Exhaling: Old Age, Hearing Aids & All That
July 14, 2010 by lmorgan
By Lori Krause
Old age, I’ve decided is something that descends on us without much warning. Eyesight grows dim, hearing lessens, and the aches and pains of today were not there yesterday. Days go by so fast they’re a blur. Woke up one birthday morning and felt very old. Couldn’t bring myself to even say the birthday number for months, and here it is, getting nearer each day to the next number.
Caught myself having these thoughts this weekend as I watched my grandson-in-law try to put his baby boy to sleep. Six-month-old great-grandson was lying on his blanket on the floor by the couch, and his Dad was soothing him. Déjà vu hit me like a truck, as I recalled putting the mother of that child to sleep about 30 years ago in that exact same spot, in the very same manner.
This father and son were part of our family gathering over the 4th of July weekend with 30 present. It was a lot of work, but all worth it when I see the cousins having a good time. Hopefully when they leave, they take some good memories with them. But the weariness, aches, and pains stay with me longer than they once did. It takes a lot more time to get the house in order again, and the laundry done. The noise level reaches quite a peak on days like that. I could probably have heard most of it even without my hearing aid.
Good thing the weather cooperated and we were able to be outside! They were definitely having a good time, and it’s fun to hear all the chatter and laughter.
Many people wear earphones all day listening to music or whatever. When I walk in the morning, I meet people like that, but personally, I like to hear the crunch of gavel under my feet, and I want to hear the beep of that car horn behind me so I can get out of the way of traffic. The birds chirping help put me in a good mood for the day.
The church clock peals out it’s number and tells me I’m moving slower, and should go faster to make my walk more worthwhile.
After more than 60 years, the era of Rosenblatt Stadium is coming swiftly to an end. It really doesn’t bother me all that much, since I’ve never attended a game there; just saw it from a distance. But people in Omaha, and frequent attendees, as well as the teams that came to play, feel like a piece of their world has come to an end – and rightly so. We all experience things like that in our lifetime. But Rosenblatt is no big deal to me. In fact, I’m still wondering why the city planners felt the necessity to tear it down and build another at such great expense. I’m getting more than a little tired of reading about it in the OWH day after day, week after week. Several times special sections of page after page in the paper have been devoted to the memories, the pictures, the events and etc. etc. I don’t think there was nearly this much ‘woe is me’ stuff when Aksarben came down, which, in my opinion, was more important than Rosenblatt. Maybe I feel that way because I had some good memories from there.
The feeling of loss concerning Rosenblatt probably compares to the loss of King’s Ballroom in Norfolk. People from all the surrounding small towns came to enjoy the Big Band era there for years, and I’m sure there were many tears shed when it burned down, including my own.
We recently had another type of loss in our little town. Our parish priest of only five short years has been assigned to another parish and will be replaced with someone most of us have never seen. It’s with great difficulty that we must let go of the familiar, to say goodbye to one that has become an integral part of our lives and citizenry, and accept without reservation the new. He will be missed greatly, and takes with him a small bit of each of our hearts.
A totally different kind of loss, and one of much greater magnitude than any of those mentioned, is happening in our area with people losing their homes, personal possessions, and crops from all the flooding. A part of their lives go with each destroyed item.
The destruction of the old swinging bridge across the Elkhorn River in Neligh’s park is a small piece of many people’s world coming to an end. It’s been there as long as I can remember. It was a thrill to walk across it. My children and grandchildren experienced the same delight. It was unique, and I hate to think of it being gone forever, as it most likely will be.
As I grow older I realize that more and more pieces of “my world” are passing into oblivion.
In the years to come, most everything once known or cherished may be gone, no longer relevant to the world of the young.
And with each new parish Pastor I wonder if this is the one who will say Mass for my funeral. Now, that’s a sobering thought.
So maybe it’s time to count my blessings rather than dwell on any of my losses.
There’s always a good feeling after that first mowing of the spring, after the rains stop for a while and the grass seems to have grown several inches overnight. Everything is jagged in growth. But after that sharp-edged machine makes everything equal, it’s so nice to sit in the patio swing to rest, and relish the beauty and scent of a freshly mowed lawn.
This year I noticed something new growing in the part of the empty lot we take care of - tiny little purple flowers. I’m not sure what they are or how they got there. But they look like, and remind me of, the wild sweetpeas that inhabited our meadow when we lived on the farm. They were low enough, even after mowing, to remain a patch of lovely lavender.
Meadows, does anyone actually call any part of ground a meadow any more? I suppose it may be the same as a pasture, but meadow sounds so peaceful. Our farm meadow lay next to a creek and was an ideal place to play. Most of the time the water trickled no more than calf-deep through the shade trees, and was so clear you could see brightly colored stones on the bottom. They were great for collecting, as were the tadpoles that wiggled their way close to the shore. All kinds of wild flowers grew among the tall grasses in that meadow. I found out that the roots of the sweet peas really are sweet to the taste, and that all that multi-colored growth looks beautiful in a mason jar filled with water. Anyway, that’s what our Mother said.
And our meadow was soft, not bristly like the pasture. The meadow was perfect to run through barefoot during the summer, but we still went barefoot to get the cows in for milking from the pasture – just had to be careful where we walked. The younger ones in my family, which included me, played in that meadow and creek a lot. Sometimes I wonder if our Mother ever worried about us or even thought where we were. I suppose she did but it definitely wasn’t a concern for us.
