Mary Beth Writes

Last Saturday, while Racine endured one of The Blizzards of the Century, my family managed to miss nearly the whole thing. (We did get to experience that enterprise called shoveling the driveway.)

We were lollygagging our time away with friends Dave, Mary, Colin and Michael at their cabin near Chippewa Falls. I see humor in how we "escaped" bad weather by going 300 miles further north than here. As a Chicago friend once commented to me, "You're kidding! There is something further north than Racine, Wisconsin?"

Thirteen of us jammed their compact, one family cabin. Six were kids under age 14 and the rest weren't all that mature either. By Saturday it was time to find something to do that didn't require a lawyer or a referee. (Have you ever witnessed three boys try to arrange their own ping-pong tournament?) Dave and his folks remembered Perkinstown, a place in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest, where there is a tubing hill.

The day was snowy, winds were blowing, the radio mentioned slippery driving conditions. Then one kid bopped another on the head with breakfast toast. We clambered into cars and chugged out.

An hour later we pulled into the parking lot of the Perkinstown Winter Sports Area. My son, who'd been riding with his buddies, ran over to me. His eyes were shining. "Whoa, Mom! Did you see the size of that hill? This is awesome. Thanks so much for bringing us here, this is gonna be so cool."

Outbursts of unsolicited manners always make me nervous. I glanced up at the hill. Big. Real big. Too big for a middle-aged person who really, really hates twisted ankles and sprained wrists. I have faint and distant memories of skiing when I was a youth. It was always fun until I fell.

Tubing is an oddly homey and Midwestern pastime. It's basically skiing while laying down. All you need is a high hill; inner tubes for sliding down the hill; some old car stuff - a motor, a tire, some spokes and a strong rope for making the tow rope to haul you back up, and a bunch of restless kids with parents who don't want to play any more rummy, thank you very much.

Before you can say "weather related heart attack" I was climbing the hundred or so steps to the top of the hill. There was that tow rope, of course, but I've never been a big fan of jumping onto moving things. A teenage employee, stationed half way up the hill to make sure folks on the rope didn't act stupid or get tangled, smiled at me.

I huffed cheerily at him, "Do all the mothers walk up?"

He laughed politely, "Usually just once."

The view from the top of the hill was, well, high. I contemplated all those tiny people way down at the bottom. I listened to the wind blowing through pine trees around me. I contemplated how my body felt good, whole, strong. I wondered if I could hold on to this feeling in the months of recuperation that could lie ahead. I pondered, as I often do, why childbirth isn't enough. Why, if you are a fairly good parent, you so frequently have to dive into other weird and treacherous stuff you don't want to do.

I had no answers so I sighed and slowly, deliberately pushed myself over the brink of my own mortality. There was a mighty whoosh. Clouds of snow flew up. I heard maniacal shrieks. I recognized them as my own.

An eternity later I was very far out in the field at the bottom of the hill. There was snow down my pants and up my nose. There was snow packed between my glasses and my eyes. My heart was racing, I was laughing so hard that my hat, also jammed with snow, fell off.

My husband came over to pull me up. "Are you all right?"

I slapped the snow off my eyebrows. "Perfect. Want to go again?"

I took the tow rope the second time. By the end of the afternoon the rope guy and I were best friends.

My kids got cold and went in to the warming lodge. I did, too, but I was back out on the hill before they were. The second time they got cold, I didn't. I just kept flopping on the tow, scooting to the top, joy riding back down. Sometimes I'd hang on to others in our party, we'd spin and swirl down the hill.

The kids loved to go down the hill with adults. "You guys are nice and heavy so we bounce higher and go further."

It was a good day to be ballast.

******************

A friend asked me if I had a relaxing time with my family over the holidays. I laughed a little too hard.

"Relaxing? Not really. Fun? Let me tell you about tubing!"

******************

One of the nice things about being an adult is that after awhile, we know who we are. We know what we care about and what bores us. We know what we like to wear, eat, and drive. We know what's easy for us, what's scary. It's a relief to have these kinds of decisions about our individual styles and personalities settled. It frees us up to live our lives.

But there is that odd little phrase we all use from time to time. "I surprised myself."

It's a delight to discover there are still new surprises, odd joys, funny adventures into which we may fall. I guess it's worth risking our dignity and our ankles to fall off a hill into wonder.

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Interview with a Mother - Mary Helena's Empty Arms

The last interview at the Nativity Scene. This one has only become more poignant with time. Mary Helena still lives in Racine these 12 years later - and if you choose to say anything kind to her in the comments, i can get those remarks to her for you.

Blessings on us all as we move into theis year's celebration of birth and love. 

Written 2005

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An Interview with a Traveler from Afar - Far Places & Strange Sights

From: December 17, 2005                          

As we trek ontowards Christmas we are encountering characters suggested by the traditional Christmas story; a shepherd who's actually a local dairy farmer, an innkeeper who manages a hotel on Durand. 

And now we meet a wise man traveling from afar.

 ...

When I met Eddie Jirgensen, who works for Merchant's Moving and Storage, the first thing he asked was, "You're not gonna say I'm a wise man, right?"

I said I'd call him a traveler.

He sighed his relief. 

What's Up at the Inn?

Part 2 of the 4-part series of interviews at the Nativity Scene

This was written December 10, 2005

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 Let’s meet "innkeeper" Monica Hanson.  Monica, who is manager at the local Microtel Inn and Suites, is slight, has warm brown eyes, and smiles when I address her as an innkeeper.  She's just Lutheran enough to get the joke.

I ask her why she picked this career.

An Interview with a Shepherd (Actually, he's a Dairy Farmer)

In the next few days, as we slide into Christmas, I am going to reprint four interviews I wrote for the Racine Journal Times, years ago.  

From December 3, 2005

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Perhaps you've heard the story that goes with this season.  It includes in its cast of characters; some shepherds, an innkeeper, travelers from afar, and a young mother. These persons are acclaimed for their endurance, compassion, and wisdom. I'm going to talk with some local persons who are the above - shepherd, innkeeper, traveler, and mother - to see what these characters might say to us today.

Peace Makers' Freedom Train / 1984

This is my first published writing. It appeared in 1984 in The Other Side, a social-activist evangelical publication based in Philadelphia, PA.

The Other Side was similar to and friends with Sojourners, a community of evangelical social activists based in Washington DC.  If you have ever heard Jim Wallis on NPR, or read any of his books, he is one of the founders of this small but influential slant of modern Christianity. Sojourners started in the Chicago area; I knew some of those good people decades ago.

Rites of Passage; They Pop Up Everywhere

First published: August 23, 2003

I have a lot going on lately; some professional stuff about my career, some financial things I should sit down and figure out.  My oldest child is moving away to begin college next week.  My youngest starts middle school the week after.  There are several things I should be doing towards world peace and justice, plus, I can't remember if we gave the cats their flea medicine this month.  That last thing won't be trivial if we forgot.

I decided I needed to get organized.  I made a list of things to do and people to call. 

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