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 email@example.com. 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!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
January is not an easy month.
I don't mean the weather, as it has been forgettable, at least when compared with past first months of various years.
Take 42 years ago today, the Blizzard of 1978. I worked in Connersville at the time at the little Western & Southern Insurance office as the clerk.
My job was to collect deposits and do the bookkeeping for all the agents' collections as well as wait on customers by collecting their money and taking deposits to the bank every day. It wasn't a great job but I was glad to have it.
It was a late Sunday afternoon or early evening when Brian called to tell me if I wanted to get out the next morning, I should come to Liberty and stay at my brother and sister-in-law Tim and Jeannie's home. A blizzard was on the way.
It seems I looked out not long after that only to see snow coming down hard. I took his advice, threw clothes in a suitcase and headed to Liberty. I think I spent the next two weeks on my brother's couch. Pretty sure I didn't make it to work for a day or two or more. But I made it a lot sooner than if I'd stayed out on the farm.
There have been other difficult Januarys; lots of them, in my years on this planet. When we lived in Fountain County in the 1980s the snow would get so deep and high that I had to go into Attica where I worked and stay for a week or more at a time with my boss / friend, Sue Barnhizer Anderson. I often have wondered what I would have done had she not been the boss. Would I have kept my job if I couldn't have gotten in for a week or more?
There was the worst January of my life, when Sam was diagnosed with a heart defect at Riley Hospital as a baby. And the year before that, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in the sky, and I was home from work with morning sickness.
This January has been drab of weather, but but that same weather has not been threatening. There has been no piled snow and the snow shovel hasn't come out.
Things can change on a dime, and who knows what February will bring. I'm just grateful that the bulk of my January projects is behind me --a couple hundred or more calls or contacts for our annual community directory we call Answer Book; two large feature stories for our HOPE edition; her magazine wrapped up and off to the press.
Add to that training on new computer software, a family funeral, and some sad news from a friend, yes, all that going on in the nation's capitol, and I can tell you that this January isn't one I'll miss when the calendar flips.
Still, we press on.
I'll check back in soon with information about what I'm looking forward to about February, and how that concerns you! But for today, I'll leave it there.
When the NFL football schedule comes out each late spring, it's a big day for our family. All five of us mull it over, and come to agreement about how and where to continue our annual tradition of creating a mini-vacation built around an away game. Then we spend weeks researching our many options -- flights and hotels, sites to see, special places to eat, quirky requests (Bucc'ee's in Houston, for example).
Two years ago we braved 50-below wind chills to see our Indianapolis Colts defeat the Minnesota Vikings. Last year we lost to the New York Jets and this year, it was the Houston Texans that defeated us in a tight loss.
While the games get us there, they are merely a part of the overall trips. It's fun to experience the unique cultural climate of each stadium and fan base. There's Minnesota loyalists with their braided toboggan caps, uber-warm boots and Vikings Skol chants in a beautiful indoor stadium; New York Jets with former Gov. Chris Christy in the parking lot, sans any kind of enterage, a nondescript, working-class feeling to their basic outdoor stadium in New Jersey and less than creative food options, and The Texans with their LOVE for football, the electric feeling of the sturdy crowd, and their A-plus selection of Texas burgers, brisket, huge loaded baked potatoes and other yummo choices.
This year's game was special as we had the fortune of sitting among the family members of a Colts player, EJ Speed. We had our own little island of blue celebrating big moments in the game.
But the crown jewel of this trip was the next day's visit to NASA at Johnson Space Center. After looking around Space Center Houston, which is a museum loaded with NASA memorabilia, including authentic space suits, capsules, a tour of the Space Shuttle, orientation films and more, it's time to see our family's two highlights of the entire vacay.
You load up into an open-air tram and off you go down city streets to the working NASA campus, Johnson Space Center. The buildings are basic, appearing to have been built in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Bikes and deer
A couple cool observations unique to the campus: vintage Schwinn bicycles are all over the place. Many of these date back to the 1960s when the company donated them to NASA so the astronauts and engineers could ride them from one building to another. Schwinn company pays an annual visit to the campus to make sure the bikes remain in good repair.
Second, deer are free to run the grounds with no fence to keep them in, as a space-age, if you will, nature preserve. It's humorous to see them all over the place, and one wonders if they ever go out into the surrounding traffic and get hit! They look perfectly content in their surroundings and unaffected by the humans and trams going by.
My favorite stop of the entire trip to Houston was a visit to the Apollo Mission Control. The building is a National Historic Landmark inside this nondescript, functional building.
Inside, those able climb the 87 steps to Mission Control. A few needed to take the elevator -- which I overheard a guide point out is the original elevator.
We're ushered into an auditorium complete with original seating, including built-in ashtrays. We're behind a glass wall where on the other side is where top engineers sat at then state-of-the-art computers (now antiques) and worked their engineering magic with the equipment that landed men on the moon, including that first walk on the moon of Neil Armstrong 50 years ago in July 2019.
