It all began at the Teamsters Union hall party at Christmas, when my brothers and I would receive a bag of oranges, a bag of candy and visit with Santa Claus. Dad, a commercial truck driver and Teamster member, once brought home a 10-pound bag of cashews from the party and my brothers and I gorged ourselves until we threw up. I’ve been pro-union and anti-cashew ever since.
Then in fifth grade I fell madly in love. He was dreamy. A “cool cat.” When he smiled or spoke I melted. I wanted to run away, or at the very least, hold hands — with President John F. Kennedy.
The very first page in my elementary scrapbook is a picture of the president that I cut out of Life Magazine. My leanings were established. My feet were firmly planted and took root on the Democratic yellow brick road.
I didn’t really think about politics as a child or even as teen or young adult. In fifth grade, I only worried if the boy I secretly liked would say “ugh,” when he saw my new hairdo — or worse, not even notice my new hairdo.
But I was aware there were some bad things going on. Dad was reading, “How to Build a Family Bomb Shelter,” there seemed to be a fight with a bay of pigs on some island far away and children — like me, except for the color of their skin — could not go to school with white people.
The photo of the pretty little girl with the sad face who was dressed in a frilly white dress as police escorted her to school through a crowd of mean people yelling horrible things — she was just a little girl! — was forever etched into my young, impressible brain. It is on page two in the scrapbook.
I was a liberal by President Kennedy’s and Webster’s definition: “one who is open-minded or not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways.” But I would not come to terms with this label until I was well into my thirties.
To top it off, I lived in northeast (READ: very-Republican) Indiana. No one had the courage to tell me I had a hard row to hoe.
Recently, I asked Elizabeth, the 20-something youngest daughter of my first cousin in Arkansas, to explain why she is a conservative.
Her father and I hung out as kids when I was in the South visiting our grandmother. We rode bikes all over the Ozarks (those hills!), went swimming in creeks and stone quarries and stole watermelons out of nearby farmers’ fields. At night, we would lay side-by-side in the grass on Grandma’s front lawn and talk while gazing at the stars and moon.
We have always had a lot in common and still do.
Other than he named one of his six daughters Reagan after “the greatest president who ever lived,” and I have a niece and nephew named Kennedy and Truman.
For the past eight years when we visited I’ve had to listen to my cousin blame President Obama for a tornado that took out his barn and two shade trees, a recently acquired toenail fungus and the high price of a gallon of milk.
But that’s payback.
He had to listen to me rant during the G.W. Bush years.
His daughter, Elizabeth, told me that some people (mostly liberal Yankees — no names, please) may think her parents dropped her on her head as a baby, but that is not the case.
“I, a true conservative, can tell you the actual haunting reasons for my swing to the right started on a hot summer’s day in 1997. I was six-years-old and kicked out of the house, along with my older sisters, so Mommy could have her “Fox News Time” (also known as wine and soap opera hour),” Elizabeth recounted.
“We played basketball in the front yard, chased each other with sticks that had cow manure firmly attached to the end (something all southern conservatives know about) and fought among ourselves until we almost killed each other. The true test came when we got thirsty.”
Knowing we couldn’t enter the house without stern yelling for interrupting Bill O’Reilly, we took turns slurping long drinks from the water hose. There was something in that water that I blame to this day for being a conservative. Maybe it was the taste of freedom that the cold water brought to a hot July day. Or the way the water made you scream, “Merica” when someone would intentionally spray you in the face,” she said.
“I do know that when my liberal Yankee cousins came to visit they always avoided the hose. I am sure it didn’t have anything to do with how redneck we looked; maybe one day when I visit them I will try their water.”
Elizabeth and her sisters are educated women who are beautiful inside and out. Elizabeth is a missionary and very involved in her church. She recently returned from a mission trip to Peru.
She is a person who will, and has, made a difference.
My chosen passion is writing and my only hope is that I have made people laugh, smile or think with a piece I’ve written.
We’re from opposite ends when it comes to age and political leanings, but our values are the same — we both want to do good, help our fellow man and contribute.
I believe that in the end, politics will not matter at all — whether a person is a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green Ticket, voted for Stewart/Colbert or does not even know the name of the current president of the United States.
All that will really matter is if you were kind, considerate, forgiving (especially of the Yankee liberals, Liz) and tolerant of others.
— Note: The author is still a bit miffed that Cuz Liz is a funnier writer than she is and that may be the only thing the liberal in her cannot tolerate.
I remember that Fourth of July like it was yesterday.
Tuesday, July 4, 1978.
I can still feel my gut sink when I remember how I watched out the front window at my parents’ house as the state police car approached the driveway, red lights whirling, but the siren strangely silent.
That’s the moment I learned first-hand what the silent siren meant. That’s also the moment I learned what it means when two somber officers walk to the front door with heads down and hats in hand.
I was 26, the oldest of eight living children.
My brother Marcus was 20, soon to turn 21. He had enlisted in the Air Force to complete his college education and “see the world,” and was home on leave for two weeks from Lackland AFB in Texas before beginning a new post in Alaska. He was very excited, promising mom and dad that he would “buy a little piece of Alaska where the entire family could vacation.”
My parents, siblings — including twins who were only 6 — my two young children and a bevy of aunts, uncles and cousins had gathered for a Fourth of July barbecue. It was a joyous celebration — Marcus was home to regale us with his side-splitting, humorous stories of of the rigor and rituals of the Armed Services and life in general.
He was the darling — the nucleus — of the family. My brothers, sisters and I would all probably have to agree that he was the most handsome, talented, intelligent, creative and wittiest one of us all. Marc had just returned from Mexico and brought back gifts for everyone, a wool poncho, blankets, sombreros, and — for dad — a large bottle of Mexican tequila with a fat worm lying at the bottom of the bottle. Mom frowned her disapproval.
To the delight of the younger ones, he fished out the dead worm and offered to cut it up and let each kid have a bite. They squealed in horror and he laughed. He also played “Monster” with the little ones, where he was the Monster and the kids had to run and hide or defend themselves and slay him. They loved it.
Some of his old high school friends stopped by and talked Marc into going canoeing at Chain O’Lakes State Park. He was reluctant — he was having a good time with the family — but mom urged him to go and have fun with his friends. He could visit with everyone when he got back, she told him.
As he walked out the door, he jokingly said to mom, “Well, OK, I’ll go, but you know I’ll just become another July 4th beach statistic.”
It was the last time we ever saw Marcus.
Two hours later, he drowned after jumping out of the canoe and racing his buddy, Mike Dell, to shore.
Mike later told us that they both dived in, but Marcus, an excellent swimmer, never resurfaced.
There was no autopsy, so we never knew exactly what happened.
My family had never known tragedy until that day.
Rescuers had tried to resuscitate him, but it was too late by the time they found him.
Nearly 30 years later, while interviewing a source for a newspaper story, I found out that the man I was interviewing — Department of Natural Resources officer Gary Bontrager — was one of the men who came to our door that day. He told me the other one was Indiana State Trooper John Barrett.
I was shocked. I knew both men well and had no idea they were the ones who had delivered the terrible news of my brother’s death.
All I remembered was the pain.
My dad aged ten years in the three days it took to bury his golden-haired son. His shoulders stooped, and his hair seemed to gray overnight. My mom did not fare much better. They never fully recuperated.
None of us did.
The younger siblings were confused: “When is Marcus coming back to play with us?” The older ones were bewildered: “Why? Why Marcus? He was the gifted one.”
There was never another family get-together or barbecue on July 4th. The older siblings who had children would dutifully take their kids to the fireworks, but to us it was never again a holiday — it was the anniversary of Marc’s death.
The Air Force gave my brother full military rites. As they folded the flag that had been draped over Marcus’ casket and handed it to my mom and dad, jets from Grissom Air Force Base flew overhead in a “V” formation framed in a brilliant blue sky. A friend of Marcus’ played “Taps” on his trumpet, choking up several times and having to start over.
An Air Force officer read a poem — something about how this child was not ours to keep, but only loaned to us for a short while.
It was sunny without a cloud in the sky, but we saw nothing but clouds.
Marc’s friend, Mike, suffered tremendous guilt for years, agonizing over what he could have done, what he should have done, but none of us blamed him. Our hearts broke for him. Life sometimes deals a horrible hand, one beyond understanding, and no one is to blame.
Mike later moved to Oregon and had his own charter fishing business. He was out at sea one day, a storm came up and he never returned. They never recovered his boat or body.
Dad died in 1999, Mom in 2012. They are buried next to Marc. I like to think they are all together again. Maybe Marc and Mike are entertaining them with stories of their earthly adventures.
He was only with us for about 21 years, but they were wonderful years — a glorious, short while.
I always thought Marcus had a say in what would be his last day on earth. I can almost hear him saying, with that beautiful smile and twinkle in his eyes, “For the rest of your life, every time you see fireworks, you will think of me.”
1. Hide food — This will prevent those overgrown children who live upstairs from consuming a week’s worth of groceries in one sitting. Store chips under the bed. Hang cookies or brownies on hangers in the back of a closet, where they will never look. Stash frozen pizza under five-pound bags of broccoli and carrots. Any type of snack items fit well inside heater vents. (Caution: Use only during summer months.) Fresh fruits and vegetables may be left in plain sight.
2. Never replace toilet paper — While you use your private, hidden stash, it will teach your teens a valuable lesson in self-reliance. If the last square of tissue remains on the cardboard roll for more than 7 days, or your teen is spending a lot of time at the corner convenience store, or rolls of paper towels and shop rags are disappearing, it’s time to break down and replace the tissue. Albeit, with much pandemonium and cursing.
3. You’re not their buddy — Parents and teens cannot be “buddies.” That skateboard might look like fun and sound exciting when trying to “olly a half pipe,” but a broken hip is forever. Their music may seem interesting, but bleeding from the ears is no laughing matter. And trying to decipher the meaning of T-shirts or tattoos has been known to cause aggressive oozing of inner brain tissue.
4. Set a curfew — Teens who are more than two hours late for their curfew should just report in at the local police station to save time. That’s where they will find their mother — sobbing and filling out missing person reports. If more than three hours past curfew, the belated teen may want to check out the website: onyourown.com.
5. Don’t limit screen time — Allow unlimited access to television shows, games and the Internet in 75% of the rooms. That way, no one (least of all — and this is important — the parents) can be held responsible for anyone’s personal idea of entertainment. After all, it was in the room and it was turned on; the young adults upstairs just happened to spend seven hours playing, “Violence, Blood & Death Squared VI.” Not your fault.
That’s the weird thing about aging – you feel the same, but suddenly it’s impossible to laugh too hard after drinking a Dixie cup of water without dribbling down your chin or legs.
My body hates me and betrays me every chance it gets. We used to love and mutually respect one another. We used to have dinner before sex and cuddle after. Those days are over. We’re broke up. Literally.
In the midst of a conversation with a store clerk when I am perfectly healthy, my nose will suddenly drip with no warning whatsoever.
I’ve put my back out twice just bending over to tie my shoes.
The only place my hair is getting thicker is on my chin.
I can’t relax during yoga class because I’m afraid I might fart.
On the plus side, I’m old enough that I don’t care if I say fart instead of “pass gas.”
And, I can’t use a neti pot from two to four hours before leaving the house. The last presidential election was proof of that.
In a hurry to vote and make it to work on time, I used a neti pot – which I swear by for avoiding sinus problems – then rushed to the polls.
In a looooong line of people, many of whom I knew and recognized, I was having a lively conversation with one of the poll workers when I bent over to look at the district map that was taped to a table.
Saline water gushed out of my nose onto the map, which was — thankfully — laminated.
People stared in horror. Some backed away.
It was almost as if I had told them who I was voting for — only much worse.
As I dived for a tissue in my purse, I tried to explain, without success, that it was only saline water from a neti pot.
I might as well have said I was suffering from Ebola hemorrhagic viral fever.
I was caught in a bad Van Gogh dream, looking into the terrified eyes of 80 people clutching their heads and screaming soundlessly with open mouths.
I know what I would have been thinking had I seen someone’s nasal passages spew a tsunami — “Hope that poor hapless sap stays away from me …”
The weird thing is that sometimes when I pour that little pot of water in one nostril, NOTHING comes out of the other nostril.
That’s when I should have a clue not to bend over for the rest of the year.
