Fire Safety

I heard the school bus pull to a stop in front of our house as I put a kettle of potatoes on the stove. My five-year-old had been standing at the large living room window for the last half hour, watching for her big sister. She shouted, “Niki’s home!” A moment later I heard the back-door slam and my fourth-grader walked into the dining room.

“How was your day?” I asked.

My daughter shrugged and gave me the usual before supper non-committal answer, “It was okay.”

The events of Niki’s day would slowly unreel as the evening progressed. She was never able to pour it out all at one time, so it didn’t pay to push.

By the time I was doing the supper dishes, Niki had told me about a math test she’d taken in the morning, who she played with at recess and what was served at hot lunch. The way my daughter leaned against the cupboards watching me clean the kitchen made it clear she wanted to say more.

Looking troubled, Niki finally said, “We had a class on fire safety this afternoon.” I turned to face her. Every fall the school taught the children what to do if their homes were to catch fire. Along with the knowledge came worry. Continue reading


Said With A Sigh

The summer afternoon was hot, so I sought out the cool shade under a row of mountain ash trees between our farmhouse and the driveway. After sitting down on the grass, I discovered a small cool breeze liked it under the trees as well.

Across the driveway, between the barn and a row of maple trees bordering the road, was a garden-sized field of timothy hay. Shortly after I sat down on the grass, Daddy walked across the yard with a scythe in his hands. Starting at the edge of the patch, he began to rhythmically swing the blade back and forth. As the tall grass fell, Daddy stepped forward to cut the next swath.

A car pulled into the driveway before he had a chance to cut the entire patch. The neighbor needed something we had in the machine shed. Leaning his scythe against the barn, Daddy followed him to the shed.

Eyeing the old-fashioned grass cutting tool leaning against the barn wall, I thought, “I wonder if I can make the scythe cut hay like Daddy?” Jumping to my feet, I ran across the driveway. The scythe was fairly heavy, but from watching Daddy, I knew how to hold it. Stepping up to the grass, I held the blade low and using my whole body, made it swing smoothly in an arc. Continue reading

Battle Scars

Who knows how it happened. But there I was lying on the living room floor in a puddle of water, sand, glass and flopping fish. Hadn’t Mama told me to stop chasing around? Maybe she had, but none of that mattered anymore. I opened my mouth and let out a long, loud wail. Not only had I ruined something nice, but I was scared and uncomfortable.

Everyone in the house must have heard the crash and come running to see what had happened. If they hadn’t heard the glass break, they certainly heard my fire siren howl. Mama picked me up off the floor and gasped, “Oh my goodness! The glass cut your left arm!” Holding me away from her a little she added, “Ugh, you’re wet and fishy smelling!”

Mama firmly directed me toward the bathroom for a bath, bandaging and a change of clothing. Before leaving the room, I looked back and saw my sisters and brothers picking up glass, mopping up the water and sand. I saw small orange fish on the gray linoleum floor wildly flopping about. The sight made me feel so sad I began to wail again. Continue reading

Misbehaving Cooks

Spicy aromas coming from the kitchen made my mouth water. Maybe if I begged Mom, she’d let me taste something. Bracing myself on the stairway banisters, I began to swing down three steps at a time. Before reaching the main floor, I heard Mom yell, “Supper’s ready!”

Daddy and my sisters flowed out of the living room into the kitchen ahead of me. One brother made a bee-line out of his room at the end of the hall to the table and the other brother quickly stepped in from the entryway. They all looked as hungry as I felt. Hints of garlic, onion, oregano and basil hung tantalizingly in the air.

Mom had placed two large jelly roll pans of homemade pizza on the center of our table. One sister exclaimed, “Those look beautiful!” She was right. The crisp crust around the edges were a light golden brown. Although topped with plenty of melted cheese, I could see chunks of meat, pizza sauce and mushrooms below. Beside the pans were shakers of Parmesan cheese and dried peppers. Continue reading

Crazy Baby Sister

An old man sat in the corner of our living room on the davenport. I liked his kindly look and the rosy glow of the lamp’s light on the room’s peach-colored wall behind him. Laying down on the floor where he could see me, I began to kick my legs up into the air. Mama stepped into the living room, reached down and patted my bottom as she scolded, “Kathy, quit showing off.”

At two-years of age, I had already come to understand my place in the family. With parents who were 45 years old the year I was born, comic relief was clearly needed. It was a good thing I showed up! I enjoyed entertaining people and making them laugh. As the youngest child in a family of seven children, I had a ready audience.

There were times I didn’t even know I was doing anything funny, but when I realized what was happening, I hammed it up to the hilt. Big words are hard to master for little mouths. My mispronunciations made two of my sisters who were 5 and 7 years older than I was shriek with laughter. When cousins came to visit, they would prompt, “Kathy, say hamburger.”

Rather than trying to say the word correctly, I proudly said, “Hamberger-ger-ger!” I loved the response when I said it wrong. There was absolutely no incentive to say it right! Continue reading

Oh Momma!

Trembling, I slid up onto the huge dentist chair. It was big and roomy even for an adult, but since I was just starting second grade the chair felt as big as a room. It was hard and slippery. To the left of the chair was a small round white spit sink. Despite being so young, I was familiar with dentist visits. My teeth were riddled with cavities.

Today was a school day. In the waiting room Daddy had told me that I could either go to school for the rest of the day or go back home after my appointment. In first grade, my teacher had been Sister Donna; this year I had Sister Mary Michaleen. Even though she was older and stricter, I still preferred being in school over visiting the dentist.

I hated the waiting room. I always heard the horrible whine of the drill as the dentist worked on someone else. There was always a bitter smell in the air, too. My brother once told me that teeth burn from the friction of the drill. The smell reminded me of Mom singeing the hair and pinfeathers off chickens before cooking them.

If waiting in the waiting room was horrible, waiting for the dentist in his huge, hard chair with nothing to do but stare out the window in front of me was far worse. I wanted to cry, but my Mama would have said I was too old to do that.

The dentist finally stepped into the room and briefly peered into my mouth at the tooth he wanted to fix. Then he stood directly in front of me and slowly began to fill a syringe with Novocain. It had a very long needle. That was all I could look at as my body went icy cold with terror. Continue reading

Special Treat

Nearly vibrating with excitement, I climbed out of the family car Daddy had parked on a side street. My family lived on a farm near the village of Stratford and in the late 1950’s we didn’t visit the big city of Marshfield often. My being able to come along on shopping trips was even more infrequent since I’d started attending grade school four years ago. What little I remembered from preschool visits, served to fill me with inflated expectations.

Mom sewed all the dresses that my sisters and I wore, so I knew we would be visiting fabric stores, but those didn’t interest me as much as the drug, jewelry, stationery and five and dime stores. The first place my mother visited was J C Penney’s fabric section. I thought, “Good, we can get this part of our shopping trip out of the way first, then do the fun stuff.”

Looking at floral fabrics that Mom would sew into pretty dresses wasn’t so bad, but then she sat down at a table to look at pattern books. After what felt like hours I begged, “Are you all most done?” She wasn’t. We visited two other fabric stores. Finally, laden with packages, we visited a drug store for a special hair tonic to prevent Mom’s graying hair from turning yellow, a jewelry store to drop off a broken watch for fixing and a stationery store for a writing tablet. Continue reading