Monday, May 31, 2010

Patriot's Pride

C. Melvin Fritzemeier - 1929-2002

Memorial Day has been around since 1868. Gen. John Logan, a Grand Army of the Republic commander, is given credit for establishing Memorial Day as an official holiday.

The day began as a solemn time to remember veterans who died in service. Families brought flowers and flags to decorate the graves of their fallen loved ones. Memorial Day - or Decoration Day - later evolved to include placing flowers and mementos on the graves of other family members.

Randy's Dad, C. Melvin Fritzemeier, served in the Army during the Korean War. I didn't ever hear him talk about it much. Though he was quiet about it, I know he was proud to have served his country.

He was following in mighty footsteps. His uncle, Capt. Robert "Bob" Hornbaker, was a 778th squadron pilot, 464th Bomb Group based at Gioia del Colle Airfield, Italy, during World War II. Uncle Bob was brother to Melvin's mother. Capt. Hornbaker had already received a medal for "his job in bringing home a butchered airplane despite heavy enemy opposition and a wounded co-pilot."

But on May 25, 1944, Capt. Hornbaker's crew, flying "Strictly from Hunger," a B-24, took off from Gioia del Colle, to strike the Givors' marshalling yards, 13 miles south of Lyon, France. It was mission No. 17 for the 464th Bomb Group and mission No. 12 for most of its crew.

During the mission, the plane received direct hits from enemy fire. Capt. Hornbaker was hit in the head and perished. All of his other crew members were killed in action that day or became POWs when the plane went down near Cannes, France.

Randy says that the family always referred to Uncle Bob as a hero. When we visited the Strategic Air Command Museum near Omaha last week, Randy was most interested in the planes and missions from World War II and Korea (more on our tourist visits later this week.)

Uncle Bob is buried in Peace Creek cemetery, just a mile north of Randy's boyhood home.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed 20 World War II veterans for a series of stories in a retirement facility's newsletter. Talking to those men and women was like a history book had come to life.

I talked to two men who had seen the flag raised at Iwo Jima. And while it was a poignant photo, the two said the fighting went on long after the Stars and Stripes flew from Mount Suribachi.

Another fought and was wounded on the beaches of Guadalcanal. After recuperating from the wound and from malaria, he again fought in the Battle of Tarawa. Another recounted his walk under a white sheet into the snowy Ardennes Forest and the ensuing Battle of the Bulge.

I talked to the widow of a man who had been a POW in Germany who eventually came back to Kansas to farm. Another had a piece of olive green tin from a kamikaze plane that bombed his Navy ship. The stories were as unique as the 20 brave veterans I interviewed.

It brought home to me how much our Armed Forces sacrifice for our freedom. That is true whether we are remembering veterans of wars past or the men and women who protect us today.

Our church's prayer concern list always includes the names of military with Stafford connections. It is amazing to see how many service men and women are from our little town. I think there are nearly 25 on the list.

So today, I would like to salute all veterans and current service men and women. I also thank their families who are left behind to worry and keep living life while their loved ones are in harm's way. I got the words in an email sent to me last week, and I illustrated with some of my own flag photos.

It is the
not the preacher,
who has given us freedom of religion.

It is
not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.

It is
not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.

It is
not the campus organizer,
who has given us freedom to assemble.

(Photo by Brent)

It is
not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is
not the politician,
who has given us the right to vote.

It is the
salutes the Flag,

It is the
serves under the Flag.

Thank you and God Bless our veterans and those currently serving in our Armed Forces.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dancing in the Graveyard

Maybe you don't think about a cemetery being a joyful place. But when I see the joy in these two little girls' faces, I can't help but think that the ancestors whose graves we were visiting had to be smiling.

Was their blonde hair from a distant grandparent? Were their blue eyes from a great-grandfather? If you compared their hands to those in an old photograph, would the shape of their fingers be echoed in the image?

Paige & Jill - 1988

For some families, Memorial Day may mean the first chance to get the boat out on the lake. It may mean a cookout with hamburgers and hotdogs and the summer's first s'mores.

For our family, Memorial Day has always included the annual cemetery tour.

For my Dad, Memorial Day holds special significance. Both his father and little brother died when he was still in elementary school. Memorial Day was a time to remember them, as well as others in the family who had passed on. It was a time to pay respects to the family members who homesteaded in South Central Kansas and established the farm where my Dad and brother still farm today.

Our annual trek always includes stops at four different cemeteries in Stafford and Pratt Counties. We may reverse the order, but we always visit Pratt's Greenlawn Cemetery, the Iuka Cemetery, Pleasant Plains Cemetery and Macksville. This afternoon is the 2010 version.

(New life in an old cemetery at Pleasant Plains: Brent's first Memorial Day, May 1988)

The trip involves a trunk load of fresh flowers - never silk.

My Grandma's flowers were usually from her own garden and carefully arranged in cans which my Grandpa had spray-painted a dark green.

(There she is in the background with my Grandpa in 1989. Brent, 1, is with my Dad, and the young-looking guy in the middle is Randy.)

Blake & Brent - 1989

When Jill was little, she noticed a marker with a little lamb in the Peace Creek Cemetery just a mile north of Randy's folks' house. There were never any flowers on this grave. So Randy's mom, Marie, would always have an extra flower so Jill could decorate this little girl's grave, a girl who was born and died in 1946.

Though Jill won't be home for Memorial Day, I decorated it in her honor this year.

The little girl's name was Jewell, so I know her parents wanted and cherished her. I always figured that her parents had already passed away or had moved away and that's why no flowers ever marked her grave. I think it made all of us glad that we could, in some small way, help remember her short life.

Families are a lot more transient these days. Unlike my Dad who lives on the same land where he was born, families are spread across the country.

Many don't live where they can drive down after church and make the cemetery rounds.

Will Memorial Day change as the older generations pass on? Even we die-hard cemetery visitors often don't go to all the out-of-the-way cemeteries our grandparents visited. As our children and our children's children move further from home, will there be anyone but flower shops visiting cemeteries on Memorial Day weekend?

As we went to Stafford yesterday morning to meet Randy's sister Kathy and family, I asked Randy if he thought it would bother his grandparents that we no longer visit a cemetery north of Stafford. Randy doesn't remember those relatives, and Kathy's not sure she could even find the cemetery without a guide. Her girls have never even been there.

Emily, Kathy, Amanda, Randy & Dave - 2010

While his Grandma might raise her eyebrows about Randy's perch on the gravestone, I think she'd be happy he's visiting. And, when you think about it, he can probably blame some ancestor for the pain in his hips.

So I guess she'd be OK with it.

We even have purchased "real estate" nearby. We might as well make it as easy as we can on future generations.

Our real estate is somewhere around here at the Stafford Cemetery.

With life's fast pace and a world in which it seems we'd rather text than talk to our neighbor, will there still be flowers and flags and families dotting the cemeteries on a late May weekend in 30 years?

I hope so.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Graduation Memories

I'm feeling kind of ancient. My nephew Brian is a 2010 graduate of Skyline High School. In itself, that wouldn't make me feel old. But it was 35 years ago this month since I graduated from the hallowed halls of Skyline High.

The gym was pretty much the same, though they have renamed it the Thunderdome. I sat on the same bleachers where I had run the stairs during basketball practice. I listened to the same "Pomp and Circumstance" that ushered us toward our graduation 35 years ago.

There were some changes. The practice gym where the graduates had their reception didn't exist back in 1975. The Skyline blue of the graduation gowns worn by the 2010 girl graduates was a little paler than the 1975 version. Our male graduates wore the same color, not the white chosen by Brian's class.

Brian and I had another thing in common: Both of us gave a valedictory graduation speech. I wish I could find a copy of mine. I remember starting to write it on my church bulletin one Sunday before graduation. (Sorry, Rev. Chastain. But, come to think of it, it was probably something you said that got the gears rolling, so I guess you could feel a little proud to have been a part of it.)

I think I said something about following your dreams and being your own person. That's what all graduation speakers talk about, right? I have always been a proponent in doing what I'm supposed to do.

By the way, Brian talked about the Top 10 reasons he would miss Skyline High and the Top 10 reasons he would not miss high school. He was more original than I was (though I think he has to give some credit to David Letterman for the Top 10 idea).

Brian's graduation was in the gym. Ours was the first and last Skyline class to have an outdoor graduation. We thought we were hot stuff to do something different than every other class to date. Looking back on it as an adult, it's kind of funny that an outdoor ceremony was our version of rebellion. That's pretty tame by today's standards.

Besides giving a speech, I sang a solo, "There'll Be No Peace Without All Men As One." My sister Lisa accompanied me. I don't know who the unknown hand is holding her music down while the wind howled. It could have been sister Darci called into service.

Brian didn't need the Kansas wind cooling him off. He had fan power generated by his sister and cousins following the ceremony.

Family was a big part of the celebration in 1975 and in 2010.

Suzanne, Brian, Kent & Madi

Brian with the grandparents

My two didn't get the memo that guns aren't allowed in high schools these days. I don't think we had the restrictions back in 1975, but I don't remember it being an issue.

Brian's class had 18 graduates, compared to the 26 in my class. Like the majority of the 1975 graduates, many of the new alumni are planning to continue their educations at Pratt Community College. (Of course, that does not include Brian who received the same purple brainwashing as I did and will attend K-State. EMAW)

But just like 35 years ago, the graduates have dreams for their futures. I don't know whether classes do prophesies any longer. I can see that might have gotten lost in a fog of political correctness.

But the Class of 1975 did have a class prophecy. The main use for such a document is to laugh about it at the occasional class reunion.

My class prophecy said something about working for The New York Times. It didn't quite work out that way.

While a senior at K-State, I wrote a letter to the Focus editor at The Hutchinson News. She had written a column lamenting that journalism school graduates didn't want to write about real people or everyday events.

I wrote her to tell her that's exactly what I wanted. I didn't want to be the next Woodward and Bernstein. I wasn't clamoring to interview Deep Throat. I wanted to find and tell the stories connected to ordinary people.

There are no regrets about the absence of The New York Times byline in my portfolio.

I'm not a big-town girl. I'm a County Line kind of girl.

I'm also an old girl. The Skyline superintendent commented that my class photograph was from the days of black and white. Thanks, Mr. Sanders, for pointing that out. However, as you will notice, most of my graduation photos were in technicolor. Yes, they may be a little faded, but they still have that true blue Skyline blue.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sea Change

Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain ...

We aren't to the "amber waves" stage here on the County Line. But what a difference a few days makes!

We got back yesterday after spending a few days in Omaha with Jill & Eric. When we left, I thought maybe - just maybe - I could start to see a little gold through the vibrant green of the wheat fields. But after returning from Big Red country, I could definitely see a yellow tinge to the wheat. There has been a change in the sea of wheat along the country roads of Kansas.

Little more than a month ago, the wheat was still the vibrant green of spring and the heads were still hidden in the stalks.

But now, wheat harvest is on the horizon. It's not breathing down our necks yet, but it's on the horizon, lurking out there somewhere in the future of June.

Poets wax poetically (as poets are wont to do) about the beauty of the ocean - the waves breaking on the beach, the roar as the water washes over rocky cliffs, the bluest of blues hues, the ebb and flow as water surges and retreats.

But I think poet Katharine Lee Bates was onto something. She wrote the words to America the Beautiful back in 1895. Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, took a train trip to Colorado Springs to teach a summer school course at Colorado College. Several sights along the way inspired her, including the wheat fields of Kansas and the view of the Great Plains from the top of Pike's Peak.

The wheat is our Kansas ocean. It ripples across the prairie with peaks and valleys generated by the southerly Kansas wind. (Use your imagination and you can see the gentle waves in the photo below, though it's hard to capture without a video camera.)

As I walk along the County Line, I hear the whisper of the wheat stalks as they brush against their neighbors. Instead of hearing the screech of gulls at the shore, I hear a symphony of Kansas song birds trill out a morning greeting.

Soon it will be the "amber waves of grain" immortalized in Katharine Bates' beautiful words.

I'd better think poetically now about the beauty. When we are in the midst of the chaos of a Kansas wheat harvest and I'm sitting in a truck on a 100-degree day itching from the grain dust, I may have trouble seeing the beauty.

But for now, I'll delight in my front-row seat along the County Line, glad to call Kansas and its amber waves home sweet home.

On this preface to Memorial Day, here are the words of Katharine Lee Bates' great hymn, America the Beautiful.

Memorial Day should be more than an excuse to fire up the grill or get the boat out on the lake. This is the time to remember the pilgrims of our own families and pay tribute to the sacrifice of our country's patriot veterans, which Bates so eloquently expressed in her lyrics:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Slice of Summer

I know it's not summer yet. But if you are looking for just a little slice of summer flavor, this frozen dessert is the perfect choice.

Actually, it could be the dead of winter, and my family would be happy to have this dessert.

I got the recipe at a family reunion years ago, and it's been a favorite ever since. It's super easy, but you can't beat that combination of tartness and sweetness.

Randy was glad to see the leftovers come home from a recent PEO meeting where I served Frozen Lemonade Dessert for refreshments.

With Memorial Day weekend coming up and, along with it, the unofficial beginning of summer, this would be a perfect contribution to the party.

Of course, if you're taking your picnic to the lake or have an outdoor event planned, save this one for another day. It's great anytime.

Frozen Lemonade Dessert
50 Ritz crackers
1/2 cup margarine or butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 13.5-oz. tub Cool Whip, thawed
1 12-oz. can lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Crust: Crush Ritz crackers into fine crumbs with a rolling pin. Stir together cracker crumbs, butter and sugar. Reserve 1/2 cup of the crumb mixture. Pat the rest into a 13- by 9- by 2-inch pan.

Combine all filling ingredients and mix well. If you'd like a more vivid yellow color, add a few drops yellow food coloring and mix well. Pour on top of crumbs in the pan. Top with reserved crumbs. If desired, then sprinkle with sugar decorations (I used flower shapes in the dessert pictured above. I've used Easter sprinkles or other seasonal sprinkles.)

Freeze until firm. Serves 12-15.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bridal Bouquet

I guess I'm still going through withdrawal.

Last summer, I was afflicted with Wedding Brain.

It's a malady that strikes only Mothers of the Bride.

I had a bad case. When my Sunday paper came, the first thing I turned to was the full-page Hobby Lobby ad.

What was on sale this week at Wedding World? Was there a 40 percent off coupon?

If I drove by a Hobby Lobby, there seemed to be a magnetic draw pulling my car toward the doors. There might be an unadvertised special. There might be something just perfect in the discount aisle.

Were candles on sale? Watch out, world! Mother of the Bride coming through!

Yes, I fully admit, I was a Hobby Lobby addict.

So why, now that I have beaten the affliction, am I seeing bridal bouquets in my backyard?

Do others see it, I wonder? Do you see it?

In truth, it looks nothing like Jill's bouquet. But the spill of delicate flowers on the backyard shrub just says wedding to me.

It's been 9 1/2 months since Jill's wedding. But I guess I'm having a recurrence since I'm seeing things.

I know some moms who are helping to plan weddings this summer. I have offered reference materials from my 3-inch-thick, three-ring notebook of information. (Yes, I really have one!)

One stressed mom has a daughter getting married in June and the other in September. And the kicker? Both weddings are outside.

Outside, I say!?What are you trying to do to your poor Wedding Brain-afflicted mother?

Once upon a time, I probably gave Wedding Brain to my mother, too. Randy & I were married just 10 months after my younger sister.

But as I watched our beautiful daughter walk down the aisle toward a young man we were pleased to welcome to our family, all the planning and worrying and stewing were worth it.

What a fun, beautiful, meaningful day! It was definitely worth my Wedding Brain symptoms.

But watch out, any of you Mothers of the Bride. There may be hallucinations involved, even months after your big event. Case in point? Seeing a bridal bouquet in your backyard.

Wedding Photos by Gina Dreher at Gingeroot Studios, Wichita, KS

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

All Aboard!

Cool Beans!

It was a phrase my daughter used to say in junior high.

Now it's a unique new restaurant housed in the Hutchinson Depot. Randy & I recently gave it a try. I will definitely have to go back because I want to try more things on the menu.

I am perfectly OK with eating at chain restaurants. OK, I'd prefer to skip McDonald's since we are long past the Happy Meal stage of our lives.

But I am not a snob when it comes to restaurants. However, I do want good food for the money.

If I'm going to pay a premium to have someone else make my meal, I want it to taste good. I'm funny like that.

I do like finding those locally-owned little hideaways that provide a trainload of atmosphere along with tasty fare. And Cool Beans at the Depot fit the bill.

I was a little surprised when I got my sandwich. I was expecting walnuts, grapes and a raspberry yogurt spread along with my turkey.

But it was my fault. I ordered Utopia instead of Jubilation. I had stood at the posted menu for so long trying to decide between all the tasty-looking selections that I said the wrong thing when my big moment to order came.

But Utopia was almost as good as it sounds. The bread was tasty - always a plus when it comes to a sandwich. It had turkey, cheese, bacon, chopped up veggies.

And it was really messy to eat. Messy usually equals good, especially when some guacamole is oozing out of the cibata bread.

Randy also ordered the Cheeseburger Soup. Look closely. That's a pickle floating on top. It also had chopped dill pickle in the soup itself. It was OK, but since I'm not a huge dill pickle fan, I would probably stick with an actual cheeseburger.

It was served on plates made from melted records.

The decor was straight out of the 1970s: Flower Power all the way! The tablecloth reminded me of the mod-flowered sleeping bag and beach towel I got for 8th grade graduation. Cool, man!

I will definitely make tracks to Cool Beans again. I would recommend it. But remember: It's only a lunch joint. The train will have left the station by supper time.

See what other diners thought. Check out Urbanspoon.

Cool Beans Coffee Shop & Deli on Urbanspoon