Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Poolside, Pomp, and Planting

A highlight of our brief stay with Jeannie in Madison, Wisconsin, was visiting with a young man from our community and his family by the pool at our motel. In small towns and rural areas, kids in school and church together sometimes seem more like family than just friends, and that has always been the way it was between our kids and the Boyd kids a road or two over from us. But then everyone grows up and often moves away. As a result, opportunities to see the young people you felt close to become sparse. So Gerald and I were pleased when it was arranged for Jeff and Maggie, who live in a Madison suburb, to bring their son Caleb to come by for a visit.

I remember their Christmas newsletter from 1997 and still have it. Maggie, an English major, had written it with little news stories telling about their new home with lots of room for the boy toys. Their were sweet photos of Michael and Caleb born just over a year apart and stories of their doing all the fun things toddlers do. Jeff had settled into his new job in Minnesota. Maggie was happily mothering, serving on the regional library board, making new friends. I remember thinking what fun it would be to get this family’s Christmas letter each year. That was not to be. Instead their life became centered on a new word—autism. Time for such luxuries as newsletters did not exist. The new home was sold, the new job resigned, and they relocated to an apartment in Madison, where the best services and help for Caleb might be found at that time.

In 2007 at Christmas, we did receive photos of two dark-haired good looking boys. You would never know from Caleb’s smile that he was limited to sign language and his special school, which he still is attending at age 19. We were told he spoke twice—both times with multiple words which seemed significant to me—but then he stopped. Perhaps it was a change in meds, Jeff felt. They only know his ability to continue speaking did not develop despite all the help they secured for him. It was obvious that Maggie had become an expert not only in helping their son but also in maneuvering the systems necessary for their son’s benefit. His brother Michael, 20 is in community college, and both are tall and big young men now. Caleb loves the water; and although Maggie changed and got him settled in the pool, he swam and played alone with the water contentedly while we had a nice long visit poolside. He never acted bored or discontented. And neither did Jeff and Maggie, who after a lifetime of challenges have many more ahead of them. It was good to visit with such an impressive couple.

We have just completed graduation week for our grandson Sam, our only under-age local grandchild now.(Trent lives nearby, but he is busy with college and I rarely see him.) I realized that I had grown to care for Sam's friends too even though I did not know them as well as our children’s friends in the old days. I will hope to hear about their lives as they complete college and go into their chosen fields. We attended his baccalaureate on Wednesday night and his commencement on Thursday at Rent One Park—the ball park for our local professional baseball team called the Miners after the coal mining industry in our region.

Thanks to a wonderful aide, her sister Mary Ellen for using her brief cosmetology training (her one-time ambition in life) and to Katherine’s church friends, she was ready to go when David came to put her in the van and take her to join the enormous crowd filling the stadium, which I think is indicative of how supportive the Marion community is toward its students. While Mary Ellen parked our car, we started through the maze of people, and I was not sure we would even see Katherine and David. But we had barely
reached the first seats, and there they were. There was one extra seat with them, and Gerald and Mary Ellen insisted I take it while they searched for seats. I was even able to see Katherine’s special friend Terri from her high school days, who came up to visit with her. Terri and Frank’s daughter Bethany was also graduating.

We had been warned that the service would be there with or without rain. So I carried two raincoats—one for me and one for Katherine—and Mary Ellen brought umbrellas and towels. We had just arrived and felt the first sprinkles—and the last! Everything went perfectly. Students did an outstanding job with their choir numbers. The valedictorian and salutatorian gave excellent speeches. Known as an outstanding class, the graduates validated that with their behavior and dignity. Finally the caps were thrown in the air, and then the park provided beautiful fireworks, and the Class of 2015 was on its way.

Despite all the rains this spring, son-in-law Brian’s corn and soybeans are up and looking good at the farm on the Pittsburg highway, Gerald tells me. Brian and Mary Ellen also have a field on the corner near us, and I have watched with pleasure the neat rows of tiny corn growing as I drive to town. She posted a photo of the “baby corn” on Facebook and got some neat responses. When your livelihood depends on it, it has always seemed natural to personalize your crop. Our niece Leah assured Mary Ellen they would be in college before she knew it.

Although Gerald claims he will be cutting back, he has the garden all ready and planted tomato plants today. He is making plans for the rest of the garden, and I am kind of excited about his consideration of strawberries and maybe an asparagus patch. The trees Gerald planted 14 years ago are tall and strong now. It will be fun to see something new to look forward to watching.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sticking With It

Gerald and I were down in his office in deep concentration listening to a favorite preacher—Andy Stanley—when I was touched on the shoulder and I jumped. Mary Ellen had come in very early bringing a card and gift for Mother’s Day and checking on us.

I looked away from the computer screen to open my card and saw this cute little child on the front of the card with a tied-up bundle of clothes and doleful expression along with words saying there were times when running away from home seemed like a good idea. I laughed and thanked MET for the card and the kiss, and she quickly disappeared to go on to other duties. Gerald and I went back to thinking about what Jesus really meant when he said not to judge but then He continued to explain what we should do about that plank in our own eye and why we should remove it.

Soon we went upstairs to join our son-in-law Rick who had come down from Freeport Saturday night to pick up Jeannie when Leslie brought her back from Nashville and her special Mother’s Day treat hearing Garrison Keiler and Rickey Skaggs in the Ryman Auditorium.

We had brought Jeannie down on Friday after being with her for her last three days of that week’s chemo up at University of Wisconsin Hospital. She had finished mid-afternoon, and we had waited to eat lunch with her on the way back to Southern Illinois. It was late by the time we arrived at Woodsong after driving through rain and making the necessary stops for such a long trip. Leslie was at her Aunt Mary Ellen’s waiting for us since our house was locked up. It was midnight before all of us were in bed. We slept late the next morning--not Gerald, of course, even though he was the one who drove all the way home after having to find his way around Madison all week.

Gerald, Rick, and I went to worship together, and I was taken out to eat afterwards for Mother’s Day before coming back to the farm and visiting with Jeannie and Leslie once again when they arrived from Nashville. Too soon the Eilers were on the road returning to Madison since Jeannie had to be at the hospital at seven this morning. At least she has this week off to recoup from last. Leslie tried to take a nap but failed and headed back to Nashville, but I was glad I got in on some of her news and giggles she was sharing with her mother.

A friend had helped Katherine in the morning, and our grandson Sam had arrived home from his buddy’s graduation trip to fish on the ocean in Florida So it was four when I arrived to feed her a bite of supper and give her a bit of care during the early evening.

When I got back to the farm through the rain, Brian and Mary Ellen were in the family room with Gerald. We finished the evening listening to the NCAA reveal program telling the 64 chosen softball teams where the 16 regionals will be starting this Friday and who will be playing against whom. Although Sam’s high school graduation is the most important thing on our agenda this week, on Friday we will be fastened to the screen watching Gerry with A&M at Oklahoma and Geri Ann with the Oregon Ducks hosting their regional.

I am not overly sentimental about Mother’s Day because I was frequently somewhat embarrassed when I was young tying with Helen Lee at our church being the mother with the most children in a service. I can’t remember how that problem was decided as to which one of us received the flower. I was relieved when later Zella Cain was there to trump Helen and me with a larger family. However, this year along with the usual flower, cards, and gifts, I saw all three of my daughters and I talked to my son on the phone as he and Vickie returned to College Station after a surprise visit to see Geri Ann when Oregon played Arizona at the end of the week. That made it a delightful day and I was grateful for every child.

Oh, yes, when I finally read the inside of Mary Ellen’s card, I found out it was not that little child on front who wanted to run away. Someone knew what every mother wants to do on a very bad day, and I was praised because I never ran. I was glad I didn’t.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Some Enchanted Sounds and Memories

Songs from South Pacific have been running through my head all week: “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothin’ like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and perhaps most often the haunting “Bali Ha’l.” Oh yeah, “Happy Talk” ran through my brain cells once or twice too. Along with the songs in my head were memories floating in and out of my brief local secondary teaching career

Long ago and far away when the high school in Marion was still where the junior high is now and when the stage in the gym at Washington School was used for high school plays and musicals, I started working part time during the 1964-65 school year. The new high school building opened with its own theater the next year. . I had the privilege of helping Yolanda Peterson with the musicals those three years that I worked part time.

The musical that first year was South Pacific. And I still cringe because the most important duty I had was to be sure that one group of dancers got out on the stage at exactly the right time, and one night I failed at that. I was stationed directly off stage sort of wrapped in the curtain there, but hearing what was on stage was very difficult, and I did not hear the cue. Somehow the kids did get out there and did fine and the show was great. Hopefully the audience did not realize I’d failed, but I still feel bad about it and quickly brush that memory aside.

Other memories are better. One reason I feel very supportive of mothers who work outside the home is that my brief foray into that lifestyle gave our children some exposure to music and the stage that they not only enjoyed back then but have continued to enjoy as adults. They were all enthralled with the plays and musicals as they heard me talking about the evening rehearsals and then the final productions, which they were able to attend. Mary Ellen, just a toddler, imitated our older kids imitating the WACs who marched to chants of “Hup two three four”—something I did not see in this year’s presentation. We learned to turn her around when she started to do something she oughtn’t by saying, “Hup two three four.” We thought our clever discipline was a distraction, but then we observed her saying “Hup two three four” as a method of self discipline when she started to get into mischief!

Consequently, last Saturday I was really happy when a minute or two before the curtain went up, I realized that Mary Ellen and Brian were unexpectedly in the house. And I knew Mary Ellen might have hidden memories of the show which might increase her enjoyment whether they came to the conscious surface or not. Years ago I read someplace that brain surgeons might touch a certain spot while doing surgery on an adult and a long ago memory would be made available—perhaps the adult’s three-year-old birthday party, for example. Reading that made me realize that everything is forever and no experience is wasted or discarded.

When I had gone by earlier to pick up my grandson Trent—my escort for the night—Mary Ellen was sitting on her hallway floor in paint-splattered clothes painting the baseboard as she finished up yet another major paint job of their kitchen and hall way. She wanted to join Trent and me, but felt it more important to complete the near-finish of this endeavor.

Shortly after that, however, Brian was rained out of the field and came home early. Even though he had worked all night long the previous night and had only a brief sleep the next morning, he thought he and Mary Ellen ought to go and support Sam. I am so glad they did because the pit orchestra was fantastic, and that made six family members there to hear Sam. (Last year’s musical did not use the orchestra, and I am so pleased it was resumed this year.)

Because we did not have tickets, Trent and I went very early. (That was one reason Mary Ellen and Brian had time much later to dress and rush in.) The woman at the ticket table asked if we were paying cash or credit, and when I said cash, she explained someone had two great tickets right down front they wanted to sell. She called a young man over with the tickets, and I was pleasantly surprised for him to quickly say his name-Shawn Tanner. Although he still lives in our village of Crab Orchard, our paths had not crossed for several years, so I was glad to see him again and to find myself sitting in seats beside him. Since he was the father of Lane Tanner, who did a beautiful job playing Emile de Becque, that made it even more special. (Memories I had of teaching Shawn as an infant and toddler in our church nursery were heart warming as I listened to his son sing so beautifully.)

In the large lobby before and after the show, I kept seeing Pat Pulley,Lane’s grandfather, at a distance and hoping to connect with him. But the crowd separated us and it did not happen. I would have thanked Pat for what he did for me that first year in the new high school building. Suddenly we had a real theater for plays instead of a gym, and in that theater was a wonderful board making all kinds of light effects possible. My problem was I knew nothing about lighting and no experience at anything more complicated than turning a single light switch on if I entered a dark room at night. Albert Storm, our principal, said not to worry—I could just find some smart student to take over the lighting. I don’t remember how I was fortunate enough to acquire Pat Pulley, but he did an outstanding job and I did not have to worry just like Mr. Storm said. I knew how proud he must be in the beautiful Civic Center watching his grandson in the lead role.

Multiple studies have shown us that music and the arts greatly increase students’ academic abilities. We must not be foolish and cut back on the arts thinking we will save money for more academic subjects. I am sure the neurologists could explain about synapses and other reasons the arts make us more intelligent. And the sociologists could explain how the students working for a common goal give them experience our democracy will profit from. And the psychologists could explain how participation helps students recognize their importance and hone their talents to gain confidence in all areas of their lives. We grandparents, however, know one of the greatest values of the arts is the memories that will enrich lives forever after.