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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →