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Two for Tea

The tea in my cup was too hot to drink, so I set it down and answered the question that my brother-in-law had asked, “The Charleston Tea Company Website claims that it’s the only tea plantation in the continental United States. Since I like tea so much and I want to see what the plants look like, but don’t want to go overseas, that’s one place we’ll go.”

My family had just finished eating the Easter meal at my house and were loosening their belts to relax with cups of tea and fluffy, dairy-rich desserts. My sister said, “I’ve always thought of tea being grown in China, India or Malaysia. How did you find out about this plantation?”

Letting a forkful of fruit fluff melt in my mouth before answering, I said, “I can’t even remember how I first discovered it located on an island hugging the coast of South Carolina. I never thought I’d actually go there!”

My oldest grandson questioned, “South Carolina is a long way to go to just see a tea plantation!”

Taking a sip of the delicious aromatic black tea in my cup, I smiled and explained, “My friend Val, who edits my articles, moved to North Carolina last summer. Tammie and I decided to go visit her this year.” Continue reading

The Missing Link

I shivered and pulled my sweater shut, buttoning it absentmindedly without checking to see if the buttons and holes lined up. A jigsaw puzzle on the card table in front of me held all of my attention. Should I set aside all of the flesh and blue dress pieces first or the red barn ones? My decision to put the little girl together first came just as I reached the top button on my sweater and discovered there wasn’t a matching button hole across from it. Looking down, I realized that I’d mismatched them.

A sweet memory of my Dad popped into mind. One day when he was growing older, he put on a sweater and like I had just done, mismatched its buttons and holes. Looking down, he’d commented, “I look like a lopdeeddle.” Smiling, I shrugged and went to work sorting the puzzle pieces by color.

The silly word Daddy used was so typical of his self-depreciating sense of humor. In my family’s dictionary of funny words, a lopdeeddle was a silly, clumsy, inept person. He felt silly because he’d done the buttons wrong.

Shivering again, I pulled an afghan off the sofa and pulled it over my lap. From memory, I could hear my late husband asking me, “Why are you so stubborn?” I had laughed at him when he said that. To my way of thinking, I was a willow constantly swaying to his wishes and suggestions. I didn’t consider myself stubborn.

It was only after Arnie was gone that I finally recognized the trait he’d seen in me. Once I make up my mind about something, I stick to the plan. One thing I decided as a widow is that a person doesn’t need to heat a house until the inside thermometer never goes above 58 degrees. 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.

 

 

 

Queen of Sheba

The cup of black tea was almost a little too hot to sip. I happily breathed in its fragrant scent and smiled at how the ceramic mug shared its warmth with my chilled hands. Setting the cup down on a table next to my chair, I pulled up the quilt on my legs, so that I could cuddle under its voluminous folds. Outside the living room window snow drifts were casting chilly blue shadows, while towering pine trees appeared more black than green. It was a good day to stay indoors to read.

Picking up my Bible, I opened to where I had left-off the day before from my ‘one page a day’ reading commitment. I Kings, chapter 10 told about the Queen of Sheba paying a visit to King Solomon to test his wisdom of renown. She arrived in Jerusalem with a huge retinue, camels bearing spices, a large amount of gold and precious stones. Continue reading

Hell’s Furnace

I shivered even though the room was warm. Thinking about the furnace had me anxiously rocking back and forth. My daughter Niki, sitting on the sofa next to me, put her hand comfortingly on my shoulder while her husband Mike nodded in compassion. Arnie and I had had an old fashioned marriage. I took care of cooking, cleaning and laundry. He took care of mowing the lawn, keeping the furnace running and fixing anything that broke down. Four days ago my husband of 37 years had unexpectedly died.

If I had died, a few weeks after the funeral when family and friends went back to their lives, Arnie would have merely starved to death in soiled clothing. This was a fate that I considered far less horrible than the one I was facing at the moment. With Arnie gone, I was sentenced to learning the care and maintenance of the wood-pellet-eating beast in the basement. Knowing that it was-right below where I was sitting-made me shiver again!

Most people have furnaces that are turned on and off with the twist of a thermostat dial and only need a heating specialist’s visit once a year to service the equipment. That would have been too simple and easy for my husband. He bought an unusual furnace that few others have in Central Wisconsin. He installed a furnace that required as much hands-on care as a newborn baby. The dirty thing needed to be burped, diapered and potty trained. All I knew about it at that moment was how to pour in the wood pellets. Continue reading

Not By Choice

Not By Choice

Even though the weather was hot and humid, the minute I arrived home from work, I decided that I needed to prepare my fair entries for delivery to the Central Wisconsin State Fair. I looked forward to relaxing when that job was finished.

Allowing myself a few minutes of respite from my scheduled labor, I sat down at the desk and checked my email account. I found a message from the company that owns The Buyer’s Guide, a weekly advertisement newspaper that I’ve had a column in for the last 25 years and three months.

My eyes widened as I read, “As you may know, we are undergoing some changes in how we allocate editorial resources for the Hub City Times. As part of this, we have moved away from a paid columnist structure. Effective immediately, we will no longer be able to pay for the Lifelines column.”

I thought, “What?” I knew that the paper had moved away from publishing just advertisements and my column to having local news stories and other columnists. Since I never go to the office, I hadn’t known that my column was at risk.

Picking up the telephone, I called my daughter, Tammie.

“What’s up, Mom?” She asked.

I said, “The Buyer’s Guide just fired me via e-mail.” Continue reading

An Alarming Sound

I turned over and stretched, enjoying my soft, warm nest. Outside my comforter, the room was cold. Gray tendrils of sleep-induced mental fog obliterated all the concerns I had gone to bed with several hours earlier. Nothing in the world needed my attention at that moment and I felt supreme peace. Then I heard the eerie sound. Turning to give Arnie a shake I hissed, “Wake up and listen. I’m hearing it again!” Continue reading