Long, cool shadows covered most of my garden. I stopped hoeing the weedy pathway for a moment to rest. My daughter Tammie, sitting in a red chair next to my garden’s tea table, looked up from reading and asked, “Why don’t you let me hoe for a little while?”
Responding indignantly, I exclaimed, “No! You are visiting me and I will not put you to work! I love your company, though, and enjoy hearing the interesting things you share from the article you’re reading.
Sighing, Tammie admitted, “I wish I could help you, but realize it takes me so long to do things, it probably is easier for you to just do it yourself.”
I reiterated, “I love having you with me. If the mosquitos aren’t bothering you, all I want is for you to sit and keep me company.”
Closing the Window on my computer monitor, I spun my office chair around to face Tammie. I’d just taken in a fresh dose of news about the three-month-old COVID pandemic and felt poisoned. “When is this all going to end?” I questioned. “Every news report is more dire than the last.”
When this COVID craziness started, I’d asked my youngest daughter, who’s able to work from home, to stay with me. She looked comfortable sitting in her remote work station, my office recliner. A board spanned the chair’s arms to give Tammie a place to rest her laptop computer. She shook her head and commiserated, “Listening to the news once a day is enough for me, too.”
Leaning back in my chair, I relaxed and confessed, “At first, three months ago, I felt panicky when I heard businesses were closing and everyone was to stay home. But now, I’ve come to realize that I feel safe at home and there isn’t a thing we can do to change what’s happening out in the world except pray. I’m so glad I’m able to visit friends and family electronically. It sure beats snail mail.”
I glanced at the buildings along the road and asked with concern, “Are you sure we’re on the right highway? By now I thought we’d see Green Bay’s water. I don’t even see the big bridge we have to cross.”
My daughter Tammie answered as she confidently maneuvered through heavy traffic, “We’ll be seeing all that in a few miles.”
All summer long we had looked forward to our vacation in Door County. Today it felt so good to finally be on our way. After rounding another curve in the highway, the blue painted bridge suddenly loomed up ahead. From the driver came a soft, “Told you so.”
Tammie is extraordinarily good at making vacation plans, so after she asked me a few questions, she scheduled our activities for the next seven days. She’d done this before for other vacations. I’ve never been disappointed.
Later that evening, as I sat waiting for the movie” Jungle Cruise” to start, I looked around at the other cars parked at the Skyway drive-in movie theater. Smiling, I enthused, “The motel we’re staying at is really nice. Pelletier’s fish boil was fantastic! When the boil master threw kerosene on the fire to make the cauldron boil over at the end, I couldn’t believe how hot the flames were. I was standing a good 15 to 20 feet away!”
There was no doubt. The next driveway to the right was the Door Country tour depot. Rows of bright red trolley buses bordered the big square building. As she pulled into the driveway, my daughter Tammie remarked, “I hope they haven’t left without us. We’re a little late.”
Inside the depot a gift shop and several shoppers distracted us. We began to look around. A man with a clipboard stepped out of the office and announced in a loud voice, “I’m looking for the Richardsons.” We turned toward him as he said, “It’s time to board the trolley for your Premier five-hour winery tour.” As we boarded the bus, I hummed the theme song of Gilligan’s Island. Obviously in a party mood, or relieved by our tardy appearance, the other passengers cheered and clapped.
In the short drive to our first stop, Tammie researched restaurants for our evening meal. Looking up from her phone, she laughed, “The menu at this restaurant offers wild snails.”
I silently stared at her for a moment before peppering her with questions, “Does that mean people actually farm snails? I wonder what they eat? What is a large gathering of snails called? Several crows are called a murder of crows. Would it be a slime of snails? How in the world does a person hunt for wild snails? Are wild snails even a real thing?”
Smiling as I stepped into my hoop-building garden, I took a deep breath and looked around. The smell of good soil and the sight of beautiful growing plants filled me with joy. I didn’t have time to weed, but did have time for making an inspection of the growing plants. I immediately spotted a problem. Something looked different.
There appeared to be fewer carrots than I remembered from the day before. Looking closer, I discovered a small carrot peeking out of the soil, its ferny carrot top missing as if someone had taken a scissor and lopped it off. Its developing greenery was nowhere to be seen.
In the row of peas, every single plant was either chewed down to a stub or entirely missing. Over half of the kale I’d planted was missing, too. I knew who the culprits were. Scanning my back yard, I spotted a small rabbit sitting next to a flowerbed. Another was fearlessly hopping across the lawn. Rabbit number three was nibbling on grass nearer to the river bank.
That evening when talking to my daughter Tammie, I complained, “Years ago when one of the mouse traps killed a rodent, a friend of mine claimed that for every mouse you catch in the house, there are ten more living in the walls. I suspect the same ratio exists for rabbits. For every rabbit you see out in the open, there are ten more hiding in the tall grass.”
My daughter exclaimed, “Ew! That means you have thirty rabbits in your yard!”
I answered with a sigh, “And there are probably also thirty deer who visit my yard every night. You should see what they’re doing to the flowerbed along the driveway.”
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.”
My daughter asked, “How many cupboards do you have left to empty?”
I sighed as I repositioned the phone, “Just the ones to the right of the kitchen sink.” After a pause, “Wait, that’s not true. I haven’t taken stuff out from under the sink.” After another pause, I exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, I’ve forgotten about the cupboard above the stove!”
The men I’d hired to remodel my kitchen were coming tomorrow morning, so for the past four hours I’d been working nonstop, moving things out of their way. The job seemed endless. I decided I owned too many things and resolved to get rid of unnecessary and duplicate items.
I’d started this job with an organized plan. I wrote numbers on the boxes and recorded what drawer or cupboard contents were inside. Fatigue and urgency side-tracked my plan to keep track. When I ran out of table space for the boxes, I began to put them on the floor. Eventually, I ran out of floor space in the dining room and started to fill the office and living room.
Then I ran out of boxes before the cupboards were empty. A run through the house netted me a laundry hamper, two picnic baskets, an oversized shoe box and one large storage tub. The last cupboard filled a dresser drawer in the guest bedroom Tammie uses when she visits.
I didn’t glance longingly back at my bedroom’s blue ceiling with the hundreds of silver stars two of my big sisters had lovingly stenciled across it. I just picked up the suitcase I’d packed and took it out to the car my brother had loaned me. The day to move out of my childhood home had finally arrived.
All I could think about was the one half of a dorm room that belonged to me for the next month, and for the month following that if I wanted. The hospital where I would be trained as a Nursing Assistant had run a nursing school and owned a nearby student nurse dormitory. I was fortunate to have a place to stay so close to study and hopefully work afterwards.
It felt great to store my belongings in my half of the furnished room. Though small, it was my new home. I decided where things went and how to spend my time there. There was a desk and lamp across from the narrow bed. Near the foot of the cot was a closet with a built-in dresser. A bathroom with showers was just down the hall. I hadn’t thought about food when I rented this little nest, but the dorm building did have a large kitchen on the first floor. I loved my new home.
I dropped down in my office chair and opened my email. Every day I looked forward to hearing from my daughter Tammie. Her messages never failed to be full of interesting observations and descriptions of life at grad school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My daughter’s undergrad school had been a short, two-hour drive from home. When she decided to earn a master’s degree in library science, she insisted on going to the University of Michigan as one of the best in the United States.
That afternoon, her message described an international foods night at her co-operative house. She said, “I loved trying all the different foods, but one of the drinks offered was rose water. Mom, I took one sip, but couldn’t finish it. The drink made me feel as though I was drinking Grammie!”
I laughed. It was understandable that she associated my Mom with roses.
Grammie wore dresses that were rose-colored, shared bouquets of roses from her flowerbed with us and always smelled like roses. My daughters loved her. With her love of roses, it was easy for my family to buy Mom Mother’s Day gifts. Each year we gave her rose-scented body lotion, rose-scented candles and rose bushes from the greenhouse to replace the ones our Wisconsin winters killed. The mere smell of roses made everyone think of her.
When Tammie and her sister were four and eight years of age, my husband and I were living on a farm. We occasionally invited my Mom to stay overnight with us after I took her for a day of shopping. I remembered how excited my daughters were when I told them that we were going to “have Grammie for supper.” They knew what I meant. It never occurred to us that ‘having Grammie for supper’ sounded cannibalistic.
I tore the flap off a cardboard box, folded it and placed it between two logs of wood. After placing several twigs above it and bigger branches above that, I ignited the cardboard. A small orange flame licked tentatively around the edges of the brown corrugated paper for several seconds before it completely became engulfed in eager, leaping flames. I glanced around. What would burn fast and quick to keep the fire going until the logs caught?
Nearby, laid a pile of small scrub trees I’d cut down last fall, the reddened Christmas tree, a mound of grass raked from the lawn and a bundle of asparagus fern from the garden. I didn’t plan on using the Frazier fir, since I only wanted a small, respectable fire. From experience I knew the Christmas tree would burn too hot, fast with high, leaping flames.
My daughter Tammie joined me by the blaze. Watching me tuck sticks into the embers, she observed, “You really love playing with fire, don’t you?”
I grinned at her and admitted, “I’ve always enjoyed tending fires. When I was small my family burned all our household garbage except bottles, cans and kitchen scraps. It was big excitement for us to all stand around and watch stuff burn. If I got too close to the fire, my brothers and sisters told me that if I fell in and burned off my head, I’d have to wear a kettle to replace my head and that my new name would be little Miss Kettlehead.”
Tammie laughed, “That’s a weird thing to tell a kid.”
I nodded and agreed, “Yes, it is. But when I was a kid, it seemed to make sense.
Sitting down on a small barrel, I watched the fire. Flames licked at a pile of grass next to it. I had raked the grass up this spring. Too damp to ignite, the grass sent up a plume of thick, white smoke. A breeze swirled the smoke towards where Tammie and I were sitting. Coughing, I jumped to my feet.