Summers seemed so much longer back then - lazy, carefree days of no school and the only organized games were the ones we dreamed up. After a heavy rain the barren ground outside the fenced in yard would be packed solid enough to make a wonderful canvas for our artwork drawn with a stick. They lasted until someone drove some machinery over them. The days seemed hotter too, and made us deliciously lazy.
Now, most of my summer days are measured by how many times the lawn needs to be mowed. Don’t appreciate the sight and scent as much after that first mowing. And I’m beginning to wonder if these spring rains are ever going to stop – making mowing an endless job. But I hope my little patch of lavender survives, so it can continue to remind me of first mowings, sweet meadows, stubbly pastures, and lazy summer days.
Memorial Day already - that signifies the end of May - one whole month of our summer gone. But on this weekend, everyone seems to take extra effort to make everything look really nice for this Holiday. The cemetery is mowed; lush green lawns around town are trimmed beautifully; flowers are placed on graves; flags are waving in the breeze. And we have a great band to play our favorite patriotic songs.
All this brings back a Memorial Day I will never forget – never CAN forget is more like it, no matter how hard I try. It happened a long time ago, shortly after my friend and I had just learned to play the guitar. I’m not sure if the band couldn’t show up to play, or if the director had left for another school, or what, but for some unknown reason, someone asked my friend and I to play and sing a couple patriotic songs out at the cemetery.
At this point we kinda looked at each other, both wondering how far down on the list we were of people to ask, but anyway, we reluctantly said we would do it. You must realize that this was at the beginning of our playing and singing “career,” and that the only “gig” we had ever done was playing in church, where we believed God wouldn’t mind our inexperience. Add to this our lack of knowledge in playing patriotic songs. Now, as we all know, our ceremonies have always been at Park Center (9:00 in the morning) and 11:00 here in Elgin. That meant getting up quite early – 7:00 at least on a morning both of us, I’m sure, would much rather have been sleeping in.
Most Memorial Days are hot and windy; maybe a few are cold. But this Memorial Day was one straight from hell. Getting up at 7:00 a.m. and seeing snow flurries blowing around was not a welcome sight. The snow gradually diminished, as did the temperature. Bound up in a winter coat with the hood up, wearing gloves, we traveled out to Park Center. Needless to say, not too many people showed up there. But we still had to take off our gloves to be able to play. You may not know this, but cold weather is death to a guitar trying to stay in tune.
We huddled as close to the little microphone as we possibly could, but the North wind was so strong, I’m sure it whipped our two-part harmony into Boone County. If anyone heard any of it, I’d be surprised. (Maybe that was a good thing.)
Well, we breathed a sigh of relief; we were halfway done, and now back to Elgin. Conditions were just as bad in Elgin, but the crowd was bigger. By this time our fingers were near frozen, and our voices hurt from the cold air. We re-tuned our guitars several times, but with those conditions they went out faster than we could get them back in. We were exhausted and thankful when the ordeal was over.
And, I don’t know, but maybe everybody else felt the same way. I do know, however, no one ever asked us to do it again.
Graduation time again and somewhere, some speaker is going to tell the graduates that they can go out into the world and be anything they want to be. Well, in my opinion, that’s a very untrue statement. We are all hemmed in physically, intellectually, socially, and financially. A lady once told about her granddaughter who was getting a costume ready for Halloween. She said the little girl wanted to be a Princess, but she didn’t have a crown. That statement has stuck with me, and is so true when comparing things we want to do to things we can do. I think we must admit that there are things out of our grasp.
When working at school, I saw plenty of “senioritis” – seniors who so wanted to be on their own, yet in that last semester becoming terrified to step out of that role of school student. It takes great courage to start something new, and we are required to do it over and over in our lifetime. Seems we “graduate” again and again. We must either move forward or we go backward – there’s no standing still.
Perhaps a better motto to live by is the Army’s slogan – “be all you can be.” Don’t ever be afraid to step off the beaten path to try something new. You’ll find out soon enough whether it’s going to work for you.
Growing older doesn’t seem to help a whole lot – except in the fact that after awhile “what people think” doesn’t matter so much. There was a time when I thought I was too old for anything new. Applying for that job I had at school for so long was not an easy thing for me to do. It had been at least 15 years since I had even seen a typewriter, least of all an electric typewriter. Now you know how ancient I am and how antique my world was. Believe me, I was petrified. But with a very patient boss, I re-learned quickly all those things I had once known, and went on to learn all the new things that bombarded us at that time. The age of technology had arrived.
Learning to play the guitar at age 40 was another task that made me shake in my shoes. The first time our little quartet played and sang in church, I’m not sure our fingers ever moved off that beginning chord. It was a new first for all of us.
And now, here I am, writing a column for a newspaper that many people read. During those first few weeks I had more stomachaches and less sleep than I had known for a long time. It still bothers me sometimes. Whenever we stick our neck out to try something new, there’s always a bit of fear. But “graduates” of all times can’t stop trying new things – it just might turn out to be wonderful. There’s a need in us to be all we can be – but if we want to be a princess, we definitely need more than a crown.
When Mother’s Day comes around, I can’t help thinking of my Mother-in-Law also. I knew my Mother for 37 years and my Mother-in-law for 38 years. No wonder she was so dear to me. Most people who knew her probably remember her as a stern, austere lady. She was very exacting in the jobs she held for over 40 years. There were some who told me I would never get along with her. She didn’t mince words and spoke her mind, even to me, but we definitely did get along well together, and I think I loved her as much as her son. From the first moment she knew I was going to be her daughter-in-law she took me into her heart as a daughter.
She was skilled in both sewing and needlework, and made many of the treasures that I have kept or use today. She was also a fantastic cook and was once described as “second to none.” Though her worldly possessions were meager, she gave me some very precious gifts. First and foremost she gave me unconditional love. She also gave me an example of faith that deepened my own. She taught me that when you love someone you work as hard as you can to try and make life better for them, even if it meant passing out on a sweltering summer night at 3:00 a.m. after bending over a steaming stove in a beastly hot kitchen canning garden produce.
In today’s world, the word Mother-in-law often brings to mind negative jokes and images. She definitely didn’t fit that profile. She was always there for me through good times and bad. She made my wedding dress; she babysat many times even though she had to get up to go to work the next day. She was so much more than the traditional Mother-in-law. She was my friend, my mentor, and my confidant. She more than filled the loss after my own mother died many years before she did.
She was the first one I wanted to tell any news that happened in our family and I catch myself still wanting to do that to this day. We laughed together and cried together.
She adored our children and thought they were the closest things to perfection on this earth. They felt the same way about her. She was tough as nails and the only time I saw her show any sort of weakness - the only time it was evident – was when our little girl died. I think if I could have one wish granted, it would be that I could be more like her and that everyone could have someone as dear in his or her life.
When she told me the story of her passing out at 3:00 a.m., I asked her why she had worked so hard, done so much more than I thought maybe was necessary, and she said, “I don’t know. I just thought it had to be done, so I did it.” I’m writing this tribute in memory of a very dear lady because I just thought it had to be done, so I did it.
I received a ‘Thank You’ note from a grandson recently. Not a text message, not an email, but an actual card with his thoughts written on it. How pleasant to receive a concrete written note from someone I love dearly that I can put in my packet of keepsakes and look at again and again and appreciate.
There was a time when personal letters actually outnumbered the junk mail and penmanship was important.
My mother would hold the precious red white and blue edged envelopes from my brothers in the service to her heart before the seal was broken. They were read and re-read by the whole family and then tied up with ribbon or string and saved in a special drawer.
One of my brothers sent me a pair of those famous “Japanese pajamas” while he was in the service. I still have them, never worn. The small note he wrote remains inside the case. Not many words, but a very precious gift since he is no longer here.
I have two large shoeboxes of cards I’ve received over the years, and that’s probably a small percentage of the number that I’ve actually received. Our children are great with cards, as is husband, and they include a handwritten note. Most of them are so beautiful – or witty - I don’t have the heart to throw them away.
After retirement I found I had lots of empty time on my hands so I wrote letters to my sister-in-law who didn’t have a computer. She said it was better than a phone call because she could read those letters over and over at her leisure and how good it was to see something personal amid the usual pile of third class mail. I felt the same way when I received her responses. When she became very ill, I knew how difficult it was for her to write and I miss them now that she is gone.
This town saw many dear ones leave us this past winter. But most of them left me with memories - whether it was the one who wished me “good morning” sitting on his porch while I walked by, or someone I shared “coffee” with after daily Mass. It may be the one who checked out my groceries in the store many years ago, or the person who stood on the top riser in the choir loft always ready with a hearty handshake at “peace time.” And how can I forget the first lady I knew that was from Elgin, or the dear lady who I shared more than one beer with while she told her stories of long ago or ones to make me laugh.
And now that they are gone these memories serve as a tribute to these cherished human beings because as long as their family and friends live they’ll never be forgotten. Our town becomes smaller and smaller while the empty spot that remains in the heart of it grows bigger. Whether they were young or old, in our past or present life, part of the family or just a friend – they are remembered.
It finally looks like winter is over and summer is here. Yes, summer. Nebraska has a way of doing that – skipping both spring and fall – my two favorite seasons. Hate it when it’s too cold and hate it when it’s too hot. I also hate to wash windows but come spring, some say it’s a must. Of all household tasks, washing windows is the worst and the one most unnecessary in my book. But when winter is over and everyone in the neighborhood and beyond are out washing those windows I start feeling guilty. If I had windows that were easy to wash, it wouldn’t be so bad. Mine require that I put up a stepladder outside on very uneven turf, struggle up to that third or fourth step making my fear of heights kick in, and then feel like I’m going to be walking on air at any moment as everything tilts.
But first of all I have to get the screens off. Standing inside the house while trying to get those two little prongs pulled out at the same time using all the strength I have in both hands, with very little space to work in, and hanging on to the screen until it unexpectedly comes loose, I usually end up dropping it to the ground outside, banging my head on the window frame, and having my feet slide out from under me. This continues from room to room.
