Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Crooked Numbers


Look at them. 
 Do these people look like they know what they doing?

Ok.  Let's try another shot or two.

Don't be fooled by his serious expression.  She is almost, but not quite, stifling uncontrollable giggling.  This is a solemn day, a sacred day, in the march of a person's time, but these folks are nearly giddy. Where are the grownups?  Won't someone shake an admonishing finger under these whippersnappers' noses?  This is not just a wedding.  It is MARRIAGE.

 Hmm..not here.  That's alot of soap and shaving cream.
What kind of car is that anyway?  What happened to the wheel covers? 

Jeez, doesn't she own any shoes?  And look at all that hair!!

Obviously, the whole outfit has no sense of responsibility.  They are even throwing RICE for goodness sake!  Guess there isn't much to worry about today: the bride and groom are going no farther than Union, Missouri for their wedding night. They will attempt to talk a waiter at an Italian restaurant out of a glass of wine...hey, its our wedding night!  But he, not impressed by the shiny new rings they spin nervously around their fingers, will card them, discover they are but 20 years of age, and consign them to temperance.  Suffice it to say the wedding party will not follow suit......

Age shouldn't be a disqualifying factor.  As the song says, 'They come from a long line....'

There is well over a century of married life in these two pictures. We should always look at our parent's wedding pictures; it tells us why we exist.  I know these two couples and can attest to the fact that:
Age cannot wither (them)her, nor custom stale (their)her infinite variety..(Shakespeare)

One of Blake's ongoing jests has to do with celebrations of uneven anniversaries, i.e., an 83rd birthday or a 58th anniversary. One might assume that those throwing the party have reason to think the celebrants won't make it to a traditional even number.  To be honest, I remember a similar discussion taking place behind the scenes when we had a big family get together for my grandparent's anniversary-that-was-not-their 50th.  Were we any the worse for breaking convention?  Did lightning strike because we had a party in an odd year?


Thus it is with us.  We are in between, in one of the "crooked number "years.  In baseball slang, an inning in which one puts up a crooked number is a success.  In life, in the breadth of a marriage, a crooked number is a reason to celebrate....

So much to count, to commit to memory, to mark on the yard stick behind the closet door.  How many cups of coffee poured from how many pots?  How many overalls over the years?  How many country music songs have been hits, then golden oldies?  How many paperback books and picture albums (an ongoing tally!) How many Wildcat games, Indian games, Tiger games, Cardinal games? 

How many miles in cars, pickups, trucks and airplanes side by side.

Big big numbers.  Crooked numbers.

So.. there they are.  In the front seat of that god awful '76 Gran Torino.  It will probably need oil before they finish their honeymoon at Daniel Boone's home in Defiance and head back to Columbia to study.  That's as far as they're looking back in August of '77.  

From here, August of 2013, all I can say is:

  Let's keep putting up those crooked numbers.  
Happy Anniversary!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Waiting for Wisteria

I had never seen anything like it and, after all these years, still haven't.  I asked my parents what on earth the vine was smothering the trees in leafy abundance and streamers of lavender blossoms strung like a lei.  The vine romped along the tree tops and strained the verticality of the electric pole supplying the pump house for the well.  The farm house was long empty and the farm stead had been abandoned to the persimmons, the sassafras, the mulberries and other early invaders of unmown central Missouri land...but even a novice like me could tell the monster in the trees was no newcomer.  My father has taken on many an unkempt landscape in his time, cedars, honey locusts, multiflora roses, and restored them to the pastoral design envisioned in his mind, but he could recognize and appreciate a force of nature akin to a volcano, a redwood, the tide, or a prairie wildfire.

This is the general idea but a mere echo of the vine I recollect
Not all wisteria is the blooming equivalent of kudzu.  Across from my parent's house in Jefferson City was a different breed of the plant, tamed, structural, sculptural.  With a twisted trunk like a Monterey cedar and a mop of bloom like a Japanese cherry on 'roids, the standard was clearly a human contrivance, but still evinced a sturdiness  beyond the brick and mortar of the neighborhood.
Again, alas, not the exact specimen, which was broader, taller and trimmed into a bowl cut by its caretaker.
Blake making sure it is true; Ann making sure Aaron doesn't eat any dirt

Ben on the business end of the spade; Aaron using more primitive means.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but it seems to me that it rained an inch a week the summer of 2004.  At least my photos from that summer reveal a lush green landscape with flowers that rival the gardens in Martha Stewart and other fictitious constructions.  Speaking of construction, I decided our backyard needed a "focal point", something to look toward from back door or the second floor. 

Blake said he would build me a pergola...a shade structure under which we could sip cool beverages, read weighty tomes and have civilized discussions.  Or....at the very least, rest our eyes.

With Ben's help and the sacrifice of several hours of weekend, we soon had a structure.  Now...all we needed was the shade.  
I had a dream......

Easier said than done....

We bought a whole baker's dozen of clematis later that summer.  They have bloomed faithfully every year, creating pillars of blue violet or fountains of sky blue or occasional winsome stars of pale pink depending upon their vigor and character.  But nary a one has ventured as far as the rafters.  None have provided actual shade.

Each year I hang massive mossy bowls of blooms in the 'windows' of the structure.  It is more than sturdy and bears the burden of 20"moss baskets without failure.  These big balls are worth the daily trips dragging the hose out to water, but they suspend between heaven and earth...not above.

Summer 2013

Finally, one of the employees at the Lincoln Earl May sent Blake home with a broken wisteria in a 2 gallon pot.  Every once in a while we've gotten bonus plants like that: alive but damaged and unsalable.  Hey, what the heck?  What was the downside?  Who turns down a freebie?

Let me tell you what I already knew about wisteria.  In addition to my past observations.  
  1.  Wisteria is sold two ways: Either as a young plant grafted on an older rootstock, or grown from seed on its own roots and stem.  Garden experts point this out because a seed raised wisteria can a)be  variable in color and b) can take up to twenty years to flower from seed. (!)
  2. Wisteria is very long lived. Consequently, choose wisely.  Be certain your grandchildren will bless and not curse you.  Beware lest your garden structure prove inadequate to the task of supporting the kind of vegetation that surrounded Sleeping Beauty's castle.

So....we waited. And the vine grew.  Kind of.  To be truthful, it didn't actually grow.  It just didn't quite die all the way.  Each spring a tendril would eventually sprout from the twisted gray stem.  It wended its way through the much larger and impressive clematis.  And that was it.

Then, four years ago, the wisteria made it to the rafters by the end of the summer.  And three summers ago, it produced a number of blossoms in the spring.  And two summers ago, it began to weave an impenetrable curtain of glossy leaves across the northwest quadrant of the shade structure.  

And this summer?  This summer I bought two colorful Adirondack chairs to set between the pots of banana among the moss baskets of wave and Vista petunias.  Because THIS summer, a good solid quarter of the pergola rafters are green leafy ceiling, home to robins and mourning doves and buzzing bees.  A person could almost feel secluded, nestled out there.

Wisteria is not a passing fancy, a flirtation, a whim, like a fad diet or new pair of shoes.  The reward comes many years after the initial investment.  Wisteria is more like a retirement plan than day trading.  It requires the type of patience that is measured in decades.  And if you are willing and able to grow those kind of  roots, you can grow old reveling in the amazing juxtaposition of the freshest of lavender blossoms with a trunk the hue and texture of elephant skin.  

Patience, grasshopper.  Wait....

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reunions and Other Reasons to Gather

This is Blake's Grandma Hurst. 

And this is when she was still Eunice Evelyn Kemerling.  Eunice is twenty years old in this photo.  The well dressed young man on whose knee she's sitting is Blake's Grandpa, Charles T. Hurst.  He's twenty seven and a farmer, but apparently that's not old enough or responsible enough for Eunice's father, Clay Kemerling. I know that because this is their wedding picture, taken just before they "eloped"with another couple to Clarinda, Iowa to get married.  It was August 27, 1927. Nearly fifty years after that, I stood in a receiving line for their Golden Anniversary at the Farmers and Valley Bank in Tarkio with my fiance, these grandparents, his parents, brothers and a cast of thousands (it seemed) all asking me if I remembered them from the wedding shower a week or two previous when I'd laid eyes upon them for the very first time. I hoped my red face would be attributed to the heat and my terror would be masked by a big smile and my youth would just be forgiven. I survived and the bond was forged: ever after our anniversary would be linked with Grandma and Grandpa Hurst's 
by the date and a half century.  A lot to live up to.

This is a photo of Clay and Retta Kemerling's offspring, circa 1989 at a reunion dinner at the Tarkio Nutrition Center.  I haven't counted how many folks are in this picture; I don't even know all of them.  The Kemerlings got together every two years or so and with all the Baptists in the crowd, it was no secret that the tables would be groaning with food and it would all be good, so assorted hangers on type relatives would show up from down in Fairfax to socialize and eat.  It was difficult enough for an in law like me to keep all the first cousins, cousins once removed and second cousins straight, much less some folks that were cousins several generations back.

