Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Visiting the Family Farm

I spent my Memorial Day weekend at the Family Farm. (And on the LO-O-ONG drive to and from the Family Farm.) My dad's family had a reunion this weekend. So did my husband's mom's family, but just he and the girls made it to that one -- I stayed at the Family Farm for a memorial service for my aunt who died suddenly Friday morning. (This required some complicated arrangements for me over the weekend, but that's another story.)

Anyway . . . the Family Farm. In Gem, Kansas, just outside of Colby. Western Kansas. Farm country. My sisters, being older than I, spent a lot more time at the Family Farm with Grandpa (who died when I was a baby), Grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins. I went to a couple reunions there when I was young and occasionally visited the aunt and uncle who moved in when the grandparents moved out.

But I'm a city girl through and through. The Family Farm was kind of an abstraction to me. A nice place to visit, but I didn't necessarily feel a personal connection to it, as much as I appreciated the idea of it.

At this visit, however, I was an adult . . . and the weekend was all about remembering my aunt and dad and grandma and hearing others remember other family members who have left us that I never knew . . . and it was much more meaningful for me than past visits.

Things That Stood Out to Me This Weekend About the Family Farm:

- My grandparents apparently first acquired this property and started living there in 1921, two years before my dad was born. I'm not sure why that fact was so remarkable to me, but wow. A lot of history there.

- There's a gas pump by their driveway. I never noticed this. Apparently, that was a "duh" thing for everyone else there. Of course they have their own gas pump. Gotta fill up the tractors and so forth. Geez, so much I don't know about farm life.

- My aunt had a big shadow box on the wall (see the picture to the right) with things that, out of the corner of my eye, looked like dried flowers or weeds. Nope. Turns out, those were crocheted items made from . . . the hair of my deceased female relatives. No lie. It seems this was a common thing back then. Women would save the hair from their hairbrushes and use them like thread to crochet decorative items, like these little flowers and such. Several had labels attached with the name of the woman whose hair was used for that item, but all but one label were faded now. Kind of cool and kind of creepy at the same time.

But it reminded me of how differently the Greatest Generation lived. My parents lived through the Depression. They used everything until it completely wore out. I remember my mother rinsing out plastic bags and hanging them out to dry so she could use them over and over again. That was a bit extreme, but the wastefulness of my generation is extreme, too.

- As I said, I never knew my Grandpa. I only know him from pictures. But in most of the pictures I've seen of him, the bottom half of his face is very, very tan -- so brown that he almost looks like the old comics who did blackface. His forehead, on the other hand, was white. A farmer's tan, from wearing hats out in the fields all day. That's the image of my Grandpa in my mind.

And I was struck this weekend, while looking at old pictures of my dad and his siblings when they were young, how often the boys had the same white foreheads. Early twentieth century farm families . . . the boys worked on the farm all day, too. We have lazy, privileged kids these days. I'M a lazy, privileged kid.

- The farmhouse seemed so small. I realize that this was because for most of my visits there, I was so small. But I couldn't quite imagine how a family of nine had lived here. (And in fact, my mother told me that when she met my dad's family, the farmhouse wasn't even built yet. They were all living in the basement.)

- The farmhouse seemed so sweet. I don't think I thought much of it when I was young, other than it seemed old and it had features I was completely unfamiliar with, like the big heating vent on the floor you had to be sure not to step on with bare feet in the winter. But this weekend, it felt cozy and homey and sweet. I kept thinking, I could live here. And I know I've never thought that before.

- The air is so fresh and clean. We had perfectly gorgeous weather for the reunion, and the windows in the house were open so a breeze could blow through every room. Lovely. Refreshing. I want to live like that.

- The world is so huge. The sky is enormous! Until you've stood on a dusty road in western Kansas and scanned the horizon in every direction, you simply can't conceive of how big our world is. I remember traveling with my dad in forested and mountainous areas and hearing him complain that you couldn't see anything because all the trees were in the way. I always thought that was the most bizarre statement; I get it now.

One of these days, my aunt and uncle are not going to be able to live on the Family Farm any longer. I kept hearing this weekend that one of their sons would be moving in then. I'm glad. All of a sudden, it is very important to me that the Family Farm stay in the family.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Value of Theater Education

Goodness, it's been a while since I posted. But with good reason. The last two or three weeks have been dominated by Crystal Sea Drama Company's production of Seussical, which my daughter was in and with which I assisted the director. As my involvement in CSDC increases, this may become the new pattern for my blog: two or three weeks of silence toward the end of every show.

It has been a crazy couple weeks. But wonderful, also. And watching all these students -- about sixty overall between the cast and all the tech crew -- reminds me of why theater is such a valuable thing for kids to be involved with.

- They learn to be comfortable with public speaking. And to be good at it: good volume, comfortable pacing, expressive delivery. I think public speaking still ranks high on the lists of people's greatest fears -- it may even be number one. But almost everyone will have some occasion to speak to a group sometime in their lives (best man toasts? praying at church?), and you may as well feel comfortable at it.

- They interact in an intimate way with art and literature. There's much to be said about exposing your kids to art: taking them to museums and shows and concerts. But there's much MORE to be said for their being actually involved in the creation of art. To let them see the whole thing from the inside out. To engage in the act of creation, one of the ways we are made in the image of God.

I think every kid in the country reads a Shakespeare play at some point in their education, but how much more impactful would that be if they were actually performing it? It is drama, after all; it's meant to be performed, not read.

- They learn empathy. When you are in a play, you become another person. You have to think what they would think, feel what they would feel, react as they would react. No better way to step into another person's shoes and see life from their perspective. Such skills transfer into the real world. And such skills are more important than I can even express here.

They learn to accept criticism and feedback with grace. Part of the rehearsal process is having the director give you feedback on your performance and learning to apply it. Without taking it personally. Without feeling like a failure. Without copping an attitude. Without resenting the critic. And that's something they will need to do for the rest of their lives.

- They learn teamwork. Those sixty kids I mentioned earlier? Only a handful of them were lead roles on the stage. Some of them had a multitude of little roles. Some of them ran spotlights. Some of them helped actors with quick costume changes. Some of them opened curtains at critical moments to make set changes go quickly so the pace of the play wasn't disrupted. Every single person was critical to the production. And the run of the show was a success because every single person took their part seriously and did it with excellence.

- They make great friends. When you spend this much time with people, you get close. You become a family. It's wonderful.

There's so much more. I'm so grateful for the time I spent in theater when I was young, and I'm so grateful for the opportunities my own children have had. If you're a parent, I urge you to find a play for your kiddos to get involved in. At least once.

And if you're a San Antonio parent, may I recommend you look into Crystal Sea Drama Company? They have a couple summer camps coming up. Well worth it.