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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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What’s It?

There’s always room for Jell-O!

My big family crowded around the kitchen table to eat supper, enjoying a chance to rest after a long afternoon of hayfield work. As we were cleaning our plates, Mom rose from her chair. Taking a few steps to the cupboard next to the sink, she picked up a 9 X13 cake pan and carried it to the table. It was time for the dessert I had watched her make earlier in the day!

Like watching a science experiment, first Mom dissolved strawberry Jell-O powder into a measured amount of boiling water. Then she chilled the red liquid with ice cubes. After slicing bananas into the liquid, Mom put the pan into the refrigerator. Before calling the family to eat, Mom had whipped sugar and cream from our cows into a thick, white cloud to frost the now jiggly dessert!

After cutting the Jell-O as she would cut a cake, Mom used a spatula to lift out squares for each member of the family. The portion set on my plate, quivered. Remembering a Jell-O commercial on our recently acquired television, I sang, “J-E-L-L-O!”

Mom smiled and reminisced, “I made Jell-O for the first time when Casper was a toddler.” I glanced over at my eldest brother sitting at the end of the table and tried to picture my adult brother as a toddler.

Continuing, Mom described his surprise and reaction. “When I set the Jell-O in front of Casper, he noticed it jiggling. Alarmed, he kept his eyes on it as he stood up in his highchair and frantically questioned, “What’s it? What’s it?”

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Rock Hound

Schoolhouse beach on Washington Island, Wisconsin.

As my family sat down at the kitchen table to eat dinner Daddy announced, “We’re picking rock this afternoon.” All my siblings, each one older than me by several years, groaned loudly.

I eagerly asked, “Daddy, am I old enough this year to pick rock, too?” He looked at Mom and she nodded. I excitedly clapped my hands. As the baby of the family I often felt excluded from activities because of my age. Today was a big day. I would work with my brothers and sisters.

That afternoon Daddy hitched the teeter-totter wagon to his Model M John Deere tractor. On foot, we followed it out to the field behind the machine shed. My older brothers and sisters picked up the larger rocks and put them on the bed of the wagon. I picked up many smaller ones. The novelty of working with the family quickly wore off. The job was not fun. I asked my brother Billy, “You picked rocks last year. Why didn’t you pick up these while you were at it?”

He chuckled and explained, “Because they were too deep in the soil last spring. The freezing and thawing of the ground during the winter pushed them up to the surface.” I looked at the heap of stone on the wagon. They were ugly and dirty.

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Sunset Sails

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!”

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Wild Snails

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?”

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The Path Best Not Taken

Sun-dappled shade blanketed the woodland floor. Green ferns peeked through last year’s papery fallen leaves. We heard the rustle of small feet scampering and the sleepy call of a bird in the tree tops. Along the trail, ferns stood guard over a slumbering, moss-covered log.

Ahead of us, we saw a sun-filled clearing. Stepping into the sun made me squint. Cleared by man, the woodland corridor allowed poles topped with electrical wires to march through the property. The path diverged at this point. A map mounted on a post showed different route options.

The path to the left would take us directly back to The Clearing’s campus schoolhouse. The path to the right would meander further from the campus, but eventually bring us back to the schoolhouse, too. Glancing at Tammie, I asked, “Which path do you want to take?”

My daughter stated, “I want to take the one to the left.”

When my daughter Tammie and I visit The Clearing for a vacation, we take classes to learn new crafts or perfect crafts familiar to us. This year, because of COVID 19, classes were canceled, but the venue remained open for self-directed retreats. We decided to go. A handful of other people had done the same. Consequentially, the campus was strangely empty and quiet. Following the hiking paths on the 128-acre campus, we found the less traveled paths were not as trampled or easy to follow. Continue reading

The Clearing

Rain pounded on the shake shingle roof. I opened my eyes and yawned. Gray, early dawn light filtered grayly through a water streaked window next to the unfamiliar bed. A flash of lightning startled me. An angry growl of thunder answered a few seconds later. For a moment I wondered where I was. Then I remembered.

Yesterday afternoon I’d left my husband and children at home to drive five hours to Ellison Bay, almost to the tip of Door County in Wisconsin. I felt brave for doing something so out of my comfort zone. For the next five days I’d attend a writing class taught by a professional writer.

A loud roar of thunder seemed to enter Lake Michigan, rolled around at the bottom of Green Bay, then rumbled to the surface. I loved the beautiful, deep-in-the-earth sound. The window light now was grey, tinged with green. Day was dawning and vines growing outside my cabin framed the window, reflected their summer hues into the room. Continue reading

Termination Dust

Summer breezes played tag in the shade under the thin stand of trees. Balanced on the back of a horse plodding slowly behind three other horses, I looked around, loving the earthy woodland smell and the sound of calling jays. Coming to visit this “Dude Ranch” with my sister-in-law had been a good idea; she loved horses.

Hot sun dappled through the tall tree-top canopy. Deer flies buzzed annoyingly around my head, always staying out of slap range. Suddenly, my horse began to run. I bounced around on the leather saddle like the tenderfoot I was. Then I began slipping more and more to one side until finally I crash-landed beneath the horse. Miraculously, the horse stopped running and didn’t step on me. I rolled away from its hooves.

An hour later, none-the-worse-for-wear, I sat in my mobile home living room visiting with Arnie’s sister, Ann. Four years younger than my husband and married for just one year, my sister-in-law told me her husband had gone to visit Alaska. A cool breeze fluttered the light nylon curtain at one of the open windows.

Ann said, “Ben wants to stay. He told me to get airplane tickets and come join him.” I had done very little travel in my lifetime. I was sure Ann had done even less. My only flight experience was a 15-minute buzz over Marshfield in a small plane with Daddy when the airport opened in 1960. On that late summer afternoon, Ann was 21 and I, 24.

Did the idea of flying to Alaska alone scare Ann? Then, an idea popped into my head and I blurted it out, “I’ll go to Alaska with you!” The idea gained momentum in my mind, like an avalanche sliding down the steepest slope on Mount McKinley. It never occurred to me to consult Arnie, my husband. For that matter, it never even entered my mind to ask him if he wanted to come with us. In my totally self-focused state, I began to make plans. Continue reading

I Was There!

Even though I ran all the way to the barn from the farmhouse, my fingers, toes and nose felt frozen by the time I stepped into the warm, earthy atmosphere, slamming the door shut behind me. Clutched in my hand was a kettle from our kitchen, half filled with gristle and fat meat trimmings, bread crusts, old grease, mold cut off cheese and leftover casserole that no one had eaten.

Knowing they were about to have a feast, three cats ran to greet me. Daddy looked up from the cow he was washing. I walked towards the stairway to the haymow. The cat’s food dish was there and so were the milk cans Daddy and my brother were filling. My brother was pouring warm, foamy milk from a milker bucket into the strainer sitting on one of the milk cans.

I dumped the kitchen scraps into the food dish and three more cats appeared. Putting the empty kettle on the second step, I sat down next to it to watch the six cats eagerly eat. Hearing the squeal of a teat cup letting go, I turned to look in time to see Daddy stepping in next to a cow to take care of the problem. Having had her fill, one of the cats sat back and licked her paw.

I loved everything about the barn, especially how warm and cozy it felt during the winter. Closing my eyes, I listened as a cow lowed contentedly. A moment later, another gustily exhaled. On the far end of the barn, a calf bawled. The cow next to the steps shook her head making her big ears flap. Shifting her great weight made her hooves creak. In the background I heard our Surge pump for the milking system. It wasn’t loud, but its gentle, comforting chug-chug sound was always there during chores, just like Daddy was always there. Continue reading

A Parting Shout

Tammie and I silently followed the other pilgrims on tour with us across the dark, predawn paved area surrounding Fatima’s cathedral. Tomorrow we would be flying back to the United States from Lisbon, Portugal. How quickly our twelve days abroad had gone by! Part of me wanted to stay longer; another part was eager to return home.

Each daily Mass on this trip had been like a small calm oasis within our swirling days of nonstop travel and visits to amazing places. This morning the calm was even more marked. We had visited all the Marian shrines we had set out to see. Now our prayers were of thanksgiving and for a safe flight home the next day.

After breakfast we loaded our luggage into the tour bus and posed for one last group picture. Forty-five miles from Lisbon, we stopped to visit the church of Saint Stephen in Santarem where a 13th century Eucharistic miracle took occurred.

In 1247, a woman discovered her husband was unfaithful. She went to a sorceress who promised to restore the husband’s fidelity, if the woman brought her a blessed Host. The woman went to Mass and received the body of Christ. Back in her pew, she took the Host out of her mouth and wrapped it in her shawl. The Host began to bleed profusely so she ran from the church. At her home nearby, she threw the Host into a trunk at the foot of her bed. That night an unearthly light shown from the trunk. The woman told her husband what she had done.

The priest was called and he returned the Blessed Sacrament to the church. Despite the passage of the years, the Host, which has stopped bleeding, has not deteriorated.

When it was time to leave the site, we reluctantly got back onto the bus. Our next stop was at the Gare do Oriente Station in Lisbon. Built for World Expo 1998, the train, bus and metro station was designed for visitors to pass through with minimal stress. It handles more passengers than New York City’s Grand Central Station.

As our bus approached Gare do Oriente, I saw a modernist structure with many metal and glass lattice arches. Nighttime picture postcards shows the airy façade glowing from many lights placed within. Vasco da Gama, a shopping center is attached to the multiple leveled station.

We had an hour to explore, shop and have lunch. Tammie and I took off as fast as we could. An hour was such a short time! We managed to visit two levels and found a small diner where no English was spoken. We pointed to pictures of the food we wanted. Then it was back to the bus again.

At four in the afternoon our bus pulled into a parking lot near the river Tagus where a bright yellow bus parked with the word, “Hippotrip” printed in large black letters on its side. Juan, our Mater Dei tour director announced, “For the next hour and half we will be taking a Hippotrip tour of Lisbon and the river.”

The local tour guide on the Hippotrip bus was an attractive young woman who spoke English well, but had a very charming European accent. Her job was to amuse, educate and entertain the passengers. Only a few minutes into the tour I turned to Tammie and said, “This chick has stage presence. I wonder if she does nightclubs?”

The tour guide said, “Whenever I shout, ‘Hippo-Hippo’, I want you to shout ‘Hoo-ray!’” Stopping to think a moment, she said, “Wait, let’s make up a new shout. How about shouting, ‘Mater Dei?’ We have to let everyone know along the way that we’re having fun!” Pumping the air with her fists, she shouted, “Hippo-Hippo!”

Obediently, we shouted back, “Mater Dei!” throughout the tour whenever she prompted us.

We saw famous bridges, towers and multimedia graffiti that deserved to be in art galleries. On the hill above us was the castle of St. Jorge. Below, we drove around the square, Terreino do Paco, with its symmetrical buildings. In the center of the square was the equestrian statue of King Dom Jose I.

As our guide explained, “I want you to know this isn’t a bus that turns into a boat. It is a boat that turns into a bus,” our vehicle dropped down a steep incline into the water with a great splash. The river tour showed us where the river Tagus empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

The next morning before leaving for the airport, we pilgrims once again crept silently though the pale dawn light to reach a room where we held our last intimate Mass of the trip. We had seen many wonders, but the greatest wonder of all was present at each one of our Masses.