OUR ANNUAL ‘FOURTH ON THE FARM’ PARTY

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This all started with a garden that grew out of a high school friendship – happily, they both flourished. As newlyweds, Bill and I lived in an apartment on the farm that his parents owned, and a few years after we moved to nearby Oconomowoc, we planted a garden there with our old friends, Jim and Mary Lou Newgard. While weeding one day, the four of us decided it would be fun to share our bumper crop on the 4th of July with ALL of our good friends – and thus began a tradition that grew way beyond the garden…

Thereafter, each year on the 4th we had 50+ parents and kids spread out on the big sloping lawn under the oak tree – kids atop the the pony in  the corral, riding Betsy’s Misty in the fields, competing in gunny sack races, distance seed spitting and other challenging activities organized by our pied piper, Nan Brewer. Late afternoon, the best food from every family was on the hay wagon – until dusk when Bill hooked up the tractor to roam the farm. There were just two anxious times I’ll never forget.  One, when Dolly, the irascible pony, knocked young Cam Brewer off her back causing a severe elbow fracture. (He is now a fine Dr. himself, with, I trust, a strong arm.) The other happened when our youngest son, Gunnar, was nowhere to be found until someone spied him sitting on the highest peak of the big barn.

Years of 4ths have passed since the picture was taken. Five of us became widows, including my dear sister Judy whose husband Pat, sat next to Bill. The boy standing at the back of the wagon is our oldest son, Bill, who spent many hours on that same wagon baling hay with his Dad. He and his wife, Sheila now have Molly, Emily and a young son, Brian – born on the 4th of July!

I still pass the farm often. It is now a lovely subdivision; the restored homestead stands at the entrance and the big oak tree still shades the rolling lawn. Our friends are now proud grandparents and the children on the wagon are raising their own. I cherish the memories of each and every one of them – especially on the Fourth of July.

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Me and My Mom

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In one way or another, my mother has been with me every day of my 76 years, yet she never gave me the chance to say goodbye. On a beautiful Spring Monday in April, much like today, she mowed the yard, took a shower, fixed dinner, and while she washed the dishes and Dad dried, she just fell to the floor and died. Just like that.

I had seen her Sunday in the parking lot of the Presbyterian church when she and Dad met us to drop off the kids – they often wanted to have them  for the weekend, and that made all of us happy. I never dreamed it would be the last time I would see her smile or her beautiful face or kiss her goodbye. Or thank her for being the most incredible Mother. I’ve often thought of the shock and pain we all felt at the time, but now that I’m beyond her 72 years, I’m grateful that she never suffered; just simply left us as she would have wished. There’s always been some comfort in that.

Yet as Mother’s Day approaches – I still miss her.

Bill’s Boots

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I have referred previously to Bill’s boots. Susie was my seventh grade English teacher and Homeroom czarina.  I admit, I was probably an acquired taste for her husband Bill, but over the years, Bill became as much a mentor and friend to me as his dear wife.  As we progressed in life, the relationship changed and grew, the difference in our ages became less important.  The low point was probably a day in about 1963 or 1964 when he got really angry with me for throwing snowballs at him while he was standing on a ladder changing light bulbs on the used car lot.  There are a lot of good memories, but the one that, while ironic, will always remain with me, was the day that I walked into Susie’s kitchen for my occasional Saturday morning cup of coffee.  Bill poked me in the gut and said, “Johnny, you need…

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I am a simple man . . .

I consider this essay a tribute to my husband, Bill – written by an old friend he valued and admired.

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I am a simple man.  I probably owe an apology to both Graham Nash and Ricky Van Shelton, who recorded different songs under this title. Van Shelton’s lyrics probably have more immediate parallels in my life, but the Graham Nash song from the Songs for Beginners album (Crosby Stills & Nash) reaches out and speaks occasionally as well.  I don’t spend alot of time on me.  My haircut is pretty much the same as when Leo the barber cut my hair for 50 cents and a 25 cent tip in the 50’s.  It was on East Wisconsin Avenue, on the north side, so it was on the far reaches of my range. (park your bike in the alley, not on the sidewalk) I took a sabbatical from haircuts in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but that was political.   It was my sister’s bike.  It was the reason I…

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Closed for the Summer

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Just before Labor Day, I took my Boston sister, Anne, to my favorite place to while away some time in the Northwoods. In fact, Chucky Lou’s Last Dance is the inspiration for the title of my blog. It may be the last big tourist weekend of the summer, but unlike the malls and city shops, the proprietors in our out of the way places operate on their own time. Though disappointed to find the Closed for the Season sign, I like the fact that there is an independent spirit about the shop as well as unexpected treasures within.

It was a beautiful drive, a perfect setting to take a picture we’ll remember – and always, the anticipation of being together and returning next summer…

Ladies Keep Their Legs Together

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…or so I was admonished by my maternal grandmother, Edith. My grandfather, Charles, was a Presbyterian minister, which probably prompted her reaction to my backyard pose at 12 or so. Some time after that, my mother invited me to sit on the porch with her, and I anticipated the topic she wished to address. SEX. I remember the motion of the glider, the smell of its plastic cover and the hum of the streetcar as it passed our house. But I also remember trying to be serious because I already knew more than what she thought I should know about SEX. And that brings me to today – about 63 years, a few boy friends – all followed by one great marriage.

Last night I watched the Emmy Awards, and after it was over I watched The Normal Heart on HBO, a well documented movie about AIDS. The night before I caught up on two episodes of Ray Donovan, and they had some explicit scenes. I also like Sons of Anarchy that has some but less of it. Next Valentine’s Day, Fifty Shades of Grey will probably gross millions, and even some of the historical novels I’ve read this summer contain shades as dark as those. Even my 97 year old Aunt Mary liked a little ‘romance’ as she viewed it, in her reading. Cleavage and the most minimal bikinis are all over the place, and schools have to define in detail what’s acceptable attire.

So, flashback to my high school days when TV was hardly allowed to expose a thing, in pool class boys swam nude (true fact in Waukesha, Wisconsin), reading Lolita was deemed scandalous and the closest I got to porn was a flasher trying to entertain me in his window as I walked past. It seems we’ve come full circle, and so many things are tolerated that never were – but after all these years, what do I honestly say to my granddaughters in this climate about having sex?

Its wonderful beyond words. BUT, know when it’s right and when it’s not; try to be sure it’s love not lust and be safe always.

The Door Is Open

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I have a yellowed newspaper article taped to my up north refrigerator that reads: “There’s a moment of expectation as you walk into your summer cabin after it’s been closed up for the winter. You open the door and peer in. Did chipmunks sneak in to leave shells under your pillow? (it’s happened). The air is cool and quiet; the linoleum cold underfoot, sand free for maybe the only time this summer. Sun drifts through the kitchen windows past last year’s calendar. There sits the old couch, the driftwood lamp and weather beaten coffee table, welcoming an old friend. You walk out leaving the door open on new summer adventures.”

We’ve had our old cabin that was built in 1940, for thirty two years – with few updates since then. My children and grandkids have come and gone already, but I look forward to their return whenever their work, baseball, football, hockey, volleyball and soccer schedules allow. Friends welcome! In the meantime, I get to spend days with my black shadow, Josie, who will be 16 on her next birthday. I was afraid this might be her last summer to wander the woods and swim, but her new arthritis pills hidden in a gooey marshmallow have given her a lift. Literally. Being stone deaf, she can’t tell me when someone turns into our driveway, and we communicate now with sign language and touch, but she’s still one of the sweetest Labs I’ve had.

Four years after Bill died, Kathie Lodholz Batsch and her husband George, flew up for a short visit. She was head of our alternative ed department where we worked with at-risk high school kids; also a bright accomplished poet. I loved her gentle manner, wisdom and fierce certainty in dealing with our kids who needed a tough advocate in their lives. Sadly, her years were suddenly cut short by a glioblastoma that robbed her of a happy future with her children and George,the love of her life.

Shortly after their visit, she surprised me with this poem and photo she had taken of the door.
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Titled ‘Invitations’, she speaks of our history
here, the strength of my husband, Bill, and the joy
we’ve experienced as we’ve all passed through this
door that leads to the lake.

And this is my corner of our old cabin, where I can
write and think about all the fun and growing up
we’ve shared here with family and friends.
It’s summertime at last!

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