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In a nearby hayfield, I could hear Daddy’s tractor making its distinctive “put-put-put” sound. I smiled. The machine always reminded me of my father. He was steady, dependable and had a comforting voice, too. The new baler being pulled through the field made noisy, unfamiliar clanks as it gathered and bound hay. I pictured the machine bouncing along behind the tractor, shuddering every so often as it kicked a bale powerfully through the air into the hay wagon.

The sun burned down from a clear, pale blue sky. Shimmers of heat radiated from the cement sidewalk and gravel driveway. I sank tiredly onto the cool, shaded grass under a row of trees. An open window broadcast music from Mom’s ever-playing radio in our farmhouse kitchen.

I liked several popular songs and looked forward to hearing them. That afternoon, Tom Jones enthusiastic, “What’s new Pussycat!” made me giggle. His voice seemed so comically exaggerated.

This summer found me midway between eighth grade graduation and the start of high school. Graduation was long enough in the past I didn’t think much about it anymore, while the exciting, scary start of high school with teachers and classmates I wouldn’t know, was far enough in the future that I wasn’t yet obsessing about it daily. Continue reading

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Stupid but Loveable

Leaning back in my desk chair, I took a sip of hot tea and sighed with pleasure. Winter sunshine slanting through the window made my office glow. I faintly heard the peaceful Christmas music of Kenny G and Mannheim Steamroller coming from the dining room stereo. Smiling, I took another sip. I love listening to these instrumentals through mid-January and have joked that they are subliminally Christmas.

Winter-clad goldfinches were busily working over the seeds in the bird feeder outside the office window. Hungry chick-a-dees and nuthatches greedily gobbled from a bag of suet hung nearby. I occasionally heard their squabbling twitters through the window.

An angry meow followed by a low growl made me turn to look at the futon across the room. Shadow, my brainless black and white kitten was trying to capture and bite my older white and black cat Louie’s tail. Addressing the older cat, I sympathized, “That stupid baby just won’t leave you alone, will he?”

Louie gave me a long-suffering stare. He is a mighty adult feline, equipped with can-opener claws, yet all he does when Shadow irritates him is meow angrily and growl. He could easily turn the little jerk of a kitten into strips of rawhide and dried meat snacks, but he doesn’t. The only conclusion is that Louie finds Shadow to be stupid, but loveable. Continue reading

Childhood’s Last Doll

During the past several months, my body had developed curves and I no longer looked like a little girl. Things that had once interested me now seemed babyish. I’d even started having crushes on guys. Most of these things were pleasant and exciting, but once in a while part of me wanted to go back to the easy safety of a little girl’s existence.

That year, when I heard the first Christmas carol play on the radio, I felt a sense of relief. The familiar old song was like a good friend I hadn’t heard from for a full year.  I looked forward to once again experiencing the warm, comfortable traditions of childhood.

Receiving a doll every Christmas was one tradition that started before I could remember. As I listened to Bing Crosby sing, “Silver Bells”, I suddenly realized I was too old for dolls. Although I no longer played with dolls, I felt very sad. Continue reading

I Was There!

Even though I ran all the way to the barn from the farmhouse, my fingers, toes and nose felt frozen by the time I stepped into the warm, earthy atmosphere, slamming the door shut behind me. Clutched in my hand was a kettle from our kitchen, half filled with gristle and fat meat trimmings, bread crusts, old grease, mold cut off cheese and leftover casserole that no one had eaten.

Knowing they were about to have a feast, three cats ran to greet me. Daddy looked up from the cow he was washing. I walked towards the stairway to the haymow. The cat’s food dish was there and so were the milk cans Daddy and my brother were filling. My brother was pouring warm, foamy milk from a milker bucket into the strainer sitting on one of the milk cans.

I dumped the kitchen scraps into the food dish and three more cats appeared. Putting the empty kettle on the second step, I sat down next to it to watch the six cats eagerly eat. Hearing the squeal of a teat cup letting go, I turned to look in time to see Daddy stepping in next to a cow to take care of the problem. Having had her fill, one of the cats sat back and licked her paw.

I loved everything about the barn, especially how warm and cozy it felt during the winter. Closing my eyes, I listened as a cow lowed contentedly. A moment later, another gustily exhaled. On the far end of the barn, a calf bawled. The cow next to the steps shook her head making her big ears flap. Shifting her great weight made her hooves creak. In the background I heard our Surge pump for the milking system. It wasn’t loud, but its gentle, comforting chug-chug sound was always there during chores, just like Daddy was always there. Continue reading

The Tinsel Master

I wanted to help, but I could tell my attempts I made annoyed my brother Casper. He frowned at me when I tossed a strand of tinsel over one of the balsam boughs. Both ends of the heavy, lead tinsel strands did not hang down evenly, nor were they across from each other. That would not do! The job needed to be done perfectly. Regretfully, I knew I wasn’t able, nor did I have the patience.

Plopping down onto Mom’s rocking-chair footstool, I looked around at the living room. Our beautiful Christmas tree stood in the far corner. The ornaments were evenly spaced among the branches. Now Casper, the tinsel master, was neatly…so very, very neatly hanging uniform curtains of tinsel on each branch and twig.

All morning Mom had been cleaning the house. Along with the fragrance of the balsam tree, I could smell floor polish. Mixing delightfully with these scents were the aroma of sweet, spicy things baking in the oven. I sighed with satisfaction. Everything was perfect. Mom made me a brand-new flannel nightgown to wear tonight, plus I fully expected my annual Christmas doll would be wearing a matching one! Continue reading

It’s a Gift

I looked at the calendar. A kaleidoscope of childhood memories flooded my mind. December fifth, the Eve of Saint Nicholas had meant so much to me and the children in my class during the late 1950’s. Not only did the mystery surrounding our celebrations excite us, but we looked forward to receiving candy and the satisfaction of letting Santa know what we wanted for Christmas.

Saint Nicholas visited everyone at home while we slept, but for some of my classmates, he left goodies in socks, for others, in their shoes. At my home, Saint Nicholas left our treats in a cereal bowl left on the dinner table.

Before going to bed on the fifth of December, Mom had us write a letter to Santa, detailing what we wished for. My big sisters helped me before I knew how to write. After our letters were put in an empty bowl placed where we usually sat at the table, we were sent to bed.

While we were sleeping, the Saint came by and collected the letters for Santa. Then the Holy Man would fill our dishes with a handful of peanuts in the shell, a few vanilla-chocolate drops, chocolate covered raisins and several hard candies. My favorites were the raspberry-filled and peanut butter filled ones. A big, bright orange topped off the dish. Continue reading

Ribbon Mountain

Although it was Sunday morning, Mom didn’t have chicken roasting in the oven. That was my first clue the day was going to be different. The second clue came by eavesdropping on my teen aged sisters in their bedroom.

Betty said, “I heard Mom ask Rosie if she and Glenn were going to come with us to Rib Mountain on Sunday. Rosie said they would come, and so would Agnes and Jim. Have we ever been there before?”

Mary answered, “I don’t think so. Some of my friends have. They said it was a nice park and they had fun climbing around on the rocks.”

Racing downstairs into the kitchen, I found Mom cutting slices of bread. She had already cut at least two loaves. I excitedly questioned, “Mom! Are we really going to have a picnic on Ribbon Mountain?”

“That’s Rib Mountain,” Mom laughed, “not Ribbon. Yes, we’re having a picnic at the Rib Mountain park.”

I frowned. “Rib?” I had sincerely thought it was Ribbon Mountain! Once in a while when the weather was right and we were on high enough ground, my brother had pointed out the small mountain to me. It appeared to as a faraway mist-covered hill.

I watched as Mom put large chunks of bologna into the meat grinder and began to turn the crank. She opened a jar of dill pickles and put several of them into the grinder, too. When she added mayonnaise to the mixture, I realized what she was doing! Mom was making bologna sandwiches, just like she did last summer when we had a picnic at the Eau Pleine Park. My mouth watered. Ground bologna sandwiches were delicious! Continue reading