Dear Mr. Greta

The realtor placed three sheets of paper on the table in front of Arnie and me. A picture of a house, its square feet of living space, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, type of furnace and when the roof had last been shingled was on each sheet.

An old, brick, farm house photographed on a sunny afternoon drew my attention like a magnet. Old wagon wheels with spokes flanked its driveway. I felt as though the place needed me. I wondered, “Am I attracted to the house because it reminds me of where Katie, a dear family friend once lived?

I picked up the paper and started to read the specifics. Seeing my interest, the realtor said, “That house is located along a little river north of Marshfield on 2.3 acres.

Even before seeing the house, I felt hooked. Arnie and I wanted to live in the country. This place was between Marshfield, where we both worked, and my parent’s farm where I’d grown up and visited often.

The house had been a fixer-upper. But according to Arnie who didn’t like cutting corners, the previous owners had patched it with band-aides. I loved the house enough to live with its imperfections, especially since the price was right. We had no money to make a down payment and in 1979 the interest on house loans was 12% . Continue reading

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Lions and Lambs

I zipped my jacket up closer to my throat. The sunshine was blinding, but Old Sol certainly wasn’t tempering the winter chill. Chickadees and goldfinches twittered and tweeted as they gobbled seeds, scratching and pecking for the best and biggest around the bird feeder. In the distance, from the top of a tree in the wood lot, I heard the unmistakable spring song of a cardinal.

The warm glow of joy filled my heart. I blurted, “Oh my gosh Tammie, did you hear that?”

My daughter had been reaching to open her car door. She straightened up, looked over the top of the car at me and asked, “No. What did you hear?”

Excitedly, I explained, “Do you remember me telling you that cardinals begin to sing their mating songs in the middle of February? Well, guess what? Today is the 16th of February, and I’ve just heard my first cardinal love song for the year!”

In the moment of silence following my announcement, we were blessed with an encore. The clear, pleading notes of a cardinal floated down to us from a nearby tree top. It sounded as it was asking, “Pretty-birdie? Pretty-birdie?”

Farther back in the wood-lot we heard a faint answering call. We were listening to a pair of cardinals having a conversation! Were they planning where to nest for the summer? Maybe they were discussing the best and safest food source in the area.  After a few minutes, smiling broadly, my daughter and I got into the car. Although it was cold that day, we knew winter would soon come to an end. Continue reading

My Family’s Dash

Christmas tree boughs and sawdust littered the shed floor. Stepping over the mess, I ushered my niece to a row of plastic totes and pointed to bulging bags further in.

I announced, “There they are.” My warm breath made an impressive plume of steam rise from my mouth. It was a week before Christmas and I had invited Susie to come for a visit.

When the Altmann family farm was sold in 2016, I had emptied the farmhouse for the new owners. Much of what I had salvaged is stored in my shed. My mother had spent over thirty years making afghans as a legacy for her children and grandchildren. As we searched though the treasures, I instructed my niece, “Take as many as you want.”

Later, visiting in the warm comfort of the house, I gave Susie a jar of elderberry jelly and a box of meringue candies made to look like small, freckled mushrooms. Then, handing her a box of pictures, I explained, “I sorted the family photographs according to each member. These are the ones I think your Mom would have wanted.”

I began to tell Susie stories of our ancestors that I doubted her mother had passed on. My deceased sister, her mother, had never been very interested in family history. “Your maternal great grandmother, Franziska, immigrated from Eisenstein, Germany in 1893 with John, her toddler and Elizabeth, her eight-month-old infant.” Continue reading

Transporter Moments

Warm bath water hid my wrinkled fingers and toes beneath the foam. Bubbles from excess Vel, Mom’s preferred bar soap, frosted my skin and the sides of the tub. Taking a deep breath, I happily sniffed the wonderful, clean scent. From the kitchen I could hear the radio playing a soothing song called ‘Twilight Time.’ Mom called out, “Kathy, you’ve been in the bathtub long enough. It’s time for you to get out.”

