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Practice Baby

After Tammie and I attended Mass on Christmas Eve, we shared a special meal together, then turned out all the lights except one lamp and thoes on the Christmas tree. A lovely, deep calm settled over the household. From the stereo came soft strains of beautiful, traditional Christmas songs by Mannheim Steam Roller, played in their usual non-traditional manner.

Under the tree there were two piles of gifts. One was from me for my daughter, the other stack was from her. Sitting on the floor next to them, Tammie leaned forward and pushed two presents aside, pointing out, “These two are your birthday gifts from me. You can’t have them until the 27th.”

Jumping up from the sofa, I exclaimed, “Thanks for reminding me. It’s midnight and baby Jesus’ birthday! Retrieving a small package from a chair side drawer, I walked over to the nativity set and unwrapped a small infant Jesus figure. Placing it in the manger between Mary and Joseph, I said, “There you go, my sweet little baby.” Tammie and I paused for a moment to enjoy the familiar ‘Silent Night’ melody playing on the stereo, then began with our gift exchange. Continue reading

Snow Songs

I kept checking, but there was nothing to see outside our classroom windows, except low, heavy clouds and gray tree tops all morning. Like the rest of the seventh graders in the room, I was thinking, “Surely, it should snow soon! It’s already the end of November!” During noon recess the wind was bitterly cold. Despite wearing mittens, my hands froze. When the bell rang for my class to troop back inside, I felt relieved.

At first, I was glad to be back inside. But then Sister Wilhelmina started the afternoon by having the class take out their arithmetic books. I hated numbers. Instead of looking out of the windows, I began to watch the classroom clock. To my dismay, the minute hand slowed to the speed of an hour hand. Time crept past as slowly as a snail climbing a bean stalk after eating a huge meal. After enough time for the snail to complete a full cycle of evolution, the class finally ended.

While putting my arithmetic book away, I noticed the class was whispering louder than usual. Glancing around, I discovered snowflakes were fluttering past the windows. Sister Wilhelmina said with resignation, “Now that the snow has started, no one will be able to concentrate on school work! That’s okay. Our Christmas play is in three weeks, so let’s begin practicing the songs in the program.” Continue reading

Crazy Love

My large black and white tuxedo cat didn’t look happy. Sure, he still liked to stretch out and snooze in patches of sunshine on my linoleum kitchen floor, but there was a pensiveness and hesitation in his posture when he sat on the back deck. At six-years of age, Flicker was used to spending wonderful, adventure-packed hours along the small river where we had lived up until six weeks ago. My husband Arnie and I had moved Niki and Tammie, our two children and pets to a farm, far away from a river and fallow low lands.

At first, after we’d moved, I was afraid that Flicker would roam away from our new home if we let him out of the house. When I finally relented and let him out, I discovered that he was reluctant to explore our new yard. The last place he wanted to go was to the barn, which was filled with huge, mooing, hoof-clopping cows. Mud found in the barn wasn’t at all like the clean, sweet mud on the river bank, either.

Every cow barn has a colony of cats to reduce the mouse population. Flicker wasn’t interested in making friends with the barn cats. As if just going through the motions, my big black and white cat dutifully made short trips into the oat and corn fields near the house to mouse.

My family lived on the farm for two years. Then, during the month of June, Arnie and I packed up our two children and pets and returned to our old, beloved house on the north bank of the river. A beautiful summer stretched ahead of us.

Picking up old habits as though he’d never stopped, Flicker returned to spending long, leisurely days on the river bank hunting and sunbathing on warm rocks. His eyes looked bright and happy. In the evenings he purred loudly while cuddling with Niki and Tammie. Continue reading

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

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