A week ago today I visited the home where my family lived from 1961 through 1965. The molding above the front door where my sister and I posed in our Christmas best was still there, more lovely than I remembered.
The corner where a Westmar college student snapped a photo of us in front of the best snowman ever is framed in bushes, but the memory of that day remains.
The side yard where Grandpa supervised my sister, brother and me while we swam in our inflatable pool…
…the same yard where my one and only birthday party was held, looked smaller than I remembered.
The house looked smaller too, much smaller, when we went inside. When my cousins and I were very young, we never noticed how completely we filled the space between the door to the upstairs and the kitchen table. Now in our fifties, my cousin and I both commented on how small that space was. I marveled that Dad had been able to right angle his wheelchair around two corners to get to the bathroom from either the living room or his bedroom.
Scanning the living room, I wondered how we crammed the upright piano, the TV with rabbit ears, the fold out couch, grandma’s walnut desk, and an upholstered chair with a large footstool, and found room for company.
I thanked the present owner for welcoming into her home and allowing me to take pictures to show Mom and my siblings. Leaving with my cousin, I realized that our family of five–and Grandpa Stratton for a few months–filled the house to overflowing and then some.
Ever since, my thoughts have overflowed with memories of the years on the street where I once lived.
- Dad sailing down the hill by our house in his wheel chair with one of us in his lap.
- Doing dishes with my little brother in the kitchen…until Uncle Jim came in and said, “John, that’s women’s work,” and Little Brother went on strike.
- Learning how to make snickerdoodles with Mom.
- Her pride in the new Singer sewing machine in the dining room corner.
Small memories of a small child over a handful of years. Indescribably precious. Forever held dear. They live inside me and warm my heart.
Two days ago, a dear high school friend sent a Facebook private message. “I ran across this tonight,” the message said.
“This” was an obituary for Roger Hallum, our high school speech and drama coach. According to the obituary Mr. Hallum–who will always be Mr. Hallum and never Roger to me–died on July 1, 2009.
He’s been gone five years and we, the students he touched in profound ways, never knew. We never had a chance to say thank you. We never had a chance to tell him how he shaped and bolstered the confidence of a bunch of squirrely teens as he tapped into our talents.
So five years late, this top ten list says thank you for the lessons he taught so well more than 4 decades ago.
10. Never judge a book by its cover. None of us believed a dumpy man who wore his sandy hair shaggy and unkempt, whose teeth that never saw braces, and who wore saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester pants could motivate high schoolers to spend months of each year rehearsing and performing in plays and speech contests.
9. When your director says, “Jump,” you say, “How high?”
8. Good writing isn’t enough to make a good speech. Neither is good delivery. But good writing + good delivery = magic.
7. Never, ever start smoking. Because trying to quit is hell and requires copious amounts of Live Savers candies.
6. Teenagers, given a vision of what they can do if they work far harder than they believe they can and tasked with far more responsibility than school administrators believe is wise, can accomplish tasks beyond what most adults think they can do.
5. Timing is everything.
4. An army jeep, a goat, and 30 tie-dyed bedsheets sewn into kimonos, make for an exciting, unexpected, and visually pleasing rendition of Tea House of the August Moon.
3. Character parts are much more fun to play than romantic leads.
2. A pregnant pause speaks louder than words.
1. One unassuming person…one dumpy, shaggy-haired man with crooked teeth, saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester trousers…who says “You can do this because you have talent,” can change the course of an insecure teenager’s life.
In memory of Mr. Roger Hallum, Feb. 8, 1939–July 1, 2009. Your former students are still jumping, higher than they ever thought they could.
November means it’s time to repost Mom’s fabulous Chex Mix recipe, in case you need time to gather all the ingredients for the holidays. The original recipe comes from Zoe Hemmingson, one of Mom’s fellow teachers at Franklin School in Le Mars, Iowa.
It’s been a family favorite at Thanksgiving and Christmas since the late 1960s Mom used to make a batch in November and another in December. She’s abandoned the shopping and cooking duties, though she still pays for the ingredients, but sends one her kids to shop. These days she enjoys watching her children or grandchildren do the measuring, mixing, and cooking…and performing her quality control, taste-testing duties. Rock on, Mom!
Franklin Teachers’ Chex Mix
Mix together in a large bowl:
1 box Crispex (17 ounce)
5 cups Cheerios
4 – 5 cups pretzels and mixed nuts (proportion as you like)
Mix together in a small bowl:
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
1/2 cup melted bacon grease*
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Divide mixed, dry ingredients amongst three or four large cake pans. Pour wet ingredients over cereal mix and stir well. Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours. Stir and turn off the oven. Leave mix in oven until the oven cools. Cool Chex Mix. Store in airtight containers.
*This secret ingredient is essential for the mix’s unique taste.
This weekend, I made an unexpected quick trip back to Le Mars, Iowa. A cousin emailed to say the church we attended as kids, which she and her family still attend, had completed the major addition and renovation they’d been working on for the past year. Though she wouldn’t mention that she also chaired the building committee that led the project, I’m happy to give her the credit she’s due.
The picture above shows the new addition designed to be handicapped accessible. The new construction sits right over the old entrance, which could be accessed in two ways. One way had 3 steps, if I remember correctly. The other way had about 10. Either way, Mom could only get Dad into church with the help of several strong men. But once they got into church, much of the building (including the bathroom toilet) was inaccessible to him.
My cousin treated me and her children, who were back for the gala weekend, a tour of the church. The renovation work was thoughtfully done. It merged well with the older, existing building and it’s beautiful sanctuary.
But as part of a family for whom attending church was an exercise in wheelchair logistics for Mom and of bathroom logistics for Dad, the new construction and renovation boiled down to two things. It was all about the elevator and the bathrooms. Both of which this renovation tended to with style.
Well done, United Methodist Church of Le Mars. Thank you for breaking down barriers so every special needs family in town can enter your church building with dignity. Now be ready to welcome them with welcoming arms.
The past week has been so hard on my perky, Pollyanna you’re-as-young-as-you-feel attitude, it left me thinking I’m plenty older than I feel.
The onslaught began last week with the birth of our first grandchild. Of course, that was a joyous occasion, and the man of steel and I are thrilled to be grandparents. But here’s what was the problem. When I tell people I’m a first time grandma, no one says, “Congratulations, but you don’t look old enough to be a grandma.” Rest assured, from now on, when people my age enter grandparenthood, those will be the first words out of my mouth.
Even if I have to lie through my teeth.
The next item to chip away at my inner Pollyanna was a picture in business section of the Sunday’s Des Moines Register. The photo was of Mike Wells, the CEO of Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream, and it accompanied an article about the growth of the company. I read with interest because Wells Blue Bunny is located in my home town of Le Mars, Iowa. And I felt vaguely superior to the fit, grey-haired, and slightly balding CEO in the photo. Until I read the caption which said he was 53. So he was a measly high school freshman during my senior year at our mutual alma mater.
O-L-D neon lights started flashing in my brain.
The next blow was a Monday story on NPR about when senior drivers should give up their car keys. One expert advised adult children should initiate a conversation about the subject with their parents before those parents are 60 years old. That gives our kids only four years to screw up the courage to tell us we’re getting O-L-D.
No doubt, the person I cut off in traffic the other day agrees with the news story.
The final nail in Pollyanna’s coffin came this morning when the UPS man left a package, and I could not figure out how to open it. It was all rounded corners and tape. After cutting it open with a knife, I realized the box was a fold-over-and-insert-tab marvel of engineering, kind of like the houses we used to punch out of craft books and fold according to the directions to create a little village for paper dolls. Which made me feel even older because no one younger than me can envision those little villages or has any idea of what paper dolls are. Which leads to one final question: What good is it to be older than you feel, if no one notices you’re as young as you feel?
Please leave a comment, but only if it will put the perk back into this Pollyanna!