Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Twist in the Gut and the Plot

It wasn't the nutritional yeast.  I know that now.

And San Francisco will most likely wait for us.

Three weeks ago on a Sunday morning I fried up a happy bacon and eggs breakfast like a good Trim Healthy Mama. Then I ramped up the THM engine and added a few slices of avocado and pulled out my jar of nutritional yeast to sprinkle over the whole works.

Instead of sprinkling gently, the nutritional yeast fell out in a big glop, probably two tablespoons of it.  Oh well.  Sunday morning, lots to do, and if a little is good, more must be better.  I ate it up.

An hour later Paul had left for his pre-service ministers' meeting, my hair was fluffed and up, and my stomach suddenly hurt.  Wow.  I scampered around putting pens in my purse and lunch in the oven.

Oh my word. This HURT.

Finally I told the kids to go on and I'd come later.  I went to bed and spent the next six hours in great and terrible pain.

When it subsided enough to think, I thought back over everything I'd eaten in the last day.  Was it the Mexican food from the night before? The eggs?

I looked up nutritional yeast.  Some people react to it with painful bloating and cramps.

All right then.  That explained that.  I felt very silly, and the next day I dumped the rest of the nutritional yeast in the trash.

*     *     *

Paul suggested we go to San Francisco for our anniversary.

Despite being a great planner, he isn't really the whisk-away-on-a-romantic-trip sort of person.  So when he suggested taking off to San Fran, I said YES.

Even though there was a LOT going on, like Vacation Bible School at church, and my sister and my dad coming, and harvest, and chickens and flower beds to take care of, and my sister leaving and Dad staying, and people streaming through my life, and our church's first ladies' retreat to plan for at the end of August.

I drew up a chart with all the living things that would suffer or die if uncared for for four days, and who was in charge of what.

First we talked about flying to San Francisco, and then we decided to drive, taking off after lunch on Sunday.

That Sunday morning I once again had two eggs.  I put kielbasa soup in the Instant Pot, prepped the buns, shepherded Dad out the door, went to church.

After church I started with another stomach ache that got worse as the minutes went by.  I didn't at all connect it with the episode two weeks before.  Some crazy indigestion.  We ate lunch, put our bags in the car, and left.  We tossed in an ice cream bucket at the last minute, just in case.

*     *     *

This is the thing about sickness and health issues: do you share the news of them? And how much? To whom? And when?

The question has a number of sides.  The TMI factor, for one.  Stomach aches and barf buckets. Indigestion.  Ewww.  How can this be anyone's business but mine?

But: how can anyone support, rally, care, help if they don't know?

Also: sharing brings advice.  Some of it you desperately need and want.  But when you're surprised by illness, dealing with the flood of well-meaning un-asked-for advice can be so overwhelming that you decide to keep your news to yourself.

Also: explaining is hard work.  People want to know particulars, because they care about you.  Or because they're curious, some of them.  And if they give advice and you don't take it, you seem ungrateful and snippy unless you explain and explain what you're going to do instead, and why and how theirs would be great advice except for this.

Clarifying ideas and experiences into words and sentences is hard work when you don't feel well.  So not saying anything can just be easier and more manageable.

But it can make you feel alone.

*     *     *
We headed south on Interstate 5.  An hour later I was in really really awful pain.  I started throwing up.  Thank goodness for the bucket.

Paul stopped at a rest area to dump the bucket.

And at a gas station.

And at a few other places.

I was in serious, serious pain.

We can't go on, we decided.

*     *     *
Illness and emergencies are an opportunity for people to say, afterwards, "You should have just...."

Medical situations bring out stuff you didn't know was there, and I'm not talking about the bile in the depths of your stomach that comes up via your wretched heaving on the gravel parking lot in Sutherlin, where you've pulled off to make a few decisions.

Paul, for instance, is brisk and decisive in 99% of life, but he is completely baffled and desperately uncomfortable and inadequate in medical situations.

Whereas my missed-my-true-calling self shows itself whenever a gash or ache or upset stomach comes across my way.  I'm immediately pulling on the sterile gloves and laying out my instruments and pulling pills and oils from the drawer.

Unless I'm the one who's sick or hurt.

Then some haunting ghost from the distant past takes over and I feel I have no option but to tough it out.

Because deep down is a belief that I will not be believed that it hurts.  And that only wimps ask for help.

That was one of a number of unpleasant things I found out about myself through all this.

*     *     *
So we got a motel in Sutherlin.  I have vague memories of one of us mentioning going to the ER in Roseburg, but somehow I couldn't stand the thought of being poked and asked and moved and x-rayed.

I also don't like making big decisions in an emergency.

So Paul helped me inside and I curled up in that lovely bed and was lost in a delirium of pain for a long time, and then I fell asleep.

Paul called our nurse friend Esta, who said it sounds like gallstones.  Then he went to Safeway and got me some apple juice and roses.

The next morning Paul called our doctor and made an appointment.  We canceled the anniversary trip and began a journey of a different kind.

