Monday, September 2, 2013

Fresh Country Air

Fresh country air. What does that mean to you? Is it the smell of freshly mowed hay as it swirls through the wind? Maybe it's the sweet scent of honeysuckle in the breeze as it whips through the trees. Or maybe it's the stench reeking from the hog farm down the road! Maybe it's all of the above! Regardless of what you classify as fresh country air, that term will always conjure up sweet childhood remembrances of a beloved aunt and the visits to her country home on Cowpath Road...that's right, Cowpath Road, (not Cow Patty :) near Christiansburg, Ohio. But here's the best part. Aunt Clara is 103 years old today! Isn't that amazing?!

Aunt Clara, a.k.a. Clara Davis Stagner, is the only living sister of my sweet mother who went on to be with the Lord a little over three years ago. She and the baby of the family, my Uncle Amos, are the only surviving siblings out of seven. As families go, we were quite close. There were eight children in my family and Aunt Clara and her husband, Mier, or Bud as everyone called him, were parents to seven and all pretty close in age to us. That made for lots of fun get-togethers, especially between our two families since we lived only a short drive away.


This picture was taken before my time on the porch of our home.
My mom is in the middle holding my sister, Barbara.
Aunt Edna, (Mom's twin) is on the left and that is Aunt Clara on the right.

This photo was taken on the same day as the one above...
...a bunch of cousins from the three families... 
...really, just a drop in the bucket...not nearly everyone got in the picture!


I can still visualize the house...with its wrap-around porch and how the swing would slam into the side of the house if you swung just a little too high. It sat pretty close to the narrow road which was lined with cornfields on either side and most of the traffic consisted of tractors or other farm vehicles...not much worry about getting out on the road and getting hit by a speeding car. It was pure country as far as the eye could see. The term "fresh country air" was really kind of a joke we kids made up because of that hog farm which was was just a short distance down the road! It was a thing we would always matter where we were and we happened to notice the smell of fresh manure in the air, any one of us would never fail to say, "Ahhhh....smell that fresh country air!"  And while on the subject, there was no inside bathroom in Aunt Clara's house for several years so having to use the outhouse added to the fond memories! Just ask my sister, Barbara, she'll tell you all about it. It seems she was an uninvited guest one day when she had to go to the outhouse to sit for a spell. The yellow jackets who had made their home under the rim of the seat were not happy campers when someone came in and invaded their space! She came running out of there and into the house screaming bloody murder, bare butt and all! I don't know how many times she got stung...but (pun intended) really didn't matter. Have you ever been stung by a yellow jacket??? YEOWWW! At night time, an old enamelware chamber pot sat at the bottom of the stairway along with a roll of toilet paper in case someone had to "go".

There are many things I see that spark a memory of those days. Here are a couple more examples:

Duplex sandwich cookies could always be found in the cookie jar. She would serve them to us with tall glasses of milk poured into glass glasses with designs on them—unlike getting a half glass at home and we could get more if we drank it all. As funny as it sounds, this seemed like a real luxury to me. At home, Mom was always very cautious about giving us glass glasses to drink from. How can a glass be anything other than glass, you might be asking? Well, at our house, we drank from either metal or plastic cups...even though we called them glasses :) Am I confusing you? Regardless, the point being she let us drink full glasses of milk from glasses something like these you see below.

We would also love playing upstairs in our cousin, Sharon's room. It's always more fun to play with someone else's toys, right? I will never forget her doll house—it was the coolest doll house ever with the coolest furniture ever. We would play with it for hours and hours. When we got a little older and were young teens, we had a blast singing and dancing with Sharon as we listened to her collection of 45's on her record player up in her room. And I will never forget hot summer days as we worked on our "tans", slathering ourselves with Crisco... yes, pure Crisco... and proceeded to fry as we laid on blankets out in the yard!

Through the years, being able to visit with Aunt Clara was always a special treat for me, especially after I moved away from Ohio. My Uncle Bud had passed away several years before so she had been widowed for quite some time. I always looked forward to seeing her sweet smile and loved being greeted by her gentle, soft spoken demeanor. As the years passed, Mom's health started to fail and she was in and out of the hospitals and the nursing home on several occasions. Aunt Clara, being two years older had also started to decline a bit and was unable to stay at home alone after a while. As God would have it and to soften the blow, the sisters who had been so close all of their lives were "roomies" at the nursing home! Here are a few photos of us taken in 2009 when all of my children and grandchildren came for a visit. Mom looks like she could use a nap :)

Unfortunately, Mom went home to be with the Lord in the spring of 2010. 
She didn't get to witness her sweet sister reach her milestone birthday of 100 years...
... but I know she was rejoicing in heaven.

Oh, I just love this picture of her! Look at the joy on her face!

Here she is with her "baby brother", my Uncle Amos, 
who I think is now about 97 or 98 years young :)


Just look at that sweet smile and those bright, cheerful eyes!
I think this was taken a few days after the "Big 100" party and that was three years ago! 
I haven't been able to get up to see her for a while but my sis, Barb keeps me posted on how she's doing... 
and from what I hear, she is going strong!


There will be more partying going on today, I have no doubt. When you have lived as many days and years as she has, everyday is a gift and should be celebrated. Really, shouldn't we all be living like that regardless of our age? We are never guaranteed tomorrow...some of us are just blessed with more of them than others!

I thank the Lord for blessing this sweet woman with so many years of life. I am also thankful for all of those simple little things I have spoken of here that remind me of her. The memories of my childhood would not be complete without them!

Happy 103rd Birthday, dear sweet Aunt Clara! 

I love you!

UPDATE: It saddens me to say that less than 2 months after writing this post, my sweet Aunt Clara went home to be with Jesus. She is finally reunited with her loved one who went on before her.
The events that surrounded the day she died inspired to write Bittersweet, a post on my main blog. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Softer Side of Sandpaper

Can you imagine what life would have been like in 1911? That's the year that my dad, Joe Billheimer, was born. He worked hard from the time he was a kid growing up on the family farm until he suffered a stroke when he was 90...nearly 91. The cancer that was running rampant inside his body hadn't become evident to anyone yet until he was hospitalized for that stroke in the spring of 2002. About six weeks later, he would pass from this life, into the next. We hear all the time about how the Lord works in mysterious ways. The Lord was surely at work here. You see, the stroke my dad suffered had robbed him of his speech. Anyone who knew him would also know that just wouldn't work for him. Not only was he not able to do what he loved to do almost more than anything ...and whistle...(he did both all the time), he knew that the weakness that had taken over the one side of his body would also keep him from taking care of Mom, his princess. His queen. His precious bride of nearly 70 years. Now, if there was ever anyone who wouldn't consider herself anything even remotely close to royalty, that would be Mom. It didn't matter though. She was everything to him. We didn't know it but the cancer had already progressed to the stage where his time left would be only be a matter of weeks. I actually feel like the cancer was a blessing in disguise. Really? How could I possibly think that? How could we imagine Dad without a voice? How could we imagine how totally helpless he would feel not to be able to do his day to day tasks, and most importantly, take care of his beloved life-long mate?

One thing I always remember about him were his hands and how big and strong they were. Remember the popular song, "Daddy's Hands"? I think about him everytime I hear it. One of the lines in the song says "you could read quite a story in the callouses and lines, years of work and worry had left their mark behind". That would describe them perfectly. If you ever shook his hand you would know what I'm talking about. My dad was a strong man and he had big ol' hands and fingers! They were as rough as sandpaper due to the fact that he was always doing something with them....they were rarely idle. They were either working at his regular job, where he was tool and dye maker and machinist, repairing something broken, tending to the garden or they might be helping a friend's ox out the ditch, so to speak. I remember that tough skin came in quite handy when it came to lawn mower blades. One of the few times my dad ever stepped foot into a doctor's office or hospital was when he nearly cut off three of his fingers at one time when he was working on a lawn mower ...getting in the way of the blade...OUCH! Many times he would just come in the house, put bandaids on them and go back out and continue what he was doing. He probably would have lost those fingers had they not been so strong and tough.

I remember as a small child, his hands making mine look so very small in comparison. But even though the outer surfaces of his hands were sandpaper-like, there was a softer side to these hands of his. The way he "handled" his wife is a great example of what I am referring to. It was like she was made of glass, the way he would gently touch and embrace her. She might be standing at the kitchen sink, preparing food or something and he would walk by, giving her a soft kiss on the cheek, a little squeeze or maybe pat her ever so lightly on the behind. It was a scene that we witnessed almost on a daily basis. His gentleness towards her was constant and I never heard him raise his voice to her. Now, that was a slightly different story when it came to his children. I would describe him this way - his bark was worse than is bite. I don't know how much or how severely he disciplined the older kids...I will admit I've heard a few stories :) I am guessing he mellowed quite a bit through the years since I don't remember him putting a hand on me (in that way) or anyone else after I came along.

These other lyrics from that song tell the rest of the story:

I remember Daddy's hands, working 'til they bled
Sacrificed unselfishly, just to keep us all fed
If I could do things over, I'd live my life again
And never take for granted the love in Daddy's hands

I remember Daddy's hands, how they held my mama tight
And patted my back, for something done right.
There are things that I've forgotten, that I loved about the man
But I'll always remember the love in Daddy's hands.

Daddy's hands were soft and kind when I was cryin'
Daddy's hands were hard as steel when I'd done wrong.
Daddy's hands weren't always gentle but I've come to understand
There was always love in Daddy's hands.

I really kind of doubt they celebrate Father's Day in heaven but just in case they do, Happy Father's Day, Dad! I love you and miss you! 

You know, sometimes...I swear I can still hear him whistling :)

Monday, March 11, 2013

"P" is for....

Hello! It's been a while! The holidays are over, the earth is beginning to thaw and spring is in the air. Where does the time go? I have so many memories of when I was a little girl floating around in my head but not many of them have been making it to the surface recently... so I guess I have what you might call writer's block...well, maybe I should call it something else since I am NOT a writer. Let me just say that lately, nothing has really come to me to write about. Now, before we get too deeply into this, I must say that this post doesn't quite live up to the title of my blog, "Memories of My Childhood (and other blessings)". Oh yes, these are memories alright, but blessings? Not so much. Even though they do bring to mind that I am thankful for not having that "issue" anymore. Where am I going with this? might be asking yourself about now. Well, I will tell you.

You see, somewhere along the line, a few years after I was potty trained, this problem started. It seemed like my bladder wasn't growing quite as fast as the rest of me. I don't know if it was that, or if was the fear that my dear, sweet mother had instilled in me every time we were about to leave the house on any occasion... whether it would be to the grocery store, to church or maybe just for a drive in the country. I can still hear her words echoing in my brain as if it was yesterday. " better go pee before we leave!"  Well, here's the problem with that. I have never been one to be able to pee on cue. I mean, when I have to go, I have to go but I just can't make myself go. Oh sure, if I wanted to sit there for a while with the water running in the sink and visualizing a babbling brook, I may be able to squeeze out a few drops but the family didn't quite understand why I was taking so much time in the bathroom! Back in those days, public restrooms were sometimes hard to come by, especially in the little "mom and pop" stores that we frequented. Rides in the country could also be kind of scary since many times, we would go far out in the boondocks, where there wouldn't be a gas station or restroom for miles. I remember on one of those occasions as we were rambling through the countryside in the old Buick and the urge hit me. I knew I had to go but I didn't say a word for a long time, sitting in the back seat of the car with my sisters. I knew that Mom and Dad would scold me for not "going" before we left the house so I just sat there quietly and squeezed (squoze?) as hard as I could to hold it in. Finally, when I had no more "squeeze" left in me, I quietly and sheepishly spoke up....."I gotta pee." Silence. "I gotta pee", again, a little louder as my eyes filled with tears, now that "they" could actually hear me from the back seat.  After I broke the news, I will never forget what my dad jokingly said to me after he coarsely reminded me that I should have gone before we left... "It looks like it's backing up 'cause it's comin' out of your eyes!" This is NOT what I wanted to hear at this very moment. There was no where to go except to pull off the side of the road and walk back into the high grass. Now, if you are a boy, this might work for you. Even as bad as I had to go at that very moment, nothing would come out, although eventually I do believe I was able to finally relieve myself and we resumed our drive home. There was just something about the grass tickling me and the fear of peeing on my britches that kept me from relaxing. Um...yeah!

During those growing-up years, there would be many other occasions that the utter fear of not being able to get to a restroom would literally haunt me so much that it seemed like no matter where I was, I had to pee at the most inopportuned times! Those that remain engraved in my mind of which I shall never forget are these two in particular.

I was in first grade, sitting at my desk in a dark classroom as we were learning how to tell time on a transparent clock that lit up so you could see the working gears inside. The urge hit and I asked to go to the restroom. The teacher asked  me if I could wait another fifteen minutes when it was break time. Like an idiot, I said "yes". The janitor was soon called for clean-up on ailse three, desk one :(

In second grade, during a spelling test...I didn't even ask the teacher this time, hoping that the urge would pass. It didn't and I did. You surely know how that story ended.

This was me at our annual family reunion in Troy, Ohio when I was about five or so. I don't remember who took the picture but what I do remember is that I had to pee SO bad—I wasn't even able to walk to to the restroom in the park for fear of wetting my pants—so I decided to just sit it out for a while. That's when someone came along and snapped that picture. See that smile? It's really not a smile at all. It's a grimace as I strained to keep from leaking!

My final and most humiliating experience was when I was a senior in high school. YES, THAT'S WHAT I SAID! My older sister along with my mom, had picked me up at school and we had stopped at a fabric store on the way home for some purpose. As I was walking the aisles of the store, I started to feel that "old" feeling again. Surely, there must be a restroom in the store, right? Nope. Not one. Not even a bucket.  I hid in the back corner of the store for a while, where no one could see me with my legs crossed, bobbing from side to side. Doing the "PeePee Dance" was not helping this time! Try as I might, I tried to "contain" myself (pun intended :) but no such luck. Then I felt it....that unmistakable warm sensation that was heading south, down both of my legs. I will never forget what I was wearing that day - dark brown corduroy jeans. They had just become a darker shade of brown in certain areas. I wanted to cut and run but there was no place to hide. There I was, a teenager in the middle of a fabric store and I had just peed in my pants!! I walked with closed legs as fast as I could to find Mom and told her my sad story. Within minutes we were out of there. I don't remember how long it took me to live that one down. Luckily, I don't think the people who worked in the store noticed and even if they did find a drip or two on the floor, they would never have known it came from me. For many years, my sweet mama would remind me of that event from time to time :)

I don't know when it happened but one day I realized I didn't seem to have this issue anymore. I still can't pee on cue either though. Like when the doctor needs a sample from you....that's not cool. Here's what I do know...when Jim and I take a road trip and we have to pull in at all of those rest stops every so many miles, we're not stopping for me!

One day soon, I'm sure all of that will change.