Saturday, July 29, 2023

Room to Grow by Liz Flaherty

I read an essay by journalist Connie Schultz this week. It was about her decade as a single mother. She touched on so many important places. One of them was when her daughter referred to the time of her mother's divorce as "Mommy's growth spurt." I laughed, but my eyes were wet, too. 

Ms. Schultz's growth spurt was in the 1990s. Mine was in the 1980s, which makes sense--I'm older than she is by about that much. 

In the 80s, like a lot of other women I knew, I had it all. That was a big thing then--having it all. We could do it, we were assured--we could take care of our families, our husbands, our houses, our jobs, and ourselves. And that's exactly what we did. But we paid a price. 

Those of us who worked outside the home were still catching heat for destroying the American lifestyle. Many men resented us for taking jobs that had always been theirs. Many women who chose or were able to not have outside employment looked down on those of us who couldn't always be room mothers, whose kids went to daycare, and whose husbands couldn't quite be the center of our lives because it was too crowded in there. 

Some of us who bought into having it all rolled our eyes at mothers whose houses were always neat and clean and welcoming at any time. We stiffened with resentment at any indication they loved their families more than we did because there were always there for them. We made snide comments about narrow minds and narrow lives. 

My mother was one of the generation of women before us who disapproved of many of the changes that were taking place. Although she supported my choices and those of my sister and sisters-in-law--sort of--she disliked them, too. Our priorities didn't mesh with hers.

Our family survived the "having it all" decade. I think we even thrived, but if you asked my kids, I'm not sure how they'd answer--it probably didn't always feel like thriving to them. If you asked my husband, I'm not sure what he'd say, either. I think the kids would have liked more patience and better attention and Duane would have liked a cleaner house and better cooking. 

In retrospect, I failed a lot. I'm sorry for it, but I'm not sure how I'd fix it if I had the opportunity. I believe that you don't fail if you don't try first, but I still wish I'd been better at some of the parts of that all I had.

All of our "growth spurts" have resulted in gains...and losses, haven't they? Over 100 years ago, women got the vote because of them. In the 1970s, we became entitled, albeit shakily, to have credit ratings and to borrow money on our own. When I went work at the post office in 1981, I was paid the same hourly wage as the men I worked with. We were that generation's version of woke, and the growing pains were intense. 

Growing spurts--and pains--are almost always intense. And, usually, they're worth it. 

Have a good week. Be nice to somebody. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Give the Woman A Throne by Selena Jones

I'm happy to welcome Selena Jones to the Window. I've always said Mother's Day isn't just one day in May, but a whole bunch of others. This one is for Georgina McClure. Love you, Georgina--but I think Selena probably loves you more. 

As the weather grows colder and I watch the leaves bounce across the yard in the breeze, I start to get a bit reflective.

I think about my mother's slightly burnt and perfectly buttered popcorn and think about all the times I craved it, made it like I had seen her make it a million times before, and it somehow still didn't taste like hers no matter what I did. I search for a book to read, maybe a thriller, maybe a romance, and realize my love for reading also came from my mother. 

When I really think about it, I got a lot from my mother whether hereditary or learned. Aside from my love for reading and my popcorn making skills, I learned how to be strong and independent. I saw her pull herself together and recover from a divorce that not only rocked her world, but mine. I saw her stand up, watched her study constantly, save money like crazy while she worked at Subway or the apple orchard. 

She's a champion in frugality. I watched her go without and never thought anything of it until years later. I watched her hold her head high and be an "adult" while others acted childishly and actively tried to get a rise out of her. I learned honesty, integrity, and class. I learned maturity on a different level, seriously, get this woman a throne, she's a fucking queen for handling some things the way she did. 

I watched her become a nurse and care for others and I learned compassion, understanding, and drive. I saw her go above and beyond for patients. I saw her pick green beans from the garden and buy root beer because she knew someone needed it or it was a nursing home patient's favorite. 

I value family because of my mother. I've learned that you do for family, you show up for family, because they're family and would do the same for you in a heart beat. I think about the times my mother went out of her way to make sure we didn't miss out on family we wouldn't otherwise get to see. I remember family ball games, cook outs, birthday parties, mushroom fries, and time spent eagerly searching for those morels. I've seen her offer countless hours to help, open her home, and give freely to family. 

She's thoughtful, beautiful inside and out, hard working, dedicated, and a role model. As a child, I was quick to blame my mother, give her grief and argue with her just for the sake of arguing, but as I got older things gradually became clearer and I realized that my mother is a treasure who has inevitably shaped me into who I am today.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Different Gifts by Liz Flaherty

I watch birds through the window beside my desk. And deer. And squirrels and rabbits and even the occasional galumphing groundhog. I watch the corn grow beyond the fence row--no fences anymore, but the row is still there, punctuated by nettles and a cottonwood in the corner. I watch for purple flowers--they're always my favorites. If I look away, the corn has grown another foot--at least, that's how it seems. I wonder what's going on with the field beside the road. If all our neighbors are okay. 

I write in the morning, starting by reading over what I wrote the day before and wondering what I was thinking. It's my favorite time of day, these hours in here by the window. My kids are always asking what I want done with my ashes when I die. I've asked them to plant me with a tree--I love trees--but maybe a Mason jar in a west window would be okay, too.

I scroll on Facebook when the words aren't coming, which still entertains me. My feed isn't overtly political or profane--more like neighbors talking about corn crops and rain know, what's going on in the field by the road. They post pictures of purple flowers and kittens and front porches. 

There are, of course, cranky ones there, who don't want to be disagreed with but don't mind disagreeing with other people. They remind me of a review I got on a book once (you always remember the bad ones), wherein Diane M. said, "I don't get the five star rating others gave it but if you like really dumb stories - go for it!" (The book in question is Because of Joe. I'm still wounded by the review, which I can only assume was her point.)

But that's the way neighbors are in real life, isn't it? They have eccentricities, but they're still your neighbors. You still like them. You may think they're grumpy or that their politics are pretty awful or even that they write dumb books, but you still worry when they're ill. They still check on you after surgery. You pray for each other. You celebrate each other. 

"We all have different gifts, so we all have different ways of saying to the world who we are," said Fred Rogers. 

We do. As always, Mr. Rogers had it right. Our gifts are like our opinions; some are better than others, more appreciated, better for humankind. We need to know the differences and accept that we are not all alike. Sometimes we have to walk away, but we don't have to slam doors on the way out.  

The animals were active in the yard this morning, with the resident doe standing still and staring at the squirrels. I wondered if she was doing like we do when we see deer on the road and stopping to let them cross because if there was one, there was likely a dozen. The birds visit the suet feeders in turn. The starlings are first, then the brown ones I always call sparrows but are probably several different ones, then the blue jays, and finally the woodpeckers. They're my favorites to watch. They all scold sometimes, grumpy and discordant, but not often. 

Like the rest of us, they all have their own gifts. 

Have a good week. Be nice to somebody.  

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages....

This was written in 2015 and last published last year. Much has changed in that time and much has stayed the same. It's about writing and about the circus. I thought about rewriting (see? writing again) to make it all about the circus, but since I write about things from the heart, I decided I'd leave it in. I hope you enjoy the visit back. May all your days be circus days!

Photo by Dianne Stoner Gustin

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages...welcome to Peru, Indiana, the Circus Capital of the World, and Miami County's own permanent big top! -
Michelle Enyeart Boswell, Ringmaster

Peru, Indiana is the county seat where I live. It’s also the Circus Capital of the World. It’s the home of the biggest amateur circus anywhere, has had a TV special made about it and books written about it, hits USA Today occasionally, and has an ever-evolving band I could listen to all day long. There is an annual circus parade—one of the largest seasonal parades in the state—and sometimes it seems as though every kid that’s not on a baseball diamond or a soccer field is in one of the circus building’s three rings. When I wrote for the newspaper, my favorite assignments were always interviewing performers. If you want to find out more, go here and if you want a nice place to spend a few days next summer, go ahead and make plans—we don’t have a lot of motels around here, and they fill up fast.

Commercial over, and circus week is over for the summer, too, but those three rings make me think of not only raising kids—yes, it was a circus, the most fun and exhausting one in the world—but of writing books. Specifically romance novels.
The Center Ring, obviously enough, belongs to the protagonists. It is the story of how they meet, overcome conflict, and live Happily Ever After. But then there are the rings to each side, too. The ones with—you know what they are—subplots! Where you get to have secondary characters with stories and pains and glories of their own. The rings aren’t as big, but they either bump up against or intersect with the edges of the center ring to where things are moving all the time and the performers are dependent on each other—and on you, their audience—to make it a good show.
The Center Ring garners the most attention, it’s true, but the acts in the side rings require as much work, as much thought, and as much heart as the ones in the middle. You get to add some idiosyncrasies to those performers that might not fly with the hero and heroine, which can sometimes make them more fun to write but they must not be more fun to read! This is a rule I’ve heard my entire writing life. It’s one I still don’t like and, as a reader, don’t entirely believe, but I admit I’m probably wrong about it. So, as I undoubtedly said to those kids I was talking about raising, Do As I Say And Not As I Do.
There are gaspers in the circus, things like human cannonballs and doubles from the trapeze, just as there are black moments and aha moments in books. They are the connecters that keep you going from act to act or chapter to chapter.

There are the clowns. In the amateur circus, there are tons of them. Peru, after all, is where Emmett Kelly, his sons Emmett, Jr. and Pat, and his grandson Joey—clowns all—are from. If you’re scared of clowns, you didn’t learn it here, because Peru Circus's jesters are fun and funny and heart-melting. The late Doc Sprock’s day job was as a physician—he delivered a good many of the audience! The Kiddie Clowns are so cute you spend a lot of awww time when they’re in the rings. They choose their own faces and names and they work hard at their craft.
Back we go to secondary characters. While their primary job may be bringing attention to the Stars of the Show you’re writing, their faces and names need to be distinctive. Avoid stereotypes. Let me say that again for the 400th time this week, avoid stereotypes.
At the end of the show, and the book, it all comes together. It’s the big payoff. You leave the arena, or close the book, with both pleasure and regret. Oops, that’s important, too. Circus performances are long—there are 200 performers in the Peru one—and books are often long, too. Sometimes because that’s how long it takes to tell the story and sometimes because publishers have length requirements. So it’s up to the ringmaster and the writer to make sure there is more regret than relief that it’s over. Because the circus performers want their audience to come back next year and the writer wants her readers to look forward to the next book.
Have a great week. Read a great book. May all your days be circus days! Be nice to somebody.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Some Liz Flaherty

We dropped off recycling the other day on Logansport Road. Just as they often were at Macy, Denver, and the school--all places we normally dropped off because they were within five miles of where we live--the bins were pretty stuffed. I will admit there was no furniture sitting around them, no mattresses, no electronics or dead appliances. That was nice. 

But it's 15 miles to drop off our blue recycling bags now. Does this mean our $30 annual fee will be reduced? I've always thought the cost per household was reasonable, especially when we used to have pickup for those dead appliances--which went by the wayside years ago; however, when every trip to drop off on Logansport Road requires a gallon of gas, it's not as reasonable as before. 

In all honesty, we combine trips to the recycle bin with other errands, so I'm indulging in a little ticked-off hyperbole here. 

Just as I do when I think of the uber-expensive limited access highway State Road 31 is apparently going to become when INDOT and its supporters are finished. (Yeah, I know, roadwork is never truly finished, but that will be another disgruntled column at another grumpy time.) Truth is, I can take county roads to get almost anywhere I need to go without accessing 31 where I've been crossing it or turning onto it where I have for the 46 years we've lived here. But I don't want to. It will be inconvenient and annoying. If I want to simply get to the other side of the highway without turning, it will also be farther. More gas and more time. 

Maybe, if proportionate funds were spent on those county roads to keep, to make them smooth and easy to drive on, I wouldn't mind it as much, but I'm not totally sure of that. 

