ON THE SAME PAGE WINTER NEWSLETTER
If you’re familiar with my novels—about a small-town bed and breakfast and the woman who owns it; my memoir—on heirlooms, organizing, and nostalgia; or newspaper columns about home, family, and the challenges of getting older, you might gather that I’m a bit old-fashioned. I say that with joy and no apologies.
Can you relate? If so, you might enjoy the traditional pleasures of hearth and home and seek out encouraging books and people.
At heart, I identify as a Hoosier farmgirl, several decades removed.
Maybe one day I’ll have a high-tech newsletter, but for now I’ll make do with a homemade version. If you’d like this second issue you're reading here delivered to your email, let me know and I’ll send it your way, as well as the spring issue when it comes out in March. Reach out in the comments or let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I finished 2022 with a combined thirty-five programs and/or events relating to my memoir, There’s a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go. For 2023, at present I’ve booked nine on the topic of Fun with Heirlooms. Here’s what Linda Davis, interim director of the Knightstown, Indiana Library says of my program:
“I’ve been telling everyone what a lovely program that you gave and what a sweet person you are. It was a joy to have you. You have inspired our staff to come up with some sort of monthly gathering for older patrons to just talk and tell their stories. It was so interesting to listen to the amazing things that have happened in each person’s life. And how eager they were to share! A wonderful way to spend an evening.”
While a part of me would love to spend winter hunkering down with early-morning mugs of coffee and more time to read or listen to audiobooks, iron antique linens I’ve culled from too many I've stored in my Sellers cabinet, work on Bible Study Fellowship lessons and listen to favorite podcasts, there are other things on my mind too.
Our house will soon be chaotic, only in a good way. We’ve got new flooring coming in for most of the downstairs, ordered from a wonderful longtime retailer in New Castle, Indiana. We’re expected to have all the “smalls” moved out of the way for the installers. If you aren’t shrieking, you have no idea how many “smalls” there are around here! It’s also a good opportunity to do some deeper cleaning and organizing.
While the Clydesdale book is about cleaning out, organizing, and reflecting on objects in our storage spaces, getting new flooring is about all those objects that are not in storage! HELP!
On the heels of new flooring comes a busy February: my first book-related program of the year, for a group of Methodist women right here in Madison County, Indiana; a loved one’s hip replacement later that month, and I’ll celebrate the one-year release of the Clydesdale book and the whirlwind time I’ve had with it. Then in March, things take off with three programs on my calendar. Oh, and there's our annual tax appointment, and, well ... life!
Winter is when committees plan spring banquets for their clubs, organizations, and mother-daughter banquets. I’ve been the keynote speaker at many such events and would be happy to tailor a program to your group. Give me a call or shoot an email and we can discuss.
Fun with Heirlooms is my signature program, but we can talk about other themes that might be compatible with your events. I’m all about encouraging messages.
I’ve spoken to groups of all sizes from state-and-regional conferences and annual programs to small book clubs where a few of us sit around a dining room table or out on a warm deck and talk over the life themes in my books.
The three books include inspirational novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, the sequel, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, and the memoir, There’s a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go.
All three are available on Amazon in both print and e-book formats, and I have them in stock if you prefer a signed copy. Let’s connect via email: email@example.com, or call 317-224-7028. Website is donnacronk.com. Or, visit on Facebook on the author page Donna Cronk.
Meanwhile, here are some things readers are saying:
“I love to read but reserve my limited amount of free time for those books that are able to grab my attention within the first chapter. I'm thrilled to report that I'm on chapter 8 already. As I've read this book, memories started coming to mind and had me visiting some of my own collections. The author puts such a great spin on the art of decluttering. As I clean out my own collections, this book has inspired me to not go through them in a hurry, but to celebrate the memories they conjure. I now look forward to my journey down memory lane as I once again try to downsize …” –Amazon post with five-star rating from Henry Henley Public Library, Carthage, Indiana.
