Old-Fashioned Fun

Old-Fashioned Fun

My esteemed brother-in-law David H. had warned me:  “The iPhone will change your world. One day you will think back on life before iPhone and life after iPhone, and see what an enormous difference it makes. I think you’ll really like it!” And he was right; I do really like it. But lately I find myself succumbing to what so many of us have–a life with my attention on a screen of one sort or another for way too many hours of the day.

As a small fish in an ocean of cousins, I enjoyed the games at family reunions and ice cream socials. Hide and seek when we were younger, then “Flags” when we had grown a bit. “Flags” consisted of the kids dividing off into two groups, each one of which had a different colored shop rag from the barn or garage. The groups were each to hide their flags in the best spot they could find within fifteen minutes, and then each team scurried around trying to locate and take the flag of the other. It doesn’t seem like there were any rules or restrictions, just lots of running around in the twilight at my Aunt Kate & Uncle Dick’s farm. We had a blast!

Earlier this summer when I picked up my two youngest granddaughters to come visit overnight, we had time that Saturday morning to pause along the side of the gravel road between my place and theirs, looking at the various wildflowers and naming those that we could. We took photos of those we didn’t yet know, then used the conservation website later to figure out what they were. I also showed them a fun thing that my own Grandma Helen May had taught me when I was about the same age; instilling colors into Queen Anne’s Lace. We picked four specimens of the white blossoms, placed each one in a separate glass filled about three inches high with water, then the girls carefully added three drops of different food colorings to the water. We set the timer for half an hour. The results were less than spectacular, so they added three more drops and the timer was set for an hour. By then we were able to discern some color wicking up through the stems and into the flowers. And by the next morning, there were more definite results. Within the next week I saw larger, more open blooms of this weed along the ditches, and wondered if our scientific experiment might have worked better with those. Next time!

Since both of our grandmothers practiced the art of home canning, mason jars were always available. Another summer game was that of seeing which one of us kids could collect a jar full of what we called “locust” shells. I believe now the prehistoric-looking dried exoskeletons are actually from cicadas, but back then, we didn’t know the difference, nor did we care. They were fragile and hollow, and the brownish-gray color blended well with the trees onto which they were usually clinging. Yesterday as I was heading back into the house I found this one latched onto a rail outside my door. It brought back fond memories of hunting around outside with my siblings, gathering prickly cast-off bug shapes that were likely to end up tossed out our Grandma’s back door when the jar was needed. And it made me smile. We had some good old-fashioned fun, didn’t we?

What was your favorite outdoor activity in the dog days of summer, and do you still do it? Have you passed it along to a niece or nephew, a neighbor or your next generation? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

 

Remembrance

Remembrance

Last weekend was a busy culmination to a week that had been jam-packed with activity. It was great to be able to attend two of my grandson’s junior-high basketball games, ride my little gelding Tanner twice, see a late movie on opening night with my friends the Neufelds, (John Wick Chapter 2!), and then participate in an excellent fund-raising event for a cousin who is battling cancer on Saturday. To top that off, two of my cousins who were helping to spearhead the event opened their home to me–and another set of cousins–afterward, so we didn’t have to drive home in the middle of the night. The dinner, featuring BBQ pork, beef brisket, veggies, homemade rolls, and a wide assortment of desserts, was fantastic. The raffles and auctions were exciting and productive. The turnout by the folks in their small-town community of Wellsville, Missouri,  was truly amazing. People dug deep and gave from their hearts, and it was such an inspiration.

Somehow, the five of us managed to tumble out of our beds before 8am on Sunday; no small feat, considering at least two of us were up until almost 4am, chatting and unwinding from all the excitement! And when all four cousins agreed to join me for my side trip to the cemetery in Middletown where so many of our kinfolk have been laid to rest, I was grateful. It’s not that I’m opposed to going there alone, but somehow, it took a bit of the sting out of the grief of putting new silk flowers at my mother’s grave, having Desiree and Paul, Jeff and Linda at my side. Then we meandered around the place, paying our respects at as many of the headstones of our family members as we could find, and admiring the art forms exhibited on many of the markers.

This one, for instance, at the edge of an older part of the cemetery, wasn’t for anyone we knew. On the front is carved “Our Children”, and the date on one side is from 1865. Many names and dates we saw served as reminders of the days when childhood mortality, and even the loss of women in childbirth. was much more prevalent than we see today. It made us feel lucky to be born when we were, and appreciative of the fact that we haven’t had to face the hardships that so many of our ancestors did.

