Saturday, December 30, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 47

As we creep up on the end of 2017, it seems appropriate to write about New Year's Eve celebrations of the past.

How did your family celebrate New Year's Eve? How has it changed over time?

When I was growing up we did not make a big deal out of the last day of the year. My mom and dad sometimes played cards with the next door neighbors, and as they had a daughter my age, the two of us would play records, eat junk food and usually end up spending the night at one house or the other.

Time's Square
After I was married, we kept things pretty low-key as well. If we went out for dinner, we tended to eat early so we could get home before the drunks made roads unsafe. We would usually watch television, waiting for the big ball to drop in Time's Square. As our children got older, they would try and stay awake until midnight, and we would listen to the neighbors clanging metal pots and shooting off fireworks. As we have gotten older, we now try to stay awake until midnight!

I used to make New Year's resolutions, but I don't do that anymore. It always seemed to lead to disappointment and feeling bad about myself. Now I set goals throughout the year, and modify them as time and situations change. It keeps things more realistic that way.

The one thing that remains constant at the end of each year is my reflection on what has taken place over the past 12 months. It is a wonderful opportunity to think back on the many adventures that have taken place, and a chance to reflect on the blessings that have come my way.

Wishing all of you a happy and prosperous 2018!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 46

It is the eve of Christmas Eve, so a Christmas writing prompt is in order.

What are your earliest memories of Christmas?

aluminum tree
While my dad was quite thrifty throughout the rest of the year, he went all out for Christmas. He decorated the exterior of the house, stringing lights across the roof line, setting up the two oversized plastic candles, and hanging up the blinking Christmas bell by the front door. Inside various decorations were hung, and the Christmas tree set up and ornaments added. I don't ever remember us having a real tree, but have vivid recollections of the aluminum one which was adorned with blue glass balls similar to the one in the photo at left. The color wheel cast a rainbow of blue, red, orange and green as it whirled around and around. At one point dad purchased a second color wheel, adding to the explosion of color on the tree. Later the tree was replaced with a flocked aluminum tree, though the color wheels remained.

The manger was set up along with the other decorations, but the baby Jesus was not added until Christmas Eve. My brother and I fought about who would get to place the baby in the crib, so mom decided we would alternate years. Then we fought about who had gotten the honor the previous year. Mom couldn't win, I'm sure!

For as long as I can remember, Santa always came on Christmas Eve, and that is when we got to open our presents. When my brother and I were little, we took baths together after supper, and that darn Santa would always come when we were in the tub! As we got a little older, but were still believers, dad made us go with him on a quick trip to the store at that time, and sure enough Santa would come while we were away. Wily old man, that Santa.

Wish Book
When the Sears Wish Book would arrive in the mail, my brother and I would spend hours pouring through the catalog. We would circle items of interest so that Santa (and later our parents) would know what we wanted that year. Today's Amazon Wish List just doesn't have the same appeal as thumbing over and over again through a catalog filled with shiny new toys.

Gifts were plentiful in our household, or so it seemed to me growing up. I'm not sure if it was because he had so little as a child growing up during the depression, but dad was very generous at Christmastime. I think back on the anticipation and excitement of Christmas Eve, with the kaleidoscope of colors bouncing off the walls and ceiling, the Christmas albums playing on the record machine and everyone I loved huddled together in the living room of Des Moines. On that one evening each year, everything was perfect in my world. I'm grateful for the memories, and the songs, that can take me back to that place and time.
Christmas in Des Moines

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 45

Yesterday was my biannual visit to the dentist. Well, maybe I should say visit to the office, as my poor dentist came down with the flu and wasn't there. They offered to still clean my teeth anyway, and since I had it on my schedule I decided to go ahead and get it over with. Anyway, this ties in with my writing prompt for this week.

Describe your first visit to the dentist.

My parents, or maybe it was just my father, did not believe in taking us to the dentist. Money always seemed to be tight, and only extreme illnesses even prompted visits to the doctor. At my Catholic elementary school, a dentist came in once a year and looked at our teeth. Each year he sent a note home with me, stating that I had a cavity in a rear molar that needed to be looked at. The notes were routinely ignored.

It was not until I got my first job out of college and had both medical and dental coverage that I made my way into a dentist's office. It was somewhat scary as I had no idea what to expect. By then, I had several cavities, and the rear molar had mostly disintegrated. It was a huge surprise to the dentist that the tooth did not bother me, and that no root canal was necessary. She was actually able to build a crown over what little was left of the tooth. Even more surprising is the fact that the original crown is still solid and in place to this day!

Since that first dental visit I have been pretty diligent in keeping my six month appointments with the dentist, whether we had insurance at the time or not. My dad went to the grave with his original teeth intact, and I hope to do the same.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 44

Earlier this week a friend was telling me about a harrowing flight she experienced while traveling from New Zealand to Australia. That made me think about the time I was truly convinced my plane was going to crash.

What is the scariest flight you have ever been on?

When I was the Vice President of Marketing and Risk Management for a medical malpractice insurance company, one of many responsibilities was to inform doctors and their office staffs about the reasons lawsuits were filed. In order to accomplish that, in addition to brochures and newsletters, I set up seminars around Missouri and Kansas. The program consisted of having various speakers, including the president of our company (a physician), one of our defense attorneys, someone from the claims department and myself, explaining how mistakes had been made, the consequences of the mistakes, and suggestions on how to prevent such mistakes from happening.

similarly sized plane
On one such occasion the president, claims manager and I boarded a small, six seater plane at a regional airport to head to northwestern Missouri for an evening seminar. As the pilot attempted to move the plane towards the runway, we kept experiencing a bump. After a couple of attempts, it was determined that the pilot had forgotten to move the wheel chocks. That ended up to be an omen of how this flight was going to go.

We flew first to Jefferson City to pick up the attorney who was going to be joining us on the program that night. He boarded the plane, and the pilot placed the lawyer's materials in the cargo compartment before resuming his seat. As we began taxiing, alarms went off in the plane necessitating a return to the terminal. This time the pilot did not tightly shut the door of the cargo area. Strike two.

As we approached the airport of our final destination, the pilot made a series of sharp banks - so sharp that the alarms went off in the cockpit. I thought we were going to crash, and I'm pretty sure that our president, who was seated beside me, had my fingernail imprints in his arm for a week following this adventure. The pilot was able to right the plane, and we landed without further incident. But that was strike three in my book. And we still had to fly back with him that night!

It did not help my piece of mind to listen to the claims manager, whose previous job included investigating plane crashes, discuss our mishaps. If you have ever known anyone who worked insurance claims, they usually love to regale folks with stories they have come across. This was one time when I did not want to hear any of it.

We conducted our seminar, successfully dropped the attorney back in Jefferson City, and made it back to St. Louis without further mishaps. We drove to all future risk management seminars, and I have yet to fly on a plane of that size again. Perhaps we shouldn't have called the pilot Shirley? Ha, ha...

from the movie "Airplane"

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 43

Do you have any aunts or uncles who never had any children? What impact did they have on your life?

left to right, Marie with two of her sisters
Stell in middle and my mom
Catherine on the right in the '40s
My mother was one of eight children, not counting two who did not survive childbirth. The oldest child was Marie, and she never married or had children. She was very pretty when she was younger, and used to date, according to her sisters. But my dad speculated that a guy must have gotten "fresh" with Marie, as she never had a man in her life once she became a young woman.

Aunt Marie worked in the office of a major department store in Cincinnati, a job she kept until retirement. She took the bus downtown every day, having never learned to drive. She remained living with her mom and dad, so we got to see her when we visited my grandparents. She was always sweet and loving to us, and sometimes she would take a bus and come to see us in Chicago or Des Moines for her vacation.

I never saw her in anything other than a dress. I don't believe that she owned a pair of pants and certainly not any shorts. The small, shot-gun style house that she shared with her parents had no air conditioning, and the only toilet and shower were in the basement until my grandparents were older. Then the pantry off the kitchen was converted into a half bath.

My memories of my grandparents are fairly vague, but I can vividly see my aunt lighting the huge gas stove to make coffee or a meal, and see her standing at the old sink doing dishes. Sometimes when I kept her company in the kitchen I would sit on the old Formica table just to have her scoop me off with the admonishment, "Tables are for glasses, not for little asses!" Then we would burst into laughter, and it was all the more funny to me as Marie was not one for swearing.

One summer summer I stayed with Marie by myself, and I had arrived before she got home from work. I went in the kitchen to get some pop, and I heard squeaking noises from behind the refrigerator. Thinking it was a mouse, I quickly ran out to the front porch until it was time for me to meet her at the bus stop. As soon as I saw here I told her about the noise. "Oh, that's a bat," she nonchalantly stated. I stared at her incredulously. "A ba-a-a-t?", I exclaimed! All of a sudden a mouse didn't seem like a big deal. "It escaped from the attic", she informed me. Great, I thought to myself, I'm not going to sleep in one of the beds upstairs. I'll take the couch.

At the time I had waist-length hair, and the common perception was that a bat would fly towards it and get tangled in the hair. I had to come up with a way to get the bat out of the house - or I was going to go batty with worry. That night after it got dark we turned on the back porch light, then turned off all the lights inside the house. The thought was that the bat would fly towards the porch light. My job was to slam the door shut when the bat hit the screen door. Meanwhile, Marie was outside and would open the screen door to let the bat go. It was a perfect plan, right up until the time that I slammed the door on the bat, smashing it. Marie had to take a broom and sweep it up and into a trash can.

What a memory! All of my thought of Marie are good ones (well, maybe with the exception of the bat), as she was kind and caring and never had a cross word to say. She nursed her parents as they grew old, and she made by hand baby quilts for new additions to the family tree. An unfortunate accident later in life caused her to be paralyzed from the neck down, forcing her out of her childhood home and into a nursing home. She could no longer travel, read, knit, sew or do any of the activities that she loved. But we never heard her express a word of discontent over her circumstances. She died not long after celebrating her 90th birthday. After she died, I tried to put my feelings about her into the following poem, which was displayed at her funeral. She lived a long life in a manner that many people could learn a lot from. I hope that I emulate her, at least to some extent.

poem for Marie