Forty years ago today, Brian and I were officially engaged!
In the winter of the Blizzard of ’78, this day was cold with plenty of snow on the ground. For several weeks that season, I slept nights on the living room sofa of my brother and SIL Tim and Jeannie in Liberty.
Brian and I had been talking about marriage for a while, and were privately engaged. The ring was selected after Christmas. It needed sized, and what better time to make things official than with a Valentine's Day debut!
After work that day, I arrived at the home on East Seminary Street in Liberty where Brian rented a spacious apartment in the upstairs of landlady Mary Snyder. He was visiting downstairs with Mary.
“Your ring’s upstairs,” he said when I arrived. I went up, found the box, and brought it back down for the two of them to admire.
There was no band, no knee proposal, no asking my dad for my hand. But I knew that we loved each other and all these years later, there's no one I would rather come home to.
Forty years ago it was official, and soon came the engagement photo in the newspaper, obligatory back in that era.
Come October, God willing, we’ll be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. But on that February day so long ago, I couldn’t imagine the double-digit anniversary numbers that we have today. It was simply too far into the future to even imagine. I couldn’t anticipate that four decades from that day, on our mind would be Brian’s signing up for Medicare and Social Security this week and I’d be wrapping my mind around the idea of turning 60 this year.
Last night I helped friend Patti decorate Valentine cookies that she planned to put out as a surprise for her coworkers in the teachers’ lounge today. By the time I got to her house, she and her little niece had decorated most of the hearts in bright colors. I added a few to the stack. Life is full of pattern and color and the unexpected—like those cookies that are no doubt by now gone!
On Monday, my Bible Study Fellowship group leader had old-fashioned Valentines for all of us. Not only Valentines, but red suckers attached. I don’t know how long it’s been since someone gave me that combo. The little card took me back to the fun we had in elementary school on this day.
Whether your Valentine’s Day comes with candy, hearts, a diamond engagement ring, or not, may the day remind us all of special loves, past, present and sometimes, those that are one and the same.
The Brownsville, Indiana Lions basketball team, 1929-30. It's in the Depression, in my father's high school sophomore year in a tiny town between Liberty and Connersville. My dad, Huburt Jobe, is in the middle row, far right, leaning in. He'd be 106 now. He died at 79. We talked about his basketball days a lot. Why did I never ask him to write the names of his teammates? If you have cherished old photos such as this one, ask your loved ones to ID everyone.
It's the last day of January 2018. My dad was born in January 1912 in the tiny town of Brownsville, Indiana. The separate gym, and the three-story brick school, built the same year he was born, are gone. He's been gone a long time, too.
January in Indiana means basketball season, and in my father's heyday, basketball season was the time of his life. Two years after this photo, he was recruited to play college basketball. I can't help thinking it wasn't so common for a boy from the sticks during the Great Depression to continue his basketball career at Earlham College. He went, and for a while, that's how the ball bounced.
Three years after this photo, Dad's father bought a farm north of Brownsville. For the next half century, my grandfather and then father farmed it, and for 32 of those years, Dad was also a school bus driver.
My dad was more than meets the eye. He was an inventor, could make or fix about anything -- because that's what you did as a farmer. He also studied art both on his own and by taking classes, and he painted pictures. He played chess with a passion, and as a young man, played the violin. He loved to roller skate and taught me.
But basketball was his game. He loved to watch Indiana University play on TV, and whenever something was on television that he really wanted to see (such as IU basketball), he pulled his easy chair close to the TV for a front-row seat in our living room. He always followed our high school basketball team.
By the time I came along, born when Dad was nearly 46, the Brownsville Lions would soon consolidate into first Short High School in Liberty, then Union County High School, which is where I graduated 41 years ago.
My father was something of a perfectionist, or at least that was so in the subjects he cared about, such as math. I hated math and found it difficult. When Dad tried to teach me what my schoolteachers couldn't get through, the sparks flew.
Much to Dad's disappointment, I didn't want to play chess and had no particular artistic talent. So on those topics, I couldn't be his companion. But we had our mutually favorite topics. We both loved our swimming and fishing pond where dad taught me to swim and fish. We both loved having ponies and later, my horse around. He set me up well with those and taught me to ride.
