Thursday, October 27, 2011

Second Chances

It’s always a privilege when someone gives you a glimpse of their life, of where they’ve come from. Ruth Story gave me such a gift.

First of all, I have to come clean and admit that I’d never been in her store. That’s been remedied. Being a writer, the first words that popped into my head after walking through the glass doors were ‘eye’ and ‘candy’. There is bling, ruffles, brilliant colors and textures galore. Everything girlie inside me was standing up and cheering. If you want to look like a real woman, this is your new home.

Right away I noticed the bin of stuffed animals and other items for the Hope’s Door shelter. I was aware from my research that Ruth keeps a list of things needed at the shelter right out in the open where people can see it, then donate. Toilet paper, paper towels and diapers are always on that list.

After warmly greeting me, Ruth immediately offered a beverage and led me to the back of the store where there were comfy couches, great lighting, some fun album covers framed and hung on the wall behind us, and a peaceful water feature. Upbeat music was playing on the surround sound.

“If this were Tuesday, I’d have cookies for you,” she told me. I made a mental note to return on a Tuesday.

Peppy and sporting sassy red hair, Ruth’s slim frame was dressed from head to toe with the latest in fashion. To say that she was fashionable would be an understatement. Her fashion was mixed in with a lot of class. How are strong women like this created? What drives her? I wanted to find out.

“Hope House does weekly tours to get people involved with the shelter. At one of the tours recently, I actually opened the meeting. Here, for the first time, I actually verbalized to a group of people my background of abuse, and what it had done to me. How from childhood it went into adulthood. All the wrong decisions; how I felt I deserved everything I got. It took me years to go ‘Wait a minute! No, no, no!’

Years ago, Ruth took her first tour of Hope’s Door.

“It changed my life right then and there, on the spot,” she says, “I was so hooked; I just knew that this was what I was supposed to do. I had a second chance; God gave me a second chance. I had a store at the Coast, but because of an abusive relationship I had to sell it and flee. I figured I at least had my dream once. But God chose to give it back, so when He did, I knew that there was something I was supposed to do. When you keep your eyes and ears open to Him, He’ll tell you…if you’re listening.”

Ruth is currently a Hope’s Door board member. When people bring clothing in, sometimes they’re not interested in consignment and just donate the items to Story&Co. Ruth puts Hope’s Door on those tags and gives the entire amount to the shelter.

“On Wednesday, I gave them a check for $265,” Ruth told me, “It’s a little, but it adds up, and it was empowering to me.”

Last summer, Ruth helped to organized the Canyon County Music Festival. When I found this out, I thought to myself, ‘This woman is a marvel.’ Then she tipped the scales by saying:

“I’m working on some other possible fundraisers. For the store’s second anniversary I did a Ladies’ Night Out here, where we did a silent auction and raised $1800 in one night, just like that. It was awesome!” she told me, eyes twinkling.

“Good morning!” Ruth suddenly called out, “I’m back here, honey!” Store owners often have a sensitive ear for the front doors.

When Ruth returned, she added, “Anytime people need a silent auction or anything, I just do it.”

Events at Indian Creek have brought her new business.

“Last year about 100 people came through my door for the first time during the Festival. This year, we did something fun; we put all the summer clothes out on the street and marked them at two or three dollars. At the very end, we handed everyone a brown bag and told them ‘five bucks, you stuff it!’ They loved it! The ladies that stuffed those five dollars bags are addicted to the store now. The Salvation Army also had a booth out front; they hauled away everything we didn’t sell.”

Ruth openly credits God for her store’s success.

“This year I’m up by about $2000 a month since last year. It’s been increasing every year. Business has basically doubled since I opened.”

I very pointedly asked her what she was doing that gained her so many loyal clientele.

“When people come in here,” she answered, “They are acknowledged. I try to make them feel like they’re the only person in the store. I try to learn their names, and help them pick outfits. I give them good prices and good customer service. That’s what brings people back. I also like to stay on top of fashion, doing one-day fly-ups to Seattle, bringing back suitcases full of items. You can’t go anywhere else and find these things for less. My prices are always less.”

“I have new items mixed in with consignment items; I took the high-end feel and infused it into a new/consignment store. I almost over-killed it, though. When I initially put the gold lettering on the windows, many people thought it was a really expensive store and were scared to death to come in here. Now I have them coming from Boise, Ontario, Baker City and beyond.”

