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Sore Leaf

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.”

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Grandparent Orphan

Grandpa Altmann walking in yard holding hands with my sisters Mary and Betty.
After this picture was taken, he developed gangrene and had a leg amputated.

He sat in the corner of the living room on the davenport, watching me, his wrinled face glowing from the light of the lamp. I plopped down on the cool gray linoleum and began to roll around acting silly. Mama stepped into the room to scold, “Kathy, stop showing off.”

Who was that man? In my mind he was someone important. The gray fog of forgetfulness fills my mind until the next memory.

I stood in front of the table in our eat-in kitchen. Mama was behind me at the stove preparing our meal. Daddy stood at the entryway door, holding it open as an old man on crutches entered. Suddenly, a crutch slipped on the linoleum and the man fell with a crash.

Something bad had happened. I wasn’t sure what, or even who the man was. The gray fog of forgetfulness fills my mind until the next memory.

Something prompted me to crawl out of the bed I shared with a sister. Wandering into the living room I crawled up onto the davenport. The dark house didn’t scare me. Feeling cold, I felt around for something to crawl under. What I found was thin and not very warm. I looked toward the front door window where the Christmas tree stood. The night sky was pale blue and I saw the shadowy outline of the tree.

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Tying the Knot

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.”

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Life Goes On

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.

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By the light of the Moon

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.

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Frankenstein Dresses

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.

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A Gift

Mom’s Christmas afghan and my recipe story book.

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.

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The W. M. Syndrome

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

Practice Baby

After Tammie and I attended Mass on Christmas Eve, we shared a special meal together, then turned out all the lights except one lamp and thoes on the Christmas tree. A lovely, deep calm settled over the household. From the stereo came soft strains of beautiful, traditional Christmas songs by Mannheim Steam Roller, played in their usual non-traditional manner.

Under the tree there were two piles of gifts. One was from me for my daughter, the other stack was from her. Sitting on the floor next to them, Tammie leaned forward and pushed two presents aside, pointing out, “These two are your birthday gifts from me. You can’t have them until the 27th.”

Jumping up from the sofa, I exclaimed, “Thanks for reminding me. It’s midnight and baby Jesus’ birthday! Retrieving a small package from a chair side drawer, I walked over to the nativity set and unwrapped a small infant Jesus figure. Placing it in the manger between Mary and Joseph, I said, “There you go, my sweet little baby.” Tammie and I paused for a moment to enjoy the familiar ‘Silent Night’ melody playing on the stereo, then began with our gift exchange. Continue reading

Dinosaur Tales

Before going to my garden to pick tomatoes, Niki put her cell phone on the dining room table. Blaise, my four-year-old grandson saw his opportunity and snatched the device. His small fingers flew this way and that to bring up the You Tube videos he wanted to watch.

Although I didn’t grow up with computers, I’m not a total ‘slouch’ when it comes to technology. Seeing his expertise though, impressed me.

Ben, age thirteen, was sitting in the living room staring intently down at an iPad. The curtains were closed, so the room was shadowed. Ghostly blue-green light from the flickering game screen reflected on his face. Next to him, nine-year-old Jacob complained about having to wait for his turn and finally demanded, “You’re hogging the iPad. It’s my turn to use it. Hand it over!”

Gemma, my six-year-old granddaughter, was sitting at the dining room table drawing. She looked up from her picture and told me, “Last night we watched a You Tube video…” In great detail described what she had seen.

I’ve always considered myself to be a modern woman and looked in awe at how primitive the world had been when my mother was born in 1906. Few people had electricity, indoor plumbing or motor vehicles at that time, nor for many years after.

On the other hand, when I was born in 1950, most people had in-door plumbing, electricity, radios, cars and some even flew in airplanes. Television was introduced to our household when I was eleven. When I was eighteen, NASA sent men to the moon and brought them back. Continue reading