Country musings

It was a short trip to the country, long overdue.

I know you can’t go home again, and my final destination never actually was my residence.

But in my heart it was home, especially in summer.

My grandparents once lived in the little Minnesota town I was fast approaching. My childhood memories there are still ripe with picking rhubarb, fresh corn, Grandma’s lemon pies in the oven, and porch swings.

My final stop was to be a rural cemetery in the corn fields just about a mile beyond the town’s Main Street.

My brother, parents, and grandparents are buried there, along with a host of other relatives.

It’s my tribe.

I recall a great aunt softly grabbing my arm and walking me through the place at my brother’s burial service many years ago.

She introduced me to each and everyone of his new neighbors there. And it seemed I was related to them all.

The main purpose of my trip was to check on the state of my family’s monuments and pavers.

And also to pay my respects.

It was a lonely, cold and gray morning at the cemetery. Memorial Day had already come and gone, just like the northerly wind.

There was just me and the morning doves around.

I noticed looking across the grounds that flowers on the graves were very few.

Perhaps those who used to plant the red, white and blue petunias on the burial sites of their elders had now passed away themselves.

But as I walked around I found some unexpected gifts.

A small bunch of yellow silk forget-me-knots adorned my brother’s grave. They were faded some, but lovingly placed perhaps by a stranger who cared, or was moved by the words ‘beloved son’ engraved on the tombstone.

I also discovered sheaves of corn placed around his grave and those of many others.

There is an old custom of placing these sheaves on the burial ground of those who once farmed.

Though no one in my immediate family had worked the land, it was still in their blood.

I pulled my old down vest tighter as I battled the chill back to my car.

Driving again through my grandparents aging small town to enter the highway back towards the city, I became a little blue. I noticed the downtown looked a bit dead with many vacant storefronts.

And I realized too that this trip out in the country had lacked the charm I used to know. The once proud red barns were now decaying and swaying in the breeze. And many of the other small towns along that highway looked lost and weathered as well.

I longed for any signs of life in traditional small town America and rural America.

And maybe just to see a farmer in bib overalls, I thought.

Suddenly I pulled the car over at the sight of something familiar, yet a bit different.

To my right I saw that the old Victorian funeral parlor, sitting kitty corner from my grandparents’ old place, was filled with life again.

There were tricycles and toys in the front yard. Maybe a growing family lived here or it was a bustling day care center I hoped.

Then I looked to the left.

My grandparents’ former home was shining brighter than ever with a fresh coat of paint.

And a few minutes later as I was driving back on the highway, I finally saw my farmer in bib overalls coming out of a dollar store.

I smiled for a moment.

I was happy.

At least it wasn’t a big old Walmart.

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Burying those ‘Bah Humbugs’

I was having one of those ‘Bah Humbug’ moments.

I’d just lost a mitten while shopping for my kitten.

I had been busily stocking up on emergency supplies at the store up the hill as a winter storm was coming.

Buying replacement mittens definitely was not on my shopping list.

But kitty litter, bread, milk, and lots of chocolate were. And all were fortunately within easy reach of the Santa cookie tins and one available smiling clerk humming “Let It Snow.”

I’m thinking their placement was geared towards keeping my spirits bright.

However, it didn’t.

I soon caught myself uttering another “Bah Humbug.”

Christmas fell off the top of my favorite holiday list way back when I was six.

That was the year the new doll smell and curly blonde hair of a baby doll delivered by Santa attracted the attention of our young beagle. Our dog thought she made the perfect chew toy.

The doll and my Norman Rockwell holiday were never quite the same.

It seems the annual arrival of frigid sub-zero weather with the holidays hasn’t helped my attitude either or all that crazy commercialism and greed.

Even family celebrations have grown a bit more bittersweet year by year.

It’s hard to forget the Christmas Eve when my late dementia stricken mother stared at her grandchildren across the dinner table and blurted out, “So who are you?”

Or the memories of sharing hospital meals of wilted salads and frosted Christmas cookies with my husband while he was in hospice three years ago.

But things really are beginning to look up.

Even in a year when peace and joy seem a bit hard to find.

Luckily, I just found that favorite mitten.

And I’m playing Santa for a few seniors, an animal rescue group, and the young children I work with.

I’m also hoping to share many more last minute smiles before the big day.

You see I once saw a flying Santa in the skies do the same.

It happened a few years ago.

I’d awakened at 6:00 a.m. to hysterical laughter on a holiday flight returning from Amsterdam.

The plane was packed full of travelers of all colors and nationalities. Many didn’t speak English.

It didn’t matter.

Everyone was looking up at the same movie screen smiling, sharing just a few brief moments of comfort and joy.

As well as those chuckles.

This time of year, no matter your beliefs, perhaps that’s what matters most.

Joy Lesson 101

It started with a photograph taken of my sister and me last week.

She’s four years older, but in the picture she looks four years younger.

And it sure looks like I’m wearing one face full of stress.

So it got me wondering over breakfast if I might need a joy make over.

But looking at my watch, I left pondering there on my plate so I could quickly catch up with my grandkids at the kiddie parade in town.

Grabbing Mom’s old red, white and blue ribboned hat, I soon found my little Gang of Four.

The youngest immediately commandeered the old hat, and now was dressed with a smile.

He could share his sister’s bliss who was already twirling in her red dress for the event, admiring the blue sky overhead.

And an older brother, equally proud, was excitedly showing off a carefully selected blue t-shirt and red socks for the occasion.

We began to walk hand in hand with all the other children and dogs. Our chaperones were Uncle Sam, Betsy Ross, Mickey, and Minnie.

We waved our balloons in the air and flags at the smiling townspeople on their front steps. And they waived back.

My tiny joy filled companions then greeted all with a high pitched “Happy Fourth of July!”

The kids were thrilled with each special greeting received in return.

The smiles continued as they munched red, white and blue bread slathered with peanut butter and cherry jelly.

And the bomb pops and cupcakes made the day even sweeter.

Could it be that joy is just that simple?

When I got in the car, I glanced in the mirror.

I think I looked a little bit younger.

I do know for sure I was smiling a lot more.