Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mr. Harms Goes to Washington..

...along with Miss Harms and Miss Schlueter.
Relaxed travelers that they are, Lizzie and Gabe pass the time before takeoff playing GoFish. Across the aisle, Abbie and Blake are already deep into their portable electronic devices.  All three kids are chomping gum, having learned from experience..or at least the advice of older siblings...that airplane trips are hard on the ears.  Lizzie and Abbie have tiny square notepads on which to record their upcoming adventures. I hear Lizzie say, "All the dots for the 'i's' are hearts and all the o's have smiley faces." Her chronicle will obviously include emojis.

The geography of the Mall is the stage of our week : the scaffolding of the Capitol on one side and the compass needle of Washington's Monument  on the other. Three kids means three different ideas of what to see, but these guys are used to sharing and a satisfactory plan of attack is created over pasta.

What does a seven year old see in Washington, D.C.?

A thousand miles of wide stone borders to run along like a balance beam.  A dozen reflecting pools and fountains to lean over, lean into, and befriend the ducks paddling in.  Hundreds of  marble steps in and outside of majestic buildings to count, up and down, and then report triumphantly on the accomplishment of climbing.
They are unexcited by the prospects of policy and politicians, but they are patient while the adults speechify and listen, either reading, scribbling, or taking a power nap.  During one meeting Lizzie leans over and whispers to me, "When they talk about Democrats, do they mean the bug?"

As befits children of a greenhouse, the kids concentrate intently on the Plant Hunter's Journal they collect at the desk of the National Botanical Garden, filling out most of the blanks and picking their favorite plants from each of the greenhouse biomes.
 We spend a pleasant hour in the National Gallery among the French painters where Gabe exhibits a keen eye, finding the duck in the reeds a hunter is stalking and the monuments in the background of a Parisian street scene.  All three are fascinated by the notion that Van Gogh painted himself....

Lizzie finds her moccasins just inches from the front door of the Museum of the American Indian.
 The kid's exhibit gives them a chance to stamp their passports by balancing a kayak, weaving a basket, listening to bird calls, and visiting a tepee.  Abbie looks askance at her bison chili, but Liz and Blake chow down an entire plate of buffalo short ribs and fry bread.

We really never see the White House, but the afternoon we visit Mt. Vernon is gloriously sunny and warm.  Transported to the 18th century, this kind of living history is perfect for the imaginations of  youngsters and oldsters alike.

 We talk about all the visitors an isolated farm like Mt. Vernon would have and all the bedrooms it took to house them.  Gabe wants to know how old  Gen. Washington was when he died and is worried about how he got so sick from being outside in the rain. We walk to the edge of the lawn and look out over the same view of broad river and densely forested hills that George Washington saw from his front porch.  As they climb up the brick wall and sit dangling their legs over the side (any wall is fair game if you're seven) both Abbie and Gabe declare they will move here when they are grown and build houses across the river so they can have the same view.  If they do, I say, I'll certainly come visit....

Lizzie does cartwheels on George Washington's lawn.

Along with all the walking, all the gift shops, several lost and found souvenirs and a half dozen smashed pennies, there are serious and lovely moments that I will always remember.  After a long day of travel, I follow the kids up the marble steps in the dark to the somber interior of the Lincoln Memorial.  Abbie finds Mr. Lincoln rather frightening, saying his eyes seem to be following her around.  All three of them gravitate to the Gettysburg Address and stand; Abbie reads aloud and the sound of her young voice navigating the solemn text brings tears to my eyes. Each child wants a picture taken in front of the carved document. Gabe asks if we can go read the other wall and we stand before the Second Inaugural until all three children have finished and we hurtle down the stairs in the dark back to the bus.

Of such things are memories made.

Monday, March 23, 2015

History Lessons

Lee, Ann, and Ben on the Mall, fighting to keep their lunch from the seagulls
This week will mark a grand adventure, for Blake and I are journeying to our nation's capital and Lizzie, Gabe, and Abbie are going with us.
Four years ago, Aaron accompanied us to Washington, D.C., taking his first trip on a jet and allowing his grandma and grandpa to experience the wonders of the city anew....it was a great trip for all of us, though not without the kinds of anecdotes that make travel endlessly fascinating and eventually become family lore.

But Washington, D.C. has lots of room for history.

My folks chose the summer of 1964 to take our family pilgrimage to DC. We rode the train east, taking the B&O Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington. Instead of the Pullman sleeper, I believe we slept in a roomette where the seats facing each other folded down into beds. What I remember most about the train trip are the green green valleys of the eastern mountains and the gritty backyards of the steel mills in Pittsburgh, all part of the same state. We were so anxious to get to DC that industrial Baltimore seemed to go on forever....

Washington in the summer was a combination of the white heat of sidewalks and the cool interiors of museums.
We ate in cafeterias with Granny and Grandpa, walked the length of the Mall from the Tidal Basin to the Supreme Court,
went to the top of the Washington Monument,
saw Mt. Vernon from an excursion boat, and watched the sun set over Arlington from the steps of Lincoln Memorial as the Marine Band played for us on the banks of the Potomac.
We ate ice cream to cool off.

Fast forward thirty plus years. Millie and Charlie knew someone who knew someone who got us inside the White House one evening for a tour of the West Wing. (This was before Millie got so close to Vice-President Biden).

From 1801 to 1932, anyone could go to the White House during the New Year's reception. But it 's been a long time since it was easy to visit the White House; back in the sixties,sunrise in Washington would see lines of tourists stretching for blocks awaiting their turn to enter. When we strolled through the halls of the White House after dark and took turns peering around the corner of the Oval office, it was a surreal and unforgettable experience, not at all something some Tarkio farmers should be doing. But Ann provided us a pungent dose of reality when she declared within the hearing of the White House press secretary that the White House bathrooms we walked by "smelled bad!

Blake just got back from a Learning Tour of Cuba, hearing from Cuban officials and touring some Cuban farms. But years ago, our entire Farm Bureau entourage was invited to supper by the Cuban Interest section stationed in another nation's embassy. We filled our plates with shredded pork and beans and rice under the watchful (and hungry) eyes of some of our hosts for the evening. After our group had listened to the speeches and made our goodbyes, everyone, including the kids, received a souvenir of the evening....a long Cuban cigar! As we left the premises and boarded the bus, we saw the guards making short work of the leftover beans and rice from our supper.
Who knows what adventures, what famous people, what glorious sights, will find their way into family history from this week's trip to Washington, D.C.? Lizzie already has a long list compiled; we will do our best to complete her every wish! You can bet there will be pictures aplenty and souvenirs galore.....and I'll let you know all about it....next time....

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Strenuous Life

It is a happy talent to know how to play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
I'm under fire and my attackers have the strategic advantage of high ground. I'm pinned down behind a damaged wooden crate with little chance of escaping unnoticed. I contemplate making a break for it when one of my armed assailants says, "Grandma, I can see you!" I take advantage of the confusion to lasso a hostage with a long piece of plastic strapping. "Hey!" calls another of those up above, "Gimme that piece of rope!"
"Why should I? You're aiming at me!"

A trade is effected and I make my getaway back to the prosaic world of work and adulthood. Before long, an octet of fleet seven year old feet are disappearing over the front side of the terrace followed by a cloud of dust and a tag along pair of shorter four year old legs. The snow is gone; the building warmth of the equinoctial sun leaves legs free and arms bare. The March wind ruddies cheeks and tangles hair. The toys of summer have resurfaced, but where they fail to satisfy, the winter leaves sticks aplenty and the top of the hill is chockablock with hideouts, mountains, canyons, barriers and anything else necessary for the topography of a kid's imagination.

Gabe is in full bike riding regalia after school on Friday. His mom holds her breath as he coasts full steam ahead down the hill to the big house and makes the sharp turn east. He pulls up smartly, in complete control of his vehicle; a big difference from earlier in the week when the offending bike skidded out on the pea gravel and forced medical attention to the guy wearing helmet, shorts...and nike flipflops. This afternoon he bursts in the back door declaring he rode around the farm at least five times and then ran the same route four times. I think he's earned not just supper but a big dessert too! I don't know if there's a reason for all this output of exercise, or if it's just an overflow of youthful exuberance.

When you play,  play hard; when you work, don’t play at all. Theodore Roosevelt

All this open space lends itself to nothing so much as unorganized play, spontaneous outbursts of energy, creative destruction at its most obvious, the axiom that one man's trash is a bunch of kids' treasure at its acme.  Post election 4x8 signs are wired together with discarded hanging basket wires and chewed off mum leaders to create a hideout.  After winter's storms, one wall of the structure is flotsam out in the cornfield and will have to hauled off before planting.  The top of the enormous glacial erratic in the backyard has been stage, castle, table, and....most often...a launching pad. The linden tree's low canopy shelters another accumulation of toy leftovers and its multitude of branches allows even the shortest kid a chance to climb a tree.  A greenhouse creates enormous amounts of...well, trash.  Combine shrink wrap with constant wind and physics will soon yield giant billows of plastic just perfect for small boys to use as parachutes.  Potholes grow into puddles with spring rains, irresistible as they are ephemeral.  When the adults are clothed in layers of potting soil, the kids figure that mud is a protective coating and they partake generously.

Aaron, Lizzie and I are at the stoplight on Third St. when Lizzie kind of sighs. "I wish they would fix up that park and make a place for people to picnic,"she says, pointing to the partially landscaped vacant lot across the street. But Aaron adds, "I like Tarkio: it's not too big and its not too small. It has just about everything people need!" And I smile. After all, if you're a guy like Aaron, there are streets for riding, a pool for swimming, church and school for meeting and a ball field for practices and games. Just around nearly every corner is a friend to share those experiences with...
No, this little town won't make the map as a vacation spot with history, or interactive museums, or cannons and forts, but it is big enough to have just about all the things an active and curious and energetic young man might need. And small enough to have the familiarity and security to grow up out of doors, climbing trees or building forts or shooting baskets....

Theodore Roosevelt would surely approve.

kites present

kites past

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March Madness

What is it about baseball that makes us wax nostalgic? When March comes around, the sun shines brighter, the breeze is balmy and the grass greens...in Florida, in Arizona...and in my mind's eye. As the howling gale stirs the ancient dust and rattles the windows around me, Baseball...like the garden sundial...says, 'I count only the sunny hours...' and draws the blinds against the final gasps of winter. Why is this so? The turnstiles to the ballpark are not the gates to Paradise. In the best of times a batter is safe but a third of his at bats and his team beats all odds with anything more than a 57 percent winning percentage. But we fans acknowledge only the golden hours, the walk off hits, and the chasm of emptiness when September or October ends the season and we face the lonely hours of winter.
It has been that way for me since the 1960s. I was too young to be a fan when the Cards made the miraculous comeback in 1964, but old enough in 1967 to pick the sports section of the Chicago Tribune off the floor after my father had finished reading it and hunt up the box scores. I was old enough to listen to the Cubs' play by play as described by the likes of Jack Brickhouse, Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd.

 But instead of growing up a Cubbie, I followed the family allegiance to the Cardinals, learning to tune my mother's old Philco radio to a Peoria radio feed of the Redbird network in the hours before sunset when clear channel KMOX would overcome the static and lesser locals to beam in the gravelly play by play of then Cardinal announcers Harry Caray and Jack Buck.

It's easy to forget how much of being a baseball fan was experienced through our ears, over the radio: how much of our sports memory is a specific voice with a slang, a vernacular, a catch phrase of its very own. Maybe we watched one game a week on television...a Saturday afternoon game narrated by Kirk Gowdy and Tony Kubek. The game on TV was small, blurred, and black and white; the game on the radio was big and bright, with the immediacy of the crowd, the beer men and peanut vendors, and the ump behind home within virtual spitting distance of the radio speaker.

Sure, I remember watching poor ol' Bill Buckner dribble the ball between his legs; I whooped and hollered when Kirk Gibson limped home on a wing and a prayer for the Dodgers.  Blake and I were speechless with tension watching Chris Carpenter crush the Phillies in October 2011 with the sheer force of his will.

But I don't know if I ever actually saw Bob Gibson flying off the mound with the violence of his pitch; I just heard about it.

  And though Bob Forsch is gone now,  I still remember listening to him pitch his final no hitter late in the disappointing season of 1983 as we drove through a harvest night in Iowa.
 Through the miracles of technology we can watch all the baseball we want anymore; we can even  DVR the coastal games if we have discipline to ignore the urge to check the score.  But when March rolls around, I don't need to watch the games.  Whether I'm on the highway or working some gray afternoon in the greenhouse,  I can see those fields of dreams just fine .....on the radio.