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What’s Your Advice?

            “This is our 50th anniversary picture,” I told Tour Guide who held Husband’s camera.

“Really?” the young man said.  “50 years? Move to the left a little and I have a question after pictures.”

            At the beginning of 2019, I declared the year an anniversary celebration, but this day, August 3, was our wedding date. Husband and I stood on a mountain road in Montenegro overlooking the Adriatic Sea, thousands of miles from the church in Tennessee where we married. 

            Tour Guide handed Husband the camera and said, “I got several pictures. I can’t believe you’ve been married 50 years.  I want to ask my girlfriend to marry me.  What’s your advice?” 

            Husband and I responded simultaneously.  He said, “Compromise.”  I said, “Commitment.”  Husband added, “Pick your battles,” and I said, “Commit forever.”  A friend travelling with us chimed in, “You’ll both make mistakes. Just don’t make a big deal out of them.” 

            “Yes. Overlook. That’s my second word of advice,” I said.  Tour Guide walked with me, talked about his girlfriend, and said he wanted an old-fashioned, traditional family life.  He asked that I repeat our advice. Compromise. Commitment. Overlook.  Husband’s and my responses were spontaneous, and since that day I’ve thought of those words.   

Compromise.  Our home thermostat is set at 71 degrees.  Husband wears long pants and a lightweight fleece.  I wear shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt.  When Husband isn’t home for a few days, the thermostat is 68 on winter days, 70 on hot days, and down to 65 on cold nights. Husband moves the setting up when I’m out of town and sheds his fleece.  Some compromises are daily; some are once a lifetime.

            Commitment. I said, “I, Susan, take you, Allen, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.  This is my solemn vow.”  I pledged to be with Husband no matter what happens. A minister told a bride and groom at the end of their wedding ceremony, “You made promises to each other while God and your family and friends listened.  Now, keep them!”  Our trials haven’t been major, but we’ve endured stressful days, weeks, years and knowing that Husband and I value our vows has eased those times.  A promise is a promise. 

Overlook.  Thankfully, Husband overlooks mistakes.  Like the time our car insurance bill was sky high.  Both our children were teen-agers and, assuming the extremely high charge was for Son, I fumed and ranted.  Husband calmly pointed out that the children’s billings were the same and my insurance had increased.  He let me conclude that three recent speeding tickets had made me an insurance risk.  Mistakes happen – sometimes based on poor judgment.

            Husband and I agree that compromise, commitment, and overlooking have stood us well in our marriage.  But relationships are based on one word.  At the end of the tour, I said to Tour Guide, “You know a marriage is about love and love shows itself in many ways. Just love her.” ####


Family Vacation Heart Tugs

Oh, the heart tugs when Husband and I were with all eight Grands and their parents.

            I walked in back on a short walk from Son and Daughter 2’s home to their neighborhood playground.  Husband. Daughter. Son. Daughter 2. Son 2. Eight Grands – ages 4-14.  They paired up.  Husband and Sons talked. Daughters walked together.  The youngest Grands ran ahead.  Other Grands followed. I wished for a longer walk. 

            At Son and Daughter 2’s home, I tucked in and kissed the Grands good-night.  They lay on blow-up mattresses and over them were Granny’s quilts.  My granny’s quilts.  Their great-great grandmother.  The moment that hit me, my eight-year-old Grand said, “Gran, are you crying?”  I wiped sentimental tears remembering how I sat beside Granny and watched her pin a worn 3” square paper to fabric scraps or cloth flour sacks to cut the quilt pieces.  I threaded tiny quilting needles because the needle eyes were so tiny that Granny could hardly see them.  Some 60 years later, Granny’s great-great grandchildren snuggled under their favorite granny quilts. 

            Sons and Daughters took charge of an all-day ride, with many sightseeing stops, through the Rocky Mountains.  Three vehicles were loaded with stuff for a few nights in a house on the other side of the Rockies.  Son said, “Mom, you’re riding with me.” Husband was assigned to Son 2’s van.  Daughters rode together and the Grands were assigned seats to give the cousins time together.  All I did was ride, take notes, and enjoy the scenery and time with Son and two Grands who later declared themselves “Best Cousins Forever.”

            How to feed 14 people lunch in 30 minutes.  Park at the Rocky Mountain Welcome Center.  Open the back of one van.  Hand out sandwiches packed in zip lock plastic bags with each person’s name on a bag and bottled drinks. Everyone find a seat, on the rock wall, on grass, anywhere not near the road. Pass around big bags: chips, cut up apples, grapes.  Gather trash.  Pass around a bag of cookies.  

            “Tonight we’re making s’mores!” Daughter announced after lunch.  “There’s a fire pit at our big house.  It’ll be fun!”  The outside fire pit was on a steep hill and surrounded by dry pine needles, not safe in windy conditions.  Plan B: use the gas fire pit on the house deck.  Wind and rain and hail canceled that plan. Son and Daughter conferred while the Grands waited, seated at the kitchen bar.

            “Okay, we got this!” Daughter said and passed out graham crackers on napkins to the Grands.  Son and Daughter 2 roasted marshmallows over medium flame on the gas stovetop. Disappointed groans from kids faded quickly when roasted marshmallows and chocolate were passed around.

            Son 2 adjusted helmets.  Checked bike tires.  Made sure everyone had a water bottle and had been coated with sunscreen and away he rode with four kids behind him on a Colorado bike trail.            

  Tired and emotional meltdowns hit the Grands during the week.  Thankfully not at the same time.  I’m erasing those memories and keeping the happy ones.

Home Mishaps

“That freezer is more than 12 years old,” the appliance repairman said.  I anticipated his next words.  “Why are you smiling?” he asked.  That’s not what I expected to hear.

            “Because I thought you’d tell me it’s too old to fix,” I said and shrugged my shoulders.

            “Well, it can be fixed, but the repair cost will be more than it’s worth.”  That was my guess when Husband noticed the temperature inside our upright freezer was above 0°F. We had to save the three dozen jars of freezer strawberry jam I’d made so the good folks at our favorite local appliance store sent a repairman. A few hours later they delivered the new freezer that I chose and bought in 10 minutes.

            2:00 a.m. Sunday morning, the smoke alarm outside the bedroom door went off.  The sound is usually described as a beep or chirp.  In the middle of the night, it’s “ENT! ENT! ENT!”  (Say silent and scream ENT.) Husband and I threw off the covers, and our feet hit the floor.  He stumbled to the alarm and punched the reset button. “ENT! ENT! ENT!”  We didn’t smell smoke or see fire.  ““ENT! ENT! ENT!”  Husband stood on a kitchen chair and removed the battery to silence the alarm.

             “ENT! ENT! ENT!” the alarm screamed. The smoke detector was hard-wired to an electrical source.  Husband used a stepladder to disconnect and remove the alarm.  No more “ENT! ENT! ENT!” We walked through the house to be sure there was no smoke or fire and went back to bed.

            The next morning, Husband awoke before me.  His first words were “Don’t expect coffee.  The coffee maker is dead.”  Surely not. Maybe he could try another outlet. He’d tried every outlet on the kitchen counter.

            “Did you try one not on the kitchen counter?” I asked. We set the coffeemaker on the same kitchen chair that had been a stool to reach the smoke alarm a few hours earlier and the coffee maker worked.  I needed that cup of coffee.

            Could the blaring smoke alarm and the dead outlets be related?  Husband discovered a small manufacturer’s stick-on label inside the smoke alarm cover.  ‘Replace after 10 years.’  The installation date was 2005.  So it died of extreme old age.  Sunday afternoon, Husband replaced the smoke alarm and made sure all the others in the house were alive and working well.

            Monday morning, an electrician quickly diagnosed and repaired the non-working outlets.  A ground fault breaker that controlled four outlets had died.  “That sometimes happens,” the electrician said. 

            I should have expected two more mishaps after the freezer died. Everyone knows bad luck happens in threes.

            Now, as I write, Husband and a repairman from the heating and cooling business that installed a new unit last year are talking. Husband said, “I heard the unit running non-stop late last night.  It was not cooling.  I noticed the copper refrigerant lines going to the air handler were covered with ice.”

            Here we go again.  Is this bad luck number 1?  Or maybe a tag-along #4? ####

THE Birthday Plate

“Look, Gran, your cake is on THE birthday plate!  And wait ‘til you see inside the cake.  It’s not a plain cake,” said my Grand.

            Elsie, age 12, had used a yellow cake recipe and stirred in Hershey’s Cocoa in half the batter.  She poured the two bowls of batter into round baking pans and then used a knife to swirl the flavors together.  “That’s exactly the kind of birthday cake I asked for when I was a kid,” I said.  “Chocolate and yellow swirled together. I haven’t had one in years.”

            Although my Grand didn’t know the kind of cake Mom made for my birthday, she knew about the glass plate. “What’s so special about THE plate?” Elsie’s younger sister asked. I told the story.

            When I was a little girl, Mom baked two-layer birthday cakes and served them on a glass cake plate.  I inherited the plate after Mom’s death and used it for birthday cakes too. For Dad’s 81st birthday, I baked his favorite yellow cake and frosted it with 7-Minute Icing just like Mom did.  To carry the cake to Dad’s house, I put it inside a plastic carrier with a handle and thought I had securely fastened the carrier top to the bottom.

            Just as I stepped into Dad’s house, I lost my hold on the cake carrier and when the cake plate slide sideways, the carrier opened.  The glass plate and cake fell onto Dad’s wooden floor, right beside his feet. The cake splattered. The plate broke into many pieces.  I cried.

            Dad consoled me saying the top part of the cake could be eaten and the plate wasn’t fine crystal.  He was sure Mom didn’t pay much money for it, and I could probably find another one somewhere.  My only thought was that I’d destroyed a part of every family birthday celebration.

            I rarely shop antique stores or junk stores or garage sales – the places where a 1950s glass cake plate might be available.  But for a year, I was on a mission to replace Mom’s plate and I walked through many stores and sales.  Finally, I spotted a plate, under a huge glass punch bowl, exactly like Mom’s.  Husband helped me move the bowl.  The plate didn’t have a price tag. “I wonder how much it cost,” I said.

            Husband answered, “It doesn’t matter.” The storeowner got cheated.  I gladly paid her price, $12, but I would have paid much more.

             A few months later, girlfriends and I went on a weekend trip. We walked and talked our way through several antiques stores.  “Look,” I said, “it’s another cake plate like Mom’s.  Remember?  The one I broke.”

            “Oh, that’s it?”  said Connie.  “I have one of those.  It doesn’t mean anything special to me.”  So, I bought a second plate for $15 and Connie gave hers to me.

            Now there are three cake plates in our family.  Daughter, Son, and I each have one.  THE birthday cake plate tradition continues.  And sometimes the cake on the plate is a surprise and sometimes it’s an old favorite. ####

Come Back to the Barnyard

My calendar is marked. F A I R! A line connects the dates Thursday, August 1 thru Saturday, August 10.

            The Putnam County Fair’s theme is “Come Back to the Barnyard….” That takes me to my childhood and my family’s barn hayloft where a girlfriend and I played. Rectangular hay bales tied with grass string were perfect for dividing the loft into rooms.  We stacked bales to make a kitchen table and one bale became a chair or couch.  Two bales side-by-side made a bed.  Barn kittens, wrapped in old towels, were our babies. We played house all morning. 

            I headed to that barn loft when the skies darken and clouds gathered.  I loved hearing the rain hit the tin roof and if I had my book, whatever I was reading, I’d settle into a corner and hope the rain didn’t stop before I’d read the last page.

            I didn’t grow up on a working farm, but even those of us who lived a mile from the Pickett County courthouse had a milk cow, pigs, chickens, and a horse or two.  One sow refused to nurse her newborn babies.  On a cold night while my parents played cards at their friends’ house, my older brother and I put the piglets in a cardboard box and carried them to our house.  The nipple of an animal feeding bottle was too big for the piglets’ tiny mouths, but my doll’s bottle was just the right size.  By the time our parents got home, the piglets were sound asleep and so were my brother and I, on the floor beside the box. (There’s a story about the hardwood floor under the box, but that’s for another day.)

            Grannie raised chickens.  Tiny fluff balls grew into hens and laid eggs.  Grannie could ease her hand under a sitting hen to gather eggs and the hen never moved.  I couldn’t.  I was sure the hen would peck me.

            When my grandfather’s cow birthed twin calves, Mom checked me out of school.  Inside Papa’s barn, one calf stood on wobbly legs.  I’d watched puppies be born, but the birth of more than one calf was rare – worth missing the last hour of school.  Dad, Papa, and the cow worked hard to birth the second calf. 

            The Putnam County Fair offers a glimpse of farm life.  A Petting Zoo: horses, dairy cows, sheep, goats, chickens, geese and more.  And live demonstrations: blacksmithing, broom making, spinning, weaving, soap making, and children’s games. As stated in the Fair booklet, the Come Back to the Fair exhibit will “reach back to our roots and recall and recreate the farm barnyard – the safe place we played as children.”  A safe place to play and learn about life.

            My Grands may never play in a barn loft or marvel at the birth of twin calves or gather eggs, but at the fair they can smell hay and stroke a calf’s nose and see chickens sitting on their nests.  

            Take your family and check out farm life, eat a burger and cotton candy, walk through the exhibits and ride the ferris wheel.  I’ll see you there! ####

Dear Camper

Dear Ruth,

            How I wish I could hide in your suitcase and go to camp with you!  A week in the woods.  I’m happy for you and I know you’ll have a good time.

            Last week you were exited and said, “This will be the first time I’ve ever stayed overnight without some of my family!”  You are brave.  You know only two people at camp – a boy your age and a girl who is a family friend and a counselor in training.  So you get to make new friends.

            When I was your age, 10 years old, I went to 4-H Camp in Crossville.  Recently, I received a Facebook friend request from a woman I met at camp all those years ago.  Many people who I first knew as fellow campers were fellow students at Tennessee Tech years later.  One of the girls in your cabin might become a long time friend.

            What fun I had at camp!  My favorite activity was swimming and it wasn’t just because I got to play in a huge pool.  There was a snack bar at the pool and I discovered something I really liked. Fritos! We sometimes ate potato chips with a sandwich at home, but I hadn’t eaten corn chips.  I could hardly wait to get to the pool and while other campers ran to jump into the water, I headed to the snack bar and bought a small bag of Fritos. I ate those chips one at a time.  First, licking off the salt, then putting a whole chip in my mouth and letting it crumble as it dissolved.  Even now, when I eat Fritos, I think of the 4-H camp swimming pool.

             I really liked the end of a camp day, near sunset.  Everyone stood in lines outside the mess hall (aka dining hall) while the American flag was taken down and folded.  We were quiet and reverent and it was a peaceful time. I hope you sing the same song I sang: Day is done, gone the sun from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest; God is nigh.

             I didn’t like walking at night from my cabin to the bathhouse where the potties were, but I carried a flashlight and a light stayed on in the bathhouse all night. I especially didn’t like a stomachache that made me cry.  That happened because I was homesick.  Years later when your mom was homesick, I knew how she felt.

            I liked target shooting and crafts and square dancing and short hikes in the woods and throwing horseshoes and skit night and cabin pillow fights and most camp food.  (I was glad peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were available for every meal.)  I liked wearing my favorite clothes and my mom wondered why most of the clothes that she packed in my suitcase hadn’t been worn when I got home.

            Have fun at camp!  When you come home, let’s go to lunch so you can tell me all about your week.

            Love forever,             Gran

Colorado’s Natural Playground

For a week, Husband and I explored parts of Colorado with Daughter and Son and their families. “First stop tomorrow is the Poudre River,” Son announced and the Grands giggled. 

     “Did Uncle Eric say pooter?” eight year-old Elaine asked, then she put her hand over her mouth and giggled.

            “Actually, it’s the Cache La Poudre (pronounced pooh-der) River and you’ll like it.  It’s a good place to throw rocks.” After breakfast the next day, six adults and eight children, ages 4-14, loaded into three vehicles.  One carried bicycles on top so Son 2 (aka son-in-law) and the four older kids could ride the Poudre trails and the rest of us prepared for a fifteen-minute walk along a dirt path toward the river.

            Carrying water, snacks, sunscreen, and insect repellant, we adults walked in front and back, and the two youngest cousins, Ann and Jesse, held hands as they walked.  Ann, who has visited the Poudre River many times, said, “We get to walk on the wiggly bridge!”

            Six and eight year-old cousins Neil and Elaine paired up and rocked the wooden suspension bridge from side to side.  “This is more fun than walking!” said Elaine.  She and Neil hopped across the bridge.

            The Poudre ran full and swiftly. Its shoreline was covered with rocks, from small gravels to rocks big enough to sit on.  A large willow tree with exposed roots and low branches grew beside the riverbank.  The Grands immediately threw rocks in the water and challenged each other.  Who could throw the farthest?  Whose rock made the biggest splash? Who could throw five rocks at one time?  And Elaine and Neil often said, “Watch me throw this rock in the Pooter,” and then laughed.

            After a bit, the four kids wandered from each other.  Jesse, age five, found a walking stick and walked the tree roots, nature-made balance beams.  Four-year-old Ann collected the shiniest, tiniest rocks.  Neil and Elaine threw leaves and sticks in the river and then tried to hit them with rocks. 

            Husband and Son skipped rocks and all four Grands counted loudly the number of skips across the water’s surface.  The kids were determined to find perfectly flat rocks and master skipping.  Over and over they slung rocks into the water and when one skipped, even once, all celebrated with applause and cheers.

            Another thirty minutes passed before Daughter and Daughter 2 declared it was time for snacks and water and a second sunscreen rub down.  Afterwards, Jesse used his stick as a shovel to dig softball size rocks from the ground.  The same size rocks lay on top of the ground, but with Ann’s encouragement, Jesse dug several and then together he and Ann made the biggest water splashes or so they claimed.

            A different trail from the river led us through marshland and the Grands stopped and squatted to watch ants scurry around a huge anthill.  Back at the parking lot, we met the bike riders and our eight Grands talked at the same time.  All were sure they’d had the most fun.  They were wrong.  I did, but I didn’t tell them.