Saturday, December 17, 2011

Let technology deliver your favorite Christmas stories

Stories of Christmas can be easily be viewed on an iPad or downloaded to your computer.

Do you ever want to shout into a bullhorn: “ Hey, family—put away the handheld games, mobile phones, laptops, and iPads, and let’s celebrate Christmas!” 
As if that would work.
Technology is both a slave—performing essential and even boring tasks for us—as well as, sometimes, a master.  We need to accept its benefits, try to minimize its drawbacks, and accept it, because it’s here to stay. And technology has changed the way people celebrate Christmas for ages.
When the first pages rolled off of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, it rocked the world, including the way we celebrate Christmas. For the first time, common people had easy access to the Bible, including the story of Christ’s birth. Now, 562 years later, books have become an enduring part of Christmas celebrations.
When my friend Phil asked us to share favorite Christmas books and stories at a meeting of the Friends of the Nampa Library, it reminded us that good books have power to unite families.   He held up a battered copy of A Visit from St. Nicolaus (aka The Night Before Christmas) and said, “My Dad read this every year, along with the story from St. Luke chapter two. And now I read both to my grandchildren.”
One woman said it just wasn’t Christmas if her father didn’t read The Littlest Angel out loud. Another held out a small Little Golden Book of Christmas Music and said she had treasured it for nearly 50 years.
Another said that books weren’t important in her family.  It was only after years of struggling with dyslexia that she came to love books because reading was a way to “push back” against her disability.  As an adult, books became a treasured part of her family’s celebration.
Most friends related experiences with the age-old story from Luke, including that of a little girl who moved the Baby Jesus to various places around the house so the “Wise Guys” could look for Him.
In our childhood home, shepherds dressed in bathrobes, angels in sheets and wise men in finery to enact that story every Christmas Eve, with the youngest child as Baby Jesus, and Dad as narrator.
Then Dad read How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the little ones shivered to think of one so wicked as to steal Christmas, leaving “a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.” This year, I swear that our 18-month-old granddaughter with blond curls and blue eyes is  “little Cindy Lou Who, who is not more than two.”
Radio, movies and television gave us even more family Christmas traditions centered in technology. At our house we view It’s a Wonderful Life, The Christmas Story and White Christmas every year. Interestingly, in 1965, Charles M. Schulz recognized something that producers of A Charlie Brown Christmas did not.  He insisted on retaining Linus’s recitation of the Luke 2 story —even when producers said that would make the 1965 showing the first and last.  It became an enduring classic, and his daughter, Amy Johnson, said, “My dad said he believed that the American people really do like decent entertainment.”
Technology won’t change basic truths like that.  This year, my husband and I decided to re-read A Christmas Carol.  I never did find our old paperback. We read about two-thirds from an iPad and listened to the rest in a great audio online dramatization.
Watching on our computer and iPad, we've enjoyed the Luke 2 story in "The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos," a series of well-produced video clips that we found here.
As a Christmas gift, our friends bought a Kindle for their 93-year-old mother.  It’s lighter than a paper back and easier for her to turn pages with her arthritic hands. 
Forget the bullhorn. Just find a story that engages your family, and enjoy it together—no matter what technology delivers it. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Let your fingers do the walking to a cheap and easy Christmas gift

"What do you give the person who has everything?" If that question plagues you this time of year, join the club. And as I pondered gift ideas to share with my readers that would be cheap—always my first criteria— easy, and related to family history, I scratched my head.

Then I snitched chocolate chips.

Then I took a nap. 

Then I daydreamed about the holidays and got excited about New Year’s Day. Why New Year’s Day? Because that’s when my siblings and I will celebrate our second annual Family Conference Call.

As with everything else that draws us together, it started with Mom. But this time, she didn’t browbeat or manipulate us into doing anything.  She simply died—at 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, 2009. Ever frugal, she didn’t waste much of the old year.

My two brothers and five sisters and I were devastated.  Like Lincoln, we could say, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” We tried to plan her funeral from eight locations in Idaho, Utah, California and Ohio, and finally set up a conference call to nail down many important details.

Last year, as we approached that painful first anniversary, one sister suggested another conference call. Mom did things that drove us crazy, such as sending us to the post office to mail Christmas items late in the day, covering ugly things with contact paper, single-handedly supporting the local copy store, and writing reams of stories that had to be placed in sheet protectors, copied and – once again—mailed at the last minute.  Amazingly, we discovered that we were doing these things too—WE WERE BECOMING OUR MOTHER! So this was our Conference Call announcement, shared through Christmas cards and emails:

“Win a lifetime supply of sheet protectors in the “JOYCE NELSON COPYCAT CONTEST!” Three have entered so far—see if you can top these efforts:

1)   Shanan got in a fuss about mailing packages and Christmas mail! An excellent effort but she loses points for not sending Josh to the Post Office at 4:47 p.m. with orders to “hurry, and be nice to [the grumpy post mistress of our youth.]” 

2)   Debbie put contact paper on the floor underneath two sinks! A good try, but the volume of contact paper was paltry and she only removed small strips of backing paper, making it too easy since the paper didn’t roll around and stick to itself, and her.

3)   Ellen took family photos to the copy store, made zillions of copies and mailed them to every one for Christmas! She looks like the front-runner – going to the copy store was a brilliant stroke! However, she may have points deducted for not Writing much and getting all of this in the mail a full 10 days before Christmas!

“See if you can top these—tell us YOUR copy cat efforts and cast your vote when we have our Siblings Conference Call at 4 p.m. Mountain Time on New Year’s Day.”

Our 2010 conference call cost $45, split eight ways.  Last year, the company we’d used gave a holiday credit of $40, which covered our 2011 call! A number of companies offer conference calls at little or no cost. Calls can be done via your computer (and you can see each other) if all parties have the right software, such as Skype. Google “conference call” or “internet conference call” and research which company you’d like to use. Let family members know the day, time and what they need to do to participate.

