Monday, August 15, 2016

Letter from home

July 15, 1987. What? I looked at the seal on the envelope. It had never been broken. The stamp was 22 cents. Mother's writing was scrawled across the front in her beautiful cursive writing. A letter from home.

When moving, I tossed papers into boxes determined to toss most of it when I got settled. Well, that was almost a year ago. Now that my hand is back in action, I decided to tackle the job. Memories. I saved memories. Special letters, tickets stubs to my son's shows, programs, scribbles from a child's hand, even letters from my second grade class when I had German measles. Yes, I had it all.

It is an emotional thing when you touch these memories from your childhood, from the lives of your children. Sweet memories of those who are now gone and of days when you were young and silly. My first book when I was four scribbled on several little pages. A story of a clown and the firemen who saved him. Old yellowed clippings from the Advocate telling of births and deaths. A story about my mother with her smiling face looking at me. A letter. A letter from home.

Yes, a letter from my mother was buried in the pile. "Mom?" I said out loud. I feel her presence often but never so much as in that moment. At that moment I wanted to have my mother's arms embracing me as I held this unopened letter. A letter written when my children were kids, and I was married. A whole lifetime away. I felt a bit tentative opening it. And, why had I not opened it when it came? What would I find inside? Was it a message from the great beyond? Well, just open the letter, Pam, and get it over with.

Mom wrote every week even though she called every week as well. Her letters were full of news of the neighborhood and of the church. I was caught up on family comings and goings and the health of all. This letter was like receiving one of the same many years ago. A letter from Mom.

Her first words: Surprise! (Well, indeed it was.) I thought maybe if I wrote you a letter I could forget how hot it is and maybe the heat will go away. (For a brief moment I thought maybe Heaven was having a hot spell. Better than the alternative.) She went on to tell the weather forecast and told me she had just talked to Peg. The letter was written soon after my sisters had come to visit. Evidently they loved Oregon. Community news: Doris Wert was not doing well. Margaret Stager was having pain. Doris Lavy was having a rapid heart beat. Neff Road was not healthy on this particular day. She was dreading the church picnic in the heat. And, Gene and Betty Johnson, my cousins, were preparing to visit me. Uncle Bob stopped smoking and Aunt Welma was playing cards. She finished with Dad going out to pick zucchini. Nothing earthshaking. Just her usual filling me in. The normalcy of it was more touching than had it contained a message from the great beyond. It was another normal day in the house back the lane. I was homesick.

"Just think, in a couple of weeks I'll be 75. The years are going faster all the time. Love you much, Mother." More a treasure now then it would have been all those years ago. A message from Mom just to tell me she thought of me and loved me. I got a letter from home.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Thrill of the Darke County Fair

Forty-two years gone by and 2300 miles away, the Great Darke County Fair still gives me a thrill. From the days when Mom and Dad held my hand to the time when I took my own children to the fair, the same excitement waited for me each August.

Last week my grandchildren and I attended our Washington County Fair. In comparison, this is fair is about a third the size of Darke County. When visiting my sister in Angola, Indiana, I was shocked that their fair was basically only animals. I am not sure we who lived in Darke County realized just how good we had it. One thing our fair has that neither of the others have is the rodeo. Those scarred animals are all in a pen outside the animal barns. County fairs with different meanings in different counties.

This was the first year that the little ones could interact with everything around them. Emma was excited to touch a horse; however, when we walked into the horse barn full of towering Belgian and Clydesdale horses, she wanted nothing to do with them. Nolan rubbed their noses and planted a kiss on one. For me, walking by theses giants reminded me that our big barn had been built by Dad and his Belgian team. Emma asked, "How do you get on it?" Good question. I could not even imagine how Dad put the hulling harnesses on his giants. MeMe's are supposed to know everything. "Well, maybe they get on from the top of a fence or a big ladder....very big ladder." I have found that if you don't know, then make up a reasonable answer. Works well with four-year-olds. Gabby, my fifteen year old, gave me 'the look'.

We visited the cows. We visited the sheep and goats. We visited the pig barn where we were chased by a runaway pig. Then we found the best part of the fair for this little duo. My father would be proud. These two climbed up on every tractor, backhoe and piece of equipment that was there. I smiled. The life I lead as a child will be foreign to them, but for a few minutes at the fair, I could share with them shades of the past.

Fair time means missing. I was never much on the rides. No, it was about the people, and, of course, all of that unhealthy food. A once a year feast. Old friends sat by the race track watching the comings and goings. Seeing friends I had not seen in years passing by. The smells, the taste, the feelings that are all captured once a year, even if you live in Oregon.

There is something that calls to me each August. It takes back to the fair, looking for familiar faces. It calls as naturally as does my farm home. The Great Darke County Fair. Enjoy, my friends. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Old screen door

According to Wikipedia: A screen door can refer to a hinged storm door in cold climates or hinged screen door in warm climates covering an exterior door; or a screened sliding door used with sliding glass doors. (Wow! Lots of screen options.) In any case, the screen door incorporates screen mesh to block flying insects or airborne debris such as seeds or leaves (frogs, snakes, mice, my list goes on and on) from entering, and pets and small children from exiting interior spaces, while allowing for air, light, and views.

When I told Mom that we would be moving to Oregon, she was worried about the wild west. In her mind, she still saw a land of cowboys and untamed countryside. And, all that rain!!!! After our first visit here, I assured her that it was a very civilized place with less yearly rainfall than Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I saw no wild Indians or cowboys. Oregon actually has highways and not trails. 

Ohio was always my standard for state comparisons. After seven years of living in Appleton, she had exposed all of her weaknesses. I was happy to leave the snow up to the top of the car, minus degree temps causing the house to stay below 65 degrees in the winter, mosquitoes the size of birds and humidity that you could cut with a knife. No, I slammed the old screen door on that state when we moved with no regret. We had moved to paradise.

In September we arrived in our new state. The weather was lovely and the countryside green, noteworthy especially since we had moved from Wisconsin where it was already getting very cold and trees were dropping leaves like crazy. Life was chaotic as we settled into our new life. Little by little we began to observe the differences in this place. Fall lasted until mid November. Winter was grey but mild. We got rid of the snow shovel and our heavy winter wear. Spring came at the end of February along with flowers. And, it was in the spring that I noticed the screen door....or rather, lack of.

Front doors did not have screen doors. There was no call for a storm door. And, with the lack of flies and mosquitoes, there was no need for a screen door. What's not to love! My apartment lacks a lot of windows. The skylight helps, but I miss having that natural brightness. So, I quite often leave the front door open with a portable gate across so the landlord's dog Moosie does not come to visit. My landlord informed me that he is going to put a screen door on my door. A screen door! The old screen door.

The slam of the old screen door. We grew up with that sound. It was the sound that meant that Dad was in from the field, a Loxley girl had come home, a neighbor had come to visit. And always, "Don't slam the door!" It was the sound of home, of comfort, of return, of family.

"How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it....." - Shel Silverstein

Friday, July 22, 2016

Day of Rest

Seventh day. A day of rest. Chicken was in the oven slowly baking, while we were in church pews singing "This is My Father's World". It was Sunday. The seventh day of the week.

Monday was a day of laundry and gathering eggs. The old wringer washer sloshed the clothes and the Loxley girls hung them on the line.  Mom began her week of cooking and cleaning. It always seemed to me that the cleaning took place mostly when the daughters were home (or in my case after my sisters left, when I was home). Spring meant spring cleaning. Summer meant beating rugs and cleaning floors. Fall meant that everything that was dragged out for summer had to be put away and the winter things pulled out to air. Winter meant that the house was on a downturn from our cold weather hibernation indoors and would definitely need to be cleaned and aired in the spring. It never ended. And it all seemed to start on Monday.

Tuesday through Thursday consisted of outside activity. Spring meant tobacco. Summer meant tobacco. Fall meant tobacco. Winter meant tobacco. Hm. Seems to be a commonality here. There was also garden to put out. Garden to take in. Garden to preserve for cold weather. Lawn to mow so we could watch it grow and mow it again. Hauling manure, baling hay, driving the tractor, picking up rocks. (Yep, they needed a couple of sons.) We gathered eggs, feed sheep, raised rabbits and chased cows, chickens (whose eggs we gathered) and sheep that got loose. Tuesday through Thursday could be very busy days. Oh, and on Tuesday we dampened down the clothes and ironed.

Usually by the time Thursday and Friday arrived, Mom was up to her elbows in pie dough. We girls were shelling peas or snapping beans on the porch, spreading noodles to dry and peeling potatoes. Chickens were killed and cleaned. Pluck, pluck, pluck. (I hate cleaning chickens.) Then we began the task of cleaning the house. Dusting, mopping, washing dishes, taking potato peels to the stock yard and gathering eggs. (Some things we just did every day.)

Mom and her trio of daughters went to town every Saturday. We went to Arcanum to the bank and to load up on groceries and to Greenville for piano lessons and enough meat from the locker to see us through the week. Sometimes Dad went to Gettysburg for a haircut, and we visited with relatives. Saturday was the day to say farewell to the week behind and prepare for the week ahead....just after we gathered the eggs.

Sunday was indeed a day of rest. Mom's well-plucked chicken was in the oven baking. The potatoes peeled by her daughters were swimming in water ready to boil. The house smelled too delicious to leave, but off to church we would go. It was this day of rest, the Lord's Day, yet often seemed to be the busiest of all. Visitors always came around. I think it was Mom's chicken they came for, but they stayed all afternoon. Kids played in the barn. In winter, hot dog roasting in the basement. Mom and Dad were finally enjoying a day of the week together doing nothing. We gathered eggs and animals were fed, but I think even they knew it was a quiet day on the farm.

Sunday was a day that my family gave to others. And, well, you know about the eggs.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Present Past

There is only so much you can write about the past. Well, in truth, there is only so much you can remember about the past. A touch. A smell. For a brief moment, something passes by and you try to grab hold, to cling to a memory that is ever so illusive.

Some of you have mentioned that I bring back a glimpse of something you have forgotten. In the remembering, it seems that more comes along with it. That tender touch was from a grandmother gone when the child was three. All that remained of her was the tender touch, a suffering grandmother in bed by the window and a father's arms holding the child at a casket. A touch. A brief but warm reminder.

Little things from long ago create smiles. I look at a bowl of Cheerio's and say, "I remember you when you were just grain." Okay, so you do not talk to your cereal. Perhaps I do march to a different drummer. I cannot eat lamb chops because they smell like the baby lambs in the barn. The twins pluck off dandelion heads, and I once again see Brenda and I stringing them together. Hollyhocks made into little dolls and honeysuckle by the stoop outside of Mom Johnson's back door.

I sit next to my old saddle in the twin's playroom and smell the lingering scent of my horse and the barn. We are surrounded by the past. And, we are making the past.

Sometimes I wonder what will be carried on from this past. Hopefully, the memories will come with feelings of love. Mine will definitely be preserved in my writing. But what will be passed on?

Nolan is just the guy to say "MeMe? You remember?" Only four years old and collecting memories already. We made a new one yesterday. While the twins were playing with the little chihuahua that lives next door, I happened upon a little snake. Snake!!!! Obviously, I am not a fan. So I decided to make this a learning experience. I called the children over to observe this little creature. Nolan wanted to hold it and Emma, who was more tentative at first, concluded that it was cute. I stood my ground. The snake survived the encounter as did I. It wasn't much, but maybe it would qualify as a memory for the twins for one day.

We can open any page and find it written upon with our past. From Cheerio's to first kiss. From bird song to croaking frog. Our senses are full. I cannot write all of your memories for you. But I can rattle the door and ask you to enter your past. Just do me a favor. Do not forget that this is the present past.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ingenuity gone amok

When I received the email from my son, I knew that I needed to take action. "Mom, it looks like it might be too cool for the twin's Slip 'n Slide birthday party. Do you have any ideas what we can do with the kids?" Of course, when your child asks you for assistance, you really want to shine. So the twins and I went into action. What games did I remember my children playing or for that fact, what did we play?

I needed to determine what capabilities the twins possessed at the newly reached age of 4. We could not Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Nolan would be trying to pin the tail on the dog and Emma trying to pin the tail on Nolan. The orange under the chin was out, because the space between chin and chest would not accommodate said fruit.

I decided to go to my source of information, my sister June. "I don't know," she said. "I never played those games. How about Drop the Hankie." Wow!!! That was a game I hadn't thought about in years! It was my favorite.  But then I tried to envision a group of four-year-old children looking at me as I held out a handkerchief as I explained the game. Hankies are for nose blowing not game playing. I envisioned one of the kids actually blowing a nose on the hankie before handing it off to the next person. Hm. Maybe not such a good idea.

