February 24, 2011
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The miners from Twentymile caught my attention during the Romney campaign stop in Craig. As they walked toward the security line or stood in the crowd—hands in pockets, shoulders squared, not saying much—I pondered the many reflective strips sewn to their heavy-duty work clothes. “What would it be like,” I wondered, “to go to work dressed in clothing covered with bright strips that would make me visible in the darkness in which I worked and less likely to be injured in an accident?” As I read the names printed on their hardhats, I hoped their families were proud of the miners they sent off to work underground.
In late-blooming Craig, we can’t count on Easter; snow too often falls on the hidden eggs. With luck, our spring holidays are Mother's Day, Father’s Day and Memorial Day — three memory-rich celebrations, when hearts envelop loved ones. I’m one of seven children raised by hard-working parents who supported us, molded us and enjoyed us. During a recent family reunion, we visited our parents’ grave. We stood on gentle grass under a fresh sky and told stories of their living and their dying. Our words returned them to us, if only briefly. It’s a gift to remember and share defining details about those you love. I first realized the importance of storing up memories when I visited my dad near the end of his life.
Sometimes, remembering offenses I committed in the past, I think, “Why did I do that? Why did I say that?” Other times, I wonder, “Why didn’t I do something?’ Why didn’t I say something?” And I have no answers. As a student teacher, I let my anxieties overwhelm me and offended another. My error was unintentional, and others laugh when I describe it; but they didn’t see the look on Mrs. Phillipi’s face. “She’s worried about the progress of her daughter, Rose,” said Mrs. Miller, my student-teaching mentor. “I’d like you to handle the conference. I’ll be here. You’re well prepared, it’ll be a worthwhile experience.” Standing by a window overlooking the school grounds, I watched a robin attack a worm, and related to the prey. “Greet her, identify yourself, encourage her to talk. And, Janet, try not to look at her nose. It’s huge. I’ve known her for years, and she’s sensitive about it.” I studied the construction-paper daffodils dancing above the chalkboard and thought, “I’ll soon be home, eating left-over Easter candy, with only 10 days of student teaching to go. I can do this.” Rose’s mother entered. I stood and stared: “Good afternoon, Mrs. Philippi. I’m Janet Bohart, Mrs. Miller’s student teacher. I understand you want to discuss the progress of your daughter, Nose.” She pretended not to hear, but hurt widened her eyes. Why did I say such a thoughtless thing?
I walked briskly along Breeze Street, clutching a cup of coffee in my chilled fingers, watching others converge on Mitt Romney's campaign event, wondering if my jacket was too light and my arrival too late. I left my house at 6:45 a.m., the gates would open 45 minutes later and already the line stretched along the north side of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, a sign of the willingness of people from near and far to get up early and stand in line to support a presidential candidate and/or enjoy an American experience never before offered in our community. As I took my place at the end of the line, people smiled a welcome, offered money for my coffee and enjoyed one another’s banter. “I wanted my children to be here more than they did,” a mother with a Romney button told me, which motivated her son to add, “You can say that again,“ in a tone only a teenager could muster.
We wanted a reason to remain outdoors. Soft light, sandwiched between dusk and dark, flattered our aging neighborhood. Cool air swirled through cottonwood leaves and rogue hollyhocks, nudging away summer heat. “Janet,” my husband suggested, “let’s take a walk to see how that remodeling job’s going.”
What a glorious ride we share as our world transitions from the gray bluster of early spring to the green warmth of new summer: a Craig miracle that depends on Mother Nature more than the calendar. In a gentled environment of bird song and sunshine, we welcome the familiar signs of spring becoming summer: the paper’s annual editorial urging us to clean up our properties, lines of dirty vehicles waiting at car washes to shed their coats of winter grime and floating puffs of cotton exhaled by trees sighing happily as the sun warms their winter-weary branches. We take happy note of the peeping chicks at Murdoch’s waiting for adoption, the first meeting of the commendable Craig Beautification Committee, water gushing into the pools at Veterans Memorial Park, newborn calves and ponies dotting outlying fields, and the bustle at local nurseries in preparation for plant-crazed customers who can’t wait to have dirt under their fingernails.
