April showers

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

It is true that “April showers bring May flowers.” How we all look forward to those early daffodils, crocuses, and tulips. Their hopeful, fragile tips are stretching and surfacing in our gardens.

And our moods are lifted by the eventual sight of flowering shrubs and trees decorating yards, wildflowers adorning area roads, and dogwoods brightening edges of Michigan woods.
But when you live on a farm, April showers bring mud.

Mud on boots. Mud tracked into the house. Mud up the back steps. Mud clinging to clothes. Mud in the barnyards.

Everywhere mud, mud, mud!

In the late 1960s, our 4th grade class took a field trip to the “Conserv-A-Rama,” a program for elementary-aged kids where we learned about the water cycle and soil erosion. Mr. Dick Bailey offered hands on activities, demonstrating these interesting ideas at the Kellogg Biological Station.

When we returned home, my brothers and I applied these concepts as we played in the mud around the barns, digging tiny trenches to connect the various puddles, watching water run from one miniature pond to another, imaging the eventual emptying into the sea.

We relished mud: the slurping of our boots as we trudged and explored; our boot prints filling with water behind us; our experimental handprints; the mud pies and cakes slapped and shaped in whatever container we could find; and our happy presentation of the sloppy creations to one another.

“Here you go! It’s delicious!” or “Happy birthday, brother! I baked this for you!”

At the end of the day, we were incredibly dirty and satisfied with our unsupervised adventures. After those April showers and our uninterrupted play, our mother met as at the back door, firmly directing us to remove our boots and outer layers.

Eventually, our parents included a “mudroom” when they renovated our farmhouse. After we children had been outside, or our dad came in from his farm work and chores, we each had spots to hang our coats and place our boots. This sure was a wise and practical addition.

After raising three children—and operating a daycare when our children were young – a mudroom would have been wonderful. Like most tri-levels built in the 1960s, after outside play, our children stepped into our kitchen, where I was usually busy with meal preparation. Our little ones kicked off their boots, their little faces grimy and full of joy.

Mudrooms are still popular today. These spaces are showcased in design magazines, and you can find pictures of them on home renovation websites.

I hope children who live in these featured homes in the glossy magazines get good and muddy.

I hope they need and use a mudroom!

There are things I miss about living on the farm: the quietness of the evenings and the sunrise over the fields. I miss the planting and harvesting traditions and living so close to the land.

And sometimes, yes, I even miss the mud.

It’s a Fine Life.

Getting away

The shade of these old trees was one of my getaway places.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Everyone needs some space – a reprieve from the people or routines that fill our days.

When I was a child, I regularly sought time apart from my four little brothers. These were simple places: the coolness of the barn, the branches of the old maple, a favorite rock at the side of a field – all free and readily available to me. Once there, it didn’t take me long to regain an appropriate attitude and some degree of affection for my ever-present family. But I found such time necessary and still do.

My classroom of friends at Fulton Elementary School never spoke of vacations or spring break trips. Most of these children also lived on farms – or at least lived rurally with some chickens and pigs. Our livelihood depended on the careful monitoring, feeding, and watering of our livestock and the timely preparation of the land for spring planting. If my friends did take any trips, it was probably to spend time with grandparents or cousins.

But when I was in 5th grade, my parents planned a spring break trip to the Smoky Mountains. It was to involve lots of riding in the station wagon and overnight stays in motels with indoor swimming pools. We were so excited we could hardly sleep. The morning of our departure, we were loaded in the old Mercury – with a rumble seat in the back; our new comic books tucked beside us, and my mother’s tote bag filled with snacks and other tricks to distract us.

My brother Steve made one last run into the house to retrieve his pillow, fell from the top bunk, and broke his wrist badly, ending our trip before it even began. It took several months for 11-year-old-me to forgive him, and even then, it was with attitude only a big-bossy-sister can bestow.

When our youngest was five, our kids avoided injury, and we took our children to the Great Smoky Mountains and Mammoth Cave National Parks. We visited and toured both places and enjoyed the gorgeous mountain views from a condo we rented. This was our first – and only – official vacation besides our annual cabin visit in July. The time away and together was fantastic.

On our way home, we asked our three tired travelers their favorite part of the trip. As the children discussed their ideas, I recalled the beautiful wildlife in the Smoky Mountains, the purple and lavender sunrises from our condo’s balcony, the stalactites and stalagmites in the depths of the cave. There were so many moments to choose from.

Our oldest daughter piped up, “The best part was riding the go-carts!” to which her younger siblings enthusiastically and unanimously agreed, “Yeah, that was the best!”

My husband and I looked at each other and laughed! We didn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to ride go-carts and play miniature golf!

This one spring break adventure with our own children reinforced what my husband and I already knew: it doesn’t have to be a big expenditure or expensive travel to satisfy the need for a vacation and some much-needed time away. It can be as simple as pitching a tent in the backyard for an evening around a fire beneath the stars; turning off our electronics and playing old-fashioned board games with our children or grandchildren; or spending the afternoon in the hammock lost in books.

It’s a Fine Life.

Powering through with positivity

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

We are all weary—tired of this persistent virus, of quarantines and distancing, and of ongoing divisiveness and negativity. It is easy to feel discouraged. Our “positive-attitude-reserves” might be running low, but we sure need them more than ever during these winter months and this Omicron surge.

I remember feeling discouraged when I was growing up: struggling with a concept in a class, experiencing a conflict with a friend, or just facing a disappointment of some kind. Through our daily life, my brothers and I learned to look beyond the challenge, trusting that it would pass.

If frost nipped the early, tender shoots of corn, “Well, that happens, we will figure it out.” If cattle prices or commodity prices tanked, “This won’t last. It never does.” If one of us was cut from a team or didn’t get some position we wanted, “I’m sorry. With more practice, you will get it next time.”

In education, they call what our parents taught us “a growth mindset”: the belief that improvement is possible–it might take time, but success can happen.

Who knew it even had a name?

We were also lucky to know and interact with many positivity-pushers in our community.

Mercer Munn is an example of a positive force during our formative years. He cared deeply about people. And most notably for my brothers and me, he cared about teenagers, which many adults find challenging. He took countless carloads of kids to Tiger ball games. I bet he even bought the ticket and a hotdog if one of his passengers didn’t have the money. He also gave to the community of his resources to help those in need, tirelessly promoting community projects. Vicksburg’s athletic facility is named in his honor, and a Rotary Club award bears his name.

Lori Hardy demonstrated a determined, intentional positivity when she worked with young children and their parents at the Vicksburg United Methodist Church’s cooperative preschool. She chirped like a chickadee, calling her tiny charges “Little Friends,” rewarding good behavior with kind words—and an occasional mini-marshmallow. She skillfully corralled the non-conformists, reminding them firmly—but sweetly—of the expectations. Lori could find something reassuring to say to parents, even regarding the most difficult child. “Isn’t it wonderful that he knows what he wants?” or “She is going to grow up to be so confident!” She penned many notes and letters of encouragement. She was an inspiration. “Lori Land” in the southern end of Clark Park was constructed in her honor and is now a reminder of her kindness.

Mr. Fred Rogers said, “Look for the helpers,” providing a lesson of comfort. When in a crisis, or when we are concerned, Mr. Rogers gave direction, assuring children that helpers are there.

We forget that sometimes.

“Look for the helpers”: those folks who shine a light of hope during hard times with their selfless acts or kind words, folks who give of the time and resources to make a difference.

They’ve always been here, and they always will be.

It’s a Fine Life.