Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More Than Meets the Eye

Looking at pictures from my childhood always tugs a little on my heartstrings. I have been blessed all through my life with family, friends and all the other intangibles that brings one wealth. But this aging photograph is particularly poignant and sweet.

My little brother, now 43, was turning two years old. It was the summer of 1966 when I shared this meal with my brothers and sisters, and I was five. The old black rotary phone hangs on the north wall, a party line that we shared with our neighbor: one ring for her...two for us. The calendar, always there beside it was marked with eight family birthdays in my mother's handwriting. Crisp, white curtains at the east window were probably sewn from sheets because Mother always knew how to stretch a dime. A plaque on the wall reads, "My house is clean enough to be healthy, but dirty enough to be happy", a verse that makes me smile now because finding that balance is a real trick for any mother, but especially one of six. The glass turkey candy dish was always on the buffet and though an antique now, was a part of my memory for as far as it goes back.

What makes this picture special is that it includes two pieces of furniture that now sit in my own home: the buffet with glass doors and the round, oak table. They are relics from my past, reminders of another world when families were everything and times, simpler. Here we were all together. My mother was young and vibrant, tanned from her days on the farm and aglow with the love for her children.

I keep this photograph on that very buffet, next to that same table in my dining room. It reminds me of where and who I came from and the blessings I received growing up the way I did. And though that little girl of 1966 is all grown up now, she often longs for the times when the days stretched wonderfully before her, life was new, and all the riches in the world sat around an old oak table.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Enchantment at the Fair

For many years now, our little town has held a fair on the grounds just south of the community building and underneath the water tower. Though the livestock has already been shown and sold at the county fair, people come together here for food, fellowship and old-fashioned fun.

The new Senior class opens up the concession stand doors to new sales and a new year as they work long hours flipping and selling burgers along with pop, candy, and chili dogs. Friends gather to discuss their summer frivolities and opinions on those first days of classes since school gave a reprieve from a day of study.

The tennis courts turn into a stage for cheerleader's dances and crowds sit on wooden planks across hay bales to listen to the country-western band.

Saturday evening brings the parade as young and old set up lawn chairs in their favorite spots, seeking refuge from a muggy Kansas day.
The High School band lines up with colorful flags and shiny brass tubas. Local princesses dress in finery, sharing smiles and keeping things light and in perspective. In place of convertibles, they ride together in the back of a bright orange truck, emblazoned with flames and laugh as they wave to their friends and families.

The National Anthem is sung and all rise, placing hands over hearts. Gentlemen's hats are removed as veterans somberly carry the flag; their quiet voices calling out the steps. Firemen and emergency workers throw candy at excited children who run bravely to the street and come back with fistfuls of treats for their pockets.

In any small town parade, after the trucks and before the horses come the tractors. Past, present and future farmers drive relics from yesterday slowly down the street and observer's nod in remembrance, reflecting on the good old days.

Little ones wave to grandpas and brothers and cameras click away to record precious moments.

A pork loin supper follows as all fill up their plates with the juicy, smoked meat and gather around picnic tables for supper. The sounds of the Sizzler, Ferris Wheel and Bullet fill the evening air, gearing up for a busy night. Crowds gather at the BINGO table and the carnival as everyone wants to try his luck. And the games begin.

The fair is a special time for our town. People come back to reunite with loved ones and share a night of simple enchantment. Though I didn't grow up here, it has become an annual ritual that I look forward to with the beginning of the school year. Now that the kids are older, they don't need me to chaperon them anymore and though I'm somewhat at a loss, am free to roam the grounds with my husband as we take our traditional ride on the Ferris Wheel.

As the evening fades into night, and the fair winds down, families depart to continue reunions at home and friends share tears and hugs as they go separate ways; some leaving for college while others go back to their new lives, away from the place they once called 'home'. It is a time of music and memories, coming together and shared laughter...and it is a special moment in the life of our little town.

By Sunday there is no trace of the fair; the rides are dismantled and traveling to the next place of fun, and the sounds of laughter have disappeared into the sultry sunshine. Still, it lingers on our faces and in the air as we carry its remnants in our hearts to draw upon until next year.

Thanks for the memories. What a time we had!

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Man's Mind

I often wonder what my husband is thinking. A man that I worked with this summer said that women give men too much credit; that at any given moment men are only thinking about one of two things: 1) food and 2) things that bring them pleasure! And though we all got a chuckle from those words, I'd like to think that there's really more to them than that.

It's hard to get him to talk. I can ask him any factual question and he always knows the answer. He can tell me all kinds of information: names and places, events and dates and nearly anything I could possibly imagine. But what I really want to know is how he feels.

Is he happy? Not just passing moments of pleasure that shine brightly for awhile then burn out, but real joy that comes from within?

Does he still have dreams? We all have them when we start out on this journey...but what is his passion now, as we settle into the middle-age years and his younger aspirations have matured?

And above all, does he still love me? In the hectic days of raising children, jobs and bills it's easy to take the things that seem set for granted. Is he glad he married me, or does he look back longingly at his bachelorhood days when he had his own bathroom and time for things of his choosing?

Perhaps I will never know what he's thinking or where he goes when his mind drifts away to another place. It is a chasm that I want to cross because with sharing comes closeness and connection. Realistically, I may never have admittance to the entryway that leads there, but I will never stop dreaming of that pathway nor of a conversation that is big enough for two.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rural Reflections

This is my dear friend Shelly's tractor. Actually, it's her husband's. He uses it to mow the pasture land just west of our property line where they hope to build a house one day.

When I asked her if I could take some pictures of it, she was embarrassed because of its age and condition. But I love the old farm implements. They remind me of my own happy childhood days of life on a farm. I like the lines and shapes, and the experience and adventures of its past give it charm and character.

People are like that, too. When we are young, we tend to be drawn to a pretty face and the unblemished perfections of one who has just set out on their life's journey. Then as we age, such beauty blends together in a kind of cookie-cutter familiarity and loses its fascination if there isn't substance beneath it.

I love the tried and the true; the comfort of a loving and lovely heart. There is wisdom and strength in miles traveled, and beauty and grace finds a deeper place as time goes by.

May we all live our lives so that others find comfort in our presence, trust in our abilities and a peace-filled joy at the end of our days.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Happy 80th, Dad

Today is my dad's 80th birthday. Though I have more recent photographs of him, this is one of my favorites. Taken in 1994 when all the grandchildren were still small, it captures the essence of our family and the love we have for my father.

He is a gentle soul; a man who has a soft spot for children and animals, touching movies and my mother. He's a hard-working man who can still be found in his garden or helping out one of us 'kids' or grandchildren. A man of great integrity and honor, he sees everyone as a friend and simply expects them to do the right thing, just as he does.

My father isn't a demonstrative man. I don't know that I've ever heard him say, "I love you" and every hug he receives is always initiated by another. But his actions leave no question that we are the substance of his life and that he is proud of each one of us.

Dad will never have a lot of money, great fame or win prizes for his contribution to this world. But with 58 years of marriage, 6 children and 12 grandchildren to his credit, he is one of the wealthiest, most blessed and successful men that I know.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.
With love,
from your little girl

(Click here to read a story about My Dad and the Silver Ring)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

County Fair

Another county fair has come and gone. My daughter has spent the better part of this week in a sale barn with temperatures soaring above the 100 degree mark.

It's always a challenge: waking early to make sure the animals are fed and watered, walking the sheep in the heat without exhausting them and the apprehension that comes before going out into the arena.

The environment inside a sale barn is unlike any other.
The sounds of cattle, swine and sheep fill the area and giant fans swirl hot, humid air around to relieve the heavy stillness. Animals are brushed and groomed to look their finest before they take the stage; some waiting patiently and others, fighting for a piece of independence. Sweat glistens on young brows as a new breed of farmers walk the animals around the arena. Eyes are intent and serious as they make contact with the judge and hopes are high that their animals will be behave in an appropriate and controllable manner.

Hearts race as placements are called, and smiles shine on a first place standing. The classes are many and patience is a necessity. Boredom and laziness have no place in agriculture, and perseverance can be rewarding. Though there are no guarantees that hard work will pay off, it usually comes through in one way or another.

When it came time for the sale, the auctioneers took turns; spewing numbers across the top of the crowd and teasing each entry in good-natured fun. Buyers raised numbers for their favorites; sometimes choosing to keep the livestock but often, bidding simply to help these young people earn money for their efforts. Just another example of the agricultural spirit.

Handshakes and hugs were exchanged and animals let go. Pens were broken down, benches moved and floors swept as another fair came to a close.

Though the final outcome is known from the get-go, it's still difficult letting go of an animal that, through sweat and tears, has come into your family. The transition this year was a little easier as time added another mark of maturity. Besides, even though we know the true fate of an FFA animal, we choose instead to believe that they will forever be frolicking in a grassy, green meadow!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Ponders on a postcard

My paternal grandfather was 21 years old when he received this post card. The year was 1913 and Ellwood Avery Slater was a young man who would soon go to war, then later return home to marry my grandmother. At that time, the U.S. postal service held the monopoly on communication with correspondence consisting of beautiful picture post cards washed in soft colors. I have a handful of these precious letters, when words were written in pen and ink with style and a refined hand.

I'm not sure who the author of this card was; my assumption is that he was a buddy from back home. He writes about harvesting wheat and working in the fields with his horses, Billie and Barney. The tone is one of camaraderie; a note to check in and reach out to an old friend.

The detail and intricacies of these old cards fascinate me: the decorative scrolls and flowers on the back, the small stamp, and the simplistic addresses of those years ago. Part of me longs for the moment captured in this picture, when chivalry wore a suit and there was time for walking in the garden.

Our past holds many treasures and should be safeguarded for our future. With the birth of modern conveniences and the immediacy of our advances, much of the loveliness and simplicity of earlier days has been lost. Though everything is faster and more instant, e-mail, faxes and phone calls can't compare to the beauty of script as pen meets paper.
Perhaps if we slow down a bit and ponder where we came from, we'll discover what our ancestors did: The secret doesn't lie in how we lose time, but how it is spent in the first place.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Day's punctuation

Sometimes at the end of a long day, there are no words. No words of wisdom, no words of advice. No words to inspire or lift up or let go. No words of solace, no invitations for sanctuary. And the silence is OK.

Sometimes we don't have to talk. It is in the stillness that we hear and see, lift and look up, rise above and rejoice.

May the end of your day bring you gentle quiet, contented moments and hope for the new day ahead.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Family - 1982

Several days ago I posted a photograph of five children in their parents' bed; little ones at the beginning of adventure in the making.

Fast-forward twenty years from 1962. Our family changed and grew from babes in arms to young adults. Add to the mix my 'little' brother, two sister-in-laws and a tiny niece and we were newly defined.

I was a junior in college and unaware of all the joys and trials that awaited me. We were still young and filled with fresh ideas and hopes, unwrinkled and unblemished. New relationships lay ahead, and eleven more babies would capture our hearts. Only childhood chapters had been finished, with an entire book left to be written.

Kathie, Wayne, Keith, Julie, Lori, Alan: those names have been with me for as long as I can remember. And through the ebbs and flows, the growth and the change...we are - and always will be - family.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Last summer my daughter raised sheep for the first time. She had two docile lambs who came up to her, nuzzling close every time she got near them and behaved like the snowy-fleeced animals made famous in the childhood song about Mary.

This year....a completely different story. From the moment her Vo Ag teacher put them into the pen, these sheep have behaved like wild banshees in the midst of cyclonic weather. Every time someone would get near them they would run into their hut and turn their backs, thinking that if they couldn't see us, we couldn't see them. My husband would have to climb in after them and use every ounce of strength to drag their kicking, flailing bodies out so we could put on the halters. My daughter was discouraged and nervous that they would prove more than she could handle. At just over 100 pounds, she was no match for them.

But she persevered. Climbing into their pen she would sit on an upturned bucket, talking softly to them, despite the fact that they seemed to ignore her.

Then gradually, she was able to catch them on her own and they seemed to know that they needn't struggle while she adjusted their halters. She began walking them one at a time through the grassy lanes of our country roads and they would Baa pathetically as they plodded along.

Now she is able to walk them together and they obediently follow along as her soothing voice tells them all is well. Though no one else can go near them, they seem to know they are safe in her presence.

Her teacher tells her they are simply dumb animals who don't respond to kind words and a soft hand. And even though she's no expert herself - and more city than country - the proof is in the pudding; the product of her patience.