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Dix High School Marching Band 1955

Dix High School Marching Band 1955

The first time I heard or noticed Dan Fogelberg’s song, “The Leader of the Band,” I was in the early phases of a somewhat awkward road trip back to college in Ohio. My friend, Linda, had a visiting aunt and uncle who were driving back to their home in Dayton after spending the Christmas holidays in Nebraska. Somehow our families worked it out so we could cancel my expensive plane ticket and replace it with some gas money and an inexpensive night in a motel—who really wants to visit Iowa in post-holiday early January?

Turns out there was a good reason no one wants to visit Iowa then. By the time we had reached the Iowa border, winter had returned in full force, often forcing semis onto their sides on the icy roads. Luckily, Linda’s uncle was a cautious driver who took few risks—other than the fact we were on the road at all.

Elda Mae (Ritter) Lange, Senior Picture

Elda Mae (Ritter) Lange, Senior Picture

But before the weather changed, I remember riding on colorless roads through Nebraska, feeling generally bored, as most of us are prone to feel on drives through empty spaces, especially when we aren’t traveling with people we know well. I listened to the radio and thought a lot. When I started hearing the words of Fogelberg’s song, I instantly thought of my own mom, even though at that time, she was only tired because she was working long hours in her second career at the unemployment office in a time when too many people needed benefits.

My mom graduated from college at the height of the Korean Conflict. That meant that many jobs previously available to men were opened to women. And band director was one of those jobs. Like Fogelberg’s father, she was a school band director, but since she taught K-12 in rural Nebraska schools, she was also a choir director—and most likely in charge of the smallest child’s musical education.

When I came along a decade later, she had already taken time off to be home with my brother. Before I turned four, she was back working in the schools, bringing her songs with her. All my teen babysitters were her musicians, either vocal, instrumental, or both. Though she also taught piano lessons in our home, she wisely sent us to other teachers for our own lessons.

Mae playing piano, 1957

Mae playing piano, 1957

Our father ran the local drug store, which meant he worked all week except for Sunday. Mom had to do something with us when she had to escort her musicians to Saturday competitions. With most of her babysitters on the trips, she often chose to bring us along. I remember times when we rode the bus with the band and marched beside the band director through autumn parades. (Is it any wonder that when I was in band I could not join the band when our drum major started us on the wrong foot?) I spent days at music competitions, reading or drawing. At the end of the school year I often helped my mom sort the music back into its proper places.

Although my mom introduced me to more than my fair share of music, I didn’t turn out to be the musician she is. I’ve played piano, clarinet, violin, and oboe. Ever since my mom taught me to sing harmony while singing from the hymnal at church, I haven’t really been willing to sing unison. I sang in school, but my best memories are of the youth choirs my mom led at church and with my 4-H group in my teens. If I came home to visit after I had left home, she just might throw me into her bell choir at church. And I always say that it wasn’t an option for me not to have rhythm!

So the leader of the band was able to teach me how to sight read, just not how to want to practice. That’s why I think of myself as musical while I think of her as a musician. It’s just who she is—and who I think she will be until the end.

Mae singing with guys--no doubt as the high tenor!

Mae singing with guys--no doubt as the high tenor!

My mother was more than the leader of the band—she was one of those teachers who made personal connections with students. She was always leading someone in song, whether it was her students, people at church, in the community, or those in her extended family. While I have turned out to be merely musical, several of her family members are musicians, just as she has been. That is one of her greatest joys.

The leader of the band is definitely getting tired now. It’s not her eyes, like in the song. No, unfortunately it’s her essence that is growing dim. I have no answers for that, but know that I need to be with her in these confusing times and always remember that her song is in my soul.

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Granada, Dec. '82 (c) PSL

Granada, Dec. '82 (c) PSL

When I studied in Spain, my Spanish friends used to tease me about how long I made my vowel sounds. So when they’d say goodbye to me, they’d say, “Hasta luego-o-o-o!” and wave their hands slowly back and forth—which, apparently, is just how I did it!

Lorenzo, July '09, (Christiana Lambert)

Lorenzo, July '09, (Christiana Lambert)

For just under four weeks, we’ve been hosting Lorenzo, a student from Albacete, Spain, here with a group from the Compass USA program. It’s been like having triplets, especially since Lorenzo is only one day older than my kids. He came to the United States last year summer also, so he speaks English reasonably well—which is a good thing since Jackson hasn’t slowed down his talking much—which leads to Jackson’s new nickname. When Lorenzo first told me his own nickname, I thought he said “Loro” not Lolo. Loro is Spanish for parrot. Now I can call the boys Loro and Lolo! Both Lorenzo and I agree that Jackson would fit in well in Spain with his boisterous conversations and propensity toward verbal jousting.

Christiana Birthday Group June '09 (C) CBL

Christiana Birthday Group June '09 (C) CBL

The first day here the kids had him jump right into American culture by taking him to a birthday party with a group of loud, noisy local teens. He fit right in here, too, where Jackson appreciated having a “brother” he could try to “kill” frequently while playing Halo. Lorenzo thought it was funny that Christiana could use his arms as a canvas for fake tattoos, which he showed to fool the other Spanish kids in his group—especially since his father is a dermatologist who abhors tattoos (though he makes money removing them!)

Felipe & Lorenzo, June '09 (c) CBL

Felipe & Lorenzo, June '09 (c) CBL

He’s had a chance to take in several quintessential American activities while here with us. The kids took him to a 4th of July party (hosted by British ex-pats!), he celebrated Stephen & Cora’s wedding which took place outside at a ski resort, he rode in our RV to the mountains and camped outside in a tent with Jackson, and he went on a road trip through the middle of nowhere to attend to a family reunion, complete with his own commemorative T-shirt and honorary family membership. He attended the midnight opening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, though he admitted it was an awfully long movie to see in the middle of the night while having to translate all the spoken words! (In other words, he fell asleep!)

Lorenzo, Jesus Juan, Cheyenne, Cecile, Victor, Felipe, 07/09 (c) CBL

Lorenzo, Jesus Juan, Cheyenne, Cecile, Victor, Felipe, 07/09 (c) CBL

When the host families and their guests got together for the welcome party, the Spanish kids and the local kids didn’t mix much. By the farewell party on Thursday, international relations had warmed up considerably, with kids begging to stay out later. (What the heck was this American idea of curfew that was getting in the way of their plans??!!)

And now it’s already the last day here with us. Time to say hasta luego-o-o-o y vaya con Dios, a Lolo! Yes, my kids also make their vowel sounds long—so much so that I think our real nickname for Lorenzo is Low-Low. Some things never change. Adíos, Bajo-Bajo!

Somewhere in Spain, November '82 (c) PSL

Somewhere in Spain, November '82 (c) PSL


I often forget how thin the line is between joy and sadness—in the end, if you are feeling, you are open to feeling both sides of an emotion. I suppose that’s why people often cry at weddings—and laugh at entirely the wrong time.

Yes, I am more prone to the second reaction. Too often I see more than one side of a situation. In the late 80s I worked in a company located in a suburban office park. Our desks (pre-cubicles!) sat in the open next to a bank of windows. One day the building manager rushed in and announced, “Don’t be alarmed, but there’s a maniac (running) loose with an Uzi.”

I couldn’t stifle my laughter.

He turned to me, frowning, and said, “Young lady, this is a serious situation.”

You can imagine that I had an even harder time not reacting to that one. I either needed to laugh—or hide under my desk. If some highly armed lunatic wanted to shoot at us through the windows, we’d be sitting ducks. What’s not to be alarmed about that situation? Not only was I worried about those of us at work, but also about the at-home families I knew in the surrounding neighborhood.

Sadly, somewhere in a quiet development on a blue-skied, sunny day, the man did harm someone before his life ended in violence. Life is full of juxtapositions between what is good and not so good.

Sunday as we drove through Kansas, somewhere around the “herd” of wind turbines whose blades turned in the air, Christiana was laughing. She was driving and joking with her father while I sat in the seat behind them. I was drinking in the pure joy of her laughter when, without warning, I remembered all those days when she did not laugh.

That’s when the tears started slipping down my cheeks. I realize it had been an intense weekend due to seeing my mother so changed, but I didn’t expect to feel sad about something that made me feel so happy for my daughter. I guess I was crying for the normal days we didn’t get to have—and for so much more that I wish neither she nor anyone else in our family had had to experience. I wanted to feel joy for what had been regained, but first I had to acknowledge what had been lost.

So I did the only thing I know how to do well when I am overwhelmed with my emotions—I asked for pencil and paper. And when I am really stumped, I find it best to fence my words into the short and simple (on the surface, only) format of the haiku.

Tears fall on pillow,
squeezed from expectations lost.
Redefine normal.

Trina jumping, 2007, Georgia Pass in Colorado

Trina jumping, 2007, Georgia Pass in Colorado

The good news is that she gets very frustrated with me now when I worry and don’t acknowledge how much she has moved on. She is seventeen and once again believes in possibility. At seventeen, every day is an exercise in redefining normal, no matter who you are and what you are experiencing.

After a long period of mourning the normal I thought we’d have, it’s finally time for me to redefine, again, what normal is. Although thirty years beyond the wonder of seventeen, I can’t argue: there really is no good reason for not embracing a new normal that—thank God—includes laughter, including my own, even if, no doubt, I will occasionally still laugh at all the wrong times.

Ritters Jumping Rocklahoma '09 (c) CBL

Ritters Jumping Rocklahoma '09 (c) CBL

I don’t miss many family reunions, even though they usually require too much driving and don’t last long enough. I left Nebraska around twenty-five years ago, my brother moved to Oklahoma a couple years later, and then my parents followed me to Colorado about fourteen years ago. Various cousins have moved further east in Nebraska, while other cousins live in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, so I don’t have many other chances to see them.

That’s why Friday morning our family, including my mother, headed out bright and early to take I-70 across the eastern plains of Colorado and much of Kansas before turning south to continue toward Oklahoma. It wasn’t for the ten-hour drive through the middle of nowhere, that’s for sure.

But for a few hours, as the sky opened up after we left behind the city, I remembered that I was raised on the prairie. And this year, July was as green and beautiful as early June usually is. The huge horizon, where sky met green grasses, called me away from closed-in spaces.

However, I go to the reunions for more than the prairie. When I dream of childhood homes, I see my grandmother’s home more often than those others where I lived. That dream house is filled with people, just like it was at our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations from my youngest days.

I didn’t live in that town, but that house felt like home with all the relatives who stopped by whenever we visited. By the time I came around, my grandparents had lived in town for several years and my cousins’ stockings wrapped all the way around the huge fireplace mantle at Christmas. That mantle held school pictures of every one of us throughout the year.

Charles & Esther (Rodehorst) Ritter, Married 02/22/22

Charles & Esther (Rodehorst) Ritter, Married 02/22/22

My grandparents, Charles and Esther (Rodehorst) Ritter raised five children. My brother and I had nineteen cousins, as well as one we never knew who had left too soon but who was part of the family, nonetheless. Despite the order perpetuated by our strict German-American grandmother, our gatherings were full of story-telling, joking, movement, and energy, often with our grandmother in charge of the hijinks.

As all the cousins grew up, it became obvious many of us were moving too far away and getting too busy to continue the family holiday celebrations. I thank my mother for knowing enough to create this reunion tradition back in 1986, a few years before Granny or Grandma—we weren’t consistent in what we called her—died.

Almost twenty years after her death, our get-togethers are still much like that, regardless of who shows up. We are loud—so much so that it always takes me a while to acclimate to the crowd after a long day on the road. Yes, somebody is going to do something with the precision of our German forbears, whether it’s playing a game just so, organizing the meals and activities, or taking a group photo. On the other hand, several of us are a combination of precision and chaos—like me, the one who separated the T-shirts by family group, but couldn’t get the printer to print-out the spreadsheet with exact amounts owed—and did the math again, this time using pen and paper.

Elda Mae (Ritter) Lange, 07/18/09, (c) CBL

Elda Mae (Ritter) Lange, 07/18/09, (c) Christiana Lambert

We are similar—and at the same time very different. In some ways we have our roles in the family—and if we have changed, people notice. This year my mom’s changes were hard to ignore. When the life of the party stays quiet, everyone listens. As much as these reunions give us a chance to catch up, they also remind us that many years have passed since those days at our grandmother’s house. Some people are permanently gone and others have aged more than we’d like to admit.

Yet as we went through old pictures, we had a chance to remember and celebrate who everyone was. Donna, the little girl I never knew, and her parents, Dale and Arlys. Our grandparents. My father. We come together to keep the memories alive, to create new ones, and to help one another when we are in need. Despite all the chaos of at our reunions, in that we find a small token of peace, that “Peace like a Ritter” about which we used to sing.

So, after an intense time spent among other Ritters, our personal family got back in the van and drove across the prairie towards the mountains. Even if it turns out to be my mom’s last reunion, I have some peace in knowing that she had one more chance to be with those whom she loved best.

Cora (Dickinson) Lambert 07/07/09 (c) CBL

Cora (Dickinson) Lambert 07/07/09 (c) Christiana Lambert

This has been a busy week already. Our nephew Stephen Lambert married Cora Dickinson on Tuesday. What a lovely wedding—may the marriage be just as lovely!

The first time I met Stephen, he didn’t seem to think much of me. Sherman and I had only been dating a month when he invited me to a family celebration. He and his brother Michael were hosting their mother Pat’s birthday party at their house. It’s always a nerve-wracking situation when you are introduced to “the family” after you start dating someone. That’s probably why for once I was in the kitchen—not my usual place, thanks to my total disinterest in the domestic “arts”!

Anne & Stephen Lambert 1987

Anne & Stephen Lambert 1987

In barreled this little tow-head who soon progressed to opening cupboard doors. I had no experience as a mom, but even I knew this was a bad idea. Although the bachelor pad had been scrubbed to an amazing level of cleanliness, it was far from child-proofed. Sharp knives, cleaning chemicals, bottles of alcohol, you name it. So Stephen was not impressed with this woman who kept telling him “no” and closing doors behind him. I didn’t know what his mom, Anne, thought of me at the time, but I’m sure in her early pregnancy fatigue, she was glad for another set of eyes.

Only with Stephen, as I soon learned, you needed a lot more than a couple sets of eyes! This was the boy who later taught his sister Alex how to climb out of her crib when she was only nine months old. The same one who broke his leg and played on it a couple days before his parents realized it really must be broken if it slowed him down at all. The one who climbed the hutch and brought it down on himself—and survived to tell the tale. They even had to give him an alarm clock so he knew when he was allowed to get up in the morning since he liked to wake early and live fast and hard.

Stephen & Christiana Lambert's First Meeting 06/92 (c) Trina

Stephen & Christiana Lambert's First Meeting 06/92 (c) Trina

Yes, I married into a family whose kids came with a lot of energy and personality. But beyond all the movement, Stephen was also a kid with a sunny smile who always gave warm hugs.

Stephen is no longer a tow-head nor is he small. Now he is an energetic twenty-something who stands almost 6’5”, head and shoulders above his bride, Cora, but by her side, nonetheless.

No doubt when Cora started coming to our family gatherings, she probably noticed the energy level of some of Stephen’s relatives, such as my son—or even of some of the grown males. She shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Knowing Stephen, could it be any other way?

This week we officially welcomed Cora into our family, although she’s been part of our gatherings for several years. Now we couldn’t imagine them without her! Hope she’s got her sneakers on, just like she did beneath her wedding dress, ‘cus she’s going to need them to keep up with Stephen—and any future Stephens!

May their marriage dance be long and joyful, no matter how often the beat changes during their years together.

Cora & Stephen Lambert's 1st Dance 07/07/09 (c) CBL

Cora & Stephen Lambert's 1st Dance 07/07/09 (c) Christiana Lambert

Sherman and Christiana July 4, 1993 Dillon, CO

Sherman and Christiana July 4, 1993 Dillon, CO

My father had a tradition that Sherman and I always joked about. He loved to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy every 4th of July in the afternoon before it got dark. This was his way of celebrating the holiday and he liked it. More power to him.

For the last several years I haven’t really thought about what I was going to do on 4th of July. When you have a family, often someone has planned something for you to do. This 4th is a little bit different—not only do Sherman’s family members own a party rental business (Allwell Rents) with plenty of bookings, but also our nephew Stephen is getting married this Tuesday to Cora. Cora’s family invited any of us to their celebration with their extended family here for the wedding, but Sherman is helping his family with their business.

My kids had plans and then Sherman found out he was going to be working into the dark. Christiana worried about my being alone, but I found that I was actually relieved. Is it a bad thing to “vant to be alone” on a holiday? I’m reminded of the Thanksgiving dinner I had to miss several years ago because I got sick. Everyone went without me and I got to sit around and read. It was rather nice. Can you tell I’ve been doing the “mom” thing for a long time now?

I’ve seen terrific fireworks shows in such varied places as over the Mississippi River in New Orleans, above Lake Estes in Estes Park, at Coors Field after Rockies’ games, and on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. I’ve sung harmony, as in “Bye, bye, Miss America Pie, drove my Chevy to the levy . . .”, along with several hundred people at the fairground stands in Nebraska on the first 4th after the First Gulf War. I’ve got my memories of our neighborhood fireworks displays, back when it was all legal and so much simpler—well, except for the pop bottle rocket war my brother was involved in that might have started a grass fire . . . (yes, Scott and Pat, you know it is true!)

Tonight as I hear the sounds outside my window, I remember and it is enough. I think of the stories from David McCullough’s 1776 and John Adams and try not to forget how incredible it is that the United States of America ever came to be. Manifest Destiny doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea, after all.

I’m sitting this 4th of July out, but I do “get” it, now more than I did when I was younger. As much as my cynical side understood the phrase “you get the government you deserve” (from Don Henley’s “A Month of Sundays”) I’d also like to counter that sometimes you get the government you don’t deserve—and thank God for that! We are truly blessed beyond what we deserve, even in these times of recession and military conflicts.

Don’t think avoiding the corporal celebration will become my new tradition. Just because I’m declaring my independence from other people’s celebration expectations this year doesn’t mean I don’t understand that a big part of this celebration is really about being with other people from your own country and sharing the “oohs” and the “ahs” together—whether that’s watching your father tear up singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” or singing outside with a bunch of strangers or just sharing a couple hot dogs and an awesome view with your own family.

Happy Independence Day to you—however you are celebrating!

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert