You have to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.
Six-foot-four-inch Honest Abe, the tallest U.S. president, did his own growing quite well. Wearing a stovepipe hat, he stood almost seven feet.
While growing to only five feet, nine inches, I felt like a seven-footer during middle school. Frequently stuck in the back row with the tallest boys, I sneaked Mom’s coffee, hoping it would stunt my growth. Instead, long legs, arms and feet tangled with every move — especially around the aforementioned boys. After a spectacular tumble down school stairs, I hid in the girls’ restroom for a week.
My grandfathers weren’t tall. My mom took after Grandpa, who’d favored his diminutive mother, Diadema.
Why couldn’t I have inherited those genes?
Instead, my stature mirrored my father’s. As a child, I marveled at the distance to the floor when Daddy carried me.
But my adolescent self hoped I wouldn’t reach six feet too. Fortunately, many boys experienced growth spurts during high school. Being stuck in the back row then wasn’t a bad thing at all.
One caught my eye. That special tall guy and I eventually married and produced one tall son and two daughters a little shorter than I.
Fortunately, rulers don’t rule our lives. Five-foot Dolly Parton once said, “I walk tall. I got a tall attitude.”
My caring, confident daughters and powerful mother, who fit under my armpit, would agree.
Whether their size or that of current female Guinness World Record holder, seven-foot Rumeysa Gelgi from Turkey, we don’t have to measure ourselves in feet and inches. We can grow faith that towers over insecurity and fear.
Though tall, my gawky 21-year-old dad chose Psalm 61:2 as his Bible college theme: “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”
Like Honest Abe, we all have to do our own growing, but we can look to Someone who, even without a stovepipe hat, stands much bigger. Much better. He wants to carry us when we’re too small to walk. He longs to reassure us when, with growing pains, we take tumbles. Whether we’re stuck in the back row or shaking in our shoes in the front …
He wants to stand beside us.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How can you grow a tall attitude?
My daughter once wished for a different birthday month. I referred her to God for further discussion.
I see her point. August boasts no holidays — not even a fake holiday like St. Patrick’s Day. Nobody parties on the eve of August 1, as in January.
The hotter the weather, the more we chill. Dressing up is wearing matched right and left flip-flops.
Still, a tiny tadpole of awareness wiggles into our days.
It’s August. Something’s different.
Outdoor projects delayed till warm weather now are postponed till fall. Yards need extreme makeovers, but we’re so sick of yard work, we pay 4-Hers to release goats on our premises.
August presents an end-of-summer reality check. I purchased a “miracle” swimsuit in May. Now I realize the only miracle is that I paid big bucks for it.
August affects mothers strangely. Kids talk Mom into buying cool new backpacks, though 23 uncool backpacks languish at home. Mothers also obsess about changes in schedules: “Go to bed now so you’ll be ready when school starts.” My mother did this. As of August 1, all five of us went to bed at 4:00 p.m.
Even the sun listens to Mom and retires earlier in August. Yet during daytime, it unfurls golden rays as if leading an everlasting summer parade. Eating watermelon in the backyard, we experience a different kind of reality check: It’s been a great summer.
By August, every able-bodied Midwesterner has ridden a Ferris wheel and consumed a warm, crisp elephant ear.
We’re recovering from that gathering of DNA-related strangers known as a family reunion, when we rendezvoused with cousins who long ago sneaked into drive-ins with us. We kissed baby kin’s brand-new cheeks and gave grandmas and grandpas big hugs.
In August, homeowners stop vying for the Yard of the Year. Instead, we concede the grand champion ribbon to God for His spectacular pastures of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and Sweet Williams.
He treats us to evening concerts by cicada choirs. Fireflies, now veteran presenters, perform spectacular light shows at dusk with few technical glitches.
Whether we own farms or only farmers’ tans, the cornucopia of gardens, tasseled cornfields and leafy rows of soybeans reassure us: After harvest, we’ll celebrate with plenty of food on our tables.
All during August — the not-so-special month.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What do you like best about August?
Some welcomed 2023 with the same enthusiasm as author Jerry Spinelli: “I love beginnings. If I were in charge of calendars, every day would be January 1.”
Contrariwise, author Roald Dahl would “remove January from the calendar altogether and have an extra July instead.”
Thankfully, neither works for a calendar company. But their clash illustrates typical debate.
My highly scientific poll, based on Walmart eavesdropping, suggests that in January, most shoppers wilt like post-Christmas poinsettias.
Snow-lovers gripe because The Weather Channel sent only flurries. Snow-haters grouse because blizzards lurk behind every cloud. Kids hate January because they return to school. Babies, imprisoned in snowsuits Grandma gave for Christmas, raise loud protests.
Besides, everyone’s broke.
We’re all on diets.
Many people really hate January.
My mother, a pastor’s wife, loved it. Her Christmas responsibilities ranged from distributing food baskets to ensuring no shepherd in her pageant picked his nose. Plus, we children assumed Mom would make Christmas dreams come true … without money.
Though she loved Jesus supremely, Mom thanked Him when His birthday party was done.
I, too, savor January’s serenity. Time for unhurried worship of the Christ who dared enter our crazy world. A hot-soup-homemade-bread aura helps us settle down and settle in to savor good books. For Hoosier authors, January’s excellent writing weather. (How do unlucky novelists in the Bahamas finish anything?)
Mom and I have passed January preferences to my Michigan grandson. He, however, loves shrieking forays down the highest sledding hills.
My husband and other sports fans welcome January because they wallow in basketball. Mourn losses. Decimate January peace with insane celebrations.
January also gave the world distinguished citizens: Martin Luther King, Benjamin Franklin and Joan of Arc. Betty White, James Earl Jones, Elvis and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Hopefully, their birthday presents weren’t wrapped in leftover Christmas paper.
If this January sends snow, I’ll welcome snowflake kisses. Swish snow angels. Sled with my grandson, shrieking all the way down, “Jesus … he-e-e-elp!”
Then do it again.
Sorry, Roald Dahl. I’ll never vote these days off the calendar.
John Steinbeck reminds us: “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”
Though, Charles Spurgeon offers even better advice: “Let January open with joy in the Lord.”
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Why do you like or dislike January?
Once upon a time, a grandma pondered how to bond with her teen grandchildren. Neither she nor Grandpa were into Super Smash Bros.™ or Korean rap groups.
Then Grandma envisioned a blue-sky, summer day, when they would pick strawberries together. Afterward, she and Grandpa would reward their darlings with lunch out. Then Grandma would bake the perfect strawberry pie for dessert. The grateful grandchildren would visit every week forever.
Driving to their home on the blue-sky day, Grandpa said, “You think they’re awake?”
“Of course,” said Grandma. Privately, she wondered how many times they’d hit snooze.
Whoa! Their granddaughter immediately opened the door. Her brothers, also fully dressed, stood behind her. All were silent, eyes shut.
On the way, Grandpa whispered, “Is this the Morning of the Living Dead?”
In the enormous Yuppie U-Pick patch, berries looked as if they had been polished. Clumps of pickers in designer clothing dotted the pristine landscape.
A lifelong addiction to fresh fruit blinded Grandma to prices. Un-bedazzled Grandpa, however, emphasized picking limited amounts — unless they wanted to spend the grandkids’ college fund.
To the grandparents’ delight, the Living Dead picked like the hardworking kids they were. Despite steamy heat, boxes filled quickly. They talked and smiled. When Grandma was funny, they chuckled.
Eventually, though, Grandma heard subtle hints like: “Um, this box is full,” and “I’ve shriveled into jerky.”
Hadn’t they ever heard of strawberry fields forever?
Nevertheless, if she wanted a happy-ever-after, they’d have to quit.
Grandma helped organize the exit: “Kids, you carry the 70 pounds of strawberries. I’ll carry your water bottles.”
However, she forgot hers and searched the patch, “I think it was this row — the one with the strawberries.” Meanwhile, the teens suffered sunburn, and Grandpa forked over their college fund.
The reward lunch took place at a restaurant run by sloths.
Weary Grandma cheated by buying store-bought crusts, something no respectable storybook grandma would do. She found an easy recipe on whats-an-oven.com.
The pie’s juices overflowed, and clouds of smoke billowed throughout the house. Would the neighbors call the fire department?
Having thrown open windows to suck in oxygen, everyone sat down to soupy pie with crust hard as a sidewalk. Not a storybook ending.
Grandpa whispered, “Oh, well. If they visited every week, we’d have to clean the house and be good role models.”
Before they left, though, Grandma and Grandpa received over-the-top hugs.
Who could wish for a sweeter happy-ever-after than that?
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have your storybook plans ever gone up in smoke?
During the COVID shutdown, Hubby and I discovered weird vandals had swathed our garage light with dead tiger lily leaves.
“You never know how quarantine boredom will affect some people,” he said.
Eventually, we discovered Courtney, a robin, wasn’t bored. She was constructing a nest.
