"Language, as well as the faculty of speech, was the immediate gift of God." ~ Noah Webster

Friday, August 27, 2010

All's Fair...

Fair is here! Matt and I spent the entire day on Wednesday. We always like to go on opening day when everything is new and fresh and clean. On opening day, there are fewer people than other days and everyone is in a really good mood before the heat, long hours and the “funny” characters start to get to workers, making attitudes less than perfect.

The first thing we do on opening day is check out the 4-H booth to see how Matt has done on his projects. This year, he had just one project. But he took Grand Champion for that project which surprised us both. He has received Reserve Champion in the past, but this is the first time he took the Grand Champion Award, so we were pretty happy. He received a free fair ticket for his endeavor and he gets to attend an award ceremony on Sunday. This was something new for us; neither of us knew the fair did that, so that was an added surprise.

Next, we moved on to the photography booth, where Matt had entered 6 photographs. He took two reds, two whites, and an honorable mention on his photos. The photo that I thought most likely to receive an award, won nothing. Goes to show you what I know. We spent quite a bit of time in this section, as we both love looking at the entries and marveling over some people’s creativity.

The Gardening Building was next on our agenda. Though, my garden suffered some this year, I decided to enter carrots, beets, dill, green beans and my annual “Soup Bowl”.  I should have saved myself the trouble this year, receiving no awards for my individual entries! My “Soup Bowl” did receive a Red Ribbon, but I was so embarrassed over my other vegetables, the satisfaction over the Red Ribbon was greatly diluted. I looked at my vegetables there on display and wondered how in the world I could have picked the vegetables I had picked. They looked much worse after sitting out for a couple of days, but even so, they were clearly not what they should be to win a ribbon. I found myself wanting to turn over the name tags, so no one would know they were mine. What was I thinking??? Oh well; I got to see Mr. Jack when I entered my veggies and that kind gentleman always makes me smile. The workers with their pleasant, dedicated attitudes always make the experience worthwhile.

It was apparent that entries in all buildings were well below average this year, though it seemed no one wanted to admit it when I commented about it. The baked and canned goods entries seemed especially low. Most likely the new controversy over having to add a recipe with the item, contributed to the low number of entries.

There was also controversy this year over allowing alcohol through out the fairgrounds. Ya gotta wonder about the wisdom in that. Of all the changes they made, I believe this is the one that is most troublesome. A letter to the editor of the local paper said the writer spent the entire opening day and didn’t even see anyone with a beer until 8:00 pm that evening. She obviously wasn’t watching very well. I saw the first patron appear at the beer garden at just after 12:00 noon. There were people with glasses of beer in their hands scattered throughout the grounds the rest of the day. I was surprised however, when late in the afternoon Matt saw someone with a beer and said, “Mom, that is the first beer I have seen today.” Usually, he is the perceptive one, but I was glad he hadn’t noticed what I had. Another report said the beer was “free-flowing and everywhere”, alluding to the fact that it was no place for families. That wasn’t entirely true either. At least on opening day, I saw nothing offensive, nor any fights, or trouble over allowing the beer. It just isn’t what we choose to be around and I wish it wouldn’t be allowed, but so far I’m not seeing any balance in reports.

I ran into my old boss as I knew I would. He is very involved with the fair and the politics of it. He said in fact, he would be manning one of the beer booths on Friday evening. He explained the training he had to take in order to do so, and he also explained the rules to me. Patrons are only allowed to purchase two beers for their time at the fair and the way it would be handled sounded strict and careful. I only hope it works. It certainly sounded like it should, but people can be pretty resourceful in achieving what they desire, so I guess that remains to be seen. The evening rodeo will tell much I believe, and I will be keeping careful watch.

The rodeo is at the top of my list of favorite things of the fair. That crowd is always an awesome crowd, and they are a big part of what makes the rodeo so special. They have always been a receptive crowd, an enthusiastic crowd, a respectful and polite crowd. It is hard for me to think it would be a crowd that abuses a beer garden, but I guess that remains to be seen. My love of the rodeo will have to be a whole other post because there is a ton I can say about it.

I remember telling my old boss several years ago, when there had been discussion of moving the fairgrounds or changing the grandstands and he was on the committee to decide; “Don’t you dare let them move my fair!” And then even more I exclaimed; “If they move those grandstands anywhere but facing that mountain, it will ruin everything!” Somehow, I felt like those fairgrounds belonged to me and nobody had better touch it. ;-)

All-in-all, I love the fair. I always have. I remember as a kid growing up just a mile or so from the fairgrounds, it was one of my favorite things to do of the summer. My brother and sisters and I were allowed to walk over to the fairgrounds every year, sometimes with friends. We would cut across the field that is now the massive parking lot filled with rows and rows of cars. Back then, it was only pasture, and it was the short cut we would take to the entry gate. I felt the same way then, that I do now: excitement, anticipation, and expectation. I knew I would see friends, eat good food and enjoy the creativity of the entries. The animals would be the high-light for me then, but as an adult it is always about who I will see. It has always been a place to see and visit with people that one knows. It’s a social place; a place where community comes together and enjoys all that the area has to offer. This probably sounds funny, but every year I count up the number of people I have run into on my day at the fair and try to think about the one that probably goes back in my past the furthest. I actually have wonderful memories of specific moments at the fair when I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in years. I revisit those memories every now and then at fair time and those memories continue to make me want to hold on to our county fair. It has always been a place where locals gather and I love that. The county fair is about people, family and community.

I expect we will be seeing some additional changes that are brought about by the changes that have been made this year. Things may become more about money and commercial exhibits rather then about people and their projects. If so, it will be a shame, because it will change the whole dynamics of the county fair. The crowd may change as fair priorities change, but for now it’s still my county fair and well-worth supporting. While it’s here, I intend to make a few more memories.  I don't think it is going to be around forever...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In Honor of Our Friend

We just got word, yesterday, that our good friend Bob, has passed away. We got to know Bob when he became one of our best customers at our book store and coffee shop. Before long, he was more than a customer; he was one of our best friends. We didn’t know Bob’s family. We were blessed enough, however, to get to know a few of his friends; some that were local and some that had visited.

Bob found out he had lung cancer early this spring, and I have to confess, though I continued to pray, I had trouble mustering hope for him. When he told me it was inoperable, I was very afraid. I had two other friends that had survived lung cancer, but it was only because part of their lungs, were able to be removed with surgery.

Right away, Bob made the decision to go back to his hometown. There was a VA hospital there and he had family and friends there, as well. Though I didn’t want to admit it, I was afraid we would never see Bob again. I was right.

So what does one do, when someone you love passes away, but you have no opportunity to attend a funeral, or share memories with family and friends? I don’t want to simply let go of a life that is that important to my family with just the receiving and accepting of bad news. I have to do something to honor this life. So I will write about Bob. I hope this is a tribute to the man that he was.

Bob was in his 60’s three years ago when we met him. He was a Viet Nam Vet, and when I first met him, I thought he looked like he might have had a bit of rebellion in him. I wonder if he would say he had a good life; I don’t think so. I believe he had a scary life. I believe in his later years, he tried fervently to correct much of what had happened in his earlier life; wrongs he felt he had done, lives he felt he had hurt.  We all want to do that, don't we?

Bob had a strong and moral heart. He was a man of strong beliefs and a man that lived by his word. If he said it, you could count on it. Bob had a very creative side, and a sentimental side, as well - though I am sure he would not want to admit that part. He loved deeply, I believe; but he had built walls that would protect him from accepting that fact.

This man was always a bit of a mystery. He wanted to get to know us, but he didn’t really want us to get to know him. My husband and Bob hit it off right away. They were both Viet Nam vets and there was a bond there because of that, which was almost immediate. They were very much alike in a lot of ways and I was thankful for this friendship for both of them.

Bob could not have been kinder to my son. He always took an interest in what Matt was doing, and wanted to help with advice, or in what ever way he could to fuel and support Matthew’s projects or activities.

Our friend was a very generous person, and he liked to give gifts. Not expensive gifts, just thoughtful gifts that you knew were from his heart; and when you opened that gift you knew he had listened. He would often bring an item that Matthew needed, that he said he wanted to give to Matt, because he “no longer had use for it”. He was always the first to offer any equipment he had if my husband mentioned anything he was working on and in need of. He would often bring me candles for my store. His favorite was “Crème Brule”, which he purchased from his friend’s candles shop.  He killed two birds with one stone that way; he helped her business, too.

