Monday, December 10, 2012

A 60th birthday gift to my high school classmates

This week, the youngest member of my high school class turns 60. That’s right—the entire Costa High School class of ’70, a bunch of Central Illinois Catholic kids who grew up in the ‘60s—are now a couple decades older than those teachers we thought were “older than dirt” were back when we were raising Cain in our gender-segregated high school classrooms. 

When I celebrated my 60th birthday earlier this year, it looked as if I were going to be spending the day alone. My husband was still living and working a state away, and my daughters and families both lived hours distant. I planned to eat a frozen Weight Watchers cake for breakfast, work, and mope about being alone on my big day. 

My family had other ideas. 

Using some sort of social media magic (the Facebook event function, I suspect), they threw a surprise card shower for me. I got birthday cards in the mail and greetings on my Facebook page for days, some from a few of those long-lost classmates. It was a day to remember. 

Even better, instead of 60, I felt about 16. We aren’t 60 the way our parents and grandparents were 60. 

Baby Boomers don’t get old, do they? I know, there’s probably some kind of saying about that somewhere: Old Baby Boomers don’t die, they just …

As the rest of my friends turned 60 throughout the year, I often posted messages such as these: 

Happy birthday, So-and-so! We’re going to rock 60 like it’s never been rocked before.


Welcome along as the Class of 70 rocks the sixties once again.

Every time I shared a greeting, I wished I could give each of my friends a gift of some sort. Like many, my budget just doesn’t allow for 70-some gifts for classmates and other friends my age. 

A rite of passage

One day, I realized that, as a health care communicator, perhaps there is a gift I can share with my fellow Friars and friends. It’s a reminder that it’s time for another rite of passage. We’re old enough now. 

Just as we once reached an age when we could receive our First Holy Communion, vote, be drafted, or drink, we’ve reached the age when we can get a shingles vaccine

What, you wonder, is the big deal about that? If you’ve ever known anyone who suffered through shingles, you’ll know. If you haven’t, this video will help you understand. 

I did it

I got my shingles vaccine a couple months ago. 

It’s not a cheap immunization.  I was lucky. My health insurance covered it in full. Coverage varies by insurer, but one thing’s sure. You can’t put a price tag on pain—so this preventative measure is worth the cost. 

Class of ’70, as we turn 60, happy birthday! My gift to you is this reminder: Protect yourself. I don’t want to read a message like this on Facebook:

Crap. Sure wish I would have gotten my shingles vaccine. This itching and burning is killing me. I feel so miserable can’t go golfing (fishing, dancing, hiking) or ride go karts (bicycles, Harleys, jet skis) or play baseball (basketball, soccer, pool) with my grandkids.

After all, you can’t feel 16 if you’re hurting like a sick 60-something, can you? Get that shot, Class of 70. 

Happy 60th!

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Porch sitting déjà vu

There they sat—side by side—a table between them with a lamp, a couple of coffee cups or tea glasses, and the daily newspaper.

He, balding, reclined in his chair; she, tall and wiry, sat upright in hers. 

Oftentimes, the two just sat, no conversation in the air between them, comfortable in the tranquility of their surroundings, watching the goings-on outside the window. 

The place they sat? A porch, enclosed with storm windows or screens for use year round, a porch in a small town on an Illinois prairie—railroad track edging the back yard a few feet behind the grape arbor, two-lane thoroughfare rimming the front yard. 

Between the porch and the highway was a sidewalk of brick—the sort of walk that had to be weeded each season or the vegetation growing between its bricks killed with gasoline or some chemical concoction. 

Mr. and Mrs. B weren’t unlike others of their World War I-era generation—grandparents in their late sixties in the early sixties. They were much like many other porch sitters in cities big, towns small, in the hills of the southern US or on the banks of rivers and lakes across the land. 

Kids raised, grandkids dropping in for an occasional homemade cookie, Popsicle or board game, they had more time now to while away the hours, linger over a slowly sipped beverage, watch the activity in front of them, and reflect on that behind them. 

This summer, Hubby and I moved to our retirement home—the first house in our four decades together that has a porch. 

“A screened-in porch,” I thought, when we looked at the house. “How old-fashioned—why not a deck? That’s what they put on houses these days.” 

“I don’t like it,” I told my husband. “I don’t want to be all closed in.”

“You might be surprised,” he said. “You might even want to replace the screen with windows so you can enjoy it longer.”

I hate it when he’s right. 

I moved to the house a couple months before my husband, while he worked to his retirement date. I found myself on that porch morning, noon and night—and most of the hours in between. My work as a writer and editor allows me to work anywhere that I can get a wi-fi connection and plug in my laptop computer.  

I went out on the porch first thing in the morning toting coffee and breakfast and watched the hummingbirds and chipmunks. I went back in to shower, grabbed my computer and worked on the porch until lunchtime. I ate on the porch while I read a chapter in a book, then spent the afternoon out there writing and editing. 

Even on the nights when I had a zillion unpacking and renovation tasks, the porch beckoned I visit it for supper. I heeded its call. 

A couple weeks ago the workers finished converting the screen porch to one with sliding windows so we can use it year round.

Last week, I finished painting the walls and the trim, and the carpet was installed. 

This week, my hubby and I became the 21st century version of my grandmother’s neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. B. 

The popsicles are in the freezer, the board games on a shelf. All I need is a good kid-friendly cookie recipe and the grandkids to come to visit to create another round of front porch memories. 

Never thought I’d see the day, but the two of us are now in our sixties and porch sitters. 

I like it.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)

Monday, October 8, 2012

As the scene changes

Dorky title, huh? 

Sure, it’s a play on that old soap opera title, the one where the globe went spinning across a starlit sky at the beginning of each episode and the writers had the power to hold viewers spellbound five days a week for more than forty years. 

But after more than forty years in Illinois, our scene has changed – my husband’s and mine. We left the prairie where we spent all of our years together and moved to the hills of Missouri, a couple hours from the rocky, tree-filled, creek-crossed landscape my grandfather left behind almost a century ago. 

There was a lot I looked forward to in moving down here – the slower pace of life, great neighbors waiting to welcome us, wildlife who believe they’re neighbors, a lake we love, and rocks, trees and creeks like those my grandpa left behind. 

And there were things I knew I’d miss – family still in Illinois, friends from work and the community, events related to the history and literature of Illinois and to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. 

Illinois has history
The Bloomington, Ill. area where we lived the last decade and a half is in the heart of the Eighth Judicial Circuit in which Lincoln practiced law and was encouraged to run for the Presidency. It’s close enough to Springfield that I could attend daytime events and evening lectures at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Lincoln’s Home, the Old State Capitol, or the University of Illinois at Springfield, and near enough to Galesburg for me to make Sandburg Days activities most springs. 

I knew I’d miss those things – the intellectual stimulation, the camaraderie, the sense of pride in those communities rich in history. 

Over the past few weeks, though, as our scene has changed – from that of the prairie to the hills and waters of Missouri and from the green of summer to the panorama of color I’m capturing in my journal each day – we’ve found our cultural enrichment scenery changing, too. 

Twice in the last few weeks, I journeyed south a couple hours to Mansfield, Mo. to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum. The first time was to take a friend, a fellow writer, so she could get a sense of where Laura was when she wrote her Little House books.  The second time, my neighbor joined me for the community’s Wilder Days festival. The day’s rain could not dampen our enthusiasm nor make flat the sounds pouring forth as Mansfield native David Scrivener played Pa Ingalls’ fiddle and a seasoned local performer accompanied him on the guitar. 

Missouri’s got talent
Last week, my hubby and I traveled to Eldon for the community’s Turkey Festival. There, we listened – for free – to local musicians playing blue grass and gospel music. We heard an inspirational singer from Kansas City, a great classic rock band, complete with trumpet player, and 15-year-old “America’s Got Talent” quarterfinalist, Jake Wesley Rogers of Ozark, Mo. This young man is amazing. He may not have taken top honors in the television competition, but Jake is a winner. We’ve surely not yet heard the end of this young man, who made his parents ever more proud that Saturday afternoon as he entertained the crowd in the small town where the couple grew up. 

Are you wondering if we were becoming tired of music after a day traversing a small town with stages at each end and in the middle of one of its main streets? 

Nope, not at all. 

We went directly from there to the Octoberfest at a Laurie church, where one man played accordion by the outside beer tent and a band inside (with another accordion, of course – and a sax) played polkas, German tunes, some classic rock and the chicken dance, with many of the dancers donning chicken hats.

This week, we headed out again on a Saturday morning, for the Apple Festival in Versailles. I had but one thing on my agenda for this weekend adventure – attending the fiddle contest at the community’s Royal Theatre. 

When we arrived in Versailles, we first hit another Octoberfest, this one without music or a beer tent, but with a gooseberry pie so good it made up for the lack of auditory and alcoholic accompaniments. 

Once downtown, we made our way up and down the streets and around the square. We were pleased to see the same Kansas City singer that we’d heard the week before beginning to warm up on one stage. Warming up on this Saturday was just that. With temps in the 40s, it wasn’t just the singer’s vocal chords that were cool. The audience, hands in pockets, huddled for warmth, felt the chill too – so much so that they ran most of the vendors out of hot chocolate as the day danced forth. 

Spreading good news with blues
As we waited for the fiddle contest, we made our way to one street-end stage, where a blues band played, but not just any blues band. The t-shirts on the table near where Springfield Blues played read, “Using Blues to Spread the Good News.” These guys were good – from the lead singer to the harmonica player – and I couldn’t help but wonder if the four Harleys parked near the band weren’t one more way they reach out to an audience sometimes resistant to the news they wish to share. 

We were sure the fiddle contest would be the highlight of our day and we weren’t disappointed. The talent ranged from two young female fiddlers as different as night and day – one looking like the soft-spoken girl next door and another with an awesome Mohawk – to the senior division fiddlers – two women, including 82-year-young spunky fiddler Gertrude Hunt (who also is a heck of a yodeler), to the open division with one woman and a gentleman whose fiddle and skills said, “I’ve been at this for decades.”

We tapped our toes, swayed with the waltzes and wished at the end that the music would keep on playing. We learned that, a few years ago, when the contest was at risk of being discontinued, a family came forward to sponsor it, saying something like, “That’s part of our heritage. We can’t let it die.”

We’re glad they didn’t. 

Near the end of the chilly afternoon, we had one more treat – listening to another Missouri native who is making music her profession. We sat on freezing cold bleachers and watched former Stover resident, now Nashville entertainer, Shelly Bush, and her all girl broadBand, perform on an outdoor stage.

“Heck,” we thought, “if they can stand out here and sing and play, we can sure listen.” It was worth sitting in the cold for, and as they sang the Zac Brown Band hit, “Chicken Fried,” Little Big Town’s “Pontoon,” and more, the music made the day just a little warmer. 

Yes, our scene has changed – not just the view outside our window, but the culture we take into our hearts. But, as the family sponsoring that fiddle contest says, “It’s our heritage,” and in learning about it, this student of regional history is adding another page to her life’s chapbook.