  Oh, Leah . . .?!

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For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

From the looks of the social media sites on the internet today, it would seem that a preponderance of people share the notion that their dad is (or was) the greatest one of all. If you subscribe to the belief that we are all Children of God, then we can each have the idea that our Father is supreme over all, and be right! When it comes to human fathers, though, not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and that’s a sad thing.

Before the era of training wheels and child helmets–say around 1959 or so, my dad jogged alongside a little blue Schwinn bicycle, simultaneously bending over at an awkward angle to the side to steady the vehicle and the tenuous rider (my brother) as he learned to achieve balance while coasting or pedaling. Over the next several years, he repeated this process as my sister and I each became old enough to graduate from the tricycle. He also built and demonstrated stilts, rigged a makeshift swing out of a sanded board, a rope and a pulley in the garage, taught us how to play ping pong, pool, chess, and word games, and helped us memorize poetry.  He played the guitar or mandolin for sing-alongs, got us all started on learning piano as children, and even now, at almost 88 years old, is teaching the complex Classic Finger-style 5-string banjo method that he knows to my sister.

My siblings and I have always known that our dad is super smart, and that any new subject that truly interests him will be read about, studied, and analyzed until Daddy has a firm understanding of the matter. Among many other talents, he can sketch, paint signs and pictures, began learning German in his 60s, and can tell a joke better than anyone I know. A lifelong willing student, these past two months he’s been learning things that he might well have hoped he would never need to know:  those various duties that go along with living alone. It’s been hard, and he’s grieving, but he is trying, and it shows.

Daddy, I am so proud of you. Just remember, you weathered the challenge of raising me. That should mean you can do anything!  Happy Father’s Day!

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A Tiresome Problem

A Tiresome Problem

The photo you see here is not the problem; it’s the solution.  Nothing like starting a joke with the punchline, right?

Last weekend I drove from West Central Missouri to the Dallas area of Texas, to visit with my sister’s family and join them in celebrating the marriage of Danielle Renee Hardy and Wade Clinton Jarman.  The preparations had been meticulous, the site was perfect, the bride (my niece) was stunningly beautiful, the groom handsome and heroic.  With mountains of scrumptious food at both the rehearsal dinner and the reception, I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all.

The problem arose during my drive toward home, when the outer layer departed the right rear tire of my old Suburban, to flop dejectedly onto the shoulder of the turnpike in Northeastern Oklahoma.  Having always been somewhat of a tomboy, I can thank my Daddy for teaching me how to change a tire before I ever left the driveway with my first car.  It’s a skill that everyone who drives should know, and believe me, living out here on the gravel roads, I’ve changed plenty of them.  The weird thing is, in almost nine years of owning the Suburban, I’ve never changed a tire on this vehicle.  Added air from the compressor at the barn? Sure.  Had a slow leak fixed at the shop in town?  Check.  But actually retrieving the spare out of the carpeted cover in the back and figuring out where to put the jack?  Umm . . . no.  And with thousands of vehicles of all sizes whizzing past on the asphalt just mere feet away, it didn’t seem like the optimal place or time to learn, even if the affected specimen was on the lee side.

You see, even though the tread layer of rubber had peeled off, the formerly 10-ply tire was still holding air!  It looked fairly ragged, and the impact had knocked the fiberglass running board loose from the wheel well, but it appeared that I might be able to coax a few more miles out of the thing.  Just as I was looking up “nearest tire shop” on the map program of my trusty iPhone, a Good Samaritan stopped to offer help.  He agreed to follow me into town “just in case”, we both activated our emergency flashers, and, using the minimum speed of 40 mph, limped on into the edge of Joplin, Missouri, to the Ozarko Tire Center on Highway 43, just south of I-44.

These guys were fantastic.  In spite of the fact that it was almost closing time on what must surely have been a busy Monday, they cheerfully agreed to check the soundness of my spare, and, finding it fit for use, promptly installed it on the truck to get me back on the road for home.  What do I owe you? I asked.  Travel safe, and have a good day! the boss replied.  Surprised, I tried to argue the point, to no avail.  Neither the store manager nor the kind young man who had done the work would accept a penny for the service they’d performed.  I was blown away by their kindness, and feel very fortunate to be able to give them a shout-out here.  I climbed back into the Suburban, snapped a quick photo from out of the window on my way out of the lot, and drove the last three hours back to the farm with a warm feeling in my heart.  And then on Thursday, the local shop put four new 10-ply tires on the truck so this problem won’t happen again on my next trip.  After all, that last set had seen me through six years and many thousands of miles.

So here’s my challenge to you: The next time you observe someone with a problem, ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to help.  Maybe you can be like the guy who bothered to pull over and offer assistance, or the fellows who changed out my ruined tire for the spare.  If you’re in the Joplin area, maybe throw a little business to those Guardian Angels at the Ozarko Tire Center.

Either way, Travel Safe, and Have a Good Day!

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Who Can You Trust?

Who Can You Trust?

. . . or should that read “whom” . . . ?  I always get confused about that.  When I was a teenager, I had a poster on the wall with a photo of a panther lounging idly on the branch of a large tree, gazing directly into the well-focused lens of the camera.  The words printed below him said simply Trust Me”.  The conflict between the text and the image was obvious.  If only real life were so plain!

Lately I’ve been polling people on this subject, trying to gather a consensus of opinions.  The results have been all over the place, ranging from “no eye contact” to “shifty eyes”; from “white shoes on car salesmen” (I think that was from the 70s!) to “people who tell me ‘No Problem!'”; and even “contractors who wear white sunglasses” and “folks that set off my spidey sense”.  One cousin summed it up very nicely with this phrase:  “those whose actions don’t provide evidence to support their words.”

Did you ever see the show called “Lie to Me” on TV from 2009-2011?  It featured a man who was an expert in reading body language who often worked with police in helping to solve crimes.  He would interview a suspect, or sometimes watch a recorded conversation, and provide his opinion about their level of truthfulness.  He had an impressive record for accuracy.  Or as Burt Reynolds’ character said in a movie I saw years ago:  “Boys, I got myself a pretty good bullshit detector, and I can tell when somebody’s peeing on my boots and telling me it’s a rainstorm.”

And me?  Well, I’ve been burned before, more than once, and believe I’ve learned something from each of those experiences.  That’s not to say I can’t or won’t be fooled again, even though I’d rather not.  It’s a delicate balance, this world of social interactions, a dance with steps that can change without warning, mid-tune.  The number of people who are now traveling from their native countries to others keeps growing, and the accompanying cultural differences can offset our original mindsets. That makes for another filter through which we might need to sieve the incoming information before reaching a hypothesis.

So, what’s your take?  Are there other Red Flags that go up when you’re trying to decide if you can believe someone or not?  Feel free to click the button to Leave a Comment and tell us about it!  And in the meantime, as my Uncle David W. used to say:  “Look a little out!”

Guardian Angels

Guardian Angels

More than once I’ve seen a car with a bumper sticker that says “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly”. Sound advice, to be sure, and maybe good for a smile, but what if we’re not driving? Do they think our heavenly helpers just get to lounge around on meringue-flavored clouds, admiring their never-need-buffing nails, as long as we mere mortals are not mobilized? Believe me, I’m more of a challenge than that.

How many times have you done something that seemed like the right choice at the moment (or maybe the wrong choice, but you were doing it anyway!), and then afterward considered what the potential outcome could have been, and realized Divine Intervention was probably the only thing that had stood between You and Disaster. How many of us now, as adults, consider what a wonder it is that we actually lived past our teens? Welcome to the “do as I say, not as I did” years! But sadly, being a grown-up doesn’t exempt us from needing a guardian now and then.

I believe God often puts us in a position to act on behalf of those guardians, too. Last weekend, when the serpentine belt on my old Suburban snapped, it just so happened that this occurred one mile away from an exit ramp not far from where my cousin Brian lives, and that he was home and had the tools and the knowledge and ability to replace it, and that the parts store was open at the time.  Out of a 200 mile trip, this was the best possible place for that belt to give way.  (OK, so this is a “driving” example, but it’s the one that’s freshest on my mind!)  Thanks to my cousin, I was back on the highway for home in good time, and none the worse for the experience. Thank you, Brian May!

When have you felt the presence of your Guardian Angel, either celestial or earthly? Leave a comment and tell us about it. Even Angels need a sincere “thank you” now and then!

