RAMBLINGS • #263 Is For Baby Emma

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This “Ramblings” is for Emma, my almost year old great-granddaughter, in hopes that she’ll care what my life was like when she turns 21.

I don’t see her often enough, and I don’t think she’ll be the only great-grandchild I have. It’s when I interact with my grandchildren and Emma that I have bittersweet regrets. Number One, of course, is that Judy isn’t here to be an influence over them; Number Two is that I didn’t question my maternal grandmother or paternal grandfather more about their experiences when they were younger while they were alive. My great-grandparents had passed long before I was born and seldom entered my mind, but one of my brothers-in-law by marriage, Mel, suggested I interview Grandma McCunn while using a tape recorder as an oral history project.

Now, 50 years later, I wish I’d followed his advice. My memory is still good enough that I remember the sound of her voice, but I was so into my life as a young teacher and father that I didn’t take the time to ask her about the details of her past life. She would have talked had I taken the time to listen, I’m sure. Grandfather Deabenderfer, on the other hand, was a taciturn fellow who perhaps had incidents about which he didn’t want to talk.

Obviously no one has ever labeled me as taciturn, but I haven’t been bombarded by questions about my past by Kaylyn, Kyle, Kamryn, or Emma either. I’m not judging them–Emma can’t talk yet, of course, and the other three who can have the same tendency I had–making it through their daily lives. They listen to me (sometimes) when I offer advice about their progress through the morass life can become, but I believe younger people need to make their own mistakes if they are to grow wise, so I seldom offer unsolicited advice (at least that’s my opinion). Because Kamryn has the time, needs the experience, and has become an essayist in her own right, I ask her and her mom to read my “Ramblings” after they’re typed but before they’re published. Earlier this year she bruised my ego a bit by saying, “Grandpa, you know I’m the only person under 60 who reads your column.”

Just in case, I’ve kept a portfolio of all the “Ramblings” I’ve written (this one is #263) in a box in my writing room in hopes one of the offspring will latch onto them so that Emma (when she’s old enough to care–70?) can discover how Pops viewed the world in which he lived.

So, my thoughts about the isolation segment of the current pandemic follow. First, in the morning I saw the “Stay Home” sign by city hall on South Main Street, I felt sad and rebellious. I was never in the military; once I left home, where blind obedience was expected, I’ve always resented anyone telling me what to do and when to do it without an accompanying explanation. What’s that old line - “I’ll do whatever those smarter than I tell me to do, but I haven’t met many of those.”? For example, I know I should wear a seat belt whenever I’m in a vehicle, but because that became law long after I began driving, a seat belt is a second thought, not an instinct when I climb into a car, even though I understand the thought behind the law.

I was saddened because I wasn’t sure how well I would handle isolation. Though I like my house, I’d avoided staying in it for extended periods of time after Dec. 1, 1991 –the day Judy passed. I’ve always been, as a friend once put it, not one who delights in sitting on my front porch watching the world go by. I long ago (in my teens) decided to be busy, to fill my waking hours with activity. Part of that was from economic necessity (at least I convinced myself that was a motivation); a psychologist might say I didn’t like myself very much. I suspect a psychiatrist would say understanding me was above her or his pay scale.

I was afraid “Stay Home” would create stress for me. I am a planner by nature, with lists of what I need to do each day scattered through the house. I’ve also found myself planning my next activity as I finish the current one. Even in retirement I’ve kept busy with Journal-News assignments, county board concerns, and maintaining a presence at grandkids’ activities. The pandemic was taking that away. I was going to go from Tuesday nights with three responsibilities (that began in January of 2019, when full county boards were switched from the second Tuesday of the month 8:30 a.m. meetings to 5:30 p.m. start times). I was obligated by oath of office to be at a 5:30 meeting; I was obligated by job assignment to cover the city council meeting beginning at 7 p.m.; and during basketball season, I was expected to be behind the scorer’s bench in a gym where the Toppers were playing for contests beginning at 6 p.m.

A more prudent person might have just quit two or perhaps all three duties, but I’m more of a “If there’s a will, there’s a way” man. City council meetings are always recorded, and City Clerk Cory Davidson always has a flash drive available for me on Wednesday morning if I can’t make the Tuesday meeting. Occasionally the county board meeting would be winding down as 7 p.m. approached, so I could slip out the door to be at one of the other sites. If the basketball game were at home, one of the assistant coaches would cover the j.v. game until I could arrive. Once, when I knew the board meeting would run late into the night (I think it was the night of the North Mac game), the girls’ scorer, Theresa Lang, covered for me. Once, when the game was in Staunton, I missed both the city council and the county board meeting to go there. (Missing the county board meeting meant missing the per diem for that day, but that is not a princely sum–if I’m still alive after I’m no longer on the board, expect a “Ramblings” about that topic).

I understand the flashdrive arrangement when I use that to cover city council meetings inconveniences many people, especially since I’m computer-illiterate. The meeting is on Tuesday; the article has to be typed Wednesday afternoon, so I have to both listen to it and write the article Wednesday morning. Council members who articulate well and loudly and who sit in front of the microphone at the council table are easily heard if the room I’m listening in is quiet; that’s not often the case at The Journal-News on a Wednesday morning. Too, I have to interrupt Mike Plunkett or another worker to set up the computer. The alternative is to take the flashdrive to Dawn’s house.

She’s been gracious about it, though she works from home for two different employers and watches Emma, who no longer is content to lie quietly in one spot. She is a crawler, anxious to explore the areas around her.

Poor Kay, the paper’s typist, is lucky to receive the manuscript in time to type it before it’s time to go home. I really appreciate the efforts everyone makes so I can in effect be in multiple places at the same time. 

Pressures on myself? Until the pandemic, I was convinced I needed that type of pressure to function. I’m the guy who once coached the HHS boys’ soccer team in a regional soccer game (4 p.m. start) in Raymond before driving to Vandalia to do the game stats and write the story about a Topper/Vandal football game (7 p.m. start) on a Friday night. I missed the American-style football kickoff, but Plunkett kept a play by play account of half the first quarter so I could catch up. I took pride in doing multiple tasks at once before the term multi-tasker was coined.

Then came the pandemic. As I wrote this, a week into Phase III, I realize it helped me more than hurt. Had all the activities I wanted to attend taken place, I might have been at the end of my becoming-older-every-day rope. I would have scored (and written about) between 25 and 30 baseball games, attended as many high school girls’ soccer matches as I could have (Kamryn is a “promising” freshman player), and spent more hours than I like to think about at Sertoma, civic, and church functions. At the very least I’d have been in a muddle by late May; perhaps it would have been a puddle.

Instead, I find myself more relaxed than I’ve been for decades, and I like it. I didn’t renew my subscription to the Springfield State Journal-Register (the reason isn’t just because the cost keeps escalating while the local content became less and less. Dave Kane no longer writes for them; the editorial pages went from 2 to 1, etc.) nor Sports Illustrated. To not bring reading material into the house when I was confined to it seemed counter-intuitive, but I had my reasons.

I delved into stacks of reading I’d put aside for the day I’d be made physically inactive for personal health reasons; I have books I’ve wanted to read, mostly non-fiction, that I’d bought over the busier years. I’ve read six or seven of those. I’ve started through the piles of SIs I’d collected; the journalism in some of the articles is excellent. I especially like the “Where Are They Now?” issues. I also have stacks of Country Magazines; looking at the picture of far-away places is more realistic now than driving to them would be. I have yet to listen to CDs I’ve purchased (mostly oldies or country) or watched any of the movies I’ve stockpiled; both are probably a lost cause.

I’m also writing–I try to keep two months ahead in “Ramblings” columns, partly because from thought to writing to publishing is a longer process than laymen realize. I’ve also written the Old Settlers Prayer, published even though the celebration has been cancelled. In a typical year I wouldn’t begin until three weeks or so before the date of the collective church service, but each year I find myself knowing more of those who have died, and I tend to become depressed while putting it together. Hopefully, less concentrations of effort will mean less anguish.

Finally, when the heat and humidity allow, I’ve been working in my yard. A few years ago Kamryn saw pictures of the peonies and roses Judy and I maintained and asked what had happened. “Life” was my answer, but it really was my lifestyle that resulted in a desert. It’ll take much grubbing to overcome the years of neglect but I’m trying. (Kyle’s taken over mowing chores, which gives me more time for the flowers–I’ve always liked pretty).

Kaylyn, Kamryn, and Isabella (one of Kamryn’s friends) are working in air conditioning  to clean and to give me redecorating ideas for the inside of the house, so it isn’t as neglected as it has been.

Emma, this summer I’ve rediscovered a pattern of life that served me well during my two years at a junior college in North Carolina in the early ‘60s. WWJC had a work program that promoted the dignity of physical work as much as academic diligence; the premise was it takes work, classes, and fun to have a balanced life.

I found that balance again, beginning in March. I pray for the wisdom to keep that balance when and if normalcy returns, even though it’ll require changes in my old lifestyle.

Flowers look and smell better if one has a hand in their growth.

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