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Easter Baskets

While we were eating our noon meal, Mom asked Daddy when she would be able to go shopping in Marshfield. I perked up because Easter was three weeks away. Mom was sure to buy candy for my Easter basket. Mom said, “I want to buy material so I can make the girls’ dresses and I want to look at spring jackets and hats.”

Daddy took a bite of buttered homemade bread and thought a moment. He said, “We can go in right after we’re done eating today. That’ll give you about four hours to shop since I have to get back in time to start the evening milking chores.”

Although our farm was only 12 miles from the city of Marshfield, Wisconsin, my family very infrequently went there on shopping trips. Most of the everyday things we needed could be bought from one of the stores in the closer but smaller town of Stratford. Excited about the rare treat of going on a shopping trip, I went to find and put on my coat.

Mom fluttered around clearing the dishes from our kitchen table. In her mind it was unthinkable that we would go anywhere and leave the house in disorder. When she glanced up and saw me standing at the entrance wearing my mud-spattered school coat, she exclaimed, “You can’t wear that to Marshfield! You’ll have to put on your Sunday coat. We’ll clean that tonight!”

Clean snow dotted the farm fields along the muddy gravel farm roads. Dirty banks of snow lined the clean, dry highway. In Marshfield, all traces of snow were gone from the paved streets. The spring sunshine even felt warmer there than at home on the farm. Mom’s first stop was a fabric store. I sighed with resignation. Trying to be patient while she spent long periods of time looking at pattern books was hard. I wanted to go to interesting stores and buy fun things.

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April Showers

I peered out of our family car’s mud-splashed backseat window. A passing milk truck had showered our car with a gritty mixture of mud, water, gravel and ice crystals shortly after we’d pulled out of our farmyard. Dirty snowbanks slumped in the roadside ditches. Brilliant sunshine and 40-degree springtime air was making them melt. I was amazed at how much the huge banks had already shrunk. Their sodden mess filled the ditches, so the melt water had nowhere to go but on the road, making it look like a mucky cow yard.

Arriving at my school, Daddy drove into the parking lot where dozens of other parents were dropping their children off. The blacktop lot, covered with a thick layer of hard ice all winter, was now covered with slush. I stomped my way to the school door, taking delight in the way my footsteps splashed. It didn’t matter to me that my brown stockings were getting drenched.

I had noticed that there were times when I arrived at school and found the building filled with the air of excitement and happy expectations. This especially was felt on snowy winter mornings. The halls buzzed with quiet murmurs of, “Do you think they’ll call off school and send us home early?” Hope, happiness and exhilaration could almost be smelled, touched, tasted.  Today, the excitement was due to the sudden arrival of spring weather during the weekend.

Sister Florence had put up a new bulletin board in my classroom over the weekend. Amid clouds of colorful flowers cut-out from construction paper, it proclaimed, “April showers bring May flowers!”  One of my classmates proudly offered Sister a bouquet of pussy willow twigs. Her wrinkled face was transformed by a big smile as she accepted the gift with genuine delight. Everyone was ready for spring.

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Midwestern Proverbs

Opening the large paperback Bible to Proverbs, I settled into the chair next to my bedroom window. Small print densely covered both pages. Having recently finished reading the Psalms, I knew that reading too much at a time would make my brain lose focus. In order to get as much as possible out of my daily reading, I gave myself permission to only read 14 proverbs at a time if that was all I could handle.

Most mornings I stop for a few moments to read a page from the Bible. Consequently I’ve read the Good Book from cover to cover more than twice. With each reading, I notice different things in the familiar stories. Reading the fascinating books of Ruth and Judith, I have a hard time stopping, but with the book of Leviticus, reading it once was enough.

Later that morning, I looked up the definition of ‘proverb’. The dictionary said proverbs were short pithy sayings in general use, stating a truth or general advice. In thinking about it, that seemed true of the biblical proverbs. The ones I’d read that morning had to do with fools versus wise men, and lazy or unscrupulous men versus honest, righteous men. Only one made me wonder if Solomon was prideful when he wrote, “The king’s lips are an oracle; no judgment he pronounces is false.”

         Many secular proverbs exist. Most of them are born of experience. For example, a proverb in my mother’s family was, “For as long as spring peepers sing before Saint George’s Day, that is how long they will be silent after it.” They believed that if the weather warmed up too soon in April, there would be a deep freeze on Saint George’s Day, April 23rd, causing the peepers to burrow back into the mud and be silent.

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What Everyone Likes

With a big smile on my face, I cheerfully informed the patient, “Your doctor wants you to get up to walk four times today. You walked 25 yards with me this morning. Now it’s time for you to get up again. This time we’ll shoot for 50 yards.”

The patient made no move to sit up. He grumped, “I don’t know why you have to be so cheerful. I bet you enjoy torturing people.”

As I pulled the bedside table out of the way, I informed him, “Actually, I don’t!” The patient lifted his head and hunched his shoulders forward as if he was trying to do a sit-up. His face contorted into a grimace. I instructed, “When a person has an abdominal incision like you do, it feels better to roll to your side and push yourself up with your elbow.”

Moments later the patient was plodding down the hall with me helping to steady him. His surely mood was still evident. Wanting to take his mind off the pain and the perceived injustice of having to walk so soon after surgery, I tried to engage him in conversation.

My questions only received monosyllabic answers. As we walked past the kitchenet, the warm smell of freshly-popped buttered popcorn engulfed us. I exclaimed, “Wow, that smells so good! I’ll bet heaven smells like buttered popcorn. What do you think?”

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Pause to Listen

Rain drops pattered overhead and a long, low grumble of thunder followed the sharp crack of a distant lightning strike. As my brother Billy sank down into the chair across from me in the living room, he instructed, “Close your eyes and listen.” I stretched and rested my head on the sofa back.  

Billy questioned, “You know that when it rains on a hot summer afternoon, you can smell a beautiful, earthy scent sometimes?”

I nodded, realizing he had his eyes shut, too, I answered, “Yes, it’s the smell of clean, wet soil, or maybe the chlorophyll in the plants.”

There was another roll of thunder, but the rain on the roof had lessened. We became aware of the sound of water trickling down a rain spout. Somewhere there was a slow, steady drip of water falling into a puddle.

My brother jumped to his feet and took the storm CD out of his new radio compact disk player. He said, “My new Bose has the best sound of any radio I’ve ever had. I almost imagined smelling the rain. Right now, when I looked outside, it seemed like I should have seen gray rain clouds scuttling away.”

Getting to my feet to look closer at my brother’s new toy, I admired its sleek lines before stating, “I’ve been told these are quite expensive.”

Defending his splurge, he maintained, “Yes, they are. But you get top quality for the money.”

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Doll Hospital

Doll Hospital

A shaft of blinding sunshine blazed through our farmhouse’s back-door window and cascaded down the basement steps. The sunlight felt warm and glowed against the shadowed area under the steps. Mom was outside hanging a load of freshly washed sheets. I loved playing in the basement when Mom was doing the laundry, but I didn’t go outside with her when it was as cold as today.

My new bike was in the basement until the weather improved and our muddy yard dried up. I loved my bike. It was half as big as the bikes my older brothers and sisters rode, and had training wheels to keep me upright. Slowly peddling around the perimeter of the basement, I rode past the clothes chute with the bedsprings under it to catch whatever was thrown down, past the furnace and oil tank, under the high windows that let in dim light, beside canning shelves filled with good things to eat, under the steps where bushel baskets of newspaper-wrapped apples were stored during the winter.

Swerving around the small, wooden-walled toilet enclosure, I stopped next to the washing machine. Mom was back in the basement putting in a new load. Noticing that my bike was between her and the stairs. She suggested, “You should park your bike next to the clothes chute so I don’t have to walk around it.” Grasping the bike’s handlebars, I walked it forward a few feet.

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Freezone

Mom handed me one of the penicillin pills we had bought at the pharmacy after seeing the doctor. It was huge! Seeing the expression on my face, Mom scolded, “You’ll be able to swallow it! Just don’t think about it. Put it into your mouth and take a drink of this nice orange juice I bought for you. When you swallow the pill will go down with the juice.”

At age nine, I couldn’t remember Mom ever buying orange juice. I eagerly reached for the small glass. Popping the pill into my mouth, I took a drink. The juice went down my throat, but the pill stayed on my tongue and it tasted horrible! Gagging and retching, I spit the white monster out and Mom caught it.

Refusing to take the pill was not an option. I’d overheard Mom tell Daddy that my strep throat could turn into rheumatic fever if not treated with an antibiotic.

I had barely stopped gagging and drooling when Mom filled a small dish with apple sauce and turned to me with some on a spoon, topped by the soggy pill. Half an hour later, the dish was nearly empty before the pill finally slid down my throat. Feeling shaky from all the gagging and with a belly full of juice and sauce, I wobbled into the living room to lay down on the davenport. The pill not only tasted bad but also smelled nasty.

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Time Rushing Past

“Hello. Kathy, Niki and Tammie are here to visit!” I called out as I opened the farmhouse door and walked into my childhood home, My two daughters rushed ahead of me. As I stepped from the entryway into the kitchen, I heard the back door open again. Glancing over my shoulder I saw my brother Billy entering the house. Seeing my car enter the yard, he had stopped doing chores to come inside for a visit.

Hearing us, my mother ordered, “Come on in!” I pulled off my coat and hung it up on the stairway newel post. Noticing my daughters had tossed their coats on the steps, I stopped long enough to drape them over my coat on the post. Grammie was comfortably settled in her upholstered rocking chair in the living room. Niki and Tammie were on the floor leaning against her knees. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room, glittering and sparkling. From the other room I heard Silver Bells playing on the kitchen radio that always played from morning to night.

Billy sat on the sofa. My brother Casper strolled out of his bedroom a moment later and sat down on the other end of the sofa. I sat down on a dining room chair near the tree. My eight and twelve-year-old daughters were gobbling Christmas candy from the bowl on the table.

Glancing over at the candy dish, Mom pointed out that it needed to be refilled. I jumped to my feet. I knew where the candy was kept. Carrying the green glass bowl into Casper’s bedroom, I opened his closet door and knelt down. Just as in my childhood, a box on the floor contained various brown paper sacks filled with a variety of candies. Scooping handfuls of angel food, bridge mix, chocolate covered caramels, butter finger bites and peanut brittle into the dish, I remembered all the times I had raided the Christmas candy stash as a teenager.

Back in the living room, Billy commented on how the shadows on cold winter days were blue-colored. I stood by the large living room window and studied the clear sky and the lengthening late afternoon shadows. He was right. The shadows cast by small pine trees near the house did look very blue against the snow. On the distant radio I heard Bing Crosby singing, ‘Adeste Fideles’.

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Giving Love

Looking forward to having a few minutes of peace and quiet, I pulled into a parking spot next to the building, turned off the engine and leaned back. One minute later the dismissal bell rang. In a remarkably short time a steady stream of grade school children poured out of the school. Hoping my daughters remembered not to take the bus home tonight, I scanned the crowd.

They had remembered. Ten-year-old Niki stepped out of the building with six-year-old Tammie at her side. Niki must have gone to her sister’s kindergarten room to make sure they didn’t get separated. Stopping in front of the school, Niki studied the row of parked cars. Both girls quickly spotted me and ran towards the car with big grins on their faces.

Tammie clutched something in her hand. Giving the object to me, she excitedly blurted, “Angie is having a birthday party and I’m invited!” The crumpled card gave the date and time of the party.

“It’s a good thing we’re going shopping today.” I said, mentally adding Angie’s birthday gift to my shopping list. “You can help pick the gift out.”

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Smell of Paint

I drifted sleepily down the stairs into a busy Christmas preparation zone. Cut out sugar cookies covered the kitchen table. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, I sniffed appreciatively. I could tell that a different kind of cookie, one with a lot of spices in it, was baking in the oven. The linoleum hallway floor sparkled from having been freshly scrubbed and polished.

Seeing that I was up, Mom scolded, “I thought you were going to spend all morning in bed. Hurry up and have breakfast. Then get dressed. I want you to help me rearrange the living room furniture.”

All the sleep cobwebs in my brain cleared instantly. Christmas was less than a week away. Deciding to change out of my flannel nighty first, I turned around and bounded up the stairs back to my bedroom. Eating breakfast wouldn’t take long.

         Moments later, as I ate a cookie and drank milk, I glanced out the kitchen window. Fine flakes of snow were falling heavily like a thick curtain. A sudden gust of wind escorted a white veil of ice crystals past the house to a growing drift along a bank of pine trees. Feeling cozy and happy, I smiled.

In the living room, Mom described what she wanted. “I’m going to put the Christmas tree in the southwest corner this year. That means the davenport will have to be along the kitchen wall and my rocking chair in front of the big window.”

Excited, I questioned, “Does moving the furniture today mean you’ll let us put up our tree before Christmas Eve for a change?” Most of my classmates said their Christmas trees were up and decorated already. Only Mom and Daddy and a few of the other parents clung to the tradition of waiting until the afternoon of the 24th to do it.

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