Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Return to Sender

'Tis March...when the sand hill cranes flock in the Platte Valley, the geese vee south along the Missouri, baseballs return to southern diamonds, and Farm Bureau members from across the nation gather in our nation's capital.
We are part of this annual migration, one as perennial as college students on spring break.  It's one last chance to meet face to face with the leaders in Washington that can affect our businesses as much as any drought, flood or plague before we dive deep into the ancient ritual of planting.
Washington, D.C. is a city we have visited in all seasons: when the National Christmas tree glows in the shadow of the Washington monument and when summer warmth lingers deep into October, but it is most memorable in spring when standing under a magnolia's translucent blossoms feels like being inside a seashell.
Or...when introducing your grandchildren to the grandeur and majesty of the monuments, architecture, and museums of their heritage, their history............
Aaron, March 2011, at the airport on his first big adventure without his mom and dad. He was seven with a window seat, a backpack and his mom's old digital camera.  The Air and Space Museum was our first stop and, being a grandkid, he and his grandpa spun and pitched and rolled in any number of simulators.  I took one of my favorite pictures ever of Aaron and Blake at the IMAX  sporting their
3-D glasses; Aaron is in the very first stages of ooooh......aaaaaah.
So many wonders! Like the meat extravaganza of a Fogo de Chao, the view from the top of the Washington monument, Mount Vernon, a New Zealand kiwi, a ride on the Metro, and even more aircraft with Ben and Kenzie... necessitating a three hour nap to recharge...  Aaron, who took so many pictures the first day of the trip that we had to clean off the camera on Blake's computer.  Every one of his aircraft pictures is still in our March 2011 web album, a record of his seven year old fascination with mechanical marvels.

Lizzie, Gabe, and Abbie, traveling together in their seventh year, each picked their number one sight to see:  moccasins at the Indian Museum for Lizzie, Air & Space for Gabe, and the Art Museum for Abbie. The three of them attacked the week with exuberance, imagination, and energy: bounding up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial only to stand reverently before the solemn phrases of Lincoln's great oratory, reading every word.

 Every museum piqued their interest... and led to a visit to the gift shop and smashed penny machine.  Every monument could be measured between finger and thumb, every water fowl needed to be named, every fountain needed to be splashed, and mirror glass demanded a selfie.

 All that action was exhausting, making Grandpa an unwelcome alarm clock in the morning...
and the Capitol Visitor Center the perfect place for a quick siesta while Marco Rubio was speaking.
Our nation's capital is always changing, under construction here or restoration there.  And seven year olds grow too; they learn history, grow long legs, and stand to read about museum exhibits rather than flitting from attraction to attraction like bees on flowers.  Still,  the photography gene is strong.... Gabe, Abbie, and Lizzie took 500 pictures between them last week on the cameras they received at Christmas....and the only reason Aaron didn't is because his mom's old cell phone took a tumble that shattered the screen in the dark at the Korean War Memorial.

Still, that didn't keep his adventurous and hungry spirit from downing a big plate of lobster with his grandpa, fuel for the miles of steps from Lafayette Park to Library of Congress, from Ford's Theater  to the Smithsonian Castle, from Gershwin's piano to Jefferson's books.

Moon Gates, meteorites, and magnolias....for Aaron at 7 or Aaron at 12, Washington, D.C. was a playground of curiosities.

I always return to the National Gallery of Art when we travel to D.C., but I thought Gabe, Abbie, and Lizzie might enjoy a different museum this time around so we made the hike up to the Portrait Gallery in the old Patent Building. After all, it does have the fascinating interior courtyard with its scrim of flowing water and 394 wavy glass panels overhead.  I thought we might take in a few Presidential portraits, but I was unprepared and completely blown away by the kids' knowledge, anecdotal or not, of the historical figures in the paintings and their curiosity and interest about the people they didn't recognize.  James J. Audubon's self portrait (Lizzie: how did he paint himself?) Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, John Brown and U.S. Grant, Robert E. Lee or Thomas Edison...famous names and well known faces, for sure, but they also recorded Harriett Beecher Stowe, John Brown, the Preamble of the Constitution on license plates and, of course, Alexander Hamilton.....

I drive the same 10 miles of curvy prairie roads every morning and night, and I have to tell myself to look at the landscape, not take it for granted, to watch for the small stuff, the seasonal changes, like the pair of quail that ducked into the brush around the cemetery this evening on my way home.  For frequent travelers, I'm sure the familiar sights of Washington, D.C. can get routine at best, if not downright stale.  Take my word for it: no matter how many times you visit, this city of museums and history and politics will always be new....if you see it with kids!

Joshie?  Levi? Are you ready?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

O, Pioneers!

Pack the sofa
And pack the old arm chair
Tell the china
To ask the silverware
To pray we find that
They speak the language there
And say good-bye to Carolina......Lyle Lovett, Goodbye to Carolina
Image result for house for sales signs
We have a new parlor game.  It's completely harmless..doesn't cost a dime...yet keeps us entertained on long car trips or during coffee breaks in the office. At least once a day, and frequently more often, an email appears with listings for a whole bunch of houses near or around the Lake of the Ozarks.  Sometimes the houses are small and old and cheap; sometimes they are upper floor condos with big balconies overlooking the water; and sometimes they are monstrous vacation homes with docks and six bedrooms, decorated in an unmistakably generic yet tacky style that features pelican door knockers and shower curtains with sailboats.  They are all fun, good for daydreaming on wind whipped afternoons when grit irritates your eyes and dust fills your ears.  We are modest folk: not for us the vistas that top seven figures on mountain or beach.  Best to aim low if one is going to aim at all.  And it does no harm to look.

My dad must have subscribed to that notion.  Every once in a while, he'd decide he wanted to move somewhere else, so we'd load into the car and drive to some other suburb and look at apartments or neighborhoods. 

Picking up and moving out never struck me as the least bit odd.  Everybody did it.  Our subdivision had been built on bare dirt and populated mostly by young families just starting out on their own. At the end of every school year, some friends would leave to be replaced by a whole bunch of new kids when September came around.  This was the Sixties, we were the end of the Boomers, cars were cheap, homes were plentiful, and people knew they could do better..somewhere else.  Of course it would be our turn to move...it was only a matter of time.

Eventually, the discussions my parents must have had after our bedtime crystallized into actions. Instead of a summer vacation, we would have a "Moving Adventure"thanks to the U Haul trucks my dad rented.  Laura and I were tasked with devising an efficient plan for loading the big pieces of furniture; we measured and drew and cut out paper representations of the love seat, the hutch, the dressers and trunks.  We bid farewell to the black baby grand that had dominated our living room.  I'm sure there were other items discarded or given away, but for the life of me I can't imagine what they were, only that the truck was packed to the gills and the metal shelving for my dad's radio equipment was tied to the back.

By this time in my life, after several trips west along the paths of the pioneers, I was enthralled with the Oregon Trail and the great American Westward expansion.  In my imagination, our yellow U Haul equated favorably with a prairie schooner and a family on the road to a new life.  If we made it down I-55 and Highway 54 with our teetering truckload of possessions, we'd arrive at our family's Oregon in Calloway county, Missouri.  Other folks might use Mayflower, but we were rugged and self sufficient and moved ourselves.

That was my romantic notion anyway.  After I helped hoss those self same possessions up the steep and narrow stairs, I might not have been so enthusiastic.

 My mother's best friend, whose family had, it goes without saying, also moved before we did...to Beatrice, Nebraska, home of Homestead National Monument, wrote my mom a letter afterwards saying, in no uncertain terms, DON'T MOVE YOURSELVES!  When I read it just last month, I had to laugh, having helped to move everyone in our family multiple times in the last decade and a half.  There was another letter among my folks' things, one from our pastor in Illinois.  He had come by the house to find us up and gone...

I know the process of  packing  up life and leaving was way more complicated for my parents than it was for me as a kid. Like the pioneers, I figured  life would be better somewhere else and I looked forward to a new town and a new school.  Our grandparents lived in Missouri and we loved to visit.  Illinois was where we lived, but not permanent...not home.  Even when our house sold, I never really missed it, not like places I have missed since that time.

Back then, we were all pioneers....

Go west young man while you still can
Before you're old and gray
Go west and make a better life
Than you could if you stayed

Lyle Lovett, Goodbye to Carolina

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Jack Benny Birthday

It was a dark and stormy night...
No, wait, that's another story.  Actually, it was getting ready to be a dark and stormy couple of days, culminating in a meltdown of the two foot of snow that had fallen in 1979, flooding of the Tarkio River, and a moat around the little house on the bottom that would be home to three.  Only if Blake could leap the ditch with baby Lee, because her mama certainly couldn't.

And now you are grown with husband and kids and responsibilities and the same house to clean that you grew up in...

......with loving family and pets....

and a great big birthday to celebrate....

Happy Jack Benny birthday!
39 and holding..!