I was seven years old. Mom had a hard time getting me to take a bath. But once I was in the tub, she had a hard time getting me out. I had been in the bathtub for a very long time. So long, that one of my sisters came into the bathroom to wash her face. Peering around the corner from my bath, I watched her pat her face dry, open a cobalt blue jar of Noxzema and apply the cream to her face. The cream had a strong, exotic scent which I loved, too.

A slight breeze fluttered the bathroom curtains as I stepped out of the tub. The spring evening air felt soft as velvet wherever it touched my drying skin. As I slipped on a clean nightgown, I examined my wrinkled finger patterns. I felt happy, clean and perfect. Continue reading

Holler Uncle

I shivered while donning an industrial quality dust mask and a pair of nitrile gloves. The house was cold because the furnace had been off for a full two hours. Having taken all the precautions I could, I pushed ahead with the job at hand; the weekly cleaning of ash from the pellet furnace which heats my old brick house.

In April it will be twelve years since my husband, Arnie died suddenly. Two days into my grieving, I had realized that I needed to learn how to maintain the furnace. This had always been Arnie’s job, so I didn’t have a clue. Arnie wasn’t around anymore to tell me what I needed to know. I was horrified. Searching the house failed to turn up a user’s manual. No one in my circle of friends had a furnace like mine. All the local businesses that sold and repaired furnaces had never seen a Canadian-made Traeger pellet furnace.

Tammie, my reference librarian daughter found a manual for my furnace on-line. Taking the copy she’d printed for me, my son-in-law Mike, carefully guided me step-by-step through the process. We learned the ash needed to be cleaned out once a week. Once a month the face plates had to be removed to clean the heat exchange tunnels. Ash, soot and creosote blackened my hands, arms and face, staining my clothing. Continue reading

The World

In a nearby hayfield, I could hear Daddy’s tractor making its distinctive “put-put-put” sound. I smiled. The machine always reminded me of my father. He was steady, dependable and had a comforting voice, too. The new baler being pulled through the field made noisy, unfamiliar clanks as it gathered and bound hay. I pictured the machine bouncing along behind the tractor, shuddering every so often as it kicked a bale powerfully through the air into the hay wagon.

The sun burned down from a clear, pale blue sky. Shimmers of heat radiated from the cement sidewalk and gravel driveway. I sank tiredly onto the cool, shaded grass under a row of trees. An open window broadcast music from Mom’s ever-playing radio in our farmhouse kitchen.

I liked several popular songs and looked forward to hearing them. That afternoon, Tom Jones enthusiastic, “What’s new Pussycat!” made me giggle. His voice seemed so comically exaggerated.

This summer found me midway between eighth grade graduation and the start of high school. Graduation was long enough in the past I didn’t think much about it anymore, while the exciting, scary start of high school with teachers and classmates I wouldn’t know, was far enough in the future that I wasn’t yet obsessing about it daily. Continue reading

Green Dreams

Tonight, there would be a killing frost. I could feel it in my joints. I straightened up from digging carrots, leaned on the shovel and looked around the garden. The sun was nearing the western horizon in a clear sky. There were no clouds to blanket the earth with frost-defying warmth.

In the row next to the carrots was a poinsettia. Before nightfall I wanted to dig it out of the ground and take it into the house. As always when I looked at the plant, I marveled at how it had doubled in size over the last four months. Its leaves were beautiful; large, dark green and plentiful.

A tea rose bush next to the poinsettia caught my eye. Its leaves were still a glossy and healthy green. Red roses in various stages of blooming covered the bush. All that loveliness would be burned by the frost if I didn’t pick the flowers to be enjoyed indoors. Pulling a scissor from my pocket, I began to snip stems with buds and blossoms.

In the house later that evening, I filled a pint jar with water for the ten roses. Then I poured more potting soil into the oversized planter holding the poinsettia. Continue reading