Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is It About The Place Or The Time?


I used this picture from 1976 for 'Throw back Thursday' on Facebook a few days ago which prompted this comment from my youngest son (pictured, age 5): "Miss that old place." I agreed with him commenting back that we had some great times there.

Then I started thinking, is it the places we miss or the times we lived in those places? Aren't some of our favorite memories of before our innocence was lost? Before we had to become responsible adults? Before loved ones passed on?


For instance, there are many things I miss about this place - the white farmhouse of my youth - before the front porch was enclosed and the clothesline taken down. When there was still a small oil tank on the south side of the house that I used to straddle and pretend I was riding a horse. But none of those things do I miss as much as I miss.....


The old woman who lived in that house. She who made more oatmeal than she could eat just so she could   lean out the back porch door to spoon feed some of her many cats.


I miss the place of the first picture and my three trees. Like a Druid, I worshiped their age, majesty and secrets. But more than the place and the trees...


I miss when we lived there because my babies were little - a precious time that passed all too quickly. If only I had had the time then that I have now - to spend long summer days playing, teaching, loving.


I miss this place - the house on Tuck Corner. We had to wait for our own place after moving back home and living with my Mom. Then we got this big, beautiful, former home of a state senator, acreage on which to live. But I miss it not because of the house which is now long gone.....


But because of the relationships I had while living there - with people and animals. I will always treasure the pure joy I felt of having my own gilts, Faith, Hope, Charity and Grace - attending the birthing and raising of those baby piglets.


And this place. If I could go back to a time in my life, it would be when we lived in the little house. Not only for the people and animals when I lived there, but for the surprising and indescribable connection I felt with the land there. I would walk the fields and feel I was rooted in the soil - even more-so than on the farm where I grew up.

In the last blog about missing Billy the Kid, I thought I would get the song out of my mind. I didn't. So maybe I missed the point. Maybe the point was the line about innocence lost. And isn't 'Miss that old place" about such a time in our lives?


So, while I miss those old places, as does my son, and there are days I miss the farm of my youth so much I could cry, it is the people, the time, the innocence of youth, the reasons for my memories that I miss.

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."  T.S. Eliot

Friday, June 20, 2014

I Miss Billy The Kid

I doubt I will ever understand why I sometimes wake up with certain songs or phrases in my mind. A few days ago it was Billy Dean's 1992 hit I Miss Billy The Kid. The song has stuck with me, cropping up once or twice a day since. Then this morning I heard it on the radio. That got my attention. It must mean I am supposed to blog about it.


I believe it was March, 1993 when we planned our trip to the Grand Canyon. Bud had long wanted to see Lincoln County New Mexico, the site of the famous Lincoln County War in the late 1870's so we went there on the way. I remember stopping at one Billy the Kid tourist trap where they were capitalizing on both the Kid and Billy Dean's song popularity. We visited the cemetery where Billy was supposedly buried. Bud is pictured above next to the grave. It was enclosed because so many people were chipping pieces off the stones as souvenirs.

We toured the old courthouse in Lincoln to see first hand where Billy had escaped from as well as some other locations in the town before journeying on to Arizona, visiting my Aunt Leona in Punkin Center (Tonto Basin) before heading for the Grand Canyon. It was a great trip.

But back to the song:

Bud wasn't the only one who grew up playing Cowboys and Indians. Here I am at the tender age of three and a half(?) with my brother Ron riding one (saw) horse while our neighbor Norman Firkins sits astride another. Normie was dressed a little better for the part than Ron and I were. "Strapped on my holster low across my hips; two Colt .45's with white plastic grips, and I'd head West through our neighborhood."


Before my little brother came along for my sister and me to dress up and act out the parts we assigned him for our plays, Betty and I played cowboys a lot - probably more than dolls and tea parties. We had our various camps around the farm - 'Three Cornered Camp', 'Sunset Hill' and of course the 'Sheriff's Office' which was in the wash house. I would insist on being the West's first woman sheriff - but with a twist - I was in cahoots with the bad guys. (I've never quite decided what that said about me and my imagination.)
"These days I don't know whose side to be on. There's such a thin line between right and wrong. I live and learn, do the best that I can."

I imagine most of the neighborhood kids played Cowboys and Indians. They could have been Normie, Ronnie, Sammie, Eddie, Terry, Freddie or Bobby The Kid - no Billy's that I remember.

"I miss Billy the Kid, the times that he had, the life that he lived. I guess he must've got caught, his innocence lost. Lord, I wonder where he is. I miss Billy the Kid."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

That Part Was True

I don't know if anyone has missed that I am not blogging about the books I read this year. I am still reading, though my monthly average is down from eleven to seven, I just gave up posting about my reads - even though there have been several FIVES since January 1.


That Part Was True is Deborah McKinlay's second novel. It isn't a five on my rating scale, but it comes close. I either love or hate books that end without a resolution - that leave you wondering what happens. In this case, I loved the ending. There was just enough of a clue that you can imagine your own satisfying ending, but you don't get the clue until the last line of the book.

I am particularly fond of epistolary novels and while I don't think this book is quite as good as my all-time favourite, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, it is a very satisfying read. It also helps that the characters are middle aged and the woman is English. (Love my English novels.)

It all begins when Eve sends a letter to an American author complimenting him on a scene in one of his books. The scene involved the eating of a peach and when the author, Jackson, replied, a correspondence about their mutual love of  food and cooking ensued.

In alternating chapters we learn more about Eve's life in England and Jackson's in the United States. As their first notes increase into longer letters and they learn more about one another's lives, the correspondence takes on more meaning for them. There is a comfortable anonymity which allows them to be more open than they can with the people in their daily lives.

McKinlay does a marvelous job of describing both sides of the pond as well as taking us into the lives of not only her main characters but all their friends and family. There are funny moments, poignant scenes of loss, even some good sounding recipes thrown in.

As an incurable romantic and a lover of words, I have always been attuned to the idea of getting to really know another through letter writing. It has always seemed like an excellent way of letting someone know your true self. The only problem used to be the interminable wait for the daily post. I wonder how much the internet and texting have changed the frisson of receiving a letter?


Monday, June 9, 2014

A Very Special Worry Stone

Do you still have a worry stone in the back of a drawer? Or maybe you still carry one?


These small stones with the thumb shaped indentation were popular in the 70's. The idea was to hold the stone and rub your thumb back and forth as a self-soothing relaxation technique.

The story of my worry stone is one of fear, friendship and naivete. It is a story I have hinted about telling many times. This is the very special worry stone I have had for forty-seven years.


It isn't one I bought. It came out of the Cedar River near Palisades Kepler State Park in Linn County. It is a bit of amber (supposed to provide protection) tumbled smooth by the ages and the river. It is a natural worry stone, not one man made. It even has a hole through it, meant to stimulate health, luck and blessings, especially if found near water.

In the spring of 1967 I separated from my first husband. I took my little boy, our clothes and some personal possessions and rented an apartment in town. I was working at the Municipal Utilities for minimum wage. After taxes, insurance, etc., I remember my biweekly net check as less than $70.00. Even though my apartment rent was only $30.00 a month, by the time I paid for child care, a small car payment on the used '58 Ford station wagon I bought for $225.00, a bank loan for a used refrigerator, which even though was still in possession of my husband I felt responsible for paying, and groceries, there wasn't much left. In fact I clearly remember crying because my son wanted an ice cream cone and I didn't have a dime to walk down to the Clown and buy him one. That was when I began looking for another job. In those days that meant hunting through the Des Moines or Omaha Sunday classified ads and sending out letters of application, one of which was for a receptionist position with a construction company in Eastern Iowa.

My boss at the time hated to see me leave but understood I needed more money and that a change of scene would probably be a good thing. He thought it was odd though that the owner of the company I had applied to wanted a picture of me and wanted to know how long my hair was. It should have made me wonder, too, but all I could see was the proposed salary of $100 a week! Dougie could have an ice cream cone every day!


Moving to that small town near Cedar Rapids meant I was four hours away from the only support system I had - friends and family, mainly family. At that point in my life I thought I was quite grown up. I was taking responsibility not only for myself, but for my child.

I moved during the summer and started my new job. My new boss decided to pay me $110.00 a week and helped me find a furnished apartment. I had no idea my starting wage was the same as the other two women who had been working there for years which quickly alienated them. But after a while they relented and became friendly. Thank goodness, because I needed friends.


It did not take long for me to realize I was in a bad situation. First of all, there was almost nothing for me to do. I answered the few phone calls and was given some small busy work. My boss kept wanting to take pictures of me in his office. This is one. My daughter says I look like someone from the TV show Mad Men. And actually that is very much what that era was like. Women were definitely objectified.

I don't remember how my friendship with Fred, the company mechanic, started. I know he had a little boy the same age as mine. He was a good listener, not that he did not already know what was going on. One time we took the boys fishing. Another time we took them to Burger King in Cedar Rapids. It was coming home from there one night that we met our boss going the other direction. Oh, I forgot to mention that in addition to owning the construction company, the guy I worked for was also a Linn County Special Deputy. He had his car equipped with police radios and lights including a spot light. Fred sped up before our boss got turned around and managed to lose him, but he was definitely after us. As we neared my apartment I jumped out of the car carrying Doug and made it to the porch just as the spotlight was turned toward us. I was scared to death.
The next day my boss, Wayne was his name, threatened me. He told me if I had any more to do with Fred that he would see to it that I lost custody of my son. He threatened Fred, too - told him he would lose his job if he saw us even talking to one another again.

I was so afraid of what Wayne could do. He knew every lawman and judge in the area. I called my lawyer and drove to Oskaloosa to see him. I gave him the details and asked if I could lose my child. He reassured me that wasn't going to happen, but that I needed to get out of there. Once again I began looking for a job and as soon as I found one I left.


I did see Fred one more time which is when he gave me his worry stone. He had had it a long time but said I needed it more than he did. I only lived in the Cedar Rapids area a year before moving to Des Moines. I had always thought that someday I would return Fred's worry stone to him but he died eleven years ago. Maybe I'll have my son give the worry stone back to Fred's son. Or maybe someday I'll leave it on Fred's grave.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A New D-Day Tradition?

Some years, after Memorial Day, I go back to retrieve the plastic flowers from the graves and other years I don't. It is strictly happenstance that I did so two years ago on June 6 and again today. If it happens one more time, either by happenstance or by design, I will declare undecorating the graves as the new D-Day tradition. (Most of the cemeteries give you two weeks to remove your floral offerings or they will be disposed of.)

When we went two years ago I planned a little side trip after we had been to the cemeteries. I drove and I wouldn't tell Bud where we were going. That was the time we went to Grant for lunch at The Hayloft and then to Pilot Grove Park so I could see a bow string bridge I had read about. (Chances R, June 6, 2012 "A Perfectly Serendipitous Day")


Today we went a little further afield to Macedonia in Pottawatomie County and I did tell Bud where I was taking him this time.


Lunch was at the Back Forty. (The Hayloft, the Back Forty, am I detecting a theme here?) For a small town there seems to be a lot of community pride going on.


Sorry to say I neglected getting the story about the town clock. Apparently it was just repaired last year, but I don't know if it stands in its original site nor how old it is. Weather-wise the day could not have been prettier.


Macedonia was founded on the east side of the Nishnabotna River in 1846 and moved to its present location in 1880 due to flooding. It is located along the Mormon Trail. Some of the stores along Main Street are now used for other purposes. This one is the Pioneer Trail Museum. Across the street are the Grist Mill McCready Theatre and the Stempel Bird Collection & Museum.


The reason I wanted to go to Macedonia was to visit The Painted Camel Gallery. Ever since meeting the potter, Paul Koch at the Corning Fine Arts Center and learning about their new gallery, I've wanted to see it.
www.potterybythecreek.com  Not only is Paul's work on display and for sale, there is the work of twenty-six other artists on consignment.


Previous owners used it for their residence and had already done much of the building's rehabilitation . The tile work, exposed brick and faux painted walls are perfect for a gallery in my opinion.


Paul's wife, Carol Jean, manages the gallery. She was so nice to talk with and gave us a tour of the site. Even though most of the downstairs interior work is already completed, future plans include renovating the upstairs as well as finishing the courtyard which can be glimpsed through the kitchen window.


Just as we were getting ready to start home, I saw this gorgeous wood canoe. Another example of Macedonian artwork? If you're looking for a road trip, one to this small eastern Pottawatomie County town and The Painted Camel Gallery is one I highly recommend - especially on a perfect June day.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Treasures of Memories


Prairie Rose Cemetery just doesn't seem the same without this beautiful pine in its southwest corner. I am so glad I took this picture three years ago because this year when we went for Memorial Day the tree was entirely gone - victim of the pine borer.
For me visiting a cemetery has always been an interesting, peaceful excursion. Whether I am in a cemetery by myself or in the company of others, I generally walk around reading headstones, thinking about the people buried there; wondering about their lives and how that affected me if they are ancestors. Every once in awhile I discover the grave of a new ancestor as in the case of the Cecil's at Nodaway Cemetery a couple of years ago. When that happens it is often the result of having found them first online through the 'Find A Grave' project.
Many of the Find A Grave contributions in SW Iowa have been posted by Marty and Harley. They are a dog and its owner from what I can glean. I don't know which is which. I tend to think Harley is the dog and Marty is the person, but is Marty a her or him? I guess it doesn't matter. It is just my natural curiosity to know who this person is. I would like to meet someone else who finds treasures in the memories of a cemetery - and then is motivated to share those finds online with the rest of us.

Part of their bio is this quote: "A man lives as long as he is remembered...." followed by an anonymous poem: Your tombstone stands among the rest; neglected and alone. The name and date are chiseled out on polished marble stone. It reaches out to all who care; it is too late to mourn. You did not know that I exist; you died and I was born. Yet each of us are cells of you in flesh, in blood, in bone. Our blood contracts and beats a pulse entirely not our own. 
Throw back the shoulders, let the heart sing. Let the eyes flash, let the mind be lifted up, look upward and say to yourself, 'Nothing is Impossible.' 
Dear Ancestor - The place you filled one hundred years ago spreads out among the ones you left who would have loved you so. I wonder if you lived and loved? I wonder if you knew that someday I would find this spot and come to visit you? ("When your loved one becomes a memory, every memory becomes a treasure".)


When I used to come back to take my Mom & my beloved Grandma Ridnour around to the cemeteries on Memorial weekend, Grandma Delphia once said to me as we were placing flowers on the graves: "I know who will put flowers on my grave, but who will put flowers on your's?" At the time I privately acknowledged the compliment I thought she was paying me. But as the years have gone by and I see that the younger generations are not going to have the same regard toward Memorial Day as Grandma's and Mom's and mine, I truly begin to understand what she meant.

It no longer matters to me because I plan to be cremated and have my ashes divided and scattered in the four directions, but I'd still like to think some of the grandchildren would put flowers on Mom & Dad's graves. Then when I think about Marty & Harley's contributions I wonder if I/we should have a gravestone at Prairie Rose (I have a plot, next to her, bought when my sister died) even if we aren't buried beneath it - just so some future great or great-great grandchild could someday stand there and wonder about me as I do about my ancestors.

On Memorial Day weekend as I make my way to all the various cemeteries, I walk around and view the names not only of my relatives but of all the many people who once touched my life. I think about them and the lessons they may have taught me or the funny anecdotes their names recall. Sometimes I see the undecorated grave sites of relatives of  friends or classmates who live far away and wonder if they regret that they can't come back every year to decorate their loved one's final resting places. With the same feelings I imagine motivate Marty and Harley, I wonder if those far-away friends would like me to place some flowers for them. (As I have done for one of my friends when illness prevented her from coming back.)

Several years ago when I was wandering among the tombstones at Nodaway on a pleasant summer day, I was just leaving as a car with a California license plate arrived. Had time allowed I would have waited to see what grave they visited. Would they have turned out to be some distant relative? I've always wondered about them since. Maybe that was even Marty and Harley?

Tomorrow we go to retrieve our plastic offerings of two weeks ago, another few moments to treasure our memories of loved ones passed.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"Everything Old Is New Again"

"Don't throw the past away, you might need it some rainy day. Dreams can come true again, when everything old is new again." (Peter Allen)

In the last couple of weeks I've noticed on TV some instances of women wearing bandannas or kerchiefs as head coverings again - as we did back in the 80's. Is the style making a comeback?

Me with my cousin Joe's son, Aaron and my dog Toffee.
Oh, I hope so. Wearing what I referred to as a kerchief was my favorite head covering. Kerchief, from the French couvre-chef, "cover the head" which is what I did when I folded the large man's handkerchief into a triangle and tied it over my ears and behind my head. When I hear bandanna I think more of the handkerchief being rolled or folded and worn like a headband. The last time I wore my kerchief in public, I was looked upon questionably - and that was in Walmart. So I quit wearing them.


But I didn't get rid of them! I've just been waiting patiently. Some of these twenty or so bandannas are still crisp and new while the majority of them are faded and soft from so many launderings. The red one spread out was obviously a favorite. It has the twelve signs of the zodiac with Scorpio (my sign) featured. It even has some small holes in it. Oh, I hope I'm going to be able to wear these again and be in style.

Me with granddaughter, Dominique.
Not that I don't like wearing hats, I do, but I always feel so conspicuous when I wear one. Maybe if I wore them more often?

The other questionable attire which is, according to the news "suddenly fashionable", as in "seen on the streets of New York" is wearing socks with sandals. Again, oh, I hope so. I really don't like wearing any kind of shoe without socks. It just doesn't feel right to me.


I know I won't be wearing my sandals with short white socks - that looks weird even to me. The pictures I've seen show darker, calf length socks being worn with sandals. I would probably go with darker, short socks - something nearly the same color as the sandals. Unless of course I want to be right in style.

Now if my blue eye shadow and bell bottoms will just become new again.......