I was born in hutchinson kansas lived in a big ‘ol house downtown across from a grocery store that had a santa claus on its roof at Christmas and there was a boarder student to help take care of lynelle and lori and brad and me when mom and dad were out and there was a tornado warning so we had to go down into the basement and listen to the crackly radio with blankets for comfort but i never saw a real tornado or had one knock something down at least that I could see. We went to the first baptist church mom played organ and piano and marimba and dad led music I think at the church but he got a master’s degree in music education and started teaching band and choir at a few schools around there like partridge. We moved to wichita into a smaller house (only one story) but it had a woods behind it with mulberry trees both white and purple and also big orange fungus that grossed me out but there was also honeysuckle that had real honey in it it seemed ‘cuz we’d pull off the flower and suck on the back of it and it was sweet. We made mulberry rhubarb pie by first putting sheets out under the mulberry trees and then somehow shaking the branches so the berries would fall on the sheets so we could gather them for the pies. Crusty, sweet, tangy mulberry rhubarb pies are one of the best treats in the world. We went on vacation a lot it seems to colorado, camping with uncle “rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub” loren and aunt marge and cousins stan and brenda and beth hamm who lived in the panhandle of oklahoma (stephanie came later) which always took forever+ to get to because it’s out in nowhere’s ville unless you count it being at the center of the terrible dust storms decades earlier but now they grew crops and had cows and silos and horses and a huge trash pit behind the first field where they dumped all their trash, and we played sardines after dark among the farm buildings which was scary but fun and it seems one time Stan cheated by going someplace we didn’t know about but he probably thought it was ok but we got mad but not for long.
Camping was a blast because on the way we stopped at the sand dunes one time and the ranger lady taught us “the medino river brings the water to the dunes but it’s almost always dry” which we sang over and over and over and I’m sure mom and dad got a little tired of it but what were we supposed to do we were sometimes in the old vw van or the ford country squire station wagon with faux wood paneling crammed into every corner and making sure nobody else got into our space because we would poke them if they did. Outside our tents in the mountains was always a stream and we would play in that water and we found a rock island that we called schrag rock and we would stay out there and do adventurous things with sticks and leaves and rocks and imaginations though I don’t know if stan and brenda and beth wanted to call it hamm rock but there you have it. We also sometimes probably when I was older climbed one of the spanish peaks and trenchera which was really hard and exhilarating and one time at the top of a spanish peak we were in the clouds and couldn’t remember which down way was back to our site and we talked and i was pretty sure because of the direction of the wind which way was right so we went that way but it wasn’t right, but at least it wasn’t completely on the other side of the mountain so people were nice to me. The schrags and hamms would sing together at church and maybe other places and we made a record that is fun to listen to now – marge played piano and Loren was a true bass and everybody sang and stan eventually learned to play the guitar professionally with glass and metal slides and doing blues and composing songs and boy was he talented but he ended up with lots of problems and killed himself when he was a young adult which makes me cry even now when i think of it.
We moved to canton, ohio when i was eight and dad became associate pastor of youth and music at the first baptist church and we had a nice house with a big yard and a basement that dad refinished and put in a coal burning stove and wood floor and carpeting and bedrooms and a bathroom and a place for the ping pong table and punching bag that some people say they gave me because I had a temper but I think it was because one of the irish twins beat me up during a neighborhood basketball game and they wanted me to be able to take care of myself. And we had woods there, too, but farther away but we were at the bottom of a big hill and in the winter all the kids in the neighborhood would bring their sleds and toboggans and we’d take them up through all of our neighbors’ back yards to the top of the hill and slide down really really fast because they hadn’t put up fences yet which they later did, but it was a little dangerous because of the creek at the bottom of the hill which was usually frozen over but not always, so sometimes you got wet and cold and had to go back inside. We went to new schools and took piano lessons from mrs. mathias who always had comic books we could read while we were waiting for our turn after a sibling or two had their lessons, but it seems we were always doing music and fighting for practice time at home on the baby grand piano that we got because some lady from church died except I remember at least once that brad really didn’t want to practice and he yelled and grabbed mom’s leg and that was quite a scene but they’ve both since gotten over it and brad’s a great singer and song writer and piano player and choir director now but you know what it’s like when you’re growing up – not quite very smart for awhile. the height of my career as a studier of classical piano was when i played mussorgsky's 'baba yaga' from 'pictures at an exhibition' as the winner of a young artist contest in canton and i played it at the cultural center but i didn't go on to learn the final piece about a big gate and my piano playing went all down or sidehill from there. But one time brad and eddie our neighber and i made a zip line out of a rope and a pulley from our garage door that had broken and dad fixed and we tied the rope real high in a tree in the back yard and the other end to the bottom of a telephone pole and attached the pulley at the top and Eddie went first and the pulley broke and he fell 20 feet and broke his wrist and got a cast so the next day brad and i fixed it and i tried it and the pulley broke again and i fell 20 feet and broke my wrist and got a cast so I couldn’t play at piano competition which made me relieved but I had to do it anyway a few months later and eddie and I had a pretty good summer hitting rubber balls back and forth with our casts. Dad made us take down the zip line.
We went to warstler elementary choo (the 's' and 'l' seemed to always be missing) then middlebranch middle school then glenoak high school though lynelle started at glenwood high school until they merged with oakwood and made the name glenoak which she didn’t really like but was true nonetheless and we all were in choirs with bruce shelley one of the best choir directors ever though he had a strong temper and had mannerisms that people made fun of and once sneezed up snot while he was conducting but he didn’t notice but a few of us did and it just hung there on a chair on the first row but all of that really didn’t matter because he made us sing difficult, beautiful music so we always earned perfect 1’s at competitions and we all sang in the elite drifters songs like when i fall in love and blackbird and at least one year the boys had to buy off-white suits with vests and ties and i thought i looked really good. In the summers, dad used to pack us all six into the station wagon at night and drive 1000 miles back to kansas and oklahoma to see our grandparents and aunts and uncles and such and it wasn’t until after he retired that he admitted that there were sometimes when he dozed off but we never crashed or died so it’s all right now and when we got to kansas we’d go to grandma and grandpa waldo menno schrag’s farm and eat cream puffs and pudding and roast beef and we’d play on the old rusted out combines behind the house climb up the windmill and wash our hands with water we had to pump in the outhouse right outside the door to the house and i’d love to go out into the middle of the wheat fields when the grain was golden and just look and look and look and let the vast deep gold pour into my eyes and through my mind and i could feel it in my soul and i’d just stand and look and look and look and it fed me just like being on top of a mountain or on an ocean beach or next to a huge desert which i did once in northern kenya later on and these kinds of things help me feel a little bit of how big God is which is good. We’d also see grandma enns who had a cherry tree with the most tasty cherries you could ever eat and lilac bushes whose aroma still is my favorite but i can’t get lilacs to grow in dallas where i live now, and we’d go visit grandpa in 'the home' where he was because he had huntington’s disease and he recognized us but couldn’t stop moving and his face was scratchy with whiskers but we all kissed him anyway and there was always a sadness in grandma and mom and other people that i didn’t really understand but do now.
I also had a 4.0 gpa and ran cross-country and played soccer which i wasn't very good at but it didn't matter because this was the first year our school had a team because we lived in american football territory - even had the pro football hall of fame in canton - but we still did ok because of a couple of guys from england who had moved to canton and probably were only average back there but they were our star players. I was also real involved in byf (baptist youth fellowship) and even became president of the whole state of ohio's byf and led workshops and used to go to judson hills camp and sing pass it on around the fire at night and i shouldn't say this in such a public forum but i think i had my first kiss after a campfire in the chapel in the woods and a friend asked me the next day if that was me kissing in the chapel because he saw someone doing it and i lied and said no and now that's off my chest though i already asked God to forgive me for lying (please don't tell anybody else).
Our family had something we four children called 'schrag guilt' which is probably not named well and is really dysfunctional codependency or something but came out for example when one of us was playing at a piano recital and another of us watching felt ashamed for any mistakes the other one made or might make – it was always hard to go to recitals though i usually liked playing in them just not watching brad or lori or lynelle. But mostly i remember the six of us eating around the dinner table and throwing balled up napkins and laughing and making word jokes and singing with mom saying it wasn’t polite to sing at the table but she never really stopped us so it was ok and a deep bond of common experiences of mountains and fields and music and campings and laughing and laughing and laughing is still there when we’re all together like when we went to grandma enns’ funeral when we were all adults – the four siblings drove around together and we just couldn’t stop laughing and i think sometimes crying but it was deep and imperfect and good.