Tag Archive | remodeled farmhouse

A Tree, a 100-Year-Old Friend, and Lots of Memories

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Remodeled Farmhouse

Twenty-six years ago Mim and I left Chicago to move back to the family farmhouse in Wisconsin – the farm where I had grown up, also where my mom had grown up and lived almost her whole life. My brother re-modeled the farmhouse for us to make it our perfect home – doubling the square footage: adding a few rooms, tripling the number of bathrooms and adding a front porch. We also increased the size of the lawn to incorporate a couple fields, giving us about three acres of lawn to mow and a gigantic vegetable garden the size of the whole lot of our Chicago two-flat (30’x120’), where we had lived the previous 20 years.

Shortly after we moved into our newly remodeled home, I invited my mom’s brother, Uncle Helmer, and his wife, Aunt Edith, over to see what we had done to the house where he had grown up. We walked them from room to room. When we got to one of the upstairs bedrooms (the one that had been my room when I was a kid), he looked through the north window and pointed to a large oak tree beyond the pasture and just across the road (Highway PQ). Uncle Helmer said, “See that tree way over there. That was our target. Fletcher [his younger brother] and I used to open this window and shoot our rifles at that tree. I wonder if you can still see any of our bullets in the tree trunk…”

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What’s left of the old oak tree.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot over the past few days. Last week I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare to work on writing my second “Talking to God through Music” book. At the end of the week, as I was driving home past that old oak tree, I was startled to see that the tree was no longer standing, but instead there was a huge stump, about a foot and a half tall and five feet wide. Big chunks of the tree were lying beside the stump. The next day I noticed some men sawing the chunks into more manageable size pieces that they trucked away. Now the only thing left is the stump.

A few years ago Highway PQ was given an additional name, Water Street, as the village of Cambridge expanded westward. This summer the street will be closed to traffic as water and sewer pipes and underground utilities are replaced. Then a new road will be constructed on top of the upgraded infrastructure. I assume the old oak tree is a necessary sacrifice for progress in Cambridge. I can accept that, but I will miss the old oak tree. Fortunately, I still have the memory of that tree, and of my conversation with Uncle Helmer about target practice with that old oak tree.

fullsizeoutput_241cSpeaking of memories, our next-door neighbor in Chicago turned 100 this year. Ruth is still living in her two-flat. In 1924, Ruth’s parents and her aunt and uncle bought the two-flat, brand new. Her parents, 6-year-old Ruth, and her baby sister Elaine moved into the first floor apartment, and her aunt and uncle moved into the upstairs apartment. This two-flat has been home to Ruth and Elaine ever since. (Elaine passed away a few years ago.) The picture on the right is 6-year-old Ruth modeling her new ballerina dress (sewed by her mother) in their back yard.

Fifty-five years later, in 1979, Mim and I, along with our friend Marilyn who was renting an apartment in a Chicago suburb at the time, bought the two-flat next door to Ruth and Elaine. Marilyn had the first floor, and Mim and I had the second. We were neighbors of Ruth and Elaine for 13 years, until Mim and I moved back to Wisconsin in 1992. We’ve continued our friendship over the years, and we stop to visit Ruth whenever we can on our trips back to Chicago. We’ve been fortunate to call Ruth our friend for nearly 40 of her 100 years.

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Marian, Mim, and Marilyn in our backyard in Chicago, about 1980.

One of Ruth’s relatives suggested a plan to celebrate Ruth’s 100th birthday this spring. Instead of holding a huge party, she suggested a hundred days of celebration. She set up an online calendar for Ruth’s friends to schedule a private party for just Ruth and themselves, any time beginning with Ruth’s actual birthday (March 22) and continuing for the next 100 days.

Yesterday (May 22) was our day. Marilyn, Mim and I brought lunch and celebrated with Ruth in her home. We reminisced, talked about the neighborhood, laughed, looked at pictures, took new pictures, and had a wonderful lunch together.

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Marilyn, Ruth, and Mim. (My arm isn’t long enough to take a good selfie, so I didn’t get in the picture.)

Among the best things in life are opportunities for making memories, and friends to share them with. As we approach Memorial Day weekend, we will be reminded many times to express appreciation for the protection our military has provided us throughout our country’s history. That’s important. But what’s just as important, is to thank God for all the happy memories we have – from conversations with uncles about trees, to lunch with 100-year-old friends. 

I’ve decided to start thinking of “Memorial Day” as “Memories Day.” For people who are suffering with traumatic memories, may it be a day of healing. For people with memories of service to country, may it be a day of patriotic pride and thankfulness for the blessings our country provides. And may we all remember the happy moments we have experienced throughout our lifetimes. Thanks be to God!

Happy “Memories Day” Weekend!

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Ruth’s 2-Flat is on the left. Ours is on the right. When it was ours we had a tiny lawn in front with some hostas next to the brick, no trees.


When and Why I gave up my Gun

 

Mom-Dad on stump

Mom and Dad

It was the summer of 1991. Mim and I were still living in Chicago, but we spent quite a bit of time in Cambridge that summer. It was the year my dad died, and we spent most weekends throughout the summer at the farmhouse, sorting through all my parents’ belongings. My mom had died five years earlier, and my dad had continued to live at the farmhouse. There had been no need to go through things after my mom’s death, so we had to go through everything in 1991.

It was during that summer that Mim and I decided to have my brother remodel the farmhouse into our dream house, and then we would sell our two-flat in Chicago and move to the farm. We had always dreamed of retiring on the farm, but in 1991 we made the decision to move to the farm while we were in the middle of our careers.

The following May the major remodeling project (gutting the house and doubling its size) was completed and we moved into our beautiful “new” century-old farmhouse.

 

 

Original House - 1992

Farmhouse – Before and After

WW NW

Back in the summer of 1991, as we were going through the house, divvying up things among my brother and sister and their kids and us, we came upon my dad’s 22-rifle that he had kept in the closet next to the kitchen door. He didn’t use the gun for hunting. He used it to scare away wild animals from the house – like raccoons and an occasional fox.

My brother said we should keep the rifle for the same reason. We might need it to scare away some pesky wild animals. Shooting the rifle at the sky would do the job.

22-rifle

That seemed like a good idea to me. I remember learning to shoot a 22-rifle when I was a kid and Danny bought his first real 22-rifle. We lined up tin cans on the fireplace at the edge of the lawn and took turns seeing how many we could hit from about 50 feet away. It was fun. Now I could picture Mim and me having a little target practice with tin cans when we were settled into our new home on the farm.

But then Mim overheard us talking and said in no uncertain terms, “We are not having a gun in our house!” One of my nephews was delighted to hear her comment. He immediately offered to take the gun off our hands. So, I gave it to him. It wasn’t worth fighting over.

Mim and I obviously had very different feelings toward guns. I grew up playing cowboys and Indians with Danny and my cousins. We played with toy pistols and rifles all the time. Then we graduated to BB guns and pellet guns, and finally a 22-rifle. I knew you had to be careful with real guns, but I basically viewed them as toys for shooting at targets and potentially tools for scaring off wild animals. (I never had any desire to hunt.)

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Danny & Marian protecting their snowman with rifles.

Mim, on the other hand, saw guns as dangerous weapons. She didn’t play with toy guns as a kid. Her primary association with guns came from her job as a nurse in Chicago. She had to try to repair some of the damage done by real guns when she worked in a hospital emergency room. She had such a strong aversion to guns that she actually quit her job as a hospice nurse in Chicago when her employer’s solution to the problem of a nurse needing to go into a rough neighborhood alone in the middle of the night to care for a dying patient was to supply the nurse with an escort who carried a gun.

Obviously, Mim and I had completely different reactions to the prospect of keeping a gun in our farmhouse. Fortunately, we were able to quickly resolve our differences.

So, why can’t our country resolve our differences about gun ownership? I think the basic reason is really very simple. Each side refuses to acknowledge that the other side has some valid reasons behind their feelings and opinions.

7 HabitsOne of the best business books I ever read was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The major premise behind this book is that the way to be most effective is to really strive to understand the perspective of the person you disagree with. (I’ll admit I read the book about 40 years ago, but that’s what I remember most from it.)

There may be other factors that play into the gun controversy, but if everyone who holds a strong opinion on the matter would really try to understand, not necessarily agree with, but simply understand another perspective on the issue, there might be some hope for a good resolution, a reasonable compromise.

I’m sure that’s why Mim and I could quickly resolve our disagreement over keeping the 22- rifle. I understood how terrifying it would be for Mim to have a gun in the house. And I measured that fear against my need to protect us from wild animals. Also, I was sure I wouldn’t be able to engage Mim in shooting at tin cans even though I had briefly fantasized about it. Giving away the gun was a no-brainer. In reality, over the next 20-plus years, I would have needed the gun only once for protection, and in that case, I got my brother to come over with one of his guns to send the huge menacing snake in the asparagus patch to its final resting place.

I guess the gun controversy isn’t the only ongoing disaster our country is unable to resolve because of our inability to acknowledge the validity of different perspectives on the issues. Immigration. Gay marriage. Abortion. Global weather change. Freedom of religion. And on and on.

We need to learn to listen. And to understand each other. And to respect each other. These are the processes we need to value. Not who can shout the loudest. Or raise the most money to buy the most politicians.

We need to take out the earplugs, soften our voices, and listen. Especially this year, when the tendency will be to do just the opposite.

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