Monday, November 7, 2016

The Year My Father Ran For President

I remember how nervous I was the night before that election so many years ago. I knew with all my heart my father was the better candidate. Now it was up to the voters. While the campaign had been a long, hard battle with late hours and strategy sessions, there's one particular day on the road I will never forget. It was supposed to have started at 9 a.m. but because of having so much to do-needing to gather so much to take along, we didn't get going until after 11:00. You see, the problem wasn't politically related. It had all to do with diapers, bottles, snacks, wet washcloths, gas in the car, and those homemade political signs which meant we needed stakes and nails and lots of patience. There was just so much we needed to take along for the ride that my then sister-in-law and I were late getting out of the driveway and on the road with a car full of babies and toddlers. But we finally headed out, full of hope and change and burbs and dirty diapers.

We did have a plan. We'd stop wherever we felt one of our signs should go. But one particular location was a must-the lawn of my father's opponent which was about 45 minutes away. We knew the address and once we found it, that sign was up and we were gone! And we kept going while bottles with plastic liners were filled with Tang, cheerios were passed around and diapers were changed as the car kept going and laughter mingled with giggles and cries and toys taken from one child by another. While exhausted when we made it back home, we couldn't stop. Babies had to be fed and put to bed before the returns came in.

By the end of that night, results didn't go my father's way. He lost his run-not for the White House-but for Corner of our county. While it wasn't for President, it might as well have been. I was so excited that he took the step-that he put himself out there-that he gave it his all. So to me, he didn't lose. No one ever loses when they try their best and that's just what he did!

It took a few days to clean the car out. Cheerios were everywhere!

(The attached photo features my parents. Please note my father is doing his "Tricky Dick" imitation.)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Rusted Old Can Full of Water

My cousin and I had organized what we thought would be an amazing circus combination spook house in our grandfather’s old barn. He’d shut the farm down so we were able to occupy every nook and cranny of that wooden structure. The main event was aimed at a particular uncle we'd singled out. He and his wife and daughter didn't live nearby like we did. Rather, they were some forty-five minutes away, far enough for us to consider them distant relatives. Our cousin was younger than we were. She was an only child. She'd sometimes wear a dress and her hair was always in place as were her polished shoes and fancy socks. Her father most always wore a suit and most always a tie. He’d smoke a cigar after dinner and then fall asleep until it was time for them to leave. We considered him to be an odd duck with that suit and tie. That's why he stood out and that's why we planned on dropping a long piece of twine down from the hayloft above the doorway he and the others would be walking through on their way into the main part of the barn on the day of our colossal event. On the twine we would attach a note saying, "Pull this!" Of course we would have to wait for him to be the one walking through before lowering the twine. When he pulled it, a rusty old can full of water would drop down, soaking him from head to toe.

Finally the day of our long anticipated circus/spook house event arrived. We waited as adults took their time walking by empty chicken roosts, reminiscing of days gone by when chickens ruled the coop. I was up in the hayloft. I’d be the one dropping the twine. My heart was beating a little faster hiding behind leftover bales of hay so no one could see me. Finally I heard him laughing. He was approaching the doorway! I could smell the cigar rising up to the rafters. It about gagged me. That’s all I needed. I moved as close to the edge of that hayloft as possible without giving my presence away. My palms were sweaty as I moved the twine to the edge of the hayloft and slowly lowered it down. I couldn't wait to see him drenched. But nothing happened. I knew it had to be in front of him because we’d measured the distance. He couldn’t miss it. I wiggled the twine trying to get his attention. But it didn't work. Finally after wiggling it a little more, the twine tightened. He was pulling it but still nothing happened. The can didn't budge. It was stuck. It couldn't get over the edge of a board in front of the hayloft. If I moved I’d give myself away. We didn’t have a back-up plan and he didn’t wait around to see what was at the other end of that twine jiggling in mid-air. Could he have caught on to the fact that the sign was meant just for him? Whatever the reason, our devious deed failed. The show went on to be a great success despite our disappointment.
Turned out a few weeks later that uncle and his family were back for another dinner. As they were getting ready to leave my aunt asked if I’d like to go with them for a sleepover. She’d checked with my mother. She told me my uncle could bring me home the next day. I did like going to their house. It was a break from my older brother. Even better than that I was certain my cousin had every Little Golden Book ever printed. Soon I was off to stay with my distant relatives.
During the night I woke up. I was scared. The wind was hollowing. I could hear the rain hitting the windowpanes. I wanted to go home. Those forty-five miles felt like a zillion. I started to cry. I tried not to. I didn’t want my little cousin to hear big brave me, who was going to drench her father with an old can full of water, crying but I couldn’t help it. Once I started I couldn’t stop-not even when I heard the door open-not even when I could see my uncle who wore suits all the time standing there, whispering, “Are you okay?”
The tenderness in his voice made me cry even more. In an instant he was by my side comforting me.

“Do you want to go home?” he asked.
“Yes,” I whimpered, explaining I was afraid my brother was going to make fun of me.

“Don’t worry. I almost had to take him back home not too long ago.”

I never realized my brother got homesick. Knowing that made me feel a little better. Without hesitating, my uncle wrapped me in a blanket. He grabbed a pillow and collected my belongings. Covering me up in his raincoat, he carried me to his car after making a bed in the backseat. As he drove me home, I kept watch of his silhouette when passing headlights lit up the dark. I couldn’t see any wings but I knew my uncle was my guardian angel. He wasn’t wearing a suit. He didn’t smell like a cigar.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Inside My Mother's Cedar Chest

At an early age I was aware the big box thing sitting in my parents' bedroom was called a cedar chest. I even knew it was made out of mahogany. I didn't understand what any of that meant. But I did understand how much it meant to my mother because she told me it was where she kept her favorite things. When you tell a kid that, curiosity sets in. I know it did with me.

Every year, somewhere between spring and summer, my mother spent a Sunday afternoon gathering her good sweaters. There were quite a few of them. My mother loved sweaters. She'd wash the sweaters one at a time in Woolite-then spread each one out on the kitchen table on top of a towel. Once she had a sweater just as she wanted it, she'd roll it up in the towel and go to the next. After she'd rolled the last one, she'd set the towels with the sweaters on the dining room table to dry. Then a few days later she'd unroll the sweaters. If need be they were put outside on clothes bars to dry some more. The end of the sweater process was the folding of the sweaters and meticulously placing them-one at a time-inside the cedar chest. And there they stayed until the season demanded their return. Whenever that was it never failed-they all smelled like moth balls.

Sometimes I'd spend time with that mahogany cedar chest. I'm sure my mother knew since the moth ball smell probably gave me away but she never said a thing. Maybe she liked knowing I was curious to see what she considered her favorite things. Truth be known I was never disappointed since she was always putting things in it.While there was a key in the lock, it was never locked. Maybe that was because the top was heavy. It took both my hands to pull it open. Once I'd secured it in place, I took my time examining the three small compartments greeting me. They were like little drawers without the drawer. One time I found my father's good cufflinks. I think they'd belonged to his father. Usually there'd be fancy hat feathers wrapped in tissue paper. Back then, women made their own hats and wore them when shopping. I'd also find linen handkerchiefs and fur collars to attach to good sweaters and fancy plush boxes holding strings of pearls. One particular compartment held a small photo album. She never changed the photos. They were of her wedding to my father in the dining room of my grandparents' farmhouse.

The rest of the cedar chest was full of good blankets and quilts and embroidered tablecloths starched and ready for the holidays. My most favorite of my mother's favorite things were the Christmas stockings. I never disturbed them. I wanted to make sure they were there when needed.

I have no clue what ever happened to my mother's cedar chest. I am thankful I was curious. I'll never forget her favorite things.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Still Twisting the Night Away

There was a place located in the downtown of my hometown where most all the popular teens-and those who liked to be seen with them and those who thought they themselves were popular-went after school. There was a jukebox and a soda fountain and plenty of room to dance. I only saw the inside of that place one time because of my older brother. He told me I couldn't stay. He told me to go home. I've since figured out that was because of the girls. He didn't want them to see me anywhere near him. That didn't bother me since I had my own thing going on after school right in our living room on the TV set with the b/w screen. And even though I'd usually be taking care of my little brother, I'd still be able to watch Dick Clark's American Bandstand. I'd get something to eat, turn the tube on and get lost in the music, the cute boys dressed in suits and ties with greased-back hair and the pretty girls-some with pony tails and some with hair that flipped up on the end. Little did I realize that most of the unknown singers and groups introduced by Dick Clark on that show would go on to become Music Legends-some still singing today.

I loved  the dance contests. I loved checking out the fashions those pretty girls wore every single day. The problem with that was we didn't have stores where I could go find what I saw. Since that was pre-internet, I couldn't go searching for them-then click, use a credit card and have them in a few days. But there was one exception. When Cher first blasted on the music scene with Sonny, singing, "I Got You Babe", I was desperate for a pair of bellbottoms and a short-sleeved, rib sweater just like hers. To my amazement I found them in our downtown. And even more amazing, my mother bought them for me.

Probably the longest lasting effect that show has had on me is the dancing. Back then, dancing was how I kept my little brother happy. I'd pick him up and twirl him around doing the jitterbug. We'd cha-cha and do the stroll. He'd laugh out loud as we did the twist-the mashed potato-the wah-watusi.To this day I'm still dancing. It might be in the kitchen while getting dinner. It might be in the dining room folding laundry. Point is I'm still strolling and jitterbugging; twisting the night away or doing the cha-cha and I don't even need a partner. Dancing never gets old and neither does the thought of American Bandstand with those cute boys dressed in suits and ties with greased-back hair.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Time for Walter Cronkite

Growing up, every evening of every week day at 6:15 I would join my father in front of the television to watch the 15-minute news cast featuring Walter Cronkite. We wouldn't be watching the news. It was always "time for Walter Cronkite." The picture was a bit fuzzy and always black and white yet that determined voice always came through the screen. It was a voice we grew to trust. It was the voice, as pictured in this post, of a newscaster struggling to tell his audience that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Every time I watch the video of that dreadful moment in our history narrated by a man we trusted I cry right along with him.

To think that networks were able to condense all the news into 15-minutes which had to include advertising is amazing when considering today's 24-hour news channels trying to blast the loudest as they all compete for our attention. Of course back then, today's constant in-your-face reporting did not exist. News stories were not sensationalized or repeated over and over again nor were there reporters on the scene, carrying their coverage to extremes, trying to beat other networks for ratings, trying to sway their audience by taking their reporting a bit too far. Back then there were no gimmicks for your attention. It was news. Reporters were not celebrities. They were hardcore news reporters digging and searching for the truth without emails and cell phones and computers. I miss that type of reporting. I am not impressed by women with tight dresses sitting on a sofa spewing innuendos or men sitting by their side doing the same. Give me a reporter who offers facts and not opinion. From that, I can form my own opinion.

I often wonder what Walter Cronkite would think of today's news conglomerates. I'm glad he doesn't know what has happened to the nightly news or most news. I loved watching those 15-minute news casts with my father. Right after dinner we'd turn the TV on and get ready. It always seemed so much longer that those 15-minutes. I think that was because Walter Cronkite was good at what he did. And that was reporting the news without bells and whistles.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

More Than A Rope Swing With A Knot

I wish I had an actual photo of the rope swing with a knot at the end enjoyed by my cousins and I when playing down at the creek. This photo showing my aunt raking wood chips while wearing a skirt gives you a sense of where the creek was located-behind her looking over the top of the woodpile-but it doesn't show the towering maple tree from which a rope swing hung. It would have been more to the right-further along behind the woodpile.

