From left, author and journalist Cathy Shouse, columnist and soon-to-be author Janet Leonard, national bestselling author Susan Crandall; ASAP Writing Services owner, author, and writer Susan Sparks, and yours truly. The Susan in the middle is also a lifelong friend of Janet's. Both hail from and live in Noblesville.
Our little band of writers meets monthly and each gathering leaves me stoked about our craft, fulfilled in a way I didn't know I would find in retirement. Writer Chicks Society had a special meeting on Tuesday.
We hosted Janet's lifelong friend and classmate Susan Crandall. Susan is a national bestselling author, revered for such titles as Whistling Past the Graveyard, and quite a few additional books. She's at work on a new one now, as well as doing regular-life stuff such as assisting with a family business, and babysitting twin grands.
If that makes her sound down to earth, it's because she is. Raised in and returned to Noblesville, she's not so different from us. Unless you count her tens of thousands, heck probably hundreds of thousands, of fans. Maybe more than that. Yet there she sat with us for hours at Janet's kitchen table yesterday, dishing on what it's like to be a Big Five author.
When we offered her an "out" to leave, deep into the afternoon after a long lunch, she said no, that she had been looking forward to hearing about our projects. And so she stayed another hour as we shared updates on what we're each working on, stumbling blocks we're experiencing, and yes, our guest even offered some advice.
But before all of that goodness--lunch.
It was a day I don't think any of us wanted to see end, but by 4 p.m. (or later), it was time. Thanks to everyone for such a great meeting.
It takes a village ... borrowed snowpeople of all shapes and sizes filled Ovid Community Church Saturday for the women's day retreat. Instead of spending money on decor, decorating chair Chrissy Quinn gathered snowpeople from committee members. The snowfolks took a field trip. When it was over, some of the snowpeople were seen peering out the backs of car windows heading home, still smiling. Willard looks a little uncertain, but cute all the same.
There are so many to thank for the day coming together so well, but Jill Brown is certainly one of them. She led worship songs, and gave her thoughts on "Perfect Harmony," as part of the morning session. She also led a make-it-take-it activity on making prayer journals, and make sure the techie stuff was covered. Special thanks to Ricky for his help with the technical end of everything, as well.
Grateful for all the speakers, which also included Delaine Wooden and Linda Mackey, as well as emcee Pauline Cox, and to everyone on the committee who took part to make it a great day. My favorite part of the retreat was sitting around a table in the atrium and hearing the happy buzz of women talking and sharing all around me, punctuated by laughter. The day, with the theme, "Where Friends Gather," served as an uplifting way to begin 2022 ... and to begin connecting and dreaming again ...
Here's the latest Next Chapter newspaper column.
I don’t know about you, but for me, 2020-21 merges into a single chunk of time. And here we are in 2022 as COVID remains the lead story most days, regardless the media outlet we choose.
Recently I celebrated something peculiar: “That’s great,” I told Brian. “A viral throat infection!”
Only in the COVID era (yes, I think we're officially in an era) could anyone applaud a throat infection. Yet I did because it meant that it wasn’t COVID nor that other C word. He had been to the doctor, tested negative for the dreaded coronavirus and strep throat. No scripts were prescribed; just ibuprofen, rest, and fluids. We could do that.
As the illness lingered, and Brian worried about getting his voice back, I assured him that he would.
"But if you don’t,” I added, “in a show of solidarity, I will never speak again.”
Hmm, wondered how that would work out.
I told him that he needed to avoid talking for a while though, to heal. I encouraged him to communicate through other creative means such as sign language, pantomime, interpretive dance, or a voiceless skit. I’m still waiting to see that interpretive dance.
I’m now one week into my second year of retirement; no longer able to use the term, “new retiree.” Maybe I’m at the age where I’m not new at much of anything.
Still. I celebrate much about 2021. On that day Dec. 30, 2020 day when I walked out the back door for the last time at 201 S. 14th St., New Castle, my immediate goal consisted of making it to the car without tears. I cleared that objective, a reminder that when life is hard, we need to simply just get through the next thing; and the one after that.
When last January arrived, my time, emotions, and prayers went into seeing Brian through his health issues. There were dark days, and difficult moments; there were tears, and even sobs. There were weeks when I wondered what awaited us, and how or if he would get better.
But thank You God! He got better, and by the time we put up the 2021 Christmas tree, Brian asked, “What do you think about rearranging the living room and putting the tree up somewhere new?”
I looked at him as though he were an alien from not just Mars, but from another galaxy. Who was this man? And where did he get the kind of energy to ask me that question? I didn’t have it regarding a room redo—but it was almost worth it for no other reason than he apparently did.
The shero (that’s the female version of the word hero; you’re welcome) of the year came in the form of a nurse friend who provided one small tip that became an immediate game changer for Brian’s medical situation. An angel among us.
By late summer, Brian’s first post-surgical cat scan returned clean, and it felt as though we had won the lottery! Not just the lottery, and a ticket around the world, and a lake house, and whatever else you think might make your heart sing. But I can tell you that a singing heart isn’t about material things. It’s about good health. Suddenly, we could laugh, joke, and make plans again.
What’s amazing are the other blessings that piled high in 2021. I not only finished writing the book I spent the year working on, but am able to connect with some kindred spirit writers who formed a small monthly group. When we meet for four hours, it feels like four minutes.
One tip I got from one of the writers moved my book project forward in ways I couldn’t have imagined—through the suggestion of a book designer. I’m not just talking cover typography, but an interior designer. Yes, every book has a specific interior look, much as does a home.
There were other joys: the support in prayers and deeds of people who care about us; the gathering of Brian’s aunts and cousins in October; watching our gutted and rebuilt bathroom emerge from a five-month wait after ordering materials.
There’s the service group I joined at church; the projects our life group has worked on this year; the delight of meals shared with friends, and the feeling three times a week of water in a pool at my exercise location.
This newspaper, along with those in New Castle and Shelbyville, allowed me to reimagine a column similar to the one that I wrote in Henry County for three decades—only through this lens of being a little older. Well, a lot older. I started it at age 30 and here I am, somehow 63. (I can't even describe myself as in my early sixties now, can I?)
While I have no idea where the years went, I also affirm that there is life after one’s main career. Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll have more to say this year. Thank you for reading. These days, my writing is done from a comfy recliner with a Boston terrier nestled beside me. Those too, are blessings.
Whatever unfolds for you in 2022, know that even in the hardest of times, blessings will show up.
Just ask the Good Lord to help you see them.
Every year, Brian and I try to do something fairly substantial to repair, upgrade, or improve our home. Some years, it's things you'd never notice unless they weren't there: a new roof, a heating-and-cooling system, even a painted laundry room (complete with tear-out of peach floral wallpaper).
This year we went big and we stayed home. Now for you, big may well be bigger, but this isn't a competition. It's an exercise in gratitude for something new, and nice, and, to my eyes, anyway, clean, crisp, and ... pretty. A BATHROOM REDO!
We updated this bathroom adjoining our bedroom about 10 years ago, changing the flooring, painting the walls a coordinating brown, and getting a new vanity top. I found a pair of oak mirrors in a thrift shop and they matched the double-sink vanity. Yes, it was an update, but it didn't address an aging and awkward-to-enter garden tub with one step up (to where, though?), shower, and worn-wooden vanity.
!The full renovation began as a "Wonder how much it would be." Or put another way, "What if?" Brian bemoaned his old shower, worn and lacking shelving space for both soap and shampoo. So he mentioned replacing it.
That's when I said, "I'd like to redo the whole bathroom." My tub was not only worn and awkward, but even though the room is a good size, there was inadequate storage space. I dreamed of something clean, and fresh, bright, and light.
I wondered about the big, beautiful showers that some are putting in these days. But to add one of those babies, unless I wanted to ax the tub (no chance!) it would mean rearranging the layout, moving the toilet, and thus, the plumbing for that, and likely for the vanity too. We had one company out but the guesstimate was up to more than DOUBLE what we ended up spending.
Our secret sauce was compromise, and the compromise was to not move where the new stuff went. Besides, turns out I'm the only one who thought a big shower with stadium seating might be nice. Brian said nope, just get him a new version of what he had--with more shelving.
"There are people who spend (insert dollar figure that shocks you) for a new bathroom," Brian said, as though he were delivering the Gettysburg Address. "We are not those people."
Well, I had to laugh. I agreed! It seemed ... lavish.
But first, well second, I pouted. We didn't know how to move forward. What if it really did cost that much no matter who did it or what they did?
A couple days passed, and I said I had an idea. Why don't we contract it out one upgrade at a time? Brian said that was just what he was thinking! So we went shower shopping at a big-box store. And left both underwhelmed--and overwhelmed at the same time, if that makes any sense.
One day a good friend asked if I'd like to go along with her to the flooring store. Sure! As it turns out, I had taken a photo of some flooring I liked. What are the chances this store would have something similar?
They did. I loved it. That was the floor I wanted! Affordable, too. Did they happen to know a good bathroom contractor? They sure did. A retired firefighter, Jim King. I was cautioned that Jim stays busy. In fact, the employee knew him pretty well and said he would call him first to tell him to expect my call.
To our surprise, Jim took the call and came out within days. He could do the whole thing. He listened to our wish list and told us what he suggested, and to go to Knapp Supply in Muncie and order everything. We did. It was the easiest buying trip we have ever made.
