“This store has a wonderful selection of cat toys,” exclaimed Tammie.
I dropped a container of clumping kitty litter into my shopping cart and followed my daughter’s voice into the next aisle, complaining, “My cats don’t need any more toys. I already have a dozen to pick up each time I vacuum the floor.”
Stepping into the same aisle as Tammie, I skidded to a stop. The pet toy display was a Santa’s winter wonderland for cats. There were colorful balls to chase, miniature stuffed animals, snakes that crinkled when touched, cat nip straight up and cat nip-infused beds and toys. Despite my reluctance to buy anything, I became enamored with a battery-operated toy that made a butterfly flutter in a circle on a wire.
“Let’s go to check-out before I decide to buy anything else,” I muttered as I added it to my cart. In my haste to leave the display, I bumped a toy mouse off the rack. It squeaked like a flesh and blood field mouse.
“Real mice are filthy creatures.” Tammie commented, “but this toy is really cute.”
Glancing at the toy mouse, I grumbled, “I don’t need it but maybe my kitties will learn what to do if a real mouse ever gets in my house. Put it in my shopping cart.”
The squeaking mouse made its presence known all the way to the check-out as the oval-wheeled shopping cart rumbled over the tiled floors. The toy mouse’s vocal nature made it easy to tell when my cats were playing.
Thankful for yet another wonderful widow’s supper, I leaned back to enjoy my cup of tea. These weekly gatherings for an evening meal had started for me and my daughter after both my husband and son-in-law had died. When my sister’s husband died, she began to join us each week, too. Our being together for this meal as a family is a blessing and a joy.
As my daughter Niki’s four youngest children reached for the novelty ice cream treats my sister had provided, I turned to my daughter and suggested, “How about I buy the roast beast for this year’s Thanksgiving Supper?
Putting the last of the kale salad on her plate, Niki acknowledged my plan to buy the turkey. “That sounds great!”
I questioned, “And what dish would you like me bring, a seven-layer salad, a potato casserole or one of the desserts?”
Niki speared the last, crisp green leaf on her plate with a fork and exclaimed, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.”
A week later at the grocery store, I stood examining the frozen turkeys for sale. I wanted a big bird. Someone had once told me the bones of a huge turkey weren’t that much bigger than the bones of a medium turkey. I figured that meant buying a dinosaur-sized turkey was an economically wise move. With fingers quickly going numb from the cold, I strained to lift my choice from the freezer. It landed in my shopping cart with a loud, “clunk!”
Reluctant to step out of the house, I scanned the dark, dreary backyard. Thick, gray clouds hung low in the sky. Pine trees along the backside of my yard were a dull, unremarkable green. In the flowerbed along the driveway, the recent frost damage was all too evident. The hydrangeas, once covered with pink blossoms, now had brown, frost damaged leaves.
Pulling on a jacket and zipping it halfway up, I stepped out on the back deck. A cold wind whipped around the corner of the house and tried to get inside my coat. The sudden chill was an unwelcome surprise. I zipped the jacket all the way up to my neck. Picking up a lawn rake, I walked around the corner of the house. The only deciduous tree in the center of the yard glowed like a huge, organic light bulb against the background of the drab yard. Half of the maple’s orange-yellow leaves littered the ground, the other half still clung to the branches.
Using the rake to clear a small area on the leaf-smothered lawn, I found what I expected. Close to the grass were red leaves that were the first to fall. The store had called this tree a sunset maple when purchased. But I have been disappointed almost every year since Arnie planted it. The sunset red leaves seldom light up its branches in autumn.
The tree is like a cantankerous person with a mind of its own. The leaves stubbornly don’t usually change colors until all other trees in the area have not only changed colors, but also dropped their leaves.
The phone rang just as I had my hand on the door knob to step out of the house. A friend I seldom see anymore was on the line. We talked and caught up with each other’s lives.
As we got ready to say, ‘good-bye’, my friend asked, “What sort of plans do you have for the rest of today?”
I admitted, “I’m putting my garden to bed for the winter. If I get everything done that I want to, I’ll be a muddy mess by the time I come back into the house,”
With the call over, I pulled on my gardening coat and wrapped a scarf around my neck. Picking up a pair of garden sheers, I left the house. Walking across the lawn towards the garden, I thought about the phrase, ‘putting my garden to bed’. It reminded me how I had I hated bedtime as a child, and how Mom had struggled to get me settled.
When my family started to pray our nightly rosary, I knew my evening was over. Immediately after, Mom insisted I put on my nighty, brush my teeth and use the bathroom to prevent a cold, middle of the night trip downstairs in the dark. As I unhappily trudged up the stairs, Daddy would cheerfully call out from his favorite chair in the living room, “Nighty-night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Arnie’s 1966 navy Impala pulled into the driveway. Slipping into a jacket, I picked up my purse and ran out the back door of my rent-a-room house. A crisp fall wind swirled colorful leaves from the tree overhead through the air. In the car, Arnie greeted me with a kiss. Before backing out of the driveway, he asked, “How was your first day working for Saint Joseph’s Hospital?”
“Amazing. I got to see a baby born!” I excitedly responded. “The mother had medical problems, so it was a high-risk pregnancy. Evelyn and I got to observe everything from start to finish.”
“Evelyn?” my boyfriend questioned.
“I wasn’t the only new employee to start working on the obstetrics unit today.” I explained, “Evelyn is older and has worked on other units at the hospital in the past.”
My boyfriend and I had met in June, the same month I moved to Wausau to work at Hospital North. We soon began seeing each other each day. Between his job and visiting me, Arnie was driving over 100 miles a day. By September we knew we were headed for marriage, so I applied for a job at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and we both moved to Marshfield. Arnie found a rooming house for himself, while I rented a bedroom from Alma, a widow who lived two blocks from the hospital. My first day of work was on September 29th, 1969.