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The Name Game

I like naming things but the ones for inanimate objects don’t always stick. When I first brought home a dark blue Equinox in 2013, I started to call the car, the Blue Ox. Other than being blue, big and sturdy, I wasn’t really feeling the name, so there was no follow through.

On the other hand, the gray Dynasty I drove for many years eventually gained the name of The Old Gray Mare. That car was dependable and loved.

Years later Arnie and I bought a Buick Rendezvous to celebrate having paid off our house mortgage. This was the most expensive car we ever bought, and it was equipped with all sorts of special amenities. I began to call it my Yuppie Yacht because I felt like a young, rich and successful person when driving it. That name stuck.

I was recently watching a HGTV show where a woman had her kitchen remodeled. The designer did something I thought was risky. Without consulting the homeowner, she ordered a bright pink gas stove. Fortunately, the homeowner was delighted and gave the appliance an elegant, Victorian name.

Naming the stove struck a chord in me since I had recently bought a new gas range. I asked my daughter, “What would be a good name for my new stove?”

Tammie quickly responded, “Name it Calcifer after the fire demon in the movie, Howl’s Moving Castle.”

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Good, Bad and Ugly

Tears rolled down my seven-year-old daughter’s cheeks. I looked up from wrapping the toy to beg, “Tammie, please don’t cry. I know you want this toy for yourself, but yesterday when we bought your friend’s birthday present, you knew it wasn’t for you. Besides, you have several of your own Pretty Pony toys in the toy box.”

        A sob caught in Tammie’s throat as she complained, “But, none of mine glow in the dark like this one does.”

        Fastening tape to the pink wrapping paper to hold it in place, I thoughtfully enthused, “This gift is a very, very special gift. It probably will be the best present your friend will get for her birthday this year. Do you know why?”

        My little daughter stopped crying and looked at me in surprise to ask, “Why?”

        “Because the very best gift you can ever give is the one you love and really, really want for yourself. This is especially true when you give the gift without letting anyone know how badly you want it for yourself.”

        Tammie was silent for a few moments before saying, “Okay.”

        “You’re such a good little girl.” I complemented my daughter. “I have a feeling Santa’s going to give you a glow-in-the-dark Pretty Ponies this year.”

        When I first entered motherhood, I had no idea I needed a class titled, Motherhood Philosophy 101. No one gave me a listing of job skills I would need. My initial concern had been merely to share my faith with the children, to keep them fed, bathed, clothed and obedient.

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Craving Christmas

Mom put down the spoon she was using to stir soup, and turned away from the stove. She instructed me and my sisters, “Tonight’s the eve of Saint Nicolas. After supper I want you to write your letters to Santa Claus.”

My sister Mary volunteered, “Kathy’s in first grade. She doesn’t know how to write yet, so I’ll write her letter for her.”

Although I was still too young to write my own letter to Santa Claus, I knew December 6th was the official start to the annual Christmas count-down. At bedtime we would put our letters to Santa in bowls at the place we always sat at the table. In the morning, the letters would be gone and we’d find the bowls filled with peanuts, angel food candy, bridge mix, candy canes and an orange.

For me, time dragged by too slowly between Saint Nicolas Eve and Christmas. I fretted and fussed. I wanted the tree up. I wanted to constantly hear Christmas songs. I wanted fun, Christmassy things to do. Most of all, I wanted to open a big pile of presents. The craving for all things Christmas was intense.

When I grew up in the 1950’s, Christmas was hardly mentioned before the first week of December. Luckily, my emotional agony didn’t start as early as Halloween as must be the case for children now, since stores promote Christmas sales two months in advance.

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Slapped Silly

“This store has a wonderful selection of cat toys,” exclaimed Tammie.

I dropped a container of clumping kitty litter into my shopping cart and followed my daughter’s voice into the next aisle, complaining, “My cats don’t need any more toys. I already have a dozen to pick up each time I vacuum the floor.”

Stepping into the same aisle as Tammie, I skidded to a stop. The pet toy display was a Santa’s winter wonderland for cats. There were colorful balls to chase, miniature stuffed animals, snakes that crinkled when touched, cat nip straight up and cat nip-infused beds and toys. Despite my reluctance to buy anything, I became enamored with a battery-operated toy that made a butterfly flutter in a circle on a wire.

“Let’s go to check-out before I decide to buy anything else,” I muttered as I added it to my cart. In my haste to leave the display, I bumped a toy mouse off the rack. It squeaked like a flesh and blood field mouse.

“Real mice are filthy creatures.” Tammie commented, “but this toy is really cute.”

Glancing at the toy mouse, I grumbled, “I don’t need it but maybe my kitties will learn what to do if a real mouse ever gets in my house. Put it in my shopping cart.”

The squeaking mouse made its presence known all the way to the check-out as the oval-wheeled shopping cart rumbled over the tiled floors. The toy mouse’s vocal nature made it easy to tell when my cats were playing.

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Thanksgiving Beast

Thankful for yet another wonderful widow’s supper, I leaned back to enjoy my cup of tea. These weekly gatherings for an evening meal had started for me and my daughter after both my husband and son-in-law had died. When my sister’s husband died, she began to join us each week, too. Our being together for this meal as a family is a blessing and a joy.

As my daughter Niki’s four youngest children reached for the novelty ice cream treats my sister had provided, I turned to my daughter and suggested, “How about I buy the roast beast for this year’s Thanksgiving Supper?

Putting the last of the kale salad on her plate, Niki acknowledged my plan to buy the turkey. “That sounds great!”

I questioned, “And what dish would you like me bring, a seven-layer salad, a potato casserole or one of the desserts?”

Niki speared the last, crisp green leaf on her plate with a fork and exclaimed, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.”

A week later at the grocery store, I stood examining the frozen turkeys for sale. I wanted a big bird. Someone had once told me the bones of a huge turkey weren’t that much bigger than the bones of a medium turkey. I figured that meant buying a dinosaur-sized turkey was an economically wise move. With fingers quickly going numb from the cold, I strained to lift my choice from the freezer. It landed in my shopping cart with a loud, “clunk!”

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Like a Tree

Reluctant to step out of the house, I scanned the dark, dreary backyard. Thick, gray clouds hung low in the sky. Pine trees along the backside of my yard were a dull, unremarkable green. In the flowerbed along the driveway, the recent frost damage was all too evident. The hydrangeas, once covered with pink blossoms, now had brown, frost damaged leaves.

Pulling on a jacket and zipping it halfway up, I stepped out on the back deck. A cold wind whipped around the corner of the house and tried to get inside my coat. The sudden chill was an unwelcome surprise. I zipped the jacket all the way up to my neck. Picking up a lawn rake, I walked around the corner of the house. The only deciduous tree in the center of the yard glowed like a huge, organic light bulb against the background of the drab yard. Half of the maple’s orange-yellow leaves littered the ground, the other half still clung to the branches.

Using the rake to clear a small area on the leaf-smothered lawn, I found what I expected. Close to the grass were red leaves that were the first to fall. The store had called this tree a sunset maple when purchased. But I have been disappointed almost every year since Arnie planted it. The sunset red leaves seldom light up its branches in autumn.

The tree is like a cantankerous person with a mind of its own. The leaves stubbornly don’t usually change colors until all other trees in the area have not only changed colors, but also dropped their leaves.

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Night Shift

Arnie’s 1966 navy Impala pulled into the driveway. Slipping into a jacket, I picked up my purse and ran out the back door of my rent-a-room house. A crisp fall wind swirled colorful leaves from the tree overhead through the air.  In the car, Arnie greeted me with a kiss. Before backing out of the driveway, he asked, “How was your first day working for Saint Joseph’s Hospital?”

“Amazing. I got to see a baby born!” I excitedly responded. “The mother had medical problems, so it was a high-risk pregnancy. Evelyn and I got to observe everything from start to finish.”

“Evelyn?” my boyfriend questioned.

“I wasn’t the only new employee to start working on the obstetrics unit today.” I explained, “Evelyn is older and has worked on other units at the hospital in the past.”

My boyfriend and I had met in June, the same month I moved to Wausau to work at Hospital North. We soon began seeing each other each day. Between his job and visiting me, Arnie was driving over 100 miles a day. By September we knew we were headed for marriage, so I applied for a job at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and we both moved to Marshfield. Arnie found a rooming house for himself, while I rented a bedroom from Alma, a widow who lived two blocks from the hospital. My first day of work was on September 29th, 1969.

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Under Cover Cats

Tammie preferred living in dorms during her college and grad school years. Although the convenience and location worked for her, it also meant that she couldn’t have a pet. “Unless,” my daughter pointed out to me one day, “The pet can breathe under water for more than five minutes.”

I cynically commented, “Well, that rules out a cat. But we could get you a nice, colorful Beta fish, though.”

My daughter exclaimed emphatically, “No! I want a cuddly kitty like the ones I grew up with.”

During the last four years of higher education, Tammie spent countless hours wishfully staring at shelter cat pictures on a computer screen.

One day, shortly before Tammie graduated, she was home for a visit. Her sister Niki commented, “A stray cat has been hanging around our house for the last few weeks. Anne and Jon named her Buttons. Last weekend she crawled under our back deck and gave birth to a litter of six kittens. It was cold and raining, so I ended up taking the mother cat and kittens into the house.”

Tammie snapped to attention. She announced, “I’ll take two of the kittens off your hands. By the time they’re old enough to leave Buttons, I’ll be in the apartment I’ve rented and working as a librarian.”

Niki’s children fell in love with Button’s babies and gave them names. They didn’t want to give any of them up, but two kittens went to a farm family and were never heard from again. The children were allowed to keep two. One was gray, and hilariously named ‘Moldy Cheese’ while the black and white one was called ‘Salt and Pepper’. Tammie took the orange and white cat named ‘Macaroni and Cheese’ and a gray tabby they named ‘Carla’ after they heard Tammie say that was the name of the library director at her new job.

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Chuckle Berries

“Mom?” Tammie questioned. “Do you think you can get up and walk around for a while?”

         I looked sadly up at my daughter’s concerned face from where I lay on a cot in the corner of my living room. I’d had a total knee replacement three days earlier. Sick of how painful my leg felt, I complained, “Since my leg hurts even while laying down, I may just as well be up walking!”

Like a good little nurse, Tammie had come home for a few weeks to make sure I was well hydrated, exercised and comforted as I recovered from surgery. She placed the walker next to the cot and I pushed off the mattress with both hands and my good leg. My daughter suggested, “Let’s go out on the deck. It’s in the shade now and the weather is really nice.”

After taking a few steps, my surgical leg really didn’t feel that much worse, so I felt encouraged. Stepping out into the fresh air, I took a deep breath and sighed with satisfaction, “This was a good idea.” I settled down onto a deck chair. A lovely Goldilocks breeze ruffled my bedhead hair.

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Getting the Job Done.

I pressed lightly on the gas. The trailer hitched to my SUV inched backward. After a few feet, it became apparent that the trailer was veering too close to the house. Fighting the impulse to crank the steering wheel in the direction I wanted the trailer to go, I cranked it in the opposite direction. Overdoing the wheel turning, the trailer went the direction I wanted, but too much. It quickly jackknifed.

Grunting with disgust, I slammed on the brakes and eased forward. With the car and trailer straightened, I tried once again to back the trailer towards the coal chute. After much rocking back and forth, I finally placed my trailer, loaded with six tons of wood pellets close enough to the chute.

Getting out of the car I mentally prepared myself for the job ahead. Fortunately, many years before, my late husband had installed a coal chute in place of a basement window to make it easier to throw winter fuel into our basement. It was hard work throwing 300 forty-pound wood pellet bags into the basement, but I’d done it before.

Slowly and steadily I worked, tossing the heavy bags into the chute. When the pile of bags in the basement grew too large for more, I went to the basement to stack them on pallets along the walls. After a few hours all six tons were in the basement. The only help I needed was stacking the last two or three tons.

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