Birthday Confabulations

I’m hitting a milestone this year, birthday-wise. I guess every birthday is a milestone, though. This one feels very much a mid-point.

Fifty-five, in case you are wondering.

I’ve been thinking about memorable birthdays from my past.

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Jill-Fest button

When I was turning 49, I decided to have a party instead of waiting until the big five-oh. As I talked with friends, we began to call it “Jill-Fest.” I made buttons. We ate at our favorite local Chicago-style pizzeria and had our favorite beverages. Friends from the various parts of my lives met each other for the first time:  quilters, church folks, university colleagues, neighbors, musicians. We had a great time!

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Choir concert

Many birthdays were spent performing in concerts or recitals. Both of our children were members of the local Children’s Choir, and I directed the youngest choir. Every few years, the last concert of the year would fall on my birthday. One year, the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to me. One year I had a university choir concert (I was the accompanist for two of the choirs) AND there was a Children’s Choir concert at the same time (different venue).

Another memorable year, I accompanied two talented students who sang for a vocal studio recital. They sang a hilarious song called “Tear Jerk.” (This video is not of our performance. I’m including it in case you want to watch a version of this very humorous duet.)

In 2006, I also played for my first ever full vocal recital (university level). I had three weeks to learn all the (very challenging) music for a 45 minute program. It went well and I went on to play MANY more in the following years.

 

For my 40th, I got to eat lunch with by three best friends in a Galena, IL at Vinny Vanucchi’s (a FABULOUS Italian restaurant) and then shop the quaint main street stores. I bought a sterling silver ring with a small stone (which fell out a few months later). They got me a bottle of wine (to share during lunch) and a stone for my garden.

Vinny Vannucchi's Italian Ristorante
Vinny’s in Galena, IL

Some years I had a “birthday week” or so.  I had a flexible schedule (working about 5 part-time music related jobs) so I had plenty of time for coffee chats, breakfasts and lunches with friends. So many good memories!

Simple family birthday celebrations are the most common through the years, though. We almost always have a cake or pie following a special meal of some sort (either home-cooked or “out”). When I was very young, we’d celebrate with Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and cousins. Middle school and high school years we celebrated with something sweet at school (cake or cupcakes) and maybe a pizza night (at home or “out”). Usually by the time my birthday rolls around, the trees are just beginning to grown their fresh green leaves, daffodils and tulips bloom, and the grass is growing again. When our children were small, we celebrated by going to the zoo or by taking  walk in the woods. I try to avoid cooking on my birthday if at all possible!

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John Jacobson’s America Sings!

When I was the music director at a small high school in Illinois, I spent my 27th birthday with my students at the very first America Sings! festival in Washington, DC. Everything except the cherry trees seemed to be in bloom. My eyes were red and I couldn’t wear my contacts. I’ll never forget the sound of thousands of singers singing “Love will be our home” with the White House to our right, the Washington Monument behind us, and the Lincoln Memorial in the distance ahead of us as the day melted into twilight.

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SJO HS music dept at the 1st America Sings! event in Washington, DC April 1989

On the bus ride back to the hotel, they sang the song again spontaneously, beautifully, a cappella. This was memorable because I usually have a no-singing rule on bus trips. (They tend to over sing and cause vocal stress; plus, it gets annoying!) We when got back to the hotel, we had cake and a little party to celebrate the event, the end of our trip and my birthday, too.

 

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HS swing choir yearbook photo

Way back when I was in high school, we had a swing choir performance scheduled on a Sunday evening (on my 17th birthday). I asked several of my friends to go shopping or whatever during the day. Everyone said they couldn’t or were busy. I felt sad and a bit hurt, thinking no one wanted to celebrate with me. THEN our choir director called an extra rehearsal for that afternoon (at his house, which was very odd). I was definitely NOT happy.

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Red roses with baby’s breath

I arrived at the house and wondered why I saw Carla Darr’s car there. She wasn’t in swing choir. SURPRISE! Yes. I was totally surprised. It was not a rehearsal! It was a surprise birthday party. I was shocked and SO pleased. After thinking no one cared, I had no doubt they DID care. (I love my friends!) I got my first dozen red roses from my BFF.

 

 

One year sometime in the early to mid 1990s, I spent my birthday at the AQS quilt show in Paducah, KY. Quilters all over the United States (and around the world) aspire to attend this event.

