Monday, September 26, 2016

The smell of fall

Fall. The morning air is fresher, crisper somehow. Leaves are turning (very slowly here) and pear and apple trees are just about finished for the season. Screens come down and storm door windows go up. Farmers are harvesting while the women are pulling the blankets and winter clothing from storage. Fall.

Corn mazes and petting farms were not part of our growing up. There were no pumpkin patches or petting farms. We could walk into the corn field, get lost and find our own way home. We grew our own pumpkins. And, we could walk across the yard to pet a farm animal. No autumn bells and whistles for the farm kids. My favorite fall recreation belonged to trees and leaves.

Emma and Nolan attend preK on a nature reserve which is part of our Tualatin Park and Recreation District (THPRD). Every day, rain or shine, they hike in the woods. Nolan saw a deer on the first day and was quite happy with his new school. Ecology is used in all aspects of the teaching. Fall. A perfect time and place to learn.

THPRD covers 50 square miles and serves 240,000 people. 2,500 acres of parks are owned/maintained. This is in Washington County where I live west of Portland which is in Multnomah County. There are 51 paved trails and 17 unpaved. There are 27 miles of streams/waterways and three lakes. The area contains 162 natural areas covering 1,491 acres.  Fall turns this area into a colorful wonderland where migrating birds rest and hikers enjoy the cool weather. My dad would have loved it. This would have been his fall retreat.

Dad was between crop-seasons in the fall. Tobacco was drying out in the shed. Grain and corn had been brought in. Hay and straw was baled. Barns were cleaned and fresh bedding put down for the livestock. Dad had more time on his hands. More times for a little girl.

This was quality time for us. A last fishing trip by the pond. Walks through the woods. Small animals skittered or slowed down with the cooling weather, giving a father a chance to show his daughter more mysteries of nature. Firewood was in place and anticipation was high knowing that soon the fireplace would be blazing and hot dogs roasting once more. Mom made hot chocolate and filled the freezer with pies. She rolled out dough, cutting it into thin noodles to add to our winter favorites. It was fall.

My parents have been gone for many years, yet fall brings them to mind more and more often. Perhaps it is because that was the time of year that we all interacted more. No one was exhausted at the end of the day. We looked at the stars and listened for migrating geese. We lingered by the window with coffee in hand, watching the birds at the feeder. Neighbors dropped in and stayed longer. We all had more time....more time for each other.

It is fall. I do not need the calendar to show me. I can smell it in the air. It is the smell of nature, the smell of clean, the smell of home.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Just bobbing along

The round red and white bobber just sat there. It rolled with the ripples and the wind. Occasionally, a dragon fly would use it for a resting spot. It rarely had any activity so just sat there doing what it was named for. It bobbed. If fishing was slow, Dad replaced the red and white bobber with an elongated white and yellow bobber. They bobbed the same. The dragon fly had little sit on. And, usually the fishing was no better than before.

I grew up with a fishing pole in my hands. Initially, I just sat holding the pole and looking at the water, the trees, the bugs and most everything else. My bobber just sat there....bobbing. I grew a little older and was allowed to get the worm out of the bait bucket. The slimy thing twisted and curled, and in all my little girlness, I said 'yuk'. With age came more freedom. I graduated to putting the worm onto the hook. I found that if I whapped it with my shoe first, I could stun it then put it onto the hook with absolutely no resistance. Once I was adept at this task, my father allowed me to remove the hook from the fish. Yes, I grew up with a fishing pole in my hands, watching the red and white bobber.

I watched the bobber. It was on the end of the line hooked to my old cane pole. When we sold the farm, I saw my pole in the corner of the barn. I really wanted it, but what was I to do with? I hadn't fished since I was a child. Then I realized that this pole represented so much more. It held memories of a little girl getting attention from her dad who seemed to work most of the time and never played with his daughters. Dad and I had something in common as I watched that red and white bobber. We talked and laughed. With each fish I caught, I gained his praise. When I caught none, I received his support. We relived the day of fishing as we dined on that same fish at dinner. It was in those times that I learned old stories of when as a boy Dad fished in the same fishing holes. That old pole beaconed to me that day in the barn....not to take it home. No. It called to me to remember.

As I watched that red and white bobber, I learned about nature. I learned patience. I learned the excitement of the tug on the line and of landing the fish. I learned what it was to be quiet. I learned to listen to the earth. Most of all, I learned to know my father.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Putting on the feedsack

On the kitchen wall, just inside the door, was a row of hooks. Coats, hats and colorful aprons and bonnets hung there just waiting. A vivid memory of Mom and Pop Johnson's kitchen. Mom put a little blue flowered bonnet on my head, tying it beneath my tiny chin. We were off to the chicken house where I looked for the glass egg that supposedly encouraged the chickens to lay. But this is not about eggs or chickens. Nope, it is about the fabric in that little bonnet that resided in readiness on the hook in the kitchen.

That sweet bonnet was made out of feedsack cloth. Quilts sewn by that older generation are made from that same type of cloth. Small prints, floral pieces, pieces of children's clothes, old aprons, men's shirts and mother's dresses. Pieces of history that came from feedsacks.

My children and grandchildren will have trouble understanding how people could use these pieces of cloth for clothing, but times were hard and store-bought fabric was a luxury. Buying clothing in stores was impossible for the farmer. Articles of clothing were handed down until they were frayed. It was a generation of recycling, before we even had the word in our vocabulary. Nothing went to waste. Creativity and invention were used in a time when life was simple, when necessity required ingenuity.

In the time of my great great grandparents, farm and food products were shipped in barrels and tins. Eventually, food products were shipped in bags. In 1846 Elias Howe patented the lockstitch sewing machine and made cloth bags that could be reused. The bags were white with the company name stamped on them or the farmer's name was placed on the bag, so it could be refilled. Women removed the stamp with a mixture of lard and lye soap. Even with over the counter products the labels were difficult to completely remove from the white fabric.

Eventually flour and feedsack manufacturers realized that they could make these bags more attractive and appealing. Stamped labels were replaced with paper labels. Patterns were designed to appeal to the womenfolk. By the 1930's manufacturers were competing to design attractive patterns. The fabric weight was determined by the contents of the bag. Flour required a tight weave, while animal feed used a looser weave. Sometimes a farmer might find that he had more bags then he used, hence he sold them back to the store. Peddlers even began peddling empty bags. Women went to the store with their men to pick out the design of the bags he purchased, looking for a new dress on the shelves of the grocery store.

During WWII, it became patriotic to use feedsacks for clothing, bedding, just about anything that required fabric. Manufacturers began producing yardage of the cloth. I was surprised to discover that feedsack material was still partially in use in the early 1960's.

My sister June and I were having one of our daily conversations. The subject of quilts came up. Each of the Loxley girls have a quilt made by Great Grandmother Hollinger. We have treasured these since we were little girls. I was probably about two or three when she died. Still that quilt means the world to me. "You know that some of that fabric is probably from the feedsack clothes were wore," June said. Suddenly I was not only looking at a quilt made by a great grandmother's hands, but I was looking at my past in the clothing my family wore. A fabric that had a rich history in the life of a farmer and his wife.

This last thought is for my children: It is not the riches we leave behind. It is not the tangible dishes, furniture, other items that have been with you throughout your lives. The wealth of our family has been in the simplicity of the times in which our ancestors made do. In the work of their hands, in the love by which they created. It lies in the struggles they suffered to make our lives better. I am able to give you more because those before me they gave their best.

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."