O Lord, I’m tempted to gripe about dreary winter. Still, in January, I don’t do yardwork. I skip washing the car, because everybody’s car is grimy. And while poor souls in Hawaii must maintain abs of steel, my flab I conceal with warm, fuzzy layers. OMG, thank You for Indiana weather!
My husband zeroes in on kayaks the way my radar finds ice cream parlors.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he drools. “Long, slim — probably has great moves.”
I suppose I should be grateful that he’s not observing a Jennifer Aniston look-alike. For years, though, I resisted his enthusiasm in favor of practical considerations, such as bills, college savings and investments in ice cream.
Unfortunately, I asked what he wanted for Christmas.
Armed and dangerous with Internet facts and figures, he proclaimed an inflatable kayak as the bargain gift. “Costs less, yet withstands white-water conditions.”
He nearly lost his case.
Even writing about big waves shifts my stomach into N for nausea. Yet, this boat represented the boy’s special Christmas wish. …
We bought the kayak.
Hubby pumped it up in the living room to “test inflation pressures.” Later, in his office to “calculate seat placement.” Then to “practice paddling.”
“You’ve paddled canoes all your life,” I said.
“Entirely different technique,” he retorted.
Having braved his office carpet, he foamed at the mouth, waiting for spring. However, tornadoes sabotaged every plan for the kayak’s maiden voyage.
Then, days before a promising campout date, I fell, bruising every muscle I owned. Some landlubbers will do anything to avoid paddling a kayak.
My husband never once insinuated that I’d ruined our kayaking adventure. Because he said he’d paddle solo.
Hubby salivated as he hand-pumped the kayak.
Me? Not salivating. Donning a life jacket (Ouch!) seemed a sufficient challenge. As did entering this inflatable kayak. It threatened to drown me before we left shore.
Somehow, we managed, and Hubby expertly steered us through glass-like water reflecting blue sky draped with tulle clouds. Wild rose thickets wafted exquisite scents across the water.
We spotted ducks, geese leading mini-parades of fuzzy goslings, sunbathing turtles, and minnows playing in the shallows. Orange and black orioles, the first I’d seen in Indiana, darted past. A heron eyed us, unperturbed.
Meanwhile, my husband paddled and paddled. And paddled.
I could handle that. Why hadn’t he told me kayaking was so wonderful?
However, the troublemaker wind kicked up bigger waves.
This might prove a little more challenging than your office carpet.
Waves morphed into whitecaps. Whitecaps on a central Indiana lake?
My stomach plummeted. Waves slapped us ever closer to an island’s rough shoreline.
Hubby dug in, and we edged toward our bay, where the wind couldn’t bully our boat. Finally, we reached it.
Will I ever kayak on the sea?
Only if anesthetized.
More kayak trips on Indiana lakes and rivers? My stomach votes no.
But this landlubber votes yes … even when she’ll have to paddle.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever changed your mind about your husband’s favorite pastime?
Some compare a writer’s life to a monk’s: starved, withdrawn from the speaking/smiling world and — like author Annie Dillard — incarcerated in a closet-like room decorated only with a picture she drew of a cow pasture.
I’ve experienced hermit weeks, although starvation doesn’t enter into the equation. Because I can’t draw cows or anything else, I allow myself a window.
I’ve also holed up in libraries, more exciting than most imagine. Take the Notre Dame library, where I did research for a biography of St. Augustine. Entering the skyscraper bearing its gigantic “Christ the Teacher” mural (known to football fans as “Touchdown Jesus”), I dared not speak to anyone, as even janitors appeared to be Fulbright Scholars.
I fought with a computer catalogue, then hunted for an elevator, which I finally rode to the philosophy and religion department on the 14th floor. Encountering a locked door, I rapped on it.
I banged until my fists hurt.
Ditto. I’d spent forty-five minutes for nothing?
A brave aide on the elevator ride down asked if he could help.
“The philosophy and religion department is locked,” I griped.
“The philosophy and religion department is on the 13th floor. Father Hesburgh lives on the 14th.”
Taking a break from libraries, I traveled to story settings. Non-writers assume a publisher arranges free, first-class flights to exotic spots with four-star hotels. Instead, halfway to Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, I stayed at my daughter’s. Having been hugged, mugged and slimed by three sweet grandkids, a dog and a cat, I slept on a sofa. Eat your heart out, Karen Kingsbury.
Afterward, I drove to the enormous cave on the Ohio River where, during the early 1800s, enterprising pirates ran a tavern. They lured flatboat pioneers with “Last chance for a hot meal and mug o’ grog before the Mississip, matey!”
“Guests,” however, ended up at the bottom of the Ohio.
Climbing alone around the cave’s mottled walls, I listened to dead voices while the I-don’t-know-nothin’ river flowed past.
Maybe the Notre Dame library wasn’t scary, after all.
Many of my stories, though, take place in pleasant places:
- I’ve watched children in Peru, Indiana, defy gravity, homework and other laws of the universe by participating in their annual Youth Circus.
- I’ve visited all 31 covered bridges in Parke County, Indiana.
- I’ve ridden in an Amish buggy whose GPS consisted of the horse’s memory.
- I’ve traveled through Door County, Wisconsin, researching that Martha’s-Vineyard-of-the-Midwest setting, including exactly how many yummy cherries are used in their famous Door County sundaes.
Currently, I’m staying close to home. But not for long, because we writers are a brave, daring breed.
Maybe I should set my next story in Hawaii.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: If you were (are) a writer, where would you place your story?
Decades later, I decided to attend one. Not just any circus. This one starred kids — Little Leaguers, 4-H ribbon winners, teen hamburger flippers — who reside in a town nestled among cornfields.
I’d known about the Peru, Indiana, Amateur Youth Circus all my life, but never went. Research for a novel sent me to this circus’s spring practice.
I peeked out. No more unicycles. No one swallowing swords. Just everyday children carrying gym bags. I followed them inside.
Adults clustered on bleachers, talking and helping kids with homework. A gold-scrolled wagon — the concession stand — emitted a fragrance of hot, buttered popcorn. Research can be wonderful.
Above, adults climbed webs of ropes resembling the work of overachieving spiders. Below, teens and children hauled equipment without once mentioning child labor laws.
A herd of little kids wearing leotards lined up to turn “somersaults” — mostly belly flops. But they didn’t quit.
Neither did grade-school jugglers practicing with Hacky Sacks®. The “old guys,” who had shaved maybe once, flipped clubs under legs and high in the air, missing most of the people climbing around the ceiling.
I greatly admired the jugglers. From afar.
When more kids hung from the ceiling than clothes in my closet, I white-knuckled my seat. Children swung on trapezes and spun on cables. One teen girl shinnied up another walking a wire 10 feet above the floor. The walker shuddered. The long pole she carried shuddered. I shuddered.
But the walker regained her balance. The climber slowly rose above the walker’s shoulders, legs shaking — then dropped.
I nearly swallowed my grandma fist.
The climber fell into a net. She bounced nonchalantly then dismounted.
A few more practices, and the paramedics and I were on a first-name basis.
Did they ever. No belly flops for the little tumblers. They somersaulted and cartwheeled. Bigger children soared above trampolines and flipped friends onto each others’ shoulders. Performers balanced on bicycles, unicycles, enormous sparkly balls. They hung from hoops, rings and trapezes. Some spun, hanging by ankles, necks and teeth. The jugglers tossed fiery clubs. We watched high wire walkers perform a seven-girl pyramid act.
My buds, the paramedics, stood by.
I didn’t faint once. And I couldn’t wait until the next July.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What are your favorite circus memories?
I live in Indiana, where longstanding time change gripes have solidified into a Hoosier tradition. A child during the 1960s, I recall debates: Should the Eastern Time Zone stop at the Ohio or Illinois border? In the middle of Indiana?
When the time changed, I was dragged out of bed and taken to church or school when I’d rather sleep. But I endured those indignities daily, so why the brouhaha? Neither “springing forward” nor “falling back” made sense. Both sounded dangerous, possibly resulting in scraped knees and Mercurochrome, an orange antiseptic (now rarely used) that stung worse than any injury.
Early controversy centered on urban versus agricultural concerns. Some farmers believed Daylight Saving Time undermined cows’ health and confused chickens. Extended morning darkness, they claimed — the farmers, not the chickens — would make their children lazy. Long summer evenings would encourage kids to party late like decadent city cousins.
As a teen, I reconsidered time changes. Maybe my parents would miscalculate my curfew?
No, they were pastors. Congregation members, upon finding an empty church, might bang on the parsonage door early or arrive only to hear the last amen, but my folks always got it right.
Finally, in 1972, lawmakers established a mostly Eastern plan, with no Daylight Saving. Everyone carried slide rules to calculate the timing of television programs and events in neighboring states. We and our chickens were content. Cows never missed church or favorite sitcoms. We Hoosiers, along with the independent-thinking citizens of Arizona, thumbed our noses at the rest of the country.
Until 2005, when Daylight Saving Time, in the name of energy conservation and business, became law. My children and their spouses endured a nightly barrage of theological questions: Why does God want us to go to bed when it’s light outside? God made the sun. Why isn’t it working right? Where does God keep all that daylight He saves?
Excellent questions, especially the last concept. Did you save any daylight last summer? Me, neither. If only I could have deposited the daily 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. sunshine into a rainy-day account, accumulating enough interest to brighten March.
Perhaps daylight can be preserved like pickles. We could offer jars of daylight to relatives who threaten to stay extra because “it’s too dark to start home.”
Politicians, so good at passing bills, would you also mandate the best method whereby we can save summer daylight?
Until then, I, like thousands of other Hoosiers, (yawn) will keep our semi-annual griping tradition alive and well.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you a Daylight Saving fan? Why or why not?
OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Oh, my God, during March Madness, I don a helmet. With ear plugs. You made my husband, whose signature is sanity, who keeps brown socks in one drawer and black in another. Yet he succumbs to basketball psychosis. OMG, bring healing. But please, not until April 6. (Go, Hoosiers!)