Long, cool shadows covered most of my garden. I stopped hoeing the weedy pathway for a moment to rest. My daughter Tammie, sitting in a red chair next to my garden’s tea table, looked up from reading and asked, “Why don’t you let me hoe for a little while?”
Responding indignantly, I exclaimed, “No! You are visiting me and I will not put you to work! I love your company, though, and enjoy hearing the interesting things you share from the article you’re reading.
Sighing, Tammie admitted, “I wish I could help you, but realize it takes me so long to do things, it probably is easier for you to just do it yourself.”
I reiterated, “I love having you with me. If the mosquitos aren’t bothering you, all I want is for you to sit and keep me company.”
The older woman had white hair dyed pink. It looked pretty, but a tad unusual. She held out her right hand and introduced herself, “Hi, I go by the name Pinky!”
In my line of work, I felt free to ask personal questions. Glancing at her hot pink sweatshirt and black jeans, I questioned with interest, “Pinky is an unusual nickname. How did you get it?”
Grinning broadly, Pinky explained, “When I was a toddler, my Mama had a baby, so my sister and I stayed for a week with Grandma and Grandpa. One afternoon Grandpa wanted to take us to the park. My sister and I were excited but had to change clothes to leave the house. I insisted on wearing my pink pinafore, but Grandma couldn’t find it. I had a huge tantrum and refused to leave the house. It was the pink play suit, or nothing. For the rest of Grandpa’s life, he called me Pinky. Eventually so did everyone else. Most people don’t even know my real name.”
I laughed, “I like your family story.” Looking at her pink tresses, I added, “I also like how you’ve embraced your nickname.” Pinky proudly patted her pink head.
A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, according to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But in the bible story about Job, chapter 34 verse 3, Elihu said, “The ear tests words, as the tongue tastes food.” That verse rings more to the truth to me.
Closing the Window on my computer monitor, I spun my office chair around to face Tammie. I’d just taken in a fresh dose of news about the three-month-old COVID pandemic and felt poisoned. “When is this all going to end?” I questioned. “Every news report is more dire than the last.”
When this COVID craziness started, I’d asked my youngest daughter, who’s able to work from home, to stay with me. She looked comfortable sitting in her remote work station, my office recliner. A board spanned the chair’s arms to give Tammie a place to rest her laptop computer. She shook her head and commiserated, “Listening to the news once a day is enough for me, too.”
Leaning back in my chair, I relaxed and confessed, “At first, three months ago, I felt panicky when I heard businesses were closing and everyone was to stay home. But now, I’ve come to realize that I feel safe at home and there isn’t a thing we can do to change what’s happening out in the world except pray. I’m so glad I’m able to visit friends and family electronically. It sure beats snail mail.”
Four of our largest kettles filled with water sat on the stove. The burners beneath them glowed red. Mom ordered, “Let’s hurry up and eat. The water will be boiling by the time we’re ready to scald the chickens.” I glanced at the stove after Daddy, Mom and I finished blessing our meal. I saw a small thread of vapor rise above one of the kettles.
In half the usual time it took to eat, Daddy put down his fork. Anticipation had taken away my appetite. As Mom began to clear the table, Daddy commanded, “You come with me, Kathy. I don’t want you underfoot when we carry out the boiling water.” He led me out into the farm yard where he had placed a large block of wood next to the driveway. He instructed, “Stay right here. Mama and I will be with you soon.”
The cotton scarf tied under my chin felt loose. I pulled it tighter and looked around. Clouds in the sky blocked out the sun and a cool wind made the day feel as if it wasn’t really spring. There were long stalks of browned grass along the barn and house foundations. They nodded and dipped with each breeze.
I felt sorry for my brothers and sisters, they were at school and missing out on today’s butchering of the chickens. It made me feel sad that next year I would have to attend school, too. Staring at the block of wood, I wondered what it was for and what Mom meant when she said she’d scald the chickens.”
I glanced at the buildings along the road and asked with concern, “Are you sure we’re on the right highway? By now I thought we’d see Green Bay’s water. I don’t even see the big bridge we have to cross.”
My daughter Tammie answered as she confidently maneuvered through heavy traffic, “We’ll be seeing all that in a few miles.”
All summer long we had looked forward to our vacation in Door County. Today it felt so good to finally be on our way. After rounding another curve in the highway, the blue painted bridge suddenly loomed up ahead. From the driver came a soft, “Told you so.”
Tammie is extraordinarily good at making vacation plans, so after she asked me a few questions, she scheduled our activities for the next seven days. She’d done this before for other vacations. I’ve never been disappointed.
Later that evening, as I sat waiting for the movie” Jungle Cruise” to start, I looked around at the other cars parked at the Skyway drive-in movie theater. Smiling, I enthused, “The motel we’re staying at is really nice. Pelletier’s fish boil was fantastic! When the boil master threw kerosene on the fire to make the cauldron boil over at the end, I couldn’t believe how hot the flames were. I was standing a good 15 to 20 feet away!”
There was no doubt. The next driveway to the right was the Door Country tour depot. Rows of bright red trolley buses bordered the big square building. As she pulled into the driveway, my daughter Tammie remarked, “I hope they haven’t left without us. We’re a little late.”
Inside the depot a gift shop and several shoppers distracted us. We began to look around. A man with a clipboard stepped out of the office and announced in a loud voice, “I’m looking for the Richardsons.” We turned toward him as he said, “It’s time to board the trolley for your Premier five-hour winery tour.” As we boarded the bus, I hummed the theme song of Gilligan’s Island. Obviously in a party mood, or relieved by our tardy appearance, the other passengers cheered and clapped.
In the short drive to our first stop, Tammie researched restaurants for our evening meal. Looking up from her phone, she laughed, “The menu at this restaurant offers wild snails.”
I silently stared at her for a moment before peppering her with questions, “Does that mean people actually farm snails? I wonder what they eat? What is a large gathering of snails called? Several crows are called a murder of crows. Would it be a slime of snails? How in the world does a person hunt for wild snails? Are wild snails even a real thing?”
I heard birds busily twittering and pecking at seeds in the birdfeeder when I returned to the living room. My 90-year-old mother sat in her upholstered rocking chair holding a baby monitor in her lap. From the neighbor’s farm, we heard the distant crowing of a rooster. Laughing, I marveled, “That baby monitor picks up everything! It’s like actually being outside.”
Mom bragged, “It’s better than being outside. We hear what’s going on inside the birdfeeder.”
I agreed with a nod, “That’s true. Until now I never knew how noisy pecking is, or how much birds squabble while they eat.”
Macular degeneration had taken most of my mother’s eyesight the year before. To help her, I’d started bathing Mom every Friday evening, refilling her pill box, paying bills and doing her laundry. My teenaged daughters often came with me to spend time with their beloved Grammie.
Years before, my two bachelor brothers who live with Mom, had bought a baby monitor system. They fastened the microphone half of the device under the roof of the bird feeder and gave the receiver to Mom. She could turn it on and listen to the birds whenever she wanted.
I dropped my purse and car keys on the table as I looked around at the kitchen, dining room and living room. Used food dishes and silverware were everywhere. Books, paper and toys littered the floor. Sofa pillows and cuddle blankets were on the kitchen floor and used kettles filled the sink. Stamping a foot, I raged, “This place is a pig sty! Why do I have to come home from work to a mess like this?”
My husband, sprawled on the sofa, looked up from the newspaper he was reading with a startled look. “I didn’t hear you come in.” he exclaimed. Looking around, he added, “It’ll just take a few minutes to pick everything up.”
My eight-year-old and four-year-old daughters, Niki and Tammie came running from their bedroom for welcome-home-Mommy hugs. Kicking off my shoes, I bargained, “Help me pick up things. As soon as we’re done, I’ll start making supper.”
Seeing that everything was under control, my husband Arnie leaned back to resume reading his paper.
I cheerfully greeted the patient in the wheelchair with a big smile as the admitting department employee pushed him into his assigned room. Opening the bed, I helped the man up from the chair before taking his vitals and recording his personal belongings.
Just as I completed the nursing assistant portion of his admission, the dietician walked into the room. The patient grumbled, “This place feels like a refrigerator. Could you give me a blanket? I’m cold.” Noting several other supplies that would be needed, I left the room.
A few moments later I returned with a blanket, gown and a pitcher of water. Opening the blanket to wrap around the patient, I heard the dietician ask, “Please tell me about your diet.”
The patient reacted to the request as if gasoline to open flame. His face turned red and he shouted angerly, “I’m not on a diet, and you’re not going to shove some stupid a—-diet down my throat!”
Calmly looking up from her clipboard, the dietician wearily explained, “What I want to know is what types of foods you normally eat every day.” Her unruffled demeanor made me want to giggle. Undoubtedly, she’d experienced this conflict in word definition before.
Pushing his dinner plate back, Daddy addressed my oldest brother. “I’m going to use dynamite to get rid of that big old thorn apple tree in the center of the cow pasture this afternoon. I need your help in clearing away rocks and roots after the explosion. I plan to plow that field next year.”
Nodding, my brother Casper stood up and left the house with Daddy. Hating to have anything changed or come to an end on the farm, I turned to my sister Mary and questioned, “Why is he getting rid of that tree?”
With her seven-year advantage over me, Mary confidentially explained, “The thorn apple tree is the last one on our farm. It used to have large, sweet fruit. But for the last few years the apples on it have been small and wormy.” I nodded. My brother Billy had picked some for me once. They were more like berries than apples and although bright red, they were bitter along with being wormy.”
Mom went to the basement to wash clothes. My sisters Betty and Mary cleared the table and ran water in the sink, so I slipped quietly out the back door of the house. For once I remembered to not let the screen door slam behind me. I wandered into the farm’s orchard and when I came to my favorite crabapple tree, clambered up into one of its branches.
Gazing at Mom’s nearby, well-weeded garden, my mind pictured the thorn apple tree’s extremely long thorns and craggy branches. I fretted about the world losing its last thorn apple tree. The sound of dynamite exploding announced the deed had been done.