Quarantine Bucket List

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

A Big Deal

Several tall trees shaded the picnic table where my high school friends and I were sitting. Hot rays of sunshine baked the nearby sidewalk, but a cool breeze playfully ruffled our hair. One of the girls took a drink from her can of pop. The minute she set it back on the table, an insect appeared and hovered over the can. She screamed and all three girls who were with me jumped to their feet. Staying where I was, I calmly reminded them, “The bee is after the sugar, not us.”

One girl exclaimed, “If a bee goes into the pop can and we take a big drink, we could accidentally swallow one!”

Another girl asked with a shudder, “Would it sting us on the insides?”

Bees and wasps never frightened me. I had the benign belief that if you leave them alone, they would leave you alone. My wry quip always was, “Panic makes them see you as a pincushion.”

Although there are many wasp nests in my yard, deck and buildings, before the year 2013 I can only remember two times that wasps stung anyone in my family. The first time was on a Sunday afternoon when Niki and Tammie were small. A nest in the garage was disturbed when we arrived home from a picnic. A wasp stung Arnie on his left ear. It hurt so badly he laid on the sofa for an hour or two with an ice pack. The second time was when ten-year-old Niki disturbed a nest behind the garage. The two stings on her leg were very painful, but by evening, only showed as slightly red, irritated spots. I concluded that wasps were unpleasant, but no big deal. Continue reading

The Path Best Not Taken

Sun-dappled shade blanketed the woodland floor. Green ferns peeked through last year’s papery fallen leaves. We heard the rustle of small feet scampering and the sleepy call of a bird in the tree tops. Along the trail, ferns stood guard over a slumbering, moss-covered log.

Ahead of us, we saw a sun-filled clearing. Stepping into the sun made me squint. Cleared by man, the woodland corridor allowed poles topped with electrical wires to march through the property. The path diverged at this point. A map mounted on a post showed different route options.

The path to the left would take us directly back to The Clearing’s campus schoolhouse. The path to the right would meander further from the campus, but eventually bring us back to the schoolhouse, too. Glancing at Tammie, I asked, “Which path do you want to take?”

My daughter stated, “I want to take the one to the left.”

When my daughter Tammie and I visit The Clearing for a vacation, we take classes to learn new crafts or perfect crafts familiar to us. This year, because of COVID 19, classes were canceled, but the venue remained open for self-directed retreats. We decided to go. A handful of other people had done the same. Consequentially, the campus was strangely empty and quiet. Following the hiking paths on the 128-acre campus, we found the less traveled paths were not as trampled or easy to follow. Continue reading

The Clearing

Rain pounded on the shake shingle roof. I opened my eyes and yawned. Gray, early dawn light filtered grayly through a water streaked window next to the unfamiliar bed. A flash of lightning startled me. An angry growl of thunder answered a few seconds later. For a moment I wondered where I was. Then I remembered.

Yesterday afternoon I’d left my husband and children at home to drive five hours to Ellison Bay, almost to the tip of Door County in Wisconsin. I felt brave for doing something so out of my comfort zone. For the next five days I’d attend a writing class taught by a professional writer.

A loud roar of thunder seemed to enter Lake Michigan, rolled around at the bottom of Green Bay, then rumbled to the surface. I loved the beautiful, deep-in-the-earth sound. The window light now was grey, tinged with green. Day was dawning and vines growing outside my cabin framed the window, reflected their summer hues into the room. Continue reading

Amazing Hat Lady

I pulled one picture after another from the box and studied them. The old-fashioned clothing fascinated me, looking so stiff and uncomfortable. Finally, I came to the photo I sought. The ancient image showed a beautiful woman wearing an amazingly huge hat. She stood next to a man in a formal photographer studio, posed stiff and unsmiling. I exclaimed to myself, “Just look at that hat. It has to be at least a foot and half tall!”

A few years ago I inherited a large box of old pictures that were taken in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Some are of my relatives. Unfortunately, there are many I don’t have a clue who they are. When there were still people around who knew them, their names were never written on the photo’s backside. I love all of these images, even the ones I can’t identify.

Knowing the names of the people in a keepsake photo gives it more value. It also gives the pictured people an immortality that goes beyond just the one or two generations that knew them.

My family history project is slowly moving forward. Recently, a sister-in-law loaned a box of her family’s pictures to me. Just as in my family, many of the older pictures were not labeled.

Three 5 by 7 pictures especially piqued my curiosity. One showed two young couples. One of the women wore white, but had no veil. I showed it to my daughter Tammie and asked, “Do you think the girl in white is a bride?” The second picture showed two young couples. Holding that one up I wondered, “What do you think the special occasion is? Why did they have this picture taken?” The third photo showed a man and woman in a farmyard, surrounded by two black pigs and piglets. I observed, “This family must have been proud of their productive farm.” Continue reading

The W. M. Syndrome

Sister Chantal paced across the front of my seventh-grade classroom listing what assignments she wanted us to complete by the end of the school day. Her pretty young face, framed by her white wimple and black veil, looked thoughtful. Her black habit accentuated her thin body. Only the toes of her small black shoes showed below the hem. “Read the next story in your English book. It’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber. To test your reading comprehension, I will hand out a paper while you are reading. Answer the questions about the story to the best of your abilities.”

