Sunday, August 28, 2011

"13, rue Therese"

When I saw this book listed in the "new books" section of our library's newsletter last spring, I knew it would be one I would want to read - just by the cover. It finally became available (without being on the wait list - something I seldom do) last week.

Upon reflection, I realize I was expecting something along the lines of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. And while Elena Mauli Shapiro's first novel was not the read Elegance was, I still enjoyed 13, rue Therese.

Shapiro grew up in the 80's and lived at 13, rue Therese. When her upstairs neighbor, Louise Brunet, died and no family claimed her possessions, tenants of the building were allowed to help themselves. Shapiro's mother took a box of mementos - some of them dating back to WWI. The author used photos of the letters, gloves, pressed flowers, coins and post cards found in the box in her novel which added to the realism of a life imagined.

This fictionalized life of Louise is told by Trevor Stratton, an American faculty member of a present day French university. He is allowed to "find" the box in his office by the current owner, Josianne, the secretary in his department. (Each year she leaves the box for a different professor to determine their level of romanticism.) Stratton is fascinated by the mementos and begins piecing together the life of their owner, Madame Louise Brunet. In sharing his findings with Josianne, he realizes she is the one who left the box of artifacts for him to find and a romance buds.

I believe I would have enjoyed this book more if it had been told by Josianne - from a woman's imaginings rather than a man's. Or told simply by the author herself without the complications of too many layers. Otherwise, I really liked the imagined life of a real person known to us only by a little collection of her life.

Scones and Bones, Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mystery # 12, was available - unusual since the library just obtained it this month - so I enjoyed more of Theodosia Browning's murder mystery solving. As I said in my "Live to Read" blog, I think I enjoy her books more for the information about the different teas than the mysteries. Dominique wasn't here to try any of the recipes from the back of the book, but if she had been, we might have tried making the Easy Chai Tiramisu. Maybe I'll write the recipe down before I take the books back tomorrow.

The Water's Lovely by Ruth Rendell is one of her stand alone books. I did not find this novel as suspenseful as most of the ones by her that I've read. The main characters are sisters who share a murderous secret - one that is never talked about, but which figures prominently in their lives as they each search for love. It's not a book about romance. It's not one of Rendell's usual psychological thrillers, but it is still worth reading for her intertwining characters and subplots.

One of the blurbs I read about my new fave author, Brian Freeman, compared him to Daniel Silva, an author I haven't read before, so I decided to try one of Silva's many novels. I chose The Marching Season only because of the subject matter - Northern Ireland's ongoing religious and political conflict. (See my July 12, 2010 blog.)

There was a time in my life when I loved the James Bond and Jason Bourne books. The counter-espionage culture was exciting. I was more attuned to what was going on in the political world. Now, I find, I'm less interested in the world stage. Perhaps that is why I found this thriller less than thrilling - too many assassinations for this old reader.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Long Skirts and Eyewear Fashion

I was twelve years old when I first noticed I was having trouble seeing the blackboard at the front of the room. In seventh grade, I was sitting in the next to the last row of desks in our one-room country school.
I told my Mom I thought I needed glasses. She doubted me, saying the only reason I wanted glasses was because my best friend had just started wearing glasses, so, naturally, I wanted some too.
Each year, the teacher would test our eyes using the Tumbling E chart. When she told my Mom she thought I needed to have my eyes checked by the eye doctor, Mom finally believed me and made an appointment. Yes. I needed glasses - but only for distance. My eyes were fine for reading.
Choosing my first eye glass frames was easy - I wanted some just like my friend's. (Mom was right about that part - wanting glasses because Virginia had them.) Mine weren't exactly like hers, but they were the same blue-gray plastic similar to the ones above. I think the frames were $12.00 and the lenses were about the same price. I wore these glasses about four years until.....

I was a junior in high school and got these snazzy two-tone gold frames. The shape of the frames was a little more fashionable, also.

When I was public relations director for the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery, I had to have my picture taken to include with a press release about my appointment. My eye wear was less pointy, but I was back in gold frames.

In between those two, I had some real 'cats eye' frames. Looks like Mom and Grandma, did, too. This was in 1962 when Doug was a baby.

And 1968 - still similar style. By this time, I had been wearing glasses more than ten years and my eyes didn't seem to get worse every year or two as they did those first few years. So, even though eye wear fashion changed, I didn't get new frames just to stay in style.

Two trends in the seventies were long skirts and BIG glasses. In '78, Kari and I were both sporting those "all the better to see you with" frames. They remained popular all through the 80's.......

.....and into the nineties - although they were starting to get smaller when this picture was taken in 1996.

My eyesight hasn't changed in the past five or six years, so I've been wearing these same frames for quite awhile. I doubt I'll be wearing the popular rectangular eyeglasses of the last two or three years because......

