Sunday, March 18, 2018

I belonged to it

The house was quiet with only the whispers of yesterdays tucked in closets and in each crevice of the house. No furniture slept quietly on the floors. No pictures hugged the walls. The smell of all those yesterdays remained but only that.

I don't know what it is that causes me to love that house so. The memories were both good and bad. The winters were cold within the walls of the bedrooms. The basement was often damp. Ash hung on the walls of the fireplace and the rock walls held the memories of children laughing. What causes one to love a house so dearly?

I cannot look at an old house without wondering who lived there. Even the old house we lived in had been built by someone else. It was not our house. We were just the next to love and cherish it. It had been remodeled, hence many of the sweet walls were gone with a remodel of an old house. Who were those first people. There were many bedrooms. Were they full? Did they choose to build there because it sat on a hill? Was it once surrounded by trees? Who dug the well and lit the first lamp.

Yes, I love old homes. They have personality and character. A charm surrounds them and even though they need work, the thrill of giving them new life is exciting. New additions, walls removed, a new bathroom or two, paper torn off and paint applied. Old creaky windows replaced with thermal panes. Storm doors and perhaps a bit more insulation. New siding replaces old and outdated. Carpet covers those once cold floors. The wash pan is replaced with a marvelous new dishwasher. Even a microwave hums in the corner. Clothes no longer hang on the line. Instead they are in the house in the fluff cycle. A bathtub is added to delight the woman of the house.

Yes, I grew up in that house. I walked the rooms on that last day memorizing the feel, the smell, the shadows and mysteries played out within those walls. There I could hear my mother's voice and feel the presence of Dad. Memories of childhood were stored there. The essence of who I am would always stay there. I would take a bit with me, but the love of those walls would always possess me.

My children have memories of the house. My grandchildren have no idea where it is or what it meant to me. It belongs to me and I to it. Creaking boards, rattling windows and rain on a tin roof. My heart warms and yearns at the thought. Home. Forever in my heart.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Women of the land

Up early to cut the bacon from the slab and set it to frying. Breakfast for Dad who had already gone to the barn to feed the animals and get prepared for the days work in the field. Children wander in sleepy from a dark night's sleep drawn to the kitchen by the smells of breakfast, hoping that maybe mush would be on the morning menu. Beds were made, laundry started. A child followed Mom to the hen house to help gather eggs. Baking commenced and preparations for lunch, feeding Dad and the hands. A chicken killed, dressed and in the skillet. Potatoes peeled and beans gathered from the garden. A pie sat cooling. It was nearly eleven in the morning.

Hands fed, children off to play, laundry hung on the line, hoeing the garden and taking in what was ready. Canning jars sat in the garage. Mom paused her day to take a little something to the field for the men to eat. Sometimes she even drove the tractor. When we raised tobacco, she worked in the fields and in the strip shed while continuing her daily routine. Her day was finished when we were all fed. It was evening, and she could finally sit down and rest.

In Mom's spare time, she gave all she could to the church. She cleaned it, taught, sang in the choir and sometimes directed it. She played the piano and lead the youth group and young marrieds. She babysat for all the neighbors and took in anyone who needed a home. She never thought of herself or allowed herself to be tired.

My mother was remarkable. Farm women are remarkable. They work all day long and give their families every bit of themselves. In olden days, they helped a neighbor prepare a deceased loved one for viewing. They sometimes helped with a birth at home. They worked the fields and were always available for their husbands. They could plow the field, reap a crop, bend over the dirt for hours and chase cows. They knew how to milk those cows and could help a ewe lamb. They made bread, they slaughtered chickens, they beat rugs with a rug beater and stuffed down comforters. They cooked on a wood stove and wove rugs. They could ride a horse and hitch a buggy. They could lift a bale and feed a lamb from a bottle. They bore child after child and lost often. They climbed out of the birthing bed and went back to work.

Farm women never leave their job. They are remarkably strong. They don't wait to see what must be done. They just do it. Never do they ask for anything, because they know they have everything in the world just outside their back door. The flowers they grow and the seedling they see pushing through the earth give them pleasure. They love deeply because of this life lived where work and family are a twenty-four hour a day blessing.

