Heritage Sketch: Grandpa Lowell

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You grew up as the third oldest of twelve. Needless to say your house was crowded and at times chaotic, with twelve rambunctious kids vying for attention, space, and food. When you got married at eighteen you had a massive growth spurt because you suddenly had more than enough to eat.

Your family is enormously artistic. At our family reunions everyone contributes things they’ve created to an auction in order to finance the reunion. Your main mediums are photography and wood turning. You make the most gorgeous wooden bowls and decorative trees to sell at galleries and give as gifts.

Sometimes you stay quiet and in the background of conversations, but if the subject changes to something you’re passionate about the floodgates open, and you talk and talk and talk. Your favorite topics are probably art and food, which are also interests of mine. You love to tell me insider details about your wood turning, especially when the pieces are made from trees on our property.

For eighteen years you dug graves at a cemetery for a living. It was backbreaking work, but you enjoyed spending such a large portion of your days outside. You love the great outdoors and some of your favorite activities include feeding the birds, taking nature photography, and gardening.

You have the highest tolerance for spicy food of anyone I’ve ever met. We’ve all learned to not believe you when you tell us, “just try it, it’s not too spicy.” You love canning hot pickles that only increase in temperature as they sit in the jar, and experimenting with ingredient ratios to create the perfect fiery salsa.

For the holidays you often smoke a turkey, and it’s quite the process. You carefully select ingredients, some common such as sage and cumin, and others less common such as sliced lemons and molasses. You even choose specific types of wood (maple, apple, and cherry) to build the fire in the smoker. No wonder our turkeys always have such incredible flavor!

I love your smoked turkey, but even more importantly, I love you and can’t wait to see you in 3 short days!

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Heritage Sketch: Grandma Mina

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When you were nine, your family moved from Idaho to Florida. You loved playing in the swamp near your home until one day, your Dad found out, and took you to the swamp at dusk. He shined a flashlight into the wetland to reveal gleaming alligator eyes. Needless to say you never played in the swamp again.

Between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights Movement the climate in Florida was tense to say the least. One day you and your Mom were sitting on your front porch when you heard a rumbling sound the next block over. You went to investigate and discovered flatbed trucks casually carrying missiles through the town. Shortly thereafter you moved back to Idaho.

You always wanted to be an archeologist, but the school counselor told you that your family was too poor to afford college so you should just take office classes in high school and become a secretary. I have always wondered how your life would’ve been different if you had pursued archeology. You did have a lot of interesting jobs, from monitoring the border between Canada and Idaho, to working with troubled boys at a boarding school, to writing commercials for a radio station, but I still wish you would’ve had the chance to live out your dream. In your willingness to put a positive spin on any situation, however, you always say you wouldn’t have been able to handle the heat of archeological digs anyway.

Within a month of graduating high school you married your high school sweetheart. You had my dad at eighteen, and he had me at twenty-two, and the scant forty years between us has allowed us to become very close. You and I have discussed at great length how similar we are. I can’t think of someone I would rather look and be like.

You are one of the most selfless people I know. Out of the overflow of your heart you continually take stray animals and wayward boys into your home. You even took in Abby, the meanest of mean cats. Oh Abby, cornering us in the bedrooms and swatting at our legs as we walked by. But you and Grandpa loved her, and that was what mattered.

Your craft room has always been one of my happy places with it’s golden walls and overflowing jars of buttons and drawers of stamps. Some of my best memories with you involve sun-speckled afternoons sitting at the big table, making cards and talking about our deepest fears and longings. I’ll miss that craft room, but I’m you glad you finally get to move back out into a cabin in the woods.

As we always tell each other, I love you to the moon and back! I can’t wait to see you in 10 short days!

Heritage Sketch: Grandpa Ron

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You and I grew up in very different times and very different homes. You have two older sisters, and often commiserate with my little brother on just how bossy big sisters can be. Your home was not the most loving of environments, and as such you spent much of your childhood outside, freely roaming your hometown. On hot summer days, you and your cousin Don loved to ride your bikes off the end of the dock into Lake Coeur d’ Alene. In your teen years, you spent most of your time at the hoops on the lakefront, playing basketball with your buddies in your black hightop converse.

Our different upbringings have shaped us to see the world through vastly different lenses, and as such, we sometimes butt heads. However, I’m realizing that despite our clashes, deep down we share some remarkable similarities.

You thrive when your life is orderly and structured, and I also function dramatically better when I get to follow a routine. For you, every morning at 10AM sharp is cookie time. If you’re not going to be at home at 10AM, you always plan ahead and bring cookies with you. And then, every afternoon, shortly before dinner, it’s chips and salsa time. Chips and salsa time is especially fun if we’re camping because you like to buy funky chips for us to try. One of your staple favorites is pork rinds, and, because of your influence, I am also a fan of pork rinds. (Yes, I know what pork rinds are made of, but I choose not to think about it.)

From you I inherited my insatiable desire to explore. You spent quite a few years of your life working for the US Forest Service, and as such, explored the woods of North Idaho for a living.You and grandma often take off in your travel trailer to see new parts of the country, and you’re also better than anyone I know at being a tourist in your own city.

I have many memories of riding in the back of your big grey truck to go on adventures. The cousins and dogs would pile into the back, fighting over who got to sit on the box and singing at the top of our lungs as we drove up the mountain to pick huckleberries on Deer Ridge. You would always back us right up to the edge of the gravel switchback when parking, making us shriek with fear. There was that time you got pulled over for having us in the back and talked your way out of a ticket. You’re good at that. One of the mantras you live by is “some rules are meant to be bent while others are meant to be broken.” But you never put us in danger.

The cab of your truck always contains three things: old gatorade bottles filled with water, road atlases of the Pacific Northwest, and a blue plastic box with a broken lid full of hard candy. The first is because you, like me, always like to be prepared. The second is also indicative of something we share – a love of maps. And the third is something you are never without – sweets. You always bring candy on hikes and bike rides to distribute at the halfway point. You have a special affinity for Mexican candy because it reminds you of the many missions trips you led to Chihuahua City, Mexico. But your all-time favorite hard candy is Atomic Fireballs. When I was younger, I was always too scared to try them, but one day I finally took the plunge, and they quickly became my favorite as well. When I left for college my freshman year, you gave me a ziplock bag of Atomic Fireballs to remind me of home. I purposefully rationed them so I could eat them on particularly hard days and think of you.

And now I get to see you so soon! Only 18 more days until I get to come home and have more adventures with you!

Heritage Sketch: Grandma Loree

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As a little girl you tried to learn the violin, and always wanted to grow your hair long so you could wear a baseball cap, and pull your ponytail through the hole on the back. Neither dream came to fruition, so instead you’ve lived vicariously through your daughters and granddaughters, with our long blonde tresses and musical endeavors. You always insist on standing next to me in church to hear me sing, and although singing is already one of my favorite things to do, it brings me special joy when I know you are listening.

Your husband affectionately calls you Loree-o. He made you a license plate with that nickname on it, and one day it fell off while you were driving to Valley View Elementary School where you taught cursive and multiplication to third graders. At the end of the school day, a little boy came running up to you in the parking lot and handed you your license plate. You were mortified that the license plate was so easily recognizable as yours.

When you were twenty-five, you gave birth to one baby girl, quickly followed by a second, unexpected baby girl. In the days when a healthy pregnancy meant no ultrasounds, you managed to carry twins for eight months without knowing it. You and your husband had only picked out one girl name, Mia, and one boy name, Michael, so you quickly changed Michael to Michelle, and decided that, with the twins, your family was complete. Forty-three years later, your twins are still the best of friends, unintentionally matching, and confusing friends and strangers alike in the grocery store of the tiny town where they both live.

You’ve always loved children’s books. Every year for Halloween you would dress up for your class as the dreadful Viola Swamp from Miss Nelson is Missing. When we lived far away in Massachusetts and the cousins lived in Texas you started recording yourself reading books on tape for our listening enjoyment. One day, the cousins had their jeep broken into, and the thief stole their radio with a tape of you reading The Cat in the Hat still inside. To this day, we fall into hysterics when we imagine a gruff robber plugging in the stereo to hear you reading “I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.”

You can’t stand leftovers, and always crumple your napkin and put it on your plate at the end of a meal. I have many wonderful memories of gathering around your oval table in the dining nook with so many window at the yellow house on Wildhorse Lane. On the first night we arrived you would usually serve chicken and dumplings because you knew it was my favorite.

One year, when all of the cousins were young, you decided to host a family talent show at Christmas. I’m sure us kids did something fun and adorable, but distinctly unmemorable. Your son-in-laws, however, got up and reenacted the sisters scene from White Christmas complete with blue feather boas and theatrical winks, and it was so funny that we decided to make the talent show an annual event called the Family Showcase. Over ten years later, we’re still going strong.

You are so good at listening, at asking questions that make people open up, and letting them know that you hear them. I can’t wait to come home and sit on the plaid couch in your cozy living room and swap stories of the adventures we’ve had since August. Only 25 more days till I see you again!

The Music We Breathe

As I sit on my bed, two weeks before finals, trying in vain to write a research paper, my thoughts drift back to a typical summer day at home…

I wake up to a cool breeze kissing my slightly sunburned cheeks. When I open my eyes, they are bathed in the golden glow of summer sunlight. Sweet birdsong floats through the open window, and downstairs I hear the familiar melody of George Winston’s “Fragrant Fields” playing through our Sonos wireless speaker system.

I go downstairs to greet my early bird mother. At 7AM she’s already spent a solid hour in her beloved garden, pulling weeds, and checking on the progress of the tomatoes and cucumbers and raspberries. Now she’s back in the kitchen, making homemade granola, and listening to our favorite summer soundtrack – George Winston’s album entitled Summer.

As I get ready for the day, I listen to Hillsong United’s Zion album on my laptop. Lately I’ve been feeling spiritually dry and complacent, so I’m trying to make a conscious effort to fill my mind and heart with truth. Hearing the familiar melodies paired with the lyrics “Who loved me through my rebel way/Who chose to carry all my shame/Who breathes in me with endless life/The king of glory Jesus Christ” helps me keep my desperate need for God in the center of my thoughts.

Once I am ready for the day, I decide to run some errands in town. By now my mom is listening to Journey so I yell, “Where are the keys?” over the rich chords of “Faithfully” flowing out of the speakers in the living room.

I find the keys and turn on our Honda Pilot to find the stereo blasting “Long Time Gone,” another summertime favorite by The Dixie Chicks. I keep the volume up, and drive the quick 1.7 miles into town with the windows down, singing all the way.

As I walk back into the house with my arms full of mail and library books and milk, I am met by the thud-crash, thud-thud-crash of my brother practicing on the drum set in the basement. Even though he’s wearing headphones, I can tell by the distinctive pattern I hear that he’s playing along to “Just Like Lightning” by Press Play.

My sister emerges from her room and says, “I just found this awesome new song that I HAVE to show you!” I follow her and hear the acoustic goodness of “All I’ve Ever Needed” by A.J. Michalka for the first time.

While my sister is showing me her newest song discovery, my cousins come bursting through the front door in a whirlwind of noise and excitement. They’re singing “Share It With Me” by Family Force 5, bringing back memories of an old family joke. My aunt has dropped them off so they can go to the pool with my siblings. Their constant chatter and energy would give the impression that we hadn’t seen them in months, but in reality they come over to go to the pool at least three days a week.

As the oldest cousin, and the one with a driver’s license, I have become the designated pool driver. My cousins insist that we listen to Lindsey Stirling at max volume with the windows down. I willingly oblige, effectively earning bonus cool cousin points.

When I arrive back home, I immediately get into my dad’s car to run into town with him. I love that lazy summer days give me the gift of time to spend with my dad. He has a sporty blue Honda Accord with fantastic car speakers. The best part of his stereo system is the subwoofer in the back seat that allows you to truly feel the music, whether you want to or not. We put on “Louder” by D.J. Fresh. My dad has discovered that if you time it just right and start the song right before getting on the freeway, the combination of the music building and the car accelerating simulate taking off in an airplane.

By the time we get back from our errands, my mom is grilling chicken with garden-fresh peppers and onions on the deck to make fajitas for dinner. George Winston’s Summer album is playing for the second or third time, but none of us really mind.

After dinner, it’s time for our favorite nightly routine. Tonight my brother and I are on the dishes schedule, so we set out to pick what Pandora station best fits our mood. We decide on our guilty pleasure station, Pitch Perfect. In our house, dishes absolutely must be accompanied by dancing. Although my sister is off the hook for dishes tonight, she still chooses to join our dance party. My siblings are very good dancers, but somehow the coordination gene skipped me. I’ve got rhythm, but graceful I am not. However, in our kitchen, anyone can dance, and while I may not be a good dancer, I make up for my lack of skill with my enthusiasm. After thirty minutes of heavy dancing and light dishes, we decide it might be time to buckle down and finish the work.

…my roommate walks into the room, jolting me back to the reality that I’m still at college, and it’s not quite summer yet. But in two weeks I’ll be home again, where the music wiggles its way into every nook and cranny of our lives.