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Good Old Fashioned

A glance at the kitchen clock told me that if Arnie was on schedule, he would be in the house looking for supper soon. I glanced into a kettle and gave the stroganoff a stir. It looked perfect. Carrying the pot of cooked noodles to the sink, I tipped it to drain the water. Steam clouded the evening-darkened kitchen window.

The slam of the front door signaled my husband’s arrival. I had another five minutes before he’d be done washing in the bathroom. Our two daughters also having heard the door slam, ran screaming to the entrance to greet Daddy. Hearing them chatter about their day made me smile as I poured bright orange carrots into a serving dish.

Arnie came into the kitchen just as I placed a frosted cake on the counter next to the table. Tammie, aged four and Niki, aged eight tumbled into their places at the table. Niki blurted, “Daddy has a surprise for us.”

Smiling, Arnie said, “I had some business in town today. Before coming home to start chores, I stopped to look at television video tape recorders. I ended up buying one. I’ll set it up later after milking the cows.”

Not sure we needed a television video tape player, I nodded and answered doubtfully, “Okay..” Continue reading

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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

Women to Women

My daughter lifted a tea kettle onto the stove, turned to wipe the kitchen table clean, slipped a fresh shirt over her three-year-old’s head and began to lift clean dishes out of the dishwasher. A stack of soiled ones on the nearby counter waited for their turn in the machine. I spotted a new painting I hadn’t seen before leaning on a side board. I inquired, “Niki, when did you paint this picture?”

She glanced at it and answered with a shrug, “Sunday afternoon. I was in the mood to paint. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted. I still have some work to do on it.”

I marveled at her work, “It’s beautiful. You are so artistic.”

Niki scoffed, “No. I’m not artistic! The work isn’t original. I get my ideas from the Internet and just copy them.”

Shaking my head, I disagreed, “Not everyone can copy ideas and make them turn out as well. Don’t be hard on yourself. You are very artistic.” Continue reading

Happiest Girl

An old 1980’s popular song was playing on the stereo. Tammie leaned forward to share a thought with her sister Niki. They both began to laugh. I leaned out of the kitchen to look at my daughters, suspiciously questioning, “What are you two getting up to?”

Still snickering, Tammie teased, “It’s nothing Mom. You didn’t know about it when we were in grade school. Knowing about it now won’t do you any good.”

Strolling into the room with a cup of tea, I harrumphed, “Some of your secrets weren’t as secret as you thought. Would you girls like to join me in a cup of tea?”

Just as we were settling down to tea and apple crumble, the home-recorded tape in the stereo started to play the next song. Niki exclaimed, “Whenever I hear this song, it instantly takes me back to one evening during my freshman year in high school! I remember sitting at the dining room table during Christmas break, listening to this song and trying to write the lyrics. I can almost taste the Christmas candy I was eating and smell the roast you had in the oven!” Continue reading

Getting the blues

Realizing that I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do, I took a deep breath, leaned against a display table and relaxed. The time on my watch said, ‘five thirty’. Since getting up that morning, I’d been racing around gathering beans, beets, carrots, butternut squash and eggplant from the garden. Then, picking out my best specimens of the same size, I attached the entry tickets to their containers.

I’ve come to dread fair entry day. No matter how hard I try to prepare in advance, there is always a scramble to get everything ready. I know my stress levels would lower if I would just stop entering vegetables that need to be picked, dug up, cleaned and sorted at the last minute before being transported to the fair. I can’t make myself do that, though. I have a garden and like to show off my produce.

After rooting through the garden, I ignored my foggy, salt-stained glasses to gather the breads, rolls, cakes and cookies I’d baked. Then, rummaging through my treasure box of crafts, I retrieved projects I’d created during the winter; frosted glass, paper mache and ornaments.

One of my biggest complaints is that fair entry day is always hot. By the time I arrive at the fairgrounds to submit my entries, I am awash in salty streams of sweat. My hair and clothing are sopping wet. I look and feel like a wreck. Even if the day is cool and rainy, the day is always hot to me. Continue reading

Chainsaw Granny

A huge dead limb lay on the ground next to my old crab apple tree. Sighing over the loss, I crossed the lawn to take a closer look. The tree had been old but still beautiful when I had moved here almost forty years ago. Slowly, though the years, some of the tree’s big limbs stopped growing leaves. Yesterday, a wind storm had broken this limb from the tree.

Putting a foot on the limb, I tried to rock it back and forth, testing to see if it was lightweight with rot. It was not. It felt solid and heavy. How was I going to be able to pull it back to the refuse pile at the back of my property? I knew the answer to that question only too well. I would have to cut it up with my trusty little hack saw.

It took me a long time to cut the limb into several logs. Eventually I had chunks that were light enough to handle. Wiping sweat from my forehead, I looked around my yard. The exercise was probably good for me, but I was glad I didn’t have to do this often.

When my daughter asked if I wanted to come with her to look at a house she was thinking of buying, I eagerly accepted the offer. The house was big. The yard around it was beautiful but overgrown and in need of pruning. I said, “Niki, this is a great place for you and your family to live!”

Once the papers were signed and the previous owner had moved out, Niki decided to paint several rooms and do a deep clean before moving in. She wisely pointed out, “Painting and cleaning is so much easier to do when you don’t have to move furniture.”

My daughter is the family painter, so when she began refurbishing the new house, I went there to prune trees and shrubs for her. Lilacs from the civil war era were ripping holes in window screens, scratching the porch roof, poking at eaves-troughs and rubbing against the siding. I nipped off what I could and used my hack saw to cut bigger branches.

I accomplished only about five percent of the trimming that needed to be done. The job was too big for me. That night I spoke to my big sister Agnes on the phone. Her response when I described my dilemma, was, “Kathy, you know I have a lady’s chainsaw. …And I know how to use it!”

My sister accompanied me on my next visit to Niki’s new house. We lifted her battery operated chainsaw out of the trunk and cut down a big branch that I had only been able to top. The small, sharp chain sliced through the wood as though it was soft butter!

Looking around at the yard, I pointed out, “See those pine trees in the center of the circle drive? Niki wants them cut down. I told her they would look nice if they were under-brushed. Let’s see what we can do with the first tree.”

For the next hour we cut away long scraggly branches that were half-dead. Huge false elder plants had woven themselves into the trees as high as the second story of the nearby house. The diameter of some of the false elder trunks were larger than the pine branches, but the wood was soft and cut easily. When we finished, we stepped back and admired our work. What a huge difference it made to have those branches gone!

There were three more pine trees nearby that badly needed the same treatment. And I knew one thing for sure, I wasn’t going to use a hack saw to chop off hundreds of branches to finish this job.

The next time I headed over to work in Niki’s new yard, I stopped by a store that sells chainsaws. I went in and told the salesman, “My sister has a lady’s chainsaw. It works great. Now I want one.” Half an hour later I walked out with a Stihl chainsaw in my hands.

The salesman saw me to the car, saying, “You be careful with that now, OK?”

Being able to easily cut off branches is wonderful, but I fully realize that my new ‘toy’ is very dangerous. I plan on being careful.

When I told someone that I’d bought myself a chainsaw, it amused me how startled that person looked. I guess the thought of a chainsaw-totting granny is kind of scary.

Having a Kitten

I handed a glass of apple ale to Niki. My daughter took a sip and said, “I’ve been meaning to ask…would you like to have a kitten? My neighbors across the road have a mama cat with a litter. They’re giving away the babies.”

Sitting down at the dining room table, I shook my head. “Kittens are fun, but I own a fat, crabby old cat that doesn’t even like the other cat who lives here. That mean old biddy would have a hissy-fit, or as some people would put it, she’d have a kitten, if I brought home another cat!”

Niki persuaded, “Jonah will be fine. She keeps to herself. You said Louie loved Basil, your last kitten.”

“You’ve just mentioned the main reason I don’t want another kitten.” I sadly pointed out, “Basil slipped out of the house one night and I couldn’t get him to come back in. Because that had happened once before and everything worked out, I didn’t worry. Do you remember what happened that night? Basil was hit by a car and died. I’m afraid of having that happen again.”

“You’ve had cats ever since you moved to this house thirty-nine years ago.” Niki protested, “Basil was the only one that has ever got on the road and hit by a car!” Continue reading