Hearing no answer to my query about lunch, I studied my mother and her remote expression. Lost in thought as she pressed Dad’s shirt, she seemed unaware of her surroundings: the fresh scent of drying cotton that rose in the wake of her iron, the soft thump and scrape from the game of jacks I played on the kitchen floor, my question. Earlier, I’d helped her sprinkle the freshly laundered skirts, dresses, and shirts she’d iron by shaking water on them from a Nehi soda bottle with a perforated nozzle. “This one’s a little too wet,” she teased as she took a skirt from me, rolled it loosely, and nestled it in a plastic-lined basket, “Are you sure you can see what you’re doing through that jumble of uncombed hair?”
Each spring, I climb to the attic above the garage to fetch my clean and organized gardening gear: spades, pots, coiled hoses, pruning shears. As I carry the equipment downstairs, I congratulate myself on the care I took when I stored it away the previous fall. As she predicted, I’ve turned into my mother, but the conversion required time and effort on her part. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” my mother told me one summer day as she shook her head over the floor I’d vacuumed without moving footstools, abandoned shoes, or babies.
Francis Perrin, a teacher who suffered from dishevelment, stormed into my classroom spewing information and upset: ”Janet, you’ll never believe what they expect us to do now — a maypole dance!” Red-faced with alarm, she continued: “It’s because we’re first-year teachers, but I won’t do it. I’m no dancer.” “Goodness,” I thought, looking at my wild-eyed colleague.
I’ve had a rocky relationship with poetry since my Mother Goose days. I admired the little girl who had a little curl and who, when bad, was horrid. But, I questioned the intelligence of Little Jack Horner: with an entire Christmas pie to himself, he ate only the plum? I enjoyed sitting with my siblings in a circle of lamplight as Mom introduced us to the highwayman “riding, riding, up to the old inn door,“ Paul Revere sending a “cry of alarm to every Middlesex village and farm,” and the raven croaking, “Nevermore.” Then in third grade during a lesson on rhyme, Mrs. Beal had us write a couplet with the word “day” at the end of the first line. I sighed, chewed my pencil, and worried.
Sometimes when the green-bursting wonder of spring overwhelms all other considerations, I remember a childhood race and an adult conversation: two occasions when I accomplished the impossible, said the right thing, proved my mettle. On clean-up day, an annual spring event at Lake Shore Elementary, students spent the afternoon outdoors: raking, weeding, collecting trash, and complaining. We tried to behave, but running wild in the heady air of spring appealed to us much more than sweeping sidewalks. As the afternoon wore on, our high spirits took over, and we began throwing gravel, swinging sacks of garbage at each other, and hiding from our teachers behind the scraggly shrubs edging the school.
I zipped my coat, wound tight a ticklish scarf, exited a low-slung building filled with pondered words, and entered a day whipped white by frosted wind. I carried riches with me and moved with care, shuffling at times like the elderly ladies who used to amuse me, as I watched them inch their rubber overshoes along sidewalks patched with ice.
In February, 20 girls from a small town in rural New York made news by twitching uncontrollably. Some experts blamed their spasms on physical causes, perhaps seepage from a 1970 cyanide spill miles away. Others stressed psychological factors and talked about mass hysteria. I watched their televised jolts with sympathy. It must be dismaying to have your right arm jerk abruptly into the air and twist into unusual configurations every few seconds. I’m unhinged by five minutes of hiccupping.
In the 1950s, before the advent of Title 9 and competitive athletic programs for women, most girls in physical education classes at Spanish Fork Junior High School said no thank you to playing hard and sweating. Somehow, the rowdy girls of grade school who played all out at recess and howled with joy when they bested boys at running, catching, or scoring, transformed into a giggling gaggle more interested in watching the boys at the other end of the gym than in the exhortations of Miss Erickson, the PE teacher. I’d like to say I remained true to myself and participated fully and with enjoyment as I had in elementary school, but I didn’t. I joined the pack.
When I was in elementary school, my dad told me I ran like Man o’ War but had a fatal flaw: I didn’t understand the word go. This confused me; I wasn’t a man or a warrior, had no flaws, and learned the word go in first grade: “See Dick go. Go, Dick, go.” Then Mom explained that Man o’ War was a famous racehorse. He had a long stride like mine, but he got off to a quick start and won nearly all of his races.
I know two things about the Russian empress, Catherine the Great: In her royal portraits, she appears to have impeccable posture, and she revealed an understanding of the psychological impact of wind in an oft-quoted comment: “A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.” I’m quite sure Catherine never visited our region in March, but her comment makes me think she could have. From December through February, I expect harsh snow-burdened gales to turn our roads into obstacle courses, pursue livestock across drifted fields, and snatch branches from whip-lashed trees. But fierce winds in March unsettle me.
My friend Mary, an expert gardener, presides over a generous yard filled with green treasures that invite exploration and discovery. When I wander through it, I’m reminded of a book I read when young, The Secret Garden. Though Mary’s yard lacks high rock walls and a locked door hidden behind roses, it compensates with a picket fence and a deck that seeps into the yard’s casual beauty. During a recent telephone conversation, Mary told me that she now prunes, thins and discards more than she used to grow. Her words validated the learning curve Joel and I’ve experienced: We used to agonize over plants that failed to flourish as we waited for flowerbeds to fill and saplings to gain girth. Any plant that prospered was precious and protected. I was reluctant to cut a blossom to enjoy indoors because I feared there’d never be another.
A few years ago, Carol Jacobson, my deceased mentor and friend, showed me an old photograph of a three-hole outhouse that once served a family in rural Moffat County. I remember wondering why a family, isolated among uninhabited acres, would need a three-holer, and I’ve continued to fret about it. Two holes I can understand: one cut smaller so little children don’t slide away into muck and consternation. But three holes could only mean a get-together, and I don’t see pit toilet as a site for socializing. I remember the outhouses from my early childhood as small, utilitarian buildings that smelled bad, not at all appropriate for enjoying the company of others — never mind appetizers and drinks.
I first wondered if my family had a dancing disability when I watched my oldest brother, Lawrence, dance at his wedding with an agonized expression and mincing, straight-ahead steps, like a reluctant dog tugged by a leash. Then Bob bounced by, looking like he was jumping hurdles. But, what the heck, I’d never be a Ginger Rogers if I didn’t give it a try, so I signed up for a parks and recreation summer session: Introduction to Dance. I remember peering at my stubborn feet during ballet class, trying to force them into first position with the backs of my heels touching and my sizeable feet turned out, forming a straight line.
When readers talk to me about my columns, they don’t question my balance of accuracy and exaggeration or take issue with my overabundance of colons and dashes. Instead, they ask about my writing process. Recently, a friend wanted to know where I get ideas for 52 columns a year. I could have answered him, admitted that ideas swarm into my mind like mosquitoes and persistently pierce my thoughts until I notice them. But I didn’t.
My mother raised houseplants as calmly and productively as she raised children. I never offered to help her care for her plants and wasn’t impressed by their green good looks — probably because I couldn’t eat them. Then my high school speech and drama teacher assigned a how-to speech: I had to explain and demonstrate a skill unique to me. My classmates felt inspired. Blake decided to teach us magic tricks; Jeanette said she’d do fingering techniques on a violin; Neldon planned to simulate branding a calf. I realized I was skill-less. Desperately, I cast about for possibilities: I rejected tying my shoes as common, peeling foil from a gum wrapper as boring, and arm wrestling as unladylike.
As I stepped onto the gleaming lane, my bowling teacher issued last minute instructions: I should swing my arm straightforward, down, back, and forward again, in rhythm with four perfectly timed steps, remembering to release the ball at the optimum moment. He then reminded me to relax. Did he really think I could relax while remembering his instructions, coordinating my appendages, and worrying about the rear view I’ve exposed to fellow bowlers and innocent bystanders?
We can’t stop talking about it. We look through unfrosted windows at visible ground, walk ice-free sidewalks next to parched pavement, drive cars with no need to brush away snow, and talk about the untimeliness of these actions. When we meet, we exchange words like unseasonal, unbelievable, eerie, and bizarre. We question long-time residents, “When was the last time you saw December fade into January with so little snow?”
With no adults around and no sweets in sight, my friends and I sometimes licked our index fingers, stuck them into the host family’s sugar bowl and lapped at the clinging crystals like starving puppies. Now sugar bowls have followed the Edsel into oblivion, and our favorite flavoring stands accused of sabotaging the nation’s health. We’re told sugar is a disguised scoundrel lurking in unlikely places: the sauce we enjoy with spaghetti, the crackers we serve with cheese and the mouthwash with which we gargle. According to a Department of Agriculture report, the average American consumes between 150 and 170 pounds of sugar annually.
Most people — your grumpy uncle, eccentric neighbor, or dental hygienist — have Christmas memories tucked away in their hearts and would share them if asked. My oldest brother, Lawrence, tells one of my favorite stories. Ten years before I was born, he and my parents spent Christmas with Grandpa and Grandma Hall and a bevy of aunts, uncles and cousins in a large house near Utah Lake. The early 1900s home had a central living room and several bedrooms that opened off it, each crowded with children sleeping in quilt beds on the floor. Early Christmas morning, Grandpa Hall started a fire in the living room’s coal-burning heater, knocked on the bedroom doors, and yelled, “You kids get your lazy selves up. You won’t believe what Santa brought.”
In a recent issue of Cooking Light magazine, the editor bragged about his mother’s pies. “The best on the North American continent,” he wrote. I reacted with righteous indignation: obviously, the deprived fellow had never tasted my mother’s pies. Perhaps he should sample more widely before making such a misguided statement. But, I forgave him for declaring a winner without sponsoring a contest when he added that others might think their mothers baked the world’s best pie, too. And, they’d be right, because “Pie is one of those foods properly made with love, not just skill, and whose goodness is, in the end, privately understood.”
I sometimes dream I’ve breached airport security: lights blink, buzzers buzz, heads swivel, and security personnel — clad in pants two sizes too small — converge and yell contradictory orders. But, this time the nightmare was real. Joel and I had halted security operations at the St. Louis airport by dumping a bag of large ripe tomatoes all over the conveyer belt. Our daughter had sent us home with tomatoes from her garden: “We’ve eaten so many this summer, the kids will cheer when you take them.”
I usually think company dinners I prepare taste like braised cardboard. As I plan, shop, and cook, I believe I’m creating a meal destined for the culinary hall of fame. Then I eat it. “Everything’s so delicious,” my guests say with honest eyes and straight faces. “Right,” I think, “and I’ll bet your children still believe in the Easter bunny.”
“Aunt Janet, watch Dad. See how he’s gulping down his Slurpee? Wait a second. It’s funny.” I sat on the bleachers surrounded by young nieces and nephews and watched my brother down his icy concoction. Almost immediately, he clutched his temples and moaned, “Wow, brain freeze. Ooh! Why’d I do it?” He then looked woebegone as we laughed. His oldest daughter didn’t participate in the fun. Instead, full of self-righteous scorn, she leaned toward me and complained: “No matter where we are, he always does that. I hate it. He can be so dumb.”
Packing for a trip ranks just below colonoscopies and bad haircuts on my list of dreadful experiences: too many clothes, too little space and the worrisome likelihood of looking wrinkled, cold or inappropriate. No matter where or when we travel, I fail to pack correctly. At my request, Joel checks the computer for the weather at our destination. As I listen to his report, I gaze out the window at the June snow falling in Craig and can’t imagine the 103-degree heat index predicted for St. Louis.
Sometimes I forget, and the forgetting deprives me of my past joys and heartbreaks, successes and failures, progressions and regressions. My understanding of what I was, and why, is diminished when I forget. Recently, I was reminded of the deep happiness that flowed through my days when I worked with the fresh minds of students from kindergarten through high school.
Candy and costumes have lined store shelves for weeks in preparation for the hullabaloo of Halloween, when costumed children dash about to scarily decorated houses so they can get the goods. It’s fun, but not nearly as thrilling as the fear-provoking tricks children inflict on each other — no adults allowed. “See it?” Bob whispered as we stopped, held our breath, and searched the night with terrified eyes. “I tell you, it’s following us.” It had started like any other summer walk home from Great Aunt Bertha’s, where we had spent the evening eating cookies and pumping her player piano.
The next time you watch snowflakes tumble to the ground, think of them as distant relatives. We humans share a physical trait with the frozen bits of lace: uniqueness. Just as each snowflake has a singular design, each person possesses one-of-a-kind fingerprints — and body odors. Dragnet taught me about fingerprints years ago, but I didn’t know I carried a unique smell until recently. If I can believe my Internet research, no two humans have the same odor, except for identical twins.
I become spiteful when forced to wait for others, fuming as I wonder why their time is more valuable than mine. I resist the urge to pound my head — or theirs — on a hard surface, but allow my disgusted sighs to escape and resound. People move away from me. If I’m hungry, the ugliness multiplies. My blood pressure skyrockets when I wait too long for a Caesar salad without the waitress offering an explanation: they had to send out for lettuce or the busboy attacked the sous chef. If they’d let me know, I wouldn’t have to squirm and snarl.
During my working years, I used to run for exercise before dawn. My misery at the early hour faded as I chugged past homes with open drapes and lighted interiors. Sleep-mussed people yawning in their kitchens didn’t interest me, but their homes did. As I passed lit windows, I slowed, stifled my heavy breathing to prevent 911 calls, and looked for indications of the lives the inhabitants led: a piano heaped with music, a weaver’s loom, shelves of books, trophy animal heads, beer steins on a windowsill.
The day before I attended my class reunion, I visited Uncle Norley. He greeted me at the door: “Your 50th reunion, huh? Next week I’m going to my 67th. I’m not looking forward to it, though. I don’t really like the other guy who’ll be there.” I laughed with my uncle who seems easy with his aging; but the next night I reflected more soberly about mine as the master of ceremonies read the names of forty-three deceased classmates.
In this morning’s mail, I received the photograph taken at my 50th class reunion in August. The photographer shot it with a wide-angle lens to accommodate the 93 attendees and our increased girth. We made an effort to look good for the occasion. “I bought a new outfit for tonight,” a friend told me. “I’d planned to get a manicure and pedicure as well, but decided to replace the batteries in my hearing aids and call it good.”
I came to hiking late in life. When young, I clamored to climb West Mountain with my friends. In reality, we ran up the first foothill, declared ourselves exhausted, and spent the rest of the afternoon eating enormous lunches and acting silly. I began to hike for pleasure in my 20s when I backpacked in the Sierra Nevada’s with my first husband, a man of quirks. He ate freeze-dried food with gusto, scooted rattlers safely off the trail, and refused to build campfires or sleep in tents because to do so would isolate us from the night. I admit his desire to embrace nighttime advanced my stargazing from the Big Dipper and North Star to Cassiopeia and Vega’s blue glow. It’s easy to recognize constellations and stars when they hang within reach, like sparkling fruit.
To introduce a lesson on organization, I asked my adult students to tell the class how they organized the clothes in their closets. Most arranged their clothing by type, season, color, or frequency of use; but some responses were less predictable. A young unmarried man said he either hung his clothing on the rod provided or heaped it on the closet floor. “How else,” he wondered, “could clothing be organized?”
January 1 isn’t the true New Year’s Day; it’s too cold then to think about anything, least of all new beginnings. For eyeball-popping, stomach-fluttering, start-over excitement, nothing compares to the first day of school: new teachers, different classmates, and blank report cards. I still sense a quickening in my world when the school year begins.
The conversation went like this: “No, I don’t want to write about that,” I thought. “But it’s current,” the voice said. “I know, that’s my point. It’s too fresh. I have no perspective. I still want to clobber someone and shriek bad words.” “Writing about it would be more ladylike,” came the response.
I joined a 4-H cooking club in fourth grade so I could make stuff and eat it. Then, Mom decided I should make stuff and talk about it. She convinced me to prepare a food demonstration for our local fair and suggested I make cheese sauce.
I played with wooden blocks on the floor underneath a canopy of fabric stretched on a quilting frame. The sturdy hose and practical shoes of my mother’s elderly aunts enclosed me; the murmur of their voices washed over me.
Some sites attract tourists for a straightforward reason: they’re worth seeing. “Why do you want to go to Yosemite?” a grumpy fellow teacher asked as he brushed chalk dust from his cardigan. “All you’ll see is a bunch of noisy tourists: gawking, pointing, and driving slow. They’re worse than flies.” The next summer, ignoring his ominous advice, I traveled to Yosemite and became one of the pesky sightseers he derided.
Those living near the Yampa River point to it with pride. The last major river in Colorado with a natural runoff cycle, it retains its wildness: rushing headlong in the spring and narrowing dramatically in the fall — as it has for centuries. From below Steamboat Springs to beyond Dinosaur, we float, fish, and splash in the river. We bicycle, golf, and bird-watch along its banks. We respond to its beauty with wide-eyes and photographs.
After his retirement, my husband commented, “Since retiring, I feel I’m 12 again with few responsibilities, but I have money, a car and a steady girlfriend.” Well said, Joel. He also wrote the following description of his professional years:
According to researchers in England, cleaning and cooking causes blood pressure to spike. No wonder more than 50 percent of women older than 60 have high blood pressure — too many years scouring sinks, chasing dust bunnies, chopping onions, and serving half-cooked turkey. I hope the researchers didn’t expend much time, money, and brainpower obtaining results already familiar to those of us who clean and cook.
The chickens are coming — pecking, molting, cackling, and scratching their way across America. Large cities and small towns are rolling out red carpets and gearing up welcome wagons for hens willing to live a rooster-less life. Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta recently warned our city council that chickens could soon strut into Craig as well, an influx welcomed by a majority of the respondents to a Craig Daily Press poll who approved both chickens and goats inside city limits. What wonderful news!
I learned to appreciate fiery spectacles from my brother, Bob, a dedicated arsonist. “Quick! Everybody!! Get outside. Bob set the field on fire again.” We knew the drill: Anyone at home and ambulatory hurried to grab a gunny sack, dunk it in the irrigation tank, and whack at the line of flames creeping through the pasture.
It’s finally summer, when young mothers push strollers through mellow evenings, laughter drifts across backyard fences and rainbows of green entertain eyes weary of yellow, gray and brown. Under a summer sun, I’m less obsessed by what’s for dinner and how much sleep I had the night before. I stand taller, breathe easier and open more readily to spontaneity and stray dogs. While running errands this week, I encountered a friend, a lady who exceeds me in years, wisdom and grace.
In third grade I made my dad a card shaped like a necktie for Father’s Day. I covered it with colorful stripes, avoiding pink because Dad wouldn’t wear pink. Inside, I wrote, “I’m glad you’re my father and work so hard to make money for food so we can eat good.” As I aged, I recognized other fine qualities my father possessed — honesty and humility, humor and quirkiness, absolute love for his family — but at 8, I didn’t see far beyond my stomach. Twice a month, Dad, with a flourish, presented his check from Geneva Steel to Mom.
As a teen, I accepted any odd job offered. I needed money to buy tickets to the movies where Pat Boone crooned, Sandra Dee charmed, and “Psycho” Tony Perkins destroyed my enjoyment of showers. I also needed to purchase reeds for my clarinet, pounds of malted milk balls, and Ben Hur perfume. I saved any money left over for college: by the time I entered high school I had $11.15.
A sister-in-law burst into tears when she entered Colorado for the first time after a long drive on I-70: “I thought I’d see mountains. It looks just like Kansas.” In the past, I, too, misjudged Kansas.
s we noisily celebrate graduations and kick-off the rowdy rituals of summer, Memorial Day calmly awaits our attention. This gentle holiday offers only quiet pleasures — no prettily wrapped presents, no festive parties, no treats of chocolate and caramel. Instead, this springtime day of commemoration brings solemn reflections, fond memories, and feelings of gratitude.
Last year, I packed into crowded bleachers with a multitude of proud, camera-toting families at my granddaughter’s high school graduation. From the “Pomp and Circumstance” entrance to the mortarboard-tossing finale, I enjoyed her ceremony far more than any of mine. My commencement disappointments began in ninth grade.
At this time of year, we know days will lengthen, snow will cease, and birds will reproduce. Perhaps you’ve also noticed a more bothersome sign of spring: the cleaning experts who surface in the media to lecture us about the clutter that litters our homes after a long winter.
I awoke late at night to a crescendo of crickets as a fever surged through me. Mussed bedding trapped my limbs. Pain entangled my body. When I heard a whimper, I wondered who was crying. A shadowed presence appeared at my bedside, palmed hair from my forehead, freed me from sodden sheets. I was offered sips of warm liquid, then soothed until I found sleep.
The first week of April, I studied a color photograph of the famous cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. An hour later, I glanced out the window and realized Craig also has cherry blossoms in April — if you look with care and use your imagination. Pay attention to the trees on those mornings when we awaken to fresh snowfall. As the day turns warm, you may catch the magic moment when bare branches shed some of the fluffed-up snow that lines them, and countless soft clumps remain, clinging to the support of branching twigs and dotting the trees with clusters of frozen white beauty — Craig’s cherry-blossom festival.
I liked to sit on the floor and watch Mom’s feet rock the treadle as she sewed. Sometimes I played, and other times she told me stories. Always she worked, creating curtains, dresses, shirts, and flannel nightgowns for babies. I have a faded photograph of Carolyn and me at 3 and 7 holding hands, standing next to Mom, who ignores the camera and looks at us.
I’ve read that dog owners experience less stress, produce more antibodies, and live in good health to 100. Why then does the notion of having a dog send my blood pressure soaring? Don’t misunderstand: I’ve owned, loved, and mourned many a dog. I remember when Bob, Barbara, and I picked Boots out of a litter of hybrid puppies at Mecham's farm.
I discard clothes and curios of faded importance without hesitation — an ashtray from Reno, a Yellowstone T-shirt, a TWA shoulder bag. But, such decisiveness deserts me during occasional sleepless nights when past transgressions march through my mind. I toss and turn and try to delete memories of my selfish actions, hurtful words, and self-believed lies, but cannot, so I stumble on feet of clay to their accusatory cadence throughout an endless night.
We sat in scarred wooden desks nailed to the floor that creaked whenever Mrs. Pulsipher, hugely pregnant, walked the aisles to check our work. Lately, the floors didn’t complain much; with maternity leave approaching, our teacher mostly sat at her desk, ate soda crackers, and burped. We sang an April Fools’ song, admiring the colorful construction-paper umbrellas and fat raindrops that danced around the classroom in anticipation of April showers.
If you see me chugging around town getting my exercise, you might think I’m the same person I’ve always been. But, if you read my last column chronicling my nosedive into medical testing, you know I’m not. I remember when I thought life meant growing up, getting married, and living happily every after.
On an afternoon of lung-tingling March weather, feeling as strong and vigorous as the day, I crossed Sixth Street by the museum and stepped to the opposite curb. I felt light-headed, thought, “Whoa,” and caught a close-up glimpse of my scuffed shoe next to dirty snow.
Since moving to Craig, I’ve learned a new definition for March Madness — craziness that creeps over the populace as winter rages against spring — and wins. However, for most of my life, March Madness meant the NCAA tournament and basketball at its finest. I grew up with the game.
As a child, I pushed myself to color inside the lines, climb to the top of trees, and jump until the rope-turners quit. Now I’m easier on myself, not caring about excellence when I’m having fun, though I try not to burden others with my deficient enthusiasms. When alone, I sing with volume and drama. I croon the blues, nursery songs, pop tunes, cowboy laments, and church hymns.
I ran on shaking legs into the kitchen and the clean smell of my mother’s ironing. Gasping for breath, my heart pounding, I poured out my story of the stranger with too much hair who offered me a ride: how I clung to the passenger door as his shabby car crawled the gravel road; the way he stared at me and asked where I was headed alone on the road. “He was creepy, Mom, so when we approached Anderson’s, I opened the door and jumped out and fell on the gravel and scraped my knees and hands — see, look at them — and he kept driving, and I waited by Anderson’s until I couldn’t see his car anymore; then I ran home.”