Member of 'The Greatest Generation' hits the century mark July 8
Reprinted from New Castle Courier-Times, by Donna Cronk. What better day to honor one of these amazing soldiers than today? It is my distinct honor to share these veterans' stories. Let us not forget how they saved the free world.
MIDDLETOWN — World War II veteran George H. Dunnington has a special birthday coming up, one that few experience. The Middletown resident will become 100 years old on Wednesday, July 8.
While unable to be interviewed by the newspaper, his family members Cheryl Spessert, Emily Spessert, Molly Spessert and Don Dunnington have documented his life and times in interviews through the years and provided their information to the newspaper.
Born in Slat near Monticello, Kentucky, Dunnington attended public school, finishing eighth-grade in 1935. He told daughter Cheryl Spessert in a written interview in 2001, “I quit school, that was the worst thing that happened to me ... I’d rather plow than go to school.”
His first job was farming sun-up to sun-down at $1 a day. Farm work continued, including a year in Iowa – for no pay.
“My biggest regret was that I never got a good education,” he told family.
In his teens, Dunnington moved with his family to New Castle. He worked in agriculture before getting on at Perfect Circle in Hagerstown. He lived in the New Castle area for years with all four of his children born in Henry County.
In the Army now – finallyDunnington joined the Army in September 1942. He had tried to enlist several times but a crooked right arm from a factory accident kept him from acceptance.
Yet he wanted to go and kept begging officials to take him. Finally, he and another fellow said they should try again. This time, a doctor checked him and declared that his arm was “just right for an MI rifle.”
Dunnington told family, “I got the same arm shot up again when I got in there. I been shot a lot a places, a lot of times. Oh mercy. I got blowed up once with a bomb. It blowed my stomach apart. I been blown up from head to toe.”
Assigned to A Company of the 448 Anti-Aircraft Battalion, the soldier was trained as a gunner and became a company cook. His unit arrived in England in spring 1944.
His battalion arrived at Normandy on D-Day plus one where they supported the 35th Infantry Division. His gun crew served near the front line where they repulsed counterattacks and the liberation of Saint-Lo.
Also, the soldier was injured in the Battle of the Bulge and was evacuated to an English hospital. His injuries prevented his return to the U.S. with the 35th in September 1945, according to family.
He told family, “Being in the Army, that’s fun. When you’re in the war, that’s a different story. Man, I’ve had great big strong men lay down on the ground and cry. I said ‘Boy, get up out of the dirt.’ I said ‘We’re fighting a war.’ I never remember being scared ... I wasn’t smart enough to get scared ...”
The veteran says he escaped being killed many times. “I was pretty lucky I got out of the war as good as I was,” he says. “That old war, the funny thing to me, we went over there and we won the war. We was in the last battle, called the Battle of the Bulge, one of the worst battles there was …that’s when I was hurt and they rushed me to the hospital. The war was over when I was in the hospital. I didn’t get to come home with my boys…”
So many memories abound and paint a picture of varied experiences. He remembers surviving when his helmet was shot and he fell to the ground without injury. He also speaks of providing food to hungry French kids.
Dunnington shared with his family about a Christmas Eve in Paris during the war when the soldiers were put up in a hotel and enjoyed a massive feast. But during the night, they were spotted by Germans who blew up the hotel.
On Dec. 26 that year, he and other soldiers were taken to Bastone for two months of heavy fighting. That March, he fell on his elbow, which swelled and froze in position. At the hospital, he met a man from New Castle.
Dunnington went on to have surgery. During that time, he befriended a nurse who let him slip out and go gamble.
“They drank but I didn’t, so I really cleaned them out. I never wanted for money in London,” Dunnington told family.
After the cast was removed, he started cooking again for troops until November even though the war had ended in April.
Other memories include a terrible battle in the Argon Forest. The enemy heavily bombed their ammunition depot which fell on the soldiers. The force blew soldiers from their foxholes.
A war buddy, calling him by his nickname said, “Hack, we’ll never see New Castle again.”
But both escaped without injury. He recalls that he later learned his sister Ora prayed for him that same night.
“She knew I was in trouble and woke up her husband to join her in prayer. She busted a blood vessel in her head, and they found her in a pile of blood.”
Dunnington said if not for Ora, his brother Lloyd and his wife, “I always believed I wouldn’t have made it through the war.”
But he did make it, and he believed in the cause.
“That’s the reason I went. I don’t think any of the boys wanted to fight, but what are you going to do? Either we went there or they came here, and they were pretty close a time or two.”
