I Took Pictures

It started as a quiet, overcast day that was perfect for nostalgia, contemplation and being content at home. I needed to rest my hands from yesterday’s outside work and was committed to doing less active tasks, like my “paring down” of photos.

My photos tell the progress of technology in “Kodak moments” starting with the ones I took with my box Brownie when I was a child. There aren’t very many of those because there were only 8 frames on a film and I was always lucky to get half that number of decent pictures. They were black and white.

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A black and white, old enough that it’s starting to look like a color photo.
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Kodachrome moment on Santa Catalina Island.

Kodachrome came next. They are square and all have a golden cast but they are in color. My wedding photos are in this category and they are a sorry collection of candid snapshots taken by one of my brothers. There are half a dozen 4×6’s and a couple 6×8’s. Today’s wedding photographers would have a good laugh, I’m sure, but they tell the story and my memory fills in the holes. I didn’t pay $1,000 for them and honestly, I’m not sorry about that.

We bought a good camera early in our marriage. It took good pictures and we about wore it out on our first child. Film was still the standard but now there were 36 frames on some of them. We mailed the rolls to far away companies to be developed and double prints were the marketing ploy. I am lightening the load by throwing most of the doubles away. I am not in many of these photos because I was behind the camera and there was no such thing as a “selfie” without going to a lot of trouble.

The second child came and there were still lots of photos, because the two of them were so cute together. Lots of those doubles come in handy as I am making photo books for each of them to remind them of how it was, who they were to me. When they started taking their own pictures, mine became somewhat fewer.

My brother was the first to get a digital camera. It seemed so expensive and complicated to me, but it wasn’t too long before we had one. We stopped getting our photos printed out, except on special occasions. My box of photos from the 1990’s was the last large collection.  Since then, very few events have warranted hard copy photos. The ones I have printed are either artistically worthy or for special projects.

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Only one of the horizontal surfaces covered with stacks of photos.

The day is done now. Every time I tackle this job, my room is littered with piles of pictures by categories, and the waste basket is full as well. I have stopped being chronological in my organization. When I look for a photo, I’m remembering a person or an event, not the year it took place. I have envelopes with the names of people, special places, memorable trips. It may sound morbid, but I’m only saving ones of myself that I would want shown at my funeral. Who, other than me, should get to choose how I’m remembered? Right.

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Here’s hoping this will help me find that one photo I’m looking for…

These days at this task always leave me flooded with memories, reliving the past and longing for the goodness of those times caught motionless on paper. It’s a strange feeling and not always comfortable because it has so much to say about the passage of time and mortality. I stop frequently and text a picture to my daughters, with my phone. Just sayin’… who would ever have thought it.

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I’m not going to say the cat helps. She doesn’t.

Six Months

Remembering Dad
Remembering Dad

That’s roughly how long it has been since my father died. November 16th, today, would have been the end of his 87th year.

There are many things I have enjoyed doing, and I plan or hope to do them again. And there are people I love and enjoy that I plan on seeing again.  It’s possible I may not do those things, or see those people, but since I don’t know that, I don’t even think down that road.  Death however, is different.   As Mom put it, “you know he’s not coming back”.  You know your experience of that person on earth is over.  Final.  Done. You know.

That sadness of missing someone is so much like wave action.  It’s suddenly there with a force that catches me off guard.  Since I wasn’t living close enough to see Dad on an every day basis, it’s not as bad for me.  In fact, my days are very much like they were when he was alive.  It’s when I look at the pictures of last Thanksgiving and other visits home that it’s very real to me.  He’s right there, washing the dishes, watching the Packer game, sleeping in his recliner. This will be the first year without him and I know it will be a bit difficult.

But what have the last six months done for me?

  • I realize what a planner Dad was.  He saved and set aside what was needed for Mom to continue without making drastic changes in her manner of living.  It was a gift, and now we know what it is like to receive that blessing.
  • I realize that I’m not just missing the person Dad was the day before he died.  I miss the entirety of his life and all that I remember about him.
  • I recognize the parts of him, the habits, the attitudes that I’m probably going to perpetuate in my own behavior and I have an oddly protective stance toward those parts.
  • I resolve to be mindful of my relationships and the time spent on them. I am so thankful for the extra visits home I was able to make the last couple of years. They were so worth it.
  • Lastly, I realize how much 60+ years of marriage can affect someone, and how much my Mom is missing Dad. I want to make sure that she knows others are remembering and missing him too. I want her not to feel alone.
Dad, hard at work, last Thanksgiving.  Such a great time.
Dad, hard at work last Thanksgiving. Such a great time.

I haven’t posted much lately. Everything I write sounds strange and awkward to me. I’ve decided it’s a stage and it will probably pass, so I’m not worried.  But I couldn’t let November 16th pass without acknowledging Dad’s birthday. I might also add that any sorrow I have is purely earthly, not eternal.

Know how I feel about my mom?

Dear Mom,

Good morning and I’m thinking about you as I sit in a quiet house having the morning’s first cup of coffee in “your mug”, the one you didn’t want to send off to Good Will when you moved.   I’m saving it for you.  I like it too.

I just want to tell you that I feel so blessed, at my age, to be able to write a letter to my mom and have her be able to read it.  A lot of people don’t get the chance.  That you are still here is partly because you are not that much older than I am, only 18 years, and partly because you navigated the storms of life pretty well.  You probably don’t feel like you did it all intentionally but you did make many simple decisions to be patient, to be faithful, to not worry, to work, to ask for help, to trust others, to love and to be flexible.  They all add up.

And now we are in a different season.  For the first time since you were a teenager, you are exploring who you are by yourself.  Once again, I am so amazed at your ability to try things and come to conclusions about them.  While many who lose a spouse would retreat and let themselves be forgotten, instead you are reaching out to your family and friends and being a part of their lives.  You’ve concluded that you don’t like to be living alone – a good thing to know.  I am so looking forward to spending time with you again, not just to visit, but to have those longer shared experiences.

Now that my own children are out of the house and working on their lives and careers, it is a comfort to me to know that you have been through that part of motherhood.  You’ve seen us kids make bad decisions, go through tough times, lose people we love, wrestle with faith, take risks.  You lived through it, and because of that I know I can too.

I’ve always wanted to spend more time with you – you were a fun mom – but even more so as I became aware of you as an interesting person, not just a mom.  I loved interviewing you a couple years ago and finding out details of your early years with your own parents and siblings.  As someone who reads and recognizes a good story, I realized I was hearing one.  There is a tendency as a child to think you know your parents, after all you grew up with them.  What it really means is that they know you much better than you know them.  I look forward to learning more about you.

I will see you in less than a week.  We will talk, share our morning coffee times, read together, do a jigsaw puzzle or two, take some pictures of us together, sort through life, laugh, remember…. I look forward to it.  So grateful for the time.  Love you Mom.

Thank You for the Reminder

Since leaving Seattle I have been bereft (nice word) of a much treasured pair of earrings.  Not to make this another “lost jewelry” story I am skipping right to the part this morning where I found them in a pocket as I was preparing clothes to go into the washer.  (And it’s another string of stories were I to tell of all the things I’ve washed before I started checking pockets consistently.)  As I was feeling a rush of gratitude and relief inwardly, a song that I had not sung for fifty years came to my mind and out of my mouth.  Not only the complicated melody with the harmonies in my head, but also all the words!

I was probably 15 or 16 and in the upper stages of 4-H in my rural community.  Every summer the state fair in Milwaukee hosted the state 4-H chorus and orchestra and had them perform in midway programs.  My friend and I decided to be brave and audition.  I don’t think either one of us had ever tried out for anything but we both took piano lessons and were in the high school chorus so it was worth a try.

I remember the audition.  We had to travel to a nearby town and wait our turn to go into the room with the chorus director.  He talked with me a bit and then had me read some music and match some pitches with my voice.  I don’t remember if I actually sang anything, but probably.  Then the long wait until a letter in the mail informed me that I’d been accepted into the alto section of the chorus.  I was stoked.

The time came a month or so later to make the trip to Milwaukee, a good six hours away, for the four day experience at the state fair.  The chorus was a large group, close to 100 I’m guessing, and they were all strangers to me – coming from all parts of the state of Wisconsin.  We were housed in a dorm of some kind, but my memory is dim on that aspect probably because we didn’t spend much time doing anything but singing.

The first two days were non-stop practice.  All the songs were unfamiliar, ambitious choral pieces.  We sang until we were worried we would have no voice left.  The words and melodies were burned into our minds until no printed music was needed and all our attention was on the director.  I fell in love with the power of being part of a responsive group and having such amazing music pulled out of us by a skilled leader.  I fell in love with the music itself and have since found those pieces and used them again.

As often happens, something small, and relatively insignificant triggered this memory and  brought the words to one of the songs back to me this morning.

“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me, uphold me with thy free Spiriit, thy free Spirit.  Then will I teach transgressors thy way, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”

The words are from Psalm 51:12, 13.  Several songs from our program were from scripture references and there was nothing politically incorrect about doing that in those days.  I don’t know how it would go today.  We performed on two different days and enjoyed the state fair in between our times on stage.  It was an experience of great value for me.

I am not saying that the joy of finding lost jewelry compares to the joy of God’s eternal salvation.  But I think that anytime God allows us a joy of any proportion he likes it to remind us of what He has done, and is doing, and will do.  Just sayin’, I am reminded and grateful today.

These rascals were hiding again...
These rascals were hiding again…

A to Z Family Stories: Z for Zed, Zeph and Zech

They are all biblical characters. Zedekiah was a king of the country of Judah and the other two, Zephania and Zechariah,were prophets delivering messages from God to his people – they have books of the Bible named after them. My brothers and I knew who these guys were so when the minister told us to look up Zedekiah 5:14 we did not panic trying to find it. It was a trick.

Soon after she found herself with a small tribe of children to read to, my mother found a children’s version of the Bible and read it to us every night at bedtime. I say it was a child’s version but I call it that only because it was more story centered and spoke our language. I don’t remember any parts that required scholarly understanding. It was a thick book, with an occasional illustration. It was opened only after we all had our jammies on and were ready to be tucked in, sitting on our beds. She would sit in her chair and open the book to the bookmarked page. We were transfixed. She would always stop right at the good part before something was going to happen.

Unlike many simplified versions for children, this Bible did not leave out anything. The good, bad and ugly were all there. The stories portrayed God’s nature, but more vividly they portrayed the nature of people who were always trying to “one up” God. There was drama, mystery, romance, and beauty. When we finished the last page, we would start over again on page one and we didn’t mind. I don’t remember when the cover fell off, but it did. When I learned to read I was sometimes allowed to read to us all at night – but more often than not, it meant I could read by myself and not have to wait to find out how the story ended. And read it I did. It gave me an overview of people and events that is still the bedrock of my biblical knowledge today.

The book was still around when I started my own family and the tradition continued. By this time it was looking pretty ragged and I began to hunt for a new one, but could not find the exact edition. We taped it together and kept reading. I looked for it today and am pretty sure I do not have it. I think it might have gone with one of my daughters when they moved out. But I will not forget it because it was a joy and a blessing to our whole family and a very valuable part of my childhood.

The challenge is over! I have the start of a book for my family, and ideas for more stories that didn’t fit in with the alphabet theme.  How valuable is that!!  What value did you find in the A to Z this year?

A to Z Family Stories: Y for Youth Camp

A lot of our social life as kids revolved around our neighborhood and our church. Every summer, soon after school was out, we headed to church camp for a week. We saved our own money to pay our way, and hopefully some extra to spend at the snack bar. We planned our wardrobes, we bought a new swimsuit and towel, we studied the list of things to take, we anticipated who else would be there. It was a big deal for us and one of the highlights of the summer.

Camp was not the same as it is today. We rarely paid more than $30 for a week of food and lodging. There was no technology involved, no speed boats pulling skiers, no backpacking into the wilderness. We spent time with our counselors and teachers, we did simple team sports, swam and played in the water, had campfires, memorized Bible verses, and learned to work together.

We were usually housed in cabins with rows of bunk beds. The military atmosphere was accentuated with inspections every morning while we were in chapel. The white glove test was used to see if we had dusted, there were demerits for any little piece of trash under a bed, clothing had to be in the proper place – the results were announced and the first place token was given to one cabin each day.

When bells were sounded for meals, there was always a scramble to see which team could get all their members lined up first at the mess hall. The winning team got to enter first. We sat at long tables together with our team and were also judged on our manners. There were choruses of “get your elbows off the table, Uncle Don” sung by campers whenever we caught one of our counselors or pastors. At the end of the meal we passed our plates and tableware to one end of the table where dish washing took place – and we washed the dishes. The team with the best attitude and behavior would find the award on their table at the next meal. I don’t remember much about the food, but none of us starved. We were always hungry.

After classes and lunch there would always be a “down time” when we would have to stay in our cabins and rest. We could study for our classes, read our Bibles, or if we were really ambitious we could memorize scripture from a list that we were given. When we were ready, we would recite the verse to our counselor and be given credit, and of course there were prizes for that too. As the hour for resting was nearly up we would start getting ready for the active games and swimming which would take most of the afternoon. The afternoon was also the time for the snack bar to open. In those days there were not drink machines and fast food places at every corner. Most of us didn’t get to have a Coke or other soft drink very often so it was a treat to spend our money on something to drink and a candy bar.

I think the pastors and adults who volunteered for camp duty really enjoyed working with us. The younger ones played ball and swam, the older ones had conversations and taught classes. They joked and played games with us. We had our favorites that we played pranks on and teased. Underwear was seen flying from the flag pole on occasion.

The more serious part of the day was our evening service. We always wore our favorite dresses and tried to look our best. I remember how fun it was to trade outfits with friends and wear something different. We sang songs that were contemporary then but seem almost classic now. There were no screens, there weren’t even songbooks. We learned songs either by repeating them or from a huge poster book that would be held up high in the front of the room. The first time I ever heard the song “How Great Thou Art” was at youth camp and I can almost see the illustrations that were in that book. One page had the stars and planets with the words “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed.” Our imaginations were stirred by the messages given by the pastors, the skits performed by our counselors, and the invitations to know God better. Young people can make decisions that set the course for the rest of their lives. Many of those decisions were made at camp and they were good ones.

There have been many books written by recent generations of church going youth that talk of their alienation from faith, how they became burned out when life didn’t live up to their expectations, how God seemed distant and hypocrisy was everywhere. I do understand how that can happen, but I don’t have a story like that. I wasn’t taught to have unrealistic expectations of Christian life. I knew there would be easy times and hard times and that I would have to grow by experiencing failure and trying again, and that God would be there to help me in one form or another. Love was there, and I felt it. I am thankful.

Did you attend any kind of summer camp as a child? Did it influence you in any direction?

A to Z Family Stories: W for Wisconsin Winters

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I am under my usual three or four blankets, listening to the transistor radio I bought with money from my first real job. It is too early to be up, still pitch black and I can tell it’s cold. I am hoping to hear that school is canceled – for the whole day, which it will be if the temperature gets below -30 degrees F. Somehow, someone figured it would be okay for kids to stand out waiting for the bus if it was only -29 degrees. It’s not that the cold bothers me that much either, I just don’t want to go to school. Finally, the weather guy says it is -32 and starts listing the area schools and organizations that will not be asking people to come out. My school is among them. I am glad.

Cold. Long. Cold and long. And very cold for a long time, six months almost. On mornings like the one above, most smart people stayed home and concentrated on staying warm. Those who had to go to work would put their cars in a garage or have a contraption attached to their oil pan that could be plugged in to keep the oil warm enough to circulate. Antifreeze was a given. Tires would be frozen with a flat side. Those who hadn’t prepared might find their water pipes frozen. I remember having to remove ice from the cows watering cups in the barn, and often the large water tanks would have an electric heater attached. Weather like this was hard on the animals but if they were in the barn, their bodies supplied enough heat to keep them safe. Cold nights meant we got to take a quart canning jar filled with hot, hot water up to put at the foot of our bed under the covers.

And the snow. Some years there was snow in November. Some years it never melted until spring and the banks along the roads were higher than the cars making intersections dangerous. We never had to hire someone to plow our driveway at the farm because Dad always had either a tractor with a bucket or a bulldozer to do the job. He would push the snow back as far as he could knowing the piles would get larger and larger as winter moved on. They were snow mountains to us kids and a never ending source of fun. Winter forts could take hours to build. We would cut blocks of snow or roll snow balls if the weather made the snow sticky. Our forts not only had walls, but they had tunnels as well. We would hollow out holes big enough for several of us to crawl inside.

Winter clothes, everyone had them. Mothers knit scarves and for the younger kids, mittens connected with a long string threaded through the sleeves of our coats. Mittens were always getting lost, and soggy wet. Babies had snowsuits and as they outgrew them the “hand me down” would go to the next younger one. Boots were worn over shoes and thick socks. Our house had an unheated hallway where all of this winter gear hung on a row of hooks – sometimes the wet things froze and were icy the next time we got into them. There was panic on mornings when we saw the school bus coming before we had everything on.

One of my favorite winter coats was beautiful tan wool with a soft raccoon fur collar. I remember it because one night our dog cornered a skunk by the house and it saturated everything we had with it’s odor, including our sense of smell. I wore it to school that morning and it wasn’t until everyone started asking where the skunk was that I figured out it was me. I had to call mom to take me home. The wool and the fur in the coat held that smell for a long time.

Keeping warm was and is still a science in progress. My earliest memories are of an oil burning stove in our living room. It sat on a protective mat of some kind (??) and had a stove pipe going up into a chimney. Mom or Dad would turn open a valve on the oil line and we would wait a minute until there was oil in the chamber, then light a match and drop it in. We spent a lot of time close to the stove. Windows that were away from the heat would get ice on the inside from humidity and our curtains would get frozen into the glass.

We also had a wood cook stove to warm the kitchen. The wood pile was most often outside under the snow. We would pile sticks of wood on our sleds and carry it up to dry next to the stove. It was not our favorite chore.

There is a lot more that could be said about Wisconsin winters and much of it is good and beautiful. I wish everyone could experience the felt safety and awe of watching a white-out blizzard from a warm, snug house. I wish I could adequately describe the way new snow glistens on the morning after, or the way light and shadows look completely different when the sun is low in the sky all day long. Snow really does crunch underfoot. The woods are really quiet when there are no leaves rustling and all the animals (almost all) are asleep. But it is cold, and extreme, and white, and beautiful in it’s own way for a very long time, and there are some who choose it for exactly those reasons (and some who tolerate it in spite of, just sayin’…)

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A to Z Family Stories: V for Vera

My  mother wanted this wonderful lady included in our family stories to make sure we remembered her contributions. She didn’t come into the family until most of us children were past the age of spending a lot of time with a grandparent.  We knew her a little from seeing her at church and hearing about her at school – although none of us had her as a teacher.  She did so much for my grandfather and helped him in a difficult time of life when he suffered from Parkinson’s. She was there when he died. 

V for Vera

The Olsons were a Swedish family with nine girls (I know !!) – Esther, Hilda, Agnes, Ellen, Sigrid, Hilma, Bertha, Elvira, and Nina. Elvira Constance Olson or Vera, as she was known, was the next to the youngest of the nine. As the family got older and the girls married, the town became full of related families, the Petersons, the Johnsons, the Goruds, a regular Scandinavian mash-up. Swedish people always had the coffee pot on whenever guests arrived and probably even when there weren’t guests. Coffee at 10 and 2, like high tea, included bread, cheese, donuts, cookies, pickles… a real spread. It was hospitality and just what proper people did. It’s one of the pleasant things we remember about Vera.

Vera and John Boone at a family reunion around 1975.
Vera and John Boone at a family reunion around 1975.

Vera was 59 and Grandpa was 69 when they married. She was his third wife. Vera had been single until then, perhaps because she was the one who had been “elected” to care for the parents until they died. She was a teacher in an outlying country school until education was consolidated in town. She taught second grade for many years. She was a successful, independent woman who had her own house, her own car and her own money. Grandpa moved in with her at her house in town after their marriage. Even though farming was not her usual aspiration, she did go out to the farm with Grandpa and helped take care of that house too as it was being maintained by a bachelor who needed help of that kind.

Grandpa and Vera were well matched socially. They loved being with others and often got together for rousing games (crazy eights, ha ha). Grandpa loved to participate in fun and Vera’s family seemed to enjoy him. Vera was a fisher woman and it was also something others in her family did so Grandpa learned to add himself to the boat.

My memories of Vera were often in the setting of church. She was one of those ladies who dressed smartly and wore hats well. Mom helped to distribute the household after both Grandpa and Vera died. She was given one of Vera’s hats.

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a “smart” looking hat, although years in the attic have made their mark.

She also remembers finding a small cedar chest full of doilies, tablecloths and linens of all kinds, again accompaniments to the coffee klutch way of life. I grew up knowing that term, coffee klatch, but was never sure where it came from or what it meant until researching this post. I found it had a German derivation having something to do with gossip, which I would alter somewhat in this case. Swedish hospitality, especially for Vera and her family was just sharing life and knowing each other, as all close families should.

A to Z Family Stories: U for Upset and Unhappy

One of my aunts made a comment about me when I was young, about 5 years old. It was something on the order of “she is like a little old lady” – trying to describe a rather unchildlike, serious nature. I could have let that scar me for life, could have spent my days trying to prove her wrong but I decided I would keep on being myself and just grow into my nature. I have however, gone back into my childhood pictures looking for clues as to why someone would say something like that about me. What I’ve found is that I’ve been the victim of a conspiracy to present me, pictorially, in nothing by upset and unhappy moods. I’m still working on the motive…

They send me out to the barn to do chores... IN A DRESS... and are expecting me not to look upset?!
They send me out to the barn to do chores… IN A DRESS… and are expecting me not to look upset?!
Whatever it is, I don't want to hear it. I'll stand here but you can't make me smile.
Whatever it is, I don’t want to hear it. I’ll stand here but you can’t make me smile.
What? Am I supposed to be happy? I'm a year older, a year closer to the grave.  But I will face it bravely....
What? Am I supposed to be happy? I’m a year older, a year closer to the grave. But I will face it bravely….
Oh please, another birthday? Can't you take a picture of me when I feel like smiling? Nice cake though.
Oh please, another birthday? Can’t you take a picture of me when I feel like smiling? Nice cake though.

All this proves is that pictures capture very brief moments when we don’t even realize how we look.  You would not know from what you’ve seen that I am a overwhelmingly optimistic person, to the point of probably irritating some people with my “Pollyanna” viewpoint. Ok, I complain once in a while too but I try not to let my picture be taken when I’m doing it…  just sayin’, it makes for bad press.