Violets: My Purple Passion

Seeing these not-so-shy visitors arrive in my yard again, I had to look back on a blog I wrote in tribute to my uninvited but secretly welcome guests.

I first noticed these flowers as a preschooler. While dandelions flaunted fuzzy beauty like Hollywood starlets, violet faces peered at me shyly through leafy green hands. Mom said I could pick them! — unless they grew in other people’s yards.

One day my sister and I gathered a legal but meager violet bouquet in our grandparents’ backyard — until we wandered toward the neighbors’ weathered house. It resembled a log cabin. Did Abraham Lincoln live there? Even that possibility paled beside the ocean of violets before us. God liked purple, too!

The serious business of picking them all consumed us. I knew we should ask permission, but loudly legitimized our actions by announcing we were gathering special flowers for Mommy and Grandma. When we brought them wilted, wadded bouquets, Mom confirmed my niggling conscience’s pointing finger. We had crossed moral boundaries. The good news: too late to do anything about it. I loved it when sin worked out that way.

Not long afterward, Grandma died, and I never visited the magic Sea of Violets again. But as I graduated from picking flowers to picking guys, I never forgot them.

The spring break before high school graduation, I took an all-day walk around my hometown. Like any respectable teen, I’d hated it for years. Now, deep inside, I knew I was leaving Columbus, Indiana, forever. One shabby bungalow’s yard stopped me in my tracks. Thousands and thousands of purple violets. Now 18 and an official grown-up, I didn’t dive in. But I stood, mesmerized, for sometime.

I hung that violet picture on my mind’s walls. When my then-boyfriend, now-husband asked about a prom corsage for my lavender dress, I answered, “Violets.” I loved them — and didn’t want him to feel obliged to give me an orchid, the obvious, expensive answer.

Unbeknownst to me, his mother would worry because she could not find a violet corsage.

“Haven’t used violets in 40 years!” one florist said. “What kind of nut is your son dating, anyway?”

Finally, she told Steve his girlfriend’s purple passion would have to take a different direction. How about white carnations? Pink roses?

Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.

My date, who had remained silent during this woman debate, decided on a white orchid.

The violet vision must have remained with my future mother-in-law, though. After a church banquet, she instructed Steve to give me its centerpiece, a huge bunch of violets. Did she like me? I hoped so. Whether she knew it or not, she had become part of my violet history.

VioletsMeadow

Which continues to this day. My purple passion still guides my walks. If I find violets in your yard, I just might pick them without asking permission.

In the Running for a Serene Spring

No green interrupts my “spring” day except the envious color I turn when the Taylor University track teams — women and men — run through my neighborhood.

They wear long tights, hoodies and woolly hats. Snow confetti may greet them. Still, their effortless, long-legged strides defy winter, as do their fresh young faces.

They talk as they run. They laugh.

Running and laughter? An oxymoron. Even decades ago, when I ran routinely, I don’t recall laughing once.

My new husband had talked me into running with him. It’ll be fun, he said. Relaxing, he said.

His legs measure six inches longer than mine.

Newly married couples, do not try this at home. Or anywhere else.

Watching these track teams run now, I find their togetherness friendlier. Definitely more fun.

Even as a solo runner, I lacked the fun factor.

Fellow joggers encouraged, “You’ll grow accustomed to exercise and hit a zone when you’re comfortable, even serene.”

Pony-sized canines nipping at my heels increased my pace. Even with their help, I never achieved that blissful nirvana.

Instead, my knees hurt, ankles ached, and I developed giant stitches in my side that reappeared when I played ring-around-the-rosy with my toddlers.

I told Hubby, “I’ll soon be so healthy that I’ll need a wheelchair.”

Even he finally switched to bicycling when a blown-out knee dissolved his dreams of running the Chicago Marathon.

Instead, we cycled and watched our children run. At our son’s junior high coed cross-country meets, the order of returning runners never varied. First, a pigtailed girl appeared ten minutes before anyone else. Next, the boys manfully pounded to the finish line, embarrassed at being beaten by a girl. Then the other girls finished.

Those guy runners needn’t have felt shame. That girl, Morgan Uceny, ran the fastest 1500-meter race in the world during 2011. Morgan often smiled while running.

Still, she hasn’t inspired me to run.

I’ll let others enjoy that privilege. Some find unique ways to do so.

J.D. Arney reported on enthusiasts who ran the five-mile Raleigh, North Carolina, Krispy Kreme Challenge. Each ran halfway, consumed a dozen glazed doughnuts, then ran back. At least, they smiled during the last part.

Arney also described the Filthy 5K Run in Fargo, North Dakota, where joggers slogged through acres of gunk. Participators in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, Beer Belly Run, with beer stops every half mile, might have ran the happiest race — if they remember it.

Some psychos even pay $17,900 to run the annual Antarctic Ice Marathon.

Me? I’ll cheer track teams from my window each spring. It doesn’t get more serene than that.

Smiling participants of The Color Run, also known as “the Happiest 5K on the Planet.”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you run — and smile?

Tablecloth Remembered

Ecuador, where Hubby and I spent six weeks on a medical mission four decades ago.

I forget many things. And I had forgotten about this tablecloth.

Years ago, I almost added it to the giveaway pile because we rarely used it. One day, though, the tablecloth floated to the surface like bread cast upon the waters.

Strangely, the scenario involved a TV stand my brother-in-law gave us as a wedding present in 1975. When eventually retired from TV duties, it functioned as a “temporary” end table.

After more than four decades, I could not stand the old stand one more second.

Rummaging through a closet, I found the gold and white tablecloth, woven more than 40 years ago by a friend in Ecuador, where Hubby and I did a six-week medical mission.

I cannot remember the weaver’s name, but his portrait is etched in my mind: chamois skin, a black braid down his back, topped with a jaunty black fedora. He wore the local uniform: white shirt with a poncho, black pants, and rubber boots. His tiny wife wore a full, black skirt and shawl clasped with a monster-sized stickpin that could have fended off Godzilla. Their children were miniatures of their parents.

They all thought gringos were certifiably insane.

The missionaries liked their vegetables and chickens small, whereas any person with a brain would grow them big to feed a large, hungry family. Gringos, who owned kitchens the Quechuas only dreamed about, ate picnics outside. Norteamericanos ignored ancient wisdom that the night air caused every malady from sniffles to liver disease.

Mentally unbalanced and possibly deficient, they lacked basic life skills. They couldn’t finagle decent prices at the market. Despite their height — the gringos also were known as la familia de gigantes, the family of giants — their volleyball team consistently lost because they didn’t cheat.

Such people obviously needed help. The weaver and his family, among others, offered it. They even joined us on picnics.

The weaver’s wife gave me a monster stickpin. “It’s not real silver.”

That, and the lovely tablecloth I bought from her husband at a reduced price, communicated friendship woven into its warp and woof.

Back in the States, we purchased an oval dining room table instead of a rectangular one, so the tablecloth lived a largely undisturbed existence for decades. Now, however, it graces the TV stand, redeeming it with a beauty I never expected.

One more show-and-tell reminder that the forgotten sometimes can reproduce the unforgettable.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What forgotten memento brings back memories for you?

Hand Me the Hand-Me-Downs

We often hear about recycling paper, plastic and metal to preserve our environment. Nowadays, we’re advised to take our conservation efforts up a notch by recycling clothing.

My family has carried on this practice for generations, never suspecting we were going green. My mother, the youngest of 12 children, lived with seven — yes, seven — older sisters’ hand-me-downs. If ever a girl preserved the planet for posterity, Mom did.

She brought this ecological mindset to her five children. With infallible mother-radar, she hunted my brothers down. Mom threatened them with death or extra baths to coerce them into trying on last year’s kneeless pants. She re-patched, rolled up, let down and let out. Mom stressed, guessed and pressed, shifting jeans from one brother to another.

My sister and I scorned our brothers’ childishness. We loved trying on clothes! We dug into boxes, throwing skirts, sweaters, and dresses like confetti, reviving friendships with favorite outfits. Until I discovered I could no longer button my beautiful ruffled green dress, purchased with last year’s precious birthday money.

Obviously, my mother had shrunk my dress. Why couldn’t she do laundry right?

My sister tried it on. Good for a couple more years’ wear, Mom said — on her. Sigh.

By all rights, I, as the oldest girl, should have enjoyed life without hand-me-downs. Instead, I wore them throughout my childhood. Something was always better than nothing. But the main reason I didn’t mind: I fell heir to my friend Angela’s glorious castoffs.

A year older than I, Angela never wore hand-me-downs; therefore, she was rich. Angela lived in the Big Town near the swimming pool, a glamorous existence I, surrounded by cornfields, could only dream about. She read trendy teen magazines and knew what clothes were hip. I read Alice in Wonderland and Little House on the Prairie. When my dad would have kept me dressed like my favorite characters, Angela helped me live in the 20th century, offering an annual treasure bag of school clothes.

One fateful year, though, my uncooperative body not only caved where hers curved, but, after one summer’s growth, I topped her by four inches. Recycling would have to take a different turn.

No one in our area held garage sales during the ’60s. However, my mother discovered an odd new business, a consignment shop. Mom bought me a red corduroy jumper and ruffled blouse to console me for the loss of my fashion pipeline.

I’m proud to say my family continues the recycling tradition. My sister and I still trade clothes when we get together. We practice globally responsible shopping, stimulating the U.S. economy as well. (Are we patriotic or what?)

Recycling can be a beautiful thing.

Me and my sister in 1970. We still swap outfits after all these years.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you “recycle” clothes?

Wise or Wussy?

In December, we villainize the Grinch, but he’s an angel of light compared to Germ Gremlins, lurking throughout the winter. Eventually, after counterattacks with antibiotics, chicken soup, vitamins, herbs, oils and oatmeal-mud baths, we conquer illness.

Sort of.

Recovering engenders a dilemma almost as uncomfortable as the sickness. Should I return to work? Or continue to nurse my illness at home with medicine and movies?

Our parents’ generation posed one diagnostic question: “Are you breathing?”

If they detected movement of a Vicks®-coated chest, the response never varied: “Get out of that bed, you lazy bum!”

Resistance might result in an employer dragging the unfortunate to work by the toes, à la J.C. Dithers, the comic strip boss of Dagwood Bumstead.

Sometimes a tough stance works. The Greatest Generation accomplished great things.

However, some of that generation also puffed cigarette smoke into kids’ ears to cure earaches.

Today’s extreme critics of the do-while-dying work ethic declare no one should leave home until she/he passes a germ-detector test and submits to a complete-body Lysol® spray.

Perhaps Homeland Security should include such procedures at airports. Sitting by a living petri dish doesn’t exactly ensure safety. Maybe disposable hazmat helmets might be issued on flights?

If an inventor wanted to make big bucks, he might market preschool hazmat suits. Sleep-deprived parents not only would make him a billionaire, but also their patron saint.

Yet medical experts issue warnings about overprotection, lower immune ability and allergies. Attempts to make the Germ Gremlins extinct can backfire.

So how does a person of the Not-So-Great Generation who rejects Gremlin paranoia make the wussy-or-wise decision?

For once, technology proves helpful. Many can work at home until fully well. Opponents protest that this takes all the fun out of being sick. However, the benefit of wearing ratty bathrobes remains.

Still, we must escape quarantine some time. Recovering from flu, Hubby and I craved our church’s spiritual and social encouragement. After service, though, we dashed out the back door to avoid handshakes and hugs.

Wouldn’t a universal “I’m-almost-recovered” wristband come in handy? Then we wouldn’t have to proclaim from the rooftops that we shouldn’t shake hands. That we’ll admire a new baby from afar. That we’ve recently been slimed by sick grandchildren.

Even at the cost of perpetuating Germ Gremlins, we must avoid avoiding others. In John Steinbeck’s 1960s classic, Travels with Charley, he criticized a restaurant that boasted “food untouched by human hands.” Lives untouched by human hands would allow the Gremlins to wreak even worse havoc than the Grinch. We need each other like we need food and water.

I need hugs every single day. Shun family and friends to stay wussy-well?

Not wise.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: When do you choose to return to work?