Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blessed by a Gathering and then a Son's Visit

Monday evening I drove over to the little town of Pittsburg, one of several small towns or villages on our side of Williamson County—many of which came about or grew because of the coal mining industry, which used to reign in this region. No longer are most houses occupied by men with carbide lanterns on their hats and who carry their lunch in buckets down in the bowels of the earth. Despite the demise of many mines, some of our villages have survived but others have ceased to exist. When we first moved here in 1962, most of the people we met were miners. Most of those are now retired, deceased, or moved away when a mine closed. Sirens blowing and ambulances rushing on the highway are not as frightening as they used to be when you never knew what had happened at a mine. Right after we moved here, one miner was trapped in a mine. For several days, other miners risked their lives trying to get his body out until they were made to stop. Right now I can’t think of a single miner I know although we still have some mines in the area.

I digress. I went to Pittsburg for our monthly women’s meeting at Tally Taylor’s house. Wearing an orange shirt, she had sweet pumpkin figurines lighted for us and festive lights to welcome us. After yummy sandwiches with chips and dip, there was pumpkin cake, all served with colorful Halloween paper ware. Afterward, we sat at table savoring our cokes and coffee and visiting while we munched on candy corn. It was a neat social gathering with good friends on a cool fall night, but I realized anew how much can be done when everyone in a group pitches in a little.

In our meeting after singing and devotions, we had planned for a Thanksgiving dinner for the entire church and our many friends in the community. Two hams and three turkeys this year. That will provide plenty of take-out for shut-ins at the end of the evening. We eat this turkey and ham early in November because the Saturday night before Thanksgiving is deer hunting season, and some of our families depend on the hunt for their winter food. That works out well since we are hungry for turkey again with our individual extended families on Thanksgiving Day.

We also planned for our month to send Angel Bags home with some of our school children on weekends, our Christmas caroling with goody plates for shut-ins, and we had a volunteer who said she’d do the Christmas shopping for two needy children on the school’s list. Although we usually just slip in a dollar or so when a box or a dish is passed at our meetings, by December we usually have enough to give two children gifts.

No one of us could do all these activities by ourselves, but together, we do so without too much work by most of us. (Of course, some volunteers do the major work, but they have decided they have the time and energy and would get their reward with their enjoyment in the project.)

All over America right now, there are women’s clubs and units and friends’ groups who are busy planning similar activities. There are also business, civic, and fraternal organizations, where men and women are doing the same. I am convinced that such volunteerism has made Americans strong. Some volunteers in housing projects have caught on that to make our children strong, we need to involve them in giving. It is true that America has many self-absorbed and short sighted citizens, but it is an incomplete picture to not recognize the generosity of the many people who give despite their own struggle to pay their house payments, food and medicine bills, while trying to save for their kids’ college funds.

I was somewhat shocked when I came home from Tally’s and soon after had Gerald tell me our son was coming out from Marion. I had prayed for traveling mercies for him all weekend, but I had no idea his trip would include an extension north up through his home territory. Somehow in our discussions of this trip, Gerald and I failed to communicate perfectly. He thought I knew Gerry was coming our way. Although I would have prepared a different menu for Gerald’s left-behind supper when I went to Tally’s if I had known Gerry was coming in, there was adequate food available. (Mothers fret about such things. I remember how much pleasure my mother used to get planning meals when my brother was coming down. “Jimmy loves meat,” she would say as she decided her menu.) And even though Gerry thought he was too tired to eat after his late arrival, he did eat a bite while we visited before we all piled into our beds for needed sleep. The next morning we had time for a leisurely breakfast and more visiting. After lunch he took off for his home in the South and the work awaiting him there leaving behind his stories for us to giggle and talk about in our empty house. Tomorrow is his birthday, and I felt warmly blessed to have had his unexpected visit.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Autumn's Joys

Looking out our living room windows beneath the overhanging white clouds in the pale blue sky and past the green lawn, past the lake, past the fields, and on to the encircling line of trees, we are surrounded by soft yellows, muted oranges, and gentle browns of autumnal leaves. This has been one of those perfect days here in Southern Illinois. Warm sunshine mixed with a gentle breeze made me remember why fall is my favorite season. No one could not rejoice on a day like today.

Gerald mowed the lawn again yesterday (and half the countryside around it) leaving the grass extra tall since he feels this would be the last mowing until spring. Except for eleven acres of late-planted beans and the replanted field of a nearby relative, Brian’s crops have been in the bin or already to the market for a long time now. With predictions of rains, that is very comforting. We still occasionally get a late tomato to add color to our dinner plates. Although our vines are already mostly dead and not as healthy as most years, I hope to gather a few green tomatoes tomorrow to wrap in old newspaper to finish ripening. Usually I have tomatoes for the Thanksgiving salad that way—and sometimes even for the Christmas salad.

Driving to our village church this morning, we let our eyes feast on the bright red of maples decorating yards and the sumac and sassafras enlivening the roadsides. We were in the mood to praise before we reached the church house.

Every week in our preschool class, we notice Caleb’s vocabulary growing. This morning it was exploding. In rapid succession, I heard him explain to Bobby that the blocks should be tall, big, high. He would repeat any words he heard from the other kids as well as us teachers, and the look on his face told us he was very conscious and proud of what he was doing.

Usually he only sits a moment or two for the short Bible story before he wanders off, but today he was as interested for almost as long as the older kids. And he loved putting beads on a bright red chenille stem to make a book marker. Out of the choice of red or yellow stem, he chose green, so though he knows the colors’ names, he isn’t onto which one is which yet. Bobby certainly knows, and he said he choose the yellow because his mommy loved yellow. It was pleasant to watch Miranda and Bobby being kind to each other and sharing beads. The kids think they are having fun. We certainly are. But we also know they are developing hand/eye coordination, which will make them better readers one of these days. Then they can read the Bible stories and discover Jesus’ teachings for themselves.

After worship service, Gerald took Brian and me to lunch before Brian had to load up to go back home to central Illinois. We came home to rest and watch TV—Gerald does the ball games and I try to catch some of Book Notes.

I drove back to the village for evening worship and our brief business meeting afterwards. Our much used fellowship hall is in our basement, which means those in chairs or with walking problems have the challenge of the stairs. Earlier our small congregation had voted to not build the needed fellowship hall on the ground floor until we had all the funds to pay for it. The building committee had secured a bid and it was beneath our built-up savings. With dreams of a new kitchen and dining hall and new restrooms with universal design one step closer, we voted unanimously to accept the bid. People weren’t in a hurry to leave as they visited and talked about these exciting plans. I drove the long way home, so I could go by Brian’s new field and enjoy the beauty of burning brush piles flaming in the dark.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ugh! Don't Read This.

Usually I blog about the beauty of the farm and rural roadsides, the fun outings, and the happy visits from friends and relatives. It is not that unpleasant things do not happen in my life, but rather I don’t usually see any point in extending the unpleasantness by writing about it. I do not mean to be deceptive, but I blog mostly to please myself—although I hope to please you too—and frankly blogging about the good things in life is one way to distract me from the bad things.

I know that I should be ashamed to say it has been a bad week. Nothing seriously different has happened to me nor anyone I love this week. No alarming phone calls about wrecks or cancer. I do not have to worry about food on the table (if I am able to fix it), a roof over my head, or so many things that others have endured this week. But I have felt puny all week because of health-giving procedures that are good but not pleasant. If Magnesium Citrate rings a bell with you, you know what I am talking about.

Gerald and I had to rise early Monday morning to get to 9 a.m. appointments with our dermatologist in Saint Louis. Despite heavy traffic, Gerald expertly got us there on time. No bad news there. My appointment was to get rid of minute cysts (dozens of them) all over my face and also ugly catch-on-your clothing warty growths. I had not really had time to think about it ahead of time, but I believe I thought it would be like the dentist giving you a shot to stop the pain on a bad tooth repair. Not so. I was required to be brave, and I thought I would die. The only one I felt sorrier for than me was the doctor because I knew she did not like hurting me. I was left with red spots where the cysts used to be and ugly splotches where the warty growths were treated by freezing. Gerald was helpful to remind me that I was going to look far better soon when all healed.

We had time for a lovely brunch after our appointments and time to get on to his check up with cardiologist at 1:30. That went well, and we had a pleasant drive home through Missouri since our usual highway was closed. We meant to eat at a favorite restaurant at Cape that has sort of become “our” place, but it was only 4:30 when we got there and we found out they now only serve later in the evening rather than all day. We were kinda glad they weren’t open since we weren’t really hungry yet and decided we would go on to a favorite Anna restaurant. There we discovered they serve evenings on the weekends but only lunch the rest of the time. We still weren’t very hungry so we drove on home to Marion to our old stand by—Cracker Barrel, although I really did not want to be seen by anyone who knew me since I looked such a red-faced mess. But hunger was greater than pride, and we had a nice meal and saw no one we knew.

Now I should explain that I am having to sleep with my left arm in a splint in hopes of repairing nerve damage in my elbow that might cause me to lose function in that hand. Naturally a writer does not want to be unable to type, and originally I thought I was going to have to have surgery until this lesser treatment was suggested to try first. That was great news, but after a couple hours sleep in the splint, I would wake up with a terrible ache in my arm and would sleep fitfully if at all the rest of the night.

At the first wake-up with aching arm, I would move to the guest room so I could groan and twist all I wanted without disturbing Gerald. This had gone on for almost a week, so I wasn’t too rested before the St. Louis trip on Monday. Gerald and I both needed Tuesday to rest up. The dermatologist nurse had said to refrain from using makeup for a couple of days, so I sure did not want anyone to see me although the redness of the multitude of removed cysts had already faded. Adding to this was the fact that my permanent was suddenly gone, and I not only felt terrible, I looked terrible. Nothing makes a woman feel worse than a droopy worn-out perm with hair in all directions. Twisting from the arm splint did not help my hair either.

Even without makeup and with lousy hair, Wednesday was fairly normal. I fixed a nice meat loaf for noon dinner, and drove to town to visit with Katherine that afternoon. That evening I really did not have anything to blog about, and I did not want to share my misery. I looked forward to life returning to normal.

Except I had forgotten that Thursday was the day meant to prepare me for Friday. Maybe it was best I had not anticipated that day. I could have put on makeup since two days had passed, but I did not have the heart to do so. I lunched and dined on chicken broth and lots of water. I drank water at 2 and 3 and 4 as directed. I drank the first bottle of Magnesium Citrate at 5 and thought I would die. I drank the prescribed water afterwards. I spent the next three hours dreading that second bottle. I was already nauseous. I was uncertain if I could possibly get it down. But I did and drank the required water afterwards. Suffice it to say that sleep was not any better that night although the arm problem has calmed down just as the physical therapist who prepared the splint for me told me it would do. Next morning, I got ready in a hurry since I had been directed to not wear makeup to the surgical center.

At 6:45 yesterday, Gerald had me at the surgical center, where everything was sparkly clean. People were kind, friendly, skilled, and comforting. The warm blanket on a cool morning felt wonderful, and the two procedures were over before I knew they had happened since I was instantly asleep after the nurse directed Gerald to kiss me before he was sent to the waiting room. After good news from the doctor, Gerald collected me and gave me a choice about where to eat the delayed breakfast-lunch. His idea of going through the drive-in for a take-home breakfast sounded great to me because I did not look any better than I had all week. Once home after we finished our meal, I tried to sleep as directed, but I never did go to sleep that day, and I was not comfortable until midnight or so.

I kept thinking I should blog. I had the time. I thought maybe I could make all this funny. But it was not funny to me. I might be able to laugh if it happened to you, but I was not amused. So you are getting a true look at my life with me pouting and looking like a wild woman all week. (I say pouting because I know how desperately needed such fine surgical centers are in so many places on our globe. I certainly wish everyone had access just as I did. Every time I felt sorry for myself, I also felt ashamed that I was such a spoiled baby.)

Today I had a long wonderful “girl friend” visit with my youngest daughter by telephone, put on makeup for the first time since Sunday, had my pitiful hair fixed and made an appointment made for a perm on Wednesday, bought myself a new coat I really needed since I had left the last one on the back of a restroom door in Iowa or Nebraska or someplace two years ago, went to a sad but stimulating program at the mall on slavery in Illinois, and then visited with Katherine a bit. That visit turned out all right since two neighbor kids caught Sam’s dog Scooter when he ran out the door and into the park when I opened the door to go in.

Driving home through the dark, I saw the huge bonfires our son-in-law Brian had going. Gerald has been working for two or three weeks cutting brush and trees away from the side of the road. The county had helped pull up roots, Gerald had pushed trees into piles, and suddenly Brian’s newly acquired field is larger and more productive, and a dangerous curve on our country road is much safer. I fixed us all a bite of supper, and life seemed normal again.

As Mary Ellen accurately and sympathetically said on the phone this morning, my life has been tough from top to bottom this week. I promise to write about the good things next time. I hope you didn’t read this.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lovely Weather for a Lovely Weekend

Fifty or so of us gathered at the south Arena parking lot at Southern Illinois University Carbondale yesterday morning for the once-in-a-lifetime tour from there through western Union County on Trail of Tears routes and over the Mississippi River to Moccasin Springs where some of the Cherokee arrived on the two ferries near Willard’s Landing.

First, Sandy Boaz met us at Camp Ground Cemetery to share the story she had been told from childhood about the Cherokee who camped there. Her ancestor George Hileman owned the land that early pioneers and native folk had long camped on because of its closeness to the Lusk Trail, the grove of trees, and the presence of three springs. The Hilemans had not yet donated the land for a church and cemetery. But they had buried two children there on a hillside, and they allowed the Cherokee to bury their dead also. They also allowed the freezing ill clad Cherokee to cut the timber for heat. That likely is why there were not more deaths at that site.

After the fire burned out, the Cherokee were able to dig the thawed earth for graves as opposed to having to leave loved ones on the frozen ground topped with branches to keep the predators temporarily away. Harvey Henson explained how his SIUC students had used various non-invasive means to discover evidence of graves exactly where oral tradition had said the Cherokee were buried. Sandy had been told as a child to respect the gravesites and not to walk there. The Camp Ground Cumberland Presbyterian Church has continued to honor those grave sites for almost two centuries. With typical hospitality, they opened their doors yesterday for our tour groups to use their rest rooms.

Sandy has discovered evidence of the Trail going down Camp Ground Road and Murphy School Road, but we are uncertain how the Trail ended up at Jonesboro since Anna and Route 146 were not in existence in 1838. On the Jonesboro Square, Harvey and I pointed out to our respective buses where Winstead Davie’s store house had been and his and Anna’s home behind it where some Cherokee leaders boarded with them.

We pointed down towards Cook Avenue where some detachments went past the present school and up over Bauers and Pansy Hill and down past the present Lockard Chapel Church, through the Shawnee National Forest area, over steep Hamburg Hill on a road no longer there. This took them on to Hamburg Landing on the Mississippi River, which I feel certain has the sandbar that Rev. Daniel Butrick recorded in his diary. One ferry took them to the sandbar, and another ferry came over from Bainbridge, Missouri, to take them the rest of the way.

However, instead of going down Route 146 and Willards Ferry Road to Ware as some of the eleven TOT detachments did, we drove around the Square and down Route 127. The early industrial center of Flaughtown was two miles south of Jonesboro, and Christian Flaugh ground corn meal for the Indians at his mill. We took beautiful Old Cape Road through the country just as some of the Cherokee did. The fall coloration has begun, and we enjoyed that beauty though those trees were bare when the Cherokee walked there.

At U-Be-Dam Holler, we drove over the narrow bridges and onto Ron and Deb Charles’ family farm, which has the Trail of Tears Lodge for horse lovers and mushroom hunters who return again and again to stay there. A former barn, the Lodge has a restaurant with down-home decor on the first floor. We were given the opportunity to visit in the second-floor loft where a great room is beautifully decorated with soft carpeting and comfortable couches. The hay fork on its original track is far overhead. (Steps from that room lead to a third floor apartment, where Deb and Ron live.) After that, we were served a fantastic fish dinner with homemade dessert that is available to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. Deb graciously shared with us their Cherokee heritage and why they wanted to honor those who marched the Trail.

Back on the buses, we drove through Reynoldsville and again onto Route 146 (also called Route 3 now) going south as some Cherokee probably did since there was a Smith Ferry near Cape Girardeau. We crossed the wonder of the new bridge at Cape, drove past the murals at riverside depicting Missouri history and onto the Missouri Trail of Tears State Park. ( ) We were envious that Illinois does not such an interpretive site. Here we saw artifacts including a pioneer wagon, glassed displays with explanatory text, and an opportunity to view the brand new National Park Service video on the Trail of Tears. It is the best I have ever seen. Before we climbed back on the buses, a woman with Cherokee heritage prepared us to see the Bushyhead Memorial. She laughingly but firmly told us that the Princess Otahki myth was bogus, and that the memorial gravesite actually marks the death of Jesse Bushyhead’s sister Nancy Bushyhead Walker Hildebrand and the others who died in the cold at Moccasin Springs. Gratefully Jesse Bushyhead’s wife Eliza safely gave birth here to baby Eliza Missouri, who grew up to be a great educational leader in Indian Territory.

After viewing the Memorial, we drove up through high hilly forests to the Overlook and walked down to stand in awe of the mighty Mississippi looking back over to Illinois where Willard’s Landing once was. I heard more than one say that view was worth the trip over.

The day was growing cooler and it was time to head back across the river. We returned to Jonesboro taking Route 146 past the Clear Creek/Dug Hill/Dutch Creek area, where thousands camped in 1838 waiting for the ice floes on the Mississippi River to leave so the ferries could operate again. George Morgan and Willis Willard both had mills there to grind corn meal and flour for them. Willard’s steam driven mill also produced lumber to floor some of the more fortunate ones’ tents. Others slept on the bare ground. Hunters went as far over as the present-day Illinois Trail of Tears State Park to find the scant game left after the hungry hordes were stranded so long. Traveling on to the Arena parking lot, we departed the buses and said goodbye to newly made friends and headed for our homes.

Today was another beautiful autumn day, and the children in our Preschool Class sang about Zacheus and I told them his story—one of my favorites. We talked about trees and fall and went outside to see some of the fallen leaves. They looked up one of the trees and imagined Zacheus up there wanting to see Jesus. By the time worship service was over, the children and I were hungry even though they had a snack, and they were eager to go down to the playground and pavilion and eat the wonderful fish, potatoes, and hush puppies that the cook crew kindly volunteered to prepare for us. Supplemented with many veggies and two tables of desserts provided by the congregation, we had a fall feast.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Finally Back Online--Maybe

Sorry I have not been able to blog.

On Wednesday I wrote a hurried explanation, but then did not get it posted. Next day we had wonderful help trying to get speedier service in our rural area, so I was not online while this was going on. Friday morning I was pleased with the increased speed and was almost finished with a promised project to send to a couple of folks. Stopped to fix Gerald a bite of lunch when he came in from getting our car serviced, and went back down to the office only to find we were offline. But a simple procedure, which our friend told us about, put us back online that evening. I have been away from home all day today, but here is what I did not get posted Wednesday night. My goal is to return to normal blogging tomorrow evening. We shall see!

Wednesday, October 14
We have been offline for week and a half. Router trouble. Changed server. New ordered router did not work. Electrical engineer nabor who helps us got stumped. GRRR. Long story. I think we are back online now. Maybe.

Gotta appointment for arm splint this afternoon. Long story. Gotta go to Carbondale tonight for Trail of Tears board meeting. Granddaughter Leslie and her boyfriend should be here at Woodsong when I get home as they are on their way to Freeport during Belmont's fall break.

Tomorrow is important Writers Guild meeting as we have to make nominating committee report for 2010 officers. Had to do all our work by phone since I was offline. But we have an almost complete roster to offer tomorrow night. Still have to get the anthology editor's consent as she was too exhaused from this year's anthology to say yes immediately. I think she had two computer crashes while doing it! It is at the printer's and I hear it is tremedous. (It was sent to all of us for okay--but I was offline so did not see it.) I am busy catching up on email, etc. Maybe I will blog tomrorrow or at least by Friday.

Gotta go fix Gerald's lunch and also a plate for supper since doctor's appointment is on the way to Carbondale.

I do not like long stories.