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Contemplating the Do-Over–Part 2

It’s been almost a year since I did this the first time.

One year since Orlando and I finished a week of prayer and fasting with the conclusion that we were going to pack up our tents and move to Nebraska. And the next six months of that decision, chronicled so well in this blog, were a whirlwind of tiny pieces and bits of what it took us to make that move. All the conversations and goodbyes and boxes and miles. All the contortions our hearts made as we left our home and friends and lives. All the anxiety mixed with all the hope and dreams of things to come.

And now we’ve been here on the plains for six months. And the firestorm of endings and preparations gave way to the gradual work of building a life. Our life. Our new life. And as simple a concept as that may be, the work of it has been quite challenging.

It’s a different world here. I knew that, of course, before coming and you knew that because I told you. But it’s an amazing thing to live in a place where people stay. I’ve met person after person who have lived right here in this small, Nebraska town their entire lives. Or at least have lived nearby. (I’ve lived so many places I can scarcely count them all.) And although there are plenty of people who seem to come and go, it is this strong core of “lifers” that actually create the community as I know it. A small, tight community. They’re committed to this place and their way of life, and sometimes it feels as though they are watching to see if we’re committed, too. And waiting to see if we will become part of them.

And slowly, slowly, slowly we move closer to them. And slowly, slowly, slowly they let us.

Now for someone like me, who is much more inclined to burst into a room and yell “Ta Da!” at the world, this slow dance can be a little maddening. But I understand it’s importance. These are people who stay. Their children will be friends with my sons from now until college. We will sit next to each other at potlucks, basketball games, and banquets for the next decade. And because they stay, they need to know we’re for real. They need to know we mean what we say. They need to know we’re worth their trust.

And that puts us just about where I thought we’d be the first time I contemplated the do-over.

So I guess we’re on schedule.

The Grid

When I met Orlando, everybody called him “Lanny.”

Maybe some of you still do and if you do that’s not a big deal to him. But somewhere early in our marriage he asked me to call him Orlando. It is, after all, his given name and he would prefer to use it. So I obliged and now “Lanny” is a name I seldom, if ever, use. And the result, after 15 years of doing it, is that a lot of people only know him as Orlando. It’s a name we’ve grown used to. Until recently, I kind of forgot I ever had to work at switching.

But here in Milford it does cause some consternation.

First of all I should tell you that when I meet people in Milford, the first order of business is their plotting me on the grid. The map. The Milford family tree. It’s impossible to know somebody here without knowing “who they’re with” (Godfather reference intended). It’s important to them. It’s not like those of us from the crowded coasts who meet people every single day that come from nowhere or everywhere. Here, people have an origin. A heritage. To know me is to know where I fit.

So when we meet, they consider me with a pleasant expression and say, “Okay, so you’re a Roth. Who is your husband?”

“Orlando,” I reply.

I watch as a strange look comes over their faces. “Orlando?” they puzzle. “Orlando? Who are his parents?”

“Milt and Wilma,” I answer. “You know, the ones who owned the restaurant.”

“Oh right! Wow, do we miss that place! And they have a son named Orlando?” I watch as the person mentally ticks through the family members, one by one, until….

“Oh, you mean Lanny!”

“Right,” I say.

And without a doubt, one of the following statements will emerge:

“I went to high school with Lanny.” “I’ve know Lanny since I was a little kid.” “Lanny and I used to be in the same Sunday School class.” And the ever famous, “Lanny is my second cousin.”

And then the person and I will small talk for a little while.  I try feverishly to remember the name of this person and they succeed in nailing my place in on the grid. The exchange making them comfortable in knowing where I fit, and even helps them infer several key pieces of information about me without even having to dig for it. Knowing Lanny  means they know me.

But does it?

Well, yes, to one extent it does. To know Lanny means to know I must be a committed Christian. He wouldn’t have married anyone else. And it also means that I probably hold to his values: strong family, education, hard work. All true–I value those things. And I admire my husband more than I can say for how he lives out those values in the real world. But is that it? Is that all there is to know about me?

Well of course it isn’t. The rest is a mystery to be unraveled. It would be as much of a mistake for the good people of Milford to assume that Lanny and I are identical as it would be for me to assume that they are all identical. Or defined by their places on the grid. It might send you in the right direction, but in the end we become the people we choose to become.

And I think that’s part of the reason that I am married to Orlando and not Lanny. He’s been away from here a long time. Has changed and grown and been refined by experience and the intervention of a loving God. He’s a teacher, a husband, a father.  And he’s a man, not a boy.

I guess that makes both of us a mystery. Who is this masked man? And who is his wife?

And that’s with or without the grid.

A Haze of Purple Glory

It’s amazing to me how quickly my boys have caught on the local scene. The common thread that unites every Nebraskan from the lights of Omaha to the powder of the sand dunes to the trees at Arbor Lodge. The pastime that defies seasons and almost showed up on the state quarter. Don’t know yet? Let me help you out:

Football.

A couple of weeks ago we took the boys to see the local high school football team–the Milford Eagles–in their first home game. I should tell you that football is not a new thing for us. We have taken the boys to see at least one high school football game every year since they were toddlers–Orlando always felt it was his duty as a teacher to show up to such events, plus the football coach in Lititz was his friend and we enjoyed going out to support him. And we’ve always been Nebraska Huskers fans, so it’s not like the boys have never seen a football game or watched us cheer on our teams. So why now, all of a sudden, have we been struck with football fever?

It all began a few Friday’s ago when the boys got in the van after school. Everyone filing out of the school building was wearing purple and my socially savvy Anthony had taken note. “Mom,” he said,” We should get Milford Eagles shirts. We are Milford Eagles now, you know.”  “I’ll work on it.” was all I said, but it dawned on me that this is their first experience actually going to school in the town they live in and they were wanting to be a part of the community of Milford Eagles fans. I took that as a good sign and logged into my memory the need to find some purple shirts.

Later that evening we were sitting in the stands behind the band. We were all jazzed up by the inflatable Eagle Man and the boom of the snare drums.  Then came the kickoff and the Milford Eagles lined up along the sidelines in front of us. It was Nicholas who noticed it first. “Hey Mom, there’s a guy down there wearing a shirt that says ‘N Roth.’ That’s just like me! I’m ‘N Roth,’ too!”  And before you knew it, we had identified an N Roth, T Roth, B Roth, and Z Roth on the field in front of us.

As the game went on, it became obvious to all of us that Z Roth was quite a football player. It seemed like on every other play “The ball was carried by Z Roth for a total of umpteen yards.” My in-laws and their friends started murmuring, “That Z is some player.” “Is he only a junior? Really?” “Wow, he can kick the ball, too?” His dad must be proud.”

His dad? Finally it dawned on me to ask Orlando about Z Roth and his teammates, and as it turns out, Z’s dad is Orlando’s cousin. Our closest neighbor. His roosters wake us up every morning. And N Roth is his brother, also our neighbor. And T and B Roth are also cousins.

“Z. Roth is our second cousin? And he’s our neighbor?” They boys were shocked, amazed. Could not believe their good fortune at being related to not only one, but a whole line of football players.” Anthony immediately declared the news to the second grader sitting in the stands in front of us. “What?” said the boy. “Didn’t you just move here? That’s so cool!”  And in that moment  Z Roth and his teammates were elevated to rock-star-status. Cooler than cool. Milford Eagles–the thing to be.

And now my boys want to be football players. All of them. Not that they would ever abandon their love of baseball, instead they have added this to the repertoire of things they want to do. “You know, Mom, in Milford third graders can play flag football.” “You know, Mom, we’re allowed to play football on the playground.” “You know, Mom, they make football helmets for kids–maybe I could get one for Christmas?” And of course Anthony, with his theological summary of the situation: “You know, Mom, I’m a big guy. We’re all big guys. Maybe God made us big to play football.”

“Maybe.” I said.

But I can see it. The Milford Eagles lining up on the sidelines with B Roth, A Roth, N Roth, and D Roth standing in a row. A band of brothers all carrying the ball in a haze of purple, football glory. It’s the stuff little boy dreams are made of.

And who knows? It could happen.

Maybe.

Proud fans

 

The Inflatable Eagle

 

Sidelines

 

Retroblog: Thank God I’m a Country Boy

Dearest Blog Readers: After a six-week blog hiatus caused by the lack of working internet service in the faraway fields of Nebraska, I am now officially online and ready to roll from Big Red. I’m going to start out with a few “retroblogs,” written over the last six weeks and stored away here in my computer. I hope you enjoy catching up with us!

July 22, 2011

First thing in the morning, after snuggling in my lap for a few minutes dressed in his basketball pajamas, Nicholas looked up at me and asked the defining question of the day:

“Mommy, are we farm boys now?”

“Of course!” I told him, and truthfully although they are really only farm boys-in-training, they’re certainly off to a good start. We spent the day working in the state approved job—cornhusking. This spring Milt planted twelve long rows of sweet corn and this week it was ready to go. Right after breakfast, before the temperatures reached the promised 115 degree heat index, Orlando and Milt walked through the rows twisting off the corn while the boys and I played bucket brigade, exchanging their full buckets of corn for empty ones and then loading the ears into the bucket of the tractor. Then we went over to the trees and husked and husked and husked some more. They kids and I husked the corn, Wilma and Orlando’s sister Janell and her husband brushed off the silk, Milt cut off the yucky parts, and Orlando cooked off the stuff in a huge iron pot suspended over an open fire. I have never seen so much corn in my life. It took all of us—six adults and seven children, four and half hours to get it all cleaned and cooked. And for the kiddos, the job was done. Time for lunch.

But for the rest of us, the day had just begun!

We had to get it off the cob. Another five hours of cutting and bagging while the corn sprayed and splashed all over—my shirt was actually stiff from the homegrown corn starch. I felt a little silly being my age and having never done this before, but I’m pretty good with a knife and seemed to catch on well enough. Afterward my hands were cramped and I think it took my back an hour to straighten out the crooked position it took on so I could cut the corn at the counter. But when all was said and done and we spread the corn out in the freezers to cool, we had 62 bags of corn. There’s nothing like looking at stuff like this. Most of the work we do is momentary—I do the dishes now and I’ll do them again later. But in just a few days we stocked up 130 bags of corn– food that I’m going to use again and again for the next year. It does my heart good to work at something that I can actually see.

But yet one thing remained to do–clean up and get rid of the cobs and husks. So we loaded the leftovers back into the tractor and got ready to haul them off to feed to neighboring cows. Milt’s brother Arnold has a field nearby, so Milt hitched up the hay wagon to the tractor so the children could go with him out to the pasture. Orlando and I went along for the ride—I was again struck by the beauty of the fields and meadows of this place—rolling and rugged and in some places, unbelievably green. I sang old John Denver songs while riding along to road—it just seemed appropriate to me. When we reached the pasture, Milt jumped off the tractor and moved what appeared to be a single wire acting as a fence. We continued down the road and encountered the herd of cows.

Now truthfully I have seen a million cows in my life up till now. Pennsylvania is full of them and I drove by field after field of them for years. However, I have never actually been in the field with the herd before, and that was a different experience entirely.

As soon as we drove in the cows looked up at us and started running—right toward us! Soon these enormous black cows were swarming around the tractor and trailer, coming close enough to try to take a bite out of the hay we were sitting on. Alarmed, the boys and I thought we were going to be flattened for sure, but just at that moment Orlando jumped off the trailer and started to direct these huge animals around. He walked right through them, pushing them and shooing them and moving them to the husks and cobs we’d brought for them. He looked really small out there with all that future beef, but not the least bit concerned. He knew just what to do.

And for a moment I was again amazed at all that the man I married is. One moment he is the consummate professional who has schools lining up to hire him. The next he is a gentle daddy hugging and tickling his sons. And now another reality surfaces. He is, in fact, a farm boy. He is completely in his element here with all the cows and the corn and the tractors. Happy and free with his hands in the dirt.

Just the guy I need to bring up these little farm boys-in-training.

Country Boys

Hitting the Water

Today is July 21, 2011.  It is Nicholas’s seventh birthday. And as much as we are thrilled for our little boy and his seven candles, it was what happened yesterday that has us truly rejoicing.

Orlando was hired to teach in Lincoln. Finally.

Okay, so it took a bit longer than we expected, but he was offered two jobs and took the one at the school that he really, really wanted to be part of this entire time. The school he had worked for previously in Nebraska. A school that had just one job opening this year. A position they were happy to give him and he was honored to accept.  God truly had his hand in this because believe it or not, the timing was just about perfect.  I think our entire family heaved a collective sigh of relief upon hearing the news.

Through the whole adventure I’ll admit not allowing myself the luxury of considering a Plan B. I didn’t want to even begin to think of how we would restore the  life in Pennsylvania we so neatly dismantled to come here. But when the word finally came and the reality of our move was finalized, I had to take a moment to catch my breath. Wow, I thought, we’re really not going back. And for just a second I was struck with all those mixed feelings of loss and joy that have so marked the journey here. It felt like we jumped to take the plunge so long ago, but even after the long way down, the shock of hitting the water was still, well, a shock.

So here we are. Residents of Milford, Nebraska. Population 2052. So on our first day of being real residents, the boys and I went to town and did the right thing: we applied for a library card. And tomorrow, the search for an internet connection on the farm begins. Can’t do the blog from the library forever!

And tomorrow we figure out how to get our stuff from there to here in the next week. Orlando begins his new job on August 2!

More later friends. Thanks for your patience with the sporatic blogging. I promise to catch you when I’m connected.

Sweet, Sweet Home

It’s amazing how days just roll by here. So much, and so little, has happened it’s hard to know where to begin. Suffice it to say the farm in the summertime is a hopping place.

Really.

Last Monday morning we woke up to our first Nebraska morning. Cooler than I thought it would be but far from actually being cool, our first day was spent primarily in the sour cherry trees out in the orchard. Completely full of ripe fruit and not able to wait another day, the six of us stood on ladders and large buckets picking and picking and picking until we were all soaking wet and sticky with juice. With so many buckets of newly picked cherries, the only thing to do next was to pit them all. Sitting on the deck getting stickier still, I was once again captured by the quiet of the place. Peaceful. Tranquil. The breeze stirring the trees. A far-off tractor. The boys laughing off in the barn. It was enough peace to silence even the clamor that occurs in my own head.  Usually, when faced with a mundane chore like pitting cherries, I plug in my iPod to create rhythm and a quicker pace. Not here. I wouldn’t dream of interrupting the soothing sound of the place itself. And the clock isn’t running either so there’s nothing to be gained by rushing.

And so we spent our first days: picking from the garden, mowing the yards, planning what to do next. The boys were thrilled to catch a glimpse of the only kitten to be born this year on the farm. “Sparky,” as Milt named her, is just a tiny fuzzy, black thing with huge eyes. It only took us a day of hand feeding her to get her to a place where we could pet her. And now, almost a week later, she’s tame enough to pick up, cuddles up against us when we sit outside, follows us when we walk away from her. The boys are smitten with her. The fish we carted from Pennsylvania largely forgotten–except by Nicholas who still checks in on them daily.

On Saturday Orlando’s family began to arrive. It’s a tradition for he and his sisters to gather at the farm for the Fourth of July. As his sisters and their families trickled in, the house filled with kids and dogs and general chaos. Of course I’m used to it—we do this every year. And of course we all visited the local fireworks trailer to pick out rockets and sparklers for the holiday. And of course we made meals for twenty plus people and tried to squeeze them all around a single table. And of course we went to the pool to cool off from the heat that crested 100 degrees on the garage thermometer. And of course, when the day came, we went into Seward, the neighboring town and self-proclaimed “Fourth of July City” for all the festivities. We watched local pilots turn their tricks in the airshow, run by local crop dusters and pilots who love to wow the hometown crowd with their courage. We browsed the quilts and art at the huge craft show, complete with any kind of Go Big Red ware you could possibly want. We waved to the horsemen and antique tractor riders and clowns and politicians and Czech queens in the local parade, standing with the crowd as the flag passed and giving a standing ovation to every single serviceman who walked by. Patriotism in its most honest, purest form. And of course we enjoyed a cookout complete with watermelon and homemade ice cream.

But the best part came later. We gathered the boys in the van and drove back into Seward for the fireworks display. Of course it’s a busy place so we had to leave the van several blocks away from the park where they blast the things. As we walked through the neighborhood, true to Nebraska tradition, every home was shooting off fireworks of their own. And they weren’t little either. The boys’ eyes were as wide as saucers and we walked through a veritable war zone of sky rockets and roman candles and artillery. The boomers clashing and spraying sparks overhead, it was both exhilarating and frightening. And beautiful. Even in my adult knowing that shooting fireworks from the middle of the street while cars drive by isn’t a smart thing, I must admit that it was cooler than cool to walk through the canopy of colored sparks and sprays.

But then, sitting on a blanket in the beautiful evening air, we sat together with the boys as the “real” fireworks burst overhead with every color and fizzle imaginable. They “ooohed” and “aahhed” with the crowd, snuggled closer for the really loud booms, and came away sleepy and content, feeling like they’d just lived through the “best day ever.”

And as we drove down the country road and the lights of the farm came into view, it was Dominick in the back seat, sleepy-eyed but watchful, who declared, “There it is! I can see it! Sweet, sweet home!”

And Orlando turned to me and smiled.

So we’re off to a good start. And even with the uncertainty of Orlando’s job and whether or not we get to stay or go, the sweetness of our new home and faith in the One who sent us is building within us. And for now, that’s enough.

Picking cherries

Nicholas and Dominick watching the tractors go by

The Midwest's smallest airport--in other words, that plane landed on top of that Suburban

Sparky

A Preview of Coming Attractions

After a brief hiatus, I return with to the Big Red Blog with apologies for my unexpected absence.

I must admit, I thought the start of my first week as an ex-pastor would begin on a far different note from the one it began on. Benjamin fell prey to the stomach flu on Saturday and took the rest of us down with him in the next couple of days. Each of the boys, of course,  bounced back within twenty four hours. I, on the other hand, took days and days to recover. I am definitely too old to be throwing up, and that’s about all I have to say about it. You should certainly be glad I chose NOT to write about it.

On a happier note, dear Milton and Wilma, my in-laws, landed at our house on Friday. They came for “Grandparent Day” at the boys’ school, as well as to help us with the arduous and seemingly endless task of sorting and packing. Because of the plague at our house, they were delayed in coming and we actually saw them for the first time at the school for the Grandparent Day festivities. Dominick and I crept into the school gym during the breakfast part of that event to see if we could catch of peek of them.. And when we found the two of them in the crowd, you should have seen the sudden light come on in that little boy’s eyes. Instantly the hugest grin came over his face and he gave out this awestruck “It’s Grandma and Grandpa!” exclamation. Almost as if he couldn’t believe they were actually here in the flesh. Truthfully I have never seen a happier child.

But Dominick wasn’t the only one.  Each boy, in turn, had the opportunity to show their grandparents around their classroom and do little projects with them. They were so proud to have them in their little worlds. And for me, it was sweet to watch. With their grandparents living so far away, I know they’ve missed this kind of thing in their lives to this point. They’ve lived through several Grandparent Days before now, but either I’ve ended up playing Grandma or we artfully maneuvered our schedule in such a way as to miss the event entirely. But with Milt and Wilma here, the day took a whole new turn for them. Just like Dominick, they all lit up in their presence. They were honored to show them off to their teachers and friends.   These are our grandparents, our family. We go together. 

And for me it was simply more assurance. More confirmation that this move will be such a good thing for our boys and for us as a family. There’s something to this mixing of the generations that simply goes beyond words. I love watching Milt and Wilma’s godly influence on our children and seeing the boys watch their “faith in action” way of walking through life. I guess that’s why the Bible teaches so strongly that we are to pass down our faith from generation to generation. There’s something profound in it.

And of course now that Grandma and Grandpa are here, Orlando and I have been demoted to the position of chopped liver. We have to have the boys systematically take turns at the table sitting by them, in the car driving with them. I found Grandma in the backyard playing wiffle ball, dodging balls that Nicholas and Benjamin  “smashed.”I caught Grandpa climbing up into a pirate ship play set at the request of Anthony. And Dominick, well, he just keeps following them around with that great big grin on his face, taking every opportunity to sit on an empty lap and giggle. Just too thrilled to stop smiling. When I say, “Do you want to go with me?” the first question I get is “Are Grandma and Grandpa going?”

A preview of coming attractions, all coming soon to a farm in Nebraska. And wow, does it make me smile!