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Bird Woman

I felt Daddy’s comforting assurances that he was all right when I had my unusual meeting with the owl. How many people have a pheasant peeking in at them in the basement when they are feeling scared and alone after losing their husband? If Arnie was trying to cheer me up, it worked!

I welcomed the warm safety of being alone in my car and driving home.  I was done crying, but my emotions felt raw. Two hours earlier, Mom had called to say Daddy had died. Since it was ten at night and our two small children were already in bed, my husband Arnie and I decided he would stay home with the children while I went to the hospital alone to be with Mom.    

The late May midnight sky was awash with stars. A light sweater provided all I needed for comfort. The open garage door welcomed me when I pulled into the driveway. With the ease of habit, I drove into the small building and turned off the car engine. Taking my time, I walked out and stopped on the driveway to take a slow, deep breath. The rich, earthy smell of grass cut earlier in the day, freshly worked garden soil, and the sweet scent of blossoming lilacs made reminded me of my farmer father.

It was hard to imagine Daddy being dead. I yearned to be with him one last time. Was everything right with him now that he had left behind his sick, aging body?

A year ago, Daddy and I had walked in the orchard on his farm. He’d told me, “Kathy, I’m ready to die.”

I was 31 years old. Death was a frightening, unwanted thing to me.

Daddy, who was 78, answered my protest by gently pointing out, “I don’t feel well anymore and I’m lonely. Many of my friends have already died.”

As I stood remembering this on the driveway, some unidentified instinct prompted me to look up. Just as I tipped my head back, a huge bird silently swooped low over my head, then soared up to land on the house’s chimney. By the light of the star-studded night sky, I could easily recognize the bird. The long-eared owl looked down at me and hooted three times.

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Rodent Public Relations

After stepping into the dusty, cobwebbed kitchen I stood still and looked around. I loved snooping around in this house. Doves cooed and fluttered their wings upstairs. My brother Casper had turned the front bedroom into a dovecote. The wonderful, earthy smell of freshly stored oats filled the air. Through the doorway into the living room I saw mounds of plump, golden oat seeds. The dust floating in the sunbeams from this harvest didn’t bother me.

My family had lived in this house until eleven years ago when they built a new farmhouse the year before I was born. Daddy used the old house as his granary. Last week our neighbor Mark had combined our oat field. Before storing the grain in the living room and downstairs bedroom, Daddy had nailed planks over the door between the living room and kitchen, up to my height, to prevent the seeds from spilling into the kitchen.

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Copy Cats

Children are natural copy cats. They want to do what the grown-ups do.
Kathy in 1952 or 53. Tammie in 1984.

I glanced around at the cluttered kitchen and leaned against the counter dejectedly, feeling tired and depressed. Making meals should be so much easier now that the kitchen remodeling was finally finished. I had double the cupboard space and countertops. This is what I had wanted and waited for. What was wrong with me that I felt so unexcited about my good fortune? Was the summer heat getting to me?

Making meals and cleaning up after them had been hard for the last several weeks. The stove was disconnected. The sink had no running water. All the things I normally kept in the kitchen were stacked higgeledy-piggledy in the dining room. Until a few weeks ago, the prospect of finding places to put everything in the new cupboards sounded like fun. Now I felt I lacked the energy to do the job.

My husband Arnie walked into the kitchen just then and saw me leaning on the counter looking miserable. He asked, “What’s wrong? I thought you’d have half the kitchen put to order by now.”

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2020 Vision

Mom took the casserole she’d made the night before out of the refrigerator and placed it on the counter. It looked beautifully creamy and was topped with slightly browned, buttery bread crumbs. Half of it had been eaten. She encouraged, “Taste it.”

I reached into the silverware drawer and selected a fork. The mouthful I scooped up contained shrimp and a filet of fish in a thick, white sauce that tasted of lemon and pepper. I spotted bright slices of carrots and celery. The taste was exciting and exotic, probably owing to the plentiful presence of shrimp. “I’ve got to have the recipe for this!” I enthused.

On the following Thursday, I bought the ingredients needed to make the seafood casserole. Friday was my day off. I spent the afternoon painstakingly following the recipe. By the time my husband came home from work, it was ready to come out of the oven. I set the table and placed bread and butter between our plates and a trivet in the center of the small kitchen table in our mobile home. Carefully using oven mitts, I took the hot dish out of the oven and placed it on the trivet. I proudly announced, “Our supper is ready, Arnie. Come and eat.”

My young husband came and stood behind the chair at his place but didn’t sit down. He stared at the dish in the center of the table. Looking grumpy, Arnie questioned, “What did you make for supper?”

Taking a deep breath of shrimp-scented kitchen air, I explained, “Mom made this dish recently. It has shrimp in it and tastes really good. Try some.”

