Monday, December 14, 2015

The Hope School Reunion

This article was printed, in part, in the Summer/Fall 2015 issue of DIALOGUE Magazine, which publishes information of interest to people who are blind and visually impaired.

The weekend we decided to visit my mother just happened to be the same time they were having the Hope School reunion.

The old one-room schoolhouse, now a community center, stands less than two miles up the road from the farm where I grew up. The school was formed in the mid 1800s, starting in the home of some of the students. It closed in 1955.

My mother attended the school up to eighth grade. My Aunt Alice, who later married my father’s brother, was my mother’s teacher for at least three grades. My grandmother on my mother’s side was one of the high school students the only year high school was offered, in 1926.

My mother still lives on the farm where I grew up, so Sunday morning, my husband Murray, my son Ping-Hwei, Mom, and I load up and make the less than five minute drive to the school house to help set up.

I sit and knit as Mom and the other ladies from the quilting group, who meet weekly at the school house, start getting things ready for the potluck lunch. Outside, others set up tables and chairs. It’s a beautiful early October day.

Mom tells me one of the other ladies in the quilting group remembers me taking notes in Braille at church when I was young. “I sometimes had a hard time staying awake,” she tells me. “So I just watched you. I wondered ‘How can she do that?’”

I don’t remember taking notes at church. I think I hope I used the slate and stylus. Surely I didn’t take a Braille writer there and clunk on it while the minister preached.

“Kathy Brinkmann, I haven’t seen you in over forty-five years.” My cousin Daniel comes in and puts an arm around my shoulders. “And I don’t look any better, and neither do you.”

It’s not been forty-five years, but we haven’t seen each other much in the 35 years since I left for college.

I hear Uncle Steven outside and decide to go out and sit with him. “I’ll probably be the oldest one here today,” he tells me.

Steven will be eighty-three on Valentine’s Day. He has a great deal of trouble with his legs, from strokes and diabetes. He still drives a tractor though, which his wife—my Aunt Ruth—and sisters—Mom included—wish he didn’t.

Daniel comes to sit by us, and Steven tells him about a truck he wants to buy. “I probably don’t need to buy it though, do I?” he asks Daniel.

A big part of today is fundraising to keep the schoolhouse running as a community center. Quilts are being auctioned off, made by the ladies’ quilting group to help support the center. I hear several people encouraging others to bid, “to support the ladies.” Murray tells me, “It’s kind of circular."

Daniel says to Steven, “I’m going to spend a lot of money today, and have it all billed to you. You ever heard of a rich uncle?”

Steven laughs. “It’s not me.”

Daniel drives a delivery van to the next state every night. He starts to tell a story about an afternoon recently when he was trying to take a nap, and a guy from work calls him.

Julia, Daniel’s wife, stops by us to say hi to Steven.

“Julia,” Steven tells her, “I’ve got nine cats in my barn right now. When this is done today, I want you all to stop by and get them.”

She says, “I don’t need nine more cats.”

“Seven then.”


“How about if you take the mother?” Steven says. “It would really help me if you’d take the mother.”

“No, I just got my fifth cat. I don’t need any more cats.”

Daniel says, “I was just starting to tell them that story, but you go ahead. You can tell it better than me.”

Julia says she was hanging clothes not too long ago, and her phone rang in her pocket. “It was a number I didn’t know, and I usually don’t answer if I don’t know who it is, but I did this time.”

It was a guy from Daniel’s company. “I think ‘Why would he be calling me?’”

The caller, Chuck, told her that at a business on the road nearby, they had a kitten outside, in a box with a lid, and they were going to be closing for the day soon.

“He kept saying that, that there was a lid on the box. I told him, ‘Daniel will be mad,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, he’s mad at me.’”

So she drove to the business he’d mentioned, and there were two guys standing outside, and she asked, “Do you have a cat here?” One of the men said, “Wait a minute,” and turned toward the door.

“A minute later, a lady came out carrying a box with the sweetest little gray and white kitten. She said ‘I gave it a bath.’ Well, it was all clean and fixed up, and it was so cute, so I took it home. And while I was getting supper ready, I was planning my defense.

“When Daniel got up, I said, ‘You’re going to be mad.’ He said, ‘I know all about it.’ It turns out Chuck had called him while he was trying to sleep to get my phone number. He knew all about me getting a cat.”

What an excellent story.

Somebody comes up behind me and squeezes my shoulders, then sits in the chair beside me. “You’re wearing those funny orange shoes again.” My brother Rodney.

“Murray got them for me.” I smile at my brother. “He knows orange is my favorite color.”

I understand they’re neon orange.

Steven tells us about when he was in the Korean War, about how he and two other local guys went in together. “We were separated during the War, then we met up again on the ship home. And we all had made it.”

He says there was a protest when they got back to the United States. “People were throwing eggs and tomatoes at us. We thought we’d probably be better off just turning around and going back to Korea.”
I’ve been working on knitting a sash for a bathrobe. It’s like a fat cord, snaking out of a tiny knitting loom. Several people ask me what I’m working on when they stop by. After watching me for a while, Steven says, “Kathy, I’m just amazed.”

At one time, I would have been irritated by someone thinking it’s “amazing”, just because I’m blind, that I can do something fairly normal. Not today. Maybe I’m getting old. Now, I just think how nice it’s been to sit and talk with my uncle.

Murray and I walk around and talk to more people. A lady I don’t know asks, “Are you Lila Mae Brinkmann’s daughter?” When Murray tells Jake we live in Cleveland, he says, “Oh, the Cleveland Browns.” I say, “No, the only sports team Murray cares about is the St. Louis Cardinals.” Jake says, “Well, that’s good.”

I don’t really remember Jake, but I remember his dad, George. George used to come by our place to buy eggs from Mom. I always stood around when he came, with my hand out, because he would give my brothers and me a dime when he paid for the eggs.

My cousin Melissa, an active member of the quilting group, had a stroke two weeks ago. Mom told me Melissa has been giving directions from her hospital bed about things that needed to be done to get ready for the reunion. She has made arrangements to be called when a certain quilt comes up on the auction, because she wants to bid on it.

Randy, a local minister, called out to everyone, “I’m going to call Melissa now. I want everybody to get as close as you can, and when I say to, you all yell ‘Hi, Melissa, we love you.’”

Besides the quilts, there are a variety of items on silent auction—tools, restaurant gift certificates, crocheted hot pads (Mom made those), bookmarks made by counted cross-stitch, coolers and lunch boxes. Murray tells me that one restaurant certificate for five dollars has a bid of twenty-five dollars written down for it.

There’s also what looks like a toy tractor to me, but Mom says it’s a replica of a tractor from the early 1950s. Murray says it’s for old farmers to set out in their homes to get attention. I want it for my desk, because I grew up on a farm.

Ping-Hwei bids on it for me, but somebody else wins it, paying fifty dollars.

We leave before the auction starts, to start back for Cleveland. But I am smiling.

Growing up, I often did not feel much a part of this community. Being disabled, I carried a large chip on my shoulder. I convinced myself people never really accepted me as one of them. As normal. I wonder now if I didn’t hold myself apart, deny myself this community.

Today was a treasure. I thank God for giving me another chance to share time with these delightful, fascinating people. And it is my hope that I’ll have more opportunities in the future.

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