Friday, April 30, 2010

Rocks

Rocks. We walk over them. We toss them. Kids bat them. We paint them. Some people build houses using them. We cross a stream balancing on them. Rocks.

As a child, like most young children, I discovered that if you looked really, really close you might actually find a shiny rock, a rock that was white like a cloud. It would find its way into my pocket to be forgotten until it showed up in Mom’s laundry.

Dad had his Indian stones. They were made out of rocks of red, black, grey and sometimes white. The colors fascinated me. Where the rock came from was a mystery to me since I had never seen a large chunk of any of the above colors. He also had an odd fossil that looked much like a piece of honeycomb. Another looked like a slice of a corn cob. One more was lava rock. Dad had neat rocks.

My Aunt Esther, Dad’s sister, and Uncle Phil were rock hounds. Their travel destinations were not fancy resorts but to locations known for their rocks. They found these adventures a walk into history and savored the beauty of these rocks, pure treasure. I know because I am a recipient of a piece of petrified wood. I hold it and am thrust into the history of our planet, of our earth.

Because of this history in my family, my granddaughters and I take time to look at the rocks. We gather agates at the beach, we go to the rock museum. Rocks have a place in our lives, a memory of the farm and those people who lived there first.

A small rock sat on my doorstep along with a few petals and leaves. I hadn’t been gone long from home but long enough for a visit by two little girls. There was no note only these bits of nature. The girls knew that I would immediate know who had come to visit.

Rocks. A history, a mystery, a message.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Trunk Love

“Going, going, gone!” Seventy-five dollars. The camel back trunk was mine!

“So how are you going to get that back to Oregon?” June asked.

“Well, there is that,” I thought.

Trunks. Oh, how I love trunks.

“Mom, you don’t need another trunk,” my son explained as I contemplated another.

In a small place trunks became storage areas. The trunk in the living room holds 60+ years of photographs. Upstairs in the spare room the camel back, which did find its way west, holds old memories, items from the past. The trunk in my bedroom holds linens. A trunk that was given to me now resides at my son’s home. The old steamer trunk was given away last year due to space. I love trunks.

I contribute this ‘trunk’ obsession to my maternal grandmother. I don’t remember much of Mom Johnson. I was young when she died, and she was not a warm, cuddly person. However, I do have a memory of sleeping over in their spare bedroom. In that room was an old trunk. My grandma wanted to show me what was inside. She took out cast iron back in the shape of a dog.

“This was your Uncle Bob’s when he was a little boy,” she explained then continued through the trunk showing me books and other items that had belonged to her children, her family.

Perhaps this one single event showing me a woman that I otherwise don’t remember tied me to this love of old trunks and the treasures they hold. These old trunks traveled many miles and carried clothing, dowries, trinkets and more for these settlers who peopled our land.

In the resale shop I found an old, handmade tool box. It now stands in the corner of my living room holding books. Last year I found a little red tool box at an estate sale. It now holds my mother’s old diaries and sheet music.

My sister and I walked around the flea market at Shipshewana, the place I found my old camelback trunk. “June, look at the tool box!” A cute tool box was calling my name once more.

“Pam…………”

Oh, well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Finding Mom

Who would have guessed that my mother had ever worked away from the farm? Like many of the community, Mom, too, worked at the tomato canary when the tomatoes were ripe, picked and ready to be packed for market. Money was always tight. A bit of extra cash was needed. My sisters knew this information, but it was new to me.

“I remember sitting with Mom in Leah's kitchen counting potatoes,” Peg said. Many people in our area grew potatoes. For many farmers, neighbors were part of the digging crew once that time of the year rolled around. Adults and older children would dig the potatoes as some of the wives and mothers counted. Younger children played with other kids who tagged along.

“Counted what?” I asked.

Peg explained how numbered tags were handed to each potato digger then placed on the bushel basket they carried to the field. After the baskets were filled with freshly dug potatoes, they were loaded onto a wagon that carried them to the counters. Mom sat in the kitchen with other women counting the number of potatoes in each basket. The count was then written on the tag, the pay slip used in paying the worker at end of the day. The payoff on a bushel was 4-6 cents.

Money was scarce. Farmers and their women worked hard for every penny they earned. While the women worked, little ones stayed with an older sibling, another relative or sat at the mother’s feet or in a makeshift crib while the mother earned her daily wages. It was a way of life.

I didn’t know that Mom worked away from home. I didn’t know that Mom contributed financially to the household. We girls always thought that Mom would have liked to go to college. She was an intelligent woman with a desire to learn. Of course, her father would never have considered sending a girl for higher education. ‘A woman’s place was in the home’. I wonder what she would have done had she had choices to make. What contributions could she have made to a society that had a narrow view of women? What could she have done to reach her potential?

Mom always wanted to do more; however, she did much in the only arena in which she could participate. She loved doing for others, teaching songs to youth, organizing a group of teens or bunch of women for projects. Mom was a doer. Her life was rich in experience. Mom yearned to learn as much as she could expanding her knowledge and her beliefs. She continued to learn until she could learn no more.

Funny what you learn when you spend some time with your siblings.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Click My Heels

“I feel like I’m meeting an old friend,” I wrote to Gary on Facebook.

“Me, too,” he answered.

Gary Allread grew up on Red River-West Grove Road. He was just a little boy when I knew the family. His Aunt Karen was in the grade below me and a good friend. He was one of the neighbor kids who played at the house back the lane on Neff Road.

Gary and I found each other on Facebook. We started chatting like old friends. He connected me once more with his aunt closing that gap of years.

“I would have known you anywhere,” he said as we rushed to meet one another at the Alumni Banquet. We hugged as old friends do, his 6+’ frame towering over me.

“So are you coming to Oregon to visit me?” I asked as people began to leave the banquet.

“Yes, I will now that we have met. I think it would great fun.”

For years I was separated from the comings and goings on Neff Road. Facebook brought me back to the neighborhood introducing me to a new generation.

Yes, indeed, I can click my heels and go home time and time again. Or, maybe is should rephrase: I can click my computer and be surrounded by friends from home time and time again.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Family Quest

What happened to Dad’s herd of cattle? Why did Grandad have a glass eye? When did Brenda move next door? The questions continued and memories were stirred once more.

June is 7 years older than me. Peg is 10. We share the same past but see it from different ages and understanding. I always kick myself for not asking more questions after I return home from a visit. This time I tried to make a conscious effort to ask different questions.

Dad’s herd of cattle was contaminated with Bangs disease. Bangs disease is known as Brucellosis of cattle or “contagious abortion. The disease can also be passed onto humans causing undulant fever. There is now a vaccine for calves preventing the fever. When it hit Dad’s herd, the cattle had to be destroyed. What happened then changed the course of our family forever.

No one knows why Grandad had a glass eye. My sister was so curious that she asked our aunt, his daughter. She didn’t know either. He had a glass eye as long as anyone could remember. Hm.

Unbeknownst to me I had lived elsewhere before Mom and Dad moved to our farm. We lived on the other side of the ‘block’ closer to my grandparents. My best friend, Brenda, and her family lived on that side as well. We all moved to Neff Road when our fathers bought their farms.

I love this quest for new knowledge of our family. The memories of a glass eye on the windowsill, a black derby hanging on a hat rack, a milk stable vacant, the new cure for my sister’s rheumatic fever, the list goes on. This history builds and sisters become closer. The years separating us as we grew up disappear.

Our history. We share it, you and I. Your stories have pieces of my own. My stories awaken memories of your own. We only have a limited time to gather. The discoveries might not be earth shaking, but they just might open new doors of discovery and conversation with those who have traveled that journey with you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Distance

Distance changes your perspective on home. Time passes. I have lived away from Ohio since I was 25. Most of that time has been in Oregon. Distance changes your perspective.

As I’ve said, there were changes on Neff Road. Missing neighbors sitting or porches or waving from the fields reminded me of the years gone never to be again. Brenda drove around the old neighborhood telling me of the changes, of the children we knew and the stories that happened while I lived on the other coast. Distance.

Brenda and I needed to go to the cemetery. These sisters of the heart needed to pay their respects to their parents. She had cut flowers for us to lay on the graves. Emotion, tears, loss brought me home again. We walked the cemeteries finding those who were once part of our lives gone. Distance.

Living far away makes one loose a sense of time. I always knew that my parents were in Ohio. I always knew that we were just a phone call away. When I lost them, that feeling still remained. In my mind, Neff Road was still the same.

Brenda and I went to the Brethren Home to find those friends and neighbors now in their 90’s. Her mother was surprised to see me. Her hug brought me to a mother’s arms. Her 96 years had seen much….had seen me grow up along with her daughter. Leah is 98. Just as bright and full of life as ever she was remembering times with my parents, times when they were young. The neighbors at the end of our lane were there as well. I went to Victor’s room where he and his daughter, Geneva, waited for me. He is slowing down but looks the same as always with a ready hug. They have become my other parents since losing mine. Doris is not in good health. She is in another room. Victor knocks on the door. She opens it a bit, and he waves his hand inside motioning for me to peek through the door. As I poke my head around the door edge, her sweet lips kiss me welcoming me home. Distance. It has robbed me of time.

I cannot change the past and the miles. I envy the time Brenda has had with her family, the memories they gathered while I lived on the ‘west’ side. Yet in some ways, I think maybe I cherish more these people of my heart. Distance has given me an appreciation I might not have had otherwise.

In driving away from Neff Road, I stopped once more at Newcomer’s Cemetery. I drove down the small road stopping at the black stone with LOXLEY engraved on the front. On the back of the stone are the three daughter’s names. I sob for the years missed, for my parents now gone from my life and for the leaving once more of the place I will always call home.

Distance.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Simpler Life

Simplicity of life.

My sister, June, and I love antiquing. I consider us modern day adventurers in search of antiquity. We search for those reminders of our childhoods and those things we have come to love over the years.

This trip allowed us to travel twice to Shipshewana for the flea market held every Wednesday. The auction barn is filled from front to back with various stations for different vendors. June and I walk the barn looking for treasures. We go early enough to find items we are interested in bidding on. She looks for leaded windows she can repair and resell. I look for anything that I might discover that calls to my heart. We are in paradise.

At 9am the auctioneers begin their calls. Not just one auctioneer, but at least three. The chaos begins as the callers seem to compete with one another as their unique calls echoes through the barn. People crowd around the tables as old items, once cared for, move on to new owners. A couple of mounted deer heads are waiting to be auctioned. I pat their heads giving them one last prayer thinking that they would have been much happier roaming a forest. Guns and knives are sold. Pots and pans, books, old toys and so many other things that my parents probably threw out go home with new owners to be resold or as with me, just cherished.

I stood next to an Amish woman waiting for her item to come to the auctioneer’s attention. We laughed and talked as we waited and watched the crowd around the tables. Soon the oil lamp came to the block. This woman was not waiting for a collectible or something that tickled her fancy. No, she was bidding on a staple for her home. She walked away with her lamp and I walked away with my Haitian prints. It was a good day.

June and I went to the Amish restaurant, Yoder' for breakfast each of us devouring three huge pieces of old fashioned mush. The Amish women served the tables wearing their white caps and simple dresses. More and more of this community are going back to the simpler life.

I came home with a few treasures. Two old paintings from Haiti circa 1930’s or 40’s and a few old books. I didn’t come home with the teddy bear, dolls or tea jar. However, two sisters had the time of their lives doing what they love to do together.

On the way home, we passed a man plowing his field in the same way my father had once farmed. What a beautiful sight! Four Belgian horses pulling the plow.

“You know the Amish do not like their pictures taken,” my sister was saying as I hung my camera out the car window.

“I’m taking pictures of the horses,” I said as the Amish farmer returned my wave.

I had stepped back in time. I had stepped back to a simpler life. Once more two sisters made memories.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Time Traveler

1961. The gym was new. The class of 1965 had entered the portal. Now 45 years later I was walking into that same gym. No longer the wide-eyed freshman. No longer a part of the class of 48 students who graduated all those years ago.

Last fall when my sister and I were planning our trip from Key West to Indiana, I had hoped to attend the Alumni Banquet. Graduating from a small school allowed me to know all of the student body of 200 students. I needed to go home, and this was a good time.

Before I ever walked into the gymnasium, I spotted a couple for whom I had babysat when just a teen. Over the years I had wondered where they were living. Now I was within hugging distance. It seemed that with each step I took, I found someone else I’d known in my childhood. Class by class I found past school friends as well as their parents. Miles and years melted away and the missing parts of my past were put in order once more.

Along with those I recognized were those I could not. A hug often found me looking over the hugger’s shoulder mouthing to my friend Brenda, “Who is this?” Adults who were once small children in my growing up were now beautiful adults bringing me home once more. No wonder I couldn’t place the faces.

Recognition was given for the person travelling the farthest distance. I knew from the way the dialogue was going that I was the target traveler. Triumphant I nodded and sat hiding behind Brenda. Those who had come from California glared at me. The class roll was called in which each class stands and tells how many from that class are attending. One other person from our class was in attendance. “Class of 1965.” I stood announcing that two were present and accounted for. And, I stood alone since the other person graduated from another high school. Correcting myself down to the single attendee, I melted into my seat.

I realize that those people have no idea how much they mean to me. They were part of my life on Neff Road. They were a part of creating the me I have become and the memories I cherish. I didn’t want the evening to be over. I wanted to sit around talking with old friends catching up on 45 years. Of course, we all say we will keep in touch, but it won’t happen. Perhaps I will return for year 50.

Maybe I hold on to my history entirely too close; however, the memories I have collected in my 62+ years of life are more precious to me than any stack of money I could accumulate or any status that would mean much less. I could live my life moving forward only focusing on me, but I would miss so much by not looking back.

I was home, and, by golly, I had fun.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mush

Packed the bags, packed on the miles and packed on the pounds. Now for the unpacking. Argh!

There is nothing better than comfort food. I find most food comforting. I love traveling and trying the fare of each location. In Key West, we dined under the trees on seafood and pasta. One of our favorite places was Babaloos. Each time I visit my sister, we head across the Keys for one reason and one reason only: Chicken livers.

Growing up on the farm, nothing on the chicken was wasted. The giblets were family delights. Chicken livers were the ultimate prize. June knew I would love Babaloos because it reminded her of Huston’s in Arcanum. A menu board boasted the daily fare as well as the numerous side dishes, a choice of two, from mashed potatoes to cottage cheese. Ah, yes, a reminder of home.

On our trip up from Key West to Virginia, we passed through grit’s country. Grits were something I discovered in earlier years traveling south. Love at first bite. However, nothing rivaled the breakfast side dish of good, ‘ol country mush. For some reason Bob Evans restaurants haven’t quite made it to Oregon….along with the mush. So mush was on my plate as often as I could find it. The best mush was found in Shipshewana, Indiana, where the Amish served it in true country fashion.

Comfort foods are aptly named. They are reminders of a simpler time, of farm hands working the fields, of Mom cooking over the old kettle and cast iron skillet. Oddly, I don’t bring home these dishes. Polenta could take the place of mush but isn’t quite the same. If I asked for chicken livers at the grocery, they would stare wide-eyed. No, comfort food is a place, a reminder of time.

Bob Evans has taken mush off the menu but still serves it. I sense that it may be on the way out. Chicken livers are certainly not good for healthy eating and most chickens hate relinquishing a good liver. So perhaps those will disappear as well. I am comforted that I could go to places that still remember and give me a glimpse back to a time of embracing comfort.

Mush. It’s more than a way to get sled dogs to move.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A New Walk Down Old Memories

As always, it stood at the end of the lane watching the activity on Neff Road. On this day, it would look down at a woman returning home.

Janet invited me to walk with her once more down Neff Road on my return visit to Ohio. My best friend, Brenda, went with me. Two old friends once small girls walking barefoot down this old road stepping on the bubbles of tar that popped up through the pavement on hot days. We remembered a different Neff Road. “Where do you want to go first,” Janet asked. Oh, my heart longed to see the home I have loved these many years.

The neighbors who once lived along this road, those who loved us and watched over us were all gone. Some had passed and some had moved to the Brethren Home. I could no longer knock on Margaret’s door and find her welcoming smile and warm arms. Brenda’s mother is 96 now. Their home has been bought and remodeled adding another floor to the little house as well as a large garage. Nothing was the same. Doris and Victor no longer sat on their porch waiting for me to stop in to visit. Oh, I longed to see them there.

“Do you want to go to the house,” asks Janet as we stand looking back the lane. Torn between a longing to walk the lane and hug the house once more or avoiding the sense of loss I would feel if we walked on by, my feet automatically began the long remembered walk up the lane. The farm had changed. A new barn, fences around pigs and a cow, a play structure in the yard. Yes, it had changed. I knocked on the door unsure if I wanted to see inside of the house or talk with the new residents. The girl in me still longed to walk into the kitchen and find my mother cooking as usual and Dad peeling potatoes. The woman inside of me longed to once more belong to this land. No one came to the door. Whew. Not meant to be. Maybe I am not ready.

We walked to the barn my father built. Inside horses stood in stalls. The farm was once more a part of the simple life of no electricity and modern conveniences. Horses and buggies took the place of tractors and cars. It was no longer mine.

Three friends walked to the bridge. The same path walked hundreds of times now bringing me back to a place my family loved through our lifetimes and those of our children.

We ended our country trek at my grandfather’s farm. As we walked across the bridge by his home, Brenda told how she always hid beneath it when she ran away from home. At dinner time, she would wander home. “No one ever came looking for me,” she said. “I just wanted them to look for me.”

“Brenda, I’m sure they knew exactly where you were,” I said. Two best friends and their secrets. Now two older best friends and their memories.

I loved my walk down Neff Road. I’d waited three weeks to step onto that road once more. Janet gave me a gift in that invitation. She gave me more warm memories of a trip back home.

There really is no place like home…..even those of our memories.