Saturday, July 24, 2010

the whole batch of us together for a photo - more than 40 years ago

This was our version of a family Christmas card in 1969....that's me on the right in the second row, between my Dad and my older brother Ed.

I remember this session pretty well, actually, because that suit was uncomfortable and the camera lights were very bright. The photo was taken in the living room of Grandpa and Grandma Finger's living room in Larned.

The other thing I remember about this photo is how "60's straightlace" it was....ironic, given how garish our photos from the '70s would be.

But I know it was one of my parents' favorite pictures...they were very proud of their brood.

Drive carefully --- or this could be you

I think of my friend Jennifer, paralyzed from the waist down on her first date on her 16th birthday.

I think of that icy night when I started tapping the brakes because the light ahead was red....and my car did not slow down at all. I went through the intersection, somehow being missed by cars coming from both directions. One just missed hitting me on the back, the other on the front.

I think of that night I was heading to a dress rehearsal for a wedding. I pulled onto the exit, only to discover that the semi in front of me had suddenly lurched to a stop. I slammed on the brakes, but the front of my car went beneath the trailer. I instinctively ducked down and lay flat on the front seat, convinced impact was imminent. My car stopped with the edge of the trailer about 2 feet from my windshield. Two woman had stopped on the ramp to pull out a map because they were lost.

I think of my friend Monica, who was killed in a blizzard two days before Christmas as she was driving home to suburban Tulsa. Her car skidded across a median into the path of a semi. It took rescue personnel an hour to cut her out of her car, and she died at the hospital.

I think of my cousin Greg's wife, Jennifer, who was killed as they were driving through a snow storm in Minnesota. They came over a hill in poor visibility, and their car was sheared in half when it struck the edge of a semi trailer that had jacknifed in the storm.

I think of all the stories I have written over the years about people who were killed in auto accidents --- and the devastated loved ones they left behind. Many were as a result of carelessness...but some were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Be careful out there. It CAN happen to you....or someone you love.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Leaving our Vanley's

After our family reunion wound down on the second Saturday of July, someone suggested we go to the bar in downtown Larned for a nightcap.

After all, one of "us" was tending bar that night and we might get a break on the drinks!

So little by little the Fingers descended on a place called Vanley's, which turns out to be owned by a guy who (I think) went to school with my oldest sister, Mary. It's in what was a clothing store when I was a kid.

It looks like somebody just turned it into a massive bachelor's basement --- with a big bar in the center of the room. There are pool tables toward the front and the back, and a hodge podge of furniture and somebody set up a living room set or two in a warehouse space, along with a couple of dining table sets with chairs scavenged from garage sales. There are recliners, rockers, office chairs, a nursing chair...the national flags of the U.S., Mexico --- and New Zealand????

Oh, and there is a modest dance floor in the back. And photographs of all sorts hung on the walls. Some famous, some......illicit.

It took me a while to realize folks had written things on the pillars up and down the old Litwin's for structural support. Much of it was predictable....but every once in a while I spotted one that was worthy of a chuckle: "May your beer & women never be flat."

"Not drunk yet....but gettin' there."

After a splash of dancing at a birthday party at an Old Town wine bar the previous week was enough for my body to remind me I am not really ready for that kind of movement in the wake of my whiplash crash in March, I limited things to a two-step and a slow dance.

But the rest of the horde --- and we were a horde by then, at least 30 strong --- often took over the dance floor entirely. Usually for line dances or what I call "circle dances," where we form a circle and then folks take turns going into the middle for some distinctive moves. Distinctive only in that they're different than what the rest of the circle is doing, trust me.   :-)

Midnight arrived in no time, and with an early morning baby shower awaiting most of those at the bar, we began filtering out. But not before signing a pillar.

We had to. It may be the only time that many of us grace the place at the same time. After considerable thought, my siblings decided to go with "You've Been Fingered!" --- which has become the catch phrase of a regional radio syndicate that likes to read my goofy crime stories on the air.

Our "mark" isn't on this pillar; I took this photo because it's a portrait of the owner's grandfather, for whom the bar is named. He was a World War II vet, just like my father. I thought it was a nice touch.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Like sands through the hourglass...

The Finger family had a reunion for the first time in many years on the second Saturday of July.

"Not counting funerals," as one cousin put it. "We keep gathering for funerals."

It was bittersweet, since it is the first one since we lost Dad in 2006. It still seems "wrong" that he's not with us, but I'm sure other members of the broader family would feel that way about Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Mildred. All three of them were towering personalities in their own right....perhaps the most take-charge types of all the eight children that Francis and Clara Finger had.

Irony? Almost certainly.

But it was still good to see everyone who came...and, boy, did they come: more than 110 of us, spanning four generations. The youngest was only two weeks old. The oldest? That would be Leonard, Dad's older brother, who is 87 now.

The names and connections are a blur, frankly, even with name tags designed to help us connect folks to which branch of the tree they blossomed from.

We took tons of pictures, and looked at tons of pictures --- and those old ones were the ones I kept going back to. Some I've seen before, others I laid eyes on for the first time ever. They are cherished keepsakes to me, capturing moments from days gone by, fleeting glimpses of loved ones no longer with us -- reminders of how fleeting life truly is.

This is Dad in high school, in the early 1940s. In fact, it may well be his high school graduation photo from 1942. I'm guessing that's his mother, our Grandma Clara, tucked into the edge of the frame. They were very close, though no one would ever accuse him of being a "Mama's boy."

This next photo was taken after he had been drafted in 1944 and sent to Camp Robinson outside of Little Rock for basic training. He would hit the front lines in France in late January during the Battle of the Bulge and stay on or near the front until he was sent back to a hospital in late April. He was there on V-E Day, and remained overseas for occupation duty until being discharged in 1946. 

He came home to central Kansas to the Finger farm - and his girl, Helen, whom he married in 1948. They would raise eight children on a farm in western Pawnee County, and that family has only grown as the years have passed. We filled the camera lens at the reunion, and it wasn't even everybody.

I think Dad would be proud.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The long road home

I hit the road for central Kansas with the sun already well into its descent on Friday night. A long-overdue family reunion on my father's side is this weekend.

I could have cranked up the XM radio, but chose to pray a rosary for a friend's wife, who is battling cancer, and then just observe and reflect as my journey continued.

One of the first things I noticed was how vibrant the vegetation was. It had been a rainy spring and early summer, it showed. Crops, trees, flowers - even weeds - looked robust and vivid in their greens, yellows and reds.

Puddles filled low spots in undulating fields, telling me the most recent rain had been a hearty one. Cattle and horses speckled pastures alongside U.S. 50, grazing on grass that rose well above their hooves.

U.S. 50 between Hutchinson and Stafford resembles something of a time machine for me, because I can almost sense the prairie as it was when Kansas was untamed tallgrass, with vast herds of buffalo roaming the plains.

The sporadic trees that thrust toward the sky still seem like recent interlopers, and I wonder if a wagon train will appear on the horizon. I can't help but reflect on how challenging life had to have been for settlers even after Kansas became a state, struggling to carve a life out of fertile soil and fickle seasons.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rumbles and reflections

The skies rumbled as I walked into the mall, and I had a feeling the clouds would be weeping by the time my tasks were completed.

I was right. It was a warm, steady rain, and if it weren't for the frequent claps of thunder - which meant lightning wasn't far off - it would have been tempting to just stroll among the rain drops.

A summer shower is an amazing thing, if you slow down enough to pay attention to it. A summer rain shower engages all five senses in a marvelous way.

You have the sound of the thunder as the storm approaches, the sight of lightning flashes if it's a thunderstorm, the smell of the coming rain, air so humid you can reach out and touch it.

A summer shower is an orchestra of sounds. Pick up the distinction between rain drops hitting tree leaves, or bark, or bare ground or cement There's a ping, a pock, a thud, a slap. Steady rain on hard surfaces sounds like applause, as if the crops and lawns and landscaping are thrilled to be receiving moisture.

A rain is nature's way of washing the landscape's face, leaving behind a freshness - almost a newness. Plants are invigorated, colors revived, spirits never gets old.

When I hear the elderly talk about things they miss when they've been in nursing homes a while, a summer shower is often on their list.

A couple of times in the past few weeks I've spotted people sitting on their covered porches during summer showers --- just watching and listening.

How I envied them.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence.....and its price

One of the great ironies.......and tragedies, in a sense.......about Independence Day celebrations in our country is that those who most likely appreciate it the most - those who have put their lives on the line to defend and protect it - are all too often the least likely to enjoy the holiday itself.

Why? Because they're somwhere on duty ---- or the cacophany of explosions so closely resembles combat that they can't bring themselves to come to the fireworks displays.

Dad was like that. We could not set off firecrackers near him...or, at the least, we had to let him know we were doing it so he wouldn't be caught off guard. Older brothers talked about popping firecrackers without telling Dad, and he would hit the ground to take cover - his combat instincts still deeply ingrained many years after World War II ended. More than once that reaction reinjured his back, which he initially hurt behind enemy lines in Germany.

He rarely went to fireworks displays, and as I learned more about what he went through during the war, I must say I couldn't blame him.

Americans take their freedom too much for granted. They take the prosperity and abundance this nation has for granted, too. I've said for years that every American should go overseas at least once in their life, and they would grasp just how fortunate they are in so many ways.

Perhaps it would help us to stop complaining so much about meaningless minutia and focus on real problems that prevent this nation from being what our forefathers imagined when they forged a fledgling union from a rebellious bunch of colonies.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

It's our fault

I went to a wedding today that's all my fault.

Well, actually, blame it on both Teresa and me. I invited Teresa to come to a weekly rosary group that I'm part of, and she liked it so much she invited her buddy Mike, who.......well, he quickly took a liking to Danielle, whose house has most often served as the setting for our weekly rosary sessions.

Mike and Danielle were married today, in the same church she grew up in (and, in fact, where she had my sister Trish as her 2nd grade teacher...but I digress).

Teresa and I went to the wedding. That's us, in red. After's our fault.