March 29, 1974

March 29, 1974

Forty-eight years ago today, I was in my Sophomore English Class when there was a light knock on the door. Mrs. Miller, my English and voice teacher turned to answer the knock. I remember she stepped out into the hallway to speak to whoever had interrupted our class. When she returned, I had a brief recognition that her expression had changed. I did not recognize the look then. I soon became very familiar with it. I don’t remember now if she approached my desk or called my name from the front of the room. I do know that I was singled out from my classmates and informed I was needed in the office. With every eye in the room now focused on me, I walked to the front of the room and out of the door, never to be the same again.

School

In retrospect, someone, whose identity I cannot recall now, walked with me to the office and this should have been a clue that this trip was not about my behavior. However, in my experience kids were only sent to the office because they are in trouble, so it seems natural that my mind was racing to recall what I might have done to warrant the trip. Getting into trouble in school was not a normal course of events for me. My companion and I walked down the hallway in silence and my eyes were focused on the floor.

When we reached the office, I was invited into the Superintendent’s office, a place I don’t think any of us kids had ever been before and there I was confronted with several familiar faces. Again, I can’t tell you exactly who was there. I believe Mr. Plank whose office we were now in was there. It seemed like every seat in the room was taken but that is likely an exaggeration. Most significantly the pastor from our church, Pastor Swiggum and his wife Jean, who also served as school secretary were present. Probably at this moment my fear of getting in trouble was replaced by sheer dread of what was coming. I cannot tell you how it was said or by whom, although it was likely Pastor Swiggum, but it was then I learned that my dad was dead. I don’t know what words were used. Was it died, passed away, gone? I don’t remember. What I do remember was that my dad was dead, and I was needed at home.

Sunset

What an awful job for anyone, to inform a young person that their world has been altered forever. I have a lot of compassion for those adults now but for many years, I was very angry about what came next. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal when I type it out, but here it is: they let me go back to my locker and get my stuff. Seems like a stupid thing to be upset about, right?

I remember that at the time, I was hell-bent on doing that. It was the birthday of a good friend and I wanted to wish her a happy birthday. I wanted to get my things. I probably wanted to pretend that none of this was happening. Maybe my overly dramatic teen-self wanted to make a good show of being strong and brave. What I could not anticipate and what they did not perceive was that by doing so, I became what I perceived as a spectacle for all to observe and the memory of that bothered me for many years.  At the time, I might just as well have been walking through the school naked like someone’s reoccurring nightmare. I felt exposed and vulnerable and different, the cardinal sin of any teen. The younger me felt the adults in charge should have known this was a bad idea and stopped me from going.

Red Umbrella

Losing my dad at 15 changed my life and I was different. That walk through the lunchroom on March 29, 1974, didn’t make it so. It was just a tangible event that I could focus on and direct my anger at. In a town made up almost entirely of two parent families, I now only had one parent. Except for my friend, Jan, who had lost her father, the only other kids that I knew without fathers had divorced mothers which had already branded them as different. I hated being different. Like all teens, I just wanted to fit in.

Giraffe

What I couldn’t see then and likely did not see for many years is that my contemporaries were all struggling with that feeling of being different. Their struggles just weren’t as outwardly apparent as mine and since I was buried in my own pain, I did not see it. Over the years some of them have revealed those struggles and I have been surprised by them. Many have not told me directly, but I have surmised things based on what I have heard and seen in the years since. I know now that none of us gets through life without some feeling of being disconnected and we all have our own moments where we feel vulnerable and different. So today, on the 48th anniversary of my trip through that school lunchroom, I can remember it without cringing and use it to remind myself that you just never really know what people are dealing with but you can be assured they are dealing with something and that makes all of us pretty much the same.

I’m All About Me When I’m on the Motorcycle

I'm All About Me When I'm on the Motorcycle

Meadow

My husband and I just got home from our first motorcycle ride for this summer of 2020. Like a lot of things this year, our ride had to wait. Knee replacement surgery for him in mid-May meant several weeks of rehabilitation before attempting the bike. I confess we were back on it much sooner than I ever anticipated, and I am very thankful for that.  It was a short ride by our standards but a ride non-the-less and not less enjoyed due to its brevity.

