Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Georgia on Our Minds

Gerald and I have returned from a long wonderful weekend in Athens and Watkinsville, Georgia.  Gerald drove us south all day Friday crawling through the 6 p.m. Atlanta traffic and finally eastward arriving for the late evening with our son and wife, Gerry and Vickie, and the Archibalds.  I hadn’t been down to see their large rented house since Tara join the University of Georgia softball coaching staff, but I could quickly see the house was comfortably large enough for two families.

Bryan and Tara’s three little guys were already in their beds, but the older two, Aidan and Maddux, were not yet asleep. We were able to enter their bedrooms and give them good night kisses.  They were so sweet, and after hugs and grins, they seemed to go right on to slumber land when we left the room.  We did not try that with Payton since he had already fallen asleep. 

With the extraordinarily busy lifestyle the Archibalds-Glascos have and with an important visiting day for UGA softball recruits the next day, they were tired. And, of course, so were we.  We tried not to talk too late but to all go on to bed. I think Gerald was too tired from the trip down to sleep well; so as he is most mornings, he was up very early. Gerry wanted his dad to go on campus with him to observe the huge crowd already there at 7 a.m. ready to camp out tailgating all day for the 7:45 p.m. football game against Vanderbilt.

Tara and Bryan were busy early Saturday morning claiming the spot close to the stadium and setting up the canopy tent for the tailgate supper for  potential softball recruits and their parents and for the hosting freshmen players and parents. Gerry and Tara were working all day, so we had plenty of time to enjoy visiting with the little boys until the late afternoon tailgate time.  I had not seen them for much too long.  Payton, who turned 2 in early March, woke up smiling, and I loved getting re-acquainted with him.  Aidan, 6, and Maddux, 3, had school crafts they had made to show off and lots to tell about. Soon the kids and the adults were playing with Legos, and I spent some time watching Maddux write the alphabet letters of his name and then playing a paper game with Aidan.

After Vickie came back with lunches for all of us, the boys napped, and I even had a chance to review some family history material I had brought with me. Later we sat on lawn chairs in the garage with the door open watching the three boys play a variety of ball and bike activities, some take-offs of real sports and some made-up games. Bryan was there encouraging and playing right with them.  

When Aidan, who has just started first grade, asked me what we played when I was in school, I had to think hard.  I told him about Red Rover, which we played with the entire grade school lined up in two large opposing lines on either side of the huge side yard of our school building.  Obviously we did not have enough people to do that. 

Then I remembered how we sat on steps with crossed hands and tried to fool the kid playing the teacher as to which hand had a rock in it.  If the teacher did not guess correctly, the pupil promoted up a step to the next grade. Aidan soon had a piece of chalk for us to use, and he and Maddux and I moved over to the front steps and played school where two little bulldog statues greet guests at their entrance. Maddux liked getting promoted to fourth grade at the top of the three entry steps. Then I remembered the game about taking giant steps, baby steps, scissor steps according to a leader’s direction, and we played that for awhile. (Although I really could not remember the rules.)

Finally, it was time to don our red and black clothes and join the throngs heading to the tailgate area. Far from the stadium, cars and trucks were already lined up on all approaching streets, and lawns were full of lawn chairs and UGA fans and their friends grilling out.  Parking spots were available for $50 or $25, and scalpers had tickets flashing for the unprepared. Before Bryan put their van in the parking garage, he was kind enough to drop Gerald, Vickie, and me and the boys as near as possible for us to enter the village of red canopies set up on campus in the stadium roadway. Patient people behind us waited while we undid three car seats and grabbed boys and lawn chairs.  Actually Gerald and Vickie did that as it took me that long to get out of the high van. I got to grab Payton’s hand as we headed to the softball tent. 

I don’t know if Norma Holliday and her husband Mike were there all day or not, but I think they were--busily helping the caterers and getting every thing ready for the recruit party. They greeted us and guided us to lawn chairs when we arrived at 4:30 or so and helped keep the boys occupied since they are special friends of these little fellows. They had bean bag games set up and were letting other revelers use them until the softball gang arrived. (Coach Lu Harris-Champer and three little daughters, were up at Macomb at her alma mater Western Illinois University.  Her husband Jerry Champer, UGA associate head swimming coach, was being inducted into Western’s Hall of Fame for being the most winning coach in Western Illinois Swimming and Diving history.)

