Stairway fun

I watched my crawling baby bouncing at the bottom step. He could pull himself up to stand in front of the step.. He could not lift his knee high enough to reach the first step.
“You wait right here. I am taking clothes upstairs,” I said and left with the basket.
Since he could not reach the step, I knew he would be okay,
I was wrong.
As I closed the last drawer, I heard him chortling nearby. I went to the stairs. Three steps from the top, he grinned up at me. He had conquered his first mountain just because it was there, and he could.
I looked at his happy face. He liked climbing. He would do it again. I carefully held his back as I stepped down and eased around behind him.
”Well, if you can get up, it’s time you learn how to get down safely.”
I gently grasped his leg and guided it down to the step below. His legs were strong enough to climb but not long enough. To get up the steps, he bounced until his knee landed on the step. Then he pulled his body onto step. He did that on every step. To go down, he had to slide on his belly using his toe to catch each step.
He learned quickly. I watched him conquer the steps another couple times and let him play. He enjoyed every minute of his new skill as did the baby girl in an online video. Like my son, she rapidly touched each step with her toe, slid down and repeated the action.
Not all babies are ready for the stairs at six months. His brother walked before he approached the steps. Being a bit taller, his knee could reach the step. I watched as he stood up, slapped the bottom step and reached up to the next step. Lifting his knee he pulled until he stood on the bottom step.
I watched a couple feet away as he turned and looked at me with that mountain conquering grin. He had ascended the first step of his first mountain. He laughed and swung his foot around toward me.
“No! Wait, buddy. Don’t turn around. Go up.”
He stepped forward and I swooped him into my arms.
“You need to learn stair safety before you try that again. Meanwhile, consider this your ‘no go’ sign,” I said, tipping a chair on its side to block his access to the steps.
In time he would learn and move upstairs to the big boys’ bedrooms, but not that day.
When asked why they climb a mountain, climbers say, “because it is there.” Exactly the reason little ones climb steps, couches, counters, and anything else toddlers can reach. For children, stairs are simply another area to explore, conquer and make into a playground.
As elementary children, my siblings and I made a slide out of my Grandmother Waight’s stairs. She had covered her steps with rubber treads with smooth edges. Sitting down, we slid-bumped down the flight chanting, “ah, ah, ah, ahh,” at each step all the way down.
My sister said that her sons created a similar game. Calling themselves ‘Wormies’ they slid into sleeping bags and wiggled their way up and down the turning staircase.
Where do they get these ideas?
I don’t know, but they keep coming. A few years back, I visited my daughter after her youngest no longer needed the crib. The crib mattress fit the stairs perfectly. The older children carried it to the top of the stairs, sat on it, grabbed the sides and skooched forward until it slid down and they whomped on the floor at the bottom. Other times they piled all the blankets and pillows at the bottom of the stairs and jumped down as many stairs as possible. They cleverly called their game “Don’t Die on the Stairs.”
Kids can’t do any stair gymnastics at our ground level, one-story house house. That all suits me just fine. When they visit, the grands find plenty of other play area. Bumping down the steps intentionally at seven is one thing. After seventy, it is quite another story. I’m quite happy to noy have stairs in our home.

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Can you remember?

With fingers poised over the numbers on the keyboard, the pharmacist, as always, asked me, “what is your birthday?”

I rattled off the numbers, stopped and looked at him, “And what are you going to do when I get into my dotage and can’t remember my birthday?”

He stopped and looked at me thoughtfully.

He didn’t ask me my birthdate the next time.

It’s a reasonable question. I have reached the age when clinicians routinely assess my mental acuity.

A student interning at the physical therapy rehab tested me first. Her supervisor asked, “Can she practice by testing you?” I nodded. She began asking a series of questions. At one point, she said, “Now I am going to give you four words to remember. I will ask you the words later.”

“Four? It is usually three,” I thought thinking of my husband’s tales from the medical clinic.

I repeated the four words and scrambled to develop some quick way to remember them.

The intern switched back to other questions for a few minutes before she asked me, “Now, what were the four words I gave you?”I

I rattled off three and stopped. I could not remember the fourth. They looked sad.

They did not ask me to draw a clock set at 10:10.

Now that I can do. I position the 12, 3, 6 and 9, fill in the other numbers, draw the big and little hands and put my pencil down.

I know the test because my husband has been drawing that clock for years. After several such tests, the next time he was asked, my husband smiled and drew a digital clock: a rectangle with 10:10 written inside it.

The clinician looked at him and said, “hmm, we may need to reconsider that test.”

So true. I already know that some grandchildren have no idea how to read anything other than a digital clock, let alone draw one. If that were the only test, they would qualify for special care long before they finish high school.

The three (not four) word recall touches on short term memory. What they really should do is ask me to go to another room and get a specific item. Too often these days by the time I arrive, I wonder ‘why’ I went there.

My late aunt not only forgot between one room and the next, she forgot as she did simple tasks. At her funeral, her grandson said, “You know Grandma really liked to wash dishes. She would go right to the sink after every meal and begin washing dishes. Sometimes we would take dishes from the clean pile, and slip them around her to the dirty pile. One day we did that several times until she looked up and said, ‘hey, wait a minute!’ and laughed with us.”

I chuckle when I recall my most recent memory test. The visiting nurse said, “Remember these three words. Ball, door, tree.” I quickly conjured up a picture of throwing the ball through the door at the tree. “Okay, ball, door, tree,” I repeated back to her.

She nodded and asked me questions about my sleeping habits, my weight and medications. Then she gathered up her equipment and drove away. She won’t be back for at least six months.

My husband looked at me and said, “She forgot to ask you for the three words.”

I reflected a moment smiled at the irony and agreed, “Yes, she did,”

That’s okay. I still don’t recall that fourth word but I review those three words every day. The next time she walks in the door ready to challenge my short term memory, I will spit out, “Ball, door, tree.”

Just try and trick me with that one.

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Water in the Sudan

Some books, such as “The Long Walk for Water,” stay with me long after I return them to the shelf. Linda Sue Park wrote a fictionalized version about the real 1980s experiences of a Sudanese Lost Boy called Salva and his impact on a Sudanese girl, Nya, 25 years later.
Salva’s life changes abruptly the day his middle school teacher hears the Sudanese army approaching. “Leave, run as fast and as far as you can away from the army,” she said. She knew that the army forced young boys to join the army.
With just the clothes on his back, Salva runs away from the army, his school, family, home and security. For the next several years he depends on the kindness of strangers to survive. He travels with other war refugees seeking a safe place to rest.
At one point his uncle joins the band of refugees. He protects Salva across the desert to a refugee camp. When Salva wearies of walking, his uncle walks beside him, setting small goals, “Can you walk to that bush up there?” Salva does.
“Let’s walk to that hill.” Salva does. With a series of small goals, Salva learns to pace himself to finish the walk. HIs uncle also monitors Salva’s supply of water, limiting him to sips on their three day walk across the desert. The last day they come upon five men who died from lack of water.
After years in a refugee camp, an American family opens their home to Salva so he can finish his education. Salva has no clue if his family survived the war until a United Nation list of hospital patients lists his father as a patient receiving treatment for waterborne parasites. Salva visits him and wanted to return to their village and his family. His father says, “No. The soldiers will find you and force you to fight.”
Salva goes to the United States and helps establish “Water for South Sudan.” WFSS drills wells in villages to provide clean, safe water.
Late, his story crosses with Nya’s back in Sudan where Nya walks miles every day to fill her container with dirty water and carry it home, only to turn around and walk back for more. There is no time for school. The family needs water. One day Nya’s mother nods to the five-year-old sister and tells Nya, “take her with you, she has to learn.”
No time to learn the ABCs, the younger sister must learn learn the vital lesson, “We need water, and you can fetch it.”
Salva’s drilling team comes to Nya’s village. The villagers help by walking to the muddy hole of water and carrying it back for drilling of well. Once finished, the well releases Nya and other children from carrying water all day, every day. The village receives instructions on how to keep clean water flowing. Nya receives an additional blessing when WFSS begins building a school. No more walking. Now she can sit and learn how to read and write. All this because Salva and others came to drill wells to ensure everyone drinks clean water.
The book lingers in my thoughts as I consider the ease with which I utilize clean water, shelter, safety and education. “Water for South Sudan” continues to drill wells today. According to their website they have completed 577 wells to date, rehabbed about half of them to keep the wells working and held 678 hygiene trainings to keep the wells clean and emphasize the use of latrines.
Water means life, and if we give a cup of water in Christ’s name, Scripture promises we will not lose our reward. Such a simple thing – water – with such a big impact on whole villages of adults and children.

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A reflection on parenting The Littles

My daughter Sharon Joy Schulte wrote the following. I thought it needed sharing.

I went to the Social Security office today. I had a list of tasks to take care of on my phone while I waited. Into the room came a sweet mom with three preschoolers. She wore a baby, pushed toddler in a stroller, and had a talkative 3 year old asking 1,473,925 questions every minute. She chatted with her kids and led them through the monotony of being at the SS office. She arrived armed with books, toys, and sippy cups for her littles.

For the few moments that our lives intersected, I watched that mother with fondness, recalling the days when I went everywhere with my three preschoolers. Has it already been more than a decade since my “bigs” were “littles”?!

When I was a new mom, I took my kids with me everywhere. Oh, sometimes I stole a few moments of quiet by going to the grocery store at 10 pm, Usually though, if I went to Sam’s, they piled into the cart. If I was sick, they climbed on me while I convalesced. If I had an appointment, they hid behind the curtain. If one kid was sick, we all ambled into the doctor’s office together.

I couldn’t imagine anything different, honestly. I didn’t want help. I prided myself on being fiercely independent. I guess I wore my exhaustion as a badge of honor.

I don’t miss the constant questions and point by point instructions.

“Throw your trash away.”

“No, we don’t have snacks….because snacks aren’t allowed here…. because they make a mess.”

“Wash your hands.”

“Use soap.”

“Turn left. No, turn around. Left, honey. This way. Follow me. Yes. Come this way. This is left.”

I view the preschool years with increasing nostalgia, but I vividly remember…

– the intense emotional and physical exhaustion.

– chanting, “His mercies are new every morning.”

– that I didn’t know how to ask my husband for support because I didn’t even know what I needed.

– feeling frustrated that my husband couldn’t anticipate my needs.

– wanting to be alone but never wanting to be away from my babies because I didn’t want to miss anything.

– being broke meant stretching every single penny, clipping coupons, stalking sales, and doing without extras.

I so desperately wanted to be the one who answered every question, kissed every boo-boo, read every book, witnessed every first.

But at the same time, I was worn out from feeling like I was the only one who could meet my children’s needs. From being the favorite one. From pouring out all the energy I had to be “the best.” From thinking that I would never be able to measure up, that I had to try harder. From hating myself for losing my temper (again). From reading every parenting book, trying to unlock the most effective parenting algorithm.

Daisy’s first year of life is a complete blur. I have very few memories of that year as I merely put one foot in front of the other. We made it through it all by God’s grace.

No, I don’t miss that season with tiny children, but I see clearly how faithfully God carried us through, and I am brought to tears.

Right here in the middle of a day running errands alone, I tear up because no one touches anything they shouldn’t. No one whines for more snacks. No one asks awkward questions about anatomy. No one has to potty. I can think without any interruption. And I cry alone.

No, I don’t miss those days of towing around three preschoolers, but I cherish them. I wouldn’t change how motherhood has shaped me and taught me about the great love our Heavenly Father has for us. I can’t adequately describe how it feels to watch someone who grew inside of me now growing taller than me and will one day leave us to live separately.

While I watched that mother at the Social Security Office answer all the questions and anticipate all the needs, I wanted to give her a trophy and tell her what a good job she’s doing. That it all matters. Maybe she already knows that, but there was a time when I felt so vulnerable and anxious because I had no clue what I was doing. I still don’t really know what I’m doing, but I am more confident in my God who is able. So, instead of blathering on to a very busy mom with her hands full of blessings, I watched, admired, and remembered.



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Golden years

The Key word at our house these days is ‘golden,’ as in golden anniversary, golden years, Golden Corral, golden opportunity and the “Golden Rule.”

We celebrated our Golden anniversary last year. Even thirty years ago, we never expected to celebrate that many years of togetherness. My husband’s father’s family’s longevity has not historically supported that goal. However, his generation followed his mother’s side for longevity, so we celebrated.

I doubt his many years have anything to do with my husband’s affinity for the bountiful repasts of restaurants like the Golden Corral. Buffets and church potlucks provide such a golden opportunity for a multitude of delightful dishes.

Being in the golden years means we have reached some age number beyond the speed limit, unless the limit is 75 mph. Cars may be able to go that fast, but we definitely have slowed down. In his golden years, my Energizer Bunny does not hop to it when the hedge needs a few nibbles. 

