The Elegance of the Train’s Song

In the quiet darkness of night, I hear the comforting rumble of the train as I lie awake in the same southern Illinois town where I grew up. My head rests now on a pillow not far from the cozy bed of my childhood, where the train’s song was a lullaby of comfort, a reminder of perseverance, and an elegant symbol of life’s journey.

As a child, the train that ran through Mt. Vernon watched over me like an angel. Day or night, its approaching sound assured me life was chugging along in a steady rhythm, and I was never alone. My train angel’s steel wings sang a soothing hymn as it flew by my house, school, or secret spot in the woods.

Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I’m conditioned to feel peace when I hear the distant sound clattering down the tracks. Even now, the train’s vibration sinks deep into my heart and instantly makes me feel calm and connected. In her poem Song of the Railroad Train Mrs. John Loye wrote, “How grand by night o’er countryside is that wild melodious strain; and music blown at eventide, is the song of the railroad train.”

No child should grow up without reading the American folktale The Little Engine that Could. The 1930s story teaches the value of optimism and hard work. At nearly sixty years old, I confess to finding strength in the little blue engine’s mantra, “I think I can. I think I can.”

Sometimes the rails we ride are long and monotonous. Other times they take us up steep hills, down plunging valleys, and through dark tunnels. Even when we can’t see the light, we find the hope and will to keep going.

Trains are an easy metaphor. We’re all aboard a journey that takes us to different stations in life, some by choice and others by chance. There are love trains, peace trains, freedom trains, runaway trains, midnight trains, and crazy trains. I’ve ridden them all.

Along the way, we’re joined by fellow passengers – family, friends, teachers, loves, children, coworkers, and neighbors – but we all begin and end our trip alone. Sometimes the train takes us right back were we began. We step off the platform carrying a lifetime of lessons, experiences, and memories collected on our sojourn.

On this night, the ambient wail and low blowing horn remind me of a salvation song. I hum a familiar tune by Curtis Mayfield, “People get ready, there’s a train a comin’. You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.” §

“There’s something about the sound of a train that’s very
romantic and nostalgic and hopeful.”

~Paul Simon

Self-Care and Green Smoothies

During stressful times, I always seem to throw self-care out the window. The next thing I know, my sleeping, exercising, and eating habits are out of whack, creating even more stress and dis-ease.

Although I’m honestly in no mood for any of it, I re-established some healthy routines this week including drinking a green smoothie every day. I’ve already noticed an improvement in my sleep, digestion, dark circles, and dry skin. I like the ritual of making the smoothie and knowing I’m taking positive steps to get my mojo back.

You can find plenty of smoothie recipes on Pinterest or Google, adding and subtracting ingredients as you wish. I tinkered with one and came up with this simple recipe that tastes fresh, healthy, and delicious.

Combine and blend until smooth:
1 cup oat milk
a big handful of greens (I use a mix that includes spinach)
1 green apple
1 banana
a dash of cinnamon
1 cup of ice

At the end of the day, we are each responsible for our own self-care. I hope you’re taking the time to take good care of yourself. I’m inspired by this anonymous quote, “An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” Cheers! §

The Elegance of Civility

There is a dog-eared little blue book on my shelf titled Civility – George Washington’s Rules for Today by Steven Michael Selzer. As we celebrate Presidents’ Day on Monday, let’s look to the father of our nation for some lessons in simple, everyday elegance. 

According to the author, when George Washington was just fourteen, he copied 110 principles for personal conduct from a manual composed by French-Jesuits in 1595. Washington titled his list Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation and carried it with him throughout his life. 

America’s first president understood civil behavior is not just desirable but essential to a successful democratic nation. In a letter written to the people of Baltimore in 1789, Washington wrote what could easily be applied to us today. “It appears to me that little more than common sense and common honesty, in the transactions of the community at large, would be necessary to make us a great and happy nation.”

Most of Washington’s rules are as apropos in 2022 as they were 250 years ago, though a few have become less relevant. One such rule states, “Kill no vermin, as fleas, lice, ticks, etc., in the sight of others. If you see any filth or thick spittle, put your foot dexterously upon it.” Ew, George.

Out of Washington’s 110 rules, and in keeping his original language, I’ve chosen ten that could start a revolution of civility.