Near the opposite border of this extensive bit of land, closer to the road, we located the grave of Charley and Carrie (or Caroline) Steele, the couple who adopted my great-grandmother Peirrie Belle when she was a nine years old. Because their parents had died young, Peirrie (pronounced Peery) and her four siblings were split up, mostly among the families of relatives. The Steeles were friends of the parents, however, and had no children of their own, and so legally adopted my great-grandmother. She was loved and provided for, and raised almost as an only child from that point, and she returned this honor by naming my grandfather (the first of her eleven children) Charlie, and her next child Selma Carolena. So you can imagine our delight in finding here, amid all the dry brown grass of mid-February, the first sign of the Springtime to come:  a beautiful cluster of purple crocus, blooming just in front of their stone. And while we might never learn who planted them there, at least we know someone remembered. Someone, at some time, took a moment to slip those little bulbs down into the soil, knowing they’d sprout up each year as a beacon of Life renewed, and a hope for the future, a promise of the big Family Reunion we all hope to attend one day.

Won’t it be grand?

Going Home Again

Going Home Again

The Thomas Wolfe line “you can’t go home again” is widely quoted, with various connotations.  I have to admit that I’ve not read anything Mr. Wolfe wrote (or at least not that I can recall; high school was a long time ago!), so if the context here is ill-applied, mea culpa.

My parents watched their house being built in 1955, and still live there today.  But they both had roots–hers deeper than his–in a small town about 80 miles away, where we were fortunate to be frequent visitors with both sets of grandparents, a few great-grandparents, some aunts and uncles, and lots of cousins.  To me, this seemed like my rightful “hometown”, and I still stop by there now and then, mostly to place silk flowers at numerous headstones in the cemetery where 5 generations of my kin now rest.  It’s a peaceful place, that hillside by the little white Methodist church, and there are definitely more folks in the cemetery now than there are left in that tiny, sleepy town.

Cruising slowly up Cherry Street after my stop at the kirkyard, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to look at the once-proud old Victorian house that had been my maternal grandparents’ home.  Houses require upkeep, and this one hasn’t received the TLC it deserves.  Roofing, paint, and window work would be a good start, and probably some updates to the heating, plumbing and electrical systems as well.  And it’s possible the foundation could use some shoring up, and those weeds out back ought to be mowed!  I bemoaned the condition of the place to my cousin Kerry L., and received in return his kind words of wisdom, which were something along the lines of:  “Whether the house is there or not, your memories remain.  It’s the people who lived there and the time you spent with them that you miss.”

And you know what?  He is so right.  Just topping the hill on the two-lane highway approaching town, made the words “I see the Bridge!” pop into my head, just as my siblings and I raced to be the first to say them each time we were driven there for a visit.  The sight of the flagpole in the middle of the crossroads by the funeral parlor immediately brings to mind the dinner table tales of Daddy being paid a nickel (and later a dime!) to shimmy up and shine the metal ball at the top.  The fact that the driveway to the house is overgrown now doesn’t dim my joyous recollection of hopping out of the station wagon, racing to the front door to be enveloped in my grandma’s embrace, and promptly being offered some warm-from-the-oven pie crust with cinnamon sugar baked on top.  “These pieces were left over” she would tell us, “would you children like to clean this up?”, as if we were doing her a big favor by assuaging our hunger with a sweet treat before dinner.  Grandpa’s books, the card games he always won (we didn’t mind, he beat Everyone!) Grandma’s paintings, the high-ceilinged bedroom upstairs with tall windows in three walls that were angled so that we could see up and down the street as well as straight across . . . the memories go on and on.  They’re here, in my head and in my heart, where they will stay and be treasured.

And in this way, even through the grief of loss, there is the celebration of what was.  And what it was, was pretty special.

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Dedication

Dedication

This is a pre-emptive post.  It’s going up ahead of the actual holiday to which it applies, for two reasons.  Reason one is that almost everyone who might read this will likely be busy on the actual date, and reason two is that sometimes ideas for blog posts just pop into my head at the oddest hours and won’t go away until I get up out of bed and write them.  Hopefully after I finish this and click “Post” my ol’ noodle will slow down enough I can get to sleep.  But here goes.

Like me, many of you are probably thinking September 1st?  How did it get to be September already?!  And coming up here in just a few days is Labor Day weekend, the last big blow-out of the season.  Lots of people will be headed to the lake, or having family and friends over for barbeque, or making one more fast trip somewhere fun with the kids before the Fall Frenzy of football and volleyball and harvest festivals devolve into pumpkins patches and corn mazes and then the next thing you know it’s Christmas already.  Sheesh!

But what is Labor Day all about, really?  It’s not just the last three-day weekend of the summer, and not only one of the biggest sale days of the year at the stores.  It is a day set aside to celebrate US:  the workers of America who keep this star-spangled clock ticking.  And so, along those lines, I’m taking this opportunity to say Thank You . . . (in no particular order of importance):

. . .to the men and women of our Armed Forces and all branches of law enforcement, for all that they do to keep us safe.

. . .to all the educators who do their best to learn us stuff, whether we want to know it or not!

