Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Weekend at Home--Centered on Softball

The last games of the season are happening before the World Series playoffs start for women’s college softball teams.  Every game is watched with dreams of looking good enough to go to Oklahoma City. Our attention this weekend was focused on our Georgia Dawgs (ranked 23 nation wide) going up against the Florida Gators (ranked 2/3). 

Friday was Katherine’s birthday, and she had plans to get out with an aide that afternoon. For complicated reasons, she ended up needing to spend the day in bed. She had flowers and candy and an abundance of birthday cards (still on display), but was a sad day for me because I knew how she longed to get out of the house.  

After I had visited her and left our gift and card, I hurried home with a large prepared foot-long sandwich to share with Gerald as we watched the first of game of the Georgia-Florida series on his computer system. (This was a Florida TV station, I think, that we were only able to get on the computer, but he was able to put it on a larger TV screen in his office, so the view was quite good.—certainly more satisfying than Game Tracker.) 

What a time of excitement when Georgia won over this top team 3-2.  Chelsea Wilkinson shone as she pitched a career high of 12 strikeouts in seven innings.  Catcher Katie Brown hit two game-winning doubles.  It is so much fun watching our son Gerry and his daughter Tara Archibald coach and seeing our granddaughter Geri Ann on first base—especially when we win because we realize how much these Southeastern Conference victories mean right now. We went to bed a very happy.

Because of this softball series, we did not want to schedule anything else.  That is not actually accurate for me.  I badly wanted to attend the Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association meeting on Saturday because Steve and Lisa Thompson, the new young couple who bought the farm with Bridges Wayside Store on it, was hosting at that site.  This has been a long-held dream of the Illinois Chapter, but previous owners were less inclined to share with the public. I had it figured I could skip the last part of the second softball game that started at 11 a.m. and rush down to Route 146 with my lawn chair to attend.  But the reality was that it really was not doable. There was too much to do before and after that meeting, and my energy level is not what it used to be. I did start my long-neglected leg exercises that morning, change our sheets, do three loads of laundry, and other miscellaneous tasks before the game started. Menu planning for games during meal time is always a challenge.   This game was on television in the family room, so I brought down our lunch of pork chops, baked sweet potato, green beans, and pickled beets to eat as we watched. After the game and kitchen clean up, I went to Katherine’s.  

Let me share why I wanted to return to Wayside Store.  The Bridges Wayside Store on Route 146 is the only known extant building on the 1838 Trail of Tears route through our area.  It exists today only because someone in the Bridges family had enclosed it inside a barn in the 1890s. Supposedly to keep out whiskey thieves, the store’s door was covered with tightly placed nails. That door is now used as a dining room table by a Bridges descendant up in Springfield, but it was shared a few years ago at a Trail of Tears display at our area university museum.   The nearby large family home, called the Bridges Tavern, burned in 1940, and a smaller house is built on its foundation.  Like many pioneer families on early roadways, the Bridges family opened their home for travelers passing by to spend the night.  People watered their oxen and horses as well as themselves at the spring across the road.  Other pioneer travelers camped near a spring in a back field.  The Wayside Store provided needed supplies as well as liquor.  If you want to read Theresa Leschmann’s excellent article with photos of the old log store inside the barn, check out http://www.examiner.com/slideshow/bridges-wayside-store-on-the-trail-of-tears.

Since Florida defeated us 5-0 on Saturday, I was not as jubilant as the night before as I drove in for the afternoon at Katherine’s.  Gerald dropped in to stabilize the hospital bed Katherine had acquired to replace an unsatisfactory rented one. He and Dean Newbold had picked it up and moved the bed in for her, but one lock was missing on a back leg.  While Gerald was there, he helped her find and hit the record button for Sunday’s game that was to be televised.   I visited with Katherine until the night aide arrived at l0, and then went home for a quick review of II Timothy 3, which was the Bible lesson for the next morning.

