What I saw at the border with Mexico …

I stood on a large rock and watched a Mexican man cross the Rio Grande River in southwest Texas.  This was not an official crossing, and no one was around except for people like myself and my husband, hikers hiking along a desolate trail near the U.S.-Mexico border.

At first I saw the man sitting with a friend in a couple of lawn chairs on the other side of the river. They were chatting under some gnarled Texas cottonwood.

The Rio Grande is so narrow at this juncture, maybe sixty feet wide, I could hear their voices, their laughter.

Next to their campsite, a corral fenced three horses nickering and munching on hay.  Soon, one of the men raised himself up out of his lawn chair, pulled a cap down over his head, and climbed on the back of a sorrel-colored horse.

Where was he going?  Watching from the opposite bank of the river, in another country, felt like I was peering out a window at a cultural drama.

The Mexican trotted his horse for a while along a sandy embankment that was sloughing away.  Then he leisurely crossed where a large gravel bar spanned much of the river.  As soon as he was on the American side, he disappeared in the trees and brush.  Probably hiding, I thought.  But no.  The man soon emerged, his horse still sauntering.

“I’d like to meet him and say hello,” my husband said, as if we were emissaries sent from earth to greet the aliens.

“What if he’s a drug runner?  The drug cartels operate near here.  Remember those women and children that were killed along the border?  And what about that family that was attacked last week?”

Watching our Mexican man peacefully riding his horse, my comment seemed ludicrous.  Around a bend in the trail we saw some trinkets and a plastic jug lined up on a pile of rocks.  A little note said:  “Thank you for your purchase.  Your donation will help school children.”  Whose school children?  Likely this Mexican man’s. The trinkets—scorpions, tarantulas, and road runners made of meticulously twisted wire and beads—were labeled with prices.  Most of them cost five dollars, but some were tagged seven.

I looked up and saw that the man on the horse had stopped at a similar cache of trinkets down the path.  He slid off his horse, and picked up the plastic money jug, dumping what money was there, into his hands.  He was a businessman checking his sales.  Capitalism at its finest.  Free enterprise, or unfree perhaps.

We walked on down the trail toward the Mexican.  He looked up, and we waved and said, “Buenas dias!”

In broken English he told us his name was Benicio and asked us if we were interested in buying one of his trinkets.  He picked up the scorpion with its beaded tail.  As we looked over his merchandise, I asked him if he was worried about the border guards finding him.

“Los guardias fronterizos no son problema (the border police are not a problem),” he told us.

One of the items he had for sale was a walking stick covered with pictures of bright green cactus.  Along one side of the stick was written a distinctive message from our neighbors to the south:  “NO WALL.”

Driving on the way to our Texas hiking spot, we saw the border wall in El Paso.  Through the metal mesh of the wall I saw a city bus pick up people in Juarez on the Mexican side.  Buildings seemed smaller and older in Juarez, but more colorful. Adobe exteriors were painted aqua, yellow, and pink.  A thought came to me then:  if the wall was built to fence out Mexicans, why did I feel so fenced in?  I wanted to cut through the wall mesh and walk past the dry arroyo, to an old mission church I saw in the distance.

 

All image credit:  Diana Hooley

 

 

Night skies at Christmas: all is calm, all is bright

I live on the Snake River where there’s little light pollution at night to dim the stars of a December sky.  Night skies are so black here, our area is under consideration for designation as an IDSP (International Dark Sky Place).  Sometimes, after supper when the sun’s set, I like to take a walk down the gravel road near my home.  I slip a miner’s light around the top of my head to help me see in the dark.  Usually at least once on my walk, I’ll reach up and click the headlight off to stare at the spray of stars in the sky overhead. As the song says, all is calm, all is bright.

One night many years ago I was watching the sky and saw a remarkable thing. All the stars were twinkling except one. It looked like a small white smudge on a dark canvas.  I went back inside the house to get a jacket and my binoculars. Through the binoculars I could easily see the tail of this “star.” The year was 1986, and I was viewing something people see only once every 75 or so years:  Halley’s Comet.

We miss so much in the night sky asleep in our beds. 

Ten or so years after viewing Halley’s Comet, I was jogging in the early morning dark, and suddenly the sky lit up like it was broad daylight.  It was so bright I could see our neighbor’s house a quarter of a mile away.  I stopped jogging a moment and just stood there in the middle of the road, awestruck.  The natural world took notice of the sudden light too. The perennial rustling of ducks, birds, and other wild life along the river hushed, and the only sound I heard was the gentle lapping of water.

At first I thought this strange phenomenon was an aurora borealis, but the Snake River flood plain is not really in the auroral zone.  Later I realized it was most likely another meteor streaking through space and blazing out above me in earth’s outer atmosphere.

If I was from an ancient civilization, a nomadic culture for example, living somewhere in the Middle East, I might have thought this flaming star—a sign.  

Others have noticed the spectacular night sky here on the Snake River.  In the next valley over, the Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park has a public observatory and hosts star shows March through October.  I’ve seen the rings of Saturn and fantastical nebulae formations through their big “Obsession” telescope.  But much can be seen with just the naked eye.  Every morning now, around 5 o’clock, Mars rises in the east.  It’s a distinctive-looking planet with its ochre color.  Could we ever live on Mars, I wonder?

I think about this sometimes, star gazing Idaho skies, whether mankind could exist on other planets.  I’ve never wanted to leave earth, but I worry about the devastating effects of climate change. There is no “Planet B” though.  Scientific and international reports on the environment have made this very clear. We need to take better care of the planet we live on: this beautiful blue globe, this special Christmas ornament hanging in space we call earth.

Image Credit:  Night skies         Image Credit:  Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park telescope      Image Credit:  Earth in space

Costumes of Christmas past: bathrobes and a worn-out farm jacket

(Some Christmas humor: ho! ho! ho!)

When someone talks about holidays and costumes, it’s natural to assume they’re talking about Halloween.  Few consider that Christmas is really the costume “time of year.”  But I’ve had several personal experiences with Christmas costumes.  I’ve worn a white sheet and been an angel (a totally different look for me).  I’ve also dressed up as Santa’s reindeer (until my antlers slid forward and turned me into Santa’s bull).  And then there was the time I attempted holiday glamour.  The toy soldier earrings and glittery blouse that shed like a North Pole husky, sort of dampened the effect.

I’ve seen others wear interesting Christmas costumes too.  One Christmas, the little country church near our farm staged a children’s nativity.  The lead characters were my 3-year-old twin, niece and nephew.  They wore bathrobes and scarves tied around their little heads.  Tucker played Joseph and Macy was Mary.  Baby Jesus was a doll placed in a wooden box with some straw peeking out the edges to simulate a manger.

For a while all went as planned.  Up on the stage, Macy and Tucker made a miniature still-life of the holy family.  Off to the side, the pastor wearing a cowboy hat (a Christmas costume known only to males living out West) held a mike as he narrated the Christmas story.  Everyone in the audience was enchanted until Macy and Tucker got into a fight (twins do that from time to time).  After a little shoving, Macy’s budding acting career came to a crying halt.

Somewhere in the narration, maybe the part about the Prince of Peace coming as a babe, Macy, tear-streaked and angry, reached in the box and grabbed baby Jesus by the arm.

Then she walloped Tucker with the holy child, and stomped off the stage, tripping on her too-big bathrobe.  Moments later she was in her mother’s arms, a nativity pose of another sort.

Each year though, probably the most ubiquitous Christmas costume is the Santa Claus costume.  This is the only outfit I know of guaranteed to look great on plus-size figures.  Some would say Santa comes in all sizes and shapes.  I’ve seen garden gnomes dressed up as Santa, and dogs dressed up as Santa, and Santas on surfboards in Hawaii.  Naturally drawn to costumes and cover-ups, bank robbers make the most ironic Santas.  Most are too skinny though.  Still, my husband, though not a bank robber but definitely skinny, played Santa Clause for our children one Christmas—and they were completely fooled.

