Monday, September 29, 2014

Letter from Harrisburg

Letter from Harrisburg

Racial issues are like anything else: There is always more to the story

Some years ago I had lunch at Clackamas Town Center’s food court with a friend who worked at Macy’s.
A young black man walked by. My friend said, “Hmmm, security’s going to be watching him.”
I said, “Because he’s black?”
She said, “No, because of how he’s dressed.” His outfit included a baseball cap, a loose jacket, and pants with the crotch just above the knees.
I said, “Would security watch Steven?”
She said, “No, because of how he dresses.”
Steven dresses in a mix of farmer, Mennonite and athlete. He is our youngest son, 19 years old, adopted from Kenya at the age of 10.
My husband is blond and freckled. I have skin that, even at the end of summer, a friend described diplomatically as “alabaster.” Having a son with black skin has made us aware of issues we would never have examined otherwise.
I would not, for instance, have given a second thought to whether or not it was right for “security” to watch certain customers more than others or whether a young man in slouchy pants bears the responsibility for the impression he leaves and the scrutiny he invites, or what is just and fair in such a case.
Thanks to our son, I have read about racial issues, followed news stories, confronted attitudes in others and asked many questions.
I also have come to realize that we all make assumptions about people, every day, based on what we can see: color and size, clothing and piercings, evidence of poverty or wealth, facial expressions and behavior. We often judge a whole group by the behavior of a few. We all suffer or benefit because of the impressions others of our age, gender or culture have left.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at,” the Bible says in an Old Testament story about choosing a new king, and continues, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
The problem is, we aren’t God, so we have only the outward appearance to go by.
As a Mennonite woman, people often assume I possess a level of holiness and gentleness that is far above the reality. In a strange dichotomy, the same people probably look at my son and, based on his age, gender and color, make assumptions as far off in the opposite direction.
I’ve found that the more you examine issues of race, history and people groups, the less you can generalize. The story is always more complicated than it appears at first, and so are the motives of our souls.
I wonder about many things. For instance, if my kids are respected for how they dress and behave, is that a lucky perk for fitting society’s expectations, or is it a natural consequence for good character? Should young people feel obligated to improve the reputation of whatever group they belong to? Should they dress differently in order to be treated with respect? How can we encourage wise behavior without insisting on everyone being just like us?
While judgment by appearance can affect all sorts of people and aim in many directions, the conflicts in America that get the most attention are racial, particularly black versus white.
Plenty of people feel eminently qualified to speak on the subject, and plenty of others think the speakers should be quiet because they don’t have a clue what it’s like to be on the other side.
It’s confusing, especially for someone like me who grew up not only in a predominantly Caucasian part of the country, but in a religious community as well.
Now, with a son from a different background, I am aware, first of all, of how much I don’t know. I’m also extra vigilant about racist jokes and attitudes.
My daughter was once part of a church youth group where the kids would sometimes discuss slavery and how it wasn’t that bad, seriously, and “My great-grandparents had slaves and were nice to them and the slaves were happy.”
“You Northerners just don’t understand,” my daughter was told when she objected.
They had a point, in a way. When you grow up in the North, you might watch a video in the ninth grade of three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964, and you get the sense that every white person in the South was oppressive and cruel, and every black person was oppressed and brave. But if YOU had lived there, oh my, you would have been heroic and noble, and would have DONE something about it.
Then you visit the South as an adult and realize that things were and are much more nuanced and complicated. People made, and still make, individual choices, and few of them fit into a stereotyped box.
And yet, there’s no question of the general injustice, even if your great-grandparents were nice to their slaves.
My dad’s parents met and were married in Mississippi, back in the early 1900s. One day this summer my dad said, “Now this is very gruesome but it’s something I remember. My father used to say that in Mississippi, if a white man killed a black man, he had to pay a fine of maybe $10. But if a black man killed a white man, a mob would go after him and kill him. They would burn him at the stake. It was terrible. But it’s better now, at least some better.”
Surely, a knowledge of past cruelty can nudge us toward valuing justice today.
Thankfully, Steven has grown up in the Willamette Valley in a happy cocoon where his race has never, to his knowledge, affected his friendships, education, work or activities.
He sacks grass seed like his brothers and cousins, takes firefighter classes in Harrisburg and goes fishing with his friends. His color is a non-issue in these situations.
However, I went a bit crazy with protectiveness when Steven learned to drive. True, this is Oregon, not exactly a hotbed for race-based police brutality. But anyone who reads the news would understand my fears. No matter what it took, I wanted him alive and safe. So, no hoodies when you’re driving, I commanded. Hands on the steering wheel if you’re ever stopped. “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am” out of your mouth.
None of us could have predicted what actually happened. Steven has found himself in a variety of scrapes, both literal and figurative, when he’s driving. Almost invariably, he slides out of the situation without any trouble because he’s, “So honest, so polite, so respectful.”
He is praised and affirmed by law enforcement people, over and over — even the time he obviously caused the incident with the signpost and the lady’s car.
His sister shrieks, “AGAIN??? That is NOT FAIR. I didn’t do HALF of that and I got this HUGE FINE!”
I am mystified. Was I misled by dramatic news reports or is this part of Oregon an exception? Or is this simply the same good fortune and charm that helped Steven survive life on the streets as an orphan in Kenya? Or is there another dynamic at work that I’m not seeing?
As I said, racial issues get more nuanced and complicated the more you examine them, and even the nicest of us are not immune to unsavory attitudes and simple thoughtlessness.
Steven went on a road trip to points east last year. It was his first adult venture out of the safety of home and Oregon.
I said, “Did you encounter racist attitudes anywhere?” expecting him to say, “Well, there was this crazy dude in Indiana ...”
Instead, he said, “A bunch of us were hanging out, and this guy told a black joke in front of me.”
Appalled, I was ready to phone the guy’s mother and call fire from Heaven.
Steven said, “Mom, let it go.”
I finally caught on that there was more to the story, and I insisted on hearing it.
“Well, actually, a bunch of us were just joking around, and I had told this racist joke first, about another kind of people, and then he told that one about blacks, and he didn’t really think about me being there, but then later he apologized.”
We had a discussion then, Steven and I. I did some soul-searching and took back what I had wished on the other guy’s mother. Steven was wiser than he had been before, and so was I, and I was humbler, too.
We all need to listen to each other, no matter what we look like and what our stories have been. We all have a bent toward selfishness and unfair judgment, and we need to look beyond the surface, try to understand and be kind.
There is always more to the story. There is always something to learn. There are always things of the heart that we cannot see.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My First Fashion Post

Bloggers like Shelley the niece and Emily the daughter sometimes post fashion posts where they model a creative and coordinated outfit and explain where everything came from.

I think we would all agree that I am not the fashion-post type.

Let's see.

summer: shirt from garage sale
denim skirt from Goodwill
comfortable sandals

We note this Paris-fashion-week ensemble I wore while rummaging through some of the stuff at Dad's sale in June.

In winter it's:
long-sleeved T-shirt from Lands' End.
Big corduroy shirt from Goodwill.
Long denim skirt from Goodwill.
knee socks
comfortable shoes

A post for another day: am I the only person in the country who still gets cold feet and wears socks?  My friends wear sandals year-round.  Advertisements always feature bare feet in anything remotely non-running-shoe.  This bothers me.

But, moving along, since we won't solve that dilemma today:

This morning Jenny showed up looking--in my biased motherly opinion--so charming that I grabbed the phone and took some pictures for a post.
She has been sick with an odd virus for a week, so it was a happy occasion when she came downstairs all dressed for school and looking bouncy instead of the draggy miserable half-closed-eyes look that lasted so long.

And she was wearing the skirt she made last evening.  At the Brownsville garage sales in July, I had picked up some stretchy knit fabric that looks kind of like denim.  Jenny immediately claimed it for her own, and last night she measured a skirt she likes and proceeded to replicate it.

All by herself, except when she stood on a tall kitchen stool and I marked the hem.

In an hour.

Side note: this is why it's worth it to teach your kids some basic sewing and cooking skills, even though at the time you may think you'd better hide the sewing shears or one or the other of you will not survive this ordeal--because all of a sudden they'll get an idea, wildly beyond anything you would have thought of, and they'll have what it takes to make it happen.



veil from Verba's Veils
polo shirt from JCPenney
sweater from cousin Stephy cleaning her closets before she got married
book bag from a garage sale
lumberjack lunch box from Emily who I'm sure got it free somewhere
homemade skirt from garage sale fabric
shoes from a friend for a birthday gift


 Quote of the Day:
Jenny: [comes into the kitchen wearing an old Star Wars t-shirt]
Uncle Fred: Star Wars??  Oh, I guess you are half Yoda.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Amos Yoder Looks at More Things

Two days ago my brother Fred arrived in his truck.  He had just delivered a tanker trailer to Portland and was here to take Dad back to Minnesota.
It took a few hours for Cleo to warm up to Fred, but then she was smitten for good.

They decided to leave today to pick up a load in Salt Lake City.  I took Dad to the warehouse to look around one last time.  He's been intrigued with the rebuilding of Steve's pellet mill that burned in May, so we nosed around there, too.

Thus, another set of pictures that's a little bit like Kim Jong Un Looking At Things.

The boxy building in the center is where the pelleting machine will be.  And just so you know, two people are watching us from the highest window in the warehouse, way back there against the blue sky.
Here they were lifting a beam into place.  There's a special emphasis on metal and other fire-resistant materials in this building project.
This reminds me of something at Cape Canaveral but it's actually another shot of the pellet-making building.
Inspecting a pile of screenings.
Here Dad is back in our warehouse, inspecting the grass seed.  The pallets are sitting around like islands because the bags just got tagged, and they're waiting to get stretch-wrapped.

Ben and Amanda are up in the highest window on the right side, waving at Grandpa and getting very dusty.

Fred was exploring the bagging area where he spent many hours in 1997.
I still find it hard to believe that it actually worked out to have Dad here for the summer.  For the last ten years or more, we had tossed and mulled ideas for getting Mom and Dad out here for a visit or to stay, and it never worked out.

And then it suddenly worked to have Dad here.

If we had had too much time to over-think it, I'm not sure it would have happened.  But we said yes, let's do this, and then we did it, and it all worked out astonishingly well.

Dad was very grateful to us for "taking care of him," as he put it.

I am so glad we could and did.

How many 97-year-olds do you know who are eager to travel a few thousand miles in a semi truck?
There they go.
Quote of the Day:
[I served spaghetti and broccoli and muffins for supper.]
Fred: Do you buy muffins from strangers?
Me: Ummm, I don't know.  I don't think so.
Fred: Oh, so you DO know the muffin man!

[Poor Fred. I am terrible at tracking his offbeat humor.]

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Grapes and the Pain of Proofreading

This is a good year for grapes.

We have a grapevine that I tend the way I tend the apple trees, the pear tree, and the roses, and that is that I pretty much leave it alone except when I suddenly feel guilty along about February and randomly whack off arms and legs.

And yet, the grapevine always bears fruit, some years 30 fold, some 60, and some an hundred.

One or two years I lost all the grapes to the starlings who somehow know when they're ripe and suddenly appear and strip things down like a plague of locusts.

This year I was amazingly on top of that, and went up in the attic and got a long roll of shimmery netting that I may or may not have gotten with dreamier purposes in mind, and Jenny and I unrolled it along the grapevine and clothes-pinned it in place.

It has worked wonderfully to keep the birds away.
Somebody had to take a section of netting and put it to good use.

And, as I said, it is a good year for grapes.

 We have two kinds, a "white" kind that looks green that's seedless and wonderful for eating.  And a purple kind that's wonderful for juice.

The green ones are a bit over-ripe and the purple ones a bit under, but I decided to do them all together, just so they get done, since we have lots of camping and travels coming up.

Did I mention it's a good year for grapes?

The last two days I have been picking grapes, washing grapes, stemming grapes, steaming grapes, and canning grape juice.

I have been hustling the kids out to pick yet more dishpans full.  I've been getting Dad to stem them for me, which he loves to do, until his shoulders ache and his fingers get "boppich."  (Sticky)
Here's Ben, helping with harvesting.

I use a steamer, which my dad thinks is just the coolest gadget.
I like it too.  You pile the grapes in the hopper on top, and the steam gently extracts the juice, which comes out of the hose into the jar, and then you put the lid on and it seals and you're done.

When you do green and purple grapes together, it makes the prettiest grape juice you ever saw.

I've done about 45 quarts so far.

There's a lot more still to do.

I am physically exhausted.

I am also mentally exhausted because yesterday and today I have also been reading my new book through AGAIN making sure that it's typed up and laid out exactly right before it goes to the printer tomorrow.

Would you believe that even now, like the 4th time through, I found about 25 errors?

Some of them were things I had dithered about, unsure if I should change them or leave well enough alone.  Then, facing a deadline, I panicked and whacked off arms and legs like I do to the grapevines every year.

I don't know why I find it so hard to read my own stuff over and over, but we all have our personal challenges I guess.

When you publish a book, this is the point that feels like climbing Mt. Everest, where you are running out of oxygen and your legs are cramping and the end is in sight but it's still a long climb to get there.

It's also the point where you are appalled at the soupy, lukewarm pan of words you are offering to the hungry public.

In fact, come to think of it, reading your book would be a great punishment, you decide.

Jury: We find the defendant guilty of swindling widows out of their homes and life savings, and of murdering their pet cats.

Judge: I sentence you to a daily read-through of Footprints on the Ceiling, for a week!!

Criminal:  Noooo!!!  Please, please, have mercy!!  Anything but that!!

Quote of the Day:
John 16:21 (KJV) "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world."
[And that explains quite well how I'll feel when the book comes out and I hold it for the first time.]

Monday, September 08, 2014

Sunday's LFH--Welcoming the Inefficient

Letter from Harrisburg

The inefficient can have a precious purpose in our busy lives

We are a family who values efficiency. My husband said not long ago that doing many things at once, such as working, eating, listening and planning, gives him a great sense of accomplishment.
A son designs and builds compact furniture for his apartment and figures out how to get the most calories and nutrition possible into a single shake.
A daughter prides herself on being minimalist and packing everything for a three-week trip into a single small backpack.
I like to have Sunday dinner in the oven when I leave for church, and I love to see everyone briskly slotting into their roles when we get home. This one sets the table, that one slices bread, another dishes up the corn and adds a pat of butter, and in a few minutes we find our places around a lovely table and fragrant meal.
One starts to think of efficiency as a virtue and a value. Everyone ought to be like this, really, and wouldn’t it be nice if the rest of the world operated like we do?
We don’t think this consciously, of course.
Significantly, we are almost all adults and all in good health.
So, every now and then, one of the most inefficient folks in the world is sent into our lives, just long enough to upset our smooth routines and jostle our smug suppositions.
Because no one is as utterly inefficient as babies and the elderly.
When our son Matt was home for a visit, we invited his old friend Justin over for Sunday dinner, along with Justin’s wife, Esta.
Only a few weeks before, Esta had given birth to a lively little red-haired boy named Merek, who fought his entrance into the world in the most difficult way he could manage and who didn’t settle into life outside with any readiness either.
Just as the pot roast was placed on the table and the water was poured in the glasses, Merek insisted on eating. Esta took him to the bedroom.
The rest of us waited.
You’d think a mom of six wouldn’t forget, but I had, and suddenly it all came back: the overwhelming demands of a newborn; the way they take over your life, your plans, your schedule; the long, exhausting process of learning to sense their needs and form a routine of eating and sleeping; the way everything pauses and everyone waits until the baby finishes eating and — maybe — goes to sleep.
Later, after we ate the no-longer-very-hot pot roast, I took little Merek, his newborn warmth molding into my hands, and I held him against me and gently bounced until he went to sleep.
How quickly one forgets the astonishing preciousness and helplessness of a tiny baby; how good it is for productive adults to be reminded.
My 97-year-old dad has been with us all summer.
Like every Oregon family, we have our traditions and a well-defined description of what “going to the coast” involves. Walking on the beach — that’s the most important. Hiking up Mary’s Peak on the way out or driving south for a hike up Cape Perpetua. Maybe walking across the Newport bridge.
Despite Dad’s excellent health, I knew we couldn’t be that ambitious when my daughters, Emily and Jenny, and I took him to the coast one Saturday. But still, we could do a little walking on the beach, and then he and I could sit on lawn chairs and watch the waves while the girls went on a walk. Then we could have a picnic lunch on the beach as well.
Trying to be prepared and capable, I checked the Newport weather online: 66 degrees and mostly sunny. Not perfect, but a nice break from the hot Willamette Valley weather.
It would be fun.
We parked at Nye Beach, got out, and were immediately blasted with what felt like a gale off the North Sea.
Emily shrieked and hopped back into the car. I helped Dad into my husband’s winter coat and lamented that I hadn’t brought a stocking cap for his ears.
He said he’d be fine.
A huge gray bank of fog sat ominously on the ocean, close in, obscuring all but the nearest waves. The sun made a timid attempt at shining, but the fog bank obscured most of that too.
Slowly, haltingly, we shuffled toward the water. Dad’s cane pushed down into the loose, dry sand. He lurched unsteadily. I shivered in the wind and kept an arm out to assist him.
Eventually Emily joined us, wrapped in a picnic blanket.
Dad stood and looked at the water for a few minutes and then we shuffled back. The black shoes stepped carefully in the sand, step by step, and finally we settled back into the warmth of the car.
With all my preparation, why hadn’t I realized how much walking we do at the coast, and how weary Dad would get?
No doubt this has happened thousands of times, Oregonians proudly taking out-of-state visitors to our beautiful coast, finding the weather intolerable, and escaping to the Hatfield Marine Science Center, which is warm, dry, interesting, and free.
And which requires more walking. Such a long distance from the parking lot to the door — somehow I’d never noticed that before.
Thankfully Dad is still an avid reader and learner, so he found the displays fascinating — albatross routes and whale migration and tsunami zones.
We were able to sit and rest while we watched an instructive film about dolphins.
Now — lunch. I remembered a sheltered spot on the beach, near the south jetty. I drove as close as I could and we again lumbered slowly along, burdened with camp chairs and blankets and food.
We soon gave up on reaching our destination and found a somewhat sheltered dip in the sand dunes instead. We set Dad in a chair, laid out a blanket, and discovered that a quart jar of iced tea had broken and spilled over everything in the cooler.
A second jar had survived, so I salvaged what I could and handed Dad a plate of food and a small cup of tea. He led us in prayer and seemed surprisingly grateful for the day.
A few minutes later, across the blanket from me, Dad’s chair gave way in the deep sand and began to topple sideways. It was like watching something in slow motion as he gently laid over and Emily frantically tried to stop him.
It all happened so slowly that he didn’t spill a drop of tea, and all the food stayed on his plate. We hauled him upright again, and then all of us, including Dad, laughed until we were almost in tears.
A slow and bitterly cold walk brought us back to the car. Dad was exhausted.
Disappointed, we saw that the only sensible option was to give up on our plans and ideas for a perfect day at the coast and go home.
Dad had a wonderful attitude about it all, with no complaints or hints that we should have been more accommodating of his limitations.
And that evening, around our picnic table on the porch, he suddenly told a story.
The dolphins in the movie had reminded him of this, he said. Back in the late 1940s, he and a few other Amish guys got passage on a freighter to Brazil, and then they took a riverboat to Paraguay to help settle Mennonite refugees from Russia.
But first they were on the freighter for a month as it made its way south. Sometimes he and his friends would stand at the rail on the front of the ship, and a bunch of dolphins would come by and swim alongside.
He and the other men would stand there for a long time — hours, he implied — and watch the dolphins play with each other and leap out of the water, down below at the prow of the boat.
We were astonished, imagining it.
This is why it’s worthwhile to slow down our busy lives and alter them for the inefficient: because sometimes a little child will snuggle on your chest and close his delicate red-blond eyelashes down onto perfect pink cheeks and make you forget everything else in the world.
And sometimes at the end of a disastrous and disappointing day, your children will be silent around the table as they stand on a long-ago ship with their grandpa, watching dolphins leap high in a sunny and faraway sea.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Snapshots of Our Summer

Sometimes I feel like my Main Role in Life is to get other people ready to go places.

Emily left this morning to visit Amy in Thailand, which required my expertise in deciding which 44.5 lbs. of things for other people should get packed in, in addition to Emily's sparse 5.5 pounds or so of stuff for herself.

You've done this, no doubt--stuffing, zipping, stepping on the scales, hoisting the suitcase.  Five pounds over!  Unzip, shuffle, debate, check the list, make decisions, repack.  Half a pound under!

And so on.

Last week I packed up great quantities of things and sent the Wilton Smucker Warehouse guys down the river.  They put in on the McKenzie at Armitage Park.

Eric the bag tagger, Keith the manager, Austin the bagger, Paul the boss, Steven and Ben the baggers.

"Didn't you want to go along?" someone asked me.

I said, "Well, yes. Lovely river, beautiful evening, good-looking company--that was all tempting. But sitting in the sun not talking while they fish? Sleeping on the ground? Making food for them all? Ashes and spiders on soggy potato chips? Not so much."

This conversation involved that new fly-fishing rod, I think.

They got out at Peoria.  Things look pretty tidy here only because almost everything was loaded up already.  And yes, Ben was soaking wet.  He and Steven had both accidentally dumped their kayaks shortly before.
 *     *     *
Kristi Smucker of Kristiann Photography came by one day in July and took Author Shots of me.  It turned out to be the Funnest Shoot Ever and that is saying a lot, because I don't enjoy posing for pictures.

Kristi, if you're wondering, is Paul's cousin Brian(and Twila)'s daughter.  Her sister Hannah helped corral the props, as did Jenny.

I was very happy with the results.

My daughters outfitted me for the occasion and even coached me through a costume change.
This picture speaks of timing, imagination, and luck.  Kristi took my ideas and went to amazing place with them.  The calves were quite cooperative and No, there was no grain in the teacup.
This shot makes me remember, and laugh.  Such action and efforts behind the scenes.
 *     *     *
 My column was due today and as always I was short of ideas.  Jenny insisted I should write about zucchini.  Well, zucchini being zucchini, it's pretty tough to come up with 1200 words about it unless you include recipes, which I didn't feel led to do.

So I began casting in my mind for some sort of contrived correlation between zucchini and something else in my life, which is how too many of my columns come to be.

Hmmm.  Zucchini doesn't have much flavor.  It serves as a solid reliable filler in other foods, such as soups and cake and stuff, and takes on the flavor around it.  A bit boring, but serves a good purpose.

Like some people!  Hey, there was my analogy!  So who would fit that description?

"So you're saying it's like people who come to church but just sit there and fill the pews and don’t do anything?" Emily said.

I said, "Aack!  It was supposed to be a POSITIVE thing!"

I wrote about taking my dad to the coast instead.

Emily wrote about the day here, but she failed to mention that detail about the quart jar of iced tea breaking in the cooler right before lunch.

*     *     *
On Sunday evening we went up to Washburne Heights and had a great view of the valley.  Of course I asked Dad if he felt like Moses and he said no.  But that place always makes me think of, "Til from Mt. Pisgah's lofty height, I view my home and take my flight," so I've been humming it ever since.

Dad, Ben, and Paul a.k.a Moses, Joshua, and Aaron
*     *     *
Today was the first day of school, which means the end of summer in my mind, even though the sun is shining and the zucchini are still out there growing fatter by the day.

Jenny is a junior.  Paul is the principal.

And look at who DROVE!

Quote of the Day:
Grandpa: What kind of animal?  Well, I think I'd be a cow.  A cow is a useful animal.  They give milk, and then butter and cheese.  You can eat the meat.  And you can make leather with the hide.

[This is what Jenny and her grandpa have in common: you never know what they'll say next.]