Saturday, September 19, 2020

Golden Days and Layers

There's been a lot grief in 2020--we all know that. A lot of loss. But it's September now, with cool nights and breezes that sift into your hair and make you smell apples and leaves and bonfires.

It is, I know, a dying, decaying time as the earth prepares for winter, but the bean fields are golden, as are the corn tassels and some of the trees and the quick shimmer of the sun on the river. The colors that begin to emerge in September are bright and burnished and hopeful. 

There are golden sounds, too. Performers sharing their music both digitally and--where there's space--in person. The bleachers at junior high and high school football games. 

I should have finished writing this when I started it on Friday morning, but I didn't. I had other things I needed to do...and now Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. For many of us, the colors have dimmed. Rest in power, Your Honor, and thank you. 

But this time of year is also about layers. On Tuesday I went to a meeting at ten in the morning, wearing my third shirt of the day. I started hopefully (and foolishly) in a tank top, changed to a sweatshirt, and by the time I went to the meeting, was in short sleeves--with a hoodie in the car because you just never know. Last night when we went to dinner, Duane wore shorts--and a golf sweater. 

School's back in session. Football's being played. But the layers are uneven these days, because caution changes things. Disagreement, almost the only constant in these change-of-season layers, makes the edges of the tiers rough-edged and sharp. 

I can't seem to come to a good place this morning, and I'm sorry. If you have good news, I hope you'll share it. 

Have a good week. I hope you see bright colors and find kindness in the layers. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

All Are Welcome by Liz Flaherty #WindowOvertheSink

Last week, I got political in the column. Thanks to everyone who read and responded. To the friends I lost because of a stance I took, I'm sorry to have lost you. I wish you happy.

Regardless of the title above, I'm not going to step further into controversy by talking about religion; however, I am going to talk about church. No, about churches. 

A cradle Methodist, I grew up in the Gilead Church. I say I grew up in it, but quite

honestly I got out of going every chance I got. Eventually I stopped altogether. Over the years I started again somewhere else. Stopped. Went occasionally. Then went and have stayed. Most of the time. One thing I know now if I didn't know it before Covid is that the church is its people, not its buildings. 

But, oh, the buildings. I'm not sure how I would feel about them if I were non-Christian, but I love them. All of them. I've managed to visit at least one in every city I've ever visited. I like the old ones best, the ones where you can feel the weight of centuries of heartbreak and hope when you go through the doors. I am always overwhelmed by the sheer size of the big ones, and usually slide into a pew to do my praying, because once I'm in the pew I'm one-on-one with God again.

In the wayback, when Duane was in Vietnam, St. Charles in Peru kept its doors unlocked--at least during the day--and I used to go in there after work and light a candle for Duane, dropping a dime into the metal coin box on the table. I'd go to Mass sometimes, too. I don't know if it was because I actually preferred the Catholic faith to my own or because I liked wearing a lace mantilla--women all covered their heads then.

At the little church in Ammons, Kentucky where my mother-in-law grew up, the floor used to slope so much on the left side that leaving the church was like doing a mini-mountain-climb. 

The title to this column, of course, is...I don't know, wishful thinking, maybe. Or selective memory. Not everyone feels welcome in every church. Not every church makes everybody feel welcome. There are "Christians" who go to church because they want to be seen there. "Christians" who go to church until they've taken advantage of every avenue of mission open to them. "Christians" who, as Father Hoffmeyer said all those years ago at St. Charles, "Hit the bars, hit the booze, and hit the box [confessional]." He said something else about hitting their knees, but I don't remember it well enough to quote it. There are Christians who aren't Christians. 

But I'm not talking about Christians--or I wasn't; I'm not sure how that paragraph happened. I'm talking about churches. About places of worship regardless of the faith they represent. They are way up there on my gratitude list. In action as well as intent, most of them are places of sanctuary, places where they will feed the hungry and clothe the naked (Matthew 25:40). Places that do indeed open their doors to all. Places of fellowship and worship and acceptance and tolerance. 

It saddens me that so many churches are closed. I'm glad to see some of them being restored and repurposed (thank you, Dave Van Baalen). I don't pretend to know what comes next in religion--I can only take care of my own--but that doesn't make me any less grateful for what I have learned and for the places I've learned it. 

Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Support and Defend by Liz Flaherty #WindowOvertheSink

Photograph from Jack Rahilly

I kind of knew what would happen. When I posted a picture of my husband and a group of other soldiers from Vietnam in 1970, along with the assurance that they were neither losers nor suckers, I knew there would be a firestorm. And there was. Along with remarks about how young those guys were, there were a multitude of comments concerning the President and how many of us feel about him, and another plethora of observations from people who support him. Many of the comments had nothing to do with the subject at hand, which was a public figure's disrespect for veterans.

