Monday, September 28, 2009

Autumn On Parade

Autumn On Parade. The first full weekend of October was long ago set aside to celebrate the beauty of our part of the Rock River Valley and showcase the hand mades, home mades and home growns of our county. The festival pulls in thousands from the suburbs as well as Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin who come to enjoy a “quaint” celebration and take part in the weekend festivities. They come to experience a little of the “small town” life; country scenery -- the burnished reds, oranges and yellows of the color palette from which the trees paint the landscape along the river.

While thousands mill through the town square shopping the various craft booths full of seasonal decorations, hand made soaps, baked goods, food booths, apple cider and the like, I am standing in the Miz Bee Haven booth with Cindy and my “B” man Jeff or Patti offering samples of the most extraordinary creamed honey ever whipped; answering questions about the honey and selling . . . you guessed it, the honey. Over the years we have cultivated our regulars. There is the darling little Italian lady who stands around 4’ 8”. Her hair is a soft beautiful white, always worn in a bun. Her dress is straight from the old world covered by a simple cardigan and her shoes are the stereotypical black orthopedic tie shoes with a small chunky heel. So perfect are they for her diminutive size, I cannot imagine her wearing anything else. She doesn’t speak any English and always buys a full gallon, every year. She makes her way to the booth always on her way out of the festival so she doesn’t have to carry the gallon with her while she shops. She smiles at us, bows just a bit and in the most melodic of voices, utters a heartfelt, “grazie.” We love her.

There was the local attorney who, from what I knew, never really practiced law. He was a slight man with fine features who was always seen around town walking his two well groomed shelties wearing a proper wool topcoat, double buttoned and a Sherlock Holmes hat – even in the summer. Year in, year out he would stop by the booth and inquire if our honey was pasteurized. And we always, always, told him, “no” before he bought his same order every year. He has since passed, but perhaps someone will fill the void he leaves.

“Is this honey local?” Yes. “Do you make the honey yourself?” No, the bees make the honey . . . we steal it. “Do you have Orange Blossom honey?” Do we have orange trees here in Illinois? “Does the creamed honey need to be refrigerated?” No, it is simply honey that has been spun. But we smile and answer the questions and every year we sell out of stock. Miz Bee Haven honey is that good.

This year I will not be at the booth set up on the courthouse square. I will be in Michigan with all of my high school peeps marking our 30th year of surviving beyond high school. I’ll miss laughing with Cindy and Patti. I will miss watching Jeff tie the jars with raffia while kibitzing with fellow bee keepers and I will miss the little old Italian lady. But, I cannot wait to see people I have not seen in 30 years. Life is good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bad Dog Driving School

There is a spot on Highway 20 just west of Freeport where the speed limit suddenly changes from 65 to 55 to coincide with the change in the roads status from “urban” to rural. I know this flashpoint of speed exists and I know exactly where it is and I have proof in the form of a lovely little speeding ticket issued to me in May.

On my way to the Sectional Track meet that would determine who was going to run down state, I had the occasion to be pulled over. When the stern officer asked me, in the company of both an impressionable high school girl and my folks (both attorneys mind you), I told the truth. Yes, I was speeding, so sorry, please give me the ticket and hurry please so I can watch my son run. While he was back in his squad car completing the ticket, I endured a barrage of stories I could have, nay, should have given him concocted by my father and step mother – all of which involved lies. LIES. You would think at their age they would have a good grip on the effects of karma, but whatever. I stoically faced my ticket, listened to the instructions and made my way to Sectionals just in time to see Jeff run.

Technology has changed the whole process since my last speeding ticket ( 1993, 28 mph in a 20) and I was able to pay my fine and take the Bad Dog Driving class online, in my own time and in my own comfortable chair – in pajamas even!

And so, with little fanfare, a cup of coffee and my trusty laptop, I logged on, created my very own double secret password so no one could tamper with my progress should I care to take a break, and clicked on “Begin Session,” which I now recognize was the signal to shove dried bamboo shoots under my fingernails.

The “class” consists of five sessions with a quiz at the end of each session where you MUST earn an 80% or better to move on to the next session and a final test over all five sessions where again you MUST score 80% or better to get the damn ticket removed from your driving record. Further, it is a timed affair so must be finished not only by the deadline date, but within the time allotted for each section. I was beginning to think 4 hours on a Saturday morning where I could have at least allowed myself the luxury of doodling would have been the better choice. Because guess why. . .you don’t just read the pages, you have to listen to the really annoying, condescending voice over actor who dreams of performing Shakespeare in the Park read the text to you too. Sure I could have turned the voice to mute but then I ran the risk of busying myself with something else while King Lear reads the text and then I would miss the little icon of a traffic light on the screen that turns green when you can move to the next page. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if it wasn’t TIMED meaning that I only had so many minutes to complete the section or DO IT OVER. So I HAD to pay attention to the text and the voice and the traffic light icon to get to the end of session test where I had to score 80% or better.

Guess what, they don’t just ask the same basic kinds of questions about driving laws that they do at the DMV, instead they actually ask questions based on the “lecture.” Who knew? It’s a good thing I have some common sense and a little luck and that’s all I’m saying on the subject for now. This may just be a five section series. . .and expect a damn test after each section with a final in which I expect you to score 80% or better!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Walking Through Life

I walk a lot. Ostensibly, I started the walking to break up the monotony of the daily elliptical workout. It has since become a welcome respite from the barrage of stimuli one encounters even just sitting at home.

My walks have taken me from one side of town to the other ( and I know what your thinking - what kind of challenge is that?), out to the golf course, up to Water Rd. and down to the river. It has taken me through the alleys of Byron, many of which I did not know existed, the prairie trails of the Forest Preserve, short cuts over the railroad tracks and, recently, through the cemetery.