After some housekeeping announcements about cell phones and the like, we were told to sit tight as we are about to view 1969 straight before us and hear the voices of the engineers and astronauts who made history. The room is perfectly refurbished and preserved to what it was in 1969. And suddenly, magic:
Only it's not magic. It's rocket science. Screens light up, as do the boards in the front of the room. We hear tapes played of the engineers giving the "go" signs for the mission. Then we hear the voices of Neil and Buzz Aldrin, we see man walk on the moon. We relive history. Not just history for the ages where 100 years from now people will likely still be touring this space, but our personal history, as most of us in that audience were alive when it happened in real time.
I've been personally touched by the moon landing and walk this year. First, I remember with clarity how important it was in that my mom insisted I stay awake and watch Neil take that stroll on live TV. Then that fall, in Jeanne Sipahigil's fifth-grade classroom, I wrote an essay about how touched I was by the experience. And to think! Jeanne today is my Facebook friend.
Also this summer, in my job as a New Castle Courier-Times reporter, an email arrived from a man in his 90s, Earl Thompson. Earl grew up in New Castle, but lives in Florida. Florida, as it turns out, is where he made his living as an engineer working on all the Apollo projects, specifically working in communications areas on the lunar modules and rovers. He worked directly with the astronauts, knowing all of them.
Earl and I worked together via phone and emails in detail after detail for a week or more on the two stories I would put together in conjunction with the historic 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I even went out and chatted with his New Castle siblings! Here I am with them from this past summer:
It was surreal to meet with Earl's family in New Castle, shown with The Courier-Times from half a century ago. Little did editors or reporters know then that one of their own from the city helped engineer this successful mission. It only came to public light this summer and I had the privilege of telling the story.
I also love it that Earl gave a special shout out to his New Castle High School math teacher who nurtured his natural bent toward math. The story of America: Ordinary people from ordinary towns everywhere do extraordinary things -- both that math teacher and her pupil, Earl Thompson.
All these things passed through my mind while touring Mission Control.
Then it was back to Space Center and aboard another tram. This one took us to a nondescript building, one we Hoosiers would call a gigantic pole barn, where we would step inside and see the rocket that was ready to launch Apollo 18 to the moon. This one never made it as the program ran out of money but the rocket remains. Holy cow:
I'll say it again: HOLY COW!
Can you imagine the POWER generated? The fire descending from those babies?
It was a day out of this world.
The Union County Courthouse tower, a constant in my life for these 60 years. I took this photo five years ago this weekend. Thirty years ago this weekend, we were ready to launch into a new era, one we're in today, still living in Madison County. This has been home half my life. But parts of my heart remain in both Fountain and Union counties.
Thirty years ago this week, Brian, nearly-three-year-old Sam and I left behind one era of life and set out on a new one. On July 3, 1989, I completed my last day as managing editor of a small newspaper in Attica, Indiana.
Brian had just wrapped up his nine years as a school administrator at Fountain Central Junior-Senior High School.
We would spend the rest of July transitioning to the new home we had bought in Madison County and by August, Brian would be working at his new administrative post in the Hamilton Southeastern School Corp.
The number of mixed feelings about this uncharted new territory was extraordinary. I was more than ready to leave my former job, but knew I would miss certain aspects of my work and I would miss my work peers. I won’t go into what I would not miss!
I would miss Fountain County friends, our wonderful babysitter and her family and our landlord—all who had become like family.
I would be happy to move to a town much closer to my folks who were still living on the farm, although my dad’s dementia was worsening. And it would be a welcome change not to drive 15 miles to a nice-sized grocery store or McDonald’s.
On a daily basis, I was excited about taking a brief time-out from the busy world of community journalism and spend my days with Sam playing, going to the park, pool, and just hanging out. I needed time to settle us into our new nest.
I hoped that a call would come from someone at the New Castle paper asking me if I wanted a job. It did, I did, and early this fall, I’ll celebrate 30 years with The Courier-Times.
Along the way, after a couple attempts, we found “our” church; a variety of friends in a variety of communities; we had a second baby, and now both boys are all grown up and long-since on their own. How can it be, I still ask-that we're empty nesters? I can’t even call Brian a “recent retiree” because he’s been that for four years already!
What I do know is the time passes with brea kneck speed. And we're no longer so inclined to put things off like we used to do for years or decades. Just yesterday I looked up and remarked that our living room could use a paint job. "Do it!" Brian said.
Madison County has been home for three decades. That’s longer than I’ve lived in any other community in my entire life. In fact, I’ve spent exactly half of my life in Madison County, Indiana, and gone to work in New Castle!
I’m grateful to everyone who has touched our lives here, back in Fountain County, or back home in Union County. Some people touch our lives for reasons or seasons and many of you are in and out of it on a regular basis.
Where do we belong? It’s been said that home is where your heart is. I promise you that my heart is in all three locations at once! And I am grateful for so many people, places and things. Thank you most of all to the good Lord for this journey.
Which, Lord willing, and like a good story in a newspaper, is to be continued on another page. Hope you’ll stick with me as the page turns.
Where have YOU called home so far for your life's journey?