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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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Tailored For Function

My Dad held my one-year-old daughter Tammie on his lap with the familiar ease of a man who had raised seven children. She squirmed, so he slid her down between his knees, giving her a chance to practice standing while being fully supported. Sitting down on the couch across from him, I realized that no one had ever held Tammie that way before.

Tammie has TAR syndrome. (thrombocytopenia with Absent Radius) This is a rare birth defect. TAR causes low blood platelet levels which can cause bruising and bleeding. Radius bones in the arms are always missing, but the hands are fully formed. My daughter’s arms are elbow length. One syndrome challenge that we needed help with were her knees. They didn’t seem to have joints.  

My husband sat down beside me and said, “Our doctor told us that if Tammie is ever to walk, she needs surgery on both of her knees.”

Nodding, I added, “He also said there isn’t a local doctor who can do the type of surgery needed. We’re taking Tammie to see a doctor at the Mayo Clinic next week.”

The three-hour drive to Rochester, Minnesota to the famous Mayo Clinic required us to leave home before daybreak on an overcast, early spring morning. Once there, Arnie and I were asked if we would allow interns to be present for Tammie’s exam because, “We don’t see many children with TAR syndrome.” During his exam the doctor demonstrated to several students how neither of her knees were functional.

That year Tammie had surgery on both knees and was fitted with cumbersome, full-length leg braces that were cable-connected to a belt buckled around her waist. She took her first steps when she was two and a half years old. Arnie and I weren’t sure if she started walking because of the braces or in spite of the braces.

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Baby Trainer

The dreams began near the end of my pregnancy. Each night there was a baby, not necessarily my baby, but someone’s baby assigned to me. Each night I’d forget all about the infant. Each night in my dreams there were fires, floods and other natural disasters threaten our wellbeing. However, I never once remembered to pick up the baby when I ran out of the slumberland house to save myself. 

One night I took the baby given to me and laid it in a crib in the upstairs bedroom of my childhood’s farmhouse. I immediately forgot all about the little one. A few days passed before dreamland me suddenly remembered. Filled with great apprehension, I raced to the crib and peeked in. Somehow, inexplicably, the neglected baby had multiplied to become three or four smaller babies.

I didn’t need to visit a psychiatrist to figure out why I was having these dreams. Eight years earlier, when I was twenty years old, my husband Arnie and I had had a baby daughter. Christy was born with a rare birth defect and was very sick. To make the situation scarier, I had never taken care of a baby before, not even babysat for one. The idea of taking Christy home scared me. I loved her, but didn’t want to take care of her.

I took my daughter home two different times, but she had to readmit to the hospital after only a day or two because of her ill health. The experience made me fearful of childcare. I was ashamed of how I wanted a healthy baby, not the sick one I’d given birth to. Christy died at two months of age on April 2nd, 1971. My guilty feelings began to grow. I felt like a bad mother.

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I’ve Got Rhythm

The “oompah-pah-pah” of the polka band’s tuba announced the small-town music festival long before my husband Arnie had parked our car. The music festival with all day baseball games and carnival rides drew folks from a wide radius in Central Wisconsin. Following the music, we discovered that half of the huge beer tent was devoted to the band and a make-shift dance floor. The band was playing the “She’s Too Fat for Me Polka” and a large crowd of energetic dancers filled the floor.  

Moments later, Arnie and I waded through the large crowd gathered around the wood-plank beer bar. Several of Arnie’s high school classmates were leaning against a section where a clear glass pitcher had only enough golden pilsner for Arnie’s glass. One of the young men held the pitcher high over his head and bellowed for a refill over the din of the crowd.

One of the young men said, “Kathy can dance with me while we wait for more beer!” My heart sank. I’d never learned to dance while growing up in the Stratford area.  However, most of the young people who lived between Auburndale and Stevens Point where Arnie had grown-up, had their polka and waltz moves down pat.

Feeling the stiffness of my body, the young man shouted over the music, “Just relax and go with the beat.” I hopped when he skipped. He bobbed when I skipped. The couples around us flowed gracefully with synchronized steps and twirls. Getting a firmer grip on me, my partner instructed, “Follow my lead.” Horrified and embarrassed, I felt like a fully loaded H & S gravity box, being pulled around a wet corn field, by a 1949 model M John Deere tractor.

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Digging Ditches

The logs I had put in the furnace several hours earlier were now just a pile of ash with a small bed of red coal glowing beneath. Grabbing wood from a nearby pile, I loaded the firebox until no more would fit. Small tongues of orange flame licked the raw edges of the bottom pieces. The fire was beautiful and smelled wonderfully. Taking a deep breath, I stood silently, not moving, just listening. The fire crackled. I heard my two daughters talking in the living room above. Flicker, my tuxedo cat, meowed and rubbed against my leg. The stress of my busy day disappeared. Feeling refreshed, I closed the furnace door and sprinted up the stairway.

 My house is very old. I suspect part of it was built during the 1890’s. My history-loving daughter Tammie and I enjoyed some of the house’s quirky signs of previous inhabitants. We particularly liked the permanent kitty footprints in the basement. I’ve always pictured the farmer who had built the house, getting mad at the cat for messing up his wet cement.

In the mid 1990’s, I came home from work one day to discover my husband Arnie had ripped the back porch off our house. He was using a rented backhoe. When I asked what he was doing, he said he was digging a basement for the large entryway he planned to build in place of the porch.  

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Little Christmas

A lighted garland crowned the archway between the kitchen and living room where a festive balsam tree glittered and twinkled. My husband Arnie and son-in-law Mike sat on the couch next to the tree watching a football game on television. My daughter Niki and I sat at the table in the kitchen. Arnie held six-month-old Jon in his arms while Anne, my two-year-old granddaughter, ran between the two rooms playing with her toys.

A tea kettle on the stove began to whistle. Niki jumped to her feet. Placing a steaming mug of hot water and a tea bag in front of me, she sat down with a cup of her own and commented, “I love the holiday traditions I grew up with, but I would like to have some new traditions that I are my own.”

Taking a bite of Christmas cookie and a very small sip of the hot tea, I questioned, “What sort of new traditions are you thinking of?”

Pushing a library book towards me, Niki launched into a list of ideas, concluding with, “This book had so many good ideas that it was hard to pick which one I wanted to start for my family. The top one on my list is to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.”

Cupping my hands around the delightfully warm mug I asked, “How do you plan to do that?”

My daughter had obviously formed a game plan. She detailed, “I want to buy 12 very small gifts for each of the children. Then, every night between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany, they will have a package to open.”

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Time Rushing Past

“Hello. Kathy, Niki and Tammie are here to visit!” I called out as I opened the farmhouse door and walked into my childhood home, My two daughters rushed ahead of me. As I stepped from the entryway into the kitchen, I heard the back door open again. Glancing over my shoulder I saw my brother Billy entering the house. Seeing my car enter the yard, he had stopped doing chores to come inside for a visit.

Hearing us, my mother ordered, “Come on in!” I pulled off my coat and hung it up on the stairway newel post. Noticing my daughters had tossed their coats on the steps, I stopped long enough to drape them over my coat on the post. Grammie was comfortably settled in her upholstered rocking chair in the living room. Niki and Tammie were on the floor leaning against her knees. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room, glittering and sparkling. From the other room I heard Silver Bells playing on the kitchen radio that always played from morning to night.

Billy sat on the sofa. My brother Casper strolled out of his bedroom a moment later and sat down on the other end of the sofa. I sat down on a dining room chair near the tree. My eight and twelve-year-old daughters were gobbling Christmas candy from the bowl on the table.

Glancing over at the candy dish, Mom pointed out that it needed to be refilled. I jumped to my feet. I knew where the candy was kept. Carrying the green glass bowl into Casper’s bedroom, I opened his closet door and knelt down. Just as in my childhood, a box on the floor contained various brown paper sacks filled with a variety of candies. Scooping handfuls of angel food, bridge mix, chocolate covered caramels, butter finger bites and peanut brittle into the dish, I remembered all the times I had raided the Christmas candy stash as a teenager.

Back in the living room, Billy commented on how the shadows on cold winter days were blue-colored. I stood by the large living room window and studied the clear sky and the lengthening late afternoon shadows. He was right. The shadows cast by small pine trees near the house did look very blue against the snow. On the distant radio I heard Bing Crosby singing, ‘Adeste Fideles’.

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Giving Love

Looking forward to having a few minutes of peace and quiet, I pulled into a parking spot next to the building, turned off the engine and leaned back. One minute later the dismissal bell rang. In a remarkably short time a steady stream of grade school children poured out of the school. Hoping my daughters remembered not to take the bus home tonight, I scanned the crowd.

They had remembered. Ten-year-old Niki stepped out of the building with six-year-old Tammie at her side. Niki must have gone to her sister’s kindergarten room to make sure they didn’t get separated. Stopping in front of the school, Niki studied the row of parked cars. Both girls quickly spotted me and ran towards the car with big grins on their faces.

Tammie clutched something in her hand. Giving the object to me, she excitedly blurted, “Angie is having a birthday party and I’m invited!” The crumpled card gave the date and time of the party.

“It’s a good thing we’re going shopping today.” I said, mentally adding Angie’s birthday gift to my shopping list. “You can help pick the gift out.”

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Sweat Potatoes

Plump sweet potato tubers are supposed to be found directly below the vines. Not this year under my plants! The picture shows how most of mine grew. The skinny part was attached to the vine. The deeper it grew, the fatter it got. It broke off when I dug it up and I never found the rest if it.

A large, yellow and black bumble bee hopped from one catnip blossom to the next. I scanned the garden, happily breathing in its lovely, earthy smell. The unseasonably warm weather made the greenhouse garden look as if it was September. Nothing was frost damaged. In the first row, beautiful fat chrysanthemum bushes bloomed in, yellow, purple, and rust. The lavender plant, red and white geraniums, pink petunias and red tea roses were all blooming as if it was a summer day.

Whenever I had time the last week or two, I’d worked at preparing the garden for the winter. One day I pulled up the beans and cucumbers. On another day I took down the cucumber support fence and pulled up the pink flowering buckwheat. Today, I planned to dig my sweet potatoes and pick cherry tomatoes.

Progress is slow because my left knee has been hurting, and I’m a firm believer retired people should never be rushed. Out of necessity I’ve learned to work while sitting on a garden stool. Placing the stool firmly next to the first vined plant, I sank down on the seat. Not wanting to damage the irrigation line, I carefully inserted a small shovel into the ground alongside the sweet potato and pried up. Letting go of the shovel, I gathered all the vines near the loosened soil and pulled.

First came the disappointment. There were no large tubers attached to the stem, then came the frustration. The plant had long vines intertwined with every other sweet potato vine in the garden. Why I have a long-held dislike of digging potatoes came rushing back to me. It’s hard work with a low satisfaction rate.

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