. . .to the janitors, dishwashers, laundry workers, street sweepers, sewage plant personnel and garbage collectors who have the unpleasant task of cleaning up our messes.

. . . to the cooks and waitresses and fast food workers who keep us fed.

. . . to the architects, designers, draftsmen and construction workers who provide us safe shelter with style.

. . . to all of those in the vast field of medicine who struggle to keep us healthy in spite of all we do to sabotage their efforts.

. . . to the geniuses of the electronic universe who keep us plugged in, connected across the airwaves, and entertained.

. . . to the farmers of our nation, for without farmers we’d be hard-pressed for food!

. . . to those who labor in manufacturing of all sorts of things, supplying us with endless luxuries.  We are much more fortunate than most of us realize.

and most especially, to two of the hardest working people I’ve ever known.  To Daddy and Mother, for teaching me to read . . . and to write.

Thank you.

Now don’t forget to put away those white shoes.

 

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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On the Origins of Thanksgiving

On the Origins of Thanksgiving

For one week in October of 2013, I was fortunate to be able to travel–with my particular friend Peggy R.–to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  (That’s “particular” as in the old usage, meaning “very good or close”.  I read it in Patrick O’Brian novels, pertaining to Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin, and have been ever after enamored of the phrase.  But I digress).  We found a small local motel that was located smack dab in the middle of everything, so to speak, and walked all over that town.  There are so many historical sites to visit there, and we absorbed as much information (and fresh seafood!) as we could in the time we had.  The impressions are vivid memories, even after more than a year.

I learned that the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower were made up of two groups:  Separatists from the Church of England, who wanted the freedom to worship as they saw fit, and other folks who were simply willing to take a chance on the opportunities the New World might provide.  A group of English merchants helped fund the expedition, with the understanding that the travelers would work hard and (in the future) send back to England things from the colony that could be sold for a handsome profit.  It was a business arrangement, not religious charity.  The two groups were rather suspicious of each other while aboard the Mayflower.  Upon dropping anchor on December 16, 1620, however, in facing the vast wilderness, the reality of just how much effort it was going to take simply to survive sort of kicked in to the consciousness of all parties involved, and they agreed to work together as one community.

Originally they had set out in two ships, but the smaller Speedwell leaked like a sieve (possibly due to the captain’s decision to over-rig her), and after turning back for repairs twice, the decision was made to cram as many people as possible onto the Mayflower, and proceed on their own.  So by the day they arrived here, time and tides had worked against them, Winter was already in full force, and their stores of food were dwindling quickly.  Add to this the scavenging they did in some deserted Indian villages where the former inhabitants had all died of disease shortly before, and it was a recipe for disaster.  Of the 102 passengers transported, only 51 of them were survived that first Winter.  Can you imagine losing half of the population of your tiny group, just when you’re all struggling to build a town?

Incredibly, they hung in there.  They received help from some local Native Americans, and everyone worked hard to make the venture succeed.  The First Thanksgiving was a celebration upon the completion of their first harvest, and an opportunity to show their gratitude.  They celebrated basic survival, and the many blessings of this new land.  They celebrated hope, and freedom.   They celebrated unlikely friendships, and the satisfaction that working together toward achieving common goals can bring.

It seems like the Americans of today could take a lesson from those early Pilgrims.  I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was one of many blessings.  And I wish for us all, an Attitude of Gratitude.

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Saints and Sinners

Saints and Sinners

During my recent vacation in Scotland, I saw more stained glass windows than you could jiggle the proverbial broken branch  . . . no, wait.  I can’t use that phrase; it ends in a preposition.  And while my dear editor friend has informed me that this isn’t the Mortal Sin it used to be, I just can’t resolve myself that it is now OK to do so.  But I’m sure you get the drift.

Anyway, these beautiful works of art were found primarily in the churches (or kirks, as they say there), where the featured images were of a religious bent, for obvious reasons.  Many of the  lovely locations were named for various saints:  St Mungo’s Cathedral in Glasgow, St Andrew’s in Inverness, and the High Kirk of St. Giles in Edinburgh.  Everywhere we looked, it seemed, there were either castles, kirks, or kilts, all of which are fascinating, though for different reasons.

With today being All Saints’ Day, it seemed like the opportune moment to research the origin of that occasion.  So I did what most highly intellectual and independent-minded Americans do;  I “Googled” it.  (No, they did not pay me to write that, but I’ve no objection should they decide to send a little stipend my way)!  Of the thousands of options at my disposal after striking the “enter” key, one short article summed it up nicely, and the link is here:  http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2014/10/whats_the_difference_between_h.html  It juxtaposes Halloween, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and (as my sister mentioned to me earlier this week) The Day of the Dead.  Contrary to the hairy-scary macabre concept that often comes to mind when we consider these holidays, it began as more of a memorial idea.  People took the opportunity to honor those of their family or community who had gone on to God’s presence (they hoped) during the previous year.  My church still does this the first Sunday in November, and it’s a comforting tradition.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite Saint, canonized or otherwise? Or maybe there’s a Sinner who is heavy on your heart.  If you could light a candle at St Giles and say a short prayer for the repose of one soul, who would it be? Click the link just below the title of this post, or in the box below, share your thoughts, and we’ll pray together.

