There’s No Place Like Home

Grandma and Grandpa

This was written at St Martin’s University in 1998.

Growing up in Iowa was more fun than it sounds.  Every summer, my mom and dad would load up us kids and trek us halfway across the state to my grandparents’ farm outside of Ames.  Admittedly, this doesn’t sound like that much fun either, but when you are a kid and you get to spend from the day after school gets out to the day before school starts again, it’s a blast.  Three months of sun, being outside with animals, spending time on rainy days making all sorts of little projects Grandma saw on TV, is a kid’s dream come true.

I spent every summer from when I was born until I started high school at my grandparents’ farm.  I guess I didn’t realize until I was older just how much I appreciated being there for long periods of time.  Not only did I get to spend time with relatives that I only saw every couple of months, but I was exposed to an entirely different atmosphere than at my parents’ house.  Mom and Dad lived in the city, but Mom had grown up on the farm.  At this point in my life, I realize that those moments spent next to my grandparents and great-grandparents are irreplaceable.

The images that I remember are of fields of corn in the summer…actually walking between the rows and pulling weeds and tassels; rows upon rows upon rows of soybeans…again, actually walking between the rows and spraying weeds for hours on end; rows of mown hay being bundled into bales…and more bales…and more bales.  Then there are the fun images – those of a calf first learning how to stand, all wobbly and scared.  A Brown Swiss cow standing in the midst of all the black and white Holsteins chewing her cud.  Getting up early in the morning to go feed the calves and to help Grandma with her chores (and Grandpa too…if you got up early enough).  Walking what seemed to be HUGE herd of cows down the road to the other form…and scared that they would run away and then what would happen?  I remember picking flowers, picking corn, picking beans (green beans, not soybeans), and my favorite — strawberries.

There are certain smells that always will take me back: the smell of a cow lot or pig lot (no one else seems to like that smell), the smell of fresh cut grass; the smell of my grandma’s house on anything she sends me; the smell of cookies and cakes and roast; the smell of corn on the cob just before it’s time to take it out of the pan to eat!  It is funny how something so simple can bring back a wealth of memories and feelings that you had forgotten about.

I was always amazed how Grandma kept up with all the people that were in and out of her house.  The “boys” (aka my uncles) were (and still are) always coming and going.  There is memorabilia all over the house from when they were in 4H. My favorite picture is the large framed picture of Uncle Charles showing the cow.  That picture hangs over the bed in the basement.  There are running jokes about how slow Grandma eats, or how she is always going to clean off the pool table, or how she’s going to get a head start on her Christmas cards.  I think that other things were just more important to her, and she wanted to make sure her cards and letters had her personal touch on them.

I remember when Great-Grandma was still alive and living at the other farm.  I used to walk over there to make cookies with her.  Great-Grandma had the coolest house – it was old and had all sorts of nooks and crannies to hide in.  At the other farm, the cow pasture (a real pasture) had a stream.  I was only allowed to walk along the stream one time.  Great-Grandma also had to get up really early and give the older calves their milk.  That was always scary because we had to go down into the basement (which everyone knew had a snake in it) then mix up the powdered milk with the water and VERY carefully walk up the narrow staircase to go outside.

Even if I went back now, I would still fall back into the same pattern that has been in place since I was born.  I would still get to sleep in the “Big Kid’s” room.  I would still sit at the same place at the kitchen table.  I would still know where everything was, because nothing has been moved in years.  Grandpa would still take a nap before lunch in his recliner, while Uncle Charles would take his nap after lunch either on the living room floor or downstairs.  Grandma would still take forever to eat and would fall asleep in her recliner at night.  Grandma still measures the grandkids (and great-grandkids) on the refrigerator. She still threatens to swat us with a fly swatter or make us sit in the corner if we misbehave.  There is a continuity at the farm that I haven’t found anywhere else.  It’s almost as if the farm exists in its own time warp.

I can remember when things were a little different.  The farm had its own gas station (for lack of a better description).  Uncle Mark lived at home (he’s the youngest), and he drew pictures and portraits.  Grandma drove.  Grandma kept a bigger garden – almost part of field.  I remember when Grandpa still grew sweet corn and we spent a lot of time husking it in the back of a pickup, then carting it into the house for the “womenfolk” to boil it, take it off the ears and freeze it.

Looking back, I realize that even though they weren’t obvious to me at the time, I learned a lot of lessons about life that have stayed with me.  The value of hard work and the benefits you receive from a job well done.  The satisfaction of playing when all the work is done, and even how to make what seems like a tedious job fun.

Note: In the 13 years since this was written, a lot has changed.  Grandma died a few  years ago after being sick with Alzheimer’s.  Grandpa no longer actively farms, although he occasionally raises some pigs for Iowa State.  The other farm is gone, it was used for a controlled burn a number of years ago.  But the feeling of family, of continuity, of love, still remains.  It is, and always will be, the center of our family’s gatherings.

What I am Thankful For – Day 4

Today I am thankful for my friends.  I have a group of friends that I play trivia with (go Team Tiger Blood!); friends I read books with (yay Book Nerds!); friends I go to the movies with (you know who you are); friends I work (or have worked) with; friends I went to school with; and friends I’ve had since I was young. 

All of these people have touched my life in some way and have made me the person I am.  For all the support they have lent me, for all the laughs we have shared, for the tears we have cried together, and the hours and hours of talking, I thank you.

What I am Thankful For – Day 3

Today I am thankful for my job – for several reasons. 

  • First, I am able to earn money that pays for my house, my car, groceries for my family, utilities to heat my house, and generally provide for my family. 
  • Second, my job provides health insurance, which I will have to use today when I take the girls to the doctor for possible ear infections. 
  • Third, my job allows me to use my education and experience for the betterment of the company.
  • Lastly, my job is 10 minutes from my house.  That allows me to spend more time with my family and be available for my kids if they are sick.

I have worked a lot of jobs in my life and I can honestly say that this job is one of the best I have had.  I appreciate the fact that they took a chance and hired me.

What I am Thankful For – Day 1

Today, I give thanks for my husband who has been my partner for the last 15 years.  We have weathered many storms together, and I have always known that he is there for me and I am there for him, no matter the situation.  He is always there to balance me and lift me up.  From that day 20+ years ago when we first met to today when we woke up, every day has been treasured.  Sure, we have changed along the way, but we have changed together.

I am looking forward to our future.  Thank you, my love for taking this journey with me.

She’s Home to Rest in Peace

Two days ago, we brought our Duchess’ remains home.  It was rough.  Seeing her little paw prints on the clay disk brought back how much we have missed he.  I’m glad to have her home, and glad that she won’t be far from us ever again.  Over the last two weeks, it’s been an adjustment getting used to not seeing her.  It still feels weird that we aren’t giving medicine every night and every morning.  I have caught myself a lot asking Eric if he’s given her the medicine.  It’s an adjustment.

Here are some of my favorite memories and things that I miss…

  • Almost every night, she sat on the back of the couch above my head and swatted me with her tail while I watched TV.  I can’t begin to say how much I miss that.
  • Her smell – she always smelled like cookies for some reason
  • How she would play with a string over and over, until she realized you were watching her
  • How she would jump up to really high perches and then hide there for hours just watching you.  She would spend hours in the kitchen on top of the upper cabinets just watching people and the dogs.
  • She was always trying to go downstairs to the basement, unless you needed her to because of a storm warning
  • How her fur was such an undefineable color – it tended to match everything I owned
  • How her face never photographed the way I saw it – I could never understand that;  she was so beautiful, but it never truly came across in pictures.
  • How precious were her kisses – she wasn’t a licker (unlike Harvey), but when she licked you, you knew you were special.
  • She and I would occasionally share pieces of cheese – I could always count on her for that
  • Sometimes when we made dinner, we would leave the pan on the stove for a bit.  We always knew if she found it because we would hear her tags clank on the side of the dish.  She loved hamburger, although she always dropped it on the counter.
  • She never turned down a plate of tuna and would come running for her share.
  • She loved watching the fish (when we had them) and the birds outside the living room window.
  • She would sleep on the floor next to my bed.  It got to the point that I could wake up at almost any time and if she wasn’t on the bed with us, I could look down and she would be on the floor.
  • When we first adopted us,  she wasn’t a real affectionate cat.  She didn’t really want to be held, unless it was on her terms.  A couple of years ago, after I was laid off and was home all day every day for a month, she got to the point that she wanted to be next to us.  She wouldn’t always stay long, but she came and sat with us and on us.  She would sleep on me at night, or sleep right next to me.   She was just very independent and a true “CAT” in every sense of the word.  But she loved us and we loved her.