I loved reading. Opening my English book, I quickly began mentally absorbing the story. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was about an odd man who couldn’t function properly because he was always daydreaming. His ineptitude made me suffer second-hand embarrassment. I wanted to escape from the uncomfortable situations that resulted from his stupid behavior.

What made me truly hate “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was that I saw myself being like him. I daydreamed more than I thought I should. Did I act weird because of my daydreams? I shuddered and fervently hoped I didn’t.

Staring at the floor next to my desk, I pictured Sister Chantal announcing, “Kathy, I already know you have good reading comprehension, so you don’t have to do this assignment. I’ll have you hand out the test papers.”

Sighing, I went back to reading the story. Walter Mitty seemed crazy. Did that make me crazy, too? Continue reading

Lactose Intolerance

The meal looked beautiful. My guests were in for a treat. I’d prepared everything I love to eat. A salad with liberal amounts of feta cheese and walnuts would start the meal. Moistly tender chicken breasts wrapped in bacon and smothered in a mixture of mushroom soup and sour cream was next. Our desert to end this delectable meal was cheese cake with a graham cracker crust, covered with a generous scoop of glazed fresh blueberries and whipped cream.

My tummy rumbled. I glanced at the clock. Even though I hadn’t eaten since an early lunch, I wasn’t hungry. My tummy felt as though I’d just finished drinking a gallon of water.

I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Intermittently I’d felt sick for most of the past year. Did I have cancer? My imagination ran wild with other dreaded possibilities.

Frowning, I wondered why some days I felt fine and other days not. Last Friday morning I was very sick. By three in the afternoon I felt much better. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since my breakfast cereal, the rumble in my belly indicated hunger. My daughter was home for the weekend. She suggested, “Since you’re feeling better, what do you say we go out to eat?” Continue reading

In the Year

Georgia had shown me the dark service stairway a few days earlier. Shifting the beach towel and radio I was holding to firmly grasp the roof door’s latch, I gave it a quick turn. My reward was a loud click and a flood of bright sunlight.

The roof was flat, covered with small pebbles. I found a spot to spread my blanket and laid down. Sunbathing wasn’t one of my favorite things to do, especially alone, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Today was my day off. All my new friends were working. Turning the radio on, I closed my eyes.

The sun was warm, but a cool breeze kept it from being unpleasant. A song l liked began to play. A man’s voice mournfully crooned, “In the year 2525, if man is still alive, if woman can survive, they may find…”

I had graduated from high school during the first week of June. Two weeks later I moved to Wausau where I planned to attend summer school and work as a nursing assistant. Those were the things I’d planned. What I hadn’t planned was meeting a man who swept me off my feet and feeling unable to finish taking the summer school chemistry class.

My parents must be told about the class. I’d taken it because I was planning to attend college in the fall. The song on the radio continued, “In the year 3535, ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies. Everything you think, do and say is in the pill you took today.” Obviously, college was not going to happen for me if I didn’t take the chemistry class and pass tests. Continue reading

Picture Perfect

The first page of the newspaper showed rioters breaking store windows and stealing merchandize. I read only enough of the article to know where, when and why. A few pages in was an article about the acceleration of climate change. Next, there was an article detailing the virus’ devastating financial effects on families. On the back page was a graph showing a rapid increase in new COVID-19 cases.

I pride myself on keeping a fine balance between knowing what is going on in this world and not allowing that knowledge to make me feel sick with worry. That day I felt poisoned by the news. I wondered if in the history of the world, there has ever been a time where so many things were messed up and going wrong.

It’s hard to find a proper, healthy perspective when looking at the world. I struggle with bad news, frequently asking myself, “Will things eventually improve, or is the world going to —- in a handbasket?”

Many people think all the good times are in the past and are unlikely to happen again. One man pessimistically grumbled, “… children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” Who said that? Socrates, a man who lived over 24 centuries ago! Continue reading

Out of Sorts

Recently, I walked into my office and handed Tammie a cup of tea before sitting down to enjoy my own. Looking up from her work, my daughter thanked me and questioned, “Are you going to write today? What topic did you pick out?”

Shrugging, I admitted, “I haven’t even thought about it yet.” Swiveling in my chair to look at the computer screen, I changed the subject, “Did you know that an elephant has over 40,000 muscles in its trunk?”

Tammie laughed as she admonished, “You just don’t want to get down to work, do you? But no, I didn’t know elephants had that many muscles in their trunks. Overall, how many muscles do humans have?”

Being a true trivia lover, I knew the answer. “Humans have a little over 600 muscles in their entire body.”

I also like silly Mom jokes, so I decided to throw in one into our conversation for good measure. “I want you to know that I’ve entered into my snapdragon phase of life.”

My daughter questioned, “Really…what does that mean?” Continue reading