Friday, March 4, 2011

A Place to Grow

Me at side of Horse Barn

What I found was another dimension to my understanding who God is. Each one of us were  to learn  many' how-to-s' which city life could never , ever have taught us. We had this opportunity to know God’s earth in so many special ways. I would be introduced to life all around me and through my lifetime build an appreciation onto this basis . I loved the wind, the rising and setting sun, walking back to the house on moonlit nights, the smells, the seasonal cycles, the animals both tame and wild, birds, too, the pheasants. I had little problem accepting earth as part of God's Kingdom. We are in the heavens. * We were so private I could run and dance and frolic everywhere and I did-- the air, the breeze, the wind, the rain, the snow. So much so that at 15 yrs. or so my father, and more than once, wondered aloud to me if so much enthusiasm was ladylike. Times I felt in heaven.

I had a Saturday evening routine for many years. I would lose myself in my private rendezvous in the little office dad had built beneath the front stairway. I'd listen to radio's, Manhattan Merry-Go-Round with nice selections from New York. Following this would be The Hit Parade always cluing me in on the top 10 popular songs for the current week. With repetitive listening I would come to know the words to the melodies. Next would be Chicago Theater of the Air with dramatized Operettas with the likes of Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy. No one in my family ever seemed to interfere with my Saturday nights. I could sing and dance about in a carefree, delightful piece of quality time. And I could sing these songs in my hen house, too. Often during this interlude my parents would get into their Dodge and drive out onto the grassy fields and hills of the property, all to themselves and revel in nature and privately share companionship. 

This property in addition to its rolling landscape had a creek, fed by a spring, crisp cool water bubbling out of the earth. It was about a couple blocks distant. At one time cattle had grazed here and come for drinks of spring water making the earth boggy. I must step from one bog to another to approach the stream otherwise my feet missing I would step into the squishy earth, wet, muddy. In the spring I could find these bright yellow cowbells appearing from the green, green grass. And this is the delightful spot where mother attempted to share with me her talk about 'the birds and the bees'. We had hours on end of privacy. I could walk to a far corner of the property or lose myself each night in the chicken house with all my feathered friends whom I recognized as individuals and gave each a name. I would sing my songs to them. They would lay the eggs for daddy to carry on the train into town to sell to co-workers. 

On bad days at school I would retreat to the barn hay loft floor with my Airedale dog, Duke, who would sympathize with my melancholy.  I could cry my eyes out, sob, perhaps even verbalize stuff and he'd just look up at me with his big, brown eyes and I would feel he cared and he heard me. I would never again have such an outlet for expressing my feelings. I would be  shelling corn off the cobs with my circling hands for feeding the kernels to my hens. I could linger a long time. How I loved that dog and he me. My daddy would often say, "This dog was good for nothing. We ought not have an animal around who is not working". The cats, you understand, were mouse catchers. Probably Duke was also. Had he ever thought of that?  Duke was working all right. He offered me friendship not found anywhere else. 


Animals taught us life and death, love and friendship as well as solace, how we depend on each other. Earth can be good and easy or tough and withholding, rain a gift or a trial. I loved God’s world from my vantage point. All this had to be the best. Additionally, I have a hunch I was at a good age to pick up on all of this. Maria Montesorri calls these ‘sensitive periods’. And my dad saw this appreciation as did my mother. And it was good, baby and it was gosh darn good. I now know this was the face of God. I was developing my sense of what life is all about. Those years God was mostly inside the Church for me or looking down through the clouds to see if He [male] might catch me doing wrong.   Where were the friends we left behind? We had close friendships. Coming from elsewhere Hebron, true of many small towns. was not so easy for outsiders to break into. And to top ordinary we were a Catholic family in a religiously very prejudiced Protestant Community. How does one make close friends of strangers? We each now had no time to nurture friendships, to finally engage with others as teens do. Life for us was different. We weren’t city kids now but we weren’t farm kids either. Daddy discouraged outside friendships because he needed us so desperately to be home working the project. He would actually say we don't need them. Maybe we did. A family, even one that works and plays and prays together is not all there is to life. He thought we would get all we needed in college.
We each had an experience attending a one room schoolhouse, the Burgett School, about 2 miles further on down this same road. There were no school buses. We walked or road bicycles. We had come out from Chicago for 2 years before the city schools dismissed for the summer and enrolled in this tiny country school for the couple of weeks remaining.I treasure this opportunity. Elayne was 8th grade and I 7th grade, Billy in 6th.  Jimmy in 1st would attend the following year. Mrs. Reynolds was the teacher. There was an oil space heater to warm the classroom, children all ages and grades. We could listen in on another’s lesson or be distracted. We were used to classrooms with 60 or more students in one grade. Recesses and lunch hour were out on the green grass with the smells of earth.
MaryKay and Elayne at Burgett School
A drink of water was available with a few strokes of the pump arm out in the schoolyard. There was at least one time of rural surrounding community get-togethers where we baked cakes or pies to share and included barn dancing, my introduction to such. I loved these few times. Mentioning cakes, I brought one which I had mixed in our Hamilton Beach mixer. I received so many compliments about its texture. Our Hamilton Beach electric mixer had been another of those work saving appliances dad had purchased for mother. Without one, to mix a cake,  meant creaming  the shortening until light and fluffy with a mixing spoon, add the sugar and continue creaming, the eggs, more mixing the sugar, the flour, the flavoring and then beat it all 1oo times. And maybe have nice texture.  Pillsbury Cake Mix was years away. The other ‘real’ farmers seemed to know all the dances. My daddy didn’t- was a gentleman farmer, part time, weekender, after hours.

