The Olden Days

“We are all the product of things we’ve never seen and people we never met. In fact, if just one little detail had been changed in their lives, we may not even exist!” 

Melanie Johnston

I think my sister, Sue, gave me this multigenerational picture of our mom’s family. It was probably taken at the family homestead in Duncombe, Iowa.

Pictured are my great grandmother, my grandfather, my grandmother, and my aunt Charlotte in the lower right. I believe Mom’s in Grandpa’s arms.

It’s a great picture but the sad part is no one is identified. Even more sad is the fact there’s no one alive to share the story behind this gathering.

As I studied it, I noticed Grandpa’s bibs look fresh, the buttons shiny. Grandma’s dress looks more special than the usual house dress. The little girl crouched front, probably Charlotte, has on a wide collared dress and her hair has a fresh looking side part. That little baby, the little soul I think is Mom, has on bright white socks with tiny black shoes. I don’t think this is every day wear on the farm. Knowing the McDonalds, I’m thinking they’d just come from Sunday Mass.

Unlike the trips to visit my dad’s family, I remember making the trip to Fort Dodge to visit my mom’s family often. It was a trip I looked forward to even knowing the odds were high I’d be carsick before we made it out of Tama county. Even riding in the front seat didn’t guarantee an uneventful drive.

Looking back with my adult eyes and experiences, I think we visited my mom’s family often because Mom was very homesick. She’d lived at home with her family until she was 27 years old. Shortly after she married Dad, they moved to Indiana because Dad had a been offered a factory job in Kokomo.

Dad had been in the army during World War II so he was used to being far from home–a distance I think he grew to prefer. For Mom, it wasn’t so easy. She’d never left home. Moving from Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Kokomo, Indiana must have seemed like she’d gone to the moon.

It wasn’t until I moved to Denver from Iowa I began to understand how hard it would have been for my mom to leave her family and move far from home.

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My cousin, Donna, often told me how important she felt going with my Grandma to visit Mom, her best friend and Aunt Vivian, in Indiana. As my Grandma often did, she and Donna took the bus shortly after I was born so they could meet me and help Mom and Dad. I don’t think it was long after their visit my parents moved back to Iowa.

It wasn’t until I retired I realized how hard it must have been for my mom to give up her successful bookkeeping career in order to stay at home and raise her children. In my little kid conversations with my Gram, Gram told me having babies was my mom’s dream. Gram said since Mom was a little kid, she’d told her she wanted to have five children. The biological clock was spinning fast for a 27 year old woman back in the 50’s. Mom’s prayers were answered but I think it took its toll on her health and her marriage. In the end, she had only three surviving children–all girls.

It wasn’t until I moved to Texas I realized how isolated Mom must have felt after leaving her home and being far from family and friends. She didn’t drive–a mute point considering the fact we only had one car. Long distance phone calls were expensive, especially for a growing family. In those days, just getting private time on the party line was tricky. Even then a truly private conversation was not guaranteed. Family call night was Sunday after eight. Mom would wait by the phone for Gram to call. As I type I see myself pushing my way next to the phone receiver so I could hear and talk with Gram. Heavens! I was such a pushy kid. I wonder if Mom ever had a private moment to speak with her family? In the 50’s and 60’s, only other way of communicating was by mail. I can see her sitting at the kitchen table, smiling up at me as she filled her fountain pen and signed off her cards and letters. I wanted to write, too, but she patiently told me the fountain pen was much too fragile for a heavy handed child. I’d beg to lick the stamps and she’d finally give in so I’d stop my constant begging. I’m sure my zealous licks over moistened the little stamps making their adhesive power more than questionable.

It wasn’t until I began questioning myself and my past I realized my mom had had her own questions. For a long time, the only book that’d been on her bedside table was the book entitled, You Are Important. Because it’s small and easily hidden, after she died I stashed it away in my room, where it survived the purging that would come when my stepmother arrived on the scene. This book has been part of my library, complete with the spelling graffiti one of us put on the front cover and other pages throughout the book. I’ve thumbed through the pages many times but it wasn’t until last year I saw the passages Mom had faintly underlined.

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It wasn’t until I became more aware of my own mortality I realized how frightened Mom must have been knowing she’d be leaving her children. It’s only been the last few years I became aware of the fact I’d never thought about Mom’s illness as an adult. I’d conveniently sidestepped it by keeping my ten year old point of view. It was this awareness that made me realize I had some serious thinking to do.

“At night, I think about these things. I’m pleased with what I know, but now I think much more about everything I could have known, which was so much more than anything I can learn now and which now is gone forever.” 

Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million

I am…

B…simply being. 

~Peace~

Roots

“Roots are, I’m learning, as important as wings.” 

― Michele Huey

Today, I’m beginning my broad family history research. It’s going to take awhile and will be tricky.

As I sit down to put my notes together, I feel like a little kid sitting in front of a 1000 piece puzzle box knowing at least half of the important pieces are missing.

I guess that’s what makes a story a story–making the best of the details available–pulling what you have together and sharing your memories as a way to pass on lessons learned along the way.

My Grandpa Burton is pictured in my story today along with the only photo i have of one of our visits to Grandpa Burton’s. Unfortunately, I have very few memories of him or dad’s family. When we were young, we rarely visited and no one visited us.

The trips to Grandpa Burton’s house seemed to be last minute, discussed in whispers, and lasted only a few hours. The trip to the little town of Paton was short by today’s standards but lasted forever. The conversations were hushed, often held a sharp edge, but were mostly nonexistent. The silence seemed to wind the three of us up, opening space for our continued questions of how many more miles is it or how many more minutes until we are there.

As the miles trudged by, the level of tension increased. Finally, we pulled up in front of the house. With all the pent up energy we’d been holding in, we raced to the door to be greeted and fussed over by our aunt. I remember being uncomfortable with all the attention she gave us because I really did not know her. She was so different from my mom’s sister, Charlotte. As I looked around the entry way I noticed my grandpa and uncle remained seated in their chairs. Mom greeted everyone warmly but seemed to hover close to us. My dad walked in slowly nodding his head as a greeting. As I think back I hear him clear his throat while his hands are in his pockets, rattling his keys and change. It was a sound I’d come to know very well.

My sisters and I were young but each picked up on the strain in our own way. The body language displayed at this gathering began my lessons in picking up subtle and not so subtle clues–it became the foundation for my childhood of hyperawareness.

I became the watcher and the worrier–the child began her withdrawl in order to stay safe from the unknown.

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“In our family histories, the frontier between fact and fiction is vague, especially in the record of events that took place before we were born, or when we were too young to record them accurately; there are few maps to these remote regions, and only the occasional sign to guide the explorer.” 

Adam Sisman

I am…

B…simply being. 

~Peace~

October

“May you Fall in love with October

and all the beauty it brings,

May your life be as colorful as

the turning of the leaves,

On each blessed autumn day” 

Charmaine J. Forde

One this first day of October I find myself thinking back to other autumn days.

With little effort I hear leaves crunch under foot as I watch gusts of wind peel more leaves off the top of racked stacks and push them down the street. Closing my eyes, I step effortlessly into that long ago scene. It’s early evening and the light of the street light is dim. The persistent wind brings with it smoke from nearby bonfires as well as the subtle aroma of a pie cooling on someone’s windowsill.  Even after all these years, my mouth waters, making me smile.

O God of Creation, you have blessed us with the changing of the seasons. 

As we welcome the autumn months, 

may the earlier setting of the sun 

remind us to take time to rest. 

May the brilliant colors of the leaves 

remind us of the wonder of your creation. 

May the steam of our breath in the cool air 

remind us that it is you who give us the breath of life. 

 May the harvest from the fields remind us of the abundance we have been given and bounty we are to share with others.

May the dying of summer’s spirit remind us of your great promise that death is temporary and life is eternal.

We praise you for your goodness forever and ever. Amen.  ~Unknown~

I am…

B…simply being. 

~Peace~

Reading

“Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.” 

Nora Ephron  

The picture featured in today’s story is one of my hometown library.

I loved this little library.

Seeing it brings back one of the few memories I have of going somewhere with my mom. As I type I can feel her holding my hand as we start up the stairs on the day I was finally old enough for my very own library card.

To a little kid those stairs seemed to go on forever. I had to take a deep breath and plant my feet firmly in order to pull open the heavy entry way door. I learned you had to move fast so the wind didn’t catch the door and slam it shut on the back of your legs. I also became aware there was a definite learning curve when it came to getting through this door successfully on very windy days. You had to build up your momentum by running up the stairs and continue moving as fast as you could, using your free arm to build up power while pulling and swinging your way into the dark and cool foyer.

Seated in front of the door was the librarian–the keeper of the books. She had the ultimate power to okay the books checked out. I remember several times when she did not approve of my book selections. Then, as now, my genre of choice was murder mysteries. Being an avid reader, it didn’t take me long to read through the Nancy Drew series. After that, some of my book choices did not meet the approval of Madam Librarian.

Thinking I’d come up with a grand plan, the next time I visited, I told the librarian the book I wanted to take home was for my mom. She hesitated in stamping the due date on the inside cover of the book and looked up. I see her unblinking eyes looking at me through her glasses. The silence stretched into forever. I shuffle my feet. Finally, looking down and closing the ink pad, she slowly shakes her head. Her voice was low but firm. She told me she was sorry but my library card only worked for me. If my mom wanted to check out a book, she’d have to use her own card.

My love for books, libraries, and bookstores continues today. I love my e-readers but there is something special about holding a hardbound book in your hands after spending quiet time walking along and between shelves and shelves of books.

What a great gift, having time to spend a hot summer day with a chilled glass of wine, a dog or two at my feet while I enjoy the companionship of a great storytellers.

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” 

Alan Bennett, The History Boys

I am…

B…simply being. 

~Peace be with you, my friends.~

 

Meter Man!

“It is a mind-wandering time

Remember the old times

when illusions were distinct

Remember the old times

when a friendly chat

was all we needed

to brighten up our hearts” 

Rixa White

I’d spent the morning working in the yard.

I was tired, thirsty, and hungry. I’d started early in hopes of completing what I wanted to get done before the heat took command of the day.

I almost made it–my goal was in sight but the sun had burned its way through the clouds, raising both the temperature and the humidity.

I waved the white flag.

As I ate my peanut butter toast and drank my third glass of chilled water, I read through my Facebook feeds. What I found became the theme of today’s story–meter readers.

I grew up in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls part of Iowa. As a kid, and even as a young adult, our meters were read manually by a man who came to every house every month.

The interesting part of this was the meters were located INSIDE the houses. Not a problem because commmon practice was to leave doors unlocked.

As I rehydrated, other posts of meter man experiences sparked my own memories.

I remember being home, all of us going about daily routine, when a sharp knock would be heard on the back door, the door opening as a strong male voice sang out, “Meter Man!”

If, by chance no one was home and the door locked, the meter man would leave a card in the door frame. This card had pictures of the meter dials so the homeowner could read his own meter and mail it into the power company.

The degree of trust, goodness, and honestly for members of our community does not seem real or remotely possible to me today.

It was such a great memory I had to share in case you had similiar experiences and wanted to take your own walk back in time.

Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.” 

Saul Bellow

I am…

B…simply being.

~Peace~

 

 

Coincidences

Oh, chere,” said Moma softly. “Dying isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s just the only thing I won’t live through.” 

J.T. Geissinger, Burn for You

Sundays have always been family day.

When I was living in Iowa, it was the day my sisters came over to just be together. We’d play cards, drink beer, and wait for Sunday dinner.

After moving to Denver, Sundays became family phone call days. That was in the 80’s and long before cell phones. Our calls started after whatever the peak call time was so we could talk longer for less money. Because of that, there was not a lot of long conversations or sharing of memories.

Yesterday was Sunday and it remains my family call day. What a blessing to have cell phones. Thanks to that technology I can call anyone anytime and talk for any length of time.

For me–the saddest part of family call day is the fact there are very few names on my call list. So far I’ve yet to find a cell phone provider with a cell tower in Heaven.

Yesterday my conversation with my sister, Sue, took a very interesting turn. Sue began taking about some of her childhood memories–something she rarely shares.

One of the things she talked about was getting in trouble for eating the creamy filling out of the sandwich cookies. She went into great detail–mentioning how we had the kind with both chocolate and vanilla cookies in the same package. Neither one of us remembered who but one but one of us snatched the crinkly package out of the bread drawer and carried it out to the front porch to share.

We both had a very clear image of that bread drawer–probably because we were in and out of it often. This drawer had multiple purposes–it was the only way any of us could reach the counter which would put us in the position for exploring all the mysterious kitchen cabinets. Not hard to imagine how the repeated bouncing weight of three little sets of feet stressed the construction of those old wooden drawers. No wonder it never worked very well.

After devouring the filling each of us would match up our cookies and carefully place them back into the package. I can only imagine those crooked rows visible through the plastic package which is now covered with little oily fingerprints. We thought we were so smooth and in reality our craftiness was lacking on so many levels.

After sneaking the package back into place it did not take long before a very stern voice commanded us to the kitchen. I’d known for a long time that it was never a good sign when we were summoned by our full names!

It was one of the few occasions when Mom lost her temper. My sister said it was the only memory she had of Mom “patting” her bottom–a memory that surprised her.

I thought of our conversation a lot after we ended our call.

As I thought, I remembered we had the big bag of cookies because Grandma and Grandpa were coming to visit. Those cookies were what Mom planned to have with coffee that afternoon. I also remembered the later conversation I had with my Grandma when she asked if I understood why we were all punished for destroying the cookies. I hung my head and told her no. Honestly, I seriously thought that we had not done such a bad thing–the cookies were just fine in my little kid eyes. Without the creamy centers, they were perfect for dunking in their coffee! She listened to my kid logic but then shared with me a very important lesson. She told me it wasn’t the fact we’d ruined the cookies. What made our deed serious was the fact we’d lied.

Family stories like these have been playing back for both Sue and me for awhile now. Hearing them from Sue has given me a lot of comfort and has been the gentle push I’ve needed to finally open and begin to read Hope Edelman’s book, Motherless Daughters. I’ve attempted this so many times. Just thinking about it is tough.

I’m 65 years old and I’ve side stepped grieving for my Mother for 55 years. Ms. Edelman says you grieve when you feel secure enough to do so. Hearing my sister begin to share her stories was just the signal I needed.

Sometimes God does not work in such mysterious ways.

Coincidences mean you’re on the right path.” 

Simon Van Booy, Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories

I am…

B…simply being…

~Peace~

Christmas Touchstones

“We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology … But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.” 

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Memories of Christmas past find their way into my head this time of year.

I bet you have some of the same ones crowding into your mind these days–

  • Growing up in Iowa, every year we prayed for a white Christmas. One of my favorite memories is the year the forecast called for no snow. As I walked into Midnight Mass late that night, I prayed for snow. As we turned to leave the church that very early Christmas morning, the doors opened onto a scene of white. Snow had been steadily fallen for some time, covering the trees and the ground with snow that looked like crushed diamonds. The air was quiet and calm–the silence enveloped us all in a blanket of peace. This is my favorite Christmas moment.
  • Today was the last day of school here in our neighborhood. I had to laugh, remember leaving school for Christmas break and telling everyone we’d see each other next year.
  • Getting ready for our school Christmas program and getting to wear my Mom’s red lipstick. I felt absolutely beautiful.
  • Going to Midnight Mass with my family and resting my head on my Mom’s shoulder as we sang Silent Night together.
  • The year my mom died, we went to Midnight Mass, came home to eat chili and open presents. This year when we woke up Christmas morning, we discovered we all had new gifts under the tree. I still don’t know where all these gifts came from but they were an extra special boost to three kids spirits that year.
  • As a young adult, singing Silent Night with my friends and co-workers before we left our neighborhood bar and headed home for the holiday. Because of the memories I have about this song, Silent Night always makes me cry.
  • Remembering that first Christmas with family and friends after moving far from home. That first Christmas back home taught me the true meaning of Christmas joy.

As Christmas draws near, set aside a little extra time to be with those you love. When I look at my list of remembered things, I don’t see any gifts mentioned. All those special memories revolve around time spent with people–people I’d give anything to have the chance to spend time with today.

As some of us still search for that perfect gift, stop all the rushing. Pack away your phone and give those you love those extra moments of your undivided attention.

That is the gift that will be remembered–always–and most likely get better with age.

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.” 

Bob Hope

I am…

B…simply being…

~Peace~

 

Our Trees

“There are rich counsels in the trees.”
― Herbert P. Horne

As I kid, I escaped to the trees in our front yard—they were my trees.

My trees were an important a part of my life. They never asked questions or criticized what I said or thought. They provided one of my safest hiding places, they were my protectors, supporting me when I needed a place to go.

The last time I drove by my old house, those two trees were gone. I knew there would be changes in the old neighborhood, I wasn’t ready for such visual evidence of all the years that had passed since I’d been there. I sighed and cried.

Yes, those crabapple trees were messy. I’m sure those who lived in our old house after we left hated them as much as my dad did. Every year I’d hear him swear under his breath as he shook his head, telling me he was going to cut them down next year. He was tired of dealing with those little slippery crab apples that covered the front yard and sidewalk for the majority of the summer and fall.

As I’ve aged, my love for trees has grown. We planted new trees at our house in Colorado living there long enough to see them become large, healthy trees. Moving to Texas has given me the gift of the oak trees. I’ve fallen in love with them. Now, Michael and I have oak trees to nurture–the centerpieces of the lot we just added to our property. The lot has been cleared and we are now attending to the trees. On Monday, we will have an arborist help us trim and clean up these amazing trees. I cannot wait to see how beautiful they will be after some knowledgeable care and attention.

Last weekend we spent a few hours cleaning up the yard. When it was time to call it a day, we each opened a cold one, pulled up a couple of lawn chairs, and sat under the canopy of our trees. For both of us, it was about as close to heaven on earth we’d ever experienced–sitting side-by-side–sheltered under our trees as the wind gently whispered through their weathered boughs.

“Listen to the trees as they sway in the wind.
Their leaves are telling secrets. Their bark sings songs of olden days as it grows around the trunks. And their roots give names to all things.
Their language has been lost.
But not the gestures.”
― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

I am…

B…simply being…

God bless and have a wonderful weekend.

~Peace~  

Worth a Thousand Words

“Snow is…a beautiful reminder of life and all its quirks. It makes me pause. Think. Stay still. Even my mind takes the hint. It makes me feel giddy. Like a kid. I bring my hot cocoa to the window and simply sit and reminisce…It brings me back to days of school cancellations and snow igloos and King of the Mountain games in my childhood neighborhood…That for this one moment in time, I’m not an adult with all the headaches that can accompany that responsibility, but instead, I’m still the girl in pigtails with the handmade hat and mittens, just waiting to build her next snowman.”
― R.B. O’Brien

Do you ever stumble upon an old picture and find yourself transported back to that very spot?

The picture I found today has extra transporting powers because it has so much to share about so many things from this time in my life–the happy days of my childhood.

What a gift to have the time to actually study some of these old photos. In this picture, Gram is holding my cousin, Johnny and my sister, Beth. I am in the immediate foreground of the picture–a position I hold by way of declaring it be so, I am sure. My ear to ear grin tells me I was thrilled to be seated close to the woman I adored.

It appears Mom had been busy with those home perm kits–both Beth and I have some pretty sassy looking curls.

As I gaze, my senses come alive with memories.

I can feel the coarse fabric of the big armchair, the ridges and valleys of the leaf design would leave firm impressions on any body part pressed against them for even a short period of time. This chair and the matching coach were prominent fixtures in our living room throughout my early childhood.  The arms of both pieces of furniture were broad enough to support all three of us girls when our grandparents, aunts, and uncles came for a visit. I still remember squirming my upper body back and forth so I could get as close to them as possible.

The ever-present ashtray was never far from Gram’s reach, a burning cigarette held within the little, indented glass edges. Her etched handbag nearby as well, holding her peppermint candies, embroidered hankies, and an extra pack of cigarettes. It looks like Gram had filled the candy dish beside the lamp. This subtle observation may be another reason I am sporting such a big grin.

I have always loved palm tree prints. As I evaluate this image, I am no longer surprised at that fondness. This was our living room, a place where we all gathered to talk, watch TV, or recover on the coach during those childhood bouts with measles, chicken pox, and mumps. Between the three of us, we battled pretty much every childhood illness.

The black box on the wall on the right side of the photo was some sort of control to the coal burning furnace–I think. I remember there were three different chains that you could pull that did something to the furnace or the venting system. I was repeatedly told NOT to pull them–which meant pulling them became my everyday goal and obsession.

I imagine this picture was taken about sixty years ago. What a wonderful cluster of memories to take with me into the weekend.

May Y’all find some of your own.

“Don’t you wish you could take a single childhood memory and blow it up into a bubble and live inside it forever?”
― Sarah Addison Allen, Lost Lake

I am…

B…simply being…  

God bless.

~Peace~

 

 

The Yellow Slicker

My husband has a yellow jacket that always makes me smile. Every time I see him slip it on, I think of being on the safety patrol when I was in sixth grade.

My School Safety Patrol card is another one of those things that surprised me by surviving fifty plus years stuck in little corners of big boxes. I have misplaced dozens of things over the years but this little card somehow held on to its space.

As sixth graders, we were the class that “manned” the safety patrol. That meant at noon and at the end of the day, kids from our class were sent to guard crosswalks around the school. I volunteered because I would have time away from the classroom. That was just too much to resist.

What I did not think about as I enthusiastically threw my hand up in the air that first week of school, was the weather. This was Iowa. Sure, at the beginning of the school year the weather was perfect. Before long, the warm Indian Summer and windy Fall days turned into the blustery, cold days of Winter. Like mail delivery, safety patrol guards could not be deterred by the weather. Rain, sleet, or snow, we headed out to our posts. To protect us from those elements, the school had a number of bright yellow slickers. These rubber slickers felt and smelled ancient. Heaven only knows how old they were but we HAD to wear them when we went out in the rain.

As lunchtime got closer and closer on my day for patrol, I watched the sky get darker and darker. The rain started falling harder and the temperature fell.  As my fellow patrol person and I left to go to our posts, we were told to wear those yellow slickers.

“Be careful,” Mrs.Kvidera told us, “with it getting colder, it could be getting icy.”

I walked to the locker, grabbed the crunchy yellow jacket, pulled the hood up, and walked toward the front door. Mr. Lenth, the school superintendent, and a teacher were standing at the entryway, observing and discussing the quickly changing weather. I nodded my head, the stiff and scratchy hood falling across my eyes as my legs pushed against the heavy rubberized coat. I was concentrating on walking against that added weight while constantly adjusting the stubborn hood.

I pushed the heavy door open and headed outside. As my foot hit the wet pavement, I felt it slip. I was moving too fast to stop. My other foot never made contact. Before I knew it, I was on my back. That yellow slicker was exactly that–slick! In a mass of crackling yellow, I was propelled across the sidewalk, down a little asphalt hill that was the side parking lot, and under a bus.

I looked up to see the teacher and Mr. Lenth looking down on me, saying in unison, “Looks like we need to end school early today.”

They helped me up, brushed me off, and sent me back to class. Shortly after, an overhead announcement declared due to weather, school was dismissed.

So, the little card survived to remind me of a time when I fell–literally–and was helped up by the kindness of others. There are times when we all need that type of gentle reminder.

You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down. 

Mary Pickford

I am…

B…simply being…

Remember, ask for help if you need it.

I love you.

Peace