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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

Holba Dodgen

Glancing out the window, I noticed shadows cast by trees and shrubs in the yard had grown long, finally appearing cool and friendly. Sunset was an hour away. Earlier in the day the sun had been hot and the air overly humid so I had stayed indoors. Now was my chance to comfortably enjoy my backyard.

One of the first things I wanted to do was visit my newly transplanted apple tree near the backside of my property. It made me happy to see how healthy his leaves were. I greeted him, “Hello Harold Haralson, have the deer been leaving you alone?” Several silver reflective ribbons that I’d tied to a few of his branches flapped in the breeze, glinting brightly in the late evening sunshine. As if answering a comment he’d made, I answered as I turned to continue my yard inspection, “Yes. It does look that way. Very good. Carry on.” Continue reading

The Millionaire

The school bus lumbered to a stop at our mailbox. I lightly bounced down the steps and ran toward the house across the small bridge that spanned the ditch. Through the years Daddy had taken my six siblings and me to school every morning and come to pick us up every afternoon. This year, only Betty and I were still going to school so we started taking the bus. I was in sixth grade.

 Autumn sunshine was slowly turning the world golden. I raced to change my clothes so I could play outside until supper. When I burst into the living room, I found my brother-in-law Jim plugging in a television set. Shock made me stop and stare. Our neighbors had one, but Mom and Daddy had repeatedly said they didn’t want a television.

Jim looked over his shoulder and said “Hi squirt.” Seeing my surprised expression, he explained, “This is my television set. I’m giving it to your folks because I rejoined the army. Agnes and I are moving.” Continue reading

Cold War’s Plan ‘B’

I stood and stared uncertainly at the flowerbed under my kitchen windows for a few minutes. My hands holding the shovel clenched. I was scared to start dismantling it, but just as scared that if I didn’t start working on it soon I’d chicken-out. This flowerbed hadn’t been dug up for more than eight years. Would I be physically able to pull the dense vegetation apart, let alone out of the ground?

The original four small Russian Sage plants that I’d planted there now dominated 75 percent of the bed. Jammed between them were great whorls of purple bearded irises and purple spider wort that had gone crazy by sending roots to where there wasn’t even soil. Fat clumps of double daffodils fought for space with tall stalks of quack grass and even taller yellow mystery flowers. Continue reading

Dark Age

My dark age years began one evening when I was about six years old and fresh from the bathtub. I’m sure Mom didn’t expect me to slip outdoors and timidly join the game my big brothers and sisters were playing. I was afraid of the dark and had never done it before.

My siblings called the game “seven steps around the house.” They didn’t stop to explain the rules of the game to me, but I quickly gathered that a player was not to be seen by the person who was IT taking more than seven steps. The overall goal for each player to run around the farmhouse, starting at the back door and ending there. The person who was IT couldn’t stay at the back door to tag players as they ran away and returned from their run. He or she had to run around the house, too.

Bushes in the flowerbeds beside the house quivered as giggling siblings hid behind them in the darkening yard. I heard scampering footsteps pounding the dewy grass when players thought the coast was clear. What fun I had! My clean, bare feet turned muddy. My fresh nighty picked-up a grass stain. Continue reading

Cut the Mustard

The trees along the river near my house had bulging leaf buds. I said, “Any day now, those old, gray branches are going to be clothed in beautiful green!”

Home for a visit, my daughter Tammie scoffed, “You said they’d be leafed out by the time I came home for this visit. I’m here, but the leaves aren’t. What’s the hold-up?”

Sighing, I said apologetically, “Spring is a naughty tease. One week she makes me think full summer is just a minute away, then the following week, I’d swear that winter had returned. To make it more difficult to know when things will turn green, she never puts her leafy skirts on at the same time each year.”

After my daughter had returned home, Dame Spring dealt us a week of May thunderstorms and tornados. It wasn’t until the weather became frigid again, that leaves burst forth from tree branches, bushes and vines. Suddenly, lilacs, flowering crabapples and honey suckle competed for attention.

Holding my spring jacket shut against the chill one morning as I scurried out to the garage, I noticed how beautiful the yard was now that everything had turned green.  I thought even the weeds were pretty. All across my farmyard lawn were yellow dandelions and purple creeping Charlie. As I drove out of my driveway, I spotted a bright yellow weed flowering in what was once a flower bed, but is now would more accurately a weed bed. “That’s mustard!” I thought to myself.

For the rest of the day, the word “mustard” rolled around in my mind. Every once in awhile, another word would pop up in place of “mustard”. That word was “yellow rocket”. These were very old words that took me back to my early grade school years. When I had time, I allowed myself to recall when I was eight.

Getting out of bed at the crack of dawn was never my strong suit, but seven in the morning hardly qualifies for sunrise during the spring months on a farm. “Get up and get dressed.” My big sister commanded me one morning. I frowned and turned over. She said, “Get dressed. We’re going to pick rocks today.”

An hour later everyone in the family was out in the field. Daddy had his small John Deere hitched to a hay wagon. Everyone was directed to look around, pick up the rocks we saw and pitch them up onto the wagon bed. If a rock was too big, Daddy lifted it for us. When the area around the wagon was picked clean, someone drove the tractor further down the field where we continued to pick rock.

Until this year, I had been considered too young for this work.

Halfway through the morning one of my sisters grumbled, “Didn’t we pick this field last year?”

Daddy chuckled, but also sounded disgusted when he answered, “We did, but every year the frost heaves more stones to the surface.”

Being eight years old, I was now also on the work crew the following month when it came to pulling weeds in the oat field. The oat plants were only tall enough to cover my ankles, while the weeds had grown faster and were up at least to my knees. These yellow blossoming plants dotted the field. I quickly learned to walk through the oats by placing my footsteps between the rows, so as to not crush the crop plants.

When I asked what the weeds were called, some of my brothers and sisters called them “mustard” and others called them, “yellow rocket.” I didn’t question the double name, because after all, I had a double name, too. I was Kathleen in school records, but at home everyone called me Kathy.

As an adult, I have more curiosity about the weed than as a child. That evening I sat down at the desk and looked up mustard and yellow rocket in my computer. What I found was that the two plant varieties are related, but so similar I’m still not sure what my family and I were pulling all those years ago in Daddy’s oat fields.

As I searched for information about these two plants, I kept coming across explanations for the phrase, “to cut the mustard,” which means to work up to expectations. I thought, “That phrase should be, ‘to PULL the mustard’. We wouldn’t have been working up to Daddy’s expectations if we had merely CUT the mustard!”