Monday, May 30, 2011

Good Times

Ever have one of those times when there are too many things you want and need to do than is humanly possible? We have just had too much on our calendar lately—two grandsons graduating from high school, one grandson graduating from 8th grade, end of semester plays, programs and softball games, reunions, medical appointments, and storms, and a great grandson’s 5th birthday party up in Aurora that we could not attend.

In between the rains and storms, our son-in-law is trying to get crops planted. In addition to all his own projects, Gerald wants to be available to help a little bit if Brian needs a ride to another place or something welded. One of Gerald’s most time consuming projects right now is mowing our huge lawn that is growing beautifully because of the excess rains.

I didn’t finish my list of errands nor go by to see Katherine on Wednesday while I was in town because I kept hearing warnings on the car radio that our region might be getting tornadoes at any time. I knew the chance that the tornado would hit in whatever area I might be in was slim, but the constant reports about Joplin made us aware that we needed to be careful. Activities and ball games were being cancelled; students and people were sent home from school and work early. Storm shelters were opened in churches and public buildings for those who needed a place of safety.

I was relieved when our car was in the garage again and out of danger of hail that hitting various spots in our region. And I was glad when Erin showed up to spend the night in our downstairs bedroom that is actually underground. Her car and her dog Sadie were sheltered in Gerald’s shop. I remembered two frozen pizzas in the freezer and fixed those and carried down to our downstairs family room where we ate supper and were glued to the television. Local weather reporting had replaced regular programming. Although we were not really afraid, we were prepared to run into the safe room under our front porch area if necessary. I was worrying about Katherine’s family, and she phoned to check on us.

One tornado was seen over Marion but did not touch down. We seemed to be between the two worst areas that were showing bright red on the screen. One tornado touched down and did a great deal of damage at a little town north of Mt. Vernon named Boyd that none of us had ever heard of before. We heard Union County, our home county, was in path of the storm, but it was Saturday at a family gathering down there that we learned that a tornado had actually touched down and damaged a cousin’s trees and other people’s property in a fairly small rural area there.

We grew bored by weather reports and the danger seemed to have passed, and we went on to bed. Erin was up early the next morning for her and Sadie and her cousin Sarah to head to Athens, Georgia, to visit her family and be there for the Super Regionals softball tournament to start at Athens on Saturday. Gerald fixed her an egg in the microwave for an egg sandwich and she was gone before I got up.

Thursday we both had appointments with a dermatologist way over at Murphysboro, which is why my face is temporarily scarred up from some zapping. But we had a good report, and that is what matters. We had stopped in Carbondale on the way over to empty our garage of all the recyclables and we had to stop by the audiologist in Carbondale on our way home. That night we hurried to Sam’s 8th grade program at 6 p.m. in a very crowded gymnasium with parking spaces all taken before we arrived though we were on time.

As some places do, the school avoided using the word “graduation” but called the evening a Recognition Program. The large class sat in folding chairs and filled the floor of the gym with a row of teachers at the side and dignitaries on a temporary stage. Many many awards were given before finally row by row each youth went forward to get a diploma or whatever you call what is given if it is not a graduation ceremony. Sam was one of the 15 students in the class that had made all A’s their 7th and 8th grade years, so we enjoyed seeing him on the front row although neither of us could hear in the cavernous gym. Evidently no one else could either because the audience kept a lot of conversations going all around me, and for some reason, there was a steady flow of people going in and out.

Gerald and I lost each other in the crowd after he came in from parking the car. I had to literally crawl up the bleachers to one of the few lowest seats available since the lower seats were all taken. I saved a spot for Gerald, but he did not find me even though I stood up and was waving. I began to wonder during this long program how in the world I was going to get back down without a handrail. I get dizzy in this kind of steep seating, and I was concerned. I was on the end of a row, and finally I got up my nerve and reached over and asked the sweet young man across from me on the other side of the un-railed steps if he’d let me hold his arm going down. As I knew he would, he was the perfect gentleman and agreed with a smile to help me. Only then I could relax and watch the graduates, and I clapped for every one of them as they were handed their rewards.

Afterward we hurried home and watched the ending of the first of the eight women softball NAAC Super Regionals strung out across the nation. Our Super Regional was not starting until Saturday night, but we were interested in all these 16 winners of Regionals who were going to be reduced to eight teams for the World Series in Oklahoma City starting at the end of this week.

We wanted to go to Elijah’s graduation up in the northern part of the state and especially so since he would be one of the speakers. We had heard him as an 8th grader give a great speech at that graduation, and we wanted to see him complete the circle. But a seven-hour trip was just a little overwhelming at this time as Gerald has been having some back trouble. So we stayed home, but I believed I’d always feel some pain that I did not get to attend. Of course, there was also that birthday party in that end of the state. (I am greedy about life.)

We were watching whatever softball games we could, but Saturday was the annual reunion of the students who went to the old Wolf Lake High School, which became a part of the consolidated Shawnee High School in the 1950s. We could not go when we were still farming, so Gerald especially likes to go now. This multi-class reunion always brings out-of-town oldsters back to their roots, and the local alumni go all out to give a really nice gathering. Gerald enjoys seeing old friends and catching up on their lives. I have tagged along enough that I know many of his high school friends, so I enjoy seeing them too and always meeting new ones. I happened to sit by Bob and Betty (Millis) Larrison, and I had a great time getting acquainted with them. I was surprised to find out that Betty was a sister-in-law to Gerald’s cousin Marjorie and they were headed there after this reunion ended.

We had just time to buy some flowers and head to the Jonesboro Cemetery before we were to go to a 5 p.m. 25th anniversary party for Steve and Debby Haldeman at her sister Irma’s house. We have talked for years about needing to have another Glasco-Wenger get together, and Gerald’s cousin Irma had invited us all there to do just that. It was a wonderful party with lots of time to see new little ones in the family and to visit with all the relatives. Tender ribs and yummy scented kabobs were carried in and added to the groaning dinner buffet for everyone to help themselves as people showed up as their schedules allowed.