That was July. It would take 15 weeks for everything to arrive. At first, I wondered if there was a chance that the new bathroom would be done in time for Brian's aunts' and cousins' visit in October. When that didn't pan out, I thought perhaps by Thanksgiving. That wasn't it.
Ah, ha! Christmas. It will be done by Christmas! For a while there, I thought if it's finished by the end of January, we'd be lucky. But here we are, Dec. 10, and it's done! As of middle-afternoon yesterday! It all came in, was installed, painted, hooked up, and the punch list "punched."
We've initiated all the facilities, stocked the pull-out cabinet shelves, and we're enjoying our new and improved bath suite. Brian's a little concerned with keeping everything white. Guess it's incentive for me to ramp up my housekeeping skills.
Shout out to Knapp Supply Co., located in a big, old warehouse in downtown Muncie. The building served as a wagon-wheel shop before Knapp bought it over a century ago. The showrooms are sights to behold for those who are remodeling or redecorating! WOW!
Another big shout out to our contractor Jim King and his company, JJ King Builders, located in Alexandria. More appreciation goes out to Indiana Flooring in Anderson. Well done everyone!
Even though we’d be hard-pressed these days to find someone who travels by sleigh to a holiday dinner at grandmother’s house, it’s a safe bet that during this extended holiday season, numerous memories are shared, and stories told, about our parents and grandparents. This time of year, nostalgia runs deep.
Recently my sister-in-law, Jeannie, sent us home with some family heirlooms that belonged to my late brother, Tim. The treasures include a family safe of which our older son, Sam, is now the fifth-generation caretaker; a brass 1908 Model T headlight (or maybe taillight); a cache of family photos dating to horse-and-buggy days, and some other saved objects.
One is a lidded wooden box, the size of a cardboard Velveeta Cheese carton, filled with old buttons. While this surely came from someone in our family, I'm sure it didn't belong to my mother because I never saw it before. It probably originated with a grandmother, unearthed from storage in the back of a closet or deep inside a drawer.
I doubt that it’s true today, but when I was a kid, I imagine that everyone’s grandmother had a button box.
The buttons themselves are unremarkable. Most of them are of the workhorse variety: the small, white matte or pearl-like ones so common to every man’s dress shirt you’ve ever seen; the colorful but plain, flat buttons of many colors from women’s or children’s clothing; and the odd button notable for a design or texture.
It’s obvious that the buttons lived previous lives before they were cut off blouses or pants, then tossed into the box among the others, where they’ve now been for decades. Tiny fabric scraps remain attached to the backs of a few. For the most part, there’s a bit of matted, plain fabric. Occasionally, evidence of a pattern is detected, such as the small swatch of red, white and blue plaid, still clinging to one.
I can’t tell you the last time that when I discarded a garment, I first stripped it of buttons and zippers. Now that I think about it, I don’t believe that has ever happened. Sometimes I don’t even save the buttons attached to new clothing for replacements if one would pop off. And even when I do, I don’t know that I’ve ever used the spares.
Our ancestors thought differently about belongings of every kind. At least for working-class folks of the past, which is my family’s heritage, every belonging you owned took a good measure of time and money to buy. They didn’t dispose of anything with wear left in it. If clothing was beyond wearing or handing down, the garment was stripped of buttons and other useful elements such as zippers, and saved.
The stripped clothing then went on to its next purpose: for cutting up for a future quilt, stripping for rags, saving for patching, or the making of doll clothes.
Some buttons in this box were apparently so well used before they were removed that the loops on back are worn in half. Others have chipped edges.
Grandma’s button box is a reminder of our thrifty ancestors. Today we hear what seem to be contemporary terms and concepts as sustainability, recycling, reusing, upcycling, and repurposing. Good advice to not waste energy or consumables.
But grandma practiced that advice as second nature long before those with doctorates in environmental science were born. She knew that being a good steward of what God gave her is part of her citizenship on earth as well as a responsible family member. She knew that it took much personal time and energy to own something new, and that using it up in every way possible only makes sense.
We often don’t value that which is easy to come by; easy to replace. Grandma’s humble button box and the buttons inside remind me that there may be a time to come when things aren’t so easy to purchase. They remind me that today we are still called to be good stewards.
Can you imagine your grandmothers chuckling over the idea that caring for what we’re given is a new idea? Here’s to those who came before us and their humble, saved belongings that remind us of the timeless wisdom of frugality.
Look at that piece of aluminum foil that isn’t damaged or soiled. Fold it up and use it again. Grandma would have. Turn off the light when you leave the room. Consider if you really need a straw in your restaurant soft drink. You wouldn’t use one at home.
I’ll save that box of buttons, if for no other reason than the values they represent. Values always come in handy.
Retired New Castle Courier-Times Neighbors Editor Donna Cronk writes Next Chapter. It appears in three daily Indiana newspapers. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.