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Friday, August 31, 2012

Stopping by a barn on a rainy afternoon

When you write a weekly column, people are always tossing ideas at you.  Mostly they come in the form of, “oh no, you’re not going to write about THAT in the paper, are you?”  But sometimes, it’s not people supplying material.  Sometimes it’s something greater.
It was a rather rainy weekday after a rather busy week.  Visiting my parents at a place we have been hundreds of times, we decided to do what most people never do—be a tourist in your own town.  We all fall victim to this commonality of never going to local attractions until someone from out of town visits, but once the clouds passed we piled in my jeep and hit the back, gravel roads in search of a couple of historical sights.
We drove to a covered bridge that was built just before 1900, for the cost of $150.  The economical engineers of yesteryear figured that if they put a cover over their wooden bridges, the life of the bridge would be much longer.  Covered areas also served as places for the wearing travelers and their horses to rest in a bit of shelter. Now the covered bridge makes an excellent spot for lunch because there’s a picnic table smack dab in the middle of it.  Cars no longer pass through, just tourists and hungry visitors.
This particular bridge was rebuilt in the last decade or so, for the tune of $186,000.   The wood and painting are all new, but there’s just something about stepping back in time. Around the outside of the bridge are lovely flowerbeds, meticulously maintained and mulched with loving hands. 
“I wonder who takes care of all of this?” my mother asked.
And then we went to the barn.
I’ll call her “Joanna” for the purposes of this story, but I’ll tell you that she’s one of the ladies who plants those flowers by the bridge.  The garden club does it, she told us, while we stood there and chatted.
The barn itself is a historical piece, rare not only for the area but for most of the world.  Joanna and her husband have taken it upon themselves to restore it and keep it tidy on the outside.  The inside, well, it’s a barn.  It’s just where stuff goes.  She let us in and walking over ladders and siding, we saw corn equipment that dates back over 100 years, a swing she is reupholstering for her daughter, and a loaded .22 rifle.
“’Possum was in here this morning.”
Joanna is in her 70’s although you wouldn’t know it as she gave us a tour of the barn that quickly transformed into a tour of her life, her yard, and her goldfish pond.  And somewhere along the way, she transformed from a tour guide to a wonderful person with stories of a rich life to share, and by the time we left I wish I could have spent the whole afternoon with her, drinking iced tea and sitting on her front porch, listening to all she had to say.  Some people just radiate kindness and quality.
Instead, when it was time to go, I gave a clear warning that I was coming in to give a hug to seemingly a stranger.
She hugged back.  Tightly, I might add.
I’m always telling my kids that the world is full of people who help make up who you are.  “Everyone has a story to tell, a lesson to teach,” I preach to them.  “Sometimes the person teaches you how to be, sometimes they teach you how not to be.  But you’ve got to pay attention to everyone who crosses your path because it happens for a reason.”
Most times they don’t really listen to me, but next time I give my little speech I’m pretty sure there will be an addendum about historical landmarks, ‘possums, and the value of stopping to say hello.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


For me, it’s a shot of myself around three years old.  I am standing on our back deck in the sunshine, and I’ve got a perfectly shaped black mustache, thanks to my short career of singing into the hose of the Shop Vac which was just used to clean out the fireplace.  
I’m pretty sure I’m wearing a green shirt, but like most pictures from the past, the colors that were never that great in the first place have faded away over time.  The telltale while border around the outside of the square photograph is starting to curl and yellow from age, and the actual quality of the photograph pales in comparison to what we can do today, even on our cell phones.
But there’s just something about those old pictures.
Today, whether or not you are tech savvy, actual cameras are practically a thing of the past.  Ask a kid what “film” is and they’ll give you the same blank stare they give when you ask them what it means to “rewind” something.  The mere idea of having to take 24 photos and then drive somewhere to turn them in for developing, only to wait a week to get them back, would about blow the mind of anyone born in the last 15 years.  The cameras of even recent times have been replaced by cell phones, a conveniently on-hand device that lets us take pictures just about anywhere, anytime, where they are easily uploaded to social web sites so that all of our friends can keep visual tabs on our lives.  
The ease of photography these days leads to an excessive amount of pictures, and I wouldn’t be surprised if only 5% of what is taken actually ends up printed on a piece of paper.  What was once a special moment that you hoped you captured is now a string of fourteen shots, because one of them is bound to be good.
So I have to wonder, have we lost the wonderment that is the photograph?
Maybe.  But I think it’s coming back.
Because of the ease of smart phone applications, people are now able to take their bazillion photographs and convert them into those old fashioned looking pictures.  You can make them black and white, sepia tone, washed out, and even fade those colors just like the mustache picture from youth.  You can add that classic white border to the square photo, or even one that looks like torn paper.  
And then you can share it for all of your friends to see.
Extremely simple, extremely clever, and as some might think, extremely comical to see people with their expensive smart phones purchasing apps to make their photos look old and worn out.
I think there’s a reason we’re all jumping on this insta-memory bandwagon.  I think we miss those special shots that we once waited weeks to see.  There was trust involved…Did you actually get that shot?  And of course, suspense…When, oh when will the photo booth open?!?  But mostly there was the limited number of memories you could grab with your camera.  You had to consider if something was good enough to spend the money on shooting and printing, and then you had to get it just right because that shot was you only chance.
And chances are you got it.  Sure, there are plenty of pictures that contain thumbs over the lens and closed eyes and blurred faces.  But there are some that freeze the ideal moment in time so much that I have to wonder was world was truly black and white when my grandparents were small?  And in the late 1970’s were the colors were a dim and muted? I’m not sure I want to know the answer, even if there was an app for that.

ps.  Mom, if you're out there, you know which picture I'm talking about.  I wish I could find it so I could post it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A mom's memory moment

As a busy mom, I tend to lump seconds into minutes, minutes into hours, and then I just count the hours until they are all sound asleep and I can finally put up my feet without hearing “Mom?  Mom?  Hey Mom!  Mom!  Mom!”  We run from here to there and everywhere in between, filling our summer days with activities that capture the essence of childhood before it wisps away in a warm breeze.
It is, quite frankly, exhausting.  My head spins.  I find myself buying energy drinks just so I don’t nod off on the washing machine holding a baseball uniform that had to be washed for the third time in as many days.  I sound too often like a drill sergeant, barking out chore orders and camp schedules until I’m hoarse, and I haven’t been able to read a children’s bedtime story in completion because the soft tone of my weary voice puts me to sleep long before the children. 
It comes to no surprise to me that when I actually stop and listen to the children that I have had the pleasure to raise, I come across what I like to call a “memory moment.”  I remember reading some magazine article way back in high school about taking a mental photograph and actually saying the word “click” and blinking your eyes.  The action of the blink and the sound of the click were supposed to help you hang onto that image forever.  It can work, and I know this because I remember telling my friend about it.  We were driving through Cuyahoga Valley, just before Brandywine Ski Resort.  Poof!  A memory moment!
But back in real life, the thought of even thinking of making a memory moment is something I don’t make the time for.  Just recently, however, I was absolutely reminded of these moments and how much I would love to have a whole book of them, stashed away in my heart.  I’m proud to say that I have my first entry…
It was a summer day too hot to go outside.  The kids were tired of running through the sprinkler and I decided it would be good to capitalize on the dangerous heat.  They hadn’t had a bath in days that didn’t involve a hose, as the laundry baskets had piled up higher than the dust bunnies.  So we had a good day of inside work and clean up.
I sent them all to separate places, knowing well enough that if any two were together, mass chaos would ensue.  My eldest who has poise beyond her years, took to her bedroom and quietly practiced her flute, which makes the first layer of the memory moment—a closed door with the faint whisper of “Hot Cross Buns” ringing through it.
My son, a boy who loves to clean as much as his mother, was sent to his room to put away his clothes and the piles of whatever boy things clutter from wall to wall.  He was behind closed doors, working diligently.  (Or so I thought.)
My youngest was sentenced to my bathtub, where she was contained in my room so that for once I could put a dent in my closet and bathroom.  She constantly served me bubble bath lemonade, coffee, and loudly sang out her best rendition of the old camp song, “Granny’s in the Cellar.”
So there I was, scrubbing a bathroom counter and drinking tea, listening to camp songs and the flute when in danced my son, looking a bit larger than normal.  
“Guess how many pairs of underwear I have on!!!  Come on, guess!”
The flute player came rushing in, the kid in the bathtub craned her neck, and we all stood in awe while he counted.
Twenty-three pairs of less than comfortable underwear, which was a lot funnier for us than him when he couldn’t get them off.
And then, right then, I said “click” and blinked my eyes.  I filed the whole memory moment in a special folder marked, “it doesn’t get any better than this.”
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