Friday, November 28, 2008

Snowflakes on the lawn

I awoke to snow coating car tops and lawns ---- as if nature decided to announce the launch of the Christmas season with a little frosting.

"I can't believe it snowed!" my 9-year-old niece, Donna, said, so delighted she went outside without a hat on, or even much of a coat.

That didn't please the grown-ups much, since she's been battling a sporadic fever for the past few days. But part of me couldn't blame my twin brother's second-oldest daughter. The first measurable snow of the season is always something of a marvel, no matter how many winters you've seen.

The snowfall didn't last long, and the layer on the lawn won't, either. But we'll still remember it. A peaceful snowfall observed with a cup of hot tea or coffee, the sound of nieces cracking open pecans for snacking or baking, the aroma of chicken noodle soup on the stove, the buzz of small children at play....such moments are what help make holidays special.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A walk in the country

Steaming turkey. Slices and slices of ham. Mounds of mashed potatoes. Piles of sweet potatoes. Mom's marvelous dill green beans. Broccoli-cheese casserole. Cranberry sauce. Jello salad. Croissants. Homemade bread. Ham gravy. Turkey gravy. Stuffing. Stuffing. Stuffing.

And that doesn't even include the dessert, and who knows what else I'm leaving out. It's amazing anybody could move after a feast like that.

Oh, this was a 'small' Thanksgiving at the Finger farm - only 18 people - but it was still a blast. The nieces and nephews all got along. A handful of us went for a walk in the afternoon to help burn off some of those calories we accumulated. That's become a holiday tradition, right up there with the volleyball matches at Pawnee Heights High School (if we think to get the key and there are enough visitors to put together a match) and the rousing games of Nerts (some folks call it Double Solitaire).

I rarely say much on the walks; it's usually a great time to hear what's on the minds of others in the group. Today they talked about the large buck that darted across the front yard this morning --- and sure enough, there he was ahead of us as we walked on the north side of the Sawmill. He stared at us for a bit, then bounded south and west...across the dry creek bed, leaping into the alfalfa field south of the creek and then onto Froetschner land.

He'd left plenty of tracks earlier in the day, and we spotted some coyote tracks as well. Deer have become so plentiful a sighting has become routine.

I've learned to watch my step on these holiday strolls. You could really mess up an ankle or a knee stepping into a hole dug by a badger...and it was clear ground squirrels or field mice had been busy on the south end of the field where we were walking. When Dad had numerous horses on the land, you had to keep an eye out for manure piles or you'd be grumbling over your misstep much longer than the walk ever lasted.

The brisk north wind slapped our faces on the return leg, and I left my sisters and sister-in-law behind as I stepped up my pace. But it still felt good to get a look at our land and see how it's doing as the winter hibernation sets in.

It's like touching your roots again - and something about that nurtures the soul.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The day I'm glad I dropped my school books

The other day a caller growled for a good 10 minutes about what a waste of time and money "Operation Bus Stop" is.

That's the program in which law enforcement officers watch for and ticket motorists who ignore the stop signs and flashing red lights of school buses.

He wasn't the first to complain, and I'm sure he won't be the last. But as I listened to him talk, I couldn't help but reflect on a day from my childhood - when dropping my school books may well have saved a life or two.

I grew up on a farm next to a state highway three miles from the nearest town. We rode to school on a bus that either picked us up before sunrise or minutes before classes started, depending on which route schedule we were on.

On this particular day, we would be the last children off the bus - my sister Trish, my twin brother Steve and I - as our bus driver halted on K-156 in front of our driveway and pulled the handle that drew the stop sign out from the side of the bus. My brother and sister bounded down the steps, but my elbow bumped a bench seat and I dropped my school books.

I hurried to pick them up, feeling guilty about delaying the bus driver. I hurried down the steps, turned the corner to the front of the bus to catch up to my siblings ---- and a car raced past the bus heading east as if the stop sign wasn't even there.

"Why'd he do that?" I remember thinking.

"Are you all right?" our bus driver shouted, shaken by what had just happened.

We were fine. But later I wondered how things might have been different if I hadn't dropped my books or my brother and sister hadn't waited for me next to the bus.

We never did learn the identity of the driver who ignored the stop sign and blew right past us. But our bus driver was so upset about what happened that from then on he would not drop students off on the highway. He drove into farm yards and let us off by our gates or back doors, just to eliminate the possibility that another vehicle could ignore a bus' stop sign and race on past.

That's not an option everywhere, however, so I understand the need to conduct programs to remind drivers to obey those flashing lights and activated stop signs - because too many people treat them as recommendations, not laws.

And that could kill a child some day.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rozel? That's south of Andover, isn't it?

Jeff Martin, the Eagle's beat writer for Kansas State University, mentioned Rozel in his story today about native son Gary Patterson, the TCU football coach who was mentioned as a possible successor to fired Wildcats coach Ron Prince.

Rozel doesn't get mentioned very often in the media. Most towns of less than 200 people out in the middle of seemingly nowhere don't. Heck, Rozel doesn't even get mentioned very often on maps, unless they're extremely detailed.

That probably explains the response I typically get from people in the Wichita area when they ask me where I grew up. It can resemble something you might have expected to hear from the legendary comedy duo of Abbott and Costello:

"Where you from?"


"Rose Hill?"


"Rose Hill?"


"How far is it from here?"

"About 125 miles northwest of Wichita."

"Isn't Rose Hill in Butler County?"


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A tip of the hat to the Grain Bin

It was with a tinge of sadness that I read the Grain Bin was closing. That Garden City restaurant was one of the first places I bought a "membership" (back in the liquor-by-the-drink days of Kansas) after transferring out to the Eagle's Western Kansas Bureau in Dodge City.

It had good steaks and a classy ambiance -- something not easy to find within a short driving distance of Dodge City.

I'm not sure I ate there more than a handful of times, but I knew that if I wanted to take a visitor to someplace nice, the Grain Bin was on the list worth considering.

I hope Garden City has some worthy successors.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reflecting on a snowy day in France

He marched toward the smoke, his fresh green khakis standing out brightly against the snow-covered ground.

He was one of a half-dozen soldiers dropped off next to a small bridge and ordered to walk toward a French village named Holtzwihr near the German border. There, they would meet up with Company B of the 15th Infantry Regiment, Third Division.

What was left of it, anyway.

It had been one of the harshest winters in decades in western Europe, and heavy snow blanketed the forest and the narrow road. As he walked, he could feel his heart pounding in his chest.

He was going to war, and he wasn't even 21 yet.

The smoke had been a telltale sign of battle, but he still wasn't prepared for what he saw as he neared the edge of the forest north of Holtzwihr. Shattered tanks were ablaze. Half-tracks had been blown apart. Anti-tank guns lay in pieces.

Yet it was the bodies that he would never forget: Germans in white winter camouflage, Americans in green fatigues that offered scant protection from the bitter cold.

Most of the fallen soldiers were dead. But the moans and agonized cries of the wounded sliced through the crisp January air and sent a shudder down his spine.

He kept walking. He had orders, after all.

But as he passed through the carnage, a thought crept unbidden into his mind: “I’ll never make it home.”

The history books would call this the Battle of Holtzwihr, during which Audie Murphy singlehandedly blunted a German assault -an act of bravery that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Murphy still holds the distinction as the most decorated soldier in U.S. military history.

But for the Finger family, January 26, 1945, has another distinction: it was Dad's first day of combat.

It would not be his last.

In many ways, the war never ended for Marvin S. Finger. The sacrifices he made for this country continued to exact a toll on him until the day he died, more than 60 years later.

The only people who really know the price so many of our veterans paid to protect our nation are those that served alongside them...and the loved ones they came home to --- if they came home at all.

It's all the more reason we owe them our gratitude on this Veterans Day.

It's simple, really

People have been telling me for years now that I should have a blog, so here we go. Some of my words will be serious. Others will be silly. Perhaps they'll prompt reflection - or a smile. In any event, thanks for stopping by. I hope you find the visit worthwhile.