Monday, October 16, 2017

Thanks for the Memories...

If it were possible to poke that many candles in one cake, mine would have sixty-one.  But even though our family is plenty big enough to devour two cakes in one sitting with a couple of pieces left over for breakfast the next day (yes, that’s what we do...a la mode too), I’m not certain one can get 30+ candles lit and extinguished one, two, three, without entombing the cakes and frosting in a carapace of colored wax.  Maybe someday we will try it... in the back of a pickup, during harvest.  Without much wind.  Or flammable plates.

When you are sixty-one, your grandkids are still young enough to give giant hugs, make silly videos, and even tell you you’re the most beautiful grandma ever...hyperbole being standard operating procedure for grandchildren….Your children, on the other hand, are caught between a rock and hard place: if their mom is over sixty, it follows that, YIKES!   
It’s OK….I couldn’t get my mind around my parents turning sixty...and then seventy….either.  I still felt like the kid when I was pushing forty.

Good news, all.  You are fully certified responsible grownups and we are proud as we could be of your character, accomplishments, hopes and aspirations.  But...we do remember when you were younger...and sillier….and not as responsible, reliable, etc. etc. as you are today….

Our household was unpretentious, not bound by style, or convention...or routine...we bought shoes at Payless Shoes, jeans at John’s Bargain Barn, and a big night of entertainment was renting a VCR and movie in town and picking up a pizza...which was always cold by the time it had wended it’s way eight miles north and east on route O.  
It was years before the kids thought about consumer goods like fancy athletic shoes; growing up on a farm and going to school in Westboro probably inoculated them against that kind of materialism.  After all, the girls had a full complement of Barbies with customized eye makeup and a whole herd of My Little Ponies.  

And if books or toys or tormenting their little brother ceased to be entertaining, Lee and Ann could always go downstairs and sing along with the Judds at the top of their lungs.  Who needs karaoke?

Lee’s first word was “Be”, for baby, and it applied to Orange Baby as well as her baby sister. Annie had Blue Baby...we were literal rather than poetic with doll names.   I swear Ben’s first word was “HyVee”, but maybe that was the first word all three of the kids could read….even before .  
The girls were blessedly non-picky eaters, happy enough with eggs or hot dogs for supper, making it so much easier to pack meals during the busy seasons.  Combines were not family friendly, so it was several years before Ann could perch herself on a water jug, Lee on the fire extinguisher, and Ben on my lap or the armrest after supper.  We were young and flexible then.  

This contortionist act was rivaled only by the trips we sandwiched all five of us into the cab of the pickup.  Mind you, this was before the invention of quad-cabs, before car companies recognized that more than two people might want to ride together in a pickup, or that lots of families considered their pickup to be their second “car”. At any rate, most of our safety defying trips five across were local, undertaken on snowy days or icy days when the country roads were impassable for our Ford Econoline.  Plumped by multiple layers of coats, scarves, boots and coveralls, one of the girls would straddle the gear shift, then the other would squish in beside her (interestingly enough, the cries of ‘she’s touching me!’ ne’er were heard in the cab of the pickup….maybe because no one could breathe) and let the seat belt out enough to fit around both of them. .  Blake would elbow space to shift and shut his door, then, finally, Ben and I would launch ourselves into the remaining space, and yank the other door closed.  Only then would I pull the other seat belt around both of us…padded like climbers on Everest... and attempt to find the buckle underneath whichever sister was next door.  

This seating arrangement did not lend itself to long distance travel, but nonetheless, we drove out west of Grand Island at least twice to club calf sales, dragging our trailer behind and constantly running the defrost to offset the effects of all that respiration.  Bathroom breaks were matters of logistical significance. Strangely enough, I do not remember any of the kids complaining….perhaps they were suffocating or perhaps I couldn’t hear them over the wind and fan...but I recollect quite clearly that none of the calves we bought those two years ever won his class.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  After that we stayed closer to home...and bought black.
I know this sentiment was not shared amongst the kids at all times and at all places, but some of my best memories did involve our family road trips, whether it was an early morning trek on Thanksgiving morning to my aunt’s gracious home in Columbia, a re-enactment of the pioneers’ trail through Wyoming, or museum hopping in Washington, D.C.  I loved picnicking in parks, stopping at historical markers (all of them), wading in cold mountain rivers, and finding a movie theater that last night out.  I appreciated every time one of my patient kids would pose for yet another mountain vista.  I even liked packing…..
Good for a laugh from the safe distance of decades:  digging for Ann’s retainer in the trash of a McDonald’s at the Lake of the Ozarks; Lee’s bright red  Sally Jessy Raphael style glasses….a replacement frame the color of her mother’s face after Lee left her brand new glasses where Ann could sit on them; Ben, checking to see what I thought about shaving his head...after the fact.  Ann and Ben, wearing the signs ‘Drunk’ and ‘Deserter’ at Fort Kearney or playing ‘Jack and Diane’ on their way to school in the Neon...a big improvement from the days Lee and Ann shut him in the linen closet.  Lee and Ben, practicing parallel parking with the dualled up 1984 Ford diesel pickup, Ben directing his sister between the buckets of feed and bales of straw in the driveway.
Tense times: music contest, freshman wrestling, prom.

And, for this mom,the very best of times: a break from running the seeder while I listened to the events of that day after the bus brought the kids home. Long phone calls on the 888 phone number.  Late night talks in the kitchen when the rest of the family was sleeping.

Happy memories. Lucky mom.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

God Bless the Child

I’m painting again….
Seems like I’ve spent more time painting in my life than most folks: painting as in primer and enamel, Rustoleum and latex, barns and gates and secondhand furniture.  Walls and wallpaper (don’t judge), ceilings and cement.  Scenery, signs, one 1966 Chevy pickup (construction orange) and perhaps my finest work, the big red geranium in a clay pot that graced both the false front on a long gone greenhouse and an even longer gone Ford three speed delivery van.
This propensity to paint is just one way I am my father’s daughter.  The only question is whether this craving to cover with color is a result of nature or nurture.  We earned our stripes the old fashioned way: no paint brush until until the target was scraped clean or wire-brushed free of flakes and rust.  My sister and I served at least a seven years’ apprenticeship painting farm gates and ourselves with gallon after gallon of barn red from Orscheln’s.   By nature, these children of the Depression and wartime were thrifty and fixed what broke, a task made easier by my mom’s talent with a sewing machine and my father’s engineer mindset.  By nurture, their children picked up sticks, pulled weeds, painted peeling farm buildings….and still do all of the above.  I shared with both my folks an appreciation for the timeworn and a desire to resurrect and put back to work stuff with some miles left to go.

Me, painting the numbers as high up as I wanted to lean
My dad, painting at the peak of the Red Barn roof
That's me, painting the numbers on the big red barn lots and lots of years ago.  In this picture, I've got a lot of rungs in front of me and I'm feeling pretty secure up high. Full disclosure, I did some of the painting on the gable sides of that barn, as high as that ladder could reach.  It was terrifying; I even curled my toes inside my shoes in an effort to make myself one with that ladder.  Exhibit two: my father, two ladders up on the steeply angled roof of the tallest barn in Moniteau county.  Lightning bolt high.  Once, on a vacation in South Dakota, he offered to race us to the top of a fire tower.  Laura scampered up ahead, as nimble as a squirrel on a high wire.  I made it about three flights before freezing up and retreating to join my mother on the ground.  When it came to heights, I was definitely my mother's daughter.

By nature, my father was orderly and tidy...I’d say almost to a fault, but that would be accounting using my standards of organization.  My mother’s best friend says my mom would hurry home from a visit to make sure the messes on the counter, or table, or other remains of the day were shoved under a counter or into a closet or otherwise cleared from the deck.  This story makes me laugh, being as picking up stacks of books, photos, mail and magazines and transporting them upstairs far from the beaten path of any company is my chosen way to deal with clutter. This habit is just one of the ways I’m my mother’s daughter. Over time, piles of lists and papers and catalogs accumulated on my parents’ kitchen table too, proving that even my father’s sense of order was no match for Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics.
The haphazard little girl learned discipline primarily through practice.  For much of my life, music was the strongest bond and common language between my father and me. He was a good teacher; I learned to listen to the sound I was making, to formulate an ear for what a clarinet should be...based on my dad’s clear bright tone, not the assortment of squeaks and groans in our school band. In music, he was patient with my mistakes, counting effort and practice to the good, but that didn’t keep me from quaking every week when it came time to test my exercises. My life is forever richer for the bond forged with my dad and the knowledge and appreciation of music heard and music performed.
My father was witty, quick with a quip or retort.  I wished I could be.  He was the sort of man one listened to.  My mother was kind, a patient and sympathetic ear during our one long distance conversation a week during college, or while she cooked in her farm kitchen and I chattered from the table.  In her later years, she was quiet, and I missed our conversations, though she was still perfectly happy to hear me talk about gardens and kids and loved to look at the pictures I took of home and farm or travels far away. Now I have stacks and stacks of the photo albums she constructed, reminders of a curious mind and an artist’s eye with the lens. I grew up with houseplants in every room and a camera bag on every outing; those habits are second nature not just for my sister and me, but deeply ingrained in her grandchildren as well.

What do we remember of our childhood?  I watched two people do their jobs: my father as the breadwinner and spiritual leader and my mother as caregiver, homemaker, and partner.  But these separate jobs were overshadowed by what they did together, which makes Clint Black’s lyrics oh so true….

“The way we work together is what sets our love apart
So closely that you can't tell where I end and where you start.”

Monday, October 2, 2017

'Tis a Gift to be Simple

The calendar page has turned to October, the month we rumble over the hills reaping the harvest in our gigantic green machine. This ancient endeavor, simple in concept, complex in execution, can be stymied by the failure of one piece in the Rube Goldberg assemblage of belts and gears, chains and brakes, electrons and augers and weather, making one of the most rewarding of endeavors the most frustrating.  
In spite of breakdowns, long hours, dust, and meal after meal eaten out of bowls, October is a beautiful month, a time to appreciate rosy sunsets and the return of the familiar winter constellations on the way home from work. It is the month of my birthday too, an appropriate time to make a list of simple pleasures for those days when nothing seems fun….
Hot cinnamon spice tea...Harney’s is the best..
Eating together….in or out….

Hoodie sweatshirts and smart-wool socks
Rain falling at bedtime
Good smelling soap
Coffeecake for breakfast
Going to church
Wearing cowboy boots
Reading books aloud
Sitting or swinging on the porch
Taking walks
New paint
Dairy Queen blizzard, Culver’s concrete, Dairy Diner Bulldog
Pictures or paintings or letters from the grandkids
Riding in the combine at night
Big bluestem and other fall grasses
Christmas decorations
Irish coffee or Eggnog
Dodge diesel pickups
Heated seats
Hugs from Aaron, Lizzie, Gabe, Abbie, Josh and Levi..separately or together.
Black eyed Susans
Art museums

...and so many more....

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free.
‘Tis a gift to come down where you want to be….