The lovely tiered anniversary cake was made by Irma—something she and Debby used to do together. It seemed impossible that it had really been 25 years since we attended Debby and Steve’s wedding at the Wenger family farm. That particular wedding was memorable to us because Jeannie was doing a lot of long distance local bike riding in those days and had ridden to our farm from Carbondale. During our lunch we watched a show on television about these bicyclists riding across the nation. That afternoon we arrived at the site of the wedding and found out the bikers we had just watched on television were there on their bikes having ridden down from Chicago. They were the groom’s brothers. These young adults went on to start a successful bike touring business and have been riding here and abroad ever since. It was fun to see Steve’s parents again and hear a little more about these bikers that had impressed us so.

We were not very good guests because after dinner several of us hovered around the television set to watch the first Georgia-Baylor game in the Athens Super Regionals. Nor were we very happy when we lost. Since the winner of these tourneys must win two out of three, the final two games for us were yesterday afternoon.

After church yesterday morning, Gerald took me down to my family’s cemetery at Goreville to place flowers on the graves there, and then we enjoyed dinner at The Old Home Place—Pat and Tina Barger’s restaurant. It was good to see my cousin Joe Martin there, and he came and visited with me a long time. (He is a second-cousin once removed.) Like most people, I have great admiration for Joe because he has accomplished a great deal despite difficult odds. As a youth, he was a finalist in Special Olympics and even went to New York because of his ability. He keeps himself in great shape and dresses with crisp neatness and style. He proudly told me he had worked at the local grocery for 30 years now. He has collected thousands of dollars for charity by riding in bike-a-thons, and now he says he has added bowling and karaoke to his activities.

We hurried home to sit in front of the television again as we watched ESPN as Georgia hit five home runs and beat Baylor 14-2 in the second game of the series. We had forced the third game, and we were relaxed during the 30 minutes between games because we felt assured our Bulldogs would beat those Baylor Bears without any problem since we were on a roll. Sadly for us, Baylor came back and quickly pulled ahead and won handily with a 9-2 score. So Georgia will not be going back to the World Series for the third year in a row. Our family felt devastated, and soon remarks came up on Facebook expressing our disappointment.

I went upstairs to clean up a messy kitchen and turned on the television there. A news report was showing Tuscaloosa one month after their tornado. (One of the Super Regionals was held there where the campus had to be closed and graduation postponed till September, but the stadium was ok. Tournament visitors saw and experienced the destruction there.) Although I had rooted for Danielle Miller on Stanford’s team, who is such a great kid, I had to be happy for Alabama’s team, who after that terrible tornado trauma, won the right to go on to Oklahoma City. Seeing that news report about how many are without homes quickly put the softball loss into perspective. As our son Gerry said, “Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you!” Nevertheless, he is already at work for next year.

Leslie started downstate after her brother’s graduation yesterday, and she arrived at Woodsong at 2:28 this morning. I had slept on the couch and been up at 2, but still slept through her arrival when I lay back down. I woke up again at 3 and saw her car in the driveway and the unlocked door now locked, so I went on to my own bedroom. Like everyone, Leslie slept fine in that underground bedroom that is completely dark and quieter than the other bedrooms. It was mid morning when she came upstairs.

We had a good visit before she was back on the road to Nashville and her red-headed boyfriend, whom she was missing. She took a video of Elijah’s speech, so I can look forward to her putting it on You Tube. It won’t be a good as seeing/hearing it in person, but I have my perspective straightened out now. I am through pouting.

Les has worked as an R. A. in the dorms at Belmont the last two years, and she was eager to have her first apartment for her senior year. She and a girl friend have secured an apartment in their youth pastor’s home, and she is working two part-time jobs this summer to pay for it. Her car was loaded down with stuff from Freeport to add to her thrift-store finds, and she was so excited to have today to finish setting up her very first place before she starts back to work tomorrow.

Seeing her joy and anticipation helped my attitude also. I just changed the title of this blog from "Too Busy Times" to "Good Times."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thinking of those who died in WWII

Memorial Day is coming, and graves will be decorated. But the longer we are from World War II, the fewer Americans remember it. My childhood memories are already dim although at the time our lives revolved around that war. Our days were darkened by knowledge that the war was going on. My mother could not sleep well at nights thinking about her older sister Mary’s sons fighting overseas. Daddy’s sister’s sons were also “over there,” and I am sure they worried just as much about them. Older cousins Dorothy and Kathleen had husbands fighting also, and Kathie lost her husband, and her mother had to tell her while she was still in the hospital after giving birth to their baby son.

The war started for me when I came home from visiting my special adult friend Mabel Perry, who had been my infrequent babysitter and whose mother did laundry and stretched lace curtains for many in the community. Somehow I would be invited and allowed to walk to Mabel’s house, a few blocks away, and I would always be entertained royally. Mable would tell wonderful spooky “true” tales that caused me to be scared, but Mother did not know that. Drinking out of her late father’s mustache cup was a special privilege. Her father had been a lawyer but had been dead many years and the family’s living was made in the wash house just a step away from the kitchen door. Later Mabel gave me the cup.

So it had been a typical happy Sunday afternoon for me when I walked into our house and was told about Pearl Harbor. I must have realized from my parents’ voices and the looks on their faces that this was a terrible thing. I only remember going from the living room into my sister and my bedroom and kneeling down and praying. I knew to be scared. I have no memory of what I thought or expressed to God, but praying in the middle of the day was not a normal thing for me to do. Something enormous had happened.

My parents had already planned a trip to El Paso to visit Daddy’s sister Myrtle and husband William Ball as our one-time Christmas celebration. It was decided to go ahead and carry out those plans, which was a good thing since gas and tire shortages would not allow traveling during the war years. We were not going to have a tree this year nor exchange the usual presents. However, since I was the youngest, I was given my last doll that year—my first “big” doll, which I am sure I had longed for. Our family of five took off as soon as school was out—my older sister Rosemary, brother Jim, me, and “the folks” as we often called Mother and Daddy. Christmas Day dinner was in a diner in Texarkana, and that seemed quite exotic at the time and was probably the only thing open. Eating in a restaurant was rare for us, and the folks always made things fun. The visit at El Paso was good but definitely over-shadowed by Aunt Myrtle and Uncle William’s knowledge that their sons were going to war. I remember the concern.