Being a kid, that tree was mighty. Taller than all the rest, it stood out along that creek bed. No matter the season, that tree ruled. In the spring when the water rose and chunks of ice crashed against it as the wind blew and the snow swirled, that tree stood its ground. Looking out my bedroom window, I'd watch the rope get tossed about. Sometimes it'd be frozen in place due to sub-zero temperatures. When there were ice storms it'd become one long, thick sheet of ice. None of that stopped us from going down there. We never considered the weather or the season to be a factor if we wanted to play down at the rope.

But there was more than just the rope that was the attraction. Sitting right next to the tree was one huge-huge rock. Eventually we figured out tricks to do combining the rope swing and the rock. Standing on the opposite side of the tree, we'd take hold of that rope, get a running start-then leap up on to the rope-holding on for all we were worth with our feet hopefully firmly planted on top of the knot. Depending on our lift-off, that rope would take us out as far as possible over the creek (in the summer full of blood suckers), then it would come back in as fast as it could on the other side of the tree. If we maneuvered everything successfully, we'd land feet first square on top of the huge rock where upon we would lift our arms in victory and proclaim a happy, "tad-da"! If we didn't maneuver everything successfully, accidents happened. There were times we came crashing in to the tree-sometimes back first. There were times we'd drop right into Sucker Creek. There were times when our lift-offs were disastrous. Our feet wouldn't catch hold of the knot. Instead, they'd flail about-hitting the creek grass, the brambles full of burrs and sometimes the huge rock itself before we came crashing to a stop. Whenever such disasters took place, we'd look up towards that row of houses to see if any adult had witnessed what had taken place. If we didn't hear anyone yelling at us, we'd go right back at it. I don't think any kid anywhere had any more fun than we did down on the banks of Sucker Creek swinging on our rope swing.

One year for Christmas, my cousin wrapped up that knot and gave it to me as a gift. Pulling away the tissue paper, tears came to my eyes when seeing that knot again. It was as if I was greeting an old friend. In some ways-I was.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Real Beauty of America-Really!

When I entered my grandmother in a contest sponsored by Ladies' Home Journal, I never told her. That's because I thought I'd surprise her if for some wild chance she'd be one of eight women chosen from essays submitted by readers to be showcased in a special supplement in their July issue titled "The Real Beauties of America." It was 1976. America would be celebrating its Bicentennial!

The minute I read about the Journal's search for those eight women in early February I focused on my grandmother-nicknamed Giddy by my older brother when he was a little boy. The name stuck. Everyone called her Giddy. I wrote my submission out on a legal pad over a weekend. I'd thought about what I'd say days prior whenever I had a moment to think. At that time I was the mother of 3 young children. There was no internet back then so once I was just about finished with what I was writing I took out my typewriter and began fine tuning it. I mailed it at the post office Monday morning thinking at least I'd gone through the process and that was that.

When Ladies' Home Journal called in late April we were all sick with the flu. I answered the phone. I half listened because I felt sick to my stomach. It wasn't until I heard 'Ladies' Home Journal' did I realize what was going on although I couldn't jump up and down for joy. I didn't dare. Actually I didn't think much about it right then. The flu had my full attention. A few days later I realized I'd best tell my grandmother since a crew from the magazine would be coming to interview and photograph her. She didn't believe me at first. When it sunk in, she was delighted. She couldn't wait to meet them.

On the day of their arrival I was at my grandmother's home. One of my aunts lived with her so the three of us sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and waiting. It wasn't long before a car pulled into the driveway. Seconds later three women were at the front door-the Health and Beauty Editor, her assistant and a photographer. The next few hours were a whirlwind. My grandmother was a hit. Our visitors loved her. I knew they would. She was a perfect fit. I was told there had been been thousands of entries.

I couldn't wait until that July issue was out. When I saw it for the first time I read it over and over again. They actually referenced my grandmother on the introductory page-"And as for Giddy, who raised six children and ran the tractor on the family farm, she reminds us that the spunky American woman is nothing new."

That was certainly the truth. While my grandmother is no longer with us, her spunky spirit will forever be a part of us. I'm so glad I entered her in that contest. She deserved to be on those pages that Bicentennial year of America.