I get a little hyperbolic when I think of how much a family must pay for a library card in Peru. It's okay for me--I have a card at a library in a neighboring county where it costs less. I get books from the Libby app on my phone for my Kindle. While I think Peru has a beautiful library, I remain disappointed that it is a city rather than a county entity. Years ago, I wrote about it, and the headline of the article said the library was "more than a building." It is. No hyperbole there. And it's a shame it's withheld from county users for reasons not fully understood or explained to taxpayers' satisfaction.

Okay, I have to admit, I'm reminding myself of the social media commenters who complain about Dollar General stores as if they are the single cause of Peru, Indiana's lack of retail growth. I am, as are they, failing to appreciate the effort put forth to make our area welcoming. I guess that's the thing with complaining, isn't it? The voice used for being upset and disappointed is much louder than the one proclaiming the good. 

I do think reduced recycling sites, limited access, and expensive library cards for rural county residents are problems that should be addressed and fixed for more of the county population than are considered at the present time, but I don't really expect it to happen. While I don't believe ignoring what I consider to be iniquities is the way to go, I do think I need to keep my voice at the same level as the one I use when I'm talking about the good. 

Because there's a lot of good. Have a great week. Be nice to somebody. 

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Orange Suitcases, Freedom, and Airports by Liz Flaherty

I almost guarantee this will be late today. Yesterday was a travel day, and as much as I like traveling, it kinda wears me out. This week, going to Georgia to see a friend I hadn't seen in way too long, was the first plane trip I'd taken by myself in a long time. I learned some things. 

Atlanta's airport does not improve. It only gets bigger and its food more expensive. I still like its train that will take you from terminal to terminal, but if you're going to take off or land from the far end of the concourse, it is indeed really far. Somewhat like walking from Denver to Peru only more crowded, sweatier, and much louder. While the personnel is efficient and sometimes very kind, they are rushed and don't meet your eyes. It is, and I realize how ridiculous this sounds, kind of a lonely place to be. 

The other side of the Atlanta Airport coin on this trip was meeting a pretty blonde from Jacksonville, Florida on her way to Indianapolis. She'd missed her connection (very easy to do) and had been sitting at gate T6 hoping to catch a flight. It had been five hours, and she was still friendly and cheerful. I don't know her name, but I hope she's having a good time in Indy.

I learned that I need to recognize my own limitations. I try to never check my orange suitcase on wheels that my daughter-in-law gave me years ago, because I'm always anxious to get home, but after having to ask someone to put it into the overhead a few times, I've decided I'd better give in. I'm grateful for the help, but I hate having to ask for it. I think it's another weakness in my character. I have a lot of those. 

On flights where the attendants have time to get from one end of the plane to the other, Delta gives you these teeny, tiny bags of Sun Chips that make you want to run into Sam's Club and see if you can buy a barrel of them. Crack in a bag. Not that I've ever tried crack anywhere, but those are so good!

We talk so much about loss of freedom. The haters want to be free to hate, the shooters want to be free to shoot, 1st Amendment never-mind-the-intenters want to be free to lie, alternative genders want to be free to be, lots and lots of people want freedoms only for their chosen demographics. And everyone feels as if their own personal freedoms are being taken away.

I don't know. Maybe they are in some cases. However, watching people in airports, especially ones as big as Atlanta and as small as Columbus, Georgia, reminds you of how many freedoms we retain. I took off my shoes twice, showed ID three or four times, and got to say, "Hi, how you doing?" to a bunch of people doing their jobs. Three guys helped me with my suitcase, a hotel driver picked me up in the drop-off zone when I went to the wrong place--loading my suitcase into his van and then into my car with a smile and the urge to be careful on the road. 

Would I rather have everyone meet my eyes and want to have conversation? Sure would. But at the end of a week when I got to see a dear friend, got to have dinner and fail miserably at trivia with some of my family, and got to come home to my favorite place on earth...well, I'm feeling pretty grateful. And pretty free.

Happy Independence Day. Wishing you gratitude, celebration, and kindness. Be nice to somebody.