*     *     *
I've read about and known people who go through chemotherapy or multiple surgeries, and it seems they are familiar with this mysterious System.  They know about scans here and ICU's there, about how to tell which is a good doctor, about insurance, and how to be assertive and demand what you need.

Me? I know about visits to a family doctor for asthma, bronchitis, and kids' broken arms and ear infections.  And giving birth, but that's different.

I've never really had to navigate the System.

*     *     *
Our doctor took me seriously.

"How often have you given birth?" he said.  "How did this compare?'

I said, "Two of my births were easier than this, and I didn't have easy births."

He believed me.

Then he sent us off into the System.  An ultrasound first, in an unfamiliar area of Salem.

I expected discomfort, gowning up, an icy sploosh of gel on my stomach.

Instead: a casually friendly technician who said no, you're fine, just have a seat here. And she had warmed the gel!

Little things make a huge difference in the System.

*     *     *
Two days later, we went to meet with the surgeon.

The word "serious" came up and bobbed around like a helium balloon left over from a party that blows with the air currents in the house.

Not just gallstones, but "serious" gallstones.  And a hint of pancreatitis, which can be very serious.  And an inflamed gallbladder.  Again, serious.

Most people, it seems, have small gallbladder issues for months and years before they become big issues.  This sudden and extreme is unusual.

Surgery is the solution, everyone in the medical system said.

I thought, "Steven is graduating on Saturday.  I HAVE TO BE THERE."  And then I schemed how I could make this work.  Hold off a few days, then graduation Saturday, surgery Monday.

The surgeon said, "You can't have laparascopic surgery with an inflamed gallbladder.  You'll need to wait six weeks and eat a very low-fat diet in the meanwhile."

Six WEEKS?!  Of eating almost no fats, which is just awful awful, and meanwhile the gallbladder could attack again at will, any time it pleases.

I wanted to burst into tears and cry for a long time.

And then the surgeon said he's going on vacation, so it might be more like nine weeks.

*     *     *
Sickness strips away control and capability.

Healthy, it's easy to delude ourselves into a sense of control over our lives.  Daily schedules, routines, duties.  Lists and plans. Do this, delegate that, make things happen.

Think of the almost absurd audacity of scheduling something two months out.  Yes, I can bring a salad to that party, organize that event, speak at that retreat, even fly to your state.

With control of place and time comes control of emotions.  Feeling in charge, giving orders, keeping life like it ought to be, or at least trying.

And then, just that quick, the control is gone.  Sickness brings a mental fog brought on first by the shock of things changed all of a sudden and then by the inevitable brain shutdown from just Not Feeling Well.

So I get up in the morning and try to prioritize what's absolutely the most important, because that's about all I can get done.

And then I do really spacey things like forget to turn stove burners off.

I'm easily overwhelmed at the best of times, but when I'm sick, everything looks monstrously overwhelming--such as the half dozen orders for Dad's new book that are sitting here on the desk.  Such an enormous, impossible task, figuring them out.

Forgive me, you people who ordered a book and haven't received it.

Emotional control also disappears with sickness.  Last night I recalled an odd memory from sixth grade, when I had been out of school for about four days with a bad flu. On the first day back in school we made stained-glass windows out of black construction paper and tissue.  Something went wrong with mine, and I started crying.  Mrs. Olson said, kindly, "Are you sure you're over your sickness?" and I thought it odd.  What did that have to do with crying over a frustrating art project? She said, firmly, "I don't think you're well yet."

Now I'm sure she was right.

I cry too easily at the best of times, but this last week I feel the emotional fragility that comes with sudden loss, physical pain, and big life changes.

It's just hard any way you look at it, to go overnight from sharp, active, busy, healthy, strong and sure of things to dull, slow, sick, weak, and uncertain.

I hate it.  But you know who just GETS it, who knows what to say, how to say it, when to make me laugh and when to commiserate, what advice to give and how to give it?

The people who have been through something like this themselves.

God isn't going to waste this.

*     *     *

So now I'm waiting.

Eating plain potatoes and longing for butter and sour cream. Analyzing every twinge in my side for signs of another attack.  Trying to re-schedule my talks in the next two months because I have no idea if I can be there or not.

I try to think through the what-if's and have a plan, since I still don't like to make big decisions in an emergency.

It's kind of like getting ready for labor, except it's not fun, and there won't be a baby at the end.

But I made it to Steven's graduation on Saturday!  Seventeen strong amazing uniformed young people on the platform, Steven the most handsome and amazing of the bunch, of course, and then he got his diploma and we were just thrilled.

I sat in the auditorium and thought happy thoughts about how far he's come.  I also thought, "Oh dear.  What if I have another gallbladder attack, here and now?"

But!  What better place and time to have an attack? Steven and all his friends would have swarmed around to help and transport me to the hospital.

But now that he's graduated, and I was there, I don't care so much what happens and when.

*     *     *
As per James 5:14--"Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord."--Paul and I met with the other church leaders and I was anointed with actual oil and prayed over.

