Thursday, March 31, 2011

Peeps

"We're going to make a stop on the way home," I informed my granddaughters and their friend.

I pulled into the parking lot of the feed store. Sydney read the sign on the door, 'Peeps'.

Last year we stopped into the farm store when bunnies were in the cages. The girls loved visiting the critters and wanted to know about this unusual store in our neighborhood.

We live on the edge of metropolitan Portland. Farm/ranch land is just a short drive away. This store is not one that is visited often by urban population, but this woman found the store and was delighted.

The girls quickly ran to the three tier cages holding the baby chicks. For the first time, they stroked the heads of the peeps when they reached out to get food from the feeder. In another cage, two pigeons cooed as the girls stood next to the cage. I could not take the girls to the farm, but we could do the next best thing.

The store reminded me of the farm stores back home. The smell of straw and feed. Horse gear filled one wall with garden supplies in another. A small store bearing the smell of home.

The first time I stepped into this store, I walked the aisles just savoring memories of the farm. I ran my hand across the saddle. I poked my fingers into a cage to pet ducklings. The farm child in me once more walked through the barn back the lane on Neff Road.

A touch of the country in suburbia.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Small Piece of Linen

She pulled the handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped a tear from her eye, a ritual I had seen each time I came to visit.

Handkerchief: a small piece of linen, silk, or other fabric, usually square, and used especially for wiping one's nose, eyes, face, etc., or for decorative purposes.

Mother was always sure that we had a clean handkerchief for Sunday School. In the corner of the hankie, she tied coins for me to put into the Sunday School offering plate. Sometimes Dad tied a big, fat knot in the corner of his handkerchief making a finger puppet to entertain me during church services. Mom tied a knot in two corners of the hankie making a silly hat or a cradle for a small plastic doll she carried in her purse. Hankies were created to keep little girls occupied.

Mom often crocheted colorful edging on the handkerchiefs. Those were hankies carried on special occasions. Daily hankies consisted of floral prints, children and animals playing, cowboys with lassos. Each were washed and ironed then stacked in the drawer waiting for the next adventure.

Dad always carried a hankie. The farmers were hot and sweaty. Dust was everywhere. He never left the house without one. I remember ironing them when I was small. I took pride in pulling them so they were squared once more. Iron. Fold. Iron. Fold. Iron. Fold. Iron. Fold. Each fold was press evenly, even those with tattered edges and those thin from years of use.

We grew up carrying handkerchiefs. I remember when Mom gave my daughter a few. Stacey wasn't sure what to do with them. Never did she carry one. I noticed more and more that tissues had taken the place of the hankies. Men no longer carried a handkerchief. I guess that handing a woman a big white handkerchief when she wept was out of style. We no longer feel faint needing a kerchief to fan the brow. Maybe our noses don't run as much. Hm.

When I was about eight, I was sent a handkerchief from our friends in The Netherlands. The red edged, white cloth was embroidered with Dutch children in the corner. The handkerchief lies in a box of treasures along with a pin that was received at the same time. I never used the hankie. Even now I look at it once in awhile remembering the Dutch baby who stayed with our family. It was a prized gift from a foreign land for a little farm girl.

Every time I go to visit my sister in Indiana, we go to Shipshewana, a nearby Amish town. A favorite place is Yoder Shopping Center. One side of the store is full of clothing, sewing needs, linens. The other side of the store is home and hardware. While wandering the aisles, I came across boxes of handkerchiefs. They were the same as those I saw in the 5 and 10 when I was a child. I yearned once more to have one with pennies tied in the corner or one made into a cradle by my mother's hands.

Perhaps when I go back this summer, I will buy one for each of my granddaughters. I will wash it and iron it then tell them about the farm girl on Neff Road sitting in church with her parents and the handkerchief. I know the girls won't use them, but I think I will put them aside with another handkerchief that was never used. 

When I visit Margaret, she will pull the hankie from her sleeve and once more wipe a tear from her eye. I will be home again. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Toughened Up

This morning on my blog A Grandparent's Voice I wrote about an terrible accident that happened on Saturday. My niece and her family knew the four boys who were killed and their families. The news catapulted me back in time to when I was a young teen.

The innocence of youth can be snatched away so quickly. One day we are clueless teens. The next a child lies in a casket. The senior was a cheerleader. Everyone loved. I didn't know her well, but with all the kids in the school, we went to pay our respects to her. In shock I stood there with my friends looking at this lovely young woman in her cheerleading outfit and school pins on the sweater. We saw, but we couldn't comprehend. Back then no one had counseling. Farm kids just had to deal. We saw life and death often on the farm. But no child is prepared for the death of another child.

This isn't about tragedy. No, this is about an attitude in our home. We were expected to be toughened up. We were expected to deal with an event then move on. Moving on was not always easy. But no one ever asked.

I think we went to every funeral that ever happened in the area when I was kid. I had seen death in the coffins. I had stood at gravesides when I was very young. The memories are etched in my mind. We girls tagged along the same for weddings as for funeral. We sat there. Mom and Dad visited. We went home. No one talked to the children.

I remember my father's tears at my grandmother's casket. I remember my mother cooking meals whenever someone passed. I remember being sent to another room for a nap when my other grandmother died. I remember standing between my parents holding their hands looking at a small girl in a casket. All this I remember, but never do I remember explanation, calming fears, concern for the childrens experiences. It just wasn't done.

So, did I get to adulthood scarred for the lack of concern? I think I made it okay, yet there is an anger in be at death. Even though I can rationalize it now as an adult, all of the pain and sorrow I felt as a child still linger. Perhaps it is an anger at my parents for not tending to their confused children.

This is probably a morbid blog, but the intent is not so. I was raised, I'm sure, the same as my parents were raised. We farm kids had to be tough. Loss was often around us. It was the only way to survive the times of poverty pressed on us from poor crops or a herd that had to be destroyed. It was the only way to survive tragedy and loss. We had to be tough.

Oh, I'm tough alright. Or am I?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Address Book

The old address book. Pages tattered. Some pulled loose. Addresses 'Xed' out. Some are in pen and some in pencil. An address or phone number is scribbled randomly in the book, on the cover. Some might look at this as "just an address book". Me? It is history.

After Mom passed, I took her address book. My sisters didn't want it. I wasn't sure if or why I did. Over time I came to understand the importance of this book that sat on the desk in the kitchen.

Birthdays, addresses, changed addresses, phone numbers, even those deceased are all logged in the book. I could track the places where those listed had lived. I sometimes wonder if Mom decided that someone would settle at last when she wrote the final address in pen.

In looking through the book, I found myself going back in time. Our home seemed to have a revolving door bringing visitors from far away and long ago to our kitchen. Past music teachers came to visit bringing along the family. Former ministers continued contact with my parents. Cousins we barely knew showed up, usually at meal time. Exchange students brought their families to see their American home. Grown up neighbors kids showed up as well as those who had been in the youth group when Mom and Dad were leaders. Everyone found their way to the door on the house back the lane on Neff Road. Even our childhood friends would come back with their families to sit in the kitchen. Adults now spending time with Mom and Dad. New addresses added, some changed.

Some of the entries make me sad. They reflect divorce or loss of a family member. I knew that when Mom made these changes, it done with much love. Her book is a story in itself. Her book is a story of her.

I refer to this book often looking up a forgotten name or a spouse whose name is lost in some file in my brain. Children's names are often added with along with birth dates. The address book has become a historical reference book. The little book that sat on the desk.

I don't have an address book. I'm sorry that I haven't kept a log as Mom did over all of those years. My book is in my contacts on this computer. There are no names crossed out. There is no history. I feel a little sad that I have not continued to keep Mother's history book.

I hold the book and journey through my life once more.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ice Blue

Junior Prom. My first prom. Mom was excited for me to have the perfect dress. A shopping trip was planned to Columbus. My Cousin Betty drove us to the state capital. Three women on a mission. I remember it as if it were yesterday.

We made a day of it going from shop to shop not wanting to make a decision too early. The ladies took me to lunch at a nice restaurant. A very unusual day for the women of Neff Road. This one special day, I was the center of attention. The day was all about me. A day worth remembering.

Love at first sight. Ice blue satin. One of the first dresses we discovered. The perfect dress for my first prom. The perfect dress for my blond hair and blue eyes.

I still love to look at the picture of me and my boyfriend on our way to the prom. Pictures were taken that preserved a moment forever. A young girl in her ice blue dress. A young, handsome man in a white tuxedo jacket in love with the girl by his side.

I handed my dress on to my friend, Sandy, who became Pumpkin Queen reigning over the Bradford Pumpkin Show.  My favorite dress, a dress for royalty, a dress for a high school junior. Ice blue.

I'm not sure that the ice blue dress was all that special. Maybe it was the trip to Columbus with two women I loved. Two women who wanted to make a day special of this once teenager going to her first prom.

Ice blue.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Hand no Longer Old

Shhhhhh. Do you hear the spirits of the past? Do they talk to you in an ache in the heart or a memory that brings laughter. Do you feel them with you? 

My son and daughter-in-law are on vacation. I came to their house to puppy sit for Millie and to keep an eye on things. It is a lovely spring day. Millie and I played our own dog version of soccer on the back porch. Eventually, I found myself sitting on the old porch swing from the farm. I knew I would. How could I resist?

I sat on the swing listening to the click of the chains as it swung back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. My memories to me to times sitting on the swing next to my sisters, my mother, my Aunt Welma and Cousin Betty. We shelled peas and snapped beans. I grew up next to them on the swing, young moving to older. Tot moving to teen. Brenda and I had many fun moments playing on the swing. Our dolls were rocked. Reluctant kittens held tight rocked as well. I sat there with her parent....with mine. Back and forth. Back and forth. Gary and I clocked a few hours on the porch swing. We all ended up on the porch swing.

