Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Angel Tree

A blanket of snow covered most of Indiana yesterday afternoon and through the night; I’m not complaining about the snow, unlike about 4,950 people on Facebook yesterday. I didn’t understand that. Why were they so taken back and disgusted by the snow? It’s late November in the Midwest. 

Stick around. Next week we’ll likely hit 65 degrees, hear baby birds singing and smell tulips. 

Though we've not officially hit December I suppose the holidays are truly upon us. I’m a big fan of this time of year, as are most people, I guess. 
The lights. 
The snow. 
The tradition. 
The stories.
Driving home from one of the grain elevators the other day I began thinking of Christmas shopping. I’m not good at this planning. While I usually end up pulling off pretty good gifts for my loved ones, these gifts are usually derived from a random thought I have at about 11:47PM a week before Christmas. Guess I work well under pressure. Thankfully, so do my handy friends who have spent many a late night in a frigid garage helping me prime and paint - more to come on that. 
On that same drive home from the elevator I thought back to a story I was told several years ago while I was not yet in high school. It struck me back then, and I say with confidence that I’ve thought of this exact same story every single holiday season since. A story that certainly changed my way of thinking, perhaps it will yours, too...

I remember that Christmas well.  I was probably only 11. Maybe 12. But I was the oldest and so sort of a second mother in my family. I was mature for my age, and just getting into a place where I realized there was much more to life than what I had experienced.
I remember Dad got laid off right around Halloween. I guess I wasn’t too scared or worried about it. We still had Halloween. We went to church, we prayed. Mom always had food on the table and I always had clothes to wear. We all did. 
That Christmas I remember sitting in church and hearing a lady talk about the angel tree that was going to be set up at the back of the church. The point of the tree was to take a tag that described an anonymous needy child and their “wish list” for that Christmas. We were to buy the gift then return it to the church, who would make sure Santa delivered it Christmas morning. 
What a great idea. 
That summer before that my allowance increased to $7.00 a week. I never spent my allowance; secretly I saved every penny. I kind of figured if I wanted a car when I was 16 I was going to have to pay for a big part of it. So I saved.
And it was because of that  frugal attitude at 11 or 12-years-old that I was able to make the decision to choose a tag from the angel tree. But I wanted to wait until the next week so I could go home and count my allowance savings - then I’d pull the perfect tag. 
I remember driving home after church that Sunday in our Astro minivan and both Mom and Dad discouraging me to choose a tag. They said that tree was more suited for people who had steady jobs, full time jobs, who could spare the change to buy extra gifts. I sort of shrugged off their advice - though I was a bit disgusted by it! At that point, they had no idea the money I had saved, almost $120 dollars, from my allowance. And I wasn’t about to tell them; I had two little brothers in the van. 
The next week I chose a tag from the tree. 
I went to VAL that December and bought a funny VHS movie for the needy child. Feeling really good about the decision I made to help out another kid, I remember tucking a note inside, written on Lisa Frank stationary, encouraging them to keep their head up; better times for their family were just around the corner. It’s funny now, looking back, how I thought I was some kind of motivational Secret Santa! The next Sunday, feeling quite proud and maybe a little mature and special, I dropped the gift off in the angel tree bin. 
Two hectic weeks passed before Christmas finally came and quite honestly I had forgotten about my good deed. 
Until Christmas morning. 
When I unwrapped a funny VHS movie from Santa - with a note inside, written on Lisa Frank stationary, encouraging me to keep my head up - better times for my family were just around the corner. 
I never, ever had any idea we were poor until that moment Christmas morning. 
And I was never so thankful for parents who worked so hard to never let us kids know how bad things really were for our family. 

