Saturday, August 22, 2009

The fall after my summer

Summer inevitably fades and changing colors of leaves announce the promise of their fall. My summer has ended. Distracted by vibrant colors I forgot about the promise they represent. I have taken a fall. I feel like a single leaf caught in a drift of wind, making its way to the ground. All I want is to be hanging from the tip of a tree again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Road Trip Home

I am not good at goodbyes. Leaving Iowa was much harder than I had
anticipated. Both JoAnn and I refused to face my quickly approaching
departure, in the last days we spent together. But the events that
took place those last few days perfectly wrapped up my summer: namely
the homemade sugar cookies that JoAnn made for our viewing of the old
State Fair we watched for “research” the day before we attended the
actual state fair. Then after our visit to the fair (which was much
different than the movie) we took a pizza over to Rose’s house.

Rose is a good friend of JoAnn’s and a complete blast to be around.
The three of us completed a difficult 1000-piece puzzle that Rose had
been working on since last December. We quickly found out why it was
taking her so long to finish, as she repeatedly shoved pieces into
places they did not fit, and left them for me and JoAnn to correct.
When it was finally complete, we sat out on the porch where, for the
last time, I listened to the sounds of Iowa, as I looked out over a
cornfield that was covered with the glow of lightening bugs. We
briefly expressed our fortuitous friendship, then called it a night—my
last night.

As I packed my truck up the next morning, JoAnn set a pile of things
on the console of my truck to send home with me: The leftover
cookies, a cookbook from the Iowa Master Farm Homemakers, and a
scrapbook that she had put together for me, recapping our many
experiences together. To avoid tears, I waited till later that night
to go through the book. I said goodbye to the kitty that JoAnn
started calling Cali, in hopes it would make the trip back to
California with me. The tears that were in JoAnn’s eyes as I hugged
her nearly sent tears streaming down my own cheeks. But I refrained.
That is, until I turned out of their dirt driveway onto the road where
I had to face the reality that I was leaving this place for good.

I quickly reminded myself of what lies ahead, turned up the radio,
rolled down the windows and headed for Oklahoma City with a smile and
growing excitement. Frequent text messages from Luke along the way,
eased the pain of the growing distance between me and Iowa, as I felt
part of it was coming along with me.

I spent two nights in Oklahoma City with one of the world’s strongest
women and a distant cousin of mine, Miss Melba Jane. She has endured
some of the toughest struggles in her life, yet she holds herself
together, and pursues each day with a smile and a heart full of
kindness to share with everyone she encounters. She took me to the
Oklahoma City bombing memorial, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar, the
National Cowboy Museum, and my great-grandmother’s gravesite. She
drove me down the streets of Oklahoma City where my grandmother grew
up, pointing out locations of special interest to our family history.

As we drove the crowded streets, I saw them through the eyes of
Grandma Luddie, as a young child. From the stories she’s told, she
was six years old when Great-Grandma Drussy died during childbirth
with Grandma’s youngest sister. After a struggle with the government
to maintain custody of his children, Papa raised his children alone.
After leaving specific instructions with grandma, he would head off to
work during the day. Grandma would grip the hand of her younger
brother and would walk him into the city where they would go
window-shopping, against Papa’s will. She would tell Uncle Obie to
pick out a pair of shoes and she would point to the one’s she was
going to buy, then, empty-handed, they would cross back over the river
and make it home before Papa.

It was good to be able to see the place that Grandma speaks so fondly
of, though I know the Oklahoma City I experienced was completely
different than the one in her memories. I gained a deeper
understanding of my heritage that night, as Melba and I looked through
hundreds of photos and she shared many untold stories with me. The
next day, I started down Route 66, with yet another batch of Miss
Melba’s homemade cookies, banana nut bread, an empty journal and a
stack of family photographs she had sent with me. My next stop, aside
from the occasional photograph opportunities I took: Albuquerque.

My stay here has been extended, on account of bad planning. But it
has turned out to be a very enjoyable stay. My friend Angie has been
here on a communications internship for the summer and it has been so
nice getting to catch up with her. As we pursue the same ambition, it
is very interesting to be able to track each of our paths to
achievement and our different experiences along the way. Angie has
done such a great job and I am so proud of her. It is encouraging to
be surrounded by such strong friends. I am so glad it has worked out
for us to spend this time together before we each head home!

My days have been spent leisurely reading by the pool, writing,
eating, and listening to music…all of my favorite things. It’s been
nice having the down time before I head back to the rat race I will
have to face in Fresno. At night, Angie and I enjoy each other’s
company eating, drinking, talking and watching movies. But I will be
leaving in the morning…

…Viva Las Vegas!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Easy Come, Easy Go


I am paying my final visits to those I have come to know and love out here, this week. I moved out of my apartment the day before my week-long stay in Texas and into JoAnn’s home, where she has kindly invited me to stay my last few days in the great state of Iowa. There is no better word to describe what I am facing now, than “bittersweet.” As I leave the place I have grown to love, and reminisce about all of the fun times and great memories I’ve had and wonderful people I’ve met, I am reminded that I will be returning home to beloved friends and family that I will get to share all of these experiences with. I am so looking forward to holding my newborn nephew, Wyatt, for the first time; my dog, Posse, knocking me down when he sees me; Toledos, Jimbo’s, Luna’s, Woody’s, Cattleman’s, Logan’s Fat Jacks and Dog House; Mom and Dad’s cooking; sitting at the kitchen table with my parents and sharing with them over a cup of coffee the details about my summer; hugs and kisses from nieces and nephew(s); the smell of the feed store; my bed; simply driving down familiar streets; annoying Mom; hanging out with friends; customers at the recycling center and feed store; Fresno State.

Today, I bought the most fitting souvenir, to remember my amazing experiences by. It is a painting of a couple on a beach looking out into the water. And in large letters it says: “Lake Panorama. Memories you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.”

After making this purchase, and driving down main street for what I know will be one of the last times, memories of my summer filled my mind, noting the first time I looked down on the lake from the balcony of my hotel room my first day in Panora; the time I accidentally had too much of Bob’s “rocketfuel”; getting to pet the baby fawn; seeing fireflies for the first time; sitting on the front porch listening to the music of Bob Cook; finding a dandelion the size of a softball; a silent stroll through the cemetery; sleepless nights at the expense of summer storms; the solitude of my own apartment; humid air coming through the screen door; meeting JoAnn for the first time; the sound of the race cars circling the track; swinging from a rope into Louise’s pond; John’s steaks, Bob’s pork chops; The margarita’s I made when Cara came to visit; the smell of the fertilized fields; rising dust trailing vehicles down dirt roads; golden sun glistening off the tops of the corn stalks and bean fields; the way they dance in the wind; the friendly wave of every passerby in their vehicle; little baby, the black kitten, at JoAnn’s back door; walking Living History Farms with Janelle; Becky asking Doc, the bartender, about his moustache; uncontrollably laughing with Brooke during an endless game of uno; playing charades with complete strangers, who instantly made me feel like I belonged; the boat ride; the mechanical bull at Uncle Buck’s; John playing his 12-string guitar; meeting Nate at the tiki bar; my last night at the Port with Luke. The memories are endless, this journey is winding to an end, but I am certain, there’s another around the bend, waiting to begin.

Toga Parties and Texas BBQ

As crazy as my first week was, as an intern, my last week tops it! Shortly after we got back from Kansas City, we returned to catch our flight out to Texas for the annual Ag Media Summit. This year, the American Agricultural Editors’ Association and International Federation of Agricultural Journalists meetings were combined in Fort Worth, Texas. Without hesitation, I can say that this was one of the best experiences of my life.

Our first day was pretty low key, but I was introduced to (what seemed like) hundreds more people. After getting settled at the hotel, we caught a bus to the nearby stockyards for a fun night at Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest honkey-tonk. There have been many times that I have wanted friends and family to share in my experiences here, and this was no doubt one of them. After the best chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes I’ve ever had, we went to a rodeo at the stockyards. It was a blast watching the sport, meeting new people and becoming familiar with accents from all over the world. We made it back to Billy Bob’s where I (who love to dance) unsuccessfully attempted the two-step.

During the day, much of my time was spent labeling DVD’s and preparing packets for one of the tours, helping out at the registration desk or booth, making headpieces for a toga party (yes you read that right—a toga party), eating amazing meals and listening to some pretty inspirational speakers. I also was racing items from one place to another, handing out programs, and just being available to whomever, whenever, for help. When I wasn’t busy with those things, I had the chance to attend a few extremely beneficial sessions. Not only was I able to meet a lot of people, who kindly offered their advice and contact information to a rookie, I was able to offer up my own advice and encouragement to other students who are hoping to be in my position in the near future. This was very rewarding for me, after having been encouraged by so many people this summer. In our remaining nights in Fort Worth, we stayed at the hotel one night and played spoons (which included a few knives—plastic knives—but knives nonetheless); went back to the stockyards for another tasty Texas meal, live western music and dancing; held the toga party at the hotel; and on the final night, attended a classy gala. Everyone dressed up, enjoyed a great meal prior to the annual awards ceremony and yet another live band and dancing. I, along with many other students representing the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, carried in a flag to represent the many different countries that were present. It was great to be a part of a gathering, where so many different cultures were united by one common denominator - their profession - then becoming aware of their many other similarities. During and after the flag ceremony, a video presentation, depicted the many great times that we had shared throughout the week.

Early the next morning, 15 of us (from 7 different countries) caught a flight to San Antonio, where we helped lead a post-tour of South Texas. We visited King Ranch, a cotton farm and cotton gin, two feedlots, the 74 Ranch, Shiner Brewery, King Saddle Shop, took a boat ride around the famous river walk, and ate dinner on the Gulf of Mexico just to name a few of our stops. Between destinations, everyone on the bus took turns sharing with the rest of the group a little bit about their background. I am kicking myself for falling asleep until the end when I was awakened to my turn at the microphone. Spending that much time with complete strangers, you quickly develop bonds, close to those in a family. I am sad that we have departed, but blessed to have been able to spend the time with them that I did.

Last week was one of the longest weeks of my life—and I mean that in the best possible way. So much was packed into one short week. Since my return, I have had to face the fact that I am actually leaving this place, with no scheduled return. Today, I completed my final article knowing that this officially wraps up the requirements of my internship. Tomorrow, I will get to attend the largely-anticipated Iowa State fair, where I am looking forward to eating something fried, on a stick. JoAnn and I watched the original State Fair movie, and are officially prepared.

Sadly, I will leave the next day. My truck is packed and ready to go. It’s hard to believe the time has come. But I am put at ease, knowing that I will be seeing very special people on the stops I have planned to make on the way back to Cali! As sad as I am to be leaving, I’m ecstatic to say that I’m coming home!

Transforming Times

I recently told you about our trip to Kansas City, but something happened there that deserves a blog of its own:

JoAnn and I had a full schedule of meetings but, by pure chance, we added another. During our meeting at the historic Livestock Exchange Building, we happened upon the right place at the right time. It was like finding a long sought-after treasure—at least for two writers who relish these types of spontaneous encounters.

During our scheduled meeting on the 7th floor, we were informed about the history of the building and the Western sculptures that were displayed on the top floor. Like two inquisitive children, we made our way through the hallways, admiring the memorabilia. It was a step back in time: our footsteps echoed down the long halls as our shoes made contact with the wooden floors and tiles. I imagined the deafening shouts of men and bellowing cattle that used to fill the hallways, as they (and the stench) entered through the open office windows. The windows, old and sturdy, are framed in oak and still open to the streets below (one of the many distinct differences from the manufactured office buildings of today). The offices used to have screen doors to keep out the flies that would wander in from the stockyards.

Antique typewriters and solid oak roll-top desks, bearing the scars of well-worn use, furnish the offices. Again, my imagination got the best of me. I thought about a receptionist, clad in period clothing at the desk, packing it full of daily records and receipts, noisily typing away. I wonder how she got anything done with all of the competing noises! Nervous livestock, busy workers, people talking in offices and walking in the halls, trains coming and going, screen doors opening and closing. These things are no comparison to modern-day offices void of all noise except for the steady purr of an air conditioning unit and a computer monitor.

As we meandered to the end of the hallway, one particular, nearly life-sized sculpture of a cowboy on his horse caught our attention. We were drawn to it like magnets, unaware of our other surroundings until JoAnn caught a glimpse of someone in her peripheral vision. She apologized for our intrusion, after becoming aware that we were standing in the middle of his office! The elderly gentleman removed his glasses and excused our apologies, inviting us to stay.

He was wearing a blue, button-up Ralph Lauren shirt and Wrangler jeans. His hair was gray, his voice had a slight rasp, and his eyes hid his very essence behind them. “William Haw” was etched into the golden plate that sat on the front edge of his desk. Our paths had crossed with the owner of the building!

He asked what brought us to the building, and when JoAnn explained that we were with a company called, he said that if we weren’t too busy, he would like to sit and talk with us awhile. Not about to decline this golden opportunity, we took our seats by his desk, and my eyes scanned the contents of his office. Three pieces of paper hung from the windowsill, covered with children’s notes and drawings. In large letters, one read, “Papa Haw I love you.” Two sets of binoculars had been placed in the sill of the large windows that opened up wide to what had previously been the sprawling yards of the Kansas City Stockyards. Mounted herdsman sorting stock into pens, have been replaced by bustling highways packed with noisy cars, spewing exhaust. The old train depot still stands behind the building, though it is dilapidated and desolate. Looking out, I was amazed by the transformation that has taken place before the very windows that I stood behind.

Books and stacks of paper fill the room. Maps, photographs and framed newspaper clippings adorn its walls. A set of longhorns, displayed above the desk, support a pair of silver spurs hanging from their leather straps. Worn saddles stacked on top of saddle stands, serve as mere decoration despite the individual stories that lie within their seats.

Mr. Haw told about the history of the building as he pointed to an old photograph of when the yard out back was filled with cattle.

According to the Kansas City Kansan, "In the heyday year of 1923, 2,631,808 cattle were received at the Kansas City yards. Of these, 1,194,527 were purchased for use in Kansas City by the packing houses and local markets; the remainder or about 55 percent was shipped out. Of 2,736,174 hogs received, 879,031 were shipped out; of 377,038 calves, 199,084 were shipped out; of 1,165,606 sheep, 445,539 were shipped and of 42,987 horses and mules, all but 1,664 were shipped out.

On one record-breaking day, Mr. Haw explained to us that over 60,000 head were received and unloaded at the stockyard. The yard had employed 2,000 men and served as the world’s largest livestock exchange building as well as one of the largest buildings in Kansas City at the time. The man that we coincidentally met that day became the owner of this building in 1991.

Mr. Haw shared with us a bit of his background and about his earlier involvement in the pork industry, when he became one of the first to practice commercialized hog production, raising nearly 20,000 hogs. Before the industry took a turn for the worse, he got out. Currently, he runs one of the largest feedlots in the country, and operates thousands of acres of land.

Mr. Haw has lived through seventy years of life, business, experience and wealth and he asked us to sit and talk with him. After all of his experiences, he was interested in what it was we did. When he asked if I came from an ag background, I informed him that unfortunately, I did not. And he said to me, “Let me give you a bit of encouragement: I didn’t either.” He explained that coming into the industry with fresh eyes, you are able to see more objectively and practice accordingly and often times more successfully. He is living proof of that assertion. JoAnn has told me this very thing many times. Though it can be overbearing at times, feeling like the underdog, entering into something with no previous experience; they are right. When it may seem like you’re in last place, the truth is, you may be positioning yourself as the first to finish the race.