She and Jason, her mate, must have flunked Nestbuilding 101. Their shapeless leaf pile dangled halfway to the ground.
No eggs or nestlings fell. Still, we felt sorry for the hardworking couple. Hopefully, they’d consult a new architect before trying that blueprint again.
“Looks like we hung shrunken heads on the garage,” I observed.
Eventually, the robins’ mess toppled.
Instead, Courtney and Jason built another amorphous mound of lily leaves, topped by a tipsy nest.
We held our breath as Courtney settled in. Don’t lean to the right! Or left! No heavy lifting. Raise your feet so they won’t swell!
Courtney took on a new-mama look: frazzled and frumpy, with missing feathers she’d worked into her nest. She probably couldn’t stand Jason, debonair in his neat, black-and-red suit. You did this to me!
Still, Jace babysat eggs and brought food to his grouchy spouse.
We grandparents-to-be grudgingly admitted the garage-light choice made sense. Under an overhang, the birds escaped bad weather. A perfect distance from the ground and roof, their abode protected them from interested neighborhood cats.
Those kids were smarter than we thought.
For Courtney, 14 days on the nest probably seemed like 14 years.
Then, it happened.
Hubby yelled, “Jason’s pecking at the nest!”
Our worry changed to celebration. Three tiny, wide-open beaks clamored for Daddy Jason’s tasty victual.
We did the Grandma-and-Grandpa Dance.
Unsure of their gender, we named the babies Ellie, Nellie and Belly — the last, the pushiest at dinnertime.
Their parents, making 100 trips a day to find food, didn’t care about their children’s preferences: “What, you think this is McDonald’s? Eat!”
They did. A lot.
Soon, they crowded the nest as if in the back seat of a VW Beetle. Before long, the triplets left home.
Impossible! A little sad. But even nasty viruses couldn’t banish our smiles as we witnessed that shiny, brand-new life. How glad we were that Courtney and Jason moved into our neighborhood!
Though, about that nest blueprint, kids. Maybe you should check out different ones the next time?
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have birds squatted on your property?
Who likes cleaning out refrigerators and freezers?
Not me. And especially, not mine.
But I refuse to feed my garden’s fresh veggies to whatever life forms lurk in fridge and freezer.
I review my checklist. Bucket of hot water and disinfectant. Rubber gloves. Body armor. Samurai sword. Hey, past-expiration yogurt gets testy when evicted.
I also don an apron sewn by my husband’s grandma. A gentle soul, she nevertheless fought a fierce, lifelong war against germs and dirt.
Her brave spirit pokes me with a scrub brush. “Be strong!”
I straighten, grab my sword and slowly crack the fridge’s door.
Nothing stirs, but I’ve been fooled by silence before.
I throw it open wide.
Ack! Half-filled bottles of lavender salad dressing. Pudding that resembles petri dishes. Mashed potatoes that give a whole new meaning to the term “green vegetable.”
Did something move? A-a-a-a-a-ack!
My chance of survival seems better in the garage, where I slowly open the freezer. No tentacles. I lay down my sword, though I won’t remove body armor or apron.
I summon Golden Oldies to fool my back and muscles into thinking they’re young. A rhythmic tune boogies me across the garage: “Mission Impossible.”
My Cold War almost morphs into peaceful coexistence when the song changes to the “Purple People Eater.” Will Hubby return to find nothing but my eyeglasses and piles of defrosted food? Will he weep more for my demise or the expensive loss of pot roasts?
Thankfully, the music changes to the Star Wars theme: Da, da, da-da-da da da! Retying my mighty apron, I plunge into the freezer’s alternative universe.
White, amorphous, furry-looking packages meet my eyes, their age detectable only by carbon dating. Identifiable or not, each package/container evokes a question:
Why did I shred four dozen bags of zucchini? My husband hates zucchini bread.
Do Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys grow exponential sets of giblets?
Did this single serving of tuna casserole preexist with God in the beginning?
While pondering cosmic questions, I toss out piles of mystery food, moving to the pulsating background of “You’re No Good.” “A Hard Day’s Night” demands endless elbow “Grease,” but eventually the fridge, freezer and I graduate to “Splish Splash.” We revel in unfamiliar spotlessness.
I play H-O-R-S-E with the giblets, shooting them into trash cans. Alas, in attempting a three-pointer, I hit a garbage man.
He doesn’t seem to take my poor aim personally, though he dives for the truck. It roars off to background strains of “Hey hey hey, goodbye. …”
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you done recent cleaning combat? (If not recent, I won’t tell.)
