Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Angel Tree

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 about Christmas shopping. While I typically pull off (fairly) good gifts for my loved ones, these gifts are usually derived from a random thought I have at about 11:47PM on a Thursday the week before Christmas. I suppose I work well under pressure.

On that same drive home from the elevator, I thought back to a story that was told to me several years ago while I was not yet in high school. It struck me back then, and I’ve thought of this exact story every single holiday season since. I can walk into the Hagerstown Food Market and forget why I’m there; for me to remember this story after more than a decade is a big deal! A story that certainly changed my way of thinking, perhaps it will yours, too. 

The Storyteller:

I remember that Christmas well. I was 12. But I was the oldest and 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 around Halloween. 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 $4.00 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 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 minivan and both Mom and Dad discouraging me to choose a tag. They said that tree was more suited for people who had steady, full time jobs, who could spare the change to buy extra gifts. I shrugged off their advice - though I was a bit taken back by it! At that point, they had no idea the money I had saved, almost $77 dollars, from my allowance. 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 in Cambridge City 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 weeks passed before Christmas finally came and I had forgotten about my good deed.

Until Christmas morning. 

It was then that 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 hard to never let us kids know how bad things really were for our family. 

They raised us to understand that there are people so poor, the only thing they have is money.

I’m merely Facebook friends with the gal who told me this story years ago. I think of her often, certainly more during the cold winter months. I smile each time I remember her story that embodies the holidays, the irony in life, and the blessing of having selfless parents. 

I still appreciate the thought that 
there are people so poor, 
the only thing they have is money. 

That thought sure makes the mouse trap in our silverware drawer more tolerable.

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.