Lincoln, Lilacs, and Grandma’s Outhouse

Lilacs in Washington State

Earlier this month, my husband Cliff and family laid to rest his father Lee Beaman in a tiny urn above the coffin of his mother in the cemetery adjoining the church. Across the street from the simple, white-plank Methodist Church near Ridgefield, WA, are lilac bushes in full bloom this April. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, here is a website you may want to check out: //lilacgardens.com/

Lilacs along McCardy Road, Bethel Methodist Church, Ridgefield, WA
Lilacs along Carty Road, near Bethel Methodist Church, Ridgefield, WA

Like floral fireworks, these blooms explode in vivid lavender, each blossom bursting in “bullet-shaped buds.” Poet Richard Wilbur seems to scrutinize the lilacs he describes by looking into not just at the hundreds of teeny buds arranged in each bursting bloom tighter than stick pins in a pincushion.

LilacsRWilburPIC

As poet Wilbur points out, each tiny lavender bud appears “quick and bursting,” not holding back its beauty – is open and free. Similarly, when friends and family eulogize the beloved, their remarks tend to be candid, “quick and bursting,” revealing true feelings, knowing this is probably the last time to express their sentiments publicly.

Lincoln and Lilacs

Another poet, Walt Whitman, connected grief to the springtime and lilacs as he expresses his deep attachment to Abraham Lincoln, whose death April 15, 1865, is commemorated in his famous poem When Lilacs Last By the Dooryard Bloom’d. Written in private, the poem is a public elegy to the President the people adored. The poet revered the President too and when the cortége passed by, Whitman placed a sprig of lilacs on the coffin:

“With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leave of rich green, /A sprig with its flower I break.” (stanza 3)  Then admitting that “the lilac with mastering odor holds me,” Whitman will forever associate the fragrance of lilacs with his fallen hero (stanza 13).

Finally, referring to Lincoln as a “Powerful western fallen star” the poem closes with the lines

For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake,

Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,

There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

Kathy Beaman holding lilac after Dad's memorial service
Kathy Beaman holding lilacs after Dad’s memorial service

Lilacs Bushes and Grandma’s Outhouse

Please permit me this odd segué!

I love lavender and purple – and I love lilacs and wisteria. Wisteria climbing joyfully on a trellis on Grandma’s verandah and lilacs some distance away. . .

Close to an oak tree that Grandma Longenecker’s grand-children planted in her honor after her death in 1980, was an outhouse (now long gone) surrounded by a clutch of lilac bushes. The lilacs around Grandma’s house served as a fragrant air freshener. Of course, there is nothing elegiac about an outhouse, a tallish, square white structure with a roof, equipped with a Sears & Roebuck catalog or better yet for the job – a phone book. The outhouse, dedicated to defecation, bears evidence that bodily functions continue, that you are still alive. Lilacs thrive there.

Long live the lilacs. Long live symbols of life, death, and rebirth!

* * *

. . .  and a bush nobody had noticed burst into glory and fragrance, and it was a purple lilac bush. Such a jumble of spring and summer was not to be believed in, except by those who dwelt in those gardens.

The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim

Now, your turn. What is your relationship to lilacs or other spring flowers? To commemorating the death of loved ones?

 

School Daze: Games We Played

My class at Elizabethtown Library
My class at Elizabethtown Library

Here we are all bunched up together for a photo documenting our excursion from Rheems Elementary School to the library in town about 3 miles away. But we’ll soon board buses, and go back to our two-room school-house in Rheems where we’ll probably have lunch or recess. And we’ll lose our serious faces, eyes agape.

Recess, yes! After Miss Longenecker, grades 1- 4, or Mrs. Kilhefner, grades 5 – 8, excuses us, we all scram out to the playground equipped with a slide, see-saw, and jungle gym with bars for climbing and twirling our bodies around. Before we go back to class, most of us will pay a visit to the typical wooden outhouses, one for girls and one for boys, right next to each other and both regularly anointed with lime to quell the smell.

Group Outdoor Games:

1. Softball  (Need an extra inning? Teachers, not so pressured by students’ test scores, may extend our play.)

2. Red Rover “Red Rover, Red Rover,” let ________ come over!) involving mad dashes around school building.

3. Crack the Whip  Classmates in a line, running, then strong body at one end stops short, so others flip around. Cheap thrill!

4. Tag   When someone chases you down on the playground and touches you, you are IT!

5. Hide and Go Seek   HideGoSeek

Games with Just a Few:

1. Simon says

2. Hop-scotch

3. Four square

4. Jump rope

5. Double jump rope  Each child has a handle on two different jump ropes and flicks them one at a time in opposite directions.  “I dare you not to trip up!”

Rainy Day Games:

1. Jacks  Jacks game

2. Pick Up Sticks

Courtesy: Google Images
Courtesy: Google Images

3. Tiddly-Winks  (Players try to snap small plastic disks into a cup by pressing them on the edge with a large disk.)

Treat for Teacher:

Someone, probably Ralph, announces in the middle of class “Fruit Roll!” and kids behind every desk in class jump up with an apple, orange, or grapefruit to roll along the oiled, wooden schoolhouse floor toward the teacher’s desk, an unexpected treat!  [In an era when teachers fear spit balls or worse–guns! even, such a gesture is most endearing.]

FruitRoll

I wish I could show a photo of the school and outhouses, but one cold evening during Christmas vacation, the school burned down, suspiciously, and was replaced by a standard- issue concrete structure, not nearly as nostalgic as the steepled one with a bell that I remember.

I was already in junior high in the big school uptown when the fire occurred, but my sister Janice remembers being shifted to Washington School, the building adjacent to Bossler’s Mennonite Church, where our Daddy and Aunt Ruthie attended. This old school had a large furnace in the basement with a sizable flat top, and students would bring potatoes wrapped in foil to bake on top of the furnace for a nice hot lunch on cold, cold days.

Like Mildred Armstrong Kalish in her memoir, Little Heathens, depicting Iowa farm and school life during the Depression, I have fond, fond memories of Rheems Elementary School in the 1950s.

Fun time resource for parents, grandparents:

http://www.grandparents.com/grandkids/activities-games-and-crafts/outdoor-games

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Add some memorable games to the list!

Grandma’s: A Wedding under the Willow

  GossHats

Here we are, Juliets without our Romeos

When Mom says “sca-doo!” at home, we know we can find amusement at Grandma’s house. Aside from the mysteries of the woods behind her house, other attractions include a slope where lilies of the valley blossom in April. A chicken house big enough to actually play house in. An out-house equipped with a Sears & Roebuck catalog for wiping, its little roof-top smothered by lilac bushes–wonderful air freshener! And a willow tree. We love that willow tree by a trickling brook where we play Bride, with a cast-off piece of netting like my mother, aunts, and grandmas use for prayer veilings.

At ten, I’m the oldest, so I direct my sisters at first. “Jeanie, go to the chicken house for the veil.” There are no chickens in Grandma’s chicken-house anymore, just a bunch of crates and wooden boards we use other times for make-believe. Jean goes off to retrieve the big square of white netting in its hiding place inside the door in a crate on the right. “Janice, let’s find some flowers for the bouquet.” Off we go in different directions, and Janice comes back with dandelion blossoms, and I find some irises.

Blue Willow book from parents early 1950s

Blue Willow book from parents early 1950s

We meet back at the willow tree, its arching fronds our sanctuary for many a glorious wedding. We need a bell ringer, a bride and a groom. Before I can get a word in edgewise, Jean pipes up, “Let me be the bride this time; I wanna be the bride, pleeease.” Well, I guess we can give in this time. Then Janice and I dicker for who plays groom and who rings the bell. Next, we have to get the bride ready.

Janice places the netting on Jean’s head just so, and I pull her pigtails up behind her ears and use the light brown braids to tie the veil securely to the top of her head. Now, we’re all set: Groom Janice loops one arm around Jean’s, and I rush over to the longest willow branch I can find and pull on its thin, sinewy length until the wedding bell chimes overhead, and then we all, including the bride, sing together in warbly voice: “Here comes the briiide, please step asiiide.” It’s a magical moment. A breeze blows gently through the willow branches and fans the bouquet of purple and gold. But before the bride has a chance to whisper, “I do,” we hear Daddy’s truck drive in the lane. He’s come to pick us up and bring home a big kettle of saffron-flavored pot pie from his mom’s stove for our supper at home on top of the hill.

There are no crystal balls to visualize our own weddings in the future, but we are careful not to duplicate color choices for our attendants. Jean starts with blue, Marian with pink, and Janice has yellow, a pleasing bouquet of hues. But our veils are white.