I looked down at my hand resting on the arm of the swing.  The same resting place where my sister, Peggy, rocked me. The same place where my sister, June, held me. The place my mother whispered to her baby, "I love you". Back and forth. Back and forth.

Suddenly, I saw a small hand reaching up to hold on while her sister picked up swinging speed. A hand that stroked the fur of a cockerspaniel puppy in my Great-Aunt Alma's arms. I saw the hand of a child. A hand no longer old.

Yes, the spirits do rally around us during our lives. Sometimes we even visit them on the old porch swing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gentle Spirits

He was the gentle spirit who stood by the swinging doors at the back of the church every Sunday. Always a smile and a quiet word. His wife would greet me in Sunday School. She would make me laugh and have a warm hug for a shy, little girl. He is turning 90. They have been married 69 years. I was part of their life journey.

I grew up surrounded by gentle spirits. A gentleness that showed its face in those at my church and those who lived on Neff Road. Despite the hard exterior many farmers wore, they always had a gentleness of spirit to offer a child, later a young woman. The women were hard working women. No job could have been more difficult than that which they daily lived. Yet, there was always time to stop and give a bit time to me. Over the years, it never changed. The soft beginnings of friendship turned into bonds that surpassed time and distance.

Farmers and their wives work hard to provide for their families. They live at the mercy of the weather and crop infestations. They live at the mercy of disease in livestock. Flooded fields can erase income for a year. As my father learned, disease in a fine herd of cattle can take a farmer to his knees, never to fully recover. Women work daily helping with crops and chores, raising children, cooking for farm hands, canning, sewing clothing, making a dollar last. Life on the farm was difficult.

Still for all the struggle and pain, a warmth, a tenderness lies beneath. Not in all. The Johnson men on Mom's side of the family were far from gentle men. Even then, I found a gentle heart and caring spirit in my cousin, the last of those farmers. When my parents passed, men I had known as gruff farmers hugged me with tears in their eyes. I knew I had been loved in my growing up years. I knew that I had not been invisible to these hard-working men and women.

I'm sure that many of these people think I have forgotten them. How could I? Those people helped to create the me I am today. They gave a lonely child love. They found a girl in her shyness. They continued their love for me as I grew up and became my friends adult to adult.

Gentle spirits. They were those people on Neff Road.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers

I feel rather silly typing the title. Feel a little silly mentioning it. I still look the same. Still the same girl from Neff Road. Not much changed since yesterday, except, today the book came out with my little page and a half contribution. #99... A short story about a Sliver of Bed. In fact, I should maybe rename it to  'Sliver of Story'. Humbled? Heck yes.

I'm not sure why people who have the ability to express themselves should have the right to promote a book or a song or maybe even a piece of art. Those of us who do this type of artsy thing know that we couldn't stop doing it if we wanted to. We put down what insists on finding the paper. We draw what the eyes present to the fingers. We write songs that play over and over again in our heads until they are silenced when committed to paper. It's just what we do.

"Aren't you excited that you are published?"

"We are so happy for you."

"It's about time."

On and on the wonderful sentiments come, but don't they know that I had no choice? Don't they know that the words were destined to find their way to the written page? It's not something writers can control. The words are just insistent little things that prod, manipulate, drive the writer to place them on the page.

So why do writers send their copy in to be published? Beats me? I do some writing in order to make a little money. I do other writing because I challenge myself to write the best copy possible to see if it attracts a publisher. I sometimes feel that maybe my words can make a difference if I put them out there in my blogs.

I began by writing social dramas in coordination with the drug and alcohol program for the local school district. Much to my surprise, the plays became such a positive tool that they were used for the next 12 years. Words connected and made a difference in the lives of families. It wasn't about me. It was all about the words.

Words have a life of their own. Sometimes I think I am the keeper of words. I don't really know where they come from. They just appear. Often I write something and wonder how it all fell onto the page so eloquently. It surely was not by my hand. I think maybe I have been given words to give away. They aren't my words. I came with them already embedded in me. I am just a keeper of words.

Today Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers (http://www.chickensoup.com/) came out with my little story #99. There are only 101 stories in the book. I'm just lucky there weren't only 98 stories in the book. I might not have made the cut. It is a story of love between a grandma and her granddaughter. It is a story preserving a precious memory.

Today I was published. Hm. Don't feel any different than I did yesterday.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hagerstown Buffet

The Loxley family didn't eat out much. Once in awhile we would go to Hustons in Arcanum. But, all in all, the Loxley's ate at home.

I was in grade school when I was treated to my first trip to Hagerstown, Indiana. Not too far over the Ohio/Indiana line, was this farm girl's dream. All the food you could eat!!!! Wow! Pans of fish and country fried steak. Piles of mashed potatoes and gravy to match. Food in such an abundance that we feasted until we could hardly move.

I remember the first trip to the buffet. Notorious for getting carsick, I lived up to my reputation. We didn't have all those wonderful drugs now available to allow a little girl a long ride in the car without standing next to the ditch or walking next to the car hoping the waves of nausea would pass. The loss of appetite made the trip a bit more hazardous for me. Yet, I don't think I backed off of the food. More than likely I walked most of the way back to Ohio and the farm.

Sometimes I forget how far away we were from mainstream America. We had our little department stores with limited choices so would make big days of shopping in Dayton. We shopped for sheet music and ate at the Virginia Cafeteria. Now I long for the little stores and their limited choices. I miss the single entrepreneur businesses giving way to box stores. I miss the old 5 and 10 filled with every conceivable need for hearth and home. The Fleet and Farm full of the smells of the barn, overalls and farming equipment.  Darn it, I miss Hagerstown Buffet with the pans of food and plates piled high.

It's funny how those memories creep back now and then. Something triggers a thought long tucked away, perhaps for such an occasion as this. There was family laughter when we ate heartily of the meal at the buffet. One Mom didn't need to cook. One with no dishes waiting after. We visited friends and family on the way. Our Sunday was filled with time together, especially that in the old Packard singing at the top of our lungs.

Ah, a good memory. Maybe it is your memory, too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Kitchen Table

Today I'm missing the kitchen table. Now don't get me wrong. We have a kitchen table, but it isn't that table, the one in our kitchen on Neff Road. We had gathering places where friends and family gathered for hours of talking, but none compared to the kitchen table.

Many the hours we talked in the field while we worked. Time passed as we labored. Teasing and joking. Gorging ourselves on sandwiches Mom brought to the field. Sweaty and dirty, we spent hours talking. Still it was not the same.

Mom and Dad were usually found on the porch when the weather allowed. Inevitably, my cousin Gene or our neighbor Carl would stop in on the way to the fields. They sat 'for a spell' talking about the crops and weather. Family and neighbors stopped in during the week to sit on the porch and chat. Often someone from the past would show up out of the blue.

The living room was where Mom sat and crocheted. Dad sat in his recliner eventually closing his eyes or sat next to his wife holding her hand and often a pan of popcorn. Inevitably, someone would walk into the house and find a place to sit for afternoon visiting with the Loxley family.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the kitchen. Mom spent hours in her kitchen baking and cooking. Everyone from the milk man to the traveling salesman had sat at that table with a piece of pie and coffee. Our family lingered there after meals talking. When visitors came, we sat for hours catching up on news. All who entered the house knew the lure of the kitchen table. Breakfast ran to dinner (lunch). Dinner ran to afternoon dessert, usually pie. Supper (dinner) sometimes caught us lingering until grandkids went to bed. The kitchen table was the center of our house. When we came home to visit, it was often the first place we stopped.

I haven't found that same table in any of the homes I've lived in or those I have visited. I wonder if our table was enchanted drawing friends and neighbors, family living near and far, those from other countries to my mother's great cooking, delicious pies and warm heart. Seldom have I had people other than family drop in to visit. I don't bake. I really don't like to cook. So I guess that I shouldn't expect a lot of lingering at my table.

Today I'm missing that kitchen table where family became more than just those living in the house back the lane.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Say 'Cheese'

1942. Kodak developed the first, true-color print film called Kodacolor. Up to that point it was all black and white or sepia.

In the stacks of pictures older than 1947, I have found only the sepia or black and white prints. The earliest color pictures I have are those of me as a baby. On the back of one picture it states that my Uncle Jerry took the picture. I'm thrilled each time I look at the one, because this is the first color picture of my mother, a young woman in her 30's. A treasure for many reason.

Color film. Future generations will be able look at the pictures of their ancestors and take in the color of hair, eyes and skin. They can see exact colors of the places of the past. A new day and age came into being with color film.

Uncle Phil took pictures at our wedding. Some are in color and others in black and white. Each brings the day into focus in different ways. The sharp black and white bring faces from the past sharply into focus with no distractions. The color bring alive the colors of 1969. They are a gift even after all these years.

I love these early pictures of me in color. I believe I'm in my Aunt Esther's doll buggy that sat in the corner of her room when I was a child. I remember wanting the buggy for my own doll babies. Little did I know that I was the baby in that buggy. Pictures bring more to us than just images. They bring back memories of special times and the people shared them.

I have colorized pictures of Mom and Dad. The old process of manually adding color to pictures was an art. What fun to see the sepia pictures made truer to the coloring of the person. Mom with the rouge on her cheeks. Dad with his beautiful, blue eyes. The early colored pictures.

We had a big box camera and a Brownie camera at our house. Black and white pictures with scalloped edges came back from the drug store. We cherished every one of them. Today I cherish them even more.

Just remember that when someone says "Smile", give a smile that will last for generations.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Along the Border

A mound. A border. Bark dust. Ground cover. Cactus. Palm fronds. Different strokes for different parts of the country.

One of the first things I noticed when we moved to Oregon were the front yards. Front yards were landscaped with native plants and rocks. Unusual plants and flowers seemed randomly placed but were indeed planned. It is easy to look away from the norm where you live, and fascinating to look back at what was so common during those growing up years.

Margaret Stager had a row of gladiolas across the back of the house where the lawn was separated from the field. Mother had a similar row between the yard and the field, but her row consisted of irises. Mom Johnson had hosta along the house. Mom and Dad also planted zinnias and marigolds to deter garden pests. When I return to Ohio, I notice that the tradition continues. A lovely tradition.

When we received tulips from our friends from The Netherlands, Mom and Dad planted them in a row between the yard and garden outside of the kitchen window. Years later the garden would move to the back of the barn and the yard expanded. The tulips were mostly gone and other perennials had taken their place. The row of flowers that make the farm all that much more lovely.

I love to think that flowers had been shared with neighbors when the bulbs and tubulars were separated. Seeds shared friend to friend. Generation after generation possibly enjoyed blooms from those early plants.

Flowers often sat in our kitchen, but more times the flowers gave a beautiful landscape to look upon. A place for butterflies, bees and the noses of little girls.

In July, I will return to once more see the rows of flowers along lot lines, fence rows, lawns. I didn't really see them when I lived on that farm back Neff Road. Yet in my heart I see them still.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

For Every Season

The daffodils are blooming. Camellias heralding spring. Warm spring rains and temps in the 50's. Birds have a new song with more joining the choir. Lilacs swell in bright green buds. Weeds insistent  and the lawn need mowing. A small bit of eagerness to get my hands in the dirt pokes at my brain.

As I get older, living in a mild climate calls to me now and then. The bones ache with the changing seasons. My allergies complain with the spring dust, pollen and molds in the fall. My skin is dry in the winter and buried under sunscreen in the summer. The changing seasons.

Yet, with each season, I find an awakening in me. I love the surprises of each season....even after experiencing them for over 63 years.

Fall was a visual thing on the farm. In the fall, tools were readied for a winter slumber. Fresh straw was added to the cow stable where the cows would spend most of their time during the cold months. Chicken houses were in good repair. The sheep were given fresh bedding and the barn window and doors closed. Grain, corn, hay and straw were stored and ready for the fall and winter season.Winter wheat was planted. Cornfields combined.

Winter called us to the tobacco shed. Wood was stacked for the burner under the steamer. Day after day we trekked to the barn to work. The sheep were wooly, my horse had her winter coat and the chicken were cranky as always. Time would be spent around the fireplace and kitchen table.

Spring was the blessing given to each year. The brown grass gave way to green. Trees began to show a fresh shade of green. Flowers budded and perennials were all new again. Seeds were started. Gardens plowed. The air had a new, fresh smell. The cows meandered down the back lane to the creek once more while Dad hulled the winter manure. My horse began to loose her winter coat, while the sheep were shorn. The chickens poked in the chicken yard for fresh worms. Baby lambs were born. The killdeer was followed by her baby chicks on twig-like legs. The snow birds returned. The steamer chugged down the road coming to prepare the soil in the tobacco beds.

Summer came for three months. Tobacco would be planted, grain harvested and planting begun for the fall crops. The garden bounty graced our table. Lightning bugs came to call along with the cicada. Humidity set in and the trees provided a cool place to eat Popsicles.

Perhaps I cannot leave this change of seasons. I should miss the pleasures that each give. For today, I shall enjoy the birdsong, the gentle rain and the daffodils that opened last night.

Ah, sweet spring.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Quick Brown Fox

I sit before my computer, fingers flying across the keys. When did this skill of flying fingers begin? Well, it began with Mr. Beard and typing class.

I sat in the second row at my desk with the clunky, black typewriter in front of me. We looked at the chart in front of the room and not our fingers as we practiced text. 'T". The key was pushed down firmly until the key smacked the ribbon and printed the "T" on my paper. Letter by letter. "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." Line after line on my paper. Finger on key. Push down. Hope for a good imprint on the paper. Over and over. Man, I had fingers so strong they could choke a chicken.

Many years ago I was late to a typing test qualifying me for a job. Computers were new to me, and I was nervous. Quickly, I tried to set up when the instructor said "Start". Our typed copy did not show up on our monitors, so we had no idea what fell onto the page.

"Well, you did well, the instructor said when I was called forward. "Next time put your fingers on the right keys. You had them on the bottom row."

Thank goodness she had a sense of humor.

Over time, I became the computer guru in our office. The computer became my friend. I'd come a long way from Mr. Beard's typing class.

Last spring I stood at the door of Ernest Hemingway's office where he wrote in Key West. I stood there alone pressing against the door away from the rain behind me. I stood in awe. The old black Remington typewriter sat on a small desk in the middle of the room, walls covered with art. Windows surrounded the room with palm trees peeking in. A cat sat in one windowsill, a six-toed cat descendant of the original cat given to Hemingway by a ship's captain. The writer in me wanted to sit at the typewriter like the one I learned on those many years before. The old black Remington.

I wonder what happened to all of those old typewriters. I didn't know at the time where those old, heavy keys would guide me. I didn't know they would guide me here.

"The quick brown fox......."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sometimes Takes Away

Ohio. Oregon. My two 'O' states. Two states that are very different. Two states that hold my heart. Today I embrace my second 'O' state. Today I embrace a country hit by tragedy.

My cousins Gene and Betty Johnson came to visit in the late '80's. On this nice summer day, we sat out on the deck visiting.

"Why would you ever want to live anywhere else?" Gene asked.

I was surprised by his comment since I knew he would like for all of his family to live in that area of Neff Road.

"You don't have flies," he said as we sat with the patio door open. "You don't have humidity. It's beautiful and green here. Why would anyone ever want to leave?"

Precisely. These are just a few of the wonderful benefits of living in Oregon. A beautifully lush state that is green all year. Moderate weather, few bugs, none of those hot humid nights that I remember so well. We are an hour from the mountains, an hour from the beach. The rain falls, but not usually in storm form. Those of us who love the abundance of plants and flowers realize that it is due to the rain that kisses this lovely place.

"So you don't have tornadoes?" Gene continued.

We do occasionally have one pass through. They are rare. Lightning and thunder are rare. Forest fires happen, and, occasionally, we get high winds. Landslides often happen over prolonged periods of rain. All in all, there are few major events in Oregon.

To the other side: Yes, we do have active volcanoes that reside beneath our mountains. St. Helens was proof of the earth's inner anger. Our Mt. Hood is expected to erupt as is Mt. Ranier in Washington. Both would be major events affecting me and mine.

To the other side: Yes, we have earthquakes. We reside on an area of faults that occasionally shimmy and shake us. Not often. We do live with the knowledge that we are due for a major quake that could rival that in Japan, the fault centered many miles off our western beaches. We live with that knowledge.

I love my current home state. Yes, I miss Neff Road, but this has become my home. As I watched the TV and events unfold last night while you in the east were sleeping, my thoughts went to my month-long visit back to Neff Road this summer. I will be a long way from my family. A niggling lingers....that little voice that plants a worry.

We do not live in fear of tornadoes, of tsunamis, of eruptions, of forest fires. We live for the moment realizing how important those moments. Life can change oh so quickly.

It is a new day. A new day to embrace the place we live. To embrace those we love. To respect an earth that gives to us.....and sometimes takes away.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Taste of Spring

Their spongy heads are difficult see. Often they are a mound beneath wet leaves. Sometimes they are small, less than nibble size. Spring brought them to life; we were waiting.

I hunted mushrooms for as long as I can remember. The family would trek through the woods, the thicket and even drive to Michigan in search of the delicacies. Mom would soak the found treasures then roll them in flour, frying them in butter. Not a morsel was wasted. We all knew that this was only going to happen once a year. We couldn't go to the store to buy them. We couldn't go to and order them. These mushrooms would be available only once.

I envy my friends and neighbors who still live there and are able to revisit the mushroom sites each year. I miss the hunt with my parents, my sisters, my aunt. I miss the walks in the woods. Most of all I miss the exotic taste of the morels.

We have morels in Oregon. I haven't found anyone who enjoys those forest treks to go with me. However.....I did find a produce stand on the way back from the beach that carries them once a year. Last year they were hard to find so the price had skyrocketed.  No mushrooms for me.

Seems to me that I might need a drive west soon heading out Sunset Highway, heading west for taste of the days on Neff Road.

Mmmmmmm. What I wouldn't give for one more hunt in the woods and that unforgettable taste of the morels.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I'll do it Someday

Faded photographs. Bits and pieces, notes, a napkin, a postcard, a letter scribbled in an unknown hand. Why did you keep them, Mom? Who are these people who were part of your past? Who are these people who meant enough to you to earn a place in your beloved photo album? Why did you keep the napkin? Who was this boy who wrote to you? Why was the flower bud saved between the pages of the book? Why? Who? Where?

These saved remnants of the people on Neff Road take me back in time, a time before I was even imagined. I pull out the magnifying glass hoping to identify the people in a faded photograph. I try to imagine my aunts and uncles as teenagers or children. I try to identify the location by a porch, a wooded area, by imagining decades back when the homestead looked different.

I look closely at the picture trying to imagine what was happening at the time. Youth lined up on church pews. My mother's name in on the backside of the picture. I scan the faces and find her. Her eyes peek over the top of the the second girl in the front row.

I look at a picnic blanket recognizing my parents, but not sure of the others. Relatives? At first I thought so, but after enlarging the picture, I came to the conclusion that maybe it is Jim and Lucy. I'm just not sure. Darn it, Mom, why didn't you write something on the picture. Looking closer at the photo, I notice a book folded to the side. Did they read to one another back then? Mom has a napkin tucked into her neckline. So like Mom. Old cars sit in the background. Where are you picnicking, Mom?

A smile captures me and hugs me close when I find this picture of Pauline and Margaret (I think). They sit in our yard on chairs that were in the basement when I was growing up. Fond memories of delightful times with these women hold me for a moment as I see them as I never knew them. Young, full of laughter and life. Women who impacted the life of a child.

The photos reside in Mom's album. My children will not know who they are or maybe even care to know, but I owe it to my history to write the names. Someday I would like to do what I can to preserve the pictures before they deteriorate more. They are my history. A history of a time. A history of the people. A history that created the me I am.

You have them, these pictures. The live in a box, in a trunk, in albums. They come from your house, that of your parents, that of friends, that of your children. We rush through life and pay little attention to a minor thing, such as writing on the back of pictures. "I'll do them someday," we say. The pile gets higher and the photos forgotten. Life gets away from us. Then one day, we pull out the box. The pictures have faded as have the memories.

Where is my pencil?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Church Called Home

Are you like me? Do you open your email box with a little bit of anticipation? Well, I do. I love the surprises that sometimes greet me. This morning one such email me made my day.

For several months now, I have been writing a weekly column for The Daily Advocate in Greenville, Ohio. The column, On Neff Road, is based on this blog. Once in awhile I get a note from someone who remembers the Loxley family and that time in our lives. I love hearing from home.

This morning I received an email from a woman who goes to my childhood church. She told me that every Sunday a group meets to talk over things happening in their lives. They have begun to include my column enjoying a step back in time.

Last night I could not sleep. Sometimes the words will not be silenced and sleep is nowhere in sight. My mind contemplated things to write hoping that by morning they would not have escaped my sloggy brain. Painter Creek Church was a major player in the nocturnal word juggling. I was remembering all of the ministers who had passed through my life in the church. One baptized me. One married me....to my husband. One was my sister's house parent at college. One saw me pass through the church as a teen.

Along with the reverends were the people who watched over me and loved me unconditionally. I learned at this church to be friends with adults. I learned what it was to be devoted to a congregation and to neighbors by the example these people set before me.

We rarely had anyone new join our church when I was growing up. It was a congregation of local farm families seeking time with God away from the work and toil of the week. Even though we lived in the same community, we greeted one another joy every Sunday morning. We knew the generations of families sitting in the pews. Grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren and all of the relatives that come along with them. This was our community, a family of caring people.

When someone passed on from our Sunday family, the pew where they sat was empty. A missing was evident. These farmers worked together, prayed together, raised their young together, nursed one another when needed and buried one another. The country church saw to her people, and they saw to her.

The congregation has dwindled, but in the hearts of those of us who grew up inside its walls, we will always remember our family at Painter Creek Church of the Brethren. A church called home.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Life Flowed Beneath the Bridges

The Bonneville Dam was opened and the lands beneath flooded. A nation of Native Americans lost their land, their livelihood, their heritage. The river roared, and a nation was buried.

My son was in a show this weekend, Ghosts of Celilo Falls. The story is about the mighty Columbia River and the way of life that disappeared when progress came calling. A story I had been well aware of since moving here, especially after reading the book Winterkill by Craig Lesley. But I'm not writing about Oregon. I'm writing about the importance of the waterways that touch our lives.

Often I write of the creek that ran through our farm. There is something to be said for the honor of residing next to water. I'm sure those who live by the oceans, rivers, lakes and ponds understand what I'm saying. Perhaps we who have lived by the water, fail to realize the impact it has made on our lives until we are sixty-three, approaching sixty-four. Water, the source of life, the source of laughter, the source of memories.

In looking back over my mother's old photo album, I came across picture after picture of women in dresses and hats, men in coats, ties and felt fedoras fishing from the water's edge or lined up in a rowboat with poles in hand. Our families fished this creek that hugged our farm. Recreation as well as food source came from the Stillwater River. My history flowed with those waters. My history flowed beneath the bridges.

The old wood boards on the bridge floor creaked and moaned when cars drove across. Shhhhh. Listen. Close your eyes and try to imagine the sound as horses and wagons crossing, carrying my relatives generations ago. The creaking of wheels and the steady pace of the horse making a sound that echoed across the fields. Shhhhh.

We sat with feet dangling over the edge of the bridges watching for minnows darting among the rocks and moss. We watched the snapping turtle sunning on a rock. Small fish and crawdads made their way down the rippling stream of water.

"Don't go into the water," Dad always said. "There are leeches." Thus my feet never waded in the creek. Oh, how I would love to wade now.

When my father was young, they swam in the creek then deep and wide, long before the dredgers came to change the water's flow. Hard to believe that the shallow creek I remember was once deep and waiting for the Loxley boys looking for a refreshing swim after a day at school or after working in the fields.

I shared with my children this creek of mine. They grew up with walks to the bridge on every visit. Yet they cannot have the memories of the decades past. They cannot understand the importance of this water that flowed just as our lives did back that lane.

I cannot imagine our farm covered with water, our memories buried. I cannot imagine the stream in which we fished becoming a raging river. The bridges put asunder. Rich farm soil washed away. Memories drowned with no remnants left behind.

Life ran down the creek on Neff Road. A creek that touched the lives of those residing there.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Peep

Peep, peep. Peep. Ah, a sign of spring.

Excitement on the farm was high when baby chickens arrived. Our baby chicks didn't arrive from eggs beneath a chicken. No, they came to our farm via a cardboard box.

Our playhouse would be off limits until the weather warmed up. Of course, our playhouse was the brooder house where baby chicks came to visit once a year. The brooder heater was set up in the middle of the small, brooder house. Lights heated the area beneath creating a warmth not quite equal to, but a good substitute for, the mother hen. When Dad came home from the hatchery with a couple of boxes, Brenda and I knew we were in for a good time.

The big boxes that held the chicks, had holes punched into the sides. Brenda and I had a great time punching out the plugs waiting for a little beak to find the new opening. (I equate it to the thrill of popping bubble wrap). Before the chicks had been lifted from the box, the plugs were gone.

Then we were given the task of lifting the baby peeps from the box after Dad removed the lid. How we loved the feel of the fuzzy, yellow chicks. If only they would stay that small and cute... One by one we lifted them placing them beneath the heater.

Not far from where I live is a farm store. It seems a little out of place in the urban area. Soon I will take my granddaughter to see the baby chicks. I love that we have a bit of the farm close by, so I can share that experience with them. Fuzzy heads and children. A perfect match.

I may not live on the farm any more. The old brooder house is gone. No longer will I pop out the little cardboard circles on the boxes, but I can offer my grandchildren a moment with a baby chick. Oh, yes, and I can pet a fuzzy head once more.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Click, Click, Click

Click. Click. Click. I sit with my computer watching the screen and once again am on Neff Road. Facebook has given me an opportunity to connect with those people back in Ohio. The neighbors, the relatives, the classmates I saw decades ago are once more at home with me. Click. Click. Click. That's all it takes.

Like most of us on Facebook, we joined to share pictures with our families and to keep up with our friends. The more we found comfort in moving around the site, the more people we found and befriended. Students long scattered are with me again. Now they are grown and married with children. I can be a part of their lives once more. My sisters are as close as that click, click, click. I wait for the screen to come up and am home again. Carla is once more on the piano bench.

I visit Neff Road every day with Janet. She keeps me up on the local news and weather. She posts pictures of the place I love. We have bonded a friendship over Facebook that will continue to grow. I am grateful for the opportunities to connect that this site has given me.

My children remember the farm from their growing up years. They do not have my memories of my home back the lane. Yet, I can post on Facebook and all of my dear friends and neighbors join me in a memory of Neff Road.

My blog takes me home again and again, but just a click, click, click and I am enjoying a day on Neff Road.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An Old Friend

I grasped the handbrake and pulled back. The car slowed to a stop from its already turtle pace. I stepped out onto the running board then onto the road. Across the field, the boys ran. I was late.

Such was the time I had a love affair with a 1929 Chevy Roadster. Well, really I was in love with the driver of the car who was one of the boys running cross country across the meadow. He ran cross country and I kept stats for the team.

I opened Facebook yesterday to see pictures of the old roadster long forgotten in a shed now off to be restored. The surfacing of memories caught me off guard. Days when I was a teen came visiting.

The top on the old car was always down, so rain or shine, we were in the roadster. Some teenagers think that sassy new cars are the perfect mode of transportation, but I venture to say had any of them ridden in this old Chevy, they would have wanted one for their own.

I never thought much about the history of the car. I don't know whether or not the old car was passed from an earlier generation. Now the car was handed on to the oldest child. She takes along with that car a wonderful part of my life. A roadster hauling memories, mine along with many others.

So nice to open up Facebook and find an old friend, an old 1929 Chevy Roadster.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Return to Neff Road

Returning to the house back the lane is not always easy. For all of the wonderful memories that happened on the farm, we always come back to saying 'good-bye'. Not a day goes by that I don't miss this farm called home.

The final closing of the old screen door. One last walk down the lane. The barn emptied, the house bare. A last look around at the places that were my playground. A realization that we can never go back. I cannot go back in memory without opening doors that bring back sadness as well as joy. You can take the girl away from the farm, but you can never take the farm away from the heart of the girl.

In July, I will return for a month to Indiana and Ohio. I've wanted to do research for a long time. Now is the time. My sisters do not like to go back. It is difficult for all of us. Yet, I cannot imagine not returning to the place of my roots. I go back to bring with me my book called Neff Road.

Perhaps you are new to Neff Road. Perhaps you are checking back to see if I have returned to my blog. Whatever the reason, welcome to the farm on the rise. A farm where lived a family of five. The home of the Loxley girls. Welcome back to moments and memories. For now we will just say 'hello'.