Determining Intent

A warm blanket of sunshine covered the floor next to the stairway window. I padded over in my stocking feet to look out into the backyard. The sun-warmed floor felt good under my feet because the brick house where I live is always cool in the mornings, even on hot summer days. I was disgusted when I discovered my view of the lushly green backyard was marred by a huge, ugly smear of bird poo on the window glass.

Complaining to my daughter Tammie, I whined, “You should see the huge splotch of poop a bird dumped on the window glass. I can understand bird droppings found under their roosts, but this…this…” I sputtered, “This had to be intentionally done! It couldn’t have been easy to get it to fall so perfectly in the center of the glass and have it dribble in such a way as to make it look like the wing of a white moth.”

Laughing, Tammie questioned, “Are you telling me the bird dirtied your window glass on purpose?”

“Well, maybe it was an accident.” I grudgingly admitted. “I don’t think I have an angry bird in the backyard who’s carrying out a vendetta against me. After all, I keep my birdfeeders stocked with suet and black sunflower seeds all winter.”

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Naughty Fingers

New technologies challenge me. Until 2016 I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to use a smart phone. When I finally took the plunge, my daughter Niki set it up and trained me. Very carefully, she explained and demonstrated how to open the apps I wanted. She showed me how to use the calculator, flashlight, and camera. There was so much more to learn, like how to get back to the homepage, and how to recognize the sound the cell phone made when a text came in. My daughter also helped me pick out a notification sound for phone calls.

As my daughter was preparing to go home, I noticed the cell phone’s screen was black. Hoping to wake it up, I shook it. Niki took it out of my hands, again. After swiping up, a keypad appeared. She punched in the numbers we agreed would be my secret code. Suddenly, my phone was awake and interactive again. I nodded, happy that I knew what to do when I needed to use the device.

An hour later I decided to sit down and play with my new toy. I swiped up on the black screen and the keypad appeared. I typed in my secret code and waited, but nothing happened. The numbers just sat there like small numeral guards protecting Fort Knox. I fretted, “Why won’t it open for me? Did I somehow break the phone?”

Driving to my daughter’s house, I tearfully explained, “Niki, I think I broke it.” She took the cell phone from my hands and tapped in my code. It instantly opened for her. I stuttered, “But, but, if there isn’t anything wrong with the phone, why couldn’t I get it to open?”

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The Rowboat

I stepped out onto the back deck and realized I didn’t need a jacket. The sunny spring afternoon was warm despite there being a few drifts of leftover winter snow dotting the yard. Folding my jacket over my arm, I commented to my daughter, Tammie, “I’m bringing the coat with me. When the sun goes down, it’ll get chilly.”

Tammie, who was a few steps ahead of me, turned and asked, “Which car should we take? Yours or mine?”

I apologized, “I’m sorry, I should have filled my car’s gas tank when I was in town the other day. As it is right now, my car doesn’t have enough gas to get to Wausau and back. Let’s use your car tonight and mine for the rest of the weekend.”

Niki, my other daughter, had invited Tammie and me to join her at a cooking class put on by Grebe’s store in Wausau. We happily looked forward to attending without a stop for gas first. Without another thought, we got into Tammie’s 2016 Mazda.

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Something Blue

This is a vintage ‘Forget Me Not’ earring and brooch set made by Krementz. I wish they were in my jewelry box! I only have the posts that I wore on my wedding day. I’d bought them from Zweck’s Jewelry story in Marshfield.

I leaned forward to look closely at my reflection in the mirror. There were just a few more things for me to do to be ready. White wedding dress lace spilled from my lap to the bedroom’s wooden floorboards. Gazing down at the pretty design, I marveled, “I’m getting married today!” As the baby of my family, I’d watched all four of my big sisters get married. Finally, it was my turn to walk down that aisle.

Smiling, I picked up the earrings I’d wear on my special day and thought about the old Victorian wedding rhyme, “Brides should always wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.” My jewelry was little ‘forget-me-not’ flower posts by Krementz. Gold petals painted blue surrounded a pearl standing in the place of a stamen for the blue in my trousseau.

Several things qualified for the borrowed item in my wedding. For instance, I couldn’t remember buying the Muguet Des Bois perfume by Coty. A small vial labeled with a spray of tiny white flowers enclosed the cherished scent of a pure, sweet little flower called ‘lily in the valley’. I dabbed some of the precious fragrance behind my ear lobes.

Earlier this morning, Mom had given me one of her old, lacy handkerchiefs for my ‘something old’ bridal goods. Everything else I wore for the day fit in the category of ‘something new’.

 Nervously glancing around, I wondered, “Am I ready? Have I done everything I planned to do?” The pink bedroom I was sitting in had been my sister Betty’s room. When Mom and my sister painted the room pink, the dressing table and mirror frame had been painted pink also. The stool I sat on was nothing more than a small oil can covered with a pale-pink gathered skirt to hide its common origins and topped with a soft cushion for comfort.

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My new friends were waiting for me near the elevator. Last night we had been shown an underground tunnel that led directly to the hospital without stepping outdoors. We giggled nervously as we walked through the spooky, dimly lit underground hallway. Having graduated from high school just a month earlier, we were all there for the same reason, to take a nursing assistant class. We hoped to be hired by the hospital when we finished the class.

Three days earlier, during the weekend, I moved into the former nurse’s dorm at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Wausau. I loved the room that I shared with another girl. The large, south-facing windows, beds on opposite sides of the room, two desks in the center and plenty of closet space provided all we needed for sleep and study. Two floors below on the main floor, was a large kitchen for residents to share and a large lobby gathering room. During the weekend, girls who had moved in before us showed how to get to our classes by using the underground hallway and an easily accessible flat roof top to use for sunbathing.

The nurses teaching the nursing assistant classes introduced their young and very inexperienced students to bed baths, bedpans, urinals, and normal hospital routines. Early in the program, we learned bedside care by taking fresh water to the patients and emptying foley catheter bags. Our teachers reinforced their frequent reminders to wash our hands by showing a film about how contamination spreads.

The film was an animated story showing a nurse visiting a patient to change his surgical dressings. Until the dressing change, the pictures were just in black and white. To show that the dressing was soiled with infectious drainage, one color was added: red. The nurse didn’t wash her hands after the change. When she poured a cup of water for the patient, the cup and water pitcher handle turned red where she had touched them to show they had become contaminated. The curtain pullcord turned red when she opened the curtains for the patient. She left a red handprint on the door when she left the room. As other workers came into the room to do things for the patient, they touched the same things the first nurse had touched and many other things. By the end of the film, everything in that patient’s room was covered in red smudges, showing how they had unwittingly spread contamination.

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Jury’s Verdict

While I had planned to arrive on time, before 8:20 a.m. I arrived at 8:25 a.m. feeling flustered. My pride in being punctual was wounded. Walking into the courthouse felt as if I were checking through TSA at an airport. A policeman took my purse and coat to be x-rayed. The metal detector alarmed when I walked through it, causing the officer tending the machine to lean forward and look down at my shoes. He grunted, “Buckles”.

Approaching a desk with a “Jurors Check In Here” sign, I apologized, “I’m sorry I’m late. I didn’t allow enough drive time.”

The jury attendant smiled reassuringly and said, “You’re just in time.” He led me down a flight of stairs to a room where about two dozen people were waiting. Within moments of my arrival we watched a film showing what was expected of a jury member. We were instructed to speak clearly, never nod our heads, say yes or no, answer only what was asked. Then we were led up a few flights of stairs to a courtroom.

As I slowly made my way up the steps, I thought to myself, “It isn’t even 9:00 a.m. yet and I’ve gone up and down six flights of steps. It’s a good thing my knee is doing as well as it is.”

The courtroom was large but there were no spectators in it. The case to be tried involved a young man contesting a DUI (driving under the influence) charge. A rap of the judge’s gavel signaled the start of the proceedings.

21 potential jurors had been summoned for the jury pool. In the following hour we were asked several questions to gauge our partiality, reducing the number of people qualified to serve. Questions like, “Have you or a member of your family ever been charged with a DUI?” If anyone raised their hand the next question was, “Will you be able be impartial in this case?” If they answered no, they were excused. Remaining potential jurors were approved or rejected through a collaboration between the prosecutor and defense lawyers. A DUI charge is a civil case, not a criminal one, so only six jurors were needed instead of the more familiar 12.

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The Summons

Late summer insects buzzed and hummed from clumps of tall grass in the ditches as I slowly limped down the driveway toward the mailbox. It felt good to be outdoors in the warm sun. A pleasant breeze playfully fluffed my hair as it scurried about in the yard. Stopping to rest my painful left knee, I anticipated the knee replacement surgery scheduled in two weeks.

Finally, having reached the mailbox, I rifled through the pack of letters.  When I saw a letter from the Marathon County Circuit Court, I involuntarily blurted, “Oh-oh!”

Hastily ripping the envelope open, I read, “You are hereby summoned to serve as a juror for a one-week term beginning…” The date listed was a little over two weeks after my knee replacement surgery. I doubted I’d be in condition for jury duty that soon.

