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The Casserole

I stood staring at the raw chicken carcass on my kitchen counter a few moments. Watching Mom cook meals while I was growing up wasn’t the same as actually doing it myself. There were, I knew, certain joints between the legs and thighs, wings and main body that would be easy to cut through. Frowning, I wondered, “Where in the world am I supposed to cut after that? The back, tailbone, ribs and breast must be separated, too.”

A month earlier, following the two simple words, “I do”, I’d mysteriously changed from the person being fed, to the person feeding everyone else. Being newly married meant my husband and I pay pay the mobile home mortgage, electricity, telephone, groceries and whatever other bills found their way to our mailbox, so eating out every night was not an option.

Grasping the clammy, goose-bumped chicken flesh, I sawed off its legs, thighs and wings. Peering into the body cavity, I noticed fewer bones in certain areas and cut accordingly. Shrugging, I thought, “So what if it isn’t the way Mom does it. I’m not doing surgery, so the chicken can have a better life. I’m doing surgery, so we can eat it.” Continue reading

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Good-Bye Mr. Greta

I sat at the dining room table reading the latest letter from my elderly pen pal, Mr. Elton Greta. Across from me sat Arnie, my husband. Having finished mowing the lawn, he’d made himself a cheese and sausage sandwich before going back outside to work on a boat he wanted to rehab.

After taking a swig from a bottle of Busch beer, he asked, “What’s new with the Greta’s?”

Putting the letter down, I said, “They want to meet me and would like it if we stopped for a visit when we take our summer vacation.”

Taking another bite from his sandwich, Arnie looked thoughtful as he chewed. Swallowing, he commented, “You don’t look excited about the idea. What are your thoughts?”

I shifted uneasily in my chair and looked around the room before finally saying cautiously, “Well, I’d like to meet them, but…”

Correctly interpreting my hesitancy, Arnie finished the sentence for me, “But, you like how you are both a mystery to each other right now. You’re also afraid that reality will disappoint them, or you.” Continue reading

An Unusual Pen Pal

I came home from working an evening shift at the hospital and found a package from Mr. Greta on the dining room table. It was wrapped in brown paper and plastered with stamps. My children were in bed and Arnie was asleep on the sofa with a magazine on his chest and the television blaring.

As I turned off the television, Arnie mumbled in protest, “I’m watching that.” His eyes were closed when I looked at him. Slowly, he lapsed back into the long, slow breaths of deep sleep.

At the dining room table, I ripped open the package and found a set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I knew if Arnie had been awake, he would’ve been teasing me about my elderly boyfriend who liked sending gifts.

Pushing the torn wrapping paper aside, I examined them and wondered how despite loving to read, I had managed to reach adulthood without being familiar with them.

My correspondence and friendship with a man born 47 years before me, was hard to explain. I liked to think of our friendship as a divine gift. Although I seldom mentioned how stressful my life was to my elderly friend, the cares dissipated as we doled out bits and pieces of our lives to each other. Continue reading

Dear Mr. Greta

The realtor placed three sheets of paper on the table in front of Arnie and me. A picture of a house, its square feet of living space, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, type of furnace and when the roof had last been shingled was on each sheet.

An old, brick, farm house photographed on a sunny afternoon drew my attention like a magnet. Old wagon wheels with spokes flanked its driveway. I felt as though the place needed me. I wondered, “Am I attracted to the house because it reminds me of where Katie, a dear family friend once lived?

I picked up the paper and started to read the specifics. Seeing my interest, the realtor said, “That house is located along a little river north of Marshfield on 2.3 acres.

Even before seeing the house, I felt hooked. Arnie and I wanted to live in the country. This place was between Marshfield, where we both worked, and my parent’s farm where I’d grown up and visited often.

The house had been a fixer-upper. But according to Arnie who didn’t like cutting corners, the previous owners had patched it with band-aides. I loved the house enough to live with its imperfections, especially since the price was right. We had no money to make a down payment and in 1979 the interest on house loans was 12% . Continue reading

Lions and Lambs

I zipped my jacket up closer to my throat. The sunshine was blinding, but Old Sol certainly wasn’t tempering the winter chill. Chickadees and goldfinches twittered and tweeted as they gobbled seeds, scratching and pecking for the best and biggest around the bird feeder. In the distance, from the top of a tree in the wood lot, I heard the unmistakable spring song of a cardinal.

The warm glow of joy filled my heart. I blurted, “Oh my gosh Tammie, did you hear that?”

My daughter had been reaching to open her car door. She straightened up, looked over the top of the car at me and asked, “No. What did you hear?”

Excitedly, I explained, “Do you remember me telling you that cardinals begin to sing their mating songs in the middle of February? Well, guess what? Today is the 16th of February, and I’ve just heard my first cardinal love song for the year!”

In the moment of silence following my announcement, we were blessed with an encore. The clear, pleading notes of a cardinal floated down to us from a nearby tree top. It sounded as it was asking, “Pretty-birdie? Pretty-birdie?”

Farther back in the wood-lot we heard a faint answering call. We were listening to a pair of cardinals having a conversation! Were they planning where to nest for the summer? Maybe they were discussing the best and safest food source in the area.  After a few minutes, smiling broadly, my daughter and I got into the car. Although it was cold that day, we knew winter would soon come to an end. Continue reading

My Family’s Dash

Christmas tree boughs and sawdust littered the shed floor. Stepping over the mess, I ushered my niece to a row of plastic totes and pointed to bulging bags further in.

I announced, “There they are.” My warm breath made an impressive plume of steam rise from my mouth. It was a week before Christmas and I had invited Susie to come for a visit.

When the Altmann family farm was sold in 2016, I had emptied the farmhouse for the new owners. Much of what I had salvaged is stored in my shed. My mother had spent over thirty years making afghans as a legacy for her children and grandchildren. As we searched though the treasures, I instructed my niece, “Take as many as you want.”

Later, visiting in the warm comfort of the house, I gave Susie a jar of elderberry jelly and a box of meringue candies made to look like small, freckled mushrooms. Then, handing her a box of pictures, I explained, “I sorted the family photographs according to each member. These are the ones I think your Mom would have wanted.”

I began to tell Susie stories of our ancestors that I doubted her mother had passed on. My deceased sister, her mother, had never been very interested in family history. “Your maternal great grandmother, Franziska, immigrated from Eisenstein, Germany in 1893 with John, her toddler and Elizabeth, her eight-month-old infant.” Continue reading

Transporter Moments

Warm bath water hid my wrinkled fingers and toes beneath the foam. Bubbles from excess Vel, Mom’s preferred bar soap, frosted my skin and the sides of the tub. Taking a deep breath, I happily sniffed the wonderful, clean scent. From the kitchen I could hear the radio playing a soothing song called ‘Twilight Time.’ Mom called out, “Kathy, you’ve been in the bathtub long enough. It’s time for you to get out.”

I was seven years old. Mom had a hard time getting me to take a bath. But once I was in the tub, she had a hard time getting me out. I had been in the bathtub for a very long time. So long, that one of my sisters came into the bathroom to wash her face. Peering around the corner from my bath, I watched her pat her face dry, open a cobalt blue jar of Noxzema and apply the cream to her face. The cream had a strong, exotic scent which I loved, too.

A slight breeze fluttered the bathroom curtains as I stepped out of the tub. The spring evening air felt soft as velvet wherever it touched my drying skin. As I slipped on a clean nightgown, I examined my wrinkled finger patterns. I felt happy, clean and perfect. Continue reading