When we got back to Southern Illinois on the Sunday afternoon before school started the next day, my parents stopped on the Jonesboro Square to pick up their mail from the post office box inside the lobby. There a letter was waiting for my mother to start teaching the next day at the one-room Meisenheimer School, grades one through eight, where the young teacher had been drafted. As a married woman with children, my mother was not considered suitable to teach under ordinary circumstances. But overnight it became her patriotic duty to do so, and she did.

Mother not only taught, but she was responsible for picking up students in her 1937 Ford car, starting the fire in the school stove, and keeping the building clean. (I think she hired one of the older boys for part of this janitor work.)

I hated coming home from the school across the street to an empty house even though Daddy was in his office at my school and I was welcome to go up and see him if I needed to. I was supposed to go home and practice my piano. I did not like to practice anyway, and I would imagine burglers in the basement beneath me, so practice was probably often cut short.

Mother was soon home and had supper on the table by five since Daddy very often had to be back at the school before six. Daddy was the 8th grade teacher and principal; but with the war, he also became basketball coach since the coach was drafted. (At away games, he piled the players into that 37 Ford and was the “bus driver” also.) When our school had a day off and Mother’s did not, I was able to go with her to visit all day, and I loved that. Looking back, I am sure Mother’s teaching career made possible by the changing attitude that the war brought about was a very good thing for our family; but for a third grader, it was a difficult change.

However, in all honesty, I enjoyed most of the exciting things going on with the war— the community scrap drives that Daddy headed up with piles of metal in the school parking lot almost as high as the school building, the war stamps sold at school with our fourth grade class making a little stand with red, white, and blue decorations in the corner of our room, the big rallies where the pig King Neptune was auctioned off again and again to sell war bonds. (Yes, this really happened, and he was buried beside Route 146 with a tombstone and supposedly exhumed when I-57 disturbed his grave. You can see his tombstone now in the north rest stop of I-57 around the corner from Route 146.)

Patriotism permeated the society, and that made just being an American a special virtue to be enjoyed by us youngsters. I made a scrapbook of airplanes although I was not really interested in planes but it seemed patriotic. The main purpose of our two rival neighborhood clubs—the Busy Bees and the Junior Commandos—was to help win the war. We were on the alert and always on the lookout for German spies that we kept hearing about. (Both clubs together had only four regular kid members until we made up, united, and had a picnic with the Junior Commandos’ money contributed by adult friends.)

As the war continued, we outgrew the neighborhood clubs, and I became more aware of the sad side of the war. I knew the limitations of sugar, tire, and gas rationing,, but they were considered part of being patriotic and not sacrificial. I wrote notes to older cousins in service and knew my mother’s worry. I became aware of how many people went to the movies just in hopes of catching a glimpse of their son or brother in the news shorts, which were a part of every movie showing. A short story in The American Girl told of children in Holland having to hide out, and that story deeply affected me and helped me begin to understand that the war was terrible beyond the battlefields in other nations. I felt the grief for the loss of her husband by my cousin Kathleen, way out in California. By the time the war ended in 1945, I was going into the 7th grade and I had learned the horror of atom bombs and knew the world was changed with a threat that would never again allow tranquility even during times of peace.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Celebrating with Trent

The parking lot at Lincolnwood High School at Raymond, IL, was almost full when Gerald dropped me off closer to the door and he went looking for a vacant spot. Obviously graduation is a big deal in this community. As I entered the packed gymnasium, I remembered the heat associated with such programs in my distant past and realized I perhaps should have worn a cool summer dress.

I wondered how in the world we would find seats since bleachers on both sides seemed full and many people were milling around yet. However, Mary Ellen was standing and waving at us and had reserved seats waiting for us. Gerald, Brian, his mother, and I settled into the chairs on the gym floor marked “Taylor,” and I was quite comfortable for the evening. (Some things had come up for Sam, and he had not been able to go with us after all much to his disappointment.) I appreciated the school’s thoughtfulness with making such advance preparation for us.

Brian’s brother Steve and wife Salena and their three daughters—Jasmine, Kaitlin, and Larissa—had come downstate from Sycamore, Brian’s home town, and they had gotten there early enough to find seats on the bleachers. So Trent had a nice size cheering section for him.

Brianna was up front playing in the band. When the familiar “Pomp and Circumstance” started, I thought for a few moments that I might cry. Soon I was eagerly straining my head backwards to catch the first glimpse of Trent as he solemnly marched in but with a smile on his face. From then on, I was mostly happy, but the many tears I saw around us when graduates came to hand their parents a beautiful rose did make me cautious that I did not let them be contagious. Again Trent’s big smile as he gave up his rose to his parents and then hugged all of us one at a time made the joy replace the tears.

It had been so long since I had been to a graduation ceremony that I did not know kids now decorate their mortarboards, and many of these seniors did--including the three top students who gave short speeches. Although the traditionalist in me preferred the solid black caps, it was interesting to see the various designs on the top of their heads, which were most often symbols of colleges they intend to go to or a career they aspire to. One girl’s cap, which I was seeing through the crack of heads in front of me, was a dolphin. Is she heading to Florida? I thought one guy had a miniature football sewed on his cap and I assume he had been on the team. Unquestionably the most interesting and certainly them most noticeable was Trent’s friend Tim Marten, who had lights outlining the edge of his square.

Finally the formalities were over, the kids had received their fake diplomas, tassels had been pulled to the other side, and then the Class of 2011 had their way with hats high in the air and silly string flying everywhere. Trent was really smiling now and that smile lasted as he marched with his class back out of the gym.

It was still daylight outside after the service. Groups clustered around their particular graduate. An adorable red haired toddler had kicked off his shoes and was sunning barefoot in the grass. In the cool of the evening, I was glad I had not worn a summer dress because we took time there for a lot of picture taking of Trent with various groupings of his family members. The large grassy lawn was quite magnificent with many huge trees towering over us, and I commented that I bet not another school in Illinois had such an abundance of enormous trees.

No one had had time to eat before the ceremony. In fact, Brian and his mother had arrived up from Southern Illinois even later than we did because he was in the field down here planting until the last possible moment. I think we were all glad when Mary Ellen said the plan was for us all to drive to nearby Litchfield, where she and Brian treated the dozen of us to supper at Denny’s.When we headed for their house five miles in the country from Waggoner, Trent and Brianna went onto yet another one of the many graduation parties being held.

It was late enough that we all settled down quickly back at their house, which with its finished basement, can hold a large house party. Unfortunately, as life often typically slings at us, company in the house makes things break or causes plumbing to cease working properly. I am speaking from experience. So several were downstairs solving that problem while Gerald and I fell into our bed upstairs and were quickly asleep.

The next morning I slept in and hoped Mary and Brian had, but Brian was on the tractor mowing and May Ellen was already thawing out the many veggie dishes she had prepared for the day’s crowd. While some of the cousins were quickly into the swim pool outside the breakfast nook door, Gerald and I went with Mary Ellen to Litchfield to pick up ice, the special congratulatory cake and other supplies for the afternoon.

Later Brian and Steve were in Litchfield for some farm purpose, so Mary Ellen had them go by for the fried chicken she had ordered. The store told them that Mary’s order was for Sunday, not Saturday, and they came home empty handed. Mary Ellen said that by then with the previous night’s plumbing problems keeping them up to all hours, she simply decided to simply stay calm and not let it bother her although she knew she had ordered correctly.

She thought we’d just have a vegetarian meal. (Frankly, she had so many veggie dishes available that we would have eaten well without chicken.) But then the store called that another family named Taylor had ordered chicken for Sunday, and that her order was ready after all. So Brianna made yet another trip to Litchfield and carried in two huge boxes of wonderful smelling chicken. The feasting began, and other families and kids’ friends kept arriving. Trent was still smiling.

Everyone was eager for Tara and Bryan and their three boys to arrive from Aurora. Aidan, of course, was immediately in the pool with the teens. This was the first family gathering since Easter, and it was somewhat disconcerting to see how much baby Payton had grown up in that short amount of time. He was immediately attracted to Salena’s dog Alex and the Taylors’ Fifi. He was so gentle petting them over and over, and both shitzus were just as gentle with him in return. He still wants to be close to his mother, but he was ready to socialize and soon after arrival held his little arms up to Gerald. Before the day was over, he had so favored others of us, and he even let Gerald take him on a tractor ride in the plot behind the swimming pool although he kept his eyes on his mother watching him.

Maddux, our shy charmer who almost makes people swoon with his shy cutting of his eyes, had a big boy haircut and seemed a year older instead of four weeks older. His latest cuteness is keeping both hands on his hips probably in imitation of Woody or some cartoon character he watches. He still liked riding as much as always though anything with four wheels (all called “tractor”), and he had several men and teens ready and willing to provide him with rides.

Jeannie and Rick’s family arrived from Freeport, and Elijah and Cecelie joined the teen crowd. However, when our natural entertainer Leslie arrived from her long drive up from Nashville, TN, her siblings were eager to come in the living room to hear about her latest adventures including two new summer jobs—one decorating cakes at Kroger and the other as a health care performer who is going to lead children at various gatherings and parties. Evidently she auditioned at a regular event, and the two-year-olds stormed the stage trying to reach her, so she instantly got the job. She and Trent had to do a long standing tradition of some dance moves they perfected long ago at Vacation Bible School together and which Leslie dubbed “The Trent.” Les is always a happy addition to any crowd, and we all liked her excited anticipation of her senior year at Belmont living in her first apartment.

While the kids were mostly in the pool, we relaxed in the beautiful high ceiling living room and watched NCAA women’s softball regional tourneys, which Tara’s knowing comments made more interesting. (She has coached so many of the girls on Southern Force before their college days, so she had memories and anecdotes to share.) University of Georgia games weren’t televised, but Tara had kept up with them for us, and we knew before Trent’s graduation ceremony that they had won their first game. And by the time we were eating lunch yesterday afternoon, we knew they had won their second game, and that one more win today would give them a regional championship allowing them to host the super regional this coming weekend at Athens. (They did win today.)

The teens eventually piled into a car to head to a movie, and some of the men were busy with the plot behind the house. Others were swimming, while adults sat around the pool visiting. It was darkening, and Gerald and I realized it was past time we should be starting the long trek back to Southern Illinois. So we grabbed another piece of chicken to eat for our supper and shared with Fifi who had joined us on the concrete steps going down to poolside.

Reluctantly we made our goodbyes and were grateful when we back home safely to Woodsong in our own bed once more.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spring Activities Keep Us Occupied

This week went by way too fast for me. Less scheduled than usual, so I would have thought it would have gone slowly. Ah well. I did get my INR and catch up on laundry, but I really can’t claim anything else done. Our irises are blooming beautifully, and I picked one bouquet, which had already turned ugly this morning except for three tall blooms I saved for a smaller vase. One thing I did do last night that I have been wanting to do for a long time. I read Tori Huftalin’s posts for the last three months in Haiti:]
I was both inspired and awed at the work this beautiful young talented nurse is doing there taking care of malnourished and orphan babies—and doing it all with great joy. I had checked her blog once after the first entry, and she had not yet arrived and entered her first post from Haiti. She is home briefly right now as her blog originally explained, and when she goes back, it will be for a year. This morning I wrote a couple of bread and butter notes for last weekend, and I have started laying out clothes to put in the suitcase for this weekend.

Mary Ellen posted pictures of Trent as a toddler on Facebook this weekend, and I want to reach into the computer and hug that adorable little guy. How can he be walking across the stage as a grave old senior tonight? We’ll be going up this afternoon after we pick up grandson Sam to travel with us. (He graduates from 8th grade next Thursday night.)

Tomorrow Mary Ellen and Brian are throwing a come-and-go all afternoon party in Trent’s honor at their house from 2 to 8. It is supposed to be a poolside party, but with 70% chance of rain, we may be inside listening to ball games or playing charades. Brian’s mother flew in Wednesday for Trent’s baccalaureate and was up at the farm with Brian yesterday and today at the camper while he worked feverishly to continue spring planting.

Jeannie and Rick are coming down with Elijah and Cecelie for the Saturday celebration. Leslie is driving up from Nashville after getting settled in her new apartment and summer job there. She will be at Freeport with her family next week. Tara is coming down, I assume with her sons, although I don’t know that. She was once a summer live-in nanny for Trent and Brianna, so she feels especially close to her cousins.

