(I’m) The Beast

The two, peanut butter-loaded mouse traps that I put in the brick farmhouse’s old-fashioned back porch last night were nowhere to be seen. Arnie, my husband was in the house. I yelled, “Honey, did you get rid of the mouse traps I put out here yesterday?”

Arnie’s bellowed answer, “No I didn’t” made me closely examine the green indoor-outdoor carpet. The traps were gone, and there wasn’t even an oily smear left behind on the artificial grass.

Yesterday, I’d noticed chew marks on the outdoor toys stored in a box below one of the porch windows. Today, the toys looked even worse. I assumed mice were doing the damage. Our farmhouse had a long history of rodent visitors.  

My husband stepped into the porch with a half-eaten sandwich in his hands. He looked in the toy box and exclaimed, “Mice can’t do that kind of damage! I think a rat has been getting into the porch.”

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Backyard Philosopher

Clumps of green blades dotted the flowerbed. Some of the leaves obviously belonged to crocus and hyacinths that were soon to blossom. Other clumps belonged to either daffodils or mystery lilies. I wouldn’t know for sure until the daffodils sent up stems and buds.

This flowerbed had looked completely dead when the winter snow melted. Then the first small green shoots pushed their way up through the cold, wet ground. I marveled at this miracle despite having seen it happen each spring of my life. How tenacious the small bulbs were! How badly they wanted to live! How inconceivable it was that they were able to wake up and start growing again after having been frozen solid for months on end!

Flower bulbs were not the only things growing in the yard. Swollen red buds tipped the maple tree branches. Despite a chilly spring, leaves were sure to follow soon. Blades of grass in the lawn were pushing up through last year’s brown thatch. The lawn mowing people were sure to follow soon, too.

I went to sit in a chair on the deck to muse the endlessness of household bills. My daughter Tammie was sitting at the table across from me. She looked up from her phone as I complained, “In the winter I pay for snow to be removed from the driveway and buy fuel for the furnace. In the summer I don’t pay for those things, but then I pay for someone to mow the lawn and have higher electric bills for using the air conditioner.”

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Pinball Brain

The pinball machine in the corner of the bar suddenly began to play a tune and lights flashed in its backglass. Turning slightly on my barstool, I looked at the machine and mused, “That’s pretty cool. No one has been playing with it for a while, so it plays music like the pied-piper to attract customers.”  The come-hither tactic worked, I sipped some beer from my glass and slid from my stool at the bar. My scant experience with pinball machines meant a low score, but I decided to try my hand anyway.

My first pull on the spring-loaded ball launcher was so weak that I thought my ball wasn’t going to make it to the playing field. But then it touched a mushroom bumper and sprung to life to bounce rapidly between all the bumpers. The machine’s backglass showed the number score rising quickly. Each point was celebrated with flashing lights and a noisy, “boing, boing, boing!”

As suddenly as the scoring spree started, it ended. The ball slowly began to roll down toward the apron. The only defense I had to prevent losing the ball were the two flippers guarding the drain. Timing was important, but even knowing this, I didn’t wait to properly bat the ball back into play. In my excitement I vigorously and indiscriminately pressed the buttons to make the flippers wildly flap. The entire game table bounced under my hands. Someone watching laughed and said, “Be careful. You’re going to make it go ‘tilt’.” That gave me pause. When a pinball machine goes ‘tilt’, it shuts down. Despite my efforts, the ball slipped between the ineffectual paddles and disappeared.

The second ball managed to stay in play much longer. I even saved it from going down the drain a couple times by delivering well-timed blows with the flippers. When hitting the bumpers, the ball displayed a fascinating amount of energy. It seemed to have a mind of its own, so the resulting score didn’t really feel like mine. A player is just a witness, and my only influence on the game rested entirely on stopping the ball from going down the drain.  

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All About Me, Me, Me!

A band from the days country western music had a genuine country western sound!

Potatoes on the oven rack beside the roasting pan were not soft in the center yet. Poking a fork into the browning chuck roast revealed juicy meat that would melt-in-our-mouths after another hour of slow baking. While closing the oven door, the kitchen light dimmed for a few moments. Tossing the potholders onto a counter next to the stove, I left the kitchen.

