Friday, October 31, 2014

All the World Loves a Parade

"to see the world in a grain of sand...." William Blake

"Carthage is a city in Jasper County, Missouri, United States. The population was 14,378 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Jasper County and is nicknamed "America's Maple Leaf City."

Bright and early Saturday morning, we find ourselves just west of the courthouse square in Carthage, Missouri. The sun has not yet risen behind the courthouse and the color guards and veterans' floats are in deep and chilly shadow. In front of us is a snazzy old Ford in up to date paint and behind us is the Cabool Marching band, warming up their horns, rocking some fanfares and showing more energy than I would expect considering how early they must have hit the road. Our hosts are putting the finishing touches on their float entries, taping up signs and filling the milk pails of candy that will soon be handed to importuning sweet tooths.
I get the lowdown on this event from one of the locals:

1) the parade will take two and one half hours start to finish.

2) there are more than 300 entries.

3) it always takes place this weekend in October, whether or not the Maple Leaves that are the erstwhile draw cooperate or not.

Then she takes me aside and in an act of infinite courtesy, asks if I'd like to walk over to the Post Office and use the restroom.

If you want a windshield survey of small town America, join a parade. Choose your basic components: a courthouse square, a color guard, a marching band, a grand marshal, a little miss and mister, elected officials and/or candidates more or less, church floats, school floats, local business floats.....and dance academies and emergency vehicles galore. Leaven your parade with any combination of Shriners' entertainment...I particularly enjoy the train, the bandwagon, and especially the calliope. The shortest parade I know of takes place close to home: two blocks south and two blocks west in length, but even it boasts riders of two wheeled and four legged saddles both.
Blake and I knew a vast quantity of sweets had been purchased for this grand event by the more than generous hosts of our float. We were prepared to tear our rotator cuffs to shreds heaving great clutches of candy to the multitudes waiting under the autumnal boughs along the parade route. What a disappointment it was to be admonished by the local authorities NOT to throw candy under any circumstances! The grandma in charge was quite serious about the trouble she might be in should any candy fall onto the ground through the course of the parade. No, the only way for the kids to get their treats was for the gallant young ladies in Official FFA dress to hand it out piecemeal while marching double time with a full 2 1/2 gallon milk bucket behind our pickup and the Farmall M of guests behind us. They made a valiant effort and I dearly hope they escaped without shin splints..
Waving at a crowd of folks you don't know....and who REALLY don't know you is awkward....but watching the parade route go by at 10 miles an hour is great. It was ever so tempting to keep my camera up to one eye for the entire ride, but I would have missed so much! With the accompaniment of the nearest band drifting to us on the breeze, the folks on the porches of the grandest mansions gathered with steaming mugs in hand, looking like nothing so much as small town college gentry. Indeed, there were signs of college allegiance throughout the parade route.....a virtual menagerie of Tigers and Gorillas and Bears..Jayhawks and Wildcats, too. The curbs were crowded with blankets, camp chairs, and strollers of well bundled babies.

As we neared the Middle school, the very first of the marching bands started straggling past us, headed in the opposite direction. We rode back to the beginning of the parade, followed by a convertible containing a tattooed biker, a guy in a University of Northern Iowa sweatshirt and two well coiffed members of the local theater group.
And this is what I love about small towns. If you had seen these four people individually on the streets of Carthage....and I did, before the would never have placed them in the same convertible after the parade. There is a story and one that might surprise folks that have decided rural people are as homogeneous and uninteresting as American cheese. Sure enough, the parade was still rounding the square when we returned to our starting point. Following the Shriners were the ghouls and ghosties promoting their particular Haunted Houses. Then a dance and rhythm group from Kansas City. Then a fellow with his septic tank pumper truck.....with a big pink ribbon on its side and a contribution for breast cancer with every job. A heart felt story in that one.

Finally, fitting as can be for a city on America's Route 66, there are fireworks...or at least a pickup shooting confetti! Big city, no...ticker tape, huh uh...but this heart of America celebration still left plenty for the street sweepers to work with....

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Got no butler, got no maid
Still I think I've been overpaid
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night
-I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night
Got no silver, got no gold
What I got can't be bought or sold
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night
-I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night
Sunshine gives me a lovely day
Moonlight gives me the Milky Way
Got no heirlooms for my kin
Made no will but when I cash in
I leave the sun in the morning and the moon at night
And with the sun in the morning
And the moon in the evening they're all right

Irving Berlin

"Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over......"

Luke 6

Too much fun!


Too spontaneous?
Too full?

Too colorful?

Too happy?

Too productive?

Too summery?

Too bountiful?

Too playful?

Too rainy?

Too home grown?

Too much excitement?

When I think about birthdays, I think of Luke all the blessings heap up, cascade, pour out, are gathered in blessed spontaneous glorious disarray, so bountiful, I cannot measure or name them all.

I say...let us count blessings instead of candles!  
Especially if your cake looks more like this:
Too many?
Not nearly enough!

than this!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Green Eyed Monster

"ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – As St. Louis gets set for another “Red October”, the Cardinals and their fans get slammed in the national media.
Wall Street Journal report labeled the Cardinals the most “hateable” team in the 2014 Major League Baseball playoffs."
"Don’t hate us be­cause we’re beau­tiful here in St. Louis. But if you do, just know that we’re sorry. Go Cards!"

Francis Slay, mayor St. Louis

...And why, you might ask, are the St. Louis Cardinals, a fabled franchise from a small market city, even on the radar screen with such legendary bulls'eyes as the Yankees or the Red Sox on one coast, or those in Dodger blue or San Fran orange on the other?  What could possibly get the attention of other fans in other cities and their media?  Why are the guys with the birds on the bat inciting emotions like "hate"? 

I got only one answer....and it will hold true whether the Cards advance this year or not: 


But, this isn't really a post about baseball.  Nope, this is about power. 

As a child, my farmer husband dreamt of fielding grounders at second base for the Cardinals, even though calling him"JULI"was ironic, not iconic. He would never have imagined a world in which spraying champagne in the Cardinal clubhouse would pale in comparison to an unexpressed need of many outside farming to sail high above the prairie seas of rustling grain in a galleon of green steel delivering more than 300 horsepower and enough electronic bells and whistles to convince the driver he's piloting a Star Wars X Wing.

What is it about combines that makes people with no knowledge of agriculture and no desire to be a farmer want to climb that steep ladder and drive off into the sunset?

 Tots not yet out of diapers, esteemed public servants and diplomats, professors with pedigrees, writers and historians of note, and, no doubt, the guy next to you in traffic, all want to partake of the penultimate drama of nature: to battle the elements and looming winter to bring in the bounty of the spring and summer toil and ensure security for the year to come. It is the story that binds our ancestors before history to those tied to the land today by nothing more than menus and websites.  And in the fall of the year, that elemental urge is expressed by a desire to harvest...something big.... 

You think I'm kidding?  Over our years of farming, we have entertained all matter of guests in the buddy seat of the combine. Farmers do their work all spring and summer noted only by statisticians. But when we tell folks to come back and visit in the fall, when the summer heat subsides, the sunsets and sunrises glow, and the air hums with the throb of big motors, they brighten and ask, "Can I ride the combine?"

In the real world, harvest is both more and less than the stately crawl of the giant machines around the gentle contours of sun drenched hills and river bottom fields so long the rows vanish in a point.  It is long: long days becoming short nights, the caresses of September morphing into the nail scratching blackboard irritation of November. 

Harvest is endurance, patience, boredom, beauty, and breakdowns. 

From the highway at 70 mph, it has the choreographed grace of ballet or a beehive, with each piece sliding into its task with just-in-time efficiency.

In reality, mud, dust, oil and electricity are mortal enemies of fine tuning. Entropy happens between May and October. There's many a slip 'twixt the cup of spring planting and the lip of harvest. Varmints tunnel into terraces; branches fall in turning rows; downpours ravage conservation structures; stones rise to the surface.

In all fairness, even farmers are susceptible to the siren song of the combine and the romantic aura that seems to surround the harvest season.  Every September the big behemoths grumble to life and are coaxed out of their sheds like grizzlies after hibernation.  They are greased, washed, and given acomplete physical.  After a particularly rough year, they may get the equivalent of a makeover.  The hierarchy of combines rules on our farm; the patriarch drives the newest model and the other combine is driven by....well, not the patriarch.  Even the youngest riders recognize this pecking order and follow one of their own, choosing Grandpa Charlie's combine (less dust, more electronics, etc.) to...well, the other guy's.

Mayor Francis Slay could be speaking for farmers when he writes:  
"The point is that we here in the Mid­west are not a boast­ful peo­ple. We’re hum­ble and qui­etly go about our busi­ness, invent­ing the things you use every day, en­ter­tain­ing you, find­ing employ­ment for your cit­i­zens and hand­ing you losses on the base­ball field reg­u­larly. (We’re es­pe­cially sorry to Chicago.)"

During harvest, we farmers fill our go-cups, or our aging Thermoses, vainly run the wipers in an attempt to sweep off last night's dust, and drive through the foggy or frosty air to work.  We shatter the morning's silence, rev up the throttle on the tractor to run the auger, start the grain trucks and watch the torrent of grain leave the hoppers, pump some diesel....and climb into our homes for the harvest, our room with a view.  The hydraulics whine, the chains and sickle bars clatter and the whole contraption rumbles off, clicking off the hours, clearing the acres, multiplying the acres row by row.   Pretty mundane.  Not the stuff of heroics..

 We'll hope nothing breaks....

we will eat another meal out of plastic....

and.... not to worry.....
we'd be pleased to have you ride along.....