Returning back to the topic of Hope’s Door, Ruth waxed unusually solemn.

“One of the things that’s really tough on the Board is when,” she paused, getting emotional, “…you hear that because the economy is so bad, we have a waiting list. We have women out there that could DIE because we don’t have enough beds to put them in. We should NEVER have a waiting list, that’s what drives me to go out and make money wherever I can.”

One of Hope’s Door’s slogans is ‘one is too many.’

“God puts you in a place,” Ruth said, “And if you listen, if you open your ears, He allows you to help.”

At Story&Co. in Caldwell, it’s way more than just about the clothes. If you’re put in a place where you can help, you’re going to look great while doing it with an updated wardrobe that has much deeper meaning than just an upscale, inexpensive outfit.

At Story&Co, it’s about second chances.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Treasury of Memories

Interest piqued, I returned once again to the Warhawk Air Museum (a place I thought once upon a time I’d never go) to interview Director Sue Paul. I thought a good intro would be to ask her which items spoke to her, given my experience during my last visit. I should have guessed the answer:

“The whole museum speaks to me. Everything in here has meaning to me. I know the history of all of them. These are someone’s memories.”

Sue and her husband John are the co-founders. He’d been restoring WWII airplanes for years. When they moved from the Bay Area to Idaho in 1986 they brought two restored fighter planes and a P-51 Mustang that was in pieces along with them. They opened their manufacturing company and then built a small hangar at the Caldwell airport.

They were promptly overwhelmed by the amount of interest from people wanting to see the planes, unaware at the time of the Valley’s military history with Mountain Home AFB. Many people started coming to the Caldwell airport to see the planes and to talk about them. Boxes of uniforms or WWII memorabilia were left at the door with notes saying, ‘I don’t know what to do with these; would you like to put them with your airplanes?’

The Pauls were disturbed by this; these were precious pieces of peoples’ histories. Sue knew the items must be preserved and saw the need for a museum. She researched how to form a non-profit museum and in 1989 the Warhawk Air Museum, a non-proft 501c3, was born. It had taken a full year to put it all together.

“From there, it just exploded,” says Sue. “We had a board of directors and all kinds of dreams for the future. By the year 2000 we’d completely outgrown the 7000 square foot Caldwell hangar and knew we needed something bigger and centrally located. I also wanted a program where children could come for field trips and learn about history.”

John and Sue felt fortunate to have had their planes used in the movie Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck. The various actors went in and out of each plane during the filming. John and Sue went to Hawaii for six weeks during production. The planes were flown down to the Naval Base at Coronado Beach, then put on a barge, pulled by a little tugboat across the ocean, which was worrisome to the owners, even though Disney had the planes insured for millions. If the planes were lost, they’d most likely never be able to replace them, since there are only around 20-25 of the P-40s left in the entire world, and only four of that particular type of Mustang.

As soon as the public was aware of the 20,000 square foot building, everything started coming in. During the next five years people brought in their collections, one after the other. Systems of cabinets were needed to create a space for it all. Volunteers appeared and started helping wherever they could. The Museum is always open for more, too. Those that volunteer are given a chance to find their own passion and niche. One archivist, Lou Bauman, who started out doing field trips now puts all of the displays and binders together.

“He loves it. He does a brilliant job,” said Sue, “Many others started off doing one thing and then found something else they had a passion for, so that’s what they get to do.”

Sue quit her ‘paying job’ in 2001 and is now the full-time volunteer director. She’s at the museum full time.

‘---Because that’s what it takes,’ she told me.

In August of 2010 the new 18,000 square foot Cold War Era wing was opened, where you can walk through a Berlin Wall replica into a very different sense of American history.

“As you walk into the second section, you’ll have a whole different feel of the fifties and sixties. The last section was an era where America was engaged in the war. Man, woman and child. Everybody was involved. We knew who our enemy was. There was a beginning to the conflict and there was a definite end. We knew we won. We knew exactly who our foes were; we knew who our friends were. Then the war ended and we went into the Cold War Era with the fear of communism, fear of ideologies. Not solid. There weren’t boundaries. The wars of the Cold War became something like trying to put your arms around a cloud. Americans were not engaged this time in that. You didn’t see them out there with flags; you didn’t see the patriotic posters. People in America were trying to move on with their lives. The GI bill was huge. For the first time in American history, anyone could get an education, and they did.”

“The GI bill educated America. Our doctors, lawyers, businessmen during that time all came from the Bill. People wanted to build homes and move to the suburbs. They didn’t want or understand why when the Korean War started. We were in one country as advisors; it wasn’t clear cut. Vietnam was the same thing.”

This was the section representing the jet age. Bomb shelter information is coming soon. The build up of Communism and the feeling of the fear of Communism lingers. Visitors can see that the technology vastly changed from one era to another as the TV entered homes during the 50s and 60s. The media had a big portion of the control when it came to how America viewed Vietnam.

Kiosks house information about Cold War history where different stories are told. The tales are there for those that choose to stand and listen for a while.

“We hear people telling us all the time that this is the most personal experience they’ve ever had in a museum,” Sue told me, “That means so much to us. You can go to a lot of museums and see things without knowing the history of it. Take this Huey, here…it wound up in a junkyard in Sacramento. We found it and brought it here, having no idea that we’d also find all of the last of the crew that fought in this exact aircraft. They’ve all been here, and it was a very emotional experience for them. They lost thirty-four men while fighting in this Huey. For the first time they were able to hold a Missing Man Ceremony to honor those men here, with this Huey. It’s about the stories; it’s about the people.”

“Visitors are shocked not only at what they find, but over the amount of time they want to spend here. They want to come back again and again because we’re always adding more. This is not a stagnant museum.”

A dad, a grandfather, an uncle will bring their collection, wanting their loved ones’ memories preserved because they like what the Museum has done.

On the first Tuesday of every month from 10am-12 is the Kilroy Coffee Klatch, free for veterans. It’s a connection thing. The group has grown from a mere fifteen to twenty to the current 125-150. Men who’d served on the same ship at the same time yet had never met each other swap stories. Two men found each other and discovered that one’s man’s wife had been another man’s girlfriend sixty years prior.

Another program is the Veteran’s History Project. Partnering with the Library of Congress, the Museum has preserved over 700 personal histories on film. They keep one copy, give one to the interviewee, and one goes to the Library of Congress. Families get to hear stories they’ve never heard for the very first time, directly from the person they care about.

“We do get emotional during the interviews,” Sue says, “We can turn off the camera at any point. We hear some real hard stuff, but a lot of joyful things too. It’s just very personal. There’s a sense of trust here; they open up. One veteran, although he’s not the only one this happens to, had never talked about his experiences. He was involved in the firebombing over Japan. When we finished the interview he was like a teenager, he just had this relief. He ordered seventy-five copies of the dvd!”

Sue recalled having a man approach her at a luncheon, saying, “You probably don’t remember me, but I’ve just got to tell you that my family and I spent Christmas morning with you.” He then went on to tell her that she’d interviewed his grandfather, who’d died just two months later. On Christmas morning, his parents gave them each a copy of the dvd, and they all watched it together.

“You have no idea what that means to our family to have my grandfather who we all loved so much sitting there telling his own story,” he said.

“To me,” said Sue, “The greatest joy is not just preserving the stories, but the fact that the families have these stories now.”

“What a treasure,” I commented.

Sue looked me right in the eye and said earnestly:

“That’s what the whole museum is. It is a treasure.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Flight Path Corrected- A Visit To The Warhawk Air Museum

I never had a thing for planes. My father did; he dragged the four of us to the airport to sit and watch them take off and land, take off and land over and over again on a regular basis. We weren’t allowed to fuss or make any noise while he was revering the winged craft. Thus, I never had a thing for planes.

Perhaps that was how I could live in Nampa for the better part of my life without ever once visiting the Warhawk Air Museum. What would I want with airplanes? I’d had more than enough of them while growing up, or so I thought.

Curiosity eventually overruled my aversion. I found myself stepping through the Warhawk’s doors on a bright Saturday afternoon in October. We entered and walked into a non-imposing gift shop, where I came face to face with my idol; Rosie the Riveter. This could be something after all.

Dallas, who’s been with the museum for years, immediately welcomed us. He said that he’s been able to get to know many veterans that frequent the place, and how once they know you, they treat you like family. He talked about how hard it is to lose some of them as they get older. Dallas’ family is military and so he’d been involved in that life for ages and understood it well.

Dallas led us through the door into the actual museum and showed us the system. The Warhawk is a self-guided tour; you grab a pamphlet from the front table and since each item is numbered, there are explanations for almost every piece.

Twenty-thousand square feet of history was before me. Planes and cars and era music and Bob Hope telling jokes in the background. All of that, and all I could think about was what was right in front of me; the journals. Long tables full of the journals of servicemen that had lived, loved and sometimes lost. It was as if they were all speaking to me at once.

I instantly knew that this was a place where I could spend days reading. The men and women of World War II seemed to be trying to speak to me, and I wished mightily that I had time to read what they’d taken the time to write in their heartfelt, young language. That would sadly have to wait for another day.

I’d never been in the same space with planes like I was in the museum, yet while the planes loomed I was drawn to the smaller things. A nurse’s uniform. An ad for a tailor for those men who’d left home skinny and returned home with ‘huskier’ frames. Posters everywhere that encouraged any good citizen to support the war, honor rations and donate their metal, even if that metal came in the shape of a toy car. It was their American duty, and everyone those days did their duty. They were, after all, a team and indivisible at that. I had to wonder what that might feel like. The closest thing I’d ever experienced to unity was probably on and after September 11th, 2001.

While my husband looked at the machinery and artillery, I was looking still at the photographs of fresh-faced soldiers, some who’d probably never left their hometowns before the war. Some had Hawaiian ladies posing in the pictures with them. Some looked hardly old enough to shave.

Of the many binders, one caught my eye. It was off to itself at the end of a cabinet and had a poem inscribed on the outside, which was what had attracted me. It read:

“Through the years we have watched ships head to sea
with no more hazards to encounter than storms and raging seas.

But today, for those who sail towards the setting sun
Danger lurks in a form more ruthless and sinister than nature ever conjured.

Death and destruction at the hands of human wolves may be theirs.”

Those sobering words stopped me in my tracks. I had to know who this soldier was. Looking beyond the poem’s page I found the intended cover with a boy’s face on it; that of a Mr. Homer Dellinger, who by all accounts was quite the poet. I found pages and pages in his book, “People and Thoughts”, dated 12-7-41 through 8/45. If I’d only had the time to read them all.

I couldn’t resist jotting down just one more of Homer’s gems:

“If all be true that I do think
There are five reasons we should drink:

Good wine, a friend, or being dry,
---or lest we should be, by and by

Or any other reason why.”


Surrounded by the items of the time, it was brought home to me so clearly:

The had lives.
They had wives.

They’ve had reunions and adventures well beyond the Armed Forces by now.

At one time, these men meant everything to each other. They had dreams, girls they were sweet on, hopes for their future.

How appropriate to hear a plane flying overhead at that exact moment, as Bob Hope played on the TV in the corner and cooing music played out of the surround sound. Bob Hope’s, performing in front of countless soldiers said, “What an island. No women anywhere. I say we just let ‘em take it.”

This followed by good-natured laughter.

Then his co-host lady friend spoke, “I was practicing shooting targets for a half hour today with one of the guys. He had his arm around me, showing me how. We’re gonna try it again tomorrow with a rifle!”

Bob Hope mentioned their many accomplishments and quipped, “Isn’t it wonderful what you can do on Spam, huh?”

He said sincerely in closing, “We tried to entertain as many guys and gals as we could.”

More to see. Stars on the planes that equaled the number of confirmed kills. Themes of how a man’s girl was everything to them. Their girl equaled hope and home. The music seemed to back up that sentiment.

“Hot-diggity, dog-diggity, what you do to me…when you’re holding me tight.”

Freedom, family, and protecting the homefront was what it was all about in that day. I was glad I’d had the chance to touch history if only for an hour or two. Even though World War II was a mighty tough time for our country, it was also a time where its population pulled together, worked together and whole-heartedly supported each other.

It’s awfully good to re-visit that every once in a while, and hopefully bring some of that back out the door with us to spread far and wide.

When you understand fully where you’ve come from, you better understand who you are.