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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

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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

Planting or Burying – Sowing and Reaping

Warm, golden sunshine steadily bathed the lawn. Its brilliance made the lush blades of grass look as if their beautiful shade of green glowed. The slightly humid air felt like velvet against my skin as a gentle breeze softly caressed my cheeks. I stopped planting seeds in the garden for a minute and looked around.

A plump, orange-bellied robin landed a few feet away from the edge of the garden. Opening his beak, he tilted back his head and sang a breath-taking beautiful song that proclaimed his joy; for being alive, for the warm sunshine, for the bountiful earth.

Immediately getting down to business after his song, the bird thrust his beak into the earth near his feet. Coming up with a worm clenched in his jaws, he tugged. The robin pulled mightily until the entire worm was free of the soil. Then, in a flash of powerful wing flaps, he was gone.

I looked down at the seeds in my hand. Would they grow once I put them in the ground? There was nothing to tell me that life existed inside their hard, dry exteriors. In the silence while I contemplated the mystery of seeds, another robin on the other side of the yard caroled its anthem of praise.

The song triggered a memory of a funeral that took place on an early summer day as warm and as beautiful as this one. Loved ones crowded around an open grave with the casket suspended above. When the minister finished his prayers, the silence that followed was profoundly poignant. Suddenly, the clear, beautiful voice of a robin filled the air with a song that made tears well up in my eyes. It made me think of love, hope, and the mystery of what comes after this life. 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

Lions and Lambs

I zipped my jacket up closer to my throat. The sunshine was blinding, but Old Sol certainly wasn’t tempering the winter chill. Chickadees and goldfinches twittered and tweeted as they gobbled seeds, scratching and pecking for the best and biggest around the bird feeder. In the distance, from the top of a tree in the wood lot, I heard the unmistakable spring song of a cardinal.

The warm glow of joy filled my heart. I blurted, “Oh my gosh Tammie, did you hear that?”

My daughter had been reaching to open her car door. She straightened up, looked over the top of the car at me and asked, “No. What did you hear?”

Excitedly, I explained, “Do you remember me telling you that cardinals begin to sing their mating songs in the middle of February? Well, guess what? Today is the 16th of February, and I’ve just heard my first cardinal love song for the year!”

In the moment of silence following my announcement, we were blessed with an encore. The clear, pleading notes of a cardinal floated down to us from a nearby tree top. It sounded as it was asking, “Pretty-birdie? Pretty-birdie?”

Farther back in the wood-lot we heard a faint answering call. We were listening to a pair of cardinals having a conversation! Were they planning where to nest for the summer? Maybe they were discussing the best and safest food source in the area.  After a few minutes, smiling broadly, my daughter and I got into the car. Although it was cold that day, we knew winter would soon come to an end. Continue reading

Holler Uncle

I shivered while donning an industrial quality dust mask and a pair of nitrile gloves. The house was cold because the furnace had been off for a full two hours. Having taken all the precautions I could, I pushed ahead with the job at hand; the weekly cleaning of ash from the pellet furnace which heats my old brick house.

In April it will be twelve years since my husband, Arnie died suddenly. Two days into my grieving, I had realized that I needed to learn how to maintain the furnace. This had always been Arnie’s job, so I didn’t have a clue. Arnie wasn’t around anymore to tell me what I needed to know. I was horrified. Searching the house failed to turn up a user’s manual. No one in my circle of friends had a furnace like mine. All the local businesses that sold and repaired furnaces had never seen a Canadian-made Traeger pellet furnace.

Tammie, my reference librarian daughter found a manual for my furnace on-line. Taking the copy she’d printed for me, my son-in-law Mike, carefully guided me step-by-step through the process. We learned the ash needed to be cleaned out once a week. Once a month the face plates had to be removed to clean the heat exchange tunnels. Ash, soot and creosote blackened my hands, arms and face, staining my clothing. Continue reading