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Playing Tag

The bush near our farmhouse’s chimney was a cedar tree. At least that was what Mom called it. To me, it just looked like a tall, narrow bush. I snuggled into its green branches, trying to melt into it and be invisible. Suddenly, two of my big sisters galloped past and around to the front of the house. They didn’t seem to realize I was even there!

I sighed with relief and discovered that the cedar smelled really good. Tearing off a flat cedar leaf spray, I held it to my nose, took a deep breath and peeked out at the surrounding lawn. I didn’t see anyone. Maybe it would be safe now for me to run. Shouts from the other side of the yard emboldened me. As I sprinted off, my hasty departure making the cedar sway.

My brothers and sisters were playing a tag game called, “7 Steps Around the House.” The rules were simple; if the person who was “IT” saw you take more than 7 steps as you ran around the house, you became the next “IT”.

I didn’t want to get caught and be “IT”! The prospect filled me with great dread, too horrible for my five-year-old mind to express. Just thinking about getting caught made me shiver as if with chills. Continue reading

Fears

Dusk darkened the corners of the living room. After the bright, sunny afternoon, the close of the day seemed darker than usual. I looked up from where I sat playing with a doll on the linoleum living room floor as Mom walked across the room to switch on a floor lamp.

A warm evening breeze fluttered through the window curtains as I continued to play. Then, suddenly without warning, the light went out. Mom tried to turn on a different lamp. It didn’t work, either. Something had cut off the electrical power to our house.

It wasn’t uncommon for the lights to go out during a summer thunder and lightning storm, but the day had been clear and cloudless. Mom turned to stare out the big living room window. In the dusky yard everything looked normal, but despite my young age, I knew nothing was normal in the house.

A young child instinctively knows when their mother is frightened. She doesn’t have to say anything. The fear is in the tense way she stands, in her nervous glance, the way she breathes.

It wasn’t until talking to Mom many years later that I discovered what frightened her so badly that evening. She feared communist invasion lead by Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union. World War II had ended only ten years earlier and the cold war between the United States and Russia was ramping up. Continue reading

Mercerized

Pointing a long bony finger at a boy in the front row, our sixth grade teacher thundered, “Do you know what your problem is? You are lackadaisical! You have no ambition!” Taking a quick glance at the large wall clock, she turned to address the other forty-nine children in the classroom to command, “Take out your ‘Readers’. When I have finished my coffee, we will begin English class. You read the story for this week. I will call on each one of you to check your comprehension.”

Pulling the English book out from my desk’s storage space, I looked at the clock on the wall. Both the long and short hands were pointing at nine. Opening my book, I peeked over it at the front of the room. Our teacher was seated at her desk, pulling a thermos and small package of cookies from the bottom drawer. A moment later the strong smell of coffee filled the room. Another peek confirmed my suspicion. She was having her usual coffee break snack; fig newton cookies. Continue reading

Rosie’s Marshmallows

Feeling chilled, I walked into the living room where I sat in my rocking chair and pulled a heavy quilt over myself. Comforted by the warmth of this cocoon; I appreciatively examined the mammoth fabric covering. One side was a subdued purple, the other side had two wide panels of gray and one wide panel of pink and purple flowers with green leaves on a gray background.

I had received the quilt several years ago as a posthumous gift the Christmas following my mother-in-law’s passing. Her daughters had found a stash of fabrics in her house. They took it to someone who made quilts. When the family gathered that year for Christmas, all the new quilts were stacked on a table. Each family was invited to choose one. I immediately knew which one I wanted.

Guilt poked at my conscience as I snuggled under the warm quilt. I had a job I needed to do. Sitting there wasn’t getting it done. Reluctantly, I pushed aside the cover and got to my feet. The small upstairs bedroom in my house had turned into a drop-off spot last summer. Things needed to be put away so I could do a much needed cleaning.

A moment later I stood inspecting the messy room. In one corner was a book shelf and a prie dieu (pronounced, ‘pray-do’). In the opposite corner was my Viking sewing machine on a desk with a chair for the seamstress. The two remaining corners of the room were filled with storage shelves. A craft table in the center of the room had once been bare, but now was heaped with craft supplies and household flotsam. A pile of odds and ends stacked under the table was beginning to spill out into the walkway.

Craft supplies in boxes on the storage shelves were as good as not there, because they were in such disorder. Memorabilia taken from my childhood home, which I quickly emptied several years ago, were jumbled and disorganized. Empty boxes, wads of fair ribbons and boxes of jelly jars competed for space.

My genetic make-up contains several ‘hoarder’ genes, impeding every housecleaning and organizing job I undertake. “I can’t throw out that nice box! I might need it for a Christmas gift or to store something.” When I do actually need and use something I’ve hoarded, my hoarding tendency is justified and reinforced.

Watching Antiques Roadshow is not good for a hoarder. When things are old and useless, I might think about throwing the item out, but when the item is extremely old, circa 1900, I imagine it has value. Heaven forbid that I should ever throw anything like that out!

I saved an eclectic assortment from my childhood home that partially tell the story of my family. I sometimes wonder why I bothered to take what I did, and then remember things I should have taken. I shook my head ruefully, realizing that ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Memories will have to be enough.

I thought about the items I had kept and items I had thrown out, but drew a complete block when it came to my sister Rosie’s marshmallows. What it the world did I do with them? Did I throw them out, or leave them in their hiding place?

My two oldest sisters had both gone from home and married before I’d reached the age of ten. I inherited their former bedroom. One rainy day I poked about looking at things stored in the room’s cubbyhole and found a surprise. Inside, on top of the boards that framed the cubbyhole doorway, was a box of Campfire marshmallows. The find was surprising in itself, but discovering that marshmallows once came boxed in orderly rows was a surprise, too.

I somehow knew the marshmallows belonged to my sister Rosie, not Agnes. I wondered if they were an emergency sweet snack that was forgotten, or if they were for a campfire with friends at Big Rapids park, that for some reason never took place. Once soft, the marshmallows were hard and dry like lightweight rocks!

Not remembering what I did with the petrified box of marshmallows adds to the mystery. I will always wonder if some rainy day, one of the children now living in my old farmhouse will go exploring in that cubbyhole and find that mysterious treasure.

 

Lying Fallow

Row after row of small, uniform white hillocks lay before me. Huffing and puffing from trying to keep up with my cousin Barb, blazing a trail through snow. I was grateful when she paused to wait for the rest to catch up. Donna and Alice quickly joined us. Silently, we examined the plowed field before us. A lock of Donna’s hair escaped her head scarf. The wind played with it, fluttering it this way and that, sometimes across her face, then again up in the air over her head.

Along the fence-line, small clumps of dead yellow quack grass peeked through the snow. Barb broke the silence. She stated, “Crossing this field is the shortest way back to the house, but walking through the plowed field will be hard.” We looked at each other. Did we want to attempt the field, or go the long way around? Alice’s face was red from our march through the snow and wind. Donna shivered, looking thoroughly chilled. Barb stamped her feet and rubbed her mitten-covered hands. I guessed her fingers and toes felt numb from the cold, like mine.

In the silence that followed, I heard the whispery sound of wind blowing snow across the drifts. One by one we volunteered, “I don’t want to walk around this field.” “Hard or not, it’s the fastest way back.” “If we step only on the tops of the furrows, it won’t be so bad.”

We knew, of course, that it was impossible to step only on the tops of the furrows. Our feet would slip off the small, icy humps, making most of our muddy steps feel as if we were climbing a mountain. To make matters worse, we were all carrying ice skates on our shoulders and were already tired from an afternoon of skating on the back-pasture pond. Continue reading

Do Over

As the sun neared the western horizon, the July day began to cool. A hot, tormenting breeze that began around noon changed from feeling as if from a hot furnace, to the slightly damp, cool draft as if from an open refrigerator door. Usually, I liked to spend summer days visiting and playing with my neighborhood cousins, but today the heat had made me feel sleepy and uninterested in doing anything.

Golden evening sunshine slanted through a stand of trees west of the house making long shadows stretching from one end of the lawn to the other. Under my bare feet, the shaded grass felt cool and slightly damp. From the barn my cousins and I heard a calf bellow and the mother’s calm, answering low. Daddy’s half-filled haymows, warm from the heat of the day, seemed to breathe the sweet smell of freshly dried hay into the yard. The clank of pots and pans from the house meant someone was in the kitchen washing supper dishes.

Reinvigorated by the temperature change, three of my cousins, Barb, Donna, Alice and I gathered in the back yard. One of us suggested, “Let’s play ‘freeze tag’. Everyone nodded enthusiastically. Continue reading

Listening to the Stillness

Feeling restless, I looked around at my bedroom. There was nothing to do here, or at any rate, nothing that I was interested in doing. So I headed downstairs. From the stairwell I heard Bing Crosby singing the “Little Drummer Boy on Mom’s ever-playing kitchen radio.

The song served as another reminder that we didn’t have our Christmas tree up yet. Mom never allowed it to be put up until the afternoon of December 24th. All my eighth-grade classmates at school had theirs up already.

Huffing impatiently, I grumbled to myself, “No one’s even gone to the woods to get our tree yet!” Just as I expected, the kitchen was empty. Since it was laundry day, Mom was in the basement using the wringer washer. Daddy and Billy were in the barn doing chores.

Cutting a slice of bread and buttering it, I went to sit on the basement steps to eat. Mom looked up at me just as she was about to begin feeding wet, soapy clothing to the wringer. She said, “Where have you been hiding? I haven’t seen much of you today.”

I merely grunted while shoving a big, buttery bite of bread into my mouth. The clean, wet smell of laundry detergent reached me as the rollers delivered flattened shirts and towels to the rinse water basin. I knew well Mom’s laundry routine. The rinsed laundry would be fed to the wringers one more time before being hung on the backyard clothes lines.

Mom put another load of clothing into the washing machine where they could agitate while she wrung out the rinsed clothing. As she worked, she said, “After the chores are done, Billy plans to go down to the swamp to cut down our tree. Did you want to go with him?” Continue reading