Each time I remember her story I have to smile - with a tight throat and maybe a misty eye! But I love it - the beauty of the holidays.  The irony in life. And the blessing of having incredible parents. 
Yesterday I posted on Facebook inquiring about the angel tree locations in our area; this was not by coincidence. If we’re “friends” (what does that even mean anymore?!) make sure you check out the long list of local angel tree locations folks compiled on my wall in response to my post. 
If you’re not in this area, I encourage you to find an angel tree in your community and give back to those families who need it this year. 
We may never know the significance of our simple acts of kindness.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An American Thanksgiving...?

There comes a certain romance into my mind when I think about Thanksgiving. The colors, the smells, one family member opening the door for another as they carry in piping hot side dishes, the laughter.

I have no idea why I picture Thanksgiving this way. I think it’s because of a Norman Rockwell calendar my great Grandma Ruby had back in ‘87.

Because I’ll tell you right now, the Bowman Thanksgiving isn’t anything like that.

Our colors were green, the smells were fishy, one family member did open the door for another as she carried in her blanket – dragging it though a mud puddle. But the laughter – it was present and accounted for.

The 10 of us (2 parents, 3 siblings, 2 spouses, 1 Original Jean, 2 children) celebrated Thanksgiving at the farm last Sunday. It was a real treat. When I say treat I mean it reconfirmed everything I already believed about my family: we’re a crazy bunch.

This is why she is not mad Uncle Luke travels 200 days a year.

The festivities began when we all chose our seats around the table. Even though we each sit in the exact same seat year after year, there is still this musical chairs shuffle that takes place, I suppose in case someone has decided the seat they’ve defended for 20+ years is no longer suitable.

We shuffled.
We sat.
We bowed our heads.

“Who are we missing?” Luke asked.
We all looked around and agreed - no one.
“So why do we have an extra place setting?”

He was right. Ten of us were packed around a table set for 11. Mom, noticeably taken back by her own miscount, pointed her finger to each of us while she counted again. And again.  Annnd again. “Hmm,” she said completely confused. “No idea.”

Nonetheless, the 10 of us sat elbow to jaw around the beautifully set dining room table, no one even thinking to take the 11th place setting away for extra room. Don’t ask why.

My brother eats incredibly quickly. So while the rest of us were eating our salads, Luke was getting out of his seat to carry the potatoes, gravy and turkey to his end of the table. He’s not 12 anymore, physically; I don’t know why he does this.

Marlee, 2, took a bite out 5 rolls and returned each to the breadbasket before anyone noticed.  At age 2 she is both swift and aggressive.

Half way through dinner we passed around a jar of pickled garlic. Dad’s idea; not part of Mom’s well-planned menu.

Then, it was dessert time. The most important food group. 
Go ahead - report me to Michelle. 

Quit telling a story I don’t understand and cut the pie, lady. - Marlee

80 years separate these two pie enthusiasts.

After the garlic, and pumpkin liqueur, it became incredibly hot in the homestead. The gal who keeps her house at 65 degrees isn’t the only once who thought this – we all felt like we were on fire.

Marlee walked around with a cold wash cloth on her head to cool off. 

“Dad I’ve got to turn down this heat – you have it set at 74 degrees!” declared Luke.
“Don’t you dare! I’m too old to be uncomfortable in my own house,” replied Dad, like he was 80, rather than 60. 

So, when he went Radish Scouting we opened the exterior doors. He never even noticed.

Radish Scouting, you ask?

If you’ve ever spent an afternoon looking at our cattle with Dad, you know there are three things he absolutely loves to enjoy together: Shorthorns, beer and radishes. Dad has been growing winter radishes for 30 years (reports a neighbor) and takes great pride in this. Except this year a local farmer planted radishes as a cover crop (grain farmers plant these as an inexpensive way to break up the sub-soils to fix compaction) and Dad has found them – right out of the field - to be the perfect treat to go with his draft Budweiser beer.

You wait long enough and these radishes grow – a lot – and begin to look like something straight out of Little Shop of Horrors. So after dinner, while we all sat around in a food coma, Dad left – in the pouring rain with out a coat – to find the perfect radish to top off our meal. 

And he returned, soaking wet but proud as a peacock, with these:

Hey, I said we were fun. I never, eevvverrrrr, said we were normal.

Great Grandma, Grandpa is so funny!

Blonde hair, blue eyes, perfect smiles, 81 years apart.

I don't think the radishes tasted quite like anyone had in mind. But they did make for one heck of a veggie-tales monster...


Then, Dad got out the smoked herring for all to enjoy. 

Some say no rest for the weary – I say no herring for Lindsay.

After the presentation of weird food ended, and the giant vegetables were laid down, we each spent the afternoon trying to recover. Some did dishes, some read books, some tried to forget what they had just experienced. 

Bug it, kid. It's getting dark out and I'm going to miss Judge Judy

Ah, Thanksgiving. Another year nearly in the books. Another one  enjoyed. Another one survived. Another blog-worthy Bowman experience.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.
 May we appreciate and give thanks for many things:
Our health, our freedom, our jobs...our family. 
And the fact that we survived childhood and went on to become fairly normal adults. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Call to Action

Monday night I found myself thinking, "I have nothing to motivate me to write this blog this week." 

So I did what millions of others did as the storm passed through the Midwest - I logged onto Facebook.

And I remembered Leontien. 

A little about her:
"Fresh. Determined. Stubborn. Worried. Blessed! Love living life in Indiana with my husband and family. Had an American Dream about milking cows, hugging my Black Stallion and drive my BMW on dusty back roads with the music cranked up. And being blessed with all of that! Also a PROUD cancer survivor and determined not to get sick no more. Love to read books, talk lots and find new ways to express myself…"

I wanted to absolutely scold myself for thinking I had nothing motivating or inspiring to write about. 

Leontien is a young woman who was in my in blogging class at the Indiana Soybean office - the class that got Jean's Boots talking. And she is in the fight of her life against cancer as you read this.  

This week Leontien went back for a painful round two of chemotherapy. 

My ask of you is that you visit Leontien's Facebook page and leave a note. 
Visit her blog and let her know you're thinking of her. 
Lift her up in prayer. 

Give thanks for your own health this Wednesday morning!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pride in Purple

Some time ago I told you about the famous wild west cowboy that hails from my home town. But over time Johnny Ringo, born right here in sleepy old Greens Fork, left Clay Township and headed west. He made a name slinging a gun and finding himself in pursuit of some of the craziest cowboys known to American history. 

While it's fair to say he may be the most notorious name to come from Greens Fork, it certainly isn't accurate to proclaim him the most heroic. 

That title just may go to Tim Wysong, 
whether you recognize his name or not. 

Tim was a competitor for Hagerstown on the football field, the wrestling mat and also the track. He'd suit up in purple and gold and put his whole heart into that fight. It's funny, at 17,  how you believe losing a homecoming football game is the worst thing that could happen. 

None the less, maybe still feeling a bit defeated from the previous week, he proudly wore the purple the following Friday night, put his whole heart into it and tried again. 

Then Tim graduated high school. 
And joined the military. 
Certainly a decision that would forever change his life.

I'll never know what Tim has gone through. 
I'll never claim to understand. 

But I will let him tell you his story...

I joined the service because wanted to do something great. I wanted to get out on my own and start my own life. I wanted to be proud of what I was doing. And I’ll admit,  the benefits didn’t sound too bad either. I wanted to get out of Greens Fork, Indiana to meet new people.

I enjoyed everything about the time I spent in the military. I grew really close to my friends in a very short period of time. I really enjoyed getting to see other parts of the country that I wouldn’t have normally gotten to see or experience had I not joined. I loved making new friends; it’s really neat to see how other people have lived and where they come from. But what I enjoyed most was the finding the friends that count on you and you count on them; just knowing you can’t let each other down or it could be their life you’re putting in a war zone. It’s awesome.....Its also hard to explain sometimes.

Tim’s world completely changed on June 22, 2009...
We were on a four day mission in Afghanistan where we were hauling very explosive ammo; my truck was the third truck in the convoy. About four hours into the mission just outside of Kabul (capital city of Afghanistan) we were driving and  my driver and I saw a flash in front of the truck. All of a sudden I heard a very loud bang and a big bright flash of light. 
I realized I was hit. 
At that time I wasn’t sure what it was, but I did know I couldn’t feel anything from my knee down. When the rocket propelled grenade hit me it struck the door and blew the locking mechanism off the door. Somehow, I was able to grab the 350 pound door and keep it shut while my driver got us both out of the kill zone. We kept each other alive. Neither of us will ever forget that. Then they finally got stopped and got me to safety afterwards. Everything was in slow motion after I got hurt.

It was very difficult for the next 10 months while I was in the hospital at Walter Reed; my unit was still deployed - they were still out there. That was a long 10 months for me because I didn’t know how they were doing. I was only able to talk to them a few times during that period. But I did get to see them get off the plane in Colorado the moment they got home from Afghanistan.
There are a lot of long term consequences of my injury. I may never be able to have a full time job. There are always mental problems that follow that. And of course I cant do any of the things that people take for granted. I most likely will never be able to run again. I will always have a slight limp which in turn could lead to back and hip problems. I already have a bad knee. And of course the pain that comes and goes.
This severe injury has changed my life in many ways. I basically have to look for stuff thats handicapped accessible. I cant go up and down a lot of stairs like I used to be able to do. I have to take everything so much slower now. I cant be on my feet all the time or very long at all. Sometimes I have to walk with a cane. I can't do as much as I used to do when I was actually young. Now I’m basically an old man trapped in a 23-year-olds body!

Today, I miss almost everything about the army. I miss the brotherhood. I miss the strict schedule we had. Really, it was all very nice. I will always have the pride though. Nobody will ever be able to take that away from me.

Now I do my best keep in touch with those still serving. It is hard. Most of them are at different units or deployed again. But I do keep in contact with my driver. 

He’s more than a friend; he’s my brother. 
We’re close to Thanksgiving and today I’m thankful that I'm alive. I have a great family who was there every step of the way. Especially my Mom; she stayed with me the entire time while I was recovering at Walter Reed. I wouldn’t be here with out them. And I’m thankful that I can still walk with my own two legs. There was a time when the doctor thought he would have to amputate my leg because he didn’t think it would be able to be saved. But he saved it....and rebuilt it. And now I’m thankful to be walking on my own.
I have no regrets about what I have done. I am very proud of the blood that I have shed. It sucks I’m in pain almost always, but I would do it all again any day of the week, honestly. I want to say thank you to everybody who has supported me personally or supported the military. It’s very much appreciated. A simple thank you goes a very long way. 
Happy Veterans Day to those before me and those who will go after me. 
It’s a great honor to a part of something so big.

Thank You, Tim. For putting away the purple on the football field and going on to do something so selfless. Thank you for your sacrifice, so that you can now forever wear that purple around your neck. 

Today Tim resides back in our home county and is married to his love, Alyssa. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

His Harvest

You know when you have experiences throughout the day, small or significant, that end up dancing across your dreams later that night?

This happens to me a lot.

One afternoon I’m minding my own business at the grocery and see a high school friend with her three kids. Next thing you know I’m tangled in my sheets trying to wake up from a bad dream where that same high school friend asks me to cover her Wal-Mart tab and babysit her kids for the afternoon.

A nightmare, really.

Recently I rode in the combine with a local farmer as he chugged his way through harvest.  I had plenty of questions about the numbers on the screen and reason why he used a certain lever and which buttons meant what. I asked why certain corn was positioned one way. We talked about root structure. I asked what moisture does to bounty.

I interact daily with grain farmers; it’s kind of important to know these things.

I sat for a few hours in that brand new combine, watching the stalks being gathered and completely absorbed by the head.
I thought about the engineers who developed this technology and how different harvest was 100 years ago; what progress.
I thought about how comfortable I was, in a heated cab, watching yields increase and bunnies flee in fear away from the machinery.
I thought about time.
I thought about change.