Despite his injuries, he is yet to receive a Purple Heart. Paperwork had been destroyed and family is working on trying to secure the award for their hero.
After the war
Dunnington returned to New Castle in 1945, returning to Perfect Circle where he completed 23 years before transitioning to full-time Christian ministry in 1963. He became an evangelist and then pastor for congregations in Shirley, Muncie and Corydon.
He met Lucille after the war, marrying her on Aug. 29, 1947. They were married for over 53 years.
“She was a sweetheart, oh mercy she was a sweetheart,” he says of his bride. “She loved her family and oh dear, she loved her kids. She loved everybody. She couldn’t see no harm in nobody, never could …”
She passed away with Alzheimers in 2001.
The couple parented four children: Don (wife Jane) Dunnington of Oklahoma City; Gary (wife Kim) Dunnington of Indianapolis; Joy (husband Steve) Broad of Middletown and Cheryl (husband Robert) Spessert of Augusta, Georgia.
There are 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Dunnington retired in New Castle in 1987 where he remained until moving in with his daughter Joy in 2016.
Son Don Dunnington says of his father, “Dad has modeled a deep faith and strong sense of personal integrity throughout my life. He emerged from a difficult background as a young man, was injured during the war and suffered other major setbacks along the way—yet built a strong and loving family and has lived a long life of service to God and others. I am grateful to be his son.”
The veteran became a Christ follower during a revival. “A lot of things changed in my life, it just turned around completely,” he said of his conversion. “But some of the hardest, hard men in the factory became some of my best friends. That’s all I want to do, see people get right with God. I’ve never lost that desire to this day, that’s what kept me going.”
For his birthday, family is asking for cards and photos from anyone who would like to send them. They will go into an album.
All four children will be there for his birthday and are making a memory blanket with all their family’s photos “so he can be covered in love when he sits in his chair,” says daughter Cheryl.
Greetings may be sent to George Dunnington, 4424 E. County Road 400 S., Middletown, IN 47356.
Story reprinted from the June 27, 2020 New Castle Courier-Times.
by DONNA CRONK
KNIGHTSTOWN — Although Robert “Bob” Garner is from Knightstown, with the historic gym the site of numerous community and school memories, once he graduated in 1966, he never visited the building again. Until 2015.
Today, as events coordinator of The Hoosier Gym, it’s his second home – and his passion.
The gym and its storied history, both personally and due to scenes from the movie “Hoosiers” filmed there, are so meaningful to Garner that he has published a book, “Hoosiers: Eleven Life Lessons.”
In it, Garner explains what he learned about life from the movie classic.
“When you played here – the last team that played here in 1966 – you wanted to go on the road,” Garner recalls, recalling his admiration for larger gyms. “You thought it was a dump. But now, you consider it a shrine.”
He’s far from unique in holding The Hoosier Gym in such high regard. Thirty-five years after the movie was filmed, some 60,000 people a year visit the landmark where guests can view and walk through the pristine gym as it appeared both as a functioning high school facility and as a set for movie scenes.
There, they can shoot the ball from the floor and sit the bench in the locker room. Garner and 25-year volunteer Mervin Kilmer will even give you insiders’ tours.
Why he returned to town
While life took Garner away from Knightstown, it never took Knightstown away from Garner. Through the years he returned to visit family, and when the film was shown locally for the first time at The Castle Theatre in New Castle in 1986, Garner was there.
It was a meaningful experience. “I really liked it but more importantly (was) seeing Mrs. (Peggy) Mayhill on the bleachers. She had been like a second mother to me. Seeing her was a cherry on top.”
His first job, coincidentally, was covering a basketball game for her husband, publishing icon, the late Tom Mayhill.
Garner spent his working years in the medical field away from the Hoosier state. His wife passed away in 2014 from Sjogren’s Syndrome.
As a result, Garner was asked by the Sjogren’s Society to coordinate a bicycle fundraiser, launched from The Hoosier Gym and ending in Colorado. Along the way, Garner would speak about the charity to raise awareness.
In August 2015, while starting that fundraiser in the gym, Garner’s life changed.
“There was something about being in the gym,” he recalls, “that maybe I should come back and be a Hoosier again.”
Two months later, he did just that.
Back home again
It didn’t take long for Garner to volunteer at the gym. He was impressed by efforts of local volunteers to keep the landmark so special following filming of the highly lauded movie.
And of course, there was all that personal history. Today, Garner points to the bench at the end of the gym. “I grew up sitting on the bench down there,” says the former Knightstown Panther. He tells visitors that he started center on the town’s basketball team. Then comes the punch line. “Started 20 games in the center of the bench.”
