Photos of Brady

Sunday, November 30, 2003


Yesterday I left my brother’s house in Shawnee, Kansas and drove the four hours back to Smalltown. I had spent several days reminiscing with old friends, touring the old neighborhood, driving past my old schools, and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the city life I left behind 31 years ago. It was with mixed feelings that I packed the car and headed south.

The first hour I reflected on the conversations I had had with friends, especially the one with my brother’s best high school friend. He lives across the street from my brother with his family, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer last summer. He has had a roller coaster ride ever since, trying to work through the process of getting medications regulated, and dealing with his life post-op. While we were visiting with him he told us that he had joined AA. It was a shock, as his family has a strong and abiding faith, and a wide family and extended family support network. He also told me he is in therapy, taking depression medication and is in a cancer survivor support group. I left feeling badly. Had everyone missed the signs for help? We are usually so preoccupied with our own lives, that we just assume that others are doing okay. I promised myself I would email him once a week or so, and just let him know I am in his corner and am praying for him and thinking about him.

The rest of the trip I listened to the lyrical and lilting voice of an Irishman reading the audio books Nora Roberts wrote about the three Concannon sisters in Ireland. They are my favorite characters and these stories are addicting. Listening to a fellow Irishman bring them to life in their native tongue was captivating. Before I knew it I was turning off the highway and entering Smalltown. There was the city limit sign, boasting 2,046 residents. As I stopped at the only traffic light in the center of town, which actually is a four way flashing light, it seemed that nothing had changed since I left days ago.

I drove through town and started back through the countryside, turning onto the old Holloway drive. It is a numbered county road now, but will always be Holloway drive to me. When I came to the fork in the road, I could see that our neighbor Bob had company yet. As I drove past his house, and through the bend in the road, I caught sight of home. There in the little pine grove that Grandpa planted for Grandma 40 years ago sat my little home. Smiling, I pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine. Getting out of the car, I looked at the canopy of trees that rose above our country road, listened to the leaves skittering across the road in the wind, and breathed in the fresh country air.

As I was unpacking the car, I heard a faint meow and heard something running through the woods. A few minutes later, Scaredy and Tiny broke through the woods and ran across our country road….toward home.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, November 29, 2003


This morning I will pack the car and leave for the return trip back to Smalltown. I should have left yesterday, but wanted to rest a bit. I was entirely too tired to make the long drive. It is so wonderful to nap through the afternoon while watching the design shows on HGTV. Smalltown doesn't have such luxuries as HGTV, which is probably a good thing. I wouldn't get much else done I don't think. While the coffee is perking I will jot down a few parting thoughts.

It was wonderful to be here for the last four days. Revisiting my past has been fun as well as good therapy. We have enjoyed good food, good people, and good memories. The world has continued to spin, the sun still rises and sets, and the old clock on the wall has continued to move the hands around. It is time to go home. After a good breakfast with my brother I will drive down the hill, enter I35 South and begin the trip back to Smalltown.

There are people and things waiting for me in Smalltown, and I may as well get back to my life. There are things I have to look forward to now. Plans have been made for other visits and trips elsewhere. I have invited friends down for a visit to Smalltown. I want them to know my little corner of the world, and how I have spent my years there. Most of all I am going home.

I know the traffic will be terrible, and also that many of you will be traveling today as well. Drive carefully and be safe.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, November 28, 2003


It's 5:35am, the coffee is perking and I am slowly coming out of the fog of sleep. Everyone else is still sleeping except the cat, of course. I can hear him meowing out in the laundry room wanting some kind and benevolent soul to open the door and let him in. Since this is my brother's home I will pass until he gets up and decides it is time for kitty to come in. This is the most wonderful time of day. Just before sunrise, the day fresh and open to possibility, a clean slate. Today anything can happen.

The past couple of days while I have been here in my old neighborhood I have gone by my old elementary school, and my old junior high and high schools. Although there are superficial changes it is hard to tell that 31 years have passed since I walked these streets and rode my bicycle here. It is strange when you see dear friends from the past, catching up on all that has passed since seeing each other the last time. The years fall away and you can't talk or listen fast enough. Laughter bubbles up and rolls free. I lost count of how many times someone said, "Gosh it's good to see you again."

Family has called from their various locations around the country. Reconnecting with family and friends centers, grounds, and recharges me. I hadn't realized how badly I needed a break from life in Smalltown, and I will be glad to make the drive back home to my life there. It is good to know that even though I can visit and enjoy time away, my life is elsewhere for now. It is indeed a blessing, as so many people don't have that sense of purpose and belonging.

Shortly the family will be getting up. Mom will smell the coffee through the haze of slumber, and knowing I am already up will search me out to replay the wonderful day we had yesterday. I may go ahead and let the cat inside early, as a treat for the both of us. My brother is going to prepare his special omelet for breakfast, and I am wondering where on earth I will put it. This is the time of day I set aside for myself. As thoughts whirl through my mind, memories warm my heart and the new day lays before me. Anything is possible.

They say this is the biggest shopping day of the year. I will be as far away from all of that as I can get. Before I have to pack the car and leave for the four hour drive back to Smalltown, I want to enjoy the last few hours in the midst of my family. Whatever your plans are for the day I hope that they are memorable.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, November 27, 2003


"Come, Ye Thankful People, Come! Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, 'Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come, Raise the song of Harvest-home.

"All the world is God's own field, Fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown, Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then ear, Then the full corn shall appear:
Lord of harvest, grant that we Wholesome grain and pure may be."


We live in a free country blessed with bounty and rich with heritage. This is a day our forefathers set aside to celebrate these things and to thank God for His blessings and guidance. It is a time to celebrate the bounty of the harvest, the love of country, hearth and home. Today I am so thankful for this wonderful country, the history and freedom it affords, the bounty it provides, and for the peace in which we live. I have wonderful family and friends.

Today as we gather around our Thankgiving feasts, let us be mindful of the rich history of this day and the reasons we celebrate it. Let us say a prayer of thanks and gratitude. And may we trust God to guide us through the year to come. Today we are a nation at war. Our military men and women are in harms way. They are in strange lands far away from the haven of home and the bosom of loving family. Remember to say a prayer for their safety and soon return to our shores.

Enjoy your respective holiday celebrations, meals, the parades and the football games. A very happy and blessed Thanksgiving to all.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, November 26, 2003


Yesterday I drove down my country road, through Smalltown and out onto the open highway. I followed the familiar route toward Kansas to my brother's house for the Thanksgiving holiday. It is a four hour trip, so I entertained myself listening to an audio book I had been looking forward to listening to. In no time I was making the last turn off the Interstate to the my brothers house, which is located in the same neighborhood I grew up in. Deja vu.

All of the familiar houses, the old neighborhood, and our old street. Before turning into my brother's driveway, I drove down our city street. There sat our old house. The color is wrong, they have cut down the big elm tree where I used to spend idle summer hours, and they have removed the hedge that separated our yard from the neighbor's yard. I drove on by, made the circle of the block, and went back to my brother's house.

Thanksgiving is all about going home. Reconnecting with your roots, your family, and your friends. With all of the stress and hustle and bustle of daily life, it is going to be nice to step back and relax. I am looking forward to seeing old friends, and being with family again. I hope that your trip back home is a safe and happy one, and that as you drive down your street into the familiar haven of loved ones and friends, your are welcomed with warmth and love.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, November 25, 2003


Hand TurkeyI passed an elementary school yesterday and smiled, remembering the carefree days I spent at Nieman Elementary as a child. I was shocked that there were no pictures of hand turkeys displayed on the windows, no pictures of pilgrims and no Indians. Closer scrutiny revealed no paper chains draped from the light fixtures. Those cherished harbingers of Thanksgiving are as staple as the pumpkin pie.....

Just past Halloween decorations were down, our teacher would pass out white construction paper for each student. We were to trace around our hand and fingers to make the outline of what would become our turkey. Although we did have some artistic license the body was colored brown, the waddle red, and then the feathers were ours to be creative with. Since my crayola box only had 24 colors in it, my turkey was always pretty normal. Our class did have one or two students that had the big box of 72 colors PLUS the built in pencil sharpener at the back of the box, so their turkey feathers were always very non traditional. Once our turkeys were done, the teacher had us write our name in the bottom right hand corner and they were hung in the windows facing the street so that passersby could enjoy them.

During the month of November, our afternoon art lessons were holiday related. We made those ever popular paper chains with brown, orange, yellow and red strips of construction paper and Elmer's glue. These were draped between the light fixtures around the room. Out of construction paper, half of the class got to make black pilgrim hats, the other half made head bands with a single feather sticking up from the back. These were worn for our party the afternoon before we were let out for Thanksgiving vacation. The room mothers brought cupcakes and kool-aid, candy corn, and little pumpkin candies. We sang Come You Thankful People Come and Over The River And Through The Woods, and wished each other and our teacher Happy Thanksgiving. We got to take all of our art work home to share with our families, and Mom would put them on the refrigerator proudly.

