Going to Where I’m From

I wonder how many times I’ve driven I-76 and I-80 between Denver and Columbus, Nebraska? Hundreds, probably, or close thereto. I seriously never get tired of it. Well, I don’t get tired of I-80 anyway; I have to admit that I-76 running through the eastern plains of Colorado is a bit of a snoozer. While I don’t want to lapse into hyperbole, there is virtually nothing on I-76.

In fact, one time many moons ago, Bill and I were driving back from Chicago in the middle of the night. We incorrectly assumed we could find a place to get gas along I-76; however, there were absolutely no gas stations open and paying at the pump was nonexistent. Anyhoo, by time we got to Keensburg (about 48 miles northeast of Denver), Bill insisted that we go no further since our gas gauge was hovering on empty. We slept in the car at the gas station until 6 o’clock or so, when someone finally opened up the station and turned on the coffee pot.

We made the trip this past weekend so that I could attend my 45th high school class reunion. Seven hours up on Friday and seven hours back to Denver on Sunday. Quick trip, but well worth it.

I never really entirely forget just what growing up in the Midwest was like and how it shaped who I am. However, when I am away from my Nebraska roots – either in Denver or in AZ – I give little thought to how much rain we’re getting or the price of soybeans. I worry instead about what color we will stain our hardwood and what I will make for dinner.

But the instant I drive over the Loup River bridge into Columbus, I’m 12 years old again. I find it funny that it always feels like I’m coming home, though I lived in Columbus a mere 18 years, and have lived in Colorado over twice as long.

The first thing I always notice is the sound of the train whistles. Columbus is a major thoroughfare for the Union Pacific railroad. The sound of the train whistles is heard regularly throughout the day and night as the trains – barely slowing down – go through the center of town and on to their next stop. When you live in Columbus, you get used to the sound of the whistles. Though our house was maybe half a mile from the tracks, I had many aunts and uncles who lived so close you would think the train was going to blast through their living room. Bill and I stayed at one of these houses when we were first married. In the middle of the night, Bill rolled over and said, “I have never heard so many trains in my life.” I had barely noticed……

To this day, the sound of a train whistle in the distance makes me nostalgic.

We ate dinner at Husker House Restaurant, about which I’ve spoken before. HH is the restaurant at which our family celebrated nearly every important event in our life until we moved to Colorado. The food is good and the décor hasn’t changed a single bit since I was a child…..

Bill and I had dinner with my friend Susie and her husband Sean.

Bill’s happy if he can stop at Glur’s Tavern (which proclaims to be the oldest tavern in Nebraska, and who am I to doubt?) and have a burger…..

I find a stop necessary at Ole’s Big Game Bar (in Paxton, NE), where you see the mostly-endangered-species that have been part of their décor since the species were not endangered…..

…..and a fried chicken dinner still costs only $8.99…..

But perhaps the most notable thing when I make my trip back to Nebraska is just how absolutely down to earth and funny and kind and interesting (and interestED) the people are. Most would agree with Tim McGraw that you should always be humble and kind.

I’m not sure when I’ll get back next, but I’m pretty sure things won’t have changed much. That’s something you can count on. There might be fast food restaurants that weren’t there when I was a kid, but at the end of the day, Nebraskans are still Nebraskans…..

Go Big Red.

Whole Foods Ramblings

Sometime around 3 o’clock Sunday evening, I realized I had not a thing to make for dinner, and no great ideas on what to make, even if I had grocery items. Since I recalled some Italian sausage in the freezer, I pulled it out to thaw and did what any outstanding homemaker would do – I went to Pinterest and looked for Italian Sausage Recipes.

I found one, which, as it turns out – and which appears to be true of nearly every Pinterest recipe I have tried – wasn’t really very good. Some day I’ll learn.

But at that point, I had great hope. So I hopped on my scooter (have I told you how much I love my scooter?) and scooted over to Whole Foods to purchase a few items.

Two separate thoughts occurred to me during this trip to Whole Foods. Well, actually, I hope that more than two thoughts popped in my head during that time as we’re talking a good 45 minutes since Whole Foods is one of those places that calls me to walk around and look at all of the beautiful things – in this case, food.

The first, well, let’s say significant thought was when the young cashier fellow was checking me out. Not in CHECKING ME OUT of course, because even in my prime he probably wouldn’t have done that, but in checking me out as in groceries. He said, as seems to be the current trend, “How is your weekend going?” Seriously, haven’t you heard that sort of question more recently than you used to? You see, he simply can’t really care how my weekend is going, can he?

Anyway, being humble and kind (more on that when I give you my second profound thought), I answered that my weekend was going just swell, thank you very much. But then I added that since I’m retired, however, my weekends aren’t quite as meaningful as they are for working stiffs. He gave me sort of a blank look, which I’m used to because I have a tendency to say more than I should to total strangers. He expected me to say, “Fine, thanks. And yours?” So as he handed me my bag, he said, “Have a good rest-of-the-weekend, even though it doesn’t matter because you’re retired.”

And suddenly, the profound thought popped in my head. I am retired. I am 63 years old and I am retired, and have been for 10 years. Many people my age are not retired. They are instead, working 8 or 10 hour days, maybe at jobs with which they are so bored by this time that they can barely make themselves get up in the morning. So the thought? Kris, do you have any idea how blessed you are? Never EVER forget that Girlfriend.

