Sunday, March 28, 2010

Last Easter's finery

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Easter hymns

I love everything about Easter. Well, just about everything: I was never crazy about the hollow chocolate bunny profiles with the beady candy eyes. Hollow? Artificial? Can anything be more antithetical to Easter itself?
On the other hand, the regal, pure, statuesque, over poweringly fragrant Easter lilies are the perfect symbol for the celebration. Lilies come out of the ground, from quiescent entities deep underground. From nothing springs the deep green sprout; the entire plant is "crowned with many crowns" of purest white. They are impossible to ignore, impossible to resist; and time after time and year after year they return.
I love the bright and flowery garb of little boys and girls. When I was little, we got our new spring dress for Easter. For many years, my grandmother presented us with new spring dresses in pastel florals cottons fresh from her Singer sewing machine and the fabric store in downtown Jefferson City. For many years after that, my mother made lovely hand made dresses in spring florals for my two girls. Whatever the weather, the kids would don their new spring apparel and pose outside...often their smiles were frozen to their faces and their long hair would be whipping in their eyes. A springy Easter is more a theory than a practice in northwest Missouri! We are years past the introduction of a new Easter hat on the adult ladies, but I remember the Easter bonnets in our little white church growing up. Many ladies sported corsages for Easter morn as well and Ben was diligent in providing a flower for his mom while he was at home. Even when I'd have to go back to work after Easter dinner, I enjoyed the idea of my exotic orchid from the morn.
Our church still has an early morning service, but not the sunrise service we attended when the kids were younger. We felt keenly our kinship with the women at the Tomb when we crawled out of our beds into the dark chill of a March morning at the farm to throw on our clothes and make the trip to town for the 6:30 service. We only broke our fast with coffee and doughnuts in the fellowship hall after welcoming the Resurrected Savior in the dimly lit church. Maybe the kids missed a sunrise service, but most years, all five of us headed to town. Afterwards, we'd come home to water or chore and the "bunny" would make sure the eggs were hidden mostly out of the reach of the farm pets. Usually the "bunny" from Grandma Millie's would already have made her very very early morning deliveries of baskets for all the family members at the front door.
When I was growing up, we'd dye dozens and dozens of boiled eggs at Granny's. Nothing fancy involved...just lots of stinky hot old fashioned egg dye and the white crayons to write everyone' name with. With several acres of apple trees and a huge yard, the egg hunt would proceed for quite awhile. I'm sure we never found all of them, but waste was clearly not the issue; my father and his brothers usually got into some kind of egg battle later on; not all of the eggs were boiled!
Our home church was nothing fancy, but it was beautiful when the violet vestments and altar cloths were replaced with the celebratory white. Trinity in Jefferson City had the advantage of a giant organ and much larger choir; the organ raised the roof even higher.
I love the Easter hymns; the Lutheran hymns of my youth are augmented by the even more ringing and uptempo songs of the Baptist hymnal. And our Easter hymns have not been made trite or commercial by constant re-arrangement and overplaying. Instead, they are reassuring in the way family reunions are: we are part of the group, part of the past and part of the future. We can sing with faith and enthusiasm, full of confidence and vigor.
Our Easter morning services in Tarkio have been graced and blessed with Dennis Martin's singing too. I don't even know who recorded the song 'He's Alive' originally, though I recall hearing it on KMA on some Easter morning. The feeling of stepping back to those days and sitting in the rooms with the fearful and confused disciples permeates our present day church when he sings and our Savior stands among us in our hearts as He appeared that first Easter.
The children have sung musicals; our choir has presented cantatas...Easter morning sunrise may be for meditation, but the rest of the day is for music and singing.
May we all, near and far, rejoice in our risen Lord. Resurrection...what a wondrous word.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cross in San Antonio mission

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hosanna, hosanna

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. For most of the years of my childhood, Palm Sunday was the first break from the somber hangings and hymns and scriptures of Lent. On Palm Sunday, we briefly raised our voices and our key signatures from minor to major. While I love the word 'hallelujah' or even 'alleluia', the praise evoked by 'hosanna' to my ears sounded more accessible, more earthbound. Our Sunday school lesson pages pictured children, lots and lots of children, in their multi colored shifts and shirts welcoming the Master and Teacher on His donkey. Some stories in the Bible resonate more than others, and the happenings of Palm Sunday could take place in Tarkio. Picture the sleepy village with mostly empty streets; its afternoon in my mind and folks are resting from the heat. Jesus sends the disciples down the hill to the village main and probably only street and has them tell anyone who asks when they untie the donkey, 'the Master has need of him.' I figure I could run into any building in Tarkio in an emergency and ask to borrow a vehicle and folks would offer keys and ask why later....
But some of those same folks were probably in Jerusalem later on. On Palm Sunday Jesus was local boy made good, wow-I-knew-him-when, a celebrity they could relate to even more than a ruler, king, or Messiah. And the frenzy has that ephemeral feeling; too good to last. We can read foreboding into the Easter story; I wonder if that dread was palpable back then.
Because we knew what was coming during Holy Week, I was of two minds when we began to get the little palm crosses at our church on Palm Sunday. First of all, I thought they were neat; I hadn't seen a real palm and enjoyed the waxy but sharp texture of the leaf. On the other hand, why were we celebrating when Good Friday was just around the corner?
Tomorrow we'll listen to the little kids sing their hosannas in church. We'll hope no one gets an eye poked not by just some little palm cross, but by an entire palm frond. With the momentous events of Holy Week upon us, this Sunday is a good time to take a deep breath, step back from our worldly cares and pursuits, sing our praise songs briefly, then meditate on the tremendous willful sacrifice and miraculous result of the Resurrection. Hosanna, all you people.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

room with a view, new hospital

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Open letter

Dear Mr. President,
Like many other Americans tonight, I'm just sitting down to watch a little NCAA basketball. Its not early here in the Midwest: 9:30 pm, so I've already missed the first game of tonight's lineup. Most evenings, we sit down and watch a DVR'd version of Bret Baier's "Special Report" on FOX. That's in the interest of full disclosure; yes, we tend to get our national news via the Fox grapevine, but we don't stop there. We read the WSJ as well as a selection of other magazines, both news and opinion.
Not as closely though this time of year. We are small businessmen, really small, but I assume that still puts us in the anointed category of "engine of economic growth" and "innovators and entrepreneurs". Most days in the spring, my feet aren't telling me I'm an entrepreneur: nope, they are telling me I'm labor, the help, the economic engine that takes out the trash, makes the payroll, cleans the toilets, and, in the case of my husband, fixes lots of stuff that breaks. We are farmers, but this time of year, we are greenhouse growers and March is crunch time. We're trying to juggle weather, fuel, plants, labor, and space. The weather is contrary and erratic; the fuel to keep all the greenhouses warm these many cloudy days is dear; the labor and greenhouse space are limiting factors for all those begonias, wave petunias, impatiens, zinnias, alyssum, tomatoes, and even more esoteric and specialized crops that our customers, our partners, need to be a optimal size at a prescribed time. When I was in college, I discovered whole magazines in the Ag Econ library devoted to the study of logistics; the idea of that subject grabbed my interest then. Little did I know that logistics and "just in time" would be at the heart of our plant business lo these many years later. Service and quality; personal attention by all our trusted help and our family members both full and part time: these qualities are what sets us apart and keeps us in business.
So, frankly, Mr. President, I don't have time right now to worry about what the health reform law is going to do to my business. We are anomalies, I know; we buy our own health insurance and I am well aware of what it costs per month. I know full well that we are on the hook for any medical expenses we incur up to our really hefty deductible. We've been fortunate in our health, but that only means we haven't suffered thus far the catastrophic long term illness that can decimate savings and livelihoods. We have tried all means in our power to use the tools available to protect ourselves in that eventuality; after all, our small business employs our daughter and husband and provides the living for two of our four grandchildren.
Our other daughter works at our small local hospital; it has a special designation as a critical provider in our overwhelmingly rural and medically underserved county. While the debate was taking place this past week, she confessed a fear of what the results of the law would mean for our hospital, currently in the midst of new construction. We lost one of our doctors and have been unable to attract another family physician to our county despite all manner of recruiting tools and incentives, as well as the new facilities. Am I worried about "health care reform"? Not nearly as much as I worry about not having a doctor within 20 miles. Not nearly as much as I worry how this new law will affect young people looking at medicine as a possible profession. Who wants to plight their troth with the good folks of Fairfax, Tarkio, and Rock Port, Missouri? Look us up, Mr. President, and tell us what good things are going to come our way.
I'm not going to pretend that folks I know don't worry about how to pay for either their medical care, or their insurance. But the people I know do worry about not having any choice. We live out here, for the most part, by choice. We sacrifice proximity to some luxuries others might consider necessities. We pay lots of taxes and we know exactly how much because most of us are self employed. We won't take kindly to paying more taxes and getting less choice.
Tomorrow the daughter at the hospital will be calling in all the able bodied family members to help haul the heavy tables and chairs her more frail volunteers can't handle; Saturday night will be one of the big fundraisers the hospital's development council puts on. We'll all attend or help in some other capacity. Sunday the other daughter and helpers of the little kid's church group will lead them in songs at the Palm Sunday service. We'll bake goodies next Saturday for the Easter morning breakfast. In between, I have my grandson's school play on the calendar. My mother-in-law will have a ceremony the next weekend dedicating a stone where the store and center of the community she grew up in stood . She has asked my husband and I to play something. He will be in good shape after practicing to play the Star Spangled banner Saturday night at the hospital.
Because the grandchildren are young, after our extended family Easter dinner, we will hunt eggs in our gutter connect greenhouse....that way the farm dogs won't get the eggs before the kids do, and we have a better chance of remembering where we hid them.
And the point of that litany? The point is we have a stake in the success of our homes, our businesses and our community. We've been here for years and hope to stay, raising the next generation and praying a few of them will be able to call Tarkio home. I am certain you truly believe you are making life better for lots of folks. But we're used to taking responsibility for ourselves and I'm not convinced you've made it better for us. And I know for certain paying for everyone's health will not make life easier for my kids and grandkids. I don't have to be a Harvard grad or the President to know that.

Monday, March 22, 2010

hey,its the Constitution....

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away with bump off, away with the rub out

The news has been pretty grim these last few days. I take no pleasure in dwelling on what's lurking around the corner; I fall somewhere between willful ignorance and deliberate disregard. Somewhere in my brain is a synapse that makes bad news easier to take if I don't listen for it. So, I am completely aware and certainly discouraged by the actions of our leaders in Washington. But I don't really know what the future holds much past tomorrow, so as far as wallowing goes, as Bartleby says, "I'd prefer not to."

Besides, there is plenty on the plate that needs to be dealt with NOW, not six months down the pike, and not in three years.

My battle against angst:

1) get out the old picture albums. There are tough times in those years too. But we record the happy occasions and there are obviously more than a few of those. Look at all the birthday cakes, all the barbeques, all the vacations, all the contests, ballgames, all the first days of school.

2) Go to an art museum. What a fine trip we had to Washington, D.C. My husband is so tolerant of my sightseeing goals. In this case, a nice sunshiny walk to the American Art Museum/Portrait Gallery after lunch at the Old Ebbitts Grill. Choose the exhibits like your favorite tidbit on the appetizer plate. Who's keeping track of how long or hard you study technique? At the American Art Museum, security doesn't even check your bag! This trip I made it to the fourth floor, the old Model Hall, where the new patent models were displayed. Its a beautiful room in the high flown American Victorian style...lots of geometric tile, stained glass, and high skylights. The architecture itself declares, "give me a problem, I'll solve it with a machine that is art itself."
Art museums are good for one's perspective: man has been expressing himself to lasting effect through art longer than any other means. It takes time to travel through this much history, so don't rush.

3) My goal was an exhibit of survey photos of the American West taken in the 1870s. I won't go into the details of the extreme care and sheer volume of cumbersome equipment it took to produce these luminous monochrome shots of the Green River, the Snake, Canon de Chelly, the Colorado, and other iconic landscapes. Suffice it to say the prints both whetted my appetite to return to the elemental landscapes of contorted and eroded geology and also calmed the itch of haste.

4) Listen to some baseball. Its still spring training. The pace is relaxed; the announcers are jocular, except when extra innings threatens their tee times. The lineups might be familiar, or you may not be able to tell the difference between your home team and the visitors. The crowd noise is intimate. Because the games are during the day, they seem more timeless.

5) OK, so its still too early to play in the yard. So do as much spring cleaning inside as you can stand. I cleaned the counters, washed the bathroom rugs, briefly contemplated hanging some new prints (but they are too weighty and will require assistance), mopped and dusted. My little world was thus in better order than it had been three hours previous. Win the battles where one can.

Blake has been keeping up with the blogs; apparently, the world has not yet come to an end. This is pretty bad, but, pardon me, Jimmy Carter was beyond pretty bad and we survived him. Somehow we survived the 20s, the 30s, the 40s....and far be it for me to compare our country's situation today to the threats to freedom and life itself of those decades.

Susanna McCorkle had a song on one of her CDs with the catchy hook, "I don't think I'll end it all today." The tune has a Latin beat, lots of ways to commit suicide, and lots of reasons not to. Its both irresistible and macabre. Especially since Ms. McCorkle, an immensely talented musician, indeed did kill herself.

But, universal health/deficit/taxation/inflation/destabilization of the dollar/mud/frost/bugs/fungus/......
.....make your own prescription against the funk and "let's not end it all today."

Monday, March 8, 2010

the Country Mouse at the Big Ball

Last Sunday Blake rushed home from the Sales conference meeting in Branson so we could make it to the first Brownville Concert Series event of the year: a duo performing the songs of Cole Porter. The gent appeared in a dapper wide striped grey suit; madame's first costume was a ravishing gown of illusion netting and glass beads over ruffled white petticoats. She had the ravishing patrician looks of an old time movie star, made even more attractive by the fact I suspected she was "of a certain age." She wore rings with giant cut stones and a diamond bracelet of 1920s vintage design; I feel I've seen bracelets like this one at antique stores displayed on black velvet. It was worn tight upon her wrist with long glittery fringe of rhinestones or crystals of some kind.

At any rate, they were elegant and their costumes brought to mind our very first wild hare of a trip to Washington on a whim: our first American Enterprise banquet and ball. Blake had written something for the magazine and thus we got the engraved invite in the mail. Perhaps this wasn't the first invitation, but this time we recognized the honoree of the banquet, George Will. We looked at the calendar, bought a cheap flight to Baltimore, and made our plans to got where we really didn't belong. Blake went with me to purchase a ball gown. That's what brought all this to mind, because the dress (from Dillards) was black with lots and lots of glass beads. It was HEAVY! It was lovely even though I could not help but feel that the dress resented the fact that a person with no mascara, no nail polish and a ten dollar hairdo was in it. I knew the event was a big deal because my husband even went shopping with me.

He wasn't as fortunate. The dinner was black tie, so I went to Howard's in Shenadoah to pick out and order a tux. This wasn't as expensive as I expected, but still seemed like plenty of money for a couple of hours of apparel. However, it was part of our adventure and I sprinted up one afternoon, picked up the bag with shirt, studs, tux and shoes and threw them in the suitbag.

Our flight switched planes in Cleveland. From the air, it was a beautiful approach over the city. Our long cab ride first delivered us to the wrong Hilton in Washington (we needed the Washington Hilton north of DuPont Circle, but we had no idea how many Hiltons there were in D.C.) We checked in, eyeballing the guest list and searching for our numbers on the many tabled seating chart. The invitees were a Who's Who of the conservative, think tank types we so admired. The folks at the tables in the outer orbits, (like farmers from Missouri) were more obscure type hangers on....staffers, perhaps, or other writer wannabes. No matter, we were pretty convinced we would be the only farmers there.

I can't remember what we ate; I'm sure it was tasty, nicely presented, but still high class banquet food. I do recall that the speech was all we had hoped and the company at our table varied from social climber disinterest (looking for a better table!) to pleasant conversationalists, interested enough to query young farmers from Missouri.

Perhaps the best part of the evening was the dance orchestra. Eric Felten was a name known to us from his articles in the Wall Street Journal. And while I have played in swing bands and even listened to swing bands, the musicians have always been either very young or pretty seasoned. Here, however, was a swanky, classy, live and lively band blowing the drapes off the walls. There weren't as many dancers as one would have wished for; signs of the times, I guess. And I admit, we didn't dance as much as we should have in order show true appreciation for their efforts and the rarity of the occasion in our experience. But it didn't have anything to do with our innate lack of practice or ability...

No, I have to tell you the main reason we didn't dance and spent most of our evening seated was a problem beyond solving on short notice. In my haste, I had naively included Blake's rented tux in its original bag, assuming that to be the best way to keep track of all the rented parts. And so it was that we never knew, until he donned his fine duds, that the black tie suit we had rented had......tails. Oh woe! Instead of mingling in our best black outfits, my poor husband looked like, as he put it, the maitre' de.

To his credit, we enjoyed ourselves anyway, spending just a tad more time as wall flowers than we might have without tails, considering we had nothing to lose and no one to impress. We were the extras in the movie, the props, the scenery.

And I'd do it again. But I'd check the costumes first!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

when I'm tired at night

"I hate it when they say, I'm aging gracefully. I fight it every day...I guess they just can't see. I don't like this at all, what's happening to me..." Matraca Berg, speaking for every and any woman of a wide range of ages. I read this lyric years ago in the Wall Street Journal in a review of Matraca Berg's second and final, I guess, CD. Her first 'Lying to the Moon' is one I picked up later, used, at a Hastings store. Matraca Berg isn't a household name, but her signature song writing voice is obvious in many a tune recorded by better known names. I don't remember whether it was a man or a woman who penned the review, but I thought the choice of song and lyrics to highlight was odd at the time. I have always thought the song poignant, but now it is downright timely.

The other morning, I could hardly stand as I got out of bed...this following a restless night with one low level ache after another. I remember this phase from last spring and the panic it caused me: what if this is how it is going to be for the next two months? What if I don't loosen up? I had a dread I associated with a worn out nag heading to pasture or Percy worrying about the scrap yard.

Fortunately, the next day the aches subsided, just as last year whatever joints and muscles needed to tighten or loosen finally got their acts in sync. But time is not on our side and one of these days....

One of these days, what? I spend a certain amount of time thinking about what on earth I should accomplish when I am no longer "working". I like what I do, but it is highly dependent on ups, downs, and sideways. And memory!! Worse than a concern about joints is the nagging worry that those synapses won't connect and tell me what, where, when and how much.

Don't misunderstand me...I have a list of achievable and necessary projects; I also have a bucket list, mostly of things I still want to learn to do, or have neglected to practice and improve upon. But will these rise to a level of a profession? For a person who has survived all these years after college, and goal setting, and long term plan making, without really doing any of the above? My husband thinks all this is silliness personified and I know his usual good sense should prevail on this topic. He has all the evidence on his side; I barely finish the cleaning each week and that would be a start. I don't finish all my magazines or books either. I don't study my Bible as I should, though I work hard to pray through the day as Jesus taught.

Last time Lizzie was here, she helped me make a coffeecake. Aaron has practically been brought up helping me make bread for the bread machine. Lee tells me that Gabe saw the cooking oil and told her Grandma uses it for apple bread. Then he demonstrated how we stir. Abbie counted the petals on the Ball plant box from one to five.

We are blessed with our multi generation family near and dear. My mother taught by example and mere existence. My father, always a rather awe inspiring figure to me, has always been a terrific teacher, full of pithy examples and illustrations about nearly every subject. Maybe that should be my goal; to take as much time as my patience will allow, and answer every question the little children ask. It couldn't hurt any of us.....

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

State Line Baseball

I'll admit it; I'm a sucker for Field of Dreams. Unlike The Natural, with its moral ambiguity (and spine chilling theme!) and the hilarious, but believable Bull Durham, Field of Dreams is a kid's
show. It is sweet, and nostalgic, and evocative for those of us living where baseball is routinely played amongst the corn. When the parting shots of the movie pan out to the ball diamond lit up for a night game, I am pulled back to the summertime evenings we spent watching Ben play ball in the State Line league.

The State Line league was already an anachronism when Ben got old enough to play baseball. By then, summer leagues in basketball and even soccer had cannibalized many of the small town baseball teams for boys and softball teams for girls. In those years, Tarkio didn't have baseball or softball teams for kids past six grade. But if you lived near Westboro, you could play baseball from age five (we were always short players) all the way to age 16.

Secondly, the State Line league played in the little towns clustering our corner of Missouri and Iowa, towns like Westboro, Clearmont, Coin, Braddyville. These communities could still field 9 boys with a couple extras on the bench. They even had folks to sponsor t shirts. But they were towns with half a heart because they were towns without a school anymore.
We'd pack our lawn chairs, a water jug, and hats to beat the sun on a couple of the fields. Westboro had a lovely slope with big pines and the sun to our back. No so great for the right fielder. When Ben started as a half pint the school was still used as the concession area and we could borrow the downstairs bathrooms. As the building sank into disrepair, the local Lions and concerned citizens and baseball fans raised funds for a nice concession/bathroom building, a brand new upgrade to a town on a long slow slope. To be honest, Westboro's ball field has always been snazzy. The grass was mown regularly; the infield received grading when a serious wet spot developed between first and second; the kids got "dugouts" where peeling unshaded benches had been. We had lights for the evening games where moth clustered thickly. The games weren't short; we're not talking Randy Johnson here, so there were lots of walks. But we were never far from home on the two lane lettered and numbered state roads roiling up and down the loess hills and creek bottoms.

Like old major league parks, the ballfields of the State Line league had their own idiosyncrasies. Westboro had some serious speed bumps in the outfield. The field at Coin was down below the old school so spectators could watch from bleachers, or, as we did one stormy June night, stay in one's car and watch the lightening strikes during a "rain delay". Clearmont's field faced right into the sun; the designer was obviously an outfielder who didn't care if the audience burned to a crisp. The field in Braddyville was outside of town, next to a creek. The woods were hard by left field: another brand of "Green Monster". Foul balls were headed across the road and really out of play. Unlike the majors, each team did not have an unlimited budget for baseballs, so fouls were limited and out on the third strike. A particularly muffed ball could conceivably wind up in the river.

The little towns of State Line country are not what they used to be. Not only are the schools hollow shells, but the business districts are pretty well derelict too. But a community of any size in our country still has a skyline; many a ball field has a view of fertilizer wagons, grain bins and tanks of varying diameters.
Ben's coach was Dr. Ed Nims, the veterinarian in Westboro. Through uncounted years of multi-walk, multi-run innings and lopsided games, I never heard him vary from good natured encouragement and equanimity. He was just as pleasant when the boys got older and played .500 ball.

 Ben played catcher from the time he was five til his last summer. He never even owned a regular ball mitt. The last game of every year was the All Star game; in Ben's last season, the game was in Hopkins, I think. Someone sang the National Anthem and the kids all received medals at the end of the game. I have Ben's All Star medal from the State Line; it rode around in the car for a long time after the season ended.

Unlike Field of Dreams, I don't think there is some golden age to be regained. No heroes of baseball past are going to walk out of the woods in northwest Missouri. But like that movie, there is a sweetness that surrounds the memories, a universal good humor made up of summer, rustling corn, sunsets, lawn chairs, and baseball.