Those memories are precious. They wrap me in wonderful warm fuzzy emotions that make greeting the holidays a thing of joy....hurray for the pumpkin pie!

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, November 24, 2003


As a child growing up Mom made Thanksgiving a major event. All holidays and birthdays were special, and duly prepared and decorated for, but Thanksgiving was the big one. Living in Shawnee, which is a suburb just outside of Kansas City, put us in a central location for all of our relatives that lived elsewhere. Since none of our relatives wanted to travel at Christmas time due to bad weather we usually had a house full of guests at Thanksgiving time.

I am not exactly sure who came up with the original idea, but we did have an odd tradition. All of the relatives coming to the house for Thanksgiving brought their Christmas gifts for our family and whoever was going to be there. While we were all together we opened our gifts so that everyone could share Christmas together. This was usually done after Thanksgiving dinner, and my brothers and I believed this to be a capital idea. Two Christmases instead of one?

Now I am sure that in the beginning this tradition had practical reasons for coming to fruition. The mailing of packages has always been a burden, and most of our relatives were retired when we were kids. Somewhere along the way however, this tradition gained momentum and popularity with all concerned. As my brothers and I grew up, it gave our long distance relatives and Grandparents the chance to share the pure joy of three little kids awed by the wonder of Christmas.

Our house was a modest three bedroom ranch style with one bathroom. This provided all of the usual challenges, but in the end everything came out okay. Our family usually slept on the floor allowing the guests the beds. My brothers and I pretended we were camping, and was it was exciting in the extreme. The other neat thing was watching my Great Grandmother combing her hair every morning. She had never had her hair cut, and she wore it on top of her head in a braided bun. At night she unwound the bun and slept with the braid down. In the morning she would come out with her braid over one shoulder. After breakfast we would watch as she unwound the braid and combed her hair, carefully rebraiding it and pinning it once again into the bun atop her head. We were a little afraid of her, as we had never seen anyone as old as she was, but also because she was an austere woman. She didn't talk very much and didn't like silliness, so we were always warned to be on our best behavior. The ritual of her combing her hair was amazing. She would bend over from the waist and with a small comb would begin combing from the bottom, untangling the hair as she worked her way up. Once at the scalp, she would begin combing from the top down again. When this was done, she would bend over again and begin separating the long strands of hair for braiding. After the braid was done she wound it back into a bun and secured it with large plastic hair pins made for braided buns and coronets.

I am sure that my mother was grateful for our fascination with Grandma Stricklett's morning ritual. It kept us occupied and tickled my Grandma. She would hum sometimes or occasionally ask a question but mostly remained silent. Thinking about it now I wonder at her going through the morning combing and braiding every day all of the years she was old. Simply amazing.

After a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner toward dusk we got to open the presents. Of course gifts in the 1950's and 1960's were different than Christmas is today. We usually got children's classics books that Mom read to us a chapter at a time before bed each night. We also received homemade flannel pajamas, socks and underwear, and board games. Mom would give handmade gifts I had heard her knitting as I fell asleep each night. Stocking caps, socks(yes, hand knit socks), scarves, mittens, and sweaters. All in all it was a lot of fun.

Great memories are precious, more so now that most of our relatives are no longer with us. We cherish our memories and hold them in our hearts as we celebrate each holiday. Although we talk and laugh as we share them with each other now, there is a deep sadness that our loved ones aren't here to share the moments with us. The magic of the holiday season is that although they made not be here in a physical sense, their presence is felt in every way.....with love.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, November 23, 2003


Make new friends but keep the old for one is silver and the other gold.....
The jingle I learned as a child is so true. Old friends are comfortable and comforting because you have shared life experiences in common. They know all of the things that it would take forever to explain to someone new, all of your faults and foibles yet love you anyway. They have walked with you in the darkest moments of your life and shared the joys of the mountain tops.

I have several very good 'old' friends. They live in Kansas and therefore I can't just call them up and meet for dinner or a movie. One lives in St. Louis and since moving there last year I have seen her only twice. I need to make the trip up there and spend the day with her. Living here in Smalltown has been a challenge because I grew up in a different part of the country and in a big city. My thinking, values, goals and ideologies are different. I am somewhat of a curiosity to the folk here. I haven't made any close friends for the 31 years I have lived here. My family, and my mother in particular have been my closest friends. Every now and again my girlfriend in Kansas calls on the phone and we talk for hours. The years fall away and we laugh like schoolgirls. It is truly a connection I cherish.

Yesterday I had a lazy Saturday with all the trappings. Fragrant candles, good music, good food, and the comfort of routine household chores. In checking my email I had heard from someone who had commented on one of my blogs. It was such a heartfelt and well worded note that I emailed back. A short time later I received another email. In no time I felt like I was having conversations with a kindred spirit. I laughed at the wit with which the notes were written and at the same time marveled at the insights.

One of my very favorite movies is You've Got Mail. I just love the interaction between Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. What I marveled at was the way the conversations they had over the internet changed their thinking, broadened their outlooks, and led to lasting friendship. This new friend I met yesterday is a rare gift. It is good to reevaluate your life, your thinking and your situations from someone else's vantage point. A fresh outlook energizes you and gives you a new perspective. I feel a kinship with this person because our situations are similar, and discovering a kindred spirit is a thing of beauty.

Make new friends but keep the old for one is silver and the other gold......

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, November 22, 2003


Saturday mornings are lazy laid back times I can reconnect with me. My daughter called from Connecticut at 6:00am, interrupting the only day I can sleep without setting the alarm clock. But it is okay. Had a lovely visit with her, stirring up some muffins for breakfast and making coffee while we laughed and she told me about her week. Cats curled up and slept by me on the couch, more to be close to the afghan that to me I think, but was cozy nonetheless.

Read the mail, including the free newspaper we get once a week from a neighboring town. Usually nothing of interest, but the ritual of being on the couch with a hot cup of coffee, warm muffins and butter, cats snoozing and turning the pages of the paper is nice. Looked through the sale flyers, and thumbed through the bills.

Watched the squirrels eating pinecones while sitting on the porch railing. My stray kitties, who have grown into young cats now watched all of this with great interest. Squirrels in the country are very savvy however, and know just the last second to leap into the birch tree next to the porch to escape harm. It is a game they play to mess with the cats I think.

The smooth dulcet sounds of Rod Stewart’s American Songbook CD waft through the house, and every now and again I take a sweeping turn to a favorite. I have lit my favorite Yankee candles and the comfort of the scent fills my senses. It is odd to most folk I suppose that I view all of this to be such a wonderful day, but I have learned that I am very comfortable in my own skin and happy with my lot in life. When I feel lonely or alone, Barry Manilow soothes me and feeds my soul. There is a man who knows love and heartache. I feel a connection with him. Later I will listen to something more upbeat, but I love the soft sounds of a sexy male voice singing about love.

Today I am going to enjoy the joy of simple everyday chores. Washing the dishes by hand, rearranging the living room furniture only to put it back again because the cats like it better that way, folding freshly laundered and fluffed towels and sheets. Fluffing the featherbed, putting pretty flannel sheets on the bed with the anticipation of sleeping there tonight. Running the vacuum, dusting cherished knick-knacks and photos, pausing to smile at the much loved faces there. Singing along to the Cds. Looking out the window.

No matter what the day may bring or the weather that comes it will be a good day……here on our country road. Enjoy, wherever you may be.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, November 21, 2003


Country folk are a creative lot. Whenever we take a Sunday drive or take a trip to Arkansas to see Aunt Beulah, I see examples of Ozark ingenuity. Having grown up in a city I find these things very odd, but to the locals there is nothing at all noteworthy about the ways they find to use ordinary things....

Most people use their front porches for sitting and enjoying a cool breeze in the warm weather. Here there are more practical uses for the front porch which include but are not limited to:
A fine place to stack firewood.
Garbage can storage: also garbage storage
Feed bucket and feed sack storage
Ash bucket/can and shovel storage for cleaning ashes out of the wood stove
Large appliances that work
Large appliances that don't work
Cardboard box storage
Old couches/sofas: Here they are called dee-vans. (accent on first syllable)
Hound dogs and cats to sleep on the old divans
Old coffee or lard cans for spitting when chewing tobacco
Wash tub and ringer washer storage
Bunches of plastic gallon milk jugs tied together and hanging from ceiling

Yard ornamentation is another thing that is very different here. Things I have noticed:
Flowers planted in old tires
Flowers planted in old bathtubs
Flowers planted in old freezers, refrigerators, and other appliances
Flowers planted in old BBQ grills
Flowers planted inside a metal bedstead sans mattress/box springs
Flowers planted in an old satellite dish
Wind chimes made from empty beer cans
Wind chimes made from silverware
Old cars
Old trucks
Catfish skeletons hanging from trees
Various bones/skulls from deer, cows or other animals

One of the most amazing things I have noticed is that year round the flowers never die. This look is achieved by using plastic or other artificial flowers. Very low maintenance. Rain, shine, drought, sleet, snow, you can see perfectly shaped bunches of flowers. Those that have been out in the weather several seasons have lost their color, but it doesn't seem to matter.