While we were out the reason that I love the bike so much became clear (or perhaps it is fairer to say clearer) to me.  It is the singularity of thought that I experience. I imagine that this experience is not unlike that of people who enjoy riding a bicycle, kayaking, fishing or any other activity in which you are fully engaged. When I am on the bike, I have a million thoughts the vast majority of which I will never remember once I am home. I have written great stories, composed songs, envisioned businesses, resolved conflicts, implored God for his advice and made plans to be a better me on the back of that bike. It's daydreaming at its finest and the luxury of it is that you cannot actually do anything in response to your thoughts. There are no notepads to write down your ideas. There is non "to do list" to add to. There are also no chores or responsibilities to distract me from thinking about well, let’s face it, me and what interests me.

Barn

In our early years of riding, I use to try to do more on the back of the bike. I took a lot of pictures. There are not too many barns in Michigan that lie along our usual routes that I do not have a photo of stored on my computer. I do not do that as much anymore. Taking pictures takes times away from enjoying the view and interrupts my thoughts. It is distracting to keep track of the camera and not drop it on the pavement (did that last year….) and when your phone is your hand so are your social media and communication options like email and instant messaging. So now, my phone is generally in the saddlebag. I also use to keep a small notebook with me where I jotted down thoughts and memories of the journey to add to my ride journal. I am glad that I did that. We have several old ride journals and sometimes in the winter, my husband lets me read them to him and we remember together the journeys we have taken. I don’t do that anymore either. I am content now to let it all fly by me. I am content with the thoughts that ramble through my brain and the scenery that I am most immediately seeing.

My sister-in-law and I have a saying “helmet on, world out” and that’s never been more true for me. Sometimes on rides with other people I will try to make a note of something I want to bring up at our next stop about a cow or a car or a building but then we get to the stop and I find it has all mysteriously gone. I saw stuff. I know I saw stuff. I know I was impressed by some stuff, but it’s gone and all that is left is this satisfied feeling that it was a nice road, I had a nice ride and I am happy.

Cloud

In his book, Lake Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor relates a story about his early days as a writer. According to his retelling of events he wrote two great stories which he was planning to sell to the New Yorker Magazine. On an ill-fated train trip from Minnesota to the west coast he left the briefcase containing the stories in a bathroom and never saw them again. He said of one of them, “the lost story shone so brilliantly in dim memory that every new attempt at it looked pale and impoverished….”. I have felt that way. I know some of the greatest thoughts I have ever thought in my life have been lost to me during these wind therapy sessions. That doesn’t bother me anymore either. I’m at peace thinking thoughts that will never again resurface. At this point in life, it’s all about the present moment and I am okay with that.

I Think I Finally Understand Etta Stoner

I Think I Finally Understand Etta Stoner

Corporation

I grew up in a small town in Iowa in the 1960s and 1970s. My little town was one-mile square, planted firmly in the middle of farm country. I was a town kid which was different from a farm kid in those days before the Internet made us all more homogeneous in terms of our experiences and exposure to the world.  As a town kid, my contemporaries and I pretty much had free reign to explore our one-mile square. We were transported beyond the borders of our yards on foot and by bicycle. I do not actually remember spending much time in a car growing up. We went places like “the city” (pop. 75,000) for shopping or to my grandparent’s and aunt’s homes one or two counties away but by and large, we were not taken places within town in the car.

 

The Neighborhood and Beyond

Bicycle

I lived in a house on a corner lot and my neighborhood consisted of the one street that ran south from that house. This is not to say that I did not have friends in other parts of town but from an early age my playgroup was the kids on that street. You might go to a friend’s house in another neighborhood during the day, but after supper and until the lights came on which was the universal signal for “it’s time to go home now”, we played within that street. Eight houses and one tar shack which housed an elderly man we did not know much about and all of us avoided. Eight houses with a total of about six "playable" kids, by that I mean within my age group. There were other kids in the neighborhood, of course, by some were too old or too young to be considered acceptable playmates. When I type that all out, it seems like a ridiculously small world and I guess it was but at the time it did not feel that way to me. People from my generation like to say that we were raised before bored existed and although it sounds cliche’ there is a lot of truth to that. I do not remember ever feeling bored unless it was raining or snowing so hard that we could not go out.

Etta

Directly across the street from our house was the home of Etta Stoner, a woman who my entire life I considered an old widow lady.  I recently wondered about that perception and found that Etta was born in 1888 so by the time I was aware of her in about 1963 she would have been 75 and had been widowed for about 9 years so my perception was not completely unfounded. What may not have been accurate was our perception that Etta did not like children. True or not, it is what we all believed. This perception was reinforced by the fact that our parents encouraged us to “leave her alone” which likely meant give the poor woman a break from your energy and noise, but was received as a more ominous statement of what she would do to children found lurking in her yard.

Cherries

Her yard did not hold much fascination for the kids in the neighborhood except to say when you are trying to play hide and seek in a one street area, hiding places can be few and far between. Etta had a row of evergreens right up next to the house which were ideal places to hide from detection. Attempts to do so however, would be met by a rap on the window signaling that although you had not been caught but another kid, you had been caught by her and asked to move on. Additionally, she had an apple tree which produced the largest apples I have ever seen in my life and I believe this is where most of the kids in the neighborhood had an issue with her. Etta did not allow us to pick apples off that tree or even pick up the ones that had fallen.

Confessions of a Fruit Thief

Here I will confess to one unattractive facet of my growing up years which is that I was a Class A fruit thief. I think I knew every raspberry patch, grape arbor, and apple tree in every alley in that town and I unashamedly partook of every free bite I could get. As an adult, I understand now what an affront to the home gardener this was but at the time, I did not see it that way. I think I believed that the stuff just grew naturally and was therefore, available for the taking. I should have known better and perhaps I did. Time and memory can allow us to believe a lot of things about ourselves that are less than accurate. Surely my parents told me that taking other people’s fruit was stealing. I know for sure Nancy Thiele our neighbor who caught me in her grapevines more than once tried to impress the error of my ways upon me.

Etta's Great Offense

Pails

Over the years, as our childhood passed, we ignored Etta for the most part. Our late grade school and middle school years took us further away from the neighborhood we shared. However, when I became a teenager our worlds collided, and she became the object of my frustration and sometimes downright anger. You see, Etta had a habit of getting up at the crack of dawn to work in her yard. One of the tasks at that hour was to clean the cracks in her sidewalks. To accomplish this task, she would get down on her hands and knees (just a reminder here she was in her 80s by this time) with a metal bucket and a digging tool of some kind. She would clean each crack, place the weeds and dirt into the bucket and then crawl up to the next section, scaping that metal bucket on the sidewalk behind her as she progressed. My bedroom window faced Etta’s sidewalk and so even with my window closed I would be awoken by the sound of her work. Teenagers love sleep and I took her actions very personally. When you are sixteen the thought that anyone at any time of the day would need to clean out the cracks in a sidewalk is plain ludicrous. I remember that I would get up and yell at the first available person which was generally my mother about Etta and her “stupidity”.

I do not recall the last time I saw Etta. I left home in 1976 to go to college and although I returned home during the summers, I cannot tell you if she continued to be able to do yard work during those years. I did a little research on her for this piece and I found that she eventually went to live at the nursing home and died in 1980.

It All Comes Around At Last

Clock

During the Covid-19 pandemic and even before, I have been experiencing a lot of challenges with sleep. I am part of the “up during the middle night set” and the “lay awake in bed and wait for daytime crew”. By talking with others and seeing what is happening online during these hours, I know there are a lot of people who are sharing this experience.  I also know that scientifically time moves at the same rate during the day as it does overnight but when you are awake during those hours it seems to move exceedingly slowly. To manage this situation, you find yourself doing things at strange times like scanning old photographs at 2 a.m. or re-potting your houseplants at 4 a.m. The other morning while doing the later, I thought about Etta and realized this may have been why she was doing something as mindless as digging weeds out of the sidewalk at 5:30 a.m. Perhaps, like me, she had been up all night restless and searching for something to do to distract her mind from the frustration that insomnia brings or maybe she was lonely having lived so many years alone. Even though I never yelled at Etta for waking me up as a teen, I apologized to her in my mind and let her know that I think I understand her now. She, like me, was just doing what she could to keep herself healthy in body and spirit. I don’t plan to start digging weeds out of the cracks in our driveway but I am aware that as my unemployment starts and age continues to keep me from a good night’s sleep most nights, I too will be looking for ways to stay productive and that others may find my choices annoying. I will be praying for more grace than I was able to show to Etta at that age.

Operators

Notes for my Dysart Friends: Etta Stoner was born Rosetta May Heath in 1888. According to “Stepping Stones of Time” published in 1973 she was the daughter of Benjamin and Clara Heath. “Benjamin Ross Heath, born at Sherman, New York, January 16, 1946, came to the Dysart area in the early 1860’s. Mr. Heath a carpenter, by trade, died November 8, 1917. In 1875 he married Clara Armstrong. Their children were: Mrs. Viola Ludwig Dial (foster daughter), Mrs. Ellen Seeley, Mrs. Etta Stoner, Mrs. Olive Kavalier, John Health and Mrs. Fern Barrett. There were 11 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren. The Heath family lived most of their years in Dysart on West Wilson Street.” 

Etta was an early telephone operator in Dysart. She is shown on the left in the photo above along with Ella Schroeder at the switchboard.

Etta married Sylvan Stoner and they had one daughter names Helen Edwards (Wendall). Etta was widowed in 1854 when Sylvan passed away. He was 12 years her senior. She was a member of the Methodist Church in Dysart. Etta, her husband, daughter and sister, Olive, are all buried in the Dysart Cemetery.

A Walk for Freda

A Walk For Freda

This morning I will be joining in the Walk to End Alzheimer's with about 1,100 other people all of whom will be there because dementia has impacted their life in some way. The weather looks favorable for a good walk in Millennial Park. I know I will see a lot of old friends and work colleagues there and I am looking forward to that. There will be a many smiling faces to greet and likely a lot of shared hugs. It should be a good morning.

One person who will not be there though, is my mother-in-law, Freda, who died after her own journey with dementia. Freda always amazed me. Despite the fact that she never learned to drive and limited her social network to her family, she could literally find a way to complete any project she put her mind to. Over the years, I watched as she wallpapered, painted, built, dug, and planted her way to a home that reflected her so well. She was an amazing decorator, seamstress, baker, and cook. She was also quite an artist. Over the years, we as a family, were forced to stand by and watch as dementia slowly robbed her of these skills. That path was painful and frustrating for all of us and that is why this group will walk today in Grand Rapids and all over the world. The hope that we can find a way to save future generations from a similar fate is paramount to the walk.

The journey through dementia took so much from Freda and from all of us but one thing that she was able to maintain until almost the very end was a sense of belonging. Toward the end of her life, we all gathered for one last Christmas in her home. At one point in the evening, Freda tapped my arm and pointed to one of my nephews and said, "I don't know who that is, but I know he is one of mine." I'll be thinking of her this morning as I walk and be thankful that I got a chance to be a part of what was hers for as long as I did.

Do not ask me to remember,
Don’t try to make me understand,
Let me rest and know you’re with me,
Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.
I’m confused beyond your concept,
I am sad and sick and lost.
All I know is that I need you
To be with me at all cost.
Do not lose your patience with me,
Do not scold or curse or cry.
I can’t help the way I’m acting,
Can’t be different though I try.
Just remember that I need you,
That the best of me is gone,
Please don’t fail to stand beside me,
Love me ’til my life is done.
– Owen Darnell

 

Where Were You on September 11

Where Were You on September 11

September11

In the aftermath of 9-11 Alan Jackson wrote a song the major theme of which is "where were you when the world stopped turning?". No doubt that song will be played all over the country today on the 18th anniversary of what I have come to think of as one of our foremost shared American Experiences. Most of us who were cognizant of what was happening that day will revisit where we were, who we were with and what our initial reactions were. I should state that I make a clear distinction in my mind between the experience of those of us who were not in NYC that day and those who were. It can't be anything near the same and I don't pretend to understand what those people experienced.