University of Georgia is hosting the softball regionals at Athens, and they play Georgia State tonight. We’ll probably not learn that outcome until after the graduation. Gerry’s cousin DuWayne and his Vickie are on their way down to the game right now. When Gerry phoned his dad this morning, he already knew about his cousin Bryce’s son Lex hitting the winning home-run yesterday in Johnston City’s baseball regionals. Keeping up with everyone’s spring activities keeps the whole family occupied. Elijah’s high school graduation is next Sunday afternoon, and I am hoping we can get up there for that. We are hoping that Mary Ellen again gets to celebrate her birthday in Oklahoma City while the Women’s College Softball World Series is there. Sam is planning on going with her and his cousins if Georgia gets to go again.

The outline of my glasses with bruises on my face is beginning to dim, and I hope to look presentable for this weekend. I will definitely be looking down on any concrete pads I walk on.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Falling Flat on My Face

When I turned off of Route 39/51 and onto Route 20 going west to Freeport in northern Illinois, I was greeted with bright clusters of blooming redbud trees—something that had faded from our southern end of the state a month ago. Arriving at daughter Jeannie’s house, I saw Rick mowing the side yard. Their big lilac bush was blooming beautifully behind him. Then I opened the car door, and in between the driveway and the neighbor’s yard was a carpet of short green grass decorated with multitudes of tiny blooming violets. I had to hope that Rick did not mow that far, and because he didn’t, I was able to enjoy the violets all weekend.

Gerald was not feeling up to driving the long length of our state, but my desire to see grandson Elijah in his last high school theatrical performance gave me the courage to make the drive. (I am always nervous and unsure of myself when I leave the comfort and simplicity of driving familiar roads.)
When I got up the nerve to decide I was going, I threw clothes in a suitcase and carried outfits on hangers to lay in the back seat and head out for a road trip. I have been wanting to see my brother Jim and wife Vivian at Mattoon; and for years when I stopped to see them, I wished I had a little more time to run over to nearby Charleston and visit my childhood friend Shirley Karraker. I decided to treat myself to those two visits, which would make a nice break in the long trip up to Jeannie and Rick’s.

I left on Wednesday—later than I meant to, of course, since my last minute planning caused me to have a list of things I needed to do before I left the farm. Gerald was tied up with Erin, who had brought her dog Sadie over to stay while she went by bus to their conference tourney, and Gerald was to take her to the team bus and her car to her Uncle Louie’s who was going to fix her brakes while she was out of town. So despite my dislike for GPS gadgets and all the ugly things I have said about them—yes, there are some stories that caused that dislike—I decided I better drag the GPS out from under the seat and put my friend’s address in.

Gerald wasn’t home to help me, but anyhow I wanted to feel competent and independent enough to travel on my own. I thought surely I could figure out this ubiquitous 21st century guidance technology. However, the problem was that I could never figure out where to plug the thing in.

But what are cell phones for? I could call my friend when I reached Charleston and let her give me directions to the retirement condominium she and her husband had moved into shortly before his death a few years ago. (I had been to their other home, although I could not have remembered how to reach it either.)

Shirley was out to morning coffee with friends when I phoned that morning, but I talked to her daughter and the daughter thought there would be time for a visit before an evening appointment. Long before I reached Charleston, Shirley had called my cell and said that the directions to their new place were simple. I said I’d call when I got to town and let her direct me.

I arrived in Charleston in plenty of time for a long afternoon visit. However, I went into town a different way than I had thought I would when Shirley and I talked on the phone enroute. Thus, when I told her I had pulled into a shopping mall to phone her with my pencil and paper in hand, she thought I was further west than I was. (Or was it further east? I am directionally challenged.) Anyhow because I was not where she thought I was, when she said make a left turn, I should have made a right turn on to University Drive. There were a couple more confusing phone calls with her saying, “Sue, where are you?” and me saying, “I’m not sure.” But I did make it to her home, and once I did, I could see she was correct that the way there was simple.

Our visiting time was reduced, but we still had a good catch-up visit. I enjoyed this new place that exhibited so well Shirley’s decorating finesse just as their earlier family home had done. I can remember a time in high school when she wanted to be an interior decorator, and she certainly would have been good at it. But she was good in many things and became a chemistry major. Then came her housewifery years, but when her daughters were older and computers were new, she had headed up the computer lab at the university where Robert taught. She explained to me once that career was the reason she deliberately chose to have little to do with computers afterwards. She was bored before many of us had our first computer.

In retirement, she and Robert had always gone to way-down south Florida after Christmas each year where he relished the abundant bird life. (Some of the sleek birds this chemistry professor had carved were there in their new retirement home.) During the grandchildren’s spring break each year, their daughter in New Jersey would bring the children down to enjoy the Florida sun and sand before Shirley and Robert came back for the summer and fall and holidays at their Charleston home when they were not away on travels or Elderhostel activities. Shirley continues the Florida tradition, so I was able to hear about her new first-floor condominium there, which of course she had enjoyed decorating.

Reflecting on this more than 70-year friendship, I drove back to Mattoon to visit my brother, a retired school administrator, and my sister-in-law, a retired elementary teacher. An added bonus was having my niece Judi Jines there when I arrived. Judi has done considerable free lance writing, so I have always felt close to her. She has helped her daughter and son-in-law with their daughter Willow while they were at work. Jim and Vivian were chatting excitedly about Willow’s recent musical program to celebrate her moving from that building which houses only pre-school and kindergarten children and onto first grade. So I am eager for Judi to find time to freelance again, but we had so much to talk about that I failed to even mention that.

There was much anticipation of their other great grandchild’s second birthday party coming up, which was being held in conjunction with a graduation party for his parents, Sean and Payge Jones, both of whom just finished their bachelors at Eastern Illinois University, while holding down multiple part-time jobs. A beautiful hand-made quilt, which Vivian had just finished for him, was displayed on the sofa waiting to be wrapped for little Vincent Indiana Roland Jones, better known as “Indy.” Judi finally had to go, but we three talked until almost midnight knowing we’d sleep in the next morning although they had appointments and I would have to get on the road again.

In the guest bedroom, I enjoyed the framed baby photo of “Indy,” whose mature vocabulary I had heard about and which made me eager to meet him one of these days. Of course, I heard news about the other children and grandchildren also.

The next morning I enjoyed cereal with fresh strawberries and a choice of pumpkin, banana, or apple nut bread with the coffee Jim made for us. He and I visited while Vivian kept her appointment, and she came in as Jim had to leave, so we had our girl talk too before I needed to leave if I made it in time for Elijah’s play. I made it and even settled in before we had to leave for the Jeannette Lloyd Theater. I soon heard Cecelie in her bedroom practicing her violin, and I enjoyed that all weekend, but I knew not to ask for a performance.

A deer head on the wall above the fireplace was spotlighted when we entered the theater and found our seats after collecting the tickets Jeannie’s friend Jean Kimpel had picked up for us. . A stuffed turkey and a scary looking bear skin rug with the huge bear head intact made us know we were in a hunting lodge. Elijah was playing Charley Baker in Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, and we did not have to be told he was pathologically shy when he fearfully entered the lodge behind his old army buddy Froggy LeSueur.

Froggy had brought him over from London, to give Charley a respite from his hospital duties attending to his dying wife. Froggy knew the talkative warn-hearted widow running the lodge, a long and dear friend, would take good care of Charley while Froggy fulfilled his assignment teaching explosive devices to men on a nearby army base there in Tilghman County, Georgia. He had not anticipated that Charley, his former army officer, had become so painfully fearful of ordinary conversation after twelve years as a magazine proofreader that he became panicky when it was time for Froggy to leave.

To solve the problem, Froggy told the widow, who wished she had traveled the world like he had, that Charley was a foreigner who could not talk English. The widow was thrilled with this exotic guest and intuitively believed the louder she yelled, the more likely the foreigner might understand her. This ruse seemed unethical to Charley but before he had a chance to tell the widow this was all a mistake, he overheard various private conversations of other lodge residents and only having the widow explain that he had not been able to know what they said saved Charley from their fury.

The predicament provided one hilariously funny episode after another because these kids under Tim Conners’ direction are marvelously talented. All six of the play’s characters were main characters, and all six had the ability to take an audience with them wherever the improbable script took them. We were sad, happy, shocked, and most often laughing with these performers just as they wished. When the Klu Klux Klan entered, we were even afraid just as the late playwright Larry Shue wanted us to be.

But even that scene too soon became hysterically humorous as Charley put the bear skin rug on and scared them away with made-up sorcery. The sweet-talking fiancĂ© of the beautiful young woman, who had just inherited big money, was revealed as the evil plotter he was and ordered away. Charley, whose wife in far-off London managed to get up off her death bed and wire him of her latest and 24th dalliance explaining she had run off with the hospital proctologist. Charley got the beautiful girl, the widow’s lodge was saved from the scheming fiancĂ© and building inspector and everything ended hunky dory except our sides hurting from laughing. We knew that Charley’s extreme shyness had been cured.

My desire was to be able to attend all three nights of the production, seeing the difference in audiences’ reactions, hearing the funny lines that I didn’t catch the first or second night, and watching the cast grow increasingly adept with both the slapstick and the subtle character development.

On Friday afternoon after a long week of her very difficult teaching schedule in different classrooms at different schools, Jeannie learned at 4:30 that Elijah was planning a cast party at their house after that night’s performance. Rick was away coaching at the sectional track meet, so there was no parental help there. Jeannie pulled it off with amazing ease, however, after feeding us homemade potato soup. She hurriedly made her signature chocolate chip brownies (chocolate chip recipe spread in a pan and baked to just the right gooeyness) to go with other store bought cookies, everyone’s favorite burger/cheese, salsa dip in a crock pot for chips, iced-down colas, and a generous order of pizza delivered to the house after the play.

We hurried off to the play where we were to meet Jeannie’s mother-in-law and her special friend who always drive over from Rick’s hometown for the grandkids’ plays. We were almost to the door dashing through the rain when somehow one minute I was walking uprightly and the next minute after stubbing a toe, my nose was down on the concrete, my glasses thrown off ahead of me and my Birks somewhere behind me.

Jeannie looked around and saw me lying on the concrete and was horrified. Seeing and hearing her fear, I was quick to assure her I was okay. I knew I wasn’t exactly okay with a slightly bleeding forehead and skinned nose, but I also thought except for the breath knocked out of me that I was probably okay and that was what she needed to hear.

Jeannie said with relief, “Oh, here is Dr. _____...” (I never did get that name, but hearing that felt good.) Immediately a man and woman were hovering over me along with Jeannie, retrieving my glasses that fortunately did not break, helped me upright, and put the shoes back on my feet. (Jeannie blamed the Birks and she may be right about that although I have worn them for years because of nerve damage in my foot and I have never fallen with them before.)

When the woman asked me if I had hit my head, I was still addled enough to say no despite the skinned place on my forehead. It was only while Jeannie and I talked and watched television in my bedroom that night while the cast laughed and enjoyed the living room that I learned the man and woman were not a couple but two individuals who just happened there at the same time. And the woman was the doctor--revealing my own sexism that I had assumed the sweet caring man was.

Jeannie provided me with antibiotic cream and tried to give me something for pain—but as long as I did not touch my nose, I had no pain whatsoever. I slept very good when Jeannie left to put up food and hang around until the last guest left. They were still laughing in the living room when I drifted off around midnight. Cecelie and her over-night friend were playing music and giggling in their bedroom.

Saturday was restful with late sleeping in for everyone. At noon it was off to Jeannie’s friend Jean Kimpel’s RN pinning at Highland Community College. We picked up their mutual friend Diane, and after the pinning, they presented her with a beautiful bouquet Jeannie had acquired that morning from her favorite florist. (Watching her skillful work is an artistic treat Jeannie gives herself.) Jean’s daughter Lauren was the comical widow in the play and she along with the beautiful girl were Elijah’s leading ladies. That afternoon Elijah went after the other two lovely bouquets Jeannie had ordered since his tradition was to give flowers to his leading lady and in this play there were two equally important cast members.

Rick took us all out to dinner except Elijah who was already at the theater long before that. Again it was raining lightly and we hurried in, but I watched that I did not fall flat on my face a second time. Cecelie looked very pretty carrying the two bouquets in to the theater for Elijah. Once again I had a great time watching the show with perhaps the most enthusiastic audience yet.

The final handclapping and standing ovation ended and the audience dispersed. In addition to the relief and great happiness that the play had been successful and that six weeks’ work was over, it was sad as always back stage after the final performance—especially so for the seniors. I heard sadness too in Tim Conners’ voice as he walked among the cast and said his last speeches to these very special kids he has worked with for four years. After the hugging, visiting, and flower presentations were over in the hallway back stage, the cast traditionally goes back on stage for cast pictures, and we watched that too before separating with Elijah going to the Saturday night’s cast party.

Again on Sunday we slept late. In fact, I slept so late that Jeannie had to wake me and I did not have time to pack my car trunk as I had planned to do before church. I’d told them the night before that I’d like to leave immediately after worship so that I could be on the road and use the lunch time as a break from driving since I was planning on driving home without stopping over night at my brother’s or Mary Ellen’s as I did last year.

By now my face is not only skinned, but quite discolored with bruises. The outline of my glasses, which evidently only flew off after I hit the concrete, is etched on my face with bruising under my eyes and across my nose. Maybe by tomorrow, I can cover it up with enough makeup that I won’t get the sympathy that my face now inspires. I will miss that.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Flowers and Flooding

The doorbell ringing yesterday morning started my Mother’s Day early since the local flower shop in our village was delivering me not one but two bouquets. One lovely multi-flowered one in a unique square-shaped vase with clear glass outside and wine inside is now on the dining room table for me to enjoy each time I pass, which I do several times a day. (Since the wine will also look beautiful in our living room, I expect I will be filling that vase with flowers for years to come.) That was from Katherine, David, and Sam.

The gorgeous dozen red roses were from my husband, and they were placed in the living room where I also pass each time on the way to the kitchen in our very open upstairs. By the time I walk by the two bouquets, I am brimming with joy because of their beauty and the love they represent.

The owner of the flower shop was in high school with my two older kids, and knowing LaRonda created the arrangements make them even more special to me. She is very talented, and she and her sister Melody, who has opened a restaurant, have begun a business renaissance in our village. Cards, phone calls, and Facebook messages completed my continued celebration today.

Just as joy-bringing were reports on the grandkids’ lives. We have two high school senior grandsons this year—one living in the middle of our state and one about as far north as you can go without crossing into Wisconsin. Knowing they both had successful proms last night was happy news. Next will come the photos. And Sam’s eighth grade band did great at super state in Champaign on Friday, and I will be checking his friends’ photos of that trip on Facebook too.

While the instant communication with loved ones is one of the many blessings in today’s world, the knowledge of all the suffering around us keeps us aware that life can be very difficult and many people are in sorrow or trouble at any given moment in time.

Shortly after the doorbell rang yesterday with the flowers, a phone call came from our pastor A fellow pastor in our community was sending out an invitation to collect food this morning for flood refugees in our town—with the admonition that these people had only a microwave to prepare food in—no fridge or stove. Evidently the facilities with food being supplied or with better kitchens are now full.

So we made a stop on the way home from Southern Illinois University Carbondale softball double header and tried to thoughtfully figure out a variety of non-perishables. With everyone’s contributions this morning, our pastor had a job to take all of them to add to the other offerings from our community’s congregations. Yet I am sure there are tremendous needs all our area not being met.

We were shopping for the refugees next door to the empty parking lot where a tent city is now set up with a row of outdoor latrines. These state-of-the-art tents were extremely roomy and neat looking, and, as I understand it, are for the National Guard and other volunteers who are down at this end of the state helping with sandbagging and other rescue efforts. The explosions of the levee at Bird’s Point, MO, saved the levee at Cairo, and water levels here are going down. Yet the citizens there and in many small towns all over our area are still kept out. Water systems are not functioning, and many homes, cars, and fields are flooded. Now the mighty Mississippi River is headed to Memphis and further south, so all those people are frantically preparing for the floods as people here try to recover from them.

SIUC split yesterday’s double header with Drake, and we got there to see the end of the first game and the entire second game, which we won. Before we went, we’d taken time to watch the video taping of senior day for the University of Georgia’s softball team. Georgia had lost to Mississippi State on Friday night, but it won yesterday and again today, and we enjoyed watching today’s game and the homeruns in Gerald’s office as we ate lunch sandwiches.

I’d planned to surprise myself and get this blog written and posted before we went to evening services at Katherine’s church. But I was pleasantly interrupted by a visit from granddaughter Erin who had somehow found time after today’s game to come over and see her Gma Shirley and me. Now as I finish this blog, I also have a beautiful dozen white roses in my living room. Knowing Erin has to leave with the team Wednesday morning for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Springfield, MO, makes the roses even more appreciated. And with all the attention I’ve received today, I feel appreciated too.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Face Tag and Dixie Barbecue

Smokey sweet smells of barbecue greeted us when Gerald and I stepped out of his pickup at Dixie Barbecue just west of the Jonesboro Square. Dixie Barbecue is locally famous and it has fans of former residents all over the country who deem a visit to Dixie a necessary part of any trip back home. It opens at 10 in the morning, and it is soon filled with retired men gathering to discuss the day’s affairs and exchange banter and reminisces.

I’m a late sleeper, so I was still at the breakfast table drinking my second cup of coffee and absorbing the news as I simultaneously read the Southern Illinoisan and listened to CNN when Gerald came in from his shop and suggested we go to Union County to meet up with his brothers and the coffee drinkers at the Dixie. Then we could go on down to see the river overflow from the Mississippi.

His knees and back were objecting to the long day he put in on the concrete floor out at the shop yesterday trying out his new log splitter. He achieved a woodpile for his new heating stove, and he was having so much fun that he wanted to keep at it today, but decided that would not be a very smart thing to do. He knew if he stayed at the farm, he’d spend the day out there again so he decided on a drive to the Bottoms. So faced with the choice of doing the housework I ought to do or to run around with him, I chose to tag along to the Dixie.

I hurried and got ready so we would arrive not too much after the place opened. I knew I’d see my as my brothers-in-law Garry and Keith, who would be taking a break from their morning’s work. Like Gerald, they are early risers. I also knew I would see my buddy Harlan.

Harlan is the youngest of the six Coffman boys who lived in our neighborhood behind the school house on a small farm. I remember when Harlan was born. I woke up one day and my mother was not in the house—perhaps for the first time in my young life. My sister Rosemary or my daddy or someone explained that Mother had gone down to her friend Zella Coffman’s house to help her with a new baby.

The Coffman family was entwined in many of my childhood memories. All the neighborhood kids gathered in their front yard to play Kick the Can. There were week-long Monopoly games in the summers and wonderful games of Sorry in their living room when the boys got that game one Christmas. Their family took the daily St. Louis Post-Dispatch and we took the Globe-Democrat, so every Sunday we kids exchanged the two papers so that we could read the two sets of colored funnies and I assume our parents the editorials.

My brother Jim and the Coffman boys had marvelous adventures together, it seemed to me. I can remember going to sleep with the night-time sounds coming in my open window of a game the older kids played called Barbaree Lost Trail as one group hunted for another group by hollering that phrase back and forth. Jim and the Coffman boys built a telephone out of tin cans and wire out in their barn. Jim kept his horse Tony that he rode up from Goreville in their pasture. Since Harlan and I were the youngest of both families and not always welcome in the older kids’ activities, we hung together.

At some point in our lives, we started playing Face Tag. When our mothers would call us to supper or our time together was over, we would each try to be the last one to see the other’s face and yell triumphantly, “Face Tag!!” We played it for years in our neighborhood and after evening church services at the Baptist church. While the adults visited in the evening after church, we would run in and out hiding behind the parked cars along the street trying to be the last one to see the other. Then being about five years older, I left Jonesboro and went off to college. Harlan played great basketball for Anna-Jonesboro and then went on with a scholarship to play college ball in New Mexico.

When Harlan and Carmen moved back to Union County after his career in the FBI, he became the county sheriff and I would see his name in area newspapers often. Finally we all retired and we began to see one another occasionally, and the game of Face Tag resumed. I knew I would be at risk today, but planned as we drove down that I must be alert at leaving time.

By the time Garry and Keith arrived, there were probably a dozen guys at pushed together tables, and Harlan was at the first table quite away from us although we spoke when we came in. We had been there quite awhile when a waitress came to our third table and handed me a neat white sack. Inside was a saran wrapped pack of sliced pork and a cup of Dixie’s sauce. I waved my thanks to Harlan because I knew who had sent it.

Quite awhile later, the first table began breaking up. I was really expecting Harlan to come back and sit down at our table and was slow to realize he was leaving, and of course he won our Face Tag game. I was left holding the bag and knowing I had lost.

We went on down to the Bottoms and gasped at the fields flooded from the recent rains which cannot run off into the already full nearby river. We drove around Gerald’s old Wolf Lake High School building now vacant and surrounded by the sprawling Schaefer enterprises that engulfs the village with its enormous inventory of huge machinery parts spread out on every inch of ground available—something you have to see to believe and as ugly as anything can be if you are not a machinery buff. Nevertheless, an impressive sight to know that people all over the world through the Internet find the part they need in that small village. Boys were riding bikes through the village streets among the houses crowded by the metal carcasses of dismembered machinery since Shawnee schools were called off with so many roads closed by flood waters.

It was now past noon. And we spotted one of the few remaining businesses in the town—a very small restaurant with a sign saying they served lunch. I love to go to non-chain eateries, but I have gotten us into some real dumps a few times—some dirty and a couple where we really weren’t sure we were safe as locals eyed us. But I like being in the midst of the hometown people who know where the coffee pot is and are at ease walking into the kitchen to visit with the cook. This clean Rendleman restaurant proved to be a winner filled with men in jeans who had either been sandbagging or perhaps dismantling heavy equipment for the Schaeffer business.

Despite its small size, there was a drive-up window where people who had ordered ahead could collect their food. With pennants of school colors, patriotic decorations, a couple of retired high school sports uniforms on the wall, and plenty of Cardinal paraphernalia, local sentiments were aptly expressed. The large folding tables had metal folding chairs saying they belonged to the Wolf Lake community center down the street.

Without much thought, I ordered a hamburger. The lone waitress-cook who worked at a fast pace with a pleasant expression despite no time for chitchat during this rush hour delivered us the biggest hamburger I think I have ever seen. It had taken a long time to be delivered, but I understood why when I saw the size of that patty cooked well done and leaving no fear of food poisoning. With onion, pickle, lettuce, and tomato on top of this humungous piece of beef, our mouths could not widen enough to encompass the meal on a bun and we had to start out nibbling the edges.

Next we drove up into the Pine Hills, a part of the Shawnee National Forest that is found throughout our river region. The narrow well-kept graveled road wound ever upward through magnificent tall trees as we looked down on the tree-filled leafy ravines on one and sometimes both sides of us. The green was encompassing until we came to the Lower Magee lookout past the Magee campground area.

We pulled off to look at the flood-filled LaRue scatters below and the Muddy River and the Mississippi River beyond. We went on to stop at Crooked Tree lookout and Horse Saddle lookout with their astonishing displays of the swamp lands below filled with the overflow. We watched the tiny cars going up Route 3 and the train on the track beside the highway all protected by the levee systems with roads on top of them.

We avoided the poison ivy ground cover but enjoyed the patches of violets (only one bloom that I saw) and the May Flowers with pristine white blossoms hanging beneath the bright green leaves. There were a few other small wild flowers I don’t know the name of. The only time we met anyone was fortunately at one of the wider lookout areas. The lady was talking on the phone and her large German shepherd was in back looking over the cab of her pickup obviously enjoying the forest sights and birdsong as much as we were. We went back down to Route 3 and traveled through Grand Tower and then on through Murphysboro and Carbondale and finally to Marion, where we split the grocery list and gathered what we needed for the coming month since seniors get a discount on this first Wednesday each month.

Erin, her dog Sadie, and a friend had been over fishing at Woodsong yesterday, and she came back tonight to get a load of clothes out of the drier she’d left. She got to enjoy one of Harlan’s Dixie barbecues with us at the supper table. Afterwards she listened and watched the Texas A&M softball game against Texas on Game Tracker with Gerald despite her disappointment that our part of the nation chose the Cardinal game on television instead of the softball game close to her heart. Since A&M won, there was quite a bit of hollering at Woodsong and she left a happy granddaughter when it was over. I’m still pouting a bit that I lost at Face Tag, but my sister phoned me tonight, and all in all, it has been a good day.