Today I salute farm women. I honor them for their strength, their goodness, their dedication to their land and their families. You are quite marvelous, you women of the land. Oh, yes, you are.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Like a poorly written novel

The stories we don't tell. This history hidden away in diaries and old letters. Scattered remarks that make you want to know more. However, sometimes we do not realize until it is too late that there is no one left to fill in the blanks.

Our family had so many stories with no followup. We had our share of black sheep and shady history. Not that our family was all that unusual (well, maybe it was).  My parents' day and age was tougher. There were fewer people and maybe strangers on horses passed through, stopping at a grandmother's door asking for a meal. Maybe a relative had a terrible accident falling off a chair, hanging herself. Funny thing that the chair was against the wall.

Sometimes I think I should delve deeper, visiting archives in order to find out what I can about those incomplete stories. These things sound like some poorly written novel, but then it was a rougher time. In many homes and neighborhoods women had no voice and children were not cherished. The generations of settling things consisted of a rod, a whip or maybe even a fist. Gentleness was considered weakness and free thinking was unheard of. So stories were written. A woman found at the bottom of the basement stairs. Oh, found by the husband at the top of the stairs. A woman found dead in an outbuilding after days after the postman tried to deliver a registered letter. A theft and a war. A history where no one talked. Not in the home. Not to neighbors. Children terrified to be in the house. Children terrified to leave the house. It was a different time when the family stories were buried beneath silence and fear.

As that silent child who heard everything, I learned about the history of the neighborhood along with the gossip. The secrets covered up so long ago surfaced. The adults around me laughed and told more details, according to the age they were when events happened. A new history, one not written down, came into my life. It was colorful and sometimes disturbing. Still I did not ask the questions that now my sister and I debate. Maybe this is part of the reason I write. I open those doors and look for answers. Maybe I even challenge you to do the same.

 In one of my mother's journals, she relates a story that I heard over and over in my childhood. My Aunt Iva was Mom's oldest sister and just about as wild as they came (according to the family). I think I would have liked her, but I never had a chance.  She died in 1940 under suspicious circumstances.

Mom's journal entry:

After my sister Iva graduated from grade school, she went to Dayton and got her a job. And she met a man from Chicago. She would come home sometimes on weekends and one Saturday she came and was in a Chrysler car and we had never seen them. Her beau asked me if I'd like to take a ride and I said yes. When we were riding, he told me his name was Bugs Moran, a Chicago gangster. I didn't know what that was. So after they went back to Dayton, I asked my dad what a gangster was. He never brought Iva home again.

Colorful and crazy. I think perhaps my family was a bit more colorful than most, but then, what's a writer to do?

Monday, February 19, 2018

You can do it

Canasta. Euchre. Uncle Wiggley. Scrabble. Games. We all grew up with them, didn't we? Well, let me tell you that being the youngest was not all that great back the lane on Neff Road. Coming along late in life, I was often alone. Had it not been for my relatives and neighbors, I would not have known what it was to play a game or to have an adult play with me. Mom and Dad were great parents, but they were busy with the youth group and my older sisters. I was the tag-along.

However, I was given a wonderful gift by this alone time. I developed a wonderful imagination. And, by tagging along, I learned to observe. See, being shy has advantages. You get to be invisible thus giving you opportunity to learn by what you see. You pick up little things that outgoing people miss. You learn to listen to adult conversation. You learn to play independently. You learn to create your own world of imagination.

I didn't really realize this wonderful gift I was given until I became a parent. It was then that I found my voice. It was then that I opened that box of wonderful ideas that had hidden so deeply in my past. My home filled with musical instruments and no holds barred on the handling of them. I gathered art supplies for everything from coloring and cutting to painting and creating. Those observations I had as a child showed me what I missed. I determined that my children and theirs would never lack for creative outlet. They have been exposed to concerts, plays, museums and other events. Throughout all of this, conversations and a closeness develop. With stepping into a world of creativity, windows are opened into what is possible.

I was at the end of the kid line in our family, but the experiences (as well as lack of) made me into who I am today and gave me insight to offer my family more.

What has made your heart sing? It is never too late, you know. Those of you who worked hard all of your lives and put off trying something new, do it now. Maybe you  were shy and silent. Find your voice. You can't fail. You only fail when you don't try. Too old to try to paint, write, draw, sing, dance? No, never too old. The beauty of being older is that you learn that you cannot embarrass yourself. You do not need to be perfect. You can try anything you have wanted to try and not go through life wondering if you could have done it. You can open doors for the children in your life by your example.

So today, I hand you your dream. I challenge you to take that first step. Perhaps it will be a new beginning. I know you will find joy. Go for it!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Love comes in remembering

Focusing on Valentine's Day just around the corner, once again I turn to love. Nothing could be more worthy of my attention.

Yes, it was long ago that I was a child back that lane on Neff Road, but there are things that crop up from those years that almost catch me breathless. Little acts of love that I had forgotten or taken for granted. We sat at the table ready to eat. I usually sat by Dad. He would cut up my food (an act of love) and tuck the napkin into the neck of my shirt. Wow, I had forgotten about that tuck. My small frame dwarfed by the large piece of cloth placed there to keep me a bit neater, placed there by hands that loved me. Love comes in a piece of cloth.

Mom loved to make her pies saving the scraps for a very special reason. She squished the odds and ends together then rolled them out with her old rolling pin. She dusted the dough with sugar and cinnamon then rolled the dough tightly finally cutting the pieces into small rounds. After baking these to a soft brown, she gave the hot, little rolls to her children. We were at her elbows through the entire process. Sometimes she allowed us to complete the process on our own. I think she enjoyed seeing her daughters learn the beginnings of baking. She loved to give us sweets from her hands. Love comes from flour and a rolling pin.

Doris Lavy watched over me. She sat on the porch and watched for me from my earliest memories to the last when I came as an adult. Margaret Stager saw me in her house almost as much as she saw her own children. She was my other mom who scolded me as well as loved me. I never doubted these neighbor women's love for me. Love comes from the front porch.

Aunt Welma Johnson played cards with me, made cookies with me and allowed me to play beauty parlor as I combed her hair. She taught me what it was like to have the complete attention of an adult. Aunt Kate Loxley taught me about respect. She loved me with all her heart from the beginning until the end. Uncle Phil Barnhart took time with a little girl answering her questions and listening as no other adult ever did. Love comes in the interaction with adults.

I laid my head across the front seat, resting my head on Dad's lap and my feet on Mom's. (good way to get your head crushed) We often took to the road on a Sunday afternoon. Love comes in the touch of a hand.

My sister June was the other part of me from my childhood to now. She teased me and loved me by those very actions. Even though years parted us, our hearts grew closer together. Geneva Lavy Yoder held me when my father passed. She loves me like a sister and perhaps holds that other part of my heart. Love comes in the embrace of a sister.

A napkin tucked, a mother's purse filled with wonderment for a little girl wiggling on a church pew, a voice raised along with your own song, a mother's hands on a rolling pin covering those of her daughter, a few coins tied in the corner of a handkerchief, a large sugar cookie straight from the oven, a string and a Cat's Cradle, a licked finger wiping a bit of chocolate from a cheek, a large hand lifting some leaves to reveal baby bunnies, a hand reaching out to hold your own, all of those little things we knew but didn't understand as the ways of love. Love comes in quiet moments.

Little things do reflect love. Truly I believe they are the reasons we all try to stay in contact by mail, Facebook, all those ways of saying I love you. I remember. Pictures of the old neigborhood from Janet Rhoades, a letter in the mail from Janet Douglass filling me in on the family news, Cousin Patra Loxley Sengsy finding me after all these years, reconnecting with the Eliker kids, Linda Newbauer, friends from high school and relatives and friends after years and miles of separation. A column for the local paper and old friends. Love comes in remembering.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Beating of the human heart

tick tock, tick tock, tick tock....
tick-tock ( 
noun: A clock; also, by extension, the human heart

The sound of a clock ticking drew my attention to the TV. I was thrown back to another 'time'.  I landed in Pop and Mom Johnson's living room. The clock ticked and tocked throughout my childhood. A sound that was soothing, relaxing. A sound that was so familiar that I do nothing else but remember.

When I was a child, clocks were a part of the sounds in a household. They chimed, they tick tocked, they played music and sometimes they mesmerized a little girl as she watched the gold pendulum swing back and forth. Mantel clocks, pocket watches, huge wall clocks that hung in banks and other city buildings. In some homes, Cuckoo clocks announced the hour. Small figures danced around the bottom of those same clocks.

I remember walking into a jewelry store and hearing the clocks on the walls playing tick tock tunes so randomly that one could get lost in the chaos. Yet when the hour arrived, they played in unison. Some clocks were part of bronze sculptures, while others were merely clock faces with no adornments. 

Then came digital. Hm. The numbers glowed and the tick tocking ceased. The lovely wall clock was obsolete and the mantel clock became an antique. The grandfather clock seamed incongruous with modern interiors. Clocks were seen less in businesses, probably in hopes that customers would shop longer if not watching a clock. Indeed employees would work harder. Now the clock resides in our phones. More arms are free of watches and the tick tocks I listened to on Daddy's watch are now silent.

I have a mantle clock that doesn't work, but it reminds me of another time and of other people. The large key that opens it is a treasure in itself. It holds a history of other hands winding the gears, keeping time on time. An action that began the tick tocking for another day. An action that probably was accompanied by putting out the lights, checking the children and saying good night. 

For those of us who are older, we have memories of places and of people stirred by the sound of one of those old clocks. Today that ticking and tocking took me back to the farm on Yount Road. A trip home to visit my grandparents once more. A sound of a clock...and the beating of the human heart.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A noble cause

Standing sentry over my little domain, it gave its life and limbs. The noblest of nobility. The beauty of the holidays greeted me and held me wrapped in delight each time I looked at my lovely Christmas tree. Indeed it brought new life to my home.

Trees. They have indeed been a huge part of my life. With Dad and his family being true naturalist, at an early age, I learned to love trees. I embraced many a tree in Dad's company. His explanations of bark, leaf and bloom gave me the backstory on every type of tree on the farms on Neff Road and Byreley. Moss and lichen, toad stools and mushrooms, woodpecker holes and birds' nests were all part of my earliest education. Dad knew his trees, and I was the blessed recipient of his wisdom.

I never had a tree house. Oh, how I would have loved to play in one. A few curtains. An old fruit box. I believe I could even have fashioned a lift so my faithful dog could be part of the fun. Perhaps the tree house could have become a pirate ship. An old pipe from the brooder house would make a fine cannon. A bit of old tin would make a great wall. A couple of tobacco lath for swords, a red handkerchief, and a patch over one eye, and Captain No Beard would be on her way. Ah, the dreams of a little girl without a tree house.

We picked pears and apples off the trees. A bucket of apples fell out of a tree cracking my head open. I sat in the shade of the mulberry tree.  I played on hug rocks beneath trees and swung from a trapeze hanging from a tree. My horse about knocked my head off under a low limb. Lavy's had two trees that passed lightning from one to the other. An old tree rested comfortably for years in the creek bottom. A few initials were carved there. My dad carved he and mom's initials in a tree in the catalpa row. A tree had fallen over in the old pond where Dad said the bass were ever present. Dad chopped down trees to build the barn. I sat on many a teeter totter that was made with a board from a tree. Fire wood burned in our fireplace, in bonfires and in the tobacco strip shed. Trees enriched our lives.

Yes, it was time to take down the Christmas tree. The sweet noble hadn't dropped a needle and was as fresh as the day I got it. I said farewell to this sweet tree. I knew it was raised on a tree farm to be chopped down, yet it was sad to see it give its life for my delight. I was blessed to have this beautiful tree for a couple weeks. I celebrated the holiday as it looked on. Boy Scouts picked up my tree and had it ground up. Perhaps it will be return back to where its roots began. Good bye, dear noble. Your time with me was a noble cause.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The clock chimes

The clock chimes and suddenly it is 2018. 2018! Two years away from 2020! The clock chimes.

Many of us are struggling with health issues and losses in our families. We want to leave difficult times behind and step into something all brand new. But the chime of the clock means nothing more than stepping from one day to the next. I vote that we make that step worth something.

On Neff Road, I learned to always think of others. I sit here writing feeling as ill as the rest of my family. (Sweet Emma gave us all something for Christmas.) As I sit here trying to recover, I think of all the times my parents struggled going into a new year. Yet, they had hope. A new year brought a miracle drug to my sister with rheumatic fever. New years brought grandbabies into the family. New years were a time of hope for better crops. There was much to leave behind. Hope was that none of it would flow past that chime of the clock. Yet sometimes it did.

A clock chimes and in New York's Time Square a ball drops. In neighborhoods, fireworks are shot off and pans banged. Often there is a kiss for the new year and a bottle of champagne. But we only go from one day to the next. What differences will there be in that step into the new year?

Well, we are the difference. In our families, in our neighborhoods, in our world. To me, the clock chimes a call for all of us to do what we can to make the new year different and better. A time to leave your mark be it ever so small or ever so large. Indeed it is a call for action.

2018 is upon us. I sit here feeling lousy and not at all excited about banging a pan. In fact, I would really prefer no one bang a pan. I write this on Sunday, New Year's Eve. Right now I pray for a stuffless nose and a new box of kleenex. However, this time of isolation has opened my mind to new ideas and new hopes for this upcoming year. You are my hope for the future. Happy New Year, dear friends. Happy new adventures. The clock chimes.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

We are the New Year

Santa's suit is at the cleaners and the elves are taking a very long nap. The reindeer lost a bit of weight on that nightly trek and children are coming off a present high and sugar overload. The recycle bin is a little fuller this week. All of that time spent shopping and wrapping is over in less than a couple of hours. That stack of gifts looks much smaller once they are opened. The bows are piled high and boxes collapsed. All of that wonderful food was either eaten or became cherished leftovers. Sales in stores are starting. Stores hoping to recuperate their losses. Yes, that one time of the year has come and gone. What now? Diet? Self improvement? Organized? Fuller life? Financial success? Travel? Health?

What will the new year hold for me? What about you? Never have I made a resolution. With all the surprises life brings, it seems nonsensical to make changes by mere resolution. Those pounds I put on over the holidays will be great if a famine strikes. I work on improving myself every day so with that in place, I can just move on doing the same. Also, I could promise to live life to the fullest, but, again, I feel that I do that with great gusto. I would like to be healthier this year. Last year was a little frayed around the edges. Some like to get more organized in the coming year, but I find comfort in chaos. Maybe I should work on improving my financial status. Perhaps I will play the lottery. I would like to travel more. Going back to Neff Road seems to be a pretty good resolution. I think I can keep that one.

We go through a great deal of activity over Christmas and New Years. Laughter seems to be more plentiful, and, by the same token, with little, overzealous ones, the tempers can be tried. We leave the old enjoying the new. Those dreams of sugarplums turn into hope for a peaceful future. For a couple of days, we embrace one another and enjoy blessings we are given. Then a few days later we are wondering what 2018 has in store.

On Neff Road, we played in the snow oblivious to the year ahead. The crops depended on good weather and the market. The year of planting, hoeing, reaping would tell if a few more presents would be beneath the tree in December. The days in the tobacco shed were over and thoughts turned to seedlings and the big steam engine that would rumble down Neff Road when the weather warmed. Crops would own our lives when spring came, so for awhile, we hibernated and enjoyed the winter.

Yes, we have ended the festivities of Christmas but hold the memories of moments near and dear. That is what the new year is all about, resolving to love more deeply, to be kinder, to keep hope alive and to embrace those who need our help. We are the new year.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Turn on the Love

Today I am sharing my post on A Grandparent's Voice. Please read my Christmas message at