Archive | March 2019

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

Lions and Lambs

I zipped my jacket up closer to my throat. The sunshine was blinding, but Old Sol certainly wasn’t tempering the winter chill. Chickadees and goldfinches twittered and tweeted as they gobbled seeds, scratching and pecking for the best and biggest around the bird feeder. In the distance, from the top of a tree in the wood lot, I heard the unmistakable spring song of a cardinal.

The warm glow of joy filled my heart. I blurted, “Oh my gosh Tammie, did you hear that?”

My daughter had been reaching to open her car door. She straightened up, looked over the top of the car at me and asked, “No. What did you hear?”

Excitedly, I explained, “Do you remember me telling you that cardinals begin to sing their mating songs in the middle of February? Well, guess what? Today is the 16th of February, and I’ve just heard my first cardinal love song for the year!”

In the moment of silence following my announcement, we were blessed with an encore. The clear, pleading notes of a cardinal floated down to us from a nearby tree top. It sounded as it was asking, “Pretty-birdie? Pretty-birdie?”

Farther back in the wood-lot we heard a faint answering call. We were listening to a pair of cardinals having a conversation! Were they planning where to nest for the summer? Maybe they were discussing the best and safest food source in the area.  After a few minutes, smiling broadly, my daughter and I got into the car. Although it was cold that day, we knew winter would soon come to an end. Continue reading

My Family’s Dash

Christmas tree boughs and sawdust littered the shed floor. Stepping over the mess, I ushered my niece to a row of plastic totes and pointed to bulging bags further in.

I announced, “There they are.” My warm breath made an impressive plume of steam rise from my mouth. It was a week before Christmas and I had invited Susie to come for a visit.

When the Altmann family farm was sold in 2016, I had emptied the farmhouse for the new owners. Much of what I had salvaged is stored in my shed. My mother had spent over thirty years making afghans as a legacy for her children and grandchildren. As we searched though the treasures, I instructed my niece, “Take as many as you want.”

Later, visiting in the warm comfort of the house, I gave Susie a jar of elderberry jelly and a box of meringue candies made to look like small, freckled mushrooms. Then, handing her a box of pictures, I explained, “I sorted the family photographs according to each member. These are the ones I think your Mom would have wanted.”

I began to tell Susie stories of our ancestors that I doubted her mother had passed on. My deceased sister, her mother, had never been very interested in family history. “Your maternal great grandmother, Franziska, immigrated from Eisenstein, Germany in 1893 with John, her toddler and Elizabeth, her eight-month-old infant.” Continue reading