“You will find that the author knows just how to take you on an adventure in her attic and in her memories. We all find ourselves in that very place at some time in our life. Sorting through "stuff" brings back memories that hug our heart. Donna Cronk knows how to take you on a fascinating trip down our own memory lane. Deciding whether to keep the Clydesdale in the attic is our biggest challenge. We aren't getting rid of just "stuff" but a bit of our own story. Very enjoyable read!” -
Amazon post with five-star rating from author Janet Leonard, Noblesville, Indiana.
“Donna Cronk has the gift of finding the compelling twist of everyday things in life, the compelling detail, and then presenting that in a delectable format for the reader. - Advance praise from career journalist/author Lisa Perry
A career community journalist, I live in central Indiana with Brian, my husband of 44 years. I write books, related programs, and a newspaper column for three Indiana newspapers. I’m active in church, study with Bible Study Fellowship nine months a year, and am cofounder of a writing support group, Writer Chicks.
I enjoy home, family, and providing encouraging programs on a variety of topics for book clubs, luncheons, and banquets.
This winter arrangement was designed by Liberty friend Kelly Finch. I bought it several years ago and look forward to getting it out every winter.
THE MENNEN DEODORANT CHRISTMAS
Last night was a first: we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. I had the day to prep, and it reminded me of those growing-up years on the farm. Since my brothers, now passed on, are quite a bit older than I am, Christmas family gatherings were later in the day on Christmas so they could be with their kids or other extended families first.
It's what I grew up with, and I enjoyed the way we eased into the holiday. I opened gifts from Santa / my parents, and then we had a few hours to get ready for the rest of the family to join us for the big meal, gifts, and fun.
This approach worked out equally well after I got married because we could gather at Brian's folks on Christmas Eve, then have Christmas morning with them before heading east to be with my folks and extended family for a dusk celebration.
I loved those moments on the curvy, ribbony-hilled back roads of northwestern Union County, Indiana as we approached the farm in late afternoon, knowing all the fun ahead.
Yesterday as Brian and I got the house and food ready, I put the finishing touches on a white elephant exchange to do for laughs. There was even a dog category with three family dogs in attendance.
The fun took me back to 1981, our first Christmas in Fountain County. That summer Brian had accepted his first school administrative job at Fountain Central. We couldn't sell our trailer back in Richmond, Indiana and didn't know how or when that would happen. So we continued to pay on it and the lot rent, as well as the most reasonable rent on the spacious country home we rented.
My job was to attend college full time in person and take every extra short course or correspondence course I could to get my journalism degree and begin the career I dreamed of as a community journalist. With Brian's pay raise, it was possible, but without me contributing any money to the cause and these added expenses, we had little left for extras. There would be no new furniture, clothes, or other indulgences.
Yet we were happy as clams. Our dreams were coming true. We had each other. We had lots of plans.
That Christmas season, we went to an all-staff dinner party at the home of school secretary Barb Clark. Barb was all things to all people--and turning her family's basement into a party room with food and decorations fit for royalty was one of her endless talents. Barb could do anything well--backward in heels.
I was relieved that instead of spending money on "real" presents, we were to bring a gag gift for an exchange. Since those can be anything, and I had a silly fringe-laden top that I never wore and think I surely got in another silly exchange, it was wrapped and gifted. Done.
When I opened my designated gag gift, it was a Mennen Speed Stick. You would have thought it was the Hope Diamond. I don't recall our exact words but I know that we carried on about it as though we had hit pay dirt!
We looked at each other with delight: something we could use! Something namebrand even! Something we didn't have to spend money on! We held our deodorant close. I don't remember much else about the evening, other than the glow we had between us knowing that our underarms would be covered for a good while and live rent free on our bodies. Yippee!
Later, Barb was told the story and she recalled her version of a similar one: the Christmas that she and her beloved husband Hersh, were pressed for money and he bought her a potato masher. She was delighted!
As we gathered with our kids, and Ben's wonderful girlfriend, Julie, yesterday, (hugs to Sam's girlfriend Ashley, who was unable to join us with her beautiful daughters), we had the luxury of not only gag gifts (dish sponges and soy sauce, anyone?) but real gifts that cost considerably more.
The real Gift of Christmas is the Reason for the season: The Word who was made flesh and came to dwell among us ... (John 1:14).
Feeling grateful for life, health, peace, family, friends, and for His gift, according to God's perfect plan.
May your Christmases be bright, and all your gag gifts be useful.
AT THE DOOR OF SIXTY-FOUR
I don't post a lot of pictures of our sons these days, or share stories about them, either, the way I did when we were all younger! They have their own stories to tell, and their own private lives. But they are always on my mind and in my heart.
They indulged me today with a selfie from Lucas Oil Stadium where the Colts chalked up a victory today, yay! Here they are, from left above, Ben, and Sam. Thanks for the pic, guys. And these too, Julie and Ben, left, at an apple orchard yesterday, and Ben and almost lifelong pal, Taylor, whom he ran into at the game today. I love family pictures, don't you?
Given that tomorrow I'm living out the question asked in a famous Beatles song, they humored me. But as I reminded Brian, I'll still be in my early sixties--right?
I haven't posted in a while so this one is a big old catch-up. Today after church, then watching the Colts, Brian went out and did some sort of fiddling with the lawn mower, so I decided to cut down the ornamental grass that grows outside right behind my inside writing chair. It looks just like this patch, which grows out front and still looks so beautiful that I didn't have it in me to take it down yet.
Brian and I have a little dust up over the ornamental grass about this time every year, and also when the grass starts growing like crazy again in the spring. I love these grasses. But before long now, they will turn beige, brittle, and right about then, the late fall cold will set in. If I don't cut this grass to the ground before that happens, I may not do it until spring. But I want to, and that's the goal.
If I don't get them trimmed, they shed and blow around the lawn and worse, with the one behind my writing chair, it makes loud rattling noises from the dried grass blowing around. So at least one of them is down and I fully plan to see to the other if for no other reason, and it's a good one, than marital bliss.
We're in the heart of the prettiest fall I have ever experienced in my, well, you know now, how many years. When the sun hits the trees and shrubs a certain way, neon! It's as though they are lit with nature's super-powered light, or that they are fireworks displayed on a trunk. We've scarcely had a dreary day all fall.
I couldn't help but capture these pretty flowers from near the church entrance this morning:
Also, we've been keeping Sam's dog, Jax a couple times a week due to Sam's unique work schedule. Jax and our dog, Reggie, aren't complaining, as they enjoy romps, treats, and sleepovers. Here's a rare "hold-still" view of Jax, and one of him after a day of play:
But along with dogs, plants, fall, and enjoying seeing our sons enjoy this beautiful weekend, I've been working on book programming. I've added two programs to the fall, along with three bazaar or open-house type venues. Here they are:
1. ATLANTA: (Not the one in Georgia.) Christmas Open House, Earthly Endearments, 155 W. Main St., 10-3, Saturday, Nov. 5. Lots of wonderful, vetted bazaar-type goods.
2. LIBERTY: Union County Public Library Reminisce program, "Fun with Heirlooms," 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 18.
3. SPICELAND: Friends Church Bazaar, 8-2, Saturday, Nov. 12.
4. LIBERTY: Union County Extension Homemakers Bazaar, all day, Saturday, Nov. 19. Union County High School.
5. WILKINSON: Christmas Tea, presenting a program, "Simply Devoted: Seasonal Stories." 1-3, Saturday, Dec. 3.
Thanks for stopping by my website. Have a great fall.
AUGUST IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR
August, with its thirty-one days, is a long month. Yet it went by in a blur of activity. So much so that I am still saving back a separate story about friend Cathy's and my trip to Bloomington for another post.
With my other two books, summer months were quiet on the speaking circuit. I thought that meant that I could legitimately tell other would-be authors that you probably won't have much on your author calendar in June, July, and August. People take a break, but look out for fall and spring!
Ha! That wasn't the case for my summer this time around.
August sent four talks my way, with three of them in five days. The month meant writing four separate programs. Whenever I'm asked to speak somewhere, I think about the audience, the setting, and what the group has in common. How will they respond to my humor? Do they want hometown stories? Do they want how-to about heirloom organization and distribution ideas? Do they want stories from the book? Or a mix of all that?
One thing that feels humbling and amazing is how my two little great-great nieces have somehow taken a liking to attending my talks! They even made me drawings and Katie sent me a snail mail letter. Thank you Katie and Lexi! You are my youngest followers! Thank you to their Mammy, Marlene, my niece, for bringing them to a library gig last spring, and then to our hometown church one week ago. They even made cookies for the pitch-in.
I can only imagine the joy my mother, their great-great-grandmother, would experience in seeing them and having them at church sitting so close to where she sat on a pew almost every single Sunday for fifty years! And, their great-great-great grandmother Hazel! She played organ in the Brownsville United Methodist Church for twenty-five years.
Following the church pitch-in meal, I spoke about the book, with emphasis on the community and the memories that span every inch of our little country church. Then came a time of show and tell, with Connie Parks Call, left, showing her "Brownsville Lion" mascot from when the township school served all grades before consolidation. Her cousin Janice Parks Burk, right, showed her Grandpa Elliott's cup that always hung on the outdoor pump for all comers to pump their own drink of water from the well.
When we returned home Sunday afternoon from Brownsville, I unloaded the car with the props and materials I used for Brownsville, and reloaded I needed for the next day at the District VII Extension Homemakers Retreat at Placid Lake Retreat Center, near Hartford City.
I got there early to set up my book table. I saw several familiar faces among the women from several counties making up the area represented--including Madison, Henry, and Union counties, along with Randolph, Franklin and Blackford members.
Following lunch, it was time to move my goods over to a different building where I would present a breakout program billed as "Book Review." Instead of just reviewing what's in my memoir, There's a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go, I used the time to offer ideas on organizing, downsizing, bequeathing special legacy heirlooms, and even how to divide household goods among loved ones.
Then came my favorite part of these programs: When attendees show and tell about their special heirlooms. The participation was outstanding, as were the stories.
Two of the Homemakers' stories each had a ring to them, including LaVonne's, at left. Hers concerns her father's putting his hands on his late wife's (and LaVonne's mother's) diamond ring, long after it had been worn.
It hung on a nail inside a cabinet.
Stories shared by those attending center on not so much the actual objects, but the objects of their affections: the people they loved and love to whom the items belonged.
It's the nature of what we keep: things that remind us of memories and moments that have informed our lives and helped connect the threads of people and time into the people we are today. Thank you Homemakers for being a great audience and the stars of the session!
There are no bigger fans of Union County history than Steve and Vicky Logue. Steve grew up in perhaps THE most historic home in the county, one that helped usher one-time slaves to freedom as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Vicky is Union County historian, following in the footsteps of history lovers in her family including her late mother, Virginia, and her grandmother, Esther Cox. Her husband Steve's cousin, Nancy Huntington, who grew up on this road, provided gorgeous Ball jars brimming with summer blooms.
It was an honor to be asked to speak at the Union County Historical Society's annual dinner meeting in August. My talk emphasized recognizing and savoring the oral and written histories handed down in our families, and that we ourselves experience. The stories help make for a personal historical record of family and community for the generations that follow us.
In a delightful handmade basket were a variety of locally made products and whimsies, including this stitched heart. Liberty. My home, and my deep love and respect as an American citizen. This heart will go on our Christmas tree and when I gaze at the tree and this ornament on a snowy December night, I'll think of that delightful night back home again--in Liberty, Indiana.
One more for the road. This one is from Hamilton North Public Library in Cicero's program I did in early August. I'm grateful to my sister Writer Chick, Susan Sparks, for recommending me to the Friends of the Library. It was a fun evening.
If you need a program for something, let me know. Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a good time.
And as I just told someone a little while ago, I'm not the best at asking for reviews and ratings--or asking for anything, really (being a saleswoman doesn't come naturally)-- but if you've read the Clydesdale book and would feel so inclined, please post an honest Amazon or Goodreads rating or review. It helps get the book noticed in a big, beautiful world full of big, beautiful books of every kind.
Blessings. I'm outta here for now! I have a newspaper column to write.
A week ago, I had the pleasure of being guest speaker at the 62nd annual Hagerstown Rural Urban Banquet, sponsored by Western Wayne County organizations and businesses, along with Hagerstown Young Farmers and Optimists.
I’m comfortable attending events alone, as I spent 37 years covering such things for community newspapers and several years before that, writing for college newspapers.
This time, however, I was invited to bring guests. To my delight, younger son, Ben, and his girlfriend, Julie, were those guests. What a treat! Thank you, Rural Urban!
The evening went well, the food and conversation were great, and I got to visit with some folks I have met and written about from the Western Wayne area over a course of decades, including my former boss, Bob Hansen, and 50-year Dance with Cindy owner, Cindy Oler, who in retirement is a columnist for her magazine for women.
Backdrop was the beautiful Harley Hills Golf Course. After festivities ended, and the last opportunity to sell a book had passed, dusk settled in.
Someone helping at the banquet graciously asked to help transport my wagon to the car where I packed everything into assigned spaces and started to drive off into the beautiful sunset.
AND ... it's corn and tomato season in the heartland! Would you just look at these beautiful cherry tomatoes? YUM! They are delicious, too. I love them in contrast with this old blue bowl.
What's in your plans for this August weekend? I'm heading shortly to Bloomington with Writer Chick Cathy Shouse. She writes cowboy romance. She's got a conference there tomorrow, and I'm spending the day with New Castle-native Cheryl Bennett, hanging out in her adopted hometown of Bloomington.
Just a quick change-of-pace 28 hours or so. I hear it's Freshman Move-In Weekend! Yikes!
SATURDAY MORNING CLOSET CAPER
Are you as random as I am about little chores and re-dos around the house? This morning I dove into our coat closet by the front door.
We keep too many coats and jackets in there, along with an assortment of stocking caps, ball caps, gloves and scarves. Since we aren't ready to part with the contents, I decided to free up some space by replacing the bulky hangers with streamlined ones that skinny up the required space.
They replace the wooden ones that I have collected here and there for decades, saving them from our folks' closets, and from who knows where--probably purchases of men's suits.
Yes, I know there is some interesting advertising on some of them. I don't care. They are being donated very soon. If you want them and can come and get them, let me know fast. They are free for the taking. You just need to reach me before they are donated. (hurry ! Email: email@example.com)
To my great surprise, when I got to the gloves section, they all matched! Normally that never happens. Gloves are like socks, they tend to stray off the beaten path, or shelf, as the case may be. This time, they were all there. I think I know why.
Now that we are retired and don't go here, there and everywhere on a daily basis, or the boys aren't around to grab gloves, these pieces of outerwear don't get the use they once did.
I'm fascinated by two sets of gloves. They are vintage, and I've never lost a mate. The black ones were either my mother's or more likely, my Grandmother Jobe's. The blue ones date back to at least my grandmother, or some other long-ago relative who was born in the 1800s as was Grandma Jobe.
I used to play dress up with these gloves, and here they are, completely useful. I like these pairs because they are lightweight, somewhat dressy "spring" gloves. And I like the color navy, so they are my favorite gloves! They are unusual, vintage, and they have remained paired like a couple of elderly lovebirds that we find completely charming.
So that's my Saturday morning! Hope you are doing something fun, interesting, or useful.
Carry on! Oh, and here's the finished closet. (**Please note that the three jackets to the right are mine. The rest are *someone else's whose name I won't mention but who lives here.**) Just teasing though, because he uses most all of these jackets and coats.
I don't know when he last wore the trench coat, however, but he's all set for a winter formal occasion or if he's asked to become a CIA agent.
EVERY GRANDMA HAD A BUTTON BOX
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.
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.
A SURPRISE INSIDE
Through the years, I've weeded out my extensive collection of cookbooks, but there were two I planned to always keep, one a hardcover, the other soft, Farm Journal's Timesaving Country Cookbook (Nell B. Nichols, Editor / Doubleday). I would keep them for no other reason than they were on my mother's shelves before they came to mine.
Besides church cookbooks that I also have, Mom didn't have any other cookbooks besides these two. She had a large collection of recipes cards, and clippings from magazines and newspapers, and I have all those, but other published cookbooks, no.
Yet here's how time gets away from us. The hardcover volume, for example, was published in 1961. So I've had since then to crack it open--and haven't . Until last week.
I wasn't even looking for a recipe or seeking a trip down memory lane. No, it was about staging. I wanted to redo the contents of the tiered shelving alongside our kitchen cabinets. So I was looking for some cookbook props whose size would fit the narrow shelf space.
I took the sun-faded dust jacket off Mom's book and what do you know? It suddenly looked as though it could have been published yesterday. Pristine, crisp, and with an attractive red spine that would go well on the shelf.
Okay! I liked the results. But before placing it, what I liked even more, was inside inside the cookbook.
It was a gift from my mother: An envelope taped to the inside blank cover page, holding clipped recipes from magazines for Hungarian Fruit Squares and Snappy Beef Stew. The outside of the envelope contains Mom's own personal table of contents for recipes that stood out to her.
Interesting. Ha, there's one for Lard Crust. You don't see that anymore, do you?
Inside, Mom paperclipped a section of pages together. There's no comment, so I don't know what that means, but I'm leaving the clip there.
I've found it to be true when it comes to old family Bibles--be sure to look inside them for all manner of information about births and deaths, clipped obituaries and other little surprises of clippings and poems and stories that your ancestors thought enough of to store what turns out to be securely, inside the family Bibles.
But I hadn't even thought about the cookbooks. Hungarian Fruit Squares don't float my boat (not a fan of apricots) and putting cheese in beef stew doesn't quite work for me either. But I'll check out the Porcupine Meat and the Salmon Scallop. Maybe.
When I need a Mom fix, I'll look inside the cover and see my mother's handwriting. My mother, who passed at 92, would be 108 this year; almost now beyond the possibility of anyone her age still being around.
She'll forever be in my heart.
As for the second cookbook, oddly enough, it was the paperback version of the hardcover. I'm wondering if one of these books belonged to my Grandma Jobe and was so well liked, they both had a copy. I didn't keep the softcover.
Who knew? Guess it turns out I can't keep everything.
MEMORIAL DAY 2020
It's Memorial Day and I'm thinking of the untold number of soldiers who died so that we could keep our beautiful country, families, friends, and communities living in freedom! This nation has its flaws and has always been filled with flawed leaders and policies, but it's the greatest nation ever known to mankind. I am thankful and grateful to be an American.
I'm thinking of my two favorite veterans today, both having passed on, and remembering how much I miss them. There's my father-in-law Ray, who served in major European-front WW II battles and survived -- he didn't think he would.
There's my brother, Tim, who passed in March. I still can't believe I'm writing that sentence ... Tim served in Vietnam.
I saw something about the history of our hometown on a Facebook page and thought instantly that I needed to talk to him about the cool post... I will miss him every day of the rest of my life.
His ashes were buried in my hometown graveyard, surrounded by plots containing our parents, my brother David, his wife Janet, and precious infants of nieces who have gone on before him. The day after Tim's service, we were told at the newspaper to go home and stay there, doing our jobs from home, due to the virus.
I didn't know if I could. Any success I would have with working from home depended on the kindness of people in the communities we cover. Would people work with me in returning calls to a phone number they didn't recognize? Would they take the time and energy from their own lives as either essential workers or while undergoing challenges of isolation to answer email questions for stories? What about take and send me photos to go with stories?
So tomorrow will be the first semi-normal day I've had since the day after Tim's burial. I'll be back in the office, assuming my normal part-time workweek schedule, although we are still to work via email and phone as much as possible for a while longer.
A couple weeks ago we visited my SIL Jeannie, Tim's wife. She handed us a plastic bag brimming with books. On the outside of the bag it read "To DONNA & BRIAN."
It was from Tim. Tim was an avid reader of all kinds of books, and he would make a selection from his vast library regularly and almost every time we saw him, we went home with a bag of books.
Tim had prepared a final bag of eclectic volumes for us at some point before he passed on ... it felt at once incredibly sad, and sweet -- bittersweet -- to take home those last books he wanted us to have. I'm saving the bag and took a photo of the selection so I would have it and remember Tim's thoughtfulness. Of course I will forever remember Tim. No photo is needed for that memory. But I have some to treasure.