Looking at my daughter’s chart, the Nurse Practitioner instructed, “Bring Tammie back to see me in two weeks.”
To access Tammie’s electronic records, the clinic appointment scheduler requested her birth date. Tammie, who was in fifth grade, leaned against me and answered like a small adult, “It’s two, twenty-two, eighty-two.”
Later in the car, I suggested, “Would you like stopping for a treat before I take you back to school?” Tammie’s answer was of course, an enthusiastic yes.
Taco John’s advertisement for Taco Tuesday blared from the car radio. I complained, “Ugh, the words ‘Taco Tuesday’ turns into an ear worm whenever I hear this! It plays over and over in my head.”
Tammie asked, “Could we go to Taco John’s for my treat?” The fast food restaurant happened to be along our route back to school, so I happily pulled into that parking lot. Instead of a savory taco, my daughter ordered a desert taco, which looked and tasted a lot like a chocolate-covered waffle cone filled with ice cream. While eating it she commented on how she liked all the two’s in her birthdate.
The dreams began near the end of my pregnancy. Each night there was a baby, not necessarily my baby, but someone’s baby assigned to me. Each night I’d forget all about the infant. Each night in my dreams there were fires, floods and other natural disasters threaten our wellbeing. However, I never once remembered to pick up the baby when I ran out of the slumberland house to save myself.
One night I took the baby given to me and laid it in a crib in the upstairs bedroom of my childhood’s farmhouse. I immediately forgot all about the little one. A few days passed before dreamland me suddenly remembered. Filled with great apprehension, I raced to the crib and peeked in. Somehow, inexplicably, the neglected baby had multiplied to become three or four smaller babies.
I didn’t need to visit a psychiatrist to figure out why I was having these dreams. Eight years earlier, when I was twenty years old, my husband Arnie and I had had a baby daughter. Christy was born with a rare birth defect and was very sick. To make the situation scarier, I had never taken care of a baby before, not even babysat for one. The idea of taking Christy home scared me. I loved her, but didn’t want to take care of her.
I took my daughter home two different times, but she had to readmit to the hospital after only a day or two because of her ill health. The experience made me fearful of childcare. I was ashamed of how I wanted a healthy baby, not the sick one I’d given birth to. Christy died at two months of age on April 2nd, 1971. My guilty feelings began to grow. I felt like a bad mother.
A lighted garland crowned the archway between the kitchen and living room where a festive balsam tree glittered and twinkled. My husband Arnie and son-in-law Mike sat on the couch next to the tree watching a football game on television. My daughter Niki and I sat at the table in the kitchen. Arnie held six-month-old Jon in his arms while Anne, my two-year-old granddaughter, ran between the two rooms playing with her toys.
A tea kettle on the stove began to whistle. Niki jumped to her feet. Placing a steaming mug of hot water and a tea bag in front of me, she sat down with a cup of her own and commented, “I love the holiday traditions I grew up with, but I would like to have some new traditions that I are my own.”
Taking a bite of Christmas cookie and a very small sip of the hot tea, I questioned, “What sort of new traditions are you thinking of?”
Pushing a library book towards me, Niki launched into a list of ideas, concluding with, “This book had so many good ideas that it was hard to pick which one I wanted to start for my family. The top one on my list is to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.”
Cupping my hands around the delightfully warm mug I asked, “How do you plan to do that?”
My daughter had obviously formed a game plan. She detailed, “I want to buy 12 very small gifts for each of the children. Then, every night between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany, they will have a package to open.”
“Hello. Kathy, Niki and Tammie are here to visit!” I called out as I opened the farmhouse door and walked into my childhood home, My two daughters rushed ahead of me. As I stepped from the entryway into the kitchen, I heard the back door open again. Glancing over my shoulder I saw my brother Billy entering the house. Seeing my car enter the yard, he had stopped doing chores to come inside for a visit.
Hearing us, my mother ordered, “Come on in!” I pulled off my coat and hung it up on the stairway newel post. Noticing my daughters had tossed their coats on the steps, I stopped long enough to drape them over my coat on the post. Grammie was comfortably settled in her upholstered rocking chair in the living room. Niki and Tammie were on the floor leaning against her knees. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room, glittering and sparkling. From the other room I heard Silver Bells playing on the kitchen radio that always played from morning to night.
Billy sat on the sofa. My brother Casper strolled out of his bedroom a moment later and sat down on the other end of the sofa. I sat down on a dining room chair near the tree. My eight and twelve-year-old daughters were gobbling Christmas candy from the bowl on the table.
Glancing over at the candy dish, Mom pointed out that it needed to be refilled. I jumped to my feet. I knew where the candy was kept. Carrying the green glass bowl into Casper’s bedroom, I opened his closet door and knelt down. Just as in my childhood, a box on the floor contained various brown paper sacks filled with a variety of candies. Scooping handfuls of angel food, bridge mix, chocolate covered caramels, butter finger bites and peanut brittle into the dish, I remembered all the times I had raided the Christmas candy stash as a teenager.
Back in the living room, Billy commented on how the shadows on cold winter days were blue-colored. I stood by the large living room window and studied the clear sky and the lengthening late afternoon shadows. He was right. The shadows cast by small pine trees near the house did look very blue against the snow. On the distant radio I heard Bing Crosby singing, ‘Adeste Fideles’.
I remembered the butter dish was nearly empty as I began to peal the first potato. Drying my hands and turning away from the sink to get a stick from the refrigerator, I nearly fell in avoiding killing the family pet. Flicker, our tuxedo cat, lay stretched to his full length in the center of the kitchen floor. His gorgeous, soft belly fur on full display begged to be stroked. He calmly blinked up at me with a kitty smile on his face. He had no idea he’d narrowly escaped a mortal danger. I shouted in a loud voice, “Flicker, you dumb cat! I nearly stepped on your big belly! Get out of the kitchen while I’m preparing supper!” My ten-year-old daughter, trailed by her six-year-old sister, appeared in the kitchen doorway. I sighed and asked, “Will you please take Flicker into the living room? He would get hurt very badly if I accidentally stepped on him.” As the children left the room with Flicker, my husband Arnie walked in. He asked, “Do I have enough time before supper to run into town to get gas for the truck?” Glancing at the unpealed potatoes in the sink and the stick of butter in my hand, I nodded and assured, “You have plenty of time.”
Tammie sat down on the kitchen step stool while I was preparing supper. She demanded, “Tell me about when I was born.”
I smiled, picked up a potato and began to peal it. Today was Tammie’s eighth birthday. When I was a child, I had often asked my mother the same question. There is no topic more interesting to a child than the day they were born. With each retelling, there is hope for additional nuggets of information. I explained, “You were born by caesarean section, because of your low blood platelet problem. With your sisters, I just waited until I went into labor. For you, the doctor picked Monday February 22nd, which was a little more than one week before your due date.”
Tammie prompted, “The day before I was born, you went to eat Sunday dinner at Grammie’s house.”
Dropping the peeled potato into the kettle and picking up another, I agreed, “Yes, and it was a wonderful dinner as always. My brother Casper provided homemade cranberry wine to go with the meal. I could only taste it because I was pregnant with you, but I liked it. I think that’s why Casper gave me a bottle of cranberry wine every year for the rest of his life.”
Pulling to a stop at an intersection, I picked up a map laying on the passenger seat to examine it. From the backseat, my eight-year-old daughter questioned loudly, “Are we there yet?”
I glanced back at Niki and her four-year-old sister, Tammie. Slightly annoyed, I answered, “I’ve never been to your classmate’s house before. The map shows that we should be nearly there.” Putting the map down, I turned to the left and drove half a mile. A house on the left had more than one car in the driveway. The bleak, overcast fall afternoon made the yard look cold and forbidding. Thinking out loud, I questioned, “Is this the right place?”
Tonight was the first Girl Scout meeting at the new volunteer leader’s house. We got out of the car and walked toward it. All the uncertainty I felt disappeared when the backdoor opened and we were warmly welcomed.
One evening several months later when I picked Niki up from a Girl Scout activity, her troop leader said, “We’re planning an overnight trip to Camp Sacuguaya. I need a few mothers to chaperone and help make meals. Can you help out with this?”
A cold, ice-particle-laden gust of wind swirled down the face of the hospital building, pushing so hard against my body I had to lean forward to make headway. Walking at my side was a coworker, Barb. She commented jokingly, “Here we are, walking through the tundra again.” Some of the ice particles melted on my face while others found their way under my neck scarf. I shivered and put my mitten-clad hand to my frosted forehead, wondering if it was possible to experience brain-freeze from a cold wind.
Barb complained, “Why in the world was this hospital built with a north-facing entrance? We always get a big downdraft in our face just as we get close to entering.”
Through gritted teeth I answered, “I don’t know what the engineers were thinking. But, at least on hot summer days, we get a welcome cool breeze.”
As Barb and I silently walked to the unit where we worked, I thought about Christmas, only two weeks away. I still had some Christmas cards to send, presents to wrap and cookies to bake. Our tree, usually put up a few days before Christmas, wasn’t even bought!
Looking into the bathroom mirror at Arnie’s shaving-foam covered face, I stated emphatically, “You have to till our garden this morning before leaving for work.” It was more a demand than request.
Arnie slipped on his glasses and picked up his razor. After pulling the triple blade across his jawline once, he answered, “You sound like you’re in a hurry.”
Combing my hair, I sighed impatiently, “I am! “Today is my day off from the hospital. My next day off won’t be for another five days. The weatherman on TV last night said it will rain by the end of this week. I want to plant my garden today.”
Making eye-contact with Arnie in the mirror, I saw a twinkle in his eye. He said, “It won’t hurt to put the garden in next week instead of this week.”
Crossing my arms, I glared at his reflection for several seconds before grumbling stubbornly, “I don’t think you’re funny. I want to plant my garden today because I have time today.”
Using a washcloth to wipe away the last bits of foam from his now clean-shaven face, Arnie leaned down to give me a kiss and said, “Don’t get yourself into knots. I’ll get it tilled for you this morning.” Continue reading →
Walking out the back door, I shouted, “Girls, I’m going for a walk.”
From the living room I heard the thump of feet on the floor and the television being switched off as fourteen-year-old Niki and ten-year-old Tammie chorused, “We want to come, too!”
By the time I reached the end of the driveway, my daughters had caught up with me. The early fall evening sunshine was glorious and the sky a clear, deep blue. Crossing the bridge over the river, we headed up hill. Along the road were young poplars, their leaves quivering in the slight breeze. The sound they made was a murmuring background to my daughter’s chatter.
As we approached a culvert along the road, we heard a gurgling trickle of water. Many weeds grew in this damp ditch. I spotted one that was blooming and gingerly stepped over to pick one of its stems. I instructed my daughters, “This is a jewel weed. As kids, my friends and I called them ‘touch-me-not’ weeds. Look at their pretty orange blossoms. When their blossoms get old, they turn into seed pods.” Pointing to a fat, green pod on one of the branches I exclaimed, “Like that one!”
Tammie looked closely at the pod. Niki was leaning over her shoulder to see. I encouraged, “Touch the seed pod, Tammie.” The minute her finger touched it, the walls of the pod sprung open and the seeds within went flying in all directions. Tammie let out a small scream of surprise. I laughed. Continue reading →