Sanctuary

The word, sanctuary conjures up different meanings. It could mean an animal sanctuary, a place of meditation, or what we typically think of… a church sanctuary.

This little country church, pictured below, is the first church I remember attending. Green Mound Church is located in Southeast Iowa, in Henry county. It has stood for generations on this quiet, bucolic landscape where my Dad’s side of the family worshiped, observed baptisms, weddings, funerals, Bible School, and feverish revival meetings!

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Across the road, sprawls the cemetery for the church. Most of my paternal relatives are buried there, Uncles, Aunts, and Grandparents, and even some dear friends.

I used to walk the isles of grave stones looking for familiar names, but mostly trying to find the oldest stones. Some predate the Civil War. Some carved in ornate relief. Heavenly angels and cherubs, flowers, scrolls and terms of endearment that fill the surfaces of granite. Some are but white, chalky slabs slanting from the earth. Their faces unreadable from the elements and time. Babies and young children occupy many of the plots, their young lives snuffed out by influenza, measles, and other diseases that we give little thought to, now.

It is a peaceful place. An unusual spot to commiserate with my friend, Rita. But, that’s just what we did one summer afternoon. We settled on the lush grass and spoke of our boyfriends and the trials of teenhood! Away from the commotion of our busy, loud families we talked about whatever we wanted.

Green Mound sanctuary

While scrolling through my Facebook last week, I came upon a picture that my childhood friend, Kathy Gerig Wiley, posted. It was of the Green Mound sanctuary. I was awestruck at how familiar it looked after all this time. Like I could step into the picture and start singing, “Amazing Grace.”

The smells of wooden pews, song books, and other aromas came flooding back to memory. The closeness of robust Iowa farmers and their wives added to the soup of smells that hovered over us in the heat of summer. Over-applied toilet water could not mask the lack of deodorant in those days! Cardboard fans adorned with, Solomon’s head of Christ gave little relief to the still, humid air. Fidgeting children drew on the back of church bulletins, and played quietly with books or fell asleep on their Mother’s lap.

Babies cried. Nodding-off husbands were jarred back to consciousness with a poke in the ribs by their wives, and from the pulpit, the word of God came down…delivered through Reverend Hughes. He reminded us of our shortcomings and the damnation that awaited us if we didn’t head the warnings of the Almighty’s word!

An alter-call would conclude each service. For those of you unfamiliar with that tradition, it is an invitation to walk to the front of the sanctuary and confess your sins, and become, “Born Again!”

I always dreaded, alter-call. For one thing, they would play the hymn, “Just AS I Am,” which would tug at anyone’s heart, and if you didn’t come during the first go-round, they would play it again! As a child I would peak to see if anyone went forward. I’d think about all the things I’d done in the past week–lied to my mom, teased my brother, impure thoughts about an eighth-grade boy, and I’d sneaked mom’s Tangee. I’d worn it to school like a dance hall floozy on “Gun Smoke!” You know, the usual adolescent sins!

Bible school was the most fun for me.  The surrounding farm community, and some from near-by towns would attend. Games, Bible lessons, and sack lunches outdoors filled the typical day. At the end, those of us, new born-agains, would be taken to the river and dunked completely under the muddy shallows. Somehow, I didn’t feel, “Whiter than snow!”

My Aunt Geraldine,  Dad’s sister,  played the piano. She was born for the job! Always dressed to the nines, she sparkled and played her way through every service.

My cousins, Lucy and Harold Grant also attended our church. I always looked forward to seeing them. We’d conspire to get together after church, maybe go swimming in town, or just hang out. What a treat…getting to go to the big town of Wayland.  I’d walk the streets with my Cuz, stopping at the grocery or hardware store for candy cigarettes and something to drink. It was a simpler time, no worries…just be back by dark!

It was the time of the “Can-Can” petticoats– layers of Tulle netting sewn together. Sunday was the day to show-off our newest clothes. All the girls tried to have the fullest petticoat. The real test was how high the skirt flipped-up when you sat down! The higher, the better!

It’s good to know that there are some things from my youth that are alive and doing well. These days the congregation is smaller, but the fact that this church still stands is a testament to the steadfast goodness and spirit of a faithful people!

Green Mound will turn 170 years-old this year. What an achievement!

P.S. I’d love to hear from current parishioners as to how things are going.

KRE

The New Baby

It’s January 1954, in Iowa. My Dad says, “It’s colder than a well digger’s ass in Montana.” That means it’s really cold! My brother and I have been waiting for our Mom to come home to us. “She went to get a baby!” My Grandma Ross says.

She’s been staying with us for a few days. I don’t know why it takes so darn long to pick out a baby, but I guess when you’re making a big decision like that, you need to take your time.

Grandma won’t say much about where this baby is coming from, or what it is. I guess we’ll find out when dad gets home.

We live on the river bottom. Dad says, ‘cause our house is real close to the river. Sometimes it floods our barnyard and fields. I think its fun when that happens. We wade out in the yard in our bare feet. The cows are up to their bellies in muddy river water. Dad cusses a lot when it floods.

Our house is big and white, and has two stories. Don’t know why they call them stories, but they do. Grownups have funny words for things. Our windows go to the floor so we can see out really good.

Grandma just said she heard a noise. We all go to look out the North window, and dad’s car is pulling up.

Grandma says we have to be quiet, cause we don’t want to scare the new baby. She’s real bossy…grandma. I guess she’s knows a lot about babies cause she had eight kids. Our Dad is the youngest of the bunch! Grandma says, my Mom got the “pick of the litter!” See…there’s a funny word, for a bunch of kids.

Anyway, I watch dad walk around the Buick and open the door for Mom. She’s holding a bundle in her arms. She walkin’ kinda’ slow.

Grandma hurries to the door and in walks my Mom with the new baby. Dad gives me a wink and messes with my brother’s hair. Mom looks tired, but she smiles at me. She sits down and peels away the blanket. I look at her and say, “What’d you pick out?”

“We have a girl!” She answers. “Her name is Eileen.”

We’re all gawin’ at Eileen like she’s somethin’ real special, but I feel a little mad, cause now I’m not the only girl. But, at least it’s not a stinkin’ boy!

 

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So that’s the way it went, sixty-three years ago today!

 

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Happy Birthday, Sis. Love you!

KRE

 

Dividends For Old Age

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My Mother used to say, “My children and grandchildren are dividends for old age!”

I always thought that was a silly thing to say, but as I get a little older and wiser I see her point. That’s not to say that if you don’t have children  your lives are void of dividends.  I have friends who don’t have children, by choice or happenstance, and I know they are wonderful aunts and uncles or mentors to children they know.

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As I watched my kids, and now my grand kids develop and grow from babies to little people, and now teens, I see the traits that mirror their heritage. I feel blessed and concerned at the same time. I hope their temperament is like their great grandma’s, that they have the creativity that my husband and I possess, the kindness of my mother, the smile of this, or that aunt. I hope they love the land and nature. I want them to respect all who cross their paths, but also astute enough to know the value good judgment.

I remember my experiences raising children–the exhilaration, fatigue, and struggles. I feel for my kids going through all that, now. But, the dividends for me as a parent and grandparent far out way the hills and valley’s that they will encounter.

Children, for the most part, give us a sense of what’s right with the world. You look at a newborn’s soft, unlined face, devoid of life’s impressions and you see the hope for new beginnings.

The genetic pool from which they sprouted hold many talents, personalities and history. I hope they will pick up where we left off, completing the dreams we started.

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The possibilities are endless, for a productive life. The choices they make are ultimately theirs, but our influence and legacy will live on.

KRE

 

 

 

I Do…I Did…AND…I Will!

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Fifty years, that’s a good stretch of time– half a century!

That is how long I’ve been with this one man, my husband.

It all started on a warm, sultry August afternoon in 1966. We said our, “I do’s” at the First Baptist Church in my home town of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

As young lovers, who had a whirl-wind romance, we were shocked at the similarities in our backgrounds, and oblivious to the differences that would rock our world as time passed.

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We were both farm kids. He grew up near Highway 34 in the heartland of Nebraska, and I only a few miles off the same Highway 34 in southeast Iowa.

Our Mother’s first names were the same… Rose Epp and Rose Ross!

It was the “Sixties!” A troubled time for our country, but we didn’t care. All we knew was, we were headed for the adventure of our lives— together. Away from the doldrums of farm life, we were headed to sunny California to fulfill my husband’s service requirement.

We thought we were smarter, hipper, and more socially savvy than our parents!

Me and Phil in trailer

We couldn’t predict what lie ahead from those perfect, dreamy days of, “We’re so in love!  There is absolutely nothing we can’t accomplish!”

Well, as those who also took the fifty year challenge you know, our world was rocked…many times!

We had careers, children, experienced losses, and disappointments in ourselves and each other.

The rose-colored glasses came off.

As Dr. Phil McGraw has often stated, “You get the package home, unwrap it and find, “”This isn’t what I ordered!””

Life with one person is not natural for most species. And Lord knows it’s not an easy road for most. But, you always have this feeling, it will get better. And it usually does.

So, my man and I celebrated this past weekend with friends and family at a beautiful spot in the Flint Hills, the Cottage House B&B in Council Grove, Kansas.

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It was a destination getaway that was doable for our family and guests. We enjoyed front porch sittin’ with good food and spirited conversation.

Does this mean we’re in our golden years?

I’m not sure what that really means, but I feel blessed to have reached this stage in my life and value all our experiences.

Phil and I and anarondax chairs

We are not the same couple who took those vows fifty years ago, and I’m glad.

We don’t always make each other happy or finish each other’s sentences, but we know who we are and how we got here.

We still parent, or I guess its grand parenting now.

