Tag Archives: memories

Oh, I know, all I owe, I owe Prednisone

3 Jul

You know when you get a song stuck in your head and you can’t get it out? Of course you do. What a mundane topic, right? Well, have you ever had it happen with a word? Of course you have. What am I thinking? It happened to me last night. Urg.

And what was the Vocabulary Ear Worm parasitically trapped in my mind during my Prednisone-induced non-sleep (I have a rash)?

Appropriate, given the impending incediarily celebrated birthday of our Nation, don’t you think?

As I was laying there riding my imaginary 10-speed across the Grand Canyon and running my Olympic Sprint Marathon I got to thinking about other such words that have layed claim to my sanity. I remember very distinctly an invasion of the word “secretary” when I was a wee 9 or 10 year old. I will briefly explain what I did at that time to cope with said invasion.

I went out to our swing set with our 20-odd cats and sang songs to them using the sole lyric “secretary”. Let me give you an example:

(To the tune of “The Sound of Music” from, well, The Sound of Music) Secre-tary! Secretary secra-. Tary secreta-ry, secreta-a-RY! (And so on.)

Here’s another:

(To the tune of “All I Owe Ioway” from State Fair) Secreta-ry-y. Sec-re-eh-ta-a-ry. Secretary secretary secreTA! (And so on.)

At this point I have to wonder what predictions my parents were making of my future. Probably that at some point in my life I would be laying in bed hand-cultivating corn fields while I repeated the word “incendiary”. They were spot on.


Ten Days to Ten Years: Day 7

20 Jun

Wedding are just chocked full of happy memories,  like this:

What caused that sea of genuine smiles? This dear, sainted man.

And that’s thing about those happy memories, many of them are tied to people who are no longer with us.  Who knows what Pastor Krieger was saying, or even why he had the mic, but the man who gave me the nickname Chirps, and scolded me when there weren’t enough a Capella stanzas is sorely missed, gentle ribbings and all.

As is this beautiful woman on the left, framed between her two daughters.

Just a few weeks after I moved to town I was invited over to her condo for a cocktail party with the caveat, “they’ll all be talking about you anyway, so you might as well be there.”  Grace was the perfect hostess, the evening was full of lively conversation, delicious food, big guffaws (Pr. Krieger was there), and the most delightful Old Fashioned I’ve ever imbibed.

She wasn’t the only one who opened her home to me in my first days in Michigan.  This kind, generous couple hosted me for supper right before my interview.

Norma was on the interview committee, and she and I left their house just a minute or two late with these parting words from Norm, “You just tell them you’re late because I made you stay and drink a beer.”  I did.  Tell them that, not drink the beer, and Norm’s excuse instantly broke the ice, and calmed my nerves as I sat down with the room full of people I now happily call my friends.  I don’t know if he ever knew what a wonderful gift he gave me in that simple sentence.

The people below also gave us a great gift.  Well, to be fair, we bought it from them, but the thought, care, and maintenance they put into this house, now our home, is something for which we will always be grateful.  My apartment lease was up three weeks before our wedding, so as the final days of school were wrapping up, and our last minute wedding plans were ramping up, we threw in the purchase of a house.

We had no idea when we discovered this house with it’s custom designed pantry and spacious sunroom that the seller would be one of the music leaders of West Michigan.  We had an instant bond with them, and they graced us with their presence at our wedding, and the initials AS carved into each of the handmade kitchen cabinets still makes me smile.

Do you remember those beautiful seventh grade girls that helped me pick out my wedding dress?  Well, one of them just got engaged.  Sadly, she lost her father before he had the chance to walk her down the aisle.  Her Dad is the man on the right.

Losing part of your family is always tragic, whether it happens unexpectedly, or after a extended illness at the end of a long life.  My Grappa was able to make it to our wedding, but it was the last big event he was strong enough to attend.  He was too sick to make it to my sister’s wedding just six months later, and died a month after that.

We saw him near the end, lying thin in a hospital bed, but this is how I will remember him.

As two became one, Jerry’s family became mine, and that means that the losses of his family became mine as well.  Nearly five years ago we lost Jerry’s brother David in a single car accident, and just this year their dad died after a battle with Alzheimer’s.

The holes they leave are huge, but larger than any emptiness is the thankfulness we have for the time we had with each of these people.  They shaped our lives, brought us joy and laughter, and remind us to appreciate those still with us.

Okay, weepy sad time is over.  Let’s think back to the beginning of this post, shall we?  Happy memories.  Happy, happy, happy.  Here, just in case your mind’s eye needs a little trigger:


Glory of…..

11 Jun

The other day we were cruisin’ in the mini(van), jammin’ to A.J.’s top rated tunes and this melodic pearl sprang forth through the speakers in an insta-memory. Do you know what I mean by “insta-memory”? When some environmental happening thwacks you in the face with past sensations, emotions, and all that? Sure you do. ALSO, it being the week prior to Father’s Day I found this little insta-memory especially relevant. I love it when things work out like that.

Did you click on the link? Did you bathe yourself in the creamy sound of Peter Cetera’s power ballad? Go do it now, it’s worth it. Karate Kid II, right? Good stuff. Well, when I took my cream bath(what?) I was immediately ripped from my captain’s chair straight to the local (and by”local” I mean an hour down the road)roller skating rink. We were there for a church youth get-together. Except I wasn’t a youth. I mean, I WAS, but not officially. I was too youthful to be a youth. And my plight as a too-youthful non-youth was that I didn’t have a group of friends with whom I could flail down the rink. My parents were chaperones. My sister was a genuine youth. I was an 11th wheel (’cause that’s what it would be on a roller skate, right?). It wasn’t too bad being me, because I was always super good at butting my innocent face into Christina’s circle of friends. They didn’t mind because of my sparkling personality……

But then came couples skate. Lights were dimmed. Boys scattered to the snack stand like roaches to, well, a snack stand. Giggly Youth Girls grabbed the paw of their besty. The ivoried intro of Glory of Love sailed through speakers and crushed me. Yes, crushed me to thousands of youthful, Karate Kid II obsessed particles. My favorite song and not a soul with whom to skate.

I was leaning on the rink, watching the joy of Youth, fighting the blister of tears when my dad sought me, and grabbed my pitiful little hand. Together we clanked our wheels around that rink. Dad said silly things. I pretended that I hadn’t been crying. I shared insight into the plot intricacies of the Karate Kids. Dad pretended to be interested.

THAT’S good stuff. 20120611-141705.jpg_____________________________________________________________________________

Trial and Error

20 Feb

A week ago today I was doing my civic duty of the jury type.   I was not chosen to serve.  It was a great disappointment, because I’m one of those weird people who has always wanted jury duty.

I blame my jury desire on Mock Trial.  In High School we had an awesome Mock Trial team.  Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  We had a reasonably decent Mock Trial team.  But by the time my sister was a senior they had an awesome Mock Trial team –  Second in the State Awesome, awesome.  Then by the time our Schwester Rachel was in High School they were Super Awesome – competing at the National Level Super Awesome.

I like to think I laid the foundation for all that awesomeness.

Mrs. Rau celebrates a win, don't worry, back then a good guttural fist pull was still cool.

No, actually I don’t delude myself at all.  The Awesome Foundation for that team was our coach, Mrs. Rau.  Awesome doesn’t even really begin to cover her leadership skills.  The woman knows how to make impish, hormonal, flighty, self-centered teens focus on big tasks, work hard, and strive for superior results.

She didn’t cut us any slack, and yet at the same time she never let us appear foolish.  For me, this was a particularly important quality to have in a coach.  I’m sure you can’t possibly imagine this, but I was prone to acts of stupidity back in the day.

For instance, there was the time we arrived at a meet two hours away, only to discover I had forgotten shoes.  It wasn’t like I trekked that far in my stocking feet, but we traveled in comfy attire so as not to wrinkle our grown-up, professional, attorneyish wear.  When we donned our suits in the restrooms of the Custer County Courthouse my toes were left naked on the cold tile floor.

I don’t know what other coaches would do in this situation, but Mrs. Rau grabbed me (and not by the ear, although I’m sure she was tempted,) her purse, and the keys to the school van and off we rushed to the local TG&Y.

If you’re not from the Middle of Nowhere you’ve probably never had the TG&Y/Pamida/Alco experience.  Let me set the stage for you.  Think of Walmart*.  Now, reduce the inventory by 75% paying special attention to keep the really unusual and odd items, up the prices by 30% and add some grunge.  Now that you’re there, come down the shoe aisle.

As you can imagine, this is where you would find the really odd stuff.  But it didn’t matter, I just needed something to replace the holey Payless pleather loafers in which I shuffled.  Anything in an 8 1/2 that didn’t scream “I’m 17!” or worse, “I’m 84!,” was going to work just fine.

And then it happened – that moment when the steel-sheeted roof opened to reveal golden clouds, the fluorescent lights were replaced with a celestial glow, and the angel choruses drowned out the musak:

There were my Mock Trial Shoes.

They were gorgeous.  The unbelievable color was a deep plum that matched my boxy Mock Trial suitcoat and paisley skirt as if they were all born in the same dye lot.   The heels told all potential witnesses that their testimony was in my capable hands and feet.  The tight gold and purple knot that adorned the pumps let everyone know that when I said, “Objection”  I meant, “Objection.”

There are no pictures of the MTS. Instead, you'll have to imagine them under the bench in this doctored yearbook scan.

Mrs. Rau fronted me the exorbitant $40 and we strode out of rural retail heaven and into the awaiting trials.  My purple clad feet gave me the confidence to take on the world, or at least six other overly arrogant teenagers.

When my utilitarian Danskos and I filed into the court room last Monday, the first place I looked was to the lawyers’ shoes.  They both wore black.  Cute, but plain.  I pitied them for not having coaches as wonderful as Mrs. Rau.

Then again, maybe the Bar Exam has a No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service rule.


By Both of Us

My Top Ten

13 Feb

It’s Monday, and even though we’ve done very few Memory Dirt Road posts as of late, I’d like to travel down one today.  But today is not just any old Monday.  Nope, today is February 13.

That doesn’t mean it’s the day to panic because you don’t yet have flowers ordered or reservations placed for tomorrow.  And it’s not just the day you recuperate from partying hardy at Abe Lincoln’s B-day Bash.

In fact, as much as I think the 16th President’s birthday is worth a good hoorah, the birthday that has my eye and heart this day is that of my beloved.

But I think Lincoln would have liked my guy.

Here he is reading the constitution to our kids on the Fourth of July.  He’s not the kind of dad that puts exploding substances in the wee hands of his offspring.  He’s the kind that makes sure they understand why their crazy Mom made them pick color coordinating outfits to wear as they stand on the curb collecting tootsie rolls.

You know what else is all-American about my husband?  Apple Pie.  He doesn’t just eat them.  He makes them.

So you’ve got me on this one, it’s cherry, not apple.  It doesn’t really matter, it’s a Jerry Pie, and that makes it delicious.

And he can can.  He can’t can-can, but that’s okay.

Nope, sorry, you can’t have him.  He’s mine.  All mine.

You see, ten years ago this week we started our whirlwind romance.  It began with a dinner at Arnie’s on Feb. 11, a “Lincoln’s Birthday Present” for him the next day, an Ash Wednesday present for me on his birthday, a 7th/8th grade Valentine’s Day party, topped off with a first kiss on Feb. 15 and Voila!  By February 21 we were talking about wedding dates.

I know, hold on to your hat, right?  We were married just four months later.  It was utterly grand.

And it still is.

So, dear, sweet, husband-of-mine, thank you for the best decade of my life, and may we have many, many more decades together.


How Deadly Are Your Branches

5 Dec

My husband has brought many good things in to my life, and as we decorate our home for Christmas I always give thanks for one which has allowed me comfort and security when I’m afraid the weight of the season will crush me.  Literally.

That’s right, due to my husband’s insistence on an Answer Stand, there will be no falling Christmas trees in this house.  No matter how crooked our tree may appear, the drilled trunk is securely sitting on a long rod.  And the three lengths of rebar that steady the whole bedecked blue spruce have gone a long way in stilling my fears of all the years.

In comparison to my other justifiable childhood anxieties, (collapsing floors, open flames, more than ten people in any one location) being crushed by a Christmas tree was pretty mild.  And oddly, this phobia is in no way related to my dislike of trees, but it certainly can be traced back to a specific incident.

You see this delightfully resting early 80’s teen?

Her anonymity will remain.  For now let’s just say that we didn’t often have babysitters, but when my parents needed one it was pretty handy that my older cousin lived down the road.  And this little late-night snooze of hers was well earned, although the sneaky sleeping picture probably was a bit cruel on the part of her aunt and uncle.

No, she didn’t need to crash because her charges wore her out, or because their parents stayed out until the wee hours of the morn.  Her exhaustion is the result of an adrenaline and pine cocktail hangover.  She, and the young left in her care, were attacked by an errant, but beautifully decorated tree.

It looks so harmless, but trust me, when a prickly evergreen attacks your evening of babysitter bliss the shrieks of “O Tannenbaum!” echo in the decked halls for Christmases to come.


Rural Review

7 Nov

Here’s a chance to catch up on some of our Country Speak, in case we lose you in the middle of a system now and again:

Since understanding our isolated and unique childhood will help you to better understand us, then we had better help you understand some of the terms we throw around.  Understand?

One-Room Schoolhouse:  A misnomer.  Actually we had three rooms.  A bathroom, a porch (where we hung our backpacks and coveralls), and a classroom.  One teacher.  Grades K-6 in our case, although most others were K-8.  Not all grades were represented every year.

Country School:  The collective term for all the one- or two-room schoolhouses in the county.

Coveralls:  One-piece, army green outerwear that we donned in winter weather until the invention of snowpants.  Snowpants changed our lives.  I loved 1983.  If you had snowpants prior to that year please do not tell me about them. IMPORTANT: Coveralls are not to be confused with OVERalls. Overalls are the denim contraptions made famous by railway engineers. Coveralls were made famous by cold farmers and their cold children.

Town School:  Where town kids went to elementary school.  And where the rest of us ended up when we had finished Country School.

Town:  Ainsworth. Between 1400-1800 people depending on the census year.  Ten miles from our house, eight of which were dirt roads (see below.)

Road:  By definition roads are made of dirt.  They are covered in washboards when it is dry, and mud when it is wet.

Washboards: You know those bumpy, metal things on which pioneers washed their calico frocks? Translate that onto dirt. Make the bumps bigger, but just as hard. (This is NOT how we washed our cars.)

Rural Route: The beginning of every address for people living north of town.  (The people south of town had HC addresses.  They were weird.) Recently the state implemented a 911 system that requires actual street names.  It’s a major bummer.  I no longer know where my parents live.

Farmers: Live north of town.  Grow things like corn and pigs.  Wear caps.  Had Rural Route addresses.

Ranchers: Live south of town.  Grow things like hay and cattle.  Wear cowboy hats.  Had HC addresses.

Feed Lots:  Lots and lots and lots and lots of cows in one spot.  That’s why they’re called Lots.

Pick-up:  Not the clever line that Adam Beel used on my sister one  speech trip.  They’re what the rest of the world refers to as a “pick-up truck” or merely a “truck.”

Truck:  Differentiated from a pick-up by at least eight really bigs wheels.  Probably more.  They omit choking diesel fumes and loud metallic rumbles.  They are also responsible for washboards.

Quonset: A large semi-circular building made of corrugated steal.  Useful for storing hog feed, corn seed, trucks, and tractors; providing the only paved surface on which to ride bikes; and sliding down when the snow drifts up the outside.

Cow Tank/Cowboy Swimming Pool:  Either placed under a windmill to hold water for cows at pasture, or placed in our yard for summer water recreation.

Honey Wagon: Our self-imposed public forum ban prevents me from divulging the contents this tank-like contraption.  Know that it’s purpose was to take undisclosed contents from the pits underneath the hogsheds far away from our homestead.  If the wind was from the north it was never far enough.

Butcher Pen: You hope that I’m going to tell you that this is a writing implement that advertises our favorite meat shop.  Sorry.  It was the pen where Dad kept the pigs that, due to some physical deformity, couldn’t go to market.  We would sit on their shed and name them.  Stop it, it wasn’t that sad.

Rolling Coulter:  Pizza Cutter.  We were adults before we learned this is not  what the vast majority of Americans call the cooking utensil they use to slice their deep-dish.  A real Rolling Coulter is a sharp, wheeled object pulled behind a tractor to cultivate fields.  Farm and kitchen implements often crossed paths in our childhood.  Once my mother had me convinced I need to go borrow my uncle’s giant harvesting tractor to finish a recipe.  It said combine . . .

System:  Giant sprinkler.  They spin in a circle around fields which are, not by coincidence, planted in a circle.  Stacy and I will own this one some day:

Irrigation Ditch: There are two seasonal definitions Summer:  Big man-made ditches that bring water hundreds of miles to  fields where it is pumped into systems or brought through little ditches and tubes down the rows of corn.  AND  Fall, Winter and Spring:  nearly empty schoolyard boundaries where students can play during recess out of the sight of their teacher.  Remaining amounts of water are useful for peeing contests and ice skating.

Irrigation Ditch Road:  Roads, usually with two tracks, one for each wheel, that run along irrigation ditches.  Theoretically they are for use only by irrigation district personnel.  Theories-schmeories.

Sandhills:  Think desert dunes covered with scraggly grasses.  So, so gorgeous.

Horizon:  Many of you in the tree-littered parts of the country may have never seen one of these.  It’s where the land and sky meet.  Without trees.  Really, really pretty.

Bromegrass:  A tall golden grass that covers irrigation ditches.  If you pinch your fingers at the base of the seed head and strip them up off the stem you can make “Baby Yucca” plants.  We might have done that a few thousand times as children.  I have an entire essay about bromegrass that won an award in High School.  If my Mom didn’t accidentally throw it away when she was purging floppy disks, I’ll share it with you sometime.

Ding ding ding ding DING! We HAVE a winner!

17 Oct

So, a few weeks ago I posted this. Well, actually, I posted something entitled “Prairie BeLLS are ringing”. It makes more sense than “Prairie BellES…” doesn’t it? Sure. Why would I make such an editorial choice? What would push me to go in and CHANGE my title, thus changing the meaning of the post??!? One would think it was because I had discovered that I had misspelled the name of my beloved alma mater. And sure, that was sort of the case. One may even assume (may) that I received a belittling phone call from my sister during which she explained to me (amidst judgemental giggles) that “bells” and “belles” are not the same thing and that we were, in fact, NOT Prairie Bells. We were Prairie Belles. You know, the girls who on the Prairie did reside. Oh. That made sense. How stupid was I?!?! Quick! Change it! CHANGE IT! Before someone sees this appalling spelling snaffoo! Save yourself the embarrassment post-haste!

So that’s just what I did. Then, later that day, as I was red-facingly explaining my little error to our mom, the waters of my understanding became muddier still. See, Mom was pretty certain that I was initially correct. What? Surely not. Really, Christina has a correctness rate of about 99.823%. We, as a family, rarely give her question. But in this particular case our dear mother felt as if she could find concrete evidence proving one of her daughters fallible indeed. Dig, Mom, dig.

Well, she dug (dig it?), and produced the most beautiful little snippet of vindication I ever did see. May I present to you “District 13 – Prairie B-E-L-L School” yearbook pages for 1984-85. CHECK THESE OUT!!!!!

See? That's me in the blonde pigtails. Christina has the perm. Our Aunt Sandy gave her that perm. In her kitchen. That's Mrs. Hall. She was my first favorite teacher. She brought animal hides for show-and-tell one day. I was particularly fond of the muskrat hide.

See the Halloween picture? We are the Lion and the Flower. Apparently there was sale on large cardboard discs that year. The track meet picture? Staged. Can you believe it? And the Christmas play? Christina ALWAYS got to be Mary. Me? A shepherd. What? NOT fair.

Where My Past Meets My Present and Changes Blogs

10 Oct

Thanks to the generous flour mill lending of my fellow other-blogger Jeannette, and Super Walmart’s affordable bag of wheat berries I set out on a whole new journey last week – grinding my own flour.

For those of you who worry that this might be the very last straw – ha!  ha!  Get it?  “Straw!” – in my journey towards being a conservative-crunchy-granola-homeschooling-weirdo, fear not.  I either entered into that territory a long time ago, or I’m no where near it.  I can’t really tell.  But crunchy granola is super-duper yummy.

The tie-dyed shirt might be incriminating evidence.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what flour grinding has to do with my past, or reading classic novels.  Hold on just a second.  I’ll get there.  Just be patient.  I have to help you slowly navigate through my mind, which is a bit of a dangerous journey.

As we tore open the bag of wheat and reached into the little berries I was immediately transported back to the quonset.  You remember the quonset, right?  It was in the Rural Dictionary which you were supposed to commit to memory, so I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The quonset was where we stored pig feed.  Do you know what pigs eat?  Do you?  Have you ever really thought about it?  The answer is not ham.  Or bacon.  You’re confused.  In books pigs eat slop.  And to be sure, we did not own a garbage disposal and my family always called the one in my Gramma’s house “the electric pig,” but that is hardly the sole sustenance of the porcine species.

No, they eat grain.  I guess.  I never actually gave a lot of thought to what pig feed was until I tore open that bag of wheat and little particles floated up my nose and into my memory bank.  That wheat smelled exactly like pig feed.

I know, you’re thinking that I probably found it all very unappetizing and had to abandon my plans to become a anti-establishment, hippie, tree-hugging, unschooler who lives in a commune. Well, fear not.  I am wholly dedicated to yummy pizza crust.  Because pig feed smells good.

Again, I think you are confused.  It’s the pigs that don’t smell good.  And definitely what they turn the feed into reeks the hairs right off your nostrils.  But the pre-digested food?  That’s a smell Yankee could put in wax and burn.

The sniffing is genetic.

And it tastes good, too.  Or at least that’s what Dad always said when he tried to shock us by chewing on a pinch of the Baby Pig Food.  We learned later that the secret ingredient in that rich, black formula was molasses.  Plus, it was an excellent source of iron.

You made it this far into my scary mind journey, are you ready to go a little further and find out how this all connects to classic literature?  Well, then you’ll have to follow me, over to my other blog . . .

Are you coming?

Prairie Bell(e)s are Ringing

29 Aug

As the school year begins I often get wee bit nostalgic. (Nothing overly sentimental, mind you, but thinking back’s kind of fun, right?) My sister and I are members of a wonderful minority: country school scholars. Yep, we got our educational beginnings in a good ol’ fashioned one room schoolhouse. To be fair, our school had 3 rooms (bathroom, coat room, classroom), but it wasn’t much larger than most middle class living rooms (those of you living in fairytale castles – picture your closet).  And every year at this time we were drooling with school year anticipation.

District 13. Prairie Belle School. Isn't that a sweet name for a school? It was ours.

Usually we would take a late summer pilgrimage to Norfolk (or sometimes Grand Island if we were feeling fancy) to go school shopping. Once laden with new jeans, tennis shoes, pencil boxes, and backpacks (if we were lucky) we patiently twiddled our thumbs until the first day of school. And, oh!, the wait was painful. There is almost nothing to this day that ignites nervous anticipation in my heart like the first day of school. Would I get to hang my coat on a high hook like the wiser students? How would Mrs. Hall arrange the desks? Would there be new contact paper on the class table? What games would be popular at recess? Would it be too hot to wear my new jeans? Would my schoolmates (all 3 to 6 of them) remember me? Had anyone gotten a new hairdo over the summer? What would my classroom job be? SO MANY QUESTIONS! And all would be answered in that one day. I might go so far as to say that the first day of school was the BEST day of school, but jumping to extremes leads me to abandon Halloween, Christmas pageant day, Field Trip day, and Valentine’s day. It’s a close race, folks.

The sleepless nights and elevated heart rates were all worth it on that first day. Armed with a fresh box of Kleenex (usually generic), a bag full of unmarred supplies, and a Care Bear lunch box (or was it Strawberry Shortcake? Smurfs? Christina, help me out here) we would trepidatiously enter that stucco learning fortress. Our school had a wonderful smell. The scents of bromegrass, cornfield, chalk, powdered tempura paint, construction paper, and mouse droppings combined to form a comforting olfactory cocktail that culled academic prowess from our pores. (Don’t question it.) As we slowly inhaled, gazed around our beloved building, and found our seats, we found ourselves – that crumble of a piece that had been missing all summer.

I’m saddened that these rural institutions are largely things of the past. I’m desperate for my own children to have the same experiences of school that were given to Christina and me and a few lucky others. But, as with so many things, their experiences will be different from mine – their memories just as sweet.