Seeing the movie, Wizard of Oz for the first time, the flying monkeys scared me and when the hot air balloon lifted off without Dorothy in it, my stomach tied itself in knots. Glenda, the good witch of the north’s cure for the change in plans was to made Dorothy to click the heels of her ruby slippers together three times and repeat, “There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home.”
There really is no place like the home where we first begin to record memories. The feeling of safety, the fascinating newness we found there and all the first experiences of our lives are filed in a nostalgia bin that we carry with us for the rest of our days.
Few people spend their entire lives in the same house they were brought up in. Some families move frequently and most people move when they reach adulthood. Fanciful memories of our first home makes us remember the rooms as larger, stairway banisters as longer, closets as doorways to Narnian adventures and all food served as gourmet quality.
My daughter moved her big family to a bigger home three years after she was widowed. The house came with several acres of land and was in a more convenient location. None of that mattered to the children.
My grandchildren were not happy about having to move. In their eyes, the small home they lived in, sitting on only one acre of land, was a beautiful, desirable place to live, far beyond anything a new house could offer.
When I saw the garage sale sign, I pulled over to the curb. Children’s toys littered the lawn around the open garage door. In the yard behind the house, I spotted a swing-set. I thought to myself, “This place looks like the perfect place for me to shop.” Inside the garage I spotted several tables heaped with household items and clothing. Across the back of the garage was a rack of children’s clothing.
After a few minutes of looking through the sale items, I realized that the family putting on the sale had daughters just a year or two older than mine. I picked out several items of clothing that my growing daughters needed. Everything was in good condition and clean. Feeling like I’d found a buried treasure, I rushed to pay for them. If I had bought the same items in a store, I wouldn’t have been able to afford them. The woman took the money from me with a big smile. It was a win-win situation. She needed the money and I needed the clothes.
Being the youngest child of my family, I grew up familiar with the concept of secondhand clothing, otherwise known as hand-me-downs. When I became a mother, I quickly realized that with children constantly changing size until their teenaged years, it makes sense to reuse clothing. The minute I take my garage sale purchases home, I put them in the washer and add soap. That instantly makes the secondhand clothing stop belonging to someone else.
One of the small dresses I took over with my “soap and water ownership” method that afternoon was so cute, I put it on my youngest daughter while it was still warm from the dryer. My husband happened to come home just then and suggested, “Let’s take the girls out for a fish fry.”
My sister Agnes followed me around the side of my house. Stopping and pointing dramatically at a towering bush beside the living room window, I exclaimed, “Look how big my Pinky-Winky hydrangea bush has grown. I’m glad I didn’t plant it right below the picture window. We wouldn’t be able to see out!”
Each time my sister and I visit each other, we walk through our respective yards showing how the flowers and bushes are doing. Moments before my big hydrangea reveal, we had examined double pink hollyhocks growing beneath the kitchen windows. As we inspect, we discuss what we see and like.
While walking through Agnes’ yard once, I remembered following my mother and her sister Theresa, who was home for her yearly visit, from flowerbed to flowerbed in our backyard on the farm during my childhood. Each year Mom and Daddy made a one weekend visit to visit Theresa, where they did the same thing at her home.
I’m not sure if all families talk and look at plants as much as my family has and still does. Our botanical interest goes beyond common backyard flowering plants. Even the weeds growing in the fields and along the road fascinate us. Most of my family members know many of them by their common names if not by their Latin genus and designation.
I remember walking through the yard with Agnes when I spotted a broadleaf-plantain growing alongside my driveway. My sister Agnes glanced down at it and commented, “When Casper, Rosie and I were little, we called that a sore leaf plant.”
My sister Mary sat on one end of the davenport reading a thick book. I sat at the other end, twiddling my thumbs. We hadn’t had a new comic book in the house for over a week and I was sick of rereading our collection of old ones. The heat and humidity of the day had zapped all my energy.
Taking a break from household chores, Mom walked into the living room and sat down in her upholstered rocking chair. Picking up a crochet pattern book from the table next to her chair, she fanned her sweat-glistened face and requested, “Kathy, open the windows wider.”
I went to the first window. As I leaned over to slide the aluminum frame up a blast of backyard heat, smelling like cooked lawn, hit me in the face. I gasped, “I don’t think having the windows open wider is going to cool us off. It’s hotter outside than in the house!”
Mom sighed, “I hope it cools off tonight so we can sleep.” She shrugged and picked up her crochet hook, pulled string from a spool on the floor and checked directions in the book. Then she began to make the small, hooked needle in her hand dart rapidly in and out of loops. Before long, a lacy doily began to take shape.
The two, peanut butter-loaded mouse traps that I put in the brick farmhouse’s old-fashioned back porch last night were nowhere to be seen. Arnie, my husband was in the house. I yelled, “Honey, did you get rid of the mouse traps I put out here yesterday?”
Arnie’s bellowed answer, “No I didn’t” made me closely examine the green indoor-outdoor carpet. The traps were gone, and there wasn’t even an oily smear left behind on the artificial grass.
Yesterday, I’d noticed chew marks on the outdoor toys stored in a box below one of the porch windows. Today, the toys looked even worse. I assumed mice were doing the damage. Our farmhouse had a long history of rodent visitors.
My husband stepped into the porch with a half-eaten sandwich in his hands. He looked in the toy box and exclaimed, “Mice can’t do that kind of damage! I think a rat has been getting into the porch.”
I pulled into the driveway, stopped the car and got out. Wind blew down my open jacket collar, making me shiver. Despite the afternoon sunshine, the early March afternoon had a sharp bite to it. Patches of melting snowdrifts dotted the yard. I shrugged, thinking, “The air is chilly, like inside an old-time refrigerator, but as soon as the snow finishes melting, it’ll feel warmer.” Pulling the mailbox open, I found several envelopes. Among them was the monthly letter from my elderly friend.
Saving the letter for later when I could sit down and slowly read it, I began preparing supper for the family. Having prepped our meal the night before, my husband Arnie, our two children and I were able to sit down to eat lasagna a mere hour later. Arnie came to the table and glanced at the mail I’d brought in from the roadside mailbox. He chuckled, “I see your boyfriend wrote to you again.”
“Yes!” I admitted with a demure smile. “It isn’t every day a gal has a sweet old boy writing to her all the time, telling about his life 70 years ago in the very house she lives in!” After serving everyone, I sat down to rest and enjoy my meal with the family.
Looking at my daughter’s chart, the Nurse Practitioner instructed, “Bring Tammie back to see me in two weeks.”
To access Tammie’s electronic records, the clinic appointment scheduler requested her birth date. Tammie, who was in fifth grade, leaned against me and answered like a small adult, “It’s two, twenty-two, eighty-two.”
Later in the car, I suggested, “Would you like stopping for a treat before I take you back to school?” Tammie’s answer was of course, an enthusiastic yes.
Taco John’s advertisement for Taco Tuesday blared from the car radio. I complained, “Ugh, the words ‘Taco Tuesday’ turns into an ear worm whenever I hear this! It plays over and over in my head.”
Tammie asked, “Could we go to Taco John’s for my treat?” The fast food restaurant happened to be along our route back to school, so I happily pulled into that parking lot. Instead of a savory taco, my daughter ordered a desert taco, which looked and tasted a lot like a chocolate-covered waffle cone filled with ice cream. While eating it she commented on how she liked all the two’s in her birthdate.
The dreams began near the end of my pregnancy. Each night there was a baby, not necessarily my baby, but someone’s baby assigned to me. Each night I’d forget all about the infant. Each night in my dreams there were fires, floods and other natural disasters threaten our wellbeing. However, I never once remembered to pick up the baby when I ran out of the slumberland house to save myself.
One night I took the baby given to me and laid it in a crib in the upstairs bedroom of my childhood’s farmhouse. I immediately forgot all about the little one. A few days passed before dreamland me suddenly remembered. Filled with great apprehension, I raced to the crib and peeked in. Somehow, inexplicably, the neglected baby had multiplied to become three or four smaller babies.
I didn’t need to visit a psychiatrist to figure out why I was having these dreams. Eight years earlier, when I was twenty years old, my husband Arnie and I had had a baby daughter. Christy was born with a rare birth defect and was very sick. To make the situation scarier, I had never taken care of a baby before, not even babysat for one. The idea of taking Christy home scared me. I loved her, but didn’t want to take care of her.
I took my daughter home two different times, but she had to readmit to the hospital after only a day or two because of her ill health. The experience made me fearful of childcare. I was ashamed of how I wanted a healthy baby, not the sick one I’d given birth to. Christy died at two months of age on April 2nd, 1971. My guilty feelings began to grow. I felt like a bad mother.
The “oompah-pah-pah” of the polka band’s tuba announced the small-town music festival long before my husband Arnie had parked our car. The music festival with all day baseball games and carnival rides drew folks from a wide radius in Central Wisconsin. Following the music, we discovered that half of the huge beer tent was devoted to the band and a make-shift dance floor. The band was playing the “She’s Too Fat for Me Polka” and a large crowd of energetic dancers filled the floor.
Moments later, Arnie and I waded through the large crowd gathered around the wood-plank beer bar. Several of Arnie’s high school classmates were leaning against a section where a clear glass pitcher had only enough golden pilsner for Arnie’s glass. One of the young men held the pitcher high over his head and bellowed for a refill over the din of the crowd.
One of the young men said, “Kathy can dance with me while we wait for more beer!” My heart sank. I’d never learned to dance while growing up in the Stratford area. However, most of the young people who lived between Auburndale and Stevens Point where Arnie had grown-up, had their polka and waltz moves down pat.
Feeling the stiffness of my body, the young man shouted over the music, “Just relax and go with the beat.” I hopped when he skipped. He bobbed when I skipped. The couples around us flowed gracefully with synchronized steps and twirls. Getting a firmer grip on me, my partner instructed, “Follow my lead.” Horrified and embarrassed, I felt like a fully loaded H & S gravity box, being pulled around a wet corn field, by a 1949 model M John Deere tractor.