Lucky Man

20160518_161422.jpgToday I have a dinosaur in my pocket and it made  me think of Dad.

Moving through the dozen rooms of our child care center each day, I pick up stray items, dropping small ones in my pocket or purse to take with me to its proper place in the building.  Often I promptly relocate the items.  Other days they go home with me, forgotten, but eventually returned days later.

That’s how little blue man ended up as a gift for my dad.

When we learned dad was to have major surgery, there was little time to get things organized before flying out to be with him. Cleaning out my purse did not make the to-do list. Somewhere above Missouri, before landing in Kansas City, I discovered little blue man among the pens and paperclips that always sink and line the bottom of my purses. Laughing at myself for carrying such an odd item, I decided to present it to dad as a lucky man, for a lucky man.

We always teased Dad about his luck.  In his lifetime he won recliners, televisions, microwaves, and much more.  Not a gambler, and years before State Lotteries were the norm anyway, he won by signing up at every possible free drawing at fairs and business promotions.  So I told him this little blue guy, now dubbed Lucky Man, was to remind him how lucky he had always been, and would be as he faced the major surgery and subsequent cancer treatment.  He laughed and kept it in his hospital room among the balloons and cards. (I knew he’d like it; the goofy gene in our family definitely came from Dad.)

Lucky Man earned a permanent place on Dad’s bedroom dresser for the almost four years Dad battled pancreatic cancer, post surgery. Lucky years for all of us, to have more time together.

We are a family of faith, and credit God with that time, not luck.  For me, counting yourself lucky in life is mostly about deciding to be happy.  It is choosing joy, wherever it can be found.  Even in the midst of fighting cancer, that was Dad’s  choice, and it served him  well.

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting the Flowers

White Peony

White Peony

“Peony” was one of the first flowers I remember meeting, the peony bush taller than me as I toddled behind my parents through the flowerbeds. They both loved to garden and talk about the plants, flowers, trees. Everything had a name. That was fascinating to me. Snapdragons, Honeysuckle, Four-O’clock’s, and Hollyhocks were my childhood favorites, fun to say, with flowers suited for play.

I met “Bachelor Buttons” at Grandma M’s house, a field of blue, purple, and pink growing wild atop her root cellar hill. We were allowed to pick as many as we’d like, a rare extravagance in childhood.

Of course, kids can always pick all the wild violets and dandelions they want...

Of course, kids can always pick all the wild violets and dandelions they want…


My mother-in-law introduced me to local wild flowers, Queen Anne’s Lace, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and others not common where I grew up. I’ve toured gardens with many relatives and friends over the years. Those memories flood back today at the sight of particular flowers enjoyed together. My yard has become a memory garden.
Japanese Iris.  Iris were often called "Flags" when I was a child.  People were proud of their many varieties.

Japanese Iris. Iris were often called “Flags” when I was a child. People were proud of their many varieties.


I never got to go on a “meet the flowers” walk with my husband’s Grandma Ruth, but we still enjoy some of her flowers planted on our property more than forty years ago. The Narcissus-faced Daffodils and Grape Hyacinth greet us each Spring, her lilacs still perfuming the air.
Narcissus-faced Daffodils

Narcissus-faced Daffodils

Patch of Grape Hyacinth

Patch of Grape Hyacinth

Grandma Ruth planted the four peony bushes that line our drive, too. I would love to hang a sign on our mailbox, announcing “Peony Lane”, but perhaps need more than four bushes to justify it. Two pink and two white bushes, the white ones bloom first. We always have peonies for Memorial Day.

Peony Lane?

Peony Lane?

A Standup Grandpa

To meet my grandpa’s approval, you could be thin, good looking, rich, a fellow Christian, or none of those things.  Only a sense of humor was required.  Often opinionated and gruff,  humor bridged his connection to others.

Visitors to his home were greeted with “Sit down and make yourself homely” and dismissed with “Well, I’d better get to bed and let you good people go home”.

We children collected jokes, gifting him with endless “knock, knock” variations, just to earn his smile.  He rewarded our weakest efforts, giving a joke in return. 

Whatever the holiday, our family feasts ended the same way.  While we were still at the tables, Grandpa would stand up at the head and do about twenty minutes of material.  Many were long, involved stories, meandering to the punch line.  Family members comprised most of the audience, so many of the jokes were familiar old favorites to them.

The adults laughed in anticipation as each joke began, getting more hysterical as he moved from story to story.  Observing from the kids’ table, the laughter-to-tears of aunts and uncles entertained us as much as the jokes, but I still strained to listen for the one joke I never heard him finish.

  As grandpa wrapped up one long story (about how the farmer finally figured out he could tell his two horses apart because the white one had longer ears than the brown one..) it happened again.  Grandpa said something about two men in a boat while all the adults howled with laughter.  Then he grinned and sat down.  Foiled again, I wondered why they never let him finish this last joke…

Years after Grandpa’s death I had the chance to visit with a cousin who spent many childhood years living with or near my grandparents. A great story-teller and comedian in his own gentle way, he told me a few of his favorites from Grandpa’s collection.  His retelling of the old jokes prompted my memory, and I asked him if he’d ever heard the end of the boat joke, expressing my frustration at never hearing the whole thing.

He gave me an odd look, and asked what I remembered of it.

“Something about two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain.”

He grinned Grandpa’s grin.  “There were two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain.  No…no…the OTHER man was the Captain…”.  In chagrin I realized I’d heard the whole thing all along.

I think of this joke every time I hear someone needlessly correcting the details of a story, and I smile, remembering Grandpa.

 

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

I Wish Dad Was Driving

It was my first experience with black ice. Approaching a stop sign on a narrow country road, I braked and the van slid. My ten year old son and I were silent for tense moments while we spun and I tried to remember or intuit how to respond on ice. We stopped, still miraculously on the road, front tires lined up on the edge of the deep ditch in the opposite lane. Thankful – and proud – of keeping us on the road, I took a deep breath. My son was the first to speak, “I wish Dad was driving”.

Maybe he thought I’d suddenly gone crazy, forgotten how to drive. Maybe he knew we’d hit ice. No matter, I understand his response. My husband is a good man and a safe driver. When you are young, a good dad at the wheel gives a sense of security.

My Dad was a much better man than driver. They called it “Sunday driving”, looking around more than at the road. But Dad drove when our family traveled, and Mom kept an eye on the road. My spot in the car was always the seat behind the driver. I imagine this was so Mom could get out of the passenger seat and assist my younger sister on her side, leaving Dad the older kid who needed less help.

We made frequent trips to visit grandparents, less than two hours away, and good friends, a four hour drive. We sang to entertain ourselves as a trip began. Mom taught us School Days and My Sweetheart’s the Man in the Moon. Dad led on Don’t Fence Me In, Every Day with Jesus, and Maresy Doats. They harmonized together on We Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money, as we “traveled along, singing our song, side by side”. We sang in the sunshine, looking for familiar landmarks, excitement growing until, at last, we were there!

It was often late as we drove home. More subdued, tired from the fun, we sang and talked less. I loved the ride home, especially on a starlit summer night. Dad would keep a window vented for a cool breeze. Curled up on the seat behind him, the breeze in my face, I was alone counting the stars, dreaming my dreams. Alone, cocooned with my family and happy memories of the day.

Despite his Sunday driving, the car never wrecked, just the family. Singing and family road trips ended, and before long I was at the wheel myself. But I can still remember the sense of contentment and security I felt when Dad drove us home.

The Ties That Bind

IMG_2727(The Daily Post prompt on May 30th, “Weaving the threads”, caught my interest as it suggested writing a post with three parts, unrelated, with a common thread. Here’s where it led me.)

I.
Sorting through generations of “stuff”, I added one of Grandma’s old workday aprons to my “keep” pile. Aprons were daily wear for both of my grandmothers, as were the dresses they protected. They had many practical aprons, dressy ones for holidays or serving company. My mom wore an apron once a week, serving roast while protecting her Sunday-best dress. My daughter occasionally wears one, because they’re cute as well as practical and seem to have comeback into popularity. It is my 60’s/70’s jean and t-shirt wearing generation that shunned using them. But I will keep Grandma’s apron along with the memory of her rolling out homemade noodles and pie crusts amidst a cloud of flour.

And because of a story I heard at a family reunion.

Some of my family lived in Kansas during the dust bowl years, enduring one difficulty after another. One summer a mini-plague of grasshoppers swarmed the area, eating what little garden they had managed to grow. As the story goes, my great-grandmother was hanging laundry on the clothesline when the cloud of grasshoppers arrived, quickly covering everything in the yard, including her. To quote the family history, “and the hoppers gobbled every green thing, including the green strings off the apron tied around grandma’s waist”. I love the picture that sentence paints, and the hard-working, apron-wearing women I remember.

II.
We spread Dad’s tie collection on the bed and each picked one to take home. He had worn a tie to work for over thirty years as a teacher/school counselor. We laughed at the variety of styles from super skinny to Bozo-wide. Some of the ugliest may have been gifts from us, seen as cool that particular Christmas or Father’s Day. It didn’t look like he had gotten rid of any of them over the years.

I picked one that looked like “Dad” to me. I’m not sure how the others made their choice, or if anyone kept the golf tie, or the hand-painted one from Hawaii. The one he was buried in had blue-gray stripes to match his gray jacket. It looked like him.

III.
They came to get me because she was crying. I was a third grader and my sister had just started Kindergarten. She was crying because she had wet her pants while someone else was in the only bathroom available. Embarrassed because she didn’t usually have accidents, she was afraid she’d be labeled a “baby” in her class. I was embarrassed because my sister had an accident (that baby) and because somehow the school had identified me with her! Plus she could really cry once she got going… I doubt I was much comfort to her while we waited together for Mom to come with dry clothes.

We managed to be a comfort to each other more often than an embarrassment as years went by. We live and work in the same community (by choice!) 800 miles from our childhood home. People here have only known us as adults and struggle to tell us apart. We both have worked with children and are often mistakenly greeted by the others’ name. Long tied to one another in this way, we just say hello and receive the hug from an unknown child on our sister’s behalf without correcting their mistake.