Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Christmas Grinch

The Christmas Grinch

My day job is selling smokes. Not just any smokes like your Grampa used to dreamily inhale at the end of a hard day but about 25 different brands in six or seven different forms. Premiums like the old standbys; Camel, Kool, Marlboro, Winston etc. and “discounted” brands with cute names like GPC, Ace, Doral and so forth. Every brand has Full Flavor, Light, Ultra Light, Menthol, Menthol Light, Menthol Ultra Light and each of these comes in King Size or “100” except in the case of Camels who are “99s” for who knows what reason and Marlboro, who really likes to mix it up with Marlboro “27s” and Marlboro “72”s. I don’t know why so don’t ask. We also have the old “non-filtered’ for the really tenacious old timers. Evidently it is a lot more costly to NOT put a filter on them as they are a lot more expensive.

All this tends to cause me to spend a good part of my working day looking blank, which seems to fit my personality these days.

We can no longer, according to the recent tobacco laws, sell the delicious peach, blackberry, cherry and grape flavored cigarettes so now we just put them in new packages and call them cigars. The recent tobacco laws also caused a tremendous hike in the prices we get for our smokes. The new taxes were significant and of course there is the tobacco companies’ own little fee for “pain and suffering” endured from the inconvenience of having to change the packages.

This increase does not seem to have cut down on the traffic at our store much, thank heaven, as I really need and appreciate my job. We have, however, lost most of the customers who paid for their smokes from worn zip-lock sandwich bags each week but seem to have retained the higher class of our clientele. The Christmas Grinch falls into that category I guess. He doesn’t pay for his cigs from a zip-lock bag and he smokes premiums.

Even so he took the time to complain about how he hated the Christmas season and how sick and tired he was of Christmas music and how he didn’t think it was right that he, an older man, (well he was a LOT older but I didn’t bring this to his attention) should have to run from store to store and buy stuff for grown people. I didn’t think he was the type to be “running from store to store to buy” anything as he always takes all the pennies out of the penny tray when he pays for his smokes but I didn’t mention that either. I told him he sounded like the true, number one, original Christmas Grinch and jollied him around a little bit and he left smiling so maybe he was just blowing smoke anyway. I like to think so.

I thought of the people I don’t see anymore, the zip-lock sandwich bag ones, and wondered how many stores they were running to to “buy stuff”. And I wondered how their Christmas season was going. I hope they are warm. I hope they have a Christmas dinner. I hope they do not feel ashamed for not being up to the fight this old world requires. I hope their zip-lock bags are never empty.

Friday, November 27, 2009

November Ends on a High

Well, I forgot the two best things happen in November.

#1: My daughter was born on a slick and icy North Missouri November night and she was, and is, so beautiful. Of course she only did it once but we still get to remember it every year.

And #2: Thanksgiving. I have to admit Thanksgiving is a real plus. This year had little girls around and that was fun. The baby, who now walks, shows a regrettable tendency to have inherited her grandmother's disposition but definitely her mother's charm and her father's strength and determination. She will either become an accomplished interior re-decorator or the world's most efficient female Commando. The next few years should be interesting.

My thoughts go to those who could not, for one reason or another, share Turkey Day and giving thanks with those they care about. Another day..another end all separations.

Give Thanks for each other, present and absent.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Well, November sucks! And I have cabin fever. Too crappy to go out. Too grumpy to stay in.

No news on the news channels. That leaves two TV options. Regular programming and PPV.

Regular programming’s Deep Carpet Cleaning, Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse or Juicing With Jack just don’t seem to work for me today. I guess I’m just too hard to please intellectually.

If only I wasn’t too stingy for PPV. I could watch Drag Me To Hell, Land of the Lost or Single Secretaries: Naughty Home Videos. Anyway, I used to be a single secretary and my home videos would not have made good watching.

The mail was disappointing. Two more offers for long-term care insurance and an invitation to buy a new car. Something tells me these people are not working off the same mailing list. I did get a charming little catalogue that sold really important items that you can’t find anywhere else. Like Snuggies for dogs and little plastic things to fit over your toes to keep them apart while you sleep. Personally, I don’t care what my toes do after I go to sleep but other people may not be that careless about things like that.

I could cook but I cooked yesterday. I could clean my closet but I did that LAST November. The only thing left is to turn this into a list day.

Every once in awhile I spend a lot of time making lists. This doesn’t serve any particular purpose except to appear to have a purpose. I list all the things I need to do. I list all the things I might do. I list all my bills and all the money I expect to acquire in a given time (this list is always depressing.) I make a three-page grocery list of all the groceries we will probably eat in the next 12 months. I list all the books I have heard mentioned that I want to get at the library. This list is always very short because I can’t remember the titles.

Well, it’s a crappy day!

Monday, November 16, 2009

I don't have much to say about November in North Missouri other than that it's better than January but not near as good as some other months. Today it is cold, wet, gloomy and threatening snow. I am not fond of November. I prefer to remember other months, say August, in North Missouri.


In praise of morning, that unfolding of the day, August in North Missouri
has no equal. It is a grateful indrawn breath..our second wind..that marks the end of summer’s excess and whispers of autumn.

Some heavenly goddess, in draperies of gauze, has taken pity on us and
covered the sun with the skirt of her sheer garment, and the sun is less harsh. The
night is clear and still.

Fence corners and porch rails are held in place by the embroidered
structures of the spider people. Their artistry captures the night mist and turns it into jeweled beads to greet the morning sun.

It is a month of rest. What is to be born has been born. What is to be grown has grown.

With the serenity of a beloved grandparent the days of August guide us
toward change... and the beauty of autumn is conceived.

Whatever the harvest is.... or will is done.. Forgone in the fire and rains of summer....
and August is its epitaph.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ben, My Friend

Friends are a special gift, a mysterious connection between one person and another. Their presence sustains us long after they are physically absent. Some friendships have to be worked at to acquire and sustain while others are dropped on our hearts at the most unexpected times and never quite leave, living and breathing in our memories. Ben’s friendship was the last kind.

Ben became my friend the year the Ford plant came. I really needed a friend that summer, the year I was eleven. Suddenly the house, which had been so chaotic and overcrowded with sisters and brothers and nieces and nephews, emptied out like an October seed pod. In that strange lull of abandonment I really struggled. I read a lot but you can only read so much. I particularly missed my 13-year-old brother who had moved on to friendships and activities with other boys that could not include a pig-tailed girl.

But Ben made up for a lot.

Ben was there because we had the good fortune to be in the path that ran from the existing utilities to the new Ford plant location. This was a windfall as they paid Mom $500 for the right-of-way to ditch right through our place. It was a fortune to her and she put it to good use by having Fred Simmons put in some in-door plumbing. But that was later.