But our favorite shared topic was basketball. In the 1970s, our high school had some fine teams. One year we were undefeated. My senior year and the one after, the Patriots won the Connersville sectional. That was big potatoes for us.
I rarely missed a varsity basketball game in high school, and never a home basketball game. My parents had season tickets, too.
Back at home, Dad and I sat up late and talked over each game. Once we thoroughly rehashed the key plays, shining moments, and outlook for what was ahead on the schedule, then we talked about Dad's years as a Brownsville Lion basketball star.
Those were years still precious to him. We talked about his games, and how the game itself was different back then. We discussed how a big shot from a Connersville factory tried to get my grandfather to move the family to Connersville, complete with a job offer, so Dad could be -- horror of horrors -- a Spartan! Why, that was in the late 1920s and here it was the mid-1970s and we were still outraged by the very notion of such a treasonous offer!
I remember quivering with excitement in the chilly house in the wee hours of the morning over dad's tales, and imagining him at the age of the boys who played for my high school. I never felt closer to him or happier in his presence than those winter nights discussing basketball.
The advice he offered, not what I had expected, is something I've never forgotten.
One year I learned that the Patriots would take part in the Richmond Holiday Tournament. The tourney was a whole year away when I heard the news. This was exciting! What's more, the tournament would include a large Indianapolis school that had a star player. It was as though the rural country kids from Liberty were finally going to get their due and be noticed!
When I heard this, I was babysitting at the neighbors' house. I called Dad to tell him. "I wish it were next year right this minute and we could play in that tournament right now!" I told him.
His reaction took me by surprise. "Don't wish your life away."
Simple. Profound. I have never wished away time since. Not even wish away a bland day in January. Life is too precious and time passes too quickly to miss out on a single moment.
Christmas 1976. My gift from sister-in-law Jeannie? An oversized afghan, crocheted in various hues of blue, a sturdy pattern designed for extra warmth, created by the hands of Jeannie's mother, Evelyn Jackson of Brownsville, Indiana.
It was luscious; so much so that I folded it up and assigned it to my hope chest. I think the girls of my generation were the last to have these large, legged boxes that were for their mothers and grandmothers standard fare among young women. They were meant to contain beautiful linens and dishes that a girl “hoped” to enjoy in marriage.
Just a year and a half later I married Brian and the cedar chest and its contents went into our starter home. We wed in late October so it took no time for the afghan to make its entrance and remain on various sofas in our lives for the next 35 years.
Its wonderful size spread comfortably over all of Brian’s 6’3” frame, and for me, allowed more than enough room for napping in warmth with a toddler at my side, or a cat, or dog or even two of the three at once.
On especially cold nights, it was added on top of the bed blankets to my side of the bed only as it provided one too many layer for Brian’s.
New Year’s Eve 1980: Our friends visited for what would become the first of the next dozen years of new years seen in together. Pam was expecting their first baby, Jenny, and wasn’t feeling well that night. We insisted that she bundle up in that blanket.
Another few years later, it swaddled a sleeping niece for her ride home with parents after a too-late visit to our house.
I joked with Brian, sort of, that if I died, he should bury it with me.
All the while the blanket washed and dried beautifully in our appliances on standard settings.
Then in about 2010, the year Ben and buddies rented a house together in college, it apparently went off to live with him. Or at least that’s what we think. We didn’t see it again at home, and with a sigh, figured it got lost or abused beyond use in the world of college life and a household of young bachelors. I marveled at what a useful life it had led. That was that.
Until last weekend.
I was going through some things upstairs. I decided to clean out the antique cradle that holds pillows and extra blankets. You know what’s coming ...
The long-lost afghan surfaced at the bottom of the cradle! I couldn't believe our good fortune! It was back in our lives. I unearthed it and whisked it off to the washer for a good cleaning, then to the drier. As it had done every time for decades, it came out soft, clean, and perfectly intact.
One would be hard-pressed to give or get a more useful and better made gift than that afghan.
