What Mary Said

Every three years, my wife’s  extended family gather in central Nebraska for a family reunion.  It  starts on a Friday night and ends Sunday after breakfast.

Saturday night is the talent show.

Singing, piano songs, tap dance, guitar.  One of the uncles brought some pottery pieces last time and talked about that. It’s open to everyone.  You just never know what to expect.

We’re about a month out from the next reunion…

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I was sitting in the lounge area three years ago, waiting for my wife at the end of the weekend.  One of her cousins with two little ones sat down on the couch opposite me.   The older girl  had performed in the talent show the night before. Her name was Mary.

I told her she’d done an awesome job in the talent show the night before.

Takes a lot of guts to stand up in front of seventy people, you barely know and sing a solo.

Mary singing in the talent show - Copy

Mary singing  in the talent show.

“Thanks.” she said.  “What’s your talent?”

Took me totally off guard.

She looked at me with the most intense, matter of fact expression.

 “Did you perform  in the talent show?” 

“No.”

“Why not?”

I mumbled something lame about being good in the audience.

Her question caught me off guard.  I remember mumbling something about promising to do something next time.

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I have thought about Mary and her questions for three years.

What’s your talent?

And why not?

The talent show is not about being better than the next person, or winning a prize.  It is about sharing a piece of my life  for the encouragement and enjoyment of the rest.

I am not a great singer.  I dabble in music.  Yes I was in choir, until the teacher asked me to be apart of a guy/ girl singing group where I would have to dance and sing.  I didn’t think so.   Yes I had 5 years of piano lessons and 2 years of organ lessons.  Yes I played the trumpet in jazz band.  Yes I know some basic chords on the acoustic guitar and can read music.  But sharing any of that in a family talent show?  None of that really lights a fire in me now.  So for the past three years I have been wracking my brain about what talent or story or hobby to bring with me to the next talent show, because I gave my word to Mary you know.

Yesterday morning it clicked.

I know what I am going to do. 🙂

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What about you? What would you say to Mary? What part of your life could you share with the rest of us  and sitting on the sidelines was not an option?  Because, here’s the deal.  I believe, in the big scheme of things,  each and everyone of us is a walking, talking repository of life stories, life skills, life lessons, meant not just for ourselves to hoard, and keep stashed away, but to share as well.

Where does the fire burn?  Do you love to garden?  What are some of the favorite things you grow and why? What are some gardening tricks you’ve learned over the years?  Art, do you love to paint, draw, work with your hands? Give me details!   Have you been given abilities to fix things with your hands?  Tell me a story about something that had you stumped, then figured out how to fix.   Are you good with children, older people, the sick?  Tell me a funny story about that.  Do you love the outdoors?  Why? What is it about the outdoors that brings you joy?  Do you live in a big city?  Tell me a story about life in the big city that will make me laugh…or surprise me because of the kindness of a stranger.

You’re up next. 🙂   DM

 

Here’s a link to a blog post about this same encounter written three years ago, right after it happened. To be totally honest, I’d forgotten I’d written it.  It showed up on my screen this morning after I posted the new one.  Maybe my clutch is starting to slip.  

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Moving off the farm

Picture of dad milking by hand/ early 1970’s

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Tomorrow is a BIG day.

We are moving my parents off the family farm.

I was nine years old when we moved to the farm.  Had never been around farm life before that, except for a few early memories of my grandparents farm (I was 4 when they moved to town.)

Growing up on a  120 acre working family farm shaped me in ways I will probably never fully appreciate.  Dad bought 20 Holstein milk cows when I turned 12.  Expressed purpose was to give us some spending money. (And keep us out of mischief.)  Milking is a two times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year activity.  Up close and personal with the whole cycle of life.   Learned about delivering babies, afterbirth, still birth, cesarean births,  the art of milking a first time heifer whose utters are on fire with mastitis.  Learned how to deflect the back hoof of an animal ten times my body weight, that wanted to kick the crap out of me, because she didn’t  like what I was doing to her.

Manure.  Could write a book on the topic.  Sometimes you just have to block out the fact, you are getting splattered with e-coli.

Doing chores… Climbing into a dimly lit haymow in the dead of winter, afraid one of the banshees from Darby O’Gill would appear at any second.

Winter mornings so stink’n cold my fingers felt like they were on fire.

I learned it was not a good idea to engage the power-take-off on the manure spreader with a 20 mile wind to my back.

I remember side raking hay,  singing along to the radio, in the middle of August listening to Band on the run.

Last month, I worked alongside a young man vacuuming hallways.  He  lasted three days. Told my son that his wrist was bothering him.  Said he had pulled an all nighter playing video games, and wondered if he could knock off an hour early. I felt sorry for him.  He doesn’t know any different.

Baling hay in the summer is still one of my favorite memories.  My job of choice was  in the hay-mow.  Our barn could hold 300 tons of hay if we packed it to the top.   (10,000 bales X 60# = 60,000# divided by 2000# = 300 tons) Over the course of a season, I would have handled every one of those bales at least once.    In mid July, in Iowa, the temperature gets into the upper 90’s, so it had to be 100/ 110 degrees in the mow.   We never gave it a second thought.   It was just a part of getting the crops in.  Working in those conditions shaped my attitude about the weather.

When our kids were still home, out of financial need, we started a small commercial cleaning business on the side. The older ones went with us in the evening and weekends as we emptied trash cans, scrubbed toilets, vacuumed and mopped the floors.  I wished we could do more to incorporate the chores of my youth, but we were living in town and a dairy cow was not an option….

Final story.  Look at that picture of my dad milking again.  See that fuzzy cat on the left getting  milk straight from the cow?    Come to find out, she (Fuzzy)  was a prize winning show cat. Had blue ribbons to prove it.   She used to hang around the lumberyard where my dad worked.  He thought she was a stray, so he took pity on her and brought her home. Year later, lady who lived close to the lumberyard happened to be visiting our farm, noticed the cat and mentioned she used to have a cat like that.  We never let on.

If you were a cat, would you rather spend your days  eating dry cat food or having a front row seat by the family cow?

You can take the boy (or girl) off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy (or girl)… thinking too about my fellow farm kid, MJ as I wrote this post.

You get extra credit if you can tell me the breed of the milk cow in that photo.

Later! DM

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Update 12 hours later…just got home.  Lots of great help. Went without a hitch.  Here are a couple of action photos:

Dad loading up the family picture 

The moving crew

 

She Warned Me This Would Happen

The following was written by my friend and former co-worker Chris.  This week the two of us spent three days building a fence at his house. It was good.  I asked him if he would have any interest making a guest appearance on the blog…. maybe write about our time building fence together, etc.   I know he stops by here sometimes, because he will occasionally shoot me a text on something I have written.

Please give a warm welcome to Chris…. 😉 DM

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She warned me this would happen…

With the arrival of our first, the past year and a half have been a blur and a blast. What was a wriggling, cooing mass of cuteness only a blink ago, has since grown in to an adventurous, yet shy, beautiful toddler.

This addition to our family sparked a seemingly endless chain of spiraling adjustments, to almost all reaches of our lives. With the new plateau of mobility and curiosity came a sudden realization that dangers we could once keep at bay were suddenly within reach to Felix.

Rather than test the limits of his name (Felix; fortunate, lucky, blessed), we decided to erect a fence around our backyard. As much for his safety as our enjoyment, this decision cued DM’s arrival on the scene.

We have history, this carpenter and me. At a time in my life when I was landing kitchen jobs and had been constantly on the move, my significant and I made the decision to move back to my hometown. Life for us had been an adventure for quite some time. With a youthful desire to not limit ourselves in any way, we had been burning the candle hot at both ends. Looking back, I know we learned and grew a lot through those experiences, but we both were in need of a drastic change.

He said he was looking for someone with no experience, and that was what he got. Those first few weeks were an eye opener for me- my emaciated frame had never known such pain! Parts of my body I had not known existed suddenly were screaming at me.

At the same time, I found myself suddenly having conversations with a man who had crossed life’s seas and knew all the knots. I remarked to my wife (girlfriend at the time) that going to work was like going to therapy. Quick with encouragement and laughter, in the middle of a trench or on top of a roof, I found myself wanting to rise to his level of Zen.

I learned a lot over those two years; to not shy away from pain, to reflect and introspect daily, the importance of taking a break, how to set healthy boundaries, time management, the list goes on. Unashamed to share personal trials and challenges, his level of honesty with himself and with me was something not yet known in my life. It was just what I needed. Without realizing it I was making the transition out of childhood at a point in my life that I can reflect on now as ‘just in time.’

Snap forward to the present. It had been quite a while since I had seen DM, and I was looking forward to our time together building a fence for Felix in the backyard. My wife jokingly warned me the day before we were set to get started, “You’re going to want to quit your job and start working with him again after this I bet!”

My frame is not so emaciated at this point in my life, but the pain was the same as on that first job site. I made the remark something to the effect that physical work is so much more rewarding than mental anguish. As my muscles were ripped apart yet again (from neglect, admittedly), I was reminded of the journey I had taken under DM’s wing all those years ago.

She was right.

 

Fence building week

Funeral Day

I should be in bed.

Can’t sleep.

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Went to a funeral visitation today.

Buried one of our pet cats yesterday.    Two tangible reminders in one week  to the  fragility of life.

I will miss her. (The cat)

She was feral.

We called her “Miss Kitty”.

Pretty sure she was abused before  she showed up at our door.  Never, really trusted us.
But she did have a special relationship with Libby. The two of them would snuggle together in the winter.

 

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Funerals, funeral visitations, receiving lines, that whole flurry of activity that comes with a death.   Mom and I were talking about all that stuff again recently.  She agreed with me when I said the less you say the better.  Hugs, warm handshakes, look the family in the eye…but no empty cliches!

That approach has served me well the last several times.

The month my father-in-law died, my favorite grandma also died, then a few weeks later, a third person.  We were emotionally numb.  I can still remember our friends Leslie and Mel, Chris and Kelly,  sitting in the foyer of the funeral home just hanging around.  They knew this was our 3rd trip to the funeral home in a month.  Just their presence there was enough.

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Few years ago, when we were more  involved hosting concerts, Beth Wood a singer/ songwriter stayed with us one weekend.  She had just released her album  Beachcombers Daughter.   One of my favorite songs on that album was called Funeral Day.

It goes  like this:

We were laughing, it was funeral day
I guess it might seem strange that we’d behave that way
It was just our bodies craving levity,
My grief a heavy blanket weighing down on me
So we laughed until the sun went down
Trading stories, passing the bottle around
Recalling all the good times we had
It didn’t seem so sad

It all started at the parlor doors
Cousin Henry’s kid tripped on an extension chord
We busted out, what else could we do?
Hell, I knew that you were up there crackin’ up, too
So we laughed until the preacher came in
Then we settled down and we listened to him
Staring at your photograph

It didn’t seem so sad

Well we got some dirty looks from the old blue-hair crowd
But with all due respect, I think we did you proud
By laughing out loud

…it’s just a simple story, we’re here and then we’re gone

So I laugh remembering that day
How we carried on and how it washed our tears away
I’m smiling and I’m looking back
It doesn’t seem so sad.

Sending this one out to all of you that are missing someone.

Whether it’s been just a few weeks or 20 years.

DM

 

Parenting Cliff Notes

Parenting.

Just about the time you finally have some sense of how to do it, you’re done.

My thoughts turned toward the art of parenting again last night as I was on the phone with my wife. She is helping out our daughter who has a new baby.  As we were talking, I could hear the other grandchild in the back ground throwing a temper tantrum.  Since she isn’t my child, it isn’t my place to tell them how to parent,  and yet…

“What makes you think I have anything credible to say?”  You ask.

Now that is a great question! 😉

Especially since I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants most of the time.   Those last years  I was in  survival mode.

And yet,  I have  watched our four kids enter adulthood, start families of their own.  They love to come home to their mama and papa and, they get along with each other.  That’s the end game.  Work yourself out of a job.

I refuse to take credit for how our children turned out,  which in itself is instructive.

Children are remarkably resilient.

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I have been reading gardening comment threads on the Internet the past month.  Spring is in the air.  I was reminded again, just how many and varied are the approaches to gardening, and just how full of themselves are some of the “experts.”  It is such a turnoff listening to someone tell a Newby how to “do it correctly.” (Especially when I come from a completely different school of thought.)

So that is the last thing on my mind when I talk about parenting.  I do NOT have it “all figured out.”

The whole parenting experience (for me)  came to a head when our oldest two hit their teen years.

One of the girls (age 14) decided to run away.  If I remember correctly, she told us  she was thinking about running away because we were too strict.  She wanted to spend more time with another girl whose family  wasn’t like ours.   I told her to think twice, because if, on the outside chance DHS  (State agency that works with families) got involved, you never know..they could even removed her younger brother and sister  from the home.

Well,  those words fell on deaf ears, and the next thing I knew, she did  runaway.  She was still in town, but thumbing her nose at us as a family.  She was going to do just what she wanted to do, and that was that.

Well, this was all new, uncharted territory for me. I’d never run away myself although I had thought about leaving home when I was 16.  I’d read the book My Side of the Mountain, and magazine articles by  Euell Gibbons.   I remember  having a craving to eat cat tail root, catch crawdads, find a big old tree and live in the trunk.  I had a hunting knife and a hatchet, a sleeping bag, and a pup tent (in case I couldn’t find a big enough tree.)  I’d been in cub scouts when I was younger, so I was pretty sure I had what it took to survive….but that was about as far as it got.

We gave her two days, then decided it was time to reel her in.  It was Summer.  Baseball season.  My sources told me she was at a little league game down by the fairgrounds.

I called our pastor at the time and asked him if he wouldn’t mind riding along with me to pick her up.

I went to the game.  Saw her sitting on the end of the bleachers.  She glared at me when she saw me. I  told her it was time to go and to get in the van.  She could see I meant business.   We headed to our pastor’s house  and sat down at the kitchen table.  I told her she had two choices.  Boarding school or two weeks at my cousins who lived several hours away.  He  was married, had a  young family.   He had a reputation for being VERY strict  and the last place our kids would have chosen to spend the summer….

I told her (with tears) that I would not sit by and watch her or anyone destroy our family.  I reminded her again about the very real possibility of DHS coming in and pulling her younger brother and sister out of the house, and that hadn’t mattered to her.

It was a watershed moment in our relationship.

She decided to go to my cousins, for two weeks.

When she came back, there was a  change in our relationship, (for the better.)

You’ve heard about strong-willed children?  Yep, she is one and I love her to pieces.  The stories she brings to our lives now, well, I could write a book.

The challenge is to break that defiant, in your face, bad attitude without, breaking their spirit.

If you’ve bought into that siren song of being your child’s friend first and everything will all work out, then I wish you the best…I will have to admit, I bought into some of that, which in hindsight was a big part of the confusion.  When they start telling YOU how it’s going to be, maybe you will think back to this post and drop me a note and we can talk.

I’ve taught  Jr high, high school and college classes, as well as managed a construction crew, all of which has helped me tremendously on the road  to be a wiser parent…it’s funny, many of the same principles apply.

Without respect (and it goes both ways) it’s only a matter of time before things  get crazy (Home, school and work.)

There is absolutely a place  to have  “fear of consequences” in the back of a person’s mind, then being willing to deliver on them when you are tested.

When love, respect, clear expectations, and real consequences are in place, then you are at a good place.

 

 

Reading Out Loud

Woke up this morning still laughing about a couple of Robert Fulghum stories I read out loud to Mrs DM before calling it a day last night.

We do that sometimes.

Read to each other.

My go-to author of short stories is Robert Fulghum.  Many of the stories are only a couple of pages long.  He’s got a wicked sense of humor. I highly recommend  just about anything he’s published.

Last night I picked up his book What On Earth Have I Done?

Mind if I share one of the stories with you?  It’s called Sunday Morning….

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Sunday. Sunday morning.  Some in church. Some in bed.  Some in limbo.  Some in slow motion to nowhere in particular.  And one alone looking for a small slice of the pie of delight:

Around 8:30, cool and foggy- shifting toward warm and sunny.

Walking along a quiet street, I hear a melodious voice sing out:

“Sweetie Pie; oh, Sweetie Pie, where are you, Sweetie Pie?”

I stop and listen.  “Who? Me?”

The voice came from a porch of a house across the street.

Trees and bushes hide the front of the house.

All I can see are the bare legs of a woman who is calling.

Nice legs.

“Sweetie Pie, oh, Sweetie pie.  Where are you, Sweetie Pie?”

So, what the hell,….what harm?

“I’m over here, darling,”  I answer in my best bedroom voice.

She can’t see me either.

I’m hidden by the trees and bushes on my side of the street.

But she’s hip and sings out:

   “I hope you’ve taken your dump, she says, “Come eat your nibbles,”

Aha!  A game is afoot.

 

“The dump is done. Can I have a latte with my nibbles?”

She doesn’t back down.

“And would you like a tummy rub with that?”

She laughs.

I laugh back.

And now her shaggy little black dog has finished his dump and comes woofing across the lawn and charges up the steps.

“Come to momma,” she says, “I didn’t know you liked coffee.”

I wander down the street, and the lovely voice calls after me.

“Have a nice day, Sweetie Pie.”

I see her now.  An old lady in her nightgown waving from her porch.

Nice legs.

Nice, nimble mind, too.  She’s a player.

I walk on with the dog of my imagination running unleashed through the bushes of my brain, looking for a place to unload.

Too bad her dog came back.

I could have used a tummy rub.

Photo by Google

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Do you have a favorite author(s)?  Tell me who (and why).  Any books you’d highly recommend?

Call me old school.  I still love the feel of a good hard cover book in my hand.  Normally buy them for pennies on the dollar through Amazon books (used hardcovers).

Later!  DM

The Talk

The past couple of months # 1 son and I have been doing remodel  projects together, projects that he had acquired.

This past year  when #1 son came back to work part time, I was the one who has lined up the work, and he was the helper.)

I caught myself a couple of times  the past month, possibly overstepping my role.  It happened again yesterday, so I decided to breach the subject this morning.  The last thing I want to do is cause him additional work pressure.

It is one of my few pet peeves…
Working with a “know it all.”

I have traditionally hired people with little or no construction experience, intentionally.  I would rather train someone to do it my way than constantly debate how to approach a given task.  It makes for a long day.

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The process of mentoring is not an exact science.   It is a lot like parenting.

You haven’t ask, but I will give you the short version of my approach to parenting:

The goal of parenting is to work yourself out of a job.

Then, at some point,  (changing word pictures),   just like the eagle, there comes a time to “stirs the nest”  ie.  Kick  young eagle out of  nest  where it’s flap or die… 🙂

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It is important to know when to speak up and when to let the school of life kick in. I’ve always been a big advocate of letting natural consequences play themselves out.  Told my young eagles early on, with a smile on my face, that if, in the event they found themselves behind bars, not to call looking for bail money.

Some of the most powerful life lessons  are the ones not learned out of a book…but I digress.

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Now that #1 son has begun to bid and line up work, I would rather err on the side of him asking me for my input rather than just assume he is looking for “suggestions” from his all-wise father.

The conversation this morning, went refreshingly well.  Son assured me, I had not (yet) overstepped my bounds.  He had not (yet) felt frustrated with me sticking my nose where he didn’t want it.  On the contrary,  he said, and I’m quoting now,  “It is good to have several pair of eyes looking at certain situations…one person may see something another person is missing.  It happens all the time in masonry work.” 

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Here are some  action work photos from the past:

Learning to do flat work.

Teaching how to use a hand saw 20 years ago.

Flying solo, cutting tile with a wet saw and diamond blade.

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Later! DM