Thanksgiving 2020

A tiny turkey breast seems almost lost in the oven. It’s almost time for it to trade places with the oysters and the green bean casserole. One oven, so everyone has to take turns. The pie was baked last night and is ready to go and a premade vegie tray awaits its turn in the refrigerator. Mashed potatoes of the instant kind, will be the last minute dish prepared. Just boil some water and add the potato flakes!

There are no grands or great grands coming up the back stairs and throwing the door open to announce their arrival, slinging their jackets wherever they land. There will be no cherry delight traveling from my daughter’s home (why do I always forget to clear a space in the fridge for that?). No hugs, no political arguments (thank goodness for that) and no Christmas wish lists to share with each other ( we have already done that online and with texts).

It will just be three of us, but we still have lots to be thankful for. Our family, so far, is healthy, and able to do their own things on this Thanksgiving day. We all have enough to eat and a place to live, friends that keep us centered or off kilter sometimes, and we all have hopes for the future.

I wish for you all a wonderful day, a different day, a hopeful day and a day full of thanks!

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My love affair with pencil and paper began with my brother. Ron is 5 years older than me and I followed him around like a little shadow throughout my childhood.

I missed him when he went off to school in the fall. When he was nine and I was four, I began to wait for him when I knew it was time for the school bus. I would look at the papers he brought home and listen to him answer questions about his day from my mom.

The concept of school fascinated me, though I had never been there. I looked at the numbers and letters on the pages he brought home, he sometimes would bring me a coloring page that I would scribble on and pretend I was doing schoolwork. I learned to recognize his name printed at the top of every page and was quick to brag that I knew what that word was.

One afternnon we sat down together and he printed my name. He carefully explained how the letter u looked like a cup, the letter t looked like a cross, and the letter h looked like a chair. I was hooked. I sat down and tried to duplicate what he had written. Ron made some examples for me and showed me how to make an entire row of letters. After lots of practice, I was able to write my name. The first letter always gave me trouble, because it did not resemble much of anything except itself! But the cup, and the cross, and the chair stuck with me and made it easy.

Two years later, it was my time to go to school. I could already write my name. The next year, my teacher chose one of my writing samples to be exhibited at the county fair in an educational display.

I continued to love to write. I loved school. I became a teacher and taught manuscript writing to first graders. After that I taught cursive for several years to classes of second graders. Other teachers complained about teaching penmanship…they thought it was boring and tedious. Not me, I loved every minute of it.

And…I loved telling my young students who taught me how to write!

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Why Everyone should raise hogs once in their lives

Every job you have ever held, had elements that made the job difficult, things that frustrated you, things that inspired you, things that gave you a sense of accomplishment or a sense of pride.  Since not too many of you have  been hog farmers, I want to explain to you why you should be a hog farmer…just once in your lifetime.

Raising hogs creates consistency in your life.  You must feed the hogs twice a day and water them twice a day and clean out their pens frequently or your attempt to raise hogs will be all for naught.  And like milking cows, it’s best to be on a set schedule.  Because hogs can tell time, as can most animals.  Hogs like to eat.  And when they get too hungry, they get touchy.  Downright angry.  And they turn on each other which isn’t a pretty sight and can make a difference in whether you make any money or produce a good product.

Raising hogs teaches you about hard work.  Whether you are scooping up hog manure with a shovel and throwing it over a gate or pushing piles of hog manure into a pit,  the one constant is…. hog poop is heavy.  You will develop muscles, your back may ache, and at the end of each day you will be tired.   This may lead to better sleep.  Unless you have to get up in the middle of the night to check the sows who are schedule to “pig” any day.  And by “pig” I mean … deliver a litter of baby piglets.

Raising hogs also teachers you tolerance.  A pig is an animal.  A pretty smart animal.  But still an animal.  Yoy might start to think that the mean old sow that always grunts and squeals when you get near her is purposely waiting to deliver her piglets at 3 AM  just to piss you off.  I assure you that is not the case.  Those piglets are born when nature says they should be born.  And you might think that that mean old sow who delivered her piglets at 4:30 AM  (30 minutes after you checked on her and then went back to bed)  is intentionally waiting for you to leave.  Not so.  You might even be paranoid enough to think she laid on top of 4 (or more) of her piglets just to cut into your profit margins.  Not true, either.  She is tired from delivering anywhere from 8-14 baby pigs and then being available for every single one of them to nurse right away.  She needs to lie down and if those pigs get in the way… well, too bad, she’s tired.  Doesn’t she love her pigs?   I don’t know what emotions pigs can feel.  She is protective as most animal mothers are, but she is also oblivious to the fact that her babies are underneath her and can’t survive.  Its really nothing personal.

Raising hogs will teach you about working conditions.  You will get dirty.  If you don’t, well, you’re not doing it right.  You will wade through deep “stuff”  and it will saturate the bottoms of your jeans.  You will learn to set aside certain chore clothing.  Because a distinctive odor will permeate your clothing and it never really goes away.  You will learn to shampoo your hair after being in the hog barn, because no amount of hair spray can cover the odors your hair absorbs.  There is a reason why male farmers don’t sport mustaches.

Raising hogs can be rewarding.  I’m not talking about how much money you make from selling your hogs, although that is important.   I’m talking about intrinsic rewards.  At the end of the day, when you are dirty and tired you will hopefully develop a sense of pride in the work you are doing.  As in any job or career, when you know you have done your best and you can take pride in a job well done.  And… those baby pigs are awfully cute…. for awhile.

So now dear readers, I am  setting forth a challenge.  Tell me what your jobs have taught you.  Tell me your story about why everyone should ******once in their lives.  Everyone has a story.  Tell me yours.

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On Being Seventy

I closed out my 69th year by taking a short trip to Walmart and wearing my T shirt inside out. I wouldn’t even have noticed if the cashier hadn’t yelled across the store after checking me out….”Hey Ruth! Did you know that your shirt is inside out?” I looked down and saw the seams that should have been inside. My first thought was “Great… now everyone who was behind me knows that I wear a size Mammoth Petite.”

Years ago, I remember watching a movie called “Splash”. One of the supporting characters was an absent-minded, aging secretary who one day wore her bra on the outside of her blouse to work. It was a ridiculously funny moment in the movie. Obviously one of the writers of the script was an aging woman like me. I can also remember going to work and laughing with a coworker about wearing unmatching shoes. We chalked it up to getting dressed in the dark amidst the confusion of getting ourselves and 3 kids out the door on time.

There are days that I feel seventy and days that I do not. At this point I would say its about 50/50. There are also days I forget that I am seventy and that’s where things can get a little dangerous. Climbing into the back of a pickup truck and then jumping down from the tailgate. Trying to lift a bag of softener salt. Bending over to pick something off the floor. My body screams at me… Don’t do that anymore!

I find that I am not so good at realizing where I am in position to other things. I open the refrigerator door and bonk my forehead while the cereal boxes on top of the refrigerator fall on my head because I hadn’t pushed them back far enough from the door. A gallon of milk falls out of my hand to the floor because my arthritic hands cannot grasp as they used to. Coming up from the basement, I put both feet on each step like a toddler learning to walk.

Being seventy also means that in any survey you decide to take you are in the last age category listed in the drop-down box, or sometimes even in a category labeled “other”. I am always afraid the year I was born (in a similar drop-down box) will no longer appear at all.

I’m thankful to be beginning my seventies. It certainly has it drawbacks, but there are a lot of things I can still do on my own. I can still do housework (what fun!) although not as fast as I used to. I have a lot of common sense knowledge that I would gladly share with younger folks, but they better hurry because some days I forget most of it. And while there are times when I may wear my shirt inside out or backwards or have shoes on that aren’t quite matching, I have not yet worn any underwear on the outside of my clothes.

At least, not that I know of.

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Kent State

As a college freshman in 1968, there was still an air of formality involved in classrooms and organizations. We dressed up for class, wearing skirts and pantsuits. I remember wearing my graduation dress to freshman orientation the previous summer and my parents were dressed in church attire… heels and hose, suit and a tie.

By May of 1970 when I was a sophomore, changes had taken place. The Hippie look was now part of even the Midwest conservative college scene. Bell bottom trousers and jeans, tie dye, and lots of fringe and leather. Most of us had long hair and we had now reached the point where the guys hair was just as long as the girls.

Those of us who were students in May 1970, at Bowling Green State University, remembered vividly the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy… we were just junior high and high school students when that horror began.

