Monday, May 26, 2014


Thousands of service flags are carefully stored by a wonderful group of volunteers in Red Oak, Iowa and flown on Memorial Day. It is a true labor of love and deep respect. Red Oak lost a highly disproportionate share of soldiers in both the Civil War and World War II. These photos really do not do justice to the sheer number of flags that do not fail to tighten the throat or bring a tear to the eye.

Made up of young men from southwest Iowa, Company M was in north Africa, Tunisia, fighting the Nazis when they were ambushed in a place known as Kasserine Pass. Life Magazine ran an article on this event with a stunning photo of our town with the locations of the family homes that received telegrams in early March 1943 that their soldier was missing. The headline, "War Hits Red Oak:  A small prairie town gets word that 23 of its boys are missing in action after a battle in North Africa."

Red Oak lost more than 50 men in World War II, many of them in this battle. 

From her book, "The Home Fronts of Iowa 1939-1945," Lisa K. Ossian writes,

"In 1946 the nation noted its military losses as the Saturday Evening Post remembered Red Oak's:
     'If New York City had lost as many sons as this Iowa town, the dead would have numbered 70,000.'

     The article continued: 'Red Oak, Iowa looks like the home town we dreamed of overseas; rich and contented, with chicken and blueberry pie on Sundays, for whose sake some said we were fighting the war. It is the kind of town we wanted to be the same when we came home, at the same time it would somehow know what the war was about.'

Without a doubt, this is true 70 years later. Growing up in this town, in the early 1970s, this amazing story was never told. I did not learn of any of this until I was in college. Thirty years was still too close, too painful for many. 

There is also the sense of getting on with life. No one was doing this for fame, fortune, or glory. They did what they were asked to do. It was their duty and they threw themselves into it. When they returned, if they returned, the counted themselves as blessed because they had seen and experienced things no one should. Their next duty was to go back to their lives and make things right again. And they did. Quietly, they put these days behind them and honored them silently through their everyday lives. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

From where I stand

From where I stand, my forties are nearly past. Like in about eight weeks. 

I admit. I was sort of blase about turning 50. I've never really gotten my knickers in a knot about "big" birthdays. I tend to welcome birthdays because I do recognize that "it is a privilege denied to many." We have a list of those friends and family who left us too soon, don't we? However, the past few months have been a bit of a wake up call.

This spring, I've spent some considerable time with family. We traveled to visit our 80 and 90-something family members in Florida. As our trip got underway, my mother had emergency bypass surgery. Less than a month later, we celebrated the life of my stepmother and did our best to hold it together. We had several conversations about what my family members think about living in their 70's, 80's, and 90's, and how they want to live their lives from here on. We also talked about what many families avoid like root canals, a tax audit, and Miley Cyrus.

We had conversations about last days and how they hoped it would go at the end. Wishes and thoughts and memories from moments throughout their lives, long before I ever knew them. 

And now my dad is making plans to move out of the house he and my stepmother lived in for twentysome years and downsizing into something much smaller. More transition.

From where I stand, I realize that in a little more than 20 years, I'll be my parents' age. And that's when my knickers got in a knot. What do I need to do in the next 20 years to be ready?

In the midst of my slight panic came crazy things in the mail, like the AARP stuff. The universe and one's internet browser does conspire to provide some interesting ads in the sidebar. Like this, from our old pal from "Dinner and a Movie," Annabelle Gurwitch.

Yes. I'm heading to my local bookstore to order this. 

And I'm going to open this up and read it. I was honored to receive a copy as a gift and true to life, it's been a little too close to home to actually read it. Past that now! In her book, "How We Die Now," Karla Erickson says that we can expect to live 30 years longer than our recent ancestors. We are living longer lives than our grandparents and great-grandparents. Does anyone else remember how "old" their grandparents looked when they were in their 60s? Just looking back at photos of my grandparents compared to my dad and his siblings at the same age, there is little comparison. 

For those of us who graduated from high school in 1982, this means that living until we are 100 is going to be a little more common than it is now. 

Just take a moment and consider that. Maybe fifty MORE years? Really? When you think back on the past years of your life and then are told that you could live just as many again, that's a little staggering. The good news is that we can anticipate this and envision what it will look like. The other side of the coin is that life in our 80s will be a lot different than life in our 40s. Living longer often means needing more care and assistance in our later years.

Our trailblazers, the elder Baby Boomers, are already redefining retirement and senior living. And they are doing the same for elder caregiving and for what they want for their parents and themselves. 

Believe me, I'm not rushing this. But I am not standing here alone, am I? I'm raising teenagers and looking at college brochures at the same time I'm helping my dad downsize into a condo and facing the fact that I probably have 20 years left in a full time working world. 

I have some dreaming to do. Plans to put in place. Life to live. It is a little terrifying and a whole lot of exciting at the same time.

Almost thirty years ago, this little movie was in the theater and is one of those that most adults my age remember very fondly. Ferris is now 52. Look at that fresh face of our younger days. These words are still important, maybe more so now that we're halfway, right?

"Ferris Buller's Day Off" 1986

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Expressing Happiness

"It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, out there on the edge of the prairie..."

The blog has been quiet for several weeks, but life has been far from quiet. The truth is, it's been rather intense around here. There hasn't been any lack of topics to write about but rather too many to choose from. We did an epic spring break road trip to Florida to visit family. My mother had emergency heart bypass surgery and she's recovering beautifully, thank you.  My stepmother of 36 years passed early last month. Two of my closest and dearest friends each had major life issues that I wanted to be present and support them through. I was gifted a car. It's been a rather busy time, to say the least.

In keeping with the theme of "Gee, whiz" my kids met Garrison Keillor tonight and it's kind of a big deal. Keillor's radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion" on National Public Radio has been a Saturday night thing for our family forever, especially with their Grandparents Nelson.

Often, Dad and Pat would get in the car about 5 p.m., turn on NPR and listen to Keillor start the show. They'd drive to a nearby town, have dinner, and be back in the car in time for the news from Lake Wobegon. And I've written about this sort of happening before here on the View.

They enjoyed Keillor and the entire show for many years. They attended a show in Omaha years ago and had a wonderful time. Bertha's Kitty Boutique was a long time favorite sponsor.

After a lengthy illness, Pat passed quietly last month at the care center. While Dad and Pat love their church and have been active church members their entire lives, it was not a funeral they wanted. It was a celebration of life.

To that end, the celebration for Pat's incredible life felt a lot like A Prairie Home Companion. Laughter through tears. Good music. Something poignant that touches a place deep inside. Memories of long ago. And something to think about as it ends.

The day after Pat's celebration of life, I got the tickets for tonight's show for my kids and me to take Grandpa to the live broadcast in Des Moines at the Civic Center.

When the introduction began, there was a moment that was rich and full of a love that will never pass.

"Oh hear that old piano, from down the avenue... I smell the tulips, I look around for you. Oh my sweet, sweet old someone coming through that's Saturday and the band is playing, Honey could we ask for more?"

The theme for my meditation today happened to be expressing happiness. If our sense of happiness is full and even overflowing, it can do nothing else but make others around us happy. This is an evening that memories are made of. This evening we felt Grandma's presence once again. And my kids met Garrison Keillor. With a little patience and perseverance outside the green room door, they were invited in, said hello, shook his hand, and got an autograph.

Full and overflowing. When we express happiness, we can't help share that abundance of joy. And a joyful night it was.