All that summer and fall a crew dug and mucked their way through Missouri clay from the highway a mile west, up the gravel road to our house, across the side yard, down to the crick, across the hollow and up the opposite slope toward Grandma’s. When the crew moved on Ben was left to watch over large piles of pipe and to continue widening and squaring off the ditch, shoulder-high to him, that snaked down and away across the yard. I liked to stretch out on the side of the ditch and watch Ben. To me he was bigger than life with skin so black his arms, glistening with sweat, glowed blue in the July sun. I chattered away to him, satisfied to get an occasional “hmmph or chuckle out of him.

I told him about my cat that died of worms and how I caught my shirt on fire at the stove and about the possum my brother and I caught in the box trap last winter. I recounted all the plots from the books I was reading. I told him about the time my sister cooked hotdogs wrapped in cheese and a piece of bread with a toothpick stuck in them to hold them shut. I said they didn’t taste all that good to me and they looked like dog turds.

He stopped shoveling that time and looked me in the eye and told me not to talk like that. I asked him what for and he said, “That’s no way for a little lady to talk.” Well that was something for thinking about. I wasn’t sure any ladies lived at our place but I didn’t mention that to Ben. I figured maybe his mother was a lady. I tried to imagine Ben’s mother and the lady she would be. I kept thinking up this really large, very black lady in a slinky dress and a cigarette in a long cigarette holder. So I asked him about that.

I waited ‘til he got back in the digging rhythm again; jab with the spade, stomp with the foot, swing up and out over the side of the ditch, and asked him right out. “Ben, was your mother a lady?” He stopped digging again and looked at me kind of funny and then looked over the side of the ditch like he was looking a long way off and said, “Why yes, I ‘spect she was.”

I asked him what all a lady did and he said it wasn’t so much what ladies did as what they DIDN’T do. And he wouldn’t talk anymore about it.

Also Ben sang. He sang mostly hymns I didn’t know and it was not like any singing I had ever heard on records or at our Methodist church or at the country music shows. When Ben sang it was like the sound came from everything in the earth. Like the grass and the trees and the dirt he was shoveling all got mixed up with the clouds in the sky and came out of that great chest of his and echoed across the hollow in the most beautiful sound I ever heard. I loved it when Ben sang.

Ben was still there after school started that fall and even when the first snow came. He had stretched a little tarpaulin out from the back of his pickup and kept a fire going on a pile of rocks by the tailgate with a coffee pot on it. It was early for snow, wet and way over the tops of my shoes when I left for school that morning. Ben hollered at me when I got almost to the corner and asked me where I was going. “”Well, I’m going to school,” I said. “Clear to the highway?” he hollered and I said, “Well, yes”.

I waved at him and went off down the hill but before I got to the bottom I heard his old truck coming behind me and he stopped and said, “Get in chile, you got no boots for your feet. Get in, I’ll carry you to the bus.” And he took me the mile to the highway and stopped just this side. I could look across the highway and up a ways and there were all the other kids waiting at Leimkuhler’s Gas Station for the bus but Ben wouldn’t go any further. I said, “Why, Ben, we’re supposed to go right over there.” And he said, “No, little girl, I’ll just be letting you out here. Now be careful crossing the highway.“

It was many years before I realized the risk to that gentle man, of being seen “carrying” a little white girl in his truck. When I got home from school that night Ben, his truck and the diminished pile of pipe was gone. Snow covered the long serpentine bulge of the newly covered ditch. I had known he would be gone. He had told me they were finished and he would be gone. But I missed him very much.

Sometimes when I thought about Ben I would try to remember what I liked best to remember about him and I could always pick one day.

One morning after getting punched and slapped around pretty good for who knows what reason, I ran from the house and threw myself on the clay piled beside the ditch. In the single minded despair of a child I ignored Ben and lay sobbing into the dirt.

Pretty soon I tried to quit crying and scrubbed at my eyes with my shirt tail until I realized Ben was cussing. I didn’t know Ben could cuss and I was very sad because I thought he must have heard what had happened in the house and was mad at me too. But when I lifted my head and stared over the side of the ditch into Ben’s face I knew that it was not me he was mad at. I didn’t know who he was mad at but as long as it wasn’t me I didn’t care. I laid my check against the cool, cool clay and Ben began to sing. I think he was singing for me and it was so beautiful.

The song was about someone who could fly, fly away and the sound rose over the side of the ditch, sang across the hollow and filled my head, and my world, and I was alright.

And that’s how I remember Ben.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Festus the Pig Came to the Farm

How Festus the Pig Came to the Farm

I was in the pig business. That is, I had two young girl pigs (gilts) that wanted to be momma pigs. More accurately, I wanted them to be momma pigs. But we needed a father pig. This is a biological fact I learned in Animal Husbandry 101 my seventh year of college. This was definitely a problem. No father pig, (boar) was to be found or at least none anyone local wanted to part with. Most had already been offered employment or sent off to become breakfast bacon or Easter Ham.

So I mentioned it to my ex husband who would still, at that time, take up my causes occasionally and as good luck would have it, he knew a guy who knew a guy. Purely coincidentally the guy lived down in Henry County where a lot of old friends still attended the same watering hole they used to frequent when we lived down there. It was mutually understood that he would have to make first contact at this location therefore it might take some time. I had learned this lesson well during our marriage.

Even so I was grateful and looked eagerly forward to the arrival of such an important addition to my pig business. Well, I kept eagerly looking forward and by the third day my eyes were beginning to dim up from looking forward so much and my temper was fraying.

Gretchen and Gertrude, the pig girls, were alternately running in nervous piggy circles and listlessly slumping by the barn door. They needed a fella!

As some girls longed for jewelry or great clothes I pined for that hog. As some girls would pout and sniff over a missing birthday gift I was furious over the non-existent pig companion. But at last, one crisp morning four days later, my ex's old pick-up rattled into the yard. He was only slightly more disheveled than usual and his beard hadn't grown too badly but it was still pretty obvious to the educated eye that he had had a good time reminiscing with all his old friends.

I ran straight to the back of the pick up and there he was. My great white hope, the expected progenitor of my great pig venture, lay stretched out the width of the truck bed. He was young and perfectly proportioned with sleek sides and good length. His skin glowed pinkly in the morning sun. His rump was plump..his back was short, he was a beauty.

But he wouldn't get up! No, he COULDN'T get up! He tried. He got his front part up. He got his front part up several times only to drop back. I got a pan of corn to coax him. He tried harder. Surely my ex would not have bought a sick pig!

"Well, no," my ex explained, "It was probably something he ate at the barbecue." "What barbecue?" I shrieked.

Well it seems that the watering hole friends had moved the party to somebody's house in honor of my ex's visit and the pig had survived for three days on left-over barbecue and the remains of a keg of beer.

The pig was drunk!

I named him Festus because of the limp and stagger thing that afflicted him for a few days but when he sobered up sufficiently he made the piggy girls very happy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Great Mouse Safari

One of the little exigencies of life in a hundred-year-old farm house in North Missouri is the Great November Mouse Migration. At this time all the mice pack up their little mouse bags and take the shortest route into the first available residence. They bring all their relatives and invite any other mice who might have been visiting at the time. Mice who have lived very happily and quite comfortably all summer and fall in the tall grass beneath the apple tree or under the propane gas tank or under the corner of the shed, are compelled to check out more substantial housing.

I am never ready for this and this year was no different. One night I could sit comfortably in my living room watching TV and the next you could hardly hear over the scratchings and goings on in the corners. I opened the drawer that held my important documents, (bits of old poems, calendars from 1999-2001, registration papers of cars smashed into tin foil years ago, etc) and out jumped a mouse. I was not quick enough and by the time I got down off the wall he had escaped.

A Great Mouse Migration can only be countered by a Great Mouse Safari.

So I geared up. The question was, how best to drive them from the house without endangering the legal residents, namely myself, my daughter, my son and Bingo the terrier? Hesitant to risk the side effects of all the available poisons I gave it serious thought.

I decided that the list of side effects were not as hair raising as those listed for Viagra or most blood pressure medication so I bought everything I could find. I brought home a sack full of mousetraps, four little bags of tiny pellets, two bigger bags of bigger pellets, a pack of big round cakes of green stuff supposed to be irresistible to mice and most interesting of all, a pack of little oblong things with stick 'em stuff on it that is designed to literally stop mice in their tracks.

Well, I am glad to report that all of this effort has been a resounding success in more ways than a dozen! I have been motivated to clean out all the cabinets and closets, (thanks little mice people) that haven't been touched since last year, just in case they had left their little calling cards behind. A good deal of effort has been put into finding little entry holes or gaps and all have been stuffed with steel wool or covered with carpenters cloth. Bingo, the terrier, was so inspired by the mouse trap thing that she would come running to tell me "we had another one". Mousing is one of her favorite things but obviously she never knew it could be this easy. She seldom catches anything on her own.

The only glitch was the little sticky things. I thought they worked great but Sarah wasn't too pleased. It seems the little mice people get stuck alright but tend to surf around the house for quite awhile on their little sticky surf boards. I personally have not seen this happen but she and Brian did as one of the mice people decided to surf clear into the dining room while they were eating their tenderloin sandwiches and french fries.

Anyway, I think my Great Mouse Safari has been a great success.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the World

According to Gallup Polls, Eleanor Roosevelt was the most admired woman in the world for fifteen consecutive years, from 1946 to 1961. That admiration was hard earned.

A homely, introverted child born to a family of wealth and influence her childhood was a miserable one. Her mother disliked and ridiculed her as being “ugly” and “clumsy” and upon her death when Eleanor was eight years old, her grandmother continued the same. Being sent to England for schooling as a young teenager proved to be a real opportunity for her and she blossomed both emotionally and academically.
At seventeen, she returned home and soon resumed her acquaintance with, and married, a fourth cousin once removed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt who later became our 32nd President. Eleanor had six children in ten years, one of whom died in infancy.
During this time, Eleanor also became active in politics and social causes. She campaigned for Alfred E. Smith for president, and worked for the Women’s Trade Union League, which promoted a 48 hour work week, minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor. She also worked with the League of Women Voters and taught literature and American history at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York City.
In 1920 her husband, Franklin, became ill with Infantile Paralysis and was crippled for life. She became his legs…and nurse..and secretary..and number one supporter in his run for the presidency. She suffered through his extramarital affairs and never put her good above his and the children. She began to travel, on his instructions, to see people and places around the world that he could not, carrying messages, encouragement and sometimes threats from the presidential portfolio without portfolio. She constantly juggled the “little woman speaks” thing with the power of the presidency that spoke through her in ways that no official portfolio had.

She became the conscience of the New Deal recovery program. While the federal government was developing big and complex programs to turn around the depression, she became, quite literally, the liaison between the government and individuals who were suffering. She would personally visit the slums of cities, talk to miners and destitute farmers, sit with widows and orphans and hear their stories. She was the conscience of the government by showing the human face of sympathy and concern, rather than simply an impersonal government program. She was the human face of the New Deal.
Of two political cartoons from the midst of the Great Depression, one showed dirty coal miners discovering a woman entering the mine wearing a miner’s hat. With astonishment, one says to the other, “My gosh! There’s Mrs. Roosevelt!” The other showed a shipload of immigrants in New York’s harbor. A mother and her young son were looking at the Statue of Liberty, and when the mother asks if he knows who that is, the boy responds saying, “Of course I know who that is. That’s Mrs. Roosevelt!”
After Franklin died, President Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as our first delegate to the new United Nations. In that capacity, her main focus was protecting human rights. She became co-chair of the UN’s Human Rights Commission and the person most responsible for getting nations to approve the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone on the road of civilization.
She was a staunch defender of the separation of church and state. It was perhaps her active role in racial civil rights and citizen civil liberties that caused J. Edgar Hoover to suspect her of being a communist. At the time of her death, Eleanor Roosevelt, the voice of our national conscience, had the thickest F.B.I. file of anyone in the country. In hindsight, this was an achievement worthy of respect.

Ref: Rev. Bruce Clear, Indianapolis, Indiana for some of this content and

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Family History

Well, it's almost Thanksgiving and our thoughts turn to a day of cooking or a day of eating, whichever end of the stick you're on, but either way it's nice.

Also we might pause and adjust our thinking a little bit about that original old American holiday and the people responsible for it. If you believed everything they taught in school, that totally Godly, warmly dressed, well tooled and well armed men and women stepped off the boat, bid fond farewell to the captain and immediately joined a feast of turkey, venison, succotash, (that's a corn thing,) and pumpkin pie all over the place, Not So!

Starvation, disease and ignorance killed far more than were ever saved by pumpkin pie and family prayer. I just want you to know that our family was well represented during those hard times and the following centuries before we were finally liberated by the invention of frozen pizza and instant hair remover.

So lest we forget:
Our grandparents were Lewises, Lambs, Allans and an unknown. These predecessors had been infiltrated by the Bakers, Shaws, McDonalds/McDaniels and Wiskersons/Wiskerchen/Whiskersons.

Our first Lewis's got off the boat in 1628. This trip included a sixteen year old young lady by the name of Mary Lewis but she was so obstreperous she was threatened with a dunking. Yes, they actually dunked people, mostly women who did not act godly or talked too much or criticized someone's stupidity, and they had Mary's tank ready. But in her defense, her old Dad, Tom Lewis, had been co-owner of a thriving tavern in London Town and what sixteen year old wants to leave a party place like that for a bunch of dancing savages and pickled succotash ?

But in a document still readable in the Winthrop papers,a kindly and godly older gentleman was moved by her, (how so moved we can only guess) and petitioned Governor Winthrop for her hand in marriage, notwithstanding the age difference , in order to save her from perdition and subsequent lawful punishments.

Permission was granted for her release and marriage to the gentleman. He spent the next several years in the new world's courts trying to protect her from a multitude of defamatory charges against her "character and reputation", one of which was inspired by a gentleman who stated publicly that she "lifted her skirts" for him on several occasions. This particular defamation charge was thrown out of court because the judge said, "there can be no defamation if all statements are true and fact." Well, what can a girl do? Ultimately the nice gentleman gave up and took his girl back to merry old England where heaven only knows what trouble she got into.

So begins our family saga in the new world.

And for all you unbelievers out there..these transactions are documented in 17th century court records, the Winthrop Papers and a wonderful historical publication:,

Appendixes of the Real Founders of New England, Appendix A page 155

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


This morning I recycled our pop cans. This may not seem to be worth noting to you but here it is a celebratory event! We drink a lot of pop.

My method for dealing with the can situation is this. I hang a Walmart bag by the back door where it bangs us on the head when going in and out. When it bangs hard enough that means it is full and needs to be tied, taken out and tossed into the old smokehouse where Pansy, the Great Pyrenees sleeps. Maggie, the Aussie, sleeps there too although Maggie pretty much only sleeps at night while Pansy, since her retirement, pretty much sleeps day and night. The cans rattling around don’t bother Pansy any as she is ten years old and deaf. Maggie doesn’t mind the can thing unless I accidentally hit her with a bag of them.

Anyway, today was the day! I started about 8:30 this morning and was on the road by 10:00am. I told you we drank a lot of pop. There was a whole truck load of them but I don’t have a truck so it took awhile to get them in the car.

First I emptied all the Walmart bags into some commercial-sized trash bags John left up here when he last worked on the house. I had eleven bags full and could tell by the time the pile of Walmart bags was down to about knee high that the Buick was too small. Now I knew the rest of the cans had to be squashed so I jumped up and down on the Walmart bags until they were squashed enough to fit in one big bag. I made so much noise Pansy rolled over twice and Maggie hid out down by the gas tank.

I had five bags in the trunk so the lid had to be tied down with a bungy cord. I really like bungy cords. It occurred to me that it was just as well that the Proud to be a Democrat bumper sticker was not visible with the trunk up. The back seat held six bags after I slammed the door on them and one oversized black bag sat in the front passenger seat. I would have painted a face on it but thought it might have drawn attention to us.

At the recycling place the lady counted out cash for 89 pounds of cans and it was a good morning.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Guess what!! My stock portfolio is almost back to where it was a year ago when all this stuff went down. I bought Ford Motor Company at $1.30 and it is now almost $7.00 a share! I have made a killing! I wish I had bought more than 7 shares!

Unfortunately I bought twelve shares of GM stock at the same time following the old theory buy low sell high! Also my nephew, Mike works there and I was sure he would not allow the stock to go down. Well, I guess he was out to lunch the day they threw it off the Stock Exchange. It is now worth far less than good North Missouri dirt.

But I am not totally despondent. I am my father's child after all and have fond memories of Daddy's exciting schemes that had the capacity to make us all rich and catapult us into the resistant lap of the luxury we longed for.

The day a neighbor's vagabond horse came to call triggered Daddy's latent dream to join the circus. The escapee was extremely tame, (and extremely old,) so my brother and I were able to catch it and play all afternoon on it. To my brother and I it was a very satisfactory event on a summer day but to Daddy it offered a spectacular potential for gain and fame. As soon as he got home and saw that the horse would patiently "stretch", that is stick the hind legs back and the front legs forward, with only a slight whack on the back of the front leg, he took over the horse and worked diligently to discover any other circus tricks the horse might know and want to impart to us. If I remember right that stretch was the only act in his one-horse repertoire but that didn't really matter.

Sometimes the significance is not in the result so much as in the dream behind it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Women and Their Heroes

When asked, most women will list as the people they consider as heroes men of great reknown, or their fathers or their grandfathers. Seldom do they mention another woman's name. I find this very odd.

I find this odd because so many of the great social, religious and governing accomplishments of the last five centuries have been due to the courage, dedication and leadership of some very outstanding women.

The reason your six year-old daughter is not working beside you in a coal mine or balancing on a narrow platform in a textile mill coughing in clouds of cotton fiber is because of the decades of struggle by a handful of people, most of whom are women. You have no reason to fear the bedlam and sheer Hell of a 19th century mental hospital where women with "nervous" disorders often wound up, because of the efforts of a remarkable woman. The reason you do not have 13 children and are old..old..old at the age of 35 is because of the fight for available birth control, considered a sin by men whom, I might add, wrote the book on sin.

And not the least, and maybe the most important, was that wonderful concept of government called "Suffrage" known to us..the beneficiaries of these great women's sacrifice and voting rights.

As for ordinary everyday heroes for women we might recall that in the 1960's the World Health Organization released the results of a study that showed 70% of the world's labor was being performed by women. I doubt if that has changed much.

So to all the young readers of this blog, (I am sure there are at least two), I am going to introduce you occasionally to some women who deserve to be remembered.

Margaret Fell

If you hate war or are black or have aspirations of church leadership you owe a great deal to Margaret Fell or Margaret Fox (1614 - 23 April 1702) a founder of the Religious Society of Friends. She is known popularly as the "mother of Quakerism", and considered one of the Valiant Sixty early Quaker preachers and missionaries.

Born Margaret Askew in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, England, she married Thomas Fell, a barrister,(lawyer) in 1632, and became the lady of Swarthmore Hall. After her husband's death in 1658, she retained control of Swarthmore Hall, which remained a meeting place and haven from persecution for the embryonic Quaker movement. She subsequently married George Fox, a founder of the Quakers. It is doubtful that he or his movement would have survived without her support.

Her formal petitions to King Charles II and his parliament in 1660 and 1662 for freedom of conscience in religious matters can arguably be the forerunner to the submission later signed by George Fox and other prominent (male) Quakers stating their case that, although Friends wished to see the world changed, they would use persuasion rather than violence towards what they regarded as a "heavenly" (i.e. spiritual) end.

In 1664 Margaret Fell was arrested for failing to take an oath and for allowing Quaker Meetings to be held in her home. She defended herself by saying that "as long as the Lord blessed her with a home, she would worship him in it". She spent six months in Lancaster Gaol, whereafter she was sentenced to life imprisonment and forfeiture of her property. She remained in prison until 1668, during which time she wrote religious pamphlets and epistles. Perhaps her most famous work is "Women's Speaking Justified", a scripture-based argument for women's ministry, and one of the major texts on women's religious leadership in the 17th century. There is no argument that her writings are greatly responsible for the Friends' stance that all souls, mens' and womens' are equal with equal rights and responsibilities.

Surviving both husbands by a number of years, she continued to take an active part in the affairs of the Society well into her eighties. In the last decade of her life, she firmly opposed the effort of her fellow believers in Lancashire to maintain certain traditional Quaker standards of conduct (for example, in matters of dress). She died aged 88.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Dentist

At seventy years my eyes are decateracted and totally lasered and all my vital organs, bones and skin are now under warranty. I can see well enough to blog and drive and if I come down with scabies I can have it cured. But wouldn't you know, my eaters let me down. After acquiring every kind of insurance I thought I would ever need, my eaters have betrayed me, or was it all those cokes and Hershey bars?. Perhaps they just felt slighted in that they have been absolutely and totally neglected for almost forever.

I never thought I would say this but, I get to go to the dentist this week. My first dental visit last week produced a cost quote so painful my tooth didn't hurt for three days. But the shock wore off and the tooth began to hurt again so I saw another dentist. His cost bid was much lower for a more comprehensive effort so I accepted. He will only require a second mortgage on the farm and one kidney upon request. I tried the firstborn son thing but mine is old enough to retire and almost has and is definitely a high maintenance child.

I immediately fell in love with my new best friend, the dentist. It's amazing how quickly my emotions become involved when the painkill concept kicks in. Add a little vanity, the gaps in my front teeth will now match, one on each side, and I am a goner. My thinking on the gap thing is that people who pay attention when I speak, (actually I can't think of any right off, that's why I blog) will be so dazzled by the two, shiny center teeth standing alone they will not even notice the gap on each side.

At a later date, after I am drilled and filled and capped, I have the option of getting a "device". That sounds pretty intimidating but not as intimidating as gumming it for the next twenty years or so. Everything I like is crunchy.

I was pretty sure I would like this dentist when I went through the stack of magazines in the waiting room. No Golf Digest, Naste Travel Mags or Parenting for the Millionaire type of thing here. Obviously this guy's fees did not support the more expensive interests. His were more of the dog-eared, been read forty-two-times -with-the-recipes-torn-out kind of literature so I have high hopes. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 12, 2009



like honor and an old fashioned word. No one speaks of it anymore..
But I have learned that you cannot live without it... It is not faith..but courage after all, that moves mountains.

You can live without money, talent, beauty or personality..

But you cannot survive without courage.

Contrary to the thought of centuries of religious and philosophers..
who are a lot smarter than I and should know better.. you CAN live without faith and ethics.. People do it all the time. But you cannot live without courage.

You CAN live without education..rank or position... But you cannot live without courage..

It seems to me that the first and most requisite command was left out of the Ten Commandments. Surely Moses, ..blinded by the situation, ..simply did not hear the very first commandment..

That commandment surely WAS...


Thou shalt live in poverty or health or sickness..
in the bosom of a loving family or cast out to the streets..

Yet you must live...

you must have courage..

You must live!!!

and the definition of courage must therefore live... and to recognize success..or failure.. as merely a byblow of life...

because you are busy living...

My neighbor was buried on a cold, January day. She was 52 years old and died a hard
cancer death home. Her husband loved her very much.

It had to be the most God-Awful weather for a funeral I have ever
experienced. I didn't go to visitation but to the funeral because I knew I
would know few there. When I saw, Sunday morning, how bad the weather was I planned on going on to the cemetery and dressed for it, thinking that a lot of the older people just would not be able to do it in that cold blowing sleet and freezing rain.

But North Missourians take their dying seriously and on that dim morning, headlights strung out behind me as far as I could see and I was many cars behind the family. She was buried in the little Christian Chapel Cemetery just around the corner to the South where the old church was blown off the foundation last year.

Blowing sleet..and those old people soaked and chilling. The only men in overcoats were the high school principal, the banker and the guys from the funeral home. I stood next a neighbor away back from the green canvassed area that held the gravesite and a few chairs for family and we talked about cows and hay and coyotes. The sleet rattled down on my neighbor's shoulders and I tried not to think about how precarious his own health was. And I was shamed by the warmth of my old blue wool coat and the sweater under it and the thermal underwear under my skirt.

Even the children dripped in that weather. And no one rushed them to cars
or shelter.

The people just stood there .. and I just stood there and listened to the
silent people, because I could not hear what the minister was saying
inside the green tent that barely covered the family and what struck
me was that these people were not in tune with the messages of "in my house
there are many mansions" and "there is a better place up yonder", but that
theirs was rather the steadfastness of a strong people who did not take
death lightly but refused to bend to it.

And I was left with the wish that when they plant me it would be on such a
day. A cold day. Swept with rain and sleet and bereft of any tempting sweet
breath or breeze to hold me to this earth that I love so. And that these
strong people, or others like them, would salute my passing
The Rooster and the Feather

A person learns a lot on the farm and the best teachers are often creatures such as ourselves, struggling with all the baser instincts and displaying only occasionally the nobility God put in them.

One cold January morning my old yellow rooster, Ginger, strutted and croaked importantly as he called his half-dozen hens to the spot by the drive where I was dumping their can of corn. His nobler part allowed him to wait patiently for the hens and as he called they came, first meandering slowly lifting each foot high in the funny little dance-walk of chickens on cold ground and then, on seeing the mound of corn and connecting it with his calls, running, all from different directions where they had been searching for a stray wisp of dehydrated grass or a plump beetle, quick-frozen and left from the last treacherous, spring-mimicking thaw.

And all was well with their world until Baja, the younger white rooster, joined in. Ginger flew at him with “tooth and talon”, spent precious minutes beating him away from the feed and wound up with a beak full of white feathers. The corn pile is quickly being diminished by the hens. Another precious minute is wasted as he shakes his head and rubs his beak on the ground to disengage the feathers.

By now, partly through the efforts of the white rooster, the corn pile is almost gone. Ginger is left with one feather, not a smooth outer feather but a fluffy “underwear” feather, frozen to his upper beak. He opens and closes his beak, shakes his head cross ways and up and down. The feather sticks. He pulls his head back as far as he can and looks cross-eyed at the tiny cloud a fraction of an inch from his nostril. By now the corn pile is gone, Baja has wandered off and the hens are meandering back, one by one, to their place of choice in the yard on a very cold morning.

Finally, a combination of his beakly manipulations and a sharp breeze dislodge the bit of fluff and it wafts away on the winter air. And he has had no breakfast.

There should be a lesson in there somewhere.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Left to our own devises my brothers and I, on summer days while mother worked, cut hickory saplings half again as tall as we were and pole vaulted over the clothes line strung from the chicken house to the utility pole at the front fence line. We put an old mattress over a wash tub and jumped onto it from the upstairs window. We staggered across the yard on stilts made from 2X4s and sawed machine guns from "one by" board. My brother pocked the wooded hill behind the house with caves and trenches for games of war and adventure and survival and the smooth dirt beneath the back porch was a marvel of his architecture with carefully sculpted roads, cattle in the form of dried locust shells behind string fences held up by match sticks and "brick" homes with underground garages for tiny cars.

But what we really wanted was a pond. Or even a small lake!!

The creek behind the house, a rather pathetic trickle most of the year, often ran wide and gloriously frightful in the spring. That spring,an unusually dry one, we worked doggedly and with high hearts intent on creating our very own pond. But constantly the porous soil, in its miraculous fecundity, defeated us, absorbing and retaining every drop of moisture.

We had made a most wonderful find of a battered, lead-lined water heater that had been cut in half lengthwise. With visions of sea battle and long, (at least fifteen feet) voyages we sweated and shoved that old vessel, already endowed with seaworthiness in our minds, the quarter of a mile downhill to the gully through which the wondrous trickle of water ran. For three days we dug and shoveled and transported buckets of clay to block the trickle of water to form our great lake. Yes, it had become a Great Lake effort.

At the end of the third day, muddy, exhausted in the glorious exhaustion of an honorable defeat, we left the gully, still inhabited by its patient trickle of water, and after the nightly wash at the pump and a solemn supper at the crowded board of a family so large our solemnity went unnoticed, we wrapped ourselves in our quilts for a nights sleep in the sideyard. (We never slept inside in summer unless it rained.) Before sleep came we spent a few mumbling moments on plans for the next day. We would haul more clay...bring that big stump down closer to the east bank...etc..etc..and so we slept.

But life is often a tangle of miracles and minor tragedies and we were recipients of a miracle in that the rains came, and in the middle of the night we had to jump from our quilts, roll them up and dash to the house where we spent the rest of the night sleeping to the delicious murmur and roar of a Missouri summer rainstorm.

The next morning we knew we had our lake! Naked to the waist, in ragged underwear and knee-high rubber boots we raced to the gully and launched our leaden craft. My brother, Merle, held tight the end with the spigot hole while I jumped in. He, his long spindly white legs shining with mud, slipped over the metal edge of the truncated water heater.. and for at least 45 glorious seconds we floated!!

Navigation is a wonderful thing!!!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bringing in the Houseplants.

I brought the houseplants in this morning. An annual ritual in our climate. Frost is coming and it is cold and misty.

My brother, Merle's, cactus is waist high again after being broken off twice in the last five years. The Aloe Vera that has lived and died to live again about a zillion times is looking a little pale from the chill and the small Jade in the strawberry shaped jar my friend Grace gave me is perky but still small after three years. But the four geraniums Mary Ann gave me this summer are blooming away and the straggly begonia has a lot of bloom although little leaf. The current descendent of Grampa Farmer's Christmas cactus is very thick and putting on new growth with the season change. I hope it blooms this year. It has for the last two years and is so pretty.

The pears are starting to fall in earnest and I'll pick off the last of the few green tomatoes today.

Well, it's October in North Missouri..what's to be said..

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Good Hands

I gave up on my hands for beauty a long time ago. As a child, in moments of stress, I knawed at them like a fox in a trap, leaving the knuckles skinless and the nails chewed to the painful quick. The habit never completely left me and though I no longer attack the skin of my knuckles, no cuticle of mine can be described as more than ragged and every nail still shows signs of uneven nibbling.

Other things and other activities have taken their toll on a perfectly good pair of hands that, given to another person with gentler habits and treated more kindly, might have passed for “gracious” or “full of character”.

But they weren’t and I have used them hard. I have never thought twice about testing hot griddles, sweeping ice from frosty windshields, snatching children from the jaws of death with the precarious hold of an index-finger crooked in a belt loop, the string of a lifejacket or even once to be sawed almost to the bone by the chain of a fragile ankle bracelet. As a farmer I have stuck my hands down the throats of more creatures than I can remember and have had occasion to address the other end also.

I fear I have slung too many 2X4s and heave-ho'd too many hay bales and bags of grain...

Had them in too much too-hot wash water...Hung too much laundry to freeze dry.. Had them mashed and mangled and steamed and half-frozen on too many low-paying jobs..

My hands have served me well and although never pretty I try not to be too critical of them.

And when I get to heaven..if the Good Lord asks me, "Well, Laura, aren't you grateful that I gave you a prettified face when you were a girl and two husbands?".. I will say, "Not particularly, Lord, but I sure got a lot of good out of those ugly hands."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October in North Missouri

October in North Missouri

There is an inspiring urgency about October in North apprehension of winter memories..that heightens the senses.

Those first cool days with wind more brisk, that in their grumbling whisper, rattle corn stalks in their fields and shake the dry oak leaves from their bark grip...those strong oak leaves that refused to be coaxed free by the sweet coaxings of September.., the winds of those first October days seize and conquer and send them scattering and dashing across the field and yard and roadway..leaving the trees, at last, barren.

And in this changing season you might see a full grown cow, too old and far too large to act so childish, "hike" her tail and gallop into the wind, tossing her big head, and stop and paw as if she sought some worthy adversary.. some opponent to match such strength as one feels in October in North Missouri.

And luckily, no adversary appears and she will resume her place in the herd with a marvelous face-saving toss of the tail and the peculiar rocking trot of a mature cow.

That's what October in North Missouri does to you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Lives of Presidents Wives

I can personally remember thirteen presidents and their wives. (I told you I was old.) This is what really gets me about the Republicans claim to moral superiority and "family values."

The virtues,accomplishments and family values of all the First Wives since WWII are as follows;

Mamie Eisenhower, Patricia Nixon and Betty Ford, all Republicans, suffered so severely from debilitating alcohol and/or drug addictions through most of their adult life, that it was public knowledge.

Three of the wives of Republican presidents, Betty Ford, Patricia Nixon and Nancy Reagan, were former actresses, chorus dancers or aspiring actresses.

Of the six Republican wives in this time period only three went past high school. Three had four year degrees (Nancy Reagan's was in Theater Arts.)

None of the Republican wives ever held public office or served in a public capacity beyond their own personal charities, such as The Betty Ford Foundation", a for profit facility for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction or Nancy Reagan's interest in stem cell research because of her husbands Alztheimers condition.

Church attendance prior to their husband's attaining the presidency was scanty at best for almost all the Republican wives, as was their husband's. Nancy Reagan's interest in Scientology and Astrology became controversial when it became public knowledge that she was setting her husbands agenda according to the predictions of her personal astrologer.

Of the seven Democratic wives their are no debilitating addictions. Evidently democrats can't dance or sing as their are no actresses, dancers or singers. Five had four-year degrees. Four of those earned graduate degrees and two of those four earned law degrees. Two served ambassadorships and one went on to serve in the U.S. Senate, ran for the nomination of the Democratic party for the presidency and currently serves as United States Secretary of State.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Bess Truman were Episcopalian and regular churchgoers. Rosalynn Carter is a devout Baptist, as is Michelle Obama. Hillary Clinton was raised in the Methodist church, was very active in it and still attends church. Lady Bird Johnson was presented the Congressional Gold Medal and The Presidents Medal of Freedom for her efforts on behalf of the environment. Rosalynn and her husband together were awarded the Presidents Medal of Freedom.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Summer the Heifer Calf Comes to the Farm

Summer, the heifer calf came to the farm one July day in the most miraculous way. Moving day had come and gone for my nephew's herd, a half mile east of The Farm. All of his cows and their spring-born calves had been loaded and moved out. A half mile back to the west I was bottle feeding a Holstein steer and enjoying the cool morning of a hot July day. As I hung onto the square, two-quart plastic bottle while the steer nursed his fill I heard a calf bawling off to the west. Just a time or two..then it stopped. That night I heard it again and it bawled the whole time the steer nursed. The next morning I heard it again but just barely. Something was not right. I decided to go check it out and ...well, it's Summer's story so I'll let her tell it in her own way.....

Summer Comes to the Farm
How one little heifer calf came to the farm.

The first thing I ever saw was my mother's face. She worked hard to clean a lot of goop off of me. I don't know how it got all over me but I felt a lot better when she finished. Standing up was really hard but my mother kept encouraging me and told me she had a really good surprise in a pocket behind her leg but I had to stand up to get it. She was so right! It took me a while to find it but it was a GOOD surprise. It made my tummy feel all warm and good and suddenly I was very sleepy. I crumpled onto the grass and while I was drifting off to sleep I could still hear her crooning to me. The world was a very nice place.

The second time I filled my tummy she told me we were going to move to a quieter place and she started to walk away. I followed as best I could until we came to a low place at the foot of a little hill. She said it was the pond dam and that it would be shady from the big trees all day and a safe place because the smaller trees covered me up pretty well. She told me that no matter what ever happened that I was not to make any noise or leave the hidey hole if she was not there to watch over me. I stayed in that hidey hole for several days. I watched the turkey mothers and their chicks strut up the path to the pond early each morning and the deer came in the evening. They hardly gave me a glance. Sometimes in the afternoon dogs came, sometimes three or four dogs, and when the dogs came my mother always stood over me and never took her eyes off the dogs. My mother did not like dogs.

After a day or two, each morning I would take a run, making short circles and hiking my tail and it was so much fun. The world was a very nice place.

Then one afternoon I was wakened by a lot of loud noises. Grinding, rattling noises and banging noises and loud-voice noises. I peeked through the screen of leaves that covered my hidey hole and saw several very strange creatures. Something had happened to their front legs and they had to do the best they could on just their hind legs. Their legs had hardly any hair on them at all!! They were chasing all the cows and waving their poor front legs at them and making them go into a little pen and my mother was one of them that went into the little pen. All the cows and the other calves, who were all older and a lot bigger than me, had to go into the little pen.

And I did as my mother said and made no noise at all and did not leave my hidey hole and pretty soon I was very sleepy again and I dozed off. It was the quiet that finally woke me. It was very quiet. Sometimes quiet is good and sometimes quiet is very scary and this was a very scary quiet. There was no other sound around me. I could no longer hear the rumble-rumble of my mother's stomach. I could hear no munching of the other cows or the sound of their drinking at the water's edge. I heard nothing. And it was very scary but I did as my mother had told me and lay very still. Night was falling and my tummy was feeling cold and empty. I expected my mother to come back to the pond dam, swinging my surprise beneath her. But she did not come. And I began to cry. I'm sorry, but I couldn't help it. It was time for my surprise and my tummy hurt and I did not want to be alone. I called for my mother and asked her please to come back but she did not come.

All night I waited but she did not come. The deer came again to stand at the top of the dam and in the morning the turkey mothers and their chicks passed my hidey hole and in the afternoon the dogs came. I was afraid of the dogs without my mother there to watch and I lay very still hoping they would not see me. Surely my mother would come by night. But she did not and again I cried and called for her but she did not come and my tummy was hurting. It hurt so bad I left my hidey hole and went in the moonlight to the pond's edge and sniffed the wetness and drank. It was not good like my mother's goodness but it helped the hurting in my tummy. I went back and lay down to wait some more and when morning came I was too tired to cry very hard or call very loud but I did call one more time. Surely she would come this morning but she did not come.

And then I heard sounds but not my mother's sounds so I did not leave my place. And when I turned my head one of the strange creatures was standing not very far away. She talked softly, not hollering like the other creatures when they made my mother go in the pen, but she moved closer and closer until I finally jumped to my feet and she turned and walked away.

And it was very quiet again. And my tummy really hurt. Not long after that the creature came back and another creature with her and they both talked very quietly but moved closer and closer and she did not walk away when I jumped up so I panicked and ran and ran as fast as I could toward the tall trees across the meadow at the bottom of the dam. And because of their poor front legs, I suppose, they did not try to follow me.

It was hot in the tall trees and pretty soon another creature was there talking to me and he began to sing and hum and he kept singing and humming and the sound was so interesting that he was very close to me before I even noticed. In fact he had touched my head and back and neck with his front legs! And I jumped to my feet. But he neither walked away or came toward me but moved slowly to the side and I moved away from him and kept moving trying very hard not to panic and before I knew it I was in a place where I couldn't go any farther. I was in the little pen!

And then he walked away but returned with the other creature and they followed me on either side into a corner and grabbed me and the bigger creature lifted me up and I believed for the first time that there was nothing wrong with their front legs. And he put me in a big, hard box and the box moved.

Then I was lifted again and carried to a place I know my mother would have liked. There was sweet grass and the light was dim and no scary thing was around.

And then one of the creatures came back and she had a square thing attached to her front legs that she stuck in my mouth and after I bit it a couple of times I realized! It was another surprise!

But this creature didn't really know much about it and she made it much harder than it ought to be and I had to work very hard to get anything from the square box and there was really no reason to make it that hard! My mother had made it very easy, the surprise just came out, but this was very hard. I lost patience and banged at it and butted it and one time I banged it so hard it came off of the creature and flew into a corner. Then we had to start all over again. But finally we worked it out and my tummy was full and warm again and I was very sleepy and I dropped into the sweet grass and went to sleep.

And here I am.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

September in North Missouri:

God became so weary of all the heat and sludge and blowing snow and typhoons and sub-zeros necessary for this old planet to remain productive that he took himself off to North Missouri and declared it September.

There he ordered all skies blue, all grass to whisper, all clouds to be white and float gently, all birds to rest and sing. He asked for the blue chicory to line the roadsides and yellow sunflowers to adorn the fence rows. He sprinkled the fields with the white of Queen Anne's Lace.

In the early morning he called out the softening mist and the wild turkey to walk in it, and at twilight, the deer. He coaxed the delicious puffball mushroom from out of the pasture grasses and allowed the scent of fresh-cut alfalfa to waft over the land.

At night he raised the sickle moon in a clear obsidian sky and allowed the stars their purest glow. He called out the great horned owls to take their places in the giant white-oak trees that line the creek bottoms and was calmed by their gentle "whooo...hoo".

Realizing that the great owls needed an opening act of sorts the cicadas were strewn across the gullies and woodlands to fill the twilight with their mezzo voices.

And to keep him cognizant of time he posted the coyote at each hill top...their "yip-yiiip..yip...yiip"s in the stillness of the predawn, reminding him that winter must come.

But for now it is September in North Missouri.

And it is beautiful.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dinner at Home

At our house, when I was a kid, meals were important events treated with respect. The food was set out on the long table in the dining room, two chairs connected by planks on each side, a chair or two at each end, the highchair for the littlest baby against one wall and more often than not another baby perched on a couple of old Sears Roebuck catalogs and tied onto a kitchen chair.

A little while before the food was set out and the babies were attached the clean-up call for supper went out. First, whoever happened to be doing mechanic work under the elm tree in the front yard was notified. Then the yard kids were called in, then the bigger kids and whoever was company, whoever had done the cooking sat down, and then Mother, after a couple of screeches out the back door for any straggler who might still be out in the woods or down at the crick, would put out the cat and take her place at the end of the table.

At that point an almost spiritual hush of communion would fall upon us. It generally lasted about four seconds before the bowls and platters began to pass around the table. and we were once again overtaken by our natural human frailties and familial frictions. It seemed that we could not make it through a meal without somebody bawling, fainting, fighting or puking.

My oldest sister would be in tears over one thing or another, generally a boy. This would set at least one of the babies off and the contagion would spread. My brother, the middle one, would be trying very hard above the uproar to clue us in on his latest opinions regarding the morality of capitalism, gesturing wildly with a tarnished fork in one hand and a glass of milk in the other. All too often he successfully suckered some stranger, (some body's company) into a loud nearly violent political or ideological discussion. More often than not he managed to insult and otherwise alienate someone at every meal.

One of my sisters had a weak stomach. As the almost youngest, it was hard for my brother, Merle and I to remember that any mention of stuff like worms, maggots, run-over cats, fish guts and such high lights of our day were not to be spoken of. It was a rare meal at our house when she did not have to take a run to the bathroom at least once. She cried pretty easy too.

Mother, who survived our family meals by reading the Times, almost always came upon some article that affected her mightily. One time a Catholic School in Chicago burned and we all, struck at least temporarily dumb, listened spellbound with forks raised, to the details of how the heroic nuns led their choking little charges from the burning building. Roosevelt's speech following Pearl Harbor was read to us. (He wasn't nearly as riveting as the heroic nuns.) We knew every publicized detail of every murder, rape, kidnapping and act of mayhem that occurred within the reach of the Times and the Associated Press. At election time we were often awed to silence, (short ones) by Mother's descriptions of the character of most of the local candidates, with whom she seemed to have had at least passing words at some time or other.

At our table I've seen strangers absent mindedly hand a platter or bowl on without remembering to help themselves. This was a mistake because a platter or bowl NEVER made it around the second time at our house. Company always seemed to be impressed by the serious nature of our family mealtime.

I've heard it said that families don't eat set-down meals together like they used to. That's too bad.

I can still hear my mother's words on the subject as we straggled away from the table..
" I wish I could eat just one G.....D...... meal in peace.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Pejorative Nature of the Word Socialism

On hearing the constant accusation of Socialism being applied to most of the values I always thought were pretty important I decided to upgrade my education and look the word up in my Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus. True, it was published in 1991. But can we agree that the dictionary does not change substantially in that length of time?

Webster, at least in 1991, said Socialism was: n. A theory of social organization aiming at co-operative action and community of property.

Well that’s weird. I guess I am a Socialist after all. I live in a rural area. I have Federal Water, a Federal Electric Co-op and highways and roads maintained by the co-operative efforts and/or combined resources of me and my neighbors, otherwise known as “The Government”. I love our City, State and Federal parks and campgrounds. I am 70 years old and get my Social Security check like clockwork and my health insurance provider will not pay a dime until my Medicare pays the bulk of it.

I rely on community projects managed and funded by me and my neighbors known as 911, fire protection, law enforcement and emergency medical treatment. It’s true I do not use these services much but I want them to be there. Our lives without these first responders could turn pretty grim at the whims of a fate that can’t tell the difference between people’s ideologies.

I get up in the morning and turn on the light, (FEC) attend the necessary, (Public Water District # 1), cook breakfast (FEC AND Public Water District # 1 plus the FDA (who at least haphazardly makes sure we are not eating dirt), head off to work on good highways, (DOT) with the reasonable assumption that other drivers will obey traffic rules (State Highway Patrol and City Police) and put in a day’s work more or less. (I am 70 years old remember ). When I get my paycheck I can reasonably expect it to be the correct amount for the hours I worked. I KNOW that if it is not, no matter where I work, I have a powerful ally at our state capital. I could go on and on and I won’t.

But I will say that I am proud of the results of our country’s combined efforts over the last two centuries to sustain, protect and enrich the lives of all of us. I know it is not perfect. I know it is costly. We always have to dig into our pockets and yes, so will our children and so will our grandchildren. But we would do well to remember that along with the obligations we bequeath them, there will also be a tremendous backlog of structure and resources in place for them to work with.

One has only to read some of the diaries and journals of the generation before last to know how they struggled. Without good water in dry times, and no organization of services, they would stand by helplessly and watch years of work; a house, school, church, barn or hayfield etc., go up in flames. Their children were lucky to look forward to 8 years of schooling. High schools were few and far between. Roads in my part of the world, North Missouri, were pretty near impassable in wet weather. Winters were better because at least the ground froze. Heaven help you if you got caught away from home in a quick thaw! A day long trip to Kansas City, the nearest emergency medical services requiring hospitalization, cost many an arm, leg, and life. When a mother sickened, her children sickened. When a husband died or sickened, a woman and children often went hungry and just as often sickened.

This may sound like the good old days to some but not to me. And not to any rational person, I think. True, I don’t think of myself as a Socialist. I really don’t want to be a Socialist! It really sounds bad when screamed with huge, drippy red letters painted on cardboard signs carried by very angry people.

However, I always thought that we were kind of a homogenous people, a pragmatic but generous people, who had the good sense to pick and choose what worked for us out of the zillions of ideas blood was shed for in the human history.

I am a simple woman with simple ideas. I think clean water, electricity, allweather roads, law enforcement, emergency help and health care are good things. Sick people, hungry children, uneducated young people, unemployed workers, uncared for old people… These are bad things. To keep the good things working and eliminate the bad stuff takes a group effort. We seem to be in dire straits as a country right now. I think we better get to grouping.