As I walked across campus on May 4, I remember it being sunny and warm, with the promise of summer break approaching. As I approached the Student Union I was surprised to hear shouting and chanting and as I read the flyers that were being handed out describing briefly what had happened, it brought all those terrible feelings back again. Following a weekend of disruption and demonstrations about the Vietnam War and other issues, students had been shot and killed by National Guardsmen at a demonstration at Kent State University…. just a couple of hours away from our campus.

By the time I got back to my dorm, everyone was talking about it, many were crying, many were also packing their bags to head home. I felt afraid, shocked. It was unbelievable to think this had happened. I kept thinking about my fiance who was a member of the Army Reserve. How could this happen?

Later that afternoon an assembly on the lawn of campus in front of Williams Hall began and student speakers were ready to organize our own type of protest to what was happening. Like magic, microphones were set up on the steps and students began to gather.

Classes were forgotten. Everything was forgotten except the tragedy that had just happened and we waited eagerly for more news. Each floor in our dorm had only one TV in the common room near the pay phones and there was not continuous coverage like there is today. We waited for the evening news. We listened to radio to find out anything we could.

Parents were desperately trying to call in and find out if everything was ok at BGSU. There were rumors that there were demonstrations at all campuses and one rumor was that BGSU students had formed a human chain to block the traffic on Interstate 75 which ran east of campus. My parents said they were coming to get me, but I said no. I wanted to stay and be a part of campus at that moment. It seemed like where I should be.

Just hours after hearing the news, a group of students briefly occupied the BGSU Administration Building on the west end of campus, demanding that classes be cancelled and demanding to talk to Dr William Jerome, President of BGSU. He agreed to speak at Williams Hall where a meeting was planned. Eventually classes were cancelled and a memorial service was planned for the students who were killed.

Later that week a candlelight march was held. We walked from campus to the downtown area in eery silence as others lined the streets and watched. When classes resumed, there was much discussion about the incident.

Campuses changed after that. Its hard to explain. We realized how vulnerable we were. We realized that having a voice could be dangerous. We were the generation who would be in charge in a few years. The simple, fun-loving, carefree days of youth were quickly disappearing. Sometimes I look back and think of all the violence and disruption that was part of my world growing up. Each generation has a fair amount of that. My parents’ generation dealt with the Great Depression and WWII and all the baggage that came with it. I think of college students today learning to live with a pandemic, having their lives disrupted at a time in their life where everything should be exciting and challenging, and just plain fun.

Its important to remember the tragedies that have been a part of our history. We should have learned from them. We seldom have control of them. And we can’t forget the ones that didn’t get to grow up with the rest of us, the soldiers, the victims of violence, and four students lost that May.

Student vigil at BGSU May 6, 1970. From the BGSU library collection permission to use for non commercial use

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It’s Howdy Doody Time

No. Sorry. Its not. But it did get your attention! I’ve been cooped up too long. I’ve started to write songs. Just the lyrics. Over the years I have written a few with friends. One year my elementary school wrote and sang to the kids “Thank God that school is out” (to the tune of Thank God I’m a Country Boy.) And one year we did the Twelve Days of Christmas… the only part I can remember is “and a first grader with a bloody nose” Took the place of the partridge in a pear tree.

Here is my pandemic song sung to the tune of “Its Howdy Doody Time”. You youngsters will have to Google that….

Its senior shopping day

I’ll soon be on my way

But first I’ll don my mask

I’m doing all they ask.

And next I’ll sanitize

Keep fingers from my eyes

And wipe the shopping cart

cause I’m corona smart.

I’ve organized my list

to minimize the risk

At this I am quite good

At finding all my food.

Fogged glasses make me squint

As down the aisles I sprint

At last I think I’m done

Oh this is so much fun.

I load stuff in my car

I parked not very far

Now sanitize again

Kill germs from where I’ve been.

At home I put away

Continue with my day

And hope enough I’ve done

Stay safe…. everyone!

I’m not expecting a Grammy…. maybe a Granny award.

Add some lyrics in the comments if you’d like!


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Eighth Grade Dance

Spring 1964.  The last year of Junior High School.  Next year, a brand new high school building ten miles out in the country.  Three small rural schools would form a much bigger class…. The class of 1968. 

But for now, we were still eighth graders and still had a month of school left and there was a dance coming up… The Eighth Grade Dance, a traditional end of the year event.

