Reading By Moonlight (2016)

(Last week, our North Carolina weather went from relatively mild to snow, freezing rain, and plummeting temperatures.  The full moon added light, but no warmth.  As always, it reminded me of the interminable winters we encountered during our years in the upper Midwest;  especially one  particular January night some 30 years ago.  Our latest bout of weather has prompted me to tell that story once again.  My original post went much like this:)

Sometimes I still check the weather in the northern Wisconsin town where we lived when our children were young. I see that the low temperature tonight is -6.  Got that?  Not the windchill, but the actual temperature: minus 6.

Weather can fool you there. Bright sunshine and glistening snow, a sparkle in the air…?  Those sparkles are ice crystals.  Stay inside and wait for the cloudy days.

I remember looking out my kitchen window many wintry nights when the snow reflected the moonlight beyond the shadows of the trees.  In fact, it seemed so bright that I could have gone outside and read by the light of the moon,  I preferred the lamplight of my own cozy home.

Our daughter Boo used to call that negative weather, an apt name on several levels. A deep breath of that cold air sent a sharp, knifelike pain into the lungs and left the nostrils frozen. To say that the cold became wearying about this time of year is to vastly understate its effect on the psyche.

I led a Brownie Girl Scout troop at the church next to the neighborhood elementary school. The Jr. Girl Scout troop met at the same time, right after school ended.   Coming up with indoor activities to use up some of their pent-up energy became more challenging each week. The two groups were congenial, so we decided to plan a combined activity: we’d hold a Father-Daughter Square Dance.

The other leader found a square dance caller: a farm couple who did this to make some extra money during the winter months. The wife taught the moves while the husband acted as caller and provided the music. We planned refreshments and rounded up big brothers to come and dance with any girls whose dads couldn’t be present.  I made my own little Brownie a special outfit: a blue gingham dress and bonnet like Laura Ingalls Wilder might have worn.

It didn’t take long for the dance to grow into a much-anticipated event for the girls. A date with daddy!

The temperatures on the appointed evening chilled to the marrow, cold even by Wisconsin standards.   I believe the windchill was -30.  The snow crunched beneath our boots as we trudged from car to fellowship hall, unloading the refreshments and decorations. By the time the girls and their dads began arriving, everything was in place except the caller and his wife.  No word from them.

A few games–Duck, Duck, Goose and Strut, Miss Lucy– entertained the girls for about thirty minutes. The fathers stood around the punch bowl, introducing themselves to each other. The other leader and I led the games and smiled even as we shot each other questioning looks and kept glancing at the outer doors. The caller was bringing the equipment, the music, and the talent.  We had no Plan B.

A blast of cold wind swept through the room when the double doors opened to reveal, not the expected caller, but a uniformed police officer. He walked over to the group of dads and asked which one of them was in charge. The men pointed silently to the two of us. We walked to the corner of the room with the cop where he explained that he had stopped a car for speeding and the driver had said he was on his way to a church function where he was supposed to be the entertainment. The policeman said he wanted to make sure because the story had sounded implausible. We assured him that the man was exactly what he professed to be.

The officer, still looking dubious, went out to the parking lot and returned with a tall, slim, slightly stooped man in overalls and a flannel shirt, followed a little blond girl about the age of my Brownies and a boy who was perhaps 11. The children were thin and solemn. One carried a small record player and the other, a stack of 33-rpm records.

The man introduced himself to the two of us and apologized profusely. “We had to milk the cows before we could leave. It takes longer when it’s cold like this,” he told us, “and my wife is feeling bad and couldn’t help. Don’t worry though. . . I can call and teach too and I’ll stay the full time we agreed on.”

Within minutes he had the group in a circle, explaining terms like “allemande left” and “promenade right”.  It didn’t bring out much hidden talent on our part, but certainly evoked much merriment. Learning “Swing your partner” and “Grand Left and Right” to take the inner and outer circles in opposing directions was easier and officially threw the evening as well as the dancers into full swing.

The other leader, also named Mary, and I couldn’t escape a feeling of unease. Something didn’t feel right. The boy would disappear, leaving the little girl to operate the music for her daddy, then the boy would return and whisper something to his dad. A few minutes later we’d see the little girl slipping quietly through the swinging doors.  When she returned, she’d whisper urgently in her father’s ear as he continued calling the dances.

Finally the man asked would we mind if he took a little break so he could go outside and check on his wife. His wife? We’d had no idea that someone had been outside in that subzero darkness all this time.

“Please,” we urged, “have her come inside. She can sit in the kitchen, she can lie down on a pew… bring her in to get warm!”

The man said he didn’t think she’d do that, but he’d ask her. He came back in alone a few minutes later. He shook his head at our questioning looks and came closer, lowering his voice. “She may be having a… miscarriage,” he murmured. “She doesn’t want to come in and disturb the children.”

It was obvious he meant our children; his own children held critical roles in the family drama and carried them out seriously. They’d politely refused the refreshments we offered. They were not there for fun.

We protested as adamantly as we could without letting the dancers overhear us. “We can cancel this,” we insisted to the farmer. “We’ll do it another time. Does she want to go to the hospital? What can we do to help?”

He was adamant in his refusal, insisting that we’d hired him and he was going to honor the commitment. He wasn’t going to disappoint all these little girls. We sensed that the money–$90, as I recall–was very important.  Health insurance?  No need to ask. We could tell by his reaction there was no way this woman would agree to a hospital visit.

We tried to reassure him that he HAD honored his commitment and had more than earned the payment, but he stubbornly refused to stop.

“I don’t take the pay if I don’t do the full job,” he said firmly and stepped back up to the microphone.

We were the only two adult women in the building, but the other leader’s husband was a physician and after she whispered the unfolding situation to him, he went outside to assist her however he could. The police officer, inexplicably still hanging around, followed him. The doctor was back in about ten minutes, shrugging his shoulders to us.

“She says this has happened before and she knows what to do. Doesn’t want to go to hospital and won’t come inside.  I think she’ll be okay. She’s pretty calm; it’s the cop who is in a panic.”

About 15 minutes later the little girl pulled gently on my arm. “Miss,” she whispered, “my mom says do you have some kind of little container you won’t be needing any more.”

I was confused. Did she need water to drink?  She shook her head. “She says it doesn’t need to be very big, but if it had a lid, that would be good.”

Suddenly I realized why the woman needed a container and went into the church kitchen.  I found a clean cottage cheese container with lid and handed it to the child. She accepted it with that same solemn expression and headed for the door, walking along the wall to be as invisible as possible.  My heart literally hurt as I watched the small figure heading out to serve as midwife for the mother who waited alone in the Arctic-like night.

The policeman rushed back inside and drew the doctor aside, whispering excitedly. The doctor shook his head and spoke briefly as if trying to reassure the policeman, who looked beyond ragged by then.

“He radioed for an ambulance,” the doctor told us as he returned from another trip outside. “The blood scared him.”

The farmer overheard this exchange and asked urgently, “Can you cancel it? She won’t go!”

But at that instant,  flashing lights strobed through glass block windows. The doctor grabbed his coat again and we took another break so that the man could go to his wife and join the growing tableau in the parking lot. Inside, our scouts and their fathers, except for our two husbands, remained oblivious to what was happening out there. The fathers, in an unspoken pact, appeared to be working overtime to make it an evening to remember for their little girls.

The farmer came back inside and began calling another dance for the revelers. The doctor whispered to us that he’d sent the ambulance away and would make sure the man wasn’t billed for it. Ironically, the ambulance fee at that time was $90.

At the end of the dance the farmer did accept a cup of punch while his children packed up the equipment. We did not insult him with small talk, but thanked him, quickly paid him his fee and wished them well. The trio did not look back as they headed out for their car and the woman who had waited in the frigid night for over two hours.

To talk of the incident seemed somehow to dishonor the dignity of that family, so we did not speak of it to each other afterwards, but I know that night affected me in ways I still don’t understand. When I hear of young women expecting “push prizes” for childbirth. . . when I hear Congressional arguments about how we can’t afford health care for all. . .  when I read of blizzards in the midwest or look at the moon on a winter night, I think about that family and what it must have been like driving home on that night.  I picture the mother, who was probably near my own age then, feeling that cottage cheese container in her hands lose its warmth… the father, driving more slowly on the return trip, facing another round of milking and feeding the herd before sunrise . . .and the children, who would help with chores and ready themselves for another day at a school where students segregated themselves by whether they were farm kids or town kids: Dirts or Jocks.  These children would be Dirts.

