A new appreciation

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

I didn’t grow up with a fascination for or love of cars. For my family, automobiles served to get us from one place to another. Vehicles were taken care of—oil changed, tires rotated, annual tune-ups—but we didn’t spend time washing and waxing our various rides.

Folks rarely ate in their cars in those days. There were no built-in cup holders or fast-food drive-throughs. People ate at home and seldom even snacked in their cars. When traveling, the families I knew packed a cooler or picnic hamper and stopped at rest areas or roadside parks to enjoy some fresh air and a meal.

The first car I remember was a 1963 Falcon. It was blue with some very modest tail fins. We slid back and forth on the slippery back seat as our parents navigated the roads and turns to town. There were no seat belts or car seats. I remember a contraption that held our busiest brother in place between my parents in the front seat. I doubt it was designed for safety—just for the sanity of parents with active children. After the Falcon came a series of station wagons with a fold-down bench seat which accommodated our growing family.

I grew up with friends who had some nice cars: Scotty had a sporty red car and obsessively polished and cared for it; Sue drove a Volkswagen “Thing” during her senior year; and Rick drove a Corvette which certainly stood out in the student parking lot.

It felt different riding in those cars — they were flashy and got lots of attention from other motorists.

Most of us, if we were lucky enough to have access to some wheels, drove old cars or trucks: my friend Leeanne drove a VW hatchback we regularly had to push to start; our friend Anne drove a huge Checker sedan that filled a space and a half in any parking lot; and my brothers and I drove my grandmother’s hand-me-down Impala. We were thrilled to have it. In fact, the pea-green 4-door we referred to as “the green bomb” got me through college.

When our kids earned their drivers’ licenses, we provided an old car built like a tank, a bright yellow 1976 Catalina. Eventually, the heavy passenger door stopped latching and would swing open when rounding corners. Our son, filled with pre-teen angst, crouched in the back seat and demanded his sisters drop him off at the middle school at least a block away. In mock elections, the “yellow boat” won “class clunker” two years in a row. As you can imagine, I was not sympathetic.

Today, I am still very frugal and practical about cars. I drive a 2011 Impala. It’s in great shape, and I plan to keep it until it drops.

Even now, l don’t desire an expensive or even new car, but I have begun to appreciate automobiles, especially models from the past.

I used to dread or avoid downtown Vicksburg during the Old Car Festival. It is usually hot and humid, and I wondered how people could be so interested in these cars with sweat rolling down their faces and backs. And sitting by one’s collectable car all day in that heat? Unimaginable.

So, it has taken me a while to understand this commitment. Several years ago, we visited the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend. I entered with a good attitude because it was something my husband really wanted to do. I planned to appear interested in the hours it would take to walk and look at cars. I knew we would pause at every vehicle—read every plaque and sign.

But I loved it. The vehicles were stunning and painstakingly restored; the exteriors were flawless, the interiors pristine. Several exhibits presented prototypes and explained ground-breaking innovations and the extensive testing involved. That visit helped me understand auto enthusiasts’ passion for beautiful designs and engineering.

Nowadays, I look forward to visiting Vicksburg’s Old Car Festival in June. Next week, I’ll have my hat, water bottle, and new-found appreciation ready!

It’s a Fine Life


Jake and Vicki, servers at Rise N Dine, one of many local establishments who make hospitality one of the specials of the day.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Don’t we love neighbors welcoming us into their home? A server greeting us by name at our favorite restaurant? A friend approaching with a hug and smile?

The importance of hospitality and making everyone feel welcome is important and something my brothers and I learned at an early age.

My parents always taught us that how we treat people is important. That we never know the impact we might have on another person. That everyone is worthy of respect and, if the timing was right, a seat at our family’s table.

If someone stopped by to see us around supper time, my parents always extended a dinner invitation. There was never a whispered exchange or hesitation, it was a given, an automatic offer. We always seemed to have enough, and no one ever went away hungry.

My mother also believed in always having coffee and baked goods available—homemade was best, but store-bought cookies would do in a pinch—in case someone “stopped around.” Yes, people used to just “stop around,” especially on Sunday afternoons.

Often these were individuals from church, but sometimes they might be acquaintances we knew very casually. Occasionally, folks stopped with a station-wagon full of children—and maybe a dog—and we kids would spend a couple hours playing in the yard or showing them new piglets or some other farm curiosity.

This taught us a couple things: the importance of preparedness and including everyone in our activities.
I was lucky to have many people in my life who helped me feel valued and included.

The first time I had dinner at my future in-laws, Dad Forsythe insisted I call him Del, and said, ”Now I’ll fix you your first drink, but after that, you just help yourself.” I never required a second – his first was usually so stout my nose tingled. He was as generous with his pours as he was with his affection.

If I am making, for example, toast, and my husband is around, I always ask if he wants a piece, even though I know his answer will likely be “no thanks.” He rarely eats toast, and even though he has refused the offer time after time, the importance of this ask is etched in some part of my brain.

As I grew up, I learned that in other families, hospitality sometimes involved different food and drink, often determined by family customs and traditions.

And as we all reached adulthood and were raising children of our own, the stop-around-offerings at the farmhouse changed and began to include a beer or glass of wine, cheese and crackers, or even the occasional chips and salsa.

As I watch our two-year-old granddaughter stirring up some soup in her play kitchen, I see she is learning and practicing hosting skills early.

“Well, hi, Nana,” she says, “want some coffee?”

Or she talks to her doll or stuffed animals, “How ‘bout some pasta? Come in. Sit down.”

Oh, how I love that—the youngest generation practicing hospitality!

It’s a Fine Life.

Spring cleaning

A calf in fresh straw. Photo by Oswalt Family Farms.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Open the windows! Air the quilts! Wash the baseboards!

It’s that time of year for cleaning house and welcoming sweet spring.

Today, the wind has died, and we are burning the twigs and branches that dropped during the cold months, pulling old leaves out of fence corners, raking the remains of winter away. It feels good.

We remember several spring-cleaning jobs during our childhood.

In the house, Mom put us to work—her tiny fleet of Merry Maids—and we began in earnest, doing our best to channel that unlimited energy of childhood: I held a can of Pledge, sprayed a rag and attacked furniture; another washed woodwork with soapy water and a sponge; one of us squirted windows as high as could be reached and circled the panes with an old towel; the busiest brother ran the vacuum, cleaning behind and under chairs and couches; and the youngest picked up and put away toys.

While we were proud of our work, it was a short-lived, sweaty work session, lasting probably 30 frenzied minutes, before we lost enthusiasm and focus and were released to play outside.

On the farm, the barns and pens also needed spring cleaning. Old straw and manure were hauled away and fresh straw added. This was something we also helped with. Dad ran the “loader tractor,” a reliable John Deere with a front-end loading bucket, used for nearly every barnyard task. We tossed down fresh bales of straw from the upper barn story, cut away the twine holding the bales together, and worked to “shake down new bedding.” Dad loaded our manure spreader and applied its contents on the corn fields, adding important nutrients to the soil for the upcoming growing season. Like everything on a farm, tasks and activities cycle with the seasons.

Today, my house-cleaning enthusiasm is inconsistent: sometimes I determinedly open cupboards and closets and begin sorting and tossing; sometimes I arm myself with a long-handled duster to eliminate spiders who silently squat in corners with their quickly-spun webs; and sometimes I go to the basement to straighten the stored history of our life together—occasionally even parting with things I thought I needed to save.

I personally need some occasional spring cleaning, although as I age, I realize it’s not quite as easy as the Sunday-night-baths of our childhood, where we scrubbed our grimy selves clean and watched the murky bathwater circle and swirl down the drain.

It’s harder to let go of the dirt—the old grudges, the unproductive attitudes I harbor, the dust and filth that keep me from realizing my best self and life. Occasionally I need to push myself, to accept a different point of view, to consider and recognize I might not always be right.

We recently traveled some distance from home and stayed in a lovely Airbnb for nearly a week. We got away from the routines and responsibilities of every day, and we entered a different space, full of new sights and experiences.

We tried new foods. We rested. And we listened, clarified, and re-aligned our priorities.

We de-cluttered and did some relationship spring cleaning—recommitting and planning for our future.

It was an opportunity to refresh. To rejuvenate. To spring-clean.

It’s a Fine Life