Thank you again, Jeannie, and thanks to her mother Evelyn, all over again. It will be making regular appearances again for the rest of this winter – and beyond.
Do you have a handmade staple in your life like our afghan? Also wondering if any of you ladies had hope chests and if you still have them?
It’s spring 1973. I’m in eighth-grade at Liberty Junior High School.
There was no high school-orientation night to plot our high school courses. I don’t remember signing up for freshman year other than my mother’s strong feelings about one thing.
She said I should take typing; that I would use it.
That fall I learned that everything in typing begins on home row, and soon our sweet business-skills teacher, Ethel Sharp, helped us expand our range to other rows on the keyboard.
My friend Cheryl Rodenburg also took typing that fall. One weekend, we decided to borrow her step-grandmother’s portable typewriter and practice our Typing I skills.
We thought it would be fun to create a weekly newspaper in Philomath, the farm community where she lived.
Philomath, in the northwest tip of Union County, Indiana, isn’t an incorporated town, and there are no businesses. But there was a street light outside the Rodenburg home (actually, a security light, no doubt billed to the family). There were several houses in the neighborhood and a lot of cars and tractors passing through the main drag. City life when compared to our much more isolated farm.
I felt so alive that weekend; in love with our newspaper project. Whereas three years earlier we spent weekends in marathon sessions playing with Barbies, this was a new era and I knew it.
I felt as though I could work on our little newspaper 24/7 and I would never tire of it, ever, ever. The power of the press had reached Philomath! And I knew that whatever stories we came up with about the neighborhood, the people would read them. They might have suggestions for more stories, and feel a sense of pride at being in print.
But with only home row under our belts that weekend, we weren’t yet skilled enough to pull off a weekly newspaper, or even one issue.
I ached with a desire to type fluently, stringing not just pecked-out words but sentences, and paragraphs together, to doing something I couldn’t quite verbalize the significance of, but it amounted to making that keyboard sing with the poetry of everyday people’s stories.
At home, there sat an ancient typewriter in the back of a closet. Mom unearthed it, but it was heavy as a Model T, and the keys had to be pushed hard into submission to gather enough ink off the old ribbon to leave a print.
Back in typing class, we kept getting better. Every beginner’s goal became the chance to move up from the manual typewriter to the modern IBM Selectric. I still recall the hum and slight vibration of the machine under my fingers, and the way the keys clicked so easily compared to the clack of non-electric keys. When my fingers sat on home row of that Selectric, I felt as a race horse must feel, itching to get out of the starting gate and move.
The sound of typing became music to my ears, a symphony when others typed at the same time. As the years rolled on, I joined the high school newspaper staff, became editor my senior year, and then studied journalism in college.
It was there I was introduced to video display terminals (VDTs) that we used in 1980s and 1990s newspapering.
What had not changed were the sounds and appeal of creating news stories, just as we had attempted as beginner typists that fall in Philomath. Only by the early 1980s, there was a screen and a curser and it felt so space-age to backspace and delete a stray character rather than attempt a neat job with the typewriter eraser or correction fluid.
Of course computers changed everything. The keyboards were connected to nothing short of the world and all its information in the form of the internet. But it also meant that everyone else was connected to the world. Would they still need local newspapers?
At some point, the clickity-clack of newsroom Associated Press bulletins and breaking news, as well as features and stock reports that printed out of that magical AP wire machine became obsolete. Computers silently transmitted all that copy to us.
As the years continued, many smaller papers stopped using their own presses and instead, printed at centralized locations.
At one time, a newspaper office was a noisy place. The press rolled, the keyboards of first typewriters, then VDTs, then computers clicked. The AP wire machine cranked out copy. People came and went in open-concept newsrooms and advertising departments.
You learned to concentrate in the midst of much noise and many disruptions. You didn’t think about it. Or if you did, you thought it was great to be a part of the pre-deadline mix; that it would all come together, somehow, as if by magic, into a printed newspaper. And it would all happen again the next day.
Most days now, someone comes by the newspaper office and says, “Sure is quiet in here.”
It’s true, too. Our Mac keyboards are so quiet that reporters with light touches can’t even be heard typing. The silence is deafening to where sometimes I think: Are we really making a paper? It's all happening so quietly.
At some point, I trashed my mother’s typewriter, that jet-black, heavy-as-a-Model-T number. As Brian would say, I was in one of my cleaning frenzies.
In the newspaper office, we were gifted with the typewriter that belonged to long-time owner Walter Chambers. It sits on his desk that his family also gave us. They thought his things should be at the newspaper.
The only other typewriter in the building rests above our old-time morgue, where old stories were clipped and stored for future reference. The typewriter typed the name of the topics of those stories on small envelopes. We never use that typewriter anymore. But no one is inclined to toss it out either.
I think back to October 1973 and the craving to know how to make a keyboard sing. I wanted to type fast and make newspapers.
It’s fall 2017. I’m in my thirty-fourth year as a paid community journalist. I still want to type fast and make newspapers.
Maybe some things don't change.
Whew! It's Wednesday and things have been busy for quite a few days on end. I have also been gone the last three nights with one thing or another so I welcome today to play catch up.
I'll start with a big thank you to Phyllis Slavens for inviting me several months ago to present the "Bloom" program to her Chapter H P.E.O Sisters at Thursday's dessert meeting at Sarah Bowman's beautiful home. It was my first time with the group and I thank each one there for such a kind and enthusiastic reception.
For years, club news about P.E.O. has crossed my desk for placement in the newspaper, but I had never attended one of the meetings. Phyllis filled me in on the club's purpose, beginning with what P.E.O. stands for. Turns out it is Philanthropic Educational Organization, serving women in the U.S. and Canada.
It dates to Iowa in 1869 and New Castle alone has three chapters. Chapter H is the oldest of the three, dating to 1922.
The main focus, Phyllis said, is "supporting women's education through various scholarships and we actually sponsor Cottey College in Nevada, MO, an all-women's college."
If you'd like to learn more about P.E.O. check out www.peointernational.org and www.peoindiana.org.
My thanks again, ladies! What a great way to spend a long lunch hour -- giving a program to such a receptive, interesting group.
Saturday was a day I had looked forward to for quite a while. It was Founders Day in my hometown of Liberty, Indiana, and I had the pleasure of presenting four mini-programs on hometown folks past and present.
The thrill of the day came first thing during my talk on Civil War General Ambrose Burnside who was born and raised in Liberty. West Point educated, a top general in the Civil War, eventual governor of Rhode Island, he is also known for inventing an upgraded rifle, the Burnside Carbine. It was shorter, easier, and quicker to load and use, and the U.S. War Department commissioned the guns to outfit soldiers from Burnside.
A gentleman from the Union County Historical Society showed up, at the request of festival chair Steve Logue, with an original Burnside Carbine! What a thrill.
I need to thank several people who helped me with Founders Day. First, to Kelly Finch and the Founders Day Committee for including me in the festivities. It is always my honor to return home, and to be asked to take part is a treat.
I also want to thank Joni McMechan Checchia and Bob Jenkins for their help in putting together mini-programs about them and their lives today. Both have fond memories of our hometown and what growing up in Union County still means to them. I thank them, as well, for sending the autographed photos that I gave away on Saturday. Thank you both so much.
Also, I wanted to clarify something. The Liberty Herald ran a nice article previewing Founders Day. However, it stated that I was one of the paid entertainers. I was not and do not wish to be paid for being there! It was surely my honor.
Thank you to Rita Teeters for loaning her Raggedy Ann doll for my display, and to my brother Tim and husband Brian for keeping me company Saturday. It was nice visiting with so many from my hometown. You all make me homesick! My heart's home is always Union County ... no matter how far I roam!
Next up: From 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, I'll be joining authors Colette Huxford, Kevin Harry and Sandy Moore at a signing in the Middletown-Fall Creek Library, 780 High St. during the Middletown (Indiana) Fall Fun Fest.
Lots of small-town fun going on there Saturday. Stop by the library and say hi if you are in town. My thanks to Colette for inviting me, and to the library for hosting us.
OK! Cross the midweek blog post off the to-do list. Now I've got to get busy with the rest of it. Happy mid-week and mid-September, everyone.
Please join me this Saturday, Sept. 9, on the Union County courthouse square for four mini-presentations on Four Famous Folks From Liberty. At 10 a.m. I'll profile Civil War General Ambrose Burnside; 12:30 p.m. is the real "Little Orphant Annie," Mary Alice "Allie" Smith Gray; 1:45 p.m. will be Voice of the 500 Bob Jenkins, and at 2:45 p.m. is our own Miss Indiana 1988, Joni McMechan Checchia.
This weekend, Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 9-10, Union County, Indiana, honors its past at the annual Founder’s Days on the courthouse lawn in Liberty.
Last year I took part in the programming by reading some Hoosier poetry. The committee invited me back this year, but I decided to personalize the program with Union County history. And since local history—or any history, for that matter--is always more interesting when it speaks of people (his story = the story of people), I thought it would be fun to create profiles on some Union County natives whose stories go far beyond the small county’s borders.
While brainstorming, it occurred that when we think of a pioneer, we generally associate the term with Conestoga wagons heading west. But pioneers are also those who explore new territories in ways in addition to homesteading and community-building. I chose to highlight four.
A Civil War General
Liberty native General Ambrose Burnside was a national figure in a troubled time. He was the first person to come to mind when developing this program.
As Civil War Commander of the Grand Army of the Potomac, an entire seminar could be done on his service in that sobering war where 620,000 Americans died on our own soil. What I didn’t realize were his additional contributions to American life.
On a lighter note, for example, his name is still associated in pop culture for his unique facial hair, whereby his very name created the term “sideburns.” He invented an upgraded rifle from previous models – the Burnside Carbine – and was co-founder and first president of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
He went on to become a three-term governor of Rhode Island, a foreign-war mediator, a U.S. Senator, and – a fascinating side note – he was sitting under President Lincoln’s balcony in Ford’s Theater when the great president was slain.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, I’ll unpack more of Burnside’s story in the first of four 15-minute presentations on the courthouse lawn.
An orphan who inspired the Raggedy Ann doll
Specific details about her childhood are unclear. After all, the year was 1850 and there was no reason to think that the Liberty farm girl, Mary Alice “Allie” Smith, would in any way be associated with fame or legacy.
It is known, however, that the girl became homeless, an “orphan child” and as was the custom of the day, she was sent to “earn her board and keep” with a family that needed a “servant girl” to help around the house.
She found a home with a benevolent family in Greenfield, Indiana, whose home can be toured today as a museum. It was the childhood home of the man who would become The Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Little Jim was fond of “Allie” and the girl inspired his most famous work, “Little Orphant Annie.”
The story behind the poem, as well as the legs that the poem took in inspiring adaptive works – books, a movie musical, and of course the ever-popular play, “Annie,” not to mention one of the world’s most recognized dolls, Raggedy Ann.
And to think, the true orphan child is from Liberty, Indiana. The presentation about her is at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
An auto sport broadcaster
Veteran auto sport broadcaster, ESPN and other national-media talent, radio and track Voice of the 500, and even though he is retired, current track voice each May, Bob Jenkins was raised on Main Street in Liberty.
It was in our town that his international career covering auto racing around the globe was nurtured. He became enamored with watching small-town racer Levi Dunaway get his car ready for a Richmond run on Friday nights, and as a kid, Bob’s own raceway was the “oval” behind Miles-Richmond, where his dad worked.
Yet despite his successes around the world through his broadcasting and movie work, Jenkins reveals that he has thought about writing a book – one largely about growing up in a small town.
I had the privilege of writing about Bob in March when he gave a talk at a historical society fundraiser in New Castle, and we have emailed each other since with updates for this talk.
I’ll speak about Bob at 1:45 p.m. Saturday and have some autographed photos for those attending to win as door prizes.
Miss Indiana 1988 is former Liberty farm girl Joni McMechan Checchia. Today, Joni lives in Houston, Texas with her family, Paul, a doctor, and son Andrew, 16.
A Northwestern University graduate, Joni is an interior designer whose clients are located throughout the country, and she does volunteer work in her community. (By the way, her home was spared by Hurricane Harvey but many friends there felt the brunt of it).
Joni provides insights into the significance of growing up on the family farm, unpacks some special Miss Indiana memories such as touring with the Miss America USO program throughout the world, and sharing what it was like to be Miss Indiana and represent the Miss America scholarship program internationally.
She sent some autographed photos from her reign as Miss Indiana that will be given as door prizes during the 2:45 p.m. presentation.
If you are interested in these Union County legends, I hope you’ll come see me on the courthouse square Saturday. I’ll have a table set up with some memorabilia that might surprise you – from photos of the four I’m featuring to a children’s book I found that’s written about Ambrose Burnside.
Say what you will about love and marriage, but most girls dream of meeting Mr. Right. In my great-niece Nicki Barrett's case, make that Mr. Wright. As of 4:30 p.m. Saturday, she became Mrs. Wright.
The two are special to me because Nicki is a blood relative (I'm her mother Marlene Thompson's aunt, as in the sister of Marlene's late brother, David Jobe). But there's another reason they are special. They live in and are remodeling the home where I grew up on the old Jobe family homestead in Union County. Yes, it's on Jobe Road. That's about as down-home-from-the-heart as it gets. And I am delighted to see this couple make their home there.
The two had Brian, my brother Tim, and sister-in-law Jeannie, and me out last October to show us their progress. I blogged about it on Oct. 15, 2016.
Their talents aren't limited to remodeling an old farmhouse. They also prepared the food for their wedding reception (including the beautiful cakes), made the decorations and Nicki even crafted the boutonnieres and bridal bouquets. It was all country, all the way.
The site is a race-horse training grounds deep in the countryside of Fayette County around Waterloo. Surprisingly, there had never been a wedding on the property before, but it was an ideal venue for this energetic couple.
I thought the jockey-inspired men's attire was a perfect touch for the setting, don't you?
In fact, you might say that everything was just exactly Wright.
All the best to you both.
The year was 1977. Jimmy Carter took office. Our beloved Union County Patriots basketball team won the Connersville sectional after several years of heartbreakingly-close title runs.
"Star Wars" was the buzz, and Elvis died. Rod Stewart told us that “Tonight’s the Night” and Andy Gibb crooned “I Just Want to Be Your Everything.”
For 130 or so kids from Liberty, Indiana – and Brownsville, Philomath, Dunlapsville, College Corner, Kitchel and Cottage Grove – it was senior year.
I had gone to school with many of these kids from day one. My zany best friend all through school days, Cheryl Rodenburg, was that from kindergarten on. But I remember them all, and thanks to social media, get to see a good many of them live out their lives. Or at least casually grab a glimpse at their family picnics, see their adorable grandkids, or where they went on vacations.
This is who we were.
Maybe because of the way social media brings so many of us together, that’s why the 40th class reunion didn’t seem all big and scary, somehow, as did the 25th when many of us weren’t plugged into each other’s lives.
Last night was the night, as several of our local gals who had the good fortune to remain in our home county, had worked to plan the reunion. They spent hours and hours pulling it all together as the centerpieces featured hand-cut pictures of us all. They created a touching framed memorial to the seven of us who have passed on.
They awarded door prizes and did so much more to make it a lovely evening for everyone. The former Lynn Stanley won the J’s certificates – and to my surprise passed them on to me. We had just been discussing the iconic restaurant and hangout. I’ve often said if even today I sat in J’s for an hour during a busy lunch hour, I’d see every person I have ever known pass before my eyes. An exaggeration, of course, but hey, now I have a new reason to visit – free food.
We gathered at The Castle in Connersville, some 50-plus of us, including spouses or friends.
For just an evening, an evening that went by too fast, amid talk of how we should do this more often, we all felt oddly at home again, I think, in a way that only growing up together can make a person feel.
When we meet again, it will likely be for our 50th. Sigh.
But for one lovely night, we were back in the 70s. Not a bad place to be, for sure.
I’ve watched with interest this spring as the old auto-racing track west of Liberty reemerged after years closed as the Route 44 Speedway.
My great-nephew, A.J. Jobe, is the Voice of the Speedway.
Yes, A.J. is named after who you think he is, the famous Texan racer and four-time winner of the Indy 500. And yes, if you are thinking young A.J. gets the racing bug honest due to his name, well, you hardly know the half of it.
My late brother, David, was crazy for racing, exceeded only by his son, my nephew Mike. Mike is A.J.’s dad.
So when a Friday night rolls around each spring week, I think of A.J. up there in the press box, announcing, interviewing, adding color and character to his job, as I know he is fully capable.
I think of other Friday nights at the same track, too; forty years ago this spring, to be exact. I remember the year well because it was the same spring I graduated from Union County High School.
It was the same spring I tried to figure out what I needed to do to become a newspaper reporter, and while I was figuring, with my eye on a day-job opening at The Palladium-Item in the advertising department, I worked Friday nights at the track concession stand.
It's funny to think about now, but I did get that job in advertising, and when I did, I gave up my stint at the race track. Since then, I've known several people who worked in the newsroom at the Pal-Item, including my current publisher. But none were there that summer.
That year on Mother’s Day I got the worst sunburn of my life--at that track. Opening day was coming and the bleachers needed painted in a hurry, causing the crew to put in a long day on the holiday. I was on the crew that smeared paint on the boards and by the end of the day, I was aglow in red.
On Friday nights, the vaguely-onion-flavored burgers simmered in one of those huge, white warmers you may still see biding time on a church-kitchen shelf. They were surprisingly delicious, too.
The menu certainly included hot dogs rotating in their heated glass case, along with the pop, popcorn, and other concession fare.
I often worked the cash register, and the evenings went by quickly as there was a constant flow of people digging out payday cash from their bank envelopes, and enjoying a night in the rural countryside, the track perched atop a steep hill just east of the Whitewater River on State Road 44.
But the best thing about working at the track was the possibility of being called upon to serve as the evening’s trophy girl. The concession stand, evidently, was the bullpen of sorts for teenage girls to be tapped to head for the track near the end of the evening’s feature event, poised and ready to present the winning driver with his trophy.
It wasn’t a position one could campaign for, only one that I don’t imagine any girl in the concession stand that summer would turn down. At least twice that spring, I was asked. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a “queen” of anything. The process was simple. Someone would come to the concession stand, and holler, "Hey, we need a trophy girl!" If he looked your way, you were it.
I’d like to say that the job meant a lot of responsibility, but it didn’t. You smiled, presented the trophy, and if the sweaty driver offered a peck on the cheek, so be it. And then you hustled back to your cash register, or to the simmering burgers, and spinning dogs.
Forty years later, a Jobe has returned to the race track of my youth where he speaks to and for the track and fans. The speedway has been reinvented by a new owner excited about its future. There was an official ribbon cutting.
I’ve always figured the trophy girl credential would surely come in handy sometime along life's way. Not in a resume kind of way, but as a roll call answer or odd fact about the most unusual job I ever held. I'm still waiting.
Until that day comes, I'll go with this blog post.
As I sat at my station at Warm Glow Candle near Centerville Friday hoping to move a few books, I looked up and recognized her immediately.
As I live and breathe, it was Mrs. Joan Kratzer, my eighth-grade history teacher.
“Mrs. Kratzer!” I instinctively bellowed, jumping from my chair to greet her. It had been 44 years since I sat behind Vonda Hoppes in the old Short High School, which in our day, served as Liberty Junior High.
No doubt Joan Kratzer (Mrs. Kitterman now, having married her high school sweetheart after she lost her long-time spouse) had surely heard her name blared out too many times to count from admirers: former students, or patients of her late father, long-time Liberty family doctor, James Lewis.
I fell into both camps. I loved and looked forward to her classes with her always engaging and amusing presentation of American history, and Dr. Lewis was my family’s doctor whom I associate with both shots and sticks of Juicy Fruit--peace offerings for the shots.
About both father and daughter, however, I have nothing but respect. Doctors and teachers were celebrities in my small-town world. You looked up to and trusted both. They were the community leaders, and the good ones (there were many) made you better for knowing them. If they weren't your favorites, well you learned from them anyway, a foretaste of life to come.
Joan Kratzer Kitterman didn’t recognize me, I’m sure, but she did a quick survey of my table and put it together. “I read your first book,” she said, not missing a beat, joined by her sidekick, Vicky Lakoff Snyder, who also devoted her entire career to Union County students as teacher, coach, and principal. The two are pals.
I must have sounded like a crazed fan, but I knew I had Joan Kratzer’s ear for only a few moments so I pulled up the memories, surprising myself even, with what came out. “I’m sorry about the loss of your brother,” I told her, having read her twin's obituary recently in The Liberty Herald. He was a doctor as was his father, and the two generations before them, and she filled me in on how like their father he was.
“Do you still wear the circle pin?” I asked. I recall her signature piece of jewelry and she wore it every single day. I have always thought that would be a classy thing to have, a signature statement like Joan Kratzer had. But she’s the only one I’ve ever known to have such a thing. That’s her, memorable.
“Oh, yes,” she said, explaining that she didn’t wear it on casual clothing such as what she wore in the candle shop Friday but otherwise, yes, and yes, it’s the same pin. In all these decades, she has lost – and found it – twice.
She told of the more than 20 times she had been to Europe, and listed some of her travels. She inquired how Brian was, as did Vicky.
I always thought Joan Kratzer (er, Kitterman) was one of the most beautiful women I ever knew. She still is. As a young teen, I loved how she dressed in her perfect, classic style, with her striking salt-and-pepper (frosted, she called it) hair, and she had the clearest, sharpest blue eyes which never missed a thing.
I asked her about her modeling days, and she confirmed that yes, she modeled in Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
Eighth-grade was a good year for me, the year I spent with Mrs. Kratzer. I didn’t feel angst about life in that particular year the way some do about junior high. All things felt possible.
For one thing, I was selected as an office aide, and it came at the perfect time every day, the lunch hour, when things were laid back. I thought surely there had been a mistake when “office aide” appeared on my class schedule. First, didn’t you need to apply for such a lofty position?
And second, I didn’t think hoodlums were granted the kind of access that comes with a seat behind the principal’s secretary’s desk.
In seventh grade, I had gotten sent to the office for talking. Mr. Cummins, the principal himself, had sent me, and a stern lecture came with the trip, as heard through my own excessive tears and contrite humiliation.
Somehow, I had been redeemed.
The office was next to Mrs. Kratzer’s room and it seemed that she was in there quite a bit at midday. She would send me to the cafeteria to retrieve for her a chef salad with Russian dressing.
Russian dressing? That seemed rather exotic for Liberty. We only had Catalina at home.
It was no chore at all, but rather a privilege to be asked to help a teacher in any way. I liked having insider information. I mean, who knew that the cafeteria ladies created specialties such as fancy salads? Well, I knew. Yes, being an office aide had its insights.
Just like the time Mr. Cummins thought a boy needed a haircut so I watched as he cut the boy’s locks himself. (But I won't reveal said boy's name. That would disgrace my office-aide code of ethics, which far as I know has no statute of limitations.)
Also that year, the energetic school secretary, Mrs. Ruth Miller, turned a spare room on the second floor into an arts-and-crafts studio and we were given an option to study hall, that of spending the hour crafting or stitching. Mrs. Miller taught me to crochet – an aside that I fictionalized in my second book.
We used mostly recycled goods in our crafting such as from wallpaper-sample books. We covered everything with that free paper from paper flowers for our moms to an umbrella stand made of sturdy, leftover tubing. Her ideas and skills were those of a clever Pinterest artist decades before the website or even the personal computer were invented.
Seeing Mrs. Joan Lewis Kratzer Kitterman brought back these fine memories. I’m blessed to have grown up in such a wonderful community as Liberty, Indiana. I’m so happy that this icon, the doctor’s beautiful daughter, and generations of students’ fascinating and insightful teacher, is still beautiful, fascinating, insightful – and exactly as engaging as I remember.
Some things don't change. And sure enough, I wasn't the only one bending my former teacher's ear. A trio of women from the Liberty area recognized her, and another spirited conversation ensued. Guess that's what it's like when you are an icon.