Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spring Cleaning, Lead Paint and A Big Chief Headdress

Say "Spring Cleaning" to me and so many things come to mind - not least of which was the flap last month about why women today are bigger than those of previous generations - "because they don't do as much housework". There was a time when a statement like that would have had my feminist self up in arms. Now I just think it is probably true - at least for me. I certainly don't clean as thoroughly as I used to.
My granddaughter Katrina is probably the only one I know who deep cleans. A few years ago she was getting ready to host our family at Thanksgiving. She told me she was taking all the dishes out of the cupboards, washing them and wiping out the cupboards before putting them back. My thoughts at the time were that she was going to way too much trouble. Just having us there and doing all the cooking was enough, I thought.

 I was raised on the edict of spring cleaning. Curtains were taken down, washed, starched, and put on the curtain stretchers to dry; windows were washed before putting them back up. The big area rugs were hung over the clothesline and beaten; all the throw rugs were washed. And ALL the woodwork was scrubbed. That is where either Spic and Span or Kitchen Klatter Kleaner came in. Mom would measure the granulated cleaner into a bucket of warm water and set us girls to work.

And a lot of work it was for not only was there woodwork around all the doors and windows to clean, the entire big kitchen was ringed by wainscoting. You can see some of it in the background of this picture. In 1954 it was still there as well as the old oak wall-mounted telephone. (Just to the left of this cute little brother's head.)
Not only did we have to wash all that wainscoting, we had to go back over it again with clean water to rinse it. If I had just known about the dangers of lead paint at the time I would probably have tried to convince Mom that I shouldn't be near that woodwork, let alone washing it! (Anything to get out of helping spring clean.)

But we didn't know about lead paint then and there were plenty of partially used cans of it stored out in the wash house. One summer Betty and I opened a few of them to facilitate our playing cowboys and Indians.

One of those too expensive toys I longed for was a big chief headdress. If I just had one of those feather headdresses, I would look more authentic. (Like those dime-store headdresses were authentic.) But wait, we had chickens -there were all kinds of feathers floating about. Trouble was, they were white. That was when I remembered all those cans of unused paint. We dipped feathers in them and put the feathers out in the sun to dry. Of course we had paint all over our clothes and ourselves. I especially remember there being a lot of the color orchid as well as having a problem trying to figure out how to attach the feathers to something to make it look like a headdress. I think we finally just stuck feathers in our hair - resulting in paint in our hair, too.

Katrina and I did not talk about spring cleaning when she called a few days ago, but she did tell me a cute story about her son Rodney. Their electricity had been interrupted when a back hoe working nearby severed the lines. It was Rodney's first experience of the lights and t.v. not working. Katrina lit some candles and told him they would read or color until the electricity came back on. "No t.v.? no games? no movies?" he wondered. It was hard for him to understand the concept.
They were reading and waiting when suddenly Rodney excitedly touched his Mom's arm and pointed up to the ceiling. The fan had started going around. He jumped down and ran for the remote. That's one smart great-grandson I've got.  I wonder how Katrina would feel about washing woodwork while he and I played some video games?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Night The Lights Went Out In Creston

The night the lights went out in Creston, Iowa -one year ago this evening - will always be one of those "Where were you and what were you doing?" memories for me. It was the night an F-2 tornado struck on the northwest side of town - two miles directly north of us.
Probably the scariest part before getting electricity back on and seeing on the news what was going on was hearing all the sirens and seeing all the flashing emergency vehicle lights over around the hospital. We didn't know the hospital had been hit. I assumed the ambulances were bringing casualties TO the hospital. Then we learned they were evacuating people FROM the hospital.
What do you do when your local hospital is out of commission? That night a triage staff worked out of a tent outside the hospital. An open house to display the hospital's recent renovations was scheduled for the end of April. Instead another program of rebuilding and refurbishing began.

So many buildings were damaged. The AEA building was almost completely destroyed. The lot it was on was cleared and is where the school district is going to build their new bus barn. The old bus barn was also destroyed in the tornado.

The Y building - which is one we are very familiar with - going there every morning - looked to be hardly damaged at all. Yet it was the one that was closed the longest. It didn't re-open until September.

The dorms at Southwestern Community College were also heavily damaged. The one pictured had just been built the year before. Luckily the students in the dorms were all okay and the structures were repaired in time for fall classes.

It was also some time before I learned that a former co-worker's condo was one of the ones heavily damaged in the tornado. These condos were directly east of the hospital emergency entrance seen in the first photo. I think her unit was the one at the very far right of this picture, just behind the red car. She did not get back into her condo until this spring.
Some apartment buildings were rebuilt to what they had been. Some formerly two-story units were rebuilt as single-story apartments and yet others were not rebuilt at all.
A year later there are still a lot of scars if you look closely, but mostly it is hard to tell what happened the night the lights went out in Creston. We can all remember where we were and what we were doing, though!

(If you're interested, you can see the blog I wrote about the tornado a year ago, here.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

25 Reasons Why It Is Good To Be Diagnosed With Terminal Cancer

Last November in my Celebrating Birthdays blog I mentioned celebrating my 35th birthday in Colorado and meeting some friends of a friend at the time. This week I had a long conversation with my friend Kristina during which she told me of the death of one of those people I met so long ago. Jack and Bonnie were both very special people and even though I only met them once I never forgot them.
On the way across Nebraska that November of '78, I spotted the above wooden windmill. Iowa windmills were almost always the metal kind so I just had to have my picture taken next to what I considered an old-fashioned windmill.

This is the picture of me, Bonnie and Jack in front of their home near Denver. By the time Jack learned he had melanoma (skin) cancer*, it had already metastasized. He opted to forego any type of treatment - to live whatever time he had left as fully as possible. (He died January 23 - eleven days after his 81st birthday.)
One of the things he did was write the life story his children had requested. That is where he listed his 25 Reasons Why It Is Good To Be Diagnosed With Terminal Cancer. Some of his reasons are poignant; "You'll no longer have to go to the doctor to have your skin cancers removed." But mostly they are funny: "No fear of heart attacks." "You'll never go bald."

I'd like to think I would handle the news of a terminal illness with even one-tenth of the grace, humor and love he appears to have. If you are interested in reading Jack's entire list of 25 Reasons or more about his interesting life, just google jackectoncarver and click on life story.

* Melanoma is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. The risk of developing it increases with age. However, it is also frequently seen in young people - especially those with long exposure to the sun or tanning beds. For this reason alone I wish my sun-worshiping granddaughter would quit.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mending Fences and Writing Down the Bones

Yesterday when I was photographing some old Journals, I knew immediately what that blue one was. In the early 90's I bought Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones. It is no secret I dreamed of being a writer - it says so right there in my blog profile. Natalie's book was all about how to become one. Her rules were simple: use a cheap spiral notebook and a comfortable pen or pencil with which you can write rapidly.
Practice writing every day: the first thought that pops in your head. Keep your hand moving. Don't re-read, don't cross out, don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar - lose control - don't think, don't get logical - just write. She was asking me to break a lot of my self-imposed rules about writing.
But I started with a fresh, cheap, spiral bound notebook and here is a sample of some of that writing:

3/2/95 So, Natalie, just write? Easier some days than others. Will this become my journal in place of? This scribbling on the bus. What happens if I quit riding the bus? (The commute to my downtown workplace took about a half hour - it was my free time to, usually, read. I was trying to replace that with writing practice.)

The summer I was 12, or maybe 13, Dad was rebuilding the N. fence line in the Shearburn pasture. We called it the Shearburn pasture because it belonged to the neighbors and we rented it from them. Each morning after milking, one of us would drive the cows down our quiet country road to the corner where we had to cross a much busier county road to get the cows through a gate and into the safety of the pasture.
The task was made somewhat more dangerous by a hill immediately to the west of the corner. In other words, if a car came flying over the hill from the west and the cows were just crossing at that moment the driver may or may not get stopped in time: Voilá - instant hamburger. The cattle crossing sign did little to slow them down. But nothing like that ever happened - just a few close calls. In the evening the procedure was reversed and we drove the cows home for the evening milking and to spend the night lazing in the cow lot.

But, back to the fencing project. The Shearburns, Glenn and Ethie, were retired. Not much had been done to keep up their farm over the years. Where my brother Ron was and why he didn't help Dad I don't remember. Maybe it was the summer he went "blue grassing" with Firkins and Morrison. With an older brother always around, we girls weren't often asked to help dad outside. I felt privileged.

We drove the old pickup loaded with posts and wire, the post hole digger, a tamper and a jug of ice water down to the corner and through the field to where we needed to begin. Most of the posts were still o.k., so we only had to replace part of them and then stretch the wire. It was a hot day, but out on the pasture hill a steady breeze kept us cool.

I was in heaven that day. The sky was blue, the breezes rippled the pasture grasses in waves, meadow larks and red-wing blackbirds sang and I had my dad to myself. He must have been in a good mood that day for he praised my work rather than tell me I was "doing it wrong". (I even remember him telling Mom I had done a good job.)

My work that day - or at least all I can remember doing - was "sighting" the poles to get the fence straight. I would stand at the post just set, look across the top of it, hold out the thumb of my right hand, close my left eye and then tell Dad to move right or left where he stood holding the next post down the line.

There is a Grant Wood painting of a farmer building fence. Years later I gave Dad a framed copy of it "in memory of the day we marched the fence posts across the Shearburn pasture." Did he remember the day? And me helping him? Did he ever think about us kids? Except for what disappointments we were to him - or how he had failed us? Did he ever reconcile himself to being a father before he died? Will I ever reconcile myself to being his daughter before I die?

And now I have a son who "wants to know me better". Just as my father and I built fence, so did my son and I - in 1978 after moving back home. We moved on a shoestring and a prayer. No money, no job and no place to live. The deal for the house we were planning on moving into fell thru - then Dad died. The month of May '78 was stressful to say the least.

We moved all our stuff in a borrowed van and then in a rented open trailer - making several 200 mile round trips a day. Doug and I did it all ourselves - a 16 yr old boy and his 34 yr old Mom. Furniture - clothes - everything was stuffed into Mom's two garages. And the newly widowed woman took her daughter and 3 grandchildren into her house. A house that my father had warned me 12 years previously after my first divorce that "you're not going to move back in here with your mom after I'm gone." Ironic isn't it? He thought he was so in control. And he did control our lives as fathers do - by yelling, degrading, withholding affection and being the money keeper. Yet I loved him and longed for his love and approval in return.

It was 6 weeks before I found a part-time job and 3 mos before we got our own house which we moved to just before school started. Doug as a junior, Kari a 4th grader and Preston in second. The house was on Tuck Corner - a windy, cold old house. We named it 'Windtuck'. Somehow that first winter I managed to buy a chain saw and a wood-burning stove. Mom helped me buy a pickup truck. All the things I needed to make my move home complete. Those really were the best years of my life. I wonder how the kids remember them?

There was never enough money. I did not believe in welfare or even in food stamps. I was proud and independent - just as Dad had raised me to be. Doug worked for farmer neighbors, we bartered, we did odd jobs. The summer of '79 the farm mgr we rented from offered us a job rebuilding a section of fence on another farm he managed. It paid $80!! We jumped on it!

The farm was west of town about 10 miles so a 16 or 17 mile trip from our place. We loaded up the old Dodge pickup with wire stretchers, post hole diggers and wire. Took along a cooler with pop and sandwiches, grabbed our hammers and fencing pliers, made sure we had leather gloves and head bands and headed off for a day of fencing. Richard met us there to show us the fence and how to get to it. We had to drive through a pasture in a round-a-bout way even though the fence was straight N of the farmstead - we couldn't drive through the cornfield.

Why is it that when someone is telling you about a job needing done it is just "re-stretching a couple wires on about 80 ft of fence" but when you actually see the job it is re-stretching all the wire on about 1/2 mile of fence, plus replacing fence posts and repairing woven wire?
Fortunately my young son was experienced with wire stretchers and was already muscular and capable. I quickly went from being the boss to being the helper. Soon we worked out a routine and became a fencing team.

The summer sky was the same blue with white puffy clouds. The same sun shone bright and hot. It was a different hill and a different breeze that rippled the grasses and dried our sweat. And the next generation making a memory. I am the bridge between these two memories of fencing. I gave Dad a copy of someone else's drawing to commemorate our day. I took pictures of Doug working and gave him a copy to remember our day.

I am a bridge.

This has been a longer than usual blog. It is hard for me to transcribe this writing practice entry and not edit it, but that was the whole idea of writing it to begin with. Doug was the son who told me he wanted to know me better. Doug is the one who wanted me to write my memoirs after I retired and his request is the reason I started blogging about my life.

After writing about and thinking about journaling the past two days, I am feeling more like going back to that hand-written form of introspection and memory keeping. Some things about my life just don't belong out there in the ether.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Of Diaries, Notebooks, Journals and Memo Books

In between diaries and blogging, there was journaling. I've written before about those five years from age thirteen through seventeen that I faithfully kept a daily diary. That dedication went out the window after high school when work, marriage and babies took up all my time.
Then something new came along in the late 60's and early 70's - journaling. Of course keeping a journal had been around forever but it gained a new popularity after a psychologist in New York City started classes and workshops on how to use therapeutic writing to sort through problems and come to a deeper self-awareness.
For me, an added bonus of journaling as opposed to 'keeping a diary' was that there were no rules for writing every day, nor a certain amount of space allocated for what should be written that day. You could use any notebook or bound book with blank pages you wanted. You could write in ink - any color you wanted - or pencil; you could even draw pictures if so inclined.
I began journaling. Pictured above are just a very few of the notebooks I've used over the years. The earliest entry in any of these is in the yellow notebook (Le Cahier Jaune) dated December 8, 1972. The small black note book on the left is the one I carried and wrote in during my trip to Ireland in 1994. The one on the right with the blue bird was a gift from my daughter - that's the Mother's Day card which came with it. It was the year of her big health scare. I had flown out to Portland to be with her. On a trip to the nearby  neighborhood market, I had seen some pretty notebooks and told her about them, but hadn't bought one for myself.
In her card she wrote: "I bought this notebook for you before I even got sick. When you said there were pretty notebooks at New Seasons, I wondered if you were talking about these?" Yep. Those were the ones. I have yet to write a single entry in this book - saving it for something special, I guess. Maybe those words of wisdom.
The little red moleskine on the bottom left is my most recent attempt at a diary/journal. I read online about the importance of writing a little something every day and decided I would do that. The attempt lasted about  a month and half - just one year ago.
It's that other little red-orange memo book that got me thinking about blogging today. It is an old one I found while sorting through boxes this winter. The entries and its size tell me it was something I carried around with me all the time - not so much a journal as a place to jot notes and reminders. It dates from 1979-80-81-82.
In addition to grocery lists, phone numbers, addresses and room sizes, there's an attempt to keep track of the money I spent. "Nov. 6 - $290.00 - Tires, $13.00; Phone bill, $22.54; Excedrin, $1.85; Jewelry, $4.58; Tickets, spaghetti supper, $6.00; Doug, fix glasses, $5.00; Doug, senior pics, $25.00; Hincks, $60.00, Co-op, $60.00."  What I had listed totaled almost $200.00. I'm sure the $290.00 was all I had to spend which meant I was going to have around $90.00 to last until the next paycheck which was most likely at least two weeks away, maybe a month.

There was an address for "To register a copyright", a couple lists of names we had drawn for Christmas as well as "Christmas '82 Ideas - Preston, Socket set; Kari, Slouch Hat; Doug, Jeans. Ideas for others for me: Oven thermometer, big outdoor thermometer."

There's a Book List of books I wanted to get/read which includes Square Foot Gardening, Women's Diaries of the Western Journey, The Uninvited, A Revolting Transaction, Third Person Rural Essays and Ballad of Typhoid Mary. Other than the gardening one, I don't remember reading any of them. I should look them up to see if I would still be interested in reading them. As well as books I wanted to read, there are a couple of title ideas for children's stories I wanted to write: "Preston's Prolific Parsley Plant and Radishes In The Ruins."

I wanted to invite a guy I was interested in from Des Moines for a weekend and had jotted down a possible way of wording it so as to sound friendly yet not scare him away: "SW Iowa in springtime is beautiful. The pool tables are warmed up. Expect you after work April 20 or late morning the 21st at the latest! Bring Pooh!! R (Regrets only.)" I don't remember if I ever sent the invite, but I do know he never came down.

There was a note about a car I was interested in: "71 Chev. Caprice, 4-Dr. Hdtp. 400 (Big Block Engine) 108,000+ miles" with the name, address and phone number of the previous owner. I did end up buying the car for $800 and kept it until I traded it in on the yellow Duster.

One whole page relates to how much vacation time I had earned, used, and still had left. There's a recipe for something called Jo's Slush (Orange) "Boil till clear: 2 C Sugar; 2 C Water Add: one 12 oz. frozen lemonade, one 12 oz. frozen orange juice, 2 C ice tea (already made), 7 C hot water, One fifth Vodka. Mix together - freeze." I'm sure I never made this, but I do remember the evening spent near Lenox with Jo and her husband before they moved to Indiana.

I have always been a great one to write down quotes I like and there are several in this old memo book: "We make up our dreams ourselves, but then they tell us something we didn't know we knew." "Even happiness comes as a burden when one remembers all the chapter and verse connected with it."

But the most important and remembered one is this from Bud on 5/14/81: "I don't want to share a house with you, I want to share a life."

There are a lot of memories in these old notebooks - even the ones that weren't journals, per se. I guess that's why I hang on to them. Tomorrow more about and something from that blue notebook.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Forty-Five Years Ago Today in Colorado.....

....I got one of the best sisters-in-law. My brother Ron married Ruth Anne Nicolaisen. And since we already had one Ruth Lynam (our mother) in the family, she was always known to us as Ruthie.

On a visit back to Iowa, July 18, 1968. I do believe that is Dad's old Model A setting out in the orchard just behind Ron's arm.

Mom had this photo labeled "Honeymoon Cottage". I remember Ruthie thinking it was great fun to have their picture taken in the outhouse.

No date on this one, though it is in with some 1969 photos. The way the car is packed, I'm wondering if that is when they moved back to Iowa from Colorado.

In addition to a great sister-in-law, in time I also got a couple wonderful nieces and an interesting nephew.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Crying "Uncle"

I loved watching The Little Rascals when I was a kid. They were always getting into and out of trouble including fights with bullies. If the bully had the upper hand, he would make Spanky or Alfalfa cry out  uncle before letting the kid off the ground or out of a head lock. (Much easier than getting free of a bully in today's age.)
Crying uncle may have its origins in the Irish word anacol which meant an act of mercy or quarter. Or it may have originated from a Latin expression used by kids who got into trouble:  patrue mi patruissime which translates to "uncle, my best of uncles." Wherever the saying came from, it was still being used when I was a kid. Crying uncle might label you a wimp or loser, but it got you out of further hurt.

Something else from my growing up years - we were never allowed to call our aunts and uncles just by their first name - their names had to be preceded by the honorific aunt or uncle. Thinking about those relatives, I realized I didn't have any uncles related by blood - only by marriage to my aunts.
There was Uncle Howard (Roberts) married to Mom's older sister, Evelyn. I think this may be their wedding photo.

There was Uncle Alvin (Mitchell) married to Mom's younger sister, Lois. This photo was taken in 1935 when he was eighteen years old. Looks like my two Uncle Al's had similar tastes in hats.

And there was Uncle Al(bert) Childers, married to Dad's sister, Leona. This picture was taken October 12, 1959,  the day they left on their move to Arizona. I think Grandma's crossed arms indicate her resignation to no longer having her daughter living just a few blocks away. Left to right: Grandma Bessie, Aunt Leona, Georgia, Frank, Donald and Uncle Al. (Photo credit to my brother Les for copying this picture from a slide and posting it on Facebook.)

There are few quotes about Uncles. One of the ones I like is: "Only the best brothers get promoted to an Uncle." Maybe that explains why I was never that close to any of my uncles - none of them started out as brothers in the family - they were all 'imported'. Of the three, my favorite was Uncle Howard. I still remember Ron and I spending a week at their place one summer. With their six kids and we two, their big table had ten of us around it at meal time. After we had eaten, Aunt Evelyn would begin clearing the table while Uncle Howard would light a cigarette and begin spinning a tale of what it was like when he was a kid.

When I think about it, his death was the only one of my three uncles I cried over. He died Easter Sunday, March 31, 1991 - twenty-two years ago this past Easter, March 31, 2013.