Inspired by Angelo Pizzo
Garner remains in awe of “Hoosiers” screenplay writer and producer Angelo Pizzo.
“When you talk to visitors, you notice the impact the movie has on a variety of people. Why is this movie so important all these years later?” Garner asks and answers his own question. “Angelo Pizzo was a genius. He had written a script that taught so many life lessons.”
Garner set out to capture the essence of those lessons that have to do with timeless values concerning community, faith, redemption, trust and more. He viewed the movie in five-minute segments over and over, taking note of the lessons he found in the order he found them.
“If you learn them at a young age, you’ll have a foundation for a great life. If you follow them, you’ll have a great life.”
He says, “If this book is meaningful to one person, that’s all I need.”
Even before the release, Garner found “that one person” in the form of a pre-reader, a 19-year-old Knightstown graduate who read the proofs and told him how the book helped her with something she had felt the weight of on her shoulders.
The book is about 11 different themes, including change and exploring the changes people need to make without changing their core values.
One of the 11 chapter lessons is that of the theme “Trust,” which Garner explains. Each of the 11 chapters offers a new life lesson.
Kilmer encouraged Garner to write the book. He said of the movie “Hoosiers” and Garner’s new book, “Eleven Life Lessons,” may change your life.
The book release is Wednesday, July 1. From 2-7 p.m. that day, the public is welcome to show up at The Hoosier Gym and purchase signed copies from the author. Those unable to attend may visit the author’s website at elevenlife lessons.com to order them.
Garner gives a special shout out to Knightstown graduate Zoe Huntsinger for her “brilliant” work editing his copy.
Long-term, the book will be available at The Hoosier Gym where a portion of sales will benefit the gym. The author can also be reached via email at rgarner@elevenlife lessons.com. The book is $25 including tax and shipping.
“I want people to read this with an open mind to understand the brilliance of Angelo Pizzo’s script,” says the author.
The Hoosier Gym is at 355 N. Washington St., Knightstown. Phone is 765-345-2100. Visit www.thehoosier gym.com for hours and updates.
When it comes to comfort food, June may be the last month you think of.
But I would say that given the year we're all in, comfort food is perfectly appropriate. I'm going to an outdoor pitch-in tonight with a salad-supper theme. My church life group, the Midlife Moms, or MLMs for short, are having our first in-person meeting since early March.
I wanted to make something special for the occasion and thought of a 1970s classic, a Jell-O dish that is more dessert than salad, Strawberry Pretzel Salad.
I had been given the recipe in 1978 as a wedding or shower gift along with a piece of (if memory serves) yellow Tupperware. I feel sure you can find it on allrecipes.com or some other online site. I haven't made the dish in probably two decades -- or longer.
As an empty nester, my cooking these days is generally simple, and gravitates to recipes I could make in the dark. What I realized as I prepared to make this one is that it was a different time in the 1970s. First of all, when was the last time you found a recent recipe for something with Jell-O? There are three different steps involved with this recipe which involve a lot of bowls, an electric mixer, an oven, a fridge and a grocery cart full of ingredients.
I decided to gather what I needed in a separate trip to the grocery store one night after work. It's interesting how ingredients for this jewel come from a lot of different aisles. Canned goods: pineapple; Frozen foods: strawberries and Cool Whip; dairy: butter and cream cheese; Snacks: pretzels; Baking: sugar, and from another place (I don't remember the aisle for it): Jell-O.
My recipe said it's better made a day ahead so I got started yesterday and it's a good thing because I spilled the cup of pineapple juice I had set aside. So off to the store I went for another can of pineapple! (It was cheaper than a can of pineapple juice which we would never drink otherwise).
So yeah, a good thing I started a day early. Right now, the dish is chilling out and I hope my crew enjoys it tonight.
Brian and I got to talking about '70s dishes and he said he always liked that salad with lots of layers. I knew exactly what he was talking about: Seven-Layer Salad. On our regular grocery-store trip, also yesterday (the one before the one needed after I spilled the pineapple juice), we gathered the goods for that: cauliflower, green onions, Romaine lettuce, bacon, frozen peas and grated cheddar cheese. I told him the dressing makes it and I could lighten up the mayo-sugar combo it calls for. He said no, he'd rather have our Light Ranch.
I made it after I did the strawberry dish and we both loved it. This dish, too, requires a lot of ingredients. I think for the two recipes alone, you can expect a pretty full grocery cart.
Not dishes I would make every day. But that's OK. Sometimes a food trip to the '70s is refreshing, as are both these beauties.
What would be on YOUR list for a summer comfort food?
It's Memorial Day and I'm thinking of the untold number of soldiers who died so that we could keep our beautiful country, families, friends, and communities living in freedom! This nation has its flaws and has always been filled with flawed leaders and policies, but it's the greatest nation ever known to mankind. I am thankful and grateful to be an American.
I'm thinking of my two favorite veterans today, both having passed on, and remembering how much I miss them. There's my father-in-law Ray, who served in major European-front WW II battles and survived -- he didn't think he would.
There's my brother, Tim, who passed in March. I still can't believe I'm writing that sentence ... Tim served in Vietnam.
I saw something about the history of our hometown on a Facebook page and thought instantly that I needed to talk to him about the cool post... I will miss him every day of the rest of my life.
His ashes were buried in my hometown graveyard, surrounded by plots containing our parents, my brother David, his wife Janet, and precious infants of nieces who have gone on before him. The day after Tim's service, we were told at the newspaper to go home and stay there, doing our jobs from home, due to the virus.
I didn't know if I could. Any success I would have with working from home depended on the kindness of people in the communities we cover. Would people work with me in returning calls to a phone number they didn't recognize? Would they take the time and energy from their own lives as either essential workers or while undergoing challenges of isolation to answer email questions for stories? What about take and send me photos to go with stories?
So tomorrow will be the first semi-normal day I've had since the day after Tim's burial. I'll be back in the office, assuming my normal part-time workweek schedule, although we are still to work via email and phone as much as possible for a while longer.
A couple weeks ago we visited my SIL Jeannie, Tim's wife. She handed us a plastic bag brimming with books. On the outside of the bag it read "To DONNA & BRIAN."
It was from Tim. Tim was an avid reader of all kinds of books, and he would make a selection from his vast library regularly and almost every time we saw him, we went home with a bag of books.
Tim had prepared a final bag of eclectic volumes for us at some point before he passed on ... it felt at once incredibly sad, and sweet -- bittersweet -- to take home those last books he wanted us to have. I'm saving the bag and took a photo of the selection so I would have it and remember Tim's thoughtfulness. Of course I will forever remember Tim. No photo is needed for that memory. But I have some to treasure.
By DONNA CRONK
Reprinted from the Saturday, May 2, 2020 New Castle Courier-Times. Last in a series looking at how local people with special challenges cope and hope during the coronavirus pandemic and their advice for you.
When you walk into Hinsey-Brown Funeral Service, it might be hard to say which you notice first about Wanda Jones--her pleasant smile or her big heart.
While part of her job working in advance planning and aftercare is to support those who grieve, it's her empathy that extends beyond a paycheck. She's no stranger to personal grief.
The tenth baby born in 1964 to the late Felix and Lovie Dishman, Wanda's mother died unexpectedly at 54 when Wanda was entering her teens. Her father died in 2007 after a brief illness, and months later, her best friend lost her life in a car accident.
Recently, grief visited Wanda again with the sudden March 9 passing of her beloved husband of 35 years, Steve, from a heart attack.
World is upside down
"Now I find myself trying to navigate this same path that I have walked with others," says Wanda. "My world has been turned upside down. I am in the depths of my grief and reality is beginning to settle in. The timing with social distancing has not been my friend."
Steve's viewing and funeral were days before the COVID-19 restrictions began.
"I am so thankful we didn't have limitations at that time," Wanda says. "Our family is huge and we had family come from five-or-more states to support us. My heart goes out to those now who are having to do things so differently. It just complicates things so much more."
Wanda says social distancing is difficult in itself but combined with losing a loved one, "it can be completely devastating. The support of family and friends is so vital when you are grieving."
Together, the couple have four children, April Forrest, Erica Jones, Ashley Denton and Shane Jones; 10 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Wanda has four sisters, Linda Loveless, Brenda Polston, Gale Poor and Joy Dishman-Harris; four brothers, Dave, Steve, Bob and Larry Dishman, and a stillborn brother, James.
Born in Springport, Wanda and family later moved to Winchester, then back to Henry County. She graduated high school at 16 via homeschooling.
Love of her life
"I met Steve when I was 19," Wanda recalls, adding that they married two years later on Feb. 15, 1985.
"He was 14 years older than me, and honestly, some of my family and friends were concerned that it wouldn't last but this past February we celebrated 35 years of marriage."
They loved to travel and vacation time was a priority. "I don't think we ever missed a year without one or more vacations," Wanda says. "Our family enjoyed many camping and fishing trips every summer."
Wanda came to respect and appreciate Hinsey-Brown while working with with staff there when she sold advertising for this newspaper.
Their services then brought her care and comfort when her dad and best friend both died within six months.
New fulfilling career
Ten years ago Wanda hoped to move into a part-time career that would be both enriching and fulfilling. She learned of an aftercare position at Hinsey-Brown.
Wanda said she had no experience "except for my own grief. They decided to give me a chance ..."
She became certified in bereavement care, and has additional training from grief educator-counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt.
"It soon became my passion to walk beside those who are grieving," says Wanda. "Not try to fix them or take away their pain, but just walk with them, be a companion to them, and stand witness to their grief. I have learned so much in the last 10 years from those who have traveled this journey."
Ways to help those who grieve
As for advice for those who grieving while social distancing, Wanda is willing to share what is getting her through.
"I can only think about today, how can I get through today," Wanda says. "I cannot at all look to the future. I am learning the meaning of one day at a time, sometimes it's more like an hour at a time or even a minute."
She continues. "Every morning when I get up, I know that God provided me the strength I needed to get through yesterday; he will do the same today."
Wanda finds working and a routine helpful. "Evenings and weekends are hard because that was our time together. But getting back to work has helped. I have been outside when I can, exercise helps, I planted some flowers this (last) weekend. But there are other times I just have to sit with the grief and let it in."
When it comes to helping those who are isolated, Wanda suggests phone calls. "You don't have to have any great words of wisdom. Just be a good listener and when this social distancing is over we all know your time is the greatest gift you can give someone."
Wanda finds comfort in all those who have reached out to say they are praying for her and in photos, stories, notes and cards that arrive when she needs them.
"I have been overwhelmed and amazed at the support I have received from family and friends and even older friends I hadn't seen in years, who will text or call and a few have stopped by just to talk a minute from their cars."
"I think sometimes people don't know if they should call or mention your loved one in a conversation," Wanda says. "I know from what I have learned from others and now what I know from my own experience is yes, we want to talk about our loss. We want to hear what you remember about our loved one and we want to tell our story. Yes I may cry, but that's OK."
Wanda continues. "I need to cry. I try not to apologize if I break down. I love my husband deeply and I want to grieve him well. This deep pain of grief is a sign that I have given and received love."
Seeking joy to come
Wanda says she will intentionally seek to find joy in the life she has left. "Sometimes it seems so dark, but then we are given a ray of sunshine through the laughter of a child, or the singing of the birds, or a sweet memory that comes out of nowhere."
She continues. "I want to savor these moments and thank God for his blessings."
It’s amazing what you can adjust
to when you have no other choice’
Second in a three-part series in the New Castle Courier-Times about local people who deal with special challenges during this time of quarantine. Their stories are about how they cope and hope not only now but routinely, and their advice for us. Tomorrow: Wanda Jones.
By DONNA CRONK
SPICELAND – In 1998, at age 31, Amie Thornburg was a young wife of Pat Thornburg and mother of their little girls, Emily, 6, and Lindsey, nearly 2.
The Tri graduate who attended both Purdue and Ball State also worked in exports for SMC Pneumatics in Indy. It was then that she was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“ALS basically causes your muscles to quit working. Eventually, all of your muscles,” Amie says, adding that she was able to work for several years after the diagnosis, as well as do many things because the disease has been slow to progress in her, “which is usually not the case,” she adds.
“Most people are told to expect to survive 2-5 years after diagnosis,” says Amy. There remains no cure.
For sure, Amie and family have had to adapt to her disability. Yet today, she continues to lead a full life where the name of her blog, “An incurably happy life,” says it all. (Visitors are welcome: https://incurablyhappylife.wordpress.com/).
The couple’s daughters are now 27 and 23, and the empty-nester couple even travels together via RV where the equipment Amie needs is easily accessible. Amie even has her own etsy shop where she enjoys selling vintage items in her store, called Zuzues Petals (at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ZuzuesPetals).
“I type and am able to use my laptop through the use of a computer program and eye gaze system called Tobil,” says Amie. “I spend a lot of time on my laptop since I cannot physically do anything by myself.”
As normal as possible
Amie says she and her family live their lives as normally as possible. “Doing anything with a disability requires lots of extra time and lots of planning and extra work, but most things are doable,” she says.
Several years ago, she planned a family vacation to Ireland. “I was in a wheelchair then too, so it was tricky, but we did it and had an amazing trip,” Amie says. “My husband and I go on vacation, these days usually in our RV. We have started spending part of our winters in a warmer climate, like Florida, except this year, unfortunately.”
The RV makes travel easier with ready access to her wheelchair, BiPAP machine, shower chair and other supplies. While the trips are a welcome break, mostly, Amie is at home.
“Adapting to always being in my house, due to my disability, came slowly,” she says. “As I was able to do less and less on my own, I stayed in more and more. It didn’t happen overnight, luckily, unlike the COVID-19 virus, where everyone was suddenly told to stay home. Adapting is also easier when you have no choice. I can’t physically go out on my own, so, unless someone helps me, a lot, I don’t go anywhere…”
Amie is at higher risk when it comes to the pandemic, which includes a decreased lung function, “so if I got this virus or even any pneumonia, I don’t know that I would survive it. Likely not. This is serious stuff, yet I don’t think we can stop living our lives.”
She says she possibly feels a bit safer due to widespread caution. “I don’t know how I’ll feel once everyone is back to work, and living their normal lives, probably a bit nervous because it would be so serious if I were to get sick.”Amie and Pat have reduced contact with people as much as possible, including not having family in as per usual.
“My husband still has to go out fairly regularly just to get supplies for us and our animals,” Amie says. “He tries to be cautious. It’s tough because I do need help with every daily function and a patient life.”
She speaks of the effort and help required for every trip to the bathroom, bathing, dressing and eating. “I have to have someone else come over to help me when my husband isn’t available, virus or no virus.”
Amie says she is fortunate that sister-in-law Jennifer Wolski is nearby and usually helps when Pat can’t, as well as daughter Emily. Amie’s mom, Sharon Day, also helps out.
“So, I have to take some risks just to live,” Amie says. “I really don’t think about it that much. We all just have to take precautions and be cautious, but keep on keeping, on, as the saying goes.”
Doing the at-home thing
Amie says she has “been doing this stay-at-home thing” for a long time. “I have learned that we can get by with way less than we think we need, no matter what the situation. I would never have thought that I could stay in my house and not go out for literally months at a time, but I have found out that it is very doable.”
“I would have said 30 years ago that I couldn’t imagine living without being able to move my arms or walk around, but it’s amazing what you can adjust to when you have no other choice.”
Do it yourself: Amie says If you keep your mind and brain active, along with your body if able, you find that you don’t need to go out daily, “that’s just what you are used to doing.” She mentions things people are accustomed to such as various aspects of grooming and how people can do those things themselves. She suggests YouTube videos for how-tos.
Take a break: Amie has learned “that anyone will drive you completely nuts if you are around them too much, even the people you really like or love.” Her advice is to have your own space “to get away from everyone however often you need to.”
She says most homes have more than one room for more than one reason. “Take a break from whoever you live with and stay in different rooms (or garage and basement, etc.) for a little while every day…”
Gift of time: Amie agrees with those who think the virus has a purpose. “We’ve seen many horrible things with this pandemic, but there is a lot of good that’s come from it too.”
Says Amie, “I just hope people have used this gift of time to learn a few things about themselves and their lives. We can survive without many material things, but times like this make you realize what is really important in life.
“As we slowly return to our normal lives, I hope we can find a new more meaningful normal.”
First in a three-part series about local people with special challenges during the coronavirus quarantine. They share their stories of how they cope and hope at this time, and offer advice for you. Reprinted from the April 30, 2020 New Castle Courier-Times. Tomorrow's paper will feature Amie Thornburg of Spiceland.
By DONNA CRONK
Despite complications from cerebral palsy, and a prognosis that she would never see her fifth birthday, lifelong New Castle resident Lynda Alberson is 57 and due to the creativity of her friends, is in the process of “touring” the country.
One thing that doesn’t scare this virtual traveler is getting the coronavirus. Although at high risk due to asthma, Lynda says, “If I get it, I get it. I can’t spend my life worrying about dying. I was supposed to die before I was 5. I am now going to be 58 in November.”
What troubles Alberson is not what will happen to her, but she is concerned for others and that her loved ones will be OK and that small businesses will make it.
Reared on love
Raised in a family that loved her deeply, including her late parents Gene and Dayton Alberson, the daughter remains encouraged by her upbringing and the love of family and her community. She says if she dies, she feels it’s her time. She credits Granny for her outlook.
“I could not go outside and play like everybody else so I sat and talked to her,” recalls Lynda. “She talked to me like a person; told me when my time is up, it is up.” Granny told her granddaughter that she can either fret or live her life.
Lynda says she knows so-called “normal” people who are not as blessed as she is. “I have many, many people that care about me, plus when I was very young, my Granny told me I had a choice. I could be bitter, not have people like me and be unhappy – or, smile, laugh and always find the silver living. I picked B.”
In fact, Lynda enjoys laughter so much, and finding the humorous side to life, she says, “If not for my voice I would try my hand at stand-up comic – or in my case – sit down.”
The hometown woman claims two New Castle Chrysler High School classes as her own. As a proud member of the Class of 1981, Lynda looks forward to her 40th anniversary next year. She was originally to be in the class of 1982 but credits her teachers with getting her promoted a year early by having her work ahead in sixth grade and thus skip the perils of going to the seventh-grade building with no elevator.
Lynda’s teachers also encouraged her to stay positive with advice that yes, she does things differently, but she is still no different than “June, Steve or Cathy.” She credits many people for her positive outlook.
Chick on a stick
As for her hobby of travel, Lynda would love to see all of the nation’s 50 states. She came up with a way that just might let her meet that goal. She got the idea from someone on TV who had his or her photo taken out of state and emailed to a TV station.
“I thought ‘Hey, might be a way for me to say my head has been in 50 states.’” So she posted the idea on Facebook and her friends got on board. “My friend Judy jumped on it. She takes me everywhere,” says Lynda.
“Others like my friends Nancy and Liz ran with it. Had family take me to reunions. I so enjoy the creative way they do it,” Lynda continues. “Nancy walked up to people on the beach and said, ‘Hold my friend’s head, I am posting on Facebook. They said cool.’ Our mutual friend Liz got a race car driver to hold my head and sign it.”
Lynda goes on. “The joy I have got from one post, amazing. Guess it circles back to how I stay upbeat. How can I not with all the amazing people around me?”
Advice to others
Lynda has some thoughts on how others can get through tough times such as this period of extreme social distancing. She encourages people to set goals, to get up, dressed and know what day it is. “If you don’t, you fall in a dark well that even Lassie can’t save you (from),” says Lynda.
She encourages people to “Don’t visit your fears or judgments on others,” to maybe check on loved ones or keep busy for their health. She also says to be kind. Her comedic side suggests to not be the neighbor from (the old TV show) "Bewitched."
Adds Lynda, “Laugh every day, especially at yourself.” She says if she is dropped on her head, she doesn’t get mad, but laughs and says, “Retake.”
Lynda says that “Laughter is a gift. Use it often. Lastly, remember you are not (the) only one. Treat the ones helping you kindly. They don’t have to help.”
I'd know that view anywhere ...
It's inside the little Brownsville United Methodist Church. It's where my Grandma Jobe played piano, but not in my lifetime. It's where I went to church growing up. It's where I got married at 20. In the graveyard surrounding it is where my family members who have passed are buried.
It's taken me weeks to write this post. Recently my brother's ashes were buried in the cemetery here, surrounded by our other close family members nearby, including close by our brother David and his wife Janet, and our folks, Huburt and Martha Jobe, and a great-niece and great-great-nephew. On the other side of the cemetery, grandparents and great-grandparents.
It was a short service, occurring just before the stricter funeral gathering restrictions went into place. In fact the next day, new work-from-home policies were established, despite our media exemption.
Life has been anything but normal since Tim's gravesite military burial, and a quick paying of respects. Then we dispersed back to our homes. Life will never be normal without Tim. He was the best. I will miss him every day for the rest of my life.
But I wanted to say something about the unexpected comfort I found that day from some special ladies. These church ladies, I've known all or most of my life. And there they were that day.
When we arrived at the cemetery, I heard strains of organ music coming from the church. There was no inside service, but I had to know who was in there playing. I went in and there was Charlotte, as if there from a dream of an earlier time. Charlotte has always in my recollections, been an organist at my sweet little hometown church.
She said because they had not had services the previous Sunday, and because she was thinking of Tim, she just wanted to come in and play ...
And there was Pat, changing the sign out front. Another dear heart I've known all my life.
Lois was there, too. She asked if we wanted photos sitting in the pew space where my mother and I sat on Sundays. So briefly, all too briefly, that's where we were and I turned the camera on her.
On one of the hardest days ever, despite the years, despite the distance in miles, despite lots of life getting in the way, despite the quick service, despite it all, I was comforted uniquely and tremendously by these constants in my life from my little church in the wild wood. Thank you ladies.
And then, it was over ... and we were on our way home.
We always spend Easter dinner and afternoon with our daughter-in-law Allison's family. So tomorrow afternoon will be quite low key with folks not able to get together this spring due to social distancing. Still, I put out a few decorations. I didn't buy anything new; just used what I had, such as this green bunny, and handful of fake eggs, and a good scatter around Grandma Jobe's marble-top hutch.
I've had this peony wreath for probably 20 years. I ordered it from the Current stationery and novelty catalog. I remain impressed with how realistic Indiana's State Flowers look after all this time, how authentic the leaves, and how much I still enjoy this wreath either encircling a candle (this spring it's on the kitchen table) or hanging from a door or wall. Happy Easter everyone! Remember, we have every reason for celebration because the tomb is still empty!
I had a celebration, of sorts, for spring this morning.
Actually, I had forgotten the season had changed, but found cheer when I saw that it had.
I celebrated this morning, when the sky was blue and the sun bright (for about 10 minutes, anyway) by hanging beautiful chimes outside on our back porch. Church friends got them for me in memory of my splendid brother, Tim, whose funeral was Tuesday.
Sixty-one-years-old and I’ve never had chimes before. These are large and loud as you handle them, but something remarkable happens once they are hung.
They know what to do. Once in place, they’re in their element and start bumping into each other softly, playing sweet, original tunes, directed by the wind. I immediately thought of how much I will enjoy them when I doze on the porch this summer. Already I like to hear them when seated in my house.
That’s not the end of the story, though. Within 10 minutes of their glorious prelude, the breeze turned to wind, the sky from blue to gray. Felt like a storm blowing in, a spring one.
The chimes got louder as the wind tossed them about, never wavering from their song. Their melodies continued new and strong, dancing in the wind, ever louder, still beautiful.
I’m hearing these chimes as a metaphor for what we’re to do in this storm that’s shared by all humanity right now. We are oddly standing together as we stand apart.
Speculations are varied and endless about how we’ll endure, what will happen, and when we can return to normal. No one knows what will happen or even what our new normal will look like. When you’re in the middle of a storm you have to ride it out.
But we'll be in this storm for a while. I have to turn off the news and do something.
Now being a Midwestern farm girl at heart, I’m all about the practical. So here’s what I’m going to do.
I’m now commuting to work in a new way, as are many of you. But hey, you can’t beat the gas mileage from my bedroom to my living room. And it doesn’t get any more casual Friday than PJs.
Everything in regular time is canceled now. So we’ll find creative ways to stay connected. Three groups I’m involved with – a life group of friends from my church, Weight Watchers and Bible Study Fellowship are working on virtual meetings to keep us connected. So we’ll all learn to set up and use a new skill.
How often do many of us say “If I only had time…” Well now we do! So we’ll find out if we really mean it that if we had the time we’d clean out cabinets, deep clean the house, make more home-cooked meals, allow ourselves little guilty pleasures such as binging on the streaming services we pay for anyway.
Maybe we'll write letters or help someone. Maybe we'll go through our stuff and donate the useful abundance to those who need it. We should absolutely pray that God will go with us through this storm and bring us out on the other side.
Historically speaking in my life, organizing and eliminating clutter have been soothing activities. There’s something about an organized closet, streamlined junk drawers and cabinets that make me feel accomplished on a primal level. I think it has to do with feeling in control of something when everything beyond those activities feels totally out of control.
And we need to laugh! Yesterday Brian called on his way home to see if I needed anything at the store. Well, that’s a funny question, but gets only funnier when I tell him we could use toilet paper! That’s the national joke and TP the product of the year. (But we could use some … I’m just saying.)
I said eggs, we could use eggs. When he got home he said, “Guess what I found?” As he made his way through the house, he handed me this a six pack--of eggs!
We had to laugh over the store-rationed half-carton of eggs. But you know what? THEY WERE ENOUGH! The small carton made me realize that it meant others didn't have to do without eggs all together. There would be more eggs the next day. Our need was met and guess what? We haven't even used them yet!
Also, we need to do something normal. Every year we do at least one fairly major home repair or upgrade. This year the goal is to paint our ceilings and three-quarters of our downstairs interior.
So instead of wringing our hands, we’re having a young man who owns his own painting business and who comes with sterling recommendations from two friends, give us an estimate. We're looking to refresh and update our décor, but it’s also about supporting a local business, and thus, the economy. OUR economy.
And I'm on a committee that will start making phone calls to church members, these, in my life group. The goal is to keep us connected to God, to one another, and to our spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
We can do this everyone. We can do what each of us can do. We cannot freak out. We have others who look to us to see how strong we’re staying; how sane of mind and firm of faith.
Psalm 46:1-3: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!"
And let the chimes do what they do. Chime loud and strong in the wind and the storm. Let's do the same.
Are you with me?