There you go—cheap, easy and related to your family history. Now I’m off to find chocolate chips!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Our pal taught us gratitude

Recently, a candidate endorsed “believing in sound fiscal principals.”  All principals  (school administrators) should be fiscally sound, especially when spending school money.  But everyone—including principals—should believe in sound fiscal principles (ethical standards.)
Spell check doesn’t help with these words. Remember: “The principal is our pal because he teaches honest principles.”
I was too busy trying stay out of his office to think of my grade school principal as a pal.  But Darrell Moss was a pal to hundreds of students in Teton City and Wilford, Idaho.
On the first day of school, Mr. Moss gathered grades one through eight in the gym for an assembly. First he taught us to sing, in rounds, with gusto: “Sweetly sings the donkey, at the break of day. If you do not feed him, this is what he’ll say: ‘Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw.”  Braying like a donkey made bullies and bullied, dimwits and teacher’s pets laugh together happily.  Our pal understood the power of music.
Then he reminded us to use our time wisely, quoting Horace Mann: "Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever." 
My siblings and I, grousing about the burdens of school, recited this quote in deep-voiced, dramatic parody of Mr. Moss.  We thought we were funny.
Yet now, when I spend too much time on Facebook or watching ridiculous movies, I think of the golden hours and diamond minutes I’ve wasted. 
Finally, Mr. Moss shared this poem. Internet sources attribute it to Og Mandino (adapted from original by Red Foley) or to that most famous poet, “Unknown.”

Today, upon a bus, I saw a lovely girl with golden hair,
I envied her. . . she seemed so gay. . . and wished I were so fair.
When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had one leg and wore a crutch; but as she passed. . . a smile!
Lord, forgive me when I whine,
I have two legs.  The world is mine!

I stopped to buy some candy.  The lad who sold it had such charm.
I talked with him.  He seemed so glad.  If I were late, t'would do no harm.
And as I left, he said to me, "I thank you.  You have been so kind.
It's nice to talk with folks like you.  You see," he said, "I'm blind."
Lord, forgive me when I whine.
I have two eyes.  The world is mine.

Later while walking down the street, I saw a child with eyes of blue.
He stood and watched the others play.  I stopped a moment.
When I said, "Why don't you join the others, Dear?"
He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew he could not hear.
Lord, forgive me when I whine.
I have two ears. The world is mine.

With feet to take me where I'd go, with eyes to see the sunset's glow,
With ears to hear what I would know.
Lord, forgive me when I whine.
I’m blessed indeed.  The world is mine.

I can be a world-class whiner. But because of Mr. Moss, when I whine, inevitably I think of someone worse off than me.
Here’s a Thanksgiving exercise. This week, when you start to whine, gripe, or moan, think or say:  “Lord, forgive me when I whine, I have________________.  The world is mine.”  Fill in the blank with “a car that runs,” “a refrigerator full of food,” “good health,”  “a loving husband, wife, child, sister, brother, or friend” or any blessing of your choice.
Happy Thanksgiving, from my pal, Mr. Moss, and me. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

“Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven” Pillsbury Doughboy

When I was a kid, on “Saturday Night at the Fights,” two boxers feinted at each other while a referee held them apart. After letting suspense build like steam in a pressure cooker, he yelled, “Gentlemen, shake hands and staaaart fighting!” They shook hands, then attacked each other.
My brother gave me similar workouts (without the handshake) so I never watched past this point. 
The fighters provided an enduring family saying.  After the last dish was set on and the blessing was said, someone was sure to shout:  “Shake hands and staaaart eating!”
As we approach that food frenzy called  “the holidays,” here are phrases that make us salivate just hearing them:
“Soup’s on!”
“Let’s eat!”
“Name your poison!”  We used this bartender’s phrase in sentences such as, “Name your poison—pancakes or waffles!”  It offers a nice, self-deprecatory tone for the modest cook.  (With my cooking, though, ‘poison’ comes too close to the truth!)
We were crazy about the Pogo Possum comic strip. Walt Kelly had Ma Groun’ Squirrel say: “The way to a man’s heart is through the soft underbelly!”  We seven girls said it when we made cinnamon rolls or cookies for boyfriends.
However, I rebelled when Mama said, “We’ve got to feed the men.”(Usually prefaced by, “Put that book down and peel these potatoes!”)  I didn’t want to cook for my Dad and brothers, who were capable of both feeding themselves and cooking the food to do it. 
She let me vent, but made me cook, reminding me that Dad and the boys worked hard to provide the food on our table.  Life has proven that as chauvinistic as her saying was, it’s true that every five to six hours, men, women and children eat.  And at my house, it’s usually up to me to make sure they—and I— have something to eat.
Dad cooked. Grandma taught him so he and his brothers could live at the “batch house” on a remote part of their farm.  He made delicious stews, roasts, ham and beans and our favorite, large quantities of cake doughnuts for the holidays.
My brother cut this recipe from a metal Raleigh’s nutmeg can and bent the edges, impressing them into a hand-carved wood plaque, which he gave to Dad for Father’s Day. It hung in our kitchen for 40 years.  I’ve added extra spices— Mama’s secret for doughnuts and pumpkin pie filling so good I wanted to drink it out of the blender!

Wayne’s Doughnuts
Flour, sifted - 4 cups
Baking powder - 4 1/2 tsp. 
Cinnamon – 2 Tblsp.
Nutmeg – 2-4 tsp. to taste
Mace  - 1 1/2 tsp. to taste
Salt - 1 tsp.
Shortening- 3 Tblsp.
Sugar - 1 cup
Eggs, well beaten - 2
Milk - 1 cup

Sift together 3 1/2 cups flour with baking powder, spices and salt. Work shortening with spoon until creamy; add sugar gradually while beating with spoon until light. Add eggs and beat well with spoon.  Add sifted flour mixture alternately with milk, blending well after each addition. Add enough of remaining flour to make a soft dough easily handled. Roll or pat on floured board to 1/2 inch thickness and cut with floured doughnut cutter.  (Kids can do this—we cut a circle with a large tumbler and used an Alka Seltzer bottle to cut out the holes.  Rather then re-roll the dough, which would make tough doughnuts, Dad fried the scraps and called them “critters” – they look amazingly like antlered beasts!) Fry in any hot fat—but lard produces doughnuts like Dad’s!  Drain, then shake well in a paper bag with ½ cup sugar and 2 Tblsp. cinnamon. (Another kid job!)
As Julia Child’s family says,  “Bon app├ętit!” 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The things families do to get candy!