As I was pondering my good luck and walking back to my scooter, I passed what appeared to my non-schooled eyes to be a very fancy car parked in the Whole Foods lot. It was black and shiny and big……

And this is what I was driving….

I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought, except that the license plate on this big, black, fancy car said OILMONY. Which is license-plate-speak for Oil Money.

I’m pretty sure I threw up a little bit in my mouth. Because SERIOUSLY?

I consider myself a fairly conservative Republican and trust me when I tell you that I hold no animosity towards this person for owning a car that cost him or her $96,600. He or she has clearly made a bucketful of bucks, and can spend it however (s)he wants. And furthermore, I am perfectly content because see above. I’m happily retired.

But remember these words from a song written by Lori McKenna and sung by Tim McGraw, and about which I wrote a blog post ?….

When those dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind.

So my second profound thought was always stay humble and kind. It’s how I was brought up. What can I tell you? And that car will be keyed at some point, mark my words. I might have done it if my scooter wouldn’t have provided a sad getaway vehicle.

Not really. Keying a car is bad, kids.

Hard to Be Humble

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way.
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man.
O Lord it’s hard to be humble
But I’m doing the best that I can. – Mac Davis

37830-pSix months or so ago, I wrote a blog post entitled Humble and Kind, inspired by the poignant song sung by country artist Tim McGraw. If you read this blog post, you know that my parents instilled the importance of humility in all of their kids.

You’re no better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you I heard my mother say on many occasions. I think this message really took hold in all of us.

Since the theme of last weekend’s Mass readings was humility, I thought about all of this once again as I listened to Jesus’ story about the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee bragged about what an exceptional person he was. He tithed. He fasted. He wasn’t greedy and unholy in the ways of many others. At the same time, the tax collector beat his breast and begged for God’s forgiveness for all of his sins. I am not worthy, he said.

Yep, I thought. I have lots of faults, but I’m certainly not like that nasty Pharisee. I am really tremendously humble.

And then I saw the irony in that notion. I’m prideful of just how humble I am. Oops. Disconnect.

Because the reality is that though on an intellectual level, I know I’m no better than anyone else, on a practical level, I hold my breath as I walk past a clearly unbathed homeless person, I look at distain at young people with huge holes in their ears, I hang on to old grievances, I gossip, and I judge people if I think they aren’t living the kind of life I think they should be living.

So am I really all that humble? Certainly not as humble as I’ve always thought I was, or so it appears. To be really humble, you have to let go of yourself and feel perfectly safe putting yourself into the hands of God.  And that’s easier to say than to do. It always feels safer to control your own life. And that might work well as long as things are going along just like you want. But when the time comes that things seem to be heading south, that is when it is most important to put yourself in the hands of God. To be truly humble.

In Jesus’ parable, the tax collector would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but instead begged for God’s mercy. The result? Jesus tells us that the tax collector is the one who went home justified, while the Pharisee did not.

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Please God, forgive me for all of my sins and help me to be truly humble.

Humble and Kind

Hold the door, say please, say thank you/Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie/I know you got mountains to climb but always stay humble and kind/When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you/When the work you put in is realized/Let yourself feel the pride but always stay humble and kind. – Sung by Tim McGraw, lyrics by Lori McKenna

Humble and Kind, a song off of country artist Tim McGraw’s newest album Damn Country Music, has been playing regularly on the country music station I prefer when I’m listening to the radio in my car. I want to say two things about this song: First, I literally can’t listen to the song without crying despite the fact that it isn’t a sad song; and second, every time I listen to it – EVERY SINGLE TIME – I think of my mom and dad.

Yesterday was Dad’s birthday. He would have been 90 years old. It was, by the way, also Shakespeare’s birthday (he would have been 452) and one of my good friends, Lynne Scates’ birthday (whose age, even if I knew it, would remain a secret. Suffice it to say, considerably less than 452.)

So yesterday morning, Jen sent me a text. Happy birthday to our dad today. I’ve been thinking about him all month. Send me a favorite memory or thought about Dad today. Mine is riding our bikes out to the cabin once or twice every summer.

ReinieI, of course, have lots of good memories of Dad, but my favorite will always be the one about which I have spoken here on this blog before – when I took baby Kaiya to visit him and despite the fact that she ALWAYS cried when others held her, she sat quietly on his lap staring intently at him while he whispered to her. I can’t even write those words without crying.

Anyway, back to Humble and Kind. Mom and Dad taught us lots of things. Mom taught us to cook. Dad taught Dave to bake. They taught us all to love family and football and good food and God, and demonstrated to us the importance of hard work.

But man, if I didn’t remember anything else that mom and dad taught us, I would not forget how they stressed us to be humble and kind.

You’re no better than anyone else, I remember my mother telling me any time she felt that I was getting a little too big for my britches. But she always added, And nobody else is better than you. Her point? We are all equal in the eyes of God.

Their rules were simple. Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie. Just like the words of the song.

Here’s how Jen ended her text: We are the only four people on earth that had him for a dad. That was a blessing.

Indeed.

I would love reactions to this song, and any memories any of you might have of Mom and Dad. I know they read this blog and it would be a great birthday gift to Dad!

Here is Tim McGraw’s performance of the song. And I don’t feel so bad because Tim McGraw said he cried during every take.