There were Kemerlings that came from far away: several family members were long term military.  But most of the crowd in this picture is local.  Clay and Retta Kemerling had eight children, four of each.  At least one of the other daughters "eloped", too, leading me to suspect that perhaps Clay Kemerling didn't want to pay for any weddings. His daughters were (and are) formidable women. I have no reason to believe they didn't do exactly what they wished, within the bounds of propriety and without deception.

Grandma was gone when this reunion took place, but her three sisters, Aunt Pearl, Aunt Cecil and Aunt Luretta were still forces to be reckoned with. Aunts Pearl and Cecil were still attending church regularly: Cecil tiny and white haired, Pearl tall and dignified even in the dark glasses she wore to protect her failing eyes.  Aunt Pearl would  be guided to her seat by a relative, but she always seemed to know who was who during the service.  Aunt Luretta had gone back to college to get her degree in Geography somewhere in this time frame.

They were all intimidating, up to and including Grandma.  Pearl and Cecil had been school teachers and that no nonsense aura hung about them yet.  Grandma didn't run a classroom, but being a farm wife in those days required the kind of grinding work and organization we can barely imagine.  By the time Blake and I married and came back to farm, there was but one hired man.  But for many of the years they farmed, Grandpa had a whole table full of help to cut wood, mow and put up hay, plow, plant, cultivate, hoe, and harvest corn.  And Grandma fed them all, day after day after day. There was no electricity and would be none for years.  

Grandpa didn't darken the door of the Baptist church but Grandma was treasurer for 18 years. After we were married, I followed the example of my mother in law and started going to the church of my husband.  Grandma and I sang in the same choir for awhile and I'm sure I got back a few of the chips against me for being a Republican.  Did I mention the Kemerlings were all Democrats?  

Grandma loved to feed us all.  Traditionally, we ate Christmas breakfast at Millie and Charlie's and then showed up to open gifts and eat Christmas dinner at Grandma's.  The house was steaming by then and opening the door would vent all sorts of delicious smells.  Grandma was always hot in the summer, keeping her house about 60 degrees, but that didn't stop them from keeping the thermostat about 80 during the wintertime.  

Grandma and Grandpa were no spring chickens when their first great grandchild was born, but they acted like kids with a new puppy.  Little Lee was bundled, snuggled, tickled, and rocked every minute she was there.  We would drop her off on Tuesday evenings before we went bowling with Millie and Charlie and they would be waiting, at the door if not outside it....

This year Millie and Charlie were hosts for the Kemerling reunion.  I offered our yard as a central location with lots of shade.  Millie copied the entries for members of the family from the 1980 Tarkio Centennial book.  Lee and Ann helped collate before folks showed up for the Sunday lunch.
Here we are back in 1980 in our Centennial book entry.

 All the sisters and brothers are gone now, except for Aunt Luretta who just turned 95 years. We set out tables and sawhorses with plywood tops.  Every flat space was still groaning with food: meatballs and Texas potatoes, hamburgers and deviled eggs.  An entire table of desserts including an elaborately decorated birthday cake for Aunt Luretta. There was a prize for the one that traveled the longest distance and the shortest (across the hedge).  After we finished, the littlest kids played in the sandbox or under the sunflowers in the garden.  The adults listened attentively as members of the family read the short histories from 1980 and listened to updates received via emails and letters.  After all, the sons and daughters of the Kemerling family are grandparents and great grandparents in their own right and most of the younger folks weren't around to know the brothers and sisters.Well I remember trying to figure out which of all the aunts and uncles I met when we first married belonged to what very large family on either side.  I remember attending their funerals through the years.  These people were the pillars of our community when Blake and I were the young and green ones trying to earn our place. Then, we listened.

Fast forward a week.
More family celebration.  This time, we've packed our gifts, our games, our smiles and met to celebrate a little guy 94 years younger than Aunt Luretta.  Balloons were blown, released, and blown up again to festoon the deck.

We walked, we hopscotched, we played ambitious croquet and vicious bocce:

Cake was consumed and wrapping paper destroyed and the birthday boy took all the attention with good humor.

This is how we pass the torch in small town America.  We still load up the family, pack a food basket, bring gifts, and check for the camera, then drive hundreds of miles...or just five blocks..to be face to face to celebrate, to mingle generations....

...tell tall tales....

and take the kinds of family pictures the grandkids can search for and pore over at reunions in years to come.

"Now there was great Uncle Julius
And Aunt Annie Mueller
And Mary and Granddaddy Paul
And there was Hanna and Ella
And Alvin and Alec
He owned his own funeral hall

And there are more I remember
And more I could mention
Than words I could write in a song
But I feel them watching
And I see them laughing
And I hear them singing along

We're all gonna be here forever
So Mama don't you make such a stir
Just put down that camera
And come on and join up
The last of the family reserve"
.........Lyle Lovett