Saturday, July 21, 2012

The new kid and the books

I was almost 10 years old the first time I remember moving, leaving the only home I remembered to move to a new house, attend a new school. 

One of the things that troubled me most about the move was that I had to leave in the middle of a book. Our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Rice, was reading aloud to our fourth grade class from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” – a few pages each day.

I was a child in the fifties and sixties, long before the television series which started Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert, so I couldn’t just pick up on the story on the black-and-white television in our new living room. 

I must have told my teacher how sad I was to leave in the middle of Laura’s story, which I’d grown to love. Mrs. Rice, in all her wisdom, told me she was sure the book would be waiting in the library in my new town. She said I should go there once we got settled, check it out and finish reading it. 

The move was not among the easiest I’ve made in my lifetime. The new teacher was certainly no Mrs. Rice, and with a few fortunate exceptions, the new kids weren’t like the friends I’d left behind. Children can be cruel at nine and 10 years old, and when they sense the “new kid” is bothered by their nastiness, they seem to kick it up a notch. 

Mrs. Rice wasn’t the only wise woman in my life, though. 

My mother knew the comfort I’d found in books through the years – beginning with the first one I remember her reading to me, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses.”  So, in her wisdom, she loaded my siblings and me in the car and took us to the Carnegie-style library in our new hometown. 

As soon as I descended the steps to the basement children’s collection, I felt things getting better – and when I found Laura on the shelf, I knew things were going to be okay. 

Over the next five decades, I moved more than a half-dozen times, but one thing was constant in each community – the library was one place where I always felt at home and never worried what people thought of the “new kid.” 

There seems to be a kind of kinship among book people – and a library and its books can feel warm even on the coldest day. 

Earlier this year, I moved again – and, yes, I got my library card before I got my new driver’s license. Would you expect anything less from me? 

Since I’m not in school, I didn’t have to worry about being the “new kid” this time, right?

Well, not exactly. When I was visiting with a woman at the bank in my community, I mentioned that all of my books were still packed in boxes.  The “bank lady” said, “Books? You like books? You’ve got to meet one of my coworkers. She’s in a book club.” 

“Book club,” I thought. “Oh, no, I don’t think I want to do that. What if they don’t like me? At the library, I can just hide among the books. At a book club, I can’t.” 

But, I met the book club lady and she seemed pretty nice. She put me on the email list so I’d get notices of the meetings. The first two didn’t work out for me, but it looked like the third one was going to. So, I downloaded the book to my e-reader, read it late at night and when I could find a spare minute – and loved it. 

The other night, I went to book club for the first time, riding with a carload of women down a winding highway and across a couple bridges to the winery where the group was to meet. 

Guess what! 

I loved it. 

I’m not sure if it was the wine, the food, the fun and common bond ten readers shared, or the fact that the “old kids” are more grown up than those grade school classmates back in the early sixties, but I’m already reading the next book and I’ve got a standing appointment on my calendar now. 

It reads, “Book club.” 

Once again, because of books (and people who love them), things are going to be just fine.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

(Image via)

Friday, July 13, 2012

There’s time – and there’s lake time

Have you ever been in a different time zone? 

Wait, now, before you jump in with the “right” answer. 

Don’t start counting off all of the places you’ve been, the invisible lines you’ve crossed on a map that put you in zones neatly marked “Eastern,” “Central,” “Mountain,” “Pacific.” 

Think more like Rod Serling, like “Twilight Zone,” a place where things, where time is just a little different.

I’m in one of those places. 

Recently, my hubby and I moved from our home in Central Illinois, just a few miles from Route 66, to a home on the Lake of the Ozarks in mid-Missouri. 

We thought we knew the place. After all, we’ve been coming here off and on for more than 20 years. We liked the way we felt relaxed down here, the way it helped us escape from the rigors of the retail, wholesale, corporate or government worlds in which we worked through the years. But, until recently, I don’t think we fully realized why. 

I think it’s because we’re in a different time zone. Now, before you start correcting me, I may be ditzy sometimes – okay, a lot of the time – but I’m not stupid. I know we’re still in the Central Time zone. But, we’re in another one, too – one most people don’t even know exists. We’re on Lake Time now.

Thinking back, I guess we’ve seen bits and pieces of it for years – the way we were feeling pretty rested and laid back when we were down here more than a day or two, until it was time to go home, that is; the way everyone just seemed to look a little more relaxed, except for the tourists and weekenders, trying to cram everything into a handful of days; the pace of the clerks in the stores and the fix-it sort of guys who came to work on our home. 

