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Come On Out to the Fair!

            You have only three more days, well four, counting today, to take in the very best county fair in Tennessee.  The Putnam County Agricultural and Industrial Fair was awarded the Champion of Champions trophy by the Tennessee Association of Fairs on January 20, 2022, and board members have worked diligently to make this year’s fair even better. 

Our fair isn’t a Johnny-come-lately event.  Chickens & Cows & Pigs, Oh My!, the theme of this year’s fair, is the 96th Putnam County Fair.  All these years, it’s been presented, ‘put on’ as my granny would say, by volunteers – 539 volunteers this year, according to John Allen, Fair Board President. 

            When I heard that ‘exhibit fair watchers’ were needed, I signed up.  As I write this column, I’m sitting under the South grandstand where the produce and crops and photographs are displayed and I’m taken back to being a kid.  I’ve pulled suckers from knee-high corn plants and driven a tractor that pulled a wagon in a hayfield and dug potatoes and picked enough green beans to fill quart jar for Mom to can.

             My job tonight is to remind people not to touch the items that have been entered for competition.  A little tyke ducked under the single-chain barrier and rubbed both hands over a long-shaped watermelon, but before I even stood, his mother had corralled him.  Maybe it was the big blue “Best of Show” ribbon on the watermelon that was enticing.

            I’m impressed by the baskets of vegetables that are works of art entered as Garden Displays.  Professional and amateur photographers entered pictures in many categories and I applauded with a child’s family when he announced, “I got a blue ribbon!”   He’ll also be happy when he picks up his first-place prize money on Sunday.

            My watcher seat looks out to the Master Gardeners’ exhibit, a unique and beautiful presentation of plants, both flowering and non-flowering. And I’m close to the food booths and cotton candy and the midway where the Ferris wheel stops only long enough to unload and load.

If I’d been assigned to the Cultural Arts Building, I’d be surrounded by flower arrangements, potted plants, hand and machine-stitched clothing, needlework, quilts of all sizes, knitted items, paintings, and crafts made of wood and leather.  And food: canned fruit, jelly, pickles, cakes, cookies, candy, and pies.  (Granted, all probably looked more appetizing on entry day.)

Maybe you think the fair isn’t something you’d like – think again.  It’s the best $5 you’ll spend to appreciate life here in Putnam County, according to the man I met tonight who moved here from San Diego, California, six months ago. 

The fair gates open at 4:00.  Take in the exhibits, eat supper at a food booth, and shop at the country store.  For an additional cost, you can ride the Ferris wheel. Go on the night of your favorite event: a horse show, tractor pull, or demolition derby.  The fair comes only once a year!

Get more information at https://putnamcountyfair.org

Marvel at All Living Creatures

            Their noses were inches apart.  What was my Grand thinking as he looked into the eyes of a penguin at the Tennessee Aquarium?  Harrison, a juvenile Macroni penguin, seemed as mesmerized as Micah, age 8.  Where they were playing a game of Blink through the Penguin Rock exhibit’s thick glass. Who would blink first and move?

Finally, Harrison swam away.  My Grand turned toward me and said, “He liked me.”  

            Micah’s body touched the glass of the tank that holds the largest aquarium animals.  A Sand Tiger Shark swam toward Micah and he backed up.  After the shark’s nose skimmed across the glass, Micah stepped forward to meet a Whiptail Stingray.  It’s underside white body was wider than Micah’s outstretched arms and it flapped its fins to swim away.  Micah stood at attention waiting for the next animal to come close.  

            During a two-mile hike with five Grands, Daughter, and Daughter2 along a Colorado park trail, we stopped often.  “Look, Gran,” said Charlotte, age 7.  “It’s a lady bug.”  Charlotte had squatted low and she placed her hand on the ground.  The beetle crawled into her palm and we all marveled at its beauty, its brilliant red back with black spots. 

            As we walked, some of us ducked to avoid black and yellow swallowtails and all eight of us stopped to count how many small yellow butterflies flew above a stream.

Lucy and Annabel, ages 11 and 13 respectively, were in no rush at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere.  The meercats scampered on the ground and some into holes; one stood at attention, as if posing.  These were the animals both girls wanted to watch first.

At the cougar exhibit, we saw these large cats stretched out perfectly still on rocks.  Husband, Lucy, and I were ready to move on so I said, “Annabel, I think they’re sleeping.” 

            “I know,” my Grand answered and didn’t move. When we finally walked away, I wondered how long Annabel would’ve watched these big cats sleep. 

            On that hot day last week we talked about how hot we were, how hot the zoo animals must be, and we understood why most hid underground or in the shade. “Except him and he might be dead,” I said and pointed to an earthworm on the stone path. Lucy carefully picked him up; he wiggled slowly in her hand.  She carried him to the grass covered ground and gently turned her hand so that he fell off.

            “You saved a life today, Lucy!” Annabel said.

            Just a few days before Annabel and I had read poems from Great Poems for Grandchildren.   “Like the poem we read last week.” I said.  “Hurt no living thing.”  I wish I could’ve quoted the next six lines, especially the last: ‘Nor harmless worms that creep.’

            “Nothing, Gran?” Lucy said with a smile.  She knows I swat flies and mosquitoes.

            One of my grandparent joys is watching my Grands marvel at all living creatures.  I do it every chance I get.

Happy to Celebrate!

Most times when I put my fingers on my keyboard to write the first draft of a column I have the topic and most of the 500 words, in somewhat logical order, in mind.  Today only the topic is firm: this week I’ll celebrate a milestone birthday.  But the words are like shooting stars – fast and random.

             I think of my grandmothers and Mom and of my other significant birthdays and my life at age 25 and how the next fifty years unfolded.  If given a second chance, what would I have done differently?  I count blessings.  I reflect on how I got to be this age and what’s next.

            Granny and Grandma Gladys looked old when they were 75. Both had short wavy gray hair and wore dresses – I never saw either in a pair of pants.  Neither ever drove a car.  Granny worked in her garden and hand stitched quilts and watched soap operas and wrestling on TV.  Grandma cooked three meals a day for herself and Papa and welcomed their three daughters’ visits.

            In her seventies, Mom played golf and Scrabble, preserved vegetables and fruits that she and Dad raised, sewed clothes for herself, machine stitched quilts, grew flowers, watched baseball and basketball games.   These memories make me wonder how my children and Grands will describe me at 75?

            At 25, I hoped for children and five years later, Husband and I had two toddlers, Daughter and Son. And many years later, they blessed us with grandchildren.  At 25, or even 50, I never expected eight Grands!

            Oh, the things I would have done differently.  Fewer chores and more play with my children.  Laughed at spilled milk. Rocked until babies slept and then kept rocking. Allowed desserts even if all the vegetables weren’t eaten.

I wish I’d listened more carefully and made notes when Mom and Dad told stories of their childhoods and when they dated as young adults and their early marriage.  Why didn’t I ask my grandparents about their lives?  Why didn’t I write their memories?

As an elementary school teacher, I’d be less strict and structured.  I would learn more about my students’ home lives and send home more positive notes. 

            At this point in life, counting blessings comes easy.  Several years ago, I began listing people, things, and events for which I’m thankful.  This morning as I drank coffee on my front porch at 6:30 a.m., I wrote number 5983A hummingbird chattered and drank from our feeder. 

            If someone asked “Who are you?”, I’d start with relationships.  Christian. Wife. Mother. Grandmother. Cousin. Friend.  I’m most thankful for God and people.             

I’m thankful to live when we grandmothers color our hair and wear shorts and drive grandchildren to practices and play in swimming pools with them.  I’m thankful to sleep under Granny’s quilts and make Mom’s sweet pickles. And I appreciate a computer that lets me cut and copy and delete.

I’m really happy to celebrate this birthday.  I’ll eat cake first.

Remember that time when…

I sat in the back seat between Granny and my big brother Roger.  Dad drove our family’s 1956 hardtop Dodge, and Mom held a road map as we travelled from Tennessee to Oklahoma the summer I was ten years old. Granny and I sometimes swapped places and I could feel the breeze from the front seat window, rolled down just a few inches, and I’d crack my window enough to blow my ponytail.The reason for this trip was Granny wanted to visit her nephew’s family; it was my family’s only long-distance driving trip with her.  She wore a shirtwaist cotton dress, heavy black shoes and white anklets, and her white hair was cut short – all common for a 71-year-old-woman.  I thought she was old, really old. 

