26 September 2007

Not an Actor

The sun was bearing down on this poor 93 year old Sunday. Folks would ask me questions about my life and I'd have to admit I forgot. Occasionally I'd forget some important parts of my life, while trying to keep the crowd entertained-but my granddaughter would straighten me out. The worse part was when my other wife showed up with the kids.....folks wondered who was THIS woman? And how could a 93 year old have kids 5 and 7 years old? I don't know that my second wife's family was too happy to share the spotlight. Then my parents showed up.

Now, I don't know if I've gotten any better at educatin' the public than when I gave a discussion about my time in the Civil War last year, and subsequent dying in Tennessee; but the crowd seemed to enjoy it regardless. What is this guy talking about?

The Tri-Kaps in our little town did a cemetery walk this past weekend and asked if I would play an older gentleman. I had my arm twisted into participating in a similar event last year for another group.......a good friend and I were a couple of brothers who fought and died in the Civil War, it was kinda cool. And knowing many of the Tri-Kaps, felt that it was good to help this year in their worthy cause. When I got to my station (grave) the granddaughter of the old man was already sitting and waiting for the performance. I enjoyed talking with her.....but quickly realized when I started my schpeel, I had several other facts floating around in my head. So I would stop and think, now, where am I, oh yeah. Hey, I'm not an actor, well, I am a politician-is that the same?

25 September 2007

fireworks & cornshalks

My birthday is in October and I would often have friends over when younger and our favorite thing was to have fireworks wars. No one ever lost an appendage, but I did have a close call with a Roman candle while stuck in a tree once. We used gramp's farm and woods as the war zone.

One year gramps put out corn on one section of ground and felt that he could hand pick it-didn't need to bother with a combine. So, I helped pull the ears off, threw them into a wagon and cut the stalks down. Gramps came back later and placed all the stalks into massive cornshalks. Then he and gramma took their annual fishing trip to Tomahawk Lake, Wisconsin. It was the same weekend as our fireworks war. The cornshalks made for great hiding places and launching sites-because they were large enough to climb inside and supported your weight to climb on top........well, for 11 year olds.

So a friend of mine drops some "ammunition" into the shalk.....and it erupts into flames. The four of us formed a bucket brigade from gramp's barn-several hundred feet away. I was concerned that it would catch the rest of the field on fire-of course, it didn't. The charred remains of the cornshalk had to have made gramps wonder, but he didn't say anything. Grampas are good at keeping secrets from moms and dads.

that time of year again!

Slow moving farm machinery! Remember those signs? I think there are a few of those left on the county roads. It is that time of the year again, the beans are coming out of the fields in break-neck speed and corn should be following soon. I haven't caught what the expected yeilds will be this year, due to the drought conditions earlier in the summer; or if the deluge in late summer will help in any way.
My grandfather had two requirements of me in his later years. I was his chauffer in the spring to check the progress of spring planting in the surrounding countryside. He always swore that the farmers who planted on Sundays, when they should have been in church, were certain to lose their crops to natural disaster. Never mind gramps didn't go to church until late in life. Then there was the harvest tour.........we would head out to see the condition of the fields about this time of year........and which farmers were lax in getting their beans out of the field.

I wonder if I'm going to be the old guy in the passenger seat someday, pointing out who the lazy farmers are and who is on the ball. Probably.......I kinda do that even now. Meanwhile, slow down, there may be a combine ahead.

24 September 2007

Does this disturb you?

It should.

Yet again, I find cause to ponder on the political activism running rampant in some churches. I received a disturbing letter over the weekend from a local church. It appears they are having a "community event", but wanted to let me know, as an elected official, that I should be sure to register at the front table so that they could announce the names of the elected officials and candidates (since this is a municipal election year) in attendance. They wanted me to know that they expected 900 people and that they would also be conducting voter registration. Of course, they say it is for both parties.

Unfortunately churches like this are turning Christianity into almost a prostitution of the cross, attempting to influence political leaders with selling themselves and their voters, or whatever crowd they can get to show up to their event. But they see nothing wrong with it. How it must make Christ feel?!

I'll be blunt (as if I haven't already been). They are contributing to the reckless abandonment of the Christ model by wrapping the cross in the flag and seeking influence with men who will acknowledge God with their mouths, but not in their hearts or lives. And what is tremendously worse, is that those same men find themselves controlled by men of deplorable moral standing.

Let the church concentrate on changing hearts, not influencing voters or politicians. Again, a good read is "Myth of a Christian Nation". I plan to respond to my invitation to this church event, declining the invitation, but want to do so in a constructive way......this blog is just my rant.

We are (d)One

Leaving Notre Dame stadium Saturday, after being a part of history, my friend pointed out the back of a fan's t-shirt and said, "whoa, for a moment, I thought that said WE ARE DONE".

Geesh, poor Notre Dame. Now, I'm not a raving Notre Dame fan.......certainly was more so in college than now, but I've always been for the home team-be it Purdue, IU or Ball State (almost upset Nebraska this weekend!). And since IU didn't have much of a football program to speak of, and Purdue was IU's arch enemy in basketball.....that led me to Notre Dame: awesome school, awesome football program, in the Holtz years.

I got to the stadium very early and was able to soak in the atmosphere, catch the team practicing and ponder my place in the universe with touch down Jesus at my back. A very telling song played during practice......"Living on a Prayer". I really did love being there, and you could tell the crowd was desperate for a win and the glimmer of hope in the first half set the fans on fire.

But that was the end of it. As we left the stadium my friend said "it seems that even touchdown Jesus is frowning".......I thought, no, like the reaction of most fans, He had his hands in the air saying what's up with the Irish? I sincerely wish the team well, Notre Dame is a great school with tradition unparalleled here in the Midwest, and much of the country for that matter.

A great school deserves a great football program. Go Irish! on to Purdue!

21 September 2007

Easing into Fall

Well, this weekend Fall will officially arrive. This time of the year is by far my favorite. And Indiana is spectacular when aglow in autumn splendor. Drive down a country road this fall, wherever you are...........stop, get out of your car and breath in deeply. Man, there is nothing like it. Now, be certain you aren't too close to a hog farm, but, hey, whatever trips your trigger.

Favorite time of the day in the fall is just before dusk........when the temperature has dropped and you feel the crispness of the air, but catch the full radiance of the sun landing on each painted leaf and fields of the ripened harvest. No better time in Indiana than this.

19 September 2007

It's Official!

No, the guy in this picture is not me......I wish! He has been my inspiration. Let me give some background. I went through a profound change late last fall regarding my role in our community, some basic beliefs and about the direction God would have for my life. This lead to an interesting challenge-The 2007 Self-Challenge-I called it.

Always having been a scrawny guy, I felt the nudge to begin to transform myself physically as well. To be honest, some of it had to do with creating a distraction from what was going on around me. I had tried everything before-including forcing down Heavy Weight Gainer 2000 during college. None of it worked. My goal was to gain 18 lbs. of lean muscle.

Well, it's official. While visiting the doc today I learned I had gained exactly that 18 lbs.. Now, before some of you start sending me hate mail, remember, it was no fun growing up being called squirt. I'd like to say I've gained an even 20 lbs of muscle, so, I'm going for 2 more by the end of the year.

My belief in this is that God used some trying times in my life, to say this to me........not only can I change your heart, your mind, but I can change you physically as well. Believe me, this is a miracle. And a BIG THANKS to some of my buddies out there who have encouraged me in this!

night on the (small) town

Maybe I should let me wife tell this story, but it certainly is in keeping with the spirit of this blog...so, here goes.

Our little town has an operating downtown, old time theater that still shows first run films. Because of some professional services I provided the old couple who owns the building, they gave my wife and I a handful of free passes when we were first married. We went a couple years and never paid for a movie. In fact, after I proposed to my wife, the theater owners were the first folks who knew because they were on the way back from our walk on which she accepted. Once we were snowed in when we lived in our apartment downtown-only the downtown Chinese restaurant and the theater were open (they were snowed in too), so we ate Chinese and took in a show. There was one other couple there, who also ate Chinese......same story.

The other night my wife and her friend went downtown to catch the film. They got there only a few minutes late to find the ticket booth closed. She inquired if it was too late and the older lady said, "no one showed up, so we aren't showing the film". After a few minutes on the sidewalk, the owner's son said, "if you want to see it, I'll run it for you". So they opened the theater for my wife and her friend. Then a little old man showed up who, evidently, waits to see if someone else is going so that the owners don't open the theater just for him. Now that's good, small town service you wouldn't get at your mega-plexes!

17 September 2007

for whom the road Tolls

When the Toll Road was brand new-look at all the traffic!

I'll give points to Governor Mitch on his ingenious Toll Road "sale". It may not have been the most conventional way to stuff state coffers with lots of dough (gambling is becoming more traditional), but he did bring some "out of the box" thinking we don't often get from state officials.

Now the merits of his out of the box thinking are fair debate fodder. Is it possible that the state could have better managed the road and thus received greater revenue under a new system? Possibly. Is it likely that all of our proceeds from the lease will fleet away in a "stumble over ourselves for economic development" attitude? Nearly guaranteed. Our state elected leaders are going to have to show great restraint in spending the dough from the toll road; otherwise we'll have some very state of the art infrastructure that will all need massive reconstruction in about 30 years-without the ability to pay for it.

Time will tell. Genius and outside the box thinking is only good when there isn't the need to save your butt politically and the genius can be appreciated by consecutive leaders. Otherwise, in this case, it could be just like a kid in a candy store.

14 September 2007

the Carny

The wife was out of town last weekend, so I braved it and took the kids to a small town festival, about an hour away, our family had never had the pleasure of visiting before. This is always an adventure. Now, I don't want to seem to be picking on this little town, but, boy, talk about a small town festival! There were four or five food booths set up on main street and about the same number of craft booths. I will admit, I was impressed with the enormous turn-out for the mud volley ball tournament and the tractor pull. Tractor pulls are done right, here in the Hoosier state.

But, it was the carnival rides that the kids wanted to experience. Their eyes both immediately landed on this streamlined mini train.......which, I could imagine my dad riding in the 1940's. No, I'm being quite serious. So I paid the outrageous sum for the two kids to climb into the engine and second car and the carny (fella who stopped and started the train) sounded the whistle, which appeared to be a siren scavenged from another ride, and off they went. They had the train all to themselves.

While I was waiting for the kids to finish their adventure, the carny struck up a conversation with me about where the rides were going next in Indiana, then their circuit through the Michigan festivals and how they should be done by the end of October. Then he gave me the low-down on what had happened at the festival the night before and how he and two of his buddies "went lookin' for a troublesome young buck" who threatened a girl with a knife. Having nothing more to say to him, than "hmmm, wow." he continued to tell his great tale of finding the kid in the alley and threatened to drag his sorry butt (I cleaned this up) to the sheriff and they'd give him "a good beatin'". Hmmm....wow. I said again.

Meanwhile, I had noticed the kids' adventure seemed to be declining, the magic had now gone from their eyes-I mean, it had been about 10 minutes at this point going in circles. The carny noticed this too, so he thought to reignite the joy by sounding the siren again. He turned to me and continued his fantastic tale from the dark alleys of this town of about 600 Hoosiers.

Soon I began to feel a little sorry for the troublesome buck. I'm not so sure that I'd want to have a run-in with three carnys in a dark alley-although I saw no sign of the bearded woman or yak girl in and among the carnival grounds. I did notice that my little girl had her arms stretched out wanting out of the little train. My son sat with his chin in his hands-at this point the carny rung the little bell on the front of the engine and said "whoo who!"

Finally, the carny's story ended. And so did the magic train ride........about 12 minutes, I'd guess. The next little girl got on, her ride lasted about 2 minutes. I wish the carny well...and I hope the young buck learned a lesson, never mess with a carny, or dare to engage in a conversation with him for that matter.

12 September 2007

the Old Michigan Road

Old Michigan Road through a downtown district

Trivia: what was the very first state commissioned road? Did you know that the Michigan Road did not go to Michigan, but to Lake Michigan at Michigan City? Did you know that the road was originally intended to head directly north from Logansport but to avoid the Kankakee marsh, it went to Rochester north to South Bend, then west? Did you know that in portions of the state, land for the Michigan Road was purchased in huge chunks from Native Americans, but in the northern part of the state, it was only a 100' swath of ground?

The Michigan Road was probably one of if not the most important transportation routes in the fledgling State of Indiana. Being the first commissioned road by the Indiana State Legislature in 1826; the Michigan Road became a key thoroughfare in opening up the state to settlement. It connected Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capitol. It was used by the pioneer and as a path for freedom for the runaway slave; it was the trail down which the Native American was removed from their lands.

Fortunately, much of the road and its roadside architecture still exist from those early days; however, very little has been written about the road and thorough research has not been completed. It's time to understand, document and celebrate this important part of our Hoosier Heritage. The Michigan Road winds its way through fifteen counties and more than two dozen communities. It connects the north with the south and touches all of the topography we recognize as home in Indiana. What better way to honor our State's upcoming bicentennial than to designate this state treasure a Hoosier Heritage Trail. Let the road tell the history of our State through its geography, its people, and its architecture. Through our forests, small towns, cities and farms this one road has the ability to showcase what it means to be a Hoosier and how our State was built.

Counties through which the Michigan Road passes
LaPorte, St. Joseph, Marshall, Fulton, Cass, Carroll, Clinton, Boone, Hamilton, Marion, Shelby, Rush, Decatur, Ripley, & Jefferson

Cities & towns through which the Michigan Road passes:
Michigan City, New Carlisle, South Bend, Lakeville, LaPaz, Plymouth, Argos, Rochester, Fulton, Logansport, Burlington, Michigantown, Kirklin, Indianapolis, Shelbyville, Middleton, St. Omer, Greensburg, Slabtown, Smyma, Napolean, Dabney, New Marion, Bryantsburg, & Madison

Poor planning

I come from the mindset that we need to be extremely careful in using our land. Once it is built upon, we can never really get it back for agricultural or natural purposes. I have heard that within 40 years Indiana will have no measurable agricultural land left. This should be alarming, should you consider the availability of land for purposes of growing food. Unless we don't care if our children and grandchildren starve.
Now, not that this is just a Hoosier phenomenon, but it does seem that we here in the Midwest have a little different mindset when it comes to land use. We too quickly think of land as an infinite resource. It is not. I think along with this is the whole "my land is mine to do what I want with, to heck with you". I consider myself more of a steward of the land I own; that it will be passed on. This is more Old World thinking-unlike the idea of a limitless wilderness the pioneers sought to tame. This is called sprawl in the 21st century.

Recently our county adopted a new land zoning ordinance. Unfortunately the committee who wrote the ordinance was comprised largely of special interests/developers. We are actually taking a major step backward in our ordinance from the one adopted in the 70's. Of course, it's political. The one "advancement" of the document is that if you (as a non-farmer) live in the country-you have to reserve a strip of ground 30 feet wide on your own property so as not to interfere with farming operations-the farmers demanded this. It seems its ok for them to tell you what you can and can't do with your property-but don't tell them, if they want to split it up into 1 acre housing tracts-for some reason, that's ok.

Too bad, really, that we are so selfish in our own interests that we can't consider the next generation or those to come. Republicans are the worse when it comes to this, when in fact, to be truly conservative, they should be most concerned about the liberal waste of ground. Seems that Republican values somehow stop at the property line. In fact, a more fiscally responsible way to operate county governments is through more restrained ag land development. I thought the most telling thing of a lack of commitment to farmland preservation was a statement on an ag related state website that said they "would not take a position on farmland preservation". Shouldn't they be on the forefront?

We'll learn someday.........when it is too late of course.

eve of 9/11

do you remember the eerie calm the morning of September 11th, six years ago, after the nation realized the gravity of the event unfolding before our eyes?

do you remember where you were? do you remember the feeling when your eyes would meet those of a stranger on the street? do you remember how we said we would never be the same?
are we really different today?

I remember being asked to co-host a local radio talk show the day before the first anniversary of 9/11. We talked about it, but just briefly.........but I publicly speculated that Americans had indeed forgotten the commitment to "change". Remember that? how we would never be the same? But we are today, even more selfish in our ambitions and greed, than we were before 9/11. Can you disagree?
I love this country........so much so that I weep for her. We are blinded to our own greed and see corruption and lack of integrity as acceptable paths to success. When you bow your head to pray tomorrow, remembering September 11th..........search your soul. Check your priorities, reach out to someone, heal strained relationships. And instead of asking God to bless us, pray for brokenness.

07 September 2007

Report from Dad's Feild

What's this? This strange little creature was hanging out on dad's grape vines. Anyone know? My brother thought it was an albino tomato worm. An entomologist he is not. I thought since it looked like a tomato worm, but was orange, that maybe it had ripened.

trip to the feed mill

Here's another one of those great memories stemming from horses and small towns. The feed mill-or grain elevator. Gramps would ask if I wanted to go with him to pick up feed for the horses, which he got from our small town's grain elevator. If it was cold, I'd ride in the front cab of the truck soaking up his cigar smoke. If it was warm enough, I got to ride in the back of the truck along the country roads. I remember the trip being an adventure in manhood. I got to stand around with the old farmer types who talked politics and local goings on with their tall thermos of coffee in one hand and the screw off cup in the other. The old place had wide, worn wood plank floors and smelled of sweet oats and tobacco. I even kept Gramp's hat he got from the elevator (see post below).

A few years back, my dad asked if I could pick up birdseed at the elevator in the town I live now. Sure. I walked in the door and overheard someone from the back ask "Barry, did you want a cappuchino". I grinned thinking-I guess some things have changed.

These icons of our agricultural roots are disappearing quickly. They provide a place for community to happen within our rural farming towns, that would be sorely missed. Their forms are simple, but rugged against the skyline of Indiana. We should hope that at least a few of these come along with us into the future. I know the one from my boyhood still exists. I think I'd like to go there again, just to soak it up.