At the time, we lived in a little farm house with a wood stove planted in the center of the kitchen.  I’d have preferred a grand home with a fireplace, but at that economic juncture of our young marriage, we were more hillbilly than nobility.

Leading up to Christmas, I’d read to my children Clement Clarke Moore’s The Night Before Christmas several times, so they knew the way Santa’s visit was supposed to go down—and that was literally through the chimney.

Without a fireplace, I told the kids to gather around the wood stove.  The narrow pipe leading from the stove through the roof was technically a chimney.  I opened the stove door and we all peered into the cold, blackened wood of a dead fire.  Then we heard a muffled, “Ho! Ho! Ho!  Merry Christmas!  Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Annie’s eyes grew wide and Aubrey jumped up and down begging, “I want to see Santa!  Can we go outside and look on the roof?”

With a lot of coaxing I managed to steer my children toward bed.  My best argument was Moore’s poem.  Santa couldn’t come until, “The children were nestled all snug in their beds.”  Also, I knew my kids would be disappointed to see Santa straddling the peak of the roof wearing Levi’s and a worn-out farm jacket.  If there ever was a time where clothes made (or unmade) the man—this was the time.

 

 

Image Credit:  Diana Hooley’s son Sammy as reindeer Santa

Image Credit:  Diana Hooley’s son John, center as sheep at nativity scene

Image Credit:  Diana Hooley’s daughter Annie and Son John with cat in front of wood stove

 

 

 

Never Call Aunt Ruth a Turkey Bag

Anyone else considering a short-cut Thanksgiving?  You know, having a turkey burrito or better yet, reserving a table at the Golden Corral buffet?  It’s the go-to for Thanksgiving has-beens.  If kids look at Thanksgiving as just a big nasty vegetable meal, some adults see it as a big nasty day of food prep—for the chronically unprepared.  As I age I feel myself slipping into that category.

But this doesn’t have to be another Thanksgiving you nod off chatting with Aunt Ruth because you were up at dawn stuffing the turkey.  Make your Thanksgiving dinner preparations easy.  For example, you can save time and energy using turkey bags.

I’m very thankful for turkey bags (also thankful no one has ever called me that). 

Turkey roasting bags help you cook your bird fast. They’re especially great if your frozen turkey isn’t quite thawed.  Let’s face it: better your turkey cooked—than your goose.

Several notable women have also helped to lighten my load and shorten prep time for Thanksgiving.  One of my most admired is Mrs. Rhodes.  Mrs. Rhodes has amazing rolls (not to be confused with anatomical features).  You can find Mrs. Rhodes Dinner Rolls in the freezer case.  Along with Mrs. Rhodes, I greatly esteem that French woman…a scientist…first name Marie—oh yes, Marie Callender.  In her lab, Marie discovered the correct chemical formulation for great pies.Actually, Marie put me out of the pie-making business and allowed me to do other businesses like, well, reading novels and having manicures.  A few in my family have complained though.  They miss mom’s tough pie crust (the mafia could have used my crust to break some teeth).

Rather than succumb to guilt, I figured out how to deftly lift a frozen Marie Callender pie out of its factory made tin plate, and sit it in my own glass pie plate—making it look as if I’d made the pie myself.

TIP:  Marie Callender’s frozen pies are not an exact fit in normal pie plates, but if you let the pie thaw a little, you can spread the dough and filling out with your palms. One important thing to remember:  when the compliments come about your delicious pie, just smile. There’s no reason to be dishonest.

I’m also thankful this Thanksgiving for packaged dry gravy mix, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and Schillers seasoning salt.  Say what you will, you purists, those of you who never, ever venture into the inner aisles of the grocery store where all the bad processed carbs lay.  You may be willing to chop till you drop, or veg till you’re a drudge, but some of us want to enjoy Thanksgiving.

