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.
Sister Chantal paced across the front of my seventh-grade classroom listing what assignments she wanted us to complete by the end of the school day. Her pretty young face, framed by her white wimple and black veil, looked thoughtful. Her black habit accentuated her thin body. Only the toes of her small black shoes showed below the hem. “Read the next story in your English book. It’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber. To test your reading comprehension, I will hand out a paper while you are reading. Answer the questions about the story to the best of your abilities.”
I loved reading. Opening my English book, I quickly began mentally absorbing the story. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was about an odd man who couldn’t function properly because he was always daydreaming. His ineptitude made me suffer second-hand embarrassment. I wanted to escape from the uncomfortable situations that resulted from his stupid behavior.
What made me truly hate “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was that I saw myself being like him. I daydreamed more than I thought I should. Did I act weird because of my daydreams? I shuddered and fervently hoped I didn’t.
Staring at the floor next to my desk, I pictured Sister Chantal announcing, “Kathy, I already know you have good reading comprehension, so you don’t have to do this assignment. I’ll have you hand out the test papers.”
Sighing, I went back to reading the story. Walter Mitty seemed crazy. Did that make me crazy, too? Continue reading →
Walking out the back door, I shouted, “Girls, I’m going for a walk.”
From the living room I heard the thump of feet on the floor and the television being switched off as fourteen-year-old Niki and ten-year-old Tammie chorused, “We want to come, too!”
By the time I reached the end of the driveway, my daughters had caught up with me. The early fall evening sunshine was glorious and the sky a clear, deep blue. Crossing the bridge over the river, we headed up hill. Along the road were young poplars, their leaves quivering in the slight breeze. The sound they made was a murmuring background to my daughter’s chatter.
As we approached a culvert along the road, we heard a gurgling trickle of water. Many weeds grew in this damp ditch. I spotted one that was blooming and gingerly stepped over to pick one of its stems. I instructed my daughters, “This is a jewel weed. As kids, my friends and I called them ‘touch-me-not’ weeds. Look at their pretty orange blossoms. When their blossoms get old, they turn into seed pods.” Pointing to a fat, green pod on one of the branches I exclaimed, “Like that one!”
Tammie looked closely at the pod. Niki was leaning over her shoulder to see. I encouraged, “Touch the seed pod, Tammie.” The minute her finger touched it, the walls of the pod sprung open and the seeds within went flying in all directions. Tammie let out a small scream of surprise. I laughed. Continue reading →
The first time it happened, my daughter Tammie picked up her phone and called me. She exclaimed, “Mom, snow-shovel fairies exist! One shoveled my sidewalk today.”
Tickled that someone had helped Tammie with a job that is very difficult for her, I excitedly questioned, “Who was it? A neighbor? Someone from your church?”
Like an astonished child on Christmas morning, Tammie answered with a voice filled with amazement, “I don’t know. The sidewalk needed shoveling when I got up. By the time I ate breakfast and dressed in winter clothing, I found the sidewalk shoveled clean!”
My daughter Tammie was born with elbow length arms, intestinal problems, a blood disorder and poorly functioning knees. When she was two-years old, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic did surgery on both legs. Using disordered tissues and tendons, he constructed useable knee joints for her. Continue reading →
Drenched with sweat, Arnie came into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of water. After drinking he said, “I found the place where the rats got into our back porch.”
I shuddered with revulsion. There had been always mice in our old farmhouse, but this summer I discovered badly chewed things in the back porch. My husband had informed me, “That’s the work of rats.” Not willing to accept such a horrible possibility, I set two mouse traps loaded with peanut butter. During the night they both totally disappeared.
I pictured a rat running away from the house wearing them like earrings. The rat trap I next bought was huge. Instead of a small shingle of wood, it was a substantial plank equipped with heavy-duty metal to snap down and kill a large rodent. Before going to bed, I loaded it with a slice of bologna. The next morning, I found a dead rat the size of a two-month-old kitten.
Turning to return to working on the house’s foundation at the back door, my husband apologized, “I’m sorry, but it’s going to take me a couple days to mortar shut the hole I’ve made in the foundation.”
Picturing a swarm of rats invading our home, I yelped, “Arnie, our house will be flooded with vermin! You have to close that hole by tonight!” Continue reading →
The silence of the empty house wrapped itself around me. I clumped noisily down the steps from my upstairs bedroom, tired and bleary-eyed. Although I classified myself as a morning person, getting up was never easy. From experience I knew that after spending fifteen minutes upright, I would be ready to go full throttle into the day.
Nine-year-old Tammie and eleven-year-old Niki had boarded their school bus two hours ago. At about the same time, Arnie, my husband had left the house to deliver products to one of his farm customers. Taking advantage of my day off from working at the hospital, I’d crawled back into bed for an extra hour of sleep.
Mentally, I organized the chores I needed to do before Tammie, Niki and Arnie returned to the house hungry for supper. Glancing into the living room showed me that straightening the house topped the list. Papers and books littered the floor where Niki and Tammie had done homework and art projects. Sofa pillows were scattered across the room.
Since everyone in my family also wanted blankets to cuddle while watching television, four of them lay crumpled wherever they were used. Segments of the newspaper I’d read last night after supper, lay scattered next to my chair, along with an empty drinking glass.
The sofa, Arnie’s royal throne, looked as if it had exploded. One cushion was out of place and on the floor. The pillow and blanket he had used were tossed in separate directions. A few chocolate chips, raisins and peanuts were scattered throughout. An empty bowl and beer bottle sat on the table next to the sofa. The television remote control laid on the floor under the coffee table. Continue reading →
I rushed around the kitchen preparing supper. My nerves were strung as tight as guitar strings. I didn’t know when it would begin, but wanted most of the supper prep done before then. Tammie, my two-month-old daughter began wailing before I had the potatoes pealed. Glancing at the wall clock I thought, “She’s starting early tonight.”
The pediatrician told me Tammie suffered from colic. He said eventually she would stop her incessant evening-into-the-night cries; cries that sounded as if she had great pain; cries that nearly drove my husband and me out of our minds.
Tammie had been born missing her fore arms and with a bleeding disorder. I was well past feeling upset about her missing bones. My fear at this point was that all her straining while crying for hours every day would cause an internal bleed. When I examined her in the mornings while she was calm, I noticed that her skin had freckles of broken capillaries from her waist on up. The roof of her mouth was bruised from suckling. Nothing was easy with this baby.
Dumping the unpeeled potatoes into a kettle with some water, I put it on the stove over a medium flame and went to scoop my infant out of the bassinet. I knew from experience cuddling, bouncing, back pats, diaper changes, sips of food or water wouldn’t calm her. Placing Tammie on her stomach on my shoulder, I trudged from one end of the house to the other. Walking reduced her crying a little, but she continued wriggling as though uncomfortable. Continue reading →
The air smelled earthy, spiced by the many plants in various stages of shutting down for winter. Closing the garden door behind me, I stood silent, looking around at the rows and listening to the slow drops of condensation dripping from the plastic hoop building ceiling. The sound of the drops falling to the dusty soil below seemed exaggeratedly loud, “plop!…plop!”
The outer leaves of the most delicate plants were dark and wilted, nipped by Jack Frost the night before. A harder freeze was forecast for the next few nights. It was time to put my garden to bed for the winter.
Although I am a hard-core list maker, I didn’t need to make a list today. I knew what needed to be done first and what needed to be done last. The plants that would freeze when the thermometer lowered to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, needed to be carefully dug up, replanted in pots and taken into the house. Poinsettias grow lush during the summer in my hoop-building garden. If too many of their roots are broken when transplanted, they don’t do well. Continue reading →