Sunday, May 27, 2018

Another Memorial Day

Memorial Day means many things to many people. I see posts from people complaining that we shouldn’t be happy on Memorial Day, and that this day is meant to mourn those who died serving our country.
     I agree that we should stop, think, pray and be eternally grateful for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. I also think we should take time to celebrate this holiday with things that make us happy, because it is the sacrifice those soldiers made that gave us the freedom to celebrate this country.
     To me, Memorial Day is wrapped in memories of family, headed up by my father who, every year from the day he was discharged from his service in WWII, up until the day he retired to Florida in 1994, marched in the Winnetka, IL Memorial Day parade with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The parade ended at the Village Green where about an hour was spent honoring those from our little village, who died in combat – starting with the Civil War. As a child, I hated standing there waiting for it to be over, so I could go home and play. But, I always stood quietly listening year after year, until the time I finally understood what it was all about. Every year during the reading of the names of the deceased, there were children playing on the swings on the Green and a spectator would walk over to the swing set and explain that the children must be quiet during this solemn time. The kids would stop playing – I’m sure wondering why.
     After the honor guard paid tribute, the event was over and we all went home. The veterans would meet at Carper’s saloon – and in later years Seul’s Tavern for a few drinks, sharing of memories and possibly talking about things that today’s veterans can freely speak about, and not worry about being called “shell-shocked” or being belittled for bringing up those things that would be better bottled up inside for the rest of their lives. But, I doubt that even among comrades, they spoke of those things that might have helped them get through the memories that were buried with those who never returned.
     Mid-afternoon, all returned home for cook-outs, picnics and family together time. It was a wonderful way to support my father, and all those who returned home to start families that would live to tell their stories long after the parents were gone, new wars became old, over and over again.
Memorial Day is a day of solemnity, similar to a funeral. Do we not gather after a funeral and celebrate, remember, laugh, cry and love? Our loved ones expect it. Those who died for us expect it.
     On Memorial Day I celebrate my father, now gone, those he went to war with who never returned home, and I celebrate this United States of America. As I celebrate, I cry, laugh, reflect and express gratitude for every single person who died to make me free. I believe that is okay to do.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Memory 20

It was the birds that awoke that memory. You, sleeping in every morning while he made my breakfast. I thought it was normal that way. It wasn’t, but it was good. 

Because now, I am you. And I am awake. I hear the birds, too. 

The one who is first and awakens the next. Etcetera.

You were not sleeping in. 

It was the birds. You had to listen. They told you the stories. 

You had to listen.

And now, you are the birds. I listen. While he makes me coffee.

It is good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thank You Veterans

There may not be cookouts
With corn on the cob
Today's memory service
Brings thanks for your job

You fought for your country
And the job was well-done 
You're a patriot in my eyes
Whether we lost or we won

You grew up so quickly
In those foxholes you hid
While family who missed you
Still thought you a kid

This gray day in November
As I jot these few words,
I'm so grateful for freedoms
I've earned since you served
-Katie Neiweem Anthony

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Greeting This Season

Every year at this time, I think of my family - my parents who are now gone, but with me every second beginning Christmas Eve. I relive making Christmas Eve dinner with my Mom when I was in my 20's and at the top of the world. I am 10 years old and am joining my dad, arriving at midnight mass early so he can prepare to usher - maybe shovel some snow, turn up the heat, and make sure all the candles are ready to pass out to each parishioner. I am with my brother Ralph - teaching us to sing Adeste Fidelis and trying to get us to pronounce "adoremus" correctly ("It's moose! Just say moose!”). 
My sister Dianne is checking out the gifts that Kathy Reinwald received, as our neighbors opened gifts Christmas Eve and we waited until Christmas morning (and we could never figure out how Santa made it to the Reinwald’s next door, but not our house until much later). David is playing the organ at 7:00 mass– Handel, of course. The attendees are mesmerized. My dad is taking down the sheet in the doorway that blocked the view of the Christmas tree until AFTER mass on Christmas morning. Uncle Wayne, Aunt Linn, Uncle Hank and Aunt Joanne are arriving for our traditional Christmas brunch with Norwegian delights, ham and eggs. I am at Uncle Tom and Aunt Helen’s watching “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in the upstairs den with my many cousins. I am in grade school learning from the nuns what Christmas is all about, and making hand-made Christmas gifts for my parents. I am with brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, son, daughter-in- law and nieces and nephews. So many friends – new and old. So many memories. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Life, Death, Friends and Dogs