I thought a lot about my Granddad.

“You know,” I said, breaking the brief silence between the local farmer and I. “ I ask a lot of questions. But I sure wish my Granddad could sit here, if only for an hour, and just take this all in. He’d love it. And he’d ask some pretty good questions, I just know.”


That night I had an unforgettable dream. The kind where you write down every single detail that you’re able to recall as soon as you wake up at 2:17 a.m.

The kind that you’re never ready to wake up from.

It was Granddad and I; he behind the wheel, me in the buddy seat. We talked like he had never left; we talked like we both knew this was a very temporary encounter.

As the bright headlights of the combine cut down the rows of standing corn like lasers, I asked Granddad why some of the corn was broken off half way up the stalk, and why some still stood tall with tassels.

“As with any anything, that starts at the bottom - the root,” he said.

“These stalks have to have a strong root system, one that not only grows strong, but also one that covers a lot of ground. Because when that wind blows, and trust me it will, something has to keep it grounded,” he said as he adjusted the speed of the machine.

“Somedays this corn reminds me of raising a family. If you don’t put the right things in at the beginning, you’re not going to get much in the end. If you don’t do things to make it right early, they can break. Stalks break, I mean. People, too. Character. ”

“It’s also important that the root doesn’t necessarily grow directly down; if it does that, it won’t gain the nutrients that are applied to the top couple inches of soil,” he followed up, bringing the conversation back to agronomy, rather than family.

I watched Granddad’s boots sit tightly at the base of the steering wheel. I recognized those old worn out boots quite well. While we rode in that combine, they were sitting in my office at home.

“Ohhhh,” I said. “Kind of like those roots you and I talked about just before I left for Washington, DC? I’ll never forget that. You told me to go chase that dream, but I better not dare forget where I came from. That talk kind of gave me the final guts to leave. Your words told me I could always come home.”

“Right. You want solid roots, but not ones that are so hell bent on growing straight down that the plant won’t completely thrive the way it should,” he reminded me.

We sat in silence as he came to the end of the row and turned the combine around. Before I knew it we were back to running the corn that had lost half of it’s height.

Then Granddad and I started drinking chocolate milkshakes. I don’t know how, but I didn’t question it.

“But that can’t be all it is. I mean, I know the roots are totally important, but that isn’t all there is, right?” I continued.

“Well, no. Soil is important. You have to have something good to plant that seed into. We’ll come across a bare patch up here where nothing came of the land. No yield at all.”

He was right; amidst productive corn was a large area with nothing at all. Not a stalk emerging from the ground. Not a root to be spoken of.

“It’s disappointing, those places. Where there is room for something good, but nothing ever develops. It’s a waste really. Not many things that bother me more than unreached potential. A solid loss.”

I looked straight ahead. It was one of those moments where I know Granddad was talking about more than the cornfield that was ahead of us.

I looked at Granddad’s hands, holding that wheel. They looked so much better than the last time I studied them.  I looked over at him. He was so engrossed in the task ahead: His Life's Harvest, years after his death.

And then I woke up.

I woke up after studying the hands that helped build me. After having a conversation that I needed to have, but never had the chance before he left.  I jumped out of bed, walked into my office and got my leather bound notebook. I scribbled as fast as I could. I turned to put the paper down, but not before looking at the boots.

I had to smile. Those boots certainly were made for talking.

Long after I thought their work was done.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Franklin Goes to the Park

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a morning in Pendleton, IN with a friend of mine and her young family. What a great crew! Frankin, just past two years, was quite a sport and served as a source of entertainment through out the entire shoot. What a happy little boy. 

I had a great time; see more of our sunny, windy morning below...

A shy beginning...

A unique tradition, Franklin will have his picture taken with 
this old rocking chair annually until he is 18

These little gems got us through the last thirty minutes....