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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Midwestern Proverbs

Opening the large paperback Bible to Proverbs, I settled into the chair next to my bedroom window. Small print densely covered both pages. Having recently finished reading the Psalms, I knew that reading too much at a time would make my brain lose focus. In order to get as much as possible out of my daily reading, I gave myself permission to only read 14 proverbs at a time if that was all I could handle.

Most mornings I stop for a few moments to read a page from the Bible. Consequently I’ve read the Good Book from cover to cover more than twice. With each reading, I notice different things in the familiar stories. Reading the fascinating books of Ruth and Judith, I have a hard time stopping, but with the book of Leviticus, reading it once was enough.

Later that morning, I looked up the definition of ‘proverb’. The dictionary said proverbs were short pithy sayings in general use, stating a truth or general advice. In thinking about it, that seemed true of the biblical proverbs. The ones I’d read that morning had to do with fools versus wise men, and lazy or unscrupulous men versus honest, righteous men. Only one made me wonder if Solomon was prideful when he wrote, “The king’s lips are an oracle; no judgment he pronounces is false.”

         Many secular proverbs exist. Most of them are born of experience. For example, a proverb in my mother’s family was, “For as long as spring peepers sing before Saint George’s Day, that is how long they will be silent after it.” They believed that if the weather warmed up too soon in April, there would be a deep freeze on Saint George’s Day, April 23rd, causing the peepers to burrow back into the mud and be silent.

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What Everyone Likes

With a big smile on my face, I cheerfully informed the patient, “Your doctor wants you to get up to walk four times today. You walked 25 yards with me this morning. Now it’s time for you to get up again. This time we’ll shoot for 50 yards.”

The patient made no move to sit up. He grumped, “I don’t know why you have to be so cheerful. I bet you enjoy torturing people.”

As I pulled the bedside table out of the way, I informed him, “Actually, I don’t!” The patient lifted his head and hunched his shoulders forward as if he was trying to do a sit-up. His face contorted into a grimace. I instructed, “When a person has an abdominal incision like you do, it feels better to roll to your side and push yourself up with your elbow.”

Moments later the patient was plodding down the hall with me helping to steady him. His surely mood was still evident. Wanting to take his mind off the pain and the perceived injustice of having to walk so soon after surgery, I tried to engage him in conversation.

My questions only received monosyllabic answers. As we walked past the kitchenet, the warm smell of freshly-popped buttered popcorn engulfed us. I exclaimed, “Wow, that smells so good! I’ll bet heaven smells like buttered popcorn. What do you think?”

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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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Pause to Listen

Rain drops pattered overhead and a long, low grumble of thunder followed the sharp crack of a distant lightning strike. As my brother Billy sank down into the chair across from me in the living room, he instructed, “Close your eyes and listen.” I stretched and rested my head on the sofa back.  

Billy questioned, “You know that when it rains on a hot summer afternoon, you can smell a beautiful, earthy scent sometimes?”

I nodded, realizing he had his eyes shut, too, I answered, “Yes, it’s the smell of clean, wet soil, or maybe the chlorophyll in the plants.”

There was another roll of thunder, but the rain on the roof had lessened. We became aware of the sound of water trickling down a rain spout. Somewhere there was a slow, steady drip of water falling into a puddle.

My brother jumped to his feet and took the storm CD out of his new radio compact disk player. He said, “My new Bose has the best sound of any radio I’ve ever had. I almost imagined smelling the rain. Right now, when I looked outside, it seemed like I should have seen gray rain clouds scuttling away.”

Getting to my feet to look closer at my brother’s new toy, I admired its sleek lines before stating, “I’ve been told these are quite expensive.”

Defending his splurge, he maintained, “Yes, they are. But you get top quality for the money.”

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Doll Hospital

Doll Hospital

A shaft of blinding sunshine blazed through our farmhouse’s back-door window and cascaded down the basement steps. The sunlight felt warm and glowed against the shadowed area under the steps. Mom was outside hanging a load of freshly washed sheets. I loved playing in the basement when Mom was doing the laundry, but I didn’t go outside with her when it was as cold as today.

My new bike was in the basement until the weather improved and our muddy yard dried up. I loved my bike. It was half as big as the bikes my older brothers and sisters rode, and had training wheels to keep me upright. Slowly peddling around the perimeter of the basement, I rode past the clothes chute with the bedsprings under it to catch whatever was thrown down, past the furnace and oil tank, under the high windows that let in dim light, beside canning shelves filled with good things to eat, under the steps where bushel baskets of newspaper-wrapped apples were stored during the winter.

Swerving around the small, wooden-walled toilet enclosure, I stopped next to the washing machine. Mom was back in the basement putting in a new load. Noticing that my bike was between her and the stairs. She suggested, “You should park your bike next to the clothes chute so I don’t have to walk around it.” Grasping the bike’s handlebars, I walked it forward a few feet.

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Freezone

Mom handed me one of the penicillin pills we had bought at the pharmacy after seeing the doctor. It was huge! Seeing the expression on my face, Mom scolded, “You’ll be able to swallow it! Just don’t think about it. Put it into your mouth and take a drink of this nice orange juice I bought for you. When you swallow the pill will go down with the juice.”

At age nine, I couldn’t remember Mom ever buying orange juice. I eagerly reached for the small glass. Popping the pill into my mouth, I took a drink. The juice went down my throat, but the pill stayed on my tongue and it tasted horrible! Gagging and retching, I spit the white monster out and Mom caught it.

Refusing to take the pill was not an option. I’d overheard Mom tell Daddy that my strep throat could turn into rheumatic fever if not treated with an antibiotic.

I had barely stopped gagging and drooling when Mom filled a small dish with apple sauce and turned to me with some on a spoon, topped by the soggy pill. Half an hour later, the dish was nearly empty before the pill finally slid down my throat. Feeling shaky from all the gagging and with a belly full of juice and sauce, I wobbled into the living room to lay down on the davenport. The pill not only tasted bad but also smelled nasty.

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Vintage Leather

The card rack display, strategically placed in the center of the store, ensured a high volume of customers would pass by. “Smart,” I mentally approved as I examined the vast inventory. “As people pass by, seeing the greeting cards will prompt them to buy cards for upcoming birthdays, graduations or other momentous occasions in their family.”  

The greeting card industry is big business. Americans spend 6.5 billion dollars a year on cards. Seven out of ten card buyers consider greeting cards essential to them. Typical cost of each greeting card is between two dollars and ten.

I’m one of the three people out of ten who don’t feel cards are essential. I’d rather give someone a gift worth an extra ten dollars than spend it on a card. I hate greeting cards for many reasons.

My biggest complaint about them has to do with their messages. If I’m looking for a birthday card to send to my mother or father-in-law, I spend a long time scouring the available selection for messages I feel comfortable with. Many of them say things like, “Thank you for all the wonderful things you have done for me. The lessons you taught me about life will live on through your grandchildren.” Gack! They didn’t raise me, so I don’t want a card like that.

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