Sunday, July 14, 2019

A flag of red

What is it about water that calls us to it again and again? Why do the memories swarm around our heads like a whirlwind, waiting to pull us into its eye? I sit here by Flathead Lake in Montana remembering the days on Lake Hamlin in Michigan. Aunt Bessie, my mother's older sister, and Uncle Sam owned the store there. They sold everything from bait to hot dogs. First memories of the resort are of a white house on a hill wearing green shutters. It seemed large when I was a child. Now it is a little house tucked into the trees. We wear memories large in our childhoods. Trips that were long as a child are merely a whisper now. Adults that seemed so old were younger than we are now. Perhaps it is due to the shortness in height that we wore when small.

Boats pull in and out from the dock. Visitors, travelers from all over the world, are waiting to travel across the lake or gamble in the casino. I, for one, have never gambled in a Casino. That is, until today. So I sat in a chair next to some people who seemed determined to lose their cash. I thought to myself, "Looks like a good place to start." Much to my disappointment, there was neither an arm to pull nor a slot for my coins. Seems to me that I should get some exercise while I lose my money. I began with my lone dollar. Hm. Big spender. After that I worked myself up to five dollars. I won ten cents. Hm. Should have quit while I was ahead. Five dollars later I did, after winning an entire eighty cents. My gambling days are over. When I left, the losing couple were maintaining.

But why sit inside when shades of blue and green from lake to shore capture my imagination. The lake is 371 feet deep in the deepest part. I don't intend to wet my feet, so will trust it is so. My niece found fresh bear scat in the yard yesterday. Not sure it it was black or grizzly but not going to search for it. "We were sitting on the bed when a big bear lumbered past our window," my niece informed me. Informed me not long after she told me about her face off with a mountain lion. Seems not many people know that mountain lions and pumas are the same critter. (Just a tiny bit of info). I don't know much but like to share the tidbits that make me feel smart.

A red flag flies over me. It is the flag of an independent nation. A true American flag. In the beginning, no trumpets herald the Indians who lived free on the land here in Montana and across the nation. They needed no flag. This was all their land. They did not know that it would be taken away. The red flag now seems appropriate. A tepee, bow/arrow and symbols for hunting and fishing fly between the words Flathead and Nation. I would like to be part of this nation of beautiful people. I would like to live in this land that still rings of what this earth should be. I am impressed that recycling is a big thing here. We received our groceries in compostable bags. We should all be so advanced. This nation respects this earth that gave them life. They will protect it with their hearts, souls and bodies.

Today I write with the wind in my hair and the sun in my eyes. The blue water is so clear and true to what nature created before the white men came to destroy it. In the ocean, our sea life dies from plastic and hunters. Yes, I would like to be a Flathead. They have struggled. I get it. I wish I had helped them.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Blue lips and strawberry fields

Branches that sang in the summer slept in the fall and through the winter. Fields of limbs lay barren by the settling of time upon ground that would soundly sleep. Well, that is until a family came calling in the summer.

We set off to the fields with buckets in hand. Rows and rows laden with beautiful blueberries just waiting to go home with us. My children loved to pick berries. I know because I saw blue lips time after time. One cannot, no, it is impossible, to pick berries of any kind without painting your lips. A sure sign that the berries just might be a wonderful blessing after a long winter without them.

I don't remember picking berries as a kid on Neff Road. We never had any. I know Mom canned and froze produce, but I don't think we ever had berries. I know my sister will correct me if I am wrong. So coming to Oregon where the produce was much more extensive and fresher, I filled the refrigerator and freezer with the season's pick. There were so many fruits I had never seen before. My kids and I decided to try a new fruit once in awhile. Some we liked. Some we knew we would not like just from the smell of it.

The girls were small when we took them to pick berries. Again, blue lips and finger tips. Sometimes we would pick strawberries and hurry home to eat them while they were still fresh and our smiles revealed little seeds in little teeth. Strawberry shortcake. Blueberry cobbler. Memories with each and every bite. Then came the twins. It is amazing that each generation follows the same as the one before without any training. Berry seems to come from limb to lips without a moment's hesitation.

This year our crops of fresh strawberries are bursting with fruit. Contrary to when we raised potatoes and tomatoes, there are no migrants to pick them. This is a major concern as to whether the crops will be saved. Yes, the price will soar. Perhaps they can find enough children to pick them with their parents, but in hindsight we have learned that they eat more than they can toss into the bucket.

Blue lips and strawberry fields. Memories that I cherish. Fruit that we savor. Yep, blue lips and strawberry fields.


Monday, May 27, 2019

When the last bell rings

Painter Creek Ohio, December 24, 1891 Dear Mettie, (my grandma Johnson) your album is a garden spot for all your friends to sow. I'll plant a small "Forget me not" and see if it will grow. Compliments and best wishes, Lucinda Swinger.

Old tattered pages once held and read over and over by a teenager. Cherished friends in a time of one room schools and horses to ride. A time when the school bell told children to get a move on it.

The old school bell. What a history. In the Native American areas where they lived in tepees and children on prairies, a bell was rung to awaken them. The next bell was to call them to school. The teacher stood on the stoop and watched her many ages of children come from all directions. A bell ringing out hope.

There are many things we take for granted in our growing up. Of course, when my grandmother and even my parents were young, life was hard and simple. That bell at the school or the one in the church called out for many reasons. A death, a birth, bad weather, a friend in need. The bell called to worship, to school and to alarm.

I was given an old, heavy, school bell years ago. Somewhere along the way, I passed it on. I wonder about that old bell. I know it came from the Chicago area. It would be too loud to ring here in suburbia; however, I'd give anything to ring it again. In my mind I see a flurry of children bringing in kindling and pulling buckets of water from the well. Children wearing high top shoes, many too small, and most handed down. Girls with braids and boys in hats. The old bell rang, and they came.

School is almost over. Shoes will be tossed aside and crops will tended. Other children will go to camps and go traveling. They are all the same. They race through their childhoods without a care. We see the time race with the ringing of that bell. Another year gone never to return.

When did the last bell ring? What was the last school to remove the bell, the building. Did the children rush to the new school forgetting about that old bell? New replaced old. Many things were lost in this surge forward to modernization and change.

I love these old albums from my mother and grandmother. I hear the ringing of that school bell and know they giggled and laughed writing in classmates' books. The pages were new. Now they are fragile. The bell rang and time passed.

March 7, 1928 F.H.S.
Dear Ruth, When you get old, don't marry a fool. Marry somebody from Franklin School. Freeda Helman

When the last bell rings.

Monday, May 13, 2019

A full life

"Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude." - A.A. Milne

The door opened and Mary Kay (Snider) walked in. We had not seen one another since we were teens. Growing up at Painter Creek Church together, we were tied by friendship and the heart. She was so brave mastering three-day camp at Sugar Grove while I went home homesick on the first day. Now in our 70's we embraced in tears and still held that love.

What makes the years disappear and the heart swell with love? After going 'home', I found my love had grown for those people I met once more. Their generosity of spirit and kindness to an old kid who left the area in 1971 reminded me that I never left home. As to that man I brought along with me, he was embraced as one of their own. He was overwhelmed with the open arms that greeted him. Yes, he found 'home' as well.

As a writer and as an old native, you wonder if anyone reads your writing (and wonder why they would). You just take a brain full of words with a heart that loves her roots and writing is just something you do. But you took my words in and cherished them. I am humbled. Classmates, neighbors, readers, people I have known and those I did not came to embrace June, Loren and me. You take me to my knees, dear people. Your wonderful faces lifted me up and make me want to do better for you. There was not enough time. Never enough time.

I missed those who are now gone. We shed tears remembering. Loren wanted to meet everyone from my past and see everything about which I have written. "Can we come back next year?" he asked. Oh, yes. Please know that we relived every moment of having you with us. On Saturday we spent time with Carol, Bob, Sue, Martha, Shirley, Ron and Kay, Marilyn and Barbara, Linda, Miriam and Clarence, Doris and John, Ed, John, Jeanette and Jim, Barbara, Chester, Fred and Joice, Janet, Nita, George and JoAnn know that your lovely faces are embedded in my heart. I look forward to seeing you again only over a much longer time. Four hours was not enough. For those who could not make it to the meet and greet, let's try again soon.

"It sounds like we will be coming back for the fair," Loren said. "I was also told that I need to go to it and need to eat a Maid Rite." Thank you for making him so welcomed.

"Gratitude unlocks the fulness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow." - Melody Beattie

We headed back to Angola with thoughts of you whirling around in our heads and Maid Rites on our lips. Thank you, my friends. Thank you.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The beginning and the end

Here I sit once more with a page waiting for words. I wish Emma were here to tell me how to sort through my thoughts, for you see, my heart is overflowing. So much I want to say and trying to say it in words doesn't even begin to capture how much I love the people I have seen in the last three days. Perhaps this will take a couple of columns.

So, I will start at the end. Yesterday June, Loren and I visited my dear, childhood friend Vivian (Force) and her beautiful daughters Melissa and Monica. A lot of tears have been shed and many prayers sent up asking that God give Viv to us longer for we are not done with her. We laughed at all the things we did when little girls. Years of nightly phone calls and so many sleepovers that I can't count them all. "I remember your dad coming over to pick me up when we had a big snow storm. My dad called yours telling him I wanted to come over and play." Well, Dad did pick her up, and she rode on the snowplow. There was not enough time to hold all the love we have for one another in that special hour. So I will take it home and cherish it. "My mom always said that you are as good as anyone but not better." Yes, this is the family I grew up being part of.

Saturday night we enjoyed time at the Bistro with my neighbor and other 'sister' Carol (Stager) DeMaio and her son David. Time with the Stager family was always time with my own family.

On Saturday one by one people came to the meet and greet. I wish I had an entire weekend to talk to each and learn about their connections to my family. Time to spend with old friends...and new. I still feel the warmth of those loving hearts. Memories swirled around June and I. We both were (and are) better people knowing that Neff Road is not forgotten. There will be more to come on this.

Saturday morning was spent on Neff Road. Neff Road. It isn't just a road; it is my other parent. First stop is always with Don and Janet Rhoades. Best welcoming station I know. They sent us on our special trip around the block. We stopped next to visit Janet and Rob Douglas where we were welcomed with open arms and fresh hot bread. Then we went on to visit Geneva and Roy Yoder who live where my mom's parents lived. Next stop was the farm. It has changed and is no longer ours. Loren had heard so much about Neff Road, and it didn't disappoint.

Friday we had lunch with my cousins. Alma Lea Gilbert and Ron and Angie Dapore spent a long visit with us. We had seen my Alma Lea's other daughter Kathy in Marathon, Florida. Family is so special and keeping the generations together is an honor to those who passed before. These people are a big reason why I come home.

So we are at the beginning and the end. We leave Angola for Oregon on Thursday. Time will be spent here with family. My son informed us it will be 88 when we get back. We began this trip in Key West in summer clothing and will return to the same. The most difficult thing of any trip is saying good-bye. For all of you who have so warmly embraced us, we will miss you and wish we had more time. Your kindness and open arms will remain in our hearts.

We left with a Maid Rite on our lips and a promise to return some year for the fair. Thanks, dear friend.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The journey has begun

We started off with two full days in Key West. The humidity was a bit much, but Loren loved it every bit as much as do I. We enjoyed the flora, and kidnapped my sister June to take her North.  Yesterday we met up with a cousin I haven't seen since we were children. Kathy (Sharp) Wilkins' Great Grandma and my grandmother were sisters. We met she and her husband Al in Marathon. Then we were off to St. Augustine, where I am writing now.

My son's father-in-law owns a lovely marina where we are staying in a condo overlooking at least 200 yachts and sailboats. I looked out over the marina from my bed last night, watching the water sparkle around the tall masted boats.

Today we heard about pirates and ate at the Florida Cracker (which is named after the sound of a cracking whip). We learned about Ponce De Leon and a man named Flagler. Then, we shopped. Now if you are a Loxley girl or know of one, you realize that shopping is in the blood. Mom was a shopper out of sight!!! So when June and I get together, it is more of the same.

Poor Loren has had to deal with all of the old stories and tales of the past, a past on Neff Road. All siblings should be as close as the two of us. Thank goodness Loren gets it. The years melt away, and we are embraced once more by our love of the farm and of our family. Yes, we are on our way.

Tomorrow we leave for Savannah. Loren will get another look at the old South. And, again, the Loxley girls will shop. Next stop will be to visit our other sister Peg in Virginia. Finally on Tuesday, we tackle the last leg of the trip.

On Friday we will come into Greenville to visit with family. It is indeed a precious time for us. I want to show Loren around on our first day. On Saturday we will hope to see as many of you as possible at the Turtle Creek Country Club from 1-5. It is the easiest way to see many. And, if it is like the last time, old friends will find other old friends and pick up where they left off. One difference this year is that June is coming with us. I know she will be happy to see old friends and once more plant her feet on Neff Road. Please come.

This foot planting on Neff Road is not easy for us. We love that farm. It not only holds our memories; it also holds our hearts.

I will try to keep up my column while we are gone. Right now I am in need of a long nap!!! Be safe. Be happy. See you soon. The journey has begun.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

More precious than diamonds

Take me home, Country Road. To the place I was born. The place that holds my heart, my roots, my past. Well, really I just lied, because Oregon holds my heart and the roots of my grandchildren. I have been here since 1978.

