There’s something about winter that makes me want to clean out closets and cabinets, drawers and shelves. Sometimes the focus is micro, such as going through a drawer in the Sellers Cabinet and purging cookie cutters.
I used to make sugar cookies quite a bit. In fact, it was a fairly regular activity shared with my friend Patti F. One of her signature recipes is her Aunt Martha’s Sugar cookies. Many times she’s asked me to come help decorate them for special occasions. I don’t have all the fabulous tools and I’m not that great at the decorations, but it’s fun to solve the world’s political problems with Patti. If we disagree on something, we don’t get mad.
We don’t do that so much anymore, and while I think some of my cookie cutters are fabulous and we will keep them, there are others, such as in this photo, that I could let go because either I never really used them or I have duplicates.
Another big thing I do in early winter is put together the tally on my books’ sales Indiana Sales Tax and have our accountant submit it. Done. Then I start in on gathering all the proper paperwork for our state and federal taxes.
These winter trips to the pool for exercise leave me feeling chilled to my core. I want to come home and take a really hot bath to get my temperature back up to normal, or at least that’s how it feels. But instead, this winter I’ve developed a bad habit!
I remembered that Ben bought me an electric throw on Christmas, so I got it out and leave it plugged in. Reggie and I love it! In fact, it’s so warm and soft, and it relaxes me so much as I ease myself into the inviting warmth, I end up taking naps on the regular! Reggie certainly doesn’t mind.
But times, they are a changin.’ When I get this posted, I will head for the dining room where I need to empty the china cabinet and pie safe. On Tuesday, Saunders Flooring of New Castle will descend on the house and begin removing old and installing new flooring throughout most of the downstairs. This requires us getting the “smalls” out of the way. Trust me, there are smalls galore. All you must do is open a drawer or cabinet and there they are.
Things are going to look a lot different around here in a week. Wish us your best as we navigate the chaos in between! As Monti Foust once told us, “You’ve got to break an egg to make an omelet.”
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What kinds of specialty winter homefront chores do you have going?
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.
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.
In my last blog post, I promised to show what I picked up at Lola + Company in Bloomington for the Writer Chicks. Here they are ... narrow silvery bangles. They are actually recycled guitar strings. The store owner wraps them in this charming recycled music-book paper. Sorry to spoil the surprise, Cathy. I'll bring yours next month.
It's time, much as I'll miss them, for the annual fern giveaway! I have four gorgeous ferns that need new homes or they'll be off to that great greenhouse in the sky. If you want one, all four, or any number in between, contact me. Messenger, text (317-224-7028) or email, firstname.lastname@example.org. First to claim them gets them. But don't call if you "might" want them, only if you do for sure and can come and get them. I don't deliver. These babies are HUGE! Frost isn't their friend and soon they'll be freezing their fronds off! So come get them!
I’m approaching six months after the release of my memoir about cleaning house, There’s a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go (available on amazon.com, and from me).
I continue to spend a good amount of time crafting programs for a variety of speaking engagements throughout the region. By the end of summer, I will have had, good Lord willing, more than 25 opportunities to share observations about downsizing and organizing heirlooms, as well as stories behind them.
At many of the events, we get the treat of listening to attendees share about their heirlooms in a "show-and-tell” activity.
But for a couple weeks this month, I’ve had the chance to take a break from writing and road hopping to turning my attention from organizing and downsizing attic goods to the paper trail in our living-space archives.
Once, someone who worked at the Indiana Historical Society explained to me that the IHS is where historical papers are archived,” and the Indiana State Museum as “where objects are archived.”
With July's 90-plus degree temperatures in the Hoosier land (and much warmer than that inside attics), I’m spending no time there. My attention has turned to the paper goods in our living quarters, such as this 1898 large certificate belonging to my late grandfather, Roscoe Jobe.
Or this adorable Liberty Little League baseball team photo from 1957 of my late brother, Tim, second from right, and his team.
I am the archivist (not an official title but it’s more legit-sounding than sentimental hoarder) of family photos and papers in both Brian’s and my families on various sides. Some of the pictures and documents date back to 1830.
What does one do with all that? I mostly keep it tucked in a variety of woven baskets which are stacked out of the way in our study. I have taken an “I’ll deal with all that later” approach.
Problem is, I put off figuring out who some of the black-gowned ladies are in those photos for so long that there is no one living who could identify them.
My immediate family’s albums are full and stand in bottom rows of bookcases. I’m thinking of covering them with linen fabric in a neutral shade.
I figured out long ago that even if I live another 30 years, there are not enough days, nor a desire to take apart the yellowed pages and begin again with fresh scrapbooks or albums. But these are the photos that depict the ordinary and special events in our family, dating throughout my lifetime thus far.
Other keepsakes of a paper nature are scattered here and there but should be rounded up and stored together.
Finally, I hit upon an idea! I found black acid-free 12x12-inch storage boxes at Hobby Lobby. I plan to fill and label these boxes with things that tell complete stories. Below, left, a box is devoted to articles and other paper keepsakes from my years as a reporter and editor in Attica. The one on the right is filled with keepsakes from covering a presidential inauguration and the women's march in D.C.
I’m looking for a manageable approach to archiving all this stuff for our own enjoyment and accessibility, but also, maybe, hopefully, we’ll see, for a way for our kids and other family members to see the value in all (or some) of it.
I store my notes from a dozen years in Bible Study Fellowship in these binders in the top of my closet. Last year they switched to spiral-bound notes so I don't have a colorful, cool binder for those. The notebooks at right are notes from the lectures.
This is a project that will take ever-so-long to finish. But as I work on it, I enjoy seeing it all myself. Will it result in another book about heirloom organization? I don’t see that. But I will include some of what I’m doing now in future programs.
By the way, if you’re reading this and are interested in a program for your social or service organization, library, senior or community center, or a more informal one for your book club, let me know. We share some laughs, and take a trip or two down memory lane. We have a good time.
Indiana author and newspaper columnist Donna Cronk can be reached via email at email@example.com. Friend her on Facebook on her author page, Donna Cronk.
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.
Connecting the dots: This Julie Jolliff photo was taken during my talk on Saturday at the Union County Public Library in the community room where the original library had the checkout desk and books when I was a kid. I used the entrance you see at left, center, for my first-ever visit--and library card.
I remember the day.
I may have been 10, accompanying the neighboring Chapman kids and their mom to Liberty. I suppose their mother was grocery shopping at Woodruff’s, close to the Union County Public Library, and we girls were killing time.
We walked through the lower-level library doors. I had never been there before. The Chapman girls had library cards. They said I should get one. So, I did –my first library card!
It was a defining moment, although I can’t tell you what or if I checked anything out that day. I never dreamed then of the places a library card would take me, including cyberspace, and being able to read checked out books on my telephone!
Who could have imagined that more than half a century later, I’d be in that room we entered through those side doors, standing at a lectern, giving a talk about the day I got the library card—and about my third book? Yet there I stood Saturday, with some family, some childhood friends, and some community folks listening.
Library Director Julie Jolliff wasn’t even born when my library card was issued. I think I surprised her by having it.
That’s a pack rat for you—and for that I make no apologies. That library card is a passport to not only stories I read in books, but to memories.
I told some stories from There's a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go, that relate to growing up in Union County at Rural Route 1, Brownsville. There was talk, following the book signing, of some other venues I might speak at locally.
My personal “drop the mic” moment came when an audience member, Janice, told a story about my grandma! The story even related to some artifacts I displayed that day. When you get to be in your sixties and come across someone who remembers your grandma, who was born in 1892? Priceless.
If only for a couple hours that day, I felt as though I had never left home; had remained a part of the community. It's called roots.
Julie filled me in on the many ways the library serves the community. I follow the UCPL page on Facebook and in local media where I read about the ways it serves all the population from toddlers to the most senior members of the community.
It’s not “just” a library. Not that any library is that—as a library introduces us to a world, at our fingertips—through books written over millennia as well as the most current bestsellers, periodicals, and other forms of modern media. Yet those are only a small part of what modern libraries do in and for their communities.
Libraries provide programming for young and old alike, offer services such as meals and daycares, gathering spaces, a clearinghouse for family and local history, answers to questions and how-to information. Libraries are community centers for activities, conversations, meetings, and life.
I am inspired and delighted by Julie’s enthusiasm for her job, and by her love for the community that I too love. I thank her, as well as Cindy Morgan, for inviting me into their world, just as the Chapman girls invited me with them into the library so many years ago.
Through the years, and in particular, during the last nine on my author journey, I’ve been in many libraries, large and small, in a variety of cities and towns and settings from A to Z—Attica to Zionsville. Each library and its personnel and patrons come with a distinct vibe and personality. I love how they are not all the same, but rather, quite the opposite of the same!
It is a blessing to see that the first library I ever entered remains in good hands.
I think the good people of Ukraine are showing us all regardless of our political stripe, that it is good to love your homeland, good to feel a link with a place and a people. Good to value your roots.
I’ve always felt those things about my little slice of the sweet land of Union County, Indiana. A little farm community? You betcha: the permanent address of my heart.
And ... where I'll be on Sunday:
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!
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.
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.