Lying Fallow

Row after row of small, uniform white hillocks lay before me. Huffing and puffing from trying to keep up with my cousin Barb, blazing a trail through snow. I was grateful when she paused to wait for the rest to catch up. Donna and Alice quickly joined us. Silently, we examined the plowed field before us. A lock of Donna’s hair escaped her head scarf. The wind played with it, fluttering it this way and that, sometimes across her face, then again up in the air over her head.

Along the fence-line, small clumps of dead yellow quack grass peeked through the snow. Barb broke the silence. She stated, “Crossing this field is the shortest way back to the house, but walking through the plowed field will be hard.” We looked at each other. Did we want to attempt the field, or go the long way around? Alice’s face was red from our march through the snow and wind. Donna shivered, looking thoroughly chilled. Barb stamped her feet and rubbed her mitten-covered hands. I guessed her fingers and toes felt numb from the cold, like mine.

In the silence that followed, I heard the whispery sound of wind blowing snow across the drifts. One by one we volunteered, “I don’t want to walk around this field.” “Hard or not, it’s the fastest way back.” “If we step only on the tops of the furrows, it won’t be so bad.”

We knew, of course, that it was impossible to step only on the tops of the furrows. Our feet would slip off the small, icy humps, making most of our muddy steps feel as if we were climbing a mountain. To make matters worse, we were all carrying ice skates on our shoulders and were already tired from an afternoon of skating on the back-pasture pond. Continue reading

Last Name…Dumb

The thermostat in my living room is set at 65 degrees. Although my front-room office is insulated and has a heat register, it is often at least 7 degrees colder than my kitchen, dining and living room. After working a few hours at the computer one night this past fall, I felt chilled to the bone. I walked into my relatively warm living room, wrapped myself in a blanket and sank into a chair.

The picture tube in my 27-year-old RCA television had gone “poof” a few months earlier. Since I haven’t watched television since 2005, I didn’t really care, but knew my grandchildren would. They occasionally watch DVD and VHS movies while visiting me. Deciding to use a flat screen television once belonging to my brother, I discovered I have access to digital programming the old set didn’t provide; mostly vintage and public television stations.

Feeling like a queen, I imperiously pointed the remote and clicked. In the past, only my late husband Arnie used the remote control. He liked shows that I didn’t like. That night, after a 15-year hiatus from watching television, I discovered I enjoyed cooking, travel, home repair and detective shows. Obviously, television enjoyment hinges on media control. If anything makes me uncomfortable or bored, I either change the channel or turn the television off. Continue reading

Dreaming of Flowers

Blackcap bramble, wild grape vines, Canadian thistles, a few seedling asparagus plants and quack grass were all fighting for dominion. Wild morning glory, creeping Charlie and bridal veil weed were making good on their nature to climb over and smother all the other plants. My daughter Tammie and I stood in the driveway next to the house inspecting the tangled mess of vegetation, which had once been a beautiful flowerbed.

Gloomily, I pointed out, “The weeds have nearly smothered the old-fashioned rose bush and I can’t even see the hosta.”

Stepping a little closer, Tammie exclaimed, “I see a hosta, but it looks like someone took shears to it!

Pulling tall weeds aside, I examined the plant before explaining, “Lots of deer come through my yard at night. They seem to think the hostas are salad bowls for them to snack on.”

Shaking her head, Tammie marveled, “It’s a wonder they can find them in this mess.”

Searching the gone-to-seed flowerbed for signs of an Anthony Waterer bush, clumps of stella-de-oro and other lilies, I reminisced, “When this flowerbed was new, it had decorative stone paths and there weren’t any weeds at all.” Continue reading

Do Over

As the sun neared the western horizon, the July day began to cool. A hot, tormenting breeze that began around noon changed from feeling as if from a hot furnace, to the slightly damp, cool draft as if from an open refrigerator door. Usually, I liked to spend summer days visiting and playing with my neighborhood cousins, but today the heat had made me feel sleepy and uninterested in doing anything.

Golden evening sunshine slanted through a stand of trees west of the house making long shadows stretching from one end of the lawn to the other. Under my bare feet, the shaded grass felt cool and slightly damp. From the barn my cousins and I heard a calf bellow and the mother’s calm, answering low. Daddy’s half-filled haymows, warm from the heat of the day, seemed to breathe the sweet smell of freshly dried hay into the yard. The clank of pots and pans from the house meant someone was in the kitchen washing supper dishes.

Reinvigorated by the temperature change, three of my cousins, Barb, Donna, Alice and I gathered in the back yard. One of us suggested, “Let’s play ‘freeze tag’. Everyone nodded enthusiastically. Continue reading

Listening to the Stillness

Feeling restless, I looked around at my bedroom. There was nothing to do here, or at any rate, nothing that I was interested in doing. So I headed downstairs. From the stairwell I heard Bing Crosby singing the “Little Drummer Boy on Mom’s ever-playing kitchen radio.

The song served as another reminder that we didn’t have our Christmas tree up yet. Mom never allowed it to be put up until the afternoon of December 24th. All my eighth-grade classmates at school had theirs up already.

Huffing impatiently, I grumbled to myself, “No one’s even gone to the woods to get our tree yet!” Just as I expected, the kitchen was empty. Since it was laundry day, Mom was in the basement using the wringer washer. Daddy and Billy were in the barn doing chores.

Cutting a slice of bread and buttering it, I went to sit on the basement steps to eat. Mom looked up at me just as she was about to begin feeding wet, soapy clothing to the wringer. She said, “Where have you been hiding? I haven’t seen much of you today.”

I merely grunted while shoving a big, buttery bite of bread into my mouth. The clean, wet smell of laundry detergent reached me as the rollers delivered flattened shirts and towels to the rinse water basin. I knew well Mom’s laundry routine. The rinsed laundry would be fed to the wringers one more time before being hung on the backyard clothes lines.

Mom put another load of clothing into the washing machine where they could agitate while she wrung out the rinsed clothing. As she worked, she said, “After the chores are done, Billy plans to go down to the swamp to cut down our tree. Did you want to go with him?” Continue reading

Miracle Bably

Mom put down the magazine she was reading and leaned back in her upholstered rocking chair. I looked up at her from where I was playing on the floor nearby. Kneeling next to her footstool, I put my head in her lap. She tousled my hair lovingly. I asked, “Tell me about how you had me.”

Always willing to retell family stories, Mom explained, “After your sister Betty was born, I kept having miscarriages. The doctor told me I’d never be able to carry another baby to full term.”

Some children would like to have the book, ‘Goodnight Moon’ read to them at bedtime 365 days of the year. I wouldn’t have minded hearing this story that many times, either. Though I was very young, I’d heard this story often. I knew what a miscarriage was and what it meant to be full term, because Mom had explained.

Prompting her to continue, I said, “But you wanted one last baby.”

Smoothing my hair, Mom answered, “Yes. One day when I was in my middle forties, I babysat your cousins; one was a toddler and the other an infant. They were so sweet! I prayed, “Lord, please allow me to have one more child.” Continue reading

Practice Baby

After Tammie and I attended Mass on Christmas Eve, we shared a special meal together, then turned out all the lights except one lamp and thoes on the Christmas tree. A lovely, deep calm settled over the household. From the stereo came soft strains of beautiful, traditional Christmas songs by Mannheim Steam Roller, played in their usual non-traditional manner.

Under the tree there were two piles of gifts. One was from me for my daughter, the other stack was from her. Sitting on the floor next to them, Tammie leaned forward and pushed two presents aside, pointing out, “These two are your birthday gifts from me. You can’t have them until the 27th.”

Jumping up from the sofa, I exclaimed, “Thanks for reminding me. It’s midnight and baby Jesus’ birthday! Retrieving a small package from a chair side drawer, I walked over to the nativity set and unwrapped a small infant Jesus figure. Placing it in the manger between Mary and Joseph, I said, “There you go, my sweet little baby.” Tammie and I paused for a moment to enjoy the familiar ‘Silent Night’ melody playing on the stereo, then began with our gift exchange. Continue reading