With the help of my doctor, I was excused from the jury obligation on that date. While Marathon County acknowledged the validity of my excuse, they included a new date to serve. The date was so many months away, I had almost forgotten about it until another Marathon County reminder arrived in the mail recently.

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Donkey Milk

In the depths of the bathroom cupboard, was a familiar bottle. The lavender-scented body lotion bought while visiting France five years ago had slipped behind other toiletry supplies. The principle of ‘out of sight means out of mind’ certainly pertained here. Planning to use the lotion only on special occasions, other tall bottles had slowly obscured the container.

Lifting the bottle out of the dark recesses of the cupboard, I admired the pretty sprays of lavender that decorated its label. Why was I so stingy with the lotion? It needed to be used up before it dried up. My daughter Tammie and I are planning another international trip this year, so who knows what items I’ll be bringing home with me this time?

As I gently spread the creamy lotion on my legs, I futilely sniffed, hoping to detect its flowery scent. Unlike orange peels and crushed basil leaves, which my olfactory receptors pick up very well, lavender isn’t a scent I can enjoy. Placing the bottle on the counter, I reflected, “Not being able to smell it, surely contributed to my forgetting about the lotion!”

When I talked to Tammie later that day I asked, “Do you remember the long bus trip we took while in France?”

Shaking her head disapprovingly, Tammie answered, “I surely do! The French rail workers were on strike, so we couldn’t take the speed train from Paris to Lourdes. What could have taken only a few hours, turned into our spending an entire day on a bus.”

I agreed, “That was unpleasant but halfway through the day we stopped at a small strip mall. One of the stores sold nothing but locally supplied, farm-grown items, like wine, rapeseed oil, olives, wool, and products made with lavender. I bought wool slippers and a bottle of lavender-scented lotion. I used some of the lotion today. Did you know it was made using donkey milk?”

Chuckling, Tammie admitted, “I’d forgotten about that but it makes sense. They do things differently in France.”

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Pronouncing Judgement

After noon recess, we found the classroom windows open. A stack of papers on the windowsill fluttered in the balmy breeze. I heard red-winged black birds calling to each other and wished I could go back outside. The custodian started to mow the lawn between the school and church rectory. I closed my eyes listening to the familiar roar of the mower. The scent of freshly cut grass made me giddy with joy. The school day was half over. School would be out for the summer in a few weeks. Beautiful summer was finally returning to Wisconsin after six months of ice and snow.

My classmates and I could tell Sister Wilhelmina was in a good mood. She had a smile on her wrinkled face. At least I thought it was a smile, because that wasn’t something she did often. Standing in front of the chalkboard, Sister shared, “I love the scent of freshly mown grass. It makes me think of my childhood.” After a pause she uncharacteristically suggested, “Someone tell me what they like and will always remember about their childhood.”

A boy waved his hand in the air and eagerly shared, “I have two things. There’s a crick behind our house that I play in, and I kin crawl out of my bedroom window onto the ruf.”

Sister sat down heavily at her desk, clearly struggling with what to address first, his dangerous pastimes, sloppy speech, or his mispronounced words. Having decided, she weakly questioned, “Do you remember the proper way to pronounce words like ‘creek’ and ‘roof’?”

Red faced, the boy nodded and said in a rush, “Saying those words the way you want me to, don’t feel right.”

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Dark Anniversaries

The sound of the ringing phone dragged me out of a deep sleep. Before I knew what I was doing, I was on my feet and stumbling in the dark mobile home hallway toward the living room to answer the phone. I felt heavy with a strange nagging dread. Arnie, my young husband was two steps behind me.

Two months earlier, I had given birth to a baby girl named Christy, who had a rare birth defect. We brought her home twice but were forced to return her to the hospital within days. Having no childcare experience and feeling terrified by her special needs, I felt like a failure as a mother. Yesterday evening Arnie and I had visited our little girl at the hospital. Reaching through the bars of her crib, I gently patted her back. I didn’t know what else to do.

The voice on the other end of the line was Christy’s pediatrician. He said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your daughter has just passed away.” Handing the phone to Arnie, I sank onto the sofa and cried. Christy’s death was our first experience with losing someone dear to us. My husband and I had celebrated out 20th birthdays a few months earlier.

The call from Christy’s doctor at 2 a.m. on April 2nd, 1971, introduced me to days that I have come to call dark anniversaries. Unlike a birthday where you celebrate the person’s birth, the death date is a day you remember them and miss what might have been. Dark anniversaries are seared into your memory forever.

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