Reflections on Easter Weekend

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Two weekends before Easter, I stood with 500 others at a funeral for my friend’s husband. The death had been sudden. Totally unexpected. We gathered to mourn with his widow, children, and grandchildren, while celebrating his life and his Lord. So many lives had been touched during the last third of his life he had lived following Jesus.

The weekend before Easter, my family celebrated together at the marriage of my niece and her groom. Love beamed from the couple, surrounded by their friends and family with much good food, laughter, dancing, and reminiscing. The joy of that day will long be in our memories.

Sadness. Grief. Tears. Laughter. Celebration. Hope for the future. I was exhausted from this range of emotions as Holy Week began. Slowly I began to see how Easter had been mirrored in these recent events, helping to prepare my heart to worship.

Our church offered a new service to observe Good Friday this year. Songs and scripture focused on Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, followed by an opportunity to take communion, creating a meaningful, but sober, time of personal reflection.

Easter Sunday we sang loudly with a crowd of other believers of our resurrected Christ, many bursting into spontaneous applause for God as His plan of salvation, His plan to defeat death and provide life eternal were praised in the lyrics. Such love! Such grace! Such joy! Someday our Groom will return for His Bride, the Church, and that celebration will be beyond our imagination.

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The Road Oft Travelled

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We usually vacation in Kansas.

The trips started when this Kansan city girl fell in love with a farm boy from Ohio. We made the first 1600 mile round trip drive from my home to his as boyfriend and girlfriend, our second after we were engaged. These were “how fast can we get there” trips, leaving us exhausted and ready to crash on arrival. The same way he had traveled alone, coming and going from college. We added an overnight stop on our first vacation to Ohio as husband and wife, and never chose to drive straight through again! We spent much of this trip discussing future plans. On the drive back to Kansas from that first married trip, we decided to move to Ohio.

A month later we were on the same road again, headed to a new life on a farm in Ohio with our meager possessions, a mother cat, and four two-week-old kittens. It was a long year before we made that first trip back to Kansas to visit family and friends. The importance of the destination to us has always been the people.

But, slowly over the years, it also became about the journey.

Young kids helped slow us down on the road. We made frequent rest stops and memorized the locations of those with playgrounds. In the early 80’s, we looked forward to the only two fast-food stops with indoor play equipment on our route, one in Missouri, one in Kansas. In the car we snacked, blew bubbles, read stories, sang songs, played road bingo, and celebrated every 100 miles with a pack of stickers. The only “tech” equipment to entertain them was a cassette tape player. We bought a new tape for one trip home just to get a break from the one they had favored over and over on the trip out.

As they grew, we extended the trips to see things like the St. Louis arch, Branson, Missouri or Colorado Springs in addition to the great-grandparents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and old friends in Kansas. The kids learned to look for landmarks, laughed at things “on a stick” and other advertising ploys. We stopped to try the Mile High Pie in Missouri and learned Jay’s had the best burgers in Vandalia, Illinois. We had a favorite motel in Concordia, Missouri, with a playground and a pool, where Imo’s pizza delivered.

Catsup bottle "on a stick", Collinsville, IL

Catsup bottle “on a stick”, Collinsville, IL

During their high school years, we stopped at outlet stores rather than playgrounds and took the backseat to let our two young drivers “bring us home” on wide Kansas highways, their driving status allowing them to control the radio. Somewhere along the line they became great travel companions, entertaining us more than needing to be entertained.

We travel as a couple again these days, our recent thirty-something-th road trip to Kansas to celebrate a niece’s wedding. We remember the kids with basketballs and jump ropes at the rest stop where we stretch our legs. The Mile High Pie sign now claims to be only Foot High. (It’s five inches, tops. I prefer the obvious hyperbole of the old sign.) We retell the usual stories of being stranded in Missouri as we pass Blackwater and Wentzville. I feel like I am coming home on both ends of our trip.

I love visiting new places. But there is something special about the miles we’ve retraced, etching family memories and traditions into our lives.

View from I70

View from I70

Marathon Love Story

I consider myself a regular customer at the Marathon gas station two blocks from my work.  I purchase gas at the pump there weekly and go inside to purchase a drink once or twice a month.  The owner and a couple of staff know me after several years of this routine.

Between the chilly drive in and the thought of rewarding myself for coming in to work on a Saturday morning again I decided it was a good day to stop for coffee.

As I was creating my own blend of artificially flavored French Vanilla Coffee with some Folger’s decaf, a gentleman who appeared to be in his late 80’s headed past me toward the counter.  Not exactly shuffling, but walking carefully.  I took my time before following him toward the counter, arriving there right behind him, and just in time to see the staff quickly open the register nearest this gentleman, telling him they always open it for their special customers.  The owner was at the counter a few feet back and winked, waving at me to come to her register.

Both clerk’s asked about his health, then inquired “And how’s the boss, today?”  To this he replied, “Not too good.  She ‘s not feeling any better, and she has me to put up with.” Everyone chuckled at this as he added, “Been putting up with me for 66 years now.”

The small talk continued as he slowly made his way out the door and to his parked car, and I wondered vaguely if he ought to still be driving.  Thankful my mom had given up doing so without complaint in her early 80’s.

The owner quickly whispered to me some of his family background.  It’s a small county and it turned out I know one of this man’s sons – the parents have been on a prayer list at our church off and on due to serious health problems.

“His wife has so much trouble swallowing after the treatments she’s been through, but she loves our slushies.”  She paused in her story.  “So he comes here every day to get one for her.  Has all winter.”

Our eyes met and we grew silent in appreciation of this dedication, this love that had endured and gone the distance.  66 years and counting.

My Kitchen Windows

Autumn Sunset

Autumn Sunset

From my kitchen I can see the sunrise and the sunset.

Granted, I have seen many fewer sunrises, but I love seeing them on the mornings I must be up so early. The sunrise window is also the waving window discussed in a previous post. When they were babies and toddlers too young to reach the window themselves, I lifted my children to see that “Yes!” Daddy was home to play with them so that I might for a few minutes at least pull supper together with both hands free. Later they pressed their own noses to this window in anticipation of his arrival or upon hearing their grandpa’s tractor pulling in to our drive.

They loved to see their grandpa stop by after his trip to our barn to feed the cows he kept there. He was an easy man to love with his calm patience and gentle teasing humor – so much like his son, their daddy. It was fun to watch the two of them walking to the barn together, similar in height and build, or stopping to chat beside the tractor, so comfortable in each others’ company. We lost Grandpa Bob too soon in life to a cancer that had struck first ten years earlier. Those ten years were the difference of the children having their own loving memories of him, not just photographs and other people’s stories. A blessing. His tractor sold to a neighbor, and for years afterwards when I would see that tractor from my window the thought “Here comes Bob”, would flicker in my mind.

That window holds the memories of toddling children, first bikes and first cars, black cats, a blonde dog, and the comings and goings of beloved faces, friends and family. A different history is in the sunset window.

My oven faces the setting sun which often forces me to pull the blinds, but I keep them open enough to view the sunset once the glare is over. The yard from this view slopes down toward a creek, and I can see the bench swing the family gave for my fiftieth birthday. We really should sit out there to watch the sunset more often instead of peering out this window. I always smile to see this yard, which started as a humble pasture for cows and is the site of a favorite family story: the lost-until-found-in-the-septic-tank calf. Another time for that one.

We visited this creek when we were dating. My then boyfriends grandparents farmed here and he was driving me around all the family farms on a tractor when we stopped so I could meet them. They were so obviously disappointed to learn I was not a farm girl. At all. But they were kind nonetheless, and I’m sure we were offered one of his grandma’s famous sugar cookies before resuming our tour. He stopped the tractor down by the creek and we climbed around on a fallen log which spanned the creek and took some pictures. It was here he first spoke to me about our spending our lives together. Neither of us envisioned that we would spend more than thirty years of it on that very property.

You can see the flower garden my husband built for me to enjoy from the window over the sink. This third view from the kitchen faces south, to our barn and fields beyond. We do not farm, but have always had dogs and cats to be fed at these barns. My husband has always had a unique walk. I could pick him out from a crowd at a distance by observing it. As he makes the trip to the barn to feed the animals tonight, I notice he now has his father’s gait, slightly stooped forward at the waist. I turn to pull the roast from the oven and glance out the window. It’s another lovely autumn sunset.

The Waving Window

When I was 12 we made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to visit my mother’s best friend from college, several states away.  We had heard stories about “Punky” and similarly nick-named friends from that time in Mom’s life.  But from Punky we heard stories about our mom “GInger” that she had never told us, such as the fun they had bowling in the dorm hall with oranges and pop bottles. Since I was sure we would get in trouble for trying such a thing, this was hard to envision.

But the most memorable story I heard in the few days our families spent together was Punky describing how she saw her husband off to work each day by walking him out of the house to his car, hugging and kissing him goodbye, then leaning in through the car window for a last kiss as he drove off.  She laughed about what a scene they made each day for the neighbors.

This was amazing to me.

Displays of affection were rarely seen between my parents, and certainly none of our neighbors were putting on a show like she described.  It suggested a possibility of relationship unlike what I had seen in our family or circle of friends.

The thought stuck with me and saying goodby with a hug and a kiss every time one of us leaves is a habit we have stuck with for 35 years of marriage now. Having few neighbors (and both being somewhat introverted) we have practiced this more privately than Punky.

Somewhere along the way this tradition of acknowledging even the little goodbys grew to include waving and blowing a kiss to each other from the window in the kitchen door as the other pulled out of the driveway. This is such a part of us now that it always feels a little empty to drive away from the house without someone at the window seeing me off.

As our children started driving, a last goodby to them from the waving window became part of the routine.  I have smiled and waved as they drove off in a first car, to their first job, and last day of high school.  Then smiled with tears once they were out of sight in a car overloaded with stuff for their dorm room, or with wedding presents headed to a first apartment.

To me being at the waving window says “I love seeing you and will miss you until I see you again,” whether it will be a few hours, days or months until that happens.

I don’t know if my children think of this as a particularly meaningful family tradition.  They at least play along  by turning on their dome lights to wave back when leaving in the dark.

But it still makes my husband smile each time I am there waving and blowing him a kiss.