Hay Bailing

Gramps had nearly 40 head of horses at one time. His farming operation really existed for the horses. I remember discussions about money between gramma and gramps when she'd buy herself a new dress, which was rare, she'd say "you spend more on feed for those horses in a day than I do on clothes in a year". Gramps resorted to heavy chewing on his cigar, knowing he had no defense.

So, much of his fields were put out to hay or pasture for the horses. My cousins and I grew up with hay bailing and making hay "forts" in the barn loft. Something all too wonderful about hacking up hay dust after a hard day's work unloading wagons. Until recently, I only had one "most memorable hay bailing story". So now I'll share both.

Somehow one Saturday, when I was about 15, gramps had 4 wagons of hay to unload into his hay barn and all his help had left. This left just me. I think he thought that the rain would hold off. But as the day went on, the rain clouds began to build and I was the one guy who could help. I was the "stacker" which means gramps threw the bails off the wagon-and I had to stack them, by myself-and gramps liked to bail the hay tight-which means heavy. That was a long, tiring day for a scrawny 15 year old. And I missed a date that night. But I guess I'll always have that memory.

Then, after a long hiatus from bailing hay-about 17 years, a buddy of mine had heard my longing for the good 'ol hay bailing days, and invited me to participate on his gentleman's farm. There was a wagon that needed unloaded after a meeting we had scheduled. I thought, sure, even though I was feeling a little tired, that would be great. We started late and didn't finish until almost midnight. I don't remember unloading and stacking with gramps to be that hard, nor that hot. I was drenched. He offered me a cold beer, which I should have passed up since I don't typically imbibe anyway. I paid for it in the morning..........but got the day off work.

Now, those of you who have never had the joy of bailing, this probably doesn't mean much. But for you Hoosiers out there who have paid your dues & done your time....I hope this brought back some fond memories. Probably made you itch a little too.

05 September 2007

the Most Sacred site

I have a strange little quirk, that until now, only my wife knew about. If for any reason we are in Indianapolis, I make a pilgrimage to Monument Circle and walk, or at least drive around the circle............for good luck. That's right, it has almost become a superstition for me.

I'm not sure what started it; I made several trips to Indy while in high school and went to the circle. If ever there was something done right in Indiana, this is it. The sculpture and architecture is amazing, the approach and views from the circle are breathtaking. Monument Circle, at the center of Indianapolis and the center of our state is like the heart and soul of our great state, preserved and celebrated in a fantastic public arena.

Now, what many of you might not know, Monument circle was originally intended for the governor's mansion. In fact, when Indianapolis was laid out, they built the first governor's mansion there. Governors would later refuse to live there, the mansion became vacant and animals would run through the unkempt yard and house. This sounds a little more Hoosier, doesn't it?

As a monument to our soldier's, the pioneering spirit of our forefathers and representations of our native creatures, the circle is one place every Hoosier should go and reflect.

meet me for coffee at............

Change: it happens, get over it. Change isn't always for the best, but because it generally happens slowly we hardly recognize it and what the new norm is - whatever it is - seems not so bad. And then we think back. Those were the days! And in some places, they still are.

Diners, cafes', hometown restaurants, mom & pop shops - whatever you want to call them and wherever they are across Indiana seem to be disappearing in increasing numbers. And with their fading also is removed a sense of the community that they once provided. A new sense of community may be found in other establishments or venues, but make no mistake-it just isn't the same. So what have we lost and are continuing to lose? Maybe more importantly, should we do something about it?

I am the proud son of a diner family-a truckstop more specifically. My grandparents traded the farm for a café in 1950. A few years later the state came through and demolished the place for road expansion forcing my grandparents to relocate the business. In 1996 my dad & mom closed the doors. It sold, then closed, then sold again and stayed closed. Fond memories, hard work and good neighbors-that's what it was. Our community lost something more than a piece of history the day we walked away. A place to gather, be seen, talk and stay informed, lend support, laugh and sometimes cry together. We lost "community".

There are a handful of locations around our great state where a few mom & pops heroically beat the odds of fast food and chains. Or, maybe the chains just haven't reached them yet. Whatever the case-these places should be celebrated as one of the most important vestiges of Hoosierdom. They are everything that is still good of our culture and a link to our past that made us who we are today. And in their absence may show us what we are becoming.

Gafill Oil Company in Argos

My great-grandfather (above) may have started our family in the fuel business with his employment as the agent for an oil company in ...