I finally stopped refusing senior discounts. (Who was I kidding?)
Now, I find it tempting to diss the present and reverence the “good old days.” One morning, a Grouchy Old Gal stared at me from the mirror. Did I really want her to stay?
Instead, I booted her out and listed things I like about 2021. Plus a few I do not miss from the past.
First, permanent press is a gift from God. My mother spent hours starching and ironing my puff-sleeved dresses, dresses I wore while emptying mud puddles. I iron now only when I can find mine. The best thing about a no-iron worldview? Though manufacturers lie that their clothes don’t require ironing, everyone pretends it’s true.
In this millennium, we enjoy a whole new excuse for playing hooky: the computers are down.
Email is cheaper, simpler and faster than snail mail. Unless the computers are down.
Microwaves, once a figment of sci-fi imaginations, have forever banished the sinking realization: “Ack! I forgot to defrost the meat!” Okay, so they sometimes produce meals the consistency of cement, with comparable nourishment. Still, speedy microwaves helped feed my skinny physician husband at all hours. They removed gunky warm-up pans from my kitchen’s décor. Nowadays, a microwave suits our lifestyle — that of college students without food service.
Few potlucks still feature 15 kinds of marshmallow-Jell-O salad.
I’ll take Susan Boyle’s singing, as opposed to Carol Channing’s, anytime. (See YouTube — another current convenience that can take us down Memory Lane, as well as make us glad we don’t live there anymore!)
Thanks to technology, we no longer miss favorite programs or movies. We need not suffer withdrawal symptoms when leaving before finding out whodunit.
Being a grandma is way more fun than being a mom.
In a related thought, little boys’ clothes today are much cuter than those in 1970. This grandma lauds that aspect of gender equality, as I have six grandsons.
In a somewhat related thought, I appreciate bicycle helmets. Seat belts. Even kids’ car seats that demand an engineering degree and an acrobat’s body to buckle.
Few people drive Pintos anymore.
Blow-dryers and curling irons have replaced the overnight torture of brush rollers and orange juice cans. Guys, if you don’t “get” the orange juice cans, ask your wives how they prettied up for Saturday night during the 1960s. Check online photos — if you dare.
Men rarely get permanents today. During the ’70s, much of the male population appeared to have been replaced by alien poodles. Wearing leisure suits. And platform shoes.
Cigarette commercials now feature cancer victims rather than cool cowboys. In restaurants, puffing and blowing occur only when your food’s too hot.
I applaud painless antiseptics that soothe cuts, as opposed to this-is-gonna-make-you-scream Mercurochrome.
Experts now assert that chocolate and coffee are good for us.
I hate to admit it, but cell phones do keep us safe on the road. Also, if not for cell phones, thousands of husbands might still be wandering Meijer’s aisles, seeking the correct brand of pickles.
No more waiting for photos to develop. No more paying for them, either.
We now realize God can say both “you” and “thee.”
Homemade, homegrown and handcrafted items — food, clothing, even coffins — have become special again.
Using an effortless stain stick beats scrubbing grass stains with an old toothbrush. Just ask my kids.
Finally, no one sings about yummy love in their tummies anymore.
That last extinction alone brightens the 2021 landscape.
My late father, who loved classical music, would have agreed.
Perhaps I inherited my outlook from Dad. He disliked many modern trends, but he also declared the “good old days” a myth. Dad plowed too many fields behind a mean mule to romanticize the past. Riding a John Deere mower was way better.
Recalling Jim Crow laws in the South — written and unwritten — he celebrated dining with both white and African-American friends without fear.
Occasionally, Dad allowed Grouchy Old Guy to stick around.
I sometimes hang out with Grouchy Old Gal.
But mostly, I celebrate life here and now.
And welcome all the senior discounts.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What don’t you miss from the “good old days,” and what are you thankful for now?
Summer trips with stops at Stuckey’s and Storybook Land. Sleeping in genuine teepees at the Woocheekoochee Warpath Motel — with a swimming pool!
A normal vacation for many kids during the 1960s.
But nobody ever accused my family of normalcy.
Any July morning, Dad might casually inform my mother he planned a family departure to visit his parents in Louisiana. At 8:00 p.m. that day.
Mom would have scorned comparison to that Wonder Woman hussy in bustier and tights, but she herself represented a true marvel. By 8:00 p.m. she had washed and packed clothes. She had canned every ripe tomato and pickle within 20 miles. Pets were exported and schedules rearranged with the decisiveness of a Fortune 500 CEO. Why Mom also cleaned our car remains a mystery. One root beer stand stop, and the station wagon again was infested with French fries, seats freshly graffitied with ketchup.
Her most amazing feat: Mom never hired a hit man to bump off Dad.
Arriving home, he flattened station wagon seats, loaded suitcases and cooler, then stacked us on top.
Dad loved all-night driving because he endured few dollar-eating, time-consuming restaurant stops. No tinkle breaks every two miles. Nothing to interrupt his love song of the open road — after children nodded off.
I often awakened with a sibling’s foot in my ear or an arm strangling me in a half nelson.
Sometimes, I awoke to discover Dad catching a few winks along an unknown highway. Waking siblings — especially the baby — was a capital crime. So, I watched in mingled hope and terror as headlights approached: hope because they lit the darkness; terror because the Hatchet Murderers of America were traveling tonight, too.
Mornings, we played tag under cedars at a Tennessee rest stop while Mom cooked bacon and eggs over a campfire. The smells alone made the all-night drive worth it.
After crossing the Mississippi River, we soon stopped outside Monroe, Louisiana. Mom extracted The Washcloth from its plastic bag to scrub us, making us smell as if we’d spent the night in a dumpster. Still, it ranked above spit and shine with The Kleenex, Mom’s substitute if she forgot The Washcloth.
Dad called Grandma from a phone booth. We all knew this dialogue by heart.
“Mama, we’re in Louisiana.”
“No, you’re not.” She’d fallen too many times for his fibs. “You ain’t left Indiana.”
“Mama! We’re just outside Monroe.”
Grandma Oglesbee, wearing the wary expression she usually did when my dad fibbed to tease her.
She didn’t buy it.
Finally, Dad admitted what Grandma had suspected all along: “The car broke down. We haven’t left home.”
“I knew it! Ya’ll think I’m soft in the head.”
His favorite part of “normal” vacation: 30 minutes later, when we pulled into Grandma’s driveway.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What vacation memory can’t you forget?
Today, little Apple lovers might expect a Macintosh laptop
on an alphabet book’s first page. In 1959, however, technology never entered my mind.
Instead, I eyed the luscious red fruit on my teacher’s desk. I focused on
bites, not bytes.
I savored the school lunch’s apple crisp — until Joey
Bump told me the topping consisted of fried ants.
Smart guy. He doubled his apple crisp intake.
Ants notwithstanding, I come from a long line of apple lovers.
Every autumn Dad bought bushels of fragrant fruit at a nearby orchard. He peeled
an apple with a surgeon’s precision, dangling the single long red curl, then sliced
it into white circles whose dark seeds God had arranged in a flower pattern. A
boy during the Depression, Dad scoured the woods for fruit — for anything — to
nourish his scrawny frame. Forever, he would regard apples as a cause for
Whenever we visited my Louisiana grandparents, Dad bought
Grandma bags of apples, fruit too expensive to frequent their black-eyed
peas/turnip greens/corn bread diet. My four siblings and I waited for Grandma
The apples vanished within seconds, never to reappear — while
we were there, anyway.
Dad often surprised Grandma, driving all night from
Indiana to visit. Once, he brought four-year-old Kenny, whom Grandma hadn’t
seen for a year. Kenny and Dad dozed in his truck until they smelled bacon’s tantalizing
fragrance. Dad’s resolve wavered. Did he dare rile his mother and risk losing a
Dad debated only a moment. Handing Kenny a bag of apples,
he pulled my brother’s cap over his eyes and sent him to Grandma’s door. Hunkering
down in the truck, Dad watched apple drama unfold.
At Kenny’s knock, Grandma appeared. “Child, what are you
doing here at this hour?” She showed no sign of recognizing Kenny. “Where’s
your mama? Your daddy?” She cast a wrathful eye at the truck.
When Kenny offered her the apples for a quarter, Grandma suffered
pangs of conscience. How could she take advantage of this baby-child?
But the bargain apples proved too much.
Grandma retrieved a quarter from her old money sock.
As she handed it to Kenny, he tilted his head back. “Hi,
Dad strode to the porch, wearing a huge grin.
Grandma laughed and cried. When her voice returned, she said
her 35-year-old son needed a good licking. How could such a bad apple turn out
to be the only preacher in the family?
Grandma hugged Kenny, then welcomed him and his prodigal
daddy, stuffing them with eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy.
But no apples. The bag already had found a new home — under
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite