Wednesday, March 23, 2011

“Overcoming the Empty Nest Syndrome or At Least Keeping it Under Control”

“Overcoming the Empty Nest Syndrome or At Least Keeping it Under Control”
Darrel Hammon


For those who are empty nesters or for those who are feeling the beginning trappings of symptoms of it, i.e., the young ones about to leave the nest, either through marriage, going off to college, or wanting to move out, I understand your pain and suffering and the feelings of loneliness. Both of our daughters have now gone. They both went off to college, and then they both married. We understand what feelings you are going through or are about to feel. The feelings are powerful; yet, they can be overcome or at least put in some perspective.

Now, some of you probably are excited to have your little chicks leave the nest. Some of you are saying “good riddance.” For most of us, however, having children ultimately leave the nest is a challenge, one that we definitely do not look forward to but know it is forthcoming. At least, it was for us.

But, thanks to some reading and contemplation and chatting about this topic, my wife and I feel that we have overcome some of these feelings and placed the others in perspective. We don’t proclaim to be completely cured of the “empty nest syndrome,” and we probably never will be. But this we know well: Having children leave the nest is part of life, and we need to prepare for it in order to cope.

Here are some thoughts/counsel/recommendations that my wife and I have adhered to or attempted to follow throughout our lives. They are not necessarily in any order or any priority.

Remember that empty nesting is part of Life—
No matter what anyone tells you, the empty nest syndrome is just a part of life. Children are born. Children grow up. Children leave your home. While it may not be that cut and dried, this is the sequence. Sometimes another sequence happens: “Children return home to live with you.” Once you understand that empty nesting is or will be a part of your life, you should begin doing things to prepare or help you overcome these potential feelings.

Establish traditions with your children—Perhaps, this is one of the most important aspects of parenting, which will ultimately create long-lasting connections between parents and children. Children need good traditions on which to fall back on. What Joanne and I have discovered is that the traditions we started with our family have become their traditions after they were married. While we want them to begin their own traditions, there is nothing wrong with them hanging on to certain traditions that are wholesome and family-honored. This sharing of traditions will connect you forever, no matter where your children end up.

Do things together with your children—No matter what they say, children do enjoy doing things with you. Just recently, Joanne and I were watching a re-run of “I Love Raymond.” Raymond hears that his brother Robert is going on a re-enactment of the civil war with his father. He assumes that his father asked Robert and feels bad that his father didn’t ask him. Finally, after some subtle badgering, the father asks Raymond to go with him. Then, he finds out that the father didn’t ask Robert to go. In the end, Raymond said to his father, “I just wanted to spend some time with you.” Now, Raymond’s father is depicted as the consummate uncaring father; yet, Raymond wanted to spend time with him. Our children are the same way. They want to spend time with us. Ironically, the times they remember most are usually the small things.

Teach your children gospel principles—In our Church, teaching your children about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is paramount to an eternal family. Thus, we spent time reading the scriptures daily. The gospel became a staple in their daily diet along with attendance at Sunday meetings and their Young Women’s program. Both of them received their Personal Progress medallions—equivalent to an Eagle Scout Award—as a result of hard work and dedication to their spiritual and personal goals. Consequently, both daughters married returned missionaries, both Eagle Scouts, in the temple of the Lord. And they are raising their families the same way they were raised. Having a spiritual base is a key ingredient, in my opinion, in having a successful and happy life.

Think of empty nesting as a new start—One way to think about empty nesting is that it can be an opportunity for a new start for you. What we discovered over the years while the girls were growing up is that we spent an inordinate amount of time with them—watching movies with them, going on vacations, attending speech and drama events, traveling to their basketball games and tennis matches, and doing a host of things with them. Sometimes when we do this, we fail to remember that we need time for ourselves. Our first responsibility, though, is helping our children grow and progress and guide them to become what they want to become. There are times that they need a bit of motivation to do a few things. When they are gone, you can think of this time as starting over or beginning something you have wanted to do. Make goals and go out and accomplish them.

Begin preparing now for empty nesting—If your children haven’t left yet but are on the cusp of leaving, now is the time to begin preparing. Read about the syndrome. Think about some of the things you can do to become better acquainted with your surroundings. The challenge usually lies with unpreparedness on our parts. Sometimes we think that it will be a lifetime before our children leave. That may be true. But the lifetime often barrages us before we know what hit us. It has always amazed me how fast our children grew up. One day, they are in 6th grade, and the next day we are registering them for college. If we are careful and set annual goals for us to accomplish, including what we are going to do after the children leave the nest, we will be a lot better off. It’s like saving money—investing a little bit each month will yield good returns later. We need to invest in ourselves for that day—for it will definitely come.

Resurrect something old and learn something new—Often, our identity and skills become subservient to the identities and skills of our children as they grow up. But your learning should never quit. When the children leave, you will probably have lots of time on your hands. You may have to resurrect a hobby or skill or learn a new hobby or skill. Today, you can learn so many new things at your local community college or even online. What about a new language? A new computer program? Is your journal caught up? What about your family history? Your own history? You may even have to dust off that old camera or buy a really nice digital camera.

Continue to date—Joanne and I are firm believers in continuing the dating process. Before we were married, for most of us, dating was fun albeit a bit intriguing. We have been counseled to never quit dating after marriage. Consequently, Joanne and I have continued to date each week. Additionally, when I was a college president, my schedule was extremely busy. We decided that we would have lunch every Thursday when I was in town. We enjoyed our times together. Sometimes, we just had a quick burger at Sonic. Sometimes, we had a nice lunch at our favorite Mexican or Chinese restaurant. The place was not necessarily important, but spending time together was the most important thing. If you are a single parent, there are many opportunities to associate with other single adults in your area. Take advantages of your community’s resources.

Keep in Contact—Once your children leave the nest, there is a tendency to believe that you will never have contact with them ever again. They leave; they are gone; and that’s that. Contrary to this belief, we have discovered the girls still want and need contact. They love to call their mother and just chat. Often, one of them is about to cook something and call their mother to talk about recipes and how to cook this or that. The calls to me usually have to do with writing a paper or asking whether they should make this decision or that one. Now, with one grandchild, we try to Google Chat once per week so we can establish a relationship with our granddaughter although we live 7.5 hours away. Families should always communicate. With technology, it has never been so easy. Nothing, though, compensates for actually seeing your children and giving them the hugs they have been craving—you have been craving. Remember, though, they have their own lives now, and we shouldn’t be intrusive in their lives.

Seek opportunities to serve—One way to eliminate the lonely feelings that often accompany the empty nest syndrome is to serve others and to extend yourself. In your community, there are innumerable ways to serve. For example, my wife volunteers at our local hospital and symphony. If you belong to a church, talk to your pastor or bishop about other ways to serve. You can write a note to someone you know or send a birthday card to family and friends. We write birthday cards to the young single adults with whom we work in our church. The next Sunday at church, these young people hightail to where we are and thank us profusely for remembering them. I think in today’s texting world, people still crave the handwritten word. Ink on the page is still an incredible thing.

Keep Smiling—Keeping your sense of humor is a key to blocking the lonely feelings from taking over. Since you have prepared for this day, you will smile—amidst the tears. Having your children leave your home is one of the biggest challenges that we can ever face. But knowing that you have taught them well and remembering all of the fun times with them should bring a smile to your face. When we dropped our oldest off at college, we all started crying as we left the parking lot as we watched her disappear and kept crying out to the freeway. But we hadn’t been gone for more than ten minutes, when she called and told us that she loved us. Yes, the tears were there, but we smiled, knowing full well, it wasn’t good bye. Dory in Finding Nemo continued to say throughout her journey, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” So, following Dory’s example, we should say to ourselves: “Just keep smiling. Just keep smiling.”

So, whether you are currently empty nesters or are facing that dilemma in the near future, remember there are ways to prepare and keep yourself rolling ever forward. Good luck!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pinball Machines: Now and Then

"Pinball Machines: Now and Then"
Darrel Hammon

I haven’t played pinball for many years. I suspect it is still around in arcades— probably more jazzed than in times past—or in places I do not or would not frequent. Some years ago, my came home and told me about a hot new game they found on someone else’s computer. I asked them what it was. Their reply: pinball.

Highway 93, that long drink of water heading north to Birch Creek, Leadore, Salmon, Idaho, and beyond, took me to my first encounter with a pinball machine. We often went to Birch Creek to fish and camp or motored further north to Salmon to visit my Uncle George and Aunt Ora who had the most wonderful POA ponies. No matter where we were going, our tradition was to stop at Blue Dome, Idaho, to pick up a pop or ice cream or on special occasions have lunch or pie.

Blue Dome served up my first taste of pinball. When I first saw the machine and watched some guy play it, I thought maybe this was something I wasn’t supposed to do. Initially, it didn’t seem proper to stand in front of clanging, pinging machine that had inappropriate pictures—or at least to my way of thinking—at the head of the machine. Besides, it filled the Blue Dome Café with a rush of noises and created a sense of uncomfortableness of us making too much noise while people sat quietly on stools.

It only took a dime to make the machine whine. My brothers and I looked at Dad who sat casually on one of the old swivel stools at the counter for his wink and nod. Receiving his approval, we pulled dimes from our pockets and shoved one into the slot. Several balls—in marble talk, they were steelies—slid into place in the right hand corner. We pulled back the spring-loaded gizmo and let the first on fly.
Instantaneously, the lights pinged and dinged and clanged as the ball bounced of the gadgets. Each direct hit caused the numbers in the counter to flip, higher and higher and sometimes more rapidly and quickly than other hits.

Initially, my oldest brother provided the flipping power. It was almost a defensive basketball stance: legs apart, crouched at the waist, arms spread apart as if some Jordonesque player strolled our way. Instead, his fingers poised around two buttons, one on each side of the machine and flipped for all they were worth, trying to keep the ball in the high ground where the prize for the dings was a larger score.

Finally, the ball made its way to the bottom where my brother used his extreme knowledge of finger dexterity to flip the ball back to the top where the dinging resumed in grandeur. But in most games, you can flip so long, and then the ball, like some green broke horse, knows to head straight for the stall and into the hole where it would not return.

Fortunately, we had about three balls left. It didn’t take us long, though, to flip our way out of balls. The clanging, dinging, pinging, clattering, and other bizarre and noisy noises could keep up so long. Soon, all the balls had found their way to an underground hole, submerged until we inserted another dime. Each of took turns, inserting shiny dimes, flipping balls to the top of the machine where we hoped our numbers would exceed those of our brothers.

Now, you don’t need shiny new dimes. With a good sound card, adequate speakers and hard drive, a big monitor, and a mouse that can click “new game,” Presto! You can be in business.

But it’s not the same as it used to be in the Blue Dome Café. Now, when I hit certain keys on the keyboard, the pseudo-clanging still reverberates, and the virtual ball still pings its way down to the flippers, now mere keys on the keyboard. Perhaps, the ambiance of an old café on the banks of Highway 93 provided a more clandestine yet authentic feeling.

Instead of air conditioning, a 17" monitor, and the ability to click “new game” anytime I want, then it was just me and the machine surrounded by swivel stools, pie stacked in the cylindrical glass palace, the Coca Cola bottle machine against the wall, the freezer full of ice cream bars, and a single pinball machine with all its glamour, lights, and dinging sounds, as I sipped orange Crush from a real glass bottle.

Friday, March 18, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes

Note: I wrote this many years ago and just found it when I was going through some old writing pieces. I had a story about a young mother who had had an incredible experience with your her young daughter. This poem emerged from that story.



From the Mouths of Babes

Darrel Hammon

“…even babes did open their mouths
and utter marvelous things…”

“How old is God?”
asked the four-year old girl
one day early in the morning.

The nurturing mother did not answer,
could not answer
but urged her sweet one to pray
on humble, bend knees.

Some time passed;
the young girl returned—
with another question:

“How long and old is infinite?”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Just keep writing those memories…

"Just keep writing those memories…"
Darrel Hammon



“Do you remember when….?”

For most of us, that line gets us to thinking about times past, both the bad and good times. Normally, the good times usually rise to the surface because most of us like to remember the good and forget about the bad. Memories are good for the soul because they help us understand who we are and the progress we have made in this life, reflect what we could have done better, understand why we did something, and re-create the old feelings of euphoria when we experienced doing what we did.

I love to listen to people tell stories of what they used to do. People who know me, know that I will ask them one simple question: “So, have you written down that experience somewhere?”

For example, just today, we had our septic tank emptied. The person doing the job was telling me about his wife’s grandmother who has wonderful stories. I asked him if he had written them down. He told me that he just remembers them. Our conversation went something like this:
I said, “You should write those down before you forget them.”
“Yeah, I know,” he answered sheepishly.

The challenge is this: We will forget parts of the stories or the entire stories themselves over time. That’s just the fact of life, of growing older, of stuffing our minds with other things, many of them irrelevant. Then, they will disappear into that great abyss we call our “forgetful brain.” Those stories are there somewhere, meshed with the several terabytes of stuff we have floating around inside our brains, but we cannot connect to them at this very moment.

So here are some ideas to help jog those memories so you can write them down with some semblance of accuracy:

Begin by thinking of your life—The first thing to do is begin thinking about and recording those memories. One of the things I did early on was to begin a list of memories. I simply listed “first grade” and then wrote a sentence or two about each experience I could remember about first grade. Then, I went to second grade, and then third, and then onto each grade. I would write just a snippet. Today, with everyone having a video camera, you may want to review those photos or those old photos you have stashed somewhere in the basement. I realize that many of you went through the “scrap book” stage and have several three-ring binders seating on your shelves. Go through those and let the pictures “talk to you” and write down what they say.

Find the snippets in the stories—Amazingly, when you go back to the snippets and really think about that experience, it is amazing how many details resurface. What I like to do is try to “re-immerse” myself into the experience and try to feel my way through, trying to remember the sights, smells, conversation, any details that will trigger other details. I then just pen the memories as they come, trying to capture as many as I can without worrying about spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. Just get the stuff flopped out onto the page.

Turn the details into stories—Once you have all of the details, begin writing the story. In essence, what you are doing is “fleshing out,” or putting some meat on, those sketchy details. What you will discover is the details will mesh quite nicely. The good part is that often some of the details you may have skipped or didn’t come to the surface during your “thinking time,” will come back because of the writing that you do.

Edit your draft—Now, that you have the story on paper, begin the editing process and fixing the challenges that may have occurred. Be sure to insert the conversation as you remember it. Conversation is such a good thing. Just remember that every speaker gets a new paragraph, no matter how short or long the conversation. Today, with word processing, you can really put the words on the page. If you are not into word processing, then write them long hand.

Share your story—I am not saying that you have publish the story although there are plenty of outlets that may publish it. The perfect place to publish is in your own “book of memories.” Plus, you send the story to your family and friends. If it specifically about a certain friend or family member, send them a copy if you feel comfortable doing it. Today, most everyone has a blog. You can publish your stories on your personal blog. They are easy to set up and get going, and the best part is that they are free. Try www.blogspot.com. That is where my blog is.

Bask in the knowledge that this memory will not be forgotten—Now, that you have carefully recorded the memory and published it somewhere, you can be assured that this memory will not be forgotten. Compliment yourself for getting this story completed, knowing full well that you have more to do.

Start another story—One down, a zillion more to go. The task of writing all of your memories can be totally and completely overwhelming. But I believe if you do it one story at a time, it will be more manageable. Plus, you will be surprised after a month or so—or even longer, depending how fast you write down your memories—how many you have completed. And they just build from there.