Jerry Seinfeld says the only thought in his brain for his first ten years was, “Get Candy.”

I felt the same way.

On a holiday when everyone hands out candy, a kid says, “I’ll wear anything I have to wear, do anything I have to do to Get Candy.”

Jerry wore a Superman mask with a defective rubber band.  In my town of 193 people, costumes were less sophisticated.

For drama productions or parades, Mama went all-out.  She created a tableau of the  “Miracle of the Seagulls” for the 24th of July Parade: One child was dressed in tan, with bundles of yellow wheat artfully attached, representing the crops of  struggling Mormon pioneers; another, the villain of the tale, was a sinister black cricket, pestering the grain, and a third was a white seagull who flapped up in time to save the harvest.

We had a cute Little Bo-Peep outfit with a bouffant skirt and crooked staff.  I always thought my little sister should be Little Bo-Peep—but certainly not me.

Mama loved to attempt to develop her children’s’ talents. But at Halloween, she let us do our own things.  She didn’t care about candy.

Finding costumes didn’t bother us. We spent the year playing dress-up, imagining scenarios from cowboys to pioneers to King Arthur in our older siblings’ cast-off clothes.  On Halloween, we wore our favorites.

With a touch of black eyeliner, I thought I looked like Cleopatra in a Nile green chiffon gown with silver trim and a delicate silver crown, though what the neighbors saw was a skinny kid with mousy brown hair and freckles, tripping along in a very long dress with black stuff all over her face.

And whatever our costumes, we wore winter coats and sometimes hats over them—October 31 is cold in Eastern Idaho.  Neither rain, nor snow, nor wind kept us from tramping all over town, and we were satisfied with our take. In those idyllic days before candy tampering, we got apples, cookies, cupcakes and popcorn balls along with candy.

As a mom, I lived by Erma Bombeck’s philosophy: “Put a paper bag over your head and tell them your Mom has the flu.” Since my kids inherited my love of candy, they cobbled costumes together well enough to rake in a lot of sugar.

My daughters and daughters-in-law are creative—our grandchildren have been Darth, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Cupid, a seven-foot alien and Strawberry Shortcake, among others.  This year, we’ll see Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach in one family.

My husband never dressed up, other than occasionally getting a new pocket protector for his spooky “city planner” costume.  Then last year, we watched the BBC Robin Hood series, and it was as if he wanted candy again.  We shopped the Halloween stores that, like a toadstool, appear on October 1 and disappear by November 1—and found a Robin Hood costume, a bow and an arrow.  Though my maiden days are past, I fixed myself up as a not-very-convincing Maid Marian. 

What are your family traditions to Get Candy?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

“Hear no evil, speak no evil”—or was that “herniaville, spacey weevil?”

While teaching a class on writing family histories recently, I admitted that I know little about voice-recognition software.  Two days later, my husband needed to quickly transcribe many pages of family history—we never typed it up because it had been damaged in the Teton Dam Flood—and we decided it would be easier to read it out loud than to type it.

We acquired “Dragon Dictation,” a voice recognition program for our computer.  Other programs include IBM's ViaVoice, e speaking Software, and Voice Studio—which is somewhat cheaper and not as smooth, according to reviews, but with a fun “create your own skit” feature.

I anticipated that besides taking care of this job, I could sit Cousin Ted down next to the computer, get him rambling about his cowboy days, and have a print-ready family history story with little to no effort. It turns out, I would have to get Ted and the software well acquainted before going far.

It takes awhile to “teach” a computer to recognize a voice and its nuances. My husband spent hours doing this, and now, like the RCA dog, our “dragon” knows its master’s voice.  I’m working to teach it mine.

Learning to understand what people say is one of the most complex tasks faced by human beings—a task that starts early in life. 

We hold a baby and murmur, and he or she can tell from our vocal tones whether we are happy or sad, relaxed or stressed.  Over time, babies learn the whole range of language—phonology, or the way words sound; tense, number, gender, and so on.  Much of what we think is “cute” in the language of toddlers is just their way of figuring all this out. 

For instance, when a two-year-old says, “My do it!” we laugh and say, “You mean, ‘Let me do it!’ ” Soon the little one has all the words in the right order—whether he or she speaks English, Chinese, Greek or Russian.

In my college linguistics class, our professor had no mercy. He’d cover the board with foreign-language verbs to conjugate or nouns to change in gender or number, and when we complained, he’d say, “What’s wrong with you? Any two-year-old in Peru (or Finland, or Sumatra) can figure this out!”

That’s the job faced by a voice recognition program, with the added problem that it can’t tell voice from background noise.  We spend a lifetime chatting over the sounds of lawnmowers, television, other people, car engines and the like.  This unfortunate software has to learn what your voice sounds like AND what sounds aren’t your voice.

But once it learns, what a blessing! Most of us speak approximately 140 words a minute, but can only type about 40 words per minute. My husband churned out pages of material in record time, inserting words like “period” and “new paragraph” so the document was punctuated.

And just like it’s fun teaching a toddler to talk, it’s fun teaching a program to recognize your voice.  I talked about a date I had with my husband.  Dragon Dictation translated, “He took me to ‘The Nutcracker’ ” as “He kicked me to the neck cracker.”

Then I tried to dictate a recipe for doughnuts.  Poor software—to never have sunk its teeth into one of my Dad’s soft, tasty, cinnamon-y (it thinks cinnamon is “sentiment”) doughnuts. It rendered the word doughnut as: “go check, go not, donor, Don Knotts” and my favorite, “go nuts.”

When it got it right, my husband said, “Thank you, you’re a genius.”  It rendered it, “Thank you, Eurydice.”

It thinks its master is so smart! 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I Eat, Therefore I Garden!

“I think, therefore I am,” said Descartes.  “I eat, therefore I garden,” says Debbie.

Gardening gives us a relationship with our food. It’s soul-satisfying to watch it grow and then harvest it, wash it, prepare it, and eat it—sometimes within minutes. This is “the local food movement,” but in the past, it was just life as usual.

On our Idaho dry farm, a loose barbed wire fence kept cattle, horses and wildlife from munching on our peas, corn, lettuce, swiss chard, onions and potatoes.

Dad plowed it with the tractor and helped us plant.  He had a rhyme for counting the four corn seeds that went into every hill: “One for me, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow!

Mama made us weed, but she wasn’t very strict, so our garden was sometimes weedy.  It was watered with a leaky hose strung from the well across the dirt parking area; moving the hose around the garden was another job for Mama and for us.

I was always willing to pick the green peas, still my favorite vegetable, followed closely by vine-ripened tomatoes. 

When my grandchildren ask, “Grandma, did you ever tell a lie?” my mind flies back to the first of many.

I was about six years old. My sister Jeanne, about age 14, wanted to cook creamed peas and red potatoes, in a white sauce made with plenty of cream from our brown Swiss cow—is your mouth watering yet?

When the peas disappeared, Jeanne came unglued—she probably had to make the dish for a 4-H project, making this an even more heinous crime.

Cornered, I denied the theft unequivocally, several times.  She produced evidence in the form of pea pods and I was tried and convicted. 

The trouble with having lots of older siblings is that it’s like having extra parents.  But I preferred Jeanne’s tongue-lashings to anyone else’s!

Aunt Saville—the 4-H leader—had a beautiful garden with few weeds.  When I helped my cousins pick peas and raspberries, they weren’t allowed to eat any, or at least, very few.  I ate too many.  Aunt Saville didn’t mess around asking if I was lying, she could see the guilt all over me (and all over my face!)

I thought that was a terrible way to run a garden. I must’ve planned to graze my way through life, so it was a good lesson for me.

My husband had been raised on a potato farm, so in 1977, a small garden plot sounded much easier than the acres of potatoes he’d weeded, sometimes while listening to the sounds of the Basalt, Idaho, 4th of July parade.  His father and my Aunt Saville would’ve hit it off, the way they broke the child labor laws!

Since we lived in a tiny apartment in Caldwell, we helped a widow lady, Verna Waansgard, cultivate her garden. When the vegetables were ripe, Mrs. Waansgard and Norma Norris (later Egelund), and Norma’s daughter Anita (Bake) helped me re-learn the canning skills Mama had tried to teach me. 

No matter how long we’d been working, no matter how tired we were, Mrs. Waansgard, in her 80s, and Norma, in her 70s, just kept on going ‘til the job was done.  They could’ve taught the Energizer bunny a thing or two.

We’ve had a garden ever since. This year, we planted a new squash that became as bad as a Brazilian rain forest or even a pumpkin, choking out cucumbers, butternut squash and summer squash. 

When it started on the tomato vines, I got my machete and rubbed it out. Nothing comes between me and my tomatoes!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Don't Get Mad, Just Get Laughing!

             Anger is highly over-rated in our culture.  Everybody’s running around with a fire in his or her belly, which is good news for the Tums people.  Judging from television dramas, the powerful people are those who scream, yell and throw their weight around.
          But most often, anger just makes fools of us. 
          I used to get angry because my family didn’t come to the table when dinner was ready.   I was busy, with things to do, people to see, worlds to conquer; and hadn’t I just spent hours slaving over a hot stove?  OK, most likely not—but why didn’t these insubordinates drop everything to come at my command? 
          One evening, I stood back from an artistic arrangement of mayonnaise and mustard in the jar, bread in the bag, cold cuts, tomatoes, lettuce and cheese on paper plates—presentation is everything, after all— and for the fifth time announced that dinner was ready.
          As our five children and my husband dragged themselves to the table, a few well-chosen words boiled at the tip of my tongue. I decided I would bite the words back if we could just get started NOW.
          Naturally, the telephone rang.
          I vented my wrath by viciously stabbing an unsliced pickle, which shot a stream of acidic juice into my eye.
          Angrier still, I stabbed again. As if on cue, the pickle squirted me. The kids were watching: this was a genius gherkin, spurting a healthy stream with every slice.
          By the third cut, they were falling off their chairs and when I started to guffaw, my husband had to end his phone conversation. 
          I never delivered that particular diatribe.
          But you can’t count on pickles for attitude improvement; gifted ones are extremely rare.  Even a grapefruit doesn’t always come through in a pinch; three-year-olds are much more reliable. 
          If you don’t want to be taken literally, don’t deal with three-year-olds.  The children’s chorister at church was teaching the kids about body parts, toes in particular, and she asked, “What do I have on my feet?’  A tiny voice piped up, “Panty hose!”
          Three-year-old boys are supposed to love the great outdoors, but to my grandson, all insects looked like bees and he’d make a beeline for the house when he saw a fly. So we were surprised when he said, 
          “I saw a really nice bee today.” 
          “You liked a bee?” his aunt asked incredulously.
          “Yeah—he’s a nice bee and his name is Booger.”  
          We all snorted. 
          “DON’T LAUGH!  I like Booger Bee!”
          “Wha-what did Booger Bee do?”  I choked.
          “Stop laughing!  He gave me five and he did a dance and he waved.”
          “Where did you see this bee?” I asked. 
          “At the library.” 
          I thought for a minute. It hadn’t been that many years since my kids visited library story hour.
          “Was his name Booker Bee?”  I asked.
          “Yeah—Booger Bee, like I said.”
          Laughter lessons aren’t limited to children.  Once when we were taking care of my elderly mother, we stopped at the Bliss rest area on I 84.  She went into the handicapped restroom, where the light was on—for about 40 seconds. Then it faded out and she was in total darkness because the room had no windows.  Juggling a walker and an “Attends” in the dark isn’t funny—unless you were my Mom. Bless her sense of humor!
          Families are the best place to remember that life is too short for anger, and not long enough for all the laughter we can find. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ice-cold Watermelon and a 45th Wedding Anniversary

      The wedding day 45 years ago: Dad holding Michael, Mom, Alan, Jeanne, an uncle and aunt. At right, Andrea, Shanan, Michael (nephew)

       Ice-cold watermelon hydrates both soul and body.
       I learned that at the age of 11, when I made my first trip across Idaho.
       Although I’ve lived in Western Idaho for 35 years, I was born and raised on a dry farm not far from the Wyoming border. Though my parents sold the land when I was eight, we kept the house and lived there during the summers.
       Dad went into business spraying beetle-infested evergreens in Targhee National Forest. My brothers and their friends made good summer money at this messy job—also known as “bugging.”
       In the summer of 1966, my sister, Jeanne, who was attending the University of Idaho on a 4-H scholarship, brought her boyfriend home to work for Dad. Alan was a handsome pre-law student at the U. of I. who was determined to win her hand and her family’s respect. My 13-year-old brother, Rex, and I put him to the test with our teasing and spying, but he stood firm, and an August wedding date was set.
       Hats off to our Mama. Once the stress of the wedding and reception in Eastern Idaho were over, she coordinated the washing, ironing and packing of five dresses, two suits, 14 shoes, 14 socks / nylons, 7 sets of underwear and nightwear and “good casual clothes,” as well as packing a lunch, so we could attend the open house in Boise.
       Our parents gave Jeanne a beautiful cedar chest, filled with her trousseau – quilts, pillowslips, dishtowels, and so on. Mom wanted this chest to be on display at the open house, so Dad and Rex loaded it in the back of our green 1956 Studebaker station wagon.
       Riding in the front were Dad, Mama with Shanan, age two, on her lap, and Brenda, who, at 16, was six feet tall and needed leg space. Rex, Andrea, 7, and I squeezed in around the cedar chest like cordwood. It was somewhat uncomfortable, but I was anesthetized with a good book – and we were all excited to go to Boise, Idaho’s capital city!
       Only sections of the I-84 freeway were completed, so our ride took about eight hours. Our “air conditioning”—open windows—dried the girls’ hair, rolled in plastic curlers.
       Mama worried about the impression we’d make on Jeanne’s in-laws. Alan’s father was a prominent Boise attorney, and his mother was a cultured lady who presided over a lovely home.
       Mama reminded us many times, “You’ll have to remember your manners at their home, and for heaven’s sake, don’t touch anything! With good reason, she feared a culture clash of cataclysmic proportions when the Eastern Idaho “bugging crew” met Western Idaho society.
       After checking in to the Rob Roy Motel, we dressed and found our way to Alan’s home, where his family put us at ease.
       Dad, Mom and Brenda, the maid of honor, were in the receiving line. Dad may have been uncomfortable shaking hands with so many strangers, but he didn’t show it. His friendliness created a reservoir of calm that steadied him and Mama, and soon Boise society was treated to her radiant smile.
       Rex and I were to watch the “little girls.” We didn’t break anything, though we ate too many refreshments and provoked considerable excitement in their shrill Pomeranian puppy.
       The next day, they graciously invited us to breakfast. Alan’s dad showed us his kiln and pottery shed, and then it was time to shed tears of sorrow over leaving our sweet sister, and tears of joy over leaving the cedar chest!
       Before leaving Boise, we visited the State Capitol, which impressed us down to our toenails.
       It’s 90.57 miles from Boise to Bliss, but on an August day, it feels like 1,000. This was desert, which we’d never experienced. At Mountain Home we guzzled canvas-flavored water from the radiator bag, but it didn’t ease our parched throats and weary souls.
       Just as the heat was becoming unbearable, we stopped at a roadside stand in Bliss that sold ice-cold Hermiston watermelon. Juice dribbled down our chins as we spit seeds and ate and ate. THAT was Bliss!
       Post script: Alan and Jeanne successfully combined two Idaho cultures into a wonderful family—raised in Utah!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The House that Love Built

On July 9, I stood where my father was born 95 years earlier—the master bedroom of the home my grandparents built between 1913 and 1916.

Grandpa Joe homesteaded in Clementsville, just west of Teton Valley in Eastern Idaho, in 1906. Grandma Alice, his bride, didn’t join him permanently in the remote area until 1908, when he completed a two-room cabin.

As their family grew, they needed room, and unlike many at that time, they didn’t dream small. It took years to build their two-story, four-bedroom frame house in a Victorian style, but without gingerbread: solid, welcoming, homey.

They paid for building materials as they went along, finishing it section by section. “Neither Grandpa nor Grandma would have borrowed a dime, even to build their house,” according to my cousins Mary and Whitey.

It was pretty much a one-man job, though Joe’s boys wanted to help. The problem was, they were just little tykes. So he’d give them each a block of wood and some nails, and while he was framing, they pounded a lot of nails, quickly learning which was the business end of a hammer!

Joe followed this pattern in every aspect of their lives, and eventually, the four sons drove teams of huge workhorses and helped their Dad do all the labor on the dry farm homestead. The three daughters learned to garden, cook, can and bake the quantities of homemade food that were required to feed a large family, occasional hired help and neighbors who might drop in.

But I digress. Weather in the area is historically changeable, and family legend has it that it snowed on July 7, 1916, the day Dad was born. (Sticklers for accuracy point out that the snow fell about 10 miles from the farm in the mountains, at Packsaddle Lake. But still, it WAS July! I daresay a fire blazed in the stove to warm the house for the new arrival.)

I don’t know who delivered Dad. There was a doctor in Newdale, 17 miles away, and one in Sugar City, 23 miles away. However, I believe his grandmother, Alice’s mother, Sarah, probably delivered him. She had taken midwife training from Dr. Ellis Shipp in Salt Lake City and had delivered many babies.

Joe was lucky to have such a mother-in-law—a neighbor, Joe Umphrey, wrote: ”Had 14 children born. . . During the birth of the children there was a doctor present about three times. About three times I was midwife myself. Bessie told me what to do and I done it.”

The large home became the center of the Clementsville community. Summer Sunday afternoons brought family and friends for fried chicken and homemade ice cream, frozen with snow kept from melting by covering last winter’s snowdrifts with straw.

Joe Nelson worked the farm until 1941, when his oldest son, Henry, took over. Henry and Saville and their young family moved in, and voices of another generation rang through the rooms. In 1971, Henry’s oldest son, Albert, took over. I’m grateful Al and his wife Joan haven’t changed things—my girl cousins’ bedroom still has 1950’s pink and blue wallpaper decorated with skunks and bunnies, and the dark hardwood banister shines, worn to a patina by the hands of generations of Nelsons, Dad included. Every room has a transom above the door, and an antique tear-drop shaped fire extinguisher near the ceiling.

When Mary’s granddaughter told a friend back East she was going to a reunion at this home in Idaho, her friend said, “Why would you want to go there?” She replied, “That’s where I come from, that’s where my family lives, AND – we all like each other!” There’s magic in a home built with love.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

“When free men shall stand between their loved homes, and the war’s desolation…”

An Idaho Marine, 21-year-old Cpl. Phillip Baldwin, lost his legs in Afghanistan recently. As I saw the worried faces of his family, I pondered what makes people lay their lives on the line in battle. From Phillip, to my uncles who fought in World War II, to the brave men who fought on both sides in the Civil War—what, or perhaps more importantly, WHO do they fight for?

Today we celebrate the Fourth of July, and proudly fly the flag of the greatest nation on earth. What makes it great was best explained by Neal A. Maxwell: "Isn't it interesting that at a time when patriotism is called into question, that some fail to realize that one cannot really have a sense of country without a sense of kinship, that one cannot have a sense of kinship without family, and one cannot have a sense of family without parents?"  In other words, Americans fight for their families, and for ideals which they believe will make life better for their families. The last verse of “The Star Spangled Banner,” says, “And thus be it ever, when free men shall stand between their loved homes and the war’s desolation. Blessed with victory and peace. May the heaven-rescued land praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation. ”

Phillip confirmed that—his first concern after his injury was to give a rubber duck belonging to his three-year-old daughter to his buddy, to get it back to her. His thoughts were not so much of America as of Americans who are precious to him.

History offers ample proof that tyrants don’t care about families. Monarchies ruled Europe for hundreds of years, controlling economies, speech, and religion, and stepping on the rights of the common man. And the colonists who founded this nation wanted something better for their families, both at that time and down through the generations to us.

So we must teach our children about America’s beginnings, even while we enjoy fireworks and parades. They must learn of the unselfishness of those who died, and who still die, for THEM.

Today, we remember:

Facing a large national debt, the British Parliament taxed everyday items such as glass, paint, paper and tea in the American colonies. And there were other abuses. British soldiers could live, or “quarter” in American homes if the colonists did not build sufficient barracks, and colonists were enraged to have to support Britain’s large standing army. On December 16, 1773, a group of Boston citizens dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor.

In retaliation, Britain closed the harbor and passed the Quebec Act, which threatened the colonists’ Western borders and freedom of religion.

King George III sent more troops, and when they moved to seize gunpowder stored at Lexington, Paul Revere rode his horse through the night to sound the alarm, “The British are coming!”

Patriots mustered Minutemen troops along the road to Concord, Mass. Captain John Parker told his men, “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon; but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!” Thus the Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775.

As the war progressed, it became clear that the 13 colonies needed to make their rebellion official in the eyes of the world. On July 4, 1776, the 56 members of the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, stating, in part, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This document rallied the American troops, who won the war in 1782. Americans then adopted a Constitution as remarkable as the Declaration. Both have become a model for republican governments the world over.

In the 235 years since, millions of Americans, both native-born and immigrants, have trusted in this country’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the core of that promise is family—what good are life and liberty without them? How can we pursue happiness without people to love?

May we work to make our families a little more kind, a little more generous, a little more functional, in honor of the brave people who fight and die for those they love.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What am I bid for Grumpy Chet?

My mother left me many things—her love of babies, nature, and family; some nice clothing (the woman had taste!); a lifetime supply of stationery, envelopes and sheet protectors; and a nearly-century-old pastel portrait of her brother Chester Charles, aka Uncle Chet.

Chet was the oldest living child of their parents. When the portrait was taken, he was about three years old, wearing high button shoes, knee-pants, a satin tie, and a frowny expression.

Yes, cute as he was, Chet was grumpy in this picture. Mom wrote on the back:  “Chester Charles (after Grandpa Charley) Our mom used to say ‘Oh yes—he does look scared and sad. The darn photographer was such a spook and scared our little ‘Chet boy’ to pieces! Usually he had a happy little grin.  The pictures cost a lot and we couldn’t get the man to change and try to get a happy smile. The high button shoes were hard for little kids to fasten with a button-hook."

Reading between the lines, I can imagine how the story played out.  Perhaps a traveling photographer went from homestead to homestead, taking photos. (Traveling photographers were fairly common—for an interesting video, see Or perhaps the young couple saved money for a trip to the photographer in town. Either way, Chet was yanked from his carefree life of romping with dogs, cats and lambs, scrubbed within an inch of his life, dressed in scratchy Sunday attire, and told to “Look at the birdie! Smile!”

He exercised his only manly option—he furrowed his brow and refused to cooperate.

The photographer, apparently not a very patient or ethical businessman, created this unhappy portrait and took grandma’s hard-earned money. If Mom’s narrative is to be believed (personally, I take her with a grain of salt) our young grandmother protested but to no avail. Maybe she was afraid to complain to the fast-talking man in a three-piece suit, or, she never knew what the photo looked like until later, when she received the finished product.

Thus, a high quality portrait of a handsome but grouchy child has been with us for 97 years.

I’d have to study antique photography to be certain what method was used. The photograph is in color—Chet’s hair is light brown, his worried eyes are dark blue, and his cheeks are rosy. Though it seems reasonable that he would have had a white shirt and a contrasting colored tie, his shirt, vest and tie are all a monochromatic blue-gray, which makes me think it was somehow “colorized.”  His high button shoes and the lower part of his pants look contrived and two-dimensional, making me wonder if the photographer didn’t sketch in parts of the photograph.

The portrait may have some value as an antique. Though it is cracked in two places and the frame is long gone, the overall quality has remained good for these many years.

Except, of course, for Chet’s frown.

In June, at the 11th hour before family reunions, I look for something great—not to eat, because my relatives gave up on my cooking long ago—but something that will sell at the family auction.  I don’t knit or crochet, and my quilting isn’t worth beans. I have homemade jam on the shelf, but my husband assures me that it needs to stay there.

My one genius project is scanning family photographs and putting them into yard-sale frames—they sell every time,

I’m never going to hang Grumpy Chet on my walls.  I wonder if he’d come back to haunt me if I put him on the auction block?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day: “Remember me with flowers”

We are celebrating more than a three-day weekend. On Memorial Day we remember all who have died, especially those who died for our country.

The death of Osama bin Laden brought back images of September 11, 2001. We witnessed so much of that bloody tragedy that it seems miraculous that since then, courageous men and women have volunteered to face similar horrors in war zones, to protect and avenge this country and all of us. Now, small flags fly above the graves of many of those courageous souls.

I remember such a flag, flying above the grave of my Uncle Irvin Bates, who was killed at Okinawa.  It flew in the windswept cemetery at Bates, Idaho.  My mother grew up as a neighbor of Irvin’s, and then in later years, Mom married Wayne Nelson and Irvin married Wayne’s sister, Ruth. Our parents instilled in us a solemn reverence for the American flag, especially the flag that flew above Irvin’s grave.

As a child, I looked forward to playing with cousins at the big Memorial Day family picnic. However, my favorite Memorial Day memories were placing lilacs, apple blossoms, tulips, iris, wildflowers and even dandelions on loved ones' graves—in recognition of my grandfather’s request to put “Any kind of flowers, even dandelions, on my grave, but never put plastic flowers there.” He was buried in the Bates Idaho Cemetery, and eventually, my grandmother was laid next to him, no longer a happy participant at the family picnic.

Death is certain for all of us. Living on after the death of a loved one is one of life’s most painful challenges. Memorial Day softens that heavy burden with its whispered message, “Remember me fondly, with spring flowers.”

The graves of Arthur & Thelma Holm, Shelley Idaho Cemetery,
Memorial Day 2010

Lt. Col. John McRae, MD, combined the image of flowers with the challenge to remember in his poem “In Flanders Fields.” When he wrote it, this experienced battle surgeon of the Canadian 1st Field Artillery Brigade had spent 17 days treating injured men -- Canadians, British, Indians, French, and Germans -- in the Ypres salient in World War I.

McCrae later wrote: "…Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend 17 days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done."

One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former medical student of McCrae’s, Lt. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, was killed 2 May 1915. Helmer was buried in the little cemetery outside McCrae's dressing station, and McCrae performed the funeral in the chaplain’s absence.

The next day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked beside the Canal de l'Yser, where wild poppies grew, McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem.

It was very nearly not published. Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator rejected it, but Punch published it.    (Information from  Here is the poem:
In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Oliver Wendell Homes Jr. said, “It is a noble thing to do whatever we may. . . to keep our memories, our reverence and our love alive and to hand them on to new generations all too ready to forget.”

This year, may we celebrate the coming of spring with picnics, camping, swimming, boating, and outdoor sports, because we’ve waited a long time for good weather! But also, may we take a child to a cemetery and place some flowers, look at some flags, and remember. . .

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Family Reunions: “If baby ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

Once a grandmother (who shall remain nameless) planned a reunion while a son-in-law was studying to take the bar exam.  He couldn’t attend. Bad form.

Another time, she set the date right so her children and grandchildren could see each other after several years.  One young couple drove to Idaho from Texas with boys ages four and two years old, and three months; a couple with a pregnant mommy and an 18-month-old flew from Chicago, and a local couple brought children ages 6 and one.

Most of the family enjoyed camping, so Grandma had reserved campsites and planned menus and activities.  But two weeks before the reunion, she started worrying that the campsites weren’t big enough for the entire group—and then there was her husband’s aversion to camping. So she reserved a nearby cabin for her husband and herself.

I won’t attempt to describe what the three young couples and their single siblings endured that August night—the sulfur-scented lightning flashing on Redfish Lake, the thunder that shook the tents (though the babies did their utmost to block it out by screaming), the waterfalls cascading down the insides of tents (and sleeping bags), the curses that rang out against the grandparents sleeping peacefully several miles away, and I certainly won’t mention the truly miserable moments.

The next night, the baby and his parents slept in the cabin while Grandpa and Grandma took the tent. The morning-sick mommy was installed in a quickly-rented lodge room, and the third family spent another wet night in their tent, nearly resulting in divorce proceedings.

Three years have passed. The little ones are doing fine, aside from a few minor tics and the tendency to scream whenever they smell pine—ah, the resilience of youth! The parents are still in therapy, but perhaps by the time Grandma’s on her deathbed, they’ll speak to her.

The lessons: 1) Schedule your reunion around the most distant or busy family members, perhaps piggy-backed to another big event such as a wedding or a class reunion.  2) “If baby ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” 3) Follow the Golden Rule and keep accommodations equal. 4) At reunions, Murphy’s Law is in force with a vengeance.  Excellent—not just good—planning is the only chance we have in the battle against everything that goes wrong.

Lula Sellers and Bonnie Badger, who have planned many reunions for their respective families, gave great advice on locations.

Lula suggested having a one-day reunion near home. (If renting lodgings is financially prohibitive, this is the best option. Or, have the reunion only every two or three years.)

You could fish local streams, or get a boat for water fun at Lake Lowell, Lucky Peak, Eagle Island or Black Canyon Dam.   Take in Treasure Valley tourist sites—Oregon Trail sites in Parma, Middleton and Boise, museums, Bruneau Dunes, the Snake River Birds of Prey area, the Idaho Capitol Building, the Old Penitentiary, and the Boise tour train. Visit local parks, pools or amusement and water parks.

If you want to get away, or if it’s a family tradition to go somewhere new, mention that you want a family discount as you try other options:  church, educational or youth camps; cabins, lodges, motels, resorts, guest ranches, condominiums, RV parks, cruise companies, community centers, convention centers, visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce.

Wherever you go, Bonnie says having water nearby provides instant entertainment for nearly all ages.  Bonnie is planning her family’s reunion at a unique Idaho site: Campus Grove, at Albion in Southern Idaho. The historic dormitory from the “Albion Normal School” accommodates up to 100 people. It’s 12 miles off of I-84, and the City of Rocks is a great side-trip. The building features 15+ bedrooms, a kitchen and dining area, large gathering rooms and a spacious lawn.  The nearby mountains are lovely.

So: use dates that work best for hard-to-schedule family members, and do your best to find the best possible spot. Then plan like crazy to make it work for everybody (not just for Grandma!)  

(And by the way, I’ve learned from my mistakes.  If anything like this ever happens again, I’ll be smart enough to get out before the kids find the tar and feathers!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

That cheatin’ smart phone is insaning me!

In my husband’s family, Scrabble is a sacred rite. When we’d been married a month, they ran me through two holiday gauntlets: Grandpa convinced me to try Swedish pickled herring (ugh!) and Grandma invited me to play Scrabble. Though I never acquired a taste for pickled herring, Scrabble was a different matter.

Ceremoniously, Grandma Holm set out her deluxe Scrabble set: the fancy, turn-table playing board, the wooden tile-holders, the pink bag full of tiles she’d embroidered with “Scrabble,” a pencil and paper for keeping score, and three thick dictionaries.

It was “game-on”—serious business. Any confidence I had in my college English-major status was quickly shattered. Scrabble is a game of strategy, intelligence and skill, all of which Grandma possessed because of her avid reading which added luster to her eighth grade education.  I didn’t win that night and have seldom won since.

Scrabble wasn’t poker.  You couldn’t bluff your way through with made-up words. Confident Holm Scrabble players were quick to challenge an iffy word, ever ready to look it up in the dictionary and make me lose my turn. I learned to play it safe, and used Grandma’s dictionaries to find words like “skeg,” “emu,” “kea,” and “pi” to use in tight spots.

After Grandma died, we inherited her Scrabble game and dictionaries. Now we run our kids’ romantic interests through the same gauntlet I faced. One girl beat the socks off of us—I hope that wasn’t the reason they broke up!

 Grandma Thelma and Grandpa Art Holm

We recently spent a week with my husband’s sister from Florida, who inherited Grandma’s Scrabble skills and reminded us that we’re getting rusty. So this week, my husband and I faced off in our first two-man game, only this time, we played on the iPhone.

At first it was typical—dribbles of two and three letter words punctuated with an occasional flash of four-letter-word brilliance. Then we noticed a “best word” option that produced fancy words. 

My husband, who dearly loves his iPhone, said it takes a pretty smart phone to come up with “whelm” and “putrid” to net 40-50 points.

I agreed, until “best word” started floating bogus words.  Did I say that in Scrabble, you can’t bluff your way through? No one told the producers of this game—the first word I questioned was “saned.” The dictionary for the iPhone Scrabble game doesn’t give meanings or parts of speech—it only tells whether a word is valid.  It says, and I quote, “Saned is a valid word.” I don’t think it knows what it’s talking about. (Not actually talking but—texting?)

How do you use that word in a sentence?  “Being around Jane saned John.”  It makes more sense to say “Being around Jane insaned John.” But no—according to the iPhone dictionary, “Insaned is not a valid word.” While I yelled that “sane” is not a verb, and thus cannot accept the past tense –ed ending, “saned” sat smugly in its triple letter spot at the bottom of the board.  And by the way—the iPhone also keeps score!

Here are some egregious examples of other “valid words”: fidged, emanant, jun, el, al, eh, ka, yurta, chi, ar, re, za, er. I could go on, but you get the idea. 

Another annoying feature is the “teacher.”  AFTER you post a word, it shows you a better, longer, word that could have been formed with your letters.  I was proud of “super” until the teacher showed me “pursier.” Grrr! If it starts jeering at me, I’m chucking the phone!

These shenanigans bring out the worst in me and I try to beat the phone at its own game, bluffing with all kinds of nonsense—but no luck—bosc, bosn, puh, zet, cubious, and crazied are NOT valid words. (The only thing that makes this remotely acceptable is that I scored with “kiter, zee, zin and quin,” words I never would’ve tried in the old days! Are they actually words? I don’t dare look in Grandma’s dictionary!)

Can we go back to how it used to be—two puny brains duking it out in a feeble battle of vocabulary? Or will we become despicable cheaters, allowing an arrogant machine to palm off phony words to bump up our scores?

Our only hope is to put away the technology and get out Grandma’s Scrabble board!

Horse thieves in my history

My grandmother, Rhoda Moulton Furniss, remembered a serious crime that happened when she was a little: thieves stole the family's team during spring planting. Next to murder, stealing horses was the most despicable crime in the Old West because horses were farmers' property and pets, and their means of making a living from their land.  If those thieves had been properly prosecuted, they would have ended up in the penitentiary in Boise, Idaho. However, because they were friends with the sheriff, they were allowed to go free, and Grandma didn't tell whether the horses were returned. Even if they were returned, her family was hurt by this crime: a delay of a few days could make a critical difference in the notoriously short growing season of Teton Valley, Idaho. 

This is Rhoda around 1910, when she married William Furniss, below. He was an upstanding man who would have chased down a horse thief if necessary. 

I recently entered the Old Idaho Penitentiary Poetry contest. (It is now a museum.)  The poem had to be about the prison, so I imagined the plight of a young man, easily led by friends, who gets caught after stealing a horse on a lark.


Maybe four times a year
Bob saw the full moon
Floating above his cell window.

Days were full of sweat and swearing
night-- fatigue, his smelly wool blanket
his memories
sometimes sleep.

Bob loved the faithful stars
but when he saw the moon, he fought to follow it
standing on the broken chair
craning, peering,
soaking it in
'til it was gone.

He remembered a full moon night,
not the night he and Charlie took the horses
galloping, whooping
so stupid.

This other night was a fancy dance
in his aunt's town, in Twin,
his cousin Edna's first dance
His, too, though
no one said a word about that.

Her dance card was pink with yellow roses:
hanging from a golden cord,
the tiniest maroon pencil
skinnier than a twig.

The handsome young blades of Twin
signed their ame on Edna's card
with that tiny pencil.
He didn't dance, nor sign.

He dreamed he had that pencil
pinched tight, writing small
on the white moon,
his circular bit of shining paper.

If she looked up in Wendell
maybe she'd see the words
he wrote in Boise:

Dear Ma
So sorry I drank with C. and stole horses
Yr loving son,

(The poem won first place in the adult division-- you should see my T shirt and mug!)