Seething, Arnie pointed out in a tightly controlled voice, “All I want and expect is a decent supper after working all day. I will not eat seafood casserole.” Picking up a slice of bread, he savagely slapped butter on it. Then he stalked angrily into the living room, all of eight feet away, and sank down on the sofa to glare at me as he stuffed the bread into his mouth. Devastated, I cried.

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Lingering Sweetness

Carrying my cup of tea into the living room, I sat down to watch birds outside the large window. Small chickadee and dowdy finch were busy eating sunflower seeds at the feeder. Every so often a strong gust of wind made snow sift softly down from the pine branches above. On the ground below, snow swirled, but didn’t bother a female cardinal who continued to scratch and peck the seeds dropped by other birds.

I took a sip of the hot, comforting tea. It was good to be indoors on a day like this. Picking up a candy I’d made the day before, I admired how it looked so very much like a real mushroom. Biting off the stem, the crisp, sugary meringue quickly melted on my tongue. Studying the rest of the candy, I admired its cinnamon and nutmeg toadstool freckles. Chocolate took the place of mushroom gills on the bottom of the meringue.

Remembering how this mushroom candy became a Christmas tradition for my family made me smile nostalgically. When I had found the recipe in a woman’s magazine, I laughed. My big brother Billy hated mushrooms. He said all mushrooms were slimy toadstools, not fit for human consumption. I’d told my daughters, “This Christmas I’m going to give Billy some mushrooms he’ll love eating.” Niki and Tammie were nine and thirteen years of age that year.

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Leaning Back

A cold, ice-particle-laden gust of wind swirled down the face of the hospital building, pushing so hard against my body I had to lean forward to make headway. Walking at my side was a coworker, Barb. She commented jokingly, “Here we are, walking through the tundra again.” Some of the ice particles melted on my face while others found their way under my neck scarf. I shivered and put my mitten-clad hand to my frosted forehead, wondering if it was possible to experience brain-freeze from a cold wind.

Barb complained, “Why in the world was this hospital built with a north-facing entrance? We always get a big downdraft in our face just as we get close to entering.”

Through gritted teeth I answered, “I don’t know what the engineers were thinking. But, at least on hot summer days, we get a welcome cool breeze.”

As Barb and I silently walked to the unit where we worked, I thought about Christmas, only two weeks away. I still had some Christmas cards to send, presents to wrap and cookies to bake. Our tree, usually put up a few days before Christmas, wasn’t even bought!

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Autumn Colors

I stopped working and leaned on the shovel I had been using to dig carrots. My garden was well on its way to being put to ‘bed’ for the winter. Arnie, my husband looked up from where he was working and commented, “Today is a perfect fall day.”

Nodding, I looked around. Clouds blanketed the sky. It felt warm, yet not too warm. A hint of coolness hovered around the edges. Night time temperatures the past week had been chilly. Our lush, green, freshly mowed lawn around the house contrasted beautifully with the deep burgundy sumac along our yard’s second driveway. I exclaimed, “Arnie, just look at how beautiful the sumac is today.”

My husband straightened up and looked. After a moment of silence, he asked, “What am I supposed to be seeing?”

I prompted, “The red leaves. Aren’t they pretty?”

When Arnie shook his head and denied seeing red leaves, I suddenly remembered he’d made certain comments in the past that made me realize he was unable to perceive the full spectrum of colors as I do. My husband was apparently partially color blind.

An article I read about colorblindness stated that men are more likely to experience partial colorblindness than do women. Trouble seeing the color red and green is most common. Complete colorblindness is rare. It occurs in only 1 person out of 30,000 births. Continue reading

The Path Best Not Taken

Sun-dappled shade blanketed the woodland floor. Green ferns peeked through last year’s papery fallen leaves. We heard the rustle of small feet scampering and the sleepy call of a bird in the tree tops. Along the trail, ferns stood guard over a slumbering, moss-covered log.

Ahead of us, we saw a sun-filled clearing. Stepping into the sun made me squint. Cleared by man, the woodland corridor allowed poles topped with electrical wires to march through the property. The path diverged at this point. A map mounted on a post showed different route options.

The path to the left would take us directly back to The Clearing’s campus schoolhouse. The path to the right would meander further from the campus, but eventually bring us back to the schoolhouse, too. Glancing at Tammie, I asked, “Which path do you want to take?”

My daughter stated, “I want to take the one to the left.”

When my daughter Tammie and I visit The Clearing for a vacation, we take classes to learn new crafts or perfect crafts familiar to us. This year, because of COVID 19, classes were canceled, but the venue remained open for self-directed retreats. We decided to go. A handful of other people had done the same. Consequentially, the campus was strangely empty and quiet. Following the hiking paths on the 128-acre campus, we found the less traveled paths were not as trampled or easy to follow. 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

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