Monday, April 13, 2020

Slowing Down

Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, I've been in almost daily contact with my sister Kristi who is a nurse at a local hospital. The emotional and mental toll of preparing for a pandemic is taxing to her and other front line health care workers, even though right now her hospital has a few COVID cases and many empty beds waiting for a wave of patients. Hopefully that wave doesn't come — Minnesota has experienced fewer cases than neighboring states and has done a great job of using social distancing and other tools to keep infection rates down.

She and I were commenting on an interesting phenomenon that's occurring through all of this. Currently she has a standing weekly video conference chat with a group of friends from her years living in Indiana, and another weekly chat with her high school classmates who are scattered across multiple time zones. These are friends who see each other once every few years, even though they still consider themselves close.

She also initiated a video call with relatives from our dad's side of the family, people we enjoy seeing very much but do so only every couple of years. My close group of local friends are gathering every week; previously we were lucky to get together once a month.

We joked that both of our social calendars are now busier than they were before, even though everything is happening online and not in-person. Which begs the question...

Why weren't we doing these things before?

Video-conferencing has been around for years, easy-to-use, cheap and effective. Yet we've never done a video conference chat with our extended family, nor she with her high school classmates.

The difference is that now, in these troubling times, everyone is realizing that the most important things in life aren't things. Each of us has been forced to slow down our lives, to stop scurrying from activity to activity, and to take time to breathe. All of our friends who are much busier than us, with multiple kids in multiple activities plus their own functions to attend to, suddenly have nowhere to go and nothing to do. What better time to check in with friends whom we think of often but speak to rarely!

Honestly, this little pause in life has been a rare gift. Our family eats every meal together, but instead of rushing off to finish homework or work on a project, we sit around after the meal and talk. We tell funny stories to each other and laugh. Oh my, how we've been laughing! Such a treat.

I hope that when this is all over, when we can go about our lives without fear of making each other sick, that we remember these moments and cherish them. And, I hope, we continue to make room in our lives for the people who matter the most.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Your Input Requested: A preview, Kind Of

Taken summer 1989, 3 months after high school graduation.

What follows is an except for the start of my memoir. It's not really *my* memoir, is that of Paul Gilles, 1971-1992. I would so greatly appreciate your input on this format. We are moving through time, from the 1990's through present day. Does that work? Would you read on? Let me know. And I am so grateful for your honest feedback.

12/18/90 Random Dream

A couple nights ago I had a strange dream. The setting was an old farm or some type of rural building. I was there with an older man, possibly the owner. He was somehow shot and killed and I was shocked by his death. However, this wasn’t the main part of the dream, as that happened quickly at the beginning.

The burial was the appalling part of the dream. His body, no casket or coffin, was lowered by two ropes into a grave which was filled with water. He was bloated and white, but once under the water he took on a greenish cast. They took the ropes out from under him, causing his body to roll in the water. A dirty glass was placed over him and planks were nailed over the glass, spaced apart so you could still see his body. His body floated up to the glass, pressed against it in a desperate way as if trying to escape. Then I woke up.

Good beginning to a diary, isn’t it?

Hindsight: A Little Background

Here’s where you’re dropping in: It’s 1990. I am 19 years old, living in St. Cloud, Minnesota, during my sophomore year of college. My parents moved around a lot when I was younger, but when I was in the 6th grade we moved to Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, a place I will call my hometown the rest of my life. Since my family expected my sister and I to go to a four-year college, I made plans to go to college somewhere as far away as home as possible without being too expensive. Far enough that it was a pain-in-the-ass to drive, 9 hours one way, but not so far that you needed to buy a plane ticket because we didn’t have the money for that. It was also a state school in Minnesota that had reciprocity with Wisconsin. I couldn’t go to an in-state college for cheaper. And, since my parents divorced when I was in high school, I figured the cheaper the better, because I would end up footing this bill. Eventually.

The divorce, my childhood, my being in a different school every year from 3rd through 6th grades, is a different story. Back to the story at hand.

My high school years were spent in a small town in a small school. Which means that I never dated anyone from my high school. My romances were always summer romances, discovered on the shores of Lake Michigan with boys from Sheboygan North or South, two high schools from the larger city nearby. We often met at the beginning of summer and broke up once school started. I was far too busy for romance during the school year. Plus, I didn’t want the drama of ever having dated anyone from my own school and the awkwardness that happens after you date and break up, so I never dated anyone in my school. Okay, once. But…he was the exception. Regardless, I spent my high school years in happy geekhood, spending time in the band room practicing my saxophone, or in the theatre, or as a part of the speech team, the ultimate geekiness in high school. I couldn't care less, I loved high school. 

Paul and I probably met in middle school band, I honestly don’t remember when. He played trumpet, I played saxophone. I remember him during our band trip to Florida my junior year. He was quirky, quiet, and made me laugh a lot. After that we probably talked a little during band practice, and he was in my advanced math class and helped me a lot because math wasn’t my thing, but otherwise we didn’t talk outside of school. I knew absolutely nothing about his family, his background, his growing up, except for who he was at the time.

Until. Until.

A week before our high school graduation our yearbooks were delivered, and the senior class had a party at the local park to sign each other’s yearbooks and share memories. I wanted to have him sign my yearbook so I approached him while he sat among his friends, all lean, muscular boys who were on the cross-country team with him. He wrote something like, “We should go to ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ together this summer,” or something like that. I took that as an invitation, and about a week after graduation I called him and asked when we should go see the movie. We set a date and that was the beginning.

That summer, we did everything together. We went to movies, we hung out in the ways that only teens can hang out, doing nothing but everything at the same time. We laughed together. Hard. We watched “Monty Python” episodes and movies, something he was trying to introduce me to but I really wasn’t getting the humor. We went to a Brewers baseball game in Milwaukee with a group of friends, who having not seen us since graduation, saw us together and said, “Wait, are you two together?!”

By fall we were madly in love. And I was bound for St. Cloud, Minnesota, 9 hours away, and he was bound for Sheboygan Technical College 10 minutes away from our hometown, which was cheap and saved him money on room and board.


Thursday, April 02, 2020

The 90th Birthday Celebration from Afar

Yessss queen!

"Visiting" with Sherrie during Coronavirus lockdown.
 My mother-in-law, Millie Horsman, turned 90 years old today. She is such a gem, I always enjoy my time visiting with her!

Unfortunately our family get-together to celebrate her birthday was canceled, due to the Covid-19 pandemic currently keeping all of us apart. But the lead up to today was made special by the dozens and dozens of cards sent to her by family and friends and friends of friends! She said that nearly every surface of her apartment is covered in cards and getting the mail has been an absolute treat every day for the past several weeks.

At her congregational home they aren't being allowed to gather for cards and games, but she spent the day chatting with the many people who called.

Millie has led a remarkable and fascinating life. She grew up on a farm with her seven siblings and her parents. When she was in high school she informed her parents that she was going to go to college. No one in her family had been to college, and none of her siblings had plans to go. Her brothers complained to their parents, "Don't let her go, all she's going to do is get married and have babies." But she insisted and in 1948 went off to Mankato College. She didn't own a car, and when she needed to get back to the farm during the school year she and a friend would hitchhike rides back to home. I thought that was very courageous of her, she thought it was just practical because her parents weren't going to drive all the way to Mankato to pick her up, and as long as she and a girlfriend were together, they felt that it would all work out.
Millie loved spending time with all her grandkids.
Here she is with toddler Lindsey.

While in school she worked at the front desk of one of the dorms, checking in and out the girls as they came and went in the evenings. She was paid 45 cents an hour — boys who held the same job at other dorms were paid 65 cents an hour. Millie inquired as to why girls were paid so much less than boys and was informed that since boys foot the bill to take girls out on dates, that they got paid more. That seemed to make sense to her, so she didn't ask any more questions about it.

She married her sweetheart, Neil, in 1954 and began her career teaching. As her brothers predicted, she did indeed have a family, and a rather large one at that. She had four children in 5 years, all in a home that did not yet have indoor plumbing. (She did go on to have one more, another 10 years down the road). When her youngest of the first 4 children turned 5, she decided it was time to go back to work, and so she did. She taught elementary school in Tracy, Minnesota the remainder of her career, retiring at the age of 67. Unlike her brothers' predictions, she did indeed have a job, one that influenced thousands of children over the years, leading to many good memories of Mrs. Horsman by her former students.

Millie and Neil walking in Central Park, NYC, 2005
She tells the most incredible stories of her life, of learning how to bake bread at age 9 because she was upset her sister Clara got to do it and she didn't know how yet, of picking raspberries one summer with her sister and saving up the money so they could buy a piano together. There's a photo of her kitchen sink with a big cardboard sign on it that says "1961" — that was the year they got running water in the house and she didn't have to use the hand pump anymore. She is incredibly unconventional in having an education when women of her generation — especially women in rural farm towns — never went to college.
Millie's 81st birthday in 2011 with many of their grandkids and great-grandkids (but not all).

Laurie, Mark, Millie and Kathy, 2017
Hopefully we will be able to re-schedule this gathering after we can be together without the fear of making each other sick. In the meantime, happy happy 90th birthday, Millie!