The best history lessons

I imagine that somewhere, stashed in one of Mom’s many boxes in storage, are my elementary, junior and senior high school report cards. I’m pretty sure she saved them, just as she had saved the handmade yarn “Gods Eye” and matchstick cross I made in Bible School. Moms save those sorts of things.

I’m not really interested in the report cards, except to prove that I likely wasn’t the best student when it came to history. History was one of those boring subjects that required me to read chapter after chapter of some long-ago event that I didn’t care about at the time.

It wasn’t until after high school when, on a 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus trip, I visited the Gettysburg battlefield and historic site in Pennsylvania. Seeing history come alive before my eyes through reenactors, story boards and interactive displays, well, that was far better than reading about our nation’s Civil War in a book.

I was a poor student on the history of World War II as well, and then — through my work as a newspaper reporter — I met many amazing men and women who served our country abroad and at home. I’ve done one-on-one interviews with more than 50 World War II veterans — a majority of them sharing their stories with me just in the past five years — and I can say without a doubt they taught me more about war, perseverance and the American spirit than I could have ever possibly learned in a history book.

For the past few months, we at the Daily Globe have been working on a new project. It will appear in your newspaper in little more than a week, on April 30. The date marks the fall of Saigon and the official end of the Vietnam War.

I was born in the era of the Vietnam War. Other than reading about it in textbooks or the occasional book store find — “The Things They Carried” and “Grunts: The American Combat Soldier in  Vietnam” are two such books I’ve read — I hadn’t really explored the specifics of this war.

Then again, based on my own experience, until I know someone who has personally been affected by the war, it tends not to mean as much.

As part of our special “Vietnam Remembered” edition, reporters at the Globe interviewed five Vietnam veterans with ties to the area. All but one still call southwest Minnesota or northwest Iowa home. Their stories are amazing — at least I think so and I hope you will think so as well.

Talking about the war — about going on humps through the jungle, about sniper fire and shrapnel wounds, about Agent Orange and PTSD — can be an experience most veterans wouldn’t want to relive. Some of our Vietnam veterans are realizing that talking about their experiences, however, can also be good for their health.

I want to thank each and every one of the veterans who were willing to share their story with us and with readers of the Daily Globe. We know there are many stories, similar to theirs, among us. Vietnam may not have been a popular war — at least that’s what I learned in history textbooks — but it was a war just the same.

It was a war in which sacrifices were made, and we can all be grateful to the men and women who gave of themselves and who gave all that they had.

All Gave Some. Some Gave All.

Slimy versus slithering

As I rushed out the back door Wednesday morning for a trip to Luverne, I discovered a worm at the bottom of the steps. Another one was stretched out near my car, and I’m sure there were several more that I may have driven over as I backed out of my driveway.

The worms made me think of my great-nephew Brody. On Sunday, the little boy proudly carried around a worm he’d dug up while playing in the dirt down on the Buntjer farm.

Oh, how he cared for that half-dried-up critter — a worm hardly worthy of being used as fish bait. When one of his girl cousins swiped it out of his hands and tossed it over the barn door, he pleaded through tears that someone might help him get his worm back.

Brody loves his animals — frogs, worms, bugs, butterflies and probably everything else that moves.

Had I not already been running a few minutes late for my interview Wednesday morning, I would have saved the worms — carrying them to the greening-up lawn to live another day. Brody would have been proud, if only I’d taken a little extra time.

As I headed west on I-90, I thought about worms. I wonder how Brody will react when we go fishing this year? Will he try to save the worms from being threaded on a fish hook?

If so, we might have a problem.

He and my great-niece Kiera — both age 4 — are complete opposites, as far as I can see. She wants to go fishing just so she can kill a worm. She thinks all frogs and toads should be killed and if she’d felt the same way about snakes, I’d tend to agree with her.

With spring on the family farm come the snakes … and the screams. It doesn’t matter if the snake has been dead for days or if it is still slithering around. I’ll scream if it startles me, starts to move my direction or is trying to move away from me as fast as it can. I even scream if my wonderful dog Molly, “the snake killer”, gets a little too close as she proudly shows off her excellent skills.

I was probably Brody and Kiera’s age when I had my first awful, memorable encounter with a garter snake. I can still picture my mom hanging clothes out on the line and me standing there watching her. All of a sudden I noticed a snake slithering through the grass and I let out a scream.

I begged, screamed and cried for mom to come and pick me up and save me from the awful critter, but she was too busy. She probably had her hands full of wet laundry.

Mom told me to climb into the egg basket, but even at that young age, I knew the snake could easily join me by slithering through the holes. The experience was so traumatic, I don’t remember how it ended — but I’m guessing the snake lived another day to scare again, and generations of its offspring continue to haunt me to this day.

I wish they haunted great-niece Adrianna as much as they haunt me. She was the one on Sunday walking around holding a snake by the tail and then letting it wrap itself around her arm.

Where was I? Hiding on the other side of the house!

Searching for something

Have you ever thought about how much time you spend in a day searching for something?

I’m always searching — searching for my car keys, searching for a dropped stitching needle, searching for story ideas or lead paragraphs — or searching for little slips of paper that contain important things like phone numbers or email addresses.

Sometimes I go searching just for fun.

My first find ... a three-point deer antler.

My first find … a three-point deer antler.

A couple of weeks ago — two days before my Grandma died — I went searching for sheds. It was a beautiful Monday afternoon and I’d taken the day off work to get my dad to a doctor’s appointment. We returned home earlier than expected, and I took full advantage of the 70-plus degree afternoon. Time spent out in nature is never wasted. Time spent looking for deer sheds and having no luck is disappointing — but still not wasted.

These past two weeks I’ve had several hours of disappointing walks looking for sheds, but back on that Monday afternoon — my first time out looking for sheds this year — I found two.

I was so excited! One was a three-point antler, the other a five-point. I took pictures and sent them to my nephew, and then I was chastised for going without him.

The five-point deer antler I found.

The five-point deer antler I found.

 

In all honesty, if I’d waited for Matt to go searching for sheds with me, he would have found both of them and they wouldn’t be proudly displayed on top of my curio cabinet — alongside the three other antlers (one of which I found, two of which were gifts from Farm Bleat readers).

Searching for sheds not only gets me outdoors, it gets me walking many miles as I follow deer paths, duck under tree branches and step over gopher mounds and downed tree limbs. At the end of the journey, I’m not sure who is more tired, me or my dog, Molly. The poor girl logs many more steps as she follows critter scents hither and yon.

I guess you could say she’s searching, too.

Last Saturday, it wasn’t me that was doing the searching so much as it was my parents and their 9-year-old and 7-year-old grandkids. The kids were guilty of misplacing the television remote during their Friday night sleepover at the farm, and my folks couldn’t figure out how to turn the TV on without it.

They tore the entire living room apart, pulling cushions out of chairs and couches, looking under blankets and behind furniture, pulling everything out of the toy bin and going through the drawers of VHS tapes and DVDs.

There was no sign of the Hershey bar-sized remote control.

Just before two of the three grandkids left for home Saturday night, Reece had made a comment about eating potato chips while they were up late Friday night.

Mom asked, “Do you suppose the remote is in the potato chip bag?”

Well, Reece darted to the kitchen, grabbed the bag and opened it up.

There, among the collection of smashed sour cream and onion Lay’s, was a greasy remote control.

The TV is back to blaring on Sunday afternoon. My parents have their feet up and their ears tuned to some polka dancing show on RFD-TV. That’s their subtle hint to tell me to go home — at least that’s what I tell them.

All is well. The search is over … at least until Dad misplaces his eyeglasses again.

Saying goodbye

I am often grateful to have a computer that allows me to write from home, but no more so than as I write this blog. I’m still in my PJs, I look a mess and after a couple of restless nights, my box of tissue is mere inches from my keyboard.

I lost my grandma on Wednesday. For the past 24 years, she was my last living grandparent. I will cherish forever all that she was — and all that she taught me to be.

My heart aches for people who say they weren’t close to their grandparents or never knew them. I never knew my Grandpa Buntjer, and my Grandpa Kohls died when I was seven. Had we shared more time together, perhaps he could have taught me to be a better fisherperson.

My grandmothers were always there for me, and I truly believed they shaped me into the person I am today. Rarely would I find Grandma Hattie without a book close at hand — she was such a voracious reader. Just as her books were important to her, my Grandma Elizabeth was never far from a needle and thread. Her hands were always making something, whether it was a quilt, a crocheted afghan, a doily or embroidered dish towel.

