Category Archives: Growing Up In Iowa

Growing Up in the Midwest


Storytelling Breathes Life into the Past

The oral story allows for growth and freshness every time it is told. Sadly, the oral tradition does gradually wane. The written story puts an experience in concrete that carries the potential to live as long as books are read or heard. I believe I am keeping my family alive through the writing of their stories and mine.

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Our life is a series of moments. They follow one after another in endless succession. A series of moments make an experience. It is fair to say that most moments are hardly discernable and seldom processed. Brief experiences only provide a small effect on our life and are then filed in our subconscious and eventually forgotten. However, important transformational experiences impact our life in one way or another in terms of who we are as a person. As Sue Monk Kidd wrote in the Secret Life of Bees, “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” The sum of our experiences determines who we are.

We begin to understand why we act the way we act when we retrace our life to identify transformational moments and how we responded to them. It is like walking backward with a personal characteristic in hand trying to find the place or moment where we picked it up. Transitional moments can be negative experiences such as the premature loss of a parent that drove us into a responsibility for our family that we certainly didn’t want or expect. Or, on the positive side, they can be the special attention given by a teacher that birthed our positive self-concept. Every moment carries the potential for a positive or negative impact upon life, but only a few really make dramatic and immediate changes. Most of my writing focuses on such transitions whether serious or humorous.

Growing Up in the Midwest


 

The Birth of the Taradiddle

My father started the story-telling tradition for our clan. He actually gave birth to what I would call a taradiddle, even though he never used the term. Most of his narratives came straight out of the humorous realities from his life. He replayed them time and again whenever he had a willing audience. And like most stories, over time, Dad’s stories grew. From childhood, Dad amazed us with his recollection of playing against the Harlem Globetrotters in the 1930’s in Yarmouth, Iowa. I never thought to question Dad’s thrill of a lifetime; after all if he said it, it must be the truth. People began to question the veracity of his story and that ticked me off. So, I set out to document his claim. I am still looking, but I have found enough circumstantial evidence to keep his recollection leaning strongly to truth rather than fiction.

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The Globetrotter’s began their march to fame in Chicago in 1926 when Abe Saperstein formed a team of black basketball stars named the “Savoy Big Five.” My dad was nine years old at the time. The first team included people like Bill “Ham” Watson and Walter “Toots” Wright. The team name was changed to the Harlem New York Globetrotters and began touring to seek worthy opponents. They arrived in a Model “T” Ford in Hinckley, Illinois, for their debut game in 1927 in front of 300 fans. The total game payout was $75. From there they toured Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa into the 1930’s and gained more and more credibility and fame. They played their 1,000th game in 1934, meaning they played approximately 120 games a year in a variety of cities and small towns in the mid-west. It is a strong possibility that one of those small towns was Yarmouth, and if so, Dad would have been at the front of the line to play. He would have been seventeen and in the prime of his high school basketball career. In May of 2012 I asked Uncle Major, my dad’s brother, (age 95) if he had any recollection of the Globetrotters in Yarmouth. And, without blinking he said, “Yeah, I remember them smoking cigarettes and eating candy bars in our school lunchroom as they waited for the game.” Why all those weird details unless it really registered in his vivid memory.

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My dad stuck with that story until one year before his death when he kicked it up a notch and began to say, “You know the Globetrotters tried to get me to go on the road with them.” He lost me there…but the first edition still intrigues me and causes me to wonder. Dad wasn’t interested at that point in telling his history, he focused on the “story.” How do you separate the truth from the fiction as a biographical writer? You cannot do that completely! You can only demythologize your memories to the limit of your desire to keep your story honest. Dad was a great storyteller, but he was a greater man.

Growing Up in the Midwest


Thug Can Be Only Skin Deep

Dad taught me with his thoughtfulness that a woman loves to receive flowers, wants to be pampered, and desires both closeness and space. He may not have bought many flowers during a more than fifty-year romance, but certainly brought Mom a lot of wild ones. Those deep purple winged violets and root beer brown and deep yellow daisies brought a loving pause to Mom’s busy meal preparations for an unpredictable number of friends and workers.

Dad had incredibly good taste in selecting the prettiest woman in the county. He was a small town boy—a very, very ornery one. The following photo makes him look a bit like a thug. But, then, like father like son. The next picture was taken of me taken 28 years later.

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Growing Up in the Midwest


 

My Dad Was One of the Best

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My father had a real sharp eye for the unusual. He could be cultivating on a tractor and spot a small arrowhead between the cornrows that some Native American had lost while hunting years and years ago. He would walk across the lawn and suddenly stop to reach down and pick a four-leaf clover that he always saved for my mom. He could see a morel mushroom while others saw only grass and dead leaves. I asked him how he did those things and he said something profound, “Look for something that isn’t like everything else. Look for what shouldn’t be there.” I would learn later that with a little adaptation that insight would help my fictional writing. The key to writing is the ability and willingness to see what isn’t or shouldn’t be there.

Dad was a hardcore romantic. He loved to sing to my mother. One song always caught my attention–“Can I Canoe You Down the River?” Here are full lyrics.

“Can I canoe you up the river

Can I canoe you up the stream

Can I canoe you up the river

Like I did in last night’s dream

 

We’ll drift a moment in the moonlight

I’ll fish for little things to say

And with the help of Mr. Moonlight

Maybe you’ll see things my way

 

I tried to tell you how I care

But never made the grade

Now things might change if I could have

A setting for my serenade

 

So, can I canoe you up the river

I’ll be as nice as I can be

And hope that while we’re up the river

You’ll go overboard for me”

Relieved


A Boy Does What a Boy Has to Do!

You are nine years old. You are playing a little league baseball game in the visitor’s area of the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant near Middletown, Iowa. You stand in pain in right field waiting for the end of the fourth inning. A crisis looms just below your belt. No bathrooms exist within site. Your mind races for a solution. No large trees or storage building can be seen. You cannot hold this growing problem for another hour or more. What should the fellow do?

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Finally a viable creative idea yells, “Let it rip.” I decided I would just go ahead and alleviate my pain, await the last out of the inning, run at lightening speed to the bench, pick up the water bucket, and “accidentally” pour it over my entire body effectively erasing any tell tale signs of wetting my pants. Relief, sweet relief! Oh, the kids laughed at my clumsiness but they never knew the rest of the story.

 

via Daily Prompt: Relieved

Growing Up in the Midwest


The Importance of Making Correct Decisions

I learned three basic tenets to guide my decision-making. First, I leaned heavily on the teaching and example of my parents. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Second, I learned the steps of the scientific method. I learned to identify a problem, identify all possible solutions, try the best option, and use trial and error to finally decide upon the best solution. Third, I learned more about the mandates for happiness and right living in the Old and New Testament. That wisdom straightened my path and heightened my discernment between good and evil. Pragmatism and spirituality combined to offer me the tools for dependable answers to problems.

 

Growing Up in the Midwest


Remembering My Parents

“Parents are the ultimate role models for children. Every word, movement and action has an effect. No other person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than the parent.” Bob Keeshan

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I keep getting images of my parents, Robert and Marilee Beryle Fleenor Watkins, as I survey their farm. Children should revere their father and mother. It is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” That was always easy for me. Mom and Dad made me proud and thankful for their wisdom, perseverance, faith, and constancy. We had a few conflicts along the way, but their paths willingly became my paths. Seldom did I have any reason to question their parental judgment.

I received ample space to make small decisions as a child. Success brought positive reinforcement and failure was answered with interpretation and instruction. This living through the ups and downs of experience brought mounds of wisdom. Consequences became a master teacher. Every year my parents expanded the parameters for more difficult decisions.