Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Rendezvous with the Rain

“Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day!”

Some preschoolers let weather spoil play-outside plans. But one warm, rainy spring day 60 years ago, my brother Ned and I begged to play outdoors. Mom, seeing no lightning — and desperate for peace — dressed us in bathing suits she’d sewed. Mine was the most beautiful suit in the world, with ruffles on the rear.

At the neighboring playground, we danced through God’s sprinkler system. Ned and I soared on swings, welcoming rain’s laughing pitter-patter. We experienced the joy of mud, chocolate-brownie-batter stuff we smeared on the merry-go-round and watched the rain scrub clean. We worried less about our own state. Mom almost locked us out.

Later, having sworn off mud baths, I still loved awakening to rain rhythms plunking on the roof. I sometimes avoided sibling anarchy with an early morning walk in the rain. At 10, I didn’t run outside in a homemade bathing suit with a ruffled butt. Instead, I ducked raindrops until I found an umbrella under the swing set, where my brothers had conducted parachute jumps.

I strolled along wet, black roads where iridescent oil jewels gleamed. Silence ruled the slumbering village’s lush lawns and rainbow flowers. I breathed newly washed air and listened to raindrops skittering across my umbrella. Sometimes I talked to God. Sometimes neither of us said anything. I counted it a major triumph to return before my family awoke. We had managed this secret rendezvous, the rain and I.

During young adulthood, love often turns to hate. I attended a college under a huge rain cloud with a permanent “on” switch. I spent a bundle on umbrellas because dastardly thieves stole the hundred I forgot in cafeterias.

Noah floods with 30,000 gloomy students wielding 30,000 umbrellas didn’t charm me like my childhood walks. Elevators, where we absorbed each other’s wet-dog fragrances, became danger zones. When the film, Singin’ in the Rain, was shown on campus, the student body flew to California and staged a sit-in at Gene Kelly’s house.

Now an (ahem!) mature adult, I’ve shed youthful habits. I don’t lose umbrellas in cafeterias because I am the cafeteria. Loading groceries into my car amid a deluge, I gnash my teeth and weep.

Yet even on this dreary April day, rain calls to me.

I probably won’t play in the mud. Nor will I wear a bathing suit with ruffles on the rear. But before the nearby school erupts at three, I grab my umbrella.

I know where deep puddles hide. Where wet tulips and daffodils will listen to quiet, spring songs in silence.

I know the perfect route for my rendezvous with the rain.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you love a rainy day?

Classic Post: Loony the Lamb

This post first appeared on April 12, 2017.

For years, I celebrated holidays by directing church musicals. One fateful Easter, I chose Watch the Lamb, which focused on Jesus as the Lamb of God. A live lamb would make the ancient story come alive.

During rehearsals, the cast greeted our lamb with enthusiasm.

Church janitors did not. “Do something before that animal pees all over — or worse.”

Why hadn’t I considered this minor complication? Especially as the lamb made entrances down different aisles.

Most Passover lambs in 30 A.D. did not wear Pampers®.

What other option existed?

God provided the perfect solution: we would cover the stage and church aisles with the burlap-like backside of my recently discarded carpet.

However, God didn’t send angels to cut, arrange and duct tape the carpet throughout the sanctuary. After two unspiritual, aching-knee days, all my bases were covered. No worries now, right?

Wrong.

Loony the Lamb had his own ideas about entrances and exits. A hay bale helped keep him quiet, but for obvious reasons, we avoided feeding him too much.

The 60-member cast’s noise made Loony more nervous than your Aunt Nellie. Kids petted him without mercy. Bright lights and heat caused him to hyperventilate. During dress rehearsal, Loony the Lamb collapsed onstage in a wooly, quivering heap.

Watch the Lamb? No audience would want to watch this.

Two animal lovers carried the prostrate lamb outside while we prayed — and Loony recovered. One guy built a pen outside the stage door where our prima donna cropped grass between scenes. Visiting hours were restricted, with no autographs. We did everything but paint a star on Loony’s gate.

Thankfully, he showed no new signs of cardiac arrest. His brassy baaaaa erupted only once during performances — during solemn prayer after the crucifixion.

Our ingenious actors shifted and blocked escape routes, all the while looking very holy.

One child earned my special appreciation: “Loony was peein’ on my foot the whole time Jesus was on the cross, but I didn’t say nothin’.”

Even after Loony returned home, I couldn’t shake off sheep. Scriptures about lambs leaped from the Bible’s pages. Jesus frequently called his followers His sheep. After Watch the Lamb, I figured He didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Nevertheless, the King of Heaven volunteered to take on the title “Lamb of God.” It meant daily life with stupid sheep and deadly encounters with wolves in sheep’s clothing. What God in His right mind would do that?

Only a King who loves confused, clueless sheep more than His own life.

Even one dithery pageant director named Rachael — which, BTW, means “lamb.”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever participated in a pageant/play that taught you more than you expected?

Classic Post: Dandelion Treasure

This post first appeared on March 16, 2016.

As I walk past our nearby elementary school, I search for the first fuzzy yellow dandelions. Although I want them out of my yard, deep in my grown-up heart, I still like them.

As a six-year-old, I heard God sprinkled dandelions on lawns like manna. Sometimes, He turned them to gold during the night. The financial possibilities made it worth a try.

The gold coin story did not pan out, but I still welcomed dandelions. Softer than my baby brother’s hair, they dotted the gray-brown Indiana landscape, reminding me better than any catechism that God loves color.

I showered my mother with bouquets. She never turned them down.

One evening Mama surprised my siblings and me. We would pick dandelions for supper! I did not realize they were good to eat. Or that our old refrigerator was empty. Mama acted as if we were going on a picnic.

“These look good.” She bent and nipped off leaves.

Grown-ups rarely made sense. “Aren’t we going to eat the flowers?”

“No. Some people make wine with them, but we’re eating just the greens.”

“Can’t we make wine?”

Mama’s eyebrows rose. “Probably not a good idea.”

My pastor father’s congregation might not take kindly to a bootleg wine-making operation in the church basement.

My seven-year-old brother grabbed the big greens first.

“Thank you.” Mama shook dirt from our offerings. “But little ones are best.”

Ha! My spindly greens topped his!

I asked, “What do cooked dandelions taste like?”

“Spinach.”

I’d never eaten spinach. But on TV, Popeye’s spinach helped him clobber the bad guys!

Maybe dandelions possessed the same magic. I insisted on a big bowl for supper. Muscles would pop out on my skinny arms. I would teach Kevin, the mouthy kid across the alley, some manners!

I took my first bite.

Maybe we should have made wine.

Though I gulped several spoonfuls, I didn’t hear Popeye’s happy music. My arms still looked like plucked chicken wings. Maybe if the dandelions had come from a can instead of the churchyard, the spell might have worked.

Decades later, dandelion greens, no longer a dubious alternative to going hungry, are chopped, pickled and curried in hundreds of international recipes.

I take home the fresh, green pile I’ve gathered. When I find the right recipe, I’ll dine on four-star fare for lunch. My personal skeptic insists I’ll be eating weeds. Ignoring her, I search the Internet for recipes.

Who knows? Chopped in my repent-after-the-holidays salad, dandelions might make me as skinny as Olive Oyl.

Fat chance.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you have a favorite dandelion recipe?

Classic Post: March Magic

This post first appeared on March 9, 2016.

Every year, winter-weary people wonder why God didn’t ban March long ago. March lasts for years in the Midwest.

Still, we survive, even thrive. Why?

Two words: tourney time.

Outsiders term our annual basketball obsession “March Madness.” We call it “March Magic.”

Six decades ago, I experienced my first taste of it in a rural elementary gymnasium packed to the rafters. The fans amazed me more than the skinny eighth-grade team. Upstanding grown-ups shrieked from bleachers like outraged crows. Teachers popped up and down, much more fun at games than in the classroom! At halftime, I exchanged my nickel for Beech-Nut Fruit Stripe gum. I chewed all five flavors at once.

None of these, however, compared with the games’ true marvel: referees. A bleat of their whistles, and players and fans alike stopped in their tracks. Even our school principal, a first cousin of God, stood at attention.

One referee power outshone them all: with upraised fingers, these omnipotent beings could change the scoreboard.

Though I tried to “score” points for my team, the Taylorsville Bears, holding up two fingers, I didn’t possess the magic.

Gradually, my awe of the game outgrew my wonder at the referees. Their movements paled compared to the raw poetry of farm kids running, guarding, shooting a ball into a basket with awkward grace.

One year, our center, a six-foot reincarnation of James Dean, kept my eye all season. With the rest of the lovestruck cheer block, I shrieked, “2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate? David!” The pretty cheerleaders definitely appreciated David more than the coach.

That year, when county tourney time arrived, the Taylorsville Bears were the team to beat.

In the early afternoon, Taylorsville defeated Wayne. Our evil archrivals, Rock Creek, pounded on Petersville. Anyone who has experienced small-town basketball can write the script that evening: the hats-off-hands-over-hearts moment of thin civility during the national anthem. The Coliseum roar of a crowd segregated by school colors. The wild choreography of young bodies driving, diving, shooting the basketball. The blast of songs by a Bobble-headed band. The final screams of winners, accompanied by popcorn confetti as fans stormed the court.

Of course, we won. Do you think I’d write this if Rock Creek had beat us?

March Magic persists, yet consolidation and categorization have changed sports scenery.  The sacred barn-like 1920s gymnasium, where I watched my first tourney game, disappeared years ago. Fruit Stripe gum can be ordered on the Internet — for more than a nickel.

While I still love basketball, I don’t get carried away. When March Magic tugs at me, I wouldn’t think of trying to up my team’s score by raising two fingers.

Now I raise three.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you give in to March Madness? Or, like this little soccer fan, do you invest your sports craziness elsewhere?

I Flunked Euchre

I was born and raised in Indiana, the heart of the “Euchre Belt.” Along with understanding all things basketball and eating dinner plate-sized tenderloin sandwiches, I learned how to play euchre, right?

Wrong.

My father, a card-shark-turned-pastor, nixed cards. Even Old Maid made him uneasy. While friends learned to play euchre and that favorite pastime of the devil, poker, I grew up calling clubs “clovers.”

Instead, our default family activity consisted of singing around the piano.

Once, at an Indiana University summer music camp for high schoolers, I sowed the wildest of oats. My sort-of boyfriend, who also attended, volunteered to teach me euchre. He became my partner.

By evening’s end, he was crying. Why, I didn’t know. The clover issue bothered him. Also, I considered spades hearts too — pointy black hearts. He took that personally.

The relationship crashed.

Dad was right. Playing cards messed up your life.

Then, I met my dream guy: taller than me, with bigger feet and a cute smile. Like me, he enjoyed school. More important, he shared my Christian faith, as did his family.

Eventually, he invited me to his grandparents’ get-together.

I was ecstatic. Until everyone started playing heathen euchre.

Worse, no piano graced their living room.

How could this relationship survive?

Especially, as I learned his parents and grandparents played euchre every week. Grandma and Grandpa even gambled (gasp!), winning penny pots and cans of applesauce and beanee weenees.

My parents would want me to be polite. When my hosts insisted on teaching me euchre, I tried to learn.

Only now do I realize the extent of their kindness. Even Grandpa didn’t pounce on me — mostly because Grandma fixed a steely eye on him when I, his partner, trumped his aces.

Fortunately, my future husband was too in love to notice when I trumped his.

However, even he tired of waiting while I pondered various plays. He joined the others in extended coffee and bathroom breaks. Grandpa built a garage.

“With practice, you’ll do fine,” my sweet, future mother-in-law assured me.

She was right. After 25 years of marriage, I could play without anyone building garages.

Of course, our children caught on to the game as preschoolers. Their children also are fast learners.

The Phillips family playing euchre.

When we play with friends, the card sharks my father warned me about, they can’t play plain euchre. No, we must bid and think high and low and upside down.

You mean the cards read the same upside down?

My euchre education continues.

Occasionally, even the friendliest card sharks lose patience with me. But the important relationship hasn’t crashed.

He still possesses a cute smile. And Hubby can sing around the piano, too.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What in-law tradition tripped (trips) you up?

A Good Breakfast

Medical experts preach, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

I’m glad to comply. Unlike those who inexplicably avoid food all morning, I awake, ready to raid the kitchen. However, nutritionists and I cross forks here. Their idea of a good breakfast and mine don’t even try to get along.

During winter, who wants to leave a cozy bed to face a slimy bowl of vitamin-fortified, fiber-rich wood chips?

In the “good old days,” Sugar Blasters or Corn Syrupies were considered positive sources of energy. Question: Who ever gave birth to children who didn’t possess enough energy? We parents and grandparents are the people who should pack in energy-generating foods. Cheese Danish or chocolate-cream-filled doughnuts present a sufficient alternative.

My mother fixed hot breakfasts during winter: eggs; breakfast meat, when we could afford it; and unlimited toast dripping warm butter and jelly. Pancakes, stacked like records above a turntable. French toast, swimming in Mom’s homemade sugar syrup. “Fill ’em up’” comprised the key concept. She did, deliciously.

When we traveled, Dad decreed inexpensive breakfast as our main meal. Breakfast buffets had not yet made an appearance during the ’60s — which explains that period’s prosperity. Had they existed, my younger brother alone would have struck fear into the hearts of restaurant owners.

We did impact one corner of the international market. Upon seeing his citrus groves stripped, our Mexican mission caretaker referred to us tree-climbing missionary kids as “la plaga norteamericana” (North American plague).

I also savored tortillas baked over a community fire, spread with wild honey. Killjoy Mom worried that the cooks washed their hands maybe once a decade. I worried because the Mexican women, concerned about my skinny frame, attempted to make me eat raw egg.

Since then, I’ve encountered other global ideas of a “good breakfast.” Morning menus in England included: fried kidneys; baked beans on toast; and black pudding, consisting of oatmeal, pork, fried onions and pork blood. Russian immigrants my parents harbored preferred beet borscht and dill pickles.

Breakfasts Dad concocted when Mom was sick — watery canned soup and last-of-the-loaf butter sandwiches — almost seem delectable.

Decades later, when Mom suffered from dementia, Dad’s culinary skills improved. When I visited, I wolfed breakfasts of sausage, eggs, biscuits, and coffee strong enough to serve itself. My doctor would have run screaming, dragging me with her, at the sight. After days of these feasts — plus Dad’s dumping extra on my plate with the command, “Finish up! It’ll just go to waste!”— I almost craved my usual wood chips.

Not. Remembering such wonderful food and my parents’ I-love-you bickering — they now keep each other company in heaven — I loved that good breakfast.

One of the best.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite breakfast?

Blind Married to the Blind

My husband and I share a history of nearsightedness.

When asked to identify letters on the blackboard, I said, “What letters?”

Steve said, “What blackboard?”

With eyeglasses, though, my physician spouse recognizes germs a mile away. However, he cannot see a kitchen range. Returning from an evening away, I find dishes symmetrically loaded in the dishwasher, kitchen gadgets polished — and spaghetti-encrusted pans on the tomato-y stove.

“Oh … I didn’t see those.”

Neither can he see leftovers unless placed on the fridge’s top shelf. Even if I attached a neon sign to food elsewhere, he’d microwave a frozen dinner or starve.

I, too, have blind spots. I can’t see fissures in his 30-year-old lunch Tupperware® containers. They were guaranteed for life. Therefore, cracks do not exist. Just eat the bologna sandwich, okay?

A friend insisted I replace the blackened wooden spoon my kid lit during a power outage.

I shrugged. “Why? It still works.”

Our challenged vision extends beyond the kitchen. He declares I never notice a sick computer’s symptoms until I bring it, clasping a lily, to him to fix.

He should talk about lilies? In my absence, Hubby doesn’t see thirsty plants, even when they email him photos of Death Valley.

Heaven help our finances if I leave the checkbook in my bag.

Hubby growls, “Which purse?” He wants a GPS reading.

I growl back, “Front closet, second shelf, tan purse with black trim, largest zippered pocket inside—”

“This bag?”

I roll my eyes. “That’s black with tan trim.”

Eventually he locates it. “I still don’t see the checkbook.”

“You’re blind. The checkbook’s in there.”

At the word “there,” his nearsighted eyes widen in terror.

Hubby associates it with minor interstate-related incidents. When he’s driving 70, and I say, “Go there” — to the exit across six lanes of traffic to the station with the cheapest gas or the last of Nevada’s two rest areas, he doesn’t see it.

But he insists I deny the existence of semitrailers.

Ha! As if, with his lousy eyesight, he would know.

Besides, I find denial very comforting.

I admit, though, that though Hubby never sees dirty pans, checkbooks or cheap gas, he can spot labels poking out of my clothes from Chicago.

You would think he’d also mention wrinkles and poundage on my face and frame. But he doesn’t.

I still see the twinkling blue eyes and cute grin of the boy I dated in high school.

Neither of us can read phone books or decipher teeny-tiny scores on TV screens. But when it comes to each other, we have perfect vision.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you and your spouse blind?

The GPS and Me

For years, drivers depended on many sources to guide them safely to destinations. They obtained free gas station maps, flappy guides destined never to fold into neat little rectangles again. Drivers asked guys at the pumps for directions, trusting honest faces and hard-working, dirty-nailed hands to point them the right direction. Or they stopped total strangers who had lived so long in a town, they forgot the names of the streets.

By default, they endured backseat drivers who dispensed a continual stream of advice.

Today’s drivers aren’t content with these tried-and-true resources that cost them nothing but their sanity. Instead, they pay for a Global Positioning System, or GPS — and regard it as God’s Positioning System.

Once, I traveled with a friend who depends on Lavinia, her GPS, for road directions, restaurant locations and tax advice. Like most of her species, Lavinia spoke with a civilized British accent. However, she appeared bipolar. Although 26 lanes of semitrailers blocked our path to an off-ramp, she repeated “Exit!” until we climbed over them.

She often insisted we turn onto airport runways. Occasionally, we encountered a road that in Lavinia’s mind did not exist, resulting in a panicked chorus of “recalculating … recalculating … recalculating!” accompanied by fits of screaming. Not unlike me the week before Christmas.

I offered Lavinia my estrogen, but she refused.

If only she possessed a more pleasant personality. I, like other directionally challenged people, might prefer a Mr. Rogers GPS.

MR. ROGERS: It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood! I like you just the way you are.

ME: Thanks, Mr. Rogers. Can you help me find the BMV?

MR. ROGERS: That’s a tough one. But you can do anything, if you set your mind to it. Let’s turn right. Can you show me your right hand?”

ME: (raising both) I’m not sure.

MR. ROGERS: Can you count the number of smashed cars?

ME: No, but I can count the cars with flashing lights: one, two, three. …

MR. ROGERS: You’re so special.

Like other low-techies, I wonder if current generations soon won’t be able to find their bathrooms without a GPS. Do we ever stop to think global positioning systems find their locations per satellites — which line up their calculations with millions-of-light-years-away quasars and giant black holes?

Sorry, Lavinia. I know you have the best intentions in the universe.

But I can find black holes all by myself.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Would you rather ask directions or depend on a GPS?

Once Upon a Blizzard

This post first appeared on January 13, 2016.

We Midwesterners share a rich heritage of blizzard stories. Deprived tropics dwellers can’t appreciate our anticipation when The Weather Channel threatens wild winds, arctic cold and snow up the wazoo. Nor do they understand the joy of swapping lies — er, stories — of bravery amid Snowmageddon. A lifetime Hoosier, I have plenty to share.

A preschooler during my first blizzard, I recall my mother’s positive thinking. Despite three days in a two-room apartment with three little ones, she described the trees as “chocolate with white icing.” The Frosty we built resembled a malnourished alien, but we waved at him from our window. It seemed a friendly blizzard.

The second blizzard wasn’t. Winds howled like wolves, savaging electricity for several days. Cupboards emptied. Fortunately, shivering neighbors brought groceries when they came to enjoy our gas heat. Thirteen shared our three-bedroom, one-bathroom house. Survivor had nothing on us.

But we nine kids — playing infinite games of Monopoly, Candy Land, and the unofficial but essential Freak the Grown-ups — considered it fun. Our parents, with extended therapy and medication, finally recovered.

A young married couple when the Big One hit in 1978, our car refused to navigate three-foot drifts. My medical student husband hiked to a police station, catching a ride to a hospital. For three days, he, another student, and a young resident physician — aided by stranded visitors — cared for little patients on a pediatric wing.

Meanwhile, I baked bread. A nearby fellow medical student wife, whose husband also was missing in action, helped eat it. Walking home, I foundered in a sea of snow-covered landmarks. Only a faint traffic signal in ghostly darkness sent me the right direction. Then a tall shadow blocked my way.

Gulp. The only rapist crazy enough to be out in this?

“How’s it goin’?” he rasped.

“F-f-fine.” I squeaked.

He passed by. I slogged home. When the snow finally stopped, my husband appeared, fell over like a tree and slept.

Not content with that harrowing weather, we moved north near South Bend, Indiana, where blizzard stories abound even more than blizzards. Babies and emergencies ignored storm warnings, expecting my doctor husband to show up. How rude.

School snow days brought hungry hoards incapable of studying algebra, but well able to conduct snow wars outside our house. Once, I was trapped with snow-dueling middle schoolers, teens armed with boom boxes, and soon-to-be-separated college sweethearts — along with remodelers who braved the storm to sledgehammer walls.

Blizzard days two decades later prove far less traumatic, but can stop our lives cold. Yet even if I must search for leftover Christmas candles to light my longhand efforts, I’ll do my usual January thing: tell blizzard stories.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite Snowmageddon tale?

Breakfast with My Brother

Me at 16 with my brothers, circa 1969.

I measure the distance between extended family in states rather than miles. The lone exception, my brother Ned, lives in another part of Indiana.

A year apart, we played together like twins until I started school, where he acknowledged my existence only by a raised eyebrow.

Fortunately, he no longer regards sisters as threats to his manhood. We phone occasionally, but not often enough. I recall several years ago when we met halfway between our homes for breakfast.

We chose a mom-and-pop establishment, where we could indulge in illegal eggs over easy, crispy bacon and infinite cups of curl-your-hair coffee. Or the mortal sin of biscuits with gravy.

Entering, I saw no sign of Ned. As I walked toward a vinyl booth, I expected — and received — the who-are-you-stranger? once-over.

Homeland Security should catch onto this resource, one that could revolutionize national safety procedures. We don’t need metal detectors or X-rays. If the government would pay a tableful of these locals to drink coffee at security points, no terrorist in his right mind would try to get past their scrutiny.

Born and raised in rural Indiana, I knew I’d broken the rules. No woman eats breakfast alone in a strange town. As a sweet-faced waitress brought me blessed coffee, I pulled out my Bible and read while I waited. Eye-lasers clicked off one by one. Their owners swiveled back to their breakfasts. They gave Congress and the weather their morning cussing and analyzed high school basketball with an expertise that would put ESPN out of business.

Until my brother walked in. Immediately, the force field returned. As Ned headed toward my booth, question marks formed in the air, visible as if smokers had blown them.

“Good to see ya, Sis!” Ned trumpeted. He knew the rules, too.

The diners returned to their vivisection of basketball referees, as the waitress took our order. She brought us waffles, eggs and ham. Biscuits and gravy.

With bowed heads, we asked God to bless the cholesterol. Our words filled and warmed us as much as the steaming, delicious food. We solved our kids’ problems (if they would just listen!). We cheered the utter perfection of our grandchildren.

All too soon, our separate worlds called to us. We promised to connect sooner next time.

Before we separated, I demanded a hug, just to give the town conversation material for the next few weeks.

Ned’s eyebrow went up. But the hug happened.

It can’t happen today, in 2020.

But after this blasted COVID crisis ends, I’ll collect every one of those hugs that have piled up in the meantime.

Even if he raises the other eyebrow.

Image by Adina Voicu from Pixabay.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Whom do you want to hug post-COVID?