Finally, yesterday, it all fit together – in words from the mouth of one of those guys. 

A couple of men came to pump our septic tank. Different in many ways than most of the tradesmen or handymen at the lake, this pair arrived within the time window promised – not like the cable guy a couple years ago who didn’t show up or call, the three boat lift companies who didn’t meet their time slots, the plumbers who came a day late to our neighbor’s house. And, they actually worked while they were here – not a mid-morning arrival, few minutes of work, a cigarette break, a few more minutes of work, a two-hour lunch, a little more work, then a mid-afternoon quitting time. 

When we mentioned the difference to the septic tank guy, and what we’d seen from other workers recently, he said, “Oh, they’re on lake time. I grew up down here. That’s just how they are.”

“Yep,” hubby and I said in unison. “We’ve got that figured out."

There’s a couple of things we’re learning from all this, though – waiting on carpet layers, boat lift guys, plumbers and more. 

We’re learning a bit more patience and that lake time’s not all bad. 

Unless the house is on fire or the pipes have burst, usually whatever we need to have done won’t hurt if it’s done a couple hours or a couple days later. It can almost always wait. 

When we’re not worrying about the clock, it’s a lot easier to spend a little time chatting with the neighbors at the mailbox or when we meet on the road, to take time to watch the family of young ducks in the cove, the chipmunks peering in the screen porch window or the hummingbirds at the feeder, to sit in the evening calm and chat with dear friends, even when there’s laundry to be folded or a floor to be swept. 

There is something about this time zone that has a tendency to grown on a person. We’re beginning to get used to it. 

So don’t be surprised if next time someone asks me what time zone I’m in, I answer “Lake Time.” 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Remembering – half a century later

Funny how some things you remember as if they were yesterday – like the first time death came barging into your life.

I was ten years old – a skinny kid sleeping in an upstairs bedroom, overly tired from hanging out the day before with cousins and aunts and uncles, windows open on both sides of the room to help what little breeze there was cool the un-air-conditioned room in the big old farm house.

The first thing I remember about that morning is my fifteen-year-old cousin sitting on my bed, telling me our grandpa was dead.

Just like that – gone. 

Strange, too, how things work out some times. That summer, my city cousin was staying with us to get a taste of farm life and help my parents. Little did anyone know that part of the helping would be watching my three siblings and me when my parents received a late-night call that Grandpa had suffered a fatal heart attack as he got ready to go to sleep.

My poor cousin. I had a gob of questions for him – the kinds of questions kids have about things like heaven and eternal life. 

As the oldest in my family, I’d always wished I’d had a big brother. That day, my cousin came as close to playing the part as anyone did until my own younger brothers filled that role as adults. 

I was glad he was there for me. And, you know, I don’t think I’ve ever taken time to tell him. 

It was his grandfather, too, so I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hurting that day.

When my grandpa died, he was only 71. Back then, 71 seemed old. Now, as I’m a little more than a decade away from that number and my cousin is even closer to it, it seems young, too young. 

I once had a friend tell me how lucky I was to have had the chance to know my grandparents and one great-grandparent, three of whom lived more than 95 years. 

She was right. 

Even the grandpa I lost first is etched still in my mind – short in stature compared to many men, I guess, but big in my eyes. He was a quiet man, stern without having to say a word, loving without needing to tell us. 

Grandpa was smart. He could fix anything, do it all with a few hand tools – all meticulously maintained, used for years and for a multitude of purposes. His garden was fruitful and tidy, his cherry tree well groomed. He kept his yard buzzed short with a human-powered rotary mower.

He waited patiently in the car while Grandma went into the grocery store, the drug store with the soda fountain and the Ben Franklin. 

When he wasn’t working hard, you’d find this World War I vet sitting at his place at the end of the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and his Camel cigarettes, wearing the same style of work uniform-type togs, except on the rarest of occasions. 

I’ve always had broad shoulders for a female, and I knew that the genes for them came from this grandpa. This trait that may have been a source of frustration for some women never bothered me at all. My shoulders have a way of reminding me of my grandpa on days when I tend to forget him.

Today isn’t one of those days. Around 10 p.m. one Fourth of July, my grandpa left this world. I thought about him all day yesterday.

Fifty years ago this morning I learned of his passing – and I miss him still.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)