Friday, June 30, 2017

"...out with the crowd..."

This is a springtime post and here we are in summer, but we drive by busy softball and baseball fields nearly every day. In the town closest to us, for instance--Denver, Indiana; population in the area of 500--there are two fields in the town park. Players range from knee-high to adult-size and the parking lot is always full-to-bursting. Kids are on the playground and conversations going on in the picnic pavilion. People are lined up for candy, drinks, and popcorn at the concession stand or up the street just a little piece, for ice cream, sandwiches, or pizza at D'Angelo's

There are a lot of things that epitomize rural and small-town living, and some of those things are hard to deal with. Conveniences are...well...inconvenient. The politics can be polarizing. We worry a lot about our public schools because they're small and they're in the cross-hairs of the guns of change. 

But these ball fields on sunny summer days, where "everybody knows your name" and, when it comes right down to it, everyone has everyone else's back--these are the essence of this life we've chosen here in North Central Nowhere. 

In baseball, there' s always the next day. - Ryne Sandberg

They're back.

I don’t mean spring flowers or myriad shades of green or much-needed rain or too much wind, though they’re here, too.  I’m talking about the boys and girls of summer who dot baseball diamonds and softball fields like the brightest flowers of all.

They all wear caps and they all chew massive wads of gum or something worse.  They swing their bats around above their heads and scuff up the dirt at the bases so they can get their uniform pants good and dirty.  Then they slide into base a few times to grind that dirt in so that it doesn’t ever come completely out.  That’s what they’re supposed to do; they’re ballplayers.

The players’ parents sit in the stands.  They eat popcorn and swig on Coca Cola and talk to each other about what they should be doing but can’t because Johnny has a game tonight and Jimmy has a game tomorrow night and Lucy plays on Friday nights and Sundays.  They really get tired of sitting at baseball games, they tell each other, but wait a minute!  Johnny’s up to bat.  The conversation changes, gets louder and more urgent.  Good swing.  Just get a piece of it.  You can do it.  Good eye, Johnny.  It’s okay, just do the best you can

But parents do more than talk at ballgames.  They knit, do paperwork, fall asleep in their cars if the day’s started too early and gone on too long.  They work in the concession stand and hand out ice packs and free drinks after the game.  They dig into their pockets when a kid really wants a Blow Pop but only has a nickel.  Then they go home and wash uniforms and talk about how glad they’ll be when it’s all over for the year and they’ll have time to do what the really should have been doing all along.

One summer, when my two sons were playing on separate leagues, I logged the number of baseball games I attended.  Forty-two.  That was 42 afternoons and evenings I could never get back.  Good heavens, I had kids in baseball for 13 years.  How many games was that?

To be honest, I do have some regrets about the raising of my kids.  I’m sorry I worried about how they wore their hair, that they wore high-tops with dress pants, that their rooms weren’t clean.  I’m sorry for the times I was unfair, the times I defended them when I shouldn’t have and didn’t when I should.  I wish I’d been a smarter parent and a better example.  I regret opportunities missed: when I should have shut up and listened or when I should have said encouraging words instead of their cruel opposite.

But I don’t regret any of those 42 evenings and afternoons a year sitting at baseball games.  Buying hot dogs and nachos for the family and calling it supper.  Washing uniforms and handing them back to the kids before they were completely dry because it was time to leave for the next game.  Talking and laughing with other parents and working in the concession stand when I’d already spent eight hours on my feet that day.  I’ve never once been sorry for calling Good eye, Just get a piece of it, Good job.

Life stays rich when your kids are grown.  You get to do things you haven’t done in far too long.  You can make travel arrangements for two, buy milk and bread once a week, and cook dinner with the surety no one’s going to say, “I don’t like that,” and eat Cheerios instead.  You can call your car your own, do laundry a couple of times a week instead of every day, and go for weeks on end without yelling, “turn that thing down,” even once.  You don’t have to share your makeup, the bathroom, or your clothes.  You can spend money on yourself without lying awake suffering from guilt.  No doubt about it; it’s nice.

But sometimes it’s too quiet.  Sometimes there’s too much alone time.  Sometimes you’d like to sit on bleachers and yell Good swing,  Just do your best.  Because those are words you never regret saying and your kids always need to hear.

And because when it’s over, when the fat lady of parenthood sings, neither baseball nor summer are ever the same again.

Enjoy every minute.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Say yes to mammograms...

This was written in 2009. I know there's not that much to it and that it's not Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but it is my month to make my appointment. And, truth to tell, I remember every month of my life that my mom died from breast cancer. And I remember every month of my life that my friends Dottie Eberle and Inge Pitman left us way too soon because of breast cancer. 

I also have friends who have survived. As much as in memory of the losses I mentioned above, I'm posting this--and urging you to make your appointment--in celebration of their wellness.


Okay, I know this is pink. I know it looks dumb on this blog, but, hey...we're talking about breasts here. Boobs. Jugs. Tatas. Other euph--I've forgotten how to spell that word--that are even less elegant. And we're talking about breast cancer. You know, that nasty disease represented by that ribbon over there?

We've got some "experts" saying don't bother with mammograms, don't examine yourself. I'd venture to say most of them have not buried their mothers or sisters or daughters. Most of them don't know and celebrate the survivors the way those of us do who knew and loved women who didn't survive.

So make the appointment, okay? And make the jokes and maybe go out for lunch afterwards, preferably a lunch where you laugh a lot and get a little loud and drink a toast to yourself because you've done something for yourself today. Maybe your husband or partner or your kids will make the toast--because you've done something for them, too.


Friday, June 16, 2017

"Don't miss it--don't even be late."

Next week is fair week here in Miami County. It's a lot different from when I was a kid. It's way earlier, for one thing. Smaller. The rides are...I don't know--less? I volunteer out there now, as a member of Extension Homemakers, but we didn't go for a long time. Until this year back in the 90s...




Last night my husband and I went to the fair. We didn't get there until about eight o'clock. We were going to get something to eat, take a quick run around the exhibits, and be home in an hour and a half or so.

After all, we said, the fair Isn't What It Used To Be. We don't ride on the rides anymore, or play the games offered on the midway. Since our kids are all out of school, we can't even look up many of their friends 4-H exhibits anymore. It's just not the same.

When I was a little kid, a hundred or so years ago, the fair took place during the week of my birthday. On one day during the week, not necessarily my birthday, my mother would work in one of the the food places at the fair and I would take my birthday money and run wild until she came and found me and told me we had to go home.

I never got to run wild very often, so I always took full advantage of it. I picked up duckies and won wonderful little bamboo canes. I laid nickels on numbers and went fishing with the little crane and threw more nickels at shell-shocked goldfish. One year, I talked one of my brothers into taking me on the Bullet--I was scared to death to go by myself--and I lost all my money while I was on it and a whole bunch of cotton candy and caramel corn as soon as I stumbled away from it a couple of traumatic minutes later.


It was probably a good ten years before I braved the Bullet again, and then only after I'd left all my worldly goods with someone intelligent enough to remain on the ground and before I'd had time to eat anything I stood a good chance of losing the hard way.

The fair remained wonderful through my teenage years. There was nothing more romantic than smooching with someone on top of the Ferris wheel or toting home a hideous teddy bear won for you by someone. Another side to that romantic thing was fighting with someone while you were there and having to ride home with your girlfriends while you cried and said you never wanted to see him again. Ever. (Note from 2017. If this happened, I don't remember it. That's either a sign my memory's truly gone or indicative it wasn't all that serious of a relationship.) 

But then things kind of changed. The only time we went to the fair was on family day when the rides wouldn't entirely break the bank and the only ones who rode were our kids. Except for when their dad rode the Bullet with them while I held everyone's money and a good supply of wet paper towels.

Pretty soon the kids were going to the fair without us. We would manage to go out one night to eat pork chops and do a quick run through the exhibits and get home in an hour and a half. All the way home, I would complain that It Just Wasn't What It Used To Be.

Until last night.

When we spent some quality time talking to people we hadn't seen in years and remembered how much we miss them.

When I stuffed myself with a tenderloin the size of a dinner plate that tasted just as wonderful as they did that hundred years or so ago I mentioned up there.

When we walked, not ran, through the exhibits and marveled at the talent and hard work of those doing the exhibiting. When we looked up our favorite 4-H members' entries and crowed proudly at their blue ribbons.

When we strolled through the midway and smiled at laughing babies in strollers and their excited siblings on the rides. Their parents waited patiently and tiredly with the strollers, talking to others doing the same, and we knew what they were saying. "The fair just isn't the same anymore."

When we sat in hard chairs in a big tent and watched dozens of cloggers doing their thing. The noise form their shoes was deafening. And rhythmic. And pretty-sounding. The bobbing black ponytail in the front row was captivating, nearly as much so as the smile on the face of the ponytail owner.

Exhibits. Smiling cloggers. Laughing babies. Good friends. Good food.

Maybe the fair's not the same anymore. But it's still the fair. I hope you don't miss it.

Thanks for coming by. Here's the website for the fair. I hope you go and have a good time. And eat a tenderloin. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

1993 to 2017 - some things stay the same...

This is from sometime in 1993. The green carpet's long gone. A flower bed is where the hydrant used to be. Chris's feet eventually stopped growing. There are things I wrote back then that I look at and say, "What was I thinking?" But then there are others like this one, when I actually got it right. Thanks for stopping by. Don't sweat the grape juice.


Close your eyes
Listen to the skies
All is calm, all is well
- Roger Miller


There's this spot in our back yard near the porch. It's a rectangle, about four feet by ten feet or so. The grass grows really thick and nice there, probably because the hydrant, with the garden hose hanging from it, is there, too, and our garden hoses always leak.

It didn't used to look like that. It used to be all dirt--or mud, depending on if anyone was using the hose--and littered with Tonka trucks and little green army men and Weebles and Fisher-Price people. There was usually a filthy little boy sitting in the middle of it. It drove me crazy.

So now there's no more mud, and the filthy little boy is 19 and in college and a lot bigger than I am. Like I said, the grass grows thick and nice there.

I hate it.

Several years back, some of my in-laws were coming for a weekend visit. They were coming on Saturday morning. Well, there was a basketball game on Friday night and my husband and I both had to work Saturday morning. To make a long story short, the house was a disaster from top to bottom and there was no time to clean it. So I cringed and worried and left a note for my kids when I left for work on Saturday morning. "Please," I wrote, "just mow a path through the living room."

As kids often do, they surprised me. When I got home, you could smell the Pine-Sol from the back yard. They gave me a guided tour of all they'd done.

"We swept and dusted and made beds," they said, gesturing at all the splendor. "Here are the dishes done, the stove wiped off, the grape juices spilled on the carpet, all the newspapers picked up."

Grape juice on the carpet? I picked up on that right away. Sure enough, right in the middle of the doorway between the kitchen and living room was a splattery purple spot on the green carpet. It was not, need I tell you, a pretty combination.

"Oh, well, get me a rag," I said. "It's a new stain. It'll come up."

"No, Mom. We tried."

"You just need to use a little elbow grease," I argued.

"It won't come up, Mom."

It wouldn't.

Until we cut that carpet away last year to enlarge the kitchen, we had a purple-on-green spot that leaped out at me as soon as I entered the room. I noticed it every time and it never bothered me the least bit. Because when I saw the purple spot, I remembered how hard the kids had worked that morning.

It more than equaled out.

The first time our older son went to basketball camp, since his feet were growing
at the rate of a full size every couple of days--at least, that's what it seemed like--I bought him a new pair of basketball shoes. They were really, really cheap, but they looked just like the ones that cost a whole lot. With what camp cost, I explained to Chris, there was no way we could buy expensive shoes, too. No problem, he lied. When he came home a week later, his feet were raw and bleeding where they had blistered and re-blistered.

A few years later, I was bemoaning our financial status when Chris walked through the room wearing his basketball shoes, ones that had cost that "whole lot" I mentioned above. Duane pointed at his feet. "There it goes," he said. "Do you really mind that?"

Well, no. No, I didn't mind.

When your kids grow up, which they do really fast no matter how you try to slow the process, sometimes people express envy that you have your child-raising days behind you. If only for the purpose of making you feel wise, they ask for your advice. You try to abstain from giving that advice, because no two children are alike, so you can't treat them as if they are.

But I can say this much. Buy them good shoes so they'll grow straight and sturdy. Let them play in mud so they'll learn about building up and tearing down. And most of all, whatever you do, don't sweat the grape juice.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Once upon a time...

This was from August of 1994. The grandparents I wrote about here were born in 1869 and 1873, which sounds incredible to me now. It makes me wish I'd asked a lot more questions and written a lot more down.

Have I ever told you about my grandmother? Well, that's a silly question, when I already know I haven't, but it was a good way to give you a clue I'm going to tell you about her now.

Her name was Elvira Pontius Shafer. She died in 1957 at the age of 84. I wore
Photo by Annette Wise
my favorite blue and white dress to the funeral and sat next to my cousin Ronnie and had to be really quiet for a long time, even longer than if I'd gone to school that day.

She used to sit in her kitchen and drink coffee out of a big white cup with a long crack down the side. I asked her why she always used that cup and she said it was to save the good ones for company. Evenings, she would sit in a small rocking chair near the stove in the living room and take down her long white hair and brush it while talk and noise went on around her. She never paid any attention to me and I was pretty sure she didn't like me.

That's all I remember.

Photo by Annette Wise
But I know she and my grandfather, William Washington Shafer, had two stillborn babies and that those babies were buried in the garden. "How could they?" I demanded of the person who told the story. "How could they have done something like that? We're talking babies here, not goldfish." I don't remember the answer, but years later, my sister Nancy told me how much time Elvira had spent in her rose garden. Alone.

When Amy, Elvira and William's firstborn child, was 23, she became a statistic in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Amy was buried in the cemetery, not the garden, but I'm sure Grandma grieved for her out there with her roses.

One time when Elvira was pregnant, which she was at least 10 times, a fire broke out in the house. According to pictures and to my memory, Elvira was a skinny little thing, but when the fire erupted, she picked up the sewing machine and carried it downstairs and out of the house. In those days, sewing machines were big things in heavy wooden cabinets with a treadle attached underneath. We have one of them sitting in the hallway downstairs. I, who haven't been pregnant in 20 years and who am by no one's measure a skinny little thing, can lift one end of it.

I know that when William went blind and spent most of the rest of his days on the couch in front of the big living room window, it didn't make any difference to her. They still laughed and had a good time until he died in 1952, when they'd been married something like 58 years.

That's what I know about my grandmother. It's not much, but I'm glad I know it. I'm glad I listened when aunts told stories in my hearing. What I know has taught me a couple of things that I'm sure she never intended. One, that I hope none of my grandkids ever think for one tiny minute that I don't like them. Two, that I never save anything for company, because there's no one more important than family.

Talking about Elvira makes me think of my roots, something I never gave much thought until recently. It makes me wonder if she's the reason I think it's so very important for women to be strong--like she was. Strong enough to survive the most grievous emotional assaults and still laugh with the man she loved. Strong enough to carry a sewing machine down the stairs.

So, if you get a chance, take a long hard look at the pages of your past. Listen to the stories told by those who remember things you can't. Then tell the stories again so that they live on. Tales of the past embroider the fabric of our lives today and lend them a little richness they wouldn't have had otherwise.

Thanks for listening. Pass it on.