Saturday, June 28, 2014

Curlers, a Bra, and an Airplane Ride

I was a best man years before I was a bride.

And before that, I had been just about everything else in a wedding except the candle lighter, the musician, and the preacher.

After attending a wedding this month, I reflected on my own siblings’ weddings, one of which was in June. Why is June the month for weddings anyway? I prefer October.

My role as best man came at the spur of the moment for my sister Brenda’s small backyard nuptials. In fact, I wasn’t even planning on attending, but my plans changed as did the groom's son's. So, ta-da! I got to sign on the dotted line.

For Brenda's first wedding back in 1973, I was a flower girl. Oh, how I hated sleeping on curlers the night before—probably because we had been practicing my hairdo all week.

The planning of that wedding put me around kids my own age, something that rarely happened since I am the late comer in the family. And I loved it.

Nancy, my fellow flower girl and groom’s sister, taught me the word fart. I don’t know what our family called it before that. Dad still scolds me when I say the word around him. He doesn’t mind that act of it—just hates the word. Go figure. 

And Cameron, Nancy’s older brother, taught me how to cure hiccups by drinking backwards and bending over. Any student of mine knows that trick, and that it works.

I'm in the middle between Cameron and Nancy.

My oldest sister, Priscilla, married when I was in sixth grade. She asked me to be a bridesmaid and then added, “But Mel, will you wear a bra for my wedding?”

Back then, girls didn’t seem to develop as early as they do now, and in fact, I don’t think I even wore the thing after the wedding until Mom made me. Wearing the bra was no big deal, really, but having to stand up there for the entire ceremony was. 

And that night, when my Sissy was gone and I realized the house would never be the same without her, I turned to the wall and cried myself to sleep.

That's me on the far left.
Years prior to either of my sisters’ ceremonies, the family boarded an airplane to Detroit where my brother was marrying a city girl. This was only a couple days after my fourth birthday, so it is one of my earliest memories. A trip of a lifetime.

The stewardesses allowed my cousin Gordie and me to run up and down the aisle. They served us kiddy martinis: 7-Up in a clear cup with a maraschino cherry stuck in a fancy toothpick. 

And I still have my wings, the little airplane pin tokens they gave us. After this adventure, playing airplane became my favorite make-believe activity for years.

Cousin Gordie, my martini partner, escorted me over to my sister-in-law, Doris.

The funny thing about Doris and Elliott’s wedding? The pictures. Or lack thereof. The bride’s brother forgot to take off the lens cover, so the only photographs of the occasion are snapshots.

That picture fiasco is probably why I spent more on the photographer than anything else when I got married. Our six-guest wedding in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, was simple and quick. Just like our engagement period: three months. Just like our dating period: two weeks.

Now I would not encourage that for young people, but I think the man I picked has turned out to impress everyone. And soon it will be eight years already that I wore my little black dress to get married in. It still fits too—a little snug, but it fits.

My hairdo was not fancy. My bra was built into my dress. And the road driving there, with signs warning crooked and steep, scarier than any airplane ride.

Monday, June 23, 2014

On the Road Again—Alone

Driving 600 miles in a day by myself never used to phase me, but it sure does now—especially when it’s unknown territory. I attended my first professional Christian writers workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa, a short jaunt northwest of Waterloo where one of my nieces lives.

After 30-minutes of grip-the-steering-wheel driving at the Kansas City exchange, I drove state highways for most of my trek home and turned a 9-hour trip into a 12-hour one.

I thought I would feel safe. Safe away from speeding traffic. Safe with my speed. Safe that a little town would be coming up soon for a pit stop. Safe knowing if I made a wrong turn, I would not be 20 miles or more down the road before I could legally turn around—I did almost end up driving back to Waterloo the morning I left. So to return home, I took the less traveled roads and I ended up feeling all but safe.

I discovered I cannot see. I could not read the road signs until I was about as far away from them as I am at the doctor’s office when I sit in that chair reading those giant letters—now that may work for an eye exam but not for driving on highways.

My lenses are up-to-date, so maybe it is my age, but my husband sees fine. I just have bad eyes. Worn glasses since I was 8-years-old, pay the max for thin, light-weight, scratch-resistant, glare-free lenses, and gave up most night-time driving years ago because my astigmatism makes it more difficult. I just have poor eye sight. Must have been all that sitting too close to the TV when I was a child. Mom used to make me back up.

Garmin GPS is my husband’s friend, so why did I not plug her in? She was in time-out for not being up-to-date with the names of streets in Waterloo. I got all twisted around when I arrived, but a simple phone call to Jessica, my niece, straightened me out. Had I used Garmin on my way home, she would have announced the names of turns long before I could read them, so I could prepare. But no, my grudge kept her in the back seat. Yes, Garmin is a girl.

I enjoyed the morning view of storm clouds in the west, but that didn’t last long. The drive turned out to be as stressful as any clover leaf highway system. This time my wheel-gripping went on for more than 30 minutes as I contained the car to my side on the two-lane highway in blinding, pounding rain.

My wipers worked well and the sermons and radio talk shows kept me company. I wondered if I should pull over and ride it out, but no, I wanted no delays. I wanted to get home.

My prayer life was pretty active that morning too. I thought of my husband’s nephew, Daniel, who while I was gone, had a dangerous accident on the interstate near Tulsa. He’s okay, but a couple of vehicles are not. That was another reason I took back roads. Hearing of accidents when one is on a long trip is unnerving.

Driving in new territory never freaked me out like this trip did. I was more nervous about driving than I was to show published authors what I had written. How weird is that?

What would I do differently? A couple things. Call for person-to-person directions to my destination and use Garmin on the interstate back. Even though the turn-offs and exchanges by large cities make me nervous, it would have been less stress driving in torrential rain on a road with more room.

The road less traveled by, in this case, wasn’t worth the stress on my body and mind. And one more thing, I should have had a massage scheduled the morning after the trip—or in my case, maybe an eye doctor appointment.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dollars and Sense: A Lesson in Interest of a Different Kind

I bought my first PC, an AT&T computer, when fellow teacher, Ken Pitts, arranged a special deal for staff members in the district. This was back in the day with the good old C-prompt and MS DOS.

So how did I, a still-young, broke teacher who lived in a one-bedroom apartment with no cable TV, a car loan, and a small college loan payment afford it? By doing the second stupidest thing I've ever done in my life.

Now a-days, credit card offers arrive by mail tempting young adults, but this incident happened in the '90's when flyers were mailed announcing special loan deals with low monthly payments on x-number of dollars. My name was printed on it like a certificate. The loan amount, that I would automatically qualify for, stood out in bold. It looked like I had won something.

And I fell for it. I took out a loan to buy this $1200 computer. Did I go to my local Citizen’s State Bank in Cheney where I had my account? No. I went to the establishment that sent me that certificate—some bank in Wichita.

I took the flyer along, showed a couple paycheck stubs for verification, filled out the vital information, and ta-da! I had the cash to buy that PC: a keyboard, a tower with a 3X3 disk slot, a black and white monitor, and a mouse with three clicker buttons--no scroll button, mind you, and certainly not shaped to fit the palm of your hand let alone cordless.

My computer arrived, I put it to good use, and faithfully made my payments. When school was out for the year, I returned to South Dakota for a few months, and my parents knew I had bought a computer, for it made the trip with me.

At home sitting at the kitchen table paying bills, Dad noticed my coupon booklet. Remember those? We'd get the entire booklet and were expected to remember to send in the payment with the coupon. No bill came in the mail to remind us since the due dates were printed on each sheet.

So I am busy writing checks and paying my bills until Dad expressed surprise at my low, $35-a-month payment for this loan.

He asked what the interest rate was. I said, "I have no idea.”

He took a look at the paper work. Silence. Then came the discussion.

Did I even know what an interest rate was? And did I even ask the bank what the interest rate was for this loan amount? What was the length of the loan? Could I pay it off early without penalty?

After a scolding for my ignorance, Dad called the bank to discuss their marketing tactics used on young, naive women who do not have enough experience to even ask the right questions. Man, was he frustrated with me—and that bank.

After we found out the pay-off amount, Dad took the booklet, paid off the loan, and made me pay him the money instead of the bank.

The interest rate that the bank charged me, you ask? Thirty-one percent.

The interest rate Dad charged me? Zero.

The same interest rate I charged him when a few years later, he borrowed my three summer paychecks to help pay the aerial spraying on the farm.

Dad’s interest in me, of course, goes well beyond dollars and common sense to spiritual and Biblical concepts, but on this Father’s Day 2014, this is the story I’ve chosen to share publicly—one demonstrating a young girl’s I-wanna-be-out-on-my-own-ignorance and a father's forever-protective, guiding hand.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and a Slew of Yahoo

Ever tried keeping a streak alive?

Hey now, I did not ask if you have ever streaked, a phenomenon us Generation X'ers remember as a person unabashedly sprinting through a public place in his birthday suit. I've never witnessed a streaker; however, I do remember a report of one near Taco John's in Huron, South Dakota.

But I digress. Have you ever kept a streak alive? A streak as in a commitment to a repeated task or a promise to refrain from a bad habit? During Lent leading up to Easter, I know many practice sacrificing to focus on Christ's sacrifice for our sins on the cross.

But I am talking about a streak in practicing a hobby, creating a good habit, or breaking a bad one.

My pastor, Ken Cooper from West E- Free in Wichita, has a streak. One hundred months of water skiing. I asked him about it the other day. His 2014 January experience is a fascinating do-it-on-the-last-day-of-the-month story.

I've had a streak before. A no-pop streak. Fourteen years without it.

All due to a bet with Debbie Goehring. She dared me. We were at a football game during my freshman year of high school. She said I could not stop drinking pop. I counted up to 20 weeks and then quit counting--until 14 years later when I took a sip.

I was addicted to pop. Mom even let me drink Pepsi in an orange juice glass for breakfast. Baby of the family privileges, I guess.

My pop drinking days no doubt led to my mouth full of cavities. Probably lead to a few capped teeth, a root canal, and two years ago, a tooth implant. There is no way my lying about brushing my teeth as a little girl could have caused those cavities.

Why do kids hate to brush their teeth anyway? My niece Angela's two step-kids love to brush their teeth. They enjoy fruit, too. I bet they won't be spending thousands on their teeth as adults.

But I am pretty proud of those 14 years without drinking pop. All through high school. All through college. All through my first few years of teaching without drinking a single drop of pop.

Remember the new Coke? I have no idea what that ever tasted like. I did drink ginger ale, a carbonated beverage that some may consider pop, and sweetened iced tea. But how did I manage to attend all those basketball games, travel to California twice, Chicago, New York City, North Dakota, Oklahoma, plus all the trips home from Kansas to South Dakota without drinking a single soda pop? I guess I didn't frequent the concession stands much, and my pit stops must have involved only fueling up and going to the restroom. Heck, I probably did not have to go if I wasn't drinking pop!

What broke my streak? It was planned. I bought my house in July of 1995 and that New Year's Eve, I drank a Pepsi with my friend Adelyn Steele. The event was anti-climatic, not because I sent her home at 11:45--I think I did that--I just couldn't stay awake, but anti-climatic because it was nothing. Nothing but yuck. That first sip--pasty, thick, syrupy. Yuck. I hadn't missed much. I do drink pop every once in awhile now, but I certainly do not crave it.

As for streaks, I currently have one going. Writing every day. I have done it now for 23 days in a row. No, not publicly on a blog, but in a word processing document on a character that has been living in my head for 20 years.

You see, I used to get going on my writing, and then something would come up. Too tired. Unmotivated. Writer's block. Papers to grade. A TV show to watch. A class to take. A phone call to make.

But for some reason, this time, as of May 18, it stuck. I'm on a streak. Maybe I'll go 20 weeks straight, like that pop thing, and it'll turn into 14 years. That'd be sweet.

Do you have any streaks? I'd enjoy hearing about them, or maybe you want to make it official and declare your start of one, publicly, right here.

Friday, June 6, 2014

How Kindle Ignited a New Hobby

My Kindle turned a year old in May. Haven’t read this much since pursuing my English degree in the mid-80′s. Here are the gifts she’s given me.

Seven More Great Things about my Kindle

  1. I can read in the dark--it provides me light
  2. no noisy page turning while hubby's asleep
  3. read multiple works since stored on one device
  4. I don't have to grip anything, thanks to the Levo book holder--so well-worth the money!
  5. I can keep up with my book club's next picks--no need to travel to a book store
  6. I am reading! I have never considered it my hobby. Yes, I teach English and still say that. Writing is my first love--that's why I became an English teacher. I've always enjoyed the discussions, lessons, and projects surrounding what I've had students read, but reading just for the sake of reading hasn't been enjoyable to me until about five years ago. And now even more so, thanks to my Kindle.
  7. So, those of you who want time to read, make an investment in a device. I assure you, it's a purchase you won't regret.