Just as the seventies saw big glasses and long skirts, I have been noticing the trend toward those two fashions once again. I've seen several floor length dresses this summer. If I've seen them in our small town, I'm sure they are popular in the cities.

Long skirts were one of my favourite thing about the 70's & 80's. I always felt so dressed up when the skirt went all the way to the floor. In the case of the picture above, I was dressed up for New Year's Eve. But I had long skirts for everyday wear, too - especially the broom stick ones. I had them in several solid colors and many, many prints.
The other trend I'm seeing coming back is jump suits. Loved my jumpsuits. But they are long gone.

The only floor length skirt I still have is this dress I bought fifteen years ago for my 35th class reunion. I wore it to Brock's high school graduation in 1999 and again to Kathryn's high school and Alyssa's college graduations this spring. I still love the dressy feeling of a long skirt.

Too bad all my others went to Goodwill. And too bad those big eyeglasses went to the Lions Club Recycle for Sight Program. I think we're going to see both styles making a come back.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Facebook and The First Day of School

All the comments about the first day of school on Facebook this week got me to thinking about all the "first day of school" pictures taken over the years. So far, I've only seen pictures of my grand-nephew, Nicholas, posted. Maybe there will be more. In the meantime, here is a picture of grand-nephews, Aiden and Erick taken February 22, 2010. It wasn't their first day of school - but it was the first day Aunt Ramona had the privilege of walking them to school!

My own first day of school was in 1949. Big brother, Ronald, took me on the back of his bicycle. My little lunch pail must have been on the other handle bar opposite Ron's 'big boy' pail with thermos.

This looks like the first day of school picture from Betty's first year - my third, Ron's sixth. I wonder if Betty was as nervous about her first year of school as I had been. Nervous, yet excited about the new experience.

And here we are the following year. I was so proud of my cowboy shirt. I had my school picture taken in it that fourth grade year. And, yes, we did go to school in patched jeans. I even remember putting cardboard in my shoes one year when I had worn a hole through the soles. Mom always said there was nothing to be ashamed about patched clothes as long as they were clean - and ours always were - at least in the morning. By the time we came home from school, they were often muddy.

Kari and Preston were beginning to rebel against first day of school pictures when this one was taken in front of 'The Little House' the fall of 1981. Preston was a fifth grader and Kari was beginning Junior High (7th grade).

If I have my dates right, this is the first day of school, 1980 - the last year we lived on Tuck Corner. Sixth grade for Kari and fourth grade for Preston. (I hope they'll correct me if I'm wrong.

And here is the last first day of school pic taken at "Our House" when the kids went to school at Johnston. Doug was rebelling against the tradition, but Kari and Preston were still happy to pose. Nadette was saying, "Can I go, too?" I remember how cute Preston's matching jeans and jeans jacket were. This was taken the fall of 1977. Preston was in first grade, Kari in third and Doug was a sophomore. The following year we moved to Corning where two years later, Doug graduated from the same high school his mother had graduated from nineteen years before.

I hope mothers and fathers are still taking "first day of school' pictures every year - even when the kids don't want to pose for them. And to make it easier years later to identify the grades they are in, have each child hold up the number of fingers to correspond with the grade. That is a trick I just heard about. I wish I had known it back when I was taking these pictures.

Friday, August 19, 2011

August 19, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1960

Sunday, August 19, 1956 - "Went to the Stock Car Races at fair grounds. Had pop corn and candy. Mom and Leslie stayed home." Yep, I'm in the diaries again. How well I remember the noise and excitement of those stock car races - and the danger of sitting in the old grandstand.
Dad was a big race fan. If we went to the State Fair, it had to be on the day they had stock car races. I can also remember driving to Bedford and Afton, Iowa and to Hopkins, Missouri to watch stock car races.

Monday, August 19, 1957 - "Had trouble taking cow (Dumbo) to bull." In the front of one of the diaries are these words: "The Mind - is a wonderful machine. It needs but be just refreshed and incidents can again be revived in their former clarity. A Line - Each Day, whether it be of the weather or of more important substances, will in time to come bring back those vague memories, worth remembering, to almost actual reality." How true! I actually remember the trouble we had getting Dumbo down the road to the pasture where the bull was. She was so obstinate. There was a reason we called her Dumbo.
To finish that day's entry: "Went to Creston. Got a clipboard and necklace and earring set (gold). Reichardt's were up." I was getting ready to begin my freshman year of high school; had to have a new clipboard for that! It was white with gray and pink - made to look like marble. I loved it.

Tuesday, August 19, 1958 - "Up at 6:30. Got breakfast. Mom and I picked beans. Got two buckets. Put them in freezer. Ron went to Clarinda about entering college.

Went to town this afternoon. Wore my new can can. (I don't record what skirt I wore it under. I had just gotten it two days before from one of the mail order catalogs. You can't even imagine how much I loved that melon colored petticoat.) "Went up to Grandma's (Lynam). Dad mowed hay. Took books back. Went down to Grandma's (Ridnour) to get some clothes I left. Grandma said a boy (she doesn't know who) called Monday night to see if I was still there. I wonder who?? K.B.?? Maybe."

(The previous Friday night, I had gone to the Guss Sunday School skating party with Aunt Lois and my cousins. I had skated with a couple boys from their SS class - Kenny Bailey and Carroll Stamps. They asked me to sit with them at the cafe across the street after the party. Had fun talking with them. They wanted me to ride home with them, but I didn't. I was only fifteen and not allowed to date yet. They were 16. Kenny was killed in a car accident three years later. It was one of those news stories you hear: "Young man from New Market killed in accident" - your mind immediately goes to the one young man you know from New Market - and then his name is announced. Is that premonition? Or just coincidence?)

By this time in my diaries, I had begun ending each post with "Tonight's Song" The song for that night was "Fever" by Peggy Lee.

Wednesday, August 19, 1959 - "Got up at 8:30. Mom got me up because the Avon Lady was here. I ordered a new compact and some Forever Spring Sachet and Talcum.

Mom took Leslie out to the hospital to see Dr. Croxdale this morning. No diagnosis. (He had been running a fever for three days.) I ironed all morning. Helped get dinner. Ron and I went down to Grandpa's (Ridnour) after dinner to help hay. I drove the tractor on one load and drove the pickup all the time. (To pull the hay up into the haymow.) Jan was there. We had fun making faces at Lloyd. (Cousins)

Lloyd, Esther, Russ, Shirley and Janiece (Travis) were here tonight. I took a shower. Washed supper dishes. Tonight's Song: Half Breed (Most likely Marvin Rainwater's version.)

Friday, August 19, 1960 - "Got up at 8:20. I cleaned up the front room. Washed dinner dishes. Mom and Dad sorted hogs. Sold around 50 head. Only got $16. something. Prices have fallen something awful.

The telephone guy put the dial on our phone today. (I think our first dial phone was a wall mounted black one. Eventually, we had a desk model. Our number was 2-3088.)

I milked Coco, Dumbo and Sylvia tonite. Daddy helped Hadley's do their and Arthur's chores. Keith is down in the back. (Kapple's were probably on vacation.) It started raining all of a sudden early this afternoon. Rained off and on till this evening. Took a shower. Sent a letter this morning. Took the band off one of my skirts and made it smaller. Read some before sleep. Didn't write to Kenny (Botkin). (He was at six-month National Guard training camp in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.) Tonight's Song: Cool Water. It was very cool. (I assume I meant the rain. Most likely Frankie Laine's version.)

Five year's of August 19's - typical teenage life on the farm - so uneventful I recorded the time I got up and whether or not I did the dishes that day and which cows I milked. But at least I wrote something. And now, fifty-some years later, I can look back and remember the melon-colored can can, the crush I had on a boy I only saw a few times, the thrill of the stock car races and songs which were popular at the time.

"Now you listened to my story

Here's the point that I have made

Chicks were born to give you fever

Whether Fahrenheit or centigrade

They give you fever when you kiss them

Fever if you live and learn....

What a lovely way to burn."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Live To Read

One of my favourite tees is this one given to me by my friends who know how much I love to read. It is a Literary Threads (TM) tee shirt (go to their website [] to see more designs) which they got at the Tucson Festival of Books.
These same friends read and then pass on to me books they think I would enjoy. One of these was Robert MacNeil's Wordstruck. The book is a memoir about MacNeil's love of words and language. When his co-anchor of the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, Jim Lehrer, read the manuscript, he said, "You should call it Wordstruck because that is what you were."
MacNeil's reply: "Wordstruck is exactly what I was - and still am: crazy about the sound of words, the look of words, the taste of words, the feeling for words on the tongue and in the mind." In this preface of his memoir, he perfectly described the way I feel about words. Small wonder I was/am enchanted by his book. His love affair with words began the same as mine - with our mothers reading to us until we were old enough to read.

Emily and Einstein, a novel of second chances, by Linda Francis Lee, is one of those books I pick up because I find the cover appealing then check out after reading the blurb on the dust jacket: "Emily and her husband, Sandy Portman, seemed to live a gracious if busy life in an old-world, Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan's famous Dakota building. Then one night on the way to meet Emily, Sandy dies in a tragic accident. The funeral isn't even over before Emily learns she's on the verge of being evicted from their apartment. Even worse than the possibility of losing her home, Emily is stunned when she discovers that her marriage was made up of lies.
Suddenly Emily is forced on a journey to find out who her husband really was...all the while feeling that somehow he isn't really gone. Angry, hurt, and sometimes betrayed by loving memories of the man she lost, Emily finds comfort in a scruffy dog named Einstein."
I almost did not read this book just because of the much used formulaic "husband dies and wife discovers his secrets". But I did. It is a cute book. I kept thinking it had been made into a movie. Isn't there a movie where the husband dies and comes back as a dog? For me, the relationship between Emily and her sister and the one between the sisters and their mother was the meat of this novel.

