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Unscheduled Plans

I studied the store’s colorful display, looking for the perfect birthday card for my friend. Other shoppers came, quickly selected and left, but I spent ten minutes intently browsing for a funny one that suited my friends sense of humor. Finally, locating the perfect combination of art, sentiment and price, I headed for check-out.

Later that afternoon, I sat at my desk to write a message in the card. Remembering all the fun we’d had together in the past, I ended with, “Let’s get together some time. We haven’t had a visit in ages!” I put a stamp on the envelope. As I licked the flap to seal it, I sadly thought, “Every year I suggest we get together, but we never seem to do it.”

The phone rang as I returned from the postbox. Another friend I see frequently was on the other end of the line. After a short conversion she ended by saying, “We should go shopping together sometime soon.”

I’m a social shopper, a person who merely runs into stores to pick up needed items when alone, but considers shopping the biggest event of the month when I have company. “That sounds like fun!” I responded.

My friend answered, “Then let’s schedule it. If we don’t, it won’t happen.” We picked a date and noted it on our social calendars. Continue reading

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Never Gets Old

My mother sat like a queen on an upholstered rocking chair. Taking turns, my young adult daughters leaned over to greet Grammie with hugs and kisses. June sunshine gently peeked into the room through open living room windows. Outside, someone was mowing the lawn. We could hear the soothing hum of a distant lawn mower and smell freshly cut grass. The rose in a vase on the table next to Grammie’s chair scented the room as a soft, warm breeze fluttered its leaves.

My mother’s gray eyes sparkled. She perfectly fit the textbook picture of a grandmother. Her stylishly waved white hair framed a face with soft pink cheeks and smiling lips tinted to match her easy wash-and-wear, coral-colored polyester pantsuit. She peered intently up at her visiting grandchildren, striving to get a good look at them despite her macular degeneration.

“Happy birthday, Grandma,” my daughters chorused. Continue reading

Job Related Injury

Rummaging through a box in the middle of the kitchen, I said, “I’ll make lunch first, then we can get down to work unpacking the bedroom and bathroom boxes.” I shouted with triumph at finding a kettle. In a nearby box I found dinner plates. I knew there was sausage in the refrigerator, but where was my silverware and the canned goods? I wasn’t about to eat kielbasa without pork and beans!

My Mom, who had come to help me unpack boxes, entertained Niki, my 18-month-old daughter, as I searched for and prepared our first meal in the new house. My husband Arnie had done all the heavy lifting the day before, but today he was steering clear of the household chaos.

When we finished eating, I stacked the plates alongside the sink and said, “I’ll wash these later today. Right now, I want to unpack as many boxes as I can.” My toddler was standing at the dining room doorway. Impulsively, I leaned down to give her a hug and a kiss. At the same time, my daughter joyfully threw her hands up to receive my embrace.

In that one fraction of a second, my plans for the day and my future took a dramatic, unwanted twist. One of Niki’s fingers poked into my left eye. The sudden, severe pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced before in my life. Involuntary tears gushed out of my eye, while buckets of water ran out of my nose. The slightest movement of my eye or eye lid caused the already incredible pain to increase. Continue reading

Chef B

My husband Arnie opened the door and I stepped into the small, old-fashioned café. Three old men leaning over steaming cups of coffee at a large table glanced casually at us before returning to their conversation. They were busily discussing how to solve major world problems, such as famine, war and snotty youngsters.

Sliding into a booth, I looked around for Arnie. I spotted him across the room at the cash register sifting through a pile of newspapers. He’d stopped to select reading material to enjoy while he ate breakfast. I hoped the paper he picked had a funnies page. I didn’t like anything too heavy with my jellied toast and coffee.

Arnie loved what he called, “Mom and Pop restaurants”. He’d say, “Those places have homemade food that’s far better than anything you can get at a franchise place.” I had to agree with him.

We were visiting a town neither of us had been to before. How he had spotted this place, I didn’t know. The street facade was unremarkable. I suspected that finding places like this was connected to his uncanny ability of seldom getting lost.

After our waitress, Alice, took our order and Arnie started reading the paper, I looked around more closely. The café looked like a stage set from Mayberry RFD. The vintage décor wasn’t just a decorator’s attempt at inducing nostalgia. I suspected that they had opened their doors four or five decades earlier. Other than keeping the kitchen and dining room clean, no one had thought to update the wallpaper, furniture or anything else. If it wasn’t broken, it clearly didn’t need to be fixed. Continue reading

The Missing Glove

“Mama, when will Santa come?” I set a pan of potatoes on the stove and looked down at my six-year-old daughter. The plaintive tone of Niki’s voice made my heart ache for her. This was Christmas Eve, the day she’d looked forward to for the past month, but nothing was happening. Like every other evening, Mama was making supper with little sister Tammie sitting quietly nearby playing with a small toy. Daddy wasn’t home yet.

I hugged Niki. Her cheeks were warm and pink, flushed with anticipation and excitement. The kitchen window looked dark, as though it was midnight instead of only five o’clock. Kissing her, I said, “Do you remember what I told you this afternoon? Santa will come while we’re at church tonight. Daddy will be home any minute. After we eat supper, we’ll get ready to leave for church.” Continue reading

Camp Grandma

Niki said, “Mom, would you mind having Ben, Luke and Jake stay with you the week that I’ll be working at the girl’s camp?”

Looking up from the recipe book my daughter had handed me a few moments earlier, I said, “Sure, but won’t they feel left out, not being able to go camping, too? Where will Jon, Gemma and Blaise be that week?”

Each summer the church my daughter attends holds two weeks of camp. The first week is for the boys in the parish who are ten years old or older. Girls aged ten and up attend the following week. At ages fifteen and eleven, Jon and Ben are eligible. Anne and Claire may participate since they are sixteen and twelve years old.

Shrugging, Niki said, “I’m going to keep the two little ones with me. Jon will spend the week with his friend Noah. That leaves the three younger boys. They know that when they are old enough they’ll be able to go to camp, too.” Continue reading

Land of the Brave

My daughter Niki surprised me the first time she told me her summer plans. I popped the cap off a bottle of apple ale and divided the contents between two wine glasses. Handing her one of the bubbly, sweet drinks, I asked while thinking that surely I had misunderstood, “What did you just say you wanted to do this summer?

Shifting Blaise, her one-year-old son on her lap, she accepted the glass and took a sip. She said, “Mmmm! Yummy. For our summer vacation, I want to take the children to visit a family Mike and I knew before they moved to Colorado.”

That was exactly what I had thought she’d said. The logistics of a widowed mother with eight children accomplishing the trip filled me with a mixture of dismay, worry and admiration. I questioned, “When do you want to do this?”

Niki said, “I want to fit our vacation between planting my garden and the boys and girls summer camps in July. I’m thinking we’ll start out on Father’s Day.”

“How long will you be gone?” I asked.

My daughter calmly said, “I hope to be back by Jon’s fifteenth birthday on June 29th.

After Niki and her family had gone home that evening, I wondered if as a young woman, I had ever been brave enough to do what she planned. Arnie and I had driven to Tennessee, South Dakota and other states, but we were always together and only had two daughters in the back seat.

A few weeks before the start of Niki’s planned vacation she said, “One thing worries me about the trip. If the van breaks down when I’m several states away, what will I do?”

I nodded and said, “I feel helpless when my vehicle has problems, but since I seldom drive far from home, I know people and places to call. Maybe you should enroll in the American Automobile Association. They have an emergency number that you can call for quick help, no matter where you are.”

A week before the start of Niki’s family vacation she added, “Jon wants a friend to come with us, so I will have nine passengers.

I said, “Your van will be jammed with luggage and kids.”

My daughter mused, “I wish I had shelves in the back of the van. We stack everything on top of other things and when you need something from the bottom, you upset the order. I’m bringing a lot of food. With this many people, it would be too expensive to eat every meal at a restaurant. Besides, the children are always hungry onean hour after we eat a meal.”

I said, “I suppose it is too late to have shelves put in. Maybe you could stack all the food on one side and the bags with clothing on the other side.”

Nodding, Niki said, “I’ve thought of another way to lighten the load. We will pack only enough clothing for half the trip. When we get to Colorado, we can launder what we’ve worn to be good to go for our trip back home.”

Right on schedule, Niki and the nine children left Wisconsin on Father’s Day afternoon. Since then I’ve been traveling along vicariously through her texts and pictures. Their first stop was in the Twin Cities where they visited the Minnehaha water fall and spent the night with the children’s Aunt Tami.

The children looked uncomfortably hot in the picture Niki sent from the Badlands, then wet and laughing at a fountain somewhere else. They visited the famous Wall Drugstore in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Mountain.

Arnie and I had visited South Dakota with Niki and Tami in 1990. We had enjoyed that trip very much, but it felt good to return home to rest. When Niki called me from Cheyenne, Wyoming, she said they were having a good time, but it was the end of a long day and I thought she sounded a little tired. In the background I heard Gemma crying and calling for her.

I asked, “Niki, are you going to need a vacation after you get home from your vacation?” Niki didn’t have to answer me. I resolved right then, that I’d take all the children for a day so my brave daughter could rest when they returned home.