I was home for some reason that Tuesday morning. I was sitting on our green plaid couch, cutting coupons from the previous Sunday's paper, wearing a white bathrobe and drinking coffee. These images are sharp in my mind. The color of all these items is particularly seared into my memory. I was watching the Today show when the first airplane hit the tower. It's almost embarrassing to admit today but I had to be told that these events were done on purpose. That thought never entered my mind. My initial and very naive reaction was that something had gone terribly wrong with the electrical system used to guide airplanes.

I am a child of the 1960's and 1970's. Growing up, we had personal knowledge and interactions with the concept of war. Most of the fathers we knew had been in World War II or Korea. Our older brothers and the older brothers of our classmates were either in Vietnam or having their lives effected by the possibility of going to Vietnam.  We sat in front of televisions with anxious mothers and brothers as the selective service draft was drawn. We saw the images of Vietnam almost every night on our televisions, but all of this was "somewhere else". Not in America; never in America.

Alan Jackson's song describes a number of responses that people had that day but seem to me to focus on a just a few themes. Did you withdraw inward to yourself and your own small circle or did you reach out to be with and help others? Did you become a little more appreciative of what you have and value it just a little bit more? Did you curse a world where bad things happen, or did you look for answers and a sense of peace from your faith?

As we all know, the world did not stop turning that day but to me it does feel like it got moved off its axis a bit. I believe that day was full of losses and oddly enough some gains for us. We lost our innocence. We have certainly lost some personal freedoms as a result. But, some of us can still conjure up the feeling of pride we had in our country and our citizens' ability to respond in crisis. I think overall we have a better appreciation of those who put themselves in harm's way to protect and serve us. So, eighteen years later it seems to me that it's worth asking ourselves a similar question to Alan's. "What did you learn the day the world shifted and how have you used that to thrive in your post 9-11 life?".

So You Think You Can Blog

So You Think You Can Blog

You Got This

I got it into my head recently that I should start a blog. I thought tonight might be a good time to get started on that.  I spent some time thinking about what I would name my blog and researching how many other blogs share those titles. Do you have any idea how many out-of-date blogs there are out there on the internet? Apparently, there are a lot of other people who also thought having a blog was a good idea, at least at first.)

The next step was try to figure out how I would access this website that I purchased a long time ago when we had a store. I've been paying to maintain it  just in case I might actually get back to something like that again. I have not worked on this site recently (two years if you can believe the date on my last posting). That process took me about 45 minutes of failed password attempts and failed attempts to figure out which of the several email addresses I have had over the years the request to change the password went to.

I finally arrived back where I started only to be faced with the daunting task of creating a password. I have a whole notebook full of passwords at home and two sheets of passwords at my work. When it comes to creating a password, I'm tapped out. Twice Word Press said I couldn't use a password because I had used it recently. How can that be? I haven't been on here for two years! That fact alone should have gotten me in. Who else would even try those inane combinations of letters and numbers?

Finally, I accessed my website only to realize that I don't actually know what the difference is between a post and a blog. The help menu was no help so I decided I should go look at my daughter-in-law's website.  She's a master at blogging so I knew she would have the answer. Her blog is on a separate page of her website, so that's where I thought I'd put mine. I successfully added a page which is title "The Blog" however as you can see, this post is not there. After an hour or more of searching how to do that, I had to give that part up (for now).

Hang, The Blog page, I'm ready to write something! So, I click on the "write" button and am faced with a blank sheet ready to accept my thoughts and ideas and creative energies. And suddenly, I have no idea what it is that I thought I might blog about. It's like I'm back in school and the teacher has just given the final instructions for the Iowa Basic Skills Test and my mother sent me to school without any #2 pencils!

I know sometime in the next few days, it'll come to me what I thought I might write about on my blog and when it does, I'll be ready (well not entirely, yet).  I can find my website, I have my password written down, and I've learned how to insert photos. But the point is, I started, which was my goal in the first place. At the very least, I'll have an easier time finding the place where I could write if I have something to say.