Last month I wrote about discovering Brian Freeman. Did I say, "Wow!" about his writing? Of the four books our library has of his, two were available when I took The Bone House back. As it turns out, they are numbers one and three featuring Lieutenant Jonathan Stride of the Duluth, Minnesota Police Department.
In number one, Immoral, we meet Stride and his partner, Maggie Bei. Fourteen months have passed since they were called in on the missing person case of teenage girl. Now a second teen girl has disappeared: "He felt it again. Deja vu. It was an ugly memory."
In book three, Stalked, Maggie Bei's husband is murdered and she is the prime suspect. Stride knows she is innocent, but he is banned from the case. The detective put in charge is just as certain Maggie is guilty and doesn't look any further.
Freeman is a master of psychological suspense - as much so as that other author I like, English novelist, Minette Walters. I love mysteries I can't figure out before the end of the book. And I like the Duluth setting because I have been there and along the North Shore and across the Blatnik Bridge (Duluth-Superior High Bridge) which makes it possible for me to "see" as well as read the book.

Kate Atkinson was the other new author I found last month. Case Histories is the first of the Jackson Brodie series. Jackson, formerly a policeman and now a private detective, has three seemingly unrelated cases. As he tries to unravel these disparate case histories, he begins to realize everything is connected.
Atkinson's books have been made into a six-part television series starring Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie. Oh, how I hope this BBC drama makes it to America!

Blood Orange Brewing is Laura Child's seventh 'Tea Shoppe Mystery'. I haven't been able to read all of the series, but read all our library has. I enjoy reading about the different teas, savories and pastries as much as I enjoy Theodosia Browning's solving of murders. These are mysteries I can figure out before the ending. I think of them as being in the Jessica Fletcher, Murder, She Wrote category. (While granddaughter, Dominique, was here, she made the Southern Cuppa Cuppa Cake from the recipe in the back of the book. It was good.)

The final book is also a mystery. Part of the mystery is how it got into my book bag. I don't know if I picked it up to see what it was about and forgot to put it down, or whether it was a book someone brought back and was on the check in-check out desk and the librarian thought it was one I meant to check out. Anyway, I was surprised to find it in my book bag when I got home, but read it anyway mostly because it was an Iowa author and Iowa setting.

Ledges by Michael Frederick is set in Des Moines in 1959. The protagonist is twelve-year-old Ben, who along with his sister Pam and divorced mother, Michelle, move to a farm near Ledges State Park when Michelle becomes involved with the rich farm owner, Irving, 'Dutch', Beal.
Pam longs for her absent father, Michelle is mesmerized by the security she envisions with the much older Dutch and Ben goes along because he wants his mom to be happy.
Instead of the proverbial evil step-mother of fairy tales, we get the evil step-father who is abusive and cruel. Ultimately, the children have to fight to stay alive.
Even though the book is not very well edited, the story line and locale were interesting enough to keep me reading. Now my visiting thirteen-year-old grandson has picked up the book. I might post an addendum to this blog to record his review of Ledges.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Technology and Family Lore

Just as modern forensics - DNA, fingerprints, etc. - have enabled law enforcement and the judicial system capture and convict more felons (or release wrongly convicted innocents) - the World Wide Web and all the information on it have enabled me to fletch out stories from my past.
Such a story concerns my grandfather, George A. Lynam. (Pictured above, possibly around the time this happened.) Re-reading one of my journals from ten years ago - I had been called for jury duty for the first time in my life, so that was on my mind and probably figured into the discussion my brothers and I were having at a get-together at Mom's.
From the journal - "Ron and Les and I got to comparing memories. Funny the differences in what we remember. Or how we remember events. Ron told of Grandma Lynam (Bessie) telling about Grandpa Lynam (George) and a neighbor or friend who got up early one a.m. to chore and then head the team and wagon for Maryville to witness a hanging.
Ron said he had heard the story when he lived down there. A black man was jailed for the murder of a school teacher at a country school west of Maryville. Apparently word got out that he was to be moved to another location, but, of course, was taken by the mob and hung. It would be interesting to dig into the facts (if they still exist) and see if the black man was even near the crime."

Through the magic of Google, I was able to learn that yes, the event really did take place - 80 years ago this past January - Raymond Gunn was tied and burned alive at the very school house where the murder took place. This picture from the Nodaway County (Missouri) Historical Society shows part of the crowd witnessing the tragedy. (Was my grandfather one of the men pictured with their backs to the camera?) The case drew national attention and was invoked unsuccessfully in an attempt to pass a law called the Wagner-Costigan Act.

Raymond Gunn did confess to the crime. Would DNA evidence have confirmed his confession? If he had been a white man, would a lynch mob have extracted justice?

As much as I wonder about those questions, I wonder more about my Grandfather's participation. He lived in the north part of Taylor County at the time. Maryville would have been at least forty, very cold, miles away. Was he the one who wanted to go to the lynching, or did he go along because his neighbor wanted to go? Who was the neighbor? And what kind of lasting impression did such a scene have upon Grandpa?

Those questions not even Google can answer.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer Of Decision*

Picture of our neighbors, Orville & Kitty Steadman, as I remember them, early 1950's.

Heat shimmered up from the young green cornfields. It was just another hot summer day. Vacation was already a drag. I was beginning to look forward to school. The kitchen where I sat watching Mom fix dinner was only slightly cooler than outside. I was bored. There just wasn't anything to do.

Then I heard the familiar rattle of our neighbor's old black coupe. Trixie began to bark as the car pulled into our barnyard.

"Louis," Mom called to Dad, "Glen just drove in." Dad got up and came out of the other room. "I wonder what he wants," Dad said. "Probably needs some more money." Dad went outside and I slipped along behind him. I went over and pretended to swing, but actually I was listening to what was going on.

Glen had let his car door swing open and was sitting sort of half-in, half-out. One foot rested on the running board, clad in the old "romeo" bedroom slippers he always wore. His old blue overalls were undone at the sides. His white undershirt showed through.

Dad sat down on the cement step. Glen took out some papers and a can of Velvet tobacco. He rolled a cigarette, lit it and then seemed to forget about it. The cigarette somehow stayed on his large lower lip even as he talked. I kept watching his mouth, waiting for the cigarette to drop, but it never did. How did he do it?

As I eavesdropped, I began to think Dad had been wrong about why old Glen had come up. They were just talking about the weather, the crops, neighbors -- everyday stuff. Even though I knew Dad had loaned Glen money many times. Sometimes just a couple of dollars, but usually a five dollar bill. "Just until Saturday," Glen always said. And when Daddy went back into the house, he would tell Mom how much he had given our neighbor and she would write it down in her book. I never did know if it was paid back.

I was about ready to go back in and tell Mom that he had just come up to talk, when there was a little lull in their conversation. Then suddenly Glen blurted out, "Lou, could you give me $5.00 until Saturday?" I looked at Dad. He had a weary look on his face. There was a long pause and then, "Glen," he said, "I'm sorry, but I just don't have anything I can spare. I'm really sorry, but things are pretty tight for me right now, too." I watched and listened in fascinated horror. To my knowledge, Dad had never turned Glen down. I thought for sure that he was dooming Glen and his wife to death by starvation. Surely he wouldn't do that! I ran to the safety of the kitchen where I could smell dinner cooking and know that I wasn't going to have to go hungry. I felt so sorry and so helpless.

When Dad came back into the house, Mom said, "Well, was that what he wanted?" "Yes," Dad replied, "but I had to tell him no this time. I can't be giving him money when I have to go to the bank and borrow five hundred dollars just to keep us going."

What had he said? Five hundred dollars! For a moment my world spun and went black. I couldn't believe what I had heard. My Dad had borrowed five hundred dollars! It just wasn't possible. He would never be able to pay back that much money. An then what would happen? Would we have to move? Would Daddy be put in Jail? I wasn't very old, but I knew that my Dad always paid cash for everything. To him borrowing was a sin. I just couldn't understand what had driven him to ask the bank for a loan.

Suddenly I was sorry I had spent my quarter allowance on Saturday. I wished I had it to give back right then. I was ashamed I had begged Mom to buy me some new shorts and then kept nagging after she had said we couldn't afford them. There must be something I could do to help Dad get out of this awful mess. But what?

Several days went by. I still couldn't thing of anything. On Saturday I saved my allowance - all of it. I would save it up every week and then give it to Dad all at once. It would seem like more that way. But even that wouldn't help much.

Then one day, I hit upon the idea of hiring myself out to the neighbors. It took a lot of courage for me to get on my bike and start down the road. My plan was to go all the way around the country block. There were eight families along that route. I began to visualize all the money I would earn.

I stopped at the first house and offered my services. But they had children of their own to do chores. So I went on. The second family only kept chickens and they didn't need any help with them.

