The water was only lukewarm when I opened the shower door and reached in to feel it. I shrugged, guessing I hadn’t turned the water valve open far enough to get the heat I wanted. Pushing the valve further open, I stepped under the disappointing cascade of water and warily waited for the much hotter water to begin pelting my skin. Moments passed as I cold shampooed my hair. The shower stubbornly stayed a constant lukewarm temperature. An alarm began to go off in the responsible, homeowner, adult portion of my mind, “What’s wrong with the hot water heater?”
Refreshed by the shower despite its unsatisfying water quality, I quickly forgot about running to the basement to check the water heater. That act of responsibility reentered my mind several hours later as I cleaned the kitchen counters and the kitchen faucet gave an abundance of hot water for me to rinse a dish cloth. I sighed with relief, “There’s nothing to worry about. The hot water heater is fine.”
The next morning, I got up and washed my face as usual. The water from the tap was only just warm, but I attributed that to not having let the water run long enough. With water pipes snaking through the walls of a house up to a second-floor bathroom, it isn’t reasonable to expect instant hot water.
An hour later when I turned on the kitchen faucet, not a single drop of water came out. Deep in the plumbing below the counter I heard, “glurp”, the sound of a pipe choking on an air bubble.
My sister Mary laid on the bed we shared, reading a book. She giggled as she read and turned the pages. I snuggled close to her on the mattress and looked at the page she was reading. To my disgust, there were no pictures of Donald Duck or any other cartoon character on it. Annoyed that I was breathing in her face, Mary sat up and threw down her book. I glanced at the book’s name. It was, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” by Jean Kerr. My opinion of Mary’s cartoonless book skyrocketed as I thought, “What a funny title! Who would try eating Daisies? They smell like they’d taste bitter.”
Agnes and Rosie, my two older sisters had moved out of the house and were recently married. Their old bedroom, with its blue ceiling dotted with silver stars, was now my bedroom to share with Mary. She was sixteen-years to my nine years of age, so I annoyed her on a regular basis. Despite that, she was mostly patient with me.
Mary suggested, “Let’s go for a bike ride.” I jumped to accept her invitation. Who knew how long would it be before she was the next sister to move out of the house and get married? As it was, she already didn’t want to ride bike very often any more.
When Mary and I pedaled back into the yard, she wanted to go back to reading. Finding a shady spot for a lawn chair, my sister opened the book and disappeared into it.
Billy stood up from the restaurant table and tottered. I moved closer to my brother in case he started to fall. When his blood pressure dropped with a position change, he would often faint. Although both of my brothers had Parkinson’s, he had been diagnosed first and showed more symptoms. Casper, my other brother was already standing at the cashier, looking back to see what was holding us up.
This was a typical Friday night for me for several years.
Going out for a Friday night fish fry had once been an occasional treat. That changed a few years after my husband died. Because of Parkinson’s, my bachelor brothers started to need a little help. I began visiting them at the farm each Friday night to fill their pill boxes and pay bills. Those were the things they needed. But what they wanted was to go out for a Friday fish fry every single week.
I won’t lie, there were a few weeks here and there that I really wished I could stay home or do something else.
To add variety to my brothers Friday night experience, I tried to take them to different restaurants each week. I often invited one of my friends to join us. Some weeks one or both of my daughters joined us, too. When my sister Agnes and her husband Jim moved back to Wisconsin, they also became members of my Friday night fish fry club.
The hostess politely inquired, “Would you like to dine inside the restaurant or out on the patio?” I hesitated because I dislike sitting in full sun. As if reading my mind, the hostess quickly put my fears to rest. “Most of the patio is in shade.”
I confirmed my preference with a smile. “I’d love a table in the shade.”
A tall pergola shaded one half of the patio and most of the other half of the remaining area enjoyed the shade of a sapling tree. Placing a glass of water on the table, the hostess promised that a waiter would take my order after I had a chance to look at the menu.
While waiting for my order to be filled, I glanced around. Flowerboxes placed on the top of the patio walls were full of flowers and herbs. Healthy vining plants cascaded their tendrils down and swayed in a gentle breeze.
I overheard one woman at a nearby table telling her companion, “I miss Phillip so much. Mornings are especially hard, but today something happened that made me feel better. From the kitchen window I saw a beautiful cardinal perched in the tree Phillip had planted before his illness. Seeing it gave me a feeling of peace. I felt like Phillip was there checking on me.”
My sister Agnes followed me around the side of my house. Stopping and pointing dramatically at a towering bush beside the living room window, I exclaimed, “Look how big my Pinky-Winky hydrangea bush has grown. I’m glad I didn’t plant it right below the picture window. We wouldn’t be able to see out!”
Each time my sister and I visit each other, we walk through our respective yards showing how the flowers and bushes are doing. Moments before my big hydrangea reveal, we had examined double pink hollyhocks growing beneath the kitchen windows. As we inspect, we discuss what we see and like.
While walking through Agnes’ yard once, I remembered following my mother and her sister Theresa, who was home for her yearly visit, from flowerbed to flowerbed in our backyard on the farm during my childhood. Each year Mom and Daddy made a one weekend visit to visit Theresa, where they did the same thing at her home.
I’m not sure if all families talk and look at plants as much as my family has and still does. Our botanical interest goes beyond common backyard flowering plants. Even the weeds growing in the fields and along the road fascinate us. Most of my family members know many of them by their common names if not by their Latin genus and designation.
I remember walking through the yard with Agnes when I spotted a broadleaf-plantain growing alongside my driveway. My sister Agnes glanced down at it and commented, “When Casper, Rosie and I were little, we called that a sore leaf plant.”