I placed a garden stool next to a tomato plant. Although some of its leaves were crisp from recent frosty nights, I spotted a few yellow blossoms deep within the plant. A few big tomatoes on the plant were faintly tinged red. Knowing they would finish ripening in the house, I put them in a box before cutting the plant down to a stump. Methodically, I processed each plant in the row, enjoying the beautiful, earthy scent of my garden.
Finally the only tomatoes I had left in the garden were the cherry tomato plants a few rows away. Less affected by the past few cold nights, each plant bore many clusters of perfect, but still green cherry tomatoes. I knew they would slowly ripen in the house so I put them put in a box, too.
As I worked, my daughter Tammie entered the greenhouse. She excitedly informed me, “The apple tree behind the greenhouse is covered with hundreds of beautiful red apples.”
With a smile I playfully questioned, “Guess who’s going to help me pick them?”
Loving to do things with me after her workhours are finished, Tammie enthusiastically responded, “I’m looking forward to doing that but will the apples be okay? We had a killing frost the other night.”
“They will be fine,” I assured her. “These are late apples and I always pick them after the first frosts in the fall. They’re like these last tomatoes in the garden. All the summer’s warmth turned into plant sugars for us to enjoy after the growing season is over.”
Outside our cozy, warm house, a cold fall drizzle was turning freshly fallen leaves into a slick mat under the trees. I flopped down onto the linoleum living room floor beside the heat register and began to read a comic book.
Mom put our supper in the oven to bake before she stepped into the living room. My brother Billy, who had been lounging in her upholstered rocking chair, got up so she could sit down. I observed his respectful behavior and felt pleased and content.
Mom snuggled into her comfy chair commenting happily, “Seeing the rain makes me thankful I worked all day yesterday getting my yard work done! But, ach…do I ever have sore muscles!” Her flowerbeds spanned our farmyard from one end to the other. In my mind’s eye, I saw how pretty they had been all summer. Yesterday Mom had removed all their frost-deadened leaves and stalks.
The comic book before me was about Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, his nephews Hewy, Dewy and Louie on a search for a great hidden treasure in Egypt. Scrooge’s greatest nemesis, the Beagle Boys, ‘caught wind’ of their find and boarded the ship the ducks were taking back to Duckburg. Beagle boy number 176-617 held Scrooge upside down by his legs and demanded the treasure. He snarled, “Hand it over, you rich pig-of-a-duck!” A jewel suddenly dropped from Scrooges blue frock coat. The Beagle brothers, in true pirate manner, made the ducks walk the plank.
I stepped out onto my back deck and admired how nice my yard looked this spring. New blades of grass glittered in the sunshine as a gentle breeze lovingly caressed them. Tree branches that had been winter-bound for so many months were finally beginning to unfurl their pink and green buds. Bright, yellow daffodils gracefully swayed in the new flowerbed by the driveway.
My loving scan of the crescent-shaped flowerbed came to an abrupt halt when I spotted what remained of the four hosta plants planted there. I’d been enthusiastically watching them grow new leaves for the last several days. My daughter Tammie joined me on the back deck just as I let out a squawk of protest and stamped my foot.
Turning to look in the same direction as I, she inquired, “What do you see that’s making you so upset?”
My response was more of a yelp, “My hostas! Look at them!”
After staring at the new flowerbed for a moment, Tammie asked, “Where did they go? Just yesterday afternoon they each had a nice cluster of new leaves.”
I said, sighing wearily, “The deer were here last night. Does are especially hungry now that winter is over and they have fawns to nurse. Besides that, I’ve heard people describe hostas as “deer candy”. It’s their preferred treat to eat when foraging a landscaped yard.”
Mom and I walked briskly away from our farmyard buildings. Mom wore a brown plaid jacket and carried a large wicker hamper. The hamper fascinated me. I had a foggy memory of it coming into our household years before, filled with large bunches of dark purple grapes. Since then, it has been lined with fresh newspaper each year and used to carry mushrooms we picked.
Warm afternoon sunshine reassured me we’d have many more warm days before winter. Last night had been very chilly, reminding me of the beastly cold winter nights to come. Shaking off thoughts of both cold weather and my fifth-grade schoolroom confinement earlier in the day, I skipped and gamboled alongside Mom as we walked down the cow lane between fields. I was excited to go with her to our neighbor’s back forty to pick mushrooms.
Stumps of trees cut down years before dotted a small portion of our neighbor’s field. Thousands of small mushrooms grew around each trunk and along the deteriorating roots radiating from them. The small, newly emerged mushrooms are called buttons. They grew quickly from one day to the next. The mature mushrooms had light colored caps with dark brown gills underneath and looked like small umbrellas. Big or small, they all tasted wonderful when Mom sliced and fried them in bacon grease.
The radio in Mom’s kitchen was tuned to a music station, just as it had always been from morning to night during my growing up years. Although in my early fifties, when I visited Mom, I still felt like I was a child, cradled in a time capsule. The many years which had passed since my childhood had taken their toll on her, though. Mom’s vision was gone and she needed my help to bathe, change her bedding and pay bills.
After I had washed and set Mom’s hair that afternoon, she settled down in her rocking chair. I sat nearby at the dining room table to pay her bills. With soft music playing in the background, Mom suddenly commented, “Tonight…we switch back to God’s time.”
I looked up from the check I was writing. The dour manner in which she’d pronounced, ‘God’s time’ made me want to laugh.
A number of questions swarmed through my mind. Was Mom biblically opposed to day light savings time? I’d never gotten that impression as a child. Maybe Mom was repeating something she’d heard her own mother once say. My stern grandmother Franzeska, had been born in 1867. Although I’d never met her, things I’d heard made me wonder if she was a rather humorless person.
A cool breeze from the open church doors swirled down the center aisle. I quickly tucked a scarf closer to my neck and fastened each of my coat’s buttons. People ahead of me were stopping to exchange greetings with the parish pastor, so the line moved slowly. Through the open church doors, I could see colorful trees in the park across the street. Orange and red leaves fluttered in the air.
Finally, there was only one man ahead. He shook the priest’s hand and questioned with a jolly laugh, “You mentioned today that you enjoy reading “The Farmer’s Almanac” winter predictions. You don’t actually believe them, do you?”
When the man happened to glance back at me, I smiled and suggested, “Maybe Father keeps a log on what the prediction was, then compares it to what really happens.”
Father laughed, but didn’t confess to keeping records. Continue reading
I stopped working and leaned on the shovel I had been using to dig carrots. My garden was well on its way to being put to ‘bed’ for the winter. Arnie, my husband looked up from where he was working and commented, “Today is a perfect fall day.”
Nodding, I looked around. Clouds blanketed the sky. It felt warm, yet not too warm. A hint of coolness hovered around the edges. Night time temperatures the past week had been chilly. Our lush, green, freshly mowed lawn around the house contrasted beautifully with the deep burgundy sumac along our yard’s second driveway. I exclaimed, “Arnie, just look at how beautiful the sumac is today.”
My husband straightened up and looked. After a moment of silence, he asked, “What am I supposed to be seeing?”
I prompted, “The red leaves. Aren’t they pretty?”
When Arnie shook his head and denied seeing red leaves, I suddenly remembered he’d made certain comments in the past that made me realize he was unable to perceive the full spectrum of colors as I do. My husband was apparently partially color blind.
An article I read about colorblindness stated that men are more likely to experience partial colorblindness than do women. Trouble seeing the color red and green is most common. Complete colorblindness is rare. It occurs in only 1 person out of 30,000 births. Continue reading
The farmhouse screen door slammed loudly behind me. Clutching the newspaper I’d collected from the mailbox a few moments before, I announced, “The News Herald is here. I’m gonna read the funnies before anyone else!”
My commandeering the paper was possible because it was only three in the afternoon. Other than my Mom, the rest of my family were out and about taking care of their business. Opening the oven door, Mom took out a pan of cookies and slid them on the kitchen table to cool. She said, “You had better hurry and read it fast. Your brother will be home soon.”
The sweet smell of cookies made my mouth water. I snatched one to enjoy while reading. The song on our ever-playing kitchen radio was, “Charlie Brown” by the Coasters. It had a jazzy sound. I loved the way one of the band members would periodically question in a deep voice, “Why’s everybody always picking on me?”
Sunshine coming through the living room’s oversized window, bathed the gray linoleum floor. I dropped down in that warm, bright patch and spread the paper out in front of me. The back page of the paper was covered with familiar cartoons. Reading them was like catching up with extended members of my family. Continue reading
The familiar chugging sound of Daddy’s Surge vacuum milker engine started in the barn while I was getting a drink of water from the well. Feeling secure because I knew Daddy and my brother were nearby, I turned the well faucet for more water. The late summer afternoon was hot, so pouring water over my legs and arms felt good.
Crossing the driveway between the well and the milk house, I peeked in. The milk house’s back door and barn door were open, so I could see all the way into where the cows were. Their warm, earthy smell wafted out. I loved being in the barn, but decided to wait until the chores were almost done. The sticky heat and flies took all the fun out of being in there this time of year.
It was so warm that afternoon, even the cats didn’t want to be in the barn. Old, gray Mama cat was stretched out on the grassy lawn between the milk house and the barn hill. Gutsy, her orange kitten and Squirmy, her black kitten played nearby. While rubbing Gutzy’s belly, I looked up and noticed Mama cat chewing on a blade of grass.
At nine years of age, I knew that cows ate grass and cats ate kitchen scraps and milk squeezed from the milk can filter. It wasn’t normal for cats to eat grass. Jumping to my feet, I ran across the yard to the house and found Mom. I exclaimed, “Mom! Mama cat is eating grass. What’s wrong with her?” Continue reading
I mounted the bike Arnie had bought for himself 15 years ago. Tammie got on the one he’d bought for me at the same time. Seeing no approaching cars on the road, we peddled out the driveway. My entire yard slopes toward the river, so it follows the road in front of my place does the same. Enjoying the cool evening breeze, we coasted downhill across the Little Eau Pleine River bridge.
My daughter and I peddled the next quarter mile in companionable silence. Two deer stepped out onto the road and stood gawking at us. I said, “They won’t survive long if they stop and stare at approaching cars like this!”
Tammie called out, “Go back where you came from.” As if heeding her words, the two animals leapt gracefully off the road to disappear into the dense roadside growth. Turning to me, my daughter said, “By the way, I’ve decided to return to my home in Saint Paul next week.”
From the beginning of our quarantine, I knew Tammie would eventually go back to her own home. The irony, of course, is COVID 19 hasn’t gone away, but spread to even more places now, than at the beginning. The new normal is masks, social distancing and chapped hands from frequent washing. Continue reading