I must share about my little brother, Jimmy. He puzzled me because it seemed all the thoughts in his head he would express out loud, verbally. Most my thoughts I had learned to keep inside my head and heart. Except there were the many times he would be my companion as we walked out into the fields or down the road and I would spiel out all that was on my mind or in my heart, problems, hurts, expectations, whatever. He would be my listening ear. I don't even believe now he much understood my talk. But he was there. He was with me. He was my brother. Together, I shared. Because he knew the words he was better than Duke. 
St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Richmond, IL

Our Catholic Community was 7 miles distant, St. Joseph’s in Richmond.  Only transportation was to ride together once a week in the family car. This was a small, white  framed little church much like the one room schoolhouse. The Pastor was a handsome, young Irishman, Fr. Blake. He was well liked and popular with the summer crowd. This church was handy for weekenders vacationing out of Chicago at the lakes to fulfill their Sunday obligation. On peak summer Sundays traffic was bumper to bumper all the way back into Chicago. Mother made friends  easily so our family was soon on easy speaking terms with most parishioners as well as Father Blake. There were community members tried, true, dependable who made the parish wheels turn. Priest did little in the way of catechetical education. Remember the organist, Molly Miller, willing though not extremely talented, played that organ and sang all the Latin for High Masses. or Requiem. There was a small attached room side of the church. Many years later a school was built on this sight, behind a new brick church.

One day the priest corralled me to gather the children in this room following Sunday Mass to listen to the children’s Baltimore Catechism recitations. Question and answer. 1. Who made the world? God     2. Who is God? God is the Creator of heaven and earth and all things.     3. Why did God make you? God made me to know Him to love Him to serve Him and to be happy with Him forever in heaven  4. etc. etc. No teaching-- merely hearing little children lessons. Would this be similar to Protestant children memorizing Bible phrases? I suppose it was/is.
Once each summer, I recall it being 4th of July weekend. when even more Chicagoans head for Lake Geneva.  The parish held a chicken dinner. This brought in perhaps most of the support and building funds as it was a once a year, popular, well attended, not to be missed affair for Chicagoans. A few years after our arrival Fr. Blake was killed in an auto accident. Parish mourned his loss. He was replaced by a German priest, Fr. Frank Miller, whom my family became very close to as well over the years. You will find family burial sights [mother, father, brother, Bill] in the St. Joseph Cemetery across the highway and north up the road a bit.

What year it was I do not recall. Daddy had this person from work, who was very black, come to the farm, offering him a job. This was possibly my junior or senior year in high school for dad had already built the new milk house beside the cow barn. This building had a 2nd story. Dad included a sink and toilet. It was a large enough room for Henry to live in. And he did. Now he didn't eat meals with us. I have no memory of his breakfast and dinner. I suspect he got his own. I recall I would make him these great peanut butter sandwiches for his lunch and carry them out to him. He was so grateful. I puzzled over the distant and cool relationship my parents had with him. Not our level of society, of course, and not our caucasian race.  I was learning more of prejudice. Thing is Henry never forgot the hand and heart I extended to him. Later my parents met him and learned he had married, had a family and became a minister in his faith. When they met up with him he inquired about me. We had overcome-- something.

Billy and Jim had an on going relationship with one another, though not the same as Elayne and I. I became aware, too, of a distancing between Billy and me as we added years. We had always been very close throughout early childhood, almost like twins, I thought. Mother often said so. I didn't fully understand. this. I began to notice he lost his little brother face and his voice began to change. I heard many comments about how handsome he was becoming. I couldn't see. I liked him the way he was. This growing up seemed to mean I was losing him. 
* I have this link to sit back and enjoy our Creator God which my maturing years at Tullybracky 2 would teach me to know and love. 

- images taken from Sir David Attenborough's BBC series, Planet Earth

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