Saturday, October 27, 2012

Visiting Yoknapatwpha County

Contrary to my usual reading habits, I have been reading quite a few novels lately—old ones so far. I have wanted to read William Faulkner ever since we visited his home in Oxford, Mississippi, last spring. The only thing by him I had  read other than perhaps a short story or two was A Light in August.  It is on our book shelves, and I cannot remember where I got it—probably from a yard sale on thrift shop.  Nor can I remember anything about it. That was a bad indicator because I often use remembrance to evaluate.  I still mean to read it again, however, while I am thinking of Yoknapatawpha County.

The only book our village library had by Faulkner was a large tome containing The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), and Intruder in the Dust (1948).   I liked it that there were no comment on them—760 pages was enough.

I found Faulkner’s use of stream-of-consciousness writing fascinating, irritating, confusing, and sometimes able to communicate despite its rambling style.  Here is an example of a sentence actually introduced from the previous paragraph with a colon.  Hold your hats. Here goes:

“’Now we’re going hone and put you to bed before your mother has a doctor in to give us both a squirt with a needle:’ then finding the handle and out of the car, stumbling a little but only once, then his heels although he was not running at all pounding too hard on the concrete, his leg-muscles cramped from the car or perhaps even charley-horsed from thrashing up and down branch bottoms not to mention a night spending digging and undigging graves but at least the jarring was clearing his head somewhat or maybe it was the wind of motion doing it; anyway if he was going to have delusions at least he would have a clear brain to look at them with: up the walkway between the undertaker’s and the building next to it though already too late of course, the Face in one last rush and surge long since by now already across the Square and the pavement, in one last crash against then right on through the plate glass window trampling to flinders the little bronze-and-ebony membership plaque in the national funeraleers association and the single shabby stunted palm in its maroon earthenware pot and exploding to tatters the unfaded purple curtain which was the last frail barrier shielding what was left of Jake Montgomery had of what was left of his share of human dignity.”

Oddly I felt I could usually figure out what Faulkner was saying when each novel was over, but I did not like having to read paragraphs (sentences) like the one above more than once to try to continue with understanding the story line.  I did love going back in time to horses and wagons and social customs, which were still widely used after my birth in 1933.  I assumed Faulkner was giving a somewhat accurate account of life in Mississippi at the time he was writing about.   (I  know that in any village or city, there are many versions of life going on.  Often one group of people has no idea what the other group is enjoying or disdaining.  But Faulkner probably wrote realistically about life there as he had observed and experienced it.  I liked that.)  We have all heard about people foolishly trying to ban Tom Sawyer or even worse change Mark Twain’s wording.  I had never heard complaints about Faulkner’s use of the common vernacular of his day.  In today’s world, that was jarring—but still informative, and I would not change what he wrote because then it would be less accurate and not his account.

Having grown up in one of Illinois’ many Sundown Towns, I did not know a single black person until I attended college.  So I had never heard that races have different smells.  But my first quarter at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, my speech professor was Dr. Paul Hunsinger, who was also a minister if I remember rightly.  He had worked in inner city, in Chicago I think, and he enlightened me, at least, that many white people believe Negroes (not yet called black at that time) smell bad, so that was the excuse white folks used to not want black folks sitting beside them on city buses or in theaters. He told of an experiment of two vials of air—one labeled black and one labeled white—and white people were asked to smell both and describe what they smelled. He said they would attribute unpleasant odor to the one labeled black even though the vials were identical. 

I remembered Dr. Hunsaker’s story when Faulkner talked about the smell in Lucas’s home.  It is common sense that poor folks without running water or little soap for much laundry or many baths would not likely smell as nice as someone who could afford such pleasantries.  (Gerald loves telling about little Erin sniffing him appreciatively when he came all freshened up in clean clothes after a shower one hot day.  So he asked her what he smelled like, and she said, “Soap!”)  I digress, but not every one even today has soap and water, and many more homes in Faulkner’s time lacked a generous supply.  I also am well aware that many poor people work very hard to be cleaner than many of us. (Again I digress:  a story comes to mind that I heard many decades ago about a very prominent wealthy white family being especially dirty at a ski resort.) Anyhow, I found Faulkner’s long discussion of this subject unpleasant but quite telling about the attitudes of his time and place.

I read all four novels, and the book  is overdue.  So tomorrow, I must return it in the outside slot and go in later to pay my fine.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall Beauty

Fearing the winds would soon whip away the spectacular display of leaves, Gerald wanted to take a road trip Saturday through our beautiful country side.  Sometimes we traveled down roads bordered on both sides with trees sporting crowns of waving yellow and red leaves. Other times, we were separated from the multicolored forests massed on the hillsides beyond the fields. Either way was often breathtaking.

We left before lunch and drove down rural roads towards Tunnel Hill, where so many bicyclists--including our Jeannie--ride down the trail built on the old railroad bed. We didn’t want to spend time that day walking through the tunnel, but I still hope to do that someday.

We drove around a bit there and onto Dixon Springs and Golconda, one of my favorite towns in the whole world—what little bit of the world I have had access to in my lifetime.  I love the many beautiful old homes there, the court house, the wonderful museum the Pope County Historical Society has created, Buel House, and perhaps best of all the lovely Ohio River flowing by.

Once again, I was saddened that the town is letting the mural on the concrete flood wall continue to deteriorate. Golconda served as an entrance to Illinois for the Cherokee on their forced march on the Trail of Tears through our region, and the mural depicts that.  I keep hoping some artist will make it their project to renew that mural.

But we were out to see the leaves that day, and so we didn’t linger in Golconda.  We drove on to Elizabethtown, where we were again on the river.  We ate lunch at one of our favorite area places—the floating E-Town River Restaurant, where we always choose the river fish over the pond raised fish just because it seems more appropriate—not because we really have a preference.  The servings are so generous that you don’t need the extra fish the waitresses keep offering, but they really do mean it when they claim to offer all you can eat.

It must have been quite a while since we had been to Elizabethtown because the restaurant now has a built-on outdoor patio that we did not know about.  I would like to go back next summer and eat there, but it was much too windy to choose to sit there that day. But out there you’d be one with the waves and the passing barges. 

Part of the charm of this small town eatery is the crowded situation with tables so close together that people just naturally talk to folks at nearby tables.  Waitresses crowd through and people bump into one another getting to and from their seats.  Jeans and T shirts are the appropriate attire.  Everyone seems to be laughing and smiling enjoying their families and friends. At a table for six nearest our corner, one young woman was sitting between her young son and her father. I guessed her husband was on the other side of the table.  She looked and listened to these men in her life and seemed so happy to be with the ones she loved.

We walked back over the swaying walk to the shore and drove up the hill and parked again to run into the Rose Hotel for a brief and cheerful visit with Sandy Vinyard, who manages that beautiful place built in 1812.  She had to turn down the couple who stopped in for a room as all her rooms were full, but she helped them get a room at the nearby San Damiano, the Catholic retreat open to the public. While that was happening, we were outside admiring the beautiful tandem bright red motorcycle they were riding.

We traveled on through Garden of the Gods, where we had never seen it so crowded with horse folk and back packers, campers, and just gawkers like us wanting to savor the glory of this season.

Going the new road around Harrisburg, we circled back home with time for rest before we ate the last two bowls of chili from earlier in the week.  I had a funeral visitation for a relative in Goreville that evening, so I hurriedly fixed a couple of angel food cakes (from mixes of course) and fixed a bean salad to go with the garden tomatoes I was going to contribute to our annual church fish fry at Center the next day. 

We thought it might be chilly on Sunday for an outdoor meal in the shelter on the church lawn.  However, the weather turned out absolutely perfect for those working so hard cooking to feed all of us after our Bible study and worship service. So for two days in a row we ate fish and hush puppies, which is  unusual for us, but it tasted as good the second day as the first. The tables were laden with every choice imaginable including. of all things, frog legs! This was my first time to have an opportunity to eat such, and after a mental talk to myself, I did. They are as good as people say.

Best of all, of course, was visiting with friends there—seeing the new baby, watching the children on the play equipment, admiring the pretty teens sitting on a tailgate by the shelter, and watching our pleased pastor eat his special prepared bowl of banana pudding that Peggy Troxell made just for him.  (I suspect this was to gain forgiveness for the way his bowl at the dinner the previous Sunday had a way of disappearing to another table every time he sat it down to talk to someone. So maybe he deserves to be forgiven for his brags about his special private bowl of pudding.)  After we returned to the farm, there was still plenty of time left in the afternoon for rest, and I had a wonderful long visiting phone call from Mary Ellen before I went in to spend the evening with Katherine.




Monday, October 15, 2012

Blessings in the Fall

 When you look out our living room windows now or stand on the deck and look beyond the country road and beyond the green meadows, the woods on the horizon present a colorful array of orange, green, yellow, and red leaves.  I came down to write about them yesterday afternoon; but before I started, I heard Mary Ellen enter the house on the first floor above me.  Instead of writing, I joined her and Gerald in the downstairs family room, and the first remark she made was on the beauty of the trees as she had looked out coming down the stairs.

It had been too long since we had visited with her, so it was a welcome alternative to writing.  She and Brian had taken their high school senior Brianna down to Murray State in Kentucky for a football weekend at the school Bri has chosen to become  her alma mater.  They were back at their house over on Route 13 and Mary Ellen came over to visit before she and Bri had to return to Waggoner for school and work today.

Although I never taught my kids to kick their shoes off when they entered our house, they all do. (When the whole crowd is here, the rows of shoes amuse me and I had Gerald photograph that sight as one of our holiday memories.)  Mary Ellen was already wearing sox with a Murray emblem on them as we relaxed with our feet on the coffee table in front of us.

Yesterday was a special day at our church because we were honoring Dr. Ed Handkins, who was just a college student when we joined the church in our village in the early 1960s. I remember his going to Alaska that summer as a student missionary and showing slides when he returned.

A close knit family now grown large and spread in many directions, the  Handkins clan who could came to celebrate Ed’s 50 years of ministry and sat in the front left pews where Ed’s parents, Lorene and Alva, sat for so many years even after Lorene spent the last decade of her life suffering multiple sclerosis.  Ed’s sister Joan has suffered decades of multiple sclerosis but still reared four children. She recently suffered two life-threatening infections in ICU and then weeks of rehab under the watchful eye of her daughter Kim.  She is now back at her apartment and was there in a wheel chair smiling and looking great with three of four children in attendance. Ed’s brother Darrell, who was a high school teen when we came to this community, was there, and his daughters Carol and Tanya from Peoria and Chicago area  joined us in the choir. Ed’s older brother Carl Ray died several years ago, but Carl Ray’s daughters Cindy and Carla were both there to represent him.   Other relatives and their many spouses were also there so some family members would not fit into the three front rows. 

         His cousin Alan Ozment sang and reminded us that God is good, and Ed’s remininces of good and difficult times during his ministry re-enforced that message of confidence in God’s watch care over us.  Ed had us laughing often because his mother Lorene’s sense of humor was obviously passed down to him. Still a college student, he said he filled the pulpit one day at Fairview Church, one of our nearby rural churches. He was amazed to get a letter a couple days later telling him he had been voted in as their new pastor—he had no idea they were considering that and he had no confidence that he knew how to be a pastor.  As fearful and unprepared as he felt, he accepted the pastoral call and continued there while in college. He expressed relief that the church survived.

Alva and Lorene continued serving their children and grandchildren during holiday and summer vacation times for the next few decades, and the rest of us whenever they could as long as their health allowed. One of my early interactions with Alva was in a small group when we were studying vocations and the desirability of choosing a vocation one enjoyed. Most men in our church and community in those days worked in the coal mines.  I remember Alva saying that he really did not like being a miner, but that was what life allowed him to do to support his family, and he sounded content anyhow. One of the earliest events in our lives here was a wonderful man being killed and his body trapped by a mine collapse.  (Someone said his cashed pay check was in his pocket although I don’t know that.)  Alva and other men risked their lives over and over going down in hopes of bringing his body out to his family before they finally had to give us and allow the collapsed mine to be his burial site.

Some were surprised yesterday to learn Ed had been one of the original members of the Glorylanders Quartet that he and his cousin Dee Ozment started with Don Richey and Lyndell King. I remembered it because Lorene—she and Alva were always hospitable to newcomers—had me visiting their home and Lorene played a record of her son’s quartet.  After graduation and marriage, Ed taught science for three years at my high school at Anna-Jonesboro and was  pastor of a rural church there at the same time.  Then he and his family took off for seminary and eventually after pastoring in Cairo during troubling times, most of his career was in northern Illinois.  In retirement he and Donna are in North Carolina, where he continues writing and now is even pastor of a church again.

Down through the years, Ed and Donna have come back home to Center to visit loved ones, and he has occasionally preached for us, and he became one of my favorite preachers.  His compassion is as obvious as his humor, and I have never doubted that he believes everything he preaches.  His intellectualism is only revealed by the creativity and the simplicity of his messages.  I have stored some nuggets of spiritual wisdom that go directly back to his sermons.

Our church hosted an fantastic buffet of potluck foods for a dinner after Ed’s morning sermon, and we enjoyed the food and the fellowship.  There was another gathering afterwards back in the sanctuary to allow people to express appreciation for Ed and to let this extremely talented musical family sing.  Gerald was needing a nap by now, so we missed out on that in order to go to the opening four-night revival starting last night at Creal Springs Baptist Church,  hosted by our neighboring rural churches.  I was so glad we heard that sermon, and I felt both refreshed and strengthened as I drove into Katherine’s after the service to make sure she had her evening meds since one aide had left and there was a gap before the next would arrive hours later.  Thank you, Ed and Donna, for your many years of service.







































Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Frost and Election Season

The fog rises high off the lake and off the valley beyond the country road at the end of our driveway.  The green grass between our house and the lake glistens with frost this morning.  I run to Gerald and ask if this was a killer frost.  Would our son-in-law’s soybean crop be damaged just as the corn crop was hurt by the summer drought? 

The farmer’s success depends on the weather, and the price city dwellers will pay for food is also weather dependent. The fear of an early frost is a familiar fear to me. Yeteven more than our over fifty years of farming made me aware of the weather and food supply connection, Robert J. Hastings book A Nickel’s Worth of Skim Milk impressed me with this concern.  Hastings wrote about his eight years in grade school during the Depression when he wore the same coat all eight years.  Like most people in small towns and on farms, his unemployed father made an annual garden.  During those years, however, bad weather limited his production just as the job loss limited the family income. 

It is odd how sometimes life seems to be on a bad luck roll.  Just when someone thinks they can stand no more, another blow comes to knock them down yet again. Things get worse and worse, but usually eventually things turn around.  In the meantime, people have to be tough and use unbelievable human ingenuity to survive.

One of the ways that Hastings’ family survived was through thriftiness—the kind of thrift few of us could understand today despite our bad economy. His mother deliberately bought his school coat much much too big for him.  How many children have you seen today with clothes that are too big for them?  He grew into the coat and wore it until it was too little for him, but he continued wearing it anyway.  Finally the nation’s and his family’s economy improved, and he got a new coat for high school.

I do not know how families’ whose unemployment has run out are making it. I cannot imagine how a family can survive when their home and all their belongings are destroyed by fire, flood, or tornado.  Yet across our nation right now families with those troubles are making it. (Some are not, of course.  Some have turned to alcohol or drugs or suicide.)  I have wondered if the Greatest Generation veterans were as strong as they were because they were part of a family that kept hanging tough and fighting hard for survival during the Depression.

One of the most exciting articles I ever read was a news magazine account in the 1960s of the successful California lives of the Oakies that John Steinbeck told us about.  Someday someone will be writing about today’s trials and how their family made it anyway.  Michele Obama’s story of her dad going to work everyday to support their family despite multiple sclerosis brings tears to my eyes. Would he not have been shocked to know back then that his daughter and his widow would live in the White House someday? 

In the past, the business cycle has usually brought an end to recession.  I suspect it will again unless some fundamental difference has occurred to change that usual result.  So I am hopeful that regardless of who is elected President, we will see the economy improve and more jobs become available.  And, of course, whoever is elected will get credit for that turn around whether that person is responsible for the improvement or not.

One of my greatest concerns is the lack of health care for many of our citizens.  Despite our fine hospitals and many excellent doctors, international statistical comparisons show that our health care is inferior in its results.  Our loss of infants, for example, is much greater than many other nations despite the fact that we spend more than them for health care. 

The Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) will still not be universal, as I understand it, but it seems to be a step in the right direction.  Children with serious health problems can no longer be denied insurance nor can we adults be suddenly dropped if we become expensively ill or lose our jobs.

If we have the will to do it, we can make the changes we need to make and have care as good as other developed nations.  I would like to see the for-profit insurance industry out of the health care system altogether as Britain has done but some other nations use insurance to give universal care. Personally, I don’t want to be denied a needed procedure by an insurance company.  Governor Romney wants my state to take care of the health problems in Illinois as he did in Massachusetts, but I don’t think he understands how broke our state is. With our tendency to elect governors who end up in prison, I trust the federal government more than our state government.

Last night a neighbor phoned and asked me if she could bring me a Romney sign to put on our farm.  I had listened to his foreign policy address that morning, and I told her no.  If I knew he could achieve peace, I would certainly vote for him and put up a sign encouraging other people to do so.

The murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American heroes was evidence of serious problems in that part of the world.  What I do not know is whether President Obama or Governor Romney would be more effective in healing those problems--or if anyone can. Would Romney’s tough talk, building more warships, and increasing our military budget and perhaps military presence work better than Obama’s measured thoughtfulness and emphasis on diplomacy? If there anything our nation can do to insure people in those countries will start getting along?

I like few advertisements on television, but I do like the new one showing a renown economist who is asked if something or other will take place in the future. (I don’t even know what is being advertised.)  His succinct answer to the question  if he can predict what will happen is, “No.”  That is how I feel as an ordinary citizen about knowing which candidate will more likely achieve peace or prevent our being in another war in the Middle East.  I do not want our citizens killed and I do not want innocent men, women, and children in other countries killed.  But I do not know how to vote to achieve that end.

Our phone caller warned me that our nation is in a mess and that my great grandchildren were going to suffer because of it.  This special neighbor friend has worked hard all her life, and most of the people I know do so.  Our children and grandchildren certainly do.  I am very proud of them for that. I have a great deal of confidence in our nation’s people and especially our young people.  I truly believe that they will be able to cope with whatever is thrown their way when they are in charge someday.  They will go through rough times just as every generation has.  Their rough times may be worse even than ours. But if they have the will, they will survive and our democracy will also.

I will be listening to the vice presidential debate Thursday night and to the two remaining debates between President Obama and Governor Romney.  I will try to follow the national and international news and understand it the best I can.  And then I will be deciding by election day which candidate I will vote for.  It will probably be too late to put up a sign though.

P.S.  I wrote most of this in the morning plus a report on Jeannie, Cecelie, Leslie, and Mike’s weekend visit.  Then I got a call from Katherine’s aide that she was sick and leaving. (Actually she came to work sick spreading her germs—GRRRR.) Suddenly I had to hurry to town.  Late tonight I got home, proof read my earlier effort, thought I was copying it to post, and the entire blog disappeared with only two words saved when I tried to paste.  I have re-written the first part the best I remembered it, and left off the weekend report.   Ah well.


























Monday, October 01, 2012


Last Wednesday I looked out the living room window and realized I was seeing a tiny bit of yellow amid the leaves on the island and also the  beginnings of orange on a few trees on this side of the lake.  The next day I looked out the kitchen window at Jake’s little sycamore tree and realized it was completely and beautifully red wine. Then driving to town, as I do so often, I begin to see more and more yellows and reds and wines and oranges.  After the dry summer, I was thrilled when everything greened back up, but now the colors are bringing me joy.  I need every bit of beauty I can discover to comfort my heart as I watch the devastating effects of multiple sclerosis on my daughter.

I know that life is not meant to be fair and that suffering always has been and always will be present on this planet. Suffering is part of life. I know that, but that does not decrease its pain.  I understand the old saying about feeling sorry for yourself if you are without shoes until you realize some have no feet. But suffering is suffering and knowing that many others are in pain—even worst pain--does not ease but only increases the psychic pain. 

Weakened and wracked with yet another infection,  Katherine entered the hospital Friday to be treated successfully, and Gerald brought her home yesterday afternoon.   Gerald took her take-home prescriptions to a pharmacy, but the druggist realized a dangerous conflict between the two drugs—delaying last night’s treatment.  Phone calls were made to the appropriate doctors, and hopefully with her regular infectious disease doctor back in town today, everything has been cleared up and continued treatment resumed.  Nothing is simple in the life of a chronically ill person. 

When no one answered the phone at her house this morning, I drove to town to make sure her morning aide had shown up. She had, but Katherine was sleeping, which I know she did not do much in the hospital, and the aide evidently did not hear her phone ringing or was hesitant to answer it with Katherine asleep. In my hurry to reach her house, I didn’t put on my hearing aids.  With the aide whispering, I knew I could accomplish nothing by staying, so I drove right on back to the farm.

I had caught up on laundry and dishes at her house yesterday, since I was hanging around to be certain Sam had needed transportation as I had promised both Katherine and David.  David had to leave very early Saturday morning to drive with his parents to Chicago and serve as pall bearer at not one funeral but at two funerals for loved ones—an uncle and the mother of one of his best lifelong friends. 

Sam is so eager for that driver’s license, and I will be happy for him when he is old enough to get it in less than a year now.  Still I will miss driving him occasionally to his activities.  (Yet when I do, I ache for his mother who so wishes that she could still have that privilege. And I wish it for her. ) 

More and more of his friends are getting their licenses, and other friends’ parents are also glad to give him rides, but I wanted to be there at near-midnight when the three big yellow school buses pulled into the high school driveway bringing home the Marion Wildcat Marching Band from their competition at McKendree College. 

Sam tossed his ukulele in the back seat and climbed in front with a smile on his face.  Once again their band had placed third in their class and this time had missed second place by only one point.  The two higher winning bands were from larger communities, and Sam felt good about how their band is ranking this year. His fellow sophomore class musicians were always top in all kinds of competitions when they were junior high students, and last year’s experience of receiving participation ribbons rather than ranking had rankled their performing egos.  Sam went to bed exhausted but happy.  I’d decided to stay there rather than us to drive back to the farm that late at night.  

Yesterday morning, I was pleased when Sam came out with a smile and his Bible in hand ready for church at 9 a.m.  That gave me plenty of time to drop him off and then to go to the farm and pick up Gerald for Sunday School and worship at our village church. Afterward we picked up Sam to go to dinner with us. 

When Gerald left with the van since Katherine had called that they were releasing her, I stayed at Sam’s house because he had to meet up that afternoon with four of his buddies who have started a new band called Reformed. They played publicly for the first time last evening leading the worship at a youth meeting at Cornerstone Church.  Sam was making his initial appearance as a vocalist.  As it turned out, his friend Evan’s dad picked him up, so I did not take him, and I was right there when Gerald brought Katherine home. 

We sent Gerald on home, so I could stay until her evening shift aide came on duty.  In turning and trying to help her out of her hospital gown and into her own, I managed to let her slip into a very uncomfortable position on her wheelchair—making us both fearful she would slip out. We repositioned and tugged and pushed, and she at least didn’t fall.  In that miserable position, however, we were unable to enjoy a pleasant supper and watch television together as we had planned. I was so thankful when Jayson came on duty and quickly picked her up and re-sat her more comfortably.  (I only say more comfortably because wheelchairs are always uncomfortable after a few hours—especially when you are too near paralyzed to adjust yourself in any way.)

I was happy to be there at 9:00 because I was able to see Sam come in aglow telling about the 60 kids worshipping together at Cornerstone.  I left with Sam in his mom’s room telling Katherine all about the joyous night.  That memory too was a bit of beauty comforting my aching heart when Gerald came after me and we drove home with a full moon overhead enlarged by a clouded sparkling halo all around it.