I was beginning to lose my courage. But I forced myself to go on down the mile. On the corner lived an older couple. I felt better. I was sure they would like to have a young girl help them. I stopped my bike and went to the door. Mrs. Steadman came out. "I was wondering if you had any odd jobs I could do," I asked. "Well, I don't know," she replied. "What kind of jobs did you have in mind?" "Well, I could clean eggs, or dry dishes, or clean windows - just about anything." "How much do you charge?" she wondered. That was something I hadn't thought about. I only knew I needed to make a lot of money. She waited for me to answer. Finally I managed to stammer, "thirty-five cents for cleaning eggs, twenty cents for drying dishes?" It was more a question than an answer. Then she asked why I needed the money. I was getting panicky. She was asking too many questions. I couldn't tell her the real reason I needed money so I just said something about not getting enough allowance. "Well, I don't think I have anything for you to do. Does your Mother know where you are?" That did it. I said, "thanks anyway," and got out of there as fast as I could. I was afraid she would call my Mom. My spirits were crushed. I turned my bike toward home. No use going to the other places.

After that experience, I stopped thinking in small change terms and began thinking about how people got lots of money. It seemed to me the people I knew either had money, or didn't. I really didn't know how farmers made money except by selling eggs and cream. That was all I ever saw - Mom's egg money. I knew that only paid for groceries and sometimes a pair of shoes. Where did the big money come from?

Finally one day after getting the mail from the box, I had my answer. In the mail that day was a notice of premium due on one of my Dad's life insurance policies. Life insurance. That was it! I knew my parents had a policy on me for $1,000. If I died, Dad could pay off his loan and have some left over. It was great! Now that I had figured out what to do, I felt better. Except that I didn't really want to die. But I had to! I had to for my family's sake.

All I had done was exchange one problem for another. Now I had to figure out how to do it. It would help if I could convince myself I really wanted to. I began taking every insult my brother and sister gave me as proof they didn't really want me around. If Ron said, "Oh, drop dead!", I believed he meant it. If Mom or Dad yelled at me, it was proof they didn't love me. Finally I had worked myself into the proper unloved, unwanted mood.

I began to look at the kitchen knives as something more than utensils to cut bread and meat. But I wasn't sure I could do it with a knife. Dad had a rifle, but I wouldn't be able to point it and shoot at the same time. If I got behind the wheels of the milk truck as it backed out ... but that seemed too gruesome.

I tried sniffing gas fumes from the car gas tank. But nothing happened. Besides, I like the smell of gas. Maybe I could catch a cold and get pneumonia. But even that didn't work.

The summer was passing and I still hadn't found a way to do it. Every night I promised myself, "tomorrow for sure." Then it occurred to me that perhaps my folks didn't have my insurance policy anymore. I should see it first. I had just found it when Mom caught me. "What are you looking for?" she demanded. I couldn't very well tell her, because then she would want to know what I wanted with my insurance policy. So I just gave my usual brilliant answer - "nothing." I waited for my chance and after a few days got the policy and looked it over ... "My name, $1,000 to my parents upon my death ... yep, it was all there. What was that - something about suicide - 'no benefits if death by suicide occurs withing two years from inception of policy.' Check policy date. Yeah, in force longer than two years. All set. Nothing to keep me from doing it now. No more excuses - tomorrow's the day."

The next day when I got up, it was late. I dawdled over some breakfast. Dad drove out of the lane in the pickup following two big trucks. I went outside to play awhile. Dad came home. Lunch time. I didn't feel like eating. Mom asked me what I was moping about. "Nothing." I went back outside. The day was passing too fast. I was spinning around slowly in the swing when our neighbor drove in. Dad came out. I didn't pay any attention to them at first. Then Dad was reaching into his billfold and giving Glen some money! Glen thanked Dad and backed out the lane.

I followed Dad into the house. "I just let Glen have $10," Dad told Mom. She got her book out to write it down. "And I paid off the note at the bank, too. Those hogs brought top market price this morning."

* Summer Of Decision was a story I wrote in May, 1973 for a creative writing class I was taking at DMACC. It was based on my memories of true happenings nearly twenty years earlier. (An old diary confirms my asking Mrs. Steadman for work.)
As I recall, I received an A grade on my story. The teacher remarked that she had the feeling the story might have been based on something that really happened - "knowing how young minds can construe a situation."

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Best Things In Life Are Free

"The moon belongs to everyone, the best things in life are free. The stars belong to everyone, they gleam there for you and me. And love can come to everyone. The best things in life are free." I remember hearing this song when I was young - most likely Dinah Shore's version which was recorded in 1947, though it was covered by many different singers. I also remember Mom telling us "The best things in life are free." That was hard to believe when everything I wanted "cost too much", or, "we can't afford that", or, "you don't really need that." Especially after we got television and all the advertising touted stuff we really did need - sugar coated cereals with prizes inside the box, dolls with real hair, a musical instrument, saddle shoes, even a Toni permanent.

It wasn't until I had children of my own that I finally realized the best things in life were free. This from one of my journals, August 5, 1979 - thirty-two years ago today. "A beautiful day with my kids. Took them up to Grant to show them that house. Surprisingly, they're all enthused and want to move up there. On the way home, we ended up in the Nodaway River south of Jim Haley's. A great, fun day.

How well I remember that hot afternoon. We were just going to wade in the river, it was too shallow to really swim, but some pools were deep enough so we ended up getting totally immersed - splashing one another, yelling, laughing, having a great time and getting cooled off in the process.

Some other best things in life that are free include:

An autumn sunset and thinking about your sister on what would have been her 65th birthday....

A frosty December morning.....

"And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever come perfect days.....(James Russell Lowell)

"For whatever we lose (like you or a me), it's always ourself we find in the sea." (e.e. cummings)

Being with children and watching their play is free.......

As is holding a grandchild and contemplating what his life will be.......

"But now I'm building sandcastles in the sand".........

Laughing and catching up with an old friend........

And from a later journal, this list of "things I love" (all free): reading, sound of falling water, gardens, flowers, scent of new-mown hay, sunrises, sunsets, creeks, lakes, oceans, ponds. Walking in woods, solitude, sound of rain on the roof, holding a pet, the smell of willows, dreaming and remembering dreams.

Reading old diaries and journals - walking down memory lane.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Well Water

The hand pump on the right side of this picture was over the well outside the back door of the house my Mom (on the left, talking to one of her many cats - while the cat in the window was listening in) called home for over 65 years. She always said the water from her well was the best tasting water anywhere. She also said the well never went dry - even when all the other wells on the farm did during drought years. It wasn't very deep, so it must have tapped into a very good aquifer or a spring.
I wonder which came first, the well or the house. It makes sense to me that the early builder of that farm site would have wanted a convenient source of water near the house - i.e. the well would have come first and the house built next to it. Regardless, that old hand pump brought up many, many gallons of water before an electric pump was installed.

We all grew up with the pumping of water as one of our 'chores' - buckets full for Mom to carry out to the chicken house and down to the brooder house. Buckets full to carry to the garden to water the plants. Jugs full to haul out to the hay field or to the threshers or to take along on a picnic.

Ron was five and I wasn't quite two years old when this picture was taken of us near the well. The dipper always hung on a piece of wire which encircled the top of the pump. A bucket was always kept under the spout so no water was wasted. In the summer if you wanted a drink, you pumped the water out until it got as cold as possible. (Dad would usually pump a bucketful before deeming the water cold enough.) Obviously I did not want a drink of water as much as was thought - or else I couldn't hold the dipper by myself. I'm pointing out that I spilled the water and Ron is saying, "Yeah, and it got on my foot!"

Pumping the well was more of a fun thing to do for the grand children and great grand kids. As soon as they were big enough, they wanted to pump water out of the well. There was a time when a little frog would come out almost every time the well was pumped. What a surprise that was for those little ones!

Remember in the movie A Christmas Story where the little boy is dared to stick his tongue on a pole and it freezes? Mom was always warning us not to stick our tongues on the pump - that it would get stuck if we did. I believed her. However, my little sister Betty had to try it for herself. She learned the hard way that she should listen to Mom's advice.

One of the blogs I read on a regular basis, J. Wilson's brewvana, is what got me to thinking about well water. J. is a dedicated home brewer and while I prefer wine over beer, I enjoy following his blog. A couple days ago he wrote about being asked to sample a couple batches from a new father-son brewery. Both batches used the same recipe. The only difference - one used well water and the other used 'city' water. J. preferred the one made with the well water which reminded me of my mother saying her well water was the best water anywhere.

In this old picture (1978) my kids and I are at the Elm Spring pump southwest of Carbon. Doug is pumping water; Kari is cupping her hands to get a drink, I'm laughing at her and I'm not sure what Preston is doing. The Elm Spring pump has been a reliable source of water for many years. The water is very good; very cold.

(In the late 1800's, Bud's great uncle, 16 year old Michael Bronner, was killed in a sand cave-in near this spring.)

When I was in Ireland in 1994, I saw many what I considered 'unusual' pumps. Not all of them were as nicely painted as this one in Athlone. That's an Athlone Castle wall in the background. Athlone is a strategically located town on the Shannon River in County Westmeath - the county of my Lynam forebears. Before there was a castle, there was a fort. Before there was a fort there was a bridge (1100's). Before there was a bridge, there was a ford - the only way across the Shannon until Clonmacnoise to the south and beyond Lough Ree to the north. Athlone held a vital position during many wars.

There are more than 3,000 Holy Wells in Ireland. I stopped at St. David's Well in Oylegate in County Wexford. It was/is believed that drinking from or bathing in water from holy wells can heal. At many well sites, strips of cloth can be seen tied to the branches of trees and bushes. These are known as clootie wells. (In Scots nomenclature a clootie or cloot is a strip of cloth.) The belief was the cloth absorbed the illness and was left behind. Another practice was making a wish and leaving an offering of a coin or stone. It has been estimated almost three million English pounds a year are thrown into wishing wells.

St. David is the patron saint of Wales. Some of his last words were: "Do the little things in life". My Mom would have related to that. She excelled at doing the little things in life while being content to do so.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Started Early, Took My Dog"

I have been lucky, or maybe it is just diligence, that when I have just about read my way through all the books by a favourite author, I happen upon a new author I really, really like. On the last library trip, I found two new authors.
Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog" is a delight. This March, 2011 library acquisition is the fourth book of the 'Jackson Brodie' series. Unfortunately, my library does not have the previous three, nor any of Atkinson's other books. Fortunately, I found numbers one and three of the series and her Whitbread winner at the Half Price Bookstore yesterday.
Jackson is a former policeman. Now, as a reluctant detective whose own life has been stolen, he has been hired to find someone else's. Atkinson deftly fits together seemingly random story lines. In this novel, Jackson Brodie crosses paths with another retired cop, Tracy Waterhouse, now working as the head of security in a shopping mall, and an aging actress, Tilly, who is teetering on the edge of senility while trying to remember her lines. When Tracy 'buys' a child, all manner of murder and mayhem ensue and past secrets come to light.
The Brodie character reminded me a bit of Ian Rankin's Detective Inspector John Rebus, whom I adore. And, like Rankin, Atkinson is also a citizen of Edinburgh. I hated to finish this book. It was full of wit and wisdom and intelligence. I can't recommend it highly enough.

The second 'new to me' author in this group is by Minnesotan Brian Freeman. The Bone House is set in Door County*, Wisconsin - an area I have long wanted to visit. You might think the title comes from bones found in a house - as did I. However, Bone is the name of a family whose mother and two sons died in an intentionally set house fire. Only the father and a daughter survive. The father is quickly arrested and admits to starting the fire. He escapes while on his way to prison after the trial.
Years later Hilary and Mark Bradley buy a secluded home on Washington Island where they commute by ferry to their teaching jobs at the local high school. As outsiders, they will never be accepted by the locals, but they are well liked teachers until Mark is accused of having an affair with a student. They both deny it and Hilary believes in his innocence, but he loses his job. Later, when a different teen aged girl is found strangled on a beach, Mark again faces a hostile town convinced of his guilt.
Bradley's writing is suspenseful, his red herrings plentiful. I did have most of the bad guys figured out before the ending, but I was still surprised by a couple of the guilty parties. The good thing about this author is that the library does have more of his books, which I'm looking forward to reading.

When old friends of mine visited last month, I made the comment that there are times when I almost wished that I still lived on the farm - or at least out in the country on an acreage. Kristina asked if I had ever read Allen Say's Caldecott award winning children's book, Grandfather's Journey. When I said, "No", she said I should. It is a lovingly written and illustrated book - Say does the illustrations as well as the wording - about a young man from Japan who comes to America on a steamship. After exploring North America, he decides to settle in California. After a time, he longs to see his homeland, so returns to live there. Then he misses California. The book is about being homesick for one locale while being in the other. I understand why she recommended I read it.

I returned to three other authors I can depend upon - Ruth Rendell for another Inspector Wexford mystery - Not In The Flesh; Rhys Bowen for a new Molly Murphy Mystery - Tell Me, Pretty Maiden and Barbara Delinsky's Looking For Peyton Place. Reading this latter book reminded me of what a scandalous book Grace Metalious's Peyton Place was in the late '50's and early '60's. It was banned by many libraries and even some countries. I remember reading it and seeing the movie though I don't remember much about the TV version. I decided I would re-read the novel - but our library does not have a copy on its shelves. (Banned, perhaps?)

I have always been a fan of Dean Martin. I remember going to the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movies when I was young and being a devoted fan of his albums when I was older. So when I saw his daughter Deana's memoir, Memories Are Made Of This, on the library shelf, it came home with me. I wasn't disappointed. I learned a lot about Dean and his families, including the secret ingredient in Grandma Angela's Pasta Fagioli.
Martin and Lewis ("my name comes first because Dean comes before Jerry") were hilarious. Their movies were ones my Dad would always take us to see. We were so disappointed when the team broke up. And I remember being glad that they mended the rift twenty years later. This book reminded me of many instances in my own past because Dean's music was a part of it. (Everybody loves somebody sometime.)

* I have always loved to read because I always learn something new. In The Bone House I learned why Door County is so named - "The peninsula juts out into the water between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The area where the waters come together at the tip of the land is extremely treacherous. A lot of people have lost their lives in those waters. So the passage got the French name Porte des morts. - Death's Door."