Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring Break 2009

We spent Spring Break in Phoenix Arizona with our good friend Teri. She has been mentioned in several of my stories, including the infamous midget groping incident and my experiences with a chocolate fountain. In fact I realized as I started doing this blog that our life has been much more boring since she moved to Arizona. It was great spending a few days with her and seeing the wonderful life she has made for herself in Phoenix.

The trip did not start very well. I had been fighting a
allergies/cold/gunk for about 2 weeks. After spreading this crud to about half my extended family in Wamego Kansas over the weekend (sorry everyone), we took my sister to the airport on Monday night and loaded up the car. I did not sleep well and my even had a fever spike. Just what you want as you begin a 15 hour drive!

I have driven thousands of miles across this country, and my least favorite stretch of land is I-40 through the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico. It is flat, boring and brown. When the highlight of the drive is Whitney calling Tucamcari "Tucamcalimari", you have a boring drive. Big thanks to Tracy for driving more than her share on the way to Phoenix while I was asleep in the backseet looped out on nyquil. It was the best time I ever had crossing that stretch of road.

My fever broke just before Flagstaff, which was great. It was 13 hours into the drive, and the first thing worth seeing, unless you count the Amarillo Stockyards. The drive from Flagstaff to Phoenix is kind of odd. As you drop in elevation, you transition from pine trees, patches of snow and 50 degrees to desert, cactus and 80 degrees in in a mater of just a few miles. We arrived in Phoenix just after dark, happy to see our friend and ready to experience a little fun in the sun.

Next up: Phoenix

Other People's Kids

I guess I have a reputation of not liking kids. This is a vicious rumor, and I have no idea where anyone got this impression. Oh wait....I do......they got it from me.

It started with a phone call I received about 10 years ago from the lady who ran the Sunday School program at the church we were attending. She was looking for parents to lead a class of second graders and seemed to think Tracy and I were prime candidates. I told her I was flattered she thought so highly of us, and proceeded to give her several reasons why we could not lead a Sunday School Class. Among these was the fact we were a different denomination that the church we were attending. I thought this was a clincher, but Lee Ann would hear nothing of it and persisted. I was grasping for a way to get out of it., when I just blurted out "I can't do it because I don't like kids". There was stunned silence on the other end of the phone and she moved on to the next name on her list.

The fact is I don't hate kids. I don't like obnoxious kids. There is a big difference. I just knew that in a group of 10-15 second graders there would be at least one little snot that would make my life miserable for one hour every week. I am just not wired to deal with that. If there is a job I am less suited for than leading a group of young children, I do not know what it is. I recognize this. But that is far different that "I don't like kids".

I tell this story to put into perspective my next statement: I loved having my sister and two of her kids with us for a few days. It allowed me to get to know them a little better than when we see all six at once.

I had a ball with Adam and watching the wonderment with which a one year old views the world. My niece Sarah is an joy to be around. She is sweet, easy going and has a wonderful smile. She also seems to like me, which I value very highly.

I will stop listing kids I like, since it seems to imply that those not listed fall on the "naughty" list. But I just wanted to tell you that when "Dan" told everyone he did not like kids, he did not know what he was talking about.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

1976 Wemego Family Reunion

In about 72 hours, I will be in Wamego Kansas for the first time in 20 years. It was never my hometown, and I have only been there a few times. I have been thinking about the previous trips and had planned to write a blog post about them. But the more more and more I thought about it, I had to devote and entire blog entry to the trip I made to Wamego for a family reunion in 1976 when I was 9 years old.

It deserves it's own entry because at the time, it was THE GREATEST TRIP EVER!!!!!!!

OK, so I know Wamego is not everyone's destination of choice when they think of a fun trip. But there was something very special about this one: I was going without my Mom and sister.........and even better, I was going with my Grandma and my Aunt Michelle! I loved my Grandma, but this was the first time I was able to spend so much time with her without a bunch of other family around. From that trip on, I adored my Grandmother. And what can I say about Aunt Michelle, other than I thought she was the coolest, funnest, bestest Aunt any boy ever had.

My memories of this trip are vivid, but I am sure I have some of the details wrong. I am really looking forward to asking my Aunt Michelle about them in a few days so she can set me straight. But here is what I remember:

- Driving back and forth in Grandma and Grandpa's BIG car. Back in those days, seat belts were not required, so I remember climbing around and sitting as close as I could to my Grandma and Aunt Michelle. I remember Aunt Michelle and I passed time playing "hangman" and adding up all the state populations in the atlas to figure out how many people lived in the United States.

-We stayed with my Great Aunt Toots and Great Uncle Ken. I remember going out into the fields with Uncle Ken and having him show me how he picked sweet potatoes (at least that is what I remember him growing). I also went fishing at an old farm pond with their son (is that right), who was older than me and remember thinking he was very cool. We fished for perch, and I caught a BUNCH of them.

-What I remember most about that trip was Aunt Toots' pies. In a story that has become legend in our family, I ate A LOT of pie when we were there. As I recall, she would say "Danny, would you like an apple pie or a chocolate pie with dinner tonight", and I would tell her I could not choose because I liked both. So she made both!!!!!!! That night, I would have to have a piece of each, of course. And when Grandma allowed me to have seconds, I had to have seconds of each too! Aren't Grandma's the greatest invention ever? This went on for the whole time we were there. Those Kansas country folk knew how to treat a growing boy.

-We had an actual family reunion. I remember it as a picnic of sorts where everybody brought food. It was that day that I found out my family was much larger than I thought. It seemed I was related to about everyone in northeast Kansas. On that day, I also learned I did not actually have a name as far as these people was concerned: I was simply "Jackie's boy". Over and over again, when I was introduced to someone, they would say "and this is Jackie's boy".

Unfortunately, the trip had to end. We returned to Springfield. I still remember the look on my Mom's face when she saw how much weight I had gained when we were at Aunt Toots' house. Mom describes it as "it looks like you swallowed a bowling ball". I don't think Mom was real happy with Grandma, but she got over it.

Anyway, that was my first trip to Wamego. As a funny aside- it is true that what goes around comes around. Flash forward a little over 20 years. Whitney has gone off to the Ranch for a week with my Mom, my Grandfather and Aunts. Sure enough......when she got back, she look like she had swallowed a bowling ball from eating all those hot dogs, smores and aunt michelle's "special" macaroni salad. Mom could not wipe the grin off her face. Gotta love Grandmas.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Follow The Yellow Brick Road

In less than a week, we will be in Wamego, Kansas (population 4243) for my Grandfather's memorial service. While the reason for going is sad, I am very excited about seeing family.

For such a small town, Wamego has some interesting history. It is the birthplace of the man who founded Chrysler, and there are areas around town where you can still see the ruts from the wagons that passed through on the Oregon Trail. But in a stroke of genius, Wamego has promoted itself as the home of all things to do with "The Wizard Of Oz".

They are serious about this. The highway that runs through town was renamed "The Yellow BrickRoad". There is an Oz Museum with a collection of memorabilia related to the book and movie. There is a restaraunt in town called Toto's Tacoz. Tracy will not be going anywhere near "Flying Monkey Business" because the flying monkeys in Wizard Of Oz creep her out. But she is excited about the free tastings at the Oz Winery, which offers wines named "Witch In A Ditch" and "Run Toto Run".

I may have to go back for a visit in October for "Oztoberfest"........a celebration which features cameo appearances by some of the original Munchkins from the movie. Considering the movie came out in 1939, those Munchkins have to be in their 80s and 90s. I am not sure what the life expectency of a Munchkin is, but that is impressive. Of course, given my experience with midgets (read ), I may want to be careful. Not sure I am up for being groped by a Munchkin!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Grandpa Younge

I have been struggling for about a week about what to write about the passing of my Grandfather. I had been gathering notes and thoughts for some time. I began over a month ago when it first appeared that his mounting health ailments would be the kind from which you don't "get better".

I kept taking out the pad and looking at it. To anyone else, the words on the page would mean nothing. Each line had just one or two words to remind me of some memory tied to my Grandfather. As the list grew, I drew on memories I cherish but think about infrequently. So this process is one more thing to thank him for.

As I dawdled, one of my cousins beat me to it and posted her own list. She had many things I had not thought of for a very long time (like the storage closet underneath the stairs at the old house where they kept the preserves and "sody pop"). I still want to post my list because making the list was a wonderful trip down memory lane. Because I am older, I have memories that predate some of my cousins. I hope others will enjoy my list as much as I did hers:

*Please note.....some of these memories date back almost 40 years. If I have a details wrong, it is just passage of time making things hazy. Even if the details are wrong, the feelings are genuine.

"Helping" him clean the pool at the resort:
(probably my first real memory of him). I don't remember a lot about the resort, but this is the earliest I can remember. The memories are hazy, but I remember the cabins, the pool, fishing and playing horse shoes.