My husband Arnie was in our Quonset shed working on one of his special projects. I knew that when he used the welder, the power it drew made the lights in the house dim for a few seconds. Curious to see his work and needing to tell him supper would be ready soon gave me a good reason to leave the house. The chilly morning had turned into a pleasantly warm spring afternoon.

The Quonset shed was one hundred yards from the house, but I took the scenic route that took me around the house, past a flowerbed, a bed of chives and rhubarb. A radio in the shed was tuned to a country western music station could be heard all over the yard.

Arnie had just finished laying down a new bead with the welder and pushed up his eye shield to inspect the work. Spotting me at the door of the shed, he smiled and took off his welding gloves and helmet. He proudly questioned, What do you think?”, motioning to the metal frame he’d made.

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Jigsaw Puzzles

“Why is it so dark this morning?” I wondered, stopping at the stairway window to check out the back yard. Everything looked dismal, every color drab and uninspiring. Pine trees framing the lawn showed up as a deep green, nearly black. The lawn had various shades of brown and tan patches, depending on the weed makeup of each area. Gray, bare branches looked like lifeless claws. Overhead were low, dark, threatening storm clouds.

The air felt damp and chilly. Looking out the window over the kitchen sink while heating water for tea, I saw rain begin to fall. A low rumble of thunder growled and a short-spate of sleet tapped on the window glass as the tea leaves brewed. 

Shivering, I cupped my hands around the warm teacup and thought, “Today is a perfect day to work on a jigsaw puzzle.” Strolling into the living room where an unfinished puzzle lay on a folding table, I turned on a sunlight lamp to push back gloomy shadows and sat down. Before I knew it, hours had passed as I happily worked at finding the right place for each puzzle piece.

Completing the puzzle gave me a huge sense of satisfaction, but also regret because the scene was finished. Rummaging through my supply closet, I searched for a new jigsaw puzzle. What I found was a huge 1,500-piece picture of a very pretty lady surrounded by cherry blossoms and began to set it up on the table.

Sudden, radical weather changes are typical during spring in Wisconsin. A few days later, warm air and bright sunshine flooded my yard. Giving the unfinished cherry blossom lady’s face a wistful look, I explained, “I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. When there’s nice weather during spring, I must take advantage of it and do yard work.”

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The Mystery Grows

The sun felt warm, but the minute I stepped away from the house, a cold, wicked breeze stuck its icy fingernails down the warm nape of my neck. Playfully, it probed under my jacket to chill my midriff. It painfully clawed at my bare hands until I reached into my pocket and pulled on gloves. I refused to let the wind deter me, because I was on a mission. With the snow melted away, I was finally able to search the back yard for something I’d lost more than six months ago.  

Dismal, dead grass covered the lawn, squashed flat by the winter-long weight of snow drifts. With the snow gone the lawn suffered the additional indignity of being covered with a winter’s worth of the dust and grime.

Six months ago, I’d lost my garden plants and flowers. One day they were healthy and beautiful. But after one night of freezing temperatures, they were burnt to a crisp. I needed a sign that somehow, mysteriously, the perennial plants frozen solid in the ground the entire winter could come back to life! I missed them and longed to see a sign, no matter how small, that they were going to resurrect.

In the muddy soil of the flowerbed below the kitchen window, small green sprouts were bravely pushing up from their cold, dark underground bed into a bright but hostile Wisconsin spring day. I found what I was looking for! If these were coming up, there would be others. I recognized the brave greens as daffodils, planted there many years before. Ignoring the evil wind, I enthusiastically forged ahead to see if other plants I loved were showing a return to life.

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Easter Baskets

While we were eating our noon meal, Mom asked Daddy when she would be able to go shopping in Marshfield. I perked up because Easter was three weeks away. Mom was sure to buy candy for my Easter basket. Mom said, “I want to buy material so I can make the girls’ dresses and I want to look at spring jackets and hats.”

Daddy took a bite of buttered homemade bread and thought a moment. He said, “We can go in right after we’re done eating today. That’ll give you about four hours to shop since I have to get back in time to start the evening milking chores.”

Although our farm was only 12 miles from the city of Marshfield, Wisconsin, my family very infrequently went there on shopping trips. Most of the everyday things we needed could be bought from one of the stores in the closer but smaller town of Stratford. Excited about the rare treat of going on a shopping trip, I went to find and put on my coat.

