Category Archives: Stories

Amanda and Bryce’s Wedding

I went to Amanda and Bryce’s wedding last weekend. It was wonderful until it turned terrible. This is my story

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Part 1: Alone

I came to the wedding alone. I knew the bride. That was it. Our short list of mutual friends, for several semi-complicated reasons, were not going to make it to the wedding. However, when I had communicated with Amanda about possible rides from the airport and places to stay, she had mentioned several wedding attendees whom I happened to know from my SMBI days nearly nine years ago.

So at least I had that.

Part 2: Traveling

My plan was to take a red eye flight Thursday night, arrive in Indianapolis Friday morning, and then get shuttled to Illinois by a load of wedding attendees driving in from back east. Luckily I got a decent about of sleep on the plane, and as my ride wasn’t scheduled to pick me up for several hours yet, I got another good nap in the Indianapolis airport before freshening up and grabbing some breakfast and tea.

Thus fortified, I stood on the curb in the muggy Indiana heat until a brown minivan pulled up. This was it. I climbed inside.

There were three others in the van, presenting a healthy mix of strangers and semi-strangers. We drove off. Introductions were made all around.

Part 3: New Friends

Rachel was next to me, in one of the middle seats. We tried to remember when we’d seen each other last. Was it nine years ago? Or just five? A long time, in any case. Nice to see you again.

At the wheel of the minivan was Troy, a groomsman. I knew who he was, vaguely, as we’d communicated briefly with texts such as “I’m supposed to pick you up from the airport,” and, “okay, awesome.”

Seth, sitting shotgun, was Bryce’s best friend from High School. He was another groomsman and, like me, was coming pretty much alone, not really knowing anyone besides the groom. He wore a shirt that said “I talk to strangers.” And he’d brought his bike with him, which necessitated the minivan.

“I’m biking to southern Indiana after the wedding,” he said.

It sounded exciting except for the promise of a muggy midwestern heat wave.

The four of us drove through Indiana and into Illinois, discussing random topics such as buried treasure, and whether it’s possible to drive a car through a cornfield. Rachel had to be at the church at 3 pm to practice singing. We made it in the nick of time, only to discover that we’d crossed a time zone line, and it was actually 2 pm.

Oops.

Oh well. We’re all friends now, I guess. We can hang out.

But eventually I got bored of hanging out. “Did you say there was a lake nearby?” I asked Seth.

“Yeah,” he said. “You wanna go?”

“Yes!”

“Let’s see if anyone else wants to come,” he said.

Rachel was practicing her songs at this point, and Troy wasn’t feelin’ it. I saw three girls sitting on one of the back pews. “Do you want to go to the lake?” I asked them.

“Sure!” they said.

“Do you have a car?”

“Yes.”

“How many people does it seat?”

“Five.”

“Perfect.”

I grabbed my backpack, fully intending to slip on my swim trunks and jump in the lake. But on the way there Seth said, “oh, I thought my phone hadn’t adjusted to the time change, but it actually did. So we only have fifteen minutes.”

We stayed a little longer than fifteen minutes, but I didn’t swim. Instead we stuck our feet in the water and chatted.

Part 4: The Great Wedding Calamity

Back at the church for the rehearsal dinner, the person blessing the food made some vague reference to an illness going around. And later, during rehearsal, I noticed that the maid of honor was clutching her head, looking disoriented, while her husband rubbed her back.

I asked Amanda about it, later, when I ran into her in the bathroom.

“Oh, Emily! It’s been awful!” she said. Then she listed the various family and bridal party members who had succumbed to the illness, a miserable affair that involved a great deal of puking.

Poor Amanda. Of all the unexpected wrenches that could be thrown into wedding plans, that has to be about the worst.

Part 5: The Wedding Day

Abby, my SMBI roommate from nine years ago, was staying at the same place I was, along with Rachel and a girl named Jackie that I’d never met. Jackie wasn’t around as much because she had friends in the area, but Rachel, Abby, and I had a fantastic time reconnecting. Friday night and all Saturday morning we just hung out and chatted.

The wedding went off smoothly, despite a few members of the bridal party still looking a little green. The church was decorated with white garden flowers and foraged branches that smelled lovely, and Amanda wore a dress of Dotted Swiss that had been made from a Sears curtain. I didn’t get any photos of the ceremony, but I did snap a few at the reception.

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As I pondered what stories to tell at the open mic, I realized something: Amanda is one of the bravest people I know. To look at her, you wouldn’t necessarily guess it. But there it is.

I told about the time we were in New York City, trying to have fun without spending any money, when Amanda showed up with some pizza.

“Where did you get the pizza?” we wanted to know.

“A stranger on the subway gave it to me.”

But it’s not just strange pizza. She’s unafraid to talk to anybody. She can ask them any question. She’s unafraid to get married and move to the house across the street from the drug dealers. She’s unconcerned by the lack of proper toilets in her new home. What does it matter? We’ll figure something out.

There was no official sendoff, and Bryce and Amanda were still milling around chatting with their guests as tables were cleared and most folks had left.

“Let’s talk, Emily!” she said, multiple times. But how much chatty chatty time is there at a wedding? We all wanted a slice of Amanda, that day, but the whole point was that we don’t get her. Bryce does.

Lucky guy.

Part 6: The Fireworks

Arthur IL, Amanda’s little hometown, is famous for its epic fireworks display on the Saturday before Independence Day. Which was also the day of Amanda’s wedding. So that evening, most of the wedding crowd migrated into Arthur to see what all the hype was about.

Amazing stuff. Not just fireworks, but also these massive explosions that sent waves of heat at us. And some sort of burning wire setup that sent down torrents of ethereal fire rain.

And then it was over, and we walked away through the hot, wet evening air, lit up by the occasional lightening bug or rogue firecracker. “Goodbye, goodbye,” I told my new friends. “Come to Oregon someday.”

Part 7: Leaving

Abby, Rachel, Jackie, and I stayed up well past 1 am. “Why is it so much harder for some people to be single than others?” And “how close of friendships should you have with guys you’re not dating?” We discussed so many things. I don’t often hang out with others in the same life stage as me.

I didn’t get much sleep, since I had to be up at 6 am in order to make it to Indianapolis in time for my flight. It was just Troy and Rachel and I this time, driving through cornfield country. Seth was biking to southern Indiana.

Due to my budget airline, I had a 6+ hour layover. Oh well. By the time I arrived in Denver I was hungry, cold, and had a headache, presumably from my lack of sleep, but I made do. Ate a chicken sandwich. Drank some tea. Took a couple ibuprofen tablets.

But as I lay in a sunny patch on the floor, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in, I realized that something was wrong. I wasn’t feeling better. In fact, I was beginning to feel worse.

Part 8: Everything goes terribly, horribly, absolutely, 100% wrong

If you are triggered by horrifying situations and/or discussions of vomit, the rest of this blog post is not for you. Click the little “x” in the top right-hand corner of this page, make yourself a cup of tea, and spend a few moments contemplating how nice and healthy you are feeling.

For those of you with a morbid curiosity into my pain, keep reading.

Lying on the floor of the Denver airport, I began to feel an overwhelming nausea and disorientation. I needed to throw up.

So, okay. I guess I’ll pack all my stuff back into my backpack and haul myself to a giant crowded restroom where everyone can hear me. This sounds like fun times.

I knelt by the toilet. And then it came. Hello tea. Hello chicken sandwich. Hello hasty breakfast I grabbed as I ran out the door this morning.

Jesus, have mercy.

I have it. I have the bridal party sickness. I have four more hours of layover and two-and-a-half more hours of flying and two hours of driving home and I have the bridal party sickness.

I called my mom. “Sip Sprite,” she said. “You are dehydrated, and a have a low blood sugar. Maybe some of your siblings can come pick you up at the airport.”

I sipped Sprite, and found a more remote bathroom on the upper level. It was coming, again. All the Sprite, all of everything that was inside me, and then the dry heaving that was hard to stop. “Jesus have Mercy,” I moaned, and then started quoting Isaiah 40 to myself. Out loud. My sense of normal and abnormal behavior was all screwed up.

The pattern was thus set: Sip something. Feel absolutely awful, lie on floor, don’t move, even listing to a podcast is too, too much. Then puke. Trying to stop the dry heaving that follows is like trying to stop a runaway car in a dream. But feel better, once I manage it. Momentarily. Sip something again.

No one seemed to notice my illness until once, suddenly, I had to GO. I took off for the nearest bathroom. A janitor passed, wheeling a yellow cart. Should I puke in the cart?

I didn’t. Maybe should have. Instead I puked on the floor. “Good thing there’s a janitor nearby,” I briefly noted before I dissolved into tears of misery and humiliation.

But now, people noticed me and felt sorry for me. They bought me Gatorade and Pepto-Bismol and Rolaids, none of which were particularly helpful, but it did make me feel less alone. Someone nabbed me a garbage bag from the poor janitor, which prevented further floor-vomit humiliations.

After that, things got worse. However, at a certain point I need to pull the curtain of charity over the event, and I think that moment is here. But I will note that my flight got delayed for an hour. And I was freezing cold. I don’t know how high my fever was, but I had all the chills and muscle aches, and the next day, feeling much better, it was 100.3.

The flight attendants were much savvier at picking up on the fact that I was sick than the average flying populace had been. Of course, the fact that I dashed for the bathroom as soon as I set foot on the plane probably gave me away.

“Can we get you anything?” they asked as soon as I emerged.

“Do you have a face mask so I don’t get anyone else sick?” I asked.

They didn’t have that. They did have a better barf bag, which was sturdier and, for the sake of those around me, opaque. They didn’t have blankets, but they turned up the heat for me. They wanted to give me a seat in the very back, near the bathrooms, but as I was only five or so rows up, on an aisle seat, we decided not to bother.

“Are you okay to fly?” they asked.

To be honest, I was a little afraid they wouldn’t let me fly because I was sick. “I just want to go home!” I moaned.

“I know, honey, I know.”

The flight was so, so miserable and awful, but I remember that moment when the flight attendant told me there was just an hour left to go. I made up a song and started singing it. “I can hold on for an hour, I can make it for an hour, I can hold on for an hour, I can make it, for that long.”

I mean, I was already puking girl, might as well be singing girl as well.

And I did. I made it for an hour, because I had no choice. The flight attendants contacted the Portland airport and ordered a wheelchair for me. It was waiting for me when we landed, and the nice wheelchair man took my backpack and wheeled me out to the curb, where Ben and Amy were waiting with the family car. They’d brought a blanket and a memory foam pillow! And a barf bucket!

I gave Ben my keys and my instructions on where to find my car, and he ran off to go drive my car home. I settled into the back of the family car. Pure. Heaven. A real blanket to wrap up in, that keeps me warm all the way. A soft place to lie down.

“Do you mind if I listen to an audio book?” Amy asked.

“Could we…could we listen to classical music?” I asked. I am not usually a classical music person, but for some reason I’d longed for classical music the whole flight.

“Sure,” said Amy. She found a CD of classical music and stuck it in the player.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so loved or content in my life.

That was Sunday, July 1. I heaved my guts out once more on the way home, but that was pretty much the last of the puking portion. However, It’s been a long week. By Wednesday I was eating a few solid foods, like toast.

Thursday evening I was supposed to leave on a road trip to Arizona. My friends Zach and Ally were getting married on Saturday July 7, and a group of my friends were going to drive down together. I was in such a dither all Thursday. I had pretty much kicked the illness, but I was still so weak.

I decided not to go.

So yes. Plans change, but that’s just how the world works when you’re me. I’m feeling fine now, and I had a low-key but nice birthday. But I will say, my trip to Bryce and Amanda’s wedding was one I will never forget.

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Travis and Christina’s Wedding

When Travis was in town, things were different.

Before he arrived in Oregon to sing for Gospel Echoes, our local prison ministry group, my brother Ben and I were pretty much the only single people in our 20s at church. But after Travis came, we hung out with him, as well as his roommate Javen who also sang for Gospel Echoes. And since Javen was younger, he sort-of bridged the gap between us and the people in the 17-20 crowd who were out of high school.

Just like that, a bit of an older youth group appeared where there hadn’t been one before. Sometimes Travis’ girlfriend Christina flew out to Oregon and joined us for Thanksgiving Dinner or a good hike up Horse Rock. We had some good times.

Now, both Travis and Javen have returned to their respective homes. But Travis married Christina on Friday, and of course Ben and I wanted to witness this momentous occasion.

As soon as I stepped outside of the St Louis airport, I knew it was going to be a great trip. It was over 70° and sunny. It felt like I’d stepped into a portal that instantly transported me through the worst of sprwinter and straight into summer.

It took us a while to locate Javen, who had flown in to a different terminal. Then there was a long, hot wait at the rental car place. I’d never gotten a rental car before and was a bit nervous. As the only one in the group over 25, I had to drive it. Which was fine–I mean, I know how to drive and have never gotten in a wreck or anything. But I still get driver anxiety. And that car took a bit of getting used to.

Like the way the cruise control always seemed to quit working. It took me a while to figure out that it automatically slowed down while going uphill and sped up while going downhill. And even longer to figure out that if the car in front of me was going slower, my car automatically slowed down too.

Then there was the time I was backing out of a tight parking space, trying to see out of my rear windows, which were up pretty high.

“Um, you might want to stop,” said Javen from the back seat.

So I stopped, maneuvered out of the space, and only then saw that there was a fence behind me that I couldn’t see through my high back windows. Yeeks. Well, I didn’t hit anything, and after that I tried to make use of the backup camera, despite it’s grainy image and weird distortion that confused me.

The three of us went straight to the rehearsal dinner. Ben and I weren’t in the wedding party, but Javen was. Besides that, we were all staying at Travis’ parent’s house, and all of his family was at the rehearsal dinner.

Truth be told, half the fun of the trip was due to the fact that Travis’ parents let us be one of the family for the weekend. Both Travis and Christina had extended family in the area, so any out-of-town relatives had other relatives to stay with. David, an older single guy from our church whom Travis and Javen lived with when they were in Oregon, stayed there too, and together we all had some jolly times.

Mostly due to the fact that the Millers are excellent storytellers and have mountains of stories to tell. I laughed so hard it hurt. Unfortunately I didn’t ask permission to repeat the stories on my blog, so you’ll just have to find a Miller and ask them yourself. (Use the key words “band-aid,” “lightening bolt,” and “dimples” for the best ones.)

Friday morning there was a scurry of activity as the groom and three of his groomsmen woke up, pressed their khakis, and snapped on their suspenders. Then, “whoosh!” they were off to get their pictures taken. A bit of a lull followed, and then the remaining family members were rushing around, primping, and zooming off for their turn in front of the camera.

Ben, David, and I remained. The weather that morning was beautiful, so we just wandered around and relaxed, and then primped and got ready in plenty of time for the wedding at 3pm.

The ceremony went off without a hitch. Now, for some reason I don’t understand, there were giant arrows on the curtain behind the platform. In pictures, it looks like they’ve been photo-shopped in to point out “here’s the groomsman, here’s the bridesmaid, here’s the projector screen.” But no, let me assure you, they were already there.

Photo by Sheryl Graber

By the time the ceremony was over, the sky was beginning to darken and the rain was beginning to fall, but it was still quite warm. Midwest weather is fascinating. The sky grew darker and darker as the evening wore on, but the sun hadn’t set yet. It glowed orange through the clouds. And then the rain fell in torrents, and a fantastic display of purple lightening lit the sky. Beautiful.

At the reception, we found the other Oregon people who had made it to the wedding. Ben and I sat down with Sheryl and Mikala, and we had a jolly time eating, listening to the fantastic music performed by Travis’ brothers and friends, and listening to the funny open mic stories. Like I said, those Millers have stories.

Sheryl, Mikala, Javen, me, and Ben. Photo from Mikala’s phone, taken (I think) by Bethany Clugston.

The next morning, summer and crazy thunderstorms were gone, and the weather was a very Oregon-like 50° and drizzling. We ate a huge breakfast, hauled gifts to Travis and Christina’s new house, wrote a thank-you note to Travis’ family, and just hung out. Then, around noon, Ben and I drove back to the airport. (Javen stayed behind, as he had a different ride home.)

In general, it was a fantastic trip, mostly due to the hospitality of Travis’ family. Especially his mother, Darlene.

Congrats, Travis and Christina. I hope you have a long and happy life together.

Note: I am sorry I am a day late here. I’ve been sick and traveling and working and in general not putting as much time and energy into the April Blogging Challenge as I usually do. In order to catch up on other ABC posts, you can go to Mom’s blog, Amy’s blog, and Jenny’s blog.

The Fantastic Puns of Teenagers

One of the highlights of my job is that, now and then, one of the students will effortlessly spit out a truly fantastic pun.

Here are some of my favorites.

The first occurred some months ago, when Mr B and Ms Shea took all the honor roll students on a delightful honor roll trip, and lucky me had to stay behind with the seven unfortunate souls who didn’t make honor roll.

This had its cons (they couldn’t seem to stay put in their desks) and its pros (there was a live Christmas tree in the classroom, because a student had randomly won it from a radio station on the way to school, but that’s another story for another day). In essence, I survived.

After lunch, the students begged to play “Occupations.” To play this game, each student writes down the name of an occupation, such as “dentist” or “writer,” and gives it to the teacher. The teacher then reads the list of occupations, and each student tries to guess what occupations the other students submitted.

“Aubrey, are you dentist?” Mic might ask.

“No. Logan, are you firefighter?”

After playing this game many times, we’ve begun to have them list other things, such as types of cheese, or cartoon characters, instead of actual occupations. So on this December day, I decided to try my hand at a funny yet festive theme. “Sure, we can play occupations,” I said. “Let’s do, ‘gifts you would give your grandma.'”

They gave me their gift ideas, I read them off, and they began.

At one juncture Cameron turned to Zane. “Are you adult diapers?”

“That depends…” said Zane.

Fantastic pun #2 appeared more recently, when spring began to tease us, and someone brought a fresh bouquet of daffodils into the classroom. Their scent filled the room.

“Wow, those are strong,” Mr B said, coming in after break.

“What are?” Bryant wanted to know.

“The daffodils.”

Bryant scoffed. “I bet I could break them.”

(This was particularly funny to me because it was the first time I had ever, to my memory, heard Bryant tell a joke.)

The final pun happened a week or two ago.

This Monday our students will head to the ACE Regional Student Convention, and I’ve been up to my ears in preparation. Thankfully a former student, Janane, volunteered to do most of the convention prep, but I ended up heavily involved in the one act play.

First I wrote the play. Then one of the male participants dropped out, so I re-wrote a male part into a female part. Then I spent quite a bit of time with paintbrushes and PVC, trying to construct a set. Then the other male student wanted to drop out, and I told him he couldn’t unless he found another male to take his place (ACE has strict rules about people sticking to their gender in plays) so he bribed one of his buddies with two weeks of lunch trades.

(True story)

Janane in front of the backdrop we made.

So anyway. What with one thing and another, the actual act of practicing the play was falling by the wayside. Lines were hastily memorized. I borrowed things from the kitchen to stand in for props we didn’t have yet. And we practiced that play.

Aubrey, as Martha, was stirring a huge stew pot while Mary sat at Jesus feet in front of a fireplace of canvas and tempera paint. Jesus said his line. Mary said her line. Now it was Martha’s turn, but Aubrey wasn’t saying anything.

Aubrey stopped stirring, reached into her stew pot, and pulled out her script. “Sorry,” she said. “I mixed up my lines.”

What a funny bunch.

The Way We Live Now

Every February the ladies at my church have a ladies retreat, and then a week or two later the youth at my church have a youth retreat, and I have to decide whether to go to one or the other or both.

It’s always at the coast. I don’t know what people do who don’t have a coast to go to. There’s a rented house, sometimes the one you used last year and sometimes a new one. And when it gets too small and loud you can slip away, barefoot in the cold, down the cliff on rickety wooden steps, to where the ocean waits; your friend.

This is the way we live now.

One week it’s all birth stories, and dark tales of the spiritual abuse from their past. Awful stories of evil, power hungry bishops who tried to control their weddings. Their weddings! I was so confused. What business was it of the Bishop’s? It wasn’t his wedding. You don’t understand, they tell me. You didn’t grow up like that.

Then, two weeks later, it’s a buzz of matchless energy and hormones, only I can never keep track of who is flirting with who because I’m over here chatting with the youth sponsors. We were all friends in high school, the youth sponsors and I. We’d go on the youth coast trip together, and back then I know who the flirty ones were. It was them, but only in the most subtle ways. Now they’re married.

I’ve barely arrived before I find myself driving down to Thor’s Well with Justin and Ben, the youth sponsor and my brother, respectively. We stand in the sideways rain and marvel at the natural wonders of the world, and talk about careers. I get soaked to the skin. I only have one set of clothes, because I’m not staying overnight, because I am no longer a teenager, and staying up is no longer a privilege; sleep is a privilege.

Back at the rental house, I borrow a change of clothes from Jenny and browse the bookshelves for a book to read. A thin, yellow paperback catches my eye: Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour, an Introduction. The only J.D. Salinger I ever read was Catcher in the Rye, which I deemed OK-ish. But I heard that he wrote stories about a family of geniuses called the Glass family, and I wondered if this was one of those books.

It was.

I was completely enchanted.

But then, I thought, about the time I’d reached page 3, the point of spending time with the youth is to spend time with the youth. Which you are not doing.

I looked at my enchanting book and my cup of tea and the sideways rain outside the window and sighed.

But books like these can be found at thrift stores and read, later, in the comfort of my own home. Time with these people is a precious commodity. And I genuinely like them. All of them. The ones who have found themselves and the ones who haven’t. The ones whose bishops ruined their weddings and the ones who subtly don the baseball cap of the boy they like and it becomes a BIG DEAL.

This is the way we live now; sometimes a naïve woman who has never suffered abuse or birthed a baby, sometimes a world-weary youth who goes to bed too early and talks about careers. But always someone who cares about being part of your world, even if I don’t slot into it quite as neatly as everyone else does.

The Strangest Day of my Life

I’ve been looking forward to watching this eclipse for months.

I love bizarre, dream-like experiences where the normal rules of life don’t seem to apply. Like when I was in Thailand, exploring a semi-abandoned mall, where I’d walk through movie theaters and ice rinks and no one was there. Or when the floods of 2012 blocked roads and filled the play structure at school. Disasters seem kind-of exciting to me, just so long as they’re not too disastrous. Because then the normal rules of life are turned on their end.

Everyone thought that this eclipse would be the traffic event of the century. Huge numbers of people from California and Washington were expected to flock to our slice of the valley. “It’s WAY over-hyped,” my cousin Randy scoffed. But Dad and Ben still discussed the best back roads to take to my Aunt Rosie’s house, where we planned to have a Smucker eclipse-watching party.

And I still hoped.

I even dreamed, one night, that there was so much traffic it clogged the little country roads next to our house. But in the end, it seemed Randy was right. Over the weekend, the nearby towns were completely dead. “Maybe they’ll start zooming in Sunday night,” we thought. But as we drove to Rosie’s Sunday evening, even I-5 was barely busier than usual.

Many of us Smuckers live just below the line of totality, which is why we all congregated at Rosie’s, a half hour north of us. There were siblings and cousins, great-aunts and second-cousins, and an 100-year-old man who wasn’t a Smucker, but slipped in because his daughter married one.

Matt showing us how the eclipse works, why it’s rare, and how it moves.

We ate hamburgers and hotdogs, and discussed politics and spiritual gifts. Randy tried not to gloat about how his “over-hyped” prediction came true. In general, we had a typical Smucker family gathering. But then, instead of going home, we spread our sleeping bags out on the grass and watched the stars until we fell asleep.

The Smuckers chilling in the Sunday evening sunset.

I don’t usually sleep very well outdoors, but in the last two or so hours before I woke up in the morning I fell into a heavy, solid slumber. And then suddenly, I was awake, and all alone. Everyone who’d slept around me had gone inside. And then I looked over, and there was a cup of tea beside me, steaming hot.

My first surreal moment of the day.

Alone in the brilliant sunshine with my tea and a book I’d kept under my pillow all night, I had no rush to get up. I just basked in the warm comfort.

It was my mom, of course, though I still don’t know how I didn’t wake up once when everyone left and when she delivered the tea. All I can say is that walking on grass is a lot quieter than walking through our old farmhouse.

By nine everyone was up, dressed, and outside. Eclipse glasses were handed around. Brunch was set up on long tables. “There it is!” said Matt, peering through his eclipse glasses. “See? Up in the top right corner, you can see a tiny dent at the edge of the sun.”

Cousin Justin, his wife Kayla, Aunt Bonnie, and baby Crosby.

I looked through my own glasses. He was right. One side of the sun was ever-so-slightly flat looking, and then even flatter looking, and then it wasn’t a flatness at all but an actual little bite.

Grandpa watching the eclipse.

Intermittently, we’d stare at the sun, and then take our glasses off for a bit to chat with each other, eat some brunch, or sip some tea. Every time I put my glasses back on I was amazed at how much more of the sun was covered. First it looked like pac-man, then a cartoon-ish moon, and then it started looking like a fingernail moon.


“Is it growing darker?” we asked each other. It was hard to tell. “Well, not darker, but it is colder. I’m sure of it.” I put my jacket back on.

“It doesn’t seem weird to us, because we’re so used to dim light from our constant cloud cover,” someone joked. And indeed, it did rather look like a slightly overcast day, except for the sharp shadows.



And then the real weirdness began, as the shadows changed shape. The shadows of the leaves formed little crescents, like a pattern of scales spread across the patio. My second-cousin Tristan splayed his fingers. “Look, I’m Wolverine!” He exclaimed, as little shadow lumps formed between the long shadows of his fingers.

“Shadow snakes! There are shadow snakes!” Jenny exclaimed. She’d spread a white sheet on the ground for this express purpose. And indeed, there they were, strange squiggly shadows flittering across the white expanse of the sheet.

Finally, it was getting visibly darker. “Are we going to have to go to bed when it gets dark?” Jocelyn, my cousin’s daughter, asked, worried.

I put on my glasses and looked at the sun again. Only the smallest orange mark remained, and it got smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and suddenly…

I whipped off my glasses.

“gulp!” The sun was gone.

I’m sure you know what a total eclipse looks like. Facebook is blowing up with pictures ranging from professional to extremely amateur. But there is nothing, nothing, like seeing it in real life. I know, now, why people become eclipse chasers. It’s like my friend Heidi wrote on her Instagram, “In the moments where the sun was completely black, the world could’ve ended and it would not have seemed out of place.”

And then a bead of brilliant light appeared at the edge of the blackness, and we all looked away again, back to the white sheet and the shadow snakes. And then, just like that, the world was light and bright again.

“Woah.” We looked at each other, shocked and awed. “That was amazing.”

The moon-shaped sun in the eclipse glasses getting bigger and bigger wasn’t nearly as exciting as when it got smaller and smaller. Jenny had to go to work, and before too long, the rest of us had rolled up our sleeping bags and headed back home.

“Hey look.” Matt jerked his chin towards a north/south side road east of I-5. “There’s traffic on 7 mile lane.” I looked and saw seven or so cars at the stoplight. Maybe there was a bit of traffic after all.

Then we were on the overpass, and looking down we saw that I-5 itself was WAY too busy to take home. Traffic! My heart was happy. There were a lot of people here for the eclipse. We decided to take 99E home, but when we ran into traffic in Shedd, we took a side street and ended up going home via about three different winding back roads. And as we drove I put my eclipse glasses on periodically and watched the sun become a cartoon moon again, and then a pac-man, and then a tiny bite that turned into a flat spot on the sun’s round surface, and then disappeared.

“Wow, look, there are some people on Substation,” said Mom as we drove toward our house. Traffic is so rare on that road that it’s tempting to back out of our driveway without looking first, so seeing five cars on it at once was a bit jarring. “Maybe Google maps or something is directing them our way.”


But when those cars had passed, more cars came. I carried in sleeping bags and pillows, but kept getting distracted by the weirdness of those cars. A few would come, and then you’d think surely that had to be the end, and then a few more would come. They mostly had California license plates. I was so fascinated that I brewed some tea and sat in a chair out by the road, people watching. How often do you have a chance to people watch from your own yard?

I walked into the front yard, then, where I met Matt coming out the front door. Matt had flown home from DC just to watch the eclipse with us. And as we stood there and marveled at how the traffic was just getting worse and worse, a legitimate cars-stopped traffic jam happened right there at the intersection in front of our house. It looked exactly like the bizarre scene from my dream.


We could. not. believe. it.

Suddenly, Matt, at 31, and I, at 27, reverted into the giddy teenage versions of ourselves. He began filming a Facebook live video, and then we impulsively decided to walk down to the warehouse and climb to the top, to see if we could get a better view of the traffic. So off we went, waving to people, counting how many license plates were from California vs. other states, and filming Facebook Live videos. We got very dusty climbing to the top of the warehouse where we had good views of nature but not much of a traffic view. Then we decided to stop in and visit our neighbors/relatives Darrell and Simone, and their children Dolly and Tristan, but no one seemed to be home.

When we got back to our house the traffic had reached unbelievable levels. There in our driveway was Simone, handing out glasses of lemonade and iced tea to the people driving by. “Free iced tea and lemonade!” she yelled.


Then she saw me. “Oh, Emily! I saw on Facebook that you were watching traffic, so I decided to come join you! And then your mom decided to hand out drinks, so I decided to help!”

Mom dashing inside to make more lemonade.

And help was certainly needed. We made gallons of iced tea until we ran out of ice, and then mixed up gallons and gallons of lemonade. We found paper cups and purple plastic cups and Styrofoam cups from the back corners of our pantry. We found cookies, and muffins that were leftover from our morning brunch.

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Photo credit: Simone Smucker

“What I really need is a bathroom,” one woman confessed. So we made a new sign. “Restrooms Available!” And soon had a long line stretching all the way out our back hallway. Matt sat in the living room and directed people to our upstairs bathroom, while Mom showed people where the downstairs bathroom was as she mixed up batches of lemonade. Soon we had groups of people in our driveway chattering in Chinese, as children swung on our ancient tire swing.

“We’re running out of cups!” I told Simone. “Do you have more at your house?”

“Yes,” she said. “I have a whole bunch in my pantry.”

So I rode my bike to her house, skimming past the cars as I rode along the shoulder. She was right. She did have a lot of cups. “Do you have a bag I can put these in?” I asked Dolly, who was sitting in the living room with her dog, Bailey.

“Oh, and also, you should come join us. We’re having fun!”

“Well, I’m not wearing a head covering,” said Dolly. She grabbed one of her dad’s ancient baseball caps from a hook in the mud room.

I found a utility-sized garbage bag and stuffed it with packages of cups. “How am I supposed to get these home on my bike?” I asked Dolly.

“Maybe we can take the 4-wheeler,” she said.

“Can you drive it?”

“Well, if I come I have to take Bailey. And I can’t hold Bailey and drive. And Bailey might be scared if you try to hold her.”

I didn’t know how to drive a 4-wheeler, but people needed drinks and drinks need cups. So I climbed onto the seat of the 4-wheeler, and Dolly climbed on behind me, somehow managing to hold her dog and the gigantic bag of cups in her short arms. She told me how to drive the thing, and we zoomed home. Halfway there I saw, in my peripheral vision, Dolly’s hat go flying off her head.

I parked beside the pump house and ran to start filling cups with lemonade again. Dolly came to help, and I saw that she was wearing a baseball cap.

“Didn’t that fly off your head?” I asked.

“I caught it,” she said.

How she managed to catch her hat while holding a dog and a giant trash bag full of cups is something I will never understand.

Bailey was a big hit among the people who came. “Can we pet her?” they’d ask, and Dolly or Simone would explain that she was a rescue dog, and shy of people. But still we gave them drinks and they used our bathrooms. Mom made tea until she ran out of ice, then lemonade until she ran out of lemonade powder, and finally we just handed out water and whatever odd grocery depot macaroons and brownie bites we could find.

I felt like Jacob who just happened to have some stew, and here were these desperate Esaus who were willing to give up their entire birthright for a cup of lemonade and a chance to use the bathroom. “Why are you so nice?” They asked, pressing money into our hands even though we insisted it was free.

But honestly, this was the kind of thing I literally dreamed about. The most surreal experience, and the most exciting thing to have happened in our backyard since ever.

There were so many weird elements to our day. Like, we didn’t have a trash can, so whenever we had a broken cup or a dirty cup or a sign that said “iced tea” even though we’d run out of iced tea, we just shoved it into the hedge. The dry, ugly hedge bush was surprisingly good at holding trash.


“I’m done with this,” shall I put it in this trash bag?” one guy said, after stopping to use the bathroom and get a drink. He held up his dirty paper cup.

“No, that’s full of clean cups. Put it in this bush,” we said.

Then suddenly, there was a gap in the traffic. The first gap since…two hours ago? Four hours ago? What was time, even?

We took breaks, with only one person manning the table at a time. Simone left, taking me with her, and I rode home the bike that I’d left at Darrell and Simone’s when I got the cups. The trickle grew less and less, like a waning eclipse, and then we abandoned the table all-together, figuring that if some lone car came by they could stop and help themselves.

Mom pulled together something for supper. Jenny came home from work, disappointed that she’d missed all the excitement. We rested. We processed.

And the Sisters’ Forest Fire filled the sky with a hazy smoke, and the sun set, large and red, over the coast range.

 

 

The Weather is my Real Boss

In midsummer, the sun rises in the northeast, shining through my north bedroom window and straight into my eyes. In other words, if I don’t wake up at 5:45 AM, there is enough cloud cover that I might not have to go to work.

I used to read old books and wonder why everyone was so obsessed with the weather. Who cares? I certainly didn’t, unless it was hot enough to go swimming or snowy enough to cancel school or windy enough that the electricity went out. But now I get it. When your job is about growing things, the weather determines your schedule.

Typical Oregon weather is very wet and drizzly throughout the year, and then completely sunny and dry during the summer. Little known fact: this is the perfect weather for growing grass seed. Grow it while it’s wet, harvest when it’s dry. As a combine driver, I don’t start work until the hot sun has evaporated the last of the morning dew.

When a freak rainstorm hits in July, as was the case last week, the harvest frenzy draws to a halt. Instead of working dawn till dusk, my farming neighbors took a spontaneous family vacation to the coast. I sat on the porch and worked on the short story I’ve been totally procrastinating on.

It was a week before things had dried out enough for me to get back on the combine. And “dried out” goes in quotes here, because it was still wet enough for me to plug my combine up over. and over. and over. “My arms are going to get so strong,” I thought as I cranked straw out of the header with a giant wrench the length of my arm.

I consoled myself with the fact that Farm Boy, my co-worker, was plugging up more than I was.

I also consoled myself by looking around at the absolutely brilliant beauty around me. It was warm, but not hot. Gentle clouds blew across the sky. Sheep grazed in a meadow to the west, and the world smelled like wild mint. If I could ignore the dust and the grass seed filling my shoes, it was much nicer out here than in my cab anyway.

We quit for the day during the golden hour. There were long purple clouds in the sky, and so much wild mint, and the dust, when subtly scenting the air instead of flying in my face all at once, smelled like summer. What a beautiful, beautiful walk back to my car it would be.

I heard the old red pickup truck coming up behind me. It was Farm Boy, in his highlighter-green shirt. “Boss Man says I need to give you a ride,” he said. (He literally calls our boss Boss Man.)

“Okay. Thank you,” I said, halfheartedly, climbing into the pickup.

Farm Boy and I can never find much to say to each other.

“So, were you plugging up much?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, wondering why he was asking me this when we’d been in the same field all day. Surely he saw me plug up. “Were you?” I asked back, to be polite.

“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle, and I realized that he’d asked in a sarcastic way and I hadn’t gotten the joke.

“Did we plug up because of how wet it was?” I asked, just for something to say.

“Yeah. It was at 60%. It’s supposed to be at 20% or lower.”

What exactly was at 60%? Humidity? Is there a scale of wetness besides humidity? I didn’t know. I didn’t ask.

“Thanks for the ride.”

“Yeah.”

This morning I woke up at 7:30 because my Dad was loudly talking on his cell phone in the room below me. “Hmm,” I thought, “I didn’t wake up at 5:45…”

I looked out my window. No rain, but the cloud cover would keep the dew from drying up.

Boss Man texted me: “Let’s shoot for 12.”

I might start work at noon today, but we all know that the weather is my real boss here.

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Stop Being Spooky, LinkedIn

I have a very weird story about LinkedIn that has puzzled me for three years.

It actually began six years ago, when I started my very first term of college ever, at Bridgewater College in Virginia. Bridgewater required that every student take a class called “Personal Development Portfolio.” It was kind-of a weird class. We read Siddhartha, and the Sermon on the Mount, and a lot of random philosophers.

There were only about ten students in the class, and for some reason the other students really disliked me. One day we had to take a bus somewhere and do a service project, and no one let me sit by them, which was the kind of weird petty thing that happened in books but that I’d never actually seen in real life.

To be honest, it was the first time in my life that I’d ever felt disliked, and it was kinda tough because I didn’t know what I was doing wrong (though looking back I have a few guesses). Now, granted, I’m sure it wasn’t literally the first time anyone had ever disliked me, but it was the first time the dislike was obvious enough for an oblivious person like me to notice it.

I only went to Bridgewater College for one term, and then I moved back to Oregon and went to community college, which was, to be honest, a much less snobby and entitled environment.

Three years ago I took a journalism class. The teacher required us, as part of the class, to set up a LinkedIn profile.

In my profile I said that I went to Bridgewater College in 2010, but that’s the only info I disclosed about my time there.

Imagine my surprise, then, when LinkedIn sent me an email suggesting I connect with, of all people, a girl that had been in that class. One of the one’s who’d disliked me. We didn’t have any connections in common. We hadn’t had any contact with each other since I’d left. Yet there she was.

This has continued to happen throughout the past three years. One by one, LinkedIn has sent me emails with the LinkedIn profiles of various members of that class, trying to get me to connect. I  just got another one this morning.

I don’t get it.

Besides the people in that one tiny class, no one else from Bridgewater College has ever been suggested to me as a connection.

No one from that class has mutual connections with me.

No one else has ever been suggested to me as a possible connection unless we already have some mutual connections.

After I left Bridgewater, I had no connection anywhere on the internet with anyone from that class.

I just don’t get it.

While I was attending that class I did, once, send an email to the whole class through my personal email. But surely LinkedIn doesn’t have access to my email records? And if they do, wouldn’t I get connection suggestions about the gazillions of other people I’ve emailed in the past six years?

I am completely baffled.