I still can’t believe she’s gone.  There’s a hole in my heart that I can’t fill.  I find myself looking for her when I come home, or reaching for her when I am watching TV.  I knew it would be hard, but I never thought it would be this hard.  Thank goodness for Eric and the girls.  They are keeping me occupied enough so that I can’t dwell on it.  I know that we will get through it and eventually the pain won’t be as much.  It’s just hard to explain to people who haven’t gone through it.  Thankfully, some of our friends and family have gone through it and having that support/understanding has been invaluable.  Our thanks pour out to them.

We love you and miss you Duchess.

Is it too late?

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”- Martin Luther King Jr.

Tomorrow never comes.  All you ever have is today – this moment in time.  You can’t go back and fix what happened a minute ago, much less a week ago.  What you have to do is to live your life as though every moment is your last.  It is too late for me to fix my relationships with those friends I have lost to the sands of time, but it’s not too late to work on my relationships now.  That needs to be my focused.  That means that I need to balance what I want and what others want from me.

The idea of balance is evident in the above quote.  The stark imagery of the “bleached bones and jumbled residues” as well as the fluid imagery of life as a tide that ebbs and flows.  There is both excess and want throughout our lives.  The key is to balance the two and make sure the excess will last through the periods of want.

We always need to keep in the back of our minds that we never have a chance to go back and fix what has happened.  We can’t take illness away; we can’t wish and make our finances better; we can’t waive a magic wand and fix all that is wrong in the world.  All we can do is push forward, unless we want to be found left behind.

A Tribute to Three Very Special Ladies – My Grandmas

I had very special grandmas.  When I was growing up, we lived 3 hours away from them, so any time we got to spend with them was golden.  Luckily, my parents would send my brother, sister, and I to the farm every summer.  From as soon as school got out to just before school started again, we lived on the farm.  We played with our cousins almost every day, did chores, and generally hung out.  Mom and Dad came up occasionally, but most of the time, it was just us and our grandparents.

Grandma at my bridal shower.

My Grandma Fitzgerald (aka Fuzz) was a wonderful lady to know.  She lived in town, but we got to spend the night with her off and on throughout the course of the summer, usually on Saturday so we could go to church with her.  She was funny, loving, and spiritual.  She and Grandpa had 7 kids – the youngest was a teenager when I was born.  After Grandpa died, she was the glue that held the family together.  She worked for a number of years after Grandpa died, so we couldn’t stay with her all the time.  There are a few memories I treasure about those times I spent with her:

  • Going to the grocery store, Starbuck’s diner, eating popcorn for supper and watching TV.
  • Getting to use Mr. Bubble Bubble Bath when I spent the night (that wasn’t allowed at home).
  • Grandma’s voice and organ playing (there are still songs that make me think of her).
  • Her sense of humor (she once walked chicken legs walk down the table, telling a story the whole way).
  • Holy Saturday Mass (we walked to church one year and it was a beautiful service).

We lost her several years ago to Alzheimer’s, which has to be the worst disease out there.

Grandma sitting in her chair - not a usual sight.

My Grandma Sloniger was truly a special lady.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, or ask myself whatshe would do.  She was so kind to everyone, and so patient – especially with teenagers who may not always be the most respectful.  Grandma worked hard on the farm, making sure Grandpa and my uncles were fed, the house was clean, and her grandkids were taken care of.  It took a very special person to corral 5 to 7 grandkids almost every day – luckily, they lived on a farm and she could tell us to go outside.  Grandma and I spent a lot of time baking, walking around the cow lot, sewing, reading, and watching old movies.  Grandma spent a lot of time with our family because my youngest brother was sick so much.  She would drop everything at the drop of a hat and come and stay with us for months on time.  Not many people would do that – no matter who it was for.  Our tribal knowledge is specific to us.  To this day, every one of us grandkids can tell you the plots to the old classic movies – from Shirley Temple to Fred & Ginger to Spike Jones – much to the dismay of our spouses.  Ask any of us what the Purple Movie is about and we can name it (it’s the Glenn Miller Story, by the way).  Ask us what is on the menu at Hickory Park and we can tell you – in fact, most of the people at Hickory Park can probably name all of us, including spouses and kids.  And, we know that meatloaf and tater tot casserole has to be made is a specific casserole dish, and hamburger gravy has to be made in a particular skillet.  There are a couple of memories I treasure about my summers with her:

