My parents kept the iron safe tucked inside a corner of a bedroom closet. The floor safe remained there, holding important documents, a diamond ring before it was sold, and a box of coins. When their household goods were divided among my brothers and me, Tim assumed custody of the safe.
I had a surprise question from Jeannie a few months ago asking if we or one of our sons would like to have it. We asked Sam if he would like to be next in line to caretake this safe. He was delighted. The day to bring it home came on Thursday, also Veterans Day, a day when Tim was especially on my mind. He is a U.S. Navy Seabee veteran of the Vietnam War.
But how does one move a floor safe, well, safely? Its weight is unknown, but it is certainly not something that should be lifted to determine. I previously didn't give a thought to such things. Funny how aging turns thought patterns upside down.
Rain was predicted; the ramps we found to rent for the trip weren't tall enough to secure onto Sam's RAM truck bed. What to do? Overkill it, that's what! It's the Cronk way.
Jeannie didn't realize it was us when Brian and Sam pulled into her driveway Thursday. She was expecting a normal-sized vehicle. Before I could get parked, Sam and Brian were headed inside to survey the safe and assess the asset. But lunch called our name, so first things first: off to meet Jeannie's nephew Matt at Liberty Bell.
Back at Jeannie's following lunch, and with Matt along, in came Brian's trusted dolly, inherited from his dad. Sam was able to crack the safe quickly (I've always wanted to use that term, so there it is). My thorough brother, Tim, had left the combination.
There were papers inside, no, not a secret stash of cash, but rather an envelope bulging with old photos, and some miscellaneous bank and real estate papers, along with insurance policies on 1970s vehicles long-since gone.
My thought is that the pictures are a curated collection that Tim wanted to make sure got passed on in the family, and the other papers had simply remained there from the 1970s where Dad left them ...
Jeannie sent the contents home for us to decide about.
You can't read the company nameplate on the right of the door, but it says The Wehrle Stove Company in Newark, Ohio. The company's start came from an 1883 iron foundry where farm goods were made. In 1885, Joseph Wehrle became a partner and stoves became the principle product. Joseph's sons took it over and in 1904, the company bought Atlas Safe Company. Thirty-five fireproof safes were made daily in 18 sizes. The above information is from The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology.
So, while I don't have a firm date on our family safe, the company nameplate would place it at least 1904. I saw a similar safe online that is credited with 1910. It appears that the company stamped or engraved the name of the safe owner above the door.
A similar personalized nameplate in the same font, size and color appears on the 1910 version. So I would put the safe at around 110-115 years old, give or take.
The family name on the safe is that of my great-grandfather, George (G.W. on the safe) Job(e). My understanding is that George changed the family name from the biblical or Irish spelling of Job to Jobe. He added the e.
He married Donna McDougal, who was known as Donnie. I have a gold bracelet of Donnie's. The original Job(e)s were from Ireland in the 1820s, and the McDougals from Scotland in the same era. Both families settled in or around Brownsville.
The McDougals are buried in the Christian Union graveyard in Brownsville while the early Jobs are buried in the pioneer cemetery of the old Robinson Chapel in Fayette County. George, however, is in the Springersville Cemetery. Roscoe (his only son who survived past a young age) is buried in the Brownsville United Methodist Cemetery along with recent generations of my Jobe family.
The first Job (no e) to come to the area from Ireland was Samuel Job. Interestingly enough, we named our firstborn Samuel Jobe Cronk. We had no idea then of the family history of the name. I had this photo in my files of the original safe owner, George Job.
Original owner of the antique safe, George Job, my great-grandfather, and wife Donna (Donnie) McDougal Job. Only Roscoe (the younger boy in this photo) lived to enjoy adulthood. His only son to live to adulthood was my father, Huburt. If Huburt were alive, he would be 109. This photo would be around 129 years old.
Some time ago, I located George's obituary. If I find I am not remembering this correctly, I will correct it, but it seems that he served as president of the Brownsville Telephone Co. Back in the early 1900s, small communities had their own local phone companies.
You'll realize how that worked out in everyday terms when I tell you the cause of his death: Complications from falling off a telephone pole. I would gather then, that the company president was also a lineman.
I can only imagine the various important papers, life savings, deeds to much-loved and labored-over property, have passed through that old family safe.
My brother Tim always got a laugh out of our crazy Cronk antics. I know he would laugh (and how I miss that laugh!) at the effort involved in renting a van to come and get the safe. Overkill, yes. The Cronk MO.
But it's safe and sound at Sam's now. Another number in the combination that makes up this family.
My paternal grandmother came to live with us when I was in second grade. I look back now and realize that the preparation for moving her out of her small-town home into our farmhouse had begun the previous year.
It was then that my folks added on a bedroom—the largest of three in the house—with a plan for me to share it with Grandma. That’s what happened for those last few years of her life.
About the time Grandma became my roomie, a package for her arrived from friends at church. It was called a sunshine box, and it was a thing so curious and beautiful to these then-young eyes that I never forgot it.
The sturdy standard-issue cardboard box had been hand-covered with a paper garden of flowers, pasted in a collage over the entire package. The pictures had no doubt been clipped from seed catalogs for creating this unique “container garden.”
Inside were practical and interesting items that a senior woman in her 70s might use. One was a shaker container of scented body powder called Cashmere Bouquet, if memory serves; another, a small devotional book of encouragement. I don’t remember what else was in there, probably some Peppermint chewing gum or the bright-pink mints she favored; maybe a box of all-occasion cards for sending. I was as or more excited than Grandma to watch her unpack such lovely small gifts.
A variation on the sunshine box concept resurfaced earlier this year during Brian’s illness when friends from his former workplace sent word that he would be getting a gift basket. The result was not one but three containers overflowing with crossword-puzzles, handpicked books, candles, candy, gift cards, and other thoughtful comforts of love and friendship.
I vowed to do better at sharing this kind of love with others.
With memories of the vintage sunshine box in mind, several weeks ago I made my first one. I wanted it to be as much as possible like the one Grandma had received in the 1960s.
A childhood church friend and I had decided that we would visit two ladies from our youth who still attend the same church we attended. One, in fact, just turned 101 in October, and the other one is decades' younger, recovering from a surgery.
The week before our outing, I thought my laundry-basket-sized box would be a breeze to cover. I didn’t have any seed catalogs, so I flipped through stacks of general-interest magazines a friend had given me and tore out flowers, pictures of people doing fun things, cute kittens, phrases such as “Highway to heaven,” and attached them to the box with Mod Podge. I found that cardboard soaks up a lot of glue, so I put it on heavy.
I still didn’t have enough pretty pictures to cover the box. So, I went through more magazines of my own, and supplemented the collage with some floral wrapping paper from the closet. Finally, it was finished; my first old-fashioned sunshine box! It looked pretty good, if I do say so myself.
The friend and I met for lunch on a Monday. She also provided a decorated sunshine box. We divided our contributions of gently used magazines, books, cards, notebooks, and snacks between the two boxes and signed cards to go with the goods. Then we visited our friends at their separate locations.
More meaningful than the boxes, we spent an hour or longer with each of our recipients talking and telling life stories, being in no hurry to run off. Time is, after all, the best gift. We all enjoyed the visit, of that I am certain.
When I explained to the then-nearly 101-year-old about the boxes, I realized something. She may well have been one of the friends who contributed to that sunshine box for my grandmother back in the 1960s!
“Yes, we used to send sunshine boxes in the WSCS,” she said matter-of-factly of the United Methodist Church women’s organization, called Women’s Society of Christian Service in that era.
This was a full-circle moment. Without memories of that box, I would never have thought to suggest it as a goodwill present a half-century later.
I find it interesting to reconnect with people from my youth and to know that while I’ve reached retirement status, there are still those alive who remember my grandparents and parents. It feels amazing, particularly, because I haven’t lived in my hometown area in 43 years. Even so, it feels as close as ever to my heart, and the sense of belonging runs deep.
Just months into this retirement gig, I’m finding that one of the general principles I like most is that there is now the time to do things like this; to hop in the car and go visit someone. It’s nice to take a little something along as a gift—or to take a sunshine box.
Fill it with recent-issue magazines, inexpensive packaged treats (or home-baked if you can), toiletries, maybe pass along the book you just read and enjoyed, some stamps, envelopes and paper or notecards. Then sign and write a note on a card of your own with a nice note to wrap up a lot of joy for the recipient to know, “I am thought of. I am cared about.”
Whether you call it a sunshine box, a care package, a gift basket, or something else, it doesn’t take much except effort to make someone else’s day. Giving it away will make your own in the process.
Retired New Castle Courier-Times Neighbors Editor Donna Cronk’s Next Chapter column appears the second and fourth Saturdays in The Courier-Times and The Shelbyville News. It runs the first and third Tuesdays in the Connersville News-Examiner. Connect with her at email@example.com.
For many years at the newspaper, if I found myself in a computer pinch of any kind, I called for Dale.
From somewhere inside the building, it wasn’t long before he showed up at my desk. It was wonderful.
Dale never got rattled, and if he felt angry, I never saw it. Among his many other duties, he was That Guy who helped us all with whatever technical difficulty we had going.
Generally, it was something simple, resolved by the pressing of a computer key or two in combination with holding one’s facial expression precisely right.
Other times, it was more complex. If so, I’d offer Dale my chair and flee the scene while he performed his special kind of magic.
Even if things were complicated, it wouldn’t be long before my fingers were back on home row, the keys flying double-time toward deadline.
With Dale retired for several years now, the resident computer guru is Travis, who is also the managing editor. Like Dale, Travis doesn’t get uptight or mad when there’s a computer problem. He knows what to do.
How these people know what to do is beyond me. I just know how to write, and you may question that.
Through my decades in the news business, and probably those same decades in whatever business you are or were in, we experience periods of huge technology transitions.
In the 1990s, we got a new system company wide. Many of us were concerned, wondering if the new machines would be difficult to operate, and weren’t things going well the way they were? We were getting papers out on time, right? Why did things have to change?
Aw, yes, the universal question: Why do things have to change?
How often in life do we ask that about so much? Yet we know, down deep, that it’s how life works on most levels. And once we adjust to the new system, we’ll wonder how we got by with those older stone tablets… er, computers.
Word came during that particular upgrade that an employee at another paper had felt such anxiety about the transition to the new system, the person sought prayer at church. I don’t have a problem with seeking divine intervention for computer issues—in fact, I’m all for it—but mention it only because I feel that worker’s angst.
