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Aching Pinfeathers

Outside our cozy, warm house, a cold fall drizzle was turning freshly fallen leaves into a slick mat under the trees. I flopped down onto the linoleum living room floor beside the heat register and began to read a comic book.  

Mom put our supper in the oven to bake before she stepped into the living room. My brother Billy, who had been lounging in her upholstered rocking chair, got up so she could sit down. I observed his respectful behavior and felt pleased and content.

Mom snuggled into her comfy chair commenting happily, “Seeing the rain makes me thankful I worked all day yesterday getting my yard work done! But, ach…do I ever have sore muscles!” Her flowerbeds spanned our farmyard from one end to the other. In my mind’s eye, I saw how pretty they had been all summer. Yesterday Mom had removed all their frost-deadened leaves and stalks.

The comic book before me was about Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, his nephews Hewy, Dewy and Louie on a search for a great hidden treasure in Egypt. Scrooge’s greatest nemesis, the Beagle Boys, ‘caught wind’ of their find and boarded the ship the ducks were taking back to Duckburg. Beagle boy number 176-617 held Scrooge upside down by his legs and demanded the treasure. He snarled, “Hand it over, you rich pig-of-a-duck!” A jewel suddenly dropped from Scrooges blue frock coat. The Beagle brothers, in true pirate manner, made the ducks walk the plank.

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Hot Vinaigrette

I stepped out onto my back deck and admired how nice my yard looked this spring. New blades of grass glittered in the sunshine as a gentle breeze lovingly caressed them. Tree branches that had been winter-bound for so many months were finally beginning to unfurl their pink and green buds. Bright, yellow daffodils gracefully swayed in the new flowerbed by the driveway.

My loving scan of the crescent-shaped flowerbed came to an abrupt halt when I spotted what remained of the four hosta plants planted there. I’d been enthusiastically watching them grow new leaves for the last several days. My daughter Tammie joined me on the back deck just as I let out a squawk of protest and stamped my foot.

Turning to look in the same direction as I, she inquired, “What do you see that’s making you so upset?”

My response was more of a yelp, “My hostas! Look at them!”

After staring at the new flowerbed for a moment, Tammie asked, “Where did they go? Just yesterday afternoon they each had a nice cluster of new leaves.”

I said, sighing wearily, “The deer were here last night. Does are especially hungry now that winter is over and they have fawns to nurse. Besides that, I’ve heard people describe hostas as “deer candy”. It’s their preferred treat to eat when foraging a landscaped yard.”

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Pitiful

Preoccupied by my thoughts, I sighed and absentmindedly began to clear the table. My garden was nearly ready to be tilled, but how was I going to get the tiller to start? I needed help but absolutely did not want to ask for help. Setting the stack of dishes and silverware on the counter next to the sink, I sighed again.

My daughter Tammie was standing at the kitchen counter mixing cake batter. She glanced over at me and setting down the hand mixer, questioned, “What’s wrong Mom? You’ve been sighing.”

I reluctantly admitted, “It’s time to till the garden and I know from experience that I can’t pull the starter cord fast and hard enough to make the engine turn over.”

Pulling a cake pan closer to the mixing bowl, Tammie advised, “List the people you could call for help. Decide which one you feel the most comfortable approaching. Then give that person a call and ask.”

With hands on my hips, I scoffed, “You’re a fine one to be giving advice on how to ask for help! You are completely stubborn about getting help. You’ve even admitted to me that you don’t want people to think you are weak and pitifully handicapped.”

Picking up a spatula, Tammie scrapped the cake batter into the pan as she defensively pointed out, “Some people only see me as a short-armed individual. I want everyone to see how many things I am capable of doing. Some things, like not being able to reach something on a high shelf are just physically impossible. But my not being able to do that, doesn’t define who I am!” Continue reading

Little by Little

Looking into the bathroom mirror at Arnie’s shaving-foam covered face, I stated emphatically, “You have to till our garden this morning before leaving for work.” It was more a demand than request.

Arnie slipped on his glasses and picked up his razor. After pulling the triple blade across his jawline once, he answered, “You sound like you’re in a hurry.”

Combing my hair, I sighed impatiently, “I am! “Today is my day off from the hospital. My next day off won’t be for another five days. The weatherman on TV last night said it will rain by the end of this week. I want to plant my garden today.”

Making eye-contact with Arnie in the mirror, I saw a twinkle in his eye. He said, “It won’t hurt to put the garden in next week instead of this week.”

Crossing my arms, I glared at his reflection for several seconds before grumbling stubbornly, “I don’t think you’re funny. I want to plant my garden today because I have time today.”

Using a washcloth to wipe away the last bits of foam from his now clean-shaven face, Arnie leaned down to give me a kiss and said, “Don’t get yourself into knots. I’ll get it tilled for you this morning.” Continue reading

Lying Fallow

Row after row of small, uniform white hillocks lay before me. Huffing and puffing from trying to keep up with my cousin Barb, blazing a trail through snow. I was grateful when she paused to wait for the rest to catch up. Donna and Alice quickly joined us. Silently, we examined the plowed field before us. A lock of Donna’s hair escaped her head scarf. The wind played with it, fluttering it this way and that, sometimes across her face, then again up in the air over her head.

Along the fence-line, small clumps of dead yellow quack grass peeked through the snow. Barb broke the silence. She stated, “Crossing this field is the shortest way back to the house, but walking through the plowed field will be hard.” We looked at each other. Did we want to attempt the field, or go the long way around? Alice’s face was red from our march through the snow and wind. Donna shivered, looking thoroughly chilled. Barb stamped her feet and rubbed her mitten-covered hands. I guessed her fingers and toes felt numb from the cold, like mine.

In the silence that followed, I heard the whispery sound of wind blowing snow across the drifts. One by one we volunteered, “I don’t want to walk around this field.” “Hard or not, it’s the fastest way back.” “If we step only on the tops of the furrows, it won’t be so bad.”

We knew, of course, that it was impossible to step only on the tops of the furrows. Our feet would slip off the small, icy humps, making most of our muddy steps feel as if we were climbing a mountain. To make matters worse, we were all carrying ice skates on our shoulders and were already tired from an afternoon of skating on the back-pasture pond. Continue reading

Dreaming of Flowers

Blackcap bramble, wild grape vines, Canadian thistles, a few seedling asparagus plants and quack grass were all fighting for dominion. Wild morning glory, creeping Charlie and bridal veil weed were making good on their nature to climb over and smother all the other plants. My daughter Tammie and I stood in the driveway next to the house inspecting the tangled mess of vegetation, which had once been a beautiful flowerbed.

Gloomily, I pointed out, “The weeds have nearly smothered the old-fashioned rose bush and I can’t even see the hosta.”

Stepping a little closer, Tammie exclaimed, “I see a hosta, but it looks like someone took shears to it!

Pulling tall weeds aside, I examined the plant before explaining, “Lots of deer come through my yard at night. They seem to think the hostas are salad bowls for them to snack on.”

Shaking her head, Tammie marveled, “It’s a wonder they can find them in this mess.”

Searching the gone-to-seed flowerbed for signs of an Anthony Waterer bush, clumps of stella-de-oro and other lilies, I reminisced, “When this flowerbed was new, it had decorative stone paths and there weren’t any weeds at all.” Continue reading

Termination Dust

Summer breezes played tag in the shade under the thin stand of trees. Balanced on the back of a horse plodding slowly behind three other horses, I looked around, loving the earthy woodland smell and the sound of calling jays. Coming to visit this “Dude Ranch” with my sister-in-law had been a good idea; she loved horses.

Hot sun dappled through the tall tree-top canopy. Deer flies buzzed annoyingly around my head, always staying out of slap range. Suddenly, my horse began to run. I bounced around on the leather saddle like the tenderfoot I was. Then I began slipping more and more to one side until finally I crash-landed beneath the horse. Miraculously, the horse stopped running and didn’t step on me. I rolled away from its hooves.

An hour later, none-the-worse-for-wear, I sat in my mobile home living room visiting with Arnie’s sister, Ann. Four years younger than my husband and married for just one year, my sister-in-law told me her husband had gone to visit Alaska. A cool breeze fluttered the light nylon curtain at one of the open windows.

Ann said, “Ben wants to stay. He told me to get airplane tickets and come join him.” I had done very little travel in my lifetime. I was sure Ann had done even less. My only flight experience was a 15-minute buzz over Marshfield in a small plane with Daddy when the airport opened in 1960. On that late summer afternoon, Ann was 21 and I, 24.

Did the idea of flying to Alaska alone scare Ann? Then, an idea popped into my head and I blurted it out, “I’ll go to Alaska with you!” The idea gained momentum in my mind, like an avalanche sliding down the steepest slope on Mount McKinley. It never occurred to me to consult Arnie, my husband. For that matter, it never even entered my mind to ask him if he wanted to come with us. In my totally self-focused state, I began to make plans. Continue reading

Planting or Burying – Sowing and Reaping

Warm, golden sunshine steadily bathed the lawn. Its brilliance made the lush blades of grass look as if their beautiful shade of green glowed. The slightly humid air felt like velvet against my skin as a gentle breeze softly caressed my cheeks. I stopped planting seeds in the garden for a minute and looked around.

A plump, orange-bellied robin landed a few feet away from the edge of the garden. Opening his beak, he tilted back his head and sang a breath-taking beautiful song that proclaimed his joy; for being alive, for the warm sunshine, for the bountiful earth.

Immediately getting down to business after his song, the bird thrust his beak into the earth near his feet. Coming up with a worm clenched in his jaws, he tugged. The robin pulled mightily until the entire worm was free of the soil. Then, in a flash of powerful wing flaps, he was gone.

I looked down at the seeds in my hand. Would they grow once I put them in the ground? There was nothing to tell me that life existed inside their hard, dry exteriors. In the silence while I contemplated the mystery of seeds, another robin on the other side of the yard caroled its anthem of praise.

The song triggered a memory of a funeral that took place on an early summer day as warm and as beautiful as this one. Loved ones crowded around an open grave with the casket suspended above. When the minister finished his prayers, the silence that followed was profoundly poignant. Suddenly, the clear, beautiful voice of a robin filled the air with a song that made tears well up in my eyes. It made me think of love, hope, and the mystery of what comes after this life. Continue reading

Transporter Moments

Warm bath water hid my wrinkled fingers and toes beneath the foam. Bubbles from excess Vel, Mom’s preferred bar soap, frosted my skin and the sides of the tub. Taking a deep breath, I happily sniffed the wonderful, clean scent. From the kitchen I could hear the radio playing a soothing song called ‘Twilight Time.’ Mom called out, “Kathy, you’ve been in the bathtub long enough. It’s time for you to get out.”

I was seven years old. Mom had a hard time getting me to take a bath. But once I was in the tub, she had a hard time getting me out. I had been in the bathtub for a very long time. So long, that one of my sisters came into the bathroom to wash her face. Peering around the corner from my bath, I watched her pat her face dry, open a cobalt blue jar of Noxzema and apply the cream to her face. The cream had a strong, exotic scent which I loved, too.

A slight breeze fluttered the bathroom curtains as I stepped out of the tub. The spring evening air felt soft as velvet wherever it touched my drying skin. As I slipped on a clean nightgown, I examined my wrinkled finger patterns. I felt happy, clean and perfect. Continue reading

Green Dreams

Tonight, there would be a killing frost. I could feel it in my joints. I straightened up from digging carrots, leaned on the shovel and looked around the garden. The sun was nearing the western horizon in a clear sky. There were no clouds to blanket the earth with frost-defying warmth.

In the row next to the carrots was a poinsettia. Before nightfall I wanted to dig it out of the ground and take it into the house. As always when I looked at the plant, I marveled at how it had doubled in size over the last four months. Its leaves were beautiful; large, dark green and plentiful.

A tea rose bush next to the poinsettia caught my eye. Its leaves were still a glossy and healthy green. Red roses in various stages of blooming covered the bush. All that loveliness would be burned by the frost if I didn’t pick the flowers to be enjoyed indoors. Pulling a scissor from my pocket, I began to snip stems with buds and blossoms.

In the house later that evening, I filled a pint jar with water for the ten roses. Then I poured more potting soil into the oversized planter holding the poinsettia. Continue reading