Solid Ground


Solid Ground

One does not grow up in southern Iowa without learning the sense of the soil. It is its own universe, giving root and life and potential, only to be plowed, prepared and planted for the next growing season. Nothing remains. Everything returns. So it was the soil that caught my attention last weekend as my sister Marilyn and I drove north from Des Moines to Fort Dodge.

The corn was tall, long green-leaf flags flying, brilliant blue sky above and diamond-black dirt below. My plane had circled the Iowa State Fairgrounds three times before descending, long enough to remember walking the midway with Marilyn Snook Walker in the 60s, recalling a campfire conversation with Doris Alley Pollock in the 70s and wondering if Marvin Eugene Tuttle was working the show arenas at that moment, grin on face and shovel in hand.

I had come home to help, in some small way, complete what needed to be done at Mom’s apartment. Marilyn and Bob had done the heavy lifting—heart, soul and body—and some piece of me knew this weekend was pure grace. Having shouldered that mystical mantle of carrying the Thompson family forward, my older sister had carved out a long weekend from a demanding schedule so we—she, my younger sister Sue and I—could be in one place, at one time, to sort, sift and move on.

We drew numbers for the coal-oil lamps: no coincidence that Mom had reserved four. We drew deep breaths on finding swatches of our Grandmother Atwell’s wedding dress from 1901 and her funeral dress from 1970. We drew strength from a thousand clues that we had come from a couple that loved each other passionately for nearly 70 years.

The second afternoon, my cell phone rang with a call from our brother Gary, recovering in a rehabilitation unit following a serious fall. Each sister took a turn, bringing his spirit into our space, laughing about buckeyes and pictures and small surprises. Marilyn spoke last, assuring him that Mom and Dad ultimately wanted only one thing: that our family would continue as family.

There is no question in my mind.

We stand on solid ground.



“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.” ~Vince Lombardi

Today is the Super Bowl. All Denver is betting on a Bronco victory. But I am thinking of Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Polly Davis and Dennis Fetters. And how the significance of an event changes–and doesn’t–with time.

For on January 14, 1968, when Super Bowl II was about to be televised from the Orange Bowl in Miami, I convinced my new boyfriend and sports fanatic Dennis Fetters he should skip the game and attend Polly Davis’ Rainbow Girl installation with me in Seymour. And wear a tie.

Polly was a sterling friend–smart, witty and with a world view uncommon to our time and place. She was clearly her parents’ daughter. The Davis family published our local paper, The Seymour Herald, and did so superbly. As a senior-year co-editor of The Pepper (that’s the high school newspaper that continues to occupy prime real estate in the Herald today), I gained insights into journalism and publishing that still serve me. I saw my first linotype being poured. Edited real galley proofs. Learned how metal plates created stories and images that could keep families in touch and a community united.

But back to the game. The NFL champion Green Bay Packers would defeat the AFL Oakland Raiders, 33–14. Meanwhile, I would watch those beautiful Rainbow Girls–several of whom I still delight in calling my friends–float through the second-floor Eastern Star hall in their pastel gowns. And Dennis would moan for the remainder of our short relationship about the sacrifice.

Polly, Dennis and Vince Lombardi have passed. Bart Starr is 80. So I’m guessing he will be watching today’s battle. I will be as well, for at least a few minutes.

And I will be remembering sterling friends.


louise4 copy 2_fotor

“I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.”
Maya Angelou

My friend Susan and I have decided we were raised by the same parents, despite the fact she grew up a solo kid in Summersville, West Virginia, and I one of four in Promise City, Iowa. For when we compare notes–on family, food, discipline, and the belief that school and hard work were as sacred as church–many memories run in sweet parallel.

Our dads were solid, humble, quiet men who knew heart and soul they had married the most beautiful women in the world. Both could build mansions out of matchsticks. And those women…oh, those women. Lovely and loving…but with spines as steely as their smiles were warm. If you were their children, you learned early that “the look” was a line you dared not cross. And if you were neighbors and friends…or the friends of their neighbors or their neighbors’ friends’ neighbors…you were always welcome in their homes and at their tables.

Susan’s mom, Mary Louise McClung, died just hours after this new year arrived. I asked if I might share some of the obituary here. One woman wrote on the Legacy page where it was posted that she “happened onto it by accident and wished with all her heart” she could have known Louise. I wish she could have, too. For she was something.

Distance kept me from attending Louise’s memorial service. But in one of those serendipitous ways the Universe has of telling us all is well and proceeding as it should be, my daughter…and her daughter…could. She told me Susan had shared part of the following that day. I’m so glad.

“Hearts across time and terrain felt the loss of Louise , for in her life, she mended countless. An earthly moon to which people were drawn like the tide, her quiet humanity and attentive ear were warm blankets of comfort. She was a guardian of secrets; consoler of the troubled; healer of hurt; protector of the weak; and the queen of offering a second chance. She and the love of her life, Gale. met on a streetcar in New Orleans during WWII, stepping off the trolley into 64 years of marriage in the beautiful hills of West Virginia. She prized no one more. Among legacies to her daughter Susan are a funny nose, dogged determination, an attitude when called for and a heart easily stirred; between the two was edgy tenderness that found its way into a completely shatterproof bond of love.”

Just one more thing: Wherever you are, Louise, you raised an amazing daughter.



“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.” ~Barbara Kingsolver

Yesterday afternoon, a dozen or so friends and I gathered to see our futures. No crystal ball. Just scissors and glue sticks, stacks of magazines and poster boards. Plus enough inquisitive support about what was calling us in 2014–and why–to make for interesting conversation.

Several of us have been creating vision boards for some time…and with more-than-coincidental outcomes. Mine in 1998 featured an older man holding a chocolate Lab puppy. Met the puppy that fall and the guy the next spring. Four years ago, a Subaru Forester was on the page. Sitting in my garage.

Some of the success stories shared involved meeting the right people at the right time, realizing that an experience “matched” the picture placed on a board in the past…and understanding that when you ask the Universe for something, you’d better be specific or have a good sense of humor.

The boards that left my basement workshop carried visions of greater fitness, better health, expanded creativity, meaningful relationships and small, sweet wishes. Together, we marked 2014 as not only the Year of the Horse, but the Year of (Re)Engagement, the Year of French Journal Journeys, the Year of Family, the Year of Righteous Work, The Year of Beach Living, and more.

This is as close to magic as I know. And I believe our blessing each others’ desires multiplies that energy in ways beyond our understanding.

Care to share what you’re envisioning?

all those Iowa farmwives


“There were times, especially when I was traveling for ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ when, I swear to God, I would feel this weight of my female ancestors, all those Swedish farmwives from beyond the grave who were like, ‘Go! Go to Naples! Eat more pizza! Go to India, ride an elephant! Do it! Swim in the Indian Ocean. Read those books. Learn a language.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth felt the weight.

I feel the nudges.

And sometimes, when I’m second-guessing myself on whether or not to take a chance, I sense the voices of the female ancestors who preceded me.

Gentle encouragement from Grandma Atwell, whose longest physical journey was to the panhandle of neighboring Nebraska. Tacit approval from Grandma Thompson, who traveled to visit relatives in Arkansas at every opportunity, and passed while on one of those trips. Unequivocal (but highly vocal!) support from Aunt Lois, whose words I have heard loud and clear at some of the most difficult choice-points in my life, many long after her death in 1976.

They all say, Go!

“Take the risk. If you fail, you have family who will support you. They have before. We have before.”

What’s changing, these days, is that my processing encompasses five generations and 125 years of dreaming more for our daughters.

I hope with all my heart that, some day, my older grandgirl will take a deep breath and a bold plunge and journey to a place far beyond what she once perceived as her limits.  I revel that her little sister will view the world around her and know that the so-frightening barrier between where she stands and where she needs to be is surmountable.

And I’m guessing, wherever they are and wherever I am, these grandgirls, too, will hear that chorus of Iowa farmwives–and one Colorado copywriter–cheering them on.

That’s my starting point this first day of 2014. Standing on that threshold between what was and what’s next with immense gratitude for the lives gracing both sides. Wondering what’s ahead. And who’s beyond.