Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How Do I Love Thee? Not a Sonnet

'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...'

Despite the self evidence of true love at any Diamond Anniversary celebration, a recitation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet would have sounded more than a little out of place at Millie and Charlie's party at the Tarkio Community Building this past weekend.   'I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach'.....comes off as kind of high falutin' in a venue with Swing Era tunes as background music on one end of the hall and tin pans of pork loin, beans, and potato salad arrayed on the long tables at the other.

But the idea of counting, of accumulation, of tallying the riches of a life like Scrooge McDuck in his money house, is tempting.  And so, with credit given to everyone in our family who contributed to this wealth of detail and mingling of fact and fancy, here are some of the highlights of sixty years of marriage.  If you don't agree, then stay married for sixty years and make up your own!

Number 1 is the story, and it begins with 2 people who fell in love and, over time, had 3 kids.  Those three kids gave them 10 grandchildren and 11 great children with another on the way.  Numbers to thrill the heart, but still, pretty universal measures of happiness.

But other associations are more idiosyncratic and personal.  For example, Millie loves chickens and over time, her 4 chickens grew to a flock of 60.  Charlie's  Minneapolis Moline 670 loader tractor was part of farm life for most of the twentieth century.  When Millie ran over a big deer two or three weeks ago, she claimed her tally for animal/automobile fatalities increased to 5 dogs and 3 deer (8).   Both Josh and his Grandpa Charlie share the number 15 for their birthdays and this November will mark the 16th time the two of them will have voted for President.  It takes 17 eggs, according to Grandma Nelson's recipe to create an angel food cake....and at least 19 annoying vacuum cleaner salesmen have dropped by over the years to eat sandwiches, ruin a recliner, and stay for hours and hours for the company!

If you call Millie and Charlie at home, you are likely to be the the 28th message waiting on their answering machine. And that's because there are an estimated 32 hearing aid batteries lost during the course of a month. During the course of a summer, Millie puts up at least 25 gallons of sweet and crunchy green lime pickles and if we're lucky, the family picks, shucks, cuts and freezes 24 bushels of sweet corn.

We save the truly big numbers for matters of significance and worth.  Millie checks on her family members, especially the grand and great grand children an average of 40 times a week. Charlie yells at the Cardinals at least 38 times....a game, that is.  Their family has racked up a total of 33 weddings and baptisms...and 35 family members will sit around their table at Christmas time this year.

So much history, so much family.  Charlie planted his first corn crop in 1948 at the ripe old age of 14 and in 1950, Millie and Charlie started "courting".  One graduated from high school in 1952 and the other in 1953. They married in 1956, giving all of us a reason to celebrate number 60, the diamond anniversary for this great couple.

 "How do I love thee?"

Let's count the ways.

How about thousands of meals eaten in the field and hundreds of basketball, baseball, volleyball, football games, dozens of fishing trips and more floods and droughts than they care to remember.

 As the poet says: "Smiles, tears, of all my life....."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sixty is a Serious Number

Even the most mathematically obtuse among us cannot avoid some numbers.

For instance:  April 15 when the taxman takes his pound of flesh. December 25, Christmas and December 31, New Year's, which come around every year, days of celebration, of remembering the past and anticipating the future. Independence Day, July 4, when flags fly and fireworks sparkle. These are common ground, dates and numbers impressed into our heritage and vocabulary.

Then there are personal numbers, the ones writ only on your heart, tied inextricably by some inner measure of significance: when you learned to ride a bike or caught your first fish, your first paycheck,  your first car, your first child...your last child, your anniversary.....

Anniversary.  An anniversary, unlike a birthday, is not an inevitable portion of the human condition.  It takes two to have an anniversary....and the more anniversaries accrued, the greater the sum of accommodations, compromises, deaf ears, bit tongues, comfortable silences, and unspoken understandings accumulated.

Any anniversary is an accomplishment. After one year of marriage you get to eat freeze dried cake.  What?  More leftovers? Doesn't seem like much of a reward for 365 DAYS of adaptation and transformation.  There's no way to build this thing called marriage by following a checklist or bullet points; like Johnny Cash's Lincoln, it takes years, adding one piece at a time.  And if the end result has one headlight on the left and two on the right...well, at least the thing moves.

By the time a marriage has achieved the sixty year mark, it's a classic.  I always read  articles about wedding anniversaries, especially if there is a photo included.  Doesn't matter whether the photo is a black and white a half century or more old, or a church directory picture of a pair of seasoned oldsters. Either way, these couples bring to mind Proverbs 16:31:

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.

Grandma and Grandpa Hurst celebrated their 60th anniversary in 1987.  Their fiftieth anniversary was the first family event I attended as a soon to be Hurst: at the time, it seemed there were hundreds of folks at the Farmers and Valley bank wishing to celebrate with them, but that could be memory playing tricks on a young and anxious bride-to-be hoping not to embarrass herself immediately.  But their sixtieth anniversary was a smaller get together. Inevitable, I guess.  I took a picture that day: Grandpa in his summer light blue suit and Grandma in a jewel blue dress; they are both smiling and, I'm sure, happy to have their family around a big table with them,even if it was just the Korner Kitchen.

Some people were too little to sit at the table
And some people were more into balloons
My folks used their prerogative as honorees to move their sixtieth celebration from the 5th of June to the 4th of July, giving the family yet another reason to add significance and fireworks to an already auspicious occasion.  Needless to say, with kids and fireworks, horseshoes and rocky creeks...and at least five photographers...the event was well recorded for posterity.

This week Millie and Charlie will share their sixtieth anniversary with a crowd of friends and family. I'm not going out on a limb to say there will be stories told and noise and small children underfoot and plenty of food.  The Community Building will spill over onto the back porch and down the hill when, by special dispensation of the City of Tarkio, we shoot off fireworks down at the Rodeo Grounds.  No doubt there will be a few party crashers by that time, but Millie and Charlie have ever been generous with their hospitality.

We commemorate more than the perseverance and partnership that sustains a marriage well over a half century.  After sixty years, we celebrate being together. We take time to give thanks for what we take for granted every other day: for Joshie days with Grandma Millie when he cooks mac'n cheese and other monstrosities, for another day of harvest with Charlie and some great grandkid in the combine with him, for every Sunday my father plays in the trio at church and my mom makes him peanut butter cookies.  Every big anniversary gives us a chance to be thankful for all the little moments we don't measure.  

Let's celebrate them all!

Actually, Joe Biden is not invited.....

Friday, June 10, 2016


I wish I had the score card. But I don't.
So I don't know exactly which team I watched from the center field stands the summer Busch Stadium II opened. I think the Cardinals won; it was a day game; it was really hot; and I have a vague feeling the opposing team wore red too. We attended the game with my mother's parents, who had driven over from Jeff City in their air conditioned 1964 Dodge with the push button automatic transmission, a car that filled me with wonder. We drove over early to avoid the heat in our 1964 teal blue "un"-air-conditioned Dodge Dart. It was an exciting day; the new Busch Stadium had only been open a month or so, joining the Gateway Arch, a monument that managed to be imposing and soaring simultaneously, in downtown St. Louis,

Like many important moments in life, the facts of the contest fade from memory, but the impression, the feeling, the sights, sounds, smell, and taste remain. I sat, stuck to my red seat, in the sun and the heat of June/July and watched players I'd never heard of from high above the biggest crowd I'd ever seen play a game I recognized, but had not yet learned. I wasn't a fan that day...yet.
The Cardinals won last night..I know because I listened to part of the game on KMA on my way to the HyVee; I checked the scores on my phone while I was working in the garden; and I saw the last inning and a half on Fox Sports Midwest on my television. But in 1967, I did what millions of other baseball fans did: I opened the sports page of the Chicago Tribune (after my father had finished!) and checked the box scores, the standings, and the top ten in batting average. Even if I could have pulled in every game on my AM radio, I was certainly too young to stay up until the bottom of the ninth!

My sister Laura and I scoured the racks of the local five and dime each week to see if a new shipment of baseball cards had arrived. We were avid if eccentric collectors during the late '60s and early '70s. Famous players like Hank Aaron or Brooks Robinson, Juan Marichal or Johnny Bench were always valued, but we were just as likely to trade cards between us based on whether we arbitrarily decided we liked the guy's personality based on one photo. Players with their hats blacked out were assumed to have been traded...or on their way out...and earned our sympathy based on those traits. Pathetic underdogs...like the hapless Chicago White Sox of 1970 who lost 106 games....touched our soft hearts and we adopted players like Walter 'No Neck' Williams (5'6"...maybe) and catcher Ed Hermann (11 years, .244 avg.) and Wilbur Wood (a knuckle baller who was the last pitcher to start both ends of a doubleheader) to root for from the stands of Comiskey Park when we attended our one game a year with free tickets the White Sox gave away for good grades.

Summer has a sound track, and like generations before, ours has always been baseball. Jack Buck was a welcome guest in our home every evening; I remember listening to Mike Shannon's first attempts in the radio booth and grimacing...while giving him an affectionate benefit of the doubt. I am flabbergasted to discover that has now been more than forty years ago. Baseball on the big screen is good TV. Baseball live with a crowd humming with anticipation, moths in the lights and all the ballet of the game spread before you is a symphony. But baseball on the radio ties the announcers to the fans in a way no other sport ever has. Our grandparents listened to baseball on their front porches...just like we do. Our parents listened on KMOX in their cars...just like we do. When Mike Shannon salutes the listeners in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, Fort Smith, Arkansas, or Shenandoah, Iowa, I know I'm at home, part of a past and present of fireflies, heat lightning, and home runs.

Baseball is our common denominator; a bridge between generations, politics, an ice breaker and conversation starter more reliable than the weather. Politics and religion are subjects verboten and deep rivalries can make for awkward small talk. Don't even bring up the designated hitter. But there is no friction or tension that can't be smoothed over at least temporarily by the universal disdain afforded a decision to sacrifice bunt with men on first and second. On that subject, all concur.
Baseball is indeed long...measured by the calendar and not the clock. There's time enough to believe your team will turn things around after the All Star break and get a streak going. Winning three in a row...or losing four in a row... is neither a ticket to the playoffs nor a reason to rend your jersey . Even though the season is long, we pine for the beginning of spring training games, yearning for the background noise of the crowd's chatter and the hawking of the beer vendors, sounding near enough to be wandering down the aisle of the greenhouse to hand us a cold Bud. And harvest nights on the combine are not so long and tedious when there's baseball to listen to after dark whether your team is post season bound or just playing out the string. But........ summer IS summer when the grill is smoking, the sprinkler is swooshing over the garden, and Blake and I are on the porch....listening to a baseball game on the radio.