So I decided to see what the kids could handle at age four. We gathered balls from all over the house. Balls that they kick. Balls that light up. Small rubber balls and plastic baseballs. Balls, balls, balls. Next we got three buckets from the garage. The kids tossed the balls around the yard as I placed buckets strategically among the balls. I picked up the first medium-sized ball and placed it between my knees. I then started shuffling along (much easier when I was a kid).  The kids looked on with great enthusiasm and began to copy me. Soon we were laughing as none of us could manage to get the balls into the buckets. We tried balls toss into the buckets never landing a single one. We tried rolling the balls into the buckets. Hm. Well, this ball thing was just not working.

Finally I went online and copied pages of ideas for my son. Yes, I had lots of other ideas of games we had played years ago but decided that we just might need one more year before they could tackle them. Then again, it gives me one more year to practice on my own. And for my next trick, I will attempt to carry a ping pong ball on a spoon!!!!

Oh, wait....I have an email. "Mom, it looks like the weather is going to be great!" Hm.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I will be light

The gulls call overhead as I sit watching the blue Pacific kiss the sandy shores. The immensity of it, the roar, the wind, the smells fill my heart with longing and love. It calls to me from a primitive place that I have yet to discover. It takes me to a place I have no words for and leaves me there with every sense alive.

I was a teenager when I first saw the Atlantic Ocean. I was the only one of the Loxley girls to travel alone with our parents. It was dark by the time were arrived at the ocean's side in Pompano Beach, Florida. Dad took my hand and lead me to the water. I was afraid. The roar sounded like a giant monster coming at us from the unknown. I wanted to leave, but Dad made me stay to listen. I could not comprehend the vastness that I could not see. I could only feel the depths of it in my heart.

We grow and learn. We learn to face fears and to overcome anxiety. We learn to understand monsters in the night. We learn to listen with our hearts. We learn and grow if we are wise.

Dad taught me to love beach combing. Of course, that beach was in Michigan on Lake Hamlin. This is where I discovered what would be my favorite fishing pole washed upon the shore. Driftwood, rocks, a feather or maybe dead fish crossed our path. He taught me to be surprised and awed. He taught me to be curious. In Florida, he showed me a new beach. Shells I had never seen before. Sand that whispered when my feet skimmed the glistening surface. Waves that the giant ocean cast around my feet.

The world is full of rumblings, revenge, guns, hate, most of all fear. A roaring body in the night. A darkness that falls completely. I was taught to look beyond that roar for what is beautiful and am still surprised and awed by what I find. I have learned that looking for good in all allows more good to flow in all directions. Beautiful pearls of hope that wash upon my heart. I would never pick up a weapon or write about hate. It is not my belief and would only feed the darkness that already prevails.

I sit upon the shore. The gulls call to me looking for a scrap of bread. The ocean calls to me asking me to keep it safe and clean. The earth beneath my feet cries for love among all with hate dissipating as each wave retreats. I stand in the night before a roaring ocean and say, "I will not be darkness. I will be a light."

Sunday, July 3, 2016

These are the days

Standing on the bridge, the past come roaring by. Once more I am a child sitting on the tractor pulling the plow. My dog sits on the platform next to me. Dad sings as he drives the tractor. A moment captured in time. A house holding memories of shoe-fly pie and hot dogs roasting over the fire. A corn crib where two little girls played house every summer. The old barn where I saw the birth of sheep. A mere house back a lane, but so much more. A lane that took us home for years long after we were gone. A lane that took us to those who loved us. A place I called home.

The old pump sat outside next to the sign that read Painter Creek Church of the Brethren. A sandbox,  Bible School, choir and playing church. A place where friends were made on the cradle roll to the days when they moved on with their lives. A family created by the mere walking into that church each Sunday. A family that would help create the you you would become.

The lot is empty. The place where my family members all attended school. The big, brick building where early on the kitchen cooks became those who gave us newcomers a sense of security. Halls that echoed the past where high school kids played basketball and young teens danced at sock hops.  An old school where we played beneath the pictures of past classes. Where we became archers and learned to raise and lower the flag. A place where our neighbors were our teachers, cooks and custodians. A place where we grew in all ways.

We drove down a street much changed from the past yet echoes remained of the past. Ballet, piano lessons, dresses at the Palace, soda in the drug store. Days of driving the loop downtown to the Big Boy and back again. Dances in the park and at the Armory. Days in the public swimming pool and walking the midway at the fair. The place where we shopped and played. A place we knew as "going to town".

Grand Lake, Wayne Lakes, Crystal Ballroom, rollerskating. Poultry Days and Pumpkin Show. Annie Oakley, Lowell Thomas. Lick Skillet, Rip Town, Red River, little towns gone from the map. Little towns with funny names. History in all directions. Our history.

These are just a few of my days gone by. Then again, they belong to you, too. This is a history of the past and the present. A gathering of days that we recall, we live and we take to us into the future. This is the place and these are the day.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ties and screwdrivers

Men. What to do. What to do. A tie? A screwdriver? Golf balls? Maybe a new plow! What do you buy Dad?

When working at Hallmark, I was very aware of the lack of gift ideas for Dad's Day versus Mom's Day. Gag gifts. Signs with stupid sayings on them that would eventually find their way to the closet or garage sale. Dads. Men, you are impossible.

Gifts for my dad were impossible. June always got Dad a new tie for dad occasions. Peg went for the shirts.  I honestly think I probably bought hankies. He had tools. His hobby was farming. His job was farming. I certainly couldn't buy him a new tractor or other implement. Argh! Men.

Father's Day is spendy. The golfer, the photographer, the sportsman, the sports groupy. Tickets for events, gift cards, ways to spoil our men comes with a healthy price tag....that is unless you are me.

Years ago I decided to write letters to those I love. I figured that words and feelings were the best (and cheapest) gift I could give. The idea came to me through a letter I received, a letter from my father. Never had my dad written to me. His handwriting was terrible, and so he did not write to his children. The letter came at a time when life was difficult for me. I was stunned when it came. It was a letter from a father telling his daughter how much he loved her and wishing he could be nearer to help her. A letter tucked away in a special place. Well, two places. The most important is the place in my heart.

I never wrote a letter to Hollie Stager or Victor Lavy. I did write to the men in my family and to Junior Shuff who was like a brother. I did not give something money could buy or something that just filled the space in gift giving. The older I get, the more I realize the power of words, the sharing of feelings. Yes, I am a hugger. I cannot give a deeper gift than that of myself.

Father's Day love can heal and perhaps open new doors. I find that when men reach an older age, they often want to have that love but by then are not sure how to process it. I have hugged many an old farmer to find that he had no idea that I cared, that I carried memories of him from the child I was.

Happy Father's Day, my friends. May you receive many gifts of love. Add mine as well.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A place in the heart

The car may not know where it is going, but certainly the women in the car knew the way. Time may pass, still the path does not. We cross the state line and something changes. Anticipation? Dread? What are the feelings for they are many. The dread of coming back with our home gone as well as our parents? Anticipation of seeing loved ones again? The missing of a childhood?

It had been 16 years since we had been in Darke County together. So what drew us back? First and foremost we wanted to spend time with our dear cousin Alma Lea Gilbert. Some people bring a smile just thinking of them. Such was our time with Alma Lea.

Walking into the BRC felt very strange. Doris and Victor Lavy are gone. Margaret Stager is gone. No longer could I give them hugs and tell them how much they meant to me. Those from Neff Road are gone. Time may have robbed me, but memories embrace me.

After we said our good-byes to Alma Lea and Duane, we made another stop. A knock on the door. Popping my head into the room. "Pauline, it's the Loxley girls." There are moments in your life that are forever captured and held in your heart. Pauline Aukerman's loving embrace of two girls she had not seen in decades was one of those moments. Pauline is one of my church moms. One of my favorites.

I have thought a lot about those visits over the years to the BRC. Yes, I stopped in to touch base with those people I love, but it is much, much more. It is not what we give to them. It is what they give to us. I am given tenfold of what I give. I am blessed beyond words with the loving affection I receive. We are not placed on this world without purpose. Our blessings are not in what we gain for ourselves. It is not necessarily what we give to others. I truly believe it is that reaching beyond what is earthly to a place that is sheer love.

My heart is fuller for this visit with those who found a space in their time to see me. It truly is something to pass on.