Finally—I am not done with all of my memories—yet—nor will I ever be finished. I suspect several still lurk somewhere between the various recesses of my brain. I just need to coax them out into the open. Plus, more and more happens each and every day. That’s why daily journal writing is such a good idea. The best part of the journey is that you will never be done, and you will never run out of memories because you are experiencing new ones every single day. The key is to follow Dory’s simple philosophy in Finding Nemo: Instead of saying “Just keep swimming….Just keep swimming…,” just repeat, “Just keep writing….Just keep writing….”

Good luck!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Parting of the Alfalfa

The Parting of the Alfalfa

At seven, I wandered from our new house
to the alfalfa field behind us, lay down,
cuddled close to the ground.
I figured everyone in heaven could see
me lie there, parting the green stems
like Moses did the Red Sea.
I even crossed over into another land,
untouched by bees, trying to find the chosen
purple flower of alfalfa.
From the yard, not even my parents
could see me swallowed up
by that great sea of green and purple.
That day clouds took shape, beyond
the white and gray, to barnyard animals
I dreamed of having, once Dad built the corrals.
Instead of concrete, noisy streets,
I had Spring Creek, the woods,
pheasants, ditch banks, crows, and magpies
crying from the Cottonwoods over by the slough,
and gurgling water, crawling down the alfalfa field,
licking up the dry dirt like the Red Sea did
as Pharaoh’s men clamored through.
And I lay there, singing praises,
soaking up the new country
I had just passed over.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Grade School Memories Stay Fresh, For Better or Worse

Grade School Memories Stay Fresh, For Better or Worse

As long as I can remember education has been an important aspect of my life and continues to be. My parents moved to the country so we could learn how they lived when they grew up, and about animals and work.

Their idea of education was the actual doing without really saying how imperative it was in their lives. I became educated about the country life without knowing I was. There is something about learning how to work by doing chores, inside and out, taking care of animals, shoveling snow for neighbors, building fence, hauling hay, picking potatoes, hoeing beets, driving potato truck, moving pipe, and doing a host of other things some people will never, ever experience.

On the academic side, my older brother and sister told me that school was fun. I watched what they were doing. They share anything I asked them. I didn’t need to go to kindergarten because my mother told me I already knew everything they were going to teach me. In essence, my older siblings showed me how great education really was.

I remember them coming home from Templeview Elementary in Idaho Falls, telling me tales of fun–how they got to color, write the alphabet, read stories about Dick and Jane and good old Spot, the mutt that used to “run and jump” almost every other page. They would bring home books to read and math assignments to do. They taught me about numbers by showing me what addition and subtraction were. It seemed easy, and I wanted to do it too. It just seemed like the thing to do.

They taught me my ABC’s and a few things about the readers they had. Probably the best thing they taught me was the fun they had at school and the field trips to the bakery, the Post Register, the fire station, and other cool places.

Then it was my turn to go to school–first grade at Lewisville Elementary, an ancient two-story rock building sitting on the edge of the “the grove,” which was comprised of dozens and dozens of huge cottonwood trees. (They tell me they have been torn down.)

My first impression was solely tears, mainly because my sister Telecia was scheduled to go to Menan Elementary as a third-grader instead of staying with me at Lewisville. I didn’t want to be alone, and my tears forced Mrs. Williamson, the principal, to change her to my school. And that was the first day. I think Telecia still resents having to stay with her little brother because after the first week I was fine. Go figure.

Mrs. Williams was my first-grade teacher. My desk was one of those with a lift off top. The seat was attached. My first impression was “Wow!” Here I was in school. For some reason, I had forgotten my crayons or mom hadn’t bought them yet. Fortunately, my first friend in first grade loaned me a brown one. Jon became one of my best friends throughout school–all because of box of Crayola crayons and the army.

Somehow I became the self-appointed leader of Mrs. Williams’ first grade army. We rode imaginary horses. We would slap our thighs, and our horses would rear their stoic heads. We then raced and pranced around the east side of the building, in and out of the swing sets, around the merry-go-round, and through the maze of girls. We were a great army.

