Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Brunch at the Jackson Family Farm

Sitting beneath a white canopy with daisies on the tables at Jackson Family Farm, one of the few dairies left in Meridian, I could see why they were still here.

It’s all about rolling with it.

When Cindy Miller from the United Dairymen of Idaho viewed the charming place, she thought it the perfect setting for brunch, and the Jacksons were okay with that. They were already offering tours.

“We visited just a couple of months ago,” Cindy told the brunchers, “and this yard was filled with lilacs. It was incredible.”

There’s something very honest about dining in the back yard of a home that’s hosted more family parties than even the family could tally. Though times have changed, the Jacksons continue to have a Fourth of July celebrations on the shady stretch of grass behind the original home, where grandparents Stanley and Hazel built a life.

“If my dad could see us all right now,” said Brent Jackson, son of Stanley, “He’d probably say, ‘Why are you all just sitting around? There’s work to be done’.”

We laughed, knowing the type.

“But my mother, Hazel,” Brent said with a kind of tenderness,“she’d just love this. She held a lot of family gatherings right here on this same spot, and she would think it was great.”

 Brent also informed us that his mornings started hours before most of ours did. 

“Cows need to be milked, and they calve whenever they calve,” he grinned, as those in attendance with agricultural backgrounds nodded. 

There was something so soothing about sitting amongst people who had their favorite types of cows, (the sociable Jersey wins by popular vote), who talk about which high school FFA program was the one to watch and whose dairies were doing innovative things to keep going, all while sipping chocolate milk and enjoying a farm fresh egg, tart and fruity yogurt, and savoring cheddar-y hash browned potatoes.

Gentle breezes, country music, and contented conversation blended into the farm-fresh air, and for the first time since my big home move, I felt relaxed and happy.

“I’m just so glad I got to go to the Iditarod,” Idaho Magazine publisher Kitty Fleischman was telling me, “When I had that blasted heart attack last year, that’s what came to me. That more than anything, I told God I wanted to see the Iditarod one more time.”

She relayed how a friend with thousands of frequent flyer miles saved up offered Kitty and her husband tickets to Alaska, asking her what season she’d like to visit.
Typical of Kitty, she replied, “Are you, kiddin’ me? In the summer you can’t see the Northern Lights, it’s light all the time, and there’s no Iditarod. Give me winter!”

But Kitty was going to be in Fairbanks, and the Iditarod started in Anchorage. Except for this year, there was no snow in Anchorage, and you can’t have an Iditarod on no snow. Since there was snow in Fairbanks, that’s where the Iditarod began. And Kitty’s prayer to see the Iditarod again was answered.

“The Iditarod came to me,” she said, her eyes misting a little. 

That sort of real-ness, in the setting of decades of good, hard work reminded me that life in all its forms was really pretty magnificent. That the several people around our table were making a difference to all of us, directly or indirectly. Two were agriculture instructors who taught around 400 kids about all things crops, some were with the state agricultural department, and some, like Kitty and I, told their stories.

Sometimes it’s tough to convey through words the glow on farm wife Laura Jackson’s face when talking about giving up California for deep Idaho family ties and a simpler lifestyle, or the gleeful expression of  ten-year-old Dylan Jackson demonstrating how to roll down the ditch in his tractor-like go kart. The fragrance and scratchy feel of hay just on the other side of your jeans as you sit with thirteen others on bales atop a trailer being pulled by a John Deere tractor. The mirthful expression of Brent Jackson’s son, Clint, who’s found his second calling as tour guide and stand-up comedian.

“Hi, Amy!” another friendly United Dairymen of Idaho employee called out from atop a hay bale. They’d been greeting me since my first steps into the place. This lady couldn’t move her head, because another United Dairymen employee was French braiding her locks.

“Getting your hair done, I see,” I smiled back at her.

“Hi, Amy,” said another employee, “I’m Danni.”

I thought Danni said she was helping with the TasteIdaho agri-tour event in October.

“You’ll have to watch that one on the agri-tour,” I fake-whispered, pointing over at Kitty, who was sitting innocently on a bale at the back of the trailer, “She’s trouble.”

