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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.

 

 

 

Lucky

Anne leaned forward over the minute kitten in her lap. She was trying to get it to open its mouth to suckle on the nipple of a doll-sized bottle. A silky curtain of her blond hair slid forward, obscuring my view. After a moment, my sixteen-year-old granddaughter leaned back and I saw the small calico kitten that she cradled avidly sucking on the nipple.

I asked, “Have you given the kitten a name yet?”

My granddaughter’s blue eyes glanced up at me as she answered, “Ah…no, not yet. We just call it, Baby Kitty.”

I thought, “It’s just as well that they not name it right away. The chance of this small feline surviving is very slim.” Nodding approval, I said to her, “When you do name it, think about ‘Lucky’.” Continue reading

Blessed

Damp, gray tree trunks stood out in stark contrast to the brown, winter-dead lawn. The bleakness of the cloudless spring day made me sigh wearily. Rolling to a stop at the end of the driveway, I looked both ways to check for cars before pulling out onto the road, thinking, “Early spring is depressing. Everything bad that has ever happened to me…has happened at this time of the year!”

Recurrent clinical depression had plagued my early years. Flare-ups happened more often in the spring. Doing a mental check-up, I questioned, “Is this just a down day, or the start of my going off track?” Shaking my head, I thought about Christy, my first baby who was born in early February and died two months later. My Mom and Dad both died in the springtime. Then nine years ago my husband Arnie died unexpectedly on the anniversary of Christy’s death. He was only 56 years old.

Last April my 42 year-old son-in-law died when a deer crashed through the windshield of his van as he was driving my daughter to the hospital to have their eighth child. Never expecting to share widowhood experiences with my daughter so early in her life, I’m still reeling from the randomness of this horrible loss. Niki and Mike’s children are all two years apart, newborn to age fifteen. At least when Arnie died, our children were grown and on their own.     Continue reading

Germinated Gardener

I leaned against my bedroom window, soaking in the beauty of a brilliant winter sunrise and wondered when the Mid West had last enjoyed a full day of sunshine. Yesterday was overcast and gray, so was the day before that and the day before that. Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn’t bother me, but after weeks and weeks of minimal sunshine, seeing the jolly face of our giant earth-star rising up in the east certainly made me feel very happy. I contentedly sighed, “The days are getting longer again.”

Despite enjoying sunshine peeking into my house that morning, I knew it was very cold outside. The furnace was running almost constantly. Pulling the living room drapes open, I checked the thermometer outside the north window. It read, ‘Ten degrees below zero’. Nodding, I remembered that the weatherman had said that it would ‘warm up’ to five degrees by noon.

As the morning passed, I went again and again to the windows to admire the sunshine. I wanted to go outside, but even at five degrees above zero, it was too cold to really enjoy being in the backyard. The only hospitable place would be inside my unheated greenhouse. When the sun shines though the plastic, it gets warm. Eyeing the drifts between the house and my greenhouse, I calculated whether the struggle to get there was worth it. It was. Continue reading