Also popular here are wooden cutouts in life size silhouette form standing out in the yard. Concrete animals brightly painted, and a variety of things on metal spikes that are stuck here and there in the lawn. The most popular being birds that have wings that turn in the wind and a large variety of pinwheels. Seasonal displays are left out for the next season. It is amazing that it is possible to even mow the grass around all of these things, but then that is a story for another day......

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, November 20, 2003


Ozarks weather is a real piece of work. They say if you don't like the weather here just wait five minutes, and since coming to live here I have come to see the wisdom and truth of the statement. Weather is the main topic of conversation and more people watch the local newscasts for the weather rather than the news of the day. For two days we had torrential, violent storms that blessed the parched area with six to eleven inches of rain, depending on where you lived in the path of the storm. Flash floods, golf ball to tennis ball size hail, damaging winds and lightening grabbed the headlines on the front page of the weekly newspaper and dominated newscasts.

Today we are to have sunshine and temperatures in the high 70's and are expected to break the record for high temperatures for this day in history. The sunshine and dry weather will help repair crews dispatched to repair low water bridges and washed out roads from the storms. Homeowners who suffered hail damage will have a couple of dry days to repair their roofs before the next storm moves through on Saturday. Insurance companies have storm teams in place to assist with quick repair and assessment of damages.

Saturday we are expecting a high temperature of 33, and it is supposed to sleet and snow. The trees and bushes are trying to bud out again and flower gardens are blooming , sporting new blooms. Nature evidently thinks that spring has sprung already. Mother Nature is definitely having the time of her life keeping everyone off balance and winter at bay.

Last night I went out to watch what sunset I could see peeking through a break in the heavy gray clouds. Watching day reluctantly surrender to night, the smell of wood smoke from heating stoves assailed my senses and the smoke hovered in the damp air like fog. The sight was one popular with magazine photographers and brought the images of hearth and home to mind. I stood on the porch for a long time enjoying the squirrels jumping from tree to tree, making their way to nests built high in the great oak trees. Birds hopped from branch to branch, calling their mates and then flying off to their nests. The sound of our neighbor calling his calves for evening feeding resulted in leaves rustling in the field as they quickly made their way to the barn for corn.

Day is done. Reluctantly I turned to go back into the house for dinner. A line from a poem Mom had hanging in our house when we were growing up came to mind 'Gods in his heaven, alls right with the world.' And so it is....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Yesterday again dawned gray and with fog so thick there was absolutely no visibility. The trees were blanketed, their tops barely visible in the murky gray fog. From Grandma's little pine grove out front the plaintive sounds of the hoot owl broke the silence as night surrendered to the new day.

Throughout the day gray skies prevailed. The fog did lift after lunch and small patches of blue sky broke through the dense clouds, but it didn't last. In defiance the sun valiantly shone brightly for a few minutes before once again being swallowed up by the clouds. To the north and west a line of black clouds appeared, threatening the severe weather the meteorologists had been warning us would come before days end.

Late afternoon I had to drive to a neighboring town to take care of some business. The further I drove the closer I came to the ominous blackness hovering on the horizon. I conducted my business and was walking to the parking lot when I heard the thunder. Lightening streaked in sharp jagged patterns across the sky. Seeing the onset of the storm was going to overtake me I began running toward the car. I did not make it before the rain fell. By the time I reached the car I was soaked to the skin.

I sat in the car for several minutes with no sign that the storm would abate. Fearing any more delay would worry Mom I started the car and turned on the lights and windshield wipers. The street lights had come on, which helped me to navigate the way out of the parking lot. The rain was falling so hard I couldn't hear anything above the roar. As I pulled out onto the road hail began to fall, sounding like the report of rifle shots against the car. The temperature was falling quickly and fog was beginning to rise once again. I was 20 long miles from home. Slowly I drove on. Water was running across the road and impeded my progress. It took me ten minutes to drive the three miles to the highway access.

Wind buffeted the car. Lightening cracked followed by deep rumbling thunder that shook the ground with its force. As I neared Smalltown the wind rocked the car. I was afraid that the roar I thought was rain could be a tornado. Main street was covered with water several inches deep, but I pushed on. Finally I turned down our country road, and as I pulled into the driveway, Mom was standing at the door looking out. I waved to let her know I was okay, but stayed in the car hoping the rain was lessen so that I could make a run for the house. The lightening and thunder chased me inside, and once again I was soaked to the skin by the heavy downpour.

Safely inside, Mom filled me in on the severity of the storm. There had been several rescues of people in cars overtaken and trapped by rapidly rising water. Tennis ball sized hail and damaging wind had been reported. As I began telling her about my harrowing drive home she brought me a towel to dry with.

Ten minutes later I was sitting with Mom in front of the television watching the weather reports. Warm and dry I sat sipping a cup of hot coffee, very happy to be home again......here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, November 18, 2003


Yesterday was a gray day complete with dense fog and a heavy mist that steadily increased throughout the day. The fog didn’t lift, only becoming more dense and foreboding as the day wore on. Toward evening the mist became full blown rain and quickly accelerated into a downpour. Thunder rumbled heavily, shaking the house and lightening lit up the November night.

The force of the wind whipped the mighty white pine trees that surround my house until they creaked and groaned under the assault. Limbs and pine cones snapped and fell with a crash to the ground. Acorns from the oak trees hit the roof and sides of the house like hailstones. The rain formed small rivers that flowed from the rise where the house sits down to our country road and disappeared into the night.

The cats curled up next to me on the couch and listened to the storm with eyes as big as saucers. To keep my hands and mind busy I picked up my handwork, and soon the rhythm of knitting took my mind off of the violence of the storm raging outside my cozy home. An hour later the wind had gentled somewhat and the rain was falling steadily but softly. Blowing out the candles I had lit earlier in the evening in case the power went out and turning out the lights, I went in to bed. The sound of the rain falling lulled me into slumber.

This morning I woke to rain still falling, but definitely tapering off. Darkness still cloaks the big woods surrounding the house, but in another hour or so dawn will break. Today is a special day. It is said that friends are angels that lift you up when your wings forget how to fly….and I have found this to be true in my life. Although great distance separates us my friend and I meet at sunrise and sunset each day, and in every storm and every rainbow, every bright moon and twinkling star. The distance between two friends is never far, and two hearts can touch with a thought and a memory. I need to get my coat and take a walk so that I can wish him a very happy birthday as the sun rises….here on my country road….

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, November 17, 2003


There has been an invasion in Smalltown. The strangers began arriving Friday and have steadily been showing up at local shops and groceries. They are dressed in clothing designed to camouflage them from being seen and have different accents when they talk. They have been buying large quantities of food and supplies. Before sundown they were gone as quickly as they came. Smalltown once again was left to the quiet way of life we know. It wouldn't last.

Saturday morning just before daybreak the first gunshots woke me up from a sound sleep. I sat up in bed with a start trying to get my bearings. Every few minutes gunshots could be heard in the distance. After a few minutes I remembered the invasion the day before. Hearing the gunshots was a reminder of why they had come. Saturday morning was the official beginning of Firearms Deer Season.

The strangers come from all over the nation. They have big RV's, big pick-up trucks and SUV's filled with camping equipment and supplies. They dress in the expensive camouflage clothes and boots found in glossy outdoorsman catalogs. They have the requisite orange hats and vests required to hunt in the various National forests and woods surrounding Smalltown.

Gunshots continued all morning but around midday they stopped and there was an eerie silence. I had to go up to the grocery store to get Jennifer some baby food, and was met with a long line of pick-up trucks and SUVs waiting in line at the deer checking station across from the grocery store. There were dead whitetail deer strapped to the vehicles, eyes staring sightlessly and had been field dressed leaving long bloody gashes from gullet to hind legs.

The invaders were gathered around one particular truck that had a huge buck in the back. He had a large rack of horns which is an indicator of how many seasons he had survived the annual deer hunts. The hunter who had killed the majestic buck was proudly lifting it's head up by the horns so that a local newspaper reporter could take the hunter's picture for the weekly paper. Other hunters were slapping the man who had killed it soundly on the back and shaking his hand.

Sadly I turned into the grocery store parking lot and went inside. I bought Jennifer's baby food and headed back out of town toward our country road. As I rounded the bend in the road a doe and her twin fawns were crossing the road into the big woods. They are residents here on our country road, and we have enjoyed them immensely. Instead of leisurely walking down the road like they usually do they were looking around anxiously before jumping off the road into the woods and disappearing again. I prayed that they would be safe until deer season ends as I drove on down our country road....toward home.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, November 16, 2003


This morning I am going to dedicate my blog to a friend of ours who lives in Covington, Louisiana. He is my brother John's best friend, and has just fought the fight of his political life in a run off election for parish councilman. The incumbent had held the seat for 24 years, and fought a dirty below the belt campaign. Marty is a good man. He has been in politics for 8 years as city councilman and is well known and liked by reputation. He is a good family man and has a fine wife and family.

Marty has been a good friend to John, and they have a great circle of friends. In our visits to Covington to see John and his family over the years we have grown to know and love them all. They are very talented, unique, productive, fun loving people. They have all welcomed us in to their homes and treated us to that fine southern hospitality. They are all more like family than friends, and is nice that they can be both.

John is very talented with anything he sets his mind to, and has been a great help to Marty's campaign. Last night after the polls closed they went to all of the voting precincts to gather results, and at 9:00pm we got the call. Marty had won. We were so happy for all of them, and proud that their hard work had paid off. Our only regret was that we couldn't be there for the victory party.
No one celebrates like they do in N'awlins!

Congratulations to Marty, John, Brian, Claude and the rest of the staff, all of the campaign workers, and your families. As you buckle down to the hard work ahead, I pray God will bless and lead you.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, November 15, 2003


I have written occasionally about the two stray kittens who have adopted me and taken up residence in my garage. I have tried to leave them alone so that they would feel safe there and have slowly attempted to touch them or pet them to get acquainted. Tiny, the smallest of the two, has let me pet him from the beginning and is the more outgoing of the two. Scaredy is of course more afraid, and never lets me get close to him. I decided to apply a little psychology to the situation. Every morning and evening when I go out to feed them I would talk to Tiny, pick him up and love on him. Scaredy would watch all of this with a jaundiced eye, and if I turned toward him he would run away.
Patience has finally paid off. Scaredy has finally let me pet him, will rub against my legs, and if I talk to Tiny and love him, Scaredy stands right there to get his lovin' too. It is only a matter of time before he will also let me pick him up as well.

I have had an ongoing problem with leaving food in the garage for them. We have lots of critters in the big woods surrounding our house. Routinely we see raccoons, o' possums, foxes, armadillos, and skunks. Any one of them could have been responsible for eating the cat food, and none of them are welcome in my opinion to be a visitor in my garage. I have since made beds for the cats, moved their food up high so critters could not get to it, and have started locking the garage up at night. This works as long as I am home to lock them up before dark.

This past week we had to go to Springfield to have an outpatient test done on Mom. We were late getting back. As we came around the bend in our country road toward home, we saw eyes shining in the headlights. As we got nearer the lights shone brightly on a rascally possum. He was headed right for the garage.
The lights scared him back into the big woods, and I was able to feed the cats and get the garage door locked before he got back across the road.

Life in the country is a challenge. You have to be watchful at all times, because just when you think you have it all figured out, another critter rears it's ugly head. Yesterday I called Tiny and Scaredy so I could feed them. Scaredy came right away, but Tiny was no where to be found. I called and called and called. Scaredy went across the road and looked down into the big woods as if to tell me where Tiny was. I continued to call him, and finally could hear him making his way through the dry leaves on the forest floor. I also saw a big red tailed hawk flying from tree to tree, watching his progress. It was a race to see if Tiny could get home before the big hawk grabbed him. I began to wave my arms to get the hawks attention, and was successful in distracting him until Tiny broke through the woods and ran into the garage. Locking them both safely inside, I walked back up the walk to the porch. I turned and looked up in the big tree where the hawk was still sitting. I would have to be vigilant if I am going to keep both kittens safe. Just another day..... here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, November 14, 2003


Thanksgiving is still a week and a half away but we have all of our food planned. There is nothing to do now but cook and prepare it, so my thoughts are turned toward Christmas. Whatever I give this year has to be handmade since I have no money of my own to buy gifts with. I already have Mom's dish towels embroidered and put away, and the handkerchiefs I made for Grandpa and Warren are also finished. Grandma is who I was wondering about this morning.

No matter when you go to Grandma's house, you will find the arm of her chair riddled with embroidery needles. Each needle is threaded with a different color of embroidery thread so that when she needs a few stitches of a different color she doesn't have to stop what she is doing and thread one with the color she needs. It is a good idea, but she leaves them like that all the time. Mom had been given a needle caddy for just that purpose, and I decided to make Grandma one using Mom's as a pattern.

After Mom and I discussed how to make the needle caddy and the best way to go about it, I set to work. It was simple enough to trace around the original. After I had my pieces cut out I set them aside and got out the sewing machine. It really only took a few minutes to sew the caddy together, put the edging on it and attach the ties. Mom and I decided to make a paper pattern so if we wanted to make one again we had the pattern ready to go.

Once I had Grandma's caddy wrapped and put away it dawned on me that I hadn't planned anything for Jennifer's gift. This would be her first Christmas, but she would only be four months old. Hmmmm.....I went in search of Mom. My baby book didn't cover what gifts would be appropriate for each month of life. When I located her I asked her what I should make for Jennifer. After we talked through several options we got to reminiscing about Christmases when I was growing up. Every year Mom made my brothers and I a new pair of flannel pajamas for the winter. Each Christmas eve when Dad was reading the Christmas story from the family Bible, Mom took a picture of us in our new pj's as we listened to him. Mom put them in our family picture album and it is neat to go back and look at them now. The memories are so special. As we talked I began thinking of how Jennifer and I could begin her first Christmas with making special memories she could remember all through her life. That is how I began our little family picture album. All of the pictures I had taken of her since coming to live in Smalltown were in the bureau drawer in our bedroom. Mom went in to search her craft supply closet and came back with a new photo album. Handing it to me, she told me it would be her contribution to our family memory picture album.

Inspired, I went off to the bedroom to dig out the pictures I had taken since Jennifer's birth. She wouldn't be able to appreciate how special the album is until she is older, but it had a special meaning to me already. As I worked on the proper placement of the pictures, I smiled at how Christmas elves are all around us if we only look with our heart......

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, November 13, 2003


I am a child of the 1950’s. When I was growing up we were taught manners and how to talk to adults. In grade school we learned how to answer the telephone properly, how to compose a letter or thank you note, and proper etiquette in dealing with people. It was considered proper to wish people a nice day, or holiday greetings such as ‘have a happy Thanksgiving, merry Christmas, happy Halloween, St. Patrick’s day, Easter, and Happy New Year.’ We were taught to look people in the eye and to appear genuinely interested in what they have to say.

I remember the first trip I made to Kansas to visit my older brother George after I had been here in Smalltown for a while. Everywhere we went I greeted people with a ‘hello, how are you today?’ and a smile. When he took me to see the new shopping mall I think I embarrassed him by verbally greeting people we passed. He finally asked me why I kept talking to everyone we passed. I hadn’t even been aware that I was doing it. Living in a small community like Smalltown is a little bit like watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ The interaction is quite similar.

Yesterday we had to go to a large town an hour and a half away to have a test at the hospital there. After the test was over and the nurse was wheeling Mom out to the door to leave, I thanked the nurse and wished her a Happy Thanksgiving. It took her quite by surprise I could tell. She was a young woman, and had probably never had anyone wish her a Happy Thanksgiving in the flow of her work day before. She appeared to hesitate just a minute before she said, ‘You too.’

People who know me tease me about being a happy face person. I am happy, enjoy life, and just can’t seem to help myself. It is who I am, and how I am put together. It is, as a friend of mine here in Smalltown says, ‘Where the handle screws on to that.’ I encourage you to take time to greet people with a cheery hello, how are you today, how’s that cold or how is your little girl, and see the response you get. People will seem shocked at first, but usually respond to genuine interest. When you can, leave people with ‘have a nice day, Happy Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas.’ You will be amazed.

Until tomorrow…….Have a great day!
Becky Strain


Wednesday, November 12, 2003


Yesterday was Veterans Day in our country. It is a day set aside to honor and thank our veterans for their sacrifice of service to protect our freedom and way of life. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice, dying on foreign soil. Others suffered horrific injuries. Today our country is at war. After the terrorist attack of 9/11 our President declared war on terrorism whenever and wherever it is found. Whether or not we agree with the cause, it is imperative that we support the brave men and women who are in harm's way to protect our freedom.

In years past every community, city and town had a Veterans Day parade and ceremonies to honor our veterans both living and dead. American flags lined the streets and patriotic banners decorated store and shop windows. Bands playing military and patriotic music marched smartly, politicians gave speeches, clergymen offered prayers for our troops and our country, and flowers were laid at the graves of veterans. Flags were placed at the grave of every veteran by the various civic groups and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It was a day of thanks, gratitude and national pride.

