One Foot

One Foot

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fear of the Poor Farm and Other Misinformed Memories

When I was a child, a trip to the county seat to conduct business was a big event.  We lived on a farm and were largely self-sustaining; purchases of store-bought foods were a delight. Since such trips were rare, most were clearly memorable, or so I thought.

            On one such trip when I may have been about five-years-old, my mother took a gift to a relative living at the “County Poor House.”  It was a cold and bitter day, yet for some reason we did not go inside the two story, badly worn building. A man came to the doorway to accept her offering and I became quite frightened, as he had a strange look on his face and seemed physically ill. He was clad only in overalls, his chest and shoulders bare.

            It was that visit that began my fear of the poor farm.  It was years before I learned enough to know of the state poor laws, how indigent people were dealt with or financed, or how people came to be in need of such care.  Now I know of the hardships of the great depression and how people lost their jobs and property.  I know of the dust bowl, and economic downturns in the area and how the passing of the Social Security Act became a blessing to the old, ill and mentally ill. With age not only comes knowledge, but also compassion.

            That relative has been lost in a jumble of misremembered information, but in my family genealogy research, I documented a relative that did actually live and die at the poor farm and that led me to try to link the memory with fact.  I could not. The poor farm was torn down before I was even born. That memory may have been a visit to a care home or a private residence.  Now when I recall the threat of my mother that my extravagant requests would “send us to the county poor farm,” I can laugh. Now I realize we wouldn’t have had far to go.

            The obituary of the relative who actually did reside at the poor farm is a sad story.  Family lore describes an alcoholic who never married and whose illness led him further away from family as he aged.  He died at the age of 75 and 7 months, leaving two sisters.  He was buried at the County Poor Farm Cemetery and ”No relatives were here for the funeral.” 

            Eventually a nice stone was erected at the site of the poor farm and cemetery; for all were buried without stones to mark their graves.  There are 104 names on the monument.  Records indicate the first died in 1892, the last in 1940.  A report by the Ark City Traveler (July 27, 2002) indicates the majority died between 1930 – 1939 during the Great Depression.  My family member died in 1931.  Was it alcoholism that killed him, or the poverty of the depression?  Perhaps it was just old age.

            A friend and I talked about our plans for grave markers recently and we jointly agreed that regardless of the method of our bodily disposal, we wanted to have a marker for our families to find and reflect upon.  It has to do with that sense of place that is needed to ground a person who must deal with death.  Hopefully, there are hundreds of loving memories to draw on and our services well attended.  Scatter my ashes over the wheat fields if you want, but leave a marker to reflect on.

            All this family history research can bring about serious thoughts, and I am so sorry that a family member died in such a plight, but I have a list of hundreds of others who lived long, happy and productive lives. Their obituaries reflect that they were important people to someone and loved as a result. 

 I do not dwell on sadness, as I believe lives are to be lived with joy. I do think about being of importance though, so again I recall that wonderful old prayer that is always good to wake to:

                        “Lord, let me be a blessing to someone today.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How Things Were Created

God and his angels were in the middle of creation and working out the final design details of the various earth occupants. 

                “Did you want hallow bones on all animals, God?” asked one of the angel draftsmen.  “Or did you want them on just the birds?”

                “Just the birds, please,” answered God.

                A bit skeptical, the angel asked, “Won’t they blow around? You already created wind you know.”

                “They’ll be fine,” answered God.  “We’ll call that soaring.”

                The angels nodded and went on to the next questions.  “What to do about that bland bunch of butterflies you created – were you going to fix them?”

                “No, no.” God responded.  “I like the differences and we’ll make them a whole different group.  We’ll call them moths.”

                And so the day went.  As they entered the final details onto the drawings, one angel looked up puzzled.  He seemed to think about his question for a minute, as though he simply might have forgotten the answer. Finally, he raised his hand and asked,” I’m sure you must have told me, God, but just how long does it take to grow a lip?”

                I’m sure that must have been how it went.  As someone once said, “It’s all in the details, you know.”  There must have been some very fine last minute details going on when we were created and some of it is a mystery to us, but I do know the answer to the lip question.

                Here is how I found out.  You see, I volunteer with a state organization to preserve one of our natural resources – the prairie.  They round up the Kansas City Symphony, send out a bunch of invites and everyone shows up in a huge cow pasture to hear them play.  Not only are 6,000 people loony enough to go, but another 400 of us show up to herd them around.

                The day was about 85 degrees or so and a very strong wind was coming out of the southwest.  I was assigned to the trailer taxi to get folks from point A to B.  Our hats wouldn’t stay on, but we slathered on the sunscreen and did our best for about seven hours.  I watched the symphony for awhile and went home exhausted.

                The next morning I woke up feeling a little sand blasted, and went in to brush the teeth, etc. and caught my image in the mirror.  My face and arms were a bit pinkish, but not burned, however,  my bottom lip was swollen badly and one would have suspected a botox injection gone bad.  Not only did they not form a “sexy and sensual” pout, it was pretty clear they were going to in a painful state quickly.

                Of course, I slathered and dabbed on every medicinal crème I could think of, but the lip tissue did what it was designed to do.  It puffed up in full blister by day one.  Each day was a repeat and the entire lip sloughed off as new tissue was formed and old wounded tissue discarded.  Drinking was done with a straw and burn crème was on it at all times. 

                Each day brought more healing, and new tender lip tissue replaced it, until finally I had only one last spot where the damage was the worst.  That took an additional two days.

                So, what was God’s answer to the angel that asked, “How long does it take to grow a new lip?”

                The answer was “eight days.  Ten if needed.”

                On about day six, I faced the healing process with awe of our Creator.  This was not the first time I had been aware of the most miraculous way humans and creatures are put together.  Our bodies can be wounded or ill, sometimes devastated, and yet there is a healing process built in.  How can anyone who has ever experienced this ever doubt the existence of the Creator? 

                Is there not an intimacy we feel with God when we heal?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Giving Thanks For Gardens

        For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; …..Wherefore I saw that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him back to see what shall be after him?   Ecclesiastes 3

                I have always remembered this scripture as it seems to sum up the circle of life as we live and die on this earth.  Of course I have only used the small section I needed for this writing; a section that directly refers to my life these last few months.

Johnson grass invasion

  During the past year, I have rebuilt my farm house that was lost four years ago to fire and this provided a shelter while my sister and I restored our mother’s garden.  We spent weeks fighting the invasives that had infiltrated the entire area – garden beds, pathways and raised beds were filled with Johnson grass and tree seedlings.  With spade and reinforced garden gloves we dug the beds, removed the roots and prepared for planting anew and restoring the old.  As days changed to weeks and Johnson grass returned, I grimaced and told myself that everything has it’s season, but the season was ending for trash grass.

End of first summer
    The summer has passed quickly, and the digging has left little time for writing and enjoying.  We have continued to fight new sprouts while we laughed and talked the hours away, digging and digging.  As fall has closed in, we recognized we might not complete all the beds, but wisely we didn’t close the season on digging.  As my sister took her leave to visit her children this week, we took a few photos and proudly stood side by side, surveying our accomplishments.  We have cleared and prepared and planted, and it felt really good to know that we have given it a good beginning on growth before winter sets in.

Awaiting spring
     The scripture ending, “there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion” may be the secret to why we dedicated gardeners endure through such a difficult, seemingly impossible task as my sister and I have gone through summer.  It isn’t just pride in our work that drives us.  We could get that at the gym I suppose.  It is also that we are tending the growth that God provides on this earth.  It is a tending that was fulfilling to our mother, and now to us.  Gardens, after all, are the creative replacement of plants that God gave us, only more widely distributed.  We are just helping him out a little for ease of viewing. 
Me and Sis

          I will continue to putter in our garden this winter, and hopefully have more time to write. As we gather around our Thanksgiving table, though, I plan to mention that we are so very grateful for our sister-time, our health to apply to our garden, and the beautiful garden we know will be there come spring.    

Friday, August 5, 2016

Reading Children's Classics as an Adult

                I attended a Kansas rural school in the era just before such schools were closed and consolidated with larger districts.   Out of that education was born a girl who learned to love books and learned that the way into and upward in the world was through books and education.

              Even from a child’s eyes, I could see resources were limited in our classroom.  We had dictionaries and encyclopedias in the bookcase.  We had textbooks for all grades, but I don’t remember having any books or magazines to go along with the textbooks.
                Our library was a library trunk that the teacher checked out from the larger library system in the county seat, and although I didn’t need an incentive to read, there was a reading achievement reward for reading a certain number of books during the year.  No problem. I read them all, regardless of level.  I’m sure I enjoyed each one.
Then, a few years ago, after making friends with my neighbor, a children’s’ librarian, I was introduced to the “Recommended Children’s Book List” made up of children’s literature that is now considered “classic.” How disappointed I was to find I hadn’t read the great majority of those books.  And so, last year I began checking out children’s books for me.  I discovered a world of imagination that I am so sorry I missed as a child; and a world of writing skill that I wish I’d found earlier.
I have been consistently impressed with the sophistication of language in these books.  It is both an example of language used in the authors’ time, as well as a model of use for large and varied words.  Sometimes we try to control these factors, supposing they contribute to high grade level readability, but given rich content, kids willingly tackle them.  A good example is the series of Harry Potter books that are quite high in readability, but has an interest level that hooks even very young children.  
As an added bonus, nearly every book I’ve read has a great story.  Just this week I found a collection of classics in audio-book form.  “Anne of Green Gables” is in the car today and a wonderful read – reminding me of all the books Miss Holte, our rural school teacher, read to us right after the noon recess and just before mathematics.  
For someone who loves to read, as I do, there are two lists that merit regular attention.  One is the list of books that all students that are going to college should be reading or have read.  The second is the list of the books that make up children’s classic literature.  
I may not ever write a great American novel, but if I don’t, you can bet I have been reading one.  Chances are it was written for children!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Working the Scrap Basket

I am an avid quilter and produce many small projects a year.  I love to read and the books read and unread line up across the wall.  I always seem to have something to do and a place to go, but when a cold winter day comes along, my body senses that this is a time to take a break.  Perhaps it is a left over genetic trait related to hibernation, for I yearn for a task that will rest my body and brain and relieve me of self-imposed demands.
           It is on such a winter day that I do what generations of farm women have done  – they “work the scrap basket.”  Doesn’t every woman have a scrap basket?  This is the disorganized heap of fabric created from sewing projects or disassembly of donated clothing with the idea that “someday” one will organize it all and make an heirloom quilt or a rag rug. 
            I imagine I am typical of others who let that scrap basket get to near overwhelming size, but this winter I have tackled it for the third time in my sewing history.  One year I had worked with batiks for gift quilts and the remaining miscellaneous scraps were too valuable to toss.  That pile became a lovely square-in-a-square quilt.  Another year I had basic cottons that became a tessellated pineapple quilt. This year, I am attempting a strip quilt and am determined that I will keep making pieces for that quilt until the scrap basket is empty.  I am beginning to wonder if that will be in my lifetime, and I am certain that the quilt size will exceed king-size.
               Why would a modern woman, perfectly capable of buying fabric endlessly, mess with scraps of fabric?  The answer for me is that working the scrap basket calms me.  There is something pleasing and quiet about the near mindless task of touching the fabric, fitting it into a simple pattern, and seeing scrappy beauty come about.   I can play with the pieces for hours.
          I might also admit that when I play with my scraps, I don’t watch television.  I might have some quiet music on the stereo, but I play without the environment pounding on me.  It is similar to taking a good long walk in the woods – you walk for a while; you think, you sing, and before you know it, you’ve come up with something creative.  So it is with my scraps.  My mind is seemingly grateful that there are no quilting rules to follow.  There are no color specifications.  The pattern is simply mindless once selected.  And actually, I don’t even care if there is a “finished” quilt resulting. 
           I am convinced we ought to work a lot more scraps in our lives than we do.  I know others who find their scraps in the garden.  Others find their scraps in puzzles, car repair, painting, fishing, etc.  For a few hours, we enjoy simplicity, not complexity. 
          My grandmothers worked their scraps because they lived on isolated farms, but now Grandma is more apt to be at the senior center playing bridge (or pool).  Whatever the lifestyle, we need a few quiet and peaceful moments in a day.  My mind is one that needs to do a little resting and healing and benefits from those moments.
           On days when I don’t feel like working the scrap basket, there is always the possibility of writing a little rambling piece like this.  I can always end it with…..”now, where was I going with this?” 
           Just like the process of sewing those scraps together into a whole, one just never knows.  It’s the process that brings peace.