After church on Sunday, I hurried to pick up a couple pizzas to go watch with Katherine the ending of the third Georgia-Florida game, which we thought was to be on a channel they have and we don’t. She was still in bed with the aide just getting her up when I arrived, and the television not on.  I am inept with modern television sets, but I thought I could find the game since I do help her find programs.  (I admit to longing for the days when television screens were controlled by a simple on and off button.)  To my disappointment and others in our area, the game was blocked on that channel.  I hurried to Katherine’s computer and watched Game Tracker to see us defeated 5-0.  Nevertheless, there were some great plays made by Georgia.  I could not feel too bad that in this series, we had our fourth win against a ranked team. 

After Katherine was up, since the Sunday game she thought was recorded was blocked (some kind of agreement the channel screen explained), she discovered that she did have Friday’s game recorded!  So the aide and Katherine and I ate pizza and watched the winning game, which was more fun that the other one anyhow.

Before Shirley Johnson (a special friend to Katherine and our daughter-in-law’s mother that I often refer to as Gma Shirley) arrived to spend the evening before the night aide came, I went on home with left-over pizza to feed Gerald.  By this time he was busy instructing grandson Sam on the use of the new boat motor.  Sam and friend Josh and a couple of cute girls had spent the chilly and muddy  afternoon fishing down at the lake, riding the Gator, and finished off with a boat ride. 
Interestingly, during the evening, Gerald found the Sunday blocked game on another channel that appeared after he had called complaining about the game being blocked.  So we watched already knowing the outcome and disappointed, of course, that Florida won two of the three games, but justifiable proud that we had played well against one of the best teams in the nation.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Weekend Away

It had been much too long since we visited Mary Ellen and Brian’s family in central Illinois.  When I heard that Brianna had the lead in their school’s musical, I knew I had to be there.  This news was extraordinary because Brianna had never sung in public before.  Yes, we knew she was musical since she played first chair clarinet and participated in the state band, but even though both her parents were singers, Bri had never expressed an interest in being a vocalist. Nothing like starting at the top! We drove up Friday afternoon and went straight to the school.

Lincolnwood Junior and Senior High School at Raymond (just a little south of Springfield) have an outstanding auditorium for a school its size, but there has not been a long tradition of theater there.  Mrs. Weatherford came six years ago, if I understood correctly what she said when she honored Patrick Crawford for six years’ participation in drama under her direction.  Brianna came to Lincolnwood as a freshman; and although she participated in the chorus or in small parts each year, she had never aspired to a lead role.  She doubted that she could act, but she definitely can. (I have always noted that shy students are often extremely effective on stage.  Shy is not a completely accurate way to describe our Brianna because in so many ways she is self assured and deservedly quite confident. Yet she is often quiet, never pushy, nor does she have to be in the lime light.)

Despite the lack of a good sound system or sets for quick scene changes, Mrs. Weatherford has managed to gradually increase the difficulty of the annual musical each spring,. This year’s presentation of Guys and Dolls, based on Damon Runyon’s story and characters, was the most challenging school production in her career there, and the results were most impressive. The amount of talent for a school that size was evidence of her hard work and the training she has provided the kids.

Brianna seemed a natural Sarah Brown, and the twinkle in Patrick Crawford’s eye made him an excellent Sky Masterson. Tanner Butler was quite believable as Nathan Detroit, and Alicia Benning as Miss Adelaide was as believable as anyone could be to have put up with a fourteen year engagement. Her smile was adorable, and I enjoyed the beautiful smiles of all the Hot Box girls.  They had obviously been well coached.

Despite the dinner Brian treated us to after the show, I had to have a muffin when we reached their country home and Trent greeted us with hugs and hot homemade muffins.

Gerald broke his record by going to both nights performances.  He knew I would want to see both nights as I always try to do when we visit the Freeport grandkids’ shows.   I explained to him that each performance is different, and it was just like wanting to see both games in a double header or all three games in a weekend series.  I still expected him to stay at home the second night, but he was right there to applaud with the rest of us.  Getting to meet two of Mary Ellen’s friends I’d heard her talk about was a special treat for me.

Jeannie had driven down from Freeport with Cecelie and they’d stopped by Illinois State to pick up Elijah for the Saturday performance.  So Brianna had a couple of cousins in addition to her brother Trent and her friends there that night.  When she got home from the cast party, I am sure the younger generation had another party downstairs.  I don’t know what time she got home because after we all visited and feasted on Mary Ellen’s buffet, Gerald and I headed to bed.  But since Jeannie had told her two that they would need to be back on the road at 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Cecelie was concerned because she heard Bri tell her mom she’d be home by 3:30.  Mary Ellen had to explain to us that was a standing joke between them, but Bri would be home at a decent hour.

Brian reminisced throughout the performances because his high school had also done Guys and Dolls.  He had been Nicely Nicely Johnson and his sister Vicky had been Miss Adelaide.  Watching his pleasure at those memories reinforced what I have always known:  Theater participation provides students with invaluable group bonding and gives them perks that last a lifetime.

We slept late Sunday morning and had a leisurely breakfast and then visited more before we headed into Raymond again to worship together.  It felt good to pray with others for the victims of the Boston bombers.  After church, we drove to Litchfield to the same restaurant where we’d had dinner after the Friday performance.  We lingered as long as we could before we had to be back on the highway to head home to Southern Illinois.

Baby green leaves on the trees lining the roads were accented with the white and purplish pink blooms of the occasional dogwood or redwood. Despite the chilly winds, it was a beautiful day.  Gerald was driving, and I was relaxed. My lunch soon demanded a siesta that no amount of trying could postpone.  When I awoke, we were almost home.  It was good to have been away.  It was also good to be home.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Blossom Time

On Saturday, I saw the first blossoming tree.  An ancient tree next to an old farm shed was abloom with pink blossoms that would have cheered the hearts of the long ago residents who lived in the house no longer there.  There is still a side walk with a little gate out by the road reminding us that once a country doctor lived here.  He would hitch up his buggy and take the midwife next door with him to deliver babies throughout our rural area. I know that because many years ago I used to ride to a club meeting once a month with his daughter who had inherited the house. 

Marguerite told me how as a little girl, there was a train that came to their little village of New Dennison.  The pastor of Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church would arrive on the train on Sunday morning from Carbondale.   Then he would ride with the doctor and his family to preach at what all the local people have always called Shed Church—the one with a cemetery over on Shed Church Road.   After driving back to New Dennison for Sunday dinner, the pastor would board an afternoon train to return to Carbondale

An elderly woman in the village of Crab Orchard on the other side of Shed Church told me how she became the pianist there as a girl and continued throughout her lifetime.  People would walk or arrive on horses or in buggies each week, and large crowds would celebrate Christmas with programs that made the season special.  Even when she was too feeble to go to church, she would make a point to play her piano at home each day.  She would go to bed early every night and before going to sleep would let her mind wander over all the good old days when her husband and she and their friends would play jokes on each other.  There was a pair of overalls that traveled to people’s clothes lines.  She would entertain herself with her memories until she fell asleep.  “Sometime I just laugh out loud,” she told me.

I like remembering these stories when I occasionally pass Shed Church or as I almost daily drive by the cluster of houses in the village of New Dennison.  I remember little Mildred Stapleton, who used to make dresses without a pattern for my three daughters, telling me that her family—the Lamberts—had a store there in New Dennison, and I think they likely sold yard goods as well as groceries.  (Mildred had a sister-in-law also in our neighborhood with the same name, so since one was tall and one was short, we would have to distinguish who we were talking about with an adjective in front of Mildred—in case you wondered why I said little Mildred Stapleton.)

The little Presbyterian church called Shed does not meet on Sundays anymore although the cemetery is still used for burials, and it is a lovely place for solitude and meditation.  I would never have guessed New Dennison once had a train track if Marguerite hadn’t told me. The little church building there was first a Lutheran church, I think it was, before that congregation dwindled and later a small Baptist congregation was organized and acquired the building.  I think there is a nearby cemetery up the road a bit connected perhaps with the first congregation, but it is overgrown and I have never searched it out as I have intended to do.  Evidently no descendants of those buried there exist in this area.

When I knew Marguerite, a school librarian, she was a widow living in a home full of antiques.  She had lived away but came back to her childhood home.  I was only in her home a couple of times, but I was impressed with the cherished furniture—one chair was supposed to have been used by Abraham Lincoln.  I grieved with the rest of the community when her home burned during her final years and the antiques went up in smoke.  I recently met a young woman whose mother had been Marguerite’s caregiver, and she told me how they took Marguerite into their home so she would not have to go to a nursing home after the fire.

Few hints of its rich past remain at New Dennison.  That beautiful tree filled with pink blossoms not only treated my winter dulled eyes with its beauty but it filled my mind with many shared memories about the lives of those who used to walk by. 

By the next day, the pear trees were bedecking the countryside with their bridal white blossoms. Out our lakeside windows, Gerald’s hyacinths are sharing their lovely soft colors, and paperwhites grace yet another flower bed.   Our little tree in the middle of the front circular drive is a mass of white blossoms.  Along the road to town, golden forsythia joins the bright yellow of dandelions popping up everywhere.   The redbud near our driveway is just beginning to blush a bit with the promise of more blossom beauty in another day or two.  Coming alive again, nature is bringing us joy and promises of the future as well as memories of the past.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Catching Our Breaths

Last Sunday night our family gathered at the Cedar family’s town church as Sam had been invited to speak.  The far-away families needed to leave for home and had planned to leave in late afternoon, but going to support Sam won out.  Mike and Leslie with their dog, little Millie, had left us for their drive home to Tennessee, but everyone left the farm for the 6 p.m. service.

We arrived in three cars at different times, so everyone could leave for home immediately after that service.  So we were sitting in three different places, and we all began to look for Sam’s cousins who had come in a fourth car.  The service had begun and none of us were seeing them.  We were communicating with looks of curiosity at first, and someone realized they might not even know the way there without Sam in the car to guide them. Because the kids had turned off their phones as they should have, texting and phoning brought no results.  Our curiosity had turned to concern, and my imagination began to run wild.  It was hard to concentrate on the service, but I know all of our family was praying much the same prayers as we thought about the possibility of an accident enroute to the service.

Although I did not see our son-in-law Rick leave, when he quietly came back to his seat again, I knew all was well.  The younger generation was somehow out of our view from our spots in the sanctuary, but Rick had found their car in the back parking lot and knew they were safely inside.  I am sure each of us adults was ready to worship with great thankfulness after it had occurred to us how horrible an accident could have been with young people from three families traveling in one car.  So by the time Sam spoke, we were relaxed and filled with gratitude that at least for then that life could continue in a peaceful fashion.

I have been catching my breath and getting back to normal for me and Gerald here at Woodsong ever since.   Mary Ellen was hopping up and washing our dishes throughout the weekend, and last Sunday afternoon she had both the dishwasher full and sink-full washed.  So things were in good shape when our families left here.
Finally we have given away, frozen, eaten up, or fed to Jake all the left overs.  As I reduced bowls of food, larger serving pieces were emptied and I have those all washed up and put away now.  Tablecloths have been laundered and fresh ones put back on the tables.  A pair of jeans, someone’s charger, and the lost oval Pyrex lid have all been found among the left-behinds which always occur after families visit. Two beds have been changed and sheets laundered and the third set of sheets is in the washer now.  All the towels used throughout the weekend are clean again, and as soon as the drier stops, the last ones will be folded. Or maybe I will let them go till Monday since I am going in to Katherine’s house soon.

Katherine has had a busy week and with the help of aides accomplished much.  She arrived for one doctor appointment and one dentist appointment two days in a row, and she met a request for more information from a government agency.  She now has a new state of Illinois identification card in her billfold and a new Social Security card ordered. 

Gerald had a busy week too.  He had scheduled a checkup for our furnace since it had been two years since the last inspection.  Unfortunately, a very expensive replacement part was needed, and it was finally decided it would be cheaper in the long run to get a new furnace with a ten-year warranty than to keep having to spend such large amounts to keep the old one running.  So two days were spent replacing our furnace. And the repairmen found out the cause of the hot water shortage we had over the weekend and that too has been made to function correctly.

Wednesday night Gerald and I breathed a sign of relief as we watched the video as our Georgia Bulldogs won over their in-state rival Georgia Tech with a mercy ruling.  Last weekend at Fayetteville had brought three unexpected losses and heightened our disappointment that Gerry’s family could not be with us at Easter.  Playing 5/6-ranked University of Tennessee Volunteers was going to be a real challenge this weekend, but we were hoping after Wednesday’s many UGA home runs that we were ready for the challenge.  Yesterday and today’s games have been a disappointment, however, but we are hoping things change tomorrow afternoon with the third game of the series. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

People's Problems and Family Gatherings

Usually I deliberately write about the pleasant things in our life on the farm.  Occasionally I am more honest and share the less pleasant.  I really have always done this not just for consideration of readers’ feelings—but as a form of therapy for myself.  It makes me happier when I dwell on the good things in life and not life’s problems. 

Sitting in the area Social Security office today, I realized anew that probably everyone—or at least almost everyone—has problems. The office has problems because hours have been cut to 3:00 in the afternoon; we found this out when we phoned the other day. Finally today Katherine had a van driver to take her to an early doctor appointment and she would have time to go to the Social Security office before 3:00 to apply for a new card to replace her lost one.

But this morning, we found out that on Wednesdays, the office closes at 12 noon, which would make it impossible for her to get there by closing time.  So after a phone consultation, she frantically searched and secured all the necessary documents and her signature on an online application we printed out, and I was assigned to go to the office while she kept her important medical appointment.  She had a deadline today with another agency, and she needed the proof she had applied for a card. After I finally found the local office, I was greeted by a security guard who invited me in.

Then he pointed to a little machine, which I punched and it printed out my number 76 for my turn to see a worker. Every chair but one was filled after I sat down. I was very grateful that my daughter had not had to be let down from the van (a long operation) and then to maneuver her chair through the maze of doors to get inside that crowded waiting room.  Since the building was new, I know it had to be wheelchair accessible, but it certainly did not look like it would have been easy for her to enter one door and then turn to enter the second door.

 It was less than an hour to closing time, and in answer to my questioning, my neighbor whispered that the man on an end chair was to be next, and his number was 66.  Every ten minutes or so, someone was allowed to go up to the window, and new people kept coming in.  My question was if they would kick us all out at noon.  But they did not.  At precisely 12:00, the security guard locked the outside door, and I breathed a sigh of relief that evidently the worker at the window was going to see all of us who got there by noon.  There were people there older than me; one kept falling asleep as I wanted to do. There were several young people there too—one of whom had to hire a driver to bring her there and the driver needed to leave before the young woman’s long wait was up.  She only needed  to turn in the papers she had in her hand. (She did accomplish her goal just before the guard locked the door.  I was so relieved for her.) Most of my wait was in deadly silence, but at the end some of the newcomers were more talkative and started conversing.  As they shared with one another, I felt the pain that goes on in so many lives with family’s health issues, sharing custody following divorce, foster children caught in legal tangles.  I also felt their bravery in battling their problems. By the time I had my five minutes with a most pleasant worker, I left grateful for our caring government and for fellow humans struggling with life’s challenges.

We just had a four-day celebration of Easter at Woodsong starting with folks arriving Thursday evening when I had thought they’d arrive on Good Friday.  I had a casserole big enough for a crowd  waiting in the fridge to stick in the oven. Leslie had written she and Mike would be in Thursday, but then she changed the time because they were going to look at a rental house and could not come until Friday.  I thought everyone else had school on Thursday and would have to drive in on Friday. (I did not know they were all on spring break.)  So I planned to do the downstairs beds on Friday morning. Mary Ellen and Brian stay at their new place now when they are down, but all the cousins gather in here at the farm as the headquarters to plot and plan their various activities.  But since all the ones staying here (except for Leslie and Mike) arrived the night before, they had to fix their own beds. I was embarrassed. But that was an easy way out of a job! 

Mary Ellen and Jeannie had insisted they would carry in and prepare most of the Sunday feast.  I had already started the three layer traditional gelatin ribbon salad.  Easter morning, I only put  the ham in the oven and made simple scalloped potatoes as I do this one day a year,

A bunny rabbit cake became as must after little Mary Ellen started it so many years ago at Pondside Farm.  After she left home, I would hurriedly do one, but the girl cousins dyed the eggs and did the baking this year, and the cake was the prettiest we have ever had.  With their other desserts plus my left-over party desserts I dug out from the freezer, we had all the sweets we needed all weekend.  I realized just before serving time that I had forgotten that I always made fruit salad for Easter, so I hurriedly opened up cans and added fresh fruit and that was done. Gerald and I had some that was left over tonight as we watched the softball game in his office.

I started to blog while everyone was here, but I didn’t want to be away from the thick of family things that long.  It was never finished.  So here is what I wrote during the gathering:

Family gatherings come complete with crisis so often.  Usually not major crisis—just normal small life happenings.

For example, Lucky, one of the Eiler dogs was missing.  Cecelie reported he was not in the van where he likes to hang out and hides sometimes.  So kids were on the Gator out searching for him.  Solution:  Oh he was found in the van the second time Cecelie looked.  He had come out of hiding and was finally ready to come out and play with his dog cousins.

For example, after over 11 years with an 85 gallon water heater that rarely ran out of water no matter how many were here showering or doing college laundry, suddenly early in the morning before anyone had used the shower or the washing machine, we were out of hot water.  Hmmmm.  I took a very cold bath. 

For example, I fix three hamburgers for me, Gerald, and Trent who had been sleeping on the couch in the kids’ den. I thought the house was empty except for us three. Then suddenly at 12:30 noon, three more show up---they had all slept late behind bedroom doors—and only one had gone out to breakfast with adults.  They couldn’t have cared less, however, since they are content to find cereal when they wake up or to fix hot pockets in the downstairs microwave.  In fact, the third hamburger was never eaten.

For example, the ice maker acted up and no cubes are available without going inside the freezer unit itself and retrieving them by hand.  With a crowd—uggg!  So Gerald is unclogging it and the frozen up unit is filling up a kitchen sink and very slowly melting.  Very slowly.

For example, Jake, who Gerald has tried to break from chasing cars, evidently has not learned yet.  At least he is limping and making us nervous.

For example, Millie, our newest great grand dog, arrived with Leslie and Mike from Nashville, causing much excitement among all the cousins.  Everyone wanted to meet Millie.  Millie is less than thrilled with country life and does not understand why she is left outside.

Well, that was as far as I got on the blog while family was here.  But let me add one sweet thing that happened on Saturday.  The teens and young adults--I keep forgetting that two more have turned twenty and that we only have two teenagers left among the cousins-- had gone to one of their favorite eateries in Marion, and a lady came to their table and said she remembered being young and having fun together like they were and she handed them a $20 bill and said for them to pay it forward.  When I was being told the story, I was afraid the ending was going to be that someone was griping at their noise and their giggling.  Then I felt such a warm flow of joy that this woman had shared her pleasure with these kids.  I hope she had a wonderful Easter, and I like to think that years from now these seven, who were able to be here this year, will remember this story and pay forward happiness to tomorrow’s kids someplace somewhere in restaurants probably a long way from the farm.