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Red, White and BOOM!

Red, White and BOOM!

As holidays go, the 4th of July is one of my absolute favorites.  Sometimes there’s BBQ involved, often homemade ice cream comes into play, occasionally a family gathering, or maybe even all three of those at once, which makes for a really fun time.  But of all the Independence Day traditions that abound, it’s the fireworks that truly make it special for me.

All across America last night (and in some places tonight, or even tomorrow night) untold quantities of cash were literally blown up in the sky.  It seems odd, doesn’t it, that we scrimp and save and pinch pennies for most of the year, but come July 4, not only do we collectively set a match to millions, we enjoy it!  How and why this particular tradition began is something I’ll have to research someday.  It’s a good bet, though, that the Founding Fathers never could have imagined how we’d be celebrating their signing of the Declaration of Independence all these years down the road.

My parents were children of the Depression, and I’ve mentioned before that I’m a devoted student of the Dave Ramsey School of Financial Peace.  So it makes no sense whatsoever for me to be so enthralled by the sight of so much money going up in smoke–however colorful–on an annual basis.  But every year, when this little farming community puts out the jars and the coffee cans at local businesses to collect for the Fireworks Fund, we all pull together for the Cause.  The local volunteer fire department donates their time and expertise in planning and executing the show at the city park, where everyone gathers on their blankets and lawn chairs.  The Boy Scouts sell hamburgers, hotdogs and soda pop, there’s kettle corn for sale at another booth, and sometimes snow cones or funnel cakes.  When the daylight diminishes and the announcer introduces the music with our National Anthem, all voices still.  People of all ages are on their feet, hands on their hearts, gazing across the lake toward the command center for the festivities.  And when the final tones of “O’er the Land of the Free . . . and the Home of the Brave!” fade away, the show begins.  We’re captivated.  We’re proud to be Americans.  We’re spoiled rotten by the abundance and the privilege and the money-wasting excesses of our society.  And for that hour, at least, I’m glad of it.

Three cheers for the Red, White and BOOM!

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Meant to Be

Meant to Be

June 13, 1954, was one of the hottest days anyone in the little town of Middletown could remember, for being so early in the summer.  It was also the day my parents stood up before God and Everybody, gazed lovingly into each others’ eyes, and said “I Do”.  It was the day they officially began the journey that has brought them to the present, and now they’re celebrating 60 years together.  What a milestone!

And you know what?  It’s just like the preacher says:  For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others . . . they’ve done all of that, and continue to do so.  Anyone who claims their life has been nothing but rosy and never a cross word has passed between themselves and their partner is either deluding themselves or lying, at least in my opinion.  A successful marriage isn’t built on a lack of conflict, but rather on working through the disagreements, holding each other up through the hard times, and loving each other in spite of everything that might get in the way.  It’s a partnership and a commitment, a devotion to each other by two people who just won’t give up.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Mother and Daddy, I am so absolutely proud of you both.  For the example you’ve set for all of us over the years, for the family life you provided, for the type of people you were, and are, and are yet to become.  Congratulations and Blessings to you on your 60th wedding anniversary, and beyond.

With love and respect,

-J-

photo credit:  Charlie May

photo credit: Charlie May

 

Book to Read:  “A Higher Call”

Book to Read: “A Higher Call”

Years of experience teach us to keep indexes:  usually alphabetical lists of things for future reference.  Telephone and address books; business cards of good plumbers, electricians, carpenters; contact information for people we can call on for help when we truly need it.

Likewise, if you’re an avid reader, you generally know who, among your friends and relatives, to ask for ideas about what to read next. My family has several of these.  A few years ago I discovered that my Uncle David’s taste in books is somewhat similar to my own, so now when we visit (usually by phone, from across the country), I always ask what he’s been reading lately. When I saw him at New Years, this was his answer:  A Higher Call by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander.  A true story, centered around the World War II experiences of two pilots–one American, one German–this book engaged my sympathies , enhanced my education, and held my interest from beginning to end.  It also inspires me to learn more about the era, and about those who lived through it.

If you’d like to see more, here’s the website of the author:   http://www.valorstudios.com/a-higher-call-book.htm

Please note, this is not a sponsored plug; I’m not receiving any compensation if you click the link or buy this book or any others from the site.  Your local library might have it, or numerous other sources.  It’s just a book I appreciated, have already passed to someone else, and felt it worth a mention.

What’s your latest good read?