  1. Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present. This was Washington’s rule number one, and if we truly followed it, the others might be unnecessary. Everyone deserves kindness and respect, and though the rules are apolitical, it does pair nicely with a nation founded upon principles of democracy.
  2. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet. This rule makes me think Washington may have spent time, as I have, as an eighth grade teacher. We should all keep in mind that our music, talking, fidgeting, pencil tapping, phone use, and other behaviors might be disturbing to others.
  3. Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty. I’ve heard it said we Americans often know our rights better than our wrongs. We are gloriously endowed with freedom of speech, but we should do so carefully, respectfully, and wisely.
  4. Use no reproachful language against anyone. Neither curse nor revile. Demeaning, undisciplined, rude, and crude language routinely flies out the mouths of those who should be setting an example for others. While such talk may be commonplace in today’s society, civil it is not. There is only one person’s words over which we have control.
  5. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company. In business, politics, and our personal life, we should be careful of the company we keep. It was Washington’s pal Benjamin Franklin who said, “He that lies down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas.”
  6. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any. I’m not sure Washington could have foreseen the abounding dishonesty paraded as truth in our society. Now more than ever, we have the responsibility to get our information from trustworthy sources and share it judiciously.
  7. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly. In the words of another great president, Abraham Lincoln, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
  8. Be not curious to know the affairs of others, neither approach those that speak in private. In an age when many over-share details of their personal lives, it’s still important to respect people’s privacy. It takes a certain amount of maturity and discretion to stay out of the rumor mill.
  9. Put not another bite into your mouth till the former be swallowed. Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls. Though poor table manners may not be immoral, they can be unpleasant. A revival of basic etiquette would go far in increasing our respect towards one another.
  10. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience. This delightful quote is Washington’s 110th and final rule. Deep down we understand civil from uncivil, courteous from discourteous, polite from impolite. Imagine if we all endeavored to keep that heavenly flame of our conscience burning bright. §

“Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”
~ George Washington

The Elegance of Nature’s Valentines

Nature sends the sweetest Valentines. She  gives us heart-shaped gifts in the form of clouds, seashells, and adorable puppy spots. A universal symbol of love, hearts found in nature are positively sigh-inducing.

My son was very young when he proudly gave me a rock shaped like a heart. I imagine his face beaming at its discovery while playing outside, his tiny hand quickly stuffing it in his pocket for safe-keeping. He found supplies to decorate it, outlining the rock’s shape with red poster paint and carefully painting, in blue, the word love.

It’s a gift I’ve never forgotten, and so began my beloved collection of heart rocks. For more than twenty years, nature has freely offered them. Family and friends find them on their travels and present them to me knowing I will cherish them more than any souvenir.

When my husband and I go hiking, we frequently stop to pick up a rock that catches our eye, gleaming at the bottom of a creek bed or hiding in forested nooks and rocky crannies. We carefully examine it and hold it out for the other to approve. Only those with a certain je ne sais quoi make the cut. The others are given a parting squeeze and tossed back with a wish.

My heart rock collection fills a large glass bowl in our living room. There are more than a hundred, some the size of my palm, others as small as a dime. Their colors are a soothing palette of nature. They come from beaches and deserts, rivers and mountains, playgrounds and parking lots. I wonder the story of each one. How old is it? Where has it been? How did nature manage to tumble and turn it until it was shaped like a heart?

Photographers have captured amazing images of hearts in nature from all over the world –  a heart-shaped beach in Brazil, a heart-shaped boulder in Joshua Tree National Park, a heart-shaped island in Croatia, even a heart-shaped crater on the surface of Mars.

While such phenomenon would be a thrill to see, I’m just as happy to spy a flock of birds flying in a heart pattern or a perfect heart-shaped leaf trailing from a houseplant.

Those who open their eyes in appreciation of nature’s elegance are freely bestowed her gifts. William Wordsworth wrote this lovely sentiment about her undying affection, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” §

“I love not man the less, but nature more.” 
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Elegance of Precious Things

The pain of losing people we love is magnified by the necessary task of going through their clothing, jewelry, and other possessions. In some twisted Marie Kondo exercise, we must hold each object and ask if it “sparks joy.” The answer is, “No. It does not. Right now, nothing does.”

My sisters could only stay with me for a couple of days after our mother died, so together we faced her belongings the very next day. We numbly went through Mom’s things, each of us making little piles of treasures we wanted to keep.

When it came to our mom’s most valuable and sentimental jewelry, there was an easy agreement. My youngest sister felt most attached to her gold charm bracelet. My middle sister would keep our dad’s wedding ring, and I would cherish wearing her gold pavé diamond wedding ring.

My sisters returned home, and over the next couple of days I made several difficult trips to Goodwill to donate my mom’s clothing, shoes, books, and knick-knacks. Employees looked at my puffy eyes sympathetically as I awkwardly retrieved silly things from the boxes, like a banana-shaped bookmark that says, “A banana makes a very messy bookmark.”

I woke in a panic five days after my mother died and gasped, “The ring!” Before the sun was up, I ran through the house looking under furniture, behind drawers, through boxes of costume jewelry and my grandmother’s cedar chest filled with photos and memorabilia.

In a desperate and crazed act, I dumped a full 96-gallon city-issued trash can on the cold garage floor and tore through garbage wailing like an injured animal, not for the loss of the ring but for the loss of my mother.

My frantic search continued out onto our icy driveway. My very kind neighbor, a preacher from South Africa waved me over. We stood in the middle of the snow-packed street in 12-degree temperatures with eyes closed and heads bowed. He prayed for me, for my mom, and for the ring.

As a last-ditch effort, I called Goodwill and told the manager what I had lost. She explained what they did with jewelry that might be valuable and welcomed me to come look through what they had salvaged.

With low expectations, my husband drove me to Goodwill where an employee led me into a cluttered office. My eyes scanned a dusty desk stacked high with detritus. In the center of the desk was a small mound of tangled jewelry. In the center of the mound was my mother’s ring. With shaking hands, I clutched it to my chest and sobbed.

Sometimes it takes a loss to truly understand how much something is worth to us. My mother was a sparkling diamond with a heart of gold. Like all lives, hers was precious and beautiful, as the ring on my hand will forever remind me. §

A Celebration of Life will be held for Lynda Love Fry on Saturday, April 2 from 3-6 pm at Green Hills Country Club in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Email for more information.

The Elegance of the Season of Now

My mother, daughter, and I stand next to one another in front of a sunny window on a January day. The trees outside are bare on this crisp and clear afternoon. “The trees will be so pretty in the spring,” I say, instantly regretting my words.

I’m learning to appreciate the elegance of the moment in which I find myself. I think of a saying I’ve always loved, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift…that’s why they call it the present.”

Like rings marking the age of a tree, the figures in the hazy reflection represent three distinct generations. Each woman feels a certain amount of relief and discomfort about the season she is in. They all fight the urge to get stuck reminiscing the past or dreaming of the future.

My mother is the most deeply rooted of us. She is a towhead little girl, a beautiful bride, a young mother, a devoted grandmother, and a grieving widow. She says she didn’t expect to live so long and doesn’t want to be a burden. How I wish she understood she’s no more a burden than a stately tree providing solace, shade, beauty, and grace.

I’m part of the sandwich generation, those of us firmly in the middle of adult children we still worry about and parents who need our care. I’m retired now, leaving me to find identity within my relationships. I am a little tired and no longer young, but I am still growing.

At thirty-one, my daughter is in full bloom. She faces the daily excitement and anxiety of a demanding profession in a bustling city. She is a newlywed and first-time homeowner still unsure if she will choose to become a mother herself. If not unaware, she is at least indifferent to her skin so soft and supple, her body so long and lithe, her mind so sharp and strong.

The three of us stand silent, deep in our individual and collective thoughts. The significance of our coming together for just a moment to look out the window at the trees, mysteriously dormant yet pulsing with life, is palpable.

The trees stand strong, bold, and elegant against the bright blue sky. They hold both the memory and the promise of green leaves and fresh blossoms, but on this cold winter day they are living fully in the season of now. §

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” 
~Eckhart Tolle

The Elegance of My Mother’s Life

Instead of writing my blog this week, I wrote my mother’s obituary. It was sudden, unexpected, heart-wrenching, and yet, incredibly freeing to know she has at last been reunited with my dad. My mother was simply elegant, and I will miss her every day. 

Lynda Love Fry, 83, of Mount Vernon, Illinois passed away on January 31, 2022 at Good Samaritan Hospital following a sudden illness. She was born on October 26, 1938 in Christopher, Illinois to Dr. and Mrs. Loren Love. She was a 1960 graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale where she met her husband, Allen D. Fry. They were married on April 1,1961 and celebrated 55 years of marriage before Allen’s passing in May, 2016. 

Lynda is survived by her three daughters – Alicia (Mike) Woodward of Mt. Vernon, Melinda (Jed) Miller of Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Suzanna Gerson of Jacksonville, Florida. She was a loving Nana to her four grandchildren – Hannah (Jon) Garlough, Mac Griffin, Emily Gerson, and Mitchell Gerson. Also preceding her death were her two beloved golden retrievers, Bud and Bee Gee. 

She was a devoted homemaker and mother who served her community throughout her life. She volunteered in Junior Women’s Club, PTA, the Mt. Vernon Arts Guild, the Historical Society, and Good Samaritan Hospital. She and Allen performed in several plays at Centralia’s community theater. She enjoyed participating in study club, bridge club, gourmet club, the Elks club, and Green Hills Country Club. 

When her children were young, Lynda served as a homeroom mother, Brownie troop leader, and chauffeur to three active girls. She hosted many memorable birthday and slumber parties and was famous for her animal pancakes. She taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School at Central Church of Christ where she and Allen were active members. 

In the early 70s, she and her dear friend, Mary Ellen Martin, opened and operated a children’s clothing store on the Mt. Vernon square called The Daisy. During the 80s, she taught GED and English at Rend Lake College. She is remembered fondly by her former students. 

Upon Allen’s retirement, they moved to Gold Canyon, Arizona where they enjoyed the weather, golf, and traveling. After Allen’s death, she returned to Mt. Vernon, the place she called home, for the support of a fun-loving group of lifelong friends. 

Music was her passion since childhood, and she was an excellent pianist and vocalist. Her favorite artist was old blue eyes, Frank Sinatra. She was incredibly creative. She made beautiful handmade greeting cards. She also delighted friends and family with her whimsical and delicious “Nana cookies.” Lynda was known as an enthusiastic St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan. 

Her family thanks the doctors, nurses, and staff at SSM Health Good Samaritan Hospital in Mt. Vernon. Their compassionate care for her over the years is appreciated. Donations may be made to the hospital in Lynda’s name. 

Lynda and Allen’s ashes will rest together at Oakwood Cemetery in Mt. Vernon. A celebration of Lynda Love Fry’s beautiful life will be held at a later date.