The W. M. Syndrome

Sister Chantal paced across the front of my seventh-grade classroom listing what assignments she wanted us to complete by the end of the school day. Her pretty young face, framed by her white wimple and black veil, looked thoughtful. Her black habit accentuated her thin body. Only the toes of her small black shoes showed below the hem. “Read the next story in your English book. It’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber. To test your reading comprehension, I will hand out a paper while you are reading. Answer the questions about the story to the best of your abilities.”

I loved reading. Opening my English book, I quickly began mentally absorbing the story. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was about an odd man who couldn’t function properly because he was always daydreaming. His ineptitude made me suffer second-hand embarrassment. I wanted to escape from the uncomfortable situations that resulted from his stupid behavior.

What made me truly hate “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was that I saw myself being like him. I daydreamed more than I thought I should. Did I act weird because of my daydreams? I shuddered and fervently hoped I didn’t.

Staring at the floor next to my desk, I pictured Sister Chantal announcing, “Kathy, I already know you have good reading comprehension, so you don’t have to do this assignment. I’ll have you hand out the test papers.”

Sighing, I went back to reading the story. Walter Mitty seemed crazy. Did that make me crazy, too? Continue reading

Lactose Intolerance

The meal looked beautiful. My guests were in for a treat. I’d prepared everything I love to eat. A salad with liberal amounts of feta cheese and walnuts would start the meal. Moistly tender chicken breasts wrapped in bacon and smothered in a mixture of mushroom soup and sour cream was next. Our desert to end this delectable meal was cheese cake with a graham cracker crust, covered with a generous scoop of glazed fresh blueberries and whipped cream.

My tummy rumbled. I glanced at the clock. Even though I hadn’t eaten since an early lunch, I wasn’t hungry. My tummy felt as though I’d just finished drinking a gallon of water.

I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Intermittently I’d felt sick for most of the past year. Did I have cancer? My imagination ran wild with other dreaded possibilities.

Frowning, I wondered why some days I felt fine and other days not. Last Friday morning I was very sick. By three in the afternoon I felt much better. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since my breakfast cereal, the rumble in my belly indicated hunger. My daughter was home for the weekend. She suggested, “Since you’re feeling better, what do you say we go out to eat?” Continue reading

In the Year

Georgia had shown me the dark service stairway a few days earlier. Shifting the beach towel and radio I was holding to firmly grasp the roof door’s latch, I gave it a quick turn. My reward was a loud click and a flood of bright sunlight.

The roof was flat, covered with small pebbles. I found a spot to spread my blanket and laid down. Sunbathing wasn’t one of my favorite things to do, especially alone, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Today was my day off. All my new friends were working. Turning the radio on, I closed my eyes.

The sun was warm, but a cool breeze kept it from being unpleasant. A song l liked began to play. A man’s voice mournfully crooned, “In the year 2525, if man is still alive, if woman can survive, they may find…”

I had graduated from high school during the first week of June. Two weeks later I moved to Wausau where I planned to attend summer school and work as a nursing assistant. Those were the things I’d planned. What I hadn’t planned was meeting a man who swept me off my feet and feeling unable to finish taking the summer school chemistry class.

My parents must be told about the class. I’d taken it because I was planning to attend college in the fall. The song on the radio continued, “In the year 3535, ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies. Everything you think, do and say is in the pill you took today.” Obviously, college was not going to happen for me if I didn’t take the chemistry class and pass tests. Continue reading

Picture Perfect

The first page of the newspaper showed rioters breaking store windows and stealing merchandize. I read only enough of the article to know where, when and why. A few pages in was an article about the acceleration of climate change. Next, there was an article detailing the virus’ devastating financial effects on families. On the back page was a graph showing a rapid increase in new COVID-19 cases.

I pride myself on keeping a fine balance between knowing what is going on in this world and not allowing that knowledge to make me feel sick with worry. That day I felt poisoned by the news. I wondered if in the history of the world, there has ever been a time where so many things were messed up and going wrong.

It’s hard to find a proper, healthy perspective when looking at the world. I struggle with bad news, frequently asking myself, “Will things eventually improve, or is the world going to —- in a handbasket?”

Many people think all the good times are in the past and are unlikely to happen again. One man pessimistically grumbled, “… children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” Who said that? Socrates, a man who lived over 24 centuries ago! Continue reading

Out of Sorts

Recently, I walked into my office and handed Tammie a cup of tea before sitting down to enjoy my own. Looking up from her work, my daughter thanked me and questioned, “Are you going to write today? What topic did you pick out?”

Shrugging, I admitted, “I haven’t even thought about it yet.” Swiveling in my chair to look at the computer screen, I changed the subject, “Did you know that an elephant has over 40,000 muscles in its trunk?”

Tammie laughed as she admonished, “You just don’t want to get down to work, do you? But no, I didn’t know elephants had that many muscles in their trunks. Overall, how many muscles do humans have?”

Being a true trivia lover, I knew the answer. “Humans have a little over 600 muscles in their entire body.”

I also like silly Mom jokes, so I decided to throw in one into our conversation for good measure. “I want you to know that I’ve entered into my snapdragon phase of life.”

My daughter questioned, “Really…what does that mean?” Continue reading

Never Happy

A weak breeze gently fluttered the sheets Mom had hung on the clothes line nearby. I lounged on the grass in the shade of a backyard tree wishing it wasn’t so hot. Leaning forward, I stared at the garden beyond the wet laundry. Pale green plants marked rows of tomatoes, beans and peas. All around them the soil was a dry, pale brown.

Behind me, I heard the farmhouse door open and Mom yell, “Dinner’s ready. Come and eat!”

The heat of the day made me feel heavy and sluggish. Although I looked forward to eating, I couldn’t make myself move quickly. As I slowly stumped to the house, Daddy joined me from where he had been working in the machine shed.

Noon meals were usually rewarmed leftovers. My mouth watered as I recognized the juicy roast chicken from Sunday, the day before. Mom was such a good cook; her leftovers were better than most people’s fresh starts.

After blessing our meal, Mom began to hand around bowls of chicken, peas and mashed potatoes. Daddy ate a few forkfuls before telling Mom, “The field corn is looking good, but it won’t for long if we don’t get rain soon.” Continue reading

Is It a Llama?

The first week of quarantine I felt trapped and claustrophobic. During the second week I realized that I was safer at home rather than being, out-there-with-the-virus. By the third week of quarantine I began to think about changes I wanted to make to my office, which I was now sharing with a quarantine buddy, my daughter Tammie.

The futon in the office needed to go away. I wanted to replace it with a recliner. Supplies on wire shelving in the room were dusty and needed to be cleaned, organized and put into labeled boxes. A heater had to be installed. The room’s only heat vent was the furthest one away from the furnace, too far to warm the room above 59 degrees during six months of the year. It’s hard to be creative while freezing.

I wondered, “How am I to accomplish what I want? After all, I’m quarantined!” Once again, the sensation of being trapped and claustrophobic swept over me. When I told Tammie what was bothering me, her eyes lit up. She pulled out her phone with an enthusiastic invitation, “Let’s go shopping online!”

I ordered a heater and then called a local business man for installation, “after-this-is-all-over.” An order for a brown recliner we liked went out next. While we were at it, we made a big online grocery order. Following that my daughter purchased a yoga stool, clothing and craft supplies. I wanted garden supplies, a grandchild’s birthday gift and shoes. Tammie asked, “Did you know we can order our favorite restaurant meals uncooked and in bulk?”

Feeling like James T. Kirk, a science fiction spaceship captain, I pointed to her phone and ordered, “Make it so.” We both knew what we wanted. Continue reading

Going Batty

After yesterday’s chilly overcast weather, this morning’s sunshine made me want to spend time in my backyard. I paused at the backdoor to call out to my daughter Tammie, who was working in my office, “Do you want to take your break outside?”

While awaiting Tammie’s answer, my glance fell on a small splash of blood on the wall next to the door. Surprised, I thought, “Where in the world did that come from?” Then I spotted another small splash on the door, on the opposite wall, on the floor. There was even a minuscule splash on the ceiling!

Tammie found me washing the spots away with a washcloth. Looking perplexed she questioned, “Where did the blood come from?”

My answer sounded as troubled as I felt, “I wish someone could explain what happened.” As I went to dispose of the washcloth, I happened to look down and spotted a dead wood tick on the entryway floor. It looked as though it had been fully engorged when killed. “That’s weird”, I commented, “Is it possible that one of the cats had a tick on them and scratched at it hard enough to dislodge it and for the blood in it to splash around?” All afternoon that day, every time I went into the entryway, I found more and more small blood splashes. Continue reading

An Attitude Adjustment

I pulled a picture from a box containing photos from the 1950’s. It showed me and two of my neighborhood cousins sitting on swings Daddy had made under two large cottonwood trees near the barn. I looked to be four years of age, which made my cousins four and five years of age. They were wearing shorts and sun tops, but I was in a floor length nightgown that was visibly soiled.

Holding the picture up for my daughter Tammie to see, I exclaimed, “Look at the adorable expressions on our faces. This must be one of the first times we played together. I’ll bet their dad Tony came to visit my dad and brought them along.”

Recently I have spent several hours going through childhood pictures, looking for just the right ones to put in the family history book I am writing. A glowing bubble of rosy, happy childhood memories enveloped me as I examined pictures of three-year-old me chasing a small flock of Guinea hens, two-year-old me on my belly watching how a kitty-cat eats and dozens of family line-up pictures. Worries about the pandemic seemed far away and in another world. Continue reading

Pitiful

Preoccupied by my thoughts, I sighed and absentmindedly began to clear the table. My garden was nearly ready to be tilled, but how was I going to get the tiller to start? I needed help but absolutely did not want to ask for help. Setting the stack of dishes and silverware on the counter next to the sink, I sighed again.

My daughter Tammie was standing at the kitchen counter mixing cake batter. She glanced over at me and setting down the hand mixer, questioned, “What’s wrong Mom? You’ve been sighing.”

I reluctantly admitted, “It’s time to till the garden and I know from experience that I can’t pull the starter cord fast and hard enough to make the engine turn over.”

Pulling a cake pan closer to the mixing bowl, Tammie advised, “List the people you could call for help. Decide which one you feel the most comfortable approaching. Then give that person a call and ask.”

With hands on my hips, I scoffed, “You’re a fine one to be giving advice on how to ask for help! You are completely stubborn about getting help. You’ve even admitted to me that you don’t want people to think you are weak and pitifully handicapped.”

Picking up a spatula, Tammie scrapped the cake batter into the pan as she defensively pointed out, “Some people only see me as a short-armed individual. I want everyone to see how many things I am capable of doing. Some things, like not being able to reach something on a high shelf are just physically impossible. But my not being able to do that, doesn’t define who I am!” Continue reading