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A Worldly View

A Worldly View

Last weekend I enjoyed a quick trip to Texas, to visit my sister and her family.  We celebrated Sis’s birthday with homemade ice cream and three–count ’em, three–kinds of cake. We attended a celebration of life memorial service and dinner with the family of my brother-in-law’s very good friend Bill, whose father of the same name left a wonderful legacy of kindness and extreme hospitality.  The next day my sister, nieces and I partook of a bit of pampering at the nail salon.  But amidst all these big events, perhaps the Big Deal of the weekend was the Passport to Culture extravaganza held at Newman Smith High School.  It was Amazing!

Angela Hardy and Lindsey Cullins are teachers and co-sponsor a Human Rights Club.  Months ago, they invited any interested students to participate, and began planning this extraordinary event to showcase what they’d learned as well as what they might have absorbed in their own homes, and to share it with those who came to see.  More than 500 “passports” were issued at the door!  Following some inspiring opening remarks by Human Rights activist, Professor Rick Halperin, we traversed the halls to the school’s cafeteria, where small groups of students had set up forty booths to display and demonstrate snippets of their newfound knowledge and understanding of what life can be like for people in other parts of the world.  Many of them had tasty tidbits of food on offer, made from recipes they had researched from their featured countries, and it was all good!  These ambassadors wore traditional dress pertinent to their booths, and they supplied various types of stamps for our specially made passport booklets to commemorate our visit. If I hadn’t already been bitten by the Travel Bug prior to this event, it’s certain I would have been by the time we left it.  What an inspired way to learn, and what an exciting way for the students, in turn, to become our teachers.  With booths showing cultural aspects of life in Austria, Spain, India, Eritrea, New Zealand, Nepal, Israel, Germany, El Salvador, Brazil, Indonesia and so many other parts of the globe, the room was a wonderful, colorful array of life, providing us with lessons in the best way possible:  they made it fun.

Now, when I read in the news or hear on the radio about events that happen in other countries, instead of thinking “overseas”, and dismissing it as some unknown, unseen part of the world, I’ll have a new perspective.  Maybe I’ll picture a young lady playing the flute, or a young man offering hot mint tea, or hummus and pita bread.  I might remember a lovely lady from Japan, teaching us the basics of Ikebana, the art of flower arranging in her home country. I’ll think of the doe-eyed beauty of those long-lashed adolescents whose family heritage began, perhaps, thousands of miles away, but brought them eventually to Dallas, Texas, to expand the horizons of their teacher’s Auntie from the Midwest. And then I will smile at those memories, and say a prayer for those folks mentioned in the news, because now they feel like my neighbors.

Thank you, Newman Smith students (and teachers!) for opening the doors of your school and your knowledge, to the rest of us.  You impressed me in so many ways. You are Leaders!

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Walking Wounded

Walking Wounded

Did you ever read that book titled Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus?  It’s been years, but I did.  One of the things it pointed out was how when women voice their concerns about something to other women, they usually receive sympathy, or empathy, or some other word for an emotional response.  Women commiserate.  Men, on the other hand, tend to put on their Mr. Fix-It hats and look for a solution.  This is not a bad thing, it’s just one of the many wonderful ways in which the genders differ.

This week I (finally) went through the process of taking my late husband’s name off the accounts where I bank.  Everything was going just fine until the account manager brought out the papers from ‘way back when . . . the ones that showed Larry’s signature.  His handwriting.  The definite way he dotted the letter “i”.  The controlled curve at the base of the “L”.  So familiar; so painful to see again.  The kind lady at the bank ducked into the supply closet and came back with a box of tissues.  I just wanted to hurry up and get this ordeal over.

At lunch afterward I told the ladies at the table about it.  Bless them:  sympathy all around.  Virtual-if-not-actual hugs.  Support and sad smiles.  Of course they understood!

Three days later I sat between two male co-workers (who are also good friends), waiting for a meeting to start.  “How’s it going?” one of them asked.  I relayed the Bank Debacle.  “I feel like I’ll never be right again, even though it’s been more than three years,” I told them, “like I’m the Walking Wounded.”

“Well, of course you are”, my friend V. said matter-of-factly.  “You shouldn’t expect not to be.”  Friend T. agreed.

“The word you need to emphasize is Walking” he told me.  “Wounded is a given; just remember you’re still Walking.”

Wow.  He was so right.

I’m Still Walking.

As the French say:  Vive la Différence!