Other families often have visceral realities so very different from our own, but we see them  through our own small lens.   Until, that is, we step away from our own warm hearth. . .  and learn to read by moonlight.

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Resolute!

I’m embarrassed.  I haven’t blogged in so long, even my computer has forgotten the password.  It is difficult to type with my head held so low in shame.   I’ll add post more often than quarterly  to my New Year’s resolutions.

When my Dearly Beloved mentioned that I was nagging in early January, I added Don’t nag to the list, too,  along with my usual duo–exercise and lose weight.

However,  the Christmas ornaments are still sitting on the dining room table.   We didn’t decorate much, so it’s not like a rummage sale in there, but still. . . .

When I took them all down right after New Year’s, I asked DB would he bring the boxes down from the attic.  (I’m forbidden to go up there) and he cheerfully said, “Of course.”

As reminding him would be nagging,  I didn’t mention it again until he asked ME when was I going to put away the Christmas decorations.

“When you bring the box down from the attic.”.

He nodded.   “I wondered why you were leaving them out for so long.”  

That was last week.  The attic door has not been opened and the decorations have not been moved.

This shilly-shallying could continue into spring.  I’ll just hang a few Valentines on the Christmas things.   We don’t even call it being lazy.  It’s a brain wane.  Now that we are retired,   we try to be more frugal,  so we keep the lights on in only one brain between us.

Speaking of lights, I should catch you up on what’s new, rodent-wise, here at Squirrel Manor.  In a previous post, I mentioned that my brother BroJoe was inundating me with various squirrel items to, he informed me, “improve your sense of humor.” 

I showed you my squirrel necklace, my squirrel enameled box, and my squirrel pillows.   There was one pair I missed though. . . what bathroom can be without a squirrel family nightlight?

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Yes, Friends, I now pee by squirrel light.

How does he FIND this stuff, I wondered.   Only my brother would be that crazy.

Au contraire.

A couple of weeks later. another package arrived–a total  surprisefrom a company  called Flytrap Clothing,  a North Carolina company.  It had to be from BroJoe, I thought, seeing the contents.

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Four squirrel napkins, tied with a bow.  Even though I am heartless when it comes to squirrels in my garden, I had to admit:  these little buggahs ARE cute.

I dug back into the package and found this note:

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I met Katybeth Jensen through her blog, My Odd Family,  and follow her on Facebook because she is one delightfully zany, sunshiny lady with a touch of um… crazy.  Katybeth doesn’t like squirrels any more than I do. Once, she sent me information on how to get rid of squirrels.  Since weapons of mass destruction weren’t recommended, the book wasn’t much help. Now here she was, putting the critters in my lap.  Literally.

Frankly, if I ran E! network, I’d drop the Kardashians and set cameras up at Katybeth’s Chicago residence.  This woman and her teen son run a doggy daycare  in their Chicago home and their adventures in and beyond the dog world are often hysterical.

But I digress.

With squirrels overtaking my house, when my brother returned from a trip through West Virginia, bearing a gift from Tamarack, I had no doubt what would be in the colorful wrappings.

“It’s hand-blown glass,” he informed me.

I breathed easier.  Even BroJoe would not spend money on a hand-blown glass squirrel, I thought.

I was right.

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Oink.

 

 

The Damnsquirrels’ Revenge

When my brother told me to be expecting a package on the Friday before Thanksgiving, I was curious, yet a bit apprehensive.

Years ago, he wrote, “I am going to send you a deer tenderloin.”  I panicked for days, worrying that I hadn’t sent my “NO THANKS!”  fast enough to prevent a chunk of Bambi from being delivered to my front door.  (Yes, deer diners, I’m sure it’s tasty.) 

He gives lovely gifts when he wants to, so this time could either be a wonderful surprise. . . or it could be another banana keychain.   He had e-mailed my Youngest Daughter that  I needed to broaden my sense of humor and he was going to help me.

Reason enough to worry.

A large box arrived on Friday, just as he’d said.  I opened it hesitantly, lest some animal be among the contents.

Indeed, that is exactly what it was,  just not in a form I expected.

There was this:
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And these:

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Also, a squirrel on a gold chain.

It was a fascinating collection.  How long did it take my brother to assemble that squirrely gift?!?

I have placed the pillows on the swing on the screened porch.  They stare at me through the French doors when I sit in the sunroom.  I can’t help but stare back, wondering what  telepathic message they’re trying to send me.  Look at those eyes!

The enameled box sits on the end table here beside me.

Gawd help me, I even wore the necklace when my brother was here for Thanksgiving.

(Note to self:  Inform family that upon my demise, they are NOT to bury me wearing that necklace.) 

I want one of THEM to have it.

My sense of humor, I think, is broader already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Two-Timing Siri!

My computer cord is still missing and we’re still finding Lincoln Logs in unlikely places, but we have been thinking that everything is pretty much back to normal around here:  figurines returned to their rightful places, electrical sockets untaped, dog toys returned to the dog, etc.  Yesterday, my laptop, iPhone and I spent a while bellied up to Genius Bar at the Apple Store, so we’re back on speaking terms with each other.

In the past, our laptops and iPhones have often sported new screen savers or perhaps a new free game or two after the Grandsons’ visits.  As all three of the boys are more computer savvy than we’ll ever be, we generally leave the new additions as they are.  Youngest Grandson (I’ll call him ‘Cory’ here so as not to rat him out) has a particular affinity for our iPhones and loves to quiz Siri with silly questions, not so much for his own entertainment as for the rest of the people in the room.

One particular evening when he was doing this, he told Siri to “Call me Cory,” as she had, of course, been calling him by his Granddad’s name.  Logically so, since he was using his Granddad’s phone.  One of his brothers warned, “Don’t do that, Cory.  It changes things.”

DB said, probably thinking to himself that he never asks Siri questions in the first place,  “Oh, that’s okay,”  and never gave it another thought.

I must digress for a minute and tell you that even though DB is retired, he sometimes contracts to work with large firms to arbitrate legal disputes.  He does most of this work from home and sends e-mails to attorneys and other arbitrators from his personal laptop and phone.  Official stuff, so I have to keep the dog quiet when the Fed-Ex man comes while DB is on the phone or concentrating.  He’s very orderly and professional about all of this.

Last night he was reading an attorney brief from a global law firm in New York City and noticed that the transmittal e-mail addressees included someone named Cory.  He’d seen that in some earlier correspondence this week and assumed that Cory must be a law clerk in one of the offices.  He hadn’t raised the issue, but felt the addition improper.

He read through the list of addressees again.  Oddly, his name wasn’t on the list.  Then it hit him.

HE was Cory.

Few things fluster DB, but this one deserves a large check mark under the Fluster column.   He didn’t know how it happened, but he remembered that evening. . .  Cory’s brother’s admonition. . . and his own dismissal of it.

So what was he supposed to do to fix this?  Ask Siri?

Exactly.

He took the phone out on the front porch, ostensibly because the reception is better out there, but I’ll bet it didn’t hurt that I couldn’t hear the exchange.  When he came back inside, he felt satisfied that he was back as Siri’s #1 man.

This morning he has been on his computer once again with more exchanges on the case.

‘Cory, Esq.’ no longer made the list.  DB the professional was much relieved.  DB the granddad is still chuckling.

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Moving… to the State of Panic

Don’t think that the grandkids left behind a string of broken items and a wrecked house to put me in this state.  I’m the one that created the situation in which I now find myself:  the deep doodoo place.

Normal grandmothers would, by now, have the guest rooms all fresh and clean and cookies baked for the next visit.  Instead, this grandmother is spending my days searching for things I put away for “safekeeping”  during the grandkids’ recent Thanksgiving visit.

Although I vaguely remember putting my laptop cord someplace out of sight, I assumed it would surface before I needed it.  When the power level on my laptop dropped to 7%,  I put Plan B into operation:  I got really serious about trying to remember where I’d stuck it to keep it out of little Granddaughter’s reach.

Stupid of me to hide it in the first place.  What could she do to a power cord as long as she didn’t flush it?

I began an intensive search of all the possible places I might have stashed it.  At this point I can safely say that it isn’t in a closet or a drawer.  It isn’t hidden behind the toilet paper stash in the bathrooms or the sheets in the linen closet.  It isn’t under the bed, the sofas, or anything else with a skirt.

I’m beginning to wonder if I flushed it myself.

While I was looking for the cord, I was also hoping to come upon  a couple of Christmas presents I’d hidden before the family arrived.  Those gifts are not in any of the above places either.  One of them is a gift for our Atlanta daughter who was here.  This is the first time I can remember that she didn’t “happen to come upon” her obscurely hidden gift.   When it comes to discovering presents, the girl has some bloodhound in her.

The first of the week,  I dejectedly trudged into the Apple Store to buy a new power adapter for my laptop.  That sucker was $80!!!  The person who assisted me said that if I found mine within two weeks, I could return this one (even used) and get a full refund.  I’m down to 11 days now and I still don’t have a clue. I’m thinking of asking my daughter to come back for a quick visit.  If I dropped a hint that her Christmas gift might be very near something that smells like a power cord, who knows?

It used to be that my super-organized spouse would shake his head at my disorganization, but now, he is completely sympathetic.   Having hit the age when  chronic CRS screws around with our brains and our attention span, he understands.  Bob Dylan is right: the times, they are a-changing.

Just yesterday, my Dearly Beloved consoled me by confessing that he poured himself a cup of coffee and almost put the coffee pot in the refrigerator.  The only thing that stopped him, he said, was that the fridge was so full of leftovers, he couldn’t find room for it.

Hmmm.

I’d better check there for the cord.

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Half-Baked

The house is quiet again.  That’s both good and bad.  We miss those grandchildren like crazy, but our muscles do need time to heal.  So does the house.

Dearly Beloved went bowling and/or played basketball with the three grandsons every day.  He admits that he’s not the player he used to be.  His jump shot lacks one thing–any hint of daylight between his shoes and the ground.

He developed a bruised breastbone and sore shoulder which he claimed prevented him from Furminating the dog.   After I said he’d need a note from the doctor, he found that he could manage the task after all.

Let me digress for a moment here:  I have mentioned several times that it takes him forever to walk the dog because he and Scout stop to talk and sniff every pup and owner they encounter.  (I hope you aren’t going to ask which one does the sniffing.)   On one of their walks, he talked to a woman about Thanksgiving and she told him of the fabulously prepared Thanksgiving dinner that she pre-orders every year and picks up on Thanksgiving Day.   As he was telling me this, I already had the phone in my hand to order.

Now, back to my story. . . . The youngest grandson (age 9) hit a wall on Tuesday when he came down with horrible stomach pains and a headache so fierce that he couldn’t handle TV, book, electronic games, or even food.

The family planned to run in the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.  In fact, Youngest Grandson and DB were to do the 1K (DB had been practicing so he wouldn’t embarrass himself) but when YG couldn’t run, DB refused to solo.  Nevertheless, he took the two older grandsons over to watch them run their 5K while their parents ran in the 8K.

That left me with one sick grandson, one 17-month-old granddaughter, and Thanksgiving preparations for 11.  The word toddler has never applied to that little girl.  She is Turbo-motion with a capital T and the sound of her little feet on the hardwoods is a constant background noise, like a spoon tapping softly on a table.  That, of course, sets off a lumbering noise–me running after her–because this is not a child who sits quietly with her dolls.  She needs to know what is in every drawer, every cabinet.  She questions my furniture arrangement and her tiny arms manage to lug large footstools throughout the house.  It’s like seeing a stool levitate around the house.

I thought I’d done a good job of preparing for her by moving any tchotchkes.   Unfortunately, I had underestimated her climbing skills, so I started cramming things in closets and drawers too hard for her to open.  If only her granddad shared her ability to jump and climb!

Nevertheless, I managed to get the sweet potatoes and green beans prepared during that time.  The meal we’d ordered was for 8 to 10 people–the only size they offered–so I’d supplemented by preparing additional  sides and another dessert.  In a moment of panic, I’d even ordered a fried turkey from Bojangles, which I knew the grandsons and son-in-law would enjoy.  They’re the big eaters, so that reassured me that the other turkey, regardless of size, would be enough for the rest of us.

Because this was my first time buying a pre fixe meal like this, I’d naively assumed that since we were picking it up at 11:30 on Thanksgiving Day, that the turkey had been in the oven at 11.   Imagine my panic when I opened the two huge boxes of food to set out the meal and found instructions:  Bake the turkey for two hours.  I tore open the Bojangles package and found the identical words.

Two turkeys and four sides in covered aluminum pans, not to mention the extras which needed warming in pots on the cooktop.

I had ONE oven and 10 hungry people milling around, waiting for a Thanksgiving meal.  A feeling of doom encompassed me and threatened to defy my deodorant with an infusion of flop sweat.

About that time, my daughter asked, “Has anyone seen Ivy?”

The last time any of us had seen her, she’d been out in our fenced back yard.  Now the gate was open and there was no sign of Ivy.

My hungry diners hit the streets by automobile, bicycles, and on foot, looking for Ivy.  I sent a plea via our Neighborhood Watch list, asking neighbors to look out for her.

I remained at the house, tossing food in and out of the oven while checking on sick grandson and chasing granddaughter.  Thank goodness, she had found something to play with after all–the basket of dog toys.

Three hours later, at my brother’s suggestion, DB checked with the golf starter at the country club in the next block.  Yes, they had spotted a dog bouncing along the course.  The Pro went after her in the golf cart.  She cheerfully jumped on the seat beside him to ride shotgun, back to the clubhouse.   The guy took her to his home and began printing flyers.  DB, Daughter and Dog were reunited eventually and returned home where finally it had started to smell like a Thanksgiving meal was in the works.

Doing the math, you know that three hours didn’t give me time to bake two turkeys and all stuffing, scalloped potatoes, roasted root vegetables in those huge aluminum baking pans, but I have two words for you.  CLOSE ENOUGH!

Dearly Beloved says he thinks it was the best Thanksgiving ever.  You know what?

I think I agree!

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Happy Halloween!

When we were kids, every now and then, my mother’s youngest sister, Mary, drove us to a tiny community in southeastern North Carolina.  She’d park near the railroad tracks and we would wait in the dark to watch for the mysterious Maco light to come bobbing and weaving up the tracks as the old conductor Joe Baldwin continued his 100-year-long search for his missing head.   Sometimes we’d perch on the hood of the car, but we never dared venture up that track in an attempt to be the first ones to spot the light.  No siree!

I can’t say for sure that I ever saw old Joe’s light, although I’d have probably taken my own children to watch for it, too, had the railroad company not, in the 70’s,  removed the tracks and the trestle bridge where the light emanated.  Poor Joe Baldwin doesn’t even have a route to follow any more.

One dependable sighting in the mountains of North Carolina this time of year is this one:

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The Bear Shadow

Just when most bears are beginning to pack it in for winter, this one emerges for a couple of weeks when the autumnal sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain, a 5,000-footer near Cashiers and Highlands.  My friend Birdie took this photo a week or so ago and shared it with me.

My blogger buddy, Mountain Woman has written about the bear too, as she also lives near that area.  There is an overlook area where people may stand to wait for it  to appear.  You can even shoot it, but only with a camera.

Now for some of the seasonal delights in my neighborhood. . . .  People around here are big on Halloween.  Perhaps because I ride past them so often,  the two houses one street over always grab my attention.  Out near the sidewalk sits this pathetic scene:

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Arachnid Manor
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Spiders.  EVERYWHERE. . . a giant spider invasion!!!

Just a short distance up the street sits the Ghoul house.  One of the Ghouls must be a surgeon, as the magnolia tree on the right is festooned with hanging body parts.

Ghastly!
Ghastly!                              

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                                                Happy Halloween !

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