I Could Do Nothing

When I was still relatively new to homeschooling, a retired teacher turned homeschool maven encouraged me in my work:  “You could do absolutely nothing with your kids but spend time with them, and you’d be ahead of the public schools.”  I’ve never been quite sure of that, but I do see truth.  The character and ability to think for oneself, along with the self-confidence I’ve seen in every homeschool graduate I’ve ever met, is far more important in my mind than whatever academics I may have succeeded in shoving into their heads.  Although I’ve seen quite a bit of academic excellence, far beyond anything I witnessed in school.  I just wish I were a part of it.  My kids are pretty average.

Depending how you judge.  My older son has made a live save while volunteering time with the local fire department, and assisted with countless other rescues.  He and my second son have been available during school hours to fight fires when most every other firefighter is unavailable.  They study, run calls, and return to their books.  I’ve heard first-hand from homeowners how much they mean to the community.  Houses and property could have been lost if they had been locked up on a campus.  And what have they learned?  That knowledge trumps all?  Or that people are the most important investment?

Education is not always easily measured.

But I’m up on my soapbox.  Today, I got a reminder that Mary was right.  I love learning and all things academia, but I never aspired to teach.  That’s a good thing.  I am not a great teacher – I do best when I’m excited about something and lead my flock on a wild learning adventure.   I’ve pretty well burned myself out trying to teach, so declared this summer to be vacation time.  Even if we sit and do absolutely nothing, I am taking summer off.

And this is what I found today, when the children had been quiet too long.  Funny, they didn’t want to be photographed.

Maybe they would be better if I did nothing….

(Day 39/365)

Ready to Go

This thing stinks.  And it’s huge; it takes up a lot of room.  It has been underfoot in my office and on the front porch.  I’ve purchased loads of groceries and found it taking up the entire cargo area of my Suburban.  On too many humid nights, it has stunk up the entire car.  I’ve grumbled or yelled a few more expletives about it than I care to admit now.

Because it’s going back to the fire department tonight.  And it means a lot more to me than I care to admit.  Because while I will not miss its reflective body in my walkway at night, it means my oldest son isn’t going to be here to need it.

Mind you, he’s only taking a leave of absence and it will probably sit on a shelf intact until his return.  Because the plans to drive home are just as integral to his plans as his time away.  This should not upset me.  I’m really excited for the opportunity he has before him.  If he decided not to go, I’d kick him on his way.

But I’m really going to miss him and his gadgetry in the meanwhile.

And I really hope Little Bro feels, like Big Bro once voiced, “that the cavalry has just arrived.”

(Day 5/365)

Idiots, Accidents and Evil

I went on another call today with the boys.  It wasn’t real big, and it went down in an unusual way, like usual.  County workers unintentionally started a grass fire while welding.  When we arrived, their tractor was toasting and the adjacent pasture was ablaze.    The boys (with Pete this time) put it out quickly and then went for more water.  While they were gone, the county tanker showed up.  He wanted to help, and used his sprayers to douse the easement between the road and the pasture fence.  Sounded good – except this was the truck they use to oil dirt roads.  He threw down two layers of oil.  Seemed strange, but it appeared to work and he left as the brush truck returned.  I will never understand the rationale behind most things done in this county.

I didn’t notice it right away.  My truck was parked in the culvert, across the road and out of the way of personnel and traffic.   Somehow, when the oil slicker turned around to make another pass, his sprayers doused the entire length of my passenger side.  Great.  Have I mentioned how much I love living in Caldwell County?

When everything was finished, Jon offered to wash my truck before we left.  Nobody mentioned foam.  I understand it’s just Dawn dishwashing liquid, but I prefer Meguiar’s.   Five minutes later, not a speck of dirt remained, but the oil spots were intact.  Thanks, Jon; it was a good try.

I took it home, got out the Bug ‘N’ Bunny Remover, and my two little ones helped me to scrub every spot off the truck.  Within an hour or so, it was good as new.  Well, maybe just good as before.

And I met some more nice people today.  One lady said she’d lived there 37 years.  Wow.  Six has been hard enough for me.  Stupidity seems as rampant as the dust around here, and she had more stories to tell.   Take this call:  it was started by someone welding in dry grass.  After all was out, the same men removed the burning wheel from the tractor and put it in the back of their pickup to get it fixed.  It was only a few minutes before they had another fire in the bed of their truck as the tire relit.

But is this any different from life anywhere else?  One morning spent in a courtroom listening to people’s stories was enough to last me a lifetime.  I was convinced I was surrounded by idiots and liars.   At my dad’s funeral, the young men in charge of the service couldn’t figure out how to fold the flag.  They tried three times before my buddies stepped in and showed them.  All of us make mistakes, and we learn.  We pray nobody remembers our doozies.

I think the revelation came yesterday when I talked to that lovely widow.  She was dressed in a housecoat and slippers, but her hair caught my eye.  It was black and curly and beautiful.   She was kind and thoughtful.  An accident with a lawnmower had nearly cost her her home, yet she was thankful for the attentive neighbors who came to care for her.  I really liked her.  I haven’t liked a stranger in a long time.

God’s “mercy” brought me here.  That’s the sarcastic font there; I’m not sure how well it shows.  It has felt more like punishment than mercy, quite frankly.  And He left me here until I saw the goodness and beauty in people, regardless of their circumstances or blessings.  Some people are good, no matter their station.  Idiots, accidents and evil happen everywhere –  it’s what we do with them that counts.

It is mercy that opens our eyes to our blind sides.

Will I put out fires regardless of how they’re started, and restore peace to those affected?  Will I spray life-giving water on the soil of people’s lives, soothing their pain and providing for new life simultaneously?

This is our calling in this life. 

High Road Fire

My husband and two sons are volunteer firefighters.  I don’t stick around for wrecks; I drop off the boys and get out of the way.  It’s not unusual for me to stay and photograph a fire, but I just really liked the photos I got today.  More people and less documentary.

My heart has been very heavy with cares for friends the last week or so.  I haven’t been as focused as I should be.  Today had been very productive and my chicken dinner was in the oven on time.   I was helping my oldest study for his SAT  when the tones dropped.  “To the attention of Chisholm Trail Fire Rescue:  please respond to —– High Rd. for a grass fire.  Multiple structures in danger.  Time-out 17:38.”   Hoo-whee!  Both boys jumped into their boots and grabbed their gear while I grabbed my bunker-flops (what they call my firefighting sandals) and my camera, and we met in the Suburban.

As we drove (probably a little too fast) down the road, I heard the positions of the various trucks responding to the call.  5:30  is a great time for a volunteer fire dept.  People are in district and available.  We were instructed to “go direct”, since all brush trucks were enroute and they needed extra hands to man them.

We arrived on scene

My boys ran to get on trucks –

They went in and I lost them in smoke.  But then – probably the best shot of my career opened up.  Both my boys, facing me, in the thick of the action.

That’s Jon on the right, Dave on the left – both have hoses.  Dave has the headset to communicate with the driver.  You can’t see him, but Tim’s driving.

Jon and Dave are actually on the secondary truck in the right rear.  That appears to be Shelby, with her dad driving, at the hose.  The only structure lost today was this brand new shed, which had not withstood its first wind earlier in the week.  It sure took a lot of work to put out.

Then I saw the perfect calendar shot –

They came around to where I was.  The lot I was standing on was green, but the fenceposts and grass at the edge of  “the black” were smoldering quite a bit.  Dave and Matt needed to douse all that.

I’m not sure how I got the next shot – I was a ways away, and I didn’t crop it.  When I’m out in the sun, I can’t see the display on my camera.  I just point, shoot, and hope for the best. Mark is at the helm, with his daughter Shelby on back with the hose.

One of Asst. Chief Craig –

And my buddy Capt. Jeffro with Dave, when all was said and done.

This distraction was exactly what I needed.  So much has been milling around in my head, but nothing makes any sense when I write it down.

I didn’t need a keyboard; I needed people.  Actual, physical contact and conversation.   I reassured a frightened widow that she is safe.  I let a young, excited man tell me all he knew about the fire and how he’d stopped it from coming into the widow’s yard when he thought I was from the media.  I drove fast with the windows down and got to use my camera.  I enjoyed some banter with several firefighters and then came home to really crispy chicken.

I feel peaceful and relaxed.

New and Old

I like this house.  So clean and pretty, with simple lines and strong colors, tucked back in some trees with a lovely brown Pit/Lab named Rosie at the gate.  This house has stood on this spot, in the same family, for over a hundred years while weathering storms, droughts, economic blight and more with grace.  The owners and neighbors are proud to have it with them.

This one sits on a similar corner ten miles away, but it is burning to the ground today as a fire training exercise at the behest of its owner.  It is a similar age with much the same ownership and experiences, but it has been a rental property.  Many have moved through its doors, but never has it been loved.  The neighbors have been trying to get it removed for years.  Finally death has arrived, and it is a celebration:  the firefighters are getting a playday, the neighbors are celebrating victory, and the church next door is barbecuing burgers for the crowd.

So what’s the difference?  What’s inside.  The investment.  Daily attention to details that compound over years.  The love that’s been poured in to make one a beautiful home while the other became an eyesore.  Nurturing – of the outside facade, but also to what’s inside.  Not that an dilapidated rental house can’t hold the dreams and aspirations of a treasured child within its walls, but usually something changes when that is the case.  Love will shine out the windows and begin to be shown in little details outside as well.  The care that is apparent outside is a reflection of the devotion to what’s inside.  Houses are a pretty honest estimation of who you are.   They take serious work, are not easily exchanged when abused, and it’s readily apparent when you don’t care enough to mow the lawn.

Granted, we have to put on our own glasses of love to see clearly past the effects of money much of the time.  Gardeners can keep our exterior beautiful, just as that amazing dress from Nordy’s would make even a hooker look like a lady.  But whether it is the physical dwelling we’re referring to or the tent of humanity we wear, the analogy is the same.  We’ve all met very poor, work-worn people whose eyes sparkle – people who’ve been wrung to their last drop and still have more to give.  Mother Theresa comes to mind.  But the weariness that shows in even a wealthy man’s eyes when his lifeblood has been trodden underfoot sears the souls of those who take the time to notice.   Everyone needs to be appreciated and to know it without a doubt.   True love poured in will emanate out the windows and cracks like sunshine, lightening up every wrinkle and blemish until even the old man looks fresh and new.  He will be useful and productive until the end.  And neglect or disdain will dull the eyes of even the most promising child until he is jaded before his time.  Both the house and the child lose some luster for lack of investment; purpose and vision are cut off.

Look around you today.  Do you see proof of the statistics that 65% of Americans are obese and just know in your heart that it is their stupidity and laziness that made them that way?  Do you fear the anger and apathy in your neighbor’s eyes when he actually meets your gaze?  Have you grown so bitter you tell visitors that the world can go to hell in a handbasket, as long as it stays outside your fence?  Or do you see those same scenes as the effects of wounds and scars on vulnerable souls much like your own, bearing up under inscrutable pain and trying to maintain what little self-respect is left?  Life hands each one of us an incredible beating, albeit differently.    Do we recognize those extra pounds as the result of too many desperate attempts to deaden a heart’s cry of pain with food?  Can we dissolve anger and bitterness by validating the venom as the only remaining protection from further pain?

Dedicated work is required to bring back a house that has been abused or abandoned even a short while.  What kind of house am I keeping for myself and those in my care?  What kind of deposit can I make into those around me and into the future?  How can I ever repay those precious souls who have invested in me, just because they love me?