Mom fluttered around clearing the dishes from our kitchen table. In her mind it was unthinkable that we would go anywhere and leave the house in disorder. When she glanced up and saw me standing at the entrance wearing my mud-spattered school coat, she exclaimed, “You can’t wear that to Marshfield! You’ll have to put on your Sunday coat. We’ll clean that tonight!”

Clean snow dotted the farm fields along the muddy gravel farm roads. Dirty banks of snow lined the clean, dry highway. In Marshfield, all traces of snow were gone from the paved streets. The spring sunshine even felt warmer there than at home on the farm. Mom’s first stop was a fabric store. I sighed with resignation. Trying to be patient while she spent long periods of time looking at pattern books was hard. I wanted to go to interesting stores and buy fun things.

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April Showers

I peered out of our family car’s mud-splashed backseat window. A passing milk truck had showered our car with a gritty mixture of mud, water, gravel and ice crystals shortly after we’d pulled out of our farmyard. Dirty snowbanks slumped in the roadside ditches. Brilliant sunshine and 40-degree springtime air was making them melt. I was amazed at how much the huge banks had already shrunk. Their sodden mess filled the ditches, so the melt water had nowhere to go but on the road, making it look like a mucky cow yard.

Arriving at my school, Daddy drove into the parking lot where dozens of other parents were dropping their children off. The blacktop lot, covered with a thick layer of hard ice all winter, was now covered with slush. I stomped my way to the school door, taking delight in the way my footsteps splashed. It didn’t matter to me that my brown stockings were getting drenched.

I had noticed that there were times when I arrived at school and found the building filled with the air of excitement and happy expectations. This especially was felt on snowy winter mornings. The halls buzzed with quiet murmurs of, “Do you think they’ll call off school and send us home early?” Hope, happiness and exhilaration could almost be smelled, touched, tasted.  Today, the excitement was due to the sudden arrival of spring weather during the weekend.

Sister Florence had put up a new bulletin board in my classroom over the weekend. Amid clouds of colorful flowers cut-out from construction paper, it proclaimed, “April showers bring May flowers!”  One of my classmates proudly offered Sister a bouquet of pussy willow twigs. Her wrinkled face was transformed by a big smile as she accepted the gift with genuine delight. Everyone was ready for spring.

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March 31st Auction

I pulled into the driveway, stopped the car and got out. Wind blew down my open jacket collar, making me shiver. Despite the afternoon sunshine, the early March afternoon had a sharp bite to it. Patches of melting snowdrifts dotted the yard. I shrugged, thinking, “The air is chilly, like inside an old-time refrigerator, but as soon as the snow finishes melting, it’ll feel warmer.” Pulling the mailbox open, I found several envelopes. Among them was the monthly letter from my elderly friend.

Saving the letter for later when I could sit down and slowly read it, I began preparing supper for the family. Having prepped our meal the night before, my husband Arnie, our two children and I were able to sit down to eat lasagna a mere hour later. Arnie came to the table and glanced at the mail I’d brought in from the roadside mailbox. He chuckled, “I see your boyfriend wrote to you again.”  

“Yes!” I admitted with a demure smile. “It isn’t every day a gal has a sweet old boy writing to her all the time, telling about his life 70 years ago in the very house she lives in!” After serving everyone, I sat down to rest and enjoy my meal with the family.

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Twosday

Looking at my daughter’s chart, the Nurse Practitioner instructed, “Bring Tammie back to see me in two weeks.”

To access Tammie’s electronic records, the clinic appointment scheduler requested her birth date. Tammie, who was in fifth grade, leaned against me and answered like a small adult, “It’s two, twenty-two, eighty-two.”

Later in the car, I suggested, “Would you like stopping for a treat before I take you back to school?” Tammie’s answer was of course, an enthusiastic yes.

Taco John’s advertisement for Taco Tuesday blared from the car radio. I complained, “Ugh, the words ‘Taco Tuesday’ turns into an ear worm whenever I hear this! It plays over and over in my head.”

Tammie asked, “Could we go to Taco John’s for my treat?” The fast food restaurant happened to be along our route back to school, so I happily pulled into that parking lot. Instead of a savory taco, my daughter ordered a desert taco, which looked and tasted a lot like a chocolate-covered waffle cone filled with ice cream. While eating it she commented on how she liked all the two’s in her birthdate.

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