Each day I anticipate sunsets, the reasons surprising and varied. How will the clouds mix with the colors? What is the color that is not orange or yellow or pink but glows with traces of each? How do I miss the transformation from one to the other? Some evenings the subtle change from sunset to twilight to dusk calms and comforts, erasing worries and fears, assuring me God hears my heart’s prayers when my mind can’t find words. Other times I race the sunset to another clearing, to see the glory I might miss if I don’t hurry. I never lose. Magnificent WOW moments catch me off guard, halting my breath for a moment of awe…

…and gratitude – for another day – with loved ones, friends, purpose.

Sunrises are just as appreciated but I confess I don’t rise early for bus routes and lesson preparations these days, so I don’t marvel at a sunrise without an appointment. There was a time in this retirement phase when I didn’t think my metabolism would adjust to any schedule but a school-related one. My being reacted to an unseen clock and an unheard bell for a long while.

School routines have been among the constants that frame our lives. School starts in August and ends in May, weekends vary from weekdays, kids learn to read and write as they inspire their teachers, teams win and lose, hearts and voices create, sing, and play between 8 am and 3 pm. Bonds strengthen, some for life.

Change, too, is good for the brain and the soul, but we have endured so much change these days without clear hows and whys. Our school district is scrambling to create a safe, routine environment for the kids, teachers, support personnel, board members and parents. Though it might look different and require tweaking along the way, our community yearns for its return and the security it reflects.

Be patient with those tackling innumerable and invisible challenges because they care for our community. They could use our prayers, encouragement and gratitude.

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A Voting Legacy

It was horrific – the aftermath of my grandfather hitting Logan Creek bridge just seconds after leaving the driveway. My grandmother was with him. To the world they were Robert and Cecilia Pearson, but to me and the rest of the grandchildren – Momo and Popo.

Though they were early risers, I imagine they arose even earlier that day, to have breakfast and get dressed up a bit, not Sunday-go-to-meetin’ nice, but better than their everyday wear. After all, they were headed to town. No doubt ready before time to leave, Popo would have sat in his chair flipping through a paper he had already read and Momo might have picked up her crochet hook to add another row of stitches.

Then it was time. Popo may have put on a hat as Momo picked up her purse. Out the door they proudly went to get into their blue 1963 Chevrolet Biscayne. I know how they felt, on a mission driving themselves in their own car. The longer I live the more I cherish that aspect of my independence.

It was Popo’s last time to have that experience. The highway patrol took his keys and gave them to my dad. It isn’t clear exactly what occurred, but if you know the bridge on 160E-8 you know it is narrow and in a curve. A vehicle was approaching from the west as Popo approached from the east. He steered a bit to the right to clear the center line. Maybe he intended to wait until the oncoming vehicle passed. Instead he hit the bridge at a greater speed than expected, perhaps from inadvertntly hitting the gas instead of the brake. My grandmother had placed both hands on the dash to brace herself. The impact broke her arms. For weeks and weeks – night and day – she endured both outstretched in casts attached to her waist.

Their intended mission that day? To vote. Each time I do that, I sense their legacy and feel a responsibility to carry it on. I will get up early, too, in hopes of avoiding a long line. I will don a mask and keep my distance. In comparison, nothing worth complaining about. The Prospect-News published the ballot in the July 22nd issue. It is in this issue as well. I have done my research. I am ready to vote. Are you? Will you?

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Sizzling Summers

My folks had a fan and they knew how to use it. Many times Dad put the box fan in a window, lowered the sill to brace it, raised or lowered other windows to fist width, and instantly cooled the atmosphere within our hot, sticky walls. It was magic that I didn’t totally figure out till I had my own hot, sticky rooms to cool, realizing there was science behind his magic. Factors considered included time of day, room being used and for what, where the shade was and the decision to pull air in or blow it out. He always seemed to know the particulars without much fuss.

Mom made magic, too, with that box fan. Sultry city summers didn’t keep us kids from running to the park or the neighbors for games of tag or hide-and-seek or biking through heat waves pulsating over concrete sidewalks. We could get hot, stinky and cranky by mid-afternoon. After quick baths we welcomed the cool comfort of naps in our underwear on top of our bedspreads, pulled curtains rippling from the fan sitting on the floor or on a chair, neverminding the rattles that didn’t completely drown out the low tunes from the radio.

Country summer days are just as sultry. After all, Missouri is known for sizzling temps. These days I might do nothing more exerting than watering flowers and the remedy for my sweaty body and cranky mood still includes a fan. Taking a quick cool shower, donning an oversized tee and stretching out on a patchwork quilt in an air-conditioned house lacks the comfortable nostalgic vibe. Add the gentle breeze and hum from an old box fan stabilized on a braided rug, its rattling knobs quieted with folded paper, along with low tunes from 99.1 and nap time seems luxurious.

“It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” Laura Ingalls Wilder

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An August Special – The Week That Was

August had a gem of a week last week! It was a week…

…with sunshine I didn’t scoot in a hurry to avoid.

…when my deodorant kept me dry.

…to open a few windows, turn on the attic fan and air out the house (and turn up the volume on the record player).

…to drive with windows down to air out cars and heads (with volume up on the radio).

…to watch cats, squirrels and birds. Dogs and chickens, too, if you are lucky enough to have them. Were I still on the farm, I would have watched the cows.

…to rock in the porch swing with an unopened book. I always have one handy but that week had days I enjoyed doing nothing.

…to enjoy spontaneous outdoor lunches.

…to chase down the ice cream truck in town and dream of one with rural routes.

…to think about drinking coffee. I’m a novice coffee drinker. Don’t want it on sultry days.

…to watch the river. That means going out of town unless I want to break the law, but that week it was worth the drive.

…to enjoy baking. I should have eaten less, shared more, but brownies are yummy.

…to listen – to the birds, crickets, katydids – and music and hearts.

…to exhale, to laugh, to hope.

Optimism doesn’t wait on facts. It deals with prospects.” Norman Cousins

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Up in Smoke

Mowing was postponed. The grass was wet and the sky hinted it might get wetter momentarily. Time for a fire. Watching fire either empties my brain or evokes what only I consider profound thoughts.

Sitting in a comfy chair far enough away to escape the heat, with a cat making my lap his comfy seat, it didn’t take long for my brain to drain. 2020 has created quite a quagmire. Any time I can escape its conundrums and negativity, that’s a plus.

It was nice while it lasted. An errant thought, dragging a deadline like a big bass zigzagging fishing line, beckoned me to join it in a topic search. To refrain from dumping a hodge-podge of brainstorms too quickly into my head, I focused on the flames as they faded.

Soon all the fire’s fuel vanished, up in smoke. Not sad. Necessary. If an old sofa can’t be recycled – having fulfilled its duties to couch potatoes, growing kids and feisty pets in sickness and in health – obliteration is the answer.

Obliterated. Wish that described COVID-19 tomorrow. Maybe it will someday as it does smallpox.

What about obliterating 2020? It has way more wrong with it than the viral pandemic. It seems a dismal failure so far. If it went up in smoke as the sofa did, I would, too. I’m not ready for that.

2020 is bulldozing a way to fresh perspectives, new habits, expanded appreciations. Think like Fred Rogers: “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

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What Will THEIR ‘Good ol’ Days’ Sound Like?

What will today’s children recall with smiles and fondness when they look back on these times? It’s the norm to insert “Remember when’s” and “Wasn’t that a hoot’s” when gathering with friends and family. Lots of warm fuzzy feelings surface when sharing adventures of youth.

Imagine today’s elementary kids all grown up chatting about THEIR good ol’ days. Remember when…

…school closed after spring break? Yeah, that was great for a couple weeks, but then it got to be a real drag. EVERYTHING closed! Who knew we would miss spelling tests and common core math? Not even my parents could help me with that! Their old-fashioned way is easier anyway.

…the school delivered meals to us at home? It was nice of them, but I really missed my friends in the cafeteria. We couldn’t go eat at McDonald’s or Taco Bell, either!

…we couldn’t go play with our friends or even go see grandparents? Moms and Dads tried to make the days fun, but they needed cheering up, too!

…we went outside to play, we had to stay 6 miles away from each other? Well, six feet FELT like six miles.

…we had to wear masks sometimes? So many arguments about that! Everyone disagreed about whether or not they worked. Sometimes I felt safer with one on as long as I didn’t have to wear it too long. Some of them had cool designs.

…lots of parents started working at the kitchen table? Having everyone at home all the time was weird. We stopped doing fun things like going to the movies and the park, playing soccer and visiting the zoo. Mom and Dad started riding bikes with us!

…the school gave us all tablets so we could do lessons at home even if it was open? I missed all of you at recess. I got tired of playing video games, believe it or not. Sometimes our parents were worried and kept us home. I understood sorta, but I was sad.

…when I saw you at the grocery and we didn’t recognize each other? And we didn’t have masks on, either! We had all changed so much since the school year before!

My memories overflow with shenanigans and laughter, the romp and rowdiness of childhood and adolescence, bonds of growth and friendship measured by shared school connections. Theirs will have shared COVID connections instead. May this year of pandemic get wrapped up soon so looking back conjures up more than tears and fears.

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Memories and Remedies

I had a spare grandma. She was a friend of my maternal grandmother because their families crisscrossed somehow. (I once knew the specifics but I forgot long ago). It so happened that Lola Gaines and her husband Henry lived in Liberty, MO the same time I attended college at William Jewell there. They were the best homesick remedy around. Sometimes they picked me up before church, sometimes after. Either way the visit didn’t end until I enjoyed a homecooked meal and a little bit of time at their mysterious, ornate antique pump organ tucked into a guest bedroom.

That spare bedroom became my personal infirmary. Mrs. Gaines and my Grandma Tom both had similar not-so-tasty treatments for all sorts of ailments. Taste is no matter when the remedies work. During a particularly lengthy battle with a head cold, I was whisked away midweek, covered with Vicks, persuaded to down some yucky concoctions and tucked tightly under warm quilts. In a couple of days I was good as new, anxious to play a few old hymns on the organ before heading back to the dorm. Sometimes Lola would sing along. What a gift!

Henry and Lola moved to Doniphan upon Henry’s retirement from trucking. Lola spent most of the years afterward as a widow. She became a special friend sharing remedies for the soul via Bible verses and songs when I no longer needed her healing hand. She came to mind in the middle of last night when I was downing some of my own medicinal potions almost as untasty as hers. Thank goodness they worked. I was about to dig out the Vicks.

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Minding Rocks

You know how argumentative we humans can be when helpful suggestions are tossed at us? Some of us were practicing mindfulness years and years before we knew what it was. Good thing. We might have quite a memory deficit had we avoided this simple activity just because it is good for us. And we don’t have to give this one up just because we grow up!

Mindfulness is a simple meditation with proven mental and physical benefits that you can do without being a mysterious monk on a mountaintop. To merit the mindful label, a task must: (1) focus on awareness, (2) focus on senses, thoughts and feelings in the present moment, and (3) focus on curiosity and kindness without judgment.

What is this magic task I think meets the criteria? Rock collecting! Think about those escapades along creek banks and Current River’s gravel bars, hikes on trails marked or unmarked, meanderings on gravel roads or the back forty, on foot or via wheels of all kinds. How many of us have lost track of tensions while searching for perfect skipping rocks, or ones with holes all the way through, or ones with familiar shapes or fascinating colors and textures? An interesting rock can catch our attention even if we aren’t aware we are looking. That’s always a welcome diversion. I have been known to holler, “Stop! Back up! I want to get that rock back there!” while crossing my fingers that it won’t be too big or too buried to rescue from the ditch bank.

Looking at rocks means you WILL stick an occasional one in your pocket or bag or toss it in the back of the car for remembering later. Extra special ones might rest with other treasures on a shelf in the house, or be displayed in a favorite flower pot. Some might be incorporated into crafts or painted. Others will adorn flowerbeds and birdbaths. All will stay with a story.

Rock gathering is a bit like star gazing. We get outdoors, we move, we can do it by ourselves or share the time with others. The best rock collecting experiences involve kids, listening to their explanations of the whys and wherefores of rock peculiarities and accepting their special gifts. There are no costs and no negative side effects to this easy way to connect, explore and ease our minds. (There are some laws but we won’t break those). It even has its own wacky holiday – today. September 16 is Collect Rocks Day.

“When you’re down and troubled, and you need a helping hand” comes to mind. In one hand, hold another’s, and with the other, pick up a rock and treasure both.

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My New Love

I’ve a nw love in my life, another presence that adds a joyful dimension to ordinary tasks like sitting on the couch, putting on shoes and making the bed. A dimension I didn’t realize I was missing, by the way.

Curious about all I do, that additional set of eyes watches me intently and tries to anticipate my next moves in case I need help. That in turn is giving my own observation skills a bit of a workout. I don’t want this new relationship to be lopsided. I want to give as much as I receive so I have to watch and learn, too. No matter how accustomed I might be to certain predictable behaviors, each being brings unique personality and perspective to life.

Sharing life with another can be frustrating, no doubt. We don’t always need help. All of us want time and space to ourselves now and then, to read, nap, paint or write. Learning to read those signals can be a complicated process that can enlighten or sadden. Another’s exuberance to play and please can be exasperating even if the intent is well-meaning and understood.
It can be messy, too, always having to prepare meals and clean up after another who will never take up the slack or offer assistance in daily chores. I have never considered myself too picky about folding laundry or washing dishes, but unless it’s to take a peek in the fridge now and then, the kitchen and laundry should be off limits to my new heart throb.

Let me introduce you to Veronica Fierce Whiskerly. (She was born into the feral cat kingdom in the neighborhood of the VFW). At first glance she looks like the usual gray tabby. Wait a second, though, and her head will swivel and her body bounce and you will glimpse a golden aura inherited from her father. I have a few scars that will diminish as kittyhood fades. She’s a great pal who is learning to lapsit. Right now her four- month-old eyes and paws are constantly involved in any task my hands tackle. She will eventually get bored with that and just watch, keeping her critiques to herself. Even if she disapproves occasionally, life is better with Veronica  a part of it.

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Graduation 2020 Style

This was written for my Close to Home column in my local weekly paper. Granduation was held outdoors with grids painted on the football field for families and friends. The graduates were in chairs spaced six feet apart. The ceremony was livestreamed via Current River Broadcasting – the school’s media broadcasting class – for those ot comfortable mixing in a crowd, even though a spaced-out one.

The Doniphan High School graduation ceremony will have happened by the time you read this column. I hope you are looking at lots of graduation photos in these pages. If it didn’t happen because of rain, it will have been rescheduled, again and again…till our seniors have their moments in time. The district has a ‘we’re gonna do this in a safe way no matter WHEN it has to happen’ attitude.

What a different set of memories for this year’s graduating class! They are not paving the way for future classes; they are clearing a path as they go.

My brain has been getting a workout remembering the hoopla surrounding commencement for the Class of ‘70. Here is a mini-view of my recollections.

*Was the ceremony held in the armory? Someone will remember, maybe. Remembering the color of our caps and gowns stumped some of us till a photo revealed the combo was blue.

*Who to walk with? If one was going steady, not a problem. Otherwise, a big deal. For me it was a big deal.

*Who would rebel – opting to dress casually underneath that gown? I was not one. For me it was a dress-up affair all the way. Of major worry was keeping my cap on without having too many bobby pins showing.

*About that cap. We were given strict orders NOT to throw them in the air after we switched the tassels. We ALL rebelled! Perhaps it did detract from decorum, but it was the end of the ceremony. How else to show our unified jubilance and prove we were beyond school rules once and for all?

*After all the photos were taken and families and friends dispersed, there were parties and sleepovers. We worried about grades and credits, sports wins and losses, scholarships and car insurance during our senior years, but we engaged in all the pomp and circumstance of graduation, too: senior photos, the quote beneath it that would define us forever, yearbook signings, announcements, our senior trip to Big Spring (the last school bus ride for some), all the hugs and “Remember you always’” scribbles and whispers.

In an instant it was over. We felt liberated, though some of us didn’t know what we were doing. We DID know what was ahead: work or college or military, and for many a move to somewhere else and marriage. Life was somewhat predictable.

But it certainly isn’t now. COVID-19 has dragged the needle of life across the record of the future for 2020 grads. It’s warped before they get to compose any nostalgic tunes to play back now and then. All these years later, it is even messing with the grads of ‘70. We have postponed our fiftieth class reunion until ??

I wish for the grads of 2020 some hilarious moments of dealing with the small stuff and some carefree fun. With circumstances as they are, I am not sure how liberated they can feel in all this uncertainty. We can help by keeping hope alive and guiding by example as we all struggle in these times. We can show them how to be flexible, optimistic, creative, kind and loving, forgiving of self and others, unafraid to ask for help – and always with a Plan B in a back pocket.

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