  • Gardening and canning in the summer.
  • Baking cookies and congo bars.
  • Taking afternoon treats out to the field.
  • Going for walks and bike rides.
  • Reading and her helping with homework.
  • Using her mom’s treadle sewing machine.
  • How she always had Rice Krispies for breakfast every morning (with ½ of a banana).
  • Having SPAM sandwiches.
  • How she kept every piece of paper we gave her.

After I got married and moved away, she would send me letters.  I treasured those because I could hold them and still smell the baby powder she used every day.  We lost her a few years ago to Alzheimer’s as well.  I think she knew what was going on and she didn’t want to be a burden to my Grandpa, so she let us go.  But she knew who I was when I came up to say goodbye to her.

Great Grandma - one of the few pictures I have of her.

Great Grandma Sloniger was another big influence on my life.  I have a problem when talking to my mom about her, because I grew up calling Great Grandma just Grandma.  So Mom and I always have to make sure we are talking about the right grandma.  Great Grandma and Great Grandpa lived 1 mile from Grandma and Grandpa, so it was pretty customary for us to walk over there – especially if we were moving cows.  Their house was “over home” and we took care of chores at both places.  I would go to her house and we would bake cookies (we did a LOT of baking in the summers!) and kringla.  She taught me how to knit and crochet.  After she moved to her apartment, I would still get to spend the night.  We still baked and did crafts.  She was very patient with me.  Even when she was blind, she never stopped knitting and crocheting.  Nothing stopped her from staying busy.  She was a teenager during the Depression (depending on what year she told you she was born), so that made a huge impact on her.  In fact, I have her rolling pin and it still has the Fareway bread loaf bag that she kept it in – I can’t bear to replace it.  She kept all sorts of fabric, and it still smells like her house.  A few of the things I remember best about Great Grandma:

  • Going to square dances with Great Grandpa, Grandpa, and Grandma.
  • Baking all sorts of things.
  • All of the flowers.
  • The hardwood floors upstairs in her house and the French doors at the bottom of the stairs (which I now have).
  • All of the cubby holes in her built-in buffet in the dining room.
  • Going downstairs to the basement to make the powdered milk for the calves.
  • Watching her create things.

She died in 1993 when I was 17.  While she had some health difficulties her last few years, she still kept going.  She made an impact on a lot of people and worked hard her whole life.  I remember her being a quiet person, but we knew she loved us.

Regrets?

Sorry – On Australia Day

There are a lot of things that I would take back. I have tried to not live my life focused on regret, but there are many things I said that I would take back and many actions I would do differently. Mostly they are things that I said or did to family members or close friends. Some things haunt me to this day. Some things I know that had I done them differently, my life may have turned out differently.

Does that necessarily mean that I did it wrong? No. It just means that as I look back at my life, I see where the path I took may not have been the best path to take, or it was a path that has possibly added to my stress and affected my relationships with others.

Should you live your life with regret? Maybe. To the level that it consumes you day and night? Definitely not. Some would say that you need to seek forgiveness for your actions and move on. While you can seek forgiveness, you still need to accept responsibility for your actions and learn from them.

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Today is a new day

So I have reached the mid-point of my 35th year, which is approximately half-way through my life (hopefully not, but still). I have decided to turn over a new leaf. I am going to force myself to stay on top of housework, to keep my house presentable, to present myself in a professional manner, and to try to be a better mom, wife, sister, and daughter. I am going to take time for myself.

I’ve tried these resolutions before and haven’t had much success, but I think this time is different. I am motivated by the thought of what I *could* be and what my life could be like. I don’t want my girls my husband embarrassed because of me. I will make it so they have a better life than I had.

I am planning on using this forum to hold myself accountable.