Archives

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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Please Don’t

My sister Mary laid on the bed we shared, reading a book. She giggled as she read and turned the pages. I snuggled close to her on the mattress and looked at the page she was reading. To my disgust, there were no pictures of Donald Duck or any other cartoon character on it. Annoyed that I was breathing in her face, Mary sat up and threw down her book. I glanced at the book’s name. It was, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” by Jean Kerr. My opinion of Mary’s cartoonless book skyrocketed as I thought, “What a funny title! Who would try eating Daisies? They smell like they’d taste bitter.”

Agnes and Rosie, my two older sisters had moved out of the house and were recently married. Their old bedroom, with its blue ceiling dotted with silver stars, was now my bedroom to share with Mary. She was sixteen-years to my nine years of age, so I annoyed her on a regular basis. Despite that, she was mostly patient with me.

Mary suggested, “Let’s go for a bike ride.” I jumped to accept her invitation. Who knew how long would it be before she was the next sister to move out of the house and get married? As it was, she already didn’t want to ride bike very often any more.

When Mary and I pedaled back into the yard, she wanted to go back to reading. Finding a shady spot for a lawn chair, my sister opened the book and disappeared into it.  

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Cruise Director

Billy stood up from the restaurant table and tottered. I moved closer to my brother in case he started to fall. When his blood pressure dropped with a position change, he would often faint. Although both of my brothers had Parkinson’s, he had been diagnosed first and showed more symptoms. Casper, my other brother was already standing at the cashier, looking back to see what was holding us up.

This was a typical Friday night for me for several years.

Going out for a Friday night fish fry had once been an occasional treat. That changed a few years after my husband died. Because of Parkinson’s, my bachelor brothers started to need a little help. I began visiting them at the farm each Friday night to fill their pill boxes and pay bills. Those were the things they needed. But what they wanted was to go out for a Friday fish fry every single week.

I won’t lie, there were a few weeks here and there that I really wished I could stay home or do something else.

To add variety to my brothers Friday night experience, I tried to take them to different restaurants each week. I often invited one of my friends to join us. Some weeks one or both of my daughters joined us, too. When my sister Agnes and her husband Jim moved back to Wisconsin, they also became members of my Friday night fish fry club.

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Moments of Grace

The hostess politely inquired, “Would you like to dine inside the restaurant or out on the patio?” I hesitated because I dislike sitting in full sun. As if reading my mind, the hostess quickly put my fears to rest. “Most of the patio is in shade.”

 I confirmed my preference with a smile. “I’d love a table in the shade.”

A tall pergola shaded one half of the patio and most of the other half of the remaining area enjoyed the shade of a sapling tree. Placing a glass of water on the table, the hostess promised that a waiter would take my order after I had a chance to look at the menu. 

While waiting for my order to be filled, I glanced around. Flowerboxes placed on the top of the patio walls were full of flowers and herbs. Healthy vining plants cascaded their tendrils down and swayed in a gentle breeze.

I overheard one woman at a nearby table telling her companion, “I miss Phillip so much. Mornings are especially hard, but today something happened that made me feel better. From the kitchen window I saw a beautiful cardinal perched in the tree Phillip had planted before his illness. Seeing it gave me a feeling of peace. I felt like Phillip was there checking on me.”

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Secondhand Embarrassment

One evening after school, I walked into my family’s living room and to my great astonishment, found Jim, my brother-in-law, setting up his television for us to watch. He informed me that he and my sister Agnes and their baby, David, were moving away so they wouldn’t be needing it. “Moving?” I questioned.

Jim kept working on the backside of the second-hand television he was giving us. “Yep,” he answered absent-mindedly, “I’ve reenlisted in the army.”

Being a typical ten-year-old, I never read the front page of the newspaper, or listened to radio news. But that didn’t stop me from knowing something bad was going on. I had heard grownups talk in quiet tones about something called “the Berlin wall crisis.” Being an intelligent kid, I knew that Berlin was a European city located in Germany, the homeland of my grandparents. Just what was going on, I didn’t know.

Trying not to think about my sister moving away, I made a point to learn what shows were available, what days they were on and whether Mom would let me watch them or not. We had only one channel and I wasn’t allowed to turn the television on before 6:30 in the evening. One thing I discovered about watching television was that I needed to turn some knobs to make the picture stop rolling.

My only experience with televisions to that point was occasionally being able to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings while visiting my neighborhood cousins. One memorable afternoon after ice skating on their pond, we watched ‘Zorro’, the masked man with a swift blade who avenged all wrongs.

I loved watching television shows but something weird happened to me very often when they were on. No one else watching with me ever seemed to have the same problem. One evening while watching Mr. Ed the talking horse, the weird thing happened. The show was about Wilbur doing something really stupid because of his horse. Wilbur didn’t want his wife or neighbors to find out what he was doing. As an inevitable confrontation approached, intense anxiety and embarrassment filled me. Feeling like I was going to explode, and not wanting to see the end of the show, I jumped to my feet and raced out of the house.

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Walking in the Dark

I wanted to play in the barn where Daddy and my brother were milking cows, but nighttime darkness held our farmyard in its grip. Closing the backdoor of our farmhouse, I found my sister Betty and demanded, “I want you to take me to the barn.”

My thirteen-year-old sister looked up from a comic book and answered in a huff, “You’re eight years old. Go to the barn by yourself and quit being such a big baby!”

I returned to the backdoor again. The yard was very dark, even with the yard light turned on, a single light bulb on top of a pole between the barn and house. Freshly fallen snowflakes sparkled in its light. A shadow moved. Panic made me freeze in place and wonder, “Is that a wild animal? Will it attack and kill me if I go out there?”

Common sense made me reason, there weren’t wild animals in our yard during the day. Then I realized the moving shadow was just a tree branch swaying in the wind. I really, really wanted to be in the barn! Throwing all caution to the wind, I ran as fast as I could, screaming all the way to the barn’s entryway, the milk house.

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Remembering Grammie

Instead of getting brighter, as the morning progressed, the sky darkened and thunder growled ominously in the distance. Looking out the kitchen window, the overwhelming greenness worried me. When I was 23 years old, the air had appeared greenish before a tornado picked up one end of my mobile home. Realizing that an earlier rain shower had enhanced the vivid color of the new maple tree leaves and a freshly mowed lawn, I relaxed. Weepy, blue clouds on the horizon suggested more rain was on the way.

My daughter Tammie joined me at the window, commenting, “This would be a good morning to have a sleep-in. I love lying in bed, listening to distant thunder and the patter of rain on the roof.”

Putting my arm around her shoulders, I reminisced, “Grammie Altmann loved nighttime thunder storms and rain. She said lying in bed listening to them made her feel cozy and happy. Do you remember that her birthday was today, the 15th of June?”

Nodding, Tammie acknowledged, “Yes, I know. If she were alive, this would be her 117th birthday. Grandpa Jacob’s birthday in July would have been his 118th.”

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Birdies Sing

Instead of going into the barn immediately after supper, I zoomed around the farmyard on my half-sized bike. Fast as I could pedal, I toured the main circle driveway and the back circle driveway between the machine shed and old house. Around and around I went. The minute I heard the the Surge vacuum pump in the barn turn on, I dropped my bike on the lawn and trotted across the yard to the milk house. 

I loved being in the barn; the sound of the cows mooing, slurping water, sighing, the creak of their hooves as they shifted their weight. During milking chores, the barn cats came out looking for spilled milk. I liked sitting on the haymow stairway near the milk cans, playing with the mother cats and listening to the radio.

As far as I know, no one has taken credit for being the first person to install a radio in their cow barn. On our farm, it was my brother who placed a radio on one of the large overhead beams and plugged it in. Having music while doing chores made the work more pleasant. We joked about how the cows probably enjoyed listening to the music, too.

We weren’t wrong about that assumption. Since then, studies have found that cows listening to music with a slower tempo have a greater milk production than cows exposed to fast-tempo music. Most of the music that WDLB, our local radio station provided in the late 1950’s and early 1960, was perfect for that. Researchers think fast-tempo music stimulates adrenaline secretion which interferes with milk letdown.

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Backyard Philosopher

Clumps of green blades dotted the flowerbed. Some of the leaves obviously belonged to crocus and hyacinths that were soon to blossom. Other clumps belonged to either daffodils or mystery lilies. I wouldn’t know for sure until the daffodils sent up stems and buds.

This flowerbed had looked completely dead when the winter snow melted. Then the first small green shoots pushed their way up through the cold, wet ground. I marveled at this miracle despite having seen it happen each spring of my life. How tenacious the small bulbs were! How badly they wanted to live! How inconceivable it was that they were able to wake up and start growing again after having been frozen solid for months on end!

Flower bulbs were not the only things growing in the yard. Swollen red buds tipped the maple tree branches. Despite a chilly spring, leaves were sure to follow soon. Blades of grass in the lawn were pushing up through last year’s brown thatch. The lawn mowing people were sure to follow soon, too.

I went to sit in a chair on the deck to muse the endlessness of household bills. My daughter Tammie was sitting at the table across from me. She looked up from her phone as I complained, “In the winter I pay for snow to be removed from the driveway and buy fuel for the furnace. In the summer I don’t pay for those things, but then I pay for someone to mow the lawn and have higher electric bills for using the air conditioner.”

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Twosday

Looking at my daughter’s chart, the Nurse Practitioner instructed, “Bring Tammie back to see me in two weeks.”

To access Tammie’s electronic records, the clinic appointment scheduler requested her birth date. Tammie, who was in fifth grade, leaned against me and answered like a small adult, “It’s two, twenty-two, eighty-two.”

Later in the car, I suggested, “Would you like stopping for a treat before I take you back to school?” Tammie’s answer was of course, an enthusiastic yes.

Taco John’s advertisement for Taco Tuesday blared from the car radio. I complained, “Ugh, the words ‘Taco Tuesday’ turns into an ear worm whenever I hear this! It plays over and over in my head.”

Tammie asked, “Could we go to Taco John’s for my treat?” The fast food restaurant happened to be along our route back to school, so I happily pulled into that parking lot. Instead of a savory taco, my daughter ordered a desert taco, which looked and tasted a lot like a chocolate-covered waffle cone filled with ice cream. While eating it she commented on how she liked all the two’s in her birthdate.

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