Daylight woke me, but I laid in bed for a long-time daydreaming. The cozy household sounds and the smell of freshly baked bread drifted up from downstairs. Hunger finally made me roll out of bed, get dressed and leave my second story bedroom. When I wandered into the kitchen, Mom turned to exclaim, “Well, you finally decided to get up!”
Slathering a thick layer of butter on a slice of homemade bread, I sat down at the kitchen table. Spring sunshine poured through the nearby window onto the chair I chose and the surrounding floor. The chair’s red vinyl seat felt very warm. I wiggled my toes on the heated flooring. As I ate the bread, I looked out the kitchen window at the lawn. Last week it had been dotted with piles of snow. Today it was starting to turn green.
Last Saturday I’d helped Daddy make small trenches in the yard to speed-up mud puddle drainage. Popping the last of the bread into my mouth, I licked a bit of butter off my fingers before asking, “Mom, I’d like to make a May altar. Do you think May flowers have started to bloom? We’ve had lots of April showers.”
Rain drops speckled the office window. I stared at my dreary wind-and-rain swept yard with a hot mug of tea in hand. As more and more rain fell, the drops formed rivulets and trickled down out of sight. The smell of bacon from breakfast still hung in the air. Tammie, sitting in the office recliner was working online. I could hear the soft tappity-tap of her keyboard.
Taking a sip of the hot drink, I savored its comforting warmth and taste. I complained, “March is such an unsettling month.”
Looking up from her computer, my daughter asked, “I forget, did the month come in like a lion or a lamb this year?”
Turning to face my daughter, I exclaimed, “That’s what’s wrong with March and spring in general. It has such extreme weather from one day to the next and sometimes from one hour to the next.”
Nodding, Tammie wistfully commented, “When I left the house more often, it was hard to know how to dress on spring mornings. If I left the house without a jacket because it was hot, by the time I returned home in the afternoon, I’d be shivering because it was snowing and there were two inches of slush on the sidewalk.”
I added, laughing, “I’ll bet you left home other mornings bundled up against freezing temperatures and within hours, you wanted to know if there was some way to take off your coat and heavy sweater while caught in a traffic jam.”
The unexpected feeling came over me suddenly. I went to stand at my office window. Surveying the blanket of wet snow lying heavily on the flowerbed along the driveway, I cupped my cold hands around a mug of hot tea. Until now, I hadn’t given a thought to the plants and bulbs in my yard since the first major frost in September.
A mix of curiosity and desire, along with a deep, longing to see things growing in the yard where now everything looked dead and frozen filled me. I wanted to know if the daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinths in the flowerbed were going to come up and blossom this spring. Would the herbs I’d planted near the trees along the south driveway flourish or wither this summer?
What triggered my unfulfilled gardener symptoms? I suspected the warm, forty-degree days Wisconsin enjoyed the last week of February. That, and the combination of a snow-covered yard, below-zero days and a five-month respite from gardening gets to the best of us. My mind wanted to jump back into digging in the ground, even though the weather and my body were signaling the desire was at least two months premature.
I complained to my daughter Tammie, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way yet. We’re still at least a full month away from “Making the Rounds” weather!”
Raising one eyebrow, Tammie questioned, “What’s ‘making the rounds weather’?”
Tammie sat down on the kitchen step stool while I was preparing supper. She demanded, “Tell me about when I was born.”
I smiled, picked up a potato and began to peal it. Today was Tammie’s eighth birthday. When I was a child, I had often asked my mother the same question. There is no topic more interesting to a child than the day they were born. With each retelling, there is hope for additional nuggets of information. I explained, “You were born by caesarean section, because of your low blood platelet problem. With your sisters, I just waited until I went into labor. For you, the doctor picked Monday February 22nd, which was a little more than one week before your due date.”
Tammie prompted, “The day before I was born, you went to eat Sunday dinner at Grammie’s house.”
Dropping the peeled potato into the kettle and picking up another, I agreed, “Yes, and it was a wonderful dinner as always. My brother Casper provided homemade cranberry wine to go with the meal. I could only taste it because I was pregnant with you, but I liked it. I think that’s why Casper gave me a bottle of cranberry wine every year for the rest of his life.”
Mom opened the oven door and placed a pan of raw cookies inside. I felt the oven breathe heat into the room. I was sitting nearby at the head of the kitchen table. I reached into a bowl on the table and pulled out a handful of peanuts in the shell. As I shelled them, I popped the pale-colored peanuts into my mouth. They were unsalted.
I stated, “I want salt.” Mom turned from cleaning the cupboard and handed me a salt shaker. Shelling more nuts, I discovered the salt refused to stick to the dry peanuts. I licked them and tried again. This time the salt stuck. An idea popped into my mind. I would shell a bunch of nuts, wet them with water, put them on a small pan and shake salt over them. Then, I’d ask Mom to put the pan in the oven. She wouldn’t let me do it myself, because I was only six-years-old.
Mom agreed to my request and placed the nuts on a small, metal syrup-can lid that she used to test cookies. A few minutes later when she took them out, she instructed, “Wait until they’re cool.”
I grabbed a hot peanut when she wasn’t looking. To my dismay, it was chewy. As if knowing what I’d done, Mom chuckled, “When the nuts are cool, they’ll be crunchy again.” She was right. My roasted, salted peanuts were delicious and I felt clever.
Figuring out on my own how to salt and roast peanuts was the start of my life-long career as an instinctive scientist.
One day when I was eight, I opened my brother Casper’s bedside table drawer to look at the fascinating things he kept in there. There were springs, sprockets, batteries, tubes of industrial strength bubble material, bulbs, coins, bits of wire and string. I began to put the things that fascinated me the most on the table top, end to end. When I placed a wire against the end of a battery and a small bulb against the other end of the wire, I saw a flash of light in the bulb. Flashlights had already been invented, but I was excited to realize I was a re-inventor.
I wiped my lips with the napkin, put it down on the empty plate and asked my friend, who was sitting across from me in the booth, “Would you like to go shopping with me this afternoon?”
My friend finished chewing an ice cube before she questioned, “Where do you plan to shop?”
Looking up from studying the meal receipt, I named one of the local resale stores I like to visit. I saw the slightest frown on my friend’s face before she hesitantly admitted, “I don’t know if I feel very interested in buying used clothing.”
Shrugging, I pointed out, “I don’t have a problem with used clothing. Everything in my closet at home is used. Most of the clothing at the resale store is newer than the stuff I own. When I take clothing home, I wash it. Then those things truly, completely belong to me by the rights of soap and water.”
Leaning forward, my friend asked skeptically, “Don’t you think the clothes that end up in a resale shop are poor-quality rejects?”
Shaking my head, I pondered, “I think there are several reasons why clothing and household items end up in resale stores. The people who owned the stuff were sick of it, or due to weight gain or loss, the clothing no longer fit. I’ve found lots of clothing with expensive name brands that I could never afford brand new. These things fit, are clean and have no rips or snags. Once in a while you will find something that is defective in some small way. Overall, shopping at resale stores is like going on a treasure hunt. You never know what fantastic thing you’ll find.”
Pulling to a stop at an intersection, I picked up a map laying on the passenger seat to examine it. From the backseat, my eight-year-old daughter questioned loudly, “Are we there yet?”
I glanced back at Niki and her four-year-old sister, Tammie. Slightly annoyed, I answered, “I’ve never been to your classmate’s house before. The map shows that we should be nearly there.” Putting the map down, I turned to the left and drove half a mile. A house on the left had more than one car in the driveway. The bleak, overcast fall afternoon made the yard look cold and forbidding. Thinking out loud, I questioned, “Is this the right place?”
Tonight was the first Girl Scout meeting at the new volunteer leader’s house. We got out of the car and walked toward it. All the uncertainty I felt disappeared when the backdoor opened and we were warmly welcomed.
One evening several months later when I picked Niki up from a Girl Scout activity, her troop leader said, “We’re planning an overnight trip to Camp Sacuguaya. I need a few mothers to chaperone and help make meals. Can you help out with this?”
I welcomed the warm safety of being alone in my car and driving home. I was done crying, but my emotions felt raw. Two hours earlier, Mom had called to say Daddy had died. Since it was ten at night and our two small children were already in bed, my husband Arnie and I decided he would stay home with the children while I went to the hospital alone to be with Mom.
The late May midnight sky was awash with stars. A light sweater provided all I needed for comfort. The open garage door welcomed me when I pulled into the driveway. With the ease of habit, I drove into the small building and turned off the car engine. Taking my time, I walked out and stopped on the driveway to take a slow, deep breath. The rich, earthy smell of grass cut earlier in the day, freshly worked garden soil, and the sweet scent of blossoming lilacs made reminded me of my farmer father.
It was hard to imagine Daddy being dead. I yearned to be with him one last time. Was everything right with him now that he had left behind his sick, aging body?
A year ago, Daddy and I had walked in the orchard on his farm. He’d told me, “Kathy, I’m ready to die.”
I was 31 years old. Death was a frightening, unwanted thing to me.
Daddy, who was 78, answered my protest by gently pointing out, “I don’t feel well anymore and I’m lonely. Many of my friends have already died.”
As I stood remembering this on the driveway, some unidentified instinct prompted me to look up. Just as I tipped my head back, a huge bird silently swooped low over my head, then soared up to land on the house’s chimney. By the light of the star-studded night sky, I could easily recognize the bird. The long-eared owl looked down at me and hooted three times.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the teacher. She was the prettiest and youngest nun I had ever laid eyes on. Although this was my first day of first grade, I was used to seeing the sisters who taught at my parish school. Every Sunday morning when my family went to Mass, we sat two pews behind them.
Since this was our first day of school, most of our parents personally delivered us to the classroom. After they left and the class, with the exception of one sobbing student, settled down. Sister Donna passed out sheets of paper with simple pictures on them. She instructed, “Children, get out your crayons and color the ball and teddy bear.” It was exciting to finally be in school like my big brothers and sisters. Using broad strokes, I colored the ball blue and the teddy bear brown.
Several days into the school year, Sister Donna passed out lined paper for us to practice printing alphabet letters. The papers had widely spaced solid blue lines. Not as easy to see, between the blue lines were faint, light-green, dotted lines. Sister drew lines on the blackboard mimicking the lines on our papers.
Grasping chalk in her right hand, Sister Donna glanced over her shoulder at the class to make sure everyone was looking. “Watch closely,” she demanded, “so you know what needs to be done.” After printing the letters on the black surface, she made a quick tour through the room to make sure the students understood what she wanted.
Satisfied with what she saw, Sister happily complemented, “Very good! Practice printing the letters over and over until they are neat and easy to read. Make the capital ‘A’ look like a tall tent that touches the top blue line and the bottom blue line. Make the lower case ‘a’ nice and round like an apple that sits on the bottom blue line and is no taller than the green dotted line. While you’re working on that, I’ll come around to everyone and help.”
My sixth-grade class milled about noisily in the back of the room, whispering and giggling. None of us were eager for the start of our afternoon classes. Sister stood leaning against the teacher’s desk in front of the room watching us. She finally barked impatiently, “Recess is over, class. Sit down and be quiet!” I knew that tone of voice and instantly obeyed, as did most of the class. True to form, the last students to sit down and be quiet were two boys. As long as I’d known them, since first grade, they stood out as incapable of being quiet or of staying seated for more than a few minutes.
Waiting until the only sound in the room was the occasional clank of the heat registers, Sister picked up a paper from her desk and slowly walked back and forth in the front of the room, grilling the class. “What is the first thing you do when you begin an assignment?”
One student volunteered, “Put on our thinking caps?”
Sisters black veil swished back and forth as she emphatically shook her head and tossed out hints, “We ask you to do it at the top of the page, along with the date. It’s one of the first things you were taught to do in first grade. It helps your teacher grade papers.”