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The Name Game

I like naming things but the ones for inanimate objects don’t always stick. When I first brought home a dark blue Equinox in 2013, I started to call the car, the Blue Ox. Other than being blue, big and sturdy, I wasn’t really feeling the name, so there was no follow through.

On the other hand, the gray Dynasty I drove for many years eventually gained the name of The Old Gray Mare. That car was dependable and loved.

Years later Arnie and I bought a Buick Rendezvous to celebrate having paid off our house mortgage. This was the most expensive car we ever bought, and it was equipped with all sorts of special amenities. I began to call it my Yuppie Yacht because I felt like a young, rich and successful person when driving it. That name stuck.

I was recently watching a HGTV show where a woman had her kitchen remodeled. The designer did something I thought was risky. Without consulting the homeowner, she ordered a bright pink gas stove. Fortunately, the homeowner was delighted and gave the appliance an elegant, Victorian name.

Naming the stove struck a chord in me since I had recently bought a new gas range. I asked my daughter, “What would be a good name for my new stove?”

Tammie quickly responded, “Name it Calcifer after the fire demon in the movie, Howl’s Moving Castle.”

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Good, Bad and Ugly

Tears rolled down my seven-year-old daughter’s cheeks. I looked up from wrapping the toy to beg, “Tammie, please don’t cry. I know you want this toy for yourself, but yesterday when we bought your friend’s birthday present, you knew it wasn’t for you. Besides, you have several of your own Pretty Pony toys in the toy box.”

        A sob caught in Tammie’s throat as she complained, “But, none of mine glow in the dark like this one does.”

        Fastening tape to the pink wrapping paper to hold it in place, I thoughtfully enthused, “This gift is a very, very special gift. It probably will be the best present your friend will get for her birthday this year. Do you know why?”

        My little daughter stopped crying and looked at me in surprise to ask, “Why?”

        “Because the very best gift you can ever give is the one you love and really, really want for yourself. This is especially true when you give the gift without letting anyone know how badly you want it for yourself.”

        Tammie was silent for a few moments before saying, “Okay.”

        “You’re such a good little girl.” I complemented my daughter. “I have a feeling Santa’s going to give you a glow-in-the-dark Pretty Ponies this year.”

        When I first entered motherhood, I had no idea I needed a class titled, Motherhood Philosophy 101. No one gave me a listing of job skills I would need. My initial concern had been merely to share my faith with the children, to keep them fed, bathed, clothed and obedient.

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Grim Reality

Sweeping his hand across the map of the United States, the television meteorologist expounded on how frigid temperatures and precipitation were producing snow storms in Washington and Oregon. He stated, “These storms are moving east. By Tuesday night, when the weather system gets here, southern Wisconsin will get mostly rain and possibly an inch of snow. In northern Wisconsin, the rain will quickly turn into snow with accumulations up to a foot.”

Looking up from texting on my phone, I responded like a Charlie Brown adult, “Wah-wah-WAH-wah.” Hearing about the impending storm was getting old. I’d heard this forecast over and over for the last two days. It was only about 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside, leaving a few patches of snow here and there in the yard. We probably wouldn’t get much more than a thin sheet of ice.

Rain didn’t begin falling until late Tuesday afternoon. Once nightfall came, I pulled the living room curtains shut, blocking the cold, darkness from entering my warm, brightly lit house, forgetting all about the weather.

By Wednesday afternoon every surface outdoors, trees, highline wires and roads were coated in a thick layer of ice. Carefully inching across my icy back deck, I slowly walked like a penguin out to the mail box. Seeing the birdfeeders empty, I returned to the house for a bucket of seeds.

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Happily Hibernating

Heavy gray clouds had hung low all day. I stared out the kitchen window. Although it looked unpleasant outside, I needed to get some fresh air. A chilled gust of wind tugged at my neck scarf when I stepped out the back door with a letter to mail. Snow-snake ice crystals slithered here and there across the driveway.

Snuggled comfortably inside two sweaters and my late husband’s large work coat, I decided to walk to the bridge after putting my letter in the roadside mailbox. Small pine trees bent beneath a blanket of snow. Tall weeds and grass in the ditch were covered with hoar frost. The river had one or two spots that hadn’t been frozen over before it snowed. Looking down from the bridge, I could see cold water flowing through the looking-glass ice patches.

Back inside the house, the bird-clock on the dining room wall began to sing the song of a little brown wren. It was only four in the afternoon. Surprised that it wasn’t later because of how dark it was, I double checked the time against my wrist watch. Wisconsin winter days are short, especially on the second of January.

Shivering, I poured myself a cup of hot tea. As I sat in my rocking chair wrapped in a blanket to sip my tea, I remembered one summer afternoon spent working in my greenhouse garden.

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Born in a Barn

A pile of old newspapers stacked on the floor in front of our large living room window nearly caused me to fall. I was eager to see if it had started to snow yet. There was no change in the overcast December afternoon weather. Everything looked just as it had, when I came in from playing in the yard before our noon meal.

A proper Christmas snow needed to be deep. We had snow on the lawn and flowerbeds, but I didn’t think it was deep enough. There were bare spots here and there in the yard. Christmas was in only ten days. I ruefully speculated, “If there’s any snow in those clouds, it’s refusing to fall.”

At ten years of age, I didn’t believe in Santa Clause anymore, but I did want Christmas to be perfect. Glowing memories of past Christmases guided my fevered holiday expectations. Trying to sled on the sparse snow on the barn hill in the forenoon had been disheartening. Feeling restless, I decided to go outside, but not to play in the scant snow again. I wanted to spend time in the barn instead.

Leaving the living room, I crossed the hallway on my way to the entryway. My coat and boots were kept there when I wasn’t using them. A loud scream startled me. My sister was on her knees scrubbing the floor in the kitchen. Her face was red with exasperation. She snarled, “Were you born in a barn? You’re walking on my freshly washed floor!”

Glancing around, I noticed the linoleum underfoot was indeed damp. I volunteered, “My feet are clean.”

My sister screeched, “I don’t care if your feet are clean. You’re leaving footprints!”

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Craving Christmas

Mom put down the spoon she was using to stir soup, and turned away from the stove. She instructed me and my sisters, “Tonight’s the eve of Saint Nicolas. After supper I want you to write your letters to Santa Claus.”

My sister Mary volunteered, “Kathy’s in first grade. She doesn’t know how to write yet, so I’ll write her letter for her.”

Although I was still too young to write my own letter to Santa Claus, I knew December 6th was the official start to the annual Christmas count-down. At bedtime we would put our letters to Santa in bowls at the place we always sat at the table. In the morning, the letters would be gone and we’d find the bowls filled with peanuts, angel food candy, bridge mix, candy canes and an orange.

For me, time dragged by too slowly between Saint Nicolas Eve and Christmas. I fretted and fussed. I wanted the tree up. I wanted to constantly hear Christmas songs. I wanted fun, Christmassy things to do. Most of all, I wanted to open a big pile of presents. The craving for all things Christmas was intense.

When I grew up in the 1950’s, Christmas was hardly mentioned before the first week of December. Luckily, my emotional agony didn’t start as early as Halloween as must be the case for children now, since stores promote Christmas sales two months in advance.

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Snow Build-up.

Mom rested in her upholstered rocking chair, reading a woman’s magazine. Our house was Sunday afternoon quiet. Curled up on the floor next to the living room heat register, I half-heartedly paged through an old Scrooge Mc Duck comic book. The dreary early December afternoon sky made the living room dark enough for us to have the lamps turned on.

Relaxed in his favorite chair, Daddy slowly examined family photos from the big box balanced on his lap. Some of our family pictures were funny. Like the one my brother Casper took one summer afternoon. He had come home from fishing with one small perch. Trying to make the fish appear huge, Casper hung it from a pole a few feet away from the camera and then had me stand a good 30 feet beyond, staring up as though looking at a whale-sized perch. The trick did make the fish appear large, but over exposure made the fish look like a white, blurry whale.

         Feeling chilly, I cuddled closer to the heat vent. I heard my sisters Agnes and Rosie in the kitchen talk as they washed the noon meal dishes. I suspected they were planning to make fudge. My brother Billy was in the basement cracking open black walnuts. My other brother Casper was in his bedroom down the hall listening to a portable radio. I didn’t know what my sisters Betty and Mary were doing upstairs, but I wasn’t curious enough to leave my cozy spot to find out.

         At four in the afternoon, Daddy left the house to feed the cows and Mom stopped reading to begin preparing our evening meal. While the cows ate, Daddy and the boys would return to the house to eat too. After eating, they’d go back to the barn to milk the cows.

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Slapped Silly

“This store has a wonderful selection of cat toys,” exclaimed Tammie.

I dropped a container of clumping kitty litter into my shopping cart and followed my daughter’s voice into the next aisle, complaining, “My cats don’t need any more toys. I already have a dozen to pick up each time I vacuum the floor.”

Stepping into the same aisle as Tammie, I skidded to a stop. The pet toy display was a Santa’s winter wonderland for cats. There were colorful balls to chase, miniature stuffed animals, snakes that crinkled when touched, cat nip straight up and cat nip-infused beds and toys. Despite my reluctance to buy anything, I became enamored with a battery-operated toy that made a butterfly flutter in a circle on a wire.

“Let’s go to check-out before I decide to buy anything else,” I muttered as I added it to my cart. In my haste to leave the display, I bumped a toy mouse off the rack. It squeaked like a flesh and blood field mouse.

“Real mice are filthy creatures.” Tammie commented, “but this toy is really cute.”

Glancing at the toy mouse, I grumbled, “I don’t need it but maybe my kitties will learn what to do if a real mouse ever gets in my house. Put it in my shopping cart.”

The squeaking mouse made its presence known all the way to the check-out as the oval-wheeled shopping cart rumbled over the tiled floors. The toy mouse’s vocal nature made it easy to tell when my cats were playing.

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Thanksgiving Beast

Thankful for yet another wonderful widow’s supper, I leaned back to enjoy my cup of tea. These weekly gatherings for an evening meal had started for me and my daughter after both my husband and son-in-law had died. When my sister’s husband died, she began to join us each week, too. Our being together for this meal as a family is a blessing and a joy.

As my daughter Niki’s four youngest children reached for the novelty ice cream treats my sister had provided, I turned to my daughter and suggested, “How about I buy the roast beast for this year’s Thanksgiving Supper?

Putting the last of the kale salad on her plate, Niki acknowledged my plan to buy the turkey. “That sounds great!”

I questioned, “And what dish would you like me bring, a seven-layer salad, a potato casserole or one of the desserts?”

Niki speared the last, crisp green leaf on her plate with a fork and exclaimed, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.”

A week later at the grocery store, I stood examining the frozen turkeys for sale. I wanted a big bird. Someone had once told me the bones of a huge turkey weren’t that much bigger than the bones of a medium turkey. I figured that meant buying a dinosaur-sized turkey was an economically wise move. With fingers quickly going numb from the cold, I strained to lift my choice from the freezer. It landed in my shopping cart with a loud, “clunk!”

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Like a Tree

Reluctant to step out of the house, I scanned the dark, dreary backyard. Thick, gray clouds hung low in the sky. Pine trees along the backside of my yard were a dull, unremarkable green. In the flowerbed along the driveway, the recent frost damage was all too evident. The hydrangeas, once covered with pink blossoms, now had brown, frost damaged leaves.

Pulling on a jacket and zipping it halfway up, I stepped out on the back deck. A cold wind whipped around the corner of the house and tried to get inside my coat. The sudden chill was an unwelcome surprise. I zipped the jacket all the way up to my neck. Picking up a lawn rake, I walked around the corner of the house. The only deciduous tree in the center of the yard glowed like a huge, organic light bulb against the background of the drab yard. Half of the maple’s orange-yellow leaves littered the ground, the other half still clung to the branches.

Using the rake to clear a small area on the leaf-smothered lawn, I found what I expected. Close to the grass were red leaves that were the first to fall. The store had called this tree a sunset maple when purchased. But I have been disappointed almost every year since Arnie planted it. The sunset red leaves seldom light up its branches in autumn.

The tree is like a cantankerous person with a mind of its own. The leaves stubbornly don’t usually change colors until all other trees in the area have not only changed colors, but also dropped their leaves.

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