The walk through the cemetery shook me up. The Byron Cemetery has two parts - the old and the new. The old section is a lesson in Byron History. It contains the graves of town founders, names for which if you have ever read the book about this town ( Reflections) you would recognize. It is fascinating to walk around the family plots and get a sense for what Byron must have been like in the 1800's.

It was the new section that gave me pause. Entering at one end and following the U shaped road that takes one through the new section is, I realized, another history lesson of sorts. It is the history of my time in Byron marked by the names of those I have known even marginally, and whose life's have had an impact on mine. The too many names I knew glare back at me like movie scenes that mark moments in my life. People affect each other without ever having to really know one another. I knew many people out there but these names sprung out and stayed with me all the way home:

Andy Patton - The first time I saw Andy was when he was peeking out of the infant backpack on his mother's back. These big eyes looked up at me followed by a toothless smile. That moment made me change from my childless stance to wanting children. He was a cub scout, car enthusiast and finally, a marine. Andy was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Andy was buried at Arlington but a beautiful memorial stands at our cemetery.

Hib Reber - A classic car enthusiast, Hib's passion has been a big part of summer in Byron. Between the Cruise Night's at Sam's Drive -In and the Memorial car show at Byronfest, his passion is one shared by the males of my family who look forward to these events every summer.

Brian Blanchard - Brian was the brother of one of my best friends Julie. I did not know him well, but knew enough to know he was troubled and left life far too early.

Jeff Blanchard - Another brother,I never knew at all. He departed life in a fatal accident and even though I never knew him, his passing became part of who Julie is and for that reason, he is important.

Hink Blanchard - Julie's dad. If Hink didn't have one, you didn't need one. The father of my friend would give you the shirt off of his back if he thought you needed it and then several more he had stashed in the garage just in case. The man had at least one of everything. Need a hoop for an antebellum skirt? Hink had one.

Del Roberts- After a 10 minute interview and completed application, Del gave me $55,000 for a construction loan in 1984 and said, "if you need more, come back." Small town banking at it's best. Brain aneurysm.

Johnny Huber - a sweet little boy who fought like a trooper in this 5 years, but finally lost his battle with cancer. I conducted many small group lessons at school on the bench in the lobby given in his name.

Amber Huber - A sweet young woman in the beginning of adulthood. Ironically, her family lived next to the other Huber's and both have tragically lost children to cancer.

Darlene Lundgren - My personal breast cancer hero. Darlene was the organizer of the school support staff union as well as knower of all things important in the middle school offices. She was dedicated to her job and missed few days due to chemo - once working from her hospital bed to get registration work done.

Kyle O'Connor - Another tragic end. Kyle was a funny, quirky little 4th grader who died in a freak accident in 6th grade.

Donna Nelson - Donna was the young mother of two young girls when she was diagnosed with cancer. She came to parent night with her pain pump at the ready and took notes so that she could fully grasp what her children needed to do and get it in order so that her husband could accomplish it when she was gone. She was honest about her condition and open to what might come after she departed the earth.

Mike Childers - One of my favorite people ever. Mike was a life long Boy Scout and sometimes Girl Scout ( if the situation called for it) and proud of it. He worked with Dave but dedicated his life to his kids taking them caving, camping, biking etc. He was kind and giving, had no fear of appearing goofy and was a master pancake maker. Mike left us far too soon and far too abruptly. Brain aneurysm, my age.

Josh Teel - Josh was my friend Deb's son. He was 26 when a driver blew a stop sign and threw him from his motorcycle at a country intersection. Deb taught me what healing is all about.

Lee Zimmerman - The matriarch of one of the most supportive and bonded families I have ever know. Her daughters, Penny, Paula, Pam, Patti, Polly and if there are more they live out of state but their name begins with "P", show up in force at any event where one of them, their children, there nieces and nephews, grandchildren, etc are being honored and offer gallant ovations of pride. They are there for each other through every step and stumble, laughing and loving all the way.

I feel compelled to mention those other's who have passed and are buried either in the Catholic cemetery or up on German Church Road or other places. . .

Michael Fletcher - I used to watch him, as a 3 year old, escape out of the front window of his house on the highway, run to the end of he driveway, and insight truckers to blow their horns. He was a dare devil, but a freak accident took his life before he could transfer that zest for excitement to cars.

Tommy Vanderjack - The highway is a dangerous road, requiring constant vigilance. He was thrown from the car as it plowed toward the river, killing him instantly. Tommy was in third grade.

Rick Hahn - An attorney in town, Rick was liked and respected by many. A life long Byron resident, he married his best friend. The only time I ever saw Rick anything but happy was when he had to chew out his middle child who, having just gotten braces removed, refused to wear mouth gear while playing soccer. Oy was he mad! Rick memories still make me smile. He was my age.

Abe Johnson- sold his farm to Commonwealth Edison, made a fortune and built a house in town where he and his sister could live out their lives. I lived next door. Abe spent his summers tending his potato plants, which he lived on all winter. The man generated less trash than we gather from our bathroom container every week, living like a pauper.

Russ Groves - Big Russ. What a shock. Russ was married to my friend Deanna and they had 2 kids. Big, burly, tough, Russ was a huge softy always willing to do for others. He used to sit in the last pew in church and make faces at the choir as they sang. Sometimes I feel like he is still around. Heart attack, my age.

I've lived in Byron a long time, longer than I've lived anywhere else in my life. It stands to reason that I would become part of the ebb and flow of life in a small town, but I never realized how even little moments with people have lasting impact on my life. And so, as I let myself back into my house I feel inspired to get on my knees and give thanks.