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Whip Poor Will

I sat back on my heels to rest for a moment while weeding my lawn-turned-garden. Gazing at the stand of oats behind our farmhouse, I noticed shimmers of heat rising from the field. Each plant was busy forming beautiful, small grains. A breeze swept past, cooling my skin. The invisible force gently teased and tussled the crop, making the blue-green plants dip and sway like waves in an ocean.

Eight-year-old Niki and four-year-old Tammie sat nearby on the grass in the cool shade of our farmhouse. Thankful they were happily playing together, I went back to weeding the ground cherries, tomatoes and cabbage. As I worked, I thought about my childhood growing up on a farm.

Having a campfire in the woods was one of the summer highlights for me as a child. Once my neighborhood cousins and I reached a certain age, we were allowed to occasionally go to the woods in the evening by ourselves to have a campfire picnic. We brought foil-wrapped potatoes to bake in the fire, butter, salt and pepper. Other goodies, if there were some in our kitchens, included hot dogs and marshmallows.

When the cows were milked and let out of the barn, they came to the woods. The nosey beasts stood in a semi-circle around the gully where we had a campfire ring next to a boulder. Snorting, mooing, making waterfall and plop-plop sounds, they watched us as the sky grew dark and their eyes glowed iridescent blue-silver in the firelight. Continue reading

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Life Dancers

I spun from the refrigerator to the sink. Dumping a bundle of carrots on the counter, I twirled toward the stove where a kettle lid was jiggling noisily. My fifth grade daughter Tammie, sat reading a book in the corner of the kitchen. Ninth grader Niki, leaned on the counter next to the sink eating an apple.

Earlier, when I picked them up after school, I had asked, “How was your day? Tell me about it.” They’d each given me the typical non-verbal shrug.

I knew from experience that I’d opened a channel of communication. If I was patient and listened, by the end of the evening their experiences of the day would slowly unwind for us to share.

Tossing her apple core into the wastepaper basket, Niki proudly announced, “My gym teacher asked me today if I was a dancer.”

Looking up from my gravy-making, I inquired, “What gave her the idea that you danced?”

Niki answered with a chuckle, “She had the class doing stretches. I was able to do them easily. She told me people who dance are usually more flexible than those who don’t.” Drawing herself up as tall as she could, she proudly proclaimed in an exaggerated drawl, “I am flex-i-ble!”

Laughing, I instructed, “Ok, flexible girl…show me those stretches!” While I finished supper preparations, both Niki and Tammie were on the kitchen floor doing splits. Continue reading

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

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