We argue over silly things, and get excited about the mundane.

The house seems a little too quiet at times, but the solitude is something to be enjoyed, now. We’re not escaping it.

It’s what we’ve accomplished, thus far, that counts.

And, the blessing to come that excite us.

KRE

 

 

Egg Princess

 

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Long ago, in a far off small town, in Iowa, nine girls competed for the esteemed title of “Egg Princess!”

It was part of the Henry County Fair festivities, in Mt. Pleasant.

Mr. Biggs, the hatchery owner in our town, was the sponsor.

I had never dreamt of doing anything like this. Me…a beauty queen?

I only knew a couple of the contestants. Some of the other girls were daughters of “big farmers,”as we whose, parents owned small farms, called them. My Dad made a living on less than two hundred acres.

When Mr. Biggs approached my mom, she got all excited.  The adventure was on!

We were known to the hatchery in town because we owned a couple hundred laying hens.  Mom would sell eggs privately and commercially. Since she was a stay-at-home mom, it was her income.

It was my job to gather the eggs every evening, wash and crate them before I could start my homework.

Yes, wash them!

They had to be spotless–gleaming white for the buyers. If you’ve never had the pleasure of gathering eggs from cranky hens, you probably think eggs come that way– clean and white.

Well, no.

They don’t!

Some are covered with dried yolk from broken eggs in the nest and some have do-do on them from a lazy hens who decided it was too much work to take a break!

 

 

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I doubted that any of my fellow queen hopefuls had to do what I did, but that wasn’t taken into consideration in the final selection…”Yes, judge this poor girl has to wash eggs every night without pay, or praise!

We were pampered all morning. Had lunch at the plush Harlan Hotel in downtown Mt. Pleasant. We were interviewed, paraded in front of the grandstand at the fair in the afternoon. It was quite dramatic.

Tripping, was on my mind during the stage parading.

In the end, I didn’t win or place. A little deflating, but then it was an interesting glimpse into the world of pageants. And for a little while, I felt special.

I really didn’t think that being chosen Miss Egg Princess would change my life, or open doors to stardom down the road.

It did make me aware of how important young women, myself included, stressed about body image.

It’s one of those memories that make me smile, and suck in my stomach!

KRE

 

 

THE ORDER OF THINGS

Jeff

 

Last week a dear friend, since college, lost his only son.

Jeff was also a brother, uncle, husband and father to two beautiful daughters.

It is not the order of things, to bury a child.

I’m speaking from a sister’s point of view. I know how it feels to watch a parent bury their child.

There are no words to explain such grief.

The utterances that come, “Not our family!”

We are left with the pain of memories that haunt our sleep, words left unspoken.

We feel cheated because of his untimely death. There was so much for him to do.

We are left with a broken heart.

It is a pain deep in the innermost part of our self. We try to remember his voice, his smile, and for a while it is easy, because his absence is so new.

A wound unseen, that throbs when we try to sleep, and every morning when our eyes open. It is there to remind us of how blessed we are to have loved and been loved by him. He left his imprint on those he loved—he will always be present!

One day, you understand what he meant to you–gave to you.

The blessings you shared with each other, make you who you are.

Like the movie, “A wonderful Life.” Who would I be if he, or she had never been in my life?

And we learn that their gift to us was just being here, helping to shape our person through the fabric of family, and understand the connection with someone who shared our Mother’s womb, our Father’s DNA.

You notice the likeness your children share.

It will never make sense, but it will help you heal.

In memory of Jeff Fast.

Karen Ross Epp

What…Another Girl!

Ross family

 

I love this picture! I love the hair on these girls, and their mother. I’ve always admired the Gibson Girl look– popular at the turn of the century.

If my Grandfather looks somber in this picture, maybe it’s because he has four girls,  and no sons, at this point in his marriage to my Grandmother.

This picture was taken in era when the value of women had very different understanding . It was an agrarian society, for the most part, and a man wanted son’s to help with the hard work on the farm, and to carry on his bloodline–lineage if you will, for future generations.

It was said, that when my grandfather came into the house after the birth of his fourth daughter, he took one look, turned right-around without saying a word, and went about his chores. If I had been my Grandmother  I probably would have felt like throwing the afterbirth at him!  What they didn’t know back then was, it was the man who determined the sex of a child! That knowledge would have saved many a woman from despair and even death!

I do know, after the birth of this fourth girl, three sons were born to my grandparents plus one more girl. Eight in all.

Childbirth was an in-home experience and all of grandma’s brood were born at home, with the assistance of women who helped each other when their time came.

My Grandmother was a strong woman not only in the physical sense, but in constitution as well. She had to be! She not only cared for her own, but took in her grandchildren, when the need was there.

She was, a one-woman factory. Seamstress, chef, gardener, housekeeper, nurse, milkmaid, lover, and mother.

I can’t, for the life of me, see how she managed to sew those beautiful dresses, and  fix all that hair!

KRE