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(I’m) The Beast

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.”

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March 31st Auction

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.

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Twosday

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.

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Baby Trainer

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.

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I’ve Got Rhythm

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.

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Digging Ditches

The logs I had put in the furnace several hours earlier were now just a pile of ash with a small bed of red coal glowing beneath. Grabbing wood from a nearby pile, I loaded the firebox until no more would fit. Small tongues of orange flame licked the raw edges of the bottom pieces. The fire was beautiful and smelled wonderfully. Taking a deep breath, I stood silently, not moving, just listening. The fire crackled. I heard my two daughters talking in the living room above. Flicker, my tuxedo cat, meowed and rubbed against my leg. The stress of my busy day disappeared. Feeling refreshed, I closed the furnace door and sprinted up the stairway.

 My house is very old. I suspect part of it was built during the 1890’s. My history-loving daughter Tammie and I enjoyed some of the house’s quirky signs of previous inhabitants. We particularly liked the permanent kitty footprints in the basement. I’ve always pictured the farmer who had built the house, getting mad at the cat for messing up his wet cement.

In the mid 1990’s, I came home from work one day to discover my husband Arnie had ripped the back porch off our house. He was using a rented backhoe. When I asked what he was doing, he said he was digging a basement for the large entryway he planned to build in place of the porch.  

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Little Christmas

A lighted garland crowned the archway between the kitchen and living room where a festive balsam tree glittered and twinkled. My husband Arnie and son-in-law Mike sat on the couch next to the tree watching a football game on television. My daughter Niki and I sat at the table in the kitchen. Arnie held six-month-old Jon in his arms while Anne, my two-year-old granddaughter, ran between the two rooms playing with her toys.

A tea kettle on the stove began to whistle. Niki jumped to her feet. Placing a steaming mug of hot water and a tea bag in front of me, she sat down with a cup of her own and commented, “I love the holiday traditions I grew up with, but I would like to have some new traditions that I are my own.”

Taking a bite of Christmas cookie and a very small sip of the hot tea, I questioned, “What sort of new traditions are you thinking of?”

Pushing a library book towards me, Niki launched into a list of ideas, concluding with, “This book had so many good ideas that it was hard to pick which one I wanted to start for my family. The top one on my list is to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.”

Cupping my hands around the delightfully warm mug I asked, “How do you plan to do that?”

My daughter had obviously formed a game plan. She detailed, “I want to buy 12 very small gifts for each of the children. Then, every night between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany, they will have a package to open.”

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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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Holding my Breath

Holding Breath

I heard birds busily twittering and pecking at seeds in the birdfeeder when I returned to the living room. My 90-year-old mother sat in her upholstered rocking chair holding a baby monitor in her lap. From the neighbor’s farm, we heard the distant crowing of a rooster. Laughing, I marveled, “That baby monitor picks up everything! It’s like actually being outside.”

Mom bragged, “It’s better than being outside. We hear what’s going on inside the birdfeeder.”

I agreed with a nod, “That’s true. Until now I never knew how noisy pecking is, or how much birds squabble while they eat.”

Macular degeneration had taken most of my mother’s eyesight the year before. To help her, I’d started bathing Mom every Friday evening, refilling her pill box, paying bills and doing her laundry. My teenaged daughters often came with me to spend time with their beloved Grammie.

Years before, my two bachelor brothers who live with Mom, had bought a baby monitor system. They fastened the microphone half of the device under the roof of the bird feeder and gave the receiver to Mom. She could turn it on and listen to the birds whenever she wanted.

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