March 2014: The Children Are Tender
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
|My big yellow lab is standing 8 or 10 feet behind this plant, and that makes the plant appear huge!|
When I wrote The Children Are Tender, a friend said she enjoyed learning more about my life. And then she smiled at me and said, "Or...perhaps your life as you would have liked it to have been?" She missed the mark just a bit; focusing on what is beautiful is not the same as saying there is no ugliness. As I say in the introduction, the characters and settings are fictionalized, but what is absolutely true is my love for my home, family, and profession.
I focus upon the beauty of Kansas as the setting of my book, and allow the beauty in the heart of children to drive the story. There isn't a lack of conflict; although there aren't many accounts of the petty carping and pointless conflicts that sometimes do happen even in the best of workplaces. I don't include discord unless it is important to the storyline. I write of a heartbreaking incident of racial prejudice and I describe the pathos of a child who is spirited away in the middle of the night, never to be seen again by his teachers. I describe the enforced early retirement of a good teacher whose leavetaking is treated with more of relief than regret by budget-cutting administrators, a mother who calls the public school a setting for the emotional massacre of children, and a highly qualified teacher who is demoted to the level of a test administrator. Most of these things happened to me during the course of my teaching career, and trust me, they do not represent my professional life as I wish it had been. But I do focus on love: the love of a teacher for her students, of husband and wife, and the of the beauty of a place called "home." Whatever we focus upon does tend to loom large in our memories and hearts, and so perhaps my friend feels that no one's non-fiction life could have been so blessed as that of the main character in my novel. In that, she is mistaken.
My blessings may not be so large as they appear to me, but then, it's a matter of chosen perspective.
Friday, June 17, 2016
This morning it was time to move the combine to a neighbor's field in preparation for wheat harvest. Farmer John drove the fuel truck, and I followed in order to give him a ride back to the shop where his monstrous red combine had been readied for action. When we reached the turn-off marked by the road sign above, I giggled a bit.
In fact, I always smile when I see this sign. Perhaps someone on the county commission had been to Spain. Or maybe a commission member's love of geography got the best of him or her. Whatever the reason, on the day the Osage County, Kansas powers-that-be assigned a name to this single lane gravel road that bisects one of the most lushly wooded sections of our area, they decided to call it "Valencia."
It was a beautiful morning, though hot, and I stopped twice to take photos. Farmer John was patient, but the third time I braked, enthralled by a huge cluster of sweet-scented, purple-blossomed milkweed in bloom, he mentioned very politely that at some point, he needed to combine wheat. So the road sign photo above and the lacy Johnson grass picture below were the only two I had time to snap. I would like to have shared the thick stands of evening primrose that line the road as though they had been planted as borders, and the lacy miniature daisies that bear the ignominious name of Annual Fleabane.
I know Valencia, Spain is lovely because the descriptions on Wikipedia tell me so, but Valencia Road in Osage County, Kansas, has beauty that, in my eyes, is unrivaled.
|Johnson grass is so pretty, with its lacy, Christmas tree shaped seed heads.|
Monday, June 6, 2016
Friday, May 20, 2016
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
|He makes it look so easy.|
Despite town living during my formative years, I consider myself a farm girl because my roots run deep in the Ozark soil of my grandparents' Missouri farm home. That place became my heart's earthly home; it was at Grandma's house that I learned about the charms of a chicken house with cranky hens who would peck your hand if you tried to rob an egg, cast iron pumps that would yield water only with determined effort, and cane poles that required knowledge of how to pierce the living flesh of an earthworm who hadn't done anything to deserve it. There wasn't anyplace I loved better on this earth.
Grandpa's fields were surrounded by crooked log fence posts strung with four tightly stretched spans of barbed wire; a good four wire fence. His gates were built of hewn boards, later of metal pipe, and a lot of thought and effort went into them. He engineered his gates to swing silently open on well-oiled hinges. They were sturdy enough to climb and easy enough for a child to open. There were a few wire "gaps," on Grandpa's place, but they were considered inferior and Grandpa referred to them apologetically. A gap took time from a busy farmer's day, and Grandpa preferred his well built gates.
Grandpa farmed 80 acres of ground with the help of a Ford tractor deemed tiny by today's standards, and he kept his pastures mown for weed control and appearance. My grandparents' place was my gold standard of all a farm should be.
Then I married a Kansas farmer. In Kansas, there are no gaps, there are wire gates. The first time my husband referred to a gap as a gate, I politely corrected him, whereupon he corrected me: in Kansas, a gap is a wire gate, and gates such as the one Grandpa built are nice for folks who have lots of time to spend on such things, which Farmer John does not. John manages 3000 acres of farm ground and pasture all by himself. He's not so worried about appearances as he is about his bottom line, and he's a manly man. A few strands of barbed wire cause him no anxiety or inconvenience.
Not so, me. Case in point, the other morning I went for a walk in the pasture across from our house. This requires climbing through a wire gap (I mean, gate), a skill I've honed over the years to the degree that even at my age and although I'm packing a few more pounds than I'd like, I'm proud to say I do well. I can slip through a small space bordered by rusty barbs that would require a tetanus shot if I erred an inch either way, and most times, emerge unscathed. But on this morning I had a problem. John had reinforced this gap, I mean gate, about every 12 inches with vertical lengths of twisted wire, because he has a calf that shares my skill in slipping through narrow places.
I was going to have to open that wire gate, and I did not like the prospect. I very cautiously inched the restraining circle of barbed wire to the very top of the end post and jumped back, but to my relief the whole thing fell the opposite direction and my yellow lab and I continued our walk. Twenty minutes later I returned and lifted the end post. Five lengths of barbed wire sprang to malevolent life, each wire possessed by an independent directional goal to that of its neighbors. As I clung desperately to the post, it vibrated and jerked itself out of my hands. My dog moved a cautious distance away as I repeated this effort several times. I finally managed to reattach the top circle of barbed wire, but was unable to fit the bottom of the post back into its smooth wire restraint.
I called my husband, who was working in a field five miles away.
"I can't get the gap shut," I said.
"Which gap? I mean, gate?" he asked.
There ensued one of those marital interchanges that are best not shared with others, but in the course of the conversation I decided to, one handed, slide the top wire down just a bit further for security's sake. Now, I swear to you this is true: the wire hopped about an inch down the post all by itself! When it landed, my thumb was secured between post and wire, and my poor, overworked husband then learned in great detail of my true, deeply held opinion of wire gates.
I extracted my thumb and went home. The cattle did not get out. And no mention was made that evening of my lack of skill in dealing with gaps.
I mean, gates.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
|Farmer John with his mother-in-law, Anna Ruth|
I'm not alone in this impression. Over the years I have been amused by the approving glances he attracts from women of all ages. I'm only hoping that the college-age girls who still smile at him are thinking that he reminds them of their dads.
Happily, John is mostly oblivious to this kind of thing, and so it hasn't cost me more than passing annoyance. But in the past few years he's become just a little chagrined at the kind of female attention he's begun to attract. Older women--much much older, as in over 80--will select him out of a crowd to do their bidding. Wal-mart especially has become a hazardous excursion for this man who mostly likes to mind his own business. But he has a good heart and these aged damsels in distress guess, rightly, that he will do what he can to help.
This past week's trip to Wal-mart was especially taxing for him. Two older ladies asked him to reach for items off a shelf, and I volunteered him to help a third woman who was standing, alone and upset, looking at a container of beef bouillon that had been pushed out of reach on a tall shelf. "My husband will help you!" I said. And he did.
When we got to the store exit, there were two white haired ladies standing side by side, having an urgent conversation. One was saying, "I have to help you to the car or else I have to go get the car and bring it here..." And the other was arguing with her.
John walked out of the store and the argumentative lady pointed her cane toward him. "You, get over here," she said.
To his credit, John didn't hesitate. "He'll walk me to the car," she said to her companion, linking her arm through John's. And he did.
I think there is an element of divine provision in all of this. In the same way that emergency workers often come upon car accidents by chance and render aid, or off-duty police officers just happen to be available to help in some crisis, John's experience as a caregiver and his willingness to help makes him the choice, not only of elderly folks in need of assistance, but of the good Lord, who provides for His children through those who are willing to lend aid.
But I can't help teasing him just a little bit. My husband, the elderly lady magnet!