Sunday, November 17, 2013


“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.”  It wasn’t quite such a trip as that and we never made it in a horse and sleigh, but trips to “Grandma’s House” were a weekly, sometimes almost daily, occurrence while I was growing up.  I have written before about living in many houses as a child.  We moved, on average, once every two years until I was a teenager.  For this and other reasons, my Grandma Freytag’s house was the geographical center of my childhood.  I cannot remember not knowing that house; she was living there before I was born and until after I was grown.  Also Laurence, her second husband (more about him later) was there until he died when I was nine.
Many of my earliest memories are from that house.  Holidays and birthdays were celebrated there.  John and I would often stay there overnight when our folks went out for an evening.  Mother and Dad were married there.  “Dad” was actually my step-dad and they were married when I was four and half so I do remember the wedding.  I loved going there, because to my young eyes Grandma’s house had so much more of everything than did our own home, including, for a number of years, an indoor bathroom. 
    There were always cookies, kept in green glass jars and stored on top of a kitchen cabinet.  I can remember, when I was so young that I had to stand on tiptoe to see onto the table top, that jar was so high overhead it could have been on the moon.  My brother and I learned “Please” and “Thank you” asking for cookies.  It pleases me that those jars are still in the family, now in the possession of one of your cousins who remembers it from her grandma’s house.
     Also among the “more”  things in the house were all sorts of exotic objects and devices that Laurence (he insisted that we call him that, not Grandpa) had accumulated.  Grandma and Laurence liked to travel and brought back souvenirs of the places they had been,  among them Mexican and Cuban handicrafts and pictures from the Grand Canyon.  He was interested in just about everything  and loved making things.  Two of his more impressive creations were a loom (for weaving cloth) about the size of an upright piano, and a Newtonian telescope with an eight inch mirror.  The one that fascinated me the most as a child was a working model steam engine, complete with a high pitched whistle,  which  he would sometimes operate for us.
    Because I didn’t have a “dad” between the ages of two and 4 ½, Laurence was my first male role model.  I learned about using tools and hard work and loving from Dad, but it was Laurence who gave me the attitude of “Everything is interesting,” that I still enjoy today.

    Christmas was always spent at Grandma's house.  The presents waited for us under the tree, but first came the Christmas feast with all the traditional dishes.  Then came the longest hour of the year.  "The menfolk" including my brother and me would move to the living room where the tree was set up while the women cleaned up after the meal (this was the 1950s).  Opening presents did not begin until the dishes were done and everyone was gathered around the tree.  Only then would John and I begin handing out the gifts. 

   "Grandma's house" will always be a special place for me, the center of family, warmth, and security when I was a child and the source of my desire to be a part of creating such a place for my own children.  I only wish that being long distance grandparents didn't get in the way of our providing you with a "Grandma's house" of your own.


Monday, November 4, 2013


The gate to memory lane this time was unlocked by a note on another blogger’s site  encouraging her to tell more stories about herself, and was opened by running across the name of a teacher from my college days.  The teacher was the faculty sponsor for the Drama Guild and directed most of their productions.  I took part in several of those productions, either on stage or operating the lights.  Most memorably for me, I was given the part of Tom Wingfield in Tennessee  William’s “The Glass Menagerie.” That’s right, your grandpa was a “thespian.”  Probably I was not a very good one, especially since I was terrible at memorizing, but it was a lot of fun and a chance to be friends with some of the more eccentric people on campus.  “Campus” was Aurora College and at the time it was a small, conservative, church related college, so “eccentric” is a relative term.  We were very much not the local chapter of the student protest groups that were beginning to claim national headlines around that time, mostly we were just more interested in fun than scholarship and possessed of exaggerated opinions of our own cleverness.  Rebellion was mostly nothing more than breaking curfew and drinking rules and "protesting" about the cafeteria serving mystery meat..

College for me was much more about the extracurricular activities than about the accumulation of classroom knowledge.  Dorm life, sports (cross-country and wrestling) and campus social life added more to my education than any course or lecture series.  Participating in Drama Guild and working on a student newspaper were two experiences that are still a part of me.  The newspaper experience actually did begin as a form of student protest.  A group of us felt that the official on-campus paper was so dominated by the administration that it was incapable of raising even small issues of student body discontent, so we started an alternative paper.  Looking back, it seems we were playing at dissidence, but at the time we felt daring and independent.  However little we may have accomplished, we did learn a great deal.  Deadlines to be met and column inches to be filled required us to work hard for goals we had put in place ourselves.  Voicing unpopular opinions and sometimes making mistakes provided real learning opportunities, mostly to learn that actions have consequences.

I can relate to those people who look back at their college or high school days as the best years of their lives.  I have been so fortunate as to spend the last thirty-nine years (and counting) with Grandma B, so there is no question in my mind that the best years of my life are still in process.  Even so, those years at Aurora College were filled with youth, aspiration, camaraderie, emotion, belonging, immersion and intensity that no other time can match.  I don’t know what “the college experience” will look like for you, my grandchildren, but I hope it can bring to you some of what it brought to me.


Friday, August 30, 2013

REACH OUT, Even When it's not Comfortable

Since passing on some of what I have learned in life is supposed to be one of my reasons for writing, I’m going to pass along something I just learned, or figured out, or whatever.  I caught on to something I should have recognized a long time ago, that acts of kindness or friendship don’t have to be perfect nearly as much as they simply have to be done.

A blog friend of mine suffered the loss of a loved one this week.  She and I have never met, but we have exchanged a few comments on each others blogs and I feel like I know her well enough from reading what she has written to call her a friend.  In any case, on hearing of her loss, I wanted to express my sympathy.  All the overworked phrases, “so sorry for your loss” “deepest sympathy” etc. came to mind but just seemed too trite to use.  After some more pondering, I finally came up with something I could put in a Facebook comment format that I was comfortable saying and sent it off.
It was only later, as I thought about what I had written, that I realized it wasn’t what I said, or how well I had conveyed the sympathy I felt that mattered, only that I had said something at all.  “I don’t know what to say,” is an often heard refrain.  When someone is hurting, we want to help but often feel that there is nothing we can offer that will do any good and are even sometimes afraid we will cause more pain.  Unfortunately, reluctance because we might say the wrong thing can easily be interpreted as indifference.  Someone once said, “The opposite of love is not hate;   it’s indifference.”  It isn’t as important that we always say just the right thing as it is that we not leave the impression that we just don’t care.  The grieving person might not even notice that we have reached out, but if no one reached out their pain could be much worse.

As I think about this subject, I realize that I have been on the other end of it before.  My dad ran a gas station for a number of years after he quit farming.  He had a series of boys/young men who worked for him and to a number of them he and my mother became almost surrogate parents.  They listened to their problems, fed them meals, celebrated their birthdays, and generally treated them more like family than employees.  When Dad died, I expected that some of those boys, now men, would come to “pay their respects,” and I was acutely aware that none did.  I’m sure that many of them had good reasons why they weren’t there, but their absence nonetheless caused additional pain in an already painful time.

When you can reach out to someone in pain, do it.  You may not do it perfectly, or even as well as you would like to, but you can be sure it will be better than not reaching out at all.


Monday, August 12, 2013


The summer solstice is just a few days past and I am reveling in the long summer evenings.  Thanks to daylight savings time and our location on the western edge of our time zone, twilight in June lasts until almost ten o'clock.  Those long, soft, golden rays of light angling across the yard never fail to increase my joy.  I know I must get annoying sometimes with my constant "Life is Good" mantra, but I just can't help myself.  I can only hope it is infectious.

This is another post that has been sitting around for a while waiting to get "finished."  It is now the second week of August so I had better wrap this one up soon or let it wait until next year.  The days have actually started their headlong rush to the miserable short days of winter;  the sun is noticeably further south as it comes through our west facing windows at the end of the day.  Crisp fall days with the smell of burning leaves in the air are not too far away.  All this means is that I will have to look  harder for the joy that each day brings, and not let myself think about the next round of warm summer evenings with too much longing.  It's time to tell myself once again, "THIS is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."


Monday, August 5, 2013


In the summer of 1967,  having  lost my student exemption a few months earlier, I was drafted into the army.   At age 22, I was older  than most of my fellow draftees, with most of a college education.  In spite of these things in my favor, I was as uncertain about my prospects in this strange new environment as any of the other young men in my group of inductees.  I was, in a word, scared.
We were harried and harassed by barking sergeants from one place to another.  “Tighten up that line!”  “Attention! Left face! Forward march! Halt!”  Strange commands we had never heard outside the movies came in a continuous stream.  We were lost and far from home, adrift in a strange new world where we knew no one and any past experiences we had had were useless and forgotten.  Looking back, I can see that this was the first step in forging the bond that is the essential part of turning a bunch of individuals into a unit that can perform the impossible task of combat.  By picking on us and stripping us of our civilian identities, the sergeants were turning us into US.  

At the time, it only seemed that they were bent on maximizing our discomfort and proving that we were unfit for service.  They nearly had me convinced that this last part was true, or at least something to worry about.  I remember being distinctly doubtful that I could meet the army’s expectations, wondering, “Can I do this?  Can I be a soldier.”  I don’t think I actually thought about what the consequences of failure might be, I simply dreaded the prospect of failing.

Then, into all this fear and worry, came salvation.  It came in the form of another young soldier, a Spec4 (Specialist 4th class) working as a clerk checking the inoculation forms of the line of men I was standing in.  He wore glasses, weighed maybe one twenty, and looked like he would be hard put to even pick up an M14 rifle, much less fire one.  He took my papers, checked them off against his list and handed them back.  As I moved on to the next station I was thinking, “He made it through basic.  He has even been promoted.  What have I been so worried about?  If he can do it so can I.” 
That was the last time I worried about “making it” in the army, and when I left the service after completing a tour of duty in South Korea it was with a sergeant’s stripes on my sleeve.  I came out of the army with the confidence that comes from a set of experiences I could draw on for the rest of my life;  beginning with that one in basic training.


Thursday, May 30, 2013


 In a recent post, I said something to the effect that an autobiography by me would be dull enough to cause coma.  It just may be possible that a talented writer of fiction (the "man behind the curtain" of most "autobiographies") might be able to make something interesting of my life story, but I don't believe I could.  I have, since then, run across this statement:
"The (autobiography) shouldn't be so much about the facts and details of my life but my attitude towards those facts and details," (Film director William Friedkin quoted in a magazine interview).
Since I have been very free about sharing my attitudes in these posts, at least the positive ones, maybe this is an autobiography.  Then again maybe I am just showing my grandkids the person I wish they would think I am.

Anyway, then a funny thing happened.  While I was thinking about my autobiography and how there really isn't much to say, the last line from Robert Frost's "Birches" came to mind.  Something about reflecting on my life and thinking some variation of, "One could do worse than be a...." So the next thing I did was track down the poem (on the internet of course) and read the whole thing for the first time since college.  I was captured by the poem in a way that I never was before!  I've always thought of myself as pretty much tone deaf when it comes to poetry;  The emotion escapes me, the metaphor eludes me, and I am left with little beyond rhythm and rhyme.  Then suddenly I was the boy in the birch woods and I was the man reflecting on his life and wading at least ankle deep in eternal truths.  I don't think I will be tackling "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" or "Paradise Lost" any time soon, but I may go back and take another look at some other short poems.

This post has been moldering in the draft file for some time now, so I guess I should look for some way to finish it up.  So here's the thing;  reflecting back on life can and probably should generate some feelings of  "I should have done more."  But at the same time, "One could do worse than be a swinger of birches."  In "Poems, Prayers and Promises" John Denver sings, "I guess I'd have to say, it's been a good life all in all."
I have to agree with him.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013


A year ago (actually thirteen months) I wrote about Spring bursting on us early and enthusiastically in the post that I titled "Green is the color."

 This year has been different, with spring dragging its feet and poking its nose out and pulling back like Punxsutawney Phil on a sunny day.  Finally, it feels like it is really here and the spring flowers are offering proof.

 What looks like a light blanket of snow in the neighboring pasture is really these little white flowers.  I don't even know their name, but I look forward each year to their appearance.

 Even these guys, who I will spend all summer trying to eradicate, bring a smile.

Violets are old friends.  I remember bringing these to my mother when I was very small.

Tulips aren't wildflowers, but they and the daffodils do come back each spring to announce winter's passing.


Monday, April 29, 2013


Robin's "Ammaponders" blog on clutter:

included a line about how her daughters should hope she lives a long time because she is never going to get the clutter under control. Reading it made me think about two things.  One was about the experience of sorting through and removing the "clutter" from my parents house when they died (within 6 months of one another after 53 years of marriage) and the other was about the "clutter" I have accumulated.

It fell on me to perform the sorting and discarding chore in my parents house.  When everything that none of the family wanted and that wouldn't bring in anything at an estate sale was stacked at the curb, it looked like it would need a semi to haul it away.  Some of it was, I'm sure, emotional treasure in my mother's eyes;  much of it was stuff like Reader's Digest Condensed books that was "too good to throw away."  When you grew up in the depression like my folks did, there wasn't much that wasn't too good to throw away.  I have to admit having caught something of that attitude from them.  The saddest part was probably the old photos of people or places that I couldn't even identify.  Who were they?  What did they mean to my parents?  Were they relatives?  Friends?  I'll never know.

I seem to be teetering on the brink of melancholy here so I guess it's time to pull back.  Memories and the artifacts that bring them back are good things, things to be savored.  I'm not one of those people who thinks that some time in the past was the golden age when everything was better, but I do enjoy the selective amnesia that lets me hang on to the good and let go of the not so good.  Drafty, unheatable houses and too much peanut butter and boloney become the stuff of some of those "when I was a boy" stories; fun to tell and stripped of all real unpleasantness. Growing up loved and learning to love are the parts that linger.

A certain part of my stuff actually came from my folks house and some of that even came from my grandmother's.  There are no valuable heirlooms, handed down from generation to generation, just things that invoke memories.  I kept a Reader's Digest Condensed book from my mother's collection because it is one I remember reading one summer when I was in grade school.  I have a paperweight that Grandma Freytag brought back from a trip to Mexico; it brings back memories of her house that feel like a hug across the years.  A couple of shoulder patches, a lump of granite the size and shape of a baseball, an old Monopoly Game and a lot of books I have read that stuck with me, these are all pieces of my life that mean little or nothing to anyone else and will surely be put out with the trash when I am gone.  No matter, they help me to wrap up in the warm blanket of the past and relive happy times.  I once said that each day as it comes is the best day of my life because it contains the memories of all the days before.  These memories that I can see and touch make that statement all the more true.