One morning recess, we rode our horses out by the bus shop building, which was off limits to school kids. I thought it would be all right if I lined up my army against the cinder block building to discuss our next mission.

While I was busily outlining the next maneuver, a third grader came walking up to us. This third grader was different because he had on a bright orange shoulder strap and his pad of paper that he took names on.

“Hey, kid,” he said, pointing at me.

“Yes, Sir,” I returned, standing at attention. My dad had been a policeman, and I knew how to talk to law enforcement. Hopefully, I could get off with just a warning.
“Ah...did you know you aren’t supposed to be over here by the bus shop?”

“No, Sir.” The rest of the kids were a bit panicky by now. I tried to act calm.

“Well, you aren’t, so I’m going to take your name and give it to your teacher. What’s your name?” he said as he poised his pencil to write.

I had to give him my name. It was my duty to be honest. Besides, if I hadn’t, I probably would have gotten into more trouble than I already had. He began writing my name down on his new pad of paper.

By the time the third grade patrolman finished, my army had already dispersed, and I was all alone on the playground. Here I was, a first grader who had been the leader of the army, and now I stood in the middle of the playground not really knowing what would happen next. It wasn’t long, however, until I knew.

Mrs. Williams called me outside into the hall after lunch and told me I had to stay after school for one half hour. I was shattered, and tears welled up in my eyes. Whatever happened to the fun times that my older brother and sister told me about? I couldn’t even play army without running into trouble.

I went into the next room where there was a phone and dialed home. It took me forever to dial those seven digits. Mom answered it on the second ring.

“Hello?”

“Mom....” I couldn’t finish for awhile.

“What's the matter, son?”

A long pause and then, “I have to stay after school.” I don’t really remember what I said after that. Maybe Mrs. Williams took the phone and told mom the situation and what time she needed to pick me up after school. I just remember crying. My very first trouble at school–I vowed it would be my last, and it was.

It was the longest 30 minutes I remember ever spending, although I don’t remember exactly what I did. Frankly, I really don’t care.

We still played army after that, but we didn’t go close to the bus shop. We all had learned our lesson: I, the hard way, and the rest of them vicariously through me.
From that day, we all dreamed of becoming third graders so we could wear the bright orange bandalo and carry around our little pad of paper and pencil and “educate” unwary first graders who ventured beyond the school bounds.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Uncle Milt's Barn: Eye Sore or Icon

Uncle Milt's Barn: Eye Sore or Icon

It's long gone now, burned down. I do not remember the first time I saw Uncle Milt's barn. It was always just there. With three openings in the front, the barn sat on the west edge of Uncle Milt's circular yard. His house sat on the south side; the potato cellar on the northeast corner; the lambing pens and sheds on the north; the cow corrals on the northwest corner; and the granary in the middle of the yard.

Uncle Milt's barn was a huge thing that had long sloping roofs that peaked into a beak-like top that jutted out over the driveway. At one time, it had been painted red, but when I was growing up, the red had since faded into the crevices of the brown wood, long since worn by the beating snows and winds of eastern Idaho. The barn had windows on the side and one window in the front until one of my brothers threw an errant rock that shattered it instead of the back of my head.

The barn was divided into three sections, each with its own entrance. The first entrance led to where Uncle Milt milked his cows. Several cow stanchions lined the inside. Before Uncle Milt opened the back door that led to the corrals, he warned us to stand up by the front door. After he slid open the door, his huge Holstein cows rushed in, took a quick look at a couple of strange little boys in the door way, then sauntered to their appointed spots. They lowered their heads and began licking up the oat mixture that we had placed for them from rusted gallon cans.

The second entry led to a huge room. My dad said that this was the room where they would store loose hay, hauled up and in by an old Jackson Fork and derrick. Now the huge cathedral-like room was empty, except for a few rays of sunlight, mixed with dust and a couple of young boys staring toward an open window at the very top. I remember the softness of the floor of the room. Fifty plus years of hay, grain, straw, dust, manure, and who knows what else had been ground in, thus making a soft forest-like cushion.

If we stood real still and listened, the pigeons above us fluttered back and forth, perch to perch, then cooed as they sat, probably watching us, waiting for us to do something dangerous.

And we didn't disappoint them. We yelled to hear our voices echo, causing the pigeons and the sparrows to once again clamor about and across the great openness of the top of the barn. After a few moments, they settled and began again their musical cooing, wondering, I’m sure, when these humans would leave them alone to enjoy the silence and the airy barn.

Often, we walked in front of the manager and watched the cows chomp on the oats. Sometimes, they stopped, cautiously lifted their heads, and stared. The skittish ones tried to back out of the manager, only to find their heads stuck between the stanchion boards. When the shy ones did that, it was our cue to back away.

The middle section also had a loft with a ladder that led up to it. Frequently, we climbed up the ladder and played there until Uncle Milt or dad told us to come down. To me, it was scary to walk across the floor. Each board creaked, causing me to feel that I was going to fall through on top of the cows.

On most occasions when we visited, Uncle Milt let us feed the calves in a pen right next to where the cows were milked. We mixed milk in buckets that had huge nipples on the sides. As we approached the calves, they lined up to be fed. When we offered them their dinner, they latched on the white nipples and began draining the buckets, periodically head butting them as if they were their mothers' utters.

The third section of the barn was divided from the rest. In the old days, the horses spent time there after work and during the winter. Their harnesses hung on the back wall, waiting for another day to be in the hot fields around the necks of sweaty horses. The windows in this section were used as the opening to sling out manure to the pile outside where in the spring someone would haul it to the fields as fertilizer.

We did not go to this side of the barn often. Instead of horses and harnesses, it was full of odds and ends that had been stored there for years. Thick dust and pigeon droppings served as coverings for much of the stuff. My father retrieved his mother's table from the stack, spiffed it up, and placed it in our kitchen. It was big enough to comfortable sit six growing children and our parents.

Now, unlike grandmother's old table that still sits in my parents' kitchen, the barn no longer stands. Uncle Milt's cows have long since gone to the auction block or someone's freezer. After my uncle retired, he sold the farm to an area farmer. Over the years, the barn had become a safety hazard, perhaps even an eye sore. Before too long, Uncle Milt's barn, the icon that I could see from my house in the city, disappeared. And with its demise dissipated the years of history that lay soaked up in the decaying barn wood that once was red and bright and stoic.

Before my father and mother died, we passed Uncle Milt and Aunt Stella’s old house on our way to Menan. They, too, have gone like their huge barn. But I often honked as I pass by Uncle Milt's house, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I capture a glimpse of Uncle Milt out front in his typical hat, hoping he would wave at us. Mostly, now, I wonder where his pigeons roost at night.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Transitioning to New Experiences

Joanne and I are preparing to go on a mission for our Church; so, we are attempting to de-clutterize our lives, mostly by selling or getting rid of most everything we have, except those things that we deem precious to us and what we might need when we return. This past week, our daughter, Anna Rose, drove from Provo to stay with us for a week to help us with some of the sorting—thankfully. She is truly a great motivator.

When you have lived as long as we have, you tend to collect things that have more value in your own eyes than in the eyes of others. As we sorted through various items, we had to determine whether we would sell, keep, or throw away. Amazingly, we didn’t want to give away or sell much. Our major comment was this: “We bought this in 1980, and it has been with us for a very long time, and it means so much to us.” Enter Anna Rose. She was persistent, actually a bulldog about de-cluttering. We labeled boxes:” to give away, to keep, to one of the girls, and to toss.” Anna Rose’s mantra was this: “If you haven’t used it in a couple of years, why do you need it?”

Well, there are just some things you keep, even though you don’t use it. For example, what about my very first computer: a Kaypro 10 with the first hard drive with 10MB of memory that still works? And what about all of my dissertation stuff carefully stowed away in boxes? Yes, my dissertation has been published. I have earned my doctorate. The data are out of date. And the research may be old and outdated although some of the articles could be used in future papers. Perhaps.

The other challenge with going through things hinges on reliving some of our experiences. That’s the problem with me and some of the “papers” that I encounter. I have to re-read them to remember what I wrote about. Instead of just throwing them away, I have to go back in time and remember what I was doing when I wrote something and the feelings attached to it. Consequently, the process of sorting becomes, unfortunately, a process of defying nostalgia and trying to disconnect yourself from it while simultaneously retaining some of the vitality you felt when you first wrote it. There is something about that first empowerment from writing, don’t you think?

Our youngest daughter was quite funny when she received her boxes full of goodies. There is tendency among some young people to leave all of their stuff at their parents’ home forever or until they need it, which is usually never. So, it sits in closets and beneath the stairwell, tucked away quietly and never giving anyone problems until it has to be moved to a different place, which, in our case, has happened several times. Well, we boxed most of it up and sent it home to her with her older sister. When she talked to her mother this evening, we asked her if she had received her boxes. She said yes, but she also lamented: “You are erasing my memory from your house.”

We tried to assuage that thought process. We don’t think we are erasing anyone’s memory; rather, we are merely cleaning out stuff that we don’t need and giving back the stuff that belongs to them. Surely they can keep it stowed away someplace until they need it. Seriously, who could erase the memories that we have of our daughters when they lived with us?

For the first twenty-eight years of lives, we thought about nothing except our daughters, when they were actually going to arrive from Heaven; their lives; their grades and teachers; what their friends were going to be like (thankfully, they have incredible friends); their challenges; their T-ball games; their on and off dirty-clean rooms; how we were going to get them to all of their games, plays, speech tournaments, etc., etc., etc.

I have journal pages full of these memories, etched indelibly in ink and in 11 pitch type. Some of them still bring tears to my eyes, no matter how many times I read them. Once you write something with that kind of emotion, the pages tend to store it until it is read again. Then, that same emotion erupts through the words and the memories, only to bushwhack you once again with tears of joy and sorrow, often simultaneously. Joanne and I have said over and over that we would love to have our girls return to live with us because they were wonderful—and they still are and ever will be.

So, as we dejunk our home, we are actually entering into a new phase of our lives, one that we really don’t know what it might bring. We know this, though: We will be serving the Lord some place and in some wonderful capacity. Elder L. Tom Perry said this evening during the Church Education System (CES) broadcast that one of the four ways of returning to Christian faith is to engage in daily acts of service. I agree with Elder Perry and the great King Benjamin: “When you are in the service of your fellowman, you are only in the service of your God.”

Thus, instead of erasing memories, we are going to be creating more memories that we will cherish for an eternity. By the way, we still have more junk, lying quiet beneath the stairs.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Confluence

The Confluence

Penning a few words may seem
easy as first, but as time wears
on you like an old coat,

other things get in the way
of writing, of flopping words
on the page or even napkins.

When the muse is around,
they sprint on to the page,
look around for their companions

to join them in sentences
and paragraphs and maybe
even poems, the good ones,

that seep metaphors and similes
and sometimes meanings
from the heart. Then again,

one needs only to breathe
more time into the schedule,
maybe understand that words

can be both intoxicating and soothing
simultaneously just like laughter and life,
confluencing like the Snake and the Clearwater.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Portals

Portals

It moves me when I see
grown ups playing
in the street with children.

It shows me that they still understand
the thrill of kicking soccer balls
into Mrs. Beyler’s yard

or whacking baseballs
behind Mrs. Heward’s house
and then running

for all they’re worth rounding bases,
mostly gunny sacks from barns
or shingles blown off the house.

When the games are finished
or when their wives call them
from the front porch, they trudge

toward home, T-shirts drenched
in sweat, their voices carrying stories
of great slides, nifty catches with one hand.

Slowly they each turn into their own
yards, sensing that youth stays in the streets.
They open the front door

of their mortgaged houses,
don their disguise of maturity,
slip through the portals of adulthood.