Friday, November 28, 2008

Still Thankful But Winding Down

There is still a piece or two of pumpkin pie left. Broth from the turkey carcass is ready to be put in the freezer tomorrow. And it will be time to cook something new to go with the left-over turkey from yesterday and the lasagna we had on Wednesday night. My house is quiet right now because Jeannie and the kids have gone into town to the movies. With just one family in the house, there won’t be any questions about who sleeps where tonight.

Mary Ellen and Brian and Trent and Brianna left in their camper this morning heading north to visit their family in northern Illinois. Brian’s mother Dorothy, who had driven up from Florida visiting relatives as she came, followed in her car. (The grandkids will probably take turns riding with her.) Brian’s sister Vicki has her camper all ready for Dorothy’s extended (but brief) visit there to celebrate her semi-retirement and catch up with all her grandchildren in the area.

We were reluctant to see them go, but the cousins had all seen each other, and we adults had done lots of talking around kitchen and dining room tables during the days they were here. The kids had gone to the Crab Orchard High School basketball tournament Wednesday night to see Geri Ann and Erin’s cousin Drew play, and Brianna went to Gma Shirley’s afterward to spend the night with Geri Ann.

We’ve watched the tape of Leslie’s concert at The Curb on campus, heard Lige on the piano, and as we sat around the dining room table Thursday night, we were surprised and pleased to even hear Christmas carols in the living room with Brianna on the clarinet and Sam on his trombone. I extracted a promise from Trent to help me with my computer some weekend when I am calm. I am sure the kids did whatever conferring they needed to do on their ongoing Designia project/book/campground. They have always got something going, and with texting they can keep up with each other even when miles away. And the granddog cousins--Lucky, Leah, Fif, and Chloe had all been here at least briefly to visit the farm.

Vickie and Geri Ann had left her mother Shirley’s house around six this morning also heading to northern Illinois to see Tara and Bryan and Aidan. The doctor is moving up the arrival date for Aidan’s baby brother, and Vickie is needing to see this little family since Tara can’t travel now.

Despite a terrific cold, Erin borrowed Gma Shirley’s car to come to Woodsong for the great hair highlighting project and Leslie’s hair turned out beautifully. After she gets that business degree from Texas A&M completed, Erin’s ambition has long been to go to a cosmetology school and someday open her own salon. She swore Leslie to secrecy so that her own hair would be able to amaze everyone when she arrived. I figured that Gpa’s offer of John Deere green for Leslie had inspired her. Erin’s naturally brown hair looked quite cute with a puffed blond back and streaks of turquoise and black framing her pretty face. Dave brought Sam out to play again after their futile bow-arrow deer hunt.

While I was in town to pick up Leslie on Tuesday evening standing outside at Wendy’s, my cell phone dinged and I assumed it was Les saying they were almost there. Instead there was a photograph of guy and a deer and the caption: “26-point deer shot outside Pyramid Park.” Since Katherine, Dave, and Sam live beside Pyramid Park in Marion, I assumed one of them had sent it. I did not recognize the man in the photo but it wasn’t too clear and I thought it might be one of Dave’s brothers or buddies. I figured hunters had scared the deer into town. I remembered when a wild domestic deer hung out at that park—but that’s another story. The Cedars were as puzzled as I was at the photo.We finally realized the sender must have meant Pyramid State Park and someone had misdialed my number in their excitement.

We are winding down and enjoying Jeannie’s family since they won’t be with us at Christmas. I hear people up in the kitchen home from the movies.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Cup Is Squashed Down and Running Over

[Note: This entry was started on Thursday night, but because it was finished AFTER midnight, the date above is the date it was finally published.]

Driving home from Writers Guild through snow flurries tonight, as I approached Woodsong, it dawned on me I did not blog last night.

I had ridden up to Cahokia yesterday afternoon with fellow Trail of Tears Association board members to meet another board member at the library there. We had to finish before their 7:30 closing. After a quick stop at a drive-in for coffee and hot chocolate to keep us awake for the ride home, I was back at our house in time to blog—if I had remembered to do it.

When I got home on Monday night from an inspiring Black Heritage Tour in Saint Louis, I knew I would have much to blog about this week. Yet when I came down to the computer last night, I found emails from our Glasco Family genealogy group, and suddenly I was visiting a extraordinary site that an unknown distant (very distant) relative had placed online. There were photos of our family tombstones and documents that were just amazing to me because of all the work that had been done and generously shared.

Before the end of the evening at midnight, I had actually corresponded with the photographer and had learned much new information about Gerald’s large family tree here in Southern Illinois. I went to bed and slept soundly feeling the satisfaction that learning new family facts brings to a genealogy buff—even though I keep saying I have quit working on family history since it is such a never-ending process that takes you further and further back in time and leaves less and less time for current life.

I woke up with the glad anticipation of a friend coming for lunch. Jari Jackson retired back to her hometown of Marion, and I was going to be privileged to hear fascinating stories of her newspaper career at many of the largest papers here in the Midwest. After an afternoon of visiting, suddenly we both realized we had to end the visit if we made it to Writers Guild tonight. Later we met again in town to ride over to Carterville for the Guild.

Over twenty writers gathered to share their writings or just to listen to the others. We had poetry, short stories, articles, and parts of novels to entertain us. Our president, Jim Lambert, read from his ongoing effort to meet the challenge of writing a novel in a month. We were saddened as he took us from Death Row to the execution chamber with his character.

We listened to poetry that rhymed and poetry that didn’t and enjoyed both. A children’s book by a probation officer made us both sad and happy. Jeremy Melvin’s novel turned my stomach with fear. He made us all want to hear the end of that book. Pam Braswell said she had been writing “feel good pieces” and her essay about her early walk in the meadow with her horses proved she had succeeded. The humorous work of others made us laugh. One poem made us remember Virginia Tech.

We never fail to be pleased by the diversity that exhibits itself. Tonight we were also inspired by a stroke victim’s haltingly presented poem explaining her difficulty with words. To contemplate her year-long come back from speechlessness was encouraging to us all to overcome our more minor hindrances.

Maybe it was good I forgot to blog last night. There is no way I could really convey all we saw and experienced on Monday’s Saint Louis trip, which began with a visit to the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott case started and went on to the Eugene Field house where his lawyer father, Roswell Field, no doubt lay abed at night thinking about how he might help Dred Scott secure his freedom. I wish I could let you hear as we did Scott Joplin’s music on the player piano when we visited the house where he lived in an upstairs flat and gave piano lessons during the day. On to lunch at the Black Heritage Museum, we saw exhibits there that made us realize anew the absolute horror of slavery and to puzzle at humanity’s unbelievable capacity for cruelty. We traveled through Saint Louis cemeteries, and some put a Lincoln penny on Dred Scott’s tombstone. (I’d planned to do that, but an unexpected nap prevented it.) Finally our guide left us, and we started our trip home in the motor coach, which is outfitted with screens throughout that enabled us to watch videos coming and going. How sadly different were our comfortable luxurious well-fed lives than the lives we had contemplated that day. When a mike was passed among us for comments, one touring member expressed the hope that our new President will bring us another step closer to the justice, equality, and freedom that our democracy aspires to.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Autumn Activities

Members of Southern Illinois Writers Guild offered their books at our table Saturday and Sunday at the annual AutumnFest at John A. Logan College. We also display and sell our anthologies, but we have noticed a big decline in buying since the rise in gas prices. I enjoyed the day there Saturday with other writer friends.

Our village church will be having our Thanksgiving feast this Saturday night. We can’t have it the next Saturday night because that is in the middle of deer hunting season, and some on our young adults will be occupied securing heart-healthy venison to feed their families this winter.

Because I am to bake one of the turkeys with dressing for the dinner, I bought two on Monday. One is thawing in the fridge for this Saturday, and one went into the freezer for November 27.

We are excited at Woodsong because it seems like all four of our children and spouses will be present for Thanksgiving Day. I am not positive how many grandchildren can make the trip here, but there will be a house full. I think the Taylors are going to move their camper down from the other farm. If the beds and couches fill up, we’ll put blankets and bedrolls in the middle of the living room floor.

