I remembered the butter dish was nearly empty as I began to peal the first potato. Drying my hands and turning away from the sink to get a stick from the refrigerator, I nearly fell in avoiding killing the family pet. Flicker, our tuxedo cat, lay stretched to his full length in the center of the kitchen floor. His gorgeous, soft belly fur on full display begged to be stroked. He calmly blinked up at me with a kitty smile on his face. He had no idea he’d narrowly escaped a mortal danger. I shouted in a loud voice, “Flicker, you dumb cat! I nearly stepped on your big belly! Get out of the kitchen while I’m preparing supper!” My ten-year-old daughter, trailed by her six-year-old sister, appeared in the kitchen doorway. I sighed and asked, “Will you please take Flicker into the living room? He would get hurt very badly if I accidentally stepped on him.” As the children left the room with Flicker, my husband Arnie walked in. He asked, “Do I have enough time before supper to run into town to get gas for the truck?” Glancing at the unpealed potatoes in the sink and the stick of butter in my hand, I nodded and assured, “You have plenty of time.”
Three days before my granddaughter’s wedding, my daughter Tammie looked up from her phone and sadly reported, “I’ve been watching weather forecasts all week. Unfortunately, Anne will most certainly have a rainy wedding day!”
“That’s too bad.” I sympathized before adding, “The sun never came out on my wedding day. From time to time throughout the morning icy rain spit fitfully from the gray sky. During the afternoon and early evening, it flat out rained. My wedding was in April, not an end of June wedding like Anne’s. At least the rain on Saturday will be warmer than it was on my wedding day.”
I heard my daughter’s van pull into the driveway and hurried to the back door to greet my grandchildren. For over a year Niki and her family and I had suspended our Tuesday evening family meals because of COVID. Now, with there being fewer cases and more people vaccinated, we resumed our weekly get togethers.
The grandchildren quickly hopped out of the vehicles side door and joined me at the back door for hugs. Jacob, the third youngest, blurted, “Grandma! There’s a turkey next to your house!”
Nodding, I acknowledged, “I’ve been seeing that bird around the yard for the past week or two. It’s always by itself. I keep wondering why it’s not with a flock.”
Opening the back doors of the van, Niki said, “I brought the tomato and pepper plants I started for you.” I took one of the seed-starter flats and looked at the slender stems topped with small green leaves. The baby plants swayed in the breeze, their small leaves quivering. “They’re perfect.” I announced.
I nibbled on apple wedges as I read the electronic newspaper in the computer. Sadie, one of my copycats sat curled up snoozing in my lap. I clicked on the next page and found the advice column. It’s always interesting to find out what sort of dilemmas are currently bothering mankind, so I leaned back to read the first letter.
The writer complained bitterly about his relatives who dropped by his house unannounced, uninvited and unwanted. He furiously noted, “If they stop in at meal time, they expect to be invited and don’t take the hint when we fail to set a place at our table for them!”
I caressed the cat in my lap. Sadie’s fur was very soft and she began to purr. Jerry, Sadie’s copycat brother suddenly leapt onto my lap. Snuggling together, Jerry began to lick Sadie. I mused, “You didn’t need an invitation. You’re welcome whenever you feel like dropping in, aren’t you?”
The letter was followed by several other letters from people also complaining about family members who felt it was their right to drop in whenever they wanted. Reading these letters made me laugh and think of Daddy.
As I searched through the rack of sequined dresses I sounded like little Miss Goldie-locks as I pointed out to the saleswoman, “This one is cut too low in the neckline, this one is sleeveless. I don’t want to expose my upper arms.” Holding out a beautiful blue dress I complained, “The top of this dress is transparent material. It would allow my undergarments to show through.”
Dress shopping as a young woman was easy. In 1970, almost all women wore dresses. There were several stores along Central Avenue that carried a wide variety of dresses to choose from, ranging from casual to fancy. My criteria for what I wanted in a dress was different back then, too. I wanted the garment to be a color I liked, fit and be affordable.
Searching for a dress to wear to my granddaughter’s wedding has me feeling discouraged. I might be old fashioned, but I don’t think a grandmother of the bride should be a show-stopping spectacle. The dress should be modest and complementary to my aging body and include being able to wear familiar, tried-and-tested foundation garments.
One of the dresses I tried on looked nice, but showed every contour of my midsection. When I told my daughter that I needed to wear a bulge control thing under it, she laughed at me. I find it hard to say the word: girdle. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, I suspect every woman wore one whether she needed to or not. I hated how they rolled and cut into the flesh. Taking a deep breath, I went shopping for what I needed. Eventually I managed to find a girdle that would gently shape my form rather than strangle it.
Since my recent shopping trip for wedding clothing, I came across an article I treasure as a trivia enthusiast. It told of the intimate connection women have with the Apollo Space Program. The Playtex company, famous for bras and girdles since the 1950’s, made the space suits that made it possible for man to walk on the moon.
I dropped down in my office chair and opened my email. Every day I looked forward to hearing from my daughter Tammie. Her messages never failed to be full of interesting observations and descriptions of life at grad school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My daughter’s undergrad school had been a short, two-hour drive from home. When she decided to earn a master’s degree in library science, she insisted on going to the University of Michigan as one of the best in the United States.
That afternoon, her message described an international foods night at her co-operative house. She said, “I loved trying all the different foods, but one of the drinks offered was rose water. Mom, I took one sip, but couldn’t finish it. The drink made me feel as though I was drinking Grammie!”
I laughed. It was understandable that she associated my Mom with roses.
Grammie wore dresses that were rose-colored, shared bouquets of roses from her flowerbed with us and always smelled like roses. My daughters loved her. With her love of roses, it was easy for my family to buy Mom Mother’s Day gifts. Each year we gave her rose-scented body lotion, rose-scented candles and rose bushes from the greenhouse to replace the ones our Wisconsin winters killed. The mere smell of roses made everyone think of her.
When Tammie and her sister were four and eight years of age, my husband and I were living on a farm. We occasionally invited my Mom to stay overnight with us after I took her for a day of shopping. I remembered how excited my daughters were when I told them that we were going to “have Grammie for supper.” They knew what I meant. It never occurred to us that ‘having Grammie for supper’ sounded cannibalistic.
Mom said she felt like sewing a dress for herself. I watched as she carefully laid a beautiful floral-print material on the kitchen table. The day before last, my family made one of our rare visits to Marshfield where she’d bought material and a new pattern.
My only interest when we visited downtown Marshfield was the candy, toy and pet sections at Woolworth’s or Ben Franklin’s. I tried hard to be patient as Mom slowly studied the McCall pattern book before picking out what she wanted. She knew how I felt by my frequent sighs, moans and occasional question, “Can we leave this store pretty soon?”
Most of the tissue paper pattern pieces were pinned to the material when Mom stopped what she was doing and stood quietly. After a moment she spoke as if talking to herself, “The neckline isn’t exactly what I want. Also, I want the sleeves to be longer.” Pulling pattern pieces from other pattern envelopes, Mom began pinning those onto the material to replace the original neckline.
I was just a little kid, but I couldn’t figure out how Mom was going to get everything to fit together without puckers in the cobbled together material. Remembering my long wait for her in the fabric store, I felt restless and decided to go outside for a while.
Pulling to a stop at an intersection, I picked up a map laying on the passenger seat to examine it. From the backseat, my eight-year-old daughter questioned loudly, “Are we there yet?”
I glanced back at Niki and her four-year-old sister, Tammie. Slightly annoyed, I answered, “I’ve never been to your classmate’s house before. The map shows that we should be nearly there.” Putting the map down, I turned to the left and drove half a mile. A house on the left had more than one car in the driveway. The bleak, overcast fall afternoon made the yard look cold and forbidding. Thinking out loud, I questioned, “Is this the right place?”
Tonight was the first Girl Scout meeting at the new volunteer leader’s house. We got out of the car and walked toward it. All the uncertainty I felt disappeared when the backdoor opened and we were warmly welcomed.
One evening several months later when I picked Niki up from a Girl Scout activity, her troop leader said, “We’re planning an overnight trip to Camp Sacuguaya. I need a few mothers to chaperone and help make meals. Can you help out with this?”
After stepping into the dusty, cobwebbed kitchen I stood still and looked around. I loved snooping around in this house. Doves cooed and fluttered their wings upstairs. My brother Casper had turned the front bedroom into a dovecote. The wonderful, earthy smell of freshly stored oats filled the air. Through the doorway into the living room I saw mounds of plump, golden oat seeds. The dust floating in the sunbeams from this harvest didn’t bother me.
My family had lived in this house until eleven years ago when they built a new farmhouse the year before I was born. Daddy used the old house as his granary. Last week our neighbor Mark had combined our oat field. Before storing the grain in the living room and downstairs bedroom, Daddy had nailed planks over the door between the living room and kitchen, up to my height, to prevent the seeds from spilling into the kitchen.
Mom switched on the table lamp next to her upholstered rocking chair and sat down. She said, “Days start getting longer after December 21st, but for the first month each day’s change is only small chicken steps.” Turning to me, she ordered, “Turn on the lamp next to the davenport.” I chuckled. Her description of how slowly days became longer for the first month after the winter solstice always made me laugh.
Outside our warm, well-lit farmhouse, cold winter winds howled as they built snow drifts. I snuggled contentedly against the living room heat register. Mom opened a bag and pulled out a skein of yarn and a crochet hook. I watched with surprise. At fourteen years of age, I’d often seen Mom sew clothing for the family, but this was something new. Curious, I asked, “What are you making?”
Pulling a small, colorful crocheted block from the bag, Mom proudly explained, “This pattern is called a granny square.” I scooted to her side and took the square from her. It was made with four different colors. Mom happily stated, “I’m going to make a lot more like the one you’re holding and then stitch them together to make an afghan.”
Frowning, I repeated the foreign word, “Afghan?” I didn’t know it at the time, but for the rest of Mom’s life, “afghan” was a part of our family’s normal, everyday vocabulary. She made several afghans for each person in the family, as well as baby blankets, lace collars, slippers and more.