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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Unexpected Treasures



     Don’t you think the best moments in life are the ones that come as sweet surprises? You know the ones, those where you’re not expecting what comes your way, those that make the smiles all the more enjoyable.  
     Can I describe one of those moments? It’s part of another story, but I want to share that too. A few weeks ago, Labor Day I think, I decided to tackle the task of bagging up the rest of the movies from Randon’s collection. You’ll recall we gave away nearly 300 movies last spring through the school. They went into classrooms, daycares and homes of children where all could be enjoyed. The amount was staggering but even more so when you considered the ones we still had at home.
This second round,  I bagged nearly 200 movies. If you’re getting a visual of this movie collection let me remind you that the movies I gathered for give-away don’t count the ones I kept either because I like them a lot or for the sentimental value of how important they were to Randon. It doesn’t count the ones I donated to the church library.  It doesn’t count the ones his brothers chose to keep. It doesn’t count the ones that had to be thrown away simply because they had been viewed so many times they no longer worked. I don’t know how many movies Randon had, but my best guess is about 600. No – it wasn’t too many. He loved his movies and we loved indulging him.
     As I bagged movies I also made piles of cassette tapes, audio CDs and computer games. Lots of them. Again, the school was the recipient. Staff gleaned what they wanted for their classrooms or homes then the rest were offered to parents and students at parent teacher conferences. Thanks to all my friends who took movies, etc. You have no idea how important it is to me that people who knew Randon are now enjoying the things he loved so much. It is so much more meaningful to me than having them in the hands of strangers. Special thanks to those who made donations to Randon’s memorial fund for the school library. His legacy will continue to the benefit of Bennington students for many years to come.
     The treasure. OK, I’m getting there.  I have to say that as I’ve gradually tackled this unenviable task of sorting and distributing Randon’s possessions, I’ve found many treasures. Most of them wouldn’t mean a thing to anyone else but they mean everything to me. I’ll cherish them and the memories they bring. But the treasure I found this day did not belong to Randon.
     One of the stacks I made was blank cassette tapes. My kids all played with cassette recorders when they were young so there were several of these tapes lying around.   I thought to throw them away but decided at the last minute I should listen to them to see if anything was still recorded on them.  I waded through preschool songs, unintelligible gibberish and long minutes of nothingness. Yeah, we don’t need these things.
     Then I found it. I didn’t recognize what it was at first but finally figured out I was listening to Nolan making an audio recording of the Inspector Gadget movie. I‘m estimating he was about seven at the time. Why he wanted to record Inspector Gadget, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter. What was special about it was the voices in the background. I can hear all three of them, Ty, Randon and Nolan talking to each other, enjoying the movie, laughing about it and having a good time. Every now and then Nolan seems to pick up the microphone and sing a little song about Inspector Gadget or super heroes or Wonder Woman, all very cute and obviously off the cuff.  I was enchanted by this recording.  For a short while it was like having my boys be little again. I enjoyed their young voices, the interaction between them and the memories that came flooding into my thoughts. I knew I would save this tape.
     Then Inspector Gadget ended and the tape went silent. Just as I was about to turn it off, I hear Nolan’s voice again. He announced himself as singing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Well, of course I had to hear that. The only problem  was he didn’t know most of the words. But that didn’t stop him. He bravely pushed forward making up the words as he went along.
Using the tune of “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” his song began like this:
"The devil went down to Georgia
The devil went down to Georgia
The devil went down to Georgia
And this is what he did"
     I was then regaled with a description of a fiddle tournament between a devil with a golden fiddle and a boy who seemed suspiciously like my son.  The rendition came complete with sound effects of the fiddle “music .”
     By this time I was laughing so hard I had tears coming from my eyes.  Nolan’s little song was SOOOO much more entertaining than the version by Charlie Daniels. I could have listened to it forever. Then the ending. It caught and held my heart in a way I haven’t experienced for a long time.   It went like this:
"So I won that devil’s soul and I put it in a bag.
I took it home to my Mom and dad
I told them I won it in a fiddle tournament.
They didn’t say any words to me but they gave me 400 hugs and 400 kisses . 400 love hugs."
     I wish you could hear the pride in his voice as he sings his little song. I wish I could go back to that day so many years ago and give my little boy 400 love hugs and 400 kisses. I want him to know I love him 400 hugs and kisses worth even if he doesn’t win a fiddle tournament. Even if his singing voice came from the Luginsland family. Even if he’s all grown up now.  The song I would sing back to him? “I don’t care if you’re eighty, you’ll always be my baby.”
    And now, I have this treasure on an obscure cassette tape I almost threw away.  Who knows what other treasures await me as I continue to sort through Randon’s possessions.  I’m looking forward to Christmas. Guess what? There is a whole box (big box) of Randon’s Christmas books and movies in the basement. Lots of Christmas movies. And you all thought I was out of movies by now…. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

If You Could Meet Anyone...



You’ve all heard the question. If you could meet anyone you want, past or present, who would it be? I’ve actually thought about this. No, it wouldn’t be a movie star or even the president – um, we won’t go there just now. Some of you won’t get it, but I’ve always known my celebrity of choice would be an author. Which author is a little more vague. I’ve given myself the privilege in answering this question in two parts. If the person I would choose to meet was from the past, that would not only be a very weird and eerie sort of meeting, but I know who it would be. Laura Ingalls Wilder. She is my absolute hero. I have always wanted to ask her if Eliza Jane ever forgave her for writing the words “Lazy Lousy Lizzy Jane.”  A close second would be Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte. Wouldn’t it be cool to tell Jane that Mr. Darcy uttered one of the most romantic lines in all of history (you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love… I love… I love you. And I never wish to be parted from you from this day on) (sigh!) or to ask Charlotte why she made Mr. Rochester an unattractive man. Oh, I always wished he was handsome!  How romantic for the handsome man who could have any woman to fall in love with plain Jane, the governess, no less. I’d also tell Charlotte to never let that “Villette” book see the light of day. Oh Charlotte, it’s really awful.
Sorry – I digress. Choosing a real live now-time author to meet is a much harder choice. My favorite author changes from day to day. It’s usually whoever wrote the last book I read. Anyway, meeting someone who writes the books I’m reading doesn’t seem all that special. I feel like I already know them from what they write. So, I decided that the author I would choose to meet is Randon’s favorite author, John Erickson. Oh, the things I would tell that man about how Randon dearly loved Hank, how he read every book aloud to me, how we had to stop and discuss things of epic nature such as Hank ‘hiney skiing’ or getting outsmarted by Pete the cat. I’d tell him how we had to start over at the beginning of a chapter if we didn’t get it read in one sitting, how Drover’s “Oh, my leg” always made him laugh and how Randon would sing (a tune and everything) each and every song Hank ever made up. John Erickson has no idea what an impact he made on Randon’s life, or mine for that matter. After being told when he was a baby that Randon couldn’t learn to read, I never failed to find delight in hearing him read to me about Hank’s adventures.
As many of you know, my family recently donated all Randon’s Hank books and memorabilia to the Bennington School library where they can be enjoyed by Bennington children for many years to come. I wrote a note to John Erickson telling him about Randon’s Hank shelves and the epidemic of ‘Hank checkouts’ that has overtaken our school. I thanked him for writing the books and providing so much enjoyment to so many people. That was that, or so I thought.
This afternoon my phone rang. The caller ID said “Anonymous Caller.” I never answer anonymous calls. I started to ignore it then something told me I should answer. I have learned never to ignore that still small voice that has proven to be so much wiser than my louder, logical one. I picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, this is John Erickson.”
He said it in such a normal tone of voice, like it was everyday I receive a phone call from the man I had tagged as my top pick on my “Wish to Meet” list. He told me he had received my letter and wanted to contact me, just to express his sympathies to my family and thank us for the Hank donation to our library. I visited with Mr. Erickson and his wife Kristine for over 30 minutes and had the most enjoyable conversation. We talked about Randon and Hank of course, but we also talked about where he lives, where I live, the weather, college football, ranching and farming. It was like I was talking to someone I had known for years. He gave me his telephone number and email address and asked me to stay in contact with him.
Oh, I’m loving it. And then he asked me the question that made me swoon. “How is it that you write so well?” (Oh, be still my wildly beating heart!)
My eloquent and well thought out response:  “Um….huh?”
He continues to flatter me. “Your letter was beautifully written. You’re a writer aren’t you?”
Again, my way with words takes over. “Uh, well….”
“The way a person writes a letter is a wonderful indicator of their writing abilities on a creative level. May I send you a complimentary autographed copy of my book on story crafting?”
“Well, ok.”
I admit it. He had me wrapped around his little finger at this point. Yes, I suppose I’ll just have to let him send me his book. I guess I’ll even let him autograph it for me if that’s what he wants to do.  And when I get it I’ll probably even read it. Devour it, more like. Put it at the top of my list of what to grab when the house is on fire.
What a kind-hearted couple. Instead of feeling like I’ve had a dream-come-true call from a celebrity, I feel like I have two new friends. Two friends who are reaching out to me to encourage and strengthen me along the way.
As my friend Dawn said, “You know Randon is saying "My Mom's the Bomb!"
Here’s what I’m saying. “John Erickson, you’re the bomb!”
Read a Hank the Cowdog book. I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud. I know a really great school library where you can find a whole bunch of them!