Outside while trying to balance myself on a little step and overcome my fear of heights, and eyeing the menacing rocks below, I gingerly apply cleaning solution with cloth. It’s about at this time that I’ve either dropped the bottle of cleaning solution from grabbing the ladder out of fear or the ladder has actually started to shift and the pail or bottle has fallen off spilling the contents. You’d think by now I’d learn a smarter way to do this. By this time the sun has advanced across the sky and I have to move somewhere that’s in the shade. Our house really doesn’t have a lot of windows, but by the time I’m done I’m sure at least several days have passed. If not in reality, then surely the tense moments make it seem so.
When the job is finally finished I should rejoice. But by this time it has probably rained during the night, or our famous Nebraska wind has blown dust over everything, at which point I enforce my reasoning that this task is unnecessary. I have actually vowed that I’m never going to wash windows again – just pull the curtains together a little closer or draw the blinds a little tighter – but guilt creeps in again and I can never follow through with that.
I have a saying done in lovely calligraphy pinned to my bulletin board – “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” I remember the nuns often telling us that in school. I’m hoping and praying that it really doesn’t directly refer to my windows, or I’m in deep doo-doo.
Lately everyone downtown is talking about the wonderful “fish fries” that have been springing up in our area lately. People travel for many miles just to attend them. And I sat there thinking, just leave it to the Catholics to think up ways of making money no matter the when or where. You’d think we couldn’t eat fish any other time of the year. Lent comes along and all of a sudden everyone in the whole community is crazy about fish. One local fry was expecting 500 people. That’s pretty staggering considering our dwindling population.
The lines may be long and the mud deep but it doesn’t stop the crowds from coming. And Catholics never miss the added opportunity of selling tickets for a raffle or a chance on a prize while people stand in line.
Long ago Catholics were not supposed to eat meat on any Friday but I don’t ever recall anyone saying, “Oh goody, it’s Friday and we get to eat fish.” It was more like big moans and groans that we couldn’t have meat. And here it is, Lent, a time that is meant to be reserved for fasting and penance. Instead we stuff ourselves with fish, potatoes, vegetables, an array of salads, plus dessert. I’m sure that’s more than most of us eat any other time of the year on a Friday (unless it’s Christmas). One of the things we have plenty of in this community is food along with people who have great imaginations on how to serve it and the willingness to work endlessly on the best way to sell it.
There’s the big auctions, silent ones and live ones at which we throw caution to the wind and pay $45 bucks for a plate of peanut bars (husband was hungry) or a bottle of homemade wine. Throw in a few pies or cheesecakes at $75 each and we’re on our way to a very gala event. Those cooks know how to tempt a hungry crowd! Surely that was the reason the new endeavor for a fundraiser was the well-attended “cooking demonstrations.” I did miss this one mainly because I think this old dog is way beyond the age to learn new tricks. Can’t see myself changing from doing it “my way.”
I feel like I can say all these things because I’m one of those Catholics who love to indulge in the fish fries and most everything else that come along. I mean - it’s a great way to get out of having to cook! Plus I sort of look at it like gambling – rather than throw my money away to a rich Casino, I’d rather give it away for a good reason doing God’s work. These fundraisers will continue no matter what time of the year because there will always be plenty of benefits to support.
Besides, there’s something very special about a community joining together to enjoy good food and raise money for a worthy cause at the same time, no matter what it is. Bon Appetit!
Read in the paper the other day that millions of dollars go unclaimed with the use of gift cards and with my latest experience of online shopping, I now understand how. Received gift cards to Barnes and Nobel for my birthday, which was way back in October. Since the nearest store is in Omaha, thought it would be much simpler just to order online. Now, this being my first time at ordering this way I found out it is anything but simple. I’m sure it took longer searching for something to buy and trying to check out than driving to and from Omaha.
In my first attempt the order didn’t total the amount of the gift cards, but after three hours of searching, decided to go with what I had selected and use the rest another day. I had three gift cards, and for what I ordered, needed all three, with some money left over. Now, I’m sure using a gift card for most people is a simple procedure. There I go again using that word simple. I’m inclined to believe that a first experience in anything for this old lady is not simple. After putting three 15 digit numbers into the computer at least five times and having the computer reject them, finally called the company and asked what I was doing wrong. Seems there’s a blacked out bar on the back that one has to scratch off to find the PIN number. Oh - well, gee whiz, why don’t these things come with instructions?
Later an email arrived saying one item was no longer available, which meant more credit left. So back online I went assuring myself it would take no more than a half hour. After all, this time I’d be an experienced shopper! About two hours later I find they have no clue there is credit on my gift cards. Phoning again, I talked to a live person. Well, I think he was alive, just totally dense.
After an hour of being nice and repeating the same information and those 15 digit numbers over and over I finally raised my voice. He responded to my anger by saying, “I think I’ll let you talk to my superior.” Superior told me it would take a couple days.
Wouldn’t you think workers in an accounting department would have seen a situation like this before – like maybe from other people who wondered where their money went! Then I received an email saying I hadn’t completed my order in seven days so it was cancelled. What happened to the correction that was to take place in two days? I went ballistic. Determined to not become one of those people making up the million-dollar loss, being nice was no longer an option. I wrote a really nasty email. Then, after I waited another week with no response, decided to check my status again and lo and behold, the gift cards were once again active. Glad I didn’t call again. Now, wasn’t that simple!
Attended the Baptism of a new great-grandchild a couple weeks ago. He was born six days before Christmas, a first born for this couple. Who could ask for a more perfect gift, especially after a very trying wait? Many members from both sides of the family were there, doing their share of “oohing” and “aahing” over the beauty of new life. He slept through the whole thing – being passed around into all those unfamiliar hands - through the whole ceremony – and getting his picture taken at least a hundred times. He even endured the not so gentle pats of his little almost two-year-old cousin. He entered a new phase in his very young life, creating five generations, accepting the faith of his family, and becoming part of a very large family – and he couldn’t have cared less.
The priest explained every aspect of this Baptism in great detail and brought out the importance of setting a good example – stating it’s the first and best way a child learns to accept his faith and a way of life. I’m sure every person there (in particular, me) had thoughts of inadequacy in rearing their own children and a desire to do better with this child. After the Baptism we all shared a meal. The different families got to know each other better and once again we all enjoyed the beginning of new life.
Earlier that same morning a group of married people was honored in our church, celebrating marriages from 10 years to 67. What a living example of sacrifice and forgiveness, of honoring the vows of “in sickness and health,” and “in good times and bad.” After Mass coffee and rolls were served, with people enjoying conversation and friendship and everyone once again celebrating many years of marriage. With so many TV sitcoms depicting the exact opposite I would think it leaves many of our young people very confused in their life choices. Their idols and example-setters seem to be dominated by sports figures, musicians, and movie stars whose activities are splattered all over the news. And the tellers of these tales seem to wallow in the joy of telling it.
As we drove home in foggy weather, at times the road was dim in front of us. I thought about the two celebrations we had witnessed that day, and the contrast between the ages in the lives of the celebrants. One life was just beginning, the others closer to the end and yet I noted the sameness of them in how foggy and dim the future always is. When we got married over 50 years ago we had no idea where a dim future would take us. And that baby that I had just held in my arms sleeping so peacefully has no idea where life is going to take him or what kind of a world he was born into or will grow up in. He will need all of those family members for good examples and the only common denominator will be faith.
On a recent morning, a young man sang “What a Wonderful World” to a privileged group of ladies who had just finished exercising. He sang of blue skies, green fields and all good things. You might say what’s so special about that. But this young man is blind and has never seen the beautiful colors or the wonderful world he sang about; he just trusts they are there.
So many changes have taken place in our world in the past decade it makes me wonder about the wonderful part. Here it is, 2010. Where has the time gone? Such a cliché question, but one so true, can’t help saying it. Technology alone has left me in the dust. I don’t text, twitter, tweet, blog, or have a facebook. My computer is ten years old. I barely use a cell phone. And I haven’t a clue to the extent advanced technology has been implemented into the business world. I only know that we are warned daily of identity theft, that when calling a company about anything, nothing talks to me except machines, and I rarely touch money ‘cause everything is credit card, debit card or wishful thinking. We saw terrorist threats become reality and totally change our society and our economy has been like a yoyo. The world is predicted to end in 2012 because some say we have done everything that can be done to ourselves. Watch the news on TV or read a newspaper often enough and we might all agree with that.
The end of the year brought the worst snowstorm of the decade. Although the ice storm three years ago was worse in the fact that we lost electricity during that. We were one of the few who had heat and the neighbors stayed with us for a couple days. Pooling food and playing cards by lamplight was kinda fun but all the inconveniences got old really fast. But this snowstorm prevented us from ever celebrating Christmas this year. One thing led to another until I finally thought, “forget it!!!” Plan B is for the 4th of July.
But on the positive side, look at what Nebraska football has done. We looked like our old selves in the bowl game. As lopsided as the game was I still enjoyed every minute of it. And on a more personal level, this decade saw ten of our 16 grandchildren graduate from high school, become adults and move on into jobs. New owners took over our town’s newspaper and gave me the opportunity to become a columnist, something that hit totally out of the blue.
But all in all, this hasn’t been the most wonderful of decades for our world. And maybe just for a bit I’d like to look at the world with my eyes closed to all the evil, to the things I can’t understand, and the events I can do nothing about and see only the good things - just trusting everything to the hands of a power greater than all of us. Then too maybe I will sing “What a Wonderful World.”
One More Christmas to Remember A couple weeks ago four of us were in the sacristy of our church before Mass started. We chatted about how hectic the days were, and all agreed we’d love to just skip Christmas. I didn’t doubt that many others felt the same way. But when this raging blizzard passed through and I saw our wishes of not “having Christmas” becoming reality I felt a twinge of guilt and thought, “God, I didn’t really mean it!”
On Christmas day as I watched the wind blow and the snow swirl, thoughts of the greatest gift we received this year filled my mind. A new healthy great grandson joined our family just six days before Christmas. There had been some complications earlier so we lit candles, prayed and worried along with the Mom and Dad the whole time. But he’s perfect and the most precious of all gifts.
Memories of other Christmases floated by in the wind and snow. Growing up with many brothers and sisters and little money, gifts were very few. Just a scarce bag of candy was greeted with great enthusiasm. The most memorable Christmas of childhood was when I was about five years old and my sister and I discovered two little doll beds hidden under our brother’s bed a few days before the Big Day. My belief in Santa was so entrenched, that when they showed up under the Christmas tree, I didn’t even question their appearance. It wasn’t until years later that I realized those crude little doll beds were built by my 15-year-old brother and that made them one of the greatest gifts ever.
Watching small children open gifts and viewing Christmas from their wonder-filled and Santa-believing eyes is the best of times, whether it was my own children, grandchildren or now great grandchildren. I think my second daughter’s world was about destroyed when she found out the truth about Santa. It was earlier in the summer when she caught me putting money in a glass from the “tooth fairy.” She gasped and sputtered, “I suppose there’s no Santa either!”
Another great Christmas was the year husband shocked me by buying me a guitar. Saturday night Masses began to be observed in our church in the late ‘70’s and I was determined to start having music at these Masses, as there was none at that time. With the help of our assistant priest, I and a couple other ladies, learned to play the guitar and it opened a wonderful new door for me that has lasted over 30 years. It was a rather lonely Christmas this year, none of our family could get here and even though we talked long on the phone, it couldn’t quite make up for the lack of their presence. It was a bit depressing and not one of the best Christmases, but definitely one that will be remembered. Oh, the stories that will be told and rival with ones from the 48-49 blizzard! One of my daughters put it into perspective when she said, “December 25th is just a day, and not even an accurate day of Christ’s birth. The real Christmas lives in our hearts every day.”
‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the town
People were hurrying and scurrying and wearing a frown.
Dean was stockpiling turkeys and hams by the dozen
He had enough food for every uncle, aunt or cousin.
Some wine with the repast would taste mighty fine
Surely Dianne at City Limits would have the right kind.
People gathered at the Steed or Jessie’s Boomerang
Tom and Stacey suggest gift cards to give your whole gang.
Carolyn and Dianne showed shelves of gifts so new
While pharmacists were filling ‘scripts for a calming pill or two.
Bank girls were checking accounts as Dave paced the floor.
So much money going out, he wanted deposits to be more.
Doctors Dilly, Sharon and Kramer were doing their best
To keep everyone healthy, to tell each get enough rest.
Nurse Jacque is there too, with her loving and caring
Soothing patient’s fears with kindness not sparing.
Dr. Williams is busy cleaning teeth and filling cavities.
Too many sweets is the problem for most patients he sees.
Karen, Milly and Autumn work to make hair curly or straight.
Everyone wants to look good so the beauticians work late.
Dennis and Lynell labor long putting out the “Reviews.”
Don’t want us to miss a story, an ad or party news.
The Payne’s at the Station and Jenny at One Stop -
Ready with food and gas so you can shop ‘til you drop.
Shane at Blue Rose will stay open ‘til “whenever”
To make sure you are fed is his daily endeavor.
If you need some repairs before the Big Day arrives
Alan will be right over – on fixing things he thrives.
Janet is pondering what next she can build
Surely her stocking from Santa will be more than filled.
Sandy checks your mail’s postage; she may check it twice.
Mark and Duane will deliver through rain, snow or ice.
‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the town
Santa was reviewing his list, checking addresses up and down.
We need not worry he’ll miss us the Eve of Christmas day.
He’ll see us from the sky; Donna’s house will light the way.
“Tis the week before Christmas, my shopping is done.
So I’ll try to calmly await the coming of the Son.
And listen to church and school choirs sing of Christ’s birth
Praying He’s allowed in the heart of everyone on earth.
One way you can tell that harvest season is well under way in this community is by all the corn dust flying in the air. The wind picks it up from the fields and the dryers and blows it everywhere. It must wreak havoc with my allergies as my head and nose are stuffed up for days on end. But that’s a small price to pay I guess for a bountiful crop.
The harvest season also brings about this area’s delicious fall meals. The Methodist church’s supper seems to always be the kick off. This of course is followed by soup suppers everywhere – Raeville, Clearwater, Neligh and beyond. It culminates in St. Boniface’s Thanksgiving day dinner. All of these are times of celebrating a summer of hard work and a fall of gathering in the fruits of all that labor. It’s tradition and it’s family time – our own small families plus a parish family and on to our community family.
With all the rain we had earlier it felt like putting your life at risk if you mentioned it to a farmer. So I hope the good weather we’re having now is enough to make up for the bad and that everybody makes a bunch of money. Even though I grew up on a farm I don’t think I ever quite realized how unpredictable the outcome of a crop could be. But we certainly never wanted for food. There were a lot of other things we didn’t have, but there was always garden produce, beef, pork and chicken all seasons of the year.
And of course we milked cows. Well, I shouldn’t say ‘we’ because that did not include me. Since I was second to the youngest my job in the morning was making school lunches for five people. There was always homemade bread so this meant slicing it. I really wonder what some of those sandwiches were like – probably a good thing I don’t remember. I hated that job and always slept as late as I could. The scent of bacon frying was what usually got me up.
My Mom always cooked extra potatoes the day before so she would have some to fry for breakfast the next morning. She did this for my Dad and older brothers and always made bacon and eggs for them also. No matter how early I got up, I always missed out on the bacon. It would be all gone and the men out doing chores by the time I came downstairs. It must have taken awhile for that delicious aroma to waft upstairs to the bedrooms. I don’t recall what I ate for breakfast – probably a bowl of oatmeal. But maybe that’s all I had earned.
In this time of the year with all these wonderful home cooked meals prepared, we feast on so many good things and have an abundance to be thankful for – and there is no need for me to rue the day I missed out on the bacon.
Halloween has come and gone – but the candy calories remain and a remembered evening that always leaves me a little confused. The costumes are elaborate and no doubt expensive. And I’m sure the kids know who they’re supposed to be, but for the most part, this oldster sure doesn’t. Compare that to no cost and my kids rummaging in the closets to find whatever there was to be found to make them look scary. A little face paint and they were good to go. And of course, no matter what the costume is, they’ll come home laden down with a bag filled with candy.
As I sat waiting for the next group to ring the doorbell I had time to think about the difference in the way parents feel on this scary night. Way back when, there were few safety issues. Big kids took care of the little kids. They went in large groups. Cars weren’t everywhere because most of the kids were walking. They had to be back home at a certain time. They were allowed to grow up without adults hovering over their every move. Did I fear that my kids were going to be harmed or abducted? Absolutely not. Kids still come in groups but they all travel in vehicles to get here. Today’s parents know the world isn’t that safe place they knew when they were that age.
This safety net carries over to our schools and I think of this every time I sit in the entrance office of St Boniface Elementary with all the doors locked. I sit there sensing the presence of God from the church next door and from the many religious items scattered about the school and it all feels so safe and peaceful. It’s probably much harder for me to accept all these safety measures than it is for the students.
Heard bomber jets flying over again the other night. Hearing those planes roar across the sky at different times of the day and night does not make me feel safer at all. In fact, they strike a moment of terror in me as they simply remind me of why they are up there.
Fall is my favorite season except that it is much too short. To me it’s the most peaceful season, watching nature’s bounteous summer pass into oblivion with no objection. I don’t like the idea that fall passes so quickly and that the peace ends abruptly with Nebraska’s winter.
Coming home from downtown recently, deliberately walking where the fallen leaves had gathered in piles, I relished hearing them crunch beneath my feet.
Raking all those leaves into a pile with my kids’ help, watching them play and scatter them all over again, then finally burning them down near the street is a memory totally from another era. The whole town smelled deliciously of burning leaves and roasted marshmallows. How carefree life was when they were growing up. How peaceful and safe.
Celebrated a milestone birthday last week. Tried very hard to ignore it but it just wouldn’t go away. Knew husband had been rummaging in the picture box because it was a total mess. The thought of which picture he was trying to find and what embarrassing wit he was thinking up to go along with it was enough to add to my rising blood pressure. But seeing it published in the paper, broadcasting the ‘news’ to the entire world was actually hilarious. (Husband has always been known for his witty remarks) No matter how we slice it, there are few good things about growing old.
When we were young many times we went out and partied till the wee hours of the morning and always had bacon and eggs with friends before the night ended. Now I get up in the small hours of the morning, head for the bathroom, and then since I can’t get back to sleep have dry toast and oatmeal for breakfast.
Gone are the carefree days when going to the doctor meant either I was pregnant or because of a not very serious ache or pain. A prescription was the “no refills” kind and I was back to work the next day. Now there are all these tests to insure my wellness and to help me stay that way. The main problem with that is they always seem to find something wrong and add a pill to my daily intake.
Gone also are the days when I didn’t have time to think a whole lot about the world situation. It was tough enough just living life from one day to the next. Now I feel like I don’t want to know about the world situation – things have just changed too much, too fast and gotten too bizarre. Read the other day that Hungary selected a Miss Plastic – she had the most and best plastic surgery. Now, that ranks right up there in “bizarre” with all the TV reality shows in my opinion.
Gone is the time cooking for a family generally involved mass production at the least cost. Thinking about fat and cholesterol didn’t come to mind. Cholesterol was not in my doctor’s vocabulary at that time. Now, that’s all I think about – low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium –low taste.
But there actually were highlights to this momentous birthday. I partied with the “girls” – they didn’t let me down. They remembered my birthday – or was it more like they wouldn’t let me forget it. Husband was right there like always with gifts – he never forgets.
And one of the biggest highlights of this eventful birthday - my favorite (and only) son traveled many miles to spend our birthdays together. He was born on my birthday many years ago and we were both born on Friday the 13th. Receiving the gift of a son on my birthday definitely destroyed the myth that Friday the 13th is unlucky. But I guess in reality, all birthdays are special days – I know I can thank God I’m still kickin’.
Got a new cell phone not too long ago. We had the first one for a long time in cell phone age. It was rather big and bulky, and all it did was receive calls and send calls. Simple, that’s all I needed. Then my grandson told me I had an antique. He was right. When the battery went dead for the last time, I couldn’t rePlace — it.
So we bought a track-phone with pre-paid minutes since it was a lot cheaper than paying a monthly fee for something we rarely used. We had that until the year was up (they told me) and they wouldn’t renew it without a bunch more money and a new phone. I must say that was the fastest year I’ve ever lived so didn’t renew it.
Now I’m not sure what we have. It has moto-phone written on it somewhere, so that’s what I’m calling it. I asked for the simplest phone they had, and got one that does everything but the laundry. Per minute cost is quite expensive, but in the long run it’s the cheapest thing I’ve ever come across. For some reason, I feel the necessity to have one, even though we survived all these years without one.
Long ago in the farmhouse where I grew up, we had the huge box phone that hung on the wall. It was so high up I had to stand on a chair if I ever got to talk into it. (What a thrill that was!) The mouthpiece and receiver were separate. It had a crank to ring up the local operator and everyone was on a “party line,” which meant there were several neighbors who could listen to your conversations anytime the phone rang. Each member had a different ring, a combination of “shorts” and “longs.” And of course there was the general long ring when an emergency message was being transmitted.
By the time we moved to town we had the black smaller phone that hung on the wall, receiver and mouthpiece all in one. There was a dial with all the numbers on it, but we were all still connected to a local operator, which then advanced to being able to make a local call without her assistance.
While husband was a fireman, we had a special attachment for the “fire-phone”. It rang one steady long ring until you picked up the receiver. No sleeping through that.
Why am I writing about phones? I guess to impress upon myself that technology is advancing faster than I can keep up, and I’m swiftly becoming antique.
I’ve been retired less than 10 years and there were no cell phones in school then. We were just starting to use email. With all the texting and twittering it makes me wonder about our right to privacy, our communication skills, and the writing and spelling ability of our youth.
Ten people on the party line of long ago seems trivial to the millions we are connected with today. It brings to mind George Orwell’s book, 1984, with all his weird predictions made in 1949. Now, 60 years later, they don’t seem so strange.
Health insurance is the red-hot news these days and taxpayers are revolting against all the government involvement and the Pfizer drug company has to pay a $2.3 billion civil and criminal penalty for unlawful prescription drug promotions. And we wonder why our insurance costs are going up and everything is such a mess. In my opinion, the only good idea the government has come up with so far in regard to this entire insurance quandary is that each of us should try to live healthier lives.
But if we listen to our government, health guidelines can get confusing too. Too many government grants are given and the research is not done in depth. Take exercising – no study has ever determined for sure how much is too little or too much or what kind is best. And forget all the stuff we’ve heard for years regarding the ill effects of caffeine, because someone got a government grant and did a study showing that six or eight cups of caffeinated coffee a day can protect us from diabetes. Yeah, right.
Then there’s the issue of maintaining our weight. Every newspaper or magazine you pick up has a new diet in it. Should we heed the latest research that tells us meat and more meat is good or do we pay attention to what our Mothers told us – eat your vegetables! Should we eat liver once a week because it is so good for our blood, or dismiss it entirely because someone got a government grant to tell us how much cholesterol is in it. Cholesterol – that’s a whole story in itself. The main rule for lowering that nasty stuff is to remember - “anything that tastes good is basically bad for you.” But with food vendors on every corner, the promise of “bigger and better” is hard to resist.
But now with mad cow disease scaring us away from beef, the swine flu actually turning some people away from pork, and the latest – don’t eat hot dogs because they can cause cancer, is it any wonder we are confused. We’re leery about eating fish because it might have mercury in it. Our fruits and vegetables are loaded with insecticides so we probably should avoid them. With all the biochemical changes that have been made in our grains, bread and cereal are probably unsafe too.
Perhaps in the future all we’ll need are pills - a red one for breakfast, a blue one for lunch, and two white ones for supper. Hmmm … maybe someone needs to apply for some government grant money and do a study on this. However, there could still be one problem. I read some time ago in the newspaper that 90% of all the pills we take are ineffective, that our health mainly depends on our genes.
Do you suppose we could get some grant money and do a study on how to get different parents? But then, I guess we would be back to square one and still be debating health insurance.
After being involved with education most of my life, as a student, a teacher, and 29 years as school secretary, August has come to be synonymous with the start of a new school year. As secretary, the school year barely ended or had any real beginning. The work didn’t stop during the summer, but as D-day approached there was definitely a change in deadline tempo. In bygone days before computers and copy-machines, typewriters and mimeograph machines produced the pages of handbooks, schedules, rosters, and information of all kinds in multitudes. Everything had to be approved by the Board and many stencils were corrected or retyped. When the finished products were all neatly piled in stacks on the counter in the office, the excitement for that first day started to build. The phone rang constantly – and the office was filled with an endless parade of people.
Athletes began practice before the first day of classes. The grunts and groans and clashes of padded football players against padded dummies could be heard blocks away along with the shouts and whistle blasts of the coaches. “Two a day” they called the beginning practices and that meant very early to rise for first practice, and then later in the heat of the day they bashed each other again. The mummied bodies hiked out to the football field with spiked shoes crunching on the graveled road. They were full of energy with shouts of encouragement and challenges. They came back grass stained, sweating excessively, feeling aches and pains like old men, and dog tired.
When all those students came clamoring in that fateful first day, classes could go as smoothly as the newly paved parking lot, or it could be totally chaotic. One year we decided at the last minute to change the class schedule to longer mornings so lunch hour could be later. However, we failed to check the schedule with the other high school in town, and since there was an exchange of students for some classes, that year started with some confusion!
With August at hand, the thrill of a new school year permeates the air. Particularly in small towns, our schools provide most of the activities for our social lives. But the older I get the farther away I become from the hustle and bustle. But I still recall the echo of that thunderous herd climbing the high school steps on that first day, the shuffle of feet in the hallway, and the clanging of locker doors as students learned their new combinations. I can almost hear the sound of laughter when friends meet friends they haven’t seen for a while and feel the warmth of their enthusiastic greetings as they piled into the office. The young, tanned beaming faces of August are today’s students and with great faith we Place — the world’s challenges in their hands. With the years of my retirement growing, I hope I never become disinterested because then August would just become a sound of silence and that would be deafening.