Ultimately though, it’s not what you eat, but what you do on Thanksgiving that makes the day special.  Do talk, and do laugh, and do love.  And, if that doesn’t work—do nothing.  That’s my goal now:  restful Thanksgiving followed by a peaceful Christmas.  Enough said.

 

Image Credit:    Diana Hooley           Image Credit:   Marie Callender Pie 

Driving Miss Nina

(What’s the age people quit driving?  How do you get loved one to give up the keys?)

Mom was eating a personal-pan-pizza I bought her for lunch when she made her big announcement.  She said she wasn’t going to drive much anymore—if at all.

I glanced across to my sister Lainey, who was eating lunch with us, but she kept her eyes focused on mom. I was surprised by mom’s announcement, but I shouldn’t have been.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that fatal crashes begin peaking at age 85, and mom was 86.

My mother has been a chauffeur and driver for as long as I’ve known her.

I remember being a little girl in the 1960’s and driving with mom in the front seat of the Chevy.  Seat belts weren’t mandatory back then, so when mom made a sudden stop, she threw her arm protectively across my chest to keep me from bonking my head on the dashboard.  In my lifetime, my mother has picked me up from junior high sleep-overs, high school choir practice, and the residence hall at college.  When I was about 19 mom taught me how to drive, and her days of hauling her oldest daughter places, finally came to an end.  But mom still ferried other people.  Even as an older woman she’s been the driver for many of her friends.  She’s taken Ellie and Dorothy to church, to doctor appointments, or just to get groceries.

“I know you had that little fender-bumper at the Albertson’s parking lot last week mom, but it doesn’t mean you have to quit…” my sister began.

Mom waved her hand at Lainey. “No-no, it’s time.  I don’t want to hurt anyone on the road, much less get myself killed.”

I know some seniors struggle to leave their driving days behind, but mom isn’t one of them.

One octogenarian neighbor refused to give up his keys even though he sometimes fought to stay awake at the wheel.  His wife decided she needed to drive with him, and tap his knee to keep him awake.  Another good friend was shocked when she heard the state of Idaho had issued a driver’s license to her 93 year-old father-in-law—especially since he was losing both his hearing and sight.  Then there was Fan.  She was a great-great aunt and a shirttail relative.  I sat in my car at a traffic light one day and watched Fan slowly make a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane.  Adding insult to injury, Fan then drove down a one-way street, the wrong way.  I honked along with everyone else, but Fan passed us all, head held high.

The American Auto Association said that almost 90 percent of seniors they surveyed thought giving up driving would be a big problem for them.

Sometimes concerned family members find creative ways to keep their loved ones off the road.  Families have anonymously reported grandpa to the DMV, knowing this would force him to retake the driver’s test.  Others have asked friends to “borrow” their grandmother’s car and “forget” to bring it home.  Another oft-used ploy is to accidentally hide or lose the car keys of an older driver.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” mom tried to assure my sister and me.  “I’m fine.  I’ve got several people lined up to drive me where I need to go.”

“Mom,” I told her, “I’m really proud of you for doing this.  I know it’s not easy.  And yet, you decided to make this choice on your own.”

I really was pleased with mom for acting so responsibly.  But at the same time, I knew giving up driving was a milestone, a marker that most people face only near the end of their life.  And so, a little voice inside of me, the child of the mother I love, anxiously whispered, “Stay with me mom.  It’s not time to go yet.”

 

Click here for more Diana Hooley posts on Life Passages.

Image Credit:   Driving Miss Daisy     Image Credit:  Driver and Dog

 

 

 

I heard the boom of a shotgun…

(Is hunting still a popular sport?  Why do we like the sport?  How do gun rights advocates complicate the sport of hunting?)

A penguin was standing on the welcome mat when I opened my front door.  It was Halloween, and I had a fistful of miniature Snicker bars and Reese Cups to give away.   But Halloween wasn’t the only thing on this trick-or-treater’s mind.

“Hey,” said a boy that looked about 11-years-old in a penguin costume. “Um…did you know there’s a deer in your field?”

“What?” I peered above his head and beyond him to the field beside our house.  “Yep, there’s a deer there all right.  They like to browse along the fields and river. Would you like some candy?”

“Well, if I take your candy would you let me shoot your deer?  See, it’s the last day of deer season and I haven’t got my deer yet.”

I placed a few pieces of candy in Mr. Penguin’s hand and called to my husband over my shoulder.  He’s the one who manages hunting on our property.  As I walked back down the hallway I thought about how hunting remains a rite of passage for many young men here in the rural west.  But the world is changing.  Could hunters and fall hunting ever become obsolete?

There are, after all, some good reasons not to hunt.  For one thing, despite recent research that says it’s okay to eat as much meat as you want, most nutritionists have been warning us for years to limit our consumption of red meat.  Some animal rights activists have eliminated meat entirely from their diet to protest the hunting and killing of animals.  Their main argument, and it’s a good one, is that animals are sentient, living creatures too.  Besides, they say, what chance do animals in the wild have against high-powered rifles with big scopes.

Others talk about the abundance of meat and protein sources already available in the supermarket.  Hunting is not necessary in modern times.  An elderly friend of mine would disagree with this line of thinking.  She told me once, “Growing up in the backwoods, we shot game to keep our bellies full.  All my brothers had shotguns.”  Then she looked up at me archly and said, “I sure hope you’re not one of these gun control nuts.”

Which brings me to another issue hunters contend with:  the political confusion surrounding owning guns.

Many sportsmen who own rifles and shotguns still believe in reasonable gun control legislation.

For militant gun rights advocates though, owning weapons is much more than sport.  For them, guns are power and independence.  Any threat to their owning whatever weapon they choose, including assault rifles used for killing other human beings, feels like a personal attack.

Yet given all these reasons not to hunt, every fall I see ample evidence in our river valley of people enjoying the sport of hunting. Outside my bay window this morning I heard the boom-boom of a shotgun shooting from somewhere among the islands on the river.  A duck hunter must be hoping for a holiday goose.  Off the far island I spot his silhouette.  He’s standing in the water wearing wader boots.  Suddenly he lifts his arm and signals his dog swimming toward him.  It’s an autumn tableau, beautiful and old as the changing seasons.

 

Image Credit:  Diana Hooley        Image Credit:  Diana Hooley      Image Credit:  Duck Hunter

Click here for more posts by Diana Hooley on Out West.

My Little Singing Problem

(How many people can’t sing?  How can you improve your singing?  What’s the one thing to remember if you want to join a choir?)

My son John is tall and handsome.  Smart too.  Lest you think I’m just a biased mother, I’m also going to say that John is so tone deaf if he hummed “Happy Birthday to You” on your big day, you wouldn’t recognize the melody.  John’s not the only one who can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  According to experts at BRAMS (International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research) about 60% of people have a hard time carrying a pitch. If you’ve watched the auditions for American Idol you already know this though.

Singing for me has also been a problem—but for a very different reason. 

Several people have told me I have a pretty voice.  Some have even used the words “beautiful voice.”  To which I usually respond with batted eyelashes and an “aw shucks” kind-of false humility. Hearing so much of this kind of feedback is probably the main reason I’m such an overly confident, robust (to put it mildly) singer.  I’ve internalized these compliments over the years and at some level, close to, well, conscious thought, I must be convinced the world needs to hear my voice.  You have to sing loud if your audience is the world.

Both my mother and her mother, Grandma Verna, were loud singers.

I remember my Grandma Verna singing “The Old Rugged Cross” at the Baptist church.  Her voice sounded like God with a megaphone.  Inevitably, little kids in the pew in front of us would turn around to watch Grandma Verna sing, “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross . . . ”  So, maybe it’s a genetic thing.  Kind of like being overweight.  Some people have low metabolism and some people have big larynx’s.  Shout-singing just feels normal to us.

