Tell Me a Story

The orange sun was slowly setting behind the woods across the road from our farm. I stood beside a strawberry patch as my mother picked berries. I looked forward to a bowl of them with sweetened cream. With a sound of disgust, Mom held up a big red berry with a large hole made by a bird’s beak.

Preparing for the night, all the spring birds in our yard sang their last melodies for the day as they foraged for bedtime snacks. I looked up as a large, orange-bellied bird landed on a cherry tree next to the strawberry patch. The bird opened its beak and threw back its head, letting out a clear, warbling song.

The sound reminded me of swiftly flowing water. Hearing it made me feel a full measure of joy and sadness at the same time. At the end of the song, the bird made several demanding clucks.

Mom watched the bird from where she knelt in the berry patch. As it ended its heart-moving performance, she scoffed, “There’s our berry-pecking culprit!” The bird made more clucking sounds. Mom added indignantly, “Listen to that robin. He’s laughing at us!”

Staring up at the colorful, sassy bird, I memorized the bird’s name, appearance and sounds. In my mind I could completely believe Mom when she said that the greedy, berry-wrecking robin was laughing at us. I could tell he had a full belly and felt happy.

On warm spring evenings whenever I hear robin’s sing, I am instantly transported back to my mother’s cherry and berry garden. With an indulgent smile I repeat my mother’s words, “That robin is laughing at us.” Continue reading

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Healing Laughter

I dropped down on the sofa and watched my three-year-old daughter sitting in the middle of the living room floor playing with Harvey, her long-limbed stuffed toy. Flicker the cat lovingly purred as he rubbed against her. His long tail kept getting into her face. The tickly sensation seemed to delight her.

A little over a year earlier, the black and white tuxedo cat joined our family on the first day after we’d moved to this house. The cat was young, about six months old. That evening as I unpacked boxes, he silently moved around the perimeter of the room checking out the place. From the corner of my eyes I saw only small flickers of his white markings in the shadows so I named him Flicker.

Flicker had started out as a slim, long-legged male feline, but he had turned into a large, sleek handsome pussy cat during the past year. He fell in love with my daughter. Niki adored her kitty. They often played together.

I smiled with happiness. The holidays were very close. My husband and I had a sweet little girl and I’d just found out that a new baby would arrive in July.

Other than feeling a little morning sickness, I felt well as I dove into preparing for Christmas. Niki was excited by all the decorations. Flicker tried to eat the ribbons. On Christmas Eve I raced around to make the gifts look as if they were put under the tree while Arnie and Niki waited in the car before going to church.

On Christmas day I knew something wasn’t right with my pregnancy. As a precaution, I began to rest and not move around as much. That didn’t help. The problem persisted.

The afternoon of January 4th I started to feel like I was in labor. Horrified, I told Arnie, “I’m only 14 weeks along!” Continue reading

The Casserole

I stood staring at the raw chicken carcass on my kitchen counter a few moments. Watching Mom cook meals while I was growing up wasn’t the same as actually doing it myself. There were, I knew, certain joints between the legs and thighs, wings and main body that would be easy to cut through. Frowning, I wondered, “Where in the world am I supposed to cut after that? The back, tailbone, ribs and breast must be separated, too.”

A month earlier, following the two simple words, “I do”, I’d mysteriously changed from the person being fed, to the person feeding everyone else. Being newly married meant my husband and I pay pay the mobile home mortgage, electricity, telephone, groceries and whatever other bills found their way to our mailbox, so eating out every night was not an option.

Grasping the clammy, goose-bumped chicken flesh, I sawed off its legs, thighs and wings. Peering into the body cavity, I noticed fewer bones in certain areas and cut accordingly. Shrugging, I thought, “So what if it isn’t the way Mom does it. I’m not doing surgery, so the chicken can have a better life. I’m doing surgery, so we can eat it.” Continue reading

Good-Bye Mr. Greta

I sat at the dining room table reading the latest letter from my elderly pen pal, Mr. Elton Greta. Across from me sat Arnie, my husband. Having finished mowing the lawn, he’d made himself a cheese and sausage sandwich before going back outside to work on a boat he wanted to rehab.

After taking a swig from a bottle of Busch beer, he asked, “What’s new with the Greta’s?”

Putting the letter down, I said, “They want to meet me and would like it if we stopped for a visit when we take our summer vacation.”

Taking another bite from his sandwich, Arnie looked thoughtful as he chewed. Swallowing, he commented, “You don’t look excited about the idea. What are your thoughts?”

I shifted uneasily in my chair and looked around the room before finally saying cautiously, “Well, I’d like to meet them, but…”

Correctly interpreting my hesitancy, Arnie finished the sentence for me, “But, you like how you are both a mystery to each other right now. You’re also afraid that reality will disappoint them, or you.” Continue reading

An Unusual Pen Pal

I came home from working an evening shift at the hospital and found a package from Mr. Greta on the dining room table. It was wrapped in brown paper and plastered with stamps. My children were in bed and Arnie was asleep on the sofa with a magazine on his chest and the television blaring.

As I turned off the television, Arnie mumbled in protest, “I’m watching that.” His eyes were closed when I looked at him. Slowly, he lapsed back into the long, slow breaths of deep sleep.

At the dining room table, I ripped open the package and found a set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I knew if Arnie had been awake, he would’ve been teasing me about my elderly boyfriend who liked sending gifts.

Pushing the torn wrapping paper aside, I examined them and wondered how despite loving to read, I had managed to reach adulthood without being familiar with them.

My correspondence and friendship with a man born 47 years before me, was hard to explain. I liked to think of our friendship as a divine gift. Although I seldom mentioned how stressful my life was to my elderly friend, the cares dissipated as we doled out bits and pieces of our lives to each other. Continue reading

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