When things were slow at the store, Matt, Bob and I would often have discussions about faith and the Bible and life. I'm afraid Bob was very angry with God, though I think he would rather believe that God wasn't even there. We agreed to disagree, respected one another’s beliefs and I believe I saw his anger soften somewhat. He told me once that his friends back home were shocked that he would hang out at a place such as ours; i.e. a “Christian” place. I took that comment as a good thing.  He only offered respect for our values, and always acted accordingly.

Bob did not like crowds, struggled with being around people, and did not have a lot of respect for the establishment. But I will never forget the day, when two new customers came into our coffee shop and began talking to me about their lives and how they had become friends. One had been a Navy SEAL during the Viet Nam era. One was a short little oriental man, and he was very proud of the medal he had received from the United States government which he offered to show me.

While sitting at his normal table, I noticed Bob had started to listen to these two men as they talked to me, so I introduced them to one another. The conversation went a little further about the war, and pretty soon, Bob asked the smaller man, “Wait a minute! Are you a Mong?”

When the little man said yes, Bob leaped to his feet and with a rare smile on his face said, “Let me shake your hand, and say thank you!”

Whoa, didn’t see that type of thing from Bob, too often. My curiosity grew.

Now I did not know what a "H’mong" was at this time, but I knew I had just witnessed something very special. I knew this was important; I knew this was between brothers and I knew it was deep. I backed off a little bit now, and just tried to listen and learn as the three men talked.

When the two gentlemen had left, I asked Bob what a "H’mong" was. These men had Bob’s deepest respect and gratitude. They were integrated Vietnamese that fought with the U. S. during the war and they had rescued 100’s, if not 1000’s of American pilots that went down during the Viet Nam War. H’mong soldiers, on the front line of the war, put their lives at risk fighting for the United States in what came to be known as “The Secret War”. They were a Special Guerrilla Unit supported and trained by the CIA to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They were the toughest, bravest men he had ever known, Bob told me.

Wow, I had just learned a very important part of history, and I was witnessing an after-effect of that history. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Don’t care if anyone thinks that is an exaggeration. Anyone in that room that day would have felt and understood the same thing. It was awesome.

But that was Bob - hardened with all the affairs of life, but always more than willing to pay respect, wherever respect was due.

Another time, a situation occurred in the little town we had our business and I cannot write about it out of safety concerns, but I will never forget the day Bob witnessed part of it and demanded, “I am NOT leaving here until you walk down to that police station and report it.” I wasn’t quite convinced it was the issue that he believed it to be, but deep down I believed he was probably right. So I made the walk and I made the report. And I learned a little more about the type of person Bob was. The side he most often didn’t want others to see.

Bob was conservative in his politics, radical in his attitude, mysterious in his past, and private in his affairs. He was warm and he was cold. He would share only to a point, and listen forever. He would advise and provoke thought; he would offer comfort and concern, then walk away and leave you wondering.

Bob acquired much in life, and enjoyed the “finer things of life” as they say. He loved his art and his music; his animals and his friends. I believe he gave far more than he ever received in this life. He was honest and he was forthright.  He was a casualty, who became a success through his own hard work and determination. We were not there for him in his last days, but I know the Lord knows the important things and someday I pray I might know, too. He lived and he died; but he lived and died with the love and respect of my family. Though try as he might to prevent it, I know there were many others that knew Bob the same way.

We will miss this friend a great deal and when I burn Crème Brule, it will always be in Bob’s honor.
We are grateful to have known him.

Thank you for your service, my friend. I know it was not without sacrifice.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Spending Treasure - Part 2 - White, Rubber Galoshes

I think I was in 8th grade at the time. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is, I was too old for white, rubber galoshes! But my mom made me wear them. Ok, well in all honesty, I really did need them. It was spring, in North Idaho, and spring means rain, and slush, and mud.

We lived on a road that at that time was still dirt, and when it rained, after the winter snows, it became mud…deep mud. So in obedience, and maybe some stubbornness, I wore those white galoshes to school. I say stubbornness, because I knew I would be made fun of for wearing them. I knew it was not cool. I wore them anyway, because I loved my mom. I would take the teasing if necessary.

I will never forget though, one time on my way home from school, I was wearing my white galoshes. There were several of us walking in a group, just before we would part ways, and I would eventually be one of the last kids heading east toward the mountain where the road we lived on, was still dirt…mud, on this day.

Sure enough, the comment came. Someone made fun of me in my rubber galoshes. I don’t remember who it was; I don’t remember for sure what was said. I don’t remember if I was about to defend myself with all the defiance of which I was capable. I just remember Ronnie. Ronnie was the most popular kid in our 8th grade class. He was 8th grade class president, he was cute, he was smart, but most of all he was nice; and he was nice to everyone.

This day, Ronnie came to my defense. “Well, at least her feet are going to be dry when she gets home!” he exclaimed to the offender or offenders. “Don’t let them bother you, Jan,” he said to me. “I would wear them too, if I had them.”

Wow, that comment made me feel good. I never forgot it. We parted ways there at the corner. Not sure if I thanked Ronnie. Not sure if anything was ever said again. But I never forgot that moment. I have thought of it so many times over the years. I loved Ronnie for that. I think I have always loved Ronnie…just the classmate, brother kind of love….maybe the “defender of the damsel in distress” kind of love. The kids in our little, country school got to know one another so well over the eight years we attended there together and I love them all and cherish the memory of each. 

Ronnie’s behavior was always the same. He was always popular, he was always kind. Ronnie was always our leader and the defender of the underdog….if it wasn’t for Ronnie, I don’t think I would even remember those silly, white, rubber galoshes; but because of him and his kindness, it is another memory that I hold and treasure.

Spending Treasure - Part 1 - The Dance

I attended an eight year grade school, when I was little and I honestly don’t think I have a bad memory about that school. Well, probably if I searched and dug really deep, I could come up with a few; but for the most part, I loved my school, my teachers, and my classmates.

There are a couple of instances that took place there, though, that I treasure. I draw those memories out from the old memory bank, every now and then and I spend a few moments with a smile on my face, like I’ve just been on a feel good shopping spree.

I wouldn’t say I was one of the “popular” kids at the time; nor was I what some would call a “nerd”. I was just me. Though shy and introverted, I liked spending time with all the kids, and I made an effort to try to be nice to everyone. However, my older brother, Craig, was one of the popular kids. He was always in the starting line-up in any sports he chose to play, and he was our School President when he was in 8th grade and I in 7th. I don’t think there was anyone there that didn’t like him. He was somewhat quiet and shy, but he laughed a lot and was nice to everyone. Even recently, when he and I quite unexpectedly ran into a couple of his old friends from high school whom he hadn’t seen in more than 20 years, one friend’s comment to the other was, “Look at that! He’s still laughing!!”

Our school would host annual dances for the 7th and 8th graders, three or four times a year. It seems all my friends and classmates attended and looked forward to these dances. This time however, just prior to the dance, my brother had a friend (also one of the “popular” kids) over to our house visiting and we were sitting around the kitchen table talking about the upcoming dance.

“I think I am going to be the school wallflower.” I said to the boys. I was most likely thinking about the new eye glasses I had just acquired that were anything but flattering. I was shy, it was an awkward age, and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to dance with me.

But the night of the dance came, and as was typical the boys lined up on one side of the gymnasium, and the girls on the other. The music for the evening was a stack of 45 records played on a little black phonograph that all the schools had at that time. To my surprise, when the first song was played, one of the 8th grade boys started things up by coming over and asking me to dance. It was one of my brother’s friends…one of the “popular” kids. That song was no sooner over, when another boy came, and another, and another. Then my brother’s friend that had been at our house came over and asked me to dance.

“Are you having a good time?” he asked. “You don’t look like a 'wallflower' to me.”

Finally, I had danced so many times, I was very tired, I had to tell someone no. I can’t remember who that was. I always worried that I might have hurt his feelings when I didn’t dance with him. But anyway, that is how the night went. It is just another one of those times that I don’t remember anything else about it. I don’t remember what my friends said. I don’t remember what they did when they saw that I was somehow, “the belle of the ball”. I do remember looking over at my brother a time or two throughout the evening, and him looking at me…laughing. Not a malicious laugh, but an “I am happy for you and getting a kick out of it” kind of laugh.

I don’t know if I understood that night what had happened. I believe I was an adult before I looked back and remembered those words that I had said to my brother’s friend about being “the wallflower”. It was only then, that I understood that this friend had instigated the whole situation for my benefit. He had told all the boys in the 8th grade class to dance with Craig’s sister…and they did.

It’s no wonder I loved that little grade school and all the kids that went there.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Simple White Hankie

It’s just a simple, white, cotton hankie with pretty, pink embroidery around the edges. My mom gave it to me, tucked inside a hand-made card of congratulations when Matthew was born.

I thought it was a sweet gesture of kindness and I loved it because it was a gift from my mom.

I didn’t realize the meaning behind the gift until some time later. Ok, I guess I am not the swiftest duck in the pond, because it took me a few trials and tears, before I realized my mom knew exactly what she was doing when she gave me that hankie at the birth of my first and only child.

My mom is not one for symbolism or drama; just plain, old, this is the way it is….words rarely spoken, but more often feelings told in actions. So this should come as no surprise that this was her practical way of telling me: welcome to motherhood, with all the tears of joy, love and sharing; but sometimes tears of pain and sadness that being a mother is bound to bring you. I just didn’t recognize that at first.

I placed that dainty hankie on the bedroom dresser. It made such a pretty old-fashioned display there and it was a reminder of my mom’s love. However, it wasn’t long before I began to think of that little hankie in a completely different light.

When it was time for Matthew’s first immunizations, and I heard his cry of pain, I cried. No, not running-down-your-face tears, just the kind that well up inside of you and you fight to hold back, so the nurse doesn’t think you have emotional issues or something.  But I wished I had brought that hankie with me.

Baby dedication; didn’t bring it. I most likely didn’t even think of it; but it was a moving ceremony beginning the days, turned to years of constant reminders that Matthew did not really belong to me. Reminders, that most often require hankies.

I cried the day I saw Matthew run after his daddy’s semi-truck, as his dad headed down the road on his next long-haul run. Matthew was just little and his heart was breaking as he saw his dad leave one more time.  This was his effort in a last good-bye. I remembered my little handkerchief.

I thought of that hankie when alone one night, I cried out to God in grief and frustration over my son’s heart, wounded by “friends” that were less than kind, often making Matthew the brunt of their jokes. “I know your tears,” the Lord said to me. “But be thankful he is the one being made fun of and not the one that is making fun.” I was comforted by that, thereafter and that little hankie remained on my dresser.

When we had to put two of our dogs to sleep, I thought of my little hankie. When we attended the funerals of our neighbors who were like grandparents to Matt; I thought of my little hankie. Why didn’t I bring it?!

Then the biggest tragedy of my families’ life occurred, which brought grief and sorrow to deep to write. This time, as I headed out the door to my nephew’s funeral - my brother’s son, Matthew’s cousin and best friend - I grabbed that little hankie as I thought about tears,heartbreak, and much, much more. Matthew and I both needed it that day.

From that point on, the little hankie became more than a symbolic act of love. It was a much needed item to endure motherhood. I needed it when Matt lost his Lady. I needed it when he told me life plans, and heart issues.

I carried it with me, when Matt was promoted to Commander of his Civil Air Patrol Squadron. I was not certain I would need it then, but I carried it just in case. When the Ceremony of Change of Command was finished and they spoke those words, “…by order of Captain Matthew C……” my heart leaped, tears sprang, and I reached for my little hankie.

Now as my son’s high school years are about to come to an end; and he begins to make plans for his life, I think of that simple, white handkerchief quite a lot. I know I will need it at his high school graduation…and it is for sure I will need it if Matt is accepted into the Coast Guard Academy. But then again, I will also need it if he is not accepted.

Hopefully, there will be another graduation, other promotions, a wedding, and grandkids, and many, many tears of joy and celebration. I don’t want to think of any other kinds of tears. My hankie has done its job. My mom knew what she was doing and I love her so much for that. That awesome thoughtfulness on her part always makes me smile. That’s my mama. Someday, I hope to pass on a dainty white hankie to another very special mommy; but first, I am going to hold on to my son’s transition from childhood and that hankie for just a bit longer.