[I wrote this column originally for the local paper Feb. 15, 1998. If I had known then what I know now. . .well, see the last paragraph.]
Buying a refrigerator is certainly not what one would call a life-changing experience, but it was one those those “aha!” moments which, while it does not alter who and what you are, still gives one pause for thought.
I had never thought about refrigerators beyond the fact they were there -- in my grandparents’ homes, my parents’ home. My apartment had a refrigerator and stove furnished when I moved in. I also visualize them in one of those 1950s television family situation comedies.
Mom is always in a dress with a clean, white apron tied round her waist. The refrigerator and stove are pristine white and polished chrome, standing as sentinels to some domestic goddess in action. So, like most Americans, I believe refrigerators are a necessity of life. In order to preserve food, humanity has had to be creative -- the use of spices, root cellars and drying food has worked. Ice boxes were common at the turn of the century, but even then canning came about as a way to preserve food for longer periods of time.
The invention of refrigeration caused a revolution in our diets because when food can be preserved for a longer period of time, there is the opportunity for more variety.
Every refrigerator I had ever known had a freezer on top and the major storage on the bottom. That doesn’t take into account the individual freezers. I remember when the big chest types were popular. People didn’t get to the bottom of those freezers very often so it was difficult to know what you would find once you did decide to clean it out. And of course, there was always the warning to be careful your children didn’t fall inside and become trapped. The upright freezers were a real change for the better.
Moving from my apartment necessitated my buying a refrigerator. I didn’t have a clue as to what I really should be looking for. Now if I were a smart shopper, I would be looking at “Consumer Reports” to be sure I am getting the best product for my money, but that is not my way of going about things. I see something I like -- color, design, lay-out of shelves -- and I’m sold! So I set out one morning with Mom along -- I figured she knew a lot more about this than I did. Dad gave us his blessing and went back to more enjoyable pursuits.
I was under something of a deadline in this experience. I was moving into my house on a Monday, this was Saturday, and I needed somewhere to put my food, meager as it was. So I had figured I could probably find what I wanted that morning. Little did I know.
I looked at a couple dozen refrigerators. I opened and shut dozens of doors; I peered into freezers, water and ice dispensers, special storage areas for fruit and vegetables, for oleo or butter. I looked at shelves of all kinds. I heard salespeople talk about cubic capacity for food, colors available and how soon I could have it delivered to the house.
It suddenly dawned on me in all these inspections just how low refrigerators are built to the ground. I am tall and tire of bending over in the attempts to find something stashed at the rear of the fridge. I don’t use a freezer a lot, so having the freezer on top wasn’t quite what I wanted. The side-by-side models have lots of pluses, but I felt the storage space was limited on both sides, and I didn’t want a water dispenser.
Time was drawing a little short on Saturday when Mom suggested the freezer-on-the-bottom style, something she had seen at a neighbors and also read about. We found that model and it made so much sense for me I bought it. All my food is at waist level, and I bend over only when I occasionally use the freezer. Fortunately, I wasn’t into designer colors -- almond was just fine.
My next “aha!” moment was discovering they do not give refrigerators away. They are a costly item, but one of life’s necessities that we must “grin and bear.”
My refrigerator is nicely ensconced in my kitchen, and when I take friends and family through the house, it is fun to stop and show it off. I think they are a little puzzled as to why I think a refrigerator is so important. Certainly a refrigerator is a necessity, but the price makes it almost a luxury item -- which means you should be interested in its care and keeping. Also, those “aha!” moments are precious. They come in all shapes and sizes and at the most interesting times.
2016 --O.k., now the kicker! The lovely refrigerator I bought in 1998 lasted about 5 years and at its death I purchased another refrigerator. This one lasted another 5-8 years before it too gave up the ghost. My this time I was talking about refrigerators through clenched teeth. I walked into a local hardware and started looking for a third time. I suddenly stumbled on a unit for a college dormitory. Minuscule freezer but space for a variety of food items. The manager was startled when I said, "I'll take it", and had him take it out to my car. That unit is still in use in my house, much to the amusement of family and friends alike. It is enough. I am amazed with some judicious shifting of items I can put in a great many items. I have learned to eat the food I have before I buy more. For one person it is a perfect solution. I did eventually buy a mini chest freezer and that is a nice plus. But otherwise what a delight! Life is just grand!!
When I walk I try never to listen to anything more than the street noises around me such as the birds singing or the laughter of children. I want my full attention focused on the natural world. Actually there is a safety element in this since I want to hear every vehicle that is coming up on me from behind, but more importantly I don’t want to miss anything that might connect me to my world of the moment. Being without extraneous noise running through my brain also sharpens my vision and I notice details that make my walk more interesting. It was a silly thing, but the other day, I noticed a screen door on a house I was passing by. Now a screen door is not a storm door. A screen door is a large piece of metal screen attached to a usually flimsy door frame that covers the entrances to houses in the summer time. The job of a screen is to let air in and keep bugs out. When we were kids (circa 1950s, 1960s) the sound of screen doors slamming on the block was characteristic of summer. Kids were in and out all day long and every time they left the house to play the screen door would bang shut and Mother would call, “Try not to bang the screen door on your way out”, but always to no avail. This screen door I saw had the obligatory piece in the middle that you pushed on going out so you wouldn’t poke your hand through the screen or cause the screen to begin to bend out. The one I saw was rather ornate. It had some small spindles and was painted white.
Back in “those days” no one had air conditioning or if you did, it was a swamp cooler that cooled off one room or maybe two so that is where everyone gathered in the house on the hottest days. The screen door did let in hot air but more importantly it let in any errant breezes that happened by and a breeze was absolutely heaven on a hot day. To see the curtains around the window stir and begin to move in the breeze that was blowing through the house was better than a cooler or a fan because it was a natural occasion. Seeing the curtains move you actually felt cooler. And when the sun set you could feel the air current was cooler. The screen door usually had a latch at the top you could hook. In a more secure time you could leave the door open at night and let the cooler night air blow through. When you latched the screen door from the inside you were safe.
Life was more neighborly with banging screen doors. Open doors meant that everyone in the neighborhood could call out to one another or to their children. Today’s central air as well as computers and other bits of technology keep us tightly in doors. Locked away from each other our desire for security is more than the protection of a piece of screen attached to a wooden frame can evoke. Too bad!
One of the adventures of life is living with a roommate. In the early years it can be siblings sharing a bedroom. When we go off to college it can be someone from a totally different background with different habits and schedules. Marriage brings its own dynamics dealing with a “roommate”. But have you ever thought about the phrase, “I am my own roommate.” Strange thought.
I only had one brother, but for a short space of time we shared a bedroom. He had collected some pollywogs and wanted them in “his room” and I was determined they were not going to be in “my room”. The compromise was I let him hit me three times on the arm and that satisfied, the pollywogs were gone. For three years in college I lived with roommates -- two of them were challenging, to say the least. The third one was great. I used to say that colleges put two people in a tiny little room with minimal closets and single beds, from two entirely different backgrounds and then expected us to get along. Although the roommate breakups in college dorms were legion.
Being a lifetime single, I have, since then, never had a roommate (except the summer my nephew, his dog, and my Dad and I shared quarters). But now that I am retired I am finding I have a roommate and she/it is there all the time. I am sure people who are divorced or widowed find this out as well.
It can be a constant struggle -- I say, “I am going to wash a load of clothes.” The roommate says, “I am going to read a book instead.” I say, “Guess I’ll go for a walk.” The roommate says, “I am too tired, not today.” And so it goes. Every decision I make has a counter-decision until you wonder if you are developing a split personality. Coming to terms with “the roommate” and learning how to blend the two personalities is a life-time process.
When you live alone you may go all day without talking to anyone regardless of the instruments of communication you have in your home. The “roommate” becomes a companion for multiple conversations. I don’t think we need to be afraid of that. What I do think we need is to accept ourselves for who we are. We do have different dimensions, different personalities. Some people call it their “inner voice”. They will say, “I need to listen to my inner voice.” Life would be pretty stale if there was just one flat, grey person inside us. Sometimes “the roommate” might be our passionate or creative side and it is important to listen. If we take time to develop our friendships, our passions the two voices will blend into one dynamic personality. Most of our lives we are split between jobs and responsibilities and families and friends and what the world says we should be doing. We don’t take the time to know our roommate, that person, living with us, who may show us a brand new world and walk with us through the adventure.
I have been trying to decide if the proper phrase is “older, but wiser” or “older and wiser”. If you read the two carefully you can see there is a decided difference. In the first “older” has a slightly negative note. We are older, yes, but not necessarily does that mean wiser. Wiser is like an afterthought. To say “older and wiser” sounds to me as though the two are of equal weight. To be older is to be wiser. It is part of the experience we accumulate throughout our years.
Of course than we need to define “wiser”, coming from the word “wisdom”. That doesn’t mean just knowledge, but it means knowing how to use knowledge for a greater good.
An online definition shows us that wisdom is:
the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. Synonyms get us into some other tangents such as, sagacity, intelligence, sense, common sense, shrewdness, astuteness, smartness, judiciousness, judgment, prudence, circumspection; More logic, rationale, rationality, soundness, advisability. And the
antonyms are folly, stupidity (and dare I saw Washington, D.C.)
I like the word “sagacity” which is defined as acuteness of mental discernment and soundness of judgment. To me it means someone who is “on top of things.” A “sage” is a person who fits this description. It is someone we all turn to to receive a word of direction. They are not people who live outside of the world we inhabit, but they are people who know how to live in this world and yet hold on to what is good and right.
As I look at these words and value the person who fits these various descriptions I am reminded that common sense, wisdom, good judgment, logic all require a person to take time to read good literature, to think before words are spoken and to consult with others before decisions are made. We live in a twitter, text, and tweet society where speed is the essence of communication and measured thought and deliberation will not win the race.
Those who practice contemplation or meditation; who write with a pen rather than a computer; who send letters by regular mail, who walk instead of run live a more measured existence. Time has a different meaning for them. They walk on the earth with a lighter step. To listen to and observe men and women of this nature is to re-establish that deeper core of who we are as human beings.
Recently I was pulled back into that time in our history known as the Civil War. The vehicle for my journey was watching, on PBS television, the 25th anniversary of Ken Burns’ stirring history of that period. To see the photographs of the living and the dead, of the men and women who survived during that horrible time was overwhelming. One of the last episodes showed Richmond VA after the bombing by Union forces and Atlanta GA after Sherman’s army marched through. Dresden Germany or Coventry England bombed during World War II are all that come close. The total destruction of the Confederacy not even 200 years ago, should not be forgotten as we continue to wend our way through racial unrest. The Confederate flag was finally laid to rest in South Carolina this year. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union in 1861 and it was there the firing on Fort Sumter took place.
We don’t want to fan old embers or stir up old hatreds, but we do need to remember what it was all about. Too many folks today think history began with their lifetime. We live so much in the moment with our twitters, tweets, and texts, that we fail to see the broader picture and why history is so important to understanding our time and place.
In the Dawson County Cemetery there are at least four graves of Civil War veterans. Men who probably stayed in the army and then came west to fight in the Indian Wars. Eventually they mustered out and stuck around and for some reason they ended up in Glendive.
C N Jordan served in Company B of the 3rd Massachusetts infantry. This was a volunteer militia called up to serve for 90 days to guard coastal ports. He served in 1864. Sargent Joseph W. Allen served in Company F of the 1st Kansas Infantry. The group served from 1861-1865. Company F was composed of men from Douglas and Shawnee Counties, Kansas. A volunteer militia, they served in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana and were part of Grant’s Central Mississippi Campaign.
William Kinney, Company H 5th Michigan Cavalry was a blacksmith. For a time this group was led by General George A. Custer. The company saw heavy action at Gettysburg, 2nd Bull Run and the final surrender at Appomattox.
We know a little more about the fourth man Thomas E. Kean, Company B 7th Pennsylvania cavalry. This group was in the war from 1861-1865 and saw action at Chickamauga, Kennesaw Mountain and the Siege of Atlanta among other battles. Thomas Kean was one of the earliest landholders in Glendive. Born in 1848 in New York, he ran away from home to enlist as a bugler for the Union Army. In 1872, Kean, with his regiment which was part of the survey party for the Northern Pacific Railroad line, travelled up the Yellowstone Valley as far as the Powder River. After seeing the country, Kean filed an early claim on the present site of Glendive. Before his 1876 discharge in Dakota Territory, he served as a steward at the Officer’s Club at Ft. Lincoln and as an army cook at Standing Rock. An overland trip to Miles City in 1879 brought Kean back to eastern Montana.
Kean’s life in Glendive began with his arrival in 1880. He worked first as foreman of a painting gang in the Yellowstone Division of the Northern Pacific. Later, he served two years as public administrator and one year as undersheriff. In 1910, he was elected president of the Scandinavian-German State Bank.
Interesting how each generation has its wars that mark those who fought. All too often they fade in memory as new conflicts are born. But war takes its toll and to each veteran we owe a stubborn loyalty to remember them and what they fought for.
Cleaning in my back bedroom the other day, I stood for a moment looking at the chest of drawers that belonged to my grandmother. When I was growing up the chest sat in the corner of my grandparents’ bedroom on the ranch in South Dakota. You did not enter their room unless invited, so to a child’s eye the chest stood, quietly, almost sentinel-like in a place of serenity.
In my mother’s childhood, Grandma had run a post office and grocery store out of the back bedroom and my Grandfather had installed a gas pump. They had to make a little extra money to keep the ranch going. From that business Grandma was able to buy a desk for my Grandfather and the chest for herself, two pieces of furniture that are still in our family. As my mother did, I use the chest for storing linens and other items I don’t use often but want to keep. And I don’t want to wear the chest out from overuse.
As I moved on with my cleaning, it struck me that the chest reminded me a little of our personal Christian faith. At the beginning of our lives faith is often a gift from grandparents and parents who encouraged us in the faith. We cherish that faith and honor those who pass it on to us. On Christmas Eve the church fills with many folks who are there because “we always did this at Grandma’s” or “because Mom and Dad would want us to be here”. Like the chest in my bedroom, for many people faith is a thing of beauty, a treasured piece of life, but an antique nonetheless. We wouldn’t want to wear it out from overuse, or so it seems.
A friend of mine once told me a question she had been asked when she attended seminary, “Are you a Christian because you have been told or are you a Christian because you know?” Faith is meant to be who we are, a living, breathing testament to the love of God in our lives and to God’s grace, always active and full of the gift of peace. We are meant to radiate our faith in all we do, living lives of meaning and purpose.
Grandma’s chest of drawers is something I will treasure for its family history. It is a piece of who I am, but my faith is not an antique. Faith never wears out from overuse, it only grows stronger. As a child I believed because I was told, but now I know because God knows me fully and completely as only God can.
Several of my friends have been regaled with my misadventure in January last year. I can tell the story with humor because I really didn't get hurt too badly and I was thoroughly amused by all the thoughts that ran through my heard during the hours all this took place. it also says something about my misplaced sense of ego in thinking what I can and can't do or perhaps it is more shouldn't do "at my age." There, I said it so I can get on with the story.
Picture a bright, beautiful January day in Glendive. Some snow on the ground, temperature is pleasantly chilly and there is no wind. I had spent the fall doing a lot of walking and had decided to kick my exercise up a notch. For several years I had read about snow shoes in the L.L. Bean catalog so I decided this was the year to give them a try.
The day I was ready to break them in I headed to the visitors' center at Makoshika Park, got out and fastened the snow shoes on. My European walking poles served as ski poles for this outing. Everything was going well. I was having a little trouble getting a good glide going and after a mile I stopped for a rest. As misadventures often transpire, I decided one more little sprint and then I would quit. By the time I got to the next spot I was tired and decided I had staring some new muscles enough. i was heading to a picnic table to sit down when disaster struck. The snow shoes crossed and down I went, hard on my hip into the snow. As I was going down my thoughts were, "Not the hip! Not the hip!" When I finally hit the ground I, of course, laid there for awhile wondering how I was doing. Maybe it was shock, but then the ridiculous kicked in and all I could think of was the commercial of the lady lying in her house calling out, "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!" That sired my instincts of pride and self=preservation. I managed to kick off the snow shoes and in my rolling around in the snow discovered I couldn't be too bad off.
But now the question was how to get up without support. I tried the walking poles, but no luck. My knee hurt too badly to put much pressure on it so that wasn't going to work. I had walked in a little ways to a camping area and wasn't totally visible from the road and I hadn't seen anyone anyway. I thought I could crawl out to the road and weakly wave my hand if someone came by. That was quite a picture in my mind. i wasn't going to freeze to death at the temperature but from where I was located I decided they wouldn't be likely to find my body until Spring anyway.
So I began the struggle to get up again. (Oh, and before you ask, there was no cellphone service where I was.) I tried some thing I had learned in yoga class. Pushing my posterior into the air I managed to gradually work my way up until I could use my poles for balance and I made it.
Now the question was how to get back to the car which was one and a half miles away at the Visitors' Center. My knee was supporting my weight as long as I didn't overdo it.
Only a history major would understand, but thoughts of Hugh Glass began to form in my mind and this was before I had even heard about THE REVENANT. If you don’t know, Hugh Glass was a plainsman mauled by a grizzly bear east of Lemmon, South Dakota in 1823. Left for dead by his companions (one of whom was Jim Bridger) he crawled 200 miles to Ft. Kiowa on the Missouri River to rise as one from the dead to face the people who left him. I figured if Hugh Glass could do that I could make it back to the car. And I did by walking a few steps, stopping, and then walking again. Unfortunately, according to the x-rays, the bone on the side of my knee was cracked. A year later it continues to bother me a little. A second fall in July didn’t help the situation any, but I keep taking it one step at a time.
Memories of a simpler time are the dearest memories to all of us -- a time when we were held close by loved ones, feeling secure in the world around us. I was opening my window to the outside night air the other day and I was hit by an impression from my childhood.
My mother grew up on a ranch in western South Dakota. She remembered a time without running water and electricity, of milking cows, running to beat the school bell a mile away, ice skating on frozen creeks. Going to the ranch was always a treat for my brother and me. He would go jack rabbit hunting; we would take coffee to the men in the field and sit in the shade of the tractor while they took a break. We would stand at the back door and watch for the headlights on the tractor signaling it was time to set the table as the men were done for the day.
It was also a time without air conditioning. Thinking back now I find it amazing how the cool breezes blew in through the windows in the upstairs bedrooms. Downstairs windows were left opened and the front and back doors as well. Rarely was the night so hot we couldn’t fall asleep. In the morning doors and windows were shut and the sun blocking shades were pulled down to keep the air in the house cool until the middle of the afternoon. Then the men came for lunch and took a nap. When the sun’s rays angled rather than hit directly they would return to the fields and work until after dark. Supper was usually around 8 p.m. After about an hour that was followed by another round of coffee. Someone walked around and opened the doors and the windows.
My grandmother would sit by the back door in the dark and enjoy the evening breeze. She could see the Milky Way sweep across the sky and the yard lights in the little country store on the hill to the south and she could watch a few headlights coming over the hill, heading north. Now as I think of her sitting there I wonder what she was thinking about. She had grown up in western Wisconsin and talked often of her sisters and the forests where people sometimes got lost the woods were so thick.
Then she followed my grandfather into South Dakota where he homesteaded and made a good life for his family. As the youngest of a large Norwegian family he enjoyed going back to visit wearing a new Stetson hat. Grandma made a home and the stories I have heard about her and her courage are many.
But waking up to see the curtains in the bedroom standing straight out flying in a strong morning breeze and some times even grabbing the sheet and pulling it close in the chill, that was what I remembered as I opened the windows in my house.