A Trip to Plains

“Why don’t we go to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class?”  I asked.

The idea came up fast.  I’d just read an interview with Carter in the newspaper and was reminded of his Sunday morning classes, taught almost weekly at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.  Since we live only five and a half hours from Plains, the decision to go was easy.  In an instant (unlike most decisions we make) Rick and I began preparing for our trip!

Included in our plans was a several-hour stop in Savannah, Georgia, a city we had wanted to visit for some time.  We arrived on Saturday morning, barely in time to honor our reservations for a bicycle tour of the beautiful downtown.  After a delicious lunch and a walk in a downtown park, we traveled to a small town near Plains where we stayed overnight.  Awakening to a five-thirty Sunday morning alarm, we dressed, downed a bit of breakfast, and arrived at the church by 6:30 a.m., where we waited for the eight a.m. seating in the sanctuary.

Prior to the class, one of the church’s members led us in an orientation and information session.   I learned that the class hosted attendees from a variety of states as well as a number of countries, including France, Panama, Germany, Guatemala, and India.  (We were told that at one of Carter’s recent classes, forty-eight countries were represented!)

During this orientation, I learned more than I’d known before about the Carters’ generosity and commitment to peace between nations and wellness for all people.  The Carters, Jimmy and Rosalynn, have given to others through teaching, writing, working for human rights, and building homes for Habitat for Humanity.  Through their Foundation, the Carter Center, they have alleviated suffering from disease around the world.

As Carter began his class, his soft-spoken and caring message filled the sanctuary with a gentle, kind atmosphere.   The audience listened to this wise and thoughtful man who spoke with humility and breadth of knowledge.  Never preachy or dogmatic, Carter opened the hearts and minds of his audience, reminding us that everyone can choose to become better persons.

I left the church that morning inspired, grateful, and hopeful.  Many thanks to Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter for their selfless, caring work.

Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA
Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA.   Photo J. Stanton

 

Carter Teaches
Jimmy Carter teaches a Sunday School class.   Photo J. Stanton

 

Carters and Stantons
Rick and I with the Carters.

 

The Piano (with a quote from Wendell Berry, “The Man Born to Farming”)

My husband, a fine classical pianist,
said, “the piano
is a living thing.”

A living thing—not
dead
inanimate
lifeless
or even asleep—but
dynamic
animated
breathing
feeling
expressing.

It must be treated
respectfully, and
reverently.

Let me put it this way:
Wendell Berry says,
The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine thing.

In similar fashion, I respond,
The player of music, the performer, the man born to playing,
whose hands reach into the keyboard and sing,
to him the piano is a divine thing.

–Jan Stanton, 2017

A Memorable Family Vacation

This is what holidays, travels, vacations are about.  It is not really rest or even leisure we chase.  We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again.”

–Shana Alexander, “The Roman Astonishment,” in Life (1967)

Shana Alexander has named something so essential to not only travel but to life itself: our capacity for wonder and astonishment.  How much of life would we miss if we looked, but did not see, the amazement right before our eyes?  What would our lives be if we lost our capacity for wonder and astonishment? 

My family and I just completed an opportunity to enrich these capacities within ourselves. Rick, our son Brendon, and I traveled together to the northeastern states of Pennsylvania and New York and then crossed the border into Ontario, Canada.  We traveled along the rolling hills and mountains of Pennsylvania, witnessed past accomplishments  of talented baseball players at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, visited the home of one I have long admired, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who tirelessly pursued justice for women, and experienced the life-force, and yes wonder, of Niagara Falls in Ontario.

Of course, the best part is that we traveled as family, which for me increased the depth, meaning, and joy of all that we experienced.  How could I not return home full of gratitude for this venture?

Here is a photo journey that outlines the points and pleasures of our travel together:

Hershey, Pennsylvania

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Our first stop was to “the sweetest place on earth,” Hershey, Pennsylvania, where Milton Hershey perfected the process of producing milk chocolate.  A great story of innovation and vision.

 

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Flytes of chocolate, from dark bitter to milk chocolate sweet!  My favorite?  Always dark chocolate.  We were told there’s a little over 1,000 calories in these six flytes!

 

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Cheers!

Cooperstown, New York — Baseball Hall of Fame

 

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I was taken by this quote because of my family history.  On many an evening my parents sat on their front porch, listening to a Cubs game on the radio.  I am certain they “saw” every play!

 

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One of the Twins great players honored in the Hall of Fame.

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Brendon at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY.

Seneca Falls, New York — The Home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 

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The home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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A statue of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton being introduced by a mutual friend.  It was a lifelong friendship, based on a passion for women’s rights, especially the right to vote.  The nineteenth amendment to allow women the vote was passed in 1920.  Neither woman lived to see it happen.

 

Niagara Falls–Ontario, Canada

 

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Niagara Falls, where we shocked ourselves “into astonishment once again.”

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We spent our last evening in Canada at a casino, where a delicious buffet meal of various ethnic dishes was served.  Rick won eleven Canadian dollars!

A Visit to McLeod Plantation Historic Site

Anyone who has had surgery knows that recovery takes a while.  During any rehabilitation period, lives change dramatically, requiring a change in how we spend our time.

This is exactly what my husband and I experienced after his shoulder surgery.   No more trips to the beach; no long walks in Charleston’s summer heat.  Instead, we found ourselves engaged in everyday activities that kept his shoulder safe from harm and, at the same time, promoted healing.  We attended physical therapy sessions, iced the surgical site, and adjusted the sling—many times over!  And six weeks later, we’re not done yet.

A few weeks ago, though, we made a slight turning point.  It was a Sunday afternoon. The temperature and humidity had dropped somewhat while a slight breeze brushed against us as we ventured outdoors and did something besides rehabilitate and give care to the rehabilitator!  We visited one of many of Charleston’s plantations: McLeod Plantation Historic Site, a place that was turned into a museum only a little over a year ago.

The history of McLeod Plantation goes back to the mid-1800s.   William Wallace McLeod acquired this property in 1851 and constructed a home there.  While the McLeod family sought to defend their advantageous way of life, enslaved men and women worked hard cultivating sea island cotton.  It was a place of hard work, struggle, and complex relationships during a time of war and pestilence. Today, states the plantation’s website, “It is a living tribute to the men and women and their descendants that persevered in their efforts to achieve freedom, equality, and justice.”

This historic site is a testament to the living presence of the past.  For more information about and to see photos, go to:

http://www.ccprc.com/1447/McLeod-Plantation-Historic-Site

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/arts/design/mcleod-plantation-museum-tells-the-story-of-the-south.html?_r=0

 

An Anniversary I Remember Each Year

Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary.  It is a date that stays firmly in my mind each year.  If they were still alive, they would be celebrating seventy-nine years of marriage today. Their wedding, by the way, was a double ceremony with my mother’s brother, Russ, and his chosen partner, Dorothy.

There’s something important about anniversaries.  Whether it’s a marriage, birthday, or other remembrance, anniversaries invite us to revisit significant and important events in our lives.  Without remembering these important dates, we could go through life unseeing, failing to reflect—or even recognize—the significance of our life experiences, the lessons they taught us, and the personal growth we gained as a result of having lived them.

They may even give us pause to be grateful, and today I am.

(Note:  I have a picture of my parents on their wedding day that I recently came across but today cannot find.  I will publish it when I do)!

Can a House Remember?

Can a house, long empty and abandoned,

wounded by nails in its side and

silent, sallow boards over its windows

remember the family who once lived there,

spent their days and nights there?

 

Can a house still smell those early mornings,

when two strips of bacon bubbled

in an old black iron skillet

or hear the friendly voice of Wally Phillips,

daily breakfast guest from WGN Radio?

 

Can a house still hear the clamorous crack

of a mother’s back breaking in a game of badminton

or the silent fracture of a teenager’s heart?

 

Can a house still hear the swoosh

of pinochle cards shuffling, players laughing,

or the clickety-clack of the old Singer,

marching in rhythm,

sinking new stitches into old dresses?

 

Can a house still taste the bitterness

of harsh words spoken too soon

or feel the soothing softness

of a comforting embrace?

 

Can a house remember anything at all?

 

And what do you do

when you stand facing a structure

that was once tenderly cared for,

that you once called home,

where you lived and learned,

sought shelter and solace,

and still today regard it with respect, honor, and fondness,

but now stands cold, stiff, and inhospitable toward you?

 

Do you simply stare at it?

Shake your head?

Say, “It’s a shame?”

 

Or do you ask it, as I do:

Do you remember—

and will you never forget—

the ordinary lives

that once breathed inside your walls

that now remain anonymous? 

 

When Rick and I moved from Minneapolis to Charleston, we stopped at my childhood home in Illinois and found the house abandoned and boarded up.  This poem arises from that experience.

 

Western Avenue, house where Jan grew up
The front of my childhood home, where I lived until I married. This was probably taken in the late 1960’s.

 

Jan on homemade swing
As a young girl, I spent a lot of time on this backyard swing that my dad made for me.
Back yard Western Avenue
Our cat, Twinkle, gave birth to three kittens under this backyard porch.
Western Front
Today the house stands abandoned with overgrown brush and boards all around it.
Western Ave Side view
This is the side of the house with plywood covering the bedroom and basement windows.

These three photos show the backyard as of July 2015.