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AQS Quilt Week in Paducah, KY

The whole town of Paducah focuses on all things QUILTS for those few days at the end of April each year. To begin with, there is the main show with thousands of quilts on display and hundreds of vendor booths for shopping. Then, all around the town are other smaller quilt shows, fabric stores and art galleries — and of course, the fabulous Hancock’s of Paducah (fabric frenzy central). It is a quilter’s paradise.

Speaking of birthdays and shopping, we used to live in a town with a Bargain Nook.

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Bargain Nook sweaters

On your birthday you could get 50% off your total purchase (up to a certain amount, but usually it was $100 or even more). This store sold mostly Lands’ End items — returns, seconds, defectives, etc — but also other used items in good condition. I LOVE Lands’ End stuff. Because of this store, I could indulge my love of cashmere sweaters! (For instance I’ve bought them for a little as $10!) Even better, the proceeds from these stores benefit a community organization:  The Hodan Center. Including my town, there were four bargain nooks within a radius of about an hour’s drive. Some years I would go to all four stores!

It is the mission of Hodan Community Services to provide and promote opportunities for work and personal development so that persons with disabilities can achieve individual life goals.

The celebration today (so far) has included breakfast cooked by my husband (bacon and eggs), a nap, time to read and fiddle with facebook, talking to my mom, and coffee (also made by my husband). Tonight we’re going to eat sushi and then see the national tour of the musical “Chicago” which is playing here in Milwaukee.

 

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Easter Memories

As this day draws to a close, my mind wanders back through the years…

Easter when I was young meant a new dress, hair curled (with bristly rollers and a hot hair dryer on Saturday), gloves, hat, purse and maybe new shoes. We’d go to church with Aunt Helen.

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Fancy hats, purses, shoes and gloves.

We’d have an Easter egg hunt in the house. My sister and I each had a woven basket with a nest of green paper grass and filled with eggs we had colored the day before. We usually had some plastic eggs filled with candy, too.

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I also remember having delicate large decorated sugar eggs that were hollow inside with a peep-hole on one end to look at a spring-themed diorama inside.

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Sugar Easter Egg

Most years, we’d drive the hour or so to Grandma and Grandpa’s house where we’d have a big meal with cousins and Aunts and Uncles and look for Easter eggs out in the yard. I don’t have many specific food memories associated with Easter. Jelly beans, marshmallow peeps and chocolate rabbits were the main treats we had.

In later years, Easter day usually meant a long morning at church. As church organist/pianist, I often played for 3 or even 4 services on Easter morning. When my husband and I had small children of our own, we made special arrangements with the Easter Bunny to visit while we were away at church (since we didn’t have time before church usually).

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Easter egg hunting in the yard, Easter Sunday, 1998

We colored eggs every year often experimenting with new ways to decorate the shells — natural dyes, crayon batiks, rubber bands, ombre effects, etc.

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Easter Eggs

Holy Week holds very special memories of having our daughter. I wrote about this in another blog post, The Miracle of Grace. I am still in AWE of the miracle of her birth. Hallelujah! She was baptized on Easter Sunday.

Holy Week services have been an important part of my faith journey. I remember being moved to tears singing Ah, Holy Jesus in an 1800’s sanctuary on Good Friday. I remember singing in and directing Easter/Holy Week cantatas. Lent and Tenebrae services made more sense after we became Lutherans. I’ve attended a few Seder meals in the home of a Jewish friend and cherish those memories. There have been healing services and prayer vigils.

One year when our children were very young we visited my mom and dad for Easter weekend. After we came home from church, we found a tree in their yard decorated with plastic Easter eggs. There were other eggs hidden around their yard. It was quite a mystery because none of us had made arrangements for the Easter Bunny to visit us there. (We solved this mystery many years later when a neighbor admitted being the accomplice.)

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Easter Egg Tree

Our children are much older now (18 and 21). This year we didn’t even color eggs at all. We did indulge in some candy, though. I deeply enjoyed attending church together, all four of us since it such a rare event now that our oldest is away at college. The church we attend now has a tradition of singing the Hallelujah Chorus (from Messiah) at the end of the Easter morning services. Anyone in the congregation who would like to sing with the choir is invited to do so. My son and I both went up to sing. It was joyous.

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Hallelujah

Whatever your faith tradition, I hope we can agree that LOVE and CARING for each other are essential for living our lives together now and forever.

 

 

Remembering Violet

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Violet

Once upon a time in a small town in Indiana, a young man named Cecil married a young woman named Violet on July 10, 1926. A little more than two years later, Violet died in the fall of 1928 of consumption (tuberculosis) at the age of 22. Her burial took place at Woodlawn Cemetery in Warren, Indiana. The grave is marked with a simple, small grey tombstone with black lettering.

On Christmas Day of 1930, Cecil married Edith. They were married for over 66 years. My mother is their first-born of four children.

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Cecil

I’m Cecil and Edith’s grandchild. I’ve been doing family history research for a little over a year now, though I’ve been interested in family stories and connections for much longer than that.

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Decoration Day

My mom refers to Memorial Day as Decoration Day. She isn’t alone in this tradition. My Dad’s relatives have a tradition of decorating family graves for Memorial Day. This usually happens on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend or a few days before that. Many relatives are buried in just a few cemeteries within a short driving distance. Sometimes there are several cars moving in a caravan from place to place; sometimes there are just one or two cars. Each family grave stone is cleaned. Weeds are pulled. Live flowers are planted or planters hung from hooks. Silk flowers are stuck into the ground. Photos are taken. We often end up at a local restaurant for a fun family lunch afterward.

We missed the decorating day this year, but my mom and I made the trip to Woodlawn on Saturday anyway. We had arranged to meet a couple of cousins there.

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Dale Schwob, 1909 – 1923 Woodlawn Cemetery Warren, IN

Mom and I happened to park near Violet’s grave. She is buried next to Grandpa’s brother who died of influenza at the age of 17 just a few years before Violet’s death. We have many relatives buried in that area of the cemetery.

Our cousins arrived and we stood talking for several minutes. As we chatted, I noticed a man and a woman walking from a car parked some distance away. They seemed to be making their way directly toward Violet’s grave.

Sure enough, they stopped right in front of her grave marker.

I couldn’t resist asking if they were related to Violet.

The woman looked at me intently and said, “Why are you asking?”

I replied that my grandfather had been married to Violet when she died.

The woman was flabbergasted. Her father was Violet’s brother; Violet had been her first cousin.

I pointed to my mother and said, “Cecil’s daughter is right over there.”

Mom and our cousins came over and everyone got introduced to each other. The woman, Leilani, and Mom had quite a conversation, and shared several reminiscences. They talked about Naomi who was the sole surviving person from that earlier generation. I remembered some of Leilani’s Aunts and Uncles. We had often gone with them and with my Grandparents on fishing vacations at cottages in northern Michigan.

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Mom and Leilani, talking near Violet’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery in Warren, IN.

I asked if Leilani had a photo of Violet. She said no but she would love to have one. I told her I had one and would be very happy to send it to her. Mom asked Leilani if she had any photos of her parents that she could share in return. She readily agreed. We exchanged addresses and promised to send the items soon.

I didn’t hear about “Grandpa’s first wife” until about 30 years ago. Grandpa was in the hospital and I was visiting my Grandmother at her home. She casually mentioned her concern that Grandpa might want to be buried by his first wife instead of beside her. I was shocked and speechless for a few moments. I had no idea he had been married before! My Grandparents had been happily married since 1930 and no one had EVER mentioned a previous marriage or anyone named Violet.

I quietly asked her a few questions. They were young. She was pretty. Her name was Violet. She was a Yount. She died of consumption. They didn’t have any children. She and Grandpa met a few years later and the rest, as they say, is history.

I assured Grandma that I was sure he would want to be buried next to her, not Violet.

So that is why the Yount family has always been close to Mom’s family. I thought they were just friends. The reason was much deeper — they were related by a long ago marriage that ended tragically.

I can’t help thinking — If Violet hadn’t died, my mother would not have been born and by extension, neither would I.

88 years after her death, I’m thankful Violet is remembered and her memory is honored by her family.  I’m thankful for the encounter we had in the cemetery near her grave, discovering relatives in common after so many years.

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Cecil and Violet, marriage certificate July 10, 1926.

 

 

 

Be a good neighbor.

Milwaukee River image by TTQ cc
Milwaukee River image by TTQ cc

Be a good neighbor — Re-visited one year later.

Today is the one year anniversary of my first regular post on The Tromp Queen blog.  Click on “Be a good neighbor” here or above to read that post.

(The VERY first one was called “Apparently I can be talked into starting a blog but I don’t really count that one since it was mostly just an announcement of my presence and intentions).

It is also the two-year anniversary of my dad’s death.

I wrote a post about my dad last May as I contemplated Father’s Day without Dad.  The post is “Missing Dad.”

A year later — I’ve written 140 blog posts as The Tromp Queen.  I have 200 followers here.  I’ve made new friends and have enjoyed this whole blogosphere more than I ever imagined.  I recently started a recipe blog, called The Heat is ON!  My family endured a year cram packed with changes.  New job, new city, new home, new schools, new neighbors — new practically everything.

Some things never change.  I still miss Dad, and I always will.  The events of that day and the week after feel simultaneously quite recent and a long time ago.

Thank YOU for reading, commenting, following and most of all for caring.  I hope you’ll continue to hang around for rest of the journey.

It means more to me than you know.

Tears of Joy (Happy Happy Joy Joy Daily Prompt)

When was the last time you cried tears of joy?

The last time I remember crying tears of joy was not that long ago.  I recently took our 17-year-old son, a junior in HS, to his very first away from home campus visit.  The college we visited was my alma mater, Wheaton College in Wheaton , Illinois.  In fact, my husband, his father, and I all graduated from this college so our son would be a third generation student there.  It is a liberal arts Christian college that is highly selective and has an excellent reputation as not only an educational institution but also as a Conservatory of Music.

I dropped my son off with his campus host and then wandered off to stroll down memory lane.  I visited several buildings that held very dear memories — my first dorm room there (in Smith Hall), the main stairway of the oldest building on campus (Blanchard Hall) where I had my last class ever before graduation there as well as one of my very favorite classes ever, the Conservatory building where I spent many, many hours practicing/studying/going to classes, and finally Pierce Chapel  where the women’s choir rehearsed.

I was extremely surprised and excited to see my “old” choir director, Dr. Mary Hopper, there in the Pierce Chapel rehearsal space getting things set up to do a clinic with a visiting HS women’s choir.  She gave me a quick hug and a hello, and we shared a few speedy reminiscences.  I exclaimed over how much more beautiful the space is now than it was when I was a student there.  The stage had been refurbished with a new floor, new paint, new stage curtains, new risers, etc.  It looked fabulous.

In a few minutes a large group of young women arrived.  As they started to sing a round for their warmup (Jubilate Deo by Praetorius) tears started to fill my eyes.  Memories came flooding back of the hours I spent singing in that space with the wonderful women in Women’s Chorale with our very talented director.  My mind filled with memories of concerts, Christmas Festivals, of tours throughout many US states, one overseas tour in several European countries, memories of songs and emotions, and of the SOUND of women’s voices singing beautifully together.

I listened and enjoyed the lovely music and memories.

More tears of joy flowed just a little later that day.

As a Christian college, Wheaton has always had required chapel attendance on certain days of the week.  The whole student body gathers in Edman Chapel.  On this campus connection day, we heard from a very special guest — the author of a new book about C.S. LewisAlister McGrathhttp://alistermcgrath.weebly.com/

As the students stood for the invocation (and again for the benediction) tears sprang to my eyes.  Again, I was reminded of many exceptional speakers, singing hymns (with a pipe organ and 2000 people who can sing!), and of many concerts sung in that lovely chapel.  I remembered the very first time I walked into Edman Chapel.  I had a very strong feeling that this was where I belonged.  I very strong sense of “home.”

This day happened to be the day my family had to make a huge decision about whether or not to accept a new job offer that would cause us to move across the state to a new city after living in the same place for 17 years.  I believe that being in this place on this day helped me immensely with this decision.  I felt the presence of God here as a student and I felt it again there this day as an adult, a mother, an alumnae.  I was reminded of the very strong foundation of faith, learning and personal growth I acquired not only at Wheaton but in every stage and in every major decision in my live.  I walked by faith then, and I still do.

The tears helped me remember that.

Jubilate deo.  Sing Joy to God!  Amen.

Aside:  Wheaton College is home to the Wade Collection.  http://www.wheaton.edu/wadecenter/Welcome/Museum  Permanent pieces on display in the museum include: a wardrobe owned by C.S. Lewis, desks and pens belonging to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, bookshelves from Charles Williams, the eyeglasses of Dorothy L. Sayers, and Owen Barfield‘s chess set and pipe.

My son now thinks everyone at Wheaton is obsessed with C.S. Lewis because of the Wade Collection museum, the chapel speaker, and my fascination with Lewis’s writings.  Oh, well.

Writing this reminded me of a few other very memorable events with tears of joy.  I will write about those soon.

Daily Prompt Tears of Joy