So many times I've been the one praying for healing for someone else.

When you're the one anointed and prayed for, you feel touched and healed by Jesus in your spirit, no matter what the outcome is physically.

*     *     *
"I had no idea about any of this," said my friend Sharon this morning.

"You didn't say a thing on social media," said Amy when we Skyped last night, implying that this was out of character.

"I just didn't have the energy for all the explaining, all the conversation, all the questions," I said.

I will be honest: what I feared most was the barrage of remedies and products.  I've contacted a niece and a couple of friends about non-medical treatments.  My family doctor gave me a few parameters with natural remedies.

If you feel the need to share a suggestion, please let me just listen without explaining whether or not I'll use it, and why.

What I need and appreciate most is words of support.

*     *     *
A low-fat diet is mandatory.

So is humor.

A few days ago I faced the reality of what weeks and weeks of a low-fat diet looks like: punishment.  All my beloved peanut butters and alfredo sauces and bleu cheese dressings and whipped cream, forbidden.

[Just wondering if this might be a clue why I got gallstones in the first place...]

I said, darkly cynical, "Hey, I should call this a fast so I can at least get some spiritual credit for it!"

Ben said, "Mom, I can't believe you'd have the gall to say that."

As long as we keep laughing, we're going to be ok.

I don't think I'll try nutritional yeast again, regardless.

And Paul says we will definitely make it to San Francisco, someday.
Jenny made a paper chain for me to mark off the days until surgery.

Emily made me a pretty, low-fat salad.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sunday's Column--Sisters

Bonds of sisterhood remain strong despite long separation

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
AUG. 14, 2016

The best thing, after 33 years, was that we were still us.

My sister Rebecca and I were born a year and three weeks apart. During those three weeks, she always gloated about her vastly superior age, chanting in our Amish-German dialect, for example, “I am 8 and you are only 6,” which sounds far less infuriating in English.

She was tidy; I was messy. She was responsible about housework. I tried to sneak out of doing dishes. She got along with people. I was all frustration and temper, even, on one memorable occasion in the fifth grade, taking the Lord’s name in vain at lunch break on the playground when Billy Allen, with his unbearable smirk, made fun of me for swinging and missing when I was “at bat” in kickball.

I remember exactly what I hollered back at him — not only the first and last time I ever cussed, but also “Why don’t you shut your fat face?” a useful phrase I had just learned from my brother Fred.

Rebecca always was maddeningly good when we were little, and she did things right, while I blew with the winds of impulse and fury and grand creative ideas. “But overall,” Rebecca says now, “I recall us being more like twins. I think I mostly saw you as an equal.”

By junior high, we had learned to be blessedly for, instead of against, each other. We both say the only way we survived being the only Amish girls in a public high school in Minnesota was by our sturdy support of one another.

All through high school, we shielded each other as the bitter winter wind whipped our dresses while waiting for the bus, left notes in each other’s lockers and discussed the day’s indignities, test scores and gossip over the supper dishes.

Living far apart for the first time was unsettling, especially when she was in college and I moved to Oregon to teach at a Mennonite school. Was I someone, apart from her? And if so, who?

By my second year in Oregon, our lives, so tightly similar in high school, were diverging. She was in her third year of college, busy with nursing and Campus Crusade for Christ. While her faith was as strong as ever, she felt called to leave our church and its culture to embrace a wider ministry and world.

Meanwhile, I was dating a Mennonite man and sensing a future in our faith tradition.

That year, we arranged for Rebecca to fly out for spring break, and for four days we stayed at a motel in Florence and reconnected as sisters and best friends.

We found, in those blissful days at the coast, that for every difference between us, we still had a hundred similarities. We explored the shops in Old Town Florence, walked on the beach, talked for hours, laughed a lot and made predictions about the future. She guessed I would marry Paul Smucker, which I did. I said she would marry someone named Malcolm Forbes, which she didn’t.

At night, we sat on the bed, ate celery and peanut butter, and watched “Gone With the Wind,” fiercely stabbing the celery into the peanut butter jar whenever the plot turned scary.

When Scarlett shot the insane soldier who came to the house, we leaped off the bed and made sure the doors were locked.

The next morning, we discovered we had left the keys inserted in the outside of the door that opened to the motel parking lot.

The two of us in 1983.  I'm on the left, Rebecca's on the right.
We had no way of knowing back then that she would spend most of her married life in the Middle East with her engineer husband, and I would spend much of mine in an old farmhouse in a restful rural setting in Oregon. We would each find our way apart from each other, and yet our lives would evolve with almost startling similarities.

Both of us married men who are exhaustingly driven and less emotionally attuned than we are. We both had families, lived with asthma and dealt with the genetic tendency toward depression in ourselves and our children. We both find ourselves constantly involved in helping others.

Back in the United States for her son’s wedding this summer, Rebecca had a chance to visit me, and I decided to surprise her by re-creating our visit to Florence 33 years ago. I found the motel online with its name changed but still sitting there by the Dairy Queen, and reserved a room. Her joy, when we pulled in and parked, made it worthwhile.

Not only did we catch up with each other for two days, but we also reconnected with those two young women from 1983 who were making high-risk life decisions and wondering how they would all turn out.

2016. Again, I'm on the left and Rebecca's on the right.
We didn’t have time for movies, but we still double-checked the locks for old times’ sake. We also ate healthful snacks, took pictures on the beach and gravitated toward secondhand stores.

She is still deliberate and tidy. I am still scattered and forgetful. I deal in the moment; she thinks long-term. But once again we connected on a thousand similarities, laughed at the same things, and empathized deeply with each other’s times of powerlessness and pain.

We ordered the same items off the menu, coughed with asthma and puffed our inhalers and, all unplanned, wore near-identical purple shirts the next morning. We didn’t eat at Dairy Queen this time, since sugary food triggers our asthma.

Riding in the car together, we recalled how I yelled at Billy Allen in the fifth grade and laughed so hard that tears ran down our cheeks.

“I wonder what those two young women would think of us now,” Rebecca said.

I think they would be proud of what we’ve survived and surprised at how much we are still them, still us.

We would tell them, if we could, that the big decisions of marriage and work and location mattered a lot, and we are both relieved that in spite of our naivete, we got those choices right.

But the little decisions of kindness, love and sacrifice are the ones that bring us daily joy, and we could have continued to choose them no matter where we lived or whom we married.

I think those young ladies would be happy to see that, while we are a lot wiser and more experienced, our personalities are still essentially as they always were, and even our weaknesses helped shape us into who we are today.

Surely they would also be glad to see that our relationship survived and that we continued to contact, support, listen, forgive and encourage despite years and miles and the differences that never went away.

Small, positive choices can accumulate into a really good life. To have a sister rooting for you through it all is a rare gift, and I am astonishingly blessed.

Dorcas Smucker is a homemaker and mother of six. She can be reached at dorcas­

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Picking Blackberries on a Summer Sunday Evening.

On the way home this evening, I had Ben drop me off at the edge of McCormicks' field because I wanted to pick some blackberries and walk home.  "Are you sure that's wise, in a white skirt?" he said.  I said it'll be ok, the picking is so easy and good there.

I was right.  The field is dry and harvested, and the blackberry vines arch out obligingly over the flat edge of the field and hang heavy with glossy berries, so I didn't have to go wading into the vines at all.

It is a really good year for blackberries.

We went to a hymn sing this afternoon, three churches coming together at the pavilion at the Rock of Ages .... oh dear, what is the current term for a home for older people who need care?  Not "Old People's Home", certainly, which is what they called it back in my mom's day when she did a year of voluntary service at such a facility and then entitled her scrapbook "O.P.H. Memories."

When I pick blackberries, I feel like Mom is with me in spirit. She was always happiest when picking berries, straw hat on her head, hauling us to the best patches on the backside of the farm, despite the threat of black snakes lurking under the bushes.

She would have loved to go berry picking in McCormicks' field.

So I talked to Mom about grace, because there are just so many blackberries in that patch, many more than I can ever pick or use.  Kind of like the vast supplies of God's love and grace, really, which she now understands better than I can begin to comprehend.
I thought, "But it's not fair, here I have more berries than I can begin to use, and so many people don't have any."

"But they all have access to God's grace, which is even better."


It was very hot at that hymn sing but, as Ben said later as we sat in the living room with the doors open and the cool breezes wafting through, he has a renewed appreciation for Oregon, having just been to a wedding in the East where things do not cool down so much at night, in summer.

Speaking of weddings.  I was going to tell you about one.  In fact, I pretty much promised it, a couple of posts back. But then I had a column to write and also went full-steam-ahead with Dad's book, which barely left time for showers and paying garbage bills, and certainly not for posting about weddings.

Yesterday I was at a funeral.  Esther Boss was the kind of friend that I saw maybe once or twice a year, but we always sat down and had an intense conversation in Pennsylvania Dutch, cutting to the heart of things from the second paragraph on.

She was getting treated for rheumatoid arthritis, and then they discovered she actually had bone cancer, and in five days she was gone.

So I went to her funeral, along with everyone else who felt like she was their friend. Hundreds of us.

In the food line [Mennonite funeral= a good meal] Vivian Turner said that at the end of that one post hadn't I kind of promised...? a post the next day...? about a wedding....?

Well, yes.  I had.  But I kind of hoped no one had noticed, because I'd never followed up.

"Was there something extra special about this wedding?" said Vivian.

Well...YES!  There was!!  I mean, what wedding isn't special, but this was a YODER wedding.

I didn't tell her all this, but I'll tell you.

Dad was 37 when he got married; Mom was almost 34.  Just for perspective, Dad's sister Edna got married at 17, which was a lot more typical in that day and the Amish culture than marrying in your 30s.

So this sort of started a trend of not being in a hurry to get married.  Of the six of us siblings, Marcus and I were the youngest at about 22.  Fred was in his 40s.

Then came the grandchildren.  Annette got married in 2005, and then after long years her sister Janet married in 2012.

Then, as they say, "crickets."

And then Rebecca's youngest son, Derek, announced his engagement to the amazing Grace, and they invited us to their wedding in Indiana in May.
Yoders talking, inspecting shoes, drinking tea, etc.
A bunch of happy Yoders gathered there, including we three sisters and our children.  To my complete delight, our six kids gathered from the earth's corners and our sub-family was all there.

The pastor talked about the sheer unlikelihood of these two people existing, meeting, marrying.  Rebecca the Amish girl meeting and marrying Rod from Seattle.  Grace's dad escaping the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as a child and eventually meeting his wife.  Derek meeting Grace from Indiana even though he grew up in Yemen.

Statistically and logically, these threads couldn't and shouldn't have come together like this, on this day.  But they did.

So the day was infused with great joy.

After the wedding we had part of two days with just Paul and I and our six.  Maybe I'll tell you about that and maybe I won't.

As Mom used to say: "Ich vill nix promisa," which meant "I don't want to promise anything" and was the equivalent of "We'll see."

The first shipment of books made it to Oklahoma ok, and Dad had a book signing yesterday at the Yoder reunion.  People kept texting me pictures throughout the day.

That was also a happy and impossible occasion.

Uncle Johnny and my dad.  My cousin Laverta took this prize shot.

Quote of the Day:
"Do you ever wonder if you're just a joke in someone else's family and you don't know it?"
--someone in this family

Monday, July 18, 2016

My Dad's Memoirs

My dad, Amos Yoder, was with us the past two summers and spent much of his time sitting on the couch and writing his life story, longhand, on notebook paper and the backs of old advertisements for urine-odor removers.

I couldn't find any shots of him writing his book, but here are two photos of him doing other things. We writers go a bit crazier if we don't do anything but write, you know.

He wrote about life as an Amish boy on an Oklahoma farm and how he was called away when World War II came.  What he thought would be a year of Civilian Public Service turned into five.  After that came two years in Paraguay, teaching, college, marriage, a family, and more teaching and farming.

I told Dad I’d take care of getting his writing into a book.

Emily spent many hours typing it all up, then I spent many more hours formatting, proofreading, finding a printer, and taking all the steps on the path from handwritten pages to finished book.

That path is a lot longer and steeper than it looks, starting off, but if it’s the right route for you, you will find people and websites to hold your hand and help you over the rough places and through the blackberry vines.

This week, I finished that project.

I was tempted at times to make the book into my image instead of Dad’s, or to make it more interesting, or to shape the events into how I would tell them, or what I wished they would have been at the time.  But I knew that would destroy the integrity of the telling and the authenticity of the book, so the only edits I made were to standardize the spellings and clarify the date of one event.

The title is Dad’s as well—A Chirp From the Grass Roots--and the cover was based on his ideas.  My friend Ellen Gerig supplied the photo. It's about 200 pages long.

So these are his words, about his life, told in his way.

Dad will be 100 years old in November, God willing.  Later this week he’ll be in Oklahoma at a reunion for his sister’s family.  The book will be available there and he’ll see it for the first time.

In August—God willing, again—Dad will be in Oregon.  I’d like to have a book signing event for anyone who’s interested in meeting him and getting a book.  Not a big splash, since if you read his book you’ll see his horror of making too big a fuss about things, but just an opportunity for people to stop by and get a glimpse of history.

Because really, he is a piece of history.  Think of everything that’s happened and been invented in the last 100 years, from the Korean War to the Depression to Elvis and Scotch tape and floppy disks—he watched it all.  He was ten years old when Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic.

If you’d like a physical copy of A Chirp From the Grass Roots, they will be $8 each and available from me.  Email me at for details.

You can also get an ebook on Amazon.  Right here.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Letter from Harrisburg: A Small-town Fourth of July

On the Fourth of July, the feeling is mutual
By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard

JULY 10, 2016

The harvest smell woke me on the Fourth of July, the vibrant dry scent blowing on my face from the windrowed ryegrass field to the north and the open window by our heads.

It was a good day to be from Harrisburg.

“The breakfast crowd is strolling in,” informed the Harrisburg July 4th Celebration Facebook page at 7:34 a.m. “No long lines yet so hurry down to avoid a wait. Mike is at the 1st station selling raffle tickets, ... Hubert & Caroline are at the 3rd station selling breakfast. Volunteer firefighters are making breakfast, bussing tables, selling petunias.”

In Harrisburg, the day is about community, celebration, first names and investing in your own. It’s also about adding new ideas while keeping the traditions that everyone counts on, such as the Knox Brothers singing in the gazebo by the river at 6 p.m. as they have done for more than 30 years.

At 10 a.m., my daughter Jenny and her friends, dressed in carefully coordinated red, white, and blue outfits, went to the annual library book sale, as always overseen by Cheryl, the friendly librarian. They stayed for the parade, which included, Jenny says, “Gigantic farm tractors, dancing horses and a little Amish-style carriage pulled by four huskies!

“There were lots of little kids around us, so I didn’t get much candy,” Jenny added.

The day’s schedule filled a full page. Face painting by Calvary Chapel, a 5K run, a classic car show — “Smith St., between 2nd and 3rd St., Free!” — kids’ races, craft and food booths, and much more, all of it the result of long tradition, community enthusiasm and a lot of hard work from people willing to be anonymous.

Like many rural folks, I couldn’t join the festivities until evening.

Some farmers took a break from harvesting for the holiday, which is why our middle daughter, Emily, had the day off from driving a Massey Ferguson combine and also from cranking the plugged header backwards by propping her feet on the side of the combine and hanging her full weight on the wrench. We celebrated her birthday over dinner, two days early, with a pie adorned with stripes of raspberries and blueberries, dotted with whipped cream stars.

My husband, Paul, left the table to go back to the warehouse, as more seed was arriving. He said he’d join us for the fireworks.

Steven, our youngest son, gallantly carried my woven-webbing lawn chair and helped me find a place to set it, near the gazebo. Steven got his start as a firefighter volunteering with the Harrisburg department. This experience, and his captain’s encouragement, propelled him toward the firefighter/EMT program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, where he is now in his second year. He wandered over to the firetrucks on Moore Street and talked with a few old buddies. “There’s a lot of new volunteers I don’t know,” he told me.

Hundreds of others already had arrived at the riverbank park: retired farmers in billed caps, children on blankets, neighbors and relatives. The Willamette River flowed and the sun shone on our left. Food booths and strolling teenagers filled the street to the right. And in front of us, in the gazebo, the Knox Brothers sang the songs they always sing, “Amazing Grace,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “There's Peace in Knowing.”

Over on Kesling Street, Yvonne Bender displayed her baked goods on tables under a canopy and was “pretty much sold out in an hour and a half,” her son Nate reported.

The Knox Brothers left the stage and were replaced by Cornerstone, also a local family singing group. We stood to join them in singing “God Bless America,” and we meant it.

When my friends Gina and Sharon arrived, I sat with them and learned which sons were working at which warehouse or hay business, who was attending Life Bible, and who moved out of that house and into this one.

Our teenagers asked for money, disappeared and returned, wading through blankets and lawn chairs, with cinnamon-y elephant ears and paper dishes of curly fries, the smells of hot grease drifting behind them. Sharon’s little grandson ate sweet shaved ice and shivered miserably, but kept eating.

In an era of rampant suicide bombings and violence around the world, I couldn’t help but look around the pleasant crowd and think, God forbid, could it happen here?

But everyone within sight looked like they not only belonged there, but knew someone. Two policemen walked by, purposeful but smiling. One drank lemonade.

Safety is not so much in numbers as in people who are mutually invested.

The singing ended and everyone turned their lawn chairs around to the south, strategically avoiding the trees, in preparation for the fireworks to come. A fireman walked by, collecting donations in a tall yellow-trimmed boot.

Paul sent me a text: “Truck had problems unloading. I guess I can’t make it.”

In this community, harvest comes before fireworks.

Glowing plastic wands waved from children’s hands as the dusk and chill grew. And then the sky above the bridge burst out in the first starry cascade.

Just like always.

Afterwards, we groped for our lawn chairs in the dark, walked with the crowd headed north, and admired a friend’s new baby while waiting at Harrisburg’s only stoplight.

The rest of the country could learn from this town, I thought. We are not as homogeneous in politics, beliefs, backgrounds or opinions as it might appear, but here is one day a year when hundreds of people appreciate the place they’re from, celebrate together, offer what they have, and make an enormous daylong project run smoothly.

The Fourth of July is a good day to be from Harrisburg.

Dorcas Smucker is a homemaker and mother of six. She can be reached at 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

What's Been Happening--KLCC and ISC

I'm not sure it's good for introverted writers to speak on the radio.  We do best with a chance to edit, sleep on it, and rewrite before our words get splattered on the world.

On live radio, you have to think fast, ad lib, answer quickly, change directions right in the moment, and other such terrifying challenges.  Worst, your words go flying away from you out into the airwaves and YOU CAN'T GET THEM BACK TO EDIT THEM.

It's best not to think about this, after the fact.

Nonetheless, I agreed to do a 1-hour radio show on KLCC, the local NPR/OPB station, because Pete LaVelle asked, and I had just written an article about saying Yes to new experiences.  I was to share the music of my culture and background.

You can survive anything with a pretty notebook and a thermos of tea, I always say.
So the Eugene community heard lots of John Schmid and Antrim Mennonite Choir.

I had fun and learned a lot, but folks, if you can't give yourself grace for making mistakes, you don't belong in radio.  I handed Pete the host the wrong CD at one point, and got distracted when he asked a question, and so on, but most of the evening went really well and, as I said, I had fun and learned a lot.

Emily went with me and also Kayla Kuepfer, who taught at a church school at Sheridan, Oregon, this past year and sometimes came down for weekends.

They had lots of fun.

KLCC doesn't archive their programs so I can't give you a link.  I confess that's a relief.

Then it was time for ISC.

So Paul has been a school teacher and principal in the ACE system for years and years.  ACE stands for Accelerated Christian Education, and it's a curriculum that is all individualized.  Students learn on their own via booklets called PACES.  The teacher supervises the process and helps individual students as needed.

It's not a perfect system but it works well for small schools with only a handful of students in each grade, where hiring teachers to teach every subject for every grade would be out of reach practically and financially.

Every year, ACE organizes a number of regional conventions for their schools and students.  For example, kids from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and northern California attend a convention in Newberg, Oregon, every March.

Competition is a big part of convention.  The kids can enter some 160 events including all kinds of track and field, music, speaking, needlework, science exhibits, metal- and wood-working, and much more.

The winners at the regional convention can compete at the International Student Convention.

This year it was at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri, and attended by over 2000 students from all over the world.  Paul and I took nine students, stayed in the dorms with them, and had a great time.

First things first: a selfie on the plane.
We flew in the day before and had a few hours free, so we took the kids to Worlds of Fun.  Well...I say "we."  Personally, if I ever swindle the elderly or poison someone's well you can take me here to punish me.  Maybe have them hurtle me down a metal track or spin me around 150 feet in the air.

Since I hadn't earned such punishment, I stayed at the motel across the street.  I could still hear the tortured screams of the unfortunate people over there.

 The next day, we went on to Warrensburg.

There were lots of fun activities while we registered.

And there were people there from many different countries.

The Kenyans wore their traditional clothes for a day.
I enjoyed eating lunch with Rachel, one of the Kenyan sponsors, who helps run
a homeschool co-op in Nairobi and says the number of homeschoolers in Kenya is
increasing fast--50 families joined their co-op in the last year.
I judged quilts, knitting, crochet, and afghans.  All the work was impressive and some was just stunning.

Aubrey ran the 200 meter run.

Jenny recited "The Unbarred Door" in front of the judges.

The students did a lot of mingling and meeting outside in the warm evenings.  Here our girls are getting to know the South Africans.
  The fifth and final day consisted of the awards ceremony.  I was unbelievably proud of Jenny for winning first place in poetry writing out of 76 who entered.

Here's the big screen as Jenny got her medal.

Happily, each girl got a medal--Aubrey and Ashley in photography, Mikala in dressmaking, Janane in web design, and Jenny in poetry writing.
Then we all got back in our borrowed van and headed for Kansas City to the airport, over an hour away.  The sky was looking ominous but the weather wasn't too bad, but then suddenly the kids' phones lit up with weather warnings--Tornadoes! Flash floods!

Oregon kids are not used to wild weather and had no context for this. Except to be very afraid.

We spent about 45 minutes at the Steamboat Arabia museum, wishing it could have been 2 hours more, and then a staff member told us that the Kansas City airport had just been evacuated and everyone sent to the basement because of tornadoes in the area.

The Oregon kids' eyes got really big.

Paul thought we should just go charging on to the airport, because the van's owner was going to be there waiting for us, and because this is how he deals with scary situations.

The kids were not ok with this.

Finally we had a prayer meeting in the museum parking lot.  The worst thing was that it was so hard to just get information--where were these tornadoes going on, exactly?

We started driving.  Soon the sky dropped down further and got 4 shades darker, the wind kicked up, and the kids' eyes got bigger yet.

We stopped at a gas station for gas and snacks.  As we walked toward the station I saw a large yellow-vested employee standing off to the side, hands in his pockets, watching the world go by.

"What do you know about the weather?" I hollered at him, above the wind.

"Weellll, they say there's tornadoes," he drawled calmly, all relaxed and easy.

"So, what do we DO?" I chattered frantically as everything blew sideways.

"Mehh, just keep watchin' it I guess," he shrugged, comfortably.

We holed up in the gas station while the worst of the storm whipped around outside, then we dashed back to the van and went to the airport.

All was well.

Paul and most of the kids flew back to Oregon.  Paul got part of a night's sleep, turned around, and flew with Ben, Steven, and Emily to Chicago the next day.

Jenny and I flew to Chicago, rented a car, spent the night, and went on to Indiana the next day.

Because: WEDDING!!

That story tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What's Been Happening--Gatos, Girls, Grad, Guitar

The last months have been crazy.  If I tell you what's happened, maybe it'll sort it out in my own head as well.

In May, Peppermint Patty had kittens.  I so appreciate cats who have small litters and who take good care of them.

Amy came home for a visit!  She's been in Thailand for 2 1/2 years now.  The happy truth is that she loves it there, she has lots of friends both Thai and American, she speaks Thai, she's teaching English which she enjoys, and she lives with a lady named Kimberly who sounds like a dream roommate in that she's low-maintenance emotionally but does high maintenance around the house.

The downside of this joyful life is that Amy is just terribly far away, and all the Skype conversations in the world are not like having her slip into the kitchen in the cool early morning and make a pot of coffee.

But, as I said, she came home for a visit.

This is sort of an odd photo but it's beautiful to me because:
1. Three daughters together
2. On one couch
3. Eating popcorn
4. Three daughters together!!
When Amy comes, she brings fabric with her.  That is just icing on the happy cake of life.

Two days later, Jenny graduated from high school.
Mikala and Jenny changed the church sign for the occasion.

Jenny's senior portrait.
Taken by Kristi Smucker
All of us but Matt were here for graduation.
The graduates sang a song, a BMS custom.
Deana, Mikala, Janane, Jenny

Cousin Allison helped exclaim over the gifts.
Another portrait

We gave Jenny a guitar for graduation.  My inner 10-year-old gets a big kick
out of posing this bear in all kinds of situations. Silly, yes, but it was way more fun
to have Jenny come downstairs and discover her gift this way than just
GIVING it to her.
All of a sudden my babies are all grown up.  And I'm only...let's see...54, as of today!  My dad is still traveling, writing, and reading Tolstoy at age 99. His mom lived to be almost 104.

So I'm making lists of things to undertake and learn in the next 50 years.  A fun exercise, really:
Learn woodworking
Study watercolor painting
Study depression and gut health
Teach sewing
Climb mountains
Or at least hills
Take just enough counseling classes to learn the magic question to ask to make people figure out how to fix their problems, right away and of their own volition.

[More "what's been happening" posts to come.]

Quote of the Day:
Emily: Hey Jenny, do you think you'd like to marry "Nathan."
Jenny: I've never met him and I've barely stalked him so I have no idea.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Life, These Days, At Home

After three months of travel, deadlines, celebrations, more travel, graduations, and other wonderful but completely exhausting things, I have been at home for a long time, like three whole days.

I love being at home.

And I love how being at home isn't boring because all these little stories happen when I'm at home, especially if I have some of my wonderful children around, such as Amy, who is home from Thailand for a far-too-brief time.

Anyway.  These are the sort of things that are happening to me these days:

We used to have chickens, and then they got old, and we didn't have chickens any more for I forget how many years.

But now I have chickens again, since Coastal Farms was giving away chicks on Easter Eve, and Paul got me fifteen.

I love having chickens again.

The nests have sat empty for all these years and needed to be cleaned out before this batch of hens decides to start laying.  They weren't that terrible, with just a few years-old dried up literary awards, as my sister Margaret used to call them.  [Pullet Surprises]

What I needed to clean out the nests was a scheifly, otherwise known as a pancake turner.  But one doesn't just grab a pancake turner out of the drawer to clean nests.

My girls always think I need to declutter and downsize, so I had a bright idea.  I would see if there were any scheiflen way in the back of the drawer.  If so, I'd know that I hadn't used them in a while, and I could safely relegate them to henhouse duty.

Win, win.

So I riffled in the back of the drawer and sure enough, there was a big stainless steel scheifly.

I took it to the shed, cleaned the nests, and laid it by the feed sack to use in the future.

Meanwhile, the girls were getting ready to go camping.

About two hours after I'd taken the scheifly outside, Amy was riffling through the drawer.  "Do we have any long-handled, metal pancake turner we could use for cooking over a fire?"


*     *     *

This evening I went on a walk in the lovely summer eveningness.

My brother-in-law Kenneth's field, just to the north of us, is all windrowed, a lovely golden sight in the fading daylight.


What was that, right by the third row in?

A black shape, still and furry.

No no no, surely not a dead cat.

I walked over to Powerline Road and then turned in the field approach.  Over the bare dirt, through the trees, up to the cut grass, and then I could see it better.  Yes, definitely a cat.

Oh NO.  We've lost a cat to a windrower both of the last two harvests.  It's no fun to lose cats in any way, but dying by windrower is especially nasty, not that I have experienced it, but just from observing.

I hesitated before I crossed the windrow, which is basically a three-foot-wide line of cut, piled stalks of grass, because I wanted to give any snakes underneath a chance to go elsewhere.  And while I paused I looked at the cat, still about 20 feet away, to see if it was breathing.  No, mercifully, no sign of life, so at least it wasn't lying there suffering.

I don't have long enough legs to straddle the windrow, so I stepped right in the middle of it with a very loud dry-stalksy CRUNCH.

The dead cat leaped in the air and ran for the house in a black blur.

I also leaped in the air and felt like I might be having a heart attack, which would still be a nicer way to go than being caught in a windrower.

Happily, the cat and I are both very much alive.

*     *     *

On the way back to the house, I picked up the broom that I'd been cleaning the playhouse with, before I cleaned the chicken coop, and I carried the broom into the kitchen.  Paul was working on his computer.  He looked up and asked, casually,

Quote of the Day:

"So, how far did you fly?"

[Did I mention that I love being at home? And clever husbands.]