I love to make things, and I love to save money. So I often combine the two, and buy craft supplies at thrift stores. I can get a gallon-sized Ziplock bag full of still-in-the-package zippers for $3.99 that way, instead of paying over $2 for each one. It just makes sense to me to buy 15 or 20 zippers for the cost of two, even if the colors aren’t all exactly what I was looking for or the materials of a few are less than ideal.
Even better than the savings, though, can be the unforeseen excitement inside. Today, I was sorting through my zippers, preparing to make some back-to-school pencil bags or something, and I noticed this kelly green number. I don’t often use the metal zippers, because, you know, in the cold of Minnesota winter, terrible things can happen. But for a simple pencil case, it should be fine. But then I looked a little closer.
Someone had crossed out the word “METAL”. Why would they do that? And they’ve written….”Nylon”? What? On an unopened zipper? So I opened it up to get to the bottom of this fascinating mystery.
Hm. What’s been written is true: it’s not a metal zipper at all. It is nylon indeed, and it’s slightly frayed on the end. It’s not unusual for me to find used zippers among my sack o’zippers, but they are never put back in their package. But wait. There’s more.
Seriously, this note is worth more than $3.99 all by itself. Forty years ago, this poor woman’s dress opened up, probably along the side or back, and left her more, um, exposed than she would like, even for springtime. So she bought a metal zipper to replace it, because, seriously, she loved that green flowered dress. Who wouldn’t? Now, this next part I don’t quite understand: rather than throw away the offending zipper, or tossing it into the “use for a pencil case” pile, she carefully cut scratch paper to fit the replacement zipper’s packaging, explained what had happened, then folded the offending nylon one exactly, and slid them both back in the package. I don’t think she tried to return it to the store, because she wrote on the package, too, that this was nylon, not metal. Eventually, I imagine, she died, and somebody donated her sewing supplies, and I wandered upon her note. Nothing this cool ever happens to me when I buy stuff in non-thrift stores.
I kind of want to make myself a green flowered dress now. But maybe I should look for a metal zipper.
I had to write an obituary last month. It was a doozy; I’m just going to let it speak for itself, as right now it’s all I have to say on the subject (though of course I have three million more things to say, and I also have no words at all). Sweet Jesus, this grieving is hard work.
But first, a photo, not seen even on my (bleak and heartbroken) Facebook page.
Officially the last photo I took of my mama. She’s watching Jess and Will and Emmy on the other side of the fence. I took it of her because of all the women I’ve ever met, I still think my mama is the prettiest of them all. I wish I had told her that when I took this picture. This was at Summerhill, on the Fourth of July this year. She would be dead in five days.
Myra Loy Johnson was born in Hendrum, Minnesota during a February snow storm to Art and Beulah (Putman) Johnson, the fifth of seven children. She graduated from high school in Hendrum, received her BS in elementary education from Moorhead State University, and taught in St. Cloud and Flint, Michigan before returning home to the Hendrum and Halstad school districts, where she taught kindergarten for over 25 years, and grades 3-6 for another several years. After retirement, she often worked as a substitute teacher, even into this past school year.
She fell in love with Dewey Johnson and they married on June 27, 1970. They had two daughters. After his stroke in 1986, Myra cared for Dewey at home until 1992, when he moved to the Halstad Lutheran Memorial Home, where he lived until his death in 2002.
As a farmer’s wife, Myra took up gardening with a passion, and for years planted a half-acre garden on the farm while maintaining two large in-town gardens, too. She loved to work in the dirt and the sunshine.
After her retirement, she founded a Red Hat Society in Hendrum, where ladies from around the area would come together, wear fancy clothes (if they liked), and socialize in many different ways. She also loved to travel with her dearest friends, and enjoyed trips to Oregon, Florida, New York, and the Caribbean, among many other places.
Myra was overjoyed at the birth of each of her three grandchildren, and cherished spending time with them, reading books, singing songs, making crafts, and planting gardens.
In her spare time, she was a voracious reader, and was instrumental in bringing the Lake Agassiz Regional Library LINK site to Hendrum. She was never far from a book or three. Her door was always open, the coffee pot was always on, and if anyone needed anything, Myra was there to help.
Myra was preceded in death by her parents and husband; two sisters, Sharon Arnold and Beverly Dyrendahl; and a brother, John Johnson. She is survived by her daughters, Jennifer (Shaun) Ganyo, Moorhead and Jessica (Brad) Karstens, Hendrum; her three grandchildren, V Ganyo, Moorhead, Will Karstens, and Emmy Karstens, Hendrum; two sisters, Linda (Ken) Weathers, Ortonville, MI and Barbara (Rick) Hest, Eagle Bend; one brother Dick (Marcia) Johnson, Marshall, and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
I once sang the classic song “Summertime” to V as a lullaby. She was three, I think, maybe almost four. When I got to the part “You’re daddy’s rich/and your mama’s good lookin’,” she patted my cheek and said “well, at least the second part’s true.” I will always love that song more because of her.
Anyhoo, hello gentle readers. In this past week, V’s summer vacation has begun. Here she is on her very last day of second-graderhood:
And I started summer school (two classes, three times a week, for seven and a half weeks. Well, one week down now, so six and a half weeks). I only have a total of 14 students (4 of them are in both classes), so I already know all their names, which is a new record for me.
On most Mondays and Fridays this summer, I’ll get to boss/hang out with Will and Emmy, my nephew and niece. This Friday, Grandma came along for the excitement, and we built gardens for fairies and dragons. It’s always fun to garden with my mama, and the kids really got excited about the process too, for the most part.
Mom and I saw some great garden tips on Pinterest, like here and here, for example, (and for my next birthday I want this party )and then saw a few in person at Baker’s Nursery on University. So we took the kids there first, where they each picked a plant or two.
Next time we do this, remind me not to have laundry on the line, as Will thought it hilarious to run from playing in the dirt to grabbing my clean linens.
It was really a fun time (good idea, Grandma!), and I think they will play in them again. It’s kind of like playing in a sandbox, but with less sand in their shoes, and less random dumping.
Hope your summer is starting well, meine liebchens. And may you have plenty of room in your gardens for fairies.
Our high school begins in seventh grade. I had all the attendant anxiety of moving from 6th grade to 7th, and still remember my late summer nightmares of that year. One thing that stayed the same, though, was my tenor saxophone. And 7th grade brought us to Mr. Vandermeer: a burly, sometimes bearded guy with a love of music and a true gift for teaching.
Unlike elementary school, I actually tried to practice some for high school band. Mr. V was not a cheerleader so much as a taskmaster, and I wanted to do well. The tenor sax department generally consisted of me and one other guy, who really didn’t care about band much (I mean no disrespect, but he didn’t), so I had a somewhat elevated sense of importance.
Halfway through seventh grade, my dad had a stroke, and holy crapbarf. My only memory of school the Monday afterwards is going into the band room to get our instruments. Chad Smart’s trumpet was on the shelf above my tenor, and he told me how sorry he was to hear about my dad. I blinked back tears, and thanked him. It was the first of many times that the band room became a sanctuary, a place to feel connected and heard on all kinds of levels. Much of that was because of Mr. Vandermeer.
Because our school was so small (my class was the smallest at the time, with all of 23 students by the time we graduated), we didn’t always have enough people for all the activities, and when I was in 8th grade, our boys’ basketball team went to (and won!) the state basketball championship. This was fantastically exciting, but it made filling all the seats of the high school pep band a bit of a challenge. So I was invited, as an 8th grader, to come along on the pep band bus. Do you understand what that meant? I was the youngest player! None of my classmates would be coming on the bus, and I’d have to room with older girls! (I mentioned that adventure here, for those of you keeping score at home). It didn’t occur to me until right now that perhaps Mr. V didn’t really need my tenor playing, but instead thought I could use a trip to Minneapolis. Either way, I felt hugely honored that he’d asked, and I likely wouldn’t’ve been able to go otherwise. I felt like an important part of something bigger than myself, and that was a tremendous gift for thirteen-year-old me.
As I mentioned, Mr. V was more of a taskmaster than a cheerleader, and that held true throughout my time with him (and beyond, I’m told). He could get angry when we weren’t paying attention, and helped us hear and listen and feel music together. For years I came to Jazz Band practice at 7am so we could rehearse before school. Do you know how hard it is to get a bunch of high school students to come to school an hour early? He even taught our choir for a few years, as well as the band, and though his heart belonged with the instruments, his direction in vocal music was inspiring, too. I don’t know how he managed both, and he must’ve been exhausted after our concerts, but he didn’t complain.
And he didn’t praise too effusively, either. I was a fairly good saxophonist, and went on to play all through college. I spent six years under Mr. Vandermeer’s direction, and he told me twice, TWICE in SIX YEARS, that I was doing well. He didn’t even make it that personal. What he said, each time, once in pep band rehearsal and once in jazz band, was “Good job, tenors.” Three little words, said twice in six years. Really a word per year. But I remember them clearly, nearly 25 years later.
As a teacher myself, I know how hard it is to balance connection to students without crossing into friendship, and still get students to rise to their potential. So much of how I try to motivate students, and help them feel like important parts of our classroom, but not coddling anyone, and how I relate to kids very different from myself is modeled after what I saw Mr. V do all through my high school years. His energy, sense of humor, and inherent belief in his students continues to inspire me. If even one of my students remembers me 25 years out, Mr. Vandermeer is partially to thank for that.
I’m telling you all this because Kurt Vandermeer is retiring this year. There’s a big party tonight, and though I can’t be there, my heart is, and I very much look forward to hearing his own band play as he enjoys his retirement in musical ways, too. I can’t imagine my hometown high school without him, and I was so lucky to have him lead the bands I was in for six years.
Thank you, Mr. Vandermeer. And good job.
So I want to write this post, but first I want to explain why it’s taken so long.
There once was a little girl. We’ll call her M. M was an only child and her parents loved her very much. Her mother had a blog that often featured photos and stories about M: the usual parent-y stuff. That was all fine and good, but M, of course, began to grow up. When she turned 8, her mother thought perhaps she should share a little less about her child. The girl, after all, was her own person. The mother remembered being in second grade very well, and thought perhaps she would not have liked HER mother to have such a platform to blither on about her 8 year old escapades. It is inherently very public, and really, M should get to decide what she shows the world. Don’t you think? But the mother still wanted to blog, and of course M is a major part of the life of the family. So the mother decided that pictures of M were okay, and family vacation photos, and what have you, but mostly, M’s thoughts and so forth would be left off the blog from now on, unless M said it was okay. So began a new chapter in the mother’s blog, but it felt like the right way to go.
Whew. Are you still with me? Yeah, anyway, so all of that applies to us, of course, but I still have one post to write about the girl, because when I told you about this, I sort of left off the follow up story that it requires. So here we go.
The first few weeks after the accident, V was cautious anytime I was driving. If I so much as touched the median or shoulder strips, she would cry out in terror, and she watched the speed of the car obsessively. And we absolutely had to avoid the interstate, or “fast road” as she calls it, because that was where the accident was. Riding in the car didn’t bother her as much if $haun was driving, or Auntie Jess or Grandma. But I accepted this as normal. I was still shaking, too, frankly, and was happy to have an excuse to stay off the interstate.
But it didn’t get better in time. In fact, it got worse. Every tiny sound was cause for her to cry out “What’s that!?” A month after the accident, the ground was covered in snow and then sand, both of which made wildly different noises, and sometimes even a short drive would make her nearly hyperventilate.
This went on and on. And on. We talked about probability and the cause of the accident; we talked about trusting us to take care of her, and about enjoying our time together, in the car or anyplace. We did deep breathing, stretches, visualization. She had (and still has) three different therapists. All of this helped, some, but in the end she was still white-knuckled, full-out terrified every time we drove any where. It was painful. It was unhealthy.
She’s always been prone to anxiousness, our girl. Perhaps she gets it from her father, whose anxiety can be profound. Likely she gets it from both of us, because, though I don’t usually have anxiety, I have all kinds of depression. Shaun described V once as sort of constantly thrumming, just a vibration of perched anxiety, waiting for it to strike. She struggles with sensory issues, and full-on meltdown tantrums have always been common. But now they were daily. The accident shook something loose, and we could not put her back the way she was.
And so we decided to try medication.
Now, I am a big advocate of medication. I myself have taken Zoloft for over half my life, and have no doubt that it saved me more than once. Most everyone I love takes some sort of antidepressant or anti anxiety med, or has at some point in their life. But when it’s your own baby, this eight year old child for whom you are responsible, it’s a lot to consider. I mean, I don’t want her to use regular deodorant ever because it’s so full of chemicals. Tylenol leads to childhood asthma, so we avoid that. Why on earth would I allow her to be medicated?
Oh, right, because she can’t function. At all.
We started at 12.5 mg of sertraline, and she’s been on 25 mgs for about three months. The difference is astounding. We’re monitoring her closely, and I know it’s not a miracle answer, but she’s back to being a little girl again. More so than ever before, in some ways. About a month ago, she said to me from the backseat of the car, “Hey, Mom? I’m really happy,” and I realized with a jolt that she had only ever said such a thing during a party before. Just an everyday happiness? She just didn’t have that.
Is she always happy? No. She’s eight. One minute she’s happy and the next minute she’s “Mommmmm! Why is the dog eating Twilight Sparkle??” She still gets scared sometimes, and has tantrums. But it’s not everyday anymore, and overall she is just less of a tightly wound spring and more of a joyful child, like most eight year olds.
We’ve even been on the interstate a few times recently, and nobody ended up in tears.
Ah, parades. Everyone loves ‘em, amiright? Yeah, well, Miss V does not. We’ve taken her to four or five parades in her life, and every one of them ended with us getting right back in our car, if we were lucky, or, more often, in tears. Why do EMTs and firefighters think it’s so necessary to blast those sirens over and over? (Of course, they might ask why we keep bringing a child with sensory integration issues to loud-ass parades).
The thing is, she wants to go. Other kids talk about going to or even being in parades. No one talks about wanting to throw up because of the noise. So we work on it.
First, we talk about it. A lot. Tell her she’ll get candy if she stays. Make sure she knows we can leave anytime, and she’s not in trouble if it’s too loud for her to take. We practice deep breathing, and try to guess if there will be clowns. Then we bring out the earplugs, preferably in pink to match her shirt.
We had a great time.
Summer 2013. Bonanza Valley Days. Brooten, Minnesota.