Although we had slept in our granddaughter Geri Ann’s room, we had not seen her until now since she lives with the other players on campus in the dorm. There was time to socialize with the players and parents and eat supper before the band started arriving and setting up next to us. I never in my life saw so many marimbas marching into play. The weather was very warm, and these brave band members had on heavy uniforms and gloves, but they were obviously enjoying themselves as we listened to drums giving us rhythms to add to the festivities.

Very early people started lining up three and four deep to be behind the band members who formed a large aisle for the traditional Dawg Walk.  Norma and Mike generously let softball players sit in the bed and even on top of their truck parked by our tent. Hundreds of spectators crowded at the wall atop the stadium and hundreds more filled balconies over the stadium staircases long before the band started playing for the Dawg Walk. 

The band was so large that it spread out over the area below those many spectators looking down on them but then they also stretched around the corner from our tent up the roadway.  I was fascinated by not the one director below but another up above looking down and at least two other student directors on very tall sturdy ladders that allowed them to see one another around the corner and, thus, all stay together. 

Because I am short, I had to enjoy just the music and the directors on ladders because all I could see with the rows of taller people in front of me were sometimes the tops on baton twirlers’ heads and then the large tubas as their owners marched by.  I am assuming that football players had marched in during all this pageantry, but I never did even ask.  The whole spectacle was quite exciting with everyone anticipating the lone trumpet player mixed with the top crowd who would sound a few notes on cue.  Then after the band finished playing, two members replaced the on-top director and led the crowd in cheers.

Gerald, who had attended a UGA football game, warned me about the multitude of steps inside the stadium without banisters for us oldsters, and I had instantly declined any plans to attend since I am not a football fan.  Gerald too was glad to go on back to the house and make up for the poor sleep the night before.  So we hugged Geri Ann goodbye as Gerry and Vickie and Tara went on to the game to sit with the recruits and parents and probably over 90,000 more folks who saw Georgia win over Vandy.  After some straightening up, Mike and Norma did yet another good deed and drove us and Bryan and the boys over (way over) to the parking garage. 

On Sunday before I even got up, once again Tara and Gerry were off to campus very early preparing for the first game of the year for the 2013 softball team that afternoon.  Fall games are considered just practice games, but coaches and players know they are very important preparation for the real season during the spring semester. 

I dressed casually for the day and the afternoon game before I came downstairs, where I was pleasantly greeted by little Payton who looked at me and said, “I like your shirt.” 

The Archibalds go to a different church than Gerry and Vickie, because the boys are satisfied in their classes there, so Tara and Bryan are less likely to be called out of the service. Payton will stay happily if the teenage helper named Miss Allie is there to befriend him.  So I decided I’d attend church with Bryan and the boys, and we were relieved that Miss Allie was present.  Started in 2005, the Athens Church was created to provide a place of worship for people who might not like traditional buildings or services. No one needs to dress up or feel pressure to conform.  Music is  loud and passionate, and the two wide screens high in the auditorium allowed an enjoyable view of the talented drummer and other  musicians.

The church’s stated mission is “to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ,” and they have available staff to help seekers who want to learn more about Jesus.  The sermon too was a different format than I am used to, but it was given by an extremely talented communicator and the message was very helpful to me personally on the importance of our knowing how to draw a line with our own values in difficult situations and to avoid addictions.  I won’t read about Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar ever again in quite the same limited way as before thanks to the pastor’s excellent content.

As we drove away, I liked the way Bryan asked the boys for reports on what they had learned in their classes, and I was more than amazed when Maddux recited his Bible verse along with where it was found. With lunch boxes from a drive-in, we headed to the softball stadium to join the rest of the family already there.  Bryan let the boys decide if they wanted to go to the game and assured them they could leave when they wanted for nap time.  Only Aidan lasted through the double header. Always full of energy, he was happy to the end and as we waited for Geri Ann afterwards to go to dinner with us. 

We were there this particular weekend because we wanted to see Geri Ann’s first Division I college game, and we were not disappointed.  The softball Bulldogs won both games by a respectable score against Georgia State, a good team.  Geri Ann played at first base while junior Morgan Montemayor pitched an excellent game, and we were able to see Geri Ann’s and Tina Iosefa’s first homeruns of the season. Geri Ann pitched the second game, and Tina played first.  The night before, we had met Chelsea  Wilkinson’s mother, who had come from North Carolina to see Chelsea’s first college games. When Chelsea relieved both Mo and Geri Ann, we were able to see why she had such an outstanding high school record.  (She had set the North Carolina record for high school shutouts, perfect games, wins, and innings pitched as well as being an ESPN first team All American.)  Of course, we also liked meeting or at least seeing the other freshman  players—Sam Lazear, Cricket Blanco, Kaylee Puailoa, and Katie Brown—as well as the talented players we enjoyed watching last year.

When the games were over, players iced down, and goodbyes said after more socializing, Aidan and Geri Ann took me through the locker room and offices.  We left to meet up at a steak house with Brian, Maddux, and Payton, where Gerry and Vickie treated us to a celebratory dinner.  As reluctant as we were to end that good time, Vickie had to take Geri Ann back to campus for a tutoring session, and we took Gerry back to the office to do some lock up and tape watching before we gathered again to rehash the games until bedtime.   I was able to hear Aidan read Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and I started  packing up for our trip home.

We had a morning visit around the table drinking coffee and admiring Maddux, who loves to dress up.  He was in his fire fighting outfit because their preschool class was going to be concentrating on the letter “f” this week.  I had a hard time thinking of short nouns starting with that letter, but Tara with her elementary ed experience was good at it.  Too soon Tara was taking Aidan and Maddux off to school while Payton was looking forward to having Gma Vickie all to himself.  Bryan, who works for a Chicago-area firm, excused himself to go to work--in his office in their part of the house.  Gerry helped me carry all my bags downstairs and to the car before he left for campus, and Gerald and I were off to creep through the Monday morning Atlanta traffic and on up through Tennessee and Kentucky back to Southern Illinois.  Our conversation on the trip back and now here at Woodsong has mostly been remembering what we laughed at there with our great grandsons and how much we enjoyed watching Geri Ann’s first Georgia games.




Thursday, September 20, 2012

White Lines in the Sky over Woodsong

 As Gerald and I lunched one day this week, we were looking out over the lake and observing two aircraft contrails cutting through the blue sky in opposite directions. This is not uncommon because we seem to be under the path to the Williamson County Airport.

It caused me to reminisce about the first time my sister Rosemary and I saw such a white line across the sky.  I was a college freshman at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Rosemary and her husband Phil were also there working and going to school. Then Phil joined the Air Force and started basic training.  Instead of staying in my dorm that second quarter, I lived with Rosemary in their apartment until she was able to join Phil.

She was greatly saddened being apart from Phil, and she liked visiting his parents on the weekend because they would enjoy talking with her about her absent husband.  Because she had told me about it, I wanted to see their interesting big home, a former small hospital building which had been moved to their farm and was heated by fireplaces. Also I had heard about Mrs. Parks’ good cooking—including making her own chocolate-covered cherries, which I thought was remarkable. So Rosie invited me to go with her.

As we drove from Carbondale to the rural Stonefort-Carrier Mills area for a weekend with the Parks, we suddenly noticed this unusual bright white line crossing the sky.  We watched it for miles and were filled with curiosity and even awe.  Having never seen such a sight before, we thought it looked like an opening in the sky with this white light shining through. 

As we puzzled on what we were seeing, we wondered with great wonder if it could be the end of the world with an opening crack into Heaven.  I can’t remember how we learned the cause of these clouds left behind from the planes’ exhaust and the resulting condensation. I suppose someone in the Parks’ household explained it to us.  Because of this first experience with the trails, I always rather enjoy seeing them.

The next day as Gerald and I again looked across our kitchen table and out the glass doors to the deck and to the blue water of the lake beyond, there were two white herons flying parallel to one another through the blue sky.  Fluffy white clouds made the blue and white color scheme complete.  I frequently see both blue herons and white ones standing on the edge of the water or walking near the shore.  I like this vision even better than the contrails.  Gerald says that he has heard that many try to get rid of the heron because they eat the fish, but to me, their beauty deserves a good fish meal the same as the rest of us.

Tonight beside our lane, there were two deer grazing in neighbor Scott’s harvested field. I hadn’t seen deer for a few weeks; and though they eat our crops, I was sort of missing them.  They certainly were not afraid of me and the car.  They stood perfectly still and stared at me. Then I saw Jake running and barking beside our driveway to chase those predators away.  By then I was past, so I did not see the end of his efforts, but I assume he was successful since he was quickly back to the garage asking for a handout.

With squirrel season in, Gerald and Jake got their first squirrel together. Of course, Gerald had to brag about it to our son Gerry.  As competitive as Gerry is, he was soon lamenting the 1-0 score with Gerald ahead of him and his grandson Aidan and their squirrel dog.

As we drove home from church Sunday, Gerald got a photo on his phone from Gerry with their squirrel dog and a squirrel.  Then Gerry’s text explained the photo.  When they got home from church, their dog on a chain in their backyard was with the squirrel that he had caught!  Gerry soon sent word that he and Aidan had unanimously voted that the score was now tied at 1-1. 


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jake and Other Late Summer Pleasures

Jake, the little black and white squirrel dog who lives at Woodsong, takes afternoon naps across the driveway beside the garden. I like looking out the kitchen window and seeing him at his special chosen spot underneath the shade of the sweet gum tree that Gerald planted a decade ago. This is where he quickly takes any proffered bone. He much prefers a table scrap to the dog food that Gerald provides in the bowl in the shop, and Jake carries morsels there to enjoy. I wondered this afternoon if he is dreaming of squirrel hunting.

Our great grandson Aidan woke up from the Georgia football game the other Saturday afternoon talking about coming up here to squirrel hunt. I wonder if that was what Aidan had dreamed about. Obviously we need for Jake and Aidan to get together. Gerald believes Jake is ready for his first season of squirrel hunting since throughout the summer he has treed a turtle, moles, and bugs and raised quite a ruckus doing so.

This evening before Gerald had even reached our lane with his tractor, I saw Jake alert and running briskly towards the road. He must have recognized the sound of the tractor long before he saw it. I don’t like it, but he chases and barks at cars and trucks of visitors despite our scolding. Yet he never barks at our car or Gerald’s pickup. He does come down the road to meet either of our vehicles and lets us know how glad he is to see us.

Now that we have finally had rains, the black and white moving spot he makes on the landscape bouncing through bright green green grass somehow makes me happy. His little tail is held high in a near perfect circle above his body. If I walk to the mailbox, he will be my companion as he is every morning to Gerald when he walks down the lane to get the paper. Jake soon tires of my slow walk and is off on jaunts through the fields on one side of the road or other. But he will come back periodically and check on my progress.

Not only has the grass revived its color, but today I saw three yellow day lily blooms beside the house and several buds promising more. Then I realized that their brown foliage that had looked so ugly this summer was again green. I have neglected all the outside flower beds because it has been much too hot to go out and work with them. With the cooler weather at hand, my excuse has gone away. I am sure I can find another.

Gerald greatly reduced his gardening this year, but the okra, tomatoes, and cantaloupe he planted are all on our meal table frequently now. Summer is ending with many pleasures.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Life's Ups and Downs with Lois Barrett

Yesterday it was my privilege to introduce a fellow Southern Illinois Writers Guild member, who was speaking at the Marion Woman’s Club. I had looked forward to hearing my friend Lois Barrett, and I was not disappointed. She kept our group laughing even though I think she has had one of the most challenging lives I’ve ever known with many heart-breaking events along the way.

Lois has never been held down long despite those challenges. When she returned to Southern Illinois from her foray and a failed marriage in Texas, she listened to a presentation at the Guild by Violet Toler on self publishing. Within 30 days Lois had set up Brick Hill Publishing and quickly had her first earthquake novel available to the public. (I heard Violet’s presentation those many years ago, and I still would not have the gumption to do this.)

Lois’ first book When the Earthquakes Spoke was one that she had thought about and outlined as an 18-year-old. She explained to us that at 18 she only dreamed of someday writing a novel, for she lacked the experience to understand people and how they talked. Only as a senior citizen needing a new start in life, did she get down that box of notes from the closet shelf and complete the novel set here on the Ohio River in Shawneetown at the time of the 1812 earthquake. As a reporter, she had researched and written about that earthquake.

I was amused to find out that in high school for a quarter, Lois would write love stories for fellow students changing the names of the main characters in order to hide the indenity of their current crush. Several club members besides Lois were members of the 1952 Marion High School graduating class, and I had to wonder if any of them had paid her a quarter (worth five cokes or ice cream cones in those days). No one confessed.

Prior to becoming a novelist, Lois had raised four children, worked at a variety of jobs, studied in several fields, and traveled broadly here and overseas. Although she did not dwell on her journalism career in her talk yesterday, she has fascinated me with accounts of investigating reporting that she did for our area newspapers—work that often put her life in danger by people who did not want to be investigated. Those years of nonfiction writing were to do her in good stead when she began writing poetry and fiction in the latter part of her life.

Health problems and personal tragedies have devastated her life but never have destroyed her. In a state of deep depression from the death of a daughter, her second husband, and three other family members within a few short months, she withdrew to Texas thinking she was old enough to die only to realize that as she told us, “Wrong. God was not through with me yet.”

With that third Texas marriage that repeated itself three times—if I understood that complicated story right--after the final divorce, she moved home to Illinois only to return to be at the death bed of this third husband. Since then in Harrisburg, she has lived through the tornado and continued health problems with eye floaters that are keeping her from night driving. Nevertheless, I will not be surprised to have the opportunity to buy her sixth novel. She may not be working on it yet. I don’t know, but I suspect God is not through with her yet. I know her family and many friends and her colleagues in the all the organizations she supports hope not.

Her novels can be bought at www.BrickHillPublishing.com as well as on Amazon. Her second earthquake novel was Preacher’s Son & Henry Brown. Then came There Oughta Be a Law, Gulf Coast Love Affair, and A Love Story: Shuugh God and Lulu.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Once in a Blue Moon and Every Four Years

Thursday night as I traveled back to the farm from Katherine’s, the moon was near full and both bright and beautiful. I was somewhat surprised because it seemed as if we had only shortly before had a full moon, but time is passing so fast these days that I assumed it was a full thirty days since the last one. Even after a cloud passed in front of it, it shone through gorgeously luminous, and I allowed it to both light and lighten my trip home.

The next day I learned that Friday night was to be a blue moon—the writer explained that when we occasionally get two full moons in one month that is what a blue moon is. Someone else wrote that we would not have another until 2015. Friday night the rain clouds and the good gentle rain here at the farm kept me from seeing the orb again just as tonight’s rain is now doing, but it had been so beautiful that I am still seeing it in my mind. I feel unusually blessed that I had been allowed to enjoy it on Thursday night, because I needed that beauty.

We appreciate these rains, which while too late to help the corn crops, will help the later soybeans and will also help the ground be ready for next year. We are just sorry that others had to experience that terrible hurricane and flood damage for us to finally receive rain. I don’t know how people bear going home to flood destroyed homes—or out west to the fire destroyed homes. Certainly these brave ordinary people are heroes as they face starting over.

Gerald and I were at Katherine’s this evening when the television announcer was telling the people in nearby Carbondale to take shelter for a tornado. We were on the alert too until after 6 when things seemed to calm down, and as far as I know, no one had a tornado after all. But for the first time I ever remember, Carbondale fell victim to flash floods. Cars were flooded out and stalled, and the tow trucks were busy. We’ll find out in tomorrow morning’s newspaper how bad it was. Here although the rain continues, it is not harsh or in excess yet.

It is an unusual Labor Day weekend for us since we don’t have company. I thought Mike and Leslie might be coming up from Nashville, but then I found out that I had mis-remembered; it was Columbus Day weekend that they plan to be here. I think the Taylors are still coming down from central Illinois to their home here, but so far they have not arrived.

Gerry thought about coming if they did not have practice, but decided to stay home whether they did or didn’t. His clan was all at the football stadium today and saw Georgia win. Erin at University of North Texas and us Southern Illinois University fans were not so fortunate with our teams’ results. Marion High School played up at Mattoon last night (my brother’s town) and they not only won but Sam’s friend Josh, a sophomore, was put in for five minutes’ play again. Not being a football fan myself, I don’t really care who wins or who is playing whom, but hearing all the others’ football excitement heralds that fall is here. However, I am a kid fan, and I felt happiness just thinking about that great tall guy Josh playing the game he has anticipated since he was a little short guy pitching a football back and forth in Sam’s front yard.

I limited my television viewing of the Republican National Convention to evening hours throughout the week and plan to do the same with the Democratic Convention this week. I think I know how I will vote in November, and tell pollsters who torment me with phone calls who that is. However, I won’t be absolutely certain until nearer the election. Anything could happen between now and then. Who knew, for example, that a movie star would pull a stunt like one did Thursday night and be so vulgar and disrespectful to our President? I did wonder about the morality and patriotism of the folks who applauded him. (I often wonder that same thing about those supporting comics who mock the opposite party.)

I am grateful we have a good family man with either party’s candidate to set a good example for our youth. I love our present First Lady, but Mrs. Romney would succeed in that role. The emphasis this week on hard work bringing success was inspiring, and I am sure we will hear that emphasis this coming week also. I liked it that someone (maybe several people) pointed out that if we can keep our kids in school and if they will postpone sex and babies until they are properly ready, the statistics are in their favor for successful adult lives. I want good public schools for all children, and I am not satisfied with either party’s plan for achieving them.

I think whoever is elected will get credit when the economy turns around as economies always have in the past. I think the turn-around has started. I am not fearful that our nation will go down the drain as so many are predicting. But I know there are many hard problems that we must face, and I think we will do so just as those ordinary folks will manage somehow or other to survive and go on with their lives after all this summer’s natural disasters.