            As we traveled the two-lane highways, Granny and I played the alphabet game and searched for letters printed on billboards and road signs.  We could claim only one letter per sign from A to Z.  It took a long time to spot the end of the alphabet:  V, X, and Z.  Then we spelled words – our full names and random words.  

            Mom gave updates of how many miles to the next town, which might be just a gas station, grocery store and post office. We stopped at roadside parks to eat the picnic lunch Mom had packed.  Sandwiches, chips, cookies, and Cokes, in thick glass bottles. 

             Recently, I rode with Daughter’s family of seven in their ten-passenger van from Winter Park, Colorado to Cookeville, Tennessee.  During the first hour of travel, all eight of us took in the scenery.  Snow on the mountains above the tree line, arrow straight evergreens below, and deep slopes to valleys.  Switchbacks and steep inclines led to Bethoud Pass at 11,307 feet above sea level, then more curves down the mountain toward Denver.

            Son 2 and 17-year-old Grand sat in the front captains’ seats, taking turns as driver and navigator.  Four other Grands sat in their ‘regular’ seats: two-person bench seats, a three-person bench seat, and a jump seat.  During the two days travels, Daughter and I sat beside each Grand.  They had over-the-seat hanging bags filled with craft and drawing items, small toys, and snacks. And each had a device, a ‘screen.’

            Leaving the mountains, I sat beside Lucy, age 11, who stretched her legs across my lap, leaned against her pillow, covered herself with a quilt and listened to a book downloaded on an iPod.  Another Grand listened to music and solved Rubix Cubes.  Two watched a favorite movie for the umpteenth time.  Daughter took in a downloaded podcast.  All had earbuds or headphones.

            Enjoying the quiet, I read a book downloaded on my iPad.  But we weren’t quiet for the entire twenty-one hours trip, when I sat with my Grands we talked, played pencil and paper games, rubbed backs, and cuddled. 

            Maybe my Grands will have happy memories as I do when Granny and I rode side-by-side to Oklahoma.  They might say, “Remember that time Gran rode home with us from Colorado?” 

Vacation Wildlife Sightings

I looked forward to seeing wildlife while vacationing with Daughter’s and Son’s families in Fraser and Winter Park, Colorado.

            As soon as I sat on our condo balcony, a hummingbird swooped a little too close.  A robin perched atop a blue spruce and looked like a topper on a Christmas tree.  An iridescent black bird that looked like a crow, marked white on its wings and body, squawked as it flew past. 

            He’s the cousin of a crow and raven: a black-billed magpie.  Magpies were everywhere I was for five days.  On hiking trails in the middle of the forest.  At a concrete skate park in downtown Winter Park.  Among the natural undergrowth and trees surrounding the condo complex.  Magpies were easy to identify, and I sometimes heard their loud, harsh cries before I saw them. 

            Early one morning while I sipped my first cup of coffee, two female mule deer grazed nearby.  Their long ears turned toward me when I stepped outside, but obviously not feeling threatened, they lowered their heads to pick the wild grasses.  I sat quietly watching these animals that have broader chests and are more stocky than the white-tailed deer here in Tennessee. 

            Another morning, deer wandered from a cluster of trees and sauntered near the condos for their morning feed. Then they turned, walked toward the trees, stopped, kneeled to the ground under a large bush, and tucked their heads. Was this their daily routine?  Their feeding lot? Their place for daytime naps?

            The only moose and elk I saw stood perfectly still on the sidewalks of Winter Park.  Huge metal statues.  The moose was dressed in a red and white coat and blue pants to celebrate Independence Day.  Maybe, I thought, I’ll see wildlife while riding home with Daughter’s family for two days across Kansas and parts of Missouria and Kentucky. 

            After a nine-hour ride we checked into a hotel in Topeka, Kansas, and I put on my tennis shoes to walk outside and stretch my stiff body.  A few steps from the hotel’s front doors, I saw wildlife that marks this trip. 

            A doe and four kits waddled from under tall shrubs and trees about five parking places from where I stood.  I froze in place.  I never expected to see a stench of skunks!  (Yes, a group of skunks is called a stench or surfeit.)  Momma Skunk led her babies from their protected hide-away onto mowed grass, toward the paved parking lot.  The kits, following Momma, tumbled over each other.

            At the concrete curb, Momma stopped, sniffed, raised her nose, sniffed the concrete again.  She turned around facing her kits, then stepped through them and ambled toward the bushes.  The kits followed.

            I hate the stink of a skunk’s spray, and never want to be near one, but seeing the doe leading her kits and watching them play, I hoped no one would find their hiding place.  Skunks eat rodents, beetles, and larvae, and scavenger animal carcasses so that busy intersection in Topeka should be varmint-free, unless skunks are considered varmints.

When Kids Fuss and Fight

To suggest a topic for a column, a friend sent a link to an article: ‘ReeDrummond Shares How She Stops Her Five Kids from Fighting.’  Drummond is best known as The Pioneer Woman who has a cooking TV program.  Her article took me back to raising my two children.

Drummond and I could’ve gone to the same parenting school that taught parents to let children solve their own differences, unless they bicker just to annoy each other and then tell them to stop and separate them. And if children try to physically hurt each other, adults must intercede.

I never knew siblings argued, sometimes I think for their own entertainment, until I was a mother.  My only brother was almost five years older than me and treated me like a princess.  I remember only one time, a summer day, when we argued and probably shouted mean words.  Mom broke two switches off the cherry tree in our back yard and told us if we wanted to fight that we could “switch” each other. 

I went first and flipped the backside of my brother’s blue jeans.  Then it was his turn.  He refused.  He slapped the switch several times on his own legs. I cried. Mom walked away and my brother hugged me.  I don’t remember what we argued about, but I know Mom never called us down for arguing again. 

            When Daughter and Son were elementary school age and argued, I’d sit them down on the couch, one on each side of me. I told them to complement each other, saying only positive things.  It went something like this.

Son: She has a really nice brother.

Daughter:  His sister is smart.

Son: Her brother can shoot a basketball.

Daughter: His sister can play the piano.

By then, I was biting my lower lip and snickering, and they continued this chatter until all three of us laughed.  When they were older, they’d throw out pseudo-compliments without my direction – I think for my entertainment.

Sometimes when they got into she-said, he-said disagreements, I gave Daughter and Son pieces of paper and told them to write exactly what happened and suggestions to fix the problem.  Most times they’d come to me after a few minutes and agree that the problem was solved. 

When they were teenagers and argued, I sent Daughter and Son out of my hearing.  One winter evening, they bickered in the kitchen while I cooked supper.  I opened the back door and sent them outside and said that they could come inside when they were speaking kindly to each other.  Then I locked the door. 

Son and Daughter tell this story to their children and swear it was freezing cold and they were both barefoot and I wouldn’t let them in no matter what.  I expect they’ll soon say they got frostbite, but both still have all their toes.

The Pioneer Woman tells her kids to shake hands and hug. That probably works.  Parents, whatever it takes to survive kids fighting and arguing, do it.

The Safe Room

What if you were being followed and felt threatened? What if you were in a dangerous home situation?  If you were scared that someone would hurt you and you wanted police protection?    

When I toured the new Cookeville Police Station, located at 1019 Neal Street, about a month ago, my take-away was the Safe Room – the first thing I saw after entering the lobby, only five steps to a gray door labeled Interview Safe Room. 

I was told that the Safe Room is available for anyone, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but I wanted to know more.

            Recently, I sat inside the Safe Room across a table from Lieutenant Anthony Leonard, the Cookeville Police Department Public Information Officer. “Can anyone come to this room anytime?  Is that why it’s here?” I asked.

            Lt. Leonard nodded.  “It’s a monument of a safe place.  The police department provides safety to the community. This room is that.”  Indeed, it is a monument, a perfect example of a safe place. 

            “It’s built with concrete walls and the two doors are ballistically rated for gun safety,” Lt. Leonard said.  It’s a small room, 9’ x 12’.  The walls are painted gray and the room is furnished with only a small desk and three office chairs.  “There are other safe places, but this one puts you in immediate contact with a police officer.”

            I asked if a police officer would immediately come into the room when someone entered it.  Lt. Leonard explained. “No, but the police dispatcher (about 100 feet away down the hallway) will immediately know someone is here.” He pointed to an overhead camera. “When you close the door and turn the dead bolt lock on the door that you came through, you are safe.”

 “To talk to the dispatcher, push the lighted blue circle beside the door.”  The lighted circle is an AI, Artificial Intelligence, a security device that provides video and audio. “The dispatcher will send an officer who will come into the room through the other door that can be opened only with a pass key.  The dispatcher can continue to see and hear everyone in the room.”

“So, if I’m afraid of being hurt or I’m followed in my car by someone with road rage, I can come here?” I asked. 

“Yes, but 911 is always the go-to phone call,” Lt. Leonard told me.  He explained that the 911 call-taker can give directions to the police department and call the police dispatcher. Then a police officer could meet me outside the building, but the Safe Room is available without calling 911.

            Many people spent years designing and building the new police headquarters.  I was impressed by the detectives’ cubicles, the chief’s office, conference rooms, break rooms, interview rooms, and other offices.  They thought of everything – even a Safe Room.

As I left the police station, Lt. Leonard reminded me that anyone who is threatened should first call 911 and the Safe Room is always open, 24/7.

Helpful Technology Goes Awry, Again

Today’s guest columnist is Daughter Alicia.  After she read my column about my frustration with QR Codes, she shared a recent technology experience at her house.

Background: our laptop has a pesky habit of interrupting on-screen work with a multitude of notifications. It interrupts with no regard of manners or propriety. No doubt, there is a way to stop notifications, but I haven’t done that. 

When it was time for 15-year-old Elsie to take the drivers’ permit test, we learned it could be taken online. Hooray! How convenient!  I registered to become Elsie’s test proctor and jumped through the hoops downloading the TN proctor ID application, and we were good to go.

I welcome a second teen driver. Every time I get behind the wheel, my offspring share much needed tips in the form of side-eyed comments: “Blinker,” “It’s yellow, Mom,” and “Turn here.”   

Elsie had studied diligently; she was ready. Step one: scan a QR code, after my proctor ID app recognizes my face. In the two weeks since I had installed the app, my face must have morphed to a state of non-recognizability. I timed out three times due to ‘security concerns’ for having the wrong face.    

After a live chat with Josh, an online assistant, who verified I was who I said I was, we were admitted to the testing site. I tried to play it cool as my girl was a shade anxious, but I sweated from the effort of being recognized by the wizardry of biometric identity. 

Elsie read the instructions, which told her to not have any web-connected devices nearby and to not open other on-screen windows (presumably to prevent wayward teens from on-the-spot research/cheating/tom

foolery). Ever the rule follower, she put her phone and Apple watch several feet away. She began.

I sat quietly. No hints. No ‘Are you sure?’ mom-interference. About a dozen questions in, an email notification popped onto the computer screen.  To be able to see question behind the pop-up,  Elsie hit the x to delete the notification.

Immediately, the test screen blacked out and words in big red letters appeared: YOU HAVE FAILED.  Surely not. Oh, but yes. “An alternate tab was opened. This is against the rules. This test is marked FAILED.” 

We stared at each other in disbelief. I cannot think of one thing Elsie has ever failed, and to be suspected of cheating – devastating. I was gobsmacked when I realized she FAILED because she closed a notification: ‘You have a new email.’ Good grief.

Elsie buried her head and came out laughing. We laughed until we cried. I don’t know which was worse for my girl: failure or being found guilty of cheating without a jury of peers. She carries the burden of being the oldest daughter who has a rather high self-imposed bar of success.  The next chance to take this test is 24 hours later.  At which point, we’ll load up and head to the good ole Department of Motor Vehicles Office to test in person, just like God and Henry Ford intended.

Technology: Love It and Hate It

Technology makes life simpler by one definition:  methods, systems, and devices which are the result of scientific knowledge being used for practical purposes in industry and our everyday day lives.  Technology certainly proved practical when Husband, our 15-year-old Grand, Elsie, and I set off on a five-day trip. 

Holding my iPhone in hand, I said, “Hey, Siri. Get directions to Sandusky, Ohio.”  Seconds later, Google Maps showed three possible routes on my phone screen. We chose one showing 486 miles and 7 hours 35 minutes.  Because I wanted to follow our route on paper and I like to know the names of towns we travel through, I kept my Rand-McNally atlas close by as we followed a blue line and spoken directions from my phone.   

I appreciated detailed directions. “In ¼ mile, use the right two lanes. Turn left onto Interstate Highway 77.” As Google Map’s back-up navigator for Husband while he drove, I sometimes repeated directions, watched for highway and street signs, and looked up the name of the next town.

When we arrived at our destination, I praised technology.  We didn’t make a single wrong turn, although driving time was extended an hour due to road construction, and along the way Google Map had located and directed us to the nearest Chick-Fil-A.

As we travelled, we used technology in other ways.  Texts, emails and phone calls kept us connected with friends and family.  I played word games, and our Grand listened to audio books.

            The next day I encountered my bane of technology.  At a Cedar Point Amusement Park information booth, I asked for a park map.  “You can scan one,” said the park employee.  She pointed to a QR code, a black and white square, and immediately looked towards another park visitor.

Quick Response codes have been described as barcodes on steroids; they hold information horizontally and vertically.  Was I expected to see everything at Cedar Point, a 364-acre park, on my 3” x 6” phone screen?  Never understanding the park’s layout, I floundered for the next few hours and followed Elsie from ride to ride.

Finally, we saw the main information center so I again asked for a paper map.  The employee said, “You can scan one,” and pointed to a QR code. I gave her my best grandmother smile and said, “I’ve been frustrated all morning.”

She nodded and ducked below the counter.  “Here you go. This should help.”  I triumphantly waved my paper map toward Husband and Elsie.

At suppertime, a hostess guided us to a restaurant booth and pointed to the tabletop.  “Your waiter will be right with you. You can scan our menu here,” she said. Another QR code.

As we looked at phone screens, the waiter must have sensed my frustration because she asked, “Would you like paper menus?”  Most times I think I’m moving along well (for my age, some would say) in this technology world, but I hope all the world’s information doesn’t get packed into black and white squares.

Curiosity and Determination

When a Grand asks to play our pump organ, I say, “Yes.” And I often say that my grandfather and his two sisters bought the organ about 1915 when they were young adults. 

            “Did one pump and one play?” eight-year-old Micah asked.  I shook my head.  Micah had played our piano and organ since he was a toddler – old enough to reach the keys.  Creating his own melodies, his little hands have run up and down the keyboards, and he learned to play with fingers, not fists. 

            He pumped the organ pedals and played, and like every other time, my Grand declared that you needed strong legs to pump.  When it was my turn, I played ‘Jesus Loves Me’ while Micah sat quietly studying my fingers and the hymnal propped open on the organ.  After I played the last note, he asked, “Gran, how do you know what key to play by looking at that book?” 

             I quickly found Lesson Book – Level 1A that Micah’s big brother and sister had used.  Knowing Samuel and Annabel used the same book made this young Grand throw out his chest. He asked to play the piano so he wouldn’t have to pump. 

            Micah is methodical – before he rides his bike, he puts on his helmet, arm and knee pads, and riding gloves – so when I flipped a few pages to one that showed black notes and finger numbers for ‘Merrily We Roll Along,’ he stopped me.  “Gran, what if I miss something important in the front?” 

            He practiced sitting tall and curving his fingers like a cat’s paw.  We both numbered and wiggled our thumbs and fingers. “Are thumbs always number 1, even in a different book?” Micah bent his thumbs.  What a relief that music books uses the same numbered fingers. 

            We counted quarter, half, and whole notes in a measure. Micah played all the black keys in groups of two; then those in groups of three.  Forty-five minutes after opening the Lesson Book, we turned to ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ and we sang the numbers over the notes: 2343 222 333 222.  (Keys are named as letters in later lessons.)

            Micah put three left-hand fingers on the three black keys below middle C, and I put my index finger over the first note in the lesson book.  “No, Gran. I think I’ve got this,” he said.  And he did.  Maybe because Micah is left-handed, playing with his right hand was more difficult, but he tried over and over to master ‘O’er the Deep Blue Sea.’  

            Micah took home copies of two pages from the lesson book. “I’ll play on our piano.  Everyone will be so surprised!  It’s kinda’ like reading.  When can I play the next page?”  Micah will learn the names of keys and he’ll understand that notes for ‘Jesus Loves Me’ are written on five straight black lines.  My Grand’s curiosity led to learning and his determination to success.  And I got to watch.