During the hayride, we learned about the sustainability going on. Tree and landscaping branches that would typically be taken to the dump are put through shredders to create good mulch for the ground cows stood on, wicking moisture away and providing softer standing areas.  When asked about the feline population, Clint quipped, “That’s yet to be determined,” then added, “On this farm we have a catch and release policy when it comes to the cats. You catch ‘em, and are not allowed to release them until you get back to your place.”

A perfectly timed comment, as we were pulled past open stalls typically used as a maternity ward. A tiny brown-and-white-spotted calf had made its dairy farm debut that day. In the adjoining stall reclined an entitled-looking black and white cat, causing predictions that she, too, might be anticipating her own Labor Day.

The new calf was adorable, everyone agreed.

“Did you see that placenta lying over in the corner?” a visitor asked.

“T.M.I.,” I said in a juvenile way, but didn’t care, “That’s way too much farm for me.”

Departure from the hayride led to the feeding table containing Dixie cups pre-measured by Dylan (the same one that showed me how to ride the tractor/ go kart deal down the ditch) with feed for the hungry goats and llama. 

“This one’s greedy,” commented visitor Nancy Buffington, as a goat crowded in on his pen mate, aggressively going after palm after palm of morsels.

We got to pet the young calves, too, and one took a liking to me. Knowing there was hand sanitizer nearby, I relished the cuteness of the calf licking my hands and jeans. Both were washable.

It wasn’t until my new friend Nancy was taking a picture for me that the calf decided to kick things up a notch by biting my leg through the material. 

“Not okay!” I told it, and it went back to licking mode.

“I was licked by a cow today,” I thought to myself, “I wonder how many people could say that during a regular workday.”

I had also fed a llama.

“Hi, Amy,” Tony Harrison said, extending his hand, “I’m the one who’s emailed you about the TasteIdaho agri-tour reservations.”

As we chatted about random things, I happened to mention where our former acreage was. Tony lived on that same road. 

“Wait a minute,” I said, getting ready to throw out one very long shot, “Is your daughter named…”

His daughter and my daughter had sat by each other on the bus for years.

“Our daughters used to play together!” I laughed, “I’ve been to your house before, and I’ve even met you and your wife before.”

Brunch, new friends, animals to pet, and neighbors-past.

To top it all off, the United Dairymen of Idaho sent us all home with swag bags.
It was a beautiful day on the farm.

*For more on the Jackson Family Farm, see this great Meridian Press article.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Colleen "Speedy" Fletcher

My friend Colleen Fletcher had been my friend for longer than I knew.

When a Colleen Fletcher messaged me on my Creative Wordery page to ask a question about some content, I fully intended to answer her. And then I didn’t. I don’t think I answered for weeks, maybe longer. Not on purpose, but because my sometimes A.D.D./ artist mind tends to jump around, causing me to drop a few juggling balls now and then.
I didn’t put all the pieces together until one fateful Saint Patty’s Day, where Colleen and my sister, Laurel, were listening to the Boise Highlanders. Colleen’s son and my sister’s husband were both a part of the bag-piping band. 

Although the music was a little too loud to be talking over, I thought I’d be courteous and say hello to my sister’s friend, who was sitting with us around the table.

“I already know you,” she told me with a grin, “We’ve met several years in a row, each time on Saint Patrick's. I’m the drummer’s mom.”

The light was starting to come on, but Colleen helped it along.

“I messaged your Wordery page, and never got a reply,” she told me, “I just thought, ‘fine’.”

“Colleen…Fletcher?” I ventured, and the bright-skinned, blue-eyed blonde nodded.

Oh, crap, I thought. Then tried to recall how long ago I’d gotten that message. Weeks. Months. Not good.

That was a few years ago, and it seems that Colleen’s into forgiving, since the owner of Wholistic Beauty Boutique has been nothing but kind to me. I’ve stopped by her shop on State Street many times, and Colleen is well aware that my favorite room there is the “pillow room”, where you can totally relax and get all ‘zen-y’ and stuff. Often I’ve been there and had jewelry or just the right-sized little journal call to me.

What I didn’t know was that Colleen has a “racy” side.

When we decided to take a test drive together in an Audi A4 convertible, I figured it would be one of those brief acceleration things, followed by laughter and the resuming of reasonable speed. Given the fact that I was doing some work at the dealership, and that the car was there on consignment, I figured this would be a cautionary venture.

“Oh, good, we’re coming up on my favorite off-ramp for its curves!” Colleen informed me, as I tested my seat belt one more time.

“I’ve always wanted to race,” she said, letting me know that she and her husband owned a Subaru WRX, not a car that’s known to be slow.

“You watch out for me, and I’m going to go for it around these curves,” she told me, then added, “Hang on!”

I did. Believe me, I did.

In the interim, I learned that Colleen had been in Hawaii, and had lived in Australia, too.
And I just thought she was the Highlander drummer’s mom who gave great facials and knew all about positive energy.

Nascar won’t know what hit it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

You Can Keep It

It's easy to put it aside, yet it stuns me that I do.

It's only what keeps me alive, keeps me breathing, keeps me as me.

There are pages of scriptural reference in the Bible about it, and it's one of the most heavily mentioned topics, right up there with "God" and "Lord", mentioned 725 times within the King James version.

As a young mother, I tried to do so many things at once. Being the art mom at my son's grade school, magically creating a decent dinner on the table each night--or at least an edible one,  potty training of two toddlers at once, attempting to keep a home built in the middle of a pasture clean and low-dust,  filling a role at church, wearing clothes that actually matched, exercising while pushing a huge stroller so the stress eating wouldn't catch up, keeping flower beds weeded so my next-door-neighbor, retired mom-in-law wouldn't feel compelled to come over and do it for me, keeping in touch with friends and family often enough to retain them, and, oh yeah, attempting to look passably human while doing all of that).

I worried about so many things, with all of those juggling balls in the air.

"It's just foo-foo stuff," I'd get told by the significant other, "none of that matters."

But it had mattered to me.

The look on my son's face when I arrived at his school with enough green construction paper to create origami jumping frogs for the entire class. Seeing my kids digging into a meal I knew they liked (even though they drowned it, and everything, really, in ketchup) at the country home's kitchen table, with a backdrop of the wallpaper I now realize was tacky and the fresh, pre-summer breeze flooding through the windows, dusty as the windowsills might have been. Showing up at church as a family in color-coordinated clothes, knowing full well it was the only time any of us had been coordinated in any form all week. Curling my daughter's hair so often that the moms at swim class were shocked when it didn't dry curly after her lessons. Reading Treasure Island aloud to the kids on a creepy, stormy day with a fire going in the fireplace when the power went out for hours, then roasting hot dogs and marshmallows for dinner. Having a day here and there when I felt clean, pressed, and somewhat en vogue, not like the diaper-changing, bottle making maid I often was.

All of those things mattered to me. They mattered a whole lot. Which is why one morning, long after the kids were kids, and the "foo-foo" mocker had exited the scene, when I read these words, they struck me just as deeply as if I'd been illuminated by a sudden burst of sunshine:

"Keep thy heart with all diligence: for out of it are the issues of life." (Proverbs 4:23)

The heart. Everything, everything else flows from it.

If the heart isn't right, ain't nothing right, and inherently we must know this.

Heart-sick. Heartache. Heart-broken. Heavy-hearted. We know exactly what's wrong with us, and yet we try to slap a Band-Aid on everything other than what needs healing the most. Should we tend to our hearts first, everything else would abate.

There are so many things, externally and internally, that are after our hearts. Know why? Because if our hearts are toast, so are the rest of us. So it seems simple for the adversary to go for the biggest ship in order to sink the rest of the fleet. Saves a ton of time.
I've noticed that my heart's been a little depleted lately. When that happens, I have to think about what fills my heart, and then force myself to do that, even if "others" think it's foo-foo, non-productive, not valuable, or a blatant waste of time.

One of the things that fills me is making places "my own", by exploring them and creating memories there. Riding my bike on the newly discovered "Strand" along the river in Cascade. Walking the gravel roads, trying to find Lions Gate Manor in Lava Hot Springs. Crunching along the ice with my dog on the paved path that goes through McCall. Hiking up the bear and cougar-laden (I didn't know) paths at Twin Springs Resort. A golden morning in the mountains on a solo trip up the hill by a cabin we'd spent the night at, thinking of my late father-in-law, "Granpa Jim", and reciting Robert Frost's 'The Road Less Traveled".

This morning I'm going to take my bike and ride the nearby path, just before the sun comes up. God himself says this isn't a waste of time; He says it's worthy, vital maintenance. That everything I do will hinge upon my keeping my heart with all diligence.

So go ahead.
Keep your heart.

I'm keeping mine, too.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Friendly Neighbors Club: Anniversary

“Would you like to join me for lunch sometime?” said the white-haired, twinkly-eyed, 4’10” Jean. 

It was 2001, and I’d been taking a walk, exploring the area near our new country home on Lakeshore Drive, near Lake Lowell. When taking a turn up Duck Lane, Jean had been walking out to her mailbox, where she greeted me, then asked me to lunch.

I climbed into the eighty-year-old’s sports car the next day, and as I held on for dear life. Jean drove like she thought she was Mario Andretti. We stopped to pick up Thelma Elledge, who lived just down the road, and I thought, “Three for lunch, how fun.”

Twenty minutes later, we approached a restaurant table with nine others seated around it. It was my first introduction to the Friendly Neighbors Club, a ladies’ club that had originated in 1928, comprised of neighbors and farmers’ wives living in the Lake Lowell area. The group needed new blood, and I was it.

I lunched with the Club for the next fourteen years and then some, often riding with Jean and praying all the way there, and all the way back, but these days much has changed, and I do the driving.

Many Club members have, as the organization’s simple “In Memoriam” pamphlets put it, became “as a rose that climbed the garden wall and blossomed on the other side.” Some, in practicality mode, agreed to sell their larger country homes and most of their possessions to downsize into smaller places, or voluntarily go into assisted living facilities. A few went involuntarily. Some are in-between for now, living independently, but heading quite unwillingly towards something else.

I picked up Jean from the new home that she shares with hundreds of other residents. I know she misses her big white house with the fruit trees on Duck Lane, yet she tells me, “You bloom where you’re planted!” in that determined, spunky voice of hers.

We joke that my son’s car, which I borrow on Club days because my Jeep is too hard for Club friends to climb into, is the ‘limo’. It’s even black, so that helps. Jean loops her arm through mine, acting like it’s all about comradery, but I understand she might also want a little help balancing. 

“Let’s get out of here,” she tells me, “we’ve made enough trouble in this place. Let’s go cause trouble elsewhere.”

At the all-you-can-eat Chinese Restaurant, the table is more populated than usual. Nine members present is a good turnout these days. During the Club’s height, they had over fifty in attendance, but things have changed. The middle-aged women who used to attend in the twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties wound up going to work in the following decades, and Club became hit and miss. I myself took a two-year sabbatical right after my divorce, since I worked during Club times.

This day in April marked the Club’s 87th anniversary.

Ruth sat across from me, and said, “I could use those things, but I’d starve to death.”
The entire club had an issue with my enjoyment of chopsticks.

“There’s always one,” Phyllis had said last year, when we’d all gone to the Mongolian Barbeque together.

“It doesn’t taste as good to me without chopsticks,” I tried to explain. No one replied.
I began to justify my chopstick-ing once more.

“My kids got good at it right away,” I ventured, “I had to practice for months to be able to eat with them like this.”

“I think it’s the sign of a show off,” joked Darlene. I think it was a joke, anyway.
They allowed me to change the subject.

“My son’s getting married this month,” I told them all, but only a few heard, given the long table we were seated at, “we just love the girl he’s marrying.”

Ruth gave her typical reply.

“Well, I’ll be!”

Her eyes softened as she thought about her own wedding. Everyone knew that Don, who’d passed away many years ago, had been the love of her life.

“I can’t recall ever arguing with the man,” Ruth said, “he was just a lovely, lovely person.”
Darlene, the ‘baby’ of the group, other than me, told me she’d been Ruth and Don Walker’s children’s babysitter many a time. She told of how Don would pick out Ruth’s necklaces, earrings, and bracelets for her dates with him. He had adored his wife, and loved to adorn her. Ruth was always decked out in gorgeous accessories,  which I liked to think might have been carry-overs from her Don days.

Ruth and I got to talking about Peggy.

“I didn’t even know she’d passed on,” I said.

“Oh, ye-esss,” Ruth said, in her cute Ruth way, “that was a while ago.”

“They told me at the last Club meeting when I asked,” I replied, “Peggy was something else. She said she’d never had a toothache, headache, backache…”

“Nope,” Ruth agreed, “she never did. She ran a corn topping crew in her late forties, while she was several months along in her pregnancy. She didn’t allow whining, and she was like a machine. Boy, those farmers sure loved her.”

All sorts of other conversations were going on around the table, and for the zillionth time, I wished I’d had a subtle yet legal way to record it all. Jean had been the secretary for a long, long time, keeping copious notes that she’d read back to us at the following month’s luncheons. As her hearing decreased, the humor of those notes increased. There was no telling how we might get misquoted from month to month, and the mischievous side of her was unapologetic. She’d eventually put down the torch, but no one caught it. I’d been hesitant to step in all of these years, knowing I was still considered as the ‘newbie’, but on this day, I didn’t care. I took a pen and a tiny lined composition book out of my purse and jotted down bits and pieces as fast as my fingers would fly.

“---remember McCall’s Corner?” someone was saying, “Did you ever know why they called it that? It had nothing to do with McCall. A family used to live there by the name of McCall. That’s why they called it ‘McCall’s Corner.’”

“---has anyone seen the old Lakeview schoolhouse lately?”

There were several nods and moans, and mine was among them. The place looked nothing like it used to in the old days, with its pristine white paint of yesteryear.

“I don’t want to go there,” someone said, and the rest of us nodded again.

“I heard it was really nice inside,” a member commented, adding, “and that they just keep the outside not so nice, so property taxes won’t go up.”

A thoughtful pause followed as we contemplated.

Ruth leaned toward me and said, “We used to hold Club in the basement of that school. They had this big crib down there for the babies, and we’d all stick our toddlers in it and let them play together.”

Laneal, who was member Verda’s daughter, changed the conversation’s course by inquiring, “Ruth, how long have you belonged to Club?”

“Oh, heavens!” Ruth said with a wave of the hand, “I have no idea.”

Margaret, who was Ruth’s official ride to Club these days, got a faraway look in her eye and said, “I don’t remember seeing you way back then.”

Ruth turned, feigned indignance, and said, “Well, I don’t remember seeing you!”

Both ladies chuckled.

History was always a topic at Club. Everyone there, myself included, had been through too much, seen too much not to discuss some of it.

“The Peterson’s place isn’t even there anymore,” said a member at the end of the table. And then, “Ruth? What happened to that land of yours?”

“I inherited it after Don died,” she replied, then admitted that she wasn’t sure who owned it currently, but said she didn’t believe it was anyone within the family.

I tried to bring up the topic of Peggy again.  She was a Club member that had fascinated me. Ruth was game.

“She was a very nice lady,” she said, “Very giving. My son said she helped him clean a goose he’d shot once. Or something like that.”

I agreed.

“We never left Peggy’s house empty-handed,” I said, “I used to take the kids Christmas caroling to Club members that still lived out around the lake. And on Halloween, we’d trick or treat out there before we went into town.”

Ruth was attentive as always, one of her many charms.

“Oh, I bet they just loved that,” she said kindly.

“One Halloween, we drove out to Peggy’s, and when my Jeep’s headlights hit the side of her house, we saw about twenty cats, all bundled up on top of each other, trying to stay warm on that really cold night…”

The memory was crystal clear. When the kids had hollered, “Trick or Treat!” to Peggy’s surprised person, it became obvious she hadn’t been prepared for callers. I had quickly whispered to the kids to ‘reverse Trick or Treat her, and they offered up pieces of candy. Peggy went along, but being the giver she was, returned gift for gift.

“Why don’t you take a kitty with you when you go?” she said, “there are a bunch to choose from over there by the garage.”

Three sets of blue eyes turned on me. In our family, we had a rule: If you asked Mom for something with an audience present for added pressure, the answer would automatically be ‘no’.  I realized I’d set no such rule in place with the rest of the population.

That’s how we wound up with an orange kitten named “Pumpkin”, who went on to father countless other kittens who nicely kept the mice numbers down on our acreage for years to come.

Ruth loved the story.

“Oh, my, ye-esss,” she grinned, then leaned forward once more.
I knew that stance. A story was on its way. 

"Did I ever tell you about our house in Hailey?" she asked.

She had, but I wanted to hear of it again.

“We had this house that had this circular floor plan, see. There was this hallway that went round and round. And my mother was deathly afraid of mice. One day, she saw a mouse, and she let out a scream. Daddy came a-runnin’, and he got out his shotgun, and I’ll be darned if he didn’t shoot at the thing. That made Mother scream some more, so Daddy shot again. Then Mother screamed again, so Daddy shot again.”

Ruth’s eyes crinkled with humor, and I knew the punchline was on its way.

“You have to wonder about the neighbors,” she mused, “Who heard three shots fired, and three screams, and still didn’t come over or call the police.”

I laughed, loving the way Ruth told a story.

“Peggy used to tell the story of O.D. Miller,” I began, “She told it every month I attended Club with her.”

“I don’t know that one,” Ruth said.

I felt myself start to grin, “I guess when she had a red-headed baby late in life, O.D. Miller started asking her where that child came from. He’d tease her about the milkman, the mailman, and such.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Ruth responded, “of all things.”

“Supposedly Peggy got so fed up with it, one day she told him, ‘You know why I had a red-headed kid? Because I guess I just got so durned old, my pipes were rusty!’”

“Well, I’ll be,” Ruth laughed, shaking her head.

Peggy had told that story consistently for years. When I asked my friend Julie to sing for the Club at one of their special anniversary luncheons, I gave her the heads up that she might hear a questionable tale or two. Julie assured me she was ready.

Halfway into the luncheon that year, Julie gave me a questioning look, as if to say, “When’s she going to do it?”

When the ladies got up to leave the restaurant, still no story. Julie acted as if she’d been gypped. I shrugged as we followed Peggy and the other ladies out into the parking lot. Peggy had been telling the mildly off-color story for over five years, how could she have failed me?

When Peggy reached for the passenger-side handle of the car she’d be riding home in, I knew it was a lost cause. But, then:

“You know,” she said, turning to face my friend, “I had this redheaded child a little late in life. And there was this old farmer, O.D. Miller, he used to tease me…”

As I recanted the episode to Ruth, she smiled broadly.

“She was quite a woman, that one, “ Ruth said again.

“So are you, Ruth,” I thought to myself, “So are you.”

“Are you taking notes?” Ruth asked now, noticing my pen and tiny notebook on the table, “Take this down,” she said, in a tone that let me know that whatever happened next would most certainly be funny.

“I wish I could drink like a lady,” Ruth recited, “One or two at the most. But one, I’m under the table. And two? I’m under the host.”

I blinked, trying to think of a comeback.

“Wow, Ruth, I wish I’d heard that sooner,” I told her.

“Really?” she said, genuinely concerned.

“Nah,” I laughed back.

More than anything, one of my greatest desires was to convey to the Club how much they meant to me, how amazing I thought they all were. Any attempts to do so had been humbly shushed. I’d written an article all about them for Idaho Magazine, which I proudly gave each lady a copy of at one of our meetings. Thinking they’d be flattered and thrilled, I watched as they thumbed through the story’s pages, and then set their magazines aside.
I bumped it up, turning the article into a chapter in my latest book, then brought the book to a club meeting. Surely this would get to them, I thought. Surely.

“Nice book, but I’m not going to buy it,” said a member with a chuckle. “I don’t read enough to spend $12.99.”

It seemed to be the general consensus.

That was okay. The Club didn’t have to buy my book, or even like it. They’d been there for me during all of the times that counted. The Christmas after my divorce, they’d all decided to give me the special, handmade ornament that they ordinarily drew straws for. Getting to take the yearly ornament home had been a somewhat friendly, competitive feather in one’s cap, and their graciousness touched me.

If there were extras of anything at Club meetings, I was told to bring them back to my children. On this anniversary day I’d been the host, and brought whimsical pinwheels the women delighted in, looking for a moment like the sweet, innocent school girls they once were.

Jean was holding her shiny, spring-toned pinwheel when she got back into my son’s car. 

“Wheeee!” she said in her elfin voice, between puffs that lit up the tines when catching the sunshine.

“So, how is your new family-in-law going to be?” she asked, and I loved her for asking. Jean was like an older auntie, always interested, always concerned.

“They’ll be great,” I said, “Except I might be off to a bad start.”

“What do you mean?” Jean said, sounding for all the world like Glinda the Good Witch, with that magical tone of hers.

“Well, the other day we all piled into the car, and since I didn’t want to sit in the back seat, I asked my son to let me drive.”

“I don’t see a problem with that,” Jean said supportively, “but go on.”

“Well, we were in this parking lot. I guess I released the emergency brake before turning on the ignition, and the car began rolling backwards. I noticed there was another car parked behind me, and panicked, trying to find the brake, but it was a stick shift, and I kept hitting the clutch or gas pedals, which did me no good.”

“Did you hit it?” Jean asked, bemused.

“Yep. And guess whose car it was?”

“Your lawyer’s?” she offered.

“Nope. My other son’s. He’d parked right behind us.”

Jean nodded, and looked like she was trying not to laugh.

“…so I hit my one son’s car while driving my other son’s car…” I continued.

“What did your future in-laws do?” Jean asked.

“I’m not sure about the others, but I saw my new future daughter-in-law’s dad slowly but surely reach over and buckle his seat belt.”

Jean’s giggling couldn’t be retained at that point.

At the assisted living facility, Jean took my arm, yet insisted on trying to open the big, heavy entrance doors for me. Those farm women just never quit.

“Well, I hope you’re glad you joined Club,” she said.

“I am, Jean,” I assured her, “I’ll always be thankful to you for that. The Club has made a big difference in my life.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that, dear,” she said. 

It’s been hard to see members getting older, moving out, moving on. 

“In thirteen years, the Club will celebrate their 100th anniversary,” I said to Jean, then inwardly chastised myself, knowing there was no way most of the women in the Club would be around by then. I carried on nervously, trying to mask the obvious.

“Maybe we could get the city to hold a parade,” I continued, “with fireworks.”

“Maybe we could,” Jean agreed amiably, “if we could get the powers that be to agree to it…”

“Oh, I’m sure they would,” I countered, “We’re the Club. We know people,” I told her with a little wink, so like the ones Jean used to give me when she’d talk about dancing with much, much younger men.

I walked Jean to her room with my arm looped through hers. For Jean, it was for balance. For me, the comradery. I loved my Club ladies.

“Oh, before I forget,” Jean said, holding out the sparkling pinwheel, “You have kids. Here.”
My kids were 24, 21, and 20, but that didn’t matter. I knew Jean and the other Friendly Neighbors had always been all about giving. I took the pinwheel, thanked her, and hugged her.

“Love you, Jean,” I said into the top of her white-haired head.

“Love you, dear,” she said back, and then stepped into her apartment.

“I’ll see you next month,” I told her, praying that would be the case. 

As I walked away, I remembered something Phyllis had said during a rare interview for that magazine article I’d written.

“Nothing ever really goes away. It just changes.”

The Friendly Neighbors Club will never really go away. It might change, but farm-girl friendships like the ones we’ve enjoyed have and will stand the test of time.

*Dedicated to Jean Wilkerson, Ruth Walker, Verda Allen, Charlotte Johnson, Margaret Lawrence, Marilyn White, Phyllis Saxton, Laneal Chirin, Barbara Dinius, Jelene Baird, Anita Welchel, and Darlene Fail.