Despite my little problem, I’ve enjoyed singing in choirs and choral groups for many years.  Which doesn’t mean I haven’t been politely informed on several occasions that I’m “over-singing.”  Still, I find I can hardly help myself.  It’s just too much fun to belt out songs like an opera singer with a horned Viking helmet on my head.  I have to repeatedly remind myself, over and over again like a mantra:  the goal of a choir member is to blend in . . . the goal of a choir member is to blend in.

Adding insult to injury, I’m not only a loud singer, I’m a loud singer with a lot of vibrato, or as is commonly known in the vernacular: a wobbly voice.

“And please folks, (chorus leaders have instructed), could you (meaning me) tone down the vibrato?”

Which is a hard thing to do.  Just ask Dolly Parton. Over the years I’ve come to find out what having a naturally loud singing voice means: I’ve got the pipes, but not the training.  According to AskaVocalCoach engaging your diaphragm when you sing helps you control your air and your volume .  Everyone sings better when they learn how to control their breathing.  Even singing more quietly requires as much, if not more, air and breathe control.

Singing at all volume levels and on pitch then, is doable.  It just takes a lot of practice.  Practice I’m not likely to engage in at this point in my life.  I guess I’d rather accept my singing as is.  Because really, technical proficiency is only part of the equation when it comes to making music.  The other is spirit.  And despite my volume challenges and my son John’s pitch problems, these issues have never stopped either of us from singing full-hearted and full-throated–whenever we’ve felt like it.  And who would ever want to change that?

 

Click on this link for more Diana Hooley posts on Life Passages.

Image Credit:  American Idol     Image Credit:  Little girl singing     Image Credit:  Dolly Parton

 

 

These Kids! Warning: the Generation Gap Lives!

(Who are the Millennials?  Why do techy people like nature?  How did fighting with our parents’ generation make us better?)

“They may not want a traditional family,” my son-in-law, Simon, told me explaining the difference between his generation and the Millennials, the 20 and 30-year-olds he works with as an engineer.  We were watching Simon’s children, my grandchildren, building a science project at the kitchen table.

“Yeah,” I said, “They’re just a bunch of slackers.”  I was being flippant, but Simon wanted to make a point.

“What?  No, no, that’s not what I mean.  Millennials work hard too.  They just have different ideas.”

I’ve been largely oblivious to the new generations coming up, the “Z’s” and the “X’ers.”  These alphabet labels make the next generation sound like they just stepped out of an elementary classroom instead of into adulthood.  I’d trade being called Baby Boomer for Generation W (standing for “wise,” of course).  Baby Boomer sounds like the nickname for an overweight football player.  Or Baby Boomer is a big puppy that drools a lot.

Every 20 years or so we have a new crop of young people entering the work force and needing a label.  All these generational lines have blurred for me.  Maybe because I’m retired now.  There’s no need to compare salaries and work styles.  I don’t fear becoming irrelevant at the office.

But my ignorance doesn’t change the fact that with each generation there are new ways of being and doing that challenge past generations.  Millennial author, Noah Strycker, echoed my son-in-law’s comment.  He said 30-somethings were less family-oriented and more narcissistic. But they love nature and the outdoors, ironically, because they are so wired-in and techy.  Millennials know how to app information about any animal, rafting trip, or hiking trail within minutes, if not seconds.

Some age groups clash more than others though, and not just related to the work place.  I drove my mother back from her cardiologist appointment yesterday and she casually commented that her granddaughter, my niece, was living with her boyfriend.

“Mom, I can’t believe you said that.  Would you listen to yourself?  Forty years ago you had a near melt-down when I suggested living with my boyfriend.”

“It’s still wrong!  The institution of marriage is being trampled on.  This younger generation just doesn’t seem to care . . .”

My parents are good people but as a baby boomer, I experienced far more generational conflict between them and myself, than I do between me and my own children.  I remember my dad shaking his fist at the evening news on TV as he watched footage of long-haired hippies living in communes and trespassing on private land.  Of course, our generation responded in kind.  We sang songs with lyrics that said:  “What gives you the right to put up a sign to keep me out—and keep Mother Nature in?”  Our generational divide was popularized back then as a generation “gap.”

Though I get along with my own children better than my parents did with me, I may be taking credit where none is deserved.  Sociologists tell us that my parent’s generation, the generation born at the front of the Great Depression, experienced not only a major economic crisis, but also a world war.  Their age group is known as the Silent Generation for good reason.  They like peace and are risk-adverse.  They don’t like rocking the boat.  Understandably then, they had trouble with the loud protests and counter culture movements we baby boomers engaged in.

The Silent Generation or the Greatest Generation if you prefer, are slowly leaving us. 

It’s exciting to read about Gen-X’ers like Elon Musk, the Tesla engineer, or Greta Thunberg, a Generation Z’er whose passion for climate politics is igniting change.  But as we embrace these younger people and their achievements, we cannot forget the smart, brave generation that came before us.  We fought with them, yes, but it’s often the clash of ideas, from one generation to the next, that define us.  That struggle, can and does, propels us forward.

Click on this link for more Diana Hooley posts on Life Passages.

 

Image Credit: Millennials     Image Credit: Noah Strycker’s book     Image Credit: Greta Thunberg

Fifteen Minutes of Fame is Best

(What’s in your toothpaste?  Why should we remember David Crosby?  Whose buried on our farm?  How many statues of Lenin are there in Moscow?)

Have you ever brushed your teeth with Colgate’s “Total” toothpaste?  The one with the nice minty smell?  Every peppermint harvest here on the farm I remember how the Colgate-Palmolive company bought our peppermint oil, the oil we distilled from our peppermint crop.  They used it in their Total brand toothpaste.  I think it’s our biggest claim to fame.  What’s yours?  Did you win a jackpot at Jackpot, Nevada?  Are you the aunt of an almost-famous singer?   The brother of a championship athlete?  Maybe the local newspaper wrote about your incredible lab that was lost at Wild Willy hot springs but found its way home, 500 miles north to Boise, Idaho.

Almost everyone has their 15 minutes (or seconds) of fame: their picture framed as employee-of-the-month or their name listed as a donor for an important cause. They even might write a blog that some people like to read.  It’s heady.  It’s intoxicating. It’s very short-lived.

One time I had to rent the old movie, Rudy, about a Notre Dame football star, because my brother Dan was in the film.  He’d responded to a casting call for movie extras, and got a part. Dan played a security guard at a Notre Dame game.  I sat through most of Rudy waiting to see my brother, the movie star.  Finally, near the end, I got a brief glimpse of Dan’s face as the camera panned the crowd in the football stadium.

Some people want more than 15 minutes of fame though.  They want to not only be known, but remembered.  I thought about the “Emily Doe” who was a victim of rape four years ago.  Last month she published a book about her horrific experience, using her real name, Chanel Miller, as the author, and titling it: Know My Name.  And then there’s David Crosby, the folk-rock musician, whose biopic this past summer was entitled: Remember My Name.  Why, I asked myself, should we remember David Crosby?  I mean I liked his music, but he’s not Jesus Christ.  He’s not even Elvis Presley.

Being a ruler or a monarch doesn’t necessarily gain you lasting fame either.  Only a select number of world leaders manage to make it into our history books—and some of those may not deserve all the attention they get.  We only know about King Tut because of the way he was buried.  A minor ruler, King Tut is celebrated largely because of his golden image sculpted on the surface of his magnificent burial sarcophagus.  Somewhere on our farm a pioneer man or woman are supposed to be buried whose accomplishments likely far surpassed King Tut’s. We know for sure they endured the danger and hardship of crossing the Oregon Trail so they could find a better life for themselves and their families.

Often dictators and authoritarian rulers attempt to extend their fame, their time in the public eye, for as long as they can.  They want to cement their power.

The Hitlers, the Lenins, and the Maos made sure their names, their images, and their words were everywhere.  The result being that today, there are 80 Lenin statues in Moscow, alone.  In China, Mao’s image is plastered on walls and billboards everywhere.  If these autocratic leaders were alive now, no doubt they’d have their names emblazoned at the top of casinos and towers.  They’d be tweeting feverishly every day, sending messages out to their followers.

But fame is fleeting—and that’s a comforting thought.

Some people can be in the spotlight too long.  They can overstay their welcome.  Fame, by its very nature, is bright and brief.  Our attention spans are short, and besides, there are many others waiting in the wings with new thoughts and other stories, better stories, to tell.

(Click on this link for more Diana Hooley blogs on Current Events.)

Image Credit: Total toothpaste       Image Credit:  Know My Name         Image Credit:  Trump Tower

I’m Going Back to the Plough

(Which is better: city life or country life?  Why do people move?  How big is Boise, Idaho?)

I’m moving out of the city and going back to live, full-time, on the farm.  According to Allied Van Lines moving is not that unusual since in a lifetime most people change homes about 11 times (my mother moved nine times within a five-year period).  The majority of moves people make are local, from an apartment to a house in the same city, for example.

But people in my age group, the baby boomers, are the least likely of any demographic to make a big move. 

Generally, older adults have finally paid the mortgage off and are unwilling to take on any new debt, especially house loans.  And if they do change homes, they want to live closer to town, not further away.  They want to be nearer their family, goods and services, and especially medical facilities as they age.

None of those issues mattered to me though, when I decided to move back to the farm.  I simply wanted to find more peace and quiet and less rush and riot. I saw Elton John’s biopic, Rocketman, this past summer, and while I was packing boxes for my big move I found myself singing along with Elton’s “Yellow Brick Road”:  “So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl, you can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough…”

The farm does have plows, which means work, so the lifestyle has not always been my panacea.  The first twenty years of my married life I plied, if not plowed, our farm.  I remember walking field roads dreaming of city streets and city lights.  I’d become a hay seed, but I longed to make hay in the big city.  I couldn’t shake wonderful memories of being a young college girl in downtown Philadelphia.  I loved the beautiful fountain at Logan’s Circle with the sculptured winged gods spouting water.  Down the boulevard from Logan’s Circle was the magnificent Philadelphia Art Museum.

I finally got the chance to leave the farm once my children were raised, and after I’d made a career change.

I moved to the biggest city around: Boise, Idaho, population 226,570.  It wasn’t the Big Apple but it was a fairly Large Potato.  When I made that move a farm girlfriend of mine asked me, “What does the city have that the country doesn’t–besides shopping?”

I thought (but didn’t say): you plebian!  A country girl could never understand the excitement, the energy, of so many people working and thinking and creating, in one big, buzzing place.  Even Michelangelo said, “I have never found salvation in nature.  I love cities above all.”

But I came to discover my plebian friend had a point.  Though cultural centers, cities are shopping meccas for most people.  In terms of daily living, this is their biggest draw.  It took some time, but eventually I found the gridlock and traffic jams a poor trade for the peace allotted to those who live among the wheat fields.

Another friend, Donna, said, “Won’t you be bored living out on the farm again?”

Maybe.  But I’m beginning to understand the upside of boredom, how it motivates you to engage with all the little things you missed before, like the litter of kittens out by the barn.  Besides, every day’s not meant to be a bell-ringer.  If you can’t stand the lethargy of time, you’ll die young—or at least sooner from rushing about so much.

So, it could be I’m moving back to the farm to save my life—or savor it. 

Really it doesn’t matter. If I’m honest, it’s how you live, not where you live that matters.  Early this morning in the dark, I opened up the back patio door on the Snake River rushing past.  When I looked up, a spray of stars twinkled in the sky.  I took a big breath, and smelled the freshly cut hay in the field next to our house.  Mornings on the farm are the best.

Tap on this link for more posts on Life Passages like moving out of a home.

Image Credit: packing boxes        Image Credit:  Rocketman        Image Credit:  old barn photo by Diana Hooley