"Dressy or Sporty?": It is possible this memory predates the resort, but I am not sure. I remember this running gag between my Grandfather and I dating back to when he and Grandma came to visit us about the time Laura was born. I would have been about 4, and we were going to go to church. I am not sure how it started, but "dressy" meant we wore a tie, and "sporty" meant no tie. For years when we got ready to go somewhere together, I would ask him "dressy or sporty". That also might be the trip where we spotted a mountain lion out our back window. Mom has a picture of Grandpa and me looking through binoculars together.

His pet poodle: I never understood why he never got another dog. He claimed he did not really like dogs, but he adored Snoopy.

The House on DD: I don't know what you call that color, but there was no other house painted that color I have ever seen. Coming around that corner and seeing that house on the hill was always exciting when I was a kid. Many of my memories of Grandpa are tied to that house. The pool table, the grandfather clock, the carpet. I even remember how it smelled. I remember going to "the park" and playing croquet, and doing sparklers and bottle rockets. I also remember how proud I was that grandpa let me mow the yard on his riding mower. I knew that him letting me do it meant he trusted me, and I knew that was something he did not give lightly.

The Sun Room: I remember the house before and after the Sun Room. I remember him talking about it, planning it, building it and decorating it. I remember the furniture, and the wood burning stove. My biggest memory of the sun room was a sad looking ceramic dog he named "Samson". We were with him when he bought it, and as I recall we had to go back to the store to get it because he regretted not getting it the first time we saw it. You will all be happy to know that Samson is still alive and as hungry looking as ever at my parents' house in Lawton. I hope to inherit Samson back off Laura!

Visits From Grandma & Grandpa: We rarely lived close to my Grandparents when I was growing up. Their visits, whether for Christmas or other time of the year were always special. Of special note was the year they spent with us in Georgia during my senior year of high school while my Dad was in Korea. They brought their trailer and lived across town, but they were always close by and I got to know them both very well that year. They were very active while they were there. They took dance lessons, came to many of my ballgames and attended my graduation. They even learned to golf, and Grandpa and I played quite a bit together.

The Cars and Trailers: I remember the old blue pickup, the Volkswagen Rabbit he was so excited about (it took diesel fuel!), the trailer at the ranch, and the trailer they used to pull around the country. Grandpa loved to travel and I am sure much of my love of travel comes from stories of his trips.

Grandpa's Fashions: My main memory of him is in some kind of shirt with a collar......even with shorts. I did see him in white T shirts when he was working outside. Oh...and the socks. Dark socks with sandals at the ranch. Although it was far from typical, my personal favorite was the year he came home from Quartzite Arizona sporting a pair of really loud pair of casual pants he bought at the market there....much like pajama bottoms. I seem to recall them being black and hot pink. Another favorite was the white patent leather shoes and blue suit he wore to our wedding. He looked sharp!

The Cloud Nine Ranch: i loved the ranch. I even chose it as the place to propose to Tracy. Later on the Ranch became a special place for Whitney and my Mom to spend some summer vacation time. By doing so, she was able to develop her own special ties to Grandpa, Aunt Kathy and Aunt Michelle. As she used to say: "it is like I have 3 Grandmas there!"

The Paintings: When people come to our house, they always ask who painted the pictures. I always tell them with pride that the artist was my Grandfather. I always smile at this because grandpa always insisted he was not good enough to be called an "artist"...."I am a painter", he would say. Whatever, Grandpa. His paintings have always, and will always, have a place in my home.

Food: Grandpa and I found common ground in food and recipes. After I got married, we exchanged many recipes and cooked together. To this day, two of our most asked for recipes from our friends are Grandpa's salsa and guacamole recipes.

Family Gatherings: The biggest thing I remember about Grandpa is that for all his occasional gruffness, no man loved his family more than he did. I remember family gatherings at the house fondly. I also remember both their 45th and 50th Anniversary Celebrations in Wamego and the way the loved each other even as they
teased one another about whether Grandma would say "yes" this time. I remember thinking that was what I wanted in a marriage.

Dancing With Whitney: My lasting image of him is dancing with Whitney at Janet and Angela's wedding. It is a moment that is very special to me.
I knew how much he loved dancing and that he and Grandma had taken lessons together. It was wonderful watching him dance with Whitney as I had seen him dance with my Grandmother.

These are just some of the things i remember. I am sorry it was so long, but I wanted to do him justice. I hope he and Grandma understood what a legacy they had left behind.