They served, some voluntarily and some not, and many are still serving. They have kept us safe for 244 years or so. They serve to protect not only us but our rights, to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." They "bear true faith and allegiance to the same."

I don't like that it created such an issue, even though I did it purposefully. Possibly because my politics are unpopular where we live, I don't like to post contentious things. I get my feelings hurt when people say mean things. I get furious when they say things that aren't true. I get defensive...oh, all the time. 

But I remember George Wagner. It was the first year of North Miami's schools being consolidated and some of us rode a couple of buses for a long time to get to school. It was a disgruntling time. So the administration made a rule that kids on buses were not allowed to go together and buy their drivers Christmas gifts. The other part of the rule was that the drivers couldn't give the kids treats on the last day of school before Christmas break. 

George was one of the best drivers and the best guys ever. So we pitched in our quarters and bought him a present. He told us we shouldn't have done that. And then, one-by-one, as we got off the bus at our houses, he handed us the treats he wasn't supposed to have given us. 

Joe Wildermuth, who'd broken his back and didn't get around too well at the time, backed the students when they staged a sit-in at school. I don't remember whether we won or lost the cause we were sitting in for, but I remember Joe standing at the podium in the gym. He had our backs.

Years ago, some books got banned from our school library. My son told me about it, I wrote a column about it, and things got a little uglier than they might have if I hadn't done that. The kids and I lost the battle and the Stephen King book got banished. 

I've lost a lot of battles in my lifetime, probably more than I've won. I am a coward of the bravest kind in that I never cop to being anything but a coward. One of my brothers said once that while he would never be a fighter, he certainly could run. That would be me, too, except that I'm really slow, so I don't run, either. 

What that means is that sometimes I have to stand up. I learned it from the Constitution our military swears to uphold, and from George Wagner and Joe Wildermuth. Even from the school board that banned a Stephen King book because a parent didn't want her son reading it. 

I will not make a habit of writing political columns. Not because I don't feel things strongly, but because I like writing about fun things and because I think people's beliefs should be their own and respected as such. But there are times, as I said, when I have to stand up. 

This was one of those. Thank you to all veterans who have served, to the ones who didn't come home and the ones who did. Especially to the ones like my husband mentioned today--the ones who made it home but not really, because they were never the same again. Thank you to the ones who are serving now and will be there in the future when we need them. Thank you for standing up. So that the rest of us can. 

Have a good week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody. Buy a veteran a cup of coffee. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

They're the parents of a player...

I wrote this in August of 1991, when my years on bleachers were winding down, and it's probably been my most repeated essay ever--especially since I drag it out from "under the bed" every year about this time. It's a little dated, I guess, because it's been a long time, but I still think there's very little that's better than watching your kids be engaged, whether it's in sports, drama, debate, or anything else. There are things I'm sorry for from my active parenting days, things I wish I'd said or done and things I wish I hadn't. But I don't regret one minute of being a spectator. 

They're the parents of a player. You'll recognize them because they're the ones carrying umbrellas, rain ponchos, winter coats, a big Thirty-One bag full of blankets, and enough money for the entire family to stuff themselves on popcorn and Spanish hot dogs and nachos because there wasn't enough time for supper before the game.

They bring the weather gear even on a clear night, you'll notice, because although clouds may burst with bucketfuls of rain or snow or both, the parents won't have the option of going home or even to the car. It doesn't matter if everyone else leaves the stands--as long as the players are on the field, their parents are in the bleachers.

She's the mother of a player. You'll recognize her because she's the one whose chin wobbles and whose eyes get big when someone screams at the player she belongs to. She's the one who only claps politely when her son's name is called in the team lineup because she doesn't want anyone teasing her about being unduly biased.

She's the one who, when her son does something wonderful on the field, comes completely unglued and spills popcorn and extra blankets all over the people below her on the bleachers as she jumps up and down and screams, "Way to go, honey!"

She's the mother of a player. You'll recognize her because when a player is down, regardless of who it is, she grows silent and covers her mouth with her hand and swallows hard. She's the one who says, "Is he all right? Is he getting up?" in a whisper heard all around. She's the one who, when he gets up and is fine, is first to clap her hands and laugh breathlessly and shake the fearful moisture from her eyes.

She's the mother of a player. You'll recognize her at the grocery store at five in the morning in her sweats buying food so her son can eat in that twilight time between school and game that is is own. She's the one who has washed uniforms 10,000 times and would cheerfully wash them 10,000 more if it will only keep the player safe.

He's the father of a player. You'll recognize him by his hat. It will have his son's team name on the front above the bill and a number stitched somewhere over his ear. It's a silent advertisement that says, "I'm his dad."

He's the father of a player. You'll recognize him because he's the guy working in the concession stand and craning his neck to see over the customers' heads. He will interrupt his "Can I help you?" spiel with a banshee yell of, "THAT'S IT! THAT'S IT!" and then go on as if nothing had happened. But he'll be smiling real hard.