When I was about six years old, on a nice summer day, I walked to my best friend Patty's house for my daily playtime. When I arrived, Patty and her cousin who lived on that same block, were sitting on Patty's front stoop. I said "Hi" to my pal, as usual. Her cousin started laughing at me. Patty followed suit. I never knew why this happened. I had done nothing. My outfit looked okay. I wouldn't be chubby until the following year, so it wasn't my looks (I was actually a knockout looking kid). There was nothing that could have caused this laughter.

That was the last day I played with Patty. I walked away from her house and went back home, tail between my legs. I was so sad because she was my best and only friend. I didn't know who I would possibly be friends with after that.

I soon learned that this was but my first experience with friends coming and going in life. I have spent the rest of my life saying hello and goodbye to many fine - and some not-so-fine - people. I will admit that it is much easier being friends with people as an adult. If my friends laugh at me, I usually know why and quite often will laugh along with them. It is easier to bounce back when a rift temporarily divides us.

This year was a year that called for all friends, front and center. Our dogs, Casey and Jake both died. Casey was a bit expected - we knew there was something wrong with him. He was going on 10 years old. He had a full life. Jake was a shocker. He was only eight and had to be put down because of severe slipped discs on his spine. He was running around and was very happy and one morning, he just wouldn't jump off the bed. He didn't cry or whimper. He just looked at me with an "Either you're going to pick me up or I'm staying in this bed the rest of my life" look. Within a couple of weeks we knew there was nothing more we could do for him.

Besides each other and our families, it was our friends who got us through the loss of Jake and Casey. Liz and Carol brought sympathy cards, photos and my other friend, Johnnie Walker to help get through our losses. They made sure we were okay, gave us our "space," but we knew they would be here in a second should we need them. So many people don't have the opportunity to have one friend. How blessed I am to have two wonderful treasures in my life!

I don't know if little Patty ever really knew what hit me that day so long ago. It is funny how life kind of winds in and around itself. Friends seem to be on the exterior of our lives, but they are really in integral part of our happiness, sadness and growth. I am happy the path I chose brought me to where I am now. Here's to us!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Paddle Out

On February 20, 2011 at Pensacola Beach, Florida on the first warm weekend of spring, a group of hundreds of surfers participated in a “paddle out” to honor a lost friend.

Sixty year-old Yancy Spencer III died of a heart attack he suffered while doing what he so loved to do.

This group of people on surfboards, kayaks and paddleboards ranged from the very young – perhaps 9 or 10 years old to those in their 70’s.  We on the shore watched in silent wonder – not knowing the ritual but certainly understanding it.

The surfers convened at one area of the beach near the pedestrian bridge starting late in the morning.  By 2:00 p.m. there were hundreds of surfboards stuck in the sand standing upright in what looked like a village that had sprouted up for the day.  Since the Gulf waters were cold, most wore wet suits but they donned the carefree look of surfers with already tanned skin as if they had been out already warming up for this season.  Many were hugging each other, both in sadness at the loss of a friend and in melancholy joy seeing each other now that the chill of winter was off the sand.

As the surfers gradually paddled out to the boat situated just beyond the end of the pedestrian bridge that was now filled with droves of spectators, they drifted past small children playing at the shore for the first time this year.

They passed by teenage and young adult couples splashing cold water on each other, screaming like seagulls as the 65 degree water splashed against their warm naked backs.

They did not look at the swimmers or the people like us standing at the shore.  They paddled out, many carrying small bouquets of flowers – roses, mums, poinsettias, that they would use in the ceremony.  They just looked ahead to their destination – a circle they would form around a boat where the ceremony would be hosted.  They were I am sure, thinking about their lost friend.  I had never heard of him, but as the day progressed I knew him more and more.  We would have been friends.

The ceremony began with an airplane encircling the surfers after they gathered in their own circle.  It swooped down three times and then changed its direction, swooping directly over the mourners one final time.

Then someone spoke from the boat, but I could only imagine what was being said because nothing could be heard from where I stood on the shore.  Many times there was a tumultuous roar as the surfers yelled, slapped the water and held up their paddles in some cultural ritual I did not know.

As perhaps the seventh or eighth roar occurred, rose petals began to approach the shore.  As each wave came in, more flower petals appeared.  The children ran into the shallow water, picked them up laughing with joy as they identified each kind, made gardens in the sand and brought flowers to their mothers.

I thought to myself that out of respect the children should not be playing in the water.  Some of the mothers said, “No, put them back.  They are not for us.”

Then I thought to myself that they are for us.  That is what this surfer would want.  If he were as kind and familial as his friends are then yes, the children should take the flowers to play with and pass around. And most certainly, they should play in the Gulf waters while he is being honored.

As the surfers paddled or rode the small waves back to shore I was already on my way back to the parking lot, rinsing off my feet in the shower, putting my flip-flops back on.  I was happy to have been able to view the ceremony.

As trite as is sounds, it is something I will always remember.  I have always considered the Gulf my friend.  Again, it has endeared itself to me as clearly it has so to many others.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The House Across The Road

On November 5, 2007 I wrote a piece about the house across the road from where we were living at the time. I drove down that road today and the house is no longer there. This and a number of other homes are being demolished by the city after a neighborhood buy-out as a result of the flood of 2008. All that is left on the property is a pile of dirt. I was quite sad when I saw that the house was gone. My memory immediately turned to the lady who had lived there with her black lab. They went for walks every day. She was one of the few nicer people in the neighborhood - always had a smile and a wave.

I remembered when we had the warning of the flood a year ago last June. There were sandbags piled high around her house and others' homes in the hope that the river wouldn't rise over the top bag. Then there was the fear that the dyke would be breached - that perhaps even one hole in the man-made wall would cause the water to seep through and ravage the vulnerable neighborhood. After days of sandbagging, the police came through the neighborhood and said that everyone had to leave. I can only imagine what the homeowners were thinking: "If I could only stay and put up one more row," or, "I need to check for weak spots." But, all that was left was the hope that they had done their jobs well and that the river wouldn't rise any more than predicted.

I cannot begin to imagine how these people felt when they returned to the neighborhood and saw their homes filled with floodwaters and mud. There must have been the words uttered, "It's not fair," but I never heard them. Those who could, got to work on their homes. They tore off drywall, cleaned and dried out the skeletons of their homes and rebuilt. Those whose homes were in irreparable shape or who did not have financial means for the astronomically expensive repairs had to make the decision to sell their homes for a small percentage over assessed value. They took a loss for their loss. I guess that's what happened to the woman and her dog. I didn't see her again after the sandbagging event.

I loved living by the river. I would do it again. Each month that goes by takes the damages of the flood further away from my mind. But I will never forget those beautiful fall days when I would look across the road to the waning leaves and wildflowers; when I would listen so closely to the crickets and locusts singing - hoping they would never stop because their silence would mean winter was close by. And I will never forget the woman and her dog who lived across the road.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Life and Death

My parents died when I was in my 40’s. They both died of cancer and spent their last days in hospice care. Mom lived in Florida and while I was able to fly down to visit her while she was ill, because she lived only a short while once she entered hospice I did not see her after that point.

This was the first time I ever knew what “going into hospice” was. Her burial was to be arranged. We were all to understand that “this was it.” She was not going to hospice to get better. While in some rare cases people walked out of hospice, we were to face the facts: She would not come out of this alive and her death would be soon.

During the days she was in hospice, I called every day to see how things were going. Each day her condition was a bit diminished than the previous. Finally, on Friday evening, October 5, 1996 I phoned her room the hospice care center. Dad answered the phone, as usual. He said that mom was not well at all and that her death was imminent. He put the phone to her ear. I told her I loved her and she, with labored breathing, told me she loved me very much. That was the last time I spoke with her. She died the next morning.

Five years later, my father ended up in hospice care. In order for us to be closer to Dad when his cancer overtook his body, we brought him back to the Chicago area. We found a care facility in Wilmette after the hospital in Evanston could do no more for him. Caleb and I visited every weekend. David and Alan stayed in Chicago in order to be there when Dad died.

When he entered Manor Care Dad still looked pretty good. He was still fairly strong, had good color, was still being dressed daily. He ate, spoke, got up to use the bathroom. He attended physical therapy for about a week and then the therapist stopped coming.

Not too long after he entered Manor Care, Dad lost his appetite due to various afflictions – urinary tract infection, upset stomach, most likely depression. It wasn’t too much longer when hospice entered the picture, or rather he entered hospice’s picture.

We were well-versed in the ways of hospice by the time Dad entered it. We remembered everything they told us about Mom. We knew that this was the end for Dad. We knew that at some point – sooner than later – Dad was going do die.

One thing I did not know what to expect from Dad. Every weekend from May through Dad’s death in early July we drove to Wilmette from Iowa. We never knew when we left on Sunday if he would still be alive the next Saturday when we arrived. I phoned every day to get the report. Sometimes I would get a call from Dianne that “this was it” and then he would pull through again.

Finally, as his body deteriorated and he could take no food, could not breathe without oxygen, could not function, Dad died on July 7, 2001, a Saturday. Just like Mom. We all had said our good-byes and he finally said his.

Now, my mom’s sister Lee has entered hospice care and is not expected to live much longer. I cannot believe me how this event has stirred memories of my parents’ final days. More so, it has made me understand their death.

This event has perhaps helped me understand the process of death. It has also generated metaphors and philosophical thoughts that may or may not make sense, but they help me get through.

One thing that keeps running through my mind is that we spend so much time waiting for, almost anticipating death. In some ways it seems vile, but really, it is part of the process of closure. When a parent is dying and the children are all gathered around waiting, siblings from out of town phone, relatives phone. Everyone wants to know how the dying person is doing, and how the spouse and children are doing. I think about what was going on 82 years ago when Aunt Lee was about to be born. Wasn’t the atmosphere the same? Family and friends were waiting for a baby to be born. Every day everyone had the thought, “this could be it.”

It is ironic that in the same way that a family awaits the birth of a newborn they wait for the death of a parent. The same feelings that Aunt Lee and Uncle Mike had when they were waiting for their children to be born – the waiting, anticipation, anxiousness – are all happening now with their children as they await their mother’s death. But there is sadness now contrary to the feelings associated with anticipation of birth.

I thank Aunt Lee for helping me see the circle of life. She doesn’t even know that she did that, but I am happy that she as my godmother is the person that has helped me with this.

Being a part of someone’s death – either personally or through someone else’s eyes, feelings or phone calls – is a special thing. It truly is something to treasure and be thankful for. It speaks volumes to what life is and where it takes us. It is as much a gift as being part of someone’s life.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Diary of a Mad REALTOR® Woman

It is late fall, 2008. I have been left alone at the board office of the Iowa City Area Association of REALTORS where I am to watch the office for 2 and ½ days while the Directors spend the same at a lovely hotel in Decorah, Iowa. I have always wanted to go to Decorah – much as my mother always wanted to go to Norway, but never made it. I assume my fate shall be the same as I am a self-employed real estate agent in a down market, with a down car and a down husband who doesn’t want to go anywhere that requires being in the car longer than 45 minutes at a time, or out of the house more than the equivalent of a 9-5 work day.
As I sit at Shane’s desk I am reminded of the Steven King book, “The Shining,” and I think about how much I feel like Jack, the kid’s father who goes mad. I have been dropped off here - as caretaker of a summer resort for the winter months. Soon, the snow will begin to fly and I will be trapped here for the duration. I will begin drinking. I will see dead people.
It is deathly quiet in this office. I can hear the air blow from the furnace vents – although I can’t feel the heat and my toes are frozen. I can hear a “tick” off in the distance. I do not think it is a clock because it is not consistent. I think it is the building falling apart. I will be left in a pile of rubble, input forms and lost class sign-up sheets.

This office is so quiet that I can barely hear any noise from the outside. As I look
out the picture window, it seems like I am watching a big-screen television. The sun is shining in the parking lot. There are cars speeding up and down Highway 1. They do not even know I am here. There are no drivers. I see Becky and Kay’s cars in the lot. They are just sitting there, abandoned. I think the Langoliers abducted their owners and left their cars here for some sick poetic reason.

Greg Rockow stopped in to update his Sentrilock card. At first, he seemed very normal. He talked about how lovely Decorah is and how he was just there last weekend. Then he asked me if I wanted to see his video of an eagle eating a hawk. “No!” I screamed. Suddenly the room began reeling and I felt myself spiraling into a deep dark hole where hawks were pecking at my eyes. Greg Rockow laughed maniacally as he disappeared from the building – out into tv land.

Now I can hear a siren. Perhaps it is not really outside, as I do not see the emergency vehicle that is screaming. Perhaps the screaming is coming from inside my brain. Perhaps I will be drawn up into the return-air vents and be thrown out the chimney of the building – but not before my body is chopped up in little pieces for the eagles to eat.

In order to keep me occupied during my stay, I was left a scavenger hunt game. At each step in the hunt I am left a Weight Watchers snack with a note where I can go to find the next snack. “Heh heh!” I chuckle to myself, “I’m just wracking up the Points here!” I laugh at my own humor, not realizing how twisted it is that I am running through the building trying to find the next snack so that I don’t break into the classroom boxes of Oreos and Chips Ahoy. I wonder if I should pretend I am in a class and break out the Hawaiian Punch and Oreos. Then I remember that was when I was in kindergarten, not pre-license classes. So I avoid the cookies lest I lose a finger - or even a hand - when I open the package.

A few people have phoned. Tina Hershberger called and thought I was Shane. We both laughed. Really, my hero is Beatrice Arthur, so I don’t mind having a deep voice – look where it got Lauren Bacall – all those Tuesday Morning ads – in her eighties! If I could sell real estate in my eighties like Lauren Bacall can sell a suitcase, wow! …But then I thought what if I am Shane and I am really Shane losing my mind, thinking I am Katie?

People pop in and out all day long. Only one person actually told me who he was – and I really didn’t care because he wanted to sell Cheryl a copy machine. He told me about how he grew up in Illinois and then moved to Iowa, Wisconsin and back to Iowa. I smiled and said “oh, how nice” when I had to – things my mother taught me. He had a combination Chicago-Wisconsin dialect and really, it bothered me. He reminded me of my Polish/German/Dutch cousins from Mt. Prospect, Illinois. Really, it bothers me when I hear them talk, too. In the 7.365 minutes that I talked with the copy guy, I learned that he was a teacher in Wisconsin, he’s divorced from his wife who is also a teacher in the same school district, but he’s okay with that – well sort of. His son loves the Bears and they are going to a game in November and “boy was his son excited about that!” He really loves Iowa but doesn’t yet understand what the Corridor is (I think I cleared him up on that one). He isn’t good with names and was actually happy that “Steve” wasn’t here because he couldn’t remember his name for sure. I assured him that Shane wouldn’t mind being called Steve. Lastly, he just loves selling copiers and printing supplies. Inkjet can be expensive, but if that’s what you use, that’s okay. He said his name was John, but I think really it was Willie Loman.

Day 2
I arose and shined quite nicely at 6:00 this morning. I hopped out of bed, jumped into the shower and was on the road by 7:15 – dogs fed and ready to be walked by a slow-moving husband. “This is great,” I thought. I could really get used to working for the man again. Independent contractor? Pish-posh. I’m gonna get myself a job when this is over. I’m gonna buy everyone in the family, all my friends and all my bill collectors big Christmas presents.

A grumpy man came in this morning. He asked for Bonnie and grumbled when I said she was gone on retreat. “Well, what about Cheryl?” he churned. I told him she was on the same retreat. He gruffed out of the building.
No one leaves messages. No one says who they are. I guess it’s just none of my business, but I’m kind of taking this personally.

I left for lunch at 12:00 and returned at 12:45. I have a bit of indigestion because I kept looking at my watch during lunch, worried that I would be late in returning.

It’s funny how trusting people are. How come no one has questioned why I (a complete stranger to many) am here and no one who works here is visible? Think about it – Kay’s car is in the lot (being eaten by eagles), she’s not in the office, yet no one questions my presence.

Laura Soride stopped by. She was normal. Maybe I am, too after all.

They don’t have adding machines around here. How do they add?

Day 3

My alarm was mean to me this morning. I kept hitting the snooze button and it just kept screeching at me to get up. If it weren’t part of my $300 Blackberry, I would have whipped it against the wall. Finally I sauntered into the bathroom and saw a hideous picture in the mirror – what are these wrinkles under my eyes? Is this what happens when you work for the man for 1-1/2 days? I don’t know if I can go on like this. My poor dogs are wondering why we have been getting up an hour and a half earlier than normal. They will probably want to be fed an hour earlier from now on, as I have messed up their schedule.
It is dark at 6:00 a.m. How do people who work in banks, stores, libraries – all of my friends – do it? My God! This is insane!

I arrived at the office at 7:50. I would have been there earlier, but I was zoning out while I was driving and actually drove to my real estate office instead of ICAAR. Chalk it up to fatigue.
As I looked in the parking lot, I noticed 2 more cars frosted over. These must belong to other directors who were taken by the Langoliers. Why didn’t I notice them yesterday? Did they appear overnight? I began to wonder if anyone is coming back here.

People calling in are becoming angrier. They don’t understand why everyone in the office has left. Obviously I am an idiot and cannot help them. They just grumble and hang up on me when I offer my assistance.
People who come in think I’ve absconded with the bodies of Cheryl, Bonnie, Kay & Shane. They ask “What are you doing here?” I quickly remind them of the retreat – “Don’t you remember? You got an email that they are on retreat. Please don’t hit me!” “Oh, yeah,” they reply with a sideways glance. “I think I remember something about that.”

The toilet in the ladies room is trying to hurt me. Every time I try to flush it, it fights back. Yesterday, it tried to break my finger. Today it called out, “Ha! Ha! I dare you to flush me!” Finally, pushing on the flush handle with all my might, I flushed it. That toilet is not going to get me down.

The mail carrier just arrived. I was on the phone and couldn’t talk to him. I was hoping for a little conversation. Oh, well. Cheryl won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, but I’m not going to tell her – I’ll just pretend I am Cheryl and pick up the prize. It’s too bad Ed McMahon is ill. I would have liked to have met him. Really, I would have loved to have met Johnny Carson. What a treat! My dad used to dress like him, you know. My dad was quite the looker – even at 80. But he didn’t play golf.

It is 11:45. Lunch is in 15 minutes. After lunch I will only have 4 hours left. I’m starting to panic because I haven’t finished my scavenger hunt yet – and I’ve been busy doing my “flooded property” work, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to collect all of my Weight Watcher treats. What then? All this and no treats? I’ll have to figure out my game plan over the lunch hour.

Back from lunch and a little 10 minute cat-nap. I’m ready to go.

For my mission I’m preparing
Little snacks they have been sharing
Off I go – just 4 hours more
My final treat is at the back door!

Finally, everyone has returned. Everyone has left again – except for Kay who is typing away in her office. It is nice to hear the sound of happy fingers running over the keys once again. I feel invigorated.

I am to leave at 5:30. The clock is as slow as the December calendar is to a 6 year old waiting for Christmas. Everything is coming around, though. The toilet has stopped trying to hurt me. The traffic outside looks happy – people are walking up and down the sidewalks. The spell is waning.
Kay has left. As I look into the parking lot I see my car – nothing else. The Langoliers have returned the Directors to their vehicles and I can go on with my life as if these few short days never happened.

I am saving my last Weight Watcher treat and a microwave pouch of popcorn for another day – perhaps some day when I am in need of some grounding in my life; some reminder that inside the human mind is a superfluity of imagination that can never really be measured, can never be weighed, can never be observed in the Twilight Zone.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day

Ever since I was a child I wondered why we "celebrate" Memorial Day. There are picnics, parties and fun events for all. It always seemed that Memorial Day was the commemoration of the first unofficial day of summer. Memorial Day is the day when we commemorate those who died in service for the United States. I like that the news programs talk about the service people who have given their lives that we may be free. I like that the movie channels play war movies to keep the aura of the day in the even of rain or no plans.

Memorial Day memories of my family are as rich as Christmas memories. Every Memorial Day we would awaken around 7:30 to watch my father don his army apparel - his khaki shirt and pants, his many ribbons and patches; the patch of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion that he served with in the Battle of the Bulge; his white gun belt and spats. How handsome he was in his uniform. He would let each of us wear his VFW helmet. It wiggled so on our heads, but we loved that feeling because it reminded us of his days in World War II. We were so proud of him. After Dad got dressed, Mom would drive him to Skokie School in Winnetka where everyone convened for the biggest yearly event in this small lakefront suburb of Chicago. Sometimes, if I was dressed, I'd go with to drop him off. My stomach would be filled with butterflies of excitement as I heard the Armand F. Hammer band rehearsing, the Winnetka Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Indian Scouts were convening as proud children readying to march in front of their friends and families. The Winnetka VFW Post members and Ladies Auxiliary dressed in light blue regrouped for the year and talked about how the parade would be staged this year - though it never changed. The men would talk and smoke cigarettes and then practice shooting their rifles to ensure they didn't lock up after being tucked back in storage since last year's parade. Dad would get out of the car and join his comrades like a young boy meets up with his friends on the first day of school.

When Mom came back home we would all get ready - in red, white & blue attire - and drive back to Winnetka to stand in front of Connie's Pharmacy by 9:30. We would meet Aunt Joanne & Uncle Hank (before they moved to Florida)Uncle Wayne & Aunt Linn - and as they we born and grew, Tracie, Torrie & Tim. After Uncle Wayne died suddenly at the age of 41, Aunt Linn and the kids still came to the parade until they moved to Georgia.

Once we got to Connie's Pharmacy and found our sidewalk spot, Mom gave us some change to go into the drug store and buy some candy. The wait until 10:00 when the parade started seemed endless. I would go back to the side of the road many times and stand on my tip-toes to try and see if I could see anything coming over the Elm Street bridge. Then, all of a sudden I could feel a "bang, bang, bang" in my stomach. It was almost as if the sidewalk was reverberating. I would run to the side of the street again and look toward the bridge to see the golden tips moving up, down, up, down with each motion up, more would appear - blue, white, red, the banners became visible and I was so very excited to be a part of this country that my own father fought for. I would see the navy blue uniforms of the men holding the flags - their white gloves, white hats. They looked gigantic. Right behind them was my Uncle Tom leading the VFW firing squad and the Ladies Auxiliary. In later years, Uncle Tom's place would be taken by Jim McFadzean and then by my father. As the firing squad passed by I would watch for my dad and he would wave to me, my brothers Ralph and David, sister Dianne, and Mom. I felt so gifted that I even knew him, much less was his daughter. It was the one special time that I felt like I was at one with my family - we were all looking up to him alone and not comparing ourselves to each other.

After the parade passed by they would convene at the Village Green for convocation, speeches, and the reading of the name of every person from Winnetka who died in the honorable service of our country. This was always done with time so that the firing squad would honor the deceased at 11:00 a.m. Taps would play, the Girl Scouts would place a memorial wreath at the flag pole by the unknown soldier and the band would play while we all sang America the Beautiful as the flag at half mast was raised to full. The parade would then pass in review and we would all convene again in front of Connie's where Dad would give us spent rifle shells which we quickly used as whistles and somehow lost during the next year.

To many other people, this might only be a day like others - a July 4th race on the town commons, an evening band concert, a little league game on a humid summer evening - but to me, this was my father, my family, my town and my country. I cherished attending the Winnetka Memorial Day parades each year into my adulthood - and even came back from Iowa with my husband Caleb in 1994, to surprise my parents. Mom was standing at Connie's, Dad waved to me as he passed by, this time with a surprised look of joy. I didn't know at the time it would be the last parade I would attend in Winnetka. The next year Mom and Dad moved to Florida to retire. Mom died in 1996 and Dad, in 2001.

Still, every Memorial Day they are as rich in my memory as the spring air is rich with the aroma of lilacs and jasmine. And I re-live those days in my mind each year.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Goodbye Dana, Jimmy & Emmy

On Tuesday, February 5, 2008 Dana, Jimmy and Emmy Cherry were killed in a tornado that ripped the foundation from their home in Atkins Arkansas. Dana was 43, Jimmy 40 and Emmy was 10 years old. There can never be an explanation that settles our curiosity of why these things happen. We can rely on faith or family. We can turn to hate, anger and disgust. In the end we are left with our own feelings that will change hundreds of times as we live on in this world that takes away our loved ones. Did we learn something from this? Yes. We learned to take nature seriously. We were all guilty of balking at tornado watches and warnings. We learned that life is precious - but we all knew that. We have all said each time someone was taken away that we should have "kept in touch," "paid more visits" or "sent more emails."

What is left is this tribute to a family who had phenomenal faith in their God; a family who was whisked away in a split moment; a family who left such a large footprint that echoes of them resound from across the oceans.

What is left is faith, love and lessons.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bad Days & Bad Shoes

Today was a bad day in general - The pathetic life of property managers. Nonetheless, it ended even bad-der. More bad? Badlier? Oh, badliest!

I went to Staples to look for a fountain pen with which to write my Christmas cards. I asked the young lady who was so very helpful to offer her retail services if they sold fountain pens. She looked quite confused and said, "Ummm... I don't know what that is. Fountain pen? Well, I'm new." I said, "never mind. I'm old."

I guess I'll use a Sharpie.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fall, Autumn or Whatever

October is the longest month in the year. Maybe that's because so much happens in October. It's the first full month of school. It's the first month a young school girl can wear her new 3/4 sleeve plaid school dress that her mom picked out for her and not sweat her head off from 90 degree September heat. October is the birth month of my brother, David. He shared his month with our cousins Paul & David - all born around the same time. Then there's Columbus - the navigator and explorer - and that's as far as I'm going with him. I don't want to be heckled for crediting someone for something he didn't or did or might have done. October is the most beautiful month of the year - if the colors turn out right. There's always speculation as to how the colors become colorful. Is it a lot of rain? Too little rain? Cold summer? Warm summer? I equate it to the guessing of the sex of an unborn baby - lots of opinions. No know-how.

As I got older, October became the month when many people I knew and loved died - my uncle, my mom, my dog - so much beauty gone away in a beautiful month. I think it is only fitting that those we love most should pass on in such a beautiful month. There is nothing more lovely to me than a red oak tree transfered from a green stalwart protector into a third grade child's art picture. I see so many colors of a Crayola Crayon 64 box (with the built in sharpener) in the month of October.

Every morning during the summer I looked across my road at the house that sits on the Iowa River. I loved to hear the boat horns and hear the muffled sounds of people having fun on their pontoon boats as they drifted lazily up and down the short stint between dams. Back & forth - many times on a Sunday. In a car it would be boring, but on a boat you can turn around 20 times before it's time to go home.

During the past week I have stood many times in my carport and stared for many minutes at the view of my across the road neighbor's house - her stunning red oak, each day losing a few leaves making the river more visible each day. As the view of the river becomes more prevalent, I see even more colors on the opposite bank- yellow and red maples, oak trees harboring velvet brown leaves that will hang on well into winter, yellow-green elms, thick-stalked wildflowers turning a pungent shade of brown. The river simmers while the frosty air is melted by the morning sun. I am overcome by this beauty of things dying.

This is why I love October.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How's It Going?

There's a new greeting in retail that I don't quite understand. Instead of, "Hello. May I help you?" I'm now greeted with "Hi. How are you?" Or the now infamous Taco Bell greeting "Hi. How's it going?" Then you say, "fine," and they say "go ahead and order when you are ready." Personally, I think that's too much work for a bag of cinnamon twists.
I stopped in a store yesterday to check out some shoes. I found a couple of styles I liked. The clerk was busy with another customer and there were 2 or 3 other customers waiting to try something on. I really wasn't sure who got there first, so I didn't want to butt in when he was finished with his current customer. Figuring he was on the cutting edge of which customer got there first, I assumed he would hone in on the next one in line. He approached me as he was walking toward the back room to put away the rejects from his "finished" shopper. "Hello. How are you?" I said I was fine. He kept on walking. He stopped at the next person - whom I know got there after I did. "Hello. How are you?" She said she was fine and did he have these shoes in a 10 or 11? I was still standing there and he came back to me and with a look like "well Stupid, do you get it now?" asked me if there was something I'd like to try on.

Really, I liked it much better when clerks, tellers and prostitutes said, "Hello. May I help you?" I don't think I'm asking too much to make it clear to me that you either want to help me, or you want to know how I am today.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

So then the clerk said... True stories from the world of retail.

I ordered a sandwich at Arby's the other day. I asked for a french dip without cheese. The clerk asked, "do you want no swiss or no cheddar?"
I asked the clerk at Dairy Queen for "a quart each of vanilla and chocolate." She said, "then you want two separate quarts?" I replied yes. She took my money and went to the machines - "So, you want 2 quarts of chocolate vanilla twist, right?"

Sometimes I wonder if students ever paid attention in English class.