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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

Twisted

Impatiently tossing the crochet pattern book aside, I looked at my small cache of yarn. I knew what I wanted to make, but was unable to follow through. I could read and understand the words, but by the pattern’s fourth step, confusion equal to what happened at the Tower of Bable would cloud my mind.

Pulling navy, white and red skeins of yarn closer to myself, I pictured a lap robe with wide crocheted bands of red and navy with a dozen white stars stitched onto it. The trickiest part of my design would be making the stars, but I had an idea. Picking a white skein, I took a strand of the yarn and twisted it around the crochet hook.

A warm, humid early summer afternoon breeze blowing through the living room window made the shear curtains flutter. All day an angry, dark blue sky had been threatening storms. Weather forecasters predicted tornadoes. Worried because I lived in a mobile home, I had the radio on so I could run for cover if there was a local tornado sighting.

I had been alone at home one May evening three years earlier when a tornado came through our mobile home court. Not having listened to the radio that evening, the storm startled me when I heard what sounded like a locomotive train alongside the house. Pulling a curtain aside, all I saw was nightmare-inducing greenish-black air between me and our neighbor’s house. Seconds later, the wind roughly picked up the front end of my house and set it down with a jolt three feet over. Continue reading

Trapped

I arrived home from work and found Arnie standing at the kitchen counter making himself his favorite snack, a cheese and summer sausage sandwich. Pulling off my coat, I opened the entryway closet and hanging it on a hanger, commented, “There’s a sharp edge to the wind this afternoon despite the sunshine. Clouds are moving in from the west. Maybe tonight we’ll get our first snow.”

Taking a big bite from his sandwich, my husband replied with smug satisfaction, “It’s a good thing I made a point of pounding in the fence posts for our snow fence this afternoon. In the next few days, the ground will probably freeze and then it would be too late.”

Eyeing the last of the sandwich disappearing into Arnie’s mouth, I guessed, “You won’t be looking for an early supper tonight, so I’m going to change the bed and do the laundry before I start cooking.”

Looking out of the dining room window at the big blue barn across the yard, Arnie mused, “I should probably go out and feed the cattle now instead of later. The longer I wait, the less I’ll feel like going out there.” Busy with my own work, I wasn’t sure when he actually went to the barn. Continue reading

Weigelsdorf

As I crested the hill, my eyes immediately focused on a farmyard on the west side of the road. Arnie and I had lived there from 1974 through 1979. The mobile home we had lived in and sold to the new owner was gone. In its place they had built a house. Many of the trees and shrubs around it were ones that my Mom and I had planted the summer I raked and seeded the lawn. Spotting a tall pine tree in the back yard triggered a memory. We had struggled to dig it up from a local ditch, unable to believe that a small sapling could have such a long taproot!

Shock filled me as I scanned the rest of the yard. Across the driveway where there had once stood a large blue barn, four silos and a small handful of stonewalled sheds; was a skinny, skeleton that merely traced the defunct barn’s outline. The landmark barn was disappearing.

The farm had belonged to the Weigel family. Bachelor brothers, Max and Leo, had been the last proprietors.  My husband and I had moved our mobile home there in 1974 from a lot in Marshfield. We were told that we lived in the center of an area some people called, Weigelsdorf. All the farmers living near this crossroad were Weigels or people who had married into the large Weigel family. Continue reading

Last Name…Dumb

The thermostat in my living room is set at 65 degrees. Although my front-room office is insulated and has a heat register, it is often at least 7 degrees colder than my kitchen, dining and living room. After working a few hours at the computer one night this past fall, I felt chilled to the bone. I walked into my relatively warm living room, wrapped myself in a blanket and sank into a chair.

The picture tube in my 27-year-old RCA television had gone “poof” a few months earlier. Since I haven’t watched television since 2005, I didn’t really care, but knew my grandchildren would. They occasionally watch DVD and VHS movies while visiting me. Deciding to use a flat screen television once belonging to my brother, I discovered I have access to digital programming the old set didn’t provide; mostly vintage and public television stations.

Feeling like a queen, I imperiously pointed the remote and clicked. In the past, only my late husband Arnie used the remote control. He liked shows that I didn’t like. That night, after a 15-year hiatus from watching television, I discovered I enjoyed cooking, travel, home repair and detective shows. Obviously, television enjoyment hinges on media control. If anything makes me uncomfortable or bored, I either change the channel or turn the television off. Continue reading

Thanksgiving Heat

When the sun dropped behind trees west of my home, gray shadows grew long and deep inside the house. Currents of damp, chilled air slowly drifted past where I sat alone at the dining room table. I shivered and pulled the light jacket I was wearing closer to my body. Three things evoke loneliness in my mind; sitting in a cold, dimly-lit, room at a large, empty table.

Instead of turning on the furnace, I checked the room temperature. It wasn’t cold enough to induce me to turn it on. Feeling irritated with myself, I stepped into the nearby living room, turned on a lamp and sank down onto the sofa where I pulled a fluffy blanket over my shoulders.

My husband Arnie and I had been married 37 years when he unexpectedly died. I laughed when he had occasionally told me I was stubborn. I figured he was just teasing. Now, years later as I sat under a blanket in a lamp-lit living room, I took stock of my personality. Grimly nodding, I spoke to the spirit of my husband, “You were so right about me being stubborn, Arnie!” Continue reading

Deerly Beloved

When I pulled a curtain aside and peered out of the living room window, I saw steel-gray clouds blanketing the sky above the mobile home court. Dropping the curtain back into place, I stepped to a chair-side table and turned on a lamp. The stereo I’d given Arnie last Christmas was tuned to local radio station. I heard Lee Marvin endearingly, though tunelessly, singing, “I was born…under a wand’rin star.”

The mobile home Arnie and I bought when we married earlier in the year was small. Just half a dozen steps took me from the living room window to the kitchen. I sat down and pulled two magazines from the center of the table towards me. Mom had given them to me the last time I visited her. I flipped one open, but felt distracted. The loudly ticking clock on the wall showed only noon. Arnie wouldn’t return from hunting for several hours yet.

With elbows on the table, I rested my chin on my hands. The baby inside me wiggled and kicked. I smiled and leaned back, thinking about how in only another two months little he or she would be born. Then I began to think about how only twelve months ago, Arnie and I had become engaged.

Arnie had taken me to a fancy restaurant on Halloween. Before getting out of the car, Arnie very formally asked me to be his wife. Within two weeks we scheduled our wedding. Since it was November of 1969, the hall we wanted only had two open dates for 1970: April 18th and sometime several months later. I wanted sooner rather than later. So did Arnie. For the first time, I wondered if the second date would have disrupted deer hunting! Continue reading

Fresh Blood

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