He's the father of a player. You'll recognize him as the man in the bleachers who doesn't yell very much and never criticizes a player who is not his own. Mistakes make him angry, but someone else drawing attention to those mistakes makes him angrier.

He's the father of a player. You'll recognize him by the blaze of fierce pride that crosses his face and by the look of pain when the kid blows it. Every parent knows that expression of agony--it's the one you wear when you'd like to draw all your child's pain into yourself so he wouldn't have to feel it. Ever.

They're the parents of a player. On Senior Night, she'll be the one with a rose and he'll be the one with his chest puffed out. And their good cheer and enthusiasm on Senior Night will seem a little quiet, a little forced, because they know it's nearly over.

They know they'll soon be able to eat regular meals on Friday nights. That they'll no longer have to spend money on things like football packages and special shoes and funny gloves. That they won't have to sit on wobbly bleachers at away games and listen to announcers who can't pronounce their son's name.

They know the extra blankets and weather gear can go way to the back of the closet and they've probably bought the last bottle of rubber cement necessary for the scrapbook.

Pretty soon, they won't be reading Saturday morning's newspaper before the ink has completely dried and sitting at the kitchen table to listen to "Coach's Corner" on the radio. And they'll be envying the parents of underclassmen who play the game because they get to do it all again next year and maybe the year after.

They're the parents of a player. You'll recognize them because they're always there. Always.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

One of Theirs by Liz Flaherty #WindowOvertheSink

This was a column in Peru Indiana Today in May of 2019. I'm using it because one of the people I write about in it is having a birthday on September 2. If you know Joe, or if he taught you, he'll undoubtedly remember you and be glad to hear from you. You can send him a card at: Joe Wildermuth, 340 E. 18th St., Rochester Indiana 46975.

It's not a surprise that I love teachers--two of my kids teach--and the 20 books and all the columns I've written over the years are, at the end of the day, because my teachers all that time ago told me I could. Thank you to them. Again and again and again. 

Our neighbor passed away on April 18th. She was nearly 100 years old. She hadn’t lived in her house up the road with its peonies and pristine white outbuildings for several years. A beautiful young family lives there now, but it’s still “Marabel’s” when we drive past. When we went to the funeral home, we saw more neighbors there, talked to her family, and looked at the photographs on display. Lots were of her grandkids—Marabel did love those grandkids—and even more were of other kids. Picture after picture after picture of first grade classes with a few third and fourth grades thrown in there, too. All hers. I can remember her using the term “one of mine.”

I interviewed a retired teacher for a newspaper article once--Loretta Oneal. She showed me gifts from students that spanned the decades, picked individuals out of pictures and laughed over memories. Spoke in grief and through tears of one recently lost to cancer. It had been twenty-some years since she’d taught her, but she was still one of hers.

I’ve written about him before, but Joe Wildermuth taught me as much about algebra as he could (it wasn’t much) and a lot about being a good person. About standing up when giving up would be easier. When my first book was published, he brought me flowers. Because I was one of his.

Virginia Balsbaugh was the school librarian when I was in high school. She knew her stuff, knew the books, knew the students she was buying them for. We didn’t talk about safe places in the 60s, but they existed as much then as they do now. Mrs. B’s office was a safe place. For the student librarians, particularly. We were hers.
We were in a coffee shop one night when I heard Barb See, a retired teacher, ask, “Where’s my Skyler?” about our grandson. He’s 22 now and graduating from Ball State this weekend with a commission in the U.S. Army, but he’s still one of hers.

I still remember, and have told too often, of the time I went looking for the principal at our elementary school on a day I was volunteering there. I found her in the cafeteria, playing Christmas songs on the piano for the kids while they ate their lunch. None of those same kids are at the elementary now; for that matter, the principal isn’t, either, but they’re all still ones of hers.

It is a phrase, if you spend much time with schoolteachers, you’re likely to hear a lot. When they talk to each other, there’s often some eye-rolling going on—that’s when you know they’re discussing one of theirs. They usually call them by name because they have an uncanny ability to remember not only their students, but the students’ siblings, their parents, and what they wore to school on picture day. (That might be a slight exaggeration, but not much, and the absolute truth is they would remember which of theirs were prone to exaggeration—hence the eye-rolling.)

I know not all teachers are good ones. There are those who should never have stepped behind a desk. There are some who thought it would be easy, who thought they’d leave the building when the school day was over and get there the next morning in time for class to start. There are probably some who don’t fill their Walmart carts with school supplies, buy clothes for kids who need them, and who’ve never cried over a student.

But that’s not most of them. Most of them are there every day. Before and after class. At graduation open houses. At meetings and meetings and meetings. Many of them have to work second jobs to support their teaching habit, and it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but they keep showing up. Because those kids, even the ones who are hard to like and harder to teach, they’re ones of theirs.