I remember when I was newly married and living in Wisconsin raising two small children, we found that every holiday was spent on the road going back to the farm. I resented not having the holidays in my own home. Then when we moved to Wisconsin, we found that our big trips were those back to Ohio. In Oregon, we found our trips were few. My roots called me home by way of guilt. I felt I had to go home. Yep, guilt is a mighty power that grabs you by the suitcase and points east.

Over the last couple of decades, I have lost many people. Most of them have been family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends who were as close as family. I know I don't have to explain this as you have found this to be true. We cannot go back and add to those times we missed. And, I mourn those times when I could have sat with all of these people, knowing the questions I would ask now. Absorbing their essence and tucking it away for when I would no longer have them with me.

I love hearing from you who also live away from home. It feels rather like making a quilt with all the threads that tie us together. The patches of lives woven by joy, sadness, faith, love. So many of us passed by one another and never knew it. Now we can be in touch and feel as though we have always known one another. We can reminisce about church, county fair, Bible school, driving the circle in Greenville on a Saturday night and, sometimes, tobacco fields.

Growing up, I was the youngest in my family. Hanging out with older people was normal to me. Now as one of those older people, I realize what my visits meant. I realize how loved ones watched over me and followed my life. Perhaps I am a better person now for understanding the gifts of love and recognition. Maybe I can pass on an understanding of the fragility of life and write about the past for those 'young'uns' who will someday, many years down the road, understand how I feel now.

Yes, I am going home. A suitcase is packed. Summer clothing for Key West and St. Augustine then layers and sweaters as we meander our way north. When I asked the twins what they wanted me to bring back, the combined answers were shells, crystals, diamonds and toys....in that order. Hm. I intend to come back with stories more precious than diamonds. I will absorb every bit of the earth, the sky, the towns and the feelings I left behind. Watch out, Neff Road! We are on our way. See you all May 4 from 1-5pm at Turtle Creek Country Club.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Going home once more

The old trunk holds photo stacked on photo from past generations of family members. In some relative's hand, names have been written; however, way too many have nothing on the back to tell me those pieces of my past. A deer is leaping. A child stands next to an elderly woman. A fresh caught of fish is on display for all posterity. Except, who caught them? Ah, pictures. They tell a story and too often just make me curious. Stack upon stack.

I cannot go home without thinking of the way Greenville was when I was a child. The fountain in the park was a place I padded around with water spraying into my face. The swinging bridge scared the bijibbers out of me. There was an old slide that I swear was a mile high. We watched fireworks at the park and swam in the pool.

Memories. It is funny how we capture them in bits and pieces when at the time we think they will remain intact forever. But life does muddle things. We pile up memories like bales stored in the barn. We toss them in and stack them. We can climb up them, but still many are buried beneath. Remove one and a flood pours in.

I can still feel my hand in Mom's as we walked past the hat shop and the bakery. We shopped at the Palace and cruised the candy counter at Murphy's 5 and 10. A burger and fries at the Hamburger Shop and maybe, just maybe, a phosphate at the corner drug store. I didn't get to Maid Rite until I was a teenager. And, the last time I was there was with my cousin Gene who is now gone. My sisters' registered their dishes at Gray's Jewelers across from the Palace. Dad looked at men's clothing at Fourman's. We saw entertainment at Memorial Hall and loved to visit the old library.

There is so much I want to show Loren on this trip home. We can't do it all.  This is a long trip with a purpose, squeezing in the bits and pieces as we go. We are meeting everyone who will come on May 4 at Turtle Creek Country Club between 1-5, because we cannot possibly get around to see everyone. You are my memories. You are the people who were part of that history that lies within the old trunk. You are my readers whom I truly appreciate. For those of you who have not lived away from your stomping grounds, you might not realize how dear you are to the people who have moved away.

Greenville is one of my hometowns. Gettysburg was my neighboring town. Pitsburg was my school town. Arcanum, well, Arcanum is a lot of memories and probably my sweetest hometown. The memories are stacked, the pictures taken from the trunk. Yes, we are going home. Home to you.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A bee in my bonnet

I planted my feet on the ground. Hands were gloved. I totally put on my thirty year old (I don't like hyphens) brain and pulled. At first it did little more than break the surface of the soil. This was going to take more work, and this old body had been hibernating for months....if not years. I then put on my twenty five year old determination, planted one foot on the wall and pulled once more, refusing to give up. The old root let go, and I felt the joy of an Olympic champion. Spring is here.

Yes, I have garden gloves, but there is something about feeling the soil run through my fingers and dirt beneath my fingernails that makes me one with nature. Perhaps it is that part of me that came from the earth, that shares the earth, that is a caregiver of this beautiful soil and all it grows. I grew up with the soil as a gift to our lives. It fed us and our animals, allowed us to have money for another year, blessed us with its beauty. As a tyke, I sat on the soil and played while as my family farmed. I dug in it when the garden went in. It was as much a part of me as was the air I breathed. It still is.

"I loved you even more," my husband said encountering me with a cart absolutely loaded with flowers. He would have to since the day before we had twice as many carted home. This was our year to give back. Our year of caring for an earth that had cared for us for so long. We read the labels to be sure that they were free of chemicals. It was important to find out if they were bee and butterfly friendly. This man I married is supportive of these efforts to be caretakers, or maybe caregivers. 

"Can I buy it?" I asked him. Yep, I found a treasure. While shopping at Costco, I came across a Mason bee barn with little slots for butterflies. A cute little barn with a red roof reminding me of my 'roots'. Upon announcing that we had a bee barn, my son's sister in law supplied us with a little box of Mason bee cocoons. We are setting up housekeeping for the bees, offering them a wide variety of flowers to choose from. Hm. I wonder if each has a different flavor. Now we need to set up a mud pit for the bees so they can seal their cocoons in their new digs. I get to play in the mud once more.

The Mason bees will not sting, so the grandkids can watch them closely and enjoy nature working for us. The hummingbirds were our project last year, but I came up with an idea to take care of both bird and bee. In a clay saucer, I placed stones so the bees can stand on them to drink water. I also put small hummingbird feeders on some of the rocks to draw the hummers closer to us. The ants cannot get into the sweet feeders unless they can swim. Oh, it will be a fun year.

So why are we doing all of this as it is an investment in time and money. We do it because we must in order to save what we have. This is not something to take lightly. I watched CBS Sunday Morning today on the segment about how scientists are looking to nature to find out how it works. Nature is teaching us how to survive. We are surrounded by ways that nature has enhanced our lives. Loren and I have taken on the caregiving of our own little way. Our lives are blessed by what we can give and indeed by what we receive. Care to join us?

Mark your calendars: Meet and greet at Turtle Creek Golf Club on May 4 from 1-5. Would love to see you. Please join us.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Shaking out the sheet

Shake out the sheet. Yep, that's all it took. Shake out a sheet and a memory falls out. Now every so often I seem to shake thoughts of my sister June out of this and that. So there I was making the bed with clean sheets. The sheet billowed and just like that I was back on the farm with my sister on the other side of the bed, telling me what to do. I could once again smell the sweetness of the bedding hung on the line to dry.

Mother aired everything out when spring came around. I'm not sure how often quilts and comforters were washed, but they did their time on the clothesline each spring. After flapping and 'airing', the Loxley girls' duty was to fold the bedding. I vaguely remember June teaching me how to fold a blanket. "Okay, Pam, hold the two corners," she said. Now at this point I must point out that June is seven years my senior and was a lot bigger than me.

I held the corners, but sure as the sun rises, my end of the blanket was dragging on the ground. "Okay, just hold them, I'll come and get them." Now she sounded a bit irritated, so I did as I was told. She pulled her end down to my end and grabbed all four corners folding the blanket once more. "Hold these," she barked. I held two more corners while she returned to her position as the much shorter blanket. A blanket was twice thick and a handful for a little girl. "Hold it up!" Well, things weren't looking up. I did a lot of standing, and she did a lot of grumpy noises finishing up the job. Thus, my lesson in learning to fold bedding.

Bedding is quite the keeper of memories. I remember sleeping beneath family-made quilts, taking in each square Mom Johnson made. A quilt of family history made from the clothing of my aunts, my mother and perhaps even my grandma. The green, tied-comforter covered me every winter. I snuggled down beneath it on those cold nights when body heat was all you had to start with. The chest which held some linens smelled of cedar mixed with moth balls, and the big closet smelled of family. It held all of our clothing, bedding, shoes and play clothes. It was a well-loved room.

I shook out the sheet. I stood in the bedroom in Oregon and was shaking out a sheet on Neff Road. A flood of the past rained down on me, embraced me and welcomed me once more. I heard my sister telling me to shake it out just right. "Don't let go of the corner! Okay, Pam, let's try it again." Ah, yes, shaking out the memories.