Sunday, April 29, 2012

‘Show me’ – My state

Or is it “’Show me,’ my state,” “show me my state” or some other combination of letters and punctuation? Only time will tell, I guess.

On Saturday, April 28 at 12:58 p.m., I crossed the Mississippi River at Hannibal, Missouri, one of hundreds of times I’ve crossed the Big Muddy on bridges barely big enough for two cars or large enough for several. One time, I went across on a ferry.

I’ve crossed where the river was narrow and where it was wide, with its waters calm as one of those mirrors under a blown-glass figurine, or so rough they seem to holler out, “Only a fool dare launch a boat on me now.” 

I’ve seen it low when the rains don’t come and miles beyond its banks when a combination of thawing winter ice and snow and spring rains had it overflowing. I’ve crossed it when ice was just beginning to form and when it was frozen so solid not even the hardiest tugboat could make its way downstream.

I’ve crossed the Mis-sis-sippi as a wide-eyed child, a mom of big-eyed daughters, a college student headed, plastic mug in hand, for a kegger across the water, a grandma fetching dropped sippy cups from under a van seat. I’ve crossed it as a six-year-old and will soon cross it as a sixty-year old. I even tried to ski on it once, but forgot to let go of the rope. Let’s pretend I didn’t share that tale.

Every time I’ve ventured across the Mississippi River or stepped foot into it, from the uppermost tip of Iowa to the southern-most point where its waters lap against Illinois shores, I’ve done so as a resident of the Land of Lincoln, where I was born and many of my ancestors are buried.

This time was different. As I looked at the green sign, perched on the bridge overlooking Mark Twain’s hometown, with its words, “Missouri State Line,” I was, for the first time, entering the state as a full-time Missouri resident. Yep, that’s right. After talking about it for 20 years, spending a weekend here or a week there in the “Show Me state” for all but a half dozen of those years, we’ve finally moved every dish, dresser and drill bit we own to its new home on the Lake of the Ozarks in mid-Missouri. 

It’s a place where, on a vacation from our jobs in retail and wholesale management more 22 years ago, my husband and I found ourselves sleeping eight hours straight without tossing or turning once, with no phone calls about a computer that wouldn’t run a day-end report at 2 a.m. or a milk truck that wouldn’t start at 4:30 in the morning. It’s a place where we’ve found calm and tranquility instead of hustle, bustle and stress. It’s the state where we look forward to growing old together. 

So, if you’ve noticed my irregular presence in the blogosphere these last few weeks, now you know the reason. Purging closets, packing boxes and polishing our old home for its new residents kind of took precedence over putting words on paper. 

And, for the first time in 15 years, I no longer live a few miles from Route 66, the Mother Road. I suppose I could change the name of this blog to “Musings off Route 66,” or to “Missouri Musings,” or to “Reflections ‘Long Side a Lake,” but instead, it will continue to be what it’s been all along – a column conceived on early morning and late afternoon drives on that historic road and penned today whenever and wherever those same types of musings touch me. It will ever be “Musings on Route 66,” for they’re defined not by a geographic place, but by a state of mind. 

But, as my new state “shows me” all kinds of things I never knew about it, unfolds its beauty, wildflowers and wildlife to me anew each day, and teaches me lessons I need to learn, I’ll share them here as enthusiastically as I shared tales of the 16th President on my Lincoln Buff 2 blog during the bicentennial celebration of his birth. 

Don’t worry. I won’t leave the musings about my birth state, its history and literature behind. I’m kind of hoping that living here opens my eyes even wider so I can show you both of my home states, their stories and their people with all of the wonder they’ve held for me for the last six decades.

I’d love it if you’d come along for the adventure.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Missing a high shrill whistle

It was a sound we heard often in my grandmother’s kitchen with its big long table, high ceiling, tall cabinets and porcelain sink bearing an old hand pump. High-pitched and long was that whistle from Grandma’s shiny silver-colored tea kettle, until she lifted the vessel from the burner to hush it.

If we would have let her, Grandma would have lived on tea and toast. She loved it that much. Grandma didn’t need a tea bag. A little of the brown instant powder suited her fine, sweetened just so with a smidgeon of milk added to turn it a soft caramel brown. 

Hubby and I have been sorting and purging, hoping to make a move later this year to our retirement home in Missouri. A couple weeks ago, when going through some things we inherited from the new home’s previous owners, I found an old tea kettle buried deep within the bowels of the long low cupboard under the island. It hadn’t been used for years, I was sure. Lord only knows how much lime was built up in it. No matter how much I let water boil in that kettle, I’d never feel it was clean, so it went in the kitchen trash bag and ended up in the dumpster as we drove up the hill to head back to Illinois. 

Last week, I found a box in the cupboard in the garage here at home – one that hadn’t been opened since we left our Galesburg home 15 years ago. Among clothespins, clothesline rope and a shriveled-up roll of silver duct tape was another tea kettle – the special one I got when we got married. Shiny stainless steel like my grandma’s with a copper bottom to match my pots and pans and the ones I watched my mother polish years earlier, the black-handled kettle was a must-have when I got married – probably more because it reminded me of Grandma, good times and even better food in her kitchen than because I might actually use it. 

I did, though, for a few years, until hot pots and microwaves found their way into our homes and on to our kitchen counters. I found myself using my tea kettle less and less, eventually putting it below the counter and finally burying it in that box, where it stayed until last weekend, its copper bottom tarnished and its stainless steel now dull. 

When I found it, I looked at it a little longer and harder than I did the one a week or so before, but I felt the same about my ability to get years’ worth of settled yuck out of this one as I did the first time around, so I tossed it across the garage, scoring three points as it banked off the rim of the big blue trash bin and fell inside. I felt a little as if I were betraying the kettle or my grandmother, though, instead of the joy I normally feel at such an athletic feat.

These days when I want tea, I warm the water in the hot pot or the microwave. I choose any one of a variety of gourmet-flavored tea bags left over from my youngest granddaughter’s first tea party. But every once in a while, I’ll add a little sugar and milk to my cup, pop a couple pieces of white bread in the toaster and sit down alone with the comfort feast at my kitchen table, as my grandmother often did at hers in the nearly two-and-a-half decades she lived alone after my grandfather’s death. 

It just feels right. 

The tea kettle may be a thing of the past – in my home, at least – but, when I listen with my heart over a cup of warm tea, its whistle and the memories it stirs are with me as much today as they were when I joined Grandma for a warm drink at her table half a century ago.   

At those times, I miss that whistle – and I miss my Grandma more.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)