I made sure I grabbed some more of the turnips from Charles’ garden that he is sharing with us at our church. I’d already used the first mess, and I wanted some to cook for Thanksgiving Day although Gerald and I may be the only one who eats them.

Preparation for the coming holiday has centered on who is going to highlight Leslie’s hair when she arrives from Belmont. It will not be the first hair adventure that has taken place at Woodsong. Gerald joined the discussion and volunteered claiming he had experience at coloring things and was accustomed to working cheap. However, Leslie declined his offer of his variety of coloring agents—John Deere yellow and green aerosol paint and Kiwi brown shoe polish. So it looks like Erin, who has long pleased her sisters and their friends with hair-dos for special occasions, will get the job.

Our Writers Guild will be having a monthly reading tomorrow night at a local coffee house, and our anthology editor is bringing the newest anthology which is just off the press. We are all eager to see this latest volume. Our grandson Samuel is having his first middle school band concert also tomorrow night, and I am not sure I will be able to make both of these events. I may have to wait to see the new anthology at our regular meeting the next Thursday.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

At the Base of the Mountain: Tough Times Ahead

My tears came as I watched President Elect Obama give his heartwarming acceptance speech in Grant Park. The crowd looked like a Norman Rockwell painting of America—all ages, all colors, famous people and ordinary people. One young white woman was so overcome with emotion that she was on her knees with her head in her hands sobbing. I understood.

One of my favorite shots was of two young white men, who were mature enough to have voted in previous elections, facing the front with joyous smiles as they waited for Obama to come join the crowd. I understood that too. I saw them again a time or two today as stations replayed last night’s events, so I knew there was something about their vitality, expectation, and excited happiness that also attracted the ones editing that film.

My tears came again when I saw the tears of Jesse Jackson, and I smiled as I watched Oprah smiling as she blended inconspicuously with those around her. And I cried and laughed as I watched the emotion and delight of black Americans there—some very young and some very old. I knew I could never fully understand their emotions. Spike Lee said this morning in an interview that he was still processing and sorting it all out. This was too big for any of us to understand. But the recognition that from now on the world is different has continued to fill the TV and computer screens today.

More than one commentator quoted Obama’s warning that we have difficult times ahead. We have enormous problems that can’t be solved in a year or a four-year term. But we can work together, suffer together, stick together, and get through together the problems we are in.

I have often heard people say that they were poor during the Depression, but because everyone else was, they did not know they were poor. I also have read accounts of those who lived on tight budgets in crowded student barracks on the G.I. Bill following World War II, who said that those were some of the happiest days of their lives. The camaraderie of living in community with those in the same circumstances made for warm friendships and caring neighborhoods.

At this time of economic crisis, we have an opportunity to readjust our values and learn to exalt in both companionship and challenge. People experienced that last night at Grant Park and in living rooms across the land. And because we live in a global world, in lands across the sea.

Now we need to get to work to better our nation. Jobless families may need to plant food on their patios and in vacant lots until new jobs arrive. We need to keep our food pantries full. Let’s conserve the resources of our planet Let’s not lazily put good items in our landfills if someone in the community needs that mattress or chest-of-drawers. If we have the ability to create jobs, let us do it. Let us help one another build strong families. Let’s all work to educate ourselves to a higher level than we now are. We can learn from Obama’s grandmother the value of hard work and from his mother the value of education that caused her to get up before dawn to give her son extra tutoring.

Let’s teach ourselves to have courage just as those young men and women who went to Iraq had to have unbelievable courage to function. Let us learn to love one another whether we can understand one another or not.

I was touched last night by Senator McCain’s speech and today by President George Bush’s sincere expression of good will towards the new President. As Barack Obama is fond of saying, only in America. Only in America can that kind of cooperation and respect between opposing political parties take place. Regardless of whom we supported, almost all of us voted for the candidates we thought would be best for our country. The issues are complicated, and it is not surprising we don't all agree on what is the best solutions.

We can rejoice that the democracy will go on. Whether it goes on successfully or not is up to all of us. We can face the future with fear and despair. Or we can acknowledge the dangers and the fear, but do so with dignity and courage that we can get through whatever challenges lie ahead.