I mean, where does it go? It’s supposed to flow in one nostril and wash out the sinuses and nasal passages and then flow out the other nostril.
But sometimes … NOTHING.
Is my head a vacuous wasteland of saline water parks where cells dance and frolic?
I’m sure it has to do with aging. Everything does these days.
Maybe the saline packs into the recesses of my head that used to be filled with working brain matter, but are now empty chasms of space filled with meaningless phrases like, “Where did I leave my glasses?” and “Damn! Why did I come in this room?” and “Rutabagas scare me and my intestines.”
CHURUBUSCO, Ind. — John A. Krieger, the man who was known as Churubusco’s “favorite son” and the town’s All-Round Nice Guy” died just after midnight on Christmas Eve at the age of 68.
John, who was born with Down syndrome, had been sick with pneumonia and other infections and was hospitalized for four weeks preceding his death.
He kept up his busy schedule, working for a variety of downtown merchants and patrolling the streets of Churubusco right up until the day he was admitted to the hospital.
Krieger’s parents, the late Cloyd “Pete” and Hazel Krieger, were advised by medical authorities to put their Down syndrome baby in an institution.
“He will never live to see his twentieth birthday,” they told the Kriegers.
Appalled at the thought of institutionalizing their little boy, Pete and Hazel took him home and raised him alongside his loving brother and sisters, Calvin, Leila, Phyllis and Beverly.
Although John’s speech was garbled and hard to understand, and he had the usual setbacks associated with Down syndrome, he thrived in the Krieger family setting where he was surrounded with love and attention.
John created a fantasy world where he was able to retreat and become whatever he wanted to be at the moment — a police officer, a medic, a preacher or a fireman.
Many people in Churubusco grew up watching John pantomime a one-man play at the edge of a street or on a downtown sidewalk as he played cops and robbers, assisted at the scene of a wreck or chased down an imaginary hit and run driver.
Krieger brought recognition to Churubusco and gave the town more than its 15 minutes of fame when he attracted the attention of the national media several years ago. He was the focus of a 1999 Associated Press feature story and later that same year, the worldwide cable news network CNN visited Churubusco and filmed a segment about John Krieger for the Sunday morning “Across America” series.
At CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., the “Johnny” feature became an audience favorite and continued to be a repeat request from CNN viewers.
After the Associated Press and CNN coverage, Krieger and the Town of Churubusco heard from people around the world. Many of them sent John letters, cards and even money.
In April 2000 town council members voted unanimously to declare April 23 — John’s birthday — as John Krieger Day in Churubusco.
Dr. Janet McMullen, associate professor of radio, television and film at the University of North Alabama, still uses the story of Krieger when teaching the sociology theories of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.
“Those two theories contrast societies which value people based on who they are versus what they can do,” McMullen said. “John and Churubusco have been the perfect illustrations of that.”
When John was a young man he caught the attention of local businessman,
Clarence Raypole, who owned a gas station at the corner of Main and Whitley streets. Raypole offered John a job and soon the short, stocky young man with the infectious grin became a familiar sight in downtown Churubusco.
John liked nothing more than to be “one of the guys” and could be seen in the garage, helping work on a car and joking with the mechanics or inside, taking a break and drinking a cola while trading “girlfriend” stories with the young men who worked and hung out at the station.
It was Raypole who affectionately dubbed John, “Knothead.”
The entire business community, following Raypole’s lead, adopted John Krieger and he worked a variety of jobs, many times concurrently, throughout his lifetime.
Besides Raypole’s, John also worked at Floyd’s Auto Sales, Super Valu, Diffendarfer’s Body Shop, Shroyers Variety and Hardware, Jones Insurance, Churubusco News, Papa’s Place and Sheets and Childs Funeral Home.
He was a bonafide member of the Churubusco Fire Department, Whitley County Medic 21, Churubusco Police Department and the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department.
When he was younger, John rode a bicycle which was usually gifted to him by local merchants or the police department. The bike was outfitted with baskets, a toy radio and lights. He carried a badge with all the proper credentials for each department he worked for and, depending on which scenario he was acting out at the time, would present the correct badge with the utmost authority. The local police, fire department and emergency crews supplied John with a space or a desk at their headquarters and even outfitted him with police, medic and firefighter uniforms.
The year before John died, Sheriff Mike Schrader of the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department, in cooperation with the Churubusco Police Department, gave John a complete sheriff’s uniform — everything but a gun.
Once a week, an excited John would announce to his many coworkers and employers that he was going to be working as a “flatfoot” and would then name the specific day.
On “flatfoot” days, John would proudly walk the streets of Churubusco in his new uniform, patrolling the streets and fighting crime at every corner.
His fascination with the police was instilled in him as a young boy, when he watched his father get dressed in his “blues” and go to work as a flatfoot or policeman.
In his heyday, when he rode his bicycle, John could imitate a perfect, very authentic-sounding siren. People, upon hearing it, would automatically pull to the edge of the road.
John startled more than one stranger who was passing through town. He would walk up to the offender’s car window and begin writing an imaginary ticket, all the while scolding the hapless motorist for being so careless and running a red light, or leaving the scene of an accident or whatever infraction John thought had been committed.
Once in a while John could be seen standing downtown, arguing with someone he had just ticketed for jaywalking or illegal parking.
The strangers always wore the same confused and exasperated expression while residents of Churubusco just smiled and sometimes reached out and patted John on the back, telling him, “good job.”
The local Methodist Church, where John attended and served as altar boy for many years, sometimes allowed John to preach between services.
He would climb the steps to the pulpit and deliver a rousing — if unintelligible — sermon punctuated with a clear “God” and “Jesus” here and there.
“John was passionate in his sermons,” said Christine Newman-Jacobs, UMC pastor. “And he was passionate in life. Everything he did, he did with love and passion.”
In 1978, Churubusco Police officer Clifford Smith began taking John with him and other officers to a local restaurant for an afternoon coffee break. The ritual continued for nearly 25 years.
Every year, on April 23, or John’s “big day” as he liked to call it, friends, family and members of the local and county police department would gather at the restaurant at precisely 2 p.m. and celebrate John’s birthday with cake and presents. After John’s parents and brother died, he went to live with his sister, Phyllis, where he remained for many years. Several years ago, when Phyllis died, the local newspaper office was flooded with calls from people wondering, “What will happen to Johnny?”
But Phyllis had voiced her dying wish to her son, Dan Ferguson; she asked him to take care of John. Ferguson kept his bedside promise and John lived with Dan and his wife, also named Phyllis, on the east side of Churubusco, until his death.
Dan’s children — John’s great nieces and nephews — and their children, as well as his only remaining sibling, Bev Davis, were a constant source of pride to John. He always carried pictures of the newest baby in the family and would proudly show them to anyone he met on the street.
One picture that Associated Press featured showed John cuddling a great-great nephew with a look of pure adoration. As he got older, his joints, especially his knees, grew weaker, although by most standards, John was in very good shape for a 68-year-old man who was not expected to live past 20.
It was hard to keep him from making his appointed rounds, even when he was ill. Dan and Phyllis, in an effort to keep John home in his sick bed while they went to work, would sometimes confiscate John’s shoes and take them to their place of employment.
That usually didn’t work, as Dan reported later. “John would just find an old pair of shoes or boots, even if they didn’t fit, and walk uptown anyway.”
The summer after his death was the first time in decades that John did not lead the annual Turtle Days parade, smiling and waving at the crowd while sitting in the front seat of a fire truck or a police squad car.
His funeral, held Sunday, Dec. 28, 2003, was something John — who never minded being the center of attention — would have approved of. Family members, friends, local businessmen and women, co-workers and representatives of the fire department, Medic 21 and local, county and state police departments lined the pews, filling the church to capacity.
After the eulogy — which featured gospel singing, one of John’s passions — friends and family members told “Johnny” stories, prompting both tears and laughter.
The funeral procession — a long motorcade led by over three dozen police, fire and medical vehicles — drew the attention of bystanders and motorists along the way. One group of employees in front of Brevin’s Restaurant stood silently, hats off and heads bowed in respect as the procession passed. Thanks to the caring and loving hands of funeral home personnel — who were also one of John’s many employers —
Busco’s All Round Nice Guy reclined peacefully in his favorite suit, holding a wallet which
was open to show his official police and firefighter badges. Even in death, his face reflected a smile and his resolute love of life.
Nearby stood a large wreath which encircled a photo of the firefighters, officers and medics who had come to think of John as one of their own.
John spent a great deal of time on “paperwork” for his many professions, sometimes
working at home, sometimes working in one of his many offices in downtown Churubusco. He would often spend hours laboriously printing his name beneath a handdrawn cross.
He would proudly show off his handiwork and declare, “John Krieger – flatfoot, preacher and man of God.” Those who knew him soon realized that John Krieger was not only a man of God, but a gift from God.
INDIANAPOLIS – So there I was, for the first time in my life, with seven other women who, for the first time in their lives, marched for a cause, surrounded by thousands of others — many who rallied for the first time in their lives — to join in solidarity on our promise to “never go back.”
It was the day after the presidential inauguration, Jan. 21, and we traveled two hours south to join other women (and many men and children) in a protest on the outside terrace and walkways of the State House in Indianapolis. We rallied in support of the main march in Washington, D.C., which drew between 440,000 and half a million people in support of women’s rights and against the new administration. We were joined by hundreds of thousands of supporters from more than 60 countries and at cities throughout the U.S.
Turns out I was not alone in my fears for humanity.
It was a very peaceful, inspiring and, at times, emotional afternoon. But here’s the thing: I had numerous other things I would rather have been doing. What I resent the most about the Trump administration is not any of the hot topics that quickly come to the minds of the majority of people who voted against him (nearly 3 million, but who’s counting?)
After a major health crisis, I decided life was too short. I took an early retirement six months ago so I could spend time doing the things I love: hosting and attending get-togethers with family and friends, playing with my grandchildren, writing a novel, gardening, bird-watching, visiting wineries and reading the many books I have not yet had time to read.
At the age where I should be in a hammock somewhere — anywhere — warmer than Indiana, kicking back with a margarita (or two) and reading “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus,” I instead find myself forced into the role of an activist — attending rallies, joining women’s groups and calling state and national representatives every week to speak out on various issues. What the heck?
I got my first job at the age of 14 and, with the exception of a few short maternity leaves, have been working ever since, at times holding down two or three jobs at a time. I’ve been working and paying taxes for 50 years.
And then the Electoral College made Donald Trump President of the United States.
I wanted to take Garrison Keillor’s advice, which he outlined in a column shortly after the election: “…spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long , brisk walk and smell the roses.”
I tried, to no avail. For one thing, I don’t drink beer. For another thing, I live in northern Indiana where there’s a very small, climatic window for smelling roses.
Turns out I care about the rights of all people, no matter their race, ethnicity or birthplace. I don’t care what their choice of faith is, or isn’t, unless it harms others. (Think Leah Remini and her crusade against the Church Cult of Scientology, yet another cause which, alas, I feel compelled to join.) I care about the rights of relatives and friends in the LGBT community and often fear for their safety. I care about the quality of the air, water and land and protecting this beautiful world for future generations. I care about the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other tribes who have been disrespected and disregarded for too long. And, don’t even get me started on the First Amendment.
You get my drift. There just aren’t enough margaritas or artisan beers to dispel my concerns. Sigh.
And, that’s how I found myself in Indianapolis with thousands of others on an unusually warm January day.
Regardless of the balmy, springlike weather, I bundled up like I was joining the entire population of Antarctica — 30 people — at their women’s rally. Because, more terrifying than thinking about the future effects of climate change, was the fact that I could not afford to get pneumonia, since the first thing the new president did was issue an executive death order to deep-six my and my husband’s ACA healthcare coverage.
“Give him a chance,” the pro-Trump people said. I was prepared to, but he effectively ended any chances within two hours of taking office.
That’s when I grabbed my walking stick and started marching.
What possesses a person to spend their precious (and rare) free time constructing and dressing tiny mouse bodies?
I usually make choir mice as Christmas ornaments wearing red choir gowns and holding hymnals. But my granddaughter needed some families” for her dollhouse, so I made a mouse family since she is an animal aficionado. Her dad is a Colts fan, so of course, so is Papa Mouse.
I think it might be easier to just stab and slab ’em … just a thought.