A couple of us voiced concern that we would have to spend part of Christmas day in the office that year, ushering in the new system. We were concerned the computers would cause us to miss family celebrations. For the record, the new computers did not ruin our holidays nor our lives.
I can’t count the number of computers or related programs we dealt with through my years on newspaper staffs. We made it through those sometimes-rocky periods, and we always, somehow, got the paper out on time.
While I worked as editor of a small paper in west-central Indiana before my New Castle years, one winter’s day, the staff traveled to a newspaper office in Illinois for training about a new computer system we were all getting. It was so confusing that I knew I’d never get the hang of it. The lesson notes I took amounted to gibberish. I felt doomed.
By the time I got home that night, I had chills, aches, and felt horrible. It wasn’t the computer training that brought me down that day. It was the flu! I wasn’t doomed after all regarding the training, and even managed to learn the new system once I recovered.
This week I’ve been thinking about those days, and about the helpful coworkers who were always able to figure out our computer issues and upgrades.
One downside of retirement is that it will be harder to keep up with changes in technology. I got a little taste of that this week when the only tech person to call was me and I was already there.
My website provider emailed that an automatic credit card payment for my monthly fee was rejected and if I didn’t get it resolved, it would be curtains. OK, they didn’t say curtains, but that was certainly my interpretation.
I imagined the problem was due to a hacked credit card that had to be voided and replaced earlier this year. I thought that had been straightened out. I went down that rabbit hole for a couple hours, talking to the credit card company and reading through too much information on my website host’s admin portal. Nope, it wasn’t the credit card. Nope, it wasn’t helpful to read the portal’s information.
After some significant fretting, worrying that my website and email were in danger, and moments which may or may not have included tears, there were a couple more hours of gloom.
After more dead ends and an inability to speak to a living person in tech world, I stumbled upon the problem. It had to do with a fundamental change in the host site’s operations. I can’t quite put into words how I found the problem and corrected it but at some point – even without Dale, Travis, or a trainer in Illinois – I got a message that my payment had been accepted.
Apparently I solved the computer problem. Record the date for the history books.
It may be too soon to celebrate, but the answer is, when these things happen in retirement, we have to hunker down and work the problem.
If I had to give you (and myself) advice about dealing with our personal computer issues, I would tell us to keep a notebook with all our current passcodes and log-in information, billing details, amounts due and when each month, and other pertinent facts relating to our computers and their specific programs.
Also, know where your owners’ manuals are kept and how to get to them quickly (OK smarty pants, know how to get to the online owners’ manuals). Get recommendations on a reputable tech-repair outlet or people who can become your very own version of Dale or Travis. Look for the helpers, I believe Mr. Rogers once said.
Above all else, locate your own kids or preschool grandchildren who might give you a hand. Add a cute dog if you wish. He may not be good with computers but he might lower your blood pressure as you work the problem.
The above Next Chapter column by Donna Cronk recently appeared in the New Castle, Shelbyville, and Connersville newspapers where Cronk pens twice-monthly columns with her thoughts on life as a retiree.
For the last two decades we kept two inexpensive, plastic Adirondack-styled chairs on our front porch, centered under the picture window. The chairs are the color of our house trim and garage doors, which is good, but their seats are too low for old knees, making them more for show than for sitting.
In the winter, the wind blows them around the porch or they tumble into the landscaping. Short on garage space, I tend to stack them unattractively in a porch corner to weight them down until the spring winds subside and they resume their warmer-weather placement.
Last spring I decided this is ridiculous! We are in our sixties! If we’re not worthy of proper porch furnishings now, then when? What we need, I decreed, is a pair of functional chairs. Black ones, to match our outdoor sconces. Sturdy ones, that we can leave out come hail or high water. Rocking ones, that will remain in an upright stance.
I had my eye on just the pair, but first needed to run it by the house appropriations committee. The committee co-chair said get them. No quiz, no commentary, no asking the price even. My kind of yes.
Upon close inspection, the chairs are even better than I had imagined. They are made here in Indiana of a composite all-weather material, and they each come with a 20-year guarantee.
“They’ll last longer than I will,” Brian deadpanned, noting that he would be all of 87 when the warranty expires. I save that warranty in its own folder alongside other important papers in their respective files.
How surprised the store clerk will be if a chair breaks at age 19 and I show up for a refund. I can’t say they were inexpensive, but for once, that wasn’t the priority.
Once they were lifted off son Sam’s truck and onto the porch, they looked as perfect as I had anticipated. I dreamt of the years ahead, sitting in one of the chairs with Brian in the other as we rocked and watched the neighbors and their dogs stroll up and down our street against a backdrop of colorful sunsets.
I’ve always loved a good rocking chair, and these seats fit my backside with space to spare. The armrests are likewise substantial, able to balance a glass of iced tea with ease as I rock. And our knees have no issues.
Brian was in no hurry to try out the chairs, but I kept prodding him until he joined me for a trial rock. I awaited his compliments regarding my shopping skills. He didn’t offer those, nor any comment right away. Later he told me that they didn’t fit him all that well. I felt disappointed.
As spring gave way to summer, I rocked out on the porch every time I got the chance.
Meanwhile, I added cushions to soften the seats. A friend from Fairmount emailed, “I’d like to come sit on your porch and rock a while.”
I loved that comment. I would drive a distance to rock and talk, myself; especially now that I'm retired. There’s no question about that, but to know that someone else would do the same delighted me.
As the summer continued, Brian began to get his strength back from his winter ordeal, and I felt delighted when he felt able to walk first a half mile, then longer around our neighborhood in the cool of a summer’s eve at the start of golden dusk.
Then, it happened. One day I sat on the porch rocking while Brian walked. When he finished, he sat down in the chair beside me and we talked for a while. Then it happened again. And again.
Before long, as July gave way to August, he would say, “I’m going to go walk.” It seemed my cue to turn off the TV or close the computer and go sit on the porch, warming up my rocker, enjoying the peace of that time a day, anticipating his return.
I might even sweep the porch or water my plants, pull a weed or two, grateful beyond measure to watch for his familiar outline a way down the street, before I assumed my rocking spot on the porch. Night after summer’s night, he sat down in the companion chair.
For about 15 minutes, Brian and I chat about plans, news of the day, the kids, whatever we had to say in the moment. It has been my favorite time of day in recent months.
One evening Brian walked and I didn’t make it out to the porch. When he returned to the house he said, “You didn’t come out and wait for me.”
Touched that he apparently likes these appointments too, I’ve been sure to keep them ever since.
I came to notice that like clockwork, moments before dark, a gaggle of geese from a nearby pond takes flight in perfect formation over our house, heading west. I would love to know where they go, and if this is their bedtime ritual. Maybe they were wondering why we sit on the porch, a formation of two humans never leaving the ground.
When you endure a loved one's illness, you treasure simple moments in a whole new way. I’m grateful for daily life to the point where each and every day feels like a gift to unwrap. I can’t possibly get everything in that I would like to pack into a given 24 hours. So much remains to be done in this life! How is it that time seems to race?
Brian hasn’t mentioned again the chairs being uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the cushions. I like to think it's the company.
Now that it’s fall, the evenings grow increasingly cool and crisp. Comfortable rocking sessions on the porch at dusk will become fewer as this month progresses, and let's face it, pretty much disappear with November frosts. Soon I’ll remove the cushions and the rocking chairs will be more decoration than function for a few months. It will be time to come off my rocker until those warm days return.
But first, I’ll throw on a sweatshirt and wait for Brian’s return from his walk, counting my blessings.
Donna Cronk is the retired New Castle Courier-Times Neighbors Editor. Her columns appear the first and third Tuesdays each month in the Connersville News-Examiner and on the second and third Saturdays in The New Castle and Shelbyville papers. Connect with her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the pony lot on our farm, (formerly known as the chicken yard for previous livestock residents), I'm with my beloved Ginger, her foal, Frisky, and my nieces' pony, Snowball. Dad built our trash burner (in the background), and placed my handprint in the cement. The photo is well over a half-century old.
If a picture speaks volumes, the one I'm about to show you below is the library of my childhood.
Recently my niece, Marlene, told me about finding old pictures of our farm, and of her family’s farm. She sent the business link: https://vintageaerial.com.
The company’s mission is “collecting and presenting aerial photos of rural America in a way that evokes personal, family, and community memories and encourages the sharing of our common history.”
The total collection encompasses 16,562,569 photos taken of U.S. farms and homesteads from the air from the 1960s through early 2000s. In Indiana alone, there are 1,124,058 photos.
Even though the archived collection is huge, modern technology makes finding a property that interests you easy. GIS technology identifies where the photos were taken, and places them in the proper time frame. I went to Union County, Indiana on the website and used a map to point to the area where our farm is located.
And there it was.
I consumed every inch of the landscape.
For starters, I looked east of the house, at one of our smaller fields bordered by an east-west county road. On winter nights when the trees were bare, I gazed out beyond that road coming home toward our house to see if I could see a light on the back porch or in a window. Whenever I hear “Back Home Again in Indiana,” when the song speaks of “The gleaming candlelight still shining bright through the sycamores for me,” the tears stream and my throat locks with emotion. I picture that road. It’s personal.
But for the grace of God, I came close to dying in that small field. My hands still break out in a sweat when I think about it too hard. Two springs after this picture was photographed, I rode along with another teenager while he plowed that field. He drove too fast over the bumpy land and I went airborne toward the blades of the plow. It happened fast, as accidents do.
I saw the blades coming toward my face but somehow, and I can only credit divine intervention, I landed on the ground, unharmed, except for the shock of what could have been, and purple bruises that dramatically covered the width of my thighs before they turned the colors in a Mood ring in the weeks that followed. (Try explaining THAT to your gym teacher.)
When I see our home, where my paternal grandparents lived before us, I think first of my late mother who would be 107 now. It is a strange feeling to think of one’s parent being on the brink of too old to any longer even be alive statistically, and to have zero remaining age peers.
Home and my mother are one and the same. And again, it’s the music that gets me, this time from “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away.” Only for us, the farm bordered the banks of the Whitewater River, nearby.
I try to look through the photo's house windows, into the kitchen and living room. I’m sure she’s in there, but I don’t see her…
My focus then goes to the barn where I fell out of that haymow once, but again, angels were watching over me … I broke nothing.
So many memories there, of feeding the cattle in the barn stalls on winter afternoons after school, of heirlooms in the attic, now dispersed throughout the family; of Dad spending so much time there, and the glow of the barn light on the pond when he worked inside the barn after dark.
I think of him welding at his work bench, and how small farmers had to be jacks of all trades. My father was that.
Outside the barn is that Hoosier classic, a basketball rim where my father and his younger farmhands would shoot a few hoops. Dad was a Brownsville Lion basketball player and he and I loved to discuss his glory days of old.
Still. It’s the slightly opened barn door that gets me. Dad never left the barn yard with the doors open, so I knew: he was there, inside. Seeing this picture 49 years later, something in me wanted to jump out of today and into yesterday; into that 1972 barn yard and see my dad.
But it wasn’t until the larger picture arrived, that I got a real surprise, one you can’t see in the online proof, and you have to look hard to find it in the large print.
As my eyes fell carefully on the old Ford tractor, I realized that between the tractor and plows stands a person. He’s almost more stick figure than man unless you know who you’re looking for and I was looking for my dad.
It’s him! My father is looking up at the plane flying low and slow over his farm. Did he know its purpose was for a photographer on board to take photos? I doubt it. Could he have even dreamt that nearly half a century later, his only daughter would be looking down at him, inside a photo captured against all odds in that moment? Of course not.
While my mother was the heart of our home, my dad was the heart of our farm, and the irony doesn’t escape me that he is shown at nearly the center of this landscape, his domain, inside our shared world.
Indeed, it was my world. I know every inch of that space, from the grain bin where in the fall I’d climb the ladder with my nieces and nephew and then descend inside where we used rakes to even out the mountains of corn to better help it dry.
I think of that practice, and surely how dangerous it must have been without any of us thinking of it then. What if we had fallen into an air pocket and suffocated? More sweaty palms.
And the pond. There Dad taught me to swim and my friends and family members had endless summer afternoons on that country body of water where we tucked ourselves into innertubes and floated around or dove off the diving board on our little pier. Both were no doubt made by my dad.
There’s more, so much more, from the summer kitchen behind the house that served as our storage shed to Dad’s school bus parked out front, to the driveway to the barn lot where once I rode on the back of a friend’s bicycle and we went flying down that drive, not realizing there was an electric fence straight ahead to keep the cattle corralled. Yes, we plowed right into it and my whole body got quite the jolt as indeed, the electricity was turned on!
You’ll never define domestic bliss as a home with a white picket fence if you’ve ever painted one, as I did ours. There’s a glimpse of our front sidewalk and porch where my nieces and I put on “shows” for the neighbor kids featuring singing, tap dancing, and crowning annual queens!
We had names for all kinds of parts of our farm. There was the North Farm, some acreage Dad bought in the 1960s to add to his parents’ original purchase. There was the chicken yard, later defined as the pony lot, where the outhouse is shown. There was the croquet yard, south of the house.
See the tree at the south end of the open space? I fell out of that one a couple years before this photo was taken. I’m sure it resulted in a concussion because I was briefly blinded, or remember it that way, until the sight returned while I still sat on the ground.
The country road on the west part of the picture bears our family name.
Brian asked where I’ll display the enlarged picture. I can’t decide. But I made him promise to one day hang it inside my nursing home room.
Note: The photo is used with permission of Vintage Aerial. Find your own farm roots at the website, https://vintageaerial.com. I’d love to hear about the surprises you find.
Brian and I were married in 1978, then started housekeeping in a furnished mobile home. Once my husband earned his school-administration credential, then landed his first related position, we moved to a new community and rented a farmhouse.
There, we gathered all the free furnishings we could: a well-used sofa from his folks; a table and chairs from his brother; my childhood four-poster bed sporting Grandma’s much-used mattress (the most comfortable one I ever slept on; wish we still had it) and a small, antique rocking chair from Mom. We didn’t have a lot but we had everything we needed. We were happy as ducks on a country pond.
The move meant I could commute to college full time. We paid cash tuition, leaving us with no college debt, but also with no funds for new furniture nor for much else besides food, rent, and utility bills. We didn’t mind one bit. We had a keen sense of building our future.
Once I finished college, we started feathering our nest with our own choices over what others handed down: a new sofa and matching chair; a new bedroom set the year after that; then in 1985, a new dining room table with two leaves and six chairs. It was pricey and in style.
Never mind that we had no dining room. I barely noticed nor cared about that minor detail. We had space in our rented farmhouse’s family room with its paneled walls and red-brick fireplace. Country-decorating magazines called these spaces “gathering rooms.” At least that’s what I called ours whenever I remembered the term.
When I looked at that dining room set, I saw the rest of our lives spread before us. As we sat down to the table when company came, I imagined all the meals and people who would gather there in the decades ahead. We sat there with baby Sam on his first birthday with his cake and Brian’s parents seated around the table.
Fast forward to that same table holding his high school graduation refreshments, and later, assembling there for holiday dinners and more birthdays with our now-adult sons. Last month, my church life group sat around two-leaves’ worth of table. Three days later, four writers spread out their paperwork and chatted there with one leaf in place.
The other day I thought about how our dining room table is dated now, not a style you see in furniture stores. It wouldn’t bring much at a garage sale. But it holds our history, and still serves us well.
Another realization occurred: that table played a large role in directing where we would live, what school our boys would attend, the friends and babysitter we would know. How is that even possible?
When we moved to this area of the state for Brian’s job, we looked at houses. We rejected the one we liked best for a single reason: no place to put our dining room table. Had we moved there, our sons would have gone to a different elementary school than they did, played with kids in another neighborhood, and been influenced by a different roster of people in classrooms and in community roles; all due, when you think about it, to a dining room table.
The table is a reminder that throughout life, we never know what ordinary, even trivial decisions we make, people we meet, or places we go, that change our lives in ways we can’t foresee or imagine. Several seemingly random circumstances resulted in me interviewing at The Courier-Times nearly 32 years ago to the day. I feel it was meant to be.
I think there’s a tendency to think that by the time we’ve reached the workaday finish line at retirement, our lives are set in stone. I found that concept a challenge to overcome as I approached retirement. I vowed, however, that no matter what happened, I would find new material, new experiences, and new purpose in these years.
My retirement began in a peculiar way: caring for an ill husband. No matter how badly he felt last winter, he insisted that I find ways to be around people, and enjoy life beyond our circumstances—even if it meant a trip no farther than to our study for a Zoom session or to lunch dates with friends at Café Royal.
Now, more than eight months into this new era, I’m finding that life is not set in stone! It continues to evolve. New things are happening; new goals emerging. This year alone I co-founded a small writers’ support group called Writer Chicks; became a new member of a church service group; joined a gym, and am working on a big project you’ll hear more about later.
No matter our age or situation in life, we need new connections, new material. No telling where the decisions we make now can lead into the future as we continue to explore this uncharted path called our lives – our next chapters.
On my agenda today? Picking up some flowers at roadside farm stand with an honor box. I’ll put the flowers in a Ball jar at the center of that aging dining room table. They’ll look great there, at least to my eyes.
Some things are worth keeping. Others are worth changing or starting or joining. God gave us such freedom to make interesting decisions throughout life.
This Next Chapter column recently appeared in the New Castle Courier-Times, Shelbyville News and Connersville News-Examiner. Continue the conversation via email at email@example.com.
Lawns, we’ve had a few.
As a kid growing up in the country, it was my paid job to mow the lawn. True, that pay amounted to a buck a week, and even that was seasonal, but hey, a dollar went further back then, right? And the lawn looked pretty afterward as I gulped a big glass of Lipton Instant Iced Tea, admiring my handiwork.
When Brian and I tied the knot, he became our primary lawn crew. I didn’t mind, and didn’t even need to pay him a dollar. That continued at the houses we rented, but once we bought our home, we shared mowing duties.
After our second son arrived, I worked part time, and Brian’s career typically required 60-hour weeks. A Friday “day off” might mean I would mow, clean house, make a grocery run, and prepare supper before before heading to someone’s Little League game. Full day but no big deal. Life.
I would have been in my 30s and 40s then. It feels so long ago when I think of it in lawn years and energy levels.
Before he retired, Brian assumed all the mowing-and-trimming work. It became a point of pride for him not to need a rider to get the job done. He didn’t even use a self-propelled model. In his 50s and through his middle 60s, Brian considered it exercise.
Before I ever gave spring grass cutting a thought during Brian’s chemo winter, the topic had appeared on his radar. He knew his energy level wouldn’t allow push mowing this summer.
We discussed hiring it done—words my fella finds more difficult to swallow than I do.
“They’d probably charge 50 bucks a week,” I said. “At that cost, we could have a chunk of a rider paid for in one season.”
In March, the John Deere rolled off the delivery truck. Son Ben was there for the occasion as the three of us gathered in the garage, all smiles, watching the green machine ride down the lift and roll into our lives.
Soon, when the grass did what grass does, Ben showed up again to launch mowing season. Brian and I sat on lawn chairs on the back porch, clad in winter attire, watching Ben lap the lawn and cheer him on each round, as though he were a rookie in the Indy 500.
I figured one or the other son would appear weekly and get the job done. But before that could happen, one day I looked up and what do you know? There was Brian, buzzing around the lawn on the new ride! He hadn’t nearly regained his strength, but there he sat, riding tall in the yellow saddle. I posted the special moment as my Facebook profile photo. A glimpse of normal felt amazing.
I kept telling Brian that he should teach me how to use the rider, and explain the meaning of each knob and pedal. Being the fully capable woman that I am, I would take over the task—that was my pitch, anyway. Besides, I knew I’d enjoy it.
For years I’ve heard friend Sandy Moore speak of how some of her best thinking, planning, and praying are done while lapping her large, farm lawn on the mower.
The good thing about being married almost 43 years is that Brian and I have lived a lot of life together. We know each other’s stories. But knowing each other’s stories has a down side.
I knew why my husband was hesitant to turn me loose with a riding lawn machine. He was fine with me driving a load of baseball kids to Arkansas, Michigan, or Ohio for tournaments back in the day, but mowing our lawn was a different animal.
He couldn’t quit thinking about an incident of 40 years ago.
I almost put my dad’s new three-wheeler into the farm pond. With me on it. And I mean, it was close.
Dad hadn’t given me enough instruction before letting me take his new toy for a spin. That, or I got foot-tied when I went roaring confidently through the barn lot, and forgot how to stop.
A mere few feet away from pulling an Eva Kineviel and taking it airborne before splashing down, I found the brake.
Guess you can’t unsee something like that.
One day Brian mowed in the backyard while I worked on the porch, minding my own business. He motioned me over.
“Wanna mowing lesson?” he asked.
“Are you serious?”
It was the senior version of, “Hey, baby, goin' my way?”
He walked me through it, even though I mentioned that there is a pond on the other side of our back fence. Just a moment of full disclosure.
Guess he figured it would take a lot of horsepower combined with very little horse sense for me to crash through the fence to get there.
Pleased that I didn’t destroy any property or christen the mower that first slow-motion outing, Brian believed I was ready for prime time. He had a plan.
“With you on the rider and me trimming, we can knock that yard out in 20 minutes,” he said, fairly beaming.
He’s said it more than once, as though we’re on a stopwatch, and that some kind of productivity boss is standing by with a clipboard and hardhat. I didn’t ask the question on my mind: Why does it matter how long it takes? We’re retired!
Sometimes it’s best not to say a word, other than to offer support.
“Yeah, I bet we can!” I responded.
The truth is, I think we make a pretty good team.
Donna Cronk’s Next Chapter column appears in the New Castle Courier-Times and Shelbyville News the second and fourth Saturdays each month. It runs in the Connersville News-Examiner the first and third Tuesdays of the month. Connect with her to continue the conversation via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
GOING FOR THE GOLD THIS SUMMER: In my own backyard, that means marigold style. Mom used to grow them on the farm but only this spring did I realize how easy they are to grow and how low-maintenance and happy they stay all summer. Next spring I'll plant even more. They also offer quite a pop of color around the old farm bell and skirting the back porch. Retirement means time enough for many new pursuits, even simple ones such as this.
Note: Earlier this month my new column about adventures in and observations on retirement began. I've been asked if I would share it, so here goes the kick off to Next Chapter. I need to give the newspapers first dibs before I repost but once they have run, I will do so.
I'm grateful to newspaper readers who have reached out after this and my second column were published.
I'm enjoying this new era and confirming yet another life cliche to be true: I don't know how I had time to work! Mostly, I'm trying to live each day with complete gratitude. Each one is truly a treasure.
How to begin again, and a new column
In the 37 combined years I’d been on the payrolls of two newspapers, I saw a lot of people come and go in every department—typical of the news business. I’d also seen a good number come, go, and come back again. With this column, count me among those who return.
In my case, I’m back only as a columnist. For many years one aspect of my payroll job included regular slice-of-life columns. Writing the column felt like sitting down over coffee with readers at Café Royal. What I proposed is that kind of column, only with a theme about this new phase of life—retirement.
I don’t like goodbyes, and so today, I want to say hello again!
When I turned in my office key on the eve of last New Year’s Eve, what bothered me most about that day was anticipating that final walk out of the newsroom, into the back shop, and through the back door. The moment of leaving weighed on me.
So many memories were made in the newspaper office and throughout Henry County. Leaving felt like a cold-turkey way to give up something I loved. Would those memories overwhelm me as I left the building? If the tears came, at least no one would see “the ugly cry” once I climbed into my vehicle and hit Indiana 38 West.
The thing about that back door was that once it shut, there was both literally and figuratively no opening it again as the employee I had been for over three decades. Even if I freelanced, I had clocked out for good as regards my long-time payroll job. I didn’t stick around to contemplate the moment, and felt relief when my eyes somehow remained dry.
I turned 62 last year, old enough for Social Security, but young enough that just barely. Claiming it then would be something to discuss with our financial planner; just one of many things to learn about the new era ahead.
For much of my life, I had been the younger person in life settings: the youngest child in my immediate family (by a long shot); the younger daughter-in-law married to the younger son in Brian’s; the youngest among our best couple friends; and on occasion, the youngest where I worked, notably before coming to the C-T.
But “young” wasn’t what or who I was anymore and hadn’t been for a long time. “Young retiree” might work, but not really. I found that out in a hurry as I went about telling people my retirement plans. Not a single person said, “No! You’re far too young for that nonsense.”
Turns out I fit the part! How did I get there? Besides the obvious accumulation of years, 2020 had been tough in our household not only due to COVID in the pandemic sense, but with multiple personal losses of loved ones in various ways unrelated to the virus.
As the year unfolded, I became convinced that I should retire after clearing that 62nd birthday. I didn’t know what came next in any regard, only a personal whisper that it’s time for a new chapter.
Little could I have known when I told Travis one year ago about my plan, that days before I left the building, Brian would take his first chemo treatment for bladder cancer. After the chemo came surgery, and then dealing with complications from all of it. As I write this today, he’s doing well. I believe God knew that I needed to retire so that I could concentrate on caring for him during those difficult months.
I am deeply humbled and saddened to think of those who are unable to retire or leave work to be home with their loved ones who are going through hard things. I’m grateful for the privilege to do that, and now, I’m getting more than my feet wet in this retirement thing.
Already, I have a lot to say about it. I’m grateful to Travis for the go-ahead to put these thoughts on paper and share them with you. I’d love to hear from you with your thoughts about anticipating or living out this era of life, or just to say hello or continue the conversation.
I want to age with grace and gratitude—despite whatever circumstances I must face. The cliché is so true: aging is not for sissies. Also, I plan to share the joys and opportunities, insights and obstacles of this time and place.
We’re blessed if we’re able to get to this next chapter. Welcome to mine.
Continue the conversation by emailing me at: email@example.com.
For a quarter-century now, summer means that Gay and I head off on an adventure. We've been to New Hampshire twice (hi Joyce), Michigan (more than once), Ohio, Illinois, Iowa and all over the Hoosier state together. Last year we missed out (thanks COVID) and this year we took a day trip that felt like more to Indy.
We headed to Indy to the Mass Ave. area to create our own scented candles at Penn and Beech, 747 N. College Ave. The company was founded by a pair of sisters who started making candles in the basement. Now they are in a cool area of Indy. The shop has been there three years and is such a hit they have one now in Carmel and three more in Columbus, Ohio.
When you walk in, you're greeted with a staff pick. We liked the scent. Then it's time to walk around and sniff the various options along the wall, recording on a card which ones strike your fancy.
Why, yes, of course I'll sniff the bubble bath scent. It was delicate ...
So strong I could have ordered a cup ... to drink. I'm not complaining though.
OOOH...I liked this scent a lot. It was one that Gay selected.
Gets my vote for best scent title. Hard NOT to select this one. Oh, the power of suggestion.
After narrowing her likes to three, Gay thinks about the mix ratio of gingerale, leather and pear.
My four selections, mixed and ready to pour into the hot wax.
Our helpful candle associate and team leader, Shelby, said her favorite combo is bonzi, champagne and goji berry. The shop changes scent options seasonally and fall will likely bring such satisfying choices as a smores scent, combining dark chocolate, whipped cream and campfire. Or the perennial favorite of pumpkin spice or maybe autumn leaves, nutmeg, cloves, or rain.
It takes an hour to create the candles and for the experience and a candle, typical cost is thirty bucks. You can spend more if you choose a pricier vessel, but I'm happy with the white one.
A fun hands-on girlfriend or sister experience. Would make a great birthday gift for a pal, or something special to do with your bridal party, mom, or anyone else. Even by your lonesome.
While the candles cured for two hours, it was off to explore the unique shops in the area, and The Bottleworks Hotel. The Art Deco one-time home to Coca-Cola execs is now a luxury hotel. Across the street is The Garage, also related, it appears, to the former Coca-Cola operation. It is now a food court featuring international fare and a quirky gift shop. Love the repurposing of local landmarks.
We enjoyed convenient on-street free parking not far away and a thoroughly enjoyable summer's afternoon.
Meanwhile back home, Brian and Rick enjoyed a nice visit and trip out to lunch into Pendleton at The Bank restaurant. We ordered Pizza King for supper and an evening of conversation, porch-sitting and the scent of a Pear candle (Brian's favorite candle scent) burning in the background, brought from Penn and Beech.
For more about this local business, hit www.pennandbeech.com. Also on several social media sites of your choosing. Thank you Kirktons for a relaxing day trip and for setting up the experience and driving down. Thanks to their daughter Katie for the recommendations as well.
In 1971, if you were a girl in Union County, Indiana, your mom probably stitched you up a calico skirt or dress with matching bonnet. She probably wore a pin exactly like the one above. You both had the pioneer spirit!
How well I remember that fall and the county's sesquicentennial festivities on the courthouse square.
When you live in UNION County, with a county seat named LIBERTY and your high school mascot is a PATRIOT, patriotism runs deep.
Turns out it still does. On Wednesday, I experienced one of those rare-air moments when life seems to come full circle. Just like that, fifty years had passed and Union County is now celebrating its bicentennial. The pin had been in Mom's jewelry box since 1971, and then mine after her passing.
Nancy Huntington put together an extraordinary tour of numerous standout homes, farms, gardens and other sites. She asked me to serve as one of the bus hostesses. I looked forward to the day for weeks and it turned out even better than I could have dreamt. About 70 "tourists," consisting largely of current or past residents, gathered at the middle school to load buses and tour the townships. Here's my bus buddies:
Between stops, we sang several patriotic tunes, including "The Star-Spangled Banner." When we belted that one out, our capable bus driver quietly removed his ball cap and put it back on following the song. I was touched by the young man's gesture.
We also sang "Back Home Again in Indiana." The state song is actually "On the Banks of the Wabash," but man. That song is SAD. It makes me cry like a baby. (Check it out.) I also prepared some trivia questions for the group. Of course there were prizes.
The following are some additional photos from the day. I have three times this many images, but here are a few to give you an idea why this farmgirl is forevermore a Liberty Belle. I want to thank Nancy for inviting me to host a bus. It was my honor. I would tell you to hit me up for the 250th but I'd be 112. The pin will, however, remain in my jewelry box for as long as I'm still kickin.' Thanks Mom, for saving it.
On the second floor of this stately Brownsville landmark, the 1876 Masonic Hall, is where the meetings took place until the Brownsville Lodge No. 70 closed and consolidated with the Liberty Lodge No. 58 in 2019. It was a special treat for me to see this second floor as I had never seen it before and it is unlikely that I ever will have that opportunity again. Downstairs, the building was rented to various grocers from the early 1900s to 1976. Grocers included L.J. Cully, John Winters, Lorel Ross and William and Isabel Brandenburg.
Darlene and Jim Kaufman were asked to be on site to answer questions about the town. With them is tour organizer Nancy Huntington, right, who did a fantastic job, along with husband Howie, of locating properties for the tour. Jim let guests inside the lodge building for a look and also pointed out the former Brownsville State Bank and the current U.S. Postal Office. There has been a post office in Brownsville since 1819.
It was a splendid day to see the homes, history, and historic barns and properties of Union County as residents and former residents celebrate the county's 200th birthday this year. Happy Independence Day everyone!