Heirlooms

"2 : something of special value handed on from one generation to another " – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

of presents~

I must have been about 12 years old when I began babysitting for our neighbors and using my small income to buy gifts for my family. And so I remember setting out with a small purse to find a gift for grandpa one Christmas. I had gotten a ride to the shopping mall in Logansport, back when kids could safely walk through a mall on their own, and spend the better part of a day or evening completely unchaperoned in the shops without any cause for concern.
I remember walking the shops and picking out presents for members of my family. I bought my mom a bottle of perfume that smelled like spearmint. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Spearmint was my favorite of the Wrigley gum flavors in its perfectly clean and gleaming white packaging. And I always preferred spearmint flavored Certs mints over the peppermint, which always seemed much too strong and overpowering a flavor. Years later, I saw that bottle of perfume, unused but undiscarded, sitting in her bathroom, a small reminder of an innocent heart that wanted to give instead of receive. I remember pooling my funds together with my sister to buy our dad a mechanic creeper, so that he could work on our decrepit cars with a bit more ease. We hid it in our closet but I suspect that dad saw it before the big reveal while inspecting our room with his marine-like precision of our a holiday cleaning (Why clean it when you can stuff it all in this convenient and spacious closet?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!).
But when it came to grandpa’s gift that year, I was stumped. I spent hours wandering that shopping mall, looking for the perfect gift for him. I did not have much money left but I really wanted to get him something good, something useful, practical but also of value.

At some point, I was standing just outside of a shoe store and noticed a shoe shine kit in the window. It was the 70s and men still would take the time to shine their shoes and make the old look like new. The kit was $5 and I knew I had found my gift for him. I was excited to give him this kit and proud of myself for finding it for him. He was a blue collar working man, but he had some good shoes for church on Sundays. He would not be the kind of man to spend extra cash on a new pair of shoes when a good spit and polish would make the old new again. Extra cash had so many other uses for working class families. And grandma worked as a shoe saleswoman for years. She would appreciate this gift to grandpa as much as he would. I remember wrapping up his gift and putting a bow on it. I think it was truly the first gift I ever bought for him with my own money.

And so, as I reflect on that Christmas, I also reflect on the presents I have received over the years from my own beautiful girls. Phil always made a point of taking the girls out shopping for a gift for mommy just before Christmas. When Peggy was 3 years old, she gave me a scrub brush and a set of Lisa Frank pencils. The scrub brush was blue and white. The Lisa Frank pencils, like all other Lisa Frank products for those of you who have not raised girls in the 90s, are bright pink with patterns of unicorns and rainbows all over them. Lovely! I remember opening the gifts from Peggy, the look of love and excitement on her sweet little face and the love in my heart for her at that moment. Phil assured me that these gifts were of her choosing, not a hint about my housekeeping skills. Phil told me that he walked up and down the aisles of Walmart with Peggy and these are the items she selected for me. Because my most precocious Peggy always paid attention to everything going on in her little toddler world,  I can imagine that, at some point, I must have been walking around the house saying aloud to myself, “I need a pencil.”

When we moved to Taiwan in 2002, I had a favorite pair of earrings that were my “everyday-go-to” earrings. They were silver hearts that went with everything I could possibly wear. I loved those earrings. At some point early in our move, I lost one of them – so frustrating and annoying! I tore through every room in our tiny Asian apartment trying to find the lost earring . . . sigh . . . gone. Then, at Christmas, our first Christmas abroad, Rachel gave me a pair of earrings- absolutely identical to the ones I loved and had lost. Phil had taken the girls out shopping for me. That Rachel could find a pair of earrings identical to the other lost pair was tremendous if they had been shopping in the U.S. — the fact that she found these while out shopping in Taiwan was  nothing short of miraculous. I still have them. I still love them. Bless her little heart!

My girls have given me so many precious gifts over the years. Most of them cannot be wrapped or perceived with the human eye, but only with a parent’s heart. Priceless to me, my girls. So, I reflect on that shoe shine kit Christmas and remember with some sadness that I never actually gave my gift to Grandpa. Call it what you will– coincidence, fate, dumb luck — but that was the year that grandma had the brilliant idea to give all the men in our family shoe shine kits for Christmas. I sat with my mouth wide open like a bass and watched in dismay as uncles, cousins, father, brother – all opened one after another – shoe shine kits – identical to the one I had bought for grandpa that year. My heart sank. In the mayhem of bodies and bows, gifts and grownups, I made my way to grandma’s tree, retrieved my present for grandpa and pushed through the throng of relatives crowded in grandma’s living room. I made my way to the hall tree, found my coat in the massive pile and stuffed the kit into my coat sleeve. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. I went into the bathroom and cried. My child’s heart was sad and confused and hurt. Oh, grandma! How could you?! How could you think of the perfect gift, too? I allowed myself a few minutes of self-pity but I knew I had to pull myself together and get back out there into the madness that was Christmas at grandma’s back when we all lived within a 30 mile radius of Logansport. I took that gift home that night and it sat in the back of my closet, unopened with a smushed bow, for years.

In retrospect, I should have given it to grandpa anyway. He would have loved it and we all would have gotten a good laugh out of it. I know that now- as a mother who treasures every gift my children give me out of love and grace and innocence. When I see him again, I will tell him all about it. I will love seeing his smile and hearing his laugh at this tale – that smile, that laugh will be his gift to me.

1 Comment »

of storms~

So a few weeks ago, tornados tore through the Midwest again and struck close to home. Kokomo is a mere 30 minute drive from my Logan and this wasn’t the first time it was struck by a tornado. Likely that it will not be the last time either, as tornados are just a normal part of those Midwestern springs. As I scanned the news of the storms and their damage, I am looking carefully at the storm paths and determining where my own extended family is in all this mess and destruction. As best I can tell, my aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings are all out of harms way . . . this time. That wasn’t the case in 1965, however.

On Palm Sunday of 1965, my Uncle Dick and Aunt Jeanette were racing to their home from church in Russiaville, Indiana with their newly adopted baby boy. They got home just as the storm was bearing down on their house. Grandma told me that just as they were running to the basement for shelter, the tornado ripped the roof of of the house and tore baby Ricky from Aunt Jeanette’s arms. Ricky was slammed against the wall and bounced back into Jeanette’s arms. Jeanette ran down the steps, followed closely by my Uncle Dick. They found the safety of their basement as the house collapsed above them. The storm was classified later as an F4 tornado but speculation today states that it at have been an F5. F4 — F5 — call it what you want. It was a monster wave of tornados ripping through Indiana that day.

In Logansport, the storms were also threatening. The entire northern part of Indiana was under siege from these storms. As reports came in, with a confirmed touch down in Russiaville, grandma and grandpa feared the worst. Grandpa left their home as soon as he could to head into the heart of the Russiaville path of destruction. As grandma told it to me, he was delayed by debris on roadways and an unrecognizable landscape. When he finally found what had once been Dick’s house, he dug through rubble with his bare hands, searching desperately for his son, his daughter-in-law and his new grandson. Grandma said that when grandpa arrived back in Logansport with our Russiaville refugees in tow, he was a bloody mess. Covered in abrasions from his hasty rescue of his family however, his heart was at peace. His family was safe now. Rest and time would heal this destruction and families would come together to rebuild homes and rebuild lives.

Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Dick probably have their own harrowing account of that day, that storm and that recovery. But this is what I remember from grandma.

1965 Elkhart, Indiana double tornado on Palm S...

1965 Elkhart, Indiana double tornado on Palm Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our family was lucky that day. Those Palm Sunday storms were among the most deadly tornadoes to ever hit Indiana. 25 people died in Russiaville alone and 90% of the structures in Russiaville were destroyed. Total death toll in Indiana was 138 people. Many families did not find peace that night.

It seems to me that in my own life, I putter along most days in calm waters, in a loving home, surrounded by my loving family, and an occasional tempest will blow through- scattering debris, knocking me off of my foundation, tearing down the structures I have built around me. I may find myself confused by the way life seems to wear me down, wear me out – a constant but gradual erosion of the walls of control and order with which I surround myself. I think about my grandparents every single day. I miss them tremendously. When my life seems to overwhelm me, I think of them, the storms they weathered, the love they relied on to rebuild their lives daily. I am grateful.

2 Comments »

her ring ~

Grandma and grandpa were married for 66 years before grandpa died in 1998. As grandma told it to me, grandpa had been living with grandma’s family as a border during the depression. They were dating by then but it was the depression and great-grandma needed to rent out rooms to make a little extra money. Times were lean.
Grandpa was working as a truck driver and had a day trip scheduled to Danville, Illinois. After a little plotting and planning, grandma and grandpa convinced great-grandma Herron to let her eldest daughter, Evelyn, go with her boyfriend, Gene, on that day trip. While they were in Dayton that day, February 12, 1932, they eloped.

Grandma & Grandpa Conn

Grandma & Grandpa Conn

Grandma told me that they didn’t even tell great-grandma Herron right away. They knew she would insist that they move out of her home and start a home of their own. But she needed the border money and they couldn’t afford their own place right away, either.
Within a few months, grandma and grandpa were expecting and the elopement had to be shared.
Grandma and grandpa had run off together to a justice of the peace in Dayton, Ohio, with no family or friends to witness this event in 1932. Fifty years later, we all gathered together to witness the renewal of their wedding vows in the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran, where they had worshipped together for all of their married life but where they had never married. We all came up to their unity candle and lit our own candles from theirs. By the time all their children, spouses, grandchildren and grand-spouses, and a few great-grandchildren had all lit our candles, there were over 40 of us snuggled together in the small chancel.
Grandma was delighted as she looked around her beloved sanctuary at her family gathered there. She exclaimed, “Look how blessed we have been!” And grandpa responded, without missing a beat, “We’d a been blessed any more, we’d a burnt down the church!” A classic grand moment!
It was around that same time, that grandma stopped wearing her wedding ring. The ring had worn through so that the gold band on the back of the ring was very thin and fragile. Two of the small diamond chips in the ring had been lost and much of the engraving around the diamond edges had worn down. Grandma could not find a jeweler who could guarantee a strong and attractive repair of her ring at that time in Logansport, so grandma took it off, set it aside, and then, it was lost.
After grandma died, mom and my brother were cleaning out a small desk and found the ring wedged in the edge of a drawer. Still worn thin, still in need of repair, mom gave the ring to me. Grandma’s small hands wore a size 4 ring and I wear a 3.5.

Grandma's Wedding Ring

Grandma’s Wedding Ring

In the spring of 2002, I took the ring to a reputable jeweler where we were living in the suburbs of Chicago. He repaired the band and replaced the diamond settings, one with a new diamond and the center with an amethyst, grandma’s birthstone.
I remember that I hesitated to wear it at first. I didn’t want to ruin it. But then my mother-in-law convinced me that it was a very touching remembrance of my grandparents and that I could always have it repaired again if necessary.

So, here it is, 81 years later, simple, lovely and strong. A daily reminder of their life and love, I wear grandma’s wedding ring next to my own.

2 Comments »

in search of Greg Kinnear~

Greg Kinnear, Logansport native

I first appreciated Greg Kinnear‘s gorgeous face in his breakthrough role in the 1995 remake of the classic, Sabrina. He has that same timeless charm as my other Hollywood heart throbs like Dennis Quaid or Harrison Ford or *sigh* Colin Firth. Adorable, charming, handsome, those eyes, that smile — . Beautiful.

When I watch a movie, and it becomes a movie I really love, it is not unusual for me to find out more about the movie. The librarian in me loves to go to the Internet Movie DataBase and read the trivia and the goofs, quotes and facts. Sabrina is one of those movies I still enjoy. At some point in time, I found myself researching a Sabrina site which led me to Greg Kinnear’s page where I discovered this interesting little factoid: “Greg Kinnear was born on June 17, 1963, in Logansport, Indiana, USA”.

Hold the phone, Linus Larrabee! I was born in Logansport in 1963! Shoot—! We’re practically twins.

Alright now, Logansport is not a big city, people. It’s a small town and I usually describe it as a place where everyone knows everything about everybody. There are no real secrets in Logansport. But this was news to me! And so began my obsessive compulsive search for a friend, acquaintance, classmate or talking parrot – anyone who could remember Greg Kinnear’s supposed ties to our illustrious megalopolis. At my 25th class reunion, I remember walking around asking several of my classmates, “hey, do you remember Greg Kinnear ever being in any of our classes?” I was relentless. I circulated the reunion, hitting up every friend I could think of, paying special attention to hit every elementary school zone at that time – McKinley, Jefferson, Daniel Webster, Longfellow, Fairview. I even hit up those parochial school chumps from St. Bridget’s and St. Joe. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Not one person I knew had any memory of Greg Kinnear living in Logansport.

And that just burns my biscuits. It’s one thing to pad a resume but to ride on the coat tails of a small and humble city like Logansport just to advance your Hollywood career was un.for.givable. Soon after that reunion, I washed my hands of the Kinnear/ Logan connection and chalked it up to creative biographies of Hollywood agents.

So. If you have been following my blog at all, you probably already know where this is going.

Sometime between 1998 and 2000, I arrived at my grandma’s for one of my many Logan lunch visits. There were always two tables in Grandma’s kitchen. The first table was the “formal” table. It was always covered with a padded table cover and a lace tablecloth. In the center of that table, there was a cut glass candy dish that would spin and was always filled with M&Ms or tootsie rolls and maybe the latest floral offering from the most recent Mother’s Day, birthday, happy any-day. The newspaper might be there along with the daily mail. But on that particular day, sitting there on the corner of the lace covered table was a VHS copy of Sabrina. During the course of our visit, I noticed it there and asked grandma if she had seen it yet.

“No, I haven’t seen it yet but Donnie brought it over for me to watch.”

Cover of

Cover of Sabrina

I tell grandma that it’s a really cute movie, I love it and supposedly the actor in it is from Logansport.

“Yeah, I remember him,” she says as she turns to the sink and starts to get some dishes ready for the lunch crowd that is about to arrive.

It was one of those offhanded remarks that I almost missed because conversations in that kitchen could turn on a dime or get lost in the deafening volume of the small television in the corner.

But I didn’t miss it and I had to know more. “Grandma, you knew Greg Kinnear?!” and I rant for a minute or two about how I have been on a quest for this holy grail nugget for several years now.

Grandma explained that I would not remember Greg because his family did not live in Logansport for a long time before his father was sent somewhere overseas and that they probably lived out near Grissom Air Force Base, anyways. Then she told me that Greg would slide down the bannister at the B&B department store when grandma worked there in the shoe department. Greg’s grandparents apparently owned or managed one of the only real upscale department stores in Logansport at that time and little Greg spent some time visiting his grandparents, visiting the store, and enjoying the amusements of the grand staircase as any young boy would. She smiled at the remembrance of it and at the stunned expression on my face.

Grandma in 1945.

Grandma in 1945.

I don’t know why it had not occurred to me before- to ask my grandma if she knew Greg Kinnear as a Logan native. Because if anyone knew Logansport and its’ people, it would be my grandma. She lived in Logansport all of her life and loved her little town. Once again, I stood speechless in grandma’s kitchen.

I was amused and humbled that day. All this time, I was searching for someone who knew Greg Kinnear when all I really needed to do was spend my time getting to know my grandma more. My grandma wasn’t famous. She never won an Oscar or had a role in a Hollywood movie. No one ever asked her for her autograph.

But my grandma was a shining star in my life. Sometimes, I just neglected to look up.

4 Comments »

of hands~

I always loved Grandpa’s hands. His hands were huge and strong. As a toddler, I could only grasp his hands by his pinky. He would offer his smallest finger to me as we would walk down the street to the store and when my little, short legs could no longer keep up with his long, tall frame, he would grab me under my tiny arms and swing me through the air, through dizzying heights, until I landed squarely on his broad shoulders.

The skin on his hands was calloused but smooth, from years of wear and work with the grease and oil of a trucker’s garage. I can recall his return home from long days of work in the garage, covered with grease and grime. He had this oil based gel that he used to dissolve the grease from his hands before using the bar soap. It was white and slimy and odorless to my recollection and sat of the edge of the bathroom sink in a pump bottle.

I only have one memory of grandpa raising his hand against me- spanking me after I piddled on the front porch stoop because I waited too long and could not make it to the potty in time. We still lived at 207 West Ottawa, of course, so I had to be under the age of 5.

As I pour through the old family photos, I came across this picture of  George and Robert Conn . These are my great-great uncles. I am struck by how much Frank Hand, grandpa’s cousin, resembled George. But, look at Robert’s hands. I never knew my great-great uncle Robert, but I recognized those hands.

George and Robert Conn

George and Robert Conn, my great-great uncles, brothers to Jesse M. Conn.

And all of my life, I knew grandpa’s hands would take care of me. When I talk abut him to others, describing the way he loved me and cared for me, his hands always come into focus in my mind’s eye.

My last memory of his strong, loving hands was when he was in the hospital the final time. The sheet that separated us from his roommate was drawn closed and grandpa and I were talking, visiting, and I was gleaning some tales. Grandma and Shirley had gone to get some supper, rest a bit and would return later that evening with some socks because grandpa’s feet were cold due to his poor circulation. While we visited, I tried my best to warm his feet by adding more blankets and snugging them tight, rubbing his legs a bit to stimulate some circulation in his extremities. He continued telling me stories and I moved to his side and held his hand in mine. He called me “sis”.

His stories wound and wove, through his memories, all about family and road trips, and road trips to visit family, new babies, and food. His stories were laced together with the common thread of care and love. After a while, he stopped talking for a moment.

Grandpa was never quiet for long so I seized the opportunity. I told him I always loved his hands because I always knew they were there for me, always taking care of me. He told me he wished he could still take care of me. I told him that it was alright. It was time for me to care for him. And we fell silent for a moment.

His roommate, whose face I had never seen, called out to me. He told me he had a spare pair of hospital socks, “Take them. Please.”

I thanked him and took the socks, and put them on grandpa’s feet, warming them with my hands as I dressed them. And I returned to his side, and held his hand in mine. I loved this man, this giant, this father-figure deeply and I knew he was never going to return home from this hospital stay.

I returned to my home in Chicago that evening, knowing I had seen my grandpa for the last time. The next day, grandpa was moved into the hospice ward. And when he died a few nights later, I felt it. I just felt time pause, for just a moment, and there was this tug in my heart and I knew he was gone. I was grateful for a stranger’s socks, so that I could care for my grandpa. And I was grateful for that moment I had to tell him how much I loved him and his hands and the way he always cared for me.

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: