Monday, January 27, 2014

An exchange and a return

The phone rang. I didn't recognize the number. The routing was through Wyoming. Hm. Should I answer? Of course, I answered. I was curious. Much to my surprise it was not a solicitor.

"Paum," he said. His German accent always made my name sound soft and pretty. I knew immediately that I was talking to Michael. It was early afternoon here and around 9pm his time in Berlin. It had been a couple of years since I heard from my honorary, older brother.

When my sister was in high school, Michael came to Darke County as an exchange student. It was the 50's. A war with Germany had ended. A boy from the losing side came to visit the winning side. It was not an easy adjustment for anyone, especially Michael. To say that he came here with a chip on his shoulder was putting it mildly. He was arrogant and angry. The family who had sponsored him had difficulty handling him, thus my parents took him on.

I remember that no one seemed to like him very much. He probably asked for some of it, but some came from prejudice against the German population in general. Many boys were killed on both sides of the pond. Sometimes it takes generations to bury hate. Michael came with a load of conflict being a small boy during a war that he didn't understand. I was just a kid and didn't know about prejudice and war. I still don't. Anyway.....Michael came to Neff Road. Mom and Dad weren't easy on him. He had to work on the farm with Dad and was expected to be part of our family, not someone to be waited on. My sisters had more trouble with Michael. He was too close to their ages and was a bit much back then. By the time he returned to Germany, he had, as my dad would say, come down a few pegs.

Over the years, Michael and I have kept in touch. In the mid 80's, he came to visit me in Oregon. It was the first I had seen him since I was a teenager. We did the usual site-seeing around this beautiful state. A new relationship began. That of adults. Over the years Michael has called. And, each time I'm thrilled to hear from him.

There were several young exchange students that came to our area. We learned of different countries, different languages and added to our families, those at home and at church. Perhaps our world was opened up more by these visitors. We learned tolerance and, hopefully, compassion. We learned that some things could be debated and others better left alone. We learned to open our hearts and become better people. Michael came on an exchange program. He left with a return invitation.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Life without Velcro

Buckles, buttons, zippers, snaps, hook and eyes, safety pins. Does that cover it? I think so. We had a variety of items that fastened. I learned to do buckles first. Although if I was at all like my twin grandchildren, zippers had to be a favorite. Buttons were a bit trickier. Hooks and eyes were sometimes a challenge. Snaps were fun to unsnap, causing many parents frustration. Safety pins covered a variety of uses most of which involved a mishap of any of the aforementioned. It was a life without Velcro.

We sat on the floor. As usual, Emma stepped across my knee landing on my lap. Nolan sits down much differently, backing up until he reaches his landing spot. Sometimes he misjudges. It was Emma's turn to pick out a book. "Where's My Bone" is not one of my favorites, but the twins love it. The cloth book consists of several place in which the bone can be hidden from the dog. As can be expected since this story is in this column, the bone and the dog's mouth each have strips of Velcro fastened to them. No snaps. No hooks and eyes. Just a bone that seems to stick to a matching piece of Velcro. I get tired of hiding the bone in the same places wondering why they kids aren't tired of it, too. I think the babies love the ripping sound when the Velcro strips are separated.

The babies shoes have also joined the ranks of Velcro. On go the shoes. Off come the shoes. On go the shoes.....well, you get the idea. The world of babies is a Velcro paradise. However, we adults find it just as many places in our lives. I moved into my new place only to find a pen attached to my refrigerator with strips of Velcro. Velcro straps wrap around cords. Can be used to hang pictures. Used in clothing. Oh, just check out a Velcro site on the internet and be introduced to 101 uses of the stuff.

So who was the inventor of this wonderful product that entertains babies and save one from pricks of the safety pin? Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral certainly made his fortune after he came home from walking his dog. We farmers all know what it is like to pull burrs out of our dogs fur. What a pain! Literally for the dog. So George was, as any engineer might, paying attention to the cockleburs. They stuck to his dog. They stuck to his pants. He looked at the burrs under a microscope. They had  hundreds of "hooks" that caught on anything with a loop, such as clothing and animal fur. Thus the light bulb went on, and Velcro had a start. It was the 1940's. His friends and neighbors laughed at the idea. In 1955 after much refining and developing, de Mestral applied for his patent. A patent for the product Velcro whose name is a combination of the French words for velour and crochet.

 Over the decades, I have noticed that an evolution has taken place in how we accept change, new ideas. I can't imagine that Dad would have easily been one of the first to buy a pack of Velcro. No, I think it took until the 60's until Velcro came to visit back the lane. From a time when people were apprehensive about change, we have grown into a society that is excited about new inventions and ideas. We encourage children to think outside the box. A box that was probably sealed with Velcro.

The pen is Velcroed to the refrigerator. Velcro straps hold the cords together. My tennies have Velcro. A notebook has a Velcro fastener. Perhaps the sound of the strips ripping apart has replaced the fun of the zipper. A bit like popping bubble wrap. Ah, there's another story. Velcro.....can't imagine life without it.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hey, hey, old playmates

Hey, hey, oh playmate,
Come out and play with me.
You'll bring your dollies three,
Climb up my apple tree.
Cry down my rain barrel,
Slide down my cellar door.
And we'll be jolly friends
Forever more.

So sorry, playmate
I cannot play with you.
My dolly's got the flu.
Can't cry down your rain barrel,
Or slide down your cellar door.
But we'll be jolly friends
Forever more.

Camp songs.  I grew up on them. We didn't just sing them at camp. We sang them at school, in the car and in the fields. Songs that probably were around since our parents were children....or even older.

For some reason the above song began ringing in my head. I couldn't put it aside, so I decided to take a look at it. I sang these words many times in my childhood but never really thought much about what they meant. Sliding down the cellar door didn't make much sense to me, but I sang it anyway. Hollie and Margaret had a cellar door on the side of their house that slanted down. I'm sure that is what the words refer to yet sliding down a couple of wooden doors brought visions of splinters in the backside. I knew about the rain barrel. Had never cried down it so have no idea what the results would be. Brenda and I always had our dollies nearby, so without a doubt we have been friends forever more.

It is funny the things we remember at random times. I remember listening to my Aunt Welma Johnson whistling old tunes. Bits of the past that just become part of who we are. They creep up without notice. They are planted so long ago that have forgotten the exact moment they happened. Along with the song, I think of hayrides and Camp Sugar Grove. Little girls, totally unaware of the years that would follow, innocently singing and laughing, learning a piece of history by rote. My children and grandchildren cannot relate to the song. They don't know what it was like to play on a farm finding adventure at every turn. Adventure that never got old. Stager's old cellar door is gone. Dad's rain barrel was never used in my life time. And a few old dollies sit around waiting for a granddaughter to come play.

Being a child of the farm meant having a rich history that was just part of our every day lives. In our songs, our playground, in our faith, we did much the same as had our relatives generations before. I know there were times that I wanted to escape the slower, country life. Yet as I look back, I find that I had perhaps the richest life of all. So I will sing the songs of long ago and wonder at the splinters on the backside and remember my curly haired friend who shared most everyday of that childhood.

Come all ye playmates. Come remember with me.