I found myself on the planning committee for the dance, probably because I hadn’t learned how not to volunteer for everything that came along.  There wasn’t much planning involved.  The dance would be held in the school cafeteria… what can you do with a school cafeteria except move all the tables out so there is room to dance?  Maybe some decorations, but one whole wall of the cafeteria was floor to ceiling windows with a great view of the playground, the opposite wall was broken up with double doors on each end, and one end was the kitchen and cafeteria line.  That left one wall to decorate.  Simple.  I remember cutting out round pieces of paper made to resemble a 45 record.

The school had  record players and one of our teachers promised to have one setup in the corner for music.  A couple of the boys said they would be the DJ’s, which really meant they would change the records when necessary. 

    I had a few 45’s of my own. Mine were mostly the Beatles, the Beach Boys, some Motown records, and one by Andy Williams. 

None of us had ever been to a dance before. The girls (we were just 12 and 13 years old) had danced at slumber parties and with our girl friends but not with a boy. The boys had never given it a thought. 

I remember asking several people to bring records to the dance so we would have some music and specifically asking one eighth grade boy who had older brothers and sisters and a pretty extensive record collection.  He promised he would bring some good ones. 

The night of the dance came, parents dropped kids off at the east side of the school next to the swing set, and we all gathered in the cafeteria.  Awkwardly.  All the tables had been moved into the hallway except for one that held the record player and records.  Chairs  outlined the walls.  The dance floor looked huge!    There was no starting announcement. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe I thought someone would stand up and say “Ladies and gentlemen, start your dancing!” In reality we just started to hang out and I put on one of my records because the boy who was supposed to bring most of the music hadn’t arrived yet. 

No one danced at first. We just all sat or stood in little groups.  All girl groups and all boy groups.  No mingling.  Just awkwardly standing around.  The girls outnumbered the boys at least two to one because this dance wasn’t interesting to most 12- 13 year old boys. There were some teacher chaperones and parent chaperones who walked around and tried to encourage people to dance, even by going out and dancing themselves.  We just all rolled our eyes.

Finally, Eddie Kimball, who became the legend of the evening, asked someone to dance a slow dance.  I am guessing Eddie’s mom or older sister had taught him to slow dance in anticipation of this very evening.  So we all watched in awe as Eddie and his partner took their places on the dance floor and started to dance.

Eddie’s method was dancing in a box formation.  One step left, one step forward, one step right, one step back.  That was it.  That was the dance.   A few girls, me included, found other girl partners and we started to emulate Eddie’s box dance.  The boys had nothing to do with it.  They were still in their little groups either looking awkward or doing something stupid together and laughing.   

I brought only one slow record… Charade by Andy Williams.  So we played that over and over while Eddie changed partners.  Soon there was a line forming of girls who wanted to slow dance with a boy.  Eddie, who I had never really paid much attention to before, was now the center of attention. 

I kept watching the door for the rest of the records to arrive.  Finally the “record collection boy” walked in.  Alone. He had nothing.  I rushed up to him and said, “Where are your records?  You were going to bring your records!”

“I forgot,” was all he said and went off to join a boy group. I shrugged my shoulders and made a mental note about not trusting boys with important jobs.

One of the cool teachers got us to do a snowball dance.  The purpose of the snow ball was to get as many people on the floor as possible.  A few couples start the dance, someone yells “snow ball” and everyone has to go get a new partner from the groups who are not dancing.  It was successful at getting kids involved.  But at the end of the dance, everyone hurried back to their comfortable spot on the wall.

The evening was spent listening and dancing to “Charade” over and over and over until people started to groan when it came on.  There were a few other records we played but no one was brave enough to get out and do any fast dancing. 

I shared a couple of dances with Eddie Kimball. He must have moved away after junior high school, he’s not in our graduation photos, but I like to think about him dancing his life away. Are you out there somewhere Eddie Kimball?

It might sound as if this dance turned out to be a real dud.  As far as eighth grade dances went, I think it was probably as successful as any. And it made a legend out of Eddie Kimball, at least in my mind.

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Grandma Eier

Grandma Anna was quite different from my other Grandma. She seemed fragile.  She lived a long life despite the tragedies she endured. The death of a toddler daughter and the death of her youngest son 30 years later broke her spirit and forever changed her and the family dynamics.  My dad and younger sister were there to help pick up the pieces but sometimes when things break, they cannot be fixed.

Grandma Anna was a gifted artist in many ways.  She could sketch and paint, she could play the piano beautifully,  and she had an eye for the beauty that surrounded her in her simple farm life.  Most of her sketches and paintings were completed on what was available to her. Not canvas or specialty papers. She painted on burlap, on shoe box tops, on the inserts from nylon hose, and any cardboard or heavy paper that she could find. Her subjects were often wildlife; bunnies, birds, fish, and other small animals were some of her favorites. She also had a knack for drawing kittens, giving them human characteristics. Later in life encouraged by her daughter, she made quilts and pillowtops from quilted patterns. Grandma Anna was adept at writing letters and sharing her days with others.  Her twin sister, Martha, has some of the same skills. That is another story.

Anna’s pussywillow

I had a special connection with Grandma Anna, too because her name was my middle name.  It was from her that I was encouraged to play the piano. Like Grandma Thomas, she had an old upright piano that I was allowed to  play. We often played duets together as I became more skilled.  No visit to her house was complete without me sitting down to play a song for her or with her. She was my first audience.

In the corner of her bedroom was a collection of things to play with when we visited.  There were board games like Chutes and Ladders, card games like Go Fish and Old Maid, and checkers and dominoes.  There was also an old stereoscope tucked away in her bedroom bureau that we were sometimes allowed to use and view 3D scenes that she had collected.  She had a Jenny Lind bed in her bedroom, various arrangements of dried flowers, herbs, and weeds in coffee cans in her kitchen, a small dish of mints in the middle of the kitchen table, and an unusual collection of wishbones in the kitchen window.

A walk to the woods was another shared activity as the weather permitted, picking up acorns and hickory nuts, colored leaves, and visiting the sugar camp in the late winter. She loved the wildflowers and collected and dried all types of weeds to make stunning arrangements. She grew beautiful roses in the front yard.

I was 47 when she passed, almost the age she was when I was born.  It was hard to lose her but it was time: she was unable to walk and see very well at the end and she often talked about wanting it to be over.  She and her twin Martha lived almost 97 years, dying just a few months apart.

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Country road

A thousand times I have traveled this road

driving cars, trucks, tractors.

On crisp fall days with wagons of corn and soybeans,

On cool spring days delivering meals or a thermos

and chasing escaping livestock.

A thousand times I have traveled this road

hauling toddlers on the back of a bike,

Riding beside my children, pulling them in wagons,

picking up acorns and fuzzy caterpillars

dodging earthworms and birds.

Walking and jogging, tripping and falling

teaching children and grandchildren how to drive.

A thousand times I have traveled this road

In heat and cold, rain and snow, and beautiful summer days

driving to doctors appointments and surgeries

picking up parts for broken machinery

heading to vacations or visits with friends.

Lives change but the road remains the same,

Leading me into the next phase.

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Grandma Thomas

Grandma Thomas was a Wonder.  Literally, she was. She was born Ruth Katherine Wonder on April 24, 1897.  My grandfather Orville Thomas married her in 1917 and together they had 8 children, the oldest child being almost thirty years old when the youngest was born.

I was named after my grandmother. We had a special connection because of that.  But my memories of her are mostly of her being ill.  We visited often, but it was because my Mom and her sisters were taking care of her; brushing her long hair and sweeping it up with tiny tortoise shell combs, washing her face as she lay in a dark bedroom, cleaning house, and catching up on laundry grandma could no longer handle.

Often there were  huge molasses cookies in the cookie tin, despite her illness.  And in a bureau drawer in the hallway,  a hand puppet of Porky Pig that we were allowed to play with when we visited.  An old upright piano in the living room fascinated me, until Mom would come out and quiet me down because grandma was resting.  There were pictures of my grandmother and me when we were both a few years younger.  For most of them I was too young to remember.

Ruth and Grandma Ruth

Grandma worked hard on the farm, milking cows, feeding hogs, growing a huge garden to feed the family, canning, butchering. She even found time to grow flowers, I remember making small dolls from the hollyhock blossoms with her.  It was not an easy life.   She was just 60 years old when she passed.  The illnesses she suffered from (diabetes, heart disease) would be treatable nowadays but health care was different in the 50’s.   I often wish I had more memories of Grandma, but I was just 7 years old when she left us. I cherish the memories that I have.

Ruth and Grandma Ruth at the barn

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