The ones finding the gold during our Golden Years work at medical clinics. It seems that the purpose of retirement is to ensure enough time for doctor appointments. In the past year I had two check-ups at the clinic and two home visit check-ups. Plus a few dental visits, an eye exam and a visit with a heart doctor (who has yet to prescribe anything other than “come back again!”) Then every eight weeks or so I donate blood at the local LifeShare center where they also check basics, measure my iron level and cholesterol. 

Occasionally I add in one of those free health clinics. I would hate to miss any golden opportunity to ensure I am still living at my healthiest, right? After I have my blood pressure read, my heart rate assessed and a blood sugar test, I grab a fistful of free literature and advice.

If am needing to shed a few pounds, the pamphlets have the perfect solution: eat less and exercise more. 

If my blood pressure ever creeps up a bit beyond healthy a pamphlet will advise: “check with your physician, eat more fruits and vegetables and go for a 30 minute walk every day.”

If my cholesterol nudges beyond a specific number: “eat less at the Golden Corral and more at the green salad bar. Get at least 150 minutes of exercise every week.”

After a couple incidents of breaking major bones, I landed in physical therapy. Physical therapy simply stated, “you now have a personal coach who will assign you exercises to do at home two or three times a day.”

Everywhere I turn during these golden years, someone pushes exercise.

If I feel the winter blues or Seasonally-Affected Depression, then I am told I need to get out in the sun and walk.

If my balance threatens to tip me over and need to go back to the bone clinic, the solution is to do some balancing exercies. With so much at stake, the Golden Rule for those over 60 “Don’t Fall!”  We may toddle, but we are not toddlers. Falling can be quite dangerous.

I listened to that advice, and I felt pretty good about the exercise I added to my weekly routine during my Golden Years, until I read an article that said everyone needs at least twice the typically recommended time.

Someone linked the article to Facebook. Plenty of folks commented, “well my Granny lived to be 101, and she sat down all she could.” or,  “Family genes for longevity also matter.” 

Sigh. Just leave me alone to enjoy my Golden Years at the Golden Corral. I promise I will do everything I can to obey the Golden Rule of this stage. Hopefully I will live decades beyond our Golden Anniversary. 


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Joseph: Traveling with dad 1951

A summer vacation trip as an 11-year-old inspired and influenced my husband. That summer his parents loaded their Buick Roadmaster with their five children to take a friend to visit a college in Tennessee. After the college visit, my husband’s dad said, “We are this close to the Smoky Mountains, we may as well go see them.”

They drove to the Smoky Mountains, rented a room and explored the area. As they were walking along, he remembers, “Mom saw a bear cub reaching up to her as if asking for food.” It startled them, especially when it turned to the future college student with its mouth open, still looking for food. “We never saw the mother bear, but it must of been there,” hubby said.

That night his dad said, “I have always wanted to see the Skyline Drive, and it’s close by.” He called the factory where he worked to say, “I can’t make it back today.” 

From Skyline Drive they drove to the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. The crew of eight rode to the top and walked down the stairs to the base. That’s something visitors can’t do anymore. 

Outside again, a man approached them, “For $13 I can take all of you in my cab on a tour of Washington D.C.” In 1951 that equaled at least a couple day’s of work. His dad shelled out the cash.

“We visited the White House, the Capitol, saw them make money, visited the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Smithsonian where my mom wanted to see a specific jewel and the Gutenberg Press,” hubby recalled. With that in mind my husband often says, “A local guide is worth the money to get as much information and sightseeing in as possible.”

That night his dad made another call, “I can’t make it back tomorrow.” The Roadmaster traveled to Philadelphia where they saw the Liberty Bell and nearby Valley Forge. 

Again, his dad professed, “I can’t make it back tomorrow,” and they proceeded to New York City. 

“We went to the Statue of Liberty. I climbed all the way up into the torch. That’s something you can’t do anymore. We went to the top of the Empire State Building. Up there, they had a railing. Dad put David’s legs through that railing.” David, the youngest brother, was four or five at the time. You can’t do that anymore, either. 

Back at street level, hubby remembers, “Dad asked what do you want for breakfast?”


“They said, ‘We don’t have that.’ 

“We said, ‘Waffles.’ They said, ‘We don’t have that.”

“Finally, Dad asked, “What do you have?”

“Eggs. We have eggs.” 

Everyone had eggs for breakfast that day.

The time did come to head the Roadmaster home to Indiana with a stop at Gettysburg where his dad called to say, “I can make it back tomorrow.”

Home again, the friend prepared to attend college, and the family settled into their usual routines. Those memories planted the seed for my husband to have a lifelong love of traveling. In the 70 plus years since then, he has taken innumerable trips across the country with our children and grandchildren, including taking each to Washington D.C. and New York City. 

He urges others to go and see the monuments, the White House, the Capitol and more. He may not get paid $13 a day to be a tour guide for his family, but he does know how to move around D.C. I have never heard him make a phone call saying, “I can’t make it in tomorrow,” but he always says, “We are this close, I want to go have a look.”

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A dad surprise

To surprise his family, Jacob spends hours researching, plotting, manipulating figures, times, events and plans. He researches for coupons and discounts to stretch vacation dollars. He piles up gift cards from folks and arranges economical trips for the whole family. 

Before he married my daughter Sharon, he said wanted to travel every year, to take vacations with his family, and he has!

This past Christmas morning he presented his four children with a Scrabble board and one envelope each holding scrabble tiles and a poem with a clue. One after another Eli, Caroline, Daisy and Katie read their poem. Each figured out a word and laid down tiles spelling the clue words until one after another they realized they would be flying to California for a trip to Disneyland. 

“Wait. What are we doing?” Daisy, 11, asked. “When are we going?”

“We are going to Disney?” Katie, 7, echoed her.


The children looked at each other as they realized they were going to Disney! They exploded with excitement. They pulled on the discount t-shirts they received for Christmas and began dreaming.

A couple weeks later, they packed their bags and headed to the airport in Dallas. Each had a carry-on suitcase and a backpack.

“It limits what we take to just what we need and can carry,” my daughter said. Having seen little kids strolling through airports dragging backpacks, I could imagine the freedom of no fussing and waiting at the baggage claim once they landed.

As the plane taxied into the airport, Jacob began texting “Scott” for a pickup.

Caroline saw the texts and asked if he was texting with soneone she knew.

“Oh, yeah, Scott,” he shrugged her off.

“When we got off we said we had to call for an Uber,” Sharon said. 

“We were waiting on the curb for Scott, a driver who had previously told Jacob, ‘You just tell me where you are,and I will come there.’” 

Jacob texted the number written on the pole near them.

They watched taxis, shuttles and cars come and take other folks away. When they saw a strerch limousine approach Jacob teased, “Okay, Eli, there is your car.”

Eli laughed. He and his dad like to dream about cars.

Sharon slipped her camera out to take a picture. Caroline thought disdainfully, “imagine taking a picture of someone else’s limo.”

The limo stopped in front of them. The driver got out, opened the trunk and said, “Schulte family?”

The kids broke out in grins and looked at their parents. Their dad had arranged a limo to come just for them. As Daisy and Caroline climbed in, they pretended to be recording the experience as vloggers, (video bloggers).

Inside, the kids discovered complimentary sodas, ice and champagne glasses.

“Everyone got to drink like they were being so fancy,” Sharon said.

Inside the stretch limo LED lights changed colors. Eli stretched his long legs freely. He leaned back and spent most of the 45 minute drive to the hotel asking Scott questions about driving a limo, how he had gotten into it and driving celebrities.

Scott said he had driven some celebrities, but he said, “Mostly I pick up Make-a-Wish kids coming to Disneyland.”

At the hotel Scott took their picture and the family went to register. 

Jacob excused himself for a quick break. Really though, he went to their room for one more surprise. He placed an envelope with Disney gift cards he had purchased with credit card points on each bed.

Jacob loves surprising his family and his family love him for it.

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Tornado! in Parkers Chapel

As we left for a day in Little Rock, my mind did its usual salute to the house, “Good-bye house. I will miss you if you are gone when I return.” That annoying phobia has haunted me all my married life without rhyme nor reason.

At least not until later that day  when my phone began dinging with messages all asking,  “Are you okay? Is your house okay?” 

“I wonder what’s going on,” I said to my husband as I called our neighbor, Cari. “What happened? We are in Little Rock today.”

“A tornado came through. We have trees  down in our yard, across the street and around the neighborhood. The patio roof is gone off the neighbor’s  patio. Your house does not have any damage,” she said. 

“Oh my!”

“You can’t drive down the street. It’s closed with fallen trees.” I made a mental note that we might need to take a detour to get home.

“This after all the trees you had cut down this month,” I said, remembering the days men worked to carefully remove towering pine trees.

“That was good for where they were and might have fallen,” she said.

I reported our status to everyone who had checked on us.

We ended Wednesday returning home after sunset. Evidently many folks with chainsaws and strong muscles cleared the roads and streets within hours of the F1 tornado. Our head lights spotted only tree litter on the road. Emergency vehicles with blinking lights were the only lights in some areas. 

Thursday’s sunshine highlighted our street’s numerous downed trees or trunks shorn of their top branches.

After breakfast, I walked out to get a closer look and met our neighbor, Mark. 

“It sounded like lightning hit down at the corner. I looked out the window and saw the trees across the street rocking back and forth and falling. I yelled ‘Gay, tornado.’ She said, ‘we better get in the closet’ and then it was over,” he said. 

Over but so many stories followed. I read many on Facebook. Moms and dads of students at Parkers Chapel fearfully waited for news.

The tornado hit shortly after lunch. The cloud of destruction downed trees on the street behind the school. The small trailer park beside the school saw trailers split in half by falling trees but nothing happened at the school.

Facebook posts praised the teachers’ actions and reactions. The school received notice of the impending storm and efficiently moved students to the Safe Rooms. There the teachers started activities to distract the students.

The response after the storm was amazing. All day and into the night the whine and buzz of chainsaws reduced branches, limbs and tree trunks to movable sizes. Volunteers with chainsaws showed up asking,“Can I help clear the trees?”

Our street closed to allow the utility repair trucks and tree removal crews the room to operate. Backhoes, dump trucks and vehicles with  big scoops and grabbers worked all day. Quickly and volunteers and paid work crews cleared away ruined trees and repaired broken utilities.

Most volunteers arrived like Dicky, a friend with a trailer of chainsaws and other equipment. He looked for someplace to help.  Mark pointed out elderly Ida’s hidden backyard filled with “downed pine trees and limbs that missed outbuildings by inches.”  Dicky worked many hours cutting and hauling pine limbs to the curb for the county to haul away.

Large tarps now cover damaged roofs to await insurance assessors and professional roofers. Tree roots still point skyward until special machines can come to reduce them. Those tasks will take longer.

By Saturday a semblance of normality returned. Folks could step back and praise the quick work of so many. With a few exceptions we all could continue to enjoy our intact houses.


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Silence is golden

Marriage is the best of all times, and the worst of all times. A recent anniversary reminded me of a story I once heard. A man gave flowers to his wife on their anniversary saying, “for the best years of my life.” 

The wife counted the roses and asked, “Why isn’t there a rose for every year?” 

“Not all our years were the best,” the man shrugged

The wife picked up the bouquet, studied it a moment, removed a few roses and threw them away, remembering a few more years that weren’t “the best.”

This is true of every marriage. Some years are better than others, but the goal is to get through all of them together.

Having observed us through most of our 51 years, my daughter said, “they did not always make it look easy, but they always set an example of sticking it out through thick and thin.”

I can recall a few times when I had to remind myself that our vows incuded “for worse” not just “for better.” 

One pivotal moment happened when we decided to get rid of the excess furniture that came with our first, dilapidated house. We wanted to eliminate an old-fashioned wooden buffet, dining room chairs with “pinch your bottom” seats and a drawing table. We had found better chairs, did not need the buffet, and the drawing table stayed folded in a corner. It was the era before Internet options for buying and selling, so when our neighbors had an auction, we asked to add our items.

The auctioneer tacked them on at the end after many had left. They sold for pennies on the dollar. We watched in dismay as folks rapidly left with great deals. We, on the other hand, went home quite disappointed, pointing angry fingers at each other. 

“Well if you …” 

“You should have …”

The sting of disappointment left us blaming each other.

In the middle of another exchange of words, my husband abruptly said, “We better not talk about this anymore. We just need to let it go and say nothing more about it anymore.”

We stopped. We did not say anything to anyone. Not a word, not even when my parents visited and commented on the missing buffet. My parents missed the buffet, but I never missed the pinch bottom chairs, and I never spoke of them, either.

Through the years, as my husband drew up project plans, he probably missed that drawing table. Still, he kept the silence. In time the sting of that moment faded.

I know the usual advice is to talk out problems, but in that situation, silence worked for us. We didn’t need anyone else, not even ourselves, second-guessing or commenting on something we couldn’t change.

Some 20 years later, we again chose silence for our marriage. At that time, I was dealing with difficult family issues that I shared with my husband. 

He always enjoyed relating stories about his mother’s quirky personality as a wife and mother. She did funny things reflecting the impact of the Great Depression and her generation’s nuances. My husband and his brothers bonded over those memories.

But then he began sharing my parental stories as well. I did not like it. I emphatically said, “You can say anything you want about your mother and father and what happened when growing up in their home. I can say anything I want to about my father or mother, but you can’t say anything about my parents, and I can’t say anything about yours.” 

That evening we had dinner with friends. The conversational flow fit perfectly for one of his funny stories about his mother. I started to tell it. He looked at me across the table. I awkwardly stopped in mid-sentence. He did not choose to finish the story. No matter how many times he and his brothers had told the story in the past, my rules dictated I could not repeat it.

Thinking about the value of silence reminds me of the quote often attributed to Clara Barton when someone wanted to discuss a painful event, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

In an age of saying whatever comes to mind, it is okay to choose to say nothing. On stressful days, I strive to not get historical (or hysterical) under pressure. I work to focus on the positive. It’s one way to add a flower for “the best years of our lives” for our next anniversary.


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The best and worst

With 50 plus years of traveling and restaurant dinners behind us, two meals we have eaten earn contrasting ratings.

The first happened decades ago when our children were young. Usually I had sandwiches in the car. However, on Easter weekend, my husband said, “Let’s eat at that college. When I was traveling with the National Guard, we stopped at that college cafeteria and had a great meal.”

We did and had an unexpected cherry on top! That day the school’s future chefs demonstrated their readiness to work in the food industry. In front of a wall of windows overlooking the lawn, the students spread a feast. On crisp white linen tablecloths they presented an array of artfully garnished dishes, artistically carved fruits and vegetables all centered around an ice sculpture of a lamb. Waiters dressed in tuxedos escorted us to our table and explained the day’s options and opulence.

No cafeteria line that day, we received royal treatment and a selection of the most exquisitely prepared food in a polished dining room. Through the years since, no other eating experiences have come close to that serendipitous moment.

A few years before Covid-19 we encountered the other end of the spectrum. The road to visit one family includes a long stretch of nothing but farmland for two hours. As we approached the county capitol mid-Saturday afternoon I wanted a break and a bowl of soup. 

“Let’s turn into the old center of town this time to see if any restaurants are open,” I suggested. Usually we stopped at one of the town’s fast food places. That day I wanted a proper sit down without disposable dishes.

We took a couple turns around the city square before we saw an open store. Most of the once-flourishing stores now featured junk shops, low-end department stores or papered windows.

The corner restaurant looked promising when we entered. We were the only customers. The spry older woman who greeted us looked fresh from preparing farm meals for her family. “Take any seat. It may be a bit sticky. Today is Pancake Day. We have been busy all morning.” She named a ridiculously low price for pancakes. My husband ordered pancakes. 

“Do you have vegetable soup?” I asked. 

“Yes, we put all our vegetables in one pot at the end of the day,” she assured me.

We slid into a booth with a slightly sticky seat and table. Was it my imagination that even the floor also felt a bit tacky? As I said, this was before the antiseptic smell that accompanies the guidelines mandated under Covid-19. Those mandates ensure that restaurateurs spray and wash every flat surface after every customer.

The little lady trotted our order to the kitchen. I could see the cook pouring pancake batter. Before presenting our food, he reached a dipper into a large stock pot and ladled its contents into a flat bowl.

My husband welcomed his plate of pancakes. I looked at the clear broth with vegetables and paused. Such vegetables: they looked like leftovers, including veggies that had stayed too long on the bottom of the pan. I know enough about cooking to at least make my mistakes disappear before anyone else sees them.

This little lady smiled proudly as she presented the food. No apologies. In fact she went to the kitchen and served herself a bowl of soup. She smiled at her soup and relished every bite.

I tried a few spoonfuls of the scorched veggies and offensive broth. I laid down my spoon. I had lost my appetite for soup. I drank my glass of water as my hubby finished his pancakes. 

The lady came over with our ticket.  “How did you like it?” I murmured a little bit of gratitude, but I would not be the one to quash her pride in the eatery. We left. In the car we shook our heads at the recently-opened restaurant that needed a bucket of hot sudsy water and cooking lessons. 

A few months later, again en route to my family, we swung into that town. The restaurant had, predictably, closed. Too bad. She had the personality, she just needed to study at the college where we ate our most fantastic meal ever.

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