Six years ago we lost Warren, my step-father, to brain cancer. He was a veteran and retired military, having served both in the Navy and the Army. He had a military funeral complete with color guard provided by the VFW post in a neighboring town. I was struck by the age of the members of the group. They were all World War ll veterans, and were in their sixties and seventies. It was a very moving service, made more special by these proud men paying respect to one of their fallen brothers.

The first year following Warren's death I went to the cemetery with Mom to put patriotic flowers at his grave. I was shocked to see that there were no flags at any of the veteran's graves. We came right home, got an American flag for Warren and for Moms brother's grave who also was a World War ll veteran. After putting the flags at their graves I checked with the city offices and found that not only had no arrangements been made to put flags at the veteran's grave sites but no Veterans Day ceremonies had been planned. Our Smalltown mayor took several days to even return my phone call, and when he did he told me that Veterans Day ceremonies had been so poorly attended in the past years that they had been eliminated from the calendar of events. Since the cemetery is a municipal one and money is paid for the upkeep of it I asked why no flags had been put out. He was unaware of the practice or who might have been responsible for them in years past.

After many questions and phone calls I found out the the American Legion and VFW posts had placed the flags at the veterans graves in the past. The age of the veterans was the reason that there had been a tapering off of the people available to perform the task each year. There are numerous cemeteries in our area. My inquiries resulted in flags being put out at Veterans Day in subsequent years. We still put our own out for Warren and Uncle Lewis as a sign of our respect and gratitude just in case it does not get done.

Our country is too busy. We have forgotten the price paid for our freedoms and way of life. We all know veterans, and I would encourage you to at least seek them out and thank them for their service and for your freedom. Find out about the Veterans Day plans in your communities, and attend them. If there are none, ask why. Our veterans are getting old. Thousands of them are dying every day. Without their example, Veterans Day may cease to exist altogether. It is up to us to teach a new generation of Americans to be thankful for the liberties we enjoy and take for granted. To have pride in our country and its history.

Two years ago we visited my brother John and family in New Orleans. We went to the National D-Day Museum there. It was a moving and emotional day. The atmosphere was one of reverence and awe. There were many World War ll veterans walking through the museum, many weeping silently as they passed the exhibits. At the end of the day there were tables set up where people could sit and write letters and postcards to veterans at Soldiers Homes. I sat and wrote several expressing my thanks and gratitude. Since that day I take the opportunity to thank veterans when I come across them in my daily walk of life. Thank them for their service and for your freedom. Shake their hand. It will be an experience you will not forget.

Yesterday was Veterans Day in our country. It is a day set aside to honor and thank our veterans. The day passed here in Smalltown with no ceremony or fanfare. The same may be true of your community. Now more than ever it is essential that we teach our children respect and gratitude for the price paid for their freedoms. Change happens slowly.....let it start with me, and with you.
May God continue to bless our leaders and the United States of America.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, November 11, 2003


When Jennifer takes her morning nap each day I like to take a walk down our country road. Since the days are shorter now and there isn't as much outdoor work to do until spring I can afford the luxury without feeling guilty about leaving Mom and Warren with yard and garden chores while I walk. It is a little piece of the day I can be alone and is essential for me to keep myself balanced.

Today is a gray November day. It is cool enough to require a jacket, but by the time I make the turn and head home I will have to take it off and tie it around my waist. As I walked by Grandma and Grandpa's house they were in the garage, which also does double duty as Grandpa's shop. Grandpa was wearing his signature blue nylon windbreaker jacket and the gray pants and shirt that had been his uniform all the years he worked as a mechanic for the Highway Department. Grandma was wearing one of the loose house dresses Mom had made for her, white anklets, canvas Keds, and a plaid Pendleton jacket. She had a scarf around her head and secured under her chin, her gardening bucket in her hand. Grandpa was working on a bird house to put on a post in his garden, and as I passed I called out a hello. They turned and waved, Grandma inviting me for a cup of coffee when I came back by. It warmed my heart to see them puttering around their little place. Leaving them to their chores, I lengthened my stride and walked on.

Our neighbor Bob was out tilling his garden under and putting cow manure into it from the barn. He always wears tan pants and a white T-shirt when he is working around the yard, and today was no exception. He wears his ball cap with the bill flat, which is not how the local folk wear theirs. The locals spend a great deal of time taking a new hat and curling the bill in a big upside down 'U' shape. I always call it the 'country curl'. Anyway, as Bob and Jeralene came here from the Missouri boot heel years ago, he has not adopted this custom. Waving to Bob as I passed, I made the turn around the bend in the road and started down Holloway drive.

There are only three houses between the bend in the road and the highway, and are all retired people. As I walked past the Williams place movement caught my eye. Looking toward the porch I saw their mama cat and what looked to be three baby kittens playing under the hydrangea bush by the stoop. Smiling at their antics and at how cute the kittens are, I walked on by. The mama would have no part of me trying to meet her new offspring this soon. They would be prowling the neighborhood soon enough.

Just before you reach the highway there is a road that veers off to the right. The road takes you by an old country church, and the road eventually changes from blacktop to gravel. By following the road and making all right turns it brings you back by Bob and Jeralene's house. It is a loop that is several miles in length, and is full of hills and dales. Your only company is a wide array of birds, rabbits, squirrels, occasional dogs. There are numerous fields that are home to cows, horses, goats and chickens. It is a strenuous walk, and never fails to invigorate me. My mind always wanders, the sounds of the country soothes my spirit and feeds my soul. In no time I found myself back in familiar territory. Bob was covering his tiller with a big galvanized bucket and a rock to hold it in place. As I made the turn, I slowed my pace to cool down. Grandpa was putting the new birdhouse in the garden, and Grandma was bent over her snowball bush digging in the dirt. Evidently it was time to put bone meal around it so the blooms would be pretty next summer. She loved to putter in the yard. Many of her flowers and bushes had been brought from her home place up in Nebraska. Grandma never wore garden gloves, as she loved the feel of the dirt in her hands.

Walking down our country road always makes me feel happy. Everything is familiar, the people love me, and when I walk into Grandma's kitchen there will be hot coffee and something wonderful baked to go with it. Taking a deep breath and smelling Grandma's chrysanthemums, I turned into their drive. Walking around the garage I called out, "I'm home!".........again.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, November 10, 2003


Sunday dinner was a memory and the dishes had been washed, dried and put neatly back in the cupboards. I had put Jennifer down for her afternoon nap. Mom was knitting a sweater, Grandma was embroidering pillowcases, and before sitting down I picked up my quilting. Grandpa was just starting a big tale and I settled on the couch next to Mom so that I could watch Grandpa as he wove the magic of his story......

Grandpa, Grandma and our family had been at Bidwell Point camping, fishing and skiing for several days. My brothers and I had just come up to came from the swimming area for lunch, and were in time to hear Grandpa telling a story about one of his friends. Mom handed each of us a sandwich and we settled around the picnic table to watch Grandpa tell his story. Watching Grandpa tell a story was just as entertaining as the story itself, as he was a master of facial expression, hand gesture and drama.

The story began with Grandpa's friend Blackie bragging to him about their last trip to Bidwell Point earlier in the summer. Blackie's son and wife had been skiing, with Blackie pulling them behind his new ski boat. Blackie was wanting to take the boat for a longer trip to 'see what she could do'. He asked his son and daughter-in-law if they were up to a trip to the dam and back to Bidwell. It was decided by way of a challenge from the son to his wife that they would ski instead of riding in the boat, and whoever fell or let go of the ski rope first would lose the race. It was a twelve mile round trip from Bidwell over to the dam and back, so the challenge would be quite a feat if successful. The trip was made, the result a tie, and Blackie was bragging about both the performance of his new boat and the skill of his son and daughter-in-law.

Grandpa had concluded his story by saying that it would be harder to make the trip to the dam in his boat which was a good boat but not as powerful as Blackie's new boat, and with Mom and Dad skiing. Of course that started a round of animated conversation and good natured challenging between Mom and Dad. My brothers and I sat silently at the table eating our sandwiches watching the whole scene unfold. By the time we were finishing up, it had been decided that as soon as everyone had had a chance to rest after lunch, the 'Great Race' would begin. Grandpa was off to fuel the boat, Mom and Dad to put on their swimsuits, and Grandma gave us a glass of milk and some cookies while she cleared the table and secured camp.

The summer sun was beating down on the boat unmercifully. Grandpa had trolled the boat out past the swimming area into the deep water and Mom and Dad had jumped into the water and were putting on their skis. Grandpa waited until they gave him the thumbs up to start, and with a mighty roar the boat lurched forward and the race was on. The wind was still and the lake looked like a mirror in the afternoon sun. Grandpa kept watch on the direction the boat was traveling, making cursory glances back to Mom and Dad. Grandma and my brothers and I were watching them closely for any sign of trouble or fatigue. We were very excited, as Grandpa made everything an adventure. His smile said how much fun he was having.

In no time we were at the dam, and Grandpa made a sweeping turn to bring the skiers safely about. He made an elaborate shrug toward Mom and Dad in silent question about how they were doing, and they both smiled broadly and waved him on. Throwing his head back and laughing, he said to us, " By golly I think they just may make it!". The return trip seemed longer than the first half but we began to see familiar landmarks, and knew that we were nearing Bidwell. Grandpa was very proud, we could tell. He kept looking back at Mom and Dad, and shaking his head with pride and disbelief. As we neared the deep water beyond the swimming area where the race began, Grandpa made another sweeping turn and entered a large circle to bring Mom and Dad back into starting position, signaling the end of the race. We were all watching with rapt attention to see who would let go of the rope first. They were talking back and forth to each other, nodded, and at the same time let go of their ski ropes, gliding along the surface of the lake a short distance and slowly sank into the water. A loud cheer rose up from our boat, and we clapped as Grandpa cut the motor and leaned over the side to get the skis and help Mom and Dad aboard.

Mom and Dad were very tired of course, but we had a celebration worthy of world class athletes that night at camp. Mom and Dad were given Grandpa and Grandma's lounge chairs in honor of their accomplishment and their tired legs. Grandma made supper while Grandpa regaled us time and again with the story of the Great Race. George, John and I were proud of Mom and Dad, and decided that we had never seen Grandpa and Grandma so happy. This was the best vacation we had ever had.

........ "Yes sir, that was one of the finest things I have ever seen at the lake", Grandpa was saying. "Blackie was not happy when I came back and told him how George and Esther skid all the way to the dam and back to Bidwell behind my boat. Thinking about it now, it is still a fine thing." Laughing and slapping his knee, he shook his head. "I'd say it calls for a celebration, what do you say Esther? Any of that apple pie left?"

And so we ate our apple pie, laughing and fondly remembering the Great Race so many years ago now....here on our country road.....

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, November 09, 2003


I love to make lists. I have a to do list at all times. When I shop for groceries I make a list of what I need, when I go shopping for household items at Wal-Mart I take a list. Whether I am planning an event, sending Christmas cards, organizing cabinets and closets, writing, or going to the doctor I make a list. Part of the reason is because I am getting to the age where I forget things if I don't make a list to remind myself, but the main reason is because I love organization.

When I was a very little girl Mom sold Avon and Tupperware. When she was getting ready for a party she would get everything out to organize it before leaving. Of course she always had a list, and checked off the items so she didn't forget anything. She had big trunk-like suitcases that held all of her samples and party favors, catalogs, order pads, etc. I used to love to look at the catalogs, and Mom gave me a little order pad and a Tupperware pencil so that I could 'take orders' too.

As I grew up I made lists for various things-usually what I wanted Santa Clause to bring me, what I wanted for my birthday, books I had read and what I wanted to do during summer vacation. When I got out of school for vacation I used to play school with my brothers. I would make out lesson plans and get them ready for the following day. Since I had no carbon paper, I had to write out each lesson separately. It took a long time, but there was something therapeutic to me in preparing, writing and completing the task.

I love school and office supplies. When Mom took us to register for school I looked forward to getting the list of required school supplies as much as meeting my new teacher. When it came time to go shopping for them, I liked to take a pencil and cross the items off the list as we picked them up. The stacks of tablets, notebook paper, boxes of crayons, pencils and binders was like going to the candy store for me. Even now I love to see the back to school signs go up in the stores. I still like to stroll the aisles and look at what is being offered for sale for the coming school year.

Our family refrigerator held lists for my Mom. She had a list of chores for each of us for each day of the week and each week of the month. Each day we checked off the chores as we completed them and she would check our work. At the end of the week we earned our allowance by successfully completing our list of chores. Mom kept her to do list there as well, and as she completed each task she crossed it off of the list. She kept a grocery list there too, and as she emptied something it was added to the list for the next shopping trip. The list we were most interested in however, was the weekly menu. Mom made out a menu every Saturday for the week ahead. It was posted on the refrigerator door and served as a reminder for her as well as a tool for us. We could see what we would be having for supper each night, therefore eliminating the constant question, "What's for supper Mommy?".

I have implemented many of Mom's organizational tools as I have grown up, and now make lists for everything. I have a daily list of things I want to accomplish, and longer range plans for bigger jobs in weekly, monthly, yearly and five year increments. I attended an organizational meeting one time where the speaker was using posters as visual aids to emphasize her points. I was especially struck by what one of the posters said. There was a picture of a target with a large bulls eye in the middle. The caption said, 'You can't hit anything if you don't aim at something.' I wrote it down in my notebook where I was taking notes of the meeting. I have always remembered that and it has helped me with organization and planning ever since.

Today I am reorganizing the kitchen cabinets. I bought new pots and pans, and have to make room for the new ones. It is the perfect opportunity to clean the cabinets and reorganize everything. I am going to Wal-Mart after church to get things that will help with the task. Mom and I will get groceries for the week and I have a list of things I want to look at in the storage and household aisle. By evening the kitchen will hopefully be clean, organized and full of shiny new pots and pans. Then I can cross the task off of my 'to do' list and I can move on to something else......here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, November 08, 2003


Music is an elixir as necessary to me as the air I breathe. Music is part of who I am. As long back as I can remember anything about my life music has been a part of it. It is said that music soothes the savage beast and feeds the soul. It transports you to another time and place, lifts your spirit and warms your heart. Music evokes deep emotion in me. Although I am also comfortable with silence and often seek quiet places in which to think and reflect, music is there. Melodies and lyrics circle my mind and before I know it I am humming or singing.

As a child I took piano lessons each week. I was not happy that for so long I never really played songs or full length pieces. I had to first learn the rudiments and disciplines of music in order to read the music I wanted to play. Like all young girls I had visions of playing on a stage in front of people dressed in beautiful evening clothes. My music would move them in ways that it moves me, and they would leave the concert hall uplifted and blessed. That didn't happen however, but I did eventually move past scales, chords and arpeggios to entertain the family with Christmas carols and popular tunes. We used to sing around the piano as a family, laughing and having fun. Memories of that old upright piano are dear.

One Christmas I got a little transistor radio. I was ten years old, but that little radio changed my life forever. I could listen to the local station WHB, which played the songs popular at the time. Those songs are still among my favorites. The Beatles, Hermans Hermits, Elvis Pressly, Ricky Nelson...¦..to name a few. As I grew older I bought 45rpm records with my allowance each week. I eventually got a clock radio that didn't require batteries.

Mom and Dad often jitterbugged around the living room to music of their time, which I also enjoyed. The music I played for my piano lessons was largely classical, and I enjoyed listening to the chamber music station as well. When I started dating music played a large part of our relationship. Like all young lovers we held hands to 'our' songs, and danced together at high school dances. Music began to take an important role in shaping memories. I still get misty eyed over those songs, the memories come flooding back with warmth and joy.

I still remember the first time I heard Credence Clearwater Revival, Chicago, Three Dog Night, and The Carpenters. When I hear certain songs I want to jump up and dance. I am also equally moved in another direction to the beautiful voice of Andrea Bocelli. His voice and music is so majestic that I always cry at the beauty of it. Church hymns and Pavarotti move me in the same way. When I visit my brother John and his family in New Orleans I love to hear the calliope music from the river boats, the jazz, and the street musicians.

John always has music playing at their house. He has written several times about what music means to him, so I know that music is also an extension of who he is as a person as well. They gave me a game once for Christmas on the same format as Name That Tune. I loved it. From show tunes , nursery rhymes, popular music, opera, I knew them all. Nobody would play with me. I always won. Eventually I just put it down in the garage.

Today I am painting my bedroom. There is nothing like music to motivate me and feed my spirit while I work. I thought yesterday about what I wanted to listen to while I painted. When I am cleaning house I put in Credence, The Village People, and Donna Summer. In no time I am done. Today I think it will be Neil Sedaka, Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Carol King and Carly Simon.

This evening I will move to Barry Manilow, Jim Croce, Jim Taylor, Bread and Abba while I enjoy candlelight and a nice glass of wine in a beautiful stemware wineglass. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing today, I hope that music is a part of your day. Make some memories........

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, November 07, 2003


Comfort is a word that brings warmth and ease to mind. After weeks of Indian Summer weather warmer than we have had in November for the past ten years, cold temperatures have blown in winter while we slept. Last night the furnace ran all night, and as I snuggled in my bed which boasts a down comforter, down pillows, and featherbed, rain fell in torrents. This morning fog hangs heavy in the big woods surrounding our house and dark gray clouds shroud the sky. Looking out from the comfort of the house I was reminded of the phrase made popular by old movies, ‘the day was not fit for man nor beast’. Watching the trees bend and sway under the force of the north winds, I pulled my robe closer about me and went to the bedroom for my fuzzy slippers.

Mom came out to the kitchen wearing her robe and slippers as well, rubbing her hands together against the chill of the early morning. I was making a pot of coffee while Mom was deciding what to make for breakfast. “How about a nice bowl of hot oatmeal and some cinnamon toast?” she asked. “Hhmmm. Sounds good to me,” I replied. Nothing wards off the chill of a damp morning like a bowl of hot oatmeal. When we were little Mom used to make us hot chocolate, hot oatmeal and cinnamon toast on mornings such as this so that we were warm walking to school. The memories of the comfort and warmth of our kitchen, the smell of cinnamon and chocolate, and Mom humming as she got us ready for school came flooding back. I smiled as I set the table.

“I wish I didn’t have to leave the house today,” I said. “Even worse I hate to get Jennifer out in it just to go to the doctor for shots.”
Mom turned and looked at me. “I completely forgot about that Becky. What time is the appointment?”
“Nine o’clock. That’s two hours away from now. Maybe by then the weather will be more cooperative,” I replied.
Mom nodded her agreement, and she finished the cooking while I went to get Jennifer up. She was laying on her back, but looking up at the angel mobile that hangs over her bed. She was kicking her feet and waving her arms, which moved the angels around in a circular motion. I hated to intrude while she was obviously having so much fun, but wanted to change her night diaper. Once she was dry, I lifted her from the crib and wrapped her in a baby blanket. We all sat in the cozy kitchen, Mom and I eating good hot comfort food and drinking coffee. Jennifer was in her high chair waving at us, which is her favorite past time these days. After I ate my breakfast I fed Jennifer a little baby cereal, most of which went down her chin. Mom was laughing at how I used to blow baby cereal all over her when I was a baby…. which I found hard to believe, of course.

An hour later, I was ready to go out in the weather to take Jennifer to the doctor for her shots. Just before I went out the door to the car, I said, “Hey Mom? Do you think that when we come back we could have a cup of hot chocolate and another piece of cinnamon toast?”
“Sure. You won’t be too long, so I’ll just go get started,” she said. “It will be ready when you come back.”
Pulling Jennifer’s blanket more closely about her, I started out the door. Turning back to wave at Mom, the cold wind blew against my face. I was so glad I would be coming back to the warmth and comfort of home….here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, November 06, 2003


Today I am reminded of the utter joy of endless possibilities. Now that I have come to terms with my life as it is now the world is my oyster, so to speak. The freedom is intoxicating. I have learned so much about myself and about family since I left Kansas. The journey has not always been pleasant and I have not always liked myself, but today is a new day. I have a very good friend that says an event isn’t over until you learn from it.

Pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps is very good exercise. It is also good discipline. I have learned that I have many good qualities needed to survive in life. The most important thing is faith, followed by liberal doses of humor, a desire to grow and learn, and a large capacity to love. I have been given many wonderful examples along the way. My family is full of interesting characters who made it in life simply by grit, determination and hard work. I can expect no less of myself. The lessons I have learned and benefited from will help me shape a better future for myself and my daughter.

I wrote the following poem about my journey….

My Companions

As I walked down life’s pathway
Love traveled as my guide
And I was very happy
To have Him at my side.

Soon after I was running
Very far ahead of Him
Chasing after rainbows
And following my whims.

Then I met up with Vanity
And not long after, Pride
I never noticed they were friends
That Love could not abide.

It was only when I realized
That I had lost my way
Love reached out and drew me near
I only had to pray.

Now I’m content to follow
He keeps me safe with Him
For Grace is my companion
Just like Love has always been.

My Grandma also loved poetry. She clipped poems from cards, magazines and newspapers all through her life and saved them in a notebook. Her favorites were committed to memory, and there are several she quoted often. It seems timely and appropriate to share this one with you now….

Sorrow’s Teachings

I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chatted all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said She;
But oh the things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me!

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Smalltown, Missouri is my new home. Yesterday I took my drivers test and transferred the vehicle license. I have an address. That makes me an official Missouri resident. For some reason I have always thought of Kansas as my home because I grew up there and spent the first 17 years of my life there. Except for Mom, Warren, and my Grandparents all of my family and friends are there. My memories are there.

Autumn is a time of reflection and taking stock of oneself. I found myself feeling unsettled and anxious about the failure of my marriage and subsequent divorce. I had believed that my boyfriend in Kansas had betrayed me with other girls at college. This was verified by his friends who were only too eager to impart this knowledge. Thinking back on it, being young, hurt, and prideful I am not sure that we even talked about it before drifting apart. Several months prior Mom had remarried and left with Warren, her new husband. I injured my back at work and had to quit my job. Going to the doctor revealed a birth defect in my back which I was given three different drugs for. They really messed me up. I no longer cared what happened to me. My whole life seemed to have taken a downward turn, something I had never experienced before. I felt like a ship bobbing about on a stormy sea.

I finally found a new job that didn’t involve as much use of my back. That is where I met the man I married. I fell for the line he fed me about only having six months to live, and wanting to spend the last months of his life in California. My instincts screamed no, but I felt like he needed me. No one else seemed to. When he asked me to go, we had a short wedding ceremony at the county court house and I said goodbye to Kansas and all I had ever known. It proved to be the biggest mistake I had ever made. My new husband turned into a monster the minute we arrived in California. He had lied about being ill in order to get to the west coast. He stole anything I had of value to gamble and buy alcohol and drugs. He tried to kill me on several occasions. By that time I was pregnant with my daughter and the abuse sent me into the hospital. That is the only place I felt safe. When I went into labor and delivered Jennifer, there were difficulties and I was not expected to live through the night. The medical staff called my Mom and Warren who were in Idaho attending his Mother’s funeral. They left immediately for Sacramento. I remember thinking as I lost consciousness that Jennifer needed me and if I survived, I would somehow get away from the nightmare my life had become. Five days later I woke up. Mom was at my bedside. I didn’t know if I had dreamed all of the past months and having the baby. Mom filled me in on what had happened. For the first time in over a year I felt hope. A week later Mom, Warren, Jennifer and I arrived in Smalltown, Missouri.

Mistakes are great teachers. They can either defeat you or make you stronger. I had great motivation to move forward. I was surrounded my a loving family unit, I felt safe. Jennifer filled most of my time, and gave me purpose. It was only in the quiet times that the reality of bad choices and the pride that had kept me from asking for help when I most needed it overwhelmed me. Mom and I had talked about most of what had happened, but the terror and fear and failure lingered. God had granted me a new start. Forgiveness had been offered, but it occurred to me that I had not been able to accept it. I had also not been able to forgive myself.

I had been walking for some time, my face wet with tears I had not been aware of, and my heart in turmoil. The autumn leaves were falling and the wind was blowing them across the road as I walked. The day was gray. Winter was coming. As I rounded the bend and started the last leg of the walk, I looked to the side of the road. There among the leaves was a small wildflower blooming bravely against the chill of the season. Its slender stem was blowing in the wind, the bloom bobbing to and fro. It was such an unusual sight that I stopped and bent down to look closely at it. The thought crossed my mind, bloom where you are planted. Certainly this little flower had done just that. Against all the odds and rules of nature. Hope bloomed. My heart opened to the brave little flower. I felt much like I had been tossed to and fro and had finally found roots. The time I had wasted focusing on the shame and guilt of failure had kept me from forgiving myself and moving forward in my new life. I had not accepted the love and forgiveness that had been offered, and had not forgiven myself. There at the bend of the road next to a little flower blooming right where the seed had taken root, I forgave myself and accepted the free gift of love and forgiveness.

Love freely offered is a wonderful gift. One only has to accept it. Standing once again, I glanced back at the little flower and looked around me. Home. I was safe. Jennifer and I had love, support and peace. One can’t move forward looking back. Suddenly I felt all the joy only love can give. My heart, only a short time ago so heavy, soared. Looking behind me, I could see how far I had come. Turning around I started walking forward again. Jennifer and my family would be waiting for me. I had a new life to start. Determined, I walked back toward home…..down our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, November 04, 2003


When I arrived in Smalltown three months ago, I had a Kansas drivers license. My car is sitting in the yard where Warren parked it when he drove it here from California. In order for me to be able to legally drive here in Missouri I needed to register the car, get it licensed, and transfer my drivers license to Missouri. I have no desire to do that. I was satisfied here at Mom’s, did not go anywhere I would need to drive myself, and could see no reason to go to the trouble and expense of doing it now. The problem was that the vehicle license was getting ready to expire. Mom thought that I had better check my drivers license expiration date as well. My purse had been put away since coming here, so after digging my wallet out of the closet I did indeed check the expiration date. It didn’t expire for four months.

Over my objections, it was decided that Warren would take me to the neighboring town to take my drivers test. He went up to the Chamber of Commerce office and got me a Missouri drivers guide. When Jennifer went down for her afternoon nap, I settled into a chair to study the guide. The state laws and rules of the road were very different from Kansas, and I suppose I had secretly thought that eventually I would return to Kansas to live and wouldn’t need to go through this process. It was one more way that my ties to Kansas were being severed. I didn’t like the feeling. I still thought of Kansas as ‘home’. Mom came through the living room a short time later and quizzed me with the sample questions in back of the book. Since I knew the answers it appeared that I was ready to go.

Warren took me to the National Guard Armory in the next town to take my test. There were several Driver Examiners in the office, which was full of people testing. Their uniforms were intimidating, but I approached the desk and handed the examiner my Kansas license and other identification. Since my license had my maiden name on it and my maiden name had been granted to me in the divorce decree two months ago, there were no name changes needed. I was given the written test paper and instructed to sit at a table to fill it out. After finishing the test, I handed it back to the examiner at the desk who graded it and gave me an eye test. I passed the written test, but would be required to take a driving skills test because I was transferring from another state. I panicked at that, as I had not driven in this town before.

I was given my application and told to wait on the walk in front of the building. I felt ill. Warren tried to encourage me, but I was very nervous. Things were very different here, and even though I have driven in Kansas, all the way to the west coast and all around California, this was different. Before I could chicken out and go back to Smalltown an examiner came out and asked me for my papers. He was a young man not much older than me, which helped some. Handing my papers to him, he instructed me to get into my car and start it up. I followed his instructions, showing him the turn signals, brake lights, horn, and other controls. When he got into the car with me, I told him that I had never driven in this town. He laughed and told me that he hadn’t lost an applicant yet, and assured me he knew the test route and could indeed get us around the course and back to the armory. Feeling somewhat better, I started the car. Everything was fine until we approached the town square. I had no idea how to navigate that, and told the examiner I had never driven a town square before. He told me what to do, which I am sure he shouldn’t have done, but in no time we were around the court house and driving off the square and back down the road to the armory. Breathing a sigh of relief, I navigated the other maneuvers with no difficulty, and pulled back into the parking lot in front of the armory building.

After what seemed like ten years, the examiner filled out my test paper, tore off his copy and handed me the test receipt. He congratulated me on passing my Missouri driving test, and we got out of the car. I thanked him for his patience and kindness, and went to find Warren. A short time later, I had my new Missouri drivers license in my hand and we were headed home to Smalltown. When we pulled up at Mom’s house, Grandma and Grandpa were there, and Mom had a chocolate layer cake on the kitchen table to celebrate my being an official Missouri resident. After Warren put the Missouri license plates on my car, he joined us around the table for cake and coffee.

Of course everyone wanted to hear all about my experience, so while Mom cut slices of cake for everyone I told them all about it and the Driver Examiner that was so nice to me during the test. Mom told me it had been Corky Roberts, who had also given her and Warren their test when they transferred their licenses to Missouri. After everyone had seen my new license, I put it away and we settled back at the table to eat our cake….here on our country road.

Author’s note:
This event took place thirty one years ago when I first arrived in Smalltown. Thirteen years later, I went to work for the Driver Examination Division where I still work today. I work with the examiners who were on duty the day I took my drivers test, and it has been a story we have laughed over many times through the years. My experience that day helps me be sympathetic to the applicants I deal with each day. You never know where life will take you.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, November 03, 2003


Anticipation is the spice of life. Having something to look forward to is invigorating and motivating. Here in Smalltown we look forward to the mail delivery each day, to coffee breaks, sunrise and sunset, a favorite television program. On a larger scale we are looking forward to the coming holiday seasons, the first snow, and spring.

Facing us today is the awesome chore of getting the leaves raked up from the strong winds we have had for the past several days. They are laying a foot deep all over the yard, and what seems like an insurmountable task must be tackled right after breakfast. Sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee in the quiet of the morning an hour and a half before dawn, my mind drifted to the things I am looking forward to in the coming months. By the time Mom came out to join me I was in the right frame of mind and looking forward to getting started on the yard. It is said that one can only eat a bear one bite at a time. So it is with the things in life that we don't want to do. Getting started is the hard part.

Today will be a long day. The first day of the week. Having motivation is the fuel I need to keep me going. While Mom and I sat at the table visiting about the routine inconsequential things of life, I thought how lucky I am to have family to share things with. Chores are easier when they are shared. Life is easier when it is shared. Anticipating the good times to come makes the bad times fly by.

We fixed breakfast together, and by the time dawn broke the table was set with hot food. Hearing Jennifer stir in her crib, I walked back to get her for breakfast. Seeing joy light up her little face when she saw mine lifted my heart and made me feel like I could slay dragons. There is nothing like the smell of baby powder and a baby hug to lift your spirits. As I carried her into the kitchen, Grandma and Grandpa were arriving for breakfast. Grandpa reached for her, and I got the coffee pot to fill up their cups.

Anticipation is the spice of life. Having something to look forward to is invigorating and motivating. Having family to share it with is priceless. As we shared ham and eggs, hash browns, buttermilk biscuits and redeye gravy, laughter filled Mom's kitchen.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, November 02, 2003


Our days have been gray and wet. The wind has blown unmercifully until the yard is full of oak leaves and pine needles. The gift of a few days inside enjoying quilting projects and planning the recipes for Thanksgiving dinner have come to an end, and if the sun is any indicator we will be back out in the yard tomorrow. Today is Sunday. It is a day of rest and relaxation and family. Whatever chores the week ahead may hold, today is ours to enjoy.

For some reason Jennifer slept later this morning, allowing the rest of us to do the same. The extra hour of sleep is a luxury I don't get very often. Mom made Grandma's Redbank breakfast, and while we were enjoying that around the kitchen table we watched the squirrels hide acorns for the coming winter. The blue jays were scolding the neighbor's cat for getting a drink of water out of the bird bath and the cat, seemingly unconcerned about their objections, was eying the doves feeding next to the fence. Life in the country is rarely boring, for nature has a never ending display of vignettes to watch and enjoy.

After the breakfast dishes were washed, dried and put away, Jennifer and I played peek-a-boo until she was sleepy again. After a bath and a dry diaper we rocked in the rocking chair while she took her morning bottle. Mom and Warren are football fans, and were talking about the games that would be on TV this afternoon, and while I rocked the baby I listened to them discuss the ones they wanted to watch. I enjoy watching football as well, but today my mind was on the box of catalogs and magazines that my friend in Kansas sent me last week. We had been too busy for me to sit down and enjoy them yet, and I am thinking that today might be the perfect day to linger over those.

After tucking Jennifer back into her crib, I made my bed and got the treasured magazines out of the closet. Settling back into the rocker, I opened the first one and began to leaf through it. Some time later, I woke up to the sound of Jennifer 'talking' to her dolls in her crib. The magazine had slipped off my lap onto the floor when I had fallen asleep in the morning sun. Smiling at her, I picked her up out of the crib and sat back down in the rocking chair. I could read the magazine this afternoon while she took her nap, but right now we settled into a game of patty cake.

Sundays are wonderful. The slower pace and relaxing day is just the thing to recharge yourself for the week ahead....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, November 01, 2003


Halloween is past for another year and November has come in with gray skies and rain. Leaves are blowing down from the trees somewhat resembling the snows that December will bring. It is a good day to stay in and take down the Halloween decorations and begin thinking about Thanksgiving.

Holidays were special events when we were growing up. Mom decorated the house for every season and holiday, making festive foods to help celebrate each one. We were always filled with expectation and anticipation, making each holiday a memorable event. There are special foods that she made every year for Thanksgiving, and even though new recipes might be tried the old favorites are always the stars of the meal.

This year we are planning the meal here at Mom’s house. She has a bigger kitchen than Grandma, and since we always have a big group it is a necessity.
Thanksgiving is a collaborative effort. Mom can’t possibly cook all of the food with one oven, so Grandma will be helping. She always bakes the pumpkin pies, and will bake the foods that Mom won’t have room for in her oven. All in all it is always heavenly.

My job will be to help in whatever capacity I am needed, and to make the centerpiece for the table. After Aunt Beulah left last week, Grandma brought the cornucopia back and it will be gracing the Thanksgiving table like it has as far back as I can remember. We are hoping that we have a full house, as holidays are more fun with lots of people. Thinking now about the good food, relatives, friends, laughter and love that will fill the house in a few short weeks we are inspired to start the planning.

The rain is falling, the wind blowing, the leaves are tumbling down, and the day is gray. As Mom, Grandma and I sit around the kitchen table making lists and going through the cookbooks and recipe files planning the holiday meal, we don’t notice the gloom. We are thinking of the happy days to come…here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain