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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

Crazy Love

My large black and white tuxedo cat didn’t look happy. Sure, he still liked to stretch out and snooze in patches of sunshine on my linoleum kitchen floor, but there was a pensiveness and hesitation in his posture when he sat on the back deck. At six-years of age, Flicker was used to spending wonderful, adventure-packed hours along the small river where we had lived up until six weeks ago. My husband Arnie and I had moved Niki and Tammie, our two children and pets to a farm, far away from a river and fallow low lands.

At first, after we’d moved, I was afraid that Flicker would roam away from our new home if we let him out of the house. When I finally relented and let him out, I discovered that he was reluctant to explore our new yard. The last place he wanted to go was to the barn, which was filled with huge, mooing, hoof-clopping cows. Mud found in the barn wasn’t at all like the clean, sweet mud on the river bank, either.

Every cow barn has a colony of cats to reduce the mouse population. Flicker wasn’t interested in making friends with the barn cats. As if just going through the motions, my big black and white cat dutifully made short trips into the oat and corn fields near the house to mouse.

My family lived on the farm for two years. Then, during the month of June, Arnie and I packed up our two children and pets and returned to our old, beloved house on the north bank of the river. A beautiful summer stretched ahead of us.

Picking up old habits as though he’d never stopped, Flicker returned to spending long, leisurely days on the river bank hunting and sunbathing on warm rocks. His eyes looked bright and happy. In the evenings he purred loudly while cuddling with Niki and Tammie. Continue reading

North Bank Reports

A slight, grey-haired man stood at my back door. His greeting was quaintly sweet and respectful, “Hello! My name is Elton Greta. I lived in your house until my mother sold the farm when I was ten years old. The river was my favorite play area. Would you please allow me to walk on your property along its bank?”

Surprised and wondering how many years it was since he was ten-years-old, I generously responded, “Yes. Go right ahead!”

That one-minute conversation in 1982 was the only person-to-person interaction I ever had with Mr. Greta. Only later did I find out that he was seventy-nine years old to my thirty-one years. I didn’t see how long he stayed or where he walked, because my two-month-old daughter had a clinic appointment. His car was gone by the time I returned home. I found a letter from him taped to my back door.

In a swirling script and with flowery prose, Mr. Greta described his childhood home and the land where it sat on the north bank of a small river as, “the hallowed grounds of my childhood.” His “sainted mother” sold the farm in 1913 when he was ten years old.

After eating supper that evening, I read his letter to the family. At the end, I looked up and said to Arnie, my husband, “I think this man wants me to write to him! He signed with his full Sioux City, Iowa address.” Continue reading

Chef Bruno

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

A 911 Call

The night had been chilly, but now brilliant, warm sunshine filled our lush, green backyard. The sky was an amazing rich blue and there wasn’t a single cloud in sight. I love early autumn!

Days off from my job at the hospital like today, were highly treasured. Getting to sleep an extra hour, then slowly working around my silent house filled me with peace. On days like this, even the radio in the dining room was seldom turned on.

I tickled my cat Oskar, who was curled up in a patch of sunshine in the middle of the kitchen floor. The phone rang. My 94-year-old mother didn’t bother with a greeting. Sounding anxious, she asked, “Kathy, are you listening to the news?”

Surprised, I answered, “No. I’ve just gotten up. What’s happened?”

In a shaky voice, Mom explained, “A little while ago an airplane flew into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York. The news reporter said it wasn’t an accident. Someone is attacking the United States!”

I tried to make sense of what Mom had said, unsure of how to answer. Having passed on the horrible news, Mom concluded, “I’ve got to listen to the television to find out what’s going on…bye.”

The linoleum felt warm under my bare feet as I stood thinking about what I should do. My husband Arnie had recently subscribed to a tv dish company, but he had never showed me how to use the remote. I wanted to turn on the television now, but I honestly did not know how. I stepped into the living room, pointed the remote in the right direction and methodically pressed all of the buttons. Nothing happened. 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

Whip Poor Will

I sat back on my heels to rest for a moment while weeding my lawn-turned-garden. Gazing at the stand of oats behind our farmhouse, I noticed shimmers of heat rising from the field. Each plant was busy forming beautiful, small grains. A breeze swept past, cooling my skin. The invisible force gently teased and tussled the crop, making the blue-green plants dip and sway like waves in an ocean.

Eight-year-old Niki and four-year-old Tammie sat nearby on the grass in the cool shade of our farmhouse. Thankful they were happily playing together, I went back to weeding the ground cherries, tomatoes and cabbage. As I worked, I thought about my childhood growing up on a farm.

Having a campfire in the woods was one of the summer highlights for me as a child. Once my neighborhood cousins and I reached a certain age, we were allowed to occasionally go to the woods in the evening by ourselves to have a campfire picnic. We brought foil-wrapped potatoes to bake in the fire, butter, salt and pepper. Other goodies, if there were some in our kitchens, included hot dogs and marshmallows.

When the cows were milked and let out of the barn, they came to the woods. The nosey beasts stood in a semi-circle around the gully where we had a campfire ring next to a boulder. Snorting, mooing, making waterfall and plop-plop sounds, they watched us as the sky grew dark and their eyes glowed iridescent blue-silver in the firelight. Continue reading