The things that brought them the most joy, aside from their family, were their hobbies.

A few years ago, after Gram moved into assisted living, she asked me if I ever got lonesome. As her one and only grandchild who never married, I told her no. I have shelves filled with books and an out-of-control needlework stash.

For her, it was a lonesome time. She’d lost her husband, she’d lost all four of her siblings, she’d lost many of her friends. As time went on, she even lost enthusiasm for her stitching.

In the last 48 hours, people have told me she lived a good, long life. At 98 years, 7 months and 5 days, I know she did. Still, it doesn’t lessen the pain of losing someone you love.

My mom and I had just visited Gram on Sunday. Even though she slept the entire length of our stay — she was tuckered out from the flu bug — we are so thankful now that we’d made the drive. I can still see the faint smile she gave me when I tickled her toes before we left late that afternoon.

My visits were never complete if I couldn’t get a smile out of Gram.

I carry with me so many memories — of her teaching me how to embroider dish towels and crochet a chain.

I learned never to walk stocking-footed in Grandma’s house, and later in her apartments. Stick pins — lost from her quilting and sewing projects — all-too-often jabbed painfully into my feet.

I learned to accept her moistened kisses on the cheek as we readied for home after visits.

I admired her strength — strength in her faith and trust in God, her strong-willed nature to stand up for herself, and her silent strength to overcome life’s greatest obstacles.

I appreciated her for enduring the hard times of the Great Depression, for working alongside her dad on the farm, milking cows, separating milk and feeding the pigs, and for continuing the livestock chores after she married. Being a housewife was no easy task. Back then, washboards, wringer washers, clotheslines and cloth diapers were what you had to work with. Food came from the garden and from the barn, and canning was a necessity.

In a book of memories Gram wrote for me, she told of how they didn’t have money when she was growing up. Her lunch box usually contained “white sandwiches.” If butter wasn’t available, her mom spread lard on the bread.

“You ate it because there was nothing else to eat, but I didn’t like them,” she wrote.

Gram’s sandwiches are something all of us grandkids will remember. No matter when we visited, we were always sure to be sent home with some of her homemade buttered buns and whatever lunchmeat she had on hand. She’d put them in a bread bag and we couldn’t leave without accepting “something for the road.”

On Wednesday, as my mom, uncles, aunt and I sat at the kitchen table before the funeral arrangements were made, we dined on sandwiches — this time on homemade buns made by my mother. I grew up on them, but I guess my uncles had missed out. Oh, how they praised my mom’s baking, saying the buns “tasted just like Mom’s!”

Gram may be gone, but I know there will be many times when something triggers a fond memory of her.

We will say our goodbyes — for now, but not forever — on Monday. My tears are still flowing, the lump is still lodged in my throat. I will not be able to sing “Just As I Am” or “Amazing Grace,” but my Gram will know that she was loved.

Now I know my ABC’s, won’t you read along with me?

Oh, I love to read,

How I do, yes I do!

And I’m sure many of you

Just love to read too!

 

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Through a book’s lovely pages.

I’d read all day

If I didn’t need wages!

 

The first books I owned featured horses and cats

Oh, how I enjoyed The Cat In the Hat!

Green Eggs and Ham, well that sounded gross.

My breakfast would be peanut butter on toast!

 

Thanks Dr. Seuss for writing such stories;

To you on this day we give the glories.

It’s Read Across America Day.

I’d read a book, if I had my way!

 

Happy birthday Dr. Seuss,

Happy Birthday to You!

You brought us the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who,

The Lorax, the Wocket — and Thing I and Thing II.

 

I learned to read from the books that you wrote,

But why did you never write about goats?

Oh, it’s OK. That’s just fine!

Billy Whiskers prevails on the bookcase of mine!

 

My taste in books, now they do vary,

My favorite is If You’re Not from the Prairie!

No murders or mysteries appeal to me,

I’m simply happy just reading Debbie.

 

Books entertain and inspire;

Make you dream or admire,

Play the villain, be the star.

Read a book, wherever you are!

 

Now go get a book,

An actual book or a Nook.

And sit down to read;

Take all day if you need!

 

Books make you think, hope and dream;

They make you laugh, cry or believe.

Oh, go get a book as I wrap up this rhyme

And sit and relax for a moment in time.