Category Archives: Christian

What Is On My Mind Today? The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow….God Is Good

cancer hats

What Is On My Mind?

My cousin Sylvia will be having quadruple bypass surgery on Monday. She is currently in the ICU at Mercy. Neighbor Don, hospice, had a much better day yesterday. Last reported sitting up in his chair eating ginger snaps. I have reason to believe his son installed his new trail camera yesterday. As reported by Oliver and Truman as they were either loudly directing the entire installation or begging for butt scratches. Poor, Nate, did stop to give the boys back scratches through the fence.

Aunt Margie’s situation with dementia continues to rapidly decline. She has not known me for several weeks now. Still, I call her because I know her and love to just hear her voice.

My pup Oliver has developed a growing bump on his head and will be seeing the vet in the morning.

And, it’s 2 a.m. In the morning and I am wide awake from the steroids that I have to take every week for the rest of my life to fight my cancer.

As I lay here thinking about all this I still feel like one of the luckiest SOB’s on this planet.

I am a Christian and have a loving God.

I was born in the United States. That is a lottery win right there. My country is filled with people who do not think alike. It is when everyone thinks alike that liberty is truly in peril.

My parents and my brother and sister have had a wonderful trip to Hawaii this week and Dad called and held up his phone so I could hear the ocean.

I am pretty sure I managed not to tick off any of my children. I needed to focus elsewhere this week, I will have to get back to that next week…..just saying.

I am again strong enough to not only have made gingersnaps, and lemon black raspberry muffins this week, but a whole meal for my neighbor who is battling brain cancer and his wonderful wife. Productivity is a blessing.

I no longer take anything stronger than Tylenol for pain. And, that is rarely. I am not saying I do not have pain, I am saying it has declined to ignorable levels. Chemo sucks ….chemo and narcotic withdrawal really bites.

After all those years spent in a body cast sleeping away from my husband in the hospital bed in the living room, truth be told I kind of treasure these steroid induced hours of being awake and knowing he is sound asleep right next to me. Mostly, I just lay here listening to his CPAP machine and count my blessings for there are so very many.

As I wait to watch the sun come up again in my east facing window and it will. I pray that God watches over all of those I love, and those I struggle to find any upside to at all. I ask that they too will come to know Jesus and be filled with his peace that passes all understanding. Best gifts ever!

Tonight I pray especially for Mark Rosen and his dear wife……AND thank God that Jamie Closs is safe.

Well, since I am obviously “woke” there are some cancer patients at Regions that need some bright and cheerful Grandma Pat hats and mittens. I think I have gotten five sets done this week. Every hat as unique as each precious person battling cancer. Last week when I was there getting chemo, a mother actually showed me a picture of her daughter sound asleep getting infusion wearing one of my hats.

So on with my headlight! Wearing that thing is just plain joyful. Always makes me feel like I am camping. LOL.

I will leave you with prayers on my lips and my favorite inspirational Christian motto…..onward and upward.

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Update:  Sylvia had another angiogram yesterday.  Her doctors inserted three stents.  They feel that this will resolve her blockage and that the quadruple bypass is not necessary, at least for now.  She will still remain in the hospital for several days.

My pup Oliver’s head lump turned out to be a plugged oil gland.  These are common and usually resolve on their own.

The first night of trail camera surveillance of our backyards revealed several visitors.  A raccoon and a fox.  

God is good.

Have a blessed Sunday!

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Recipe: Christmas Happiness

star-of-bethlehem

Recipe for a Blessed Christmas

4 cups love
2 cups of peace
4 quarts of faith
5 tablespoons of hope
5 cups of kindness
2 tablespoons of tenderness
1 pint of understanding
2 cups forgiveness
3 cups patience
6 cups of laughter

Gather people together into a group…large or small….add love and peace.  Stir in faith and hope. Sweeten with kindness, tenderness and understanding. To safeguard against any traces of bitterness…add genuine forgiveness alternately with patience.  Generously frost with laughter and serve.

I hope that everyone has a very Merry Christmas!

 

What Is On My Mind Today? Living With Cancer: Myeloma Relapse, Uncle Mrywin, Good News and Great Fudge Bars

possum 5
Errrrrrr!

I have had a busy, if not sedentary and solitary past six months.  In July, I suffered what my doctor told my parents was a “Horrific Setback.” Even though, all of my lab tests at that time still indicated that I was in remission, my multiple myeloma had silently returned. Its presence revealed one evening, when I arose from bed to make the very short trek to my bathroom.

As I stood up, I told my husband that my spine felt really weird and weak, just like it used too when it would break.  As I hung onto the wall, he assured me that after all of the years of bone-hardening drugs, that was not possible.  So, I lifted my foot to step over my huge white German Shepherd and my world and back exploded.

My legs became instantly useless and a pain like electrical liquid fire enveloped me. I fell right on top of my dog.  My dog never moved. He just laid perfectly still until Doug was able to lift me from on top of him.

It was obvious something had gone terribly wrong.

My husband half carried me down our steps, out of the house and got me into the car.  We drove to Regions hospital. There in the emergency room, a doctor asked me to wiggle my toes. I tried and the pain became extremely intense as a spasm coursed through my body so harshly that it arched my back in off of the bed about six inches, then froze me in that position until the spasm stopped.   Then, it would do it again and again….and again.  It was unpleasant.

I remember almost nothing of the next three weeks that I spent in the hospital.  I do remember being conscious for a moment inside and MRI, because I was waving at the technicians. I felt foolish. Then, I was put out again. I remember a nurse standing next to my bed describing to someone else a patient who was in so much pain she was levitating 6-inches on top of her bed.  I felt sorry for that poor soul. I remember staff both Christian and Muslim asking me if they could pray with me.  I experienced angels.

The cause of all of this trouble was due to Myeloma lesions having grown on the base of my spine. My bone marrow biopsy showed over 40% myeloma.  The great news was that no bones had actually broken. Too bad whatever was causing the paralyzing painful contractions could not have celebrated that fact and left me alone.

I am told I had ten rounds of radiation.  I remember only the last three.  I can recall that after my last one my parents were in my hospital room as I returned. When the bed I was on moved too fast, a spasm was triggered and as usual during the contraction my head would be arched completely back.  At that moment my dad was standing right there with the most awful look on his face.  I felt bad that I had scared him so.

When I was eventually released from the hospital, I left too weak to walk on my own and was again trapped in a walker.  And, I faced months and months of weekly, four and a half hour, chemo infusions.

During those months, my life as a cancer patient reminded me of my grandmother’s embroidered kitchen towels.  She would embroider them with the name of each day of the week.  Each day of the week was set aside for a different household task.  Monday for washing, Tuesday Ironing….etc…  My entire autumn schedule became much like those old dish towels of grandma’s.  Each day’s task the same as it had been the week before.

dish towels

It went like this….on a Friday, I received infusion. On a Saturday, I thought I was Hercules powerful and bursting with energy from the massive dose steroids given with the chemo.  On Sunday, the effects of the steroids, such as not sleeping for 48 hours, would begin to wear off.  Monday arrived accompanied by severe fatigue, body pain and nausea. Tuesday was an amplified copycat of Monday.  Wednesday was a slightly more productive day.  Thursday was the best.  Friday morning was outstanding… right up until you began swallowing the half cup of pre-med pills needed for your next chemo infusion signaling it was time to hop on the cancer chemo carousel and take another spin.

Whether it was a real or carousel horse, I have always been an excellent rider.  My dad still brags about how as a small child I would grab onto the ears of a a small pig, jump onto its back and away I’d go.  I only rode the pigs because the adults in charge felt I was too small to have my own horse. He still marvels that I never fell off.  Riding a pig is a lot like riding the cancer carousal. If you loose either your focus or grip the situation is going to become very stinky quickly.

Where there is breath there is hope.  With that in mind, regardless of how I felt, I kept busy. I completed several oil paintings, crocheted over two dozen hat and mitten sets for charity.  Still managed to visit my World War II buddy in the nursing home. And, when my back had recovered enough to lift a cookie sheet…I baked gingersnaps for him and to help relieve my neighbor’s nausea in his battle against brain cancer.

I had no interest in laying around and letting all of my hard won muscles turn to mush again. No pain, no gain. Besides, what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger. By the end of August, I had graduated from physical therapy and nurse home visits, and  I had escaped the walker was again using only one cane. And, I was strong enough to enjoy a Saturday at Fort Snelling State Park with my family.  I wasn’t up to my usual miles of hiking, but I did walk from the car parking lot to the picnic grounds and sat up for hours.  I am not saying I did not pay for that outing later, but and it was so very worth it.

Just over a week ago, I had another bone marrow biopsy.  To be honest, my husband and I were both just hoping for single digits.  However, to our and my oncologist’s delight no abnormal cells were present….at all!  I am again cancer free!   What a great 60th birthday present!

Which brings me to this morning.

As I took lots of butter out of my refrigerator to soften for a robust Christmas cookie baking session, which will commence shortly, I thought of my Uncle Mrywin who passed away in early December a couple of years ago after a long a courageous battle with dementia.

Somehow, I always grin when I think of my Uncle Mrywin.  A fabulous earthly legacy!  In my mind, Uncle Mrywin was defined by three things.  His love for God, people and sweets.  So, I guess it is only natural that, whenever I begin baking my Christmas cookies I think of him.  Especially, since so many of the recipes I use are his mothers.

Several years ago, I wrote the following blog about my Uncle Mrywin, his stuck tractor and a recipe for Fudge Bars.  The story of the stuck tractor really does capture the essence of my uncle and the importance of good-naturedly attempting the seemingly impossible, attacking a task with determination, giving it your all, recognizing when you are just spinning your wheels and knowing when to seek help…earthly or divine.

Throughout my life and especially during my cancer battle the following bible verses are the ones get my wheels unstuck.  I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t have the words to these Bible passages pass through my mind.  I guess my confirmation pastor was right when he told me that memorizing these verses wasn’t a waste of time, and that knowing them by heart would pay off in the long run.  It certainly has.

Psalm 118:24 (Everyday is a gift)

“This is a day that the Lord has made, We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 121 (My help comes from God)

“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Psalm 23 (I am never alone)

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

So, if ever you should find yourself stuck in the mud up past your axels, and it is easy to do especially this time of year, remember that a God of Love loves sent us something sweeter than Christmas cookies…a baby…his son our savior…Jesus Christ.  The Son of God who came to give hope to the hopeless.

I hope you enjoy this humorous farm story about my Uncle Myrwin and his stuck tractor.  A yearly spring ritual as I recall. I also would encourage you to try this recipe for Fudge Bars this Christmas Season…they are tasty and would have made my uncle smile.

Stuck tractor 2

My dad and my Uncle Myrwin farmed together for most of their lives. The brothers and their families were all very close. In fact, when I was a child the phone would ring bright and early every morning and it would be my uncle calling to talk to dad about the day’s farm business and work. I cannot remember a day while growing up when I did not talk too or see my Uncle Myrwin.

About five years ago my Uncle Myrwin had to move from the farm into a nursing home, because he had developed memory issues. He has been there ever since and over the years his cognitive abilities have declined.

From the first week he entered that home, I decided that he was not going to ever be forgotten by his niece and so I began to write him a letter every week. I have continued this practice for the past five years except for a short time during my cancer fight when I was in a nursing home and too sick to write. I even got letters off during my stem cell transplant. I have never told him of my illness.

Yes, I know that my uncle would no longer recognize me. That does grieve me, but I know that he still enjoys getting my cards and having them read to him. I will continue to write to my uncle for as long as God allows either one of us to remain on this earth. You see it doesn’t matter one bit that he doesn’t remember me, because I remember him and that is what counts.

For the past year I have found pictures online and made my own “farming” cards for my uncle. This picture of a stuck tractor is this week’s card. I thought I would share this week’s story of my memories of farm life with him, dad and stuck tractors.

Dear Uncle Myrwin,

I hope this finds you having a good week and feeling good. It looks like spring is almost here and there are a lot of song birds again at my bird feeder. Their song sounds wonderful!

I really like this picture of a tractor stuck in the mud up to its axles. Boy, does that bring back memories of stuck tractors on our farms.

It seemed that the vast majority of stuck tractors occurred in the spring when we were in a big hurry to get into the fields and plant. I recall many a time riding on the back of a big red tractor, standing on the hitch behind the driver’s seat and holding on for dear life to the back of the driver’s seat and the wheel fender.

As we would drive into the fields to check field readiness, there would eventually be a dip or ditch that was extra moist looking. Sometimes there was even standing water in them. It was at this point the tractor’s driver would shout loudly above the roar of the engine, “Hang on, I think we can make it!”

The driver would then speed up and make a run at the wet spot. As we would hit the moist mud the tractor’s engine would moan in exasperation at being so rudely stressed while the tractors big back tires would slide first to one side, then back the other way as they cuddled into the rich slippery black dirt. Eventually, we would come to a complete halt with the rapidly spinning back tires furiously spitting mud chunks high into the air.

With mud raining down on us from the heavens, the driver would then start the process of rocking the tractor. First, forward,then in reverse. This was done to try to get out, but in my experience it only served to sink us deeper. Eventually when the big rear tires were sunk to the axles and the back hitch was level with the water and frogs, the driver would shut the tractor off.

As we climbed free of the stuck tractor the driver would then slowly walk around the entire scene with narrowed eyes and a set jaw. Then, he would walk up next to me, grab the bill of his green seed corn cap with his thumb and pointing finger, slide it to the back of his head while he scratched the top of his head with his other fingers. He would slowly replace his cap into the original position, breathe a deep sigh and with a proud smile declare, “Well, we almost made er.”

Sending lots of love and hugs,

Pat

There is one thing that Uncle Myrwin always appreciated as much as he did good farming and that was excellent baking. There was always great cakes, cookies and bars to be found in either family’s farm kitchens. Fudge Mud Bars are still a favorite treat served in my mother’s kitchen.

Fudge Mud Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease at 9 X 13 cake pan.

Crust:
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 cups quick cook rolled oats

In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and salt. In a separate medium-sized mixing bowl combine and mix together the dry ingredients: flour, oats, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix well.

Firmly press about two-thirds of the dough into the bottom of your greased 9 X 13 pan.

Fudge Filling:
2 Tablespoons butter
One, 14-ounce can of sweetened and condensed milk
One, 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium-sized sauce pan, on top of the stove on a low-medium heat, add butter, chocolate chips and milk. Stir continuously until the chocolate chips have melted. Add vanilla and stir to combine.

Spread the fudge mixture over the dough. Drop teaspoons of the remaining dough evenly on top of the fudge mixture.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the dough starts to brown.

Letter writing has become a lost art which is a shame, because the written note immortalizes the writer while bringing so much joy to the recipient. I would encourage all of you to take the time to send off a card or note to someone who is ill, lonely, a child, grandchild or anyone in your life who needs encouragement. I can assure you that it will make their day!

What Is On My Mind Today? I Already Wrote A Story About My Cancer Battle…….The Hen Who Wanted To Fly

I have many times been told that I should write a story about my struggle with cancer.  I did several years ago. This one. The Hen Who Wanted To Fly.  So, today I have spent the entire day, instead of baking and wrapping gifts, being my own editor.

I am the hen, chickens are humanity, the farmer is God, and the weasel is cancer.  The ducklings are the young people mentored through the years who grow up to care for us….nurses, doctors…the scientists who dream up new treatments.

It is important to note, that the part about the hen hatching out the orphaned wild duck eggs is true.  That actually happened on our farm. Our poor old hen completely panicked  the first time she saw her “babies” swim.

Little known Pat fact:  For two summers when I worked for Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, I was on Lieutenant Governor Carol Molnau’s State Fair Celebrity Ag Team.  I competed in animal calling.  I was reserve grand champion both years.  Finishing second both times to the the entire Department of Agriculture Team.  My ribbons are huge!

The first year, I called in the cows.  The second year, I was the wildly clucking hysterical hen whose babies went swimming.

 

Children’s Story: The Hen Who Wanted To Fly

Once upon a time there was a farmer.  On his farm lived many different kinds of animals.  He was a kind farmer and was always very good to his animals for he loved them very much.

As fond as he was of all of his animals, he had a special fondness for his chickens. The farmer really liked chickens.  Of all of his chickens his favorite was an old hen named Henrietta.

Henrietta had been on his farm for many years, in fact she was the oldest chicken in his flock. In her youth she had been a very good egg layer and mother to the many chicks she had hatched.  She was almost always friendly to the other chickens, even when some of them had not been so friendly to her.  She was never the prettiest, or the smartest hen in the farmer’s flock, nor was she the most popular hen in the coop, but Henrietta was okay with all that, because she knew she was special.  She had a secret that made her different than all the other chickens.

What was her secret?  Henrietta wanted to fly.

Many times she had practiced flapping her wings and running as fast as she could across the chicken yard attempting to fly over the chicken coop fence, but she never could get off the ground.  Practice makes perfect she figured, so she just kept trying until time caught up with her and she had to admit she was no longer a plucky pullet, but a large old hen.

The many changes of nature to her mechanics, did not diminish her dream of chicken flight.  When she became a mother she decided that if she could not fly, maybe her chicks could be the first chickens to take flight. Regardless, of the countless hours of wing flapping and running while wing flapping, none of her chicks ever achieved lift off.

Many years passed by.  Now, in old age Henrietta would sit outside the chicken coop on warm summer days lost in memories.  She no longer laid eggs or mothered chicks, but spent most of her time dreaming about the good old days.  Those golden days when she was needed by the farmer and greatly loved by her chicks.  Day after day she felt less and less useful as she watched pretty perky pullets flirting with the roosters and young hens mothering their new chicks.

Then, she would hear them.  The great flocks of wild birds on wing overhead. Her eyes would dart heavenward to watch them fly over. She had long ago accepted that neither she nor her offspring would ever join any of those great flocks and that her dream of flying would never be realized, but dream about it…she still did.

It was there daydreaming on her empty nest one fine morning that the farmer found her. He grinned and showed her that his hat was filled with brown speckled eggs. “Henrietta, old girl, have I got a job for you!” the farmer exclaimed.  He then gently took the eggs out of his hat and placed them under his old trusty hen.

Of all of the hens in the coop he chosen her to hatch these strangely colored eggs for him. Henrietta heart swelled with emotion as her eyes filled with tears..the farmer still needed her.

Henrietta knew exactly what to do with a nest full of warm eggs and was as devoted to those orphaned eggs as she would have been to her own.  She kept them cozy and warm and made sure that she turned them with her feet on a regular basis so that they would not get any cold spots.  For over two weeks that old hen sat on those twelve brown speckled eggs.

Then, one morning she heard a tiny peep coming out from one of those eggs.  Jumping off the nest Henrietta watched as egg after egg started to crack and small fuzzy yellow and black creatures began to emerge.  Turning her head from side to side she checked out her new brood. These were the strangest looking chicks she had ever seen, but it did not matter to her a bit, because the farmer had given them especially to her!  She was their mother, they were her chicks and she thought them beautiful.

As soon as her babies were dry and fluffy and she had them jump out of the nest and follow her outside into the chicken yard.  Holding her head high, she led her new babies out to meet the rest of the flock.

It didn’t go well. The other chickens, being chickens, crowded together and began to cackle with alarm about Henrietta and her strange looking family.

Frightened fowl often make foul choices and these chickens were no exception to that rule.  They quickly decided that their precious small-beaked yellow chicks should have nothing to do with those odd looking creatures of Henrietta’s.  The other hens immediately resorted to malicious clucking and gathering of their babies under their wings to prevent them from even seeing, let alone associating, with birds that were obviously of a different feather.

The farmer heard the commotion in the chicken coop and knew right away what the ruckus was about.  Henrietta’s eggs had hatched!  He raced to see Henrietta’s new babies.  All twelve of the eggs he had entrusted to her had hatched.  What a picture greeted him!  A proud Henrietta strutting through the chicken yard with her twelve new ducklings in a straight line trailing behind her.

Now Henrietta did not know that her babies were ducklings, she just knew they were her babies, but the farmer knew.  The morning he had put the eggs in her nest, he had been in a field harvesting.  There in the bright green field had lain a dead mother duck.  A victim of a weasel attack. When the farmer had lifted the young lifeless mother duck off of the nest, she had lost her life defending, he had found the twelve eggs.

Quickly, the farmer checked the eggs to see if they were still warm.  They were!  At that moment, the he knew that he could make some good come from such bad. He gathered the eggs gently into his hat and raced for home.

The farmer knew that of all of the hens on his farm, it was Henrietta that he trusted to hatch those eggs and raise wild ducklings.  He knew her to be a very good mother, and about her secret wish to fly.

Many a time he had enjoyed watching her trying to fly or attempting to teach her chicks to fly.  As entertaining as her antics were to observe, he had no fear of Henrietta ever “flying the coop”.   First of all, the farmer knew, even if she did not, that big strong hens cannot fly.  He also knew from extensive chicken exposure and experience that there was no more loyal of a hen than old Henrietta.

Here is where the story begins to get a little crazy for Henrietta.  She knew very well how to raise chicks, but she did not know a thing about baby ducks.  She did not even know that her new babies were ducks. She just figured the eggs had belonged to a big round-nosed chicken with funny looking feet.

At first the ducklings behaved just like baby chicks.  They peeped a lot and stayed close to their mother as they ate bugs in the grass.  Everything was going swell until the day of the big summer storm.

This storm was a banger.  It was loud, windy and wet.  It was so windy and wet that the fence to the chicken yard blew down, and the road ditches near the coop had filled with water.

During the storm, Henrietta’s babies had been all tucked safely beneath her.  Her soft downy feathers kept them warm and dry.  For,  Henrietta knew how very important it was to keep young chicks dry.  They get very sick if they get wet. Then, too, loose, energized or deep water is perilous for chickens, because chickens cannot swim anymore than they can fly.

Henrietta saw nothing, but danger in the situation left behind by the storm.  Not only was the fence down, but worse and worse, the road ditch next to the downed fence was flooded to the brim.

As the mighty red rooster let out his ear-splitting universal barnyard chickens in danger of drowning warning, Henrietta sprang into action, but before she could corral any of her youngsters, all of her babies took perfect leave of their senses and made a dash for the deep water in the ditch.

Hysterical Hen.!

One right after the other of her babies jumped into what Henrietta knew would be certain death. She began to run around in circles frantically flapping her wings loudly cackling, “Bakk, bakk, bakk!”  The other chicken’s saw her misfortune and they too joined in the chorus of, “Bakk, bakk, bakk!”  Soon, the whole barnyard was in an uproar.

Henrietta stopped running in circles and covered both of her eyes with her wings.  She just couldn’t bear to look at her drowned dead baby chicks, but she knew she must!

Slowly she opened one eye and peaked out through her wing-tip feathers. To her amazement her chicks were swimming around having the best time of their lives.  Why a couple of them were even diving under the water.  She quickly regained her composure, smoothed down her ruffled feathers and proudly informed the rest of the flock that HER babies can swim!

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Every day from that day on the farmer let Henrietta and her babies roam loose on the farm.  They were no longer penned up with the other chickens.

Oh, the adventures they had.  They explored the dark woods and scratched the dirt with their feet for worms.  Henrietta taught them how to eat grain in the farmer’s fields and chase and catch bugs in the meadow. Each day ended with a swim for her babies in either the flooded ditch or the farm’s small pond.

Henrietta’s babies grew stronger day by day.  Soon, their downy fluff was gone and they were all feathered out.  They liked to test out their new feathers by fanning their tails and yes, flapping their wings.

Of course the flapping of wings had always been one of Henrietta’s great thrills.  Even at her ripe old age she still dreamed of learning to fly.  Many times the farmer would see her racing her babies across the barnyard.  Wings flapping and running as fast as her feet could go with all of her babies following her in hot pursuit.

Summer passed quickly, as it always does, and the leaves on the trees began to turn colors.  The weather had grown colder and Henrietta and her babies no longer roamed as far from the barnyard as they had during the long warm days of summer.

Darkness came early this time of year and with darkness came danger for farm chickens.  At night weasels came out and their favorite snack was fresh chicken.

Weasel

Every night the farmer would lock up all of his chickens, except Henrietta and her brood, inside the warm well lit hen house. Henrietta began to wonder if the farmer had either forgotten about or no longer cared about what happened to her or her babies.   So, Henrietta looked out for her family herself and found safe harbor at night inside the big barn with the cows.

It been a particularly lovely fall day and Henrietta and her ducklings had dallied too long down by the pond.  By the time they arrived back at the farm that evening they found  the doors to the barn were shut.

Well, now, this was trouble.  Henrietta knew how dangerous it was for a chicken to be alone out in the night unfarmer protected. Since, there was no way to get into the barn, she decided the safest place to sleep would be right next to the lighted hen house.

That is where the weasel found her.

She spotted the weasel slinking in the shadows silently slithering towards her and her babies.  Weasels are quick nasty little varmints that can easily outrun a chicken. Clearly her babies’ lives were in danger!

Henrietta’s only thought was to save her babies.

Henrietta quickly told them to…..RUN!

As she bravely faced death and the weasel, behind her she could hear the rush of air through her babies’ wings as they flapped them to increase their getaway speed as they ran.  Just like they had done so many times in play when Henrietta had raced across the barnyard with them chasing her as she pretended they could all fly.

After making sure her babies had escaped, Henrietta attacked the weasel with all her might! She ran at him as fast as she could go flailing her wings as hard as she could and ready to peck his eyes out, if given the chance, with her sharp beak.  She knew that there was every chance that the weasel would win and her life would be forfeit, but she was determined to go down fighting.

Just as the weasel was ready to pounce on Henrietta to finish her off, a large shadow passed over.  Then, she felt herself being lifted up into the air.

Mallard16_Karen Bonsell_KY_2012_GBBC_KK

Higher and higher she went.  She was flying! Her babies were flying! Chickens cannot fly?  It was then that she finally accepted that her babies were not swimming chickens at all…but were wild ducks.   As a flock, they had swooped down to save their beloved mother from the weasel and were flying her high up into the tree where she would be safe.

Henrietta’s babies had rescued her!

As she looked down from the tree, she saw the farmer standing below them grinning up at her.  At that moment Henrietta knew that her and her babies had never been left to wrangle with the weasel alone. The farmer had been watching out for them the entire time.  He had not forgotten about any of them…not for a moment, because farmers love their chickens and ducks!

At last, Henrietta understood why it was that the farmer had trusted her with those duck eggs. He had known all about her secret wish to fly.  He knew she would never be able to fly on her own, however he also knew that his faithful hen would never give up. He had counted on her and her dream of being able to fly to teach the orphaned wild ducklings to fly.  It was all of her wing flapping races with those ducklings across the barnyard over and over again that had strengthened their wings and enabled them to take flight.

Throughout the rest of her long and peaceful, flight-filled life, Henrietta never again felt unloved or unneeded.  She knew that was she was one very blessed, in a non-overly-busty way,  old hen.  For the very ducklings she had helped the farmer save, had saved her.  And, the wisdom of the farmer had saved them all.

Psalm 44:21 For he knows the secrets of the heart. 

What Is On My Mind Today: Gifts and Christmas Cookie Recipes…It Really Isn’t Christmas Without Them!

When I was young, the Christmas season officially began when two things happened.  We began practicing for the Sunday School Christmas program and the mailman brought the Christmas toy catalogs.

While, I was always left disappointed in my wish to be Mary the mother of Jesus in our church’s Christmas pageant, I certainly did my share of perusing babies, Barbies and bling in those books of bliss.

The Christmas program at church, while wildly popular with adults, was just one more hurdle kids had to jump before we were able to get to the main event…gifts.

So, in the interest of moving things along to a successful and swift conclusion.   Sunday School Christmas program practice and participation received its due diligence. Positive attitudes, that was the key!

As repayment for our happy hearts, on the night of the program, we were rewarded by two things. Arriving and finding the the church filled to its rafters. Many of who were scary-looking strangers due to them being our community’s two-timers.  Those that worship only on Easter and Christmas.  In addition to adult attendance,  we each received a gift from the church of a small plastic nativity scene ornament, and a brown paper bag of treats filled mostly with peanuts in the shell and hard Christmas candy. I liked the fruity candy with the chewy center that was flavored and shaped like a raspberry, not so much the spicy ones…they were nasty. Even hungry barn cats wouldn’t eat those.

Parents filled with pride as they watched the small army of children decked out in Christmas finery herded to the front of the church by bun-capped church ladies.   Not a crier in the bunch!  Kids, either.

Like soldiers carrying out an important mission, we formed three rows.  One on each of the steps leading to the altar and communion rail.  In our church that is as far as an unconfirmed child should go. No matter how inviting the plush velvet looked on the communion rail and kneel board, or how much your tired tiny knees longed to rest upon its fuzzy softness while you prayed…you just knew that would look so cute and God would hear you better there…it was no place for children with sticky fingers. Ushers stood ever on guard to deliver the tempted from trespass.

Anxiety always ran high during these performances for both child and parent. It was a rare thing for man, woman or child from Swede Grove Township to answer out of turn, let alone crave the limelight. The bright lights that beckoned to folks in our community were on tractors.  Footlights were flashlights.

Children experienced their first bout of stage fright as parents sat nervously perched on the edge of their pews fervently praying that it would not be their little girl that would lift a lacy or velvet hem to reveal their undies, or little boy their shirt to expose a bare belly before God and the entire congregation.

After the church doings were over the next item on the holiday agenda was the Christmas dinner with relatives of several generations.

The beginning of this event was signaled by the yard becoming packed with cars pointed in every direction.  Into the house they came, clothed in many layers to ward off the cold of a Minnesota winter. It took considerable time to carefully unwrap all of those old folks. Some had parts missing; hankies could fly out from the most unusual locations, and all of their rubber boots had to be removed and neatly stacked by radiators to dry and warm. Nobody wanted cold wet “rubbers” to go home in at the end of a nice evening.

blizzardboots

Once removed, hats, mittens, gloves, scarves and extra sweaters were shoved up into the sleeves of the owners coat, causing them to stick straight out.  After taking on the look of a headless zombie, each coat was then stacked like cord wood onto a bed to be retrieved at a later time when the person whose coat was at the very bottom of the pile would leave first.  A person had about as much chance of finding the correct coat at the bottom of that pile and retrieving it without instigating an avalanche of Biblical proportions as a piglet has of finding a dry nipple.

Christmas dinner preparation was cheerfully achieved by having more square feet of cooks in the kitchen than there was square feet of kitchen.  For such a huge farm house that home has the smallest kitchen.  In that kitchen, three was a crowd. Never the less everyone pitched in, except the young who were overcome by lutefisk fumes, to get the meal on the table. Never in all of that cramp and chaos was a profane word ever uttered.

lutefish dinner

Our Christmas dinner consisted of lutefisk, boiled potatoes and white sauce. The truly daring, and somewhat suspect, dotted their colorless entree with a bright yellow hot mustard mixture delicately applied with a wooden toothpick.  This mustard sauce was a secret family recipe that consisted of me adding water to powdered mustard until it became a paste. Mustarding your lutefisk was tricky business, as one would hate to overpower the taste of the lutefisk or initiate chest hair growth on unsuspecting pre-menopausal females.

If you didn’t like lutefisk, your other entree option was Tony’s pizza.

Christmas Eve always ended with gift opening. Finally!!!

I don’t remember the gifts that I received; however, do remember how the candlelight reflected like diamonds off of all of my grandparent’s and great uncles and aunts’ glasses. I remember the uproarious laughter produced by Uncle Ing and Ed’s stories. I remember the Swedish accents, now as long gone as the those who spoke over our heads in their native language.

I will never forget the big brightly-colored lights on the large real Christmas tree that filled the parlor. They burned hot enough to set the tree and house on fire. Those lights quickly became a dare to see if you could touch them without burning your fingers. The key to success was to deposit enough excess spit on your fingertips to produce a nice….spit, not skin, sizzle.

Today, I can still taste the home-baked treats shared by my grandmother, and great aunts Hilda, Esther, Olive, Anna, Agda, Amanda and Doris.  Really, I can. I was astute enough as a teenager to collect many of their favorite recipes.  Many of those recipes have been shared on this blog. I still make them using my grandmother’s rolling pin and spritz cookie maker.

There are so many memories and lessons to be gleaned from Christmas’ past. Such as the smell of lutefisk. Or, the image of grandma using the water the lutefisk had been boiled in to bleach out laundry stains after the holiday had passed.

However, the most important lesson gleaned from generations of Christmas celebrations is that this holiday was, is and always will be about people.

Christmas is the celebration of God’s unwavering, undying love for humankind…people.

John 3:16

For, God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Christmas, like the Christian faith, is about love. God loving us.  Us loving God. And, us loving each other.

There is no greater love than the love God has for each and every one of us. To clarify this, Jesus summarized the entire ten commandments to two. Both about love.  First, that we should love God with all our heart, soul and mind and have no other god’s before him.  Second, that we love one another as God loves us, and as we love ourselves.

John 15:13  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

That is what Jesus did on the cross.

He laid down his life to save those he loved…us…no greater love

There is great personal peace in knowing such a loving God, and in knowing that if there is sorting out to be done, that it is God’s job, not mine.

John 3:17

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

My job as a Christian is to share and example God’s gifts. To share his message of salvation and eternal life through his only son Jesus Christ…the Christmas Story… and try to be a living example of the gifts of the Spirit.

Galatians 5: 22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.


Yes, Christmas is all about gifts.

This year share the true gifts of Christmas…. love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

It really isn’t Christmas without them….just saying.

 

****************************************************************

 

Links to Generational Family Christmas Cookies Recipes:

Grandmother Esther’s Cutout Butter Cookies,
Grandmother Esther’s Melt In Your Mouth Sugar cookies,
Aunt Heidi’s Gingersnaps
Grandmother Esther’sSnickerdoodles,
Grandma Esther’s Spritz,
Patricia’s Chocolate-Cherry Bon Bons

Great Aunt Doris’ Swedish Creme Wafers
Grandmother Vacinek’s Mo Mint Brownie Bars
Grandmother Esther’s Fabulous Lemon Bars;
Mounds Bars

What Is On My Mind Today? The Perfect Thanksgiving…Dinner Table

pumpkin-pie

Yesterday, my husband and I spent the Thanksgiving Holiday  alone.  That was our choice.

My sister had invited us and our entire family to her beautiful home over six months ago, unfortunately between then and now my cancer relapsed and I am back on chemo with a very compromised immune system.  Crowds are a no go.

However, my superstar younger sister still made my Thanksgiving one of the best ever!

Last July when my cancer returned and I was hospitalized for weeks, she came to visit me. My memory of her hospital visit is pretty fuzzy, but I remember mentioning to her that our cousin was looking for a home for the original family homestead farm table.  It is ancient, huge, solid oak and has about a dozen leaves and many chairs.

I think that girl had taken custody of that table within 48 hours of learning of its availability. I am always proud of her, but in my drug and pain-addled mind I felt she really excelled in this endeavor.

My sister and her family had just returned to Minnesota after residing in Michigan for decades and she was on the look out for furniture for her new home.  My cousin had offered the table to me, but the trusty tape measure I always carry in my purse, soon settled that question.  Big tables need big houses and that table would never fit in my home.  I was a bit devastated to be honest.  Sometime reality sucks, what can you do?

Well, you can trust that God has a plan and it is going to be all right…even for treasured old tables.  Even if was treasured by only me.

Throughout Thanksgiving Day it provided me much joy to picture our family table set beautifully with my sister’s finest china, stem and silverware again surrounded by four generations of family and souls from generations past.

I don’t think my younger sister has sat up to that table for a holiday celebration since she was four-years-old.   It was one of our last Christmas celebrations with Minnesota family and cousins before our immediate family began going south for the winter to Tucson, Arizona.  Everyone was there.  Our grandparents, great uncles and aunts, and cousins, and yes…the lutefisk!

My little sister sat on the north side of the table just in front of the upstairs door.  Her feet were so short that they stuck straight out from the big old oak chair.  So cute. She inherited the blonde locks in our family and they just shined in the candlelight.

Yes, I had a fabulous Thanksgiving this year…and so that old hundred-year-old table.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday and took time to thank our loving heavenly Father for all the blessings in our lives.

 
Below is the blog I wrote last year about the importance of family tables. 

Antique-Round-Oak-Dining-table-

What Is On My Mind Today: Family Tables

A cousin of mine passed away yesterday. After helping to make calls and send emails to notify other family members of her death, I could not help but think about how it sometimes seems that there are more of my family members in heaven than here on earth anymore.

Yesterday was a time to remember them. Grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts, uncles and cousins who have slipped beyond the veil. Each one a totally unique human treasure.  Now, I am not saying that we all got along, were always pillars of the community or had perfect reputations, but come heaven, hell or high water they were my people.

I have been very blessed to have had the opportunity to know several generations of family very well. When I think of the times we were all together, whether it was for a baptism, birthday, confirmation, graduation, wedding, holiday or funeral, it seems that the doings were held in the dining room of my Uncle Myrwin’s home around the great round oak table.

That table by now must be well over a hundred years old.  I believe that, that old table has twelve leaves and can seat over twenty people. It has stood the test of time far better that some of the folks who gathered around it to feed body and soul.

I can clearly remember all the shining happy faces on Christmas Eve as we all sat down together for a traditional Lutefisk dinner.  Or, the hungry faces of the farm folk when they came in starved from the fields and barn for their noon and evening meals.  The first and last time I ever ate a bear roast was at that table.  I wish, I could say the same about the Lutefisk.

There were times when that big strong husky dark table would be covered in a dainty lace or hand-embroidered tablecloth and perfectly set with gleaming china to host the neighborhood ladies club luncheon, a women’s bible study, quilting bee or any other special occasion when the women were in charge and manners and social graces were required.   A silver coffee pot, creamer and sugar on a large tray meant to impress provided the ladies with smooth real Swedish egg coffee.

When sad times came to the farm, that table provided support for the elbows of the grieving.  It was there when baby Ruth Marie died; boys went off to war and two did not return; and when other beloved children in our family went to be in the arms of Jesus Christ. It was there when a parent suddenly died. During those times our family gathered around that table.  It supported us, as we supported each other.

That table held the oatmeal mush my grandparents and their children ate three times a day during 1930’s great drought and depression when they almost lost the farm and had nothing to feed their remaining livestock except the thistles that grew in the slough down beyond the cow pasture.  It was there as they listened to the radio announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt’s fireside chats.  It was there the day they received the telegram that my uncle Wendall had been killed in action in Korea and when grandpa had his bad heart attack.

Yes, that table was even there the day that toddler Pat decided to kill a fly on the window next to it with a baseball bat. As big as that table was, hiding under its wide wings was no sanctuary to escape justice.

Looking at that table is seeing family.  All together again sharing the grace of God, good food and all of the joys and sorrows life can offer.

I hope that all of you have memories of just such a table.  May your children and children’s children have just such a table in their lives.

Moral of Story:  Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.  

Children’s Story: Wendell, the Ghost in the Attic

Yesterday, a friend and I spent the morning sorting through an old suit case that my cousin recently gave me that we found inside the old family homestead house.

It was amazing holding letters written by my great-grandparents…Ole and Christine and reading their children’s (my great aunt and uncles) school work that had been completed before World War I.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the correspondence was written in Swedish, which to my great disappointment I never learned to read or speak.

My cousin recently helped me walk through the old homestead house for memories sake.  He also honored me by allowing me to be the custodian of the triangle-shaped flag given to my grandparent’s George and Esther Larson at their soldier boy’s funeral.

Since my visit to the farm, I have spent quite a bit of time reminiscing about the people who lived and loved there. Yes, that old, old house has seen its share of the joys of life…births, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, confirmations, weddings and “neighborhood and family doings.”  When I stood in the kitchen doorway and looked out into the dining room, living room and front parlor somehow the chairs did not seem quite empty and voices and laughter from the past, for that moment in time, returned.

Along with the joys of this world that old homestead has seen its share of sorrow. Wars, economic depression, severe drought and crop failures made their presence known to those farm folk.  It is not something people like to talk a lot about, but there were years when famine came and even farm families knew hunger.  Grandma Esther told about a summer during the dust bowl years when the only feed they had for their cows were the thistles that grew in the mud that used to be a lake.  She lamented about eating and feeding her children oatmeal three times a day.  Yet, for the rest of her long life routinely ate oatmeal, just because she liked it.

Then, too, there was the great sorrow of death’s visits when old and young ones were called home to eternity.  Such as, when our family’s two soldier boys so strong, smart and handsome were killed in action in Korea just months apart, and who now lie side by side in the family plot at old church cemetery.

This story is about one of those boys…my Uncle Wendall, who was the “Ghost in the Attic.”

Wendell, The Ghost in the Attic

My very first memory is of screaming for assistance in the night and staring at a light in the hall outside of my crib. I wanted out and apparently the rest of the world had gone deaf. Two things became clear at that moment; cribs are prisons, and prisons are not for me—I need freedom, and staring at lights made my eyes hurt.

I quickly dedicated my every waking effort to establishing a method to release me from physical limitations that surrounded me—I learned to climb out of that crib. This skill, learned so young, is of great benefit to any person born on a farm that housed a variety of animals kept in pens.

My bedroom was at the top of the wide oak staircase, on the second floor, at the east end of the big farm house built by my great grandpa Ole. Actually, both of my great-grandpa’s were named Ole. My family is Swedish, the whole entire lot of us, except my youngest sister who thinks she’s adopted—that’s what my brothers and I told her, so that makes it true.

Next to my room was my parent’s room. It was huge! Which annoyed me greatly because obviously there was plenty of room for me in there too, but, no, they had to hog the whole thing to themselves and poor little me was left to fend for myself.

The most important part about the location of my bedroom was that right above me was….the attic! Now this, unlike my brother is important, because that’s where Uncle Wendell’s ghost lived!

Uncle Wendell was a soldier who had died in a war and from all accounts was a very nice person. Then, too, that’s exactly what adult’s tell a kid about family ghosts so that you’re not so afraid to go to bed.

Wendell was a family ghost and family ghosts aren’t like other ghosts, because they want to be near you. They get lonesome. Sometimes you know they are there because you see their eyes move in the pictures by your grandma’s bed, or your nose tickles for no reason because they are thinking about you. But mostly you know they are there, because you can hear them at night…in the attic.

Wendell’s ghost lived in the part of the attic right above my bed, because it was where the window looked out towards grandma’s house and down the lane. I just knew that he liked to sit at the little brown table, wearing his uniform. To regular folks the uniform looked like it just was hung on a hangar by the window. But, I knew that uniform had a spell on it, because amidst all of the dead flies and dust that surrounded it, that uniform was always perfectly clean and wrinkle free.

That fact that Wendell’s suit was completely wrinkle free was in itself suspicious. On the farm not only did most of the clothes have wrinkles, but some of the animals and practically all of the people I knew were wrinkled. So why was this, the only item on the farm that was always neatly pressed? Suspicious to be sure! In my mind, it reassured the fact that there were unusual goings on in that house, and confirmed that we did indeed have a ghost living in our attic.

I believed that during the day my ghostly uncle liked to sit in the attic by the east window. From there he could see the green fields, blue-black woods, and grandma and grandpa’s little yellow house with the light gray roof. In season, he could watch the lilac’s bloom violet and smell the pink and white apple blossoms blooming in the orchard along the lane. Early in the spring, he would watch the corn being planted by his brothers. Soon there would be yellow-green shoots pushing through the rich blue-black top soil and he could almost feel the soft-cream colored downy corn tassels dancing on the mid-summer’s evening breezes. Autumn was golden, gold wheat, gold straw, gold soy beans and golden corn stalks that rustled and danced the cool crisp air.

His eyes could not have missed seeing his nephews and nieces playing hide and go seek in the orchard, having dirt clog fights in the fields, building forts in the lilac bushes and chasing run away livestock down the long gravel lane.

I was sure that Wendell never left his post by the window. For he had to stay there by the window to guard the triangle shaped flag the rested on the small oak table in front of the window—the flag that grandma said I was never to touch.

Grandma loved Wendell and told me many stories about how much fun he was and he was oh, so smart! She had a picture of him looking so very handsome in that wrinkle-free uniform, right by her bed. On her sofa was the navy-blue silk pillow with smooth shiny golden fringe that he’d sent her from a far away place called Korea.

No matter how many nice stories she’d tell me about him, I didn’t love Wendell, I didn’t even like him, because when grandma would go up into the attic to visit him, he made her cry. Nice people and nice ghosts do not make grandmas cry. Wendell was a ghost. He was in our attic. I knew it, and what was worse he knew, I knew it. I didn’t know how to get rid of a ghost, but I decided that he was not going to come out of that attic without a warning.

I always felt sorry for Wendell for being trapped in the attic, but he scared me just the same. It was his fault that I was afraid of the dark, for each night just as I crawled into bed –the noises began. It would start out with windows rattling, then the tap, tap, tap on the pipes. Then the wood moaned and cracked. The stairs were wood and it was him testing the stairs to see if he could sneak down. I would pull the covers up over my head and try to breath really quietly so he’d think I was asleep and leave me be. If ghosts can’t hear you, then they can’t get you, that’s why all the other kids in the family were safe but me.

I was the noisiest breather ever. During the day if I talked a lot, you didn’t notice the loud breathing so much, but at night my asthma gave me so much trouble breathing. No matter how hard I tried to hold my breath or breathe slowly, I was noisy.

It was common knowledge in Swede Grove Township, that ghosts steal and eat the noisy bothersome children. My older cousins Clyde and Bruce had told me so. They were much older, so they knew all about what ghosts do to little girls with big brown eyes, who they find wheezing in the night. First, they bite off each finger, starting with the pinky, and then they get the toes one by one so you can’t run away. That was enough bad news for me. At that point I knew that I was much more afraid of ghosts in the dark than death by pig and blindness by rooster during the day. I just had to get the trap done, so Wendall the ghost couldn’t get out of the attic and get me.

Being a farm kid who was around a lot of dangerous animals, including my older brother, I had plenty of experience developing early warning systems. I decided make a loud alarm that I could hear at night. A noisy alarm would alert everyone in the home of a pending ghost attack. Using material that would be readily available it seemed to me that the most prudent course would be to fill the stairwell with tin cans and glass bottles, then slam the door shut. Should Wendell the ghost try to open that attic door at night to cause mischief, the tin cans rolling down the stairs and glass bottles breaking would surely wake everyone up and scare him back up into the attic. A simple plan is a good plan, and I had already learned that when dealing with Swedes it’s best to keep it simple—including Swedish ghosts.

So the very next morning, I found a handy-dandy five-gallon pail and went prospecting for cans. This was not as easy of a task as you might imagine. The farm’s garbage pile was past the old red granary and the tool shed. Then you had to pass over a landing, travel right past the pig pens through a mud bog into the woods to get to the garbage pile.

The most challenging obstacle between me and safety from the likes of Wendell the ghost were the roosters—big Rhode Island Red roosters. Those big-cocky buggers were almost as tall as I was. It was a commonly accepted that those feathered fiends especially liked pecking out the eyes of little girls that left the porch by themselves without Grandpa George. Clyde and Bruce, my cousins, told me they’d seen it happen themselves. Well, if your older boy cousins loved you and were there to protect you so if they saw it, it must be true.

Now, Grandpa George was someone special. He was the tallest quietest fellow I’d ever seen, except for old man Peterson, who by the way was the only guy at church with one hand and the other a hook. I was told he wasn’t a pirate, but I knew better. It was fascinating watching him click that shiny silver hook onto the collection plate every Sunday. You had to just take a quick peek at his hook, as grandma considered it heathenish to notice or comment on such.

Grandpa was always calm, no matter what. That was his job…expressing the excitement of life was grandma’s responsibility.

Grandpa George always wore Osh Gosh bib overalls, a blue cotton shirt with the elbows mended with old white handkerchief material. He had brown leather work boots with the criss-cross laces up the front, and a big broad-brimmed yellow straw hat, that his white hair stuck out from underneath.

One of the things I liked best about grandpa was his old ticker. When he’d rock you, you could put your ear on the middle of his chest and hear his old ticker…tick, tock, tick, tock …just a ticking away. It really was his gold pocket watch, but he called it the old ticker The old ticker was magical, because no matter hard it was to breath when your were sick with asthma, all you had to do was listen to the old ticker and it would keep you safe while you took your nap and it guaranteed that you would wake up again. It always worked.

Anyway, back to building the ghost trap. I wasn’t about to let some rooster spoil my plans after all grandma, grandpa and my parents hadn’t raised me to be a coward. They were always telling me how brave I was when I had a difficult time breathing during asthma attacks. They said it took courage to get all of those shots for my asthma and not cry. So, I had no fear as I jumped off the long green porch on the south side of big white house determined to get those cans to keep the ghost in the attic.

I started out across the lawn and down the slope toward the barn and the granary. I went slowly being careful not to be seen by my mom, dad, grandma, Grandpa George or the roosters. Pigs didn’t concern me as much and they’d just kill me dead, but I didn’t want my eye’s pecked out, as that just looks so nasty and would give nightmares to other good little children, so I was afraid of the roosters.

My dog Mitzy, the German shepherd, came with me for protection. She understood the importance of the task at hand and was looking for the roosters too. My heart was pounding, partially from fear and excitement, but mostly I could never breathe because of the asthma. Mitzy and I crept past the barn, undetected, then, then we scooted across the barnyard to the granary. Yes, the coast was clear and Mitzy and I headed into the woods to fill the bucket with cans.

You can’t imagine the horror that me and that dog experienced when we got to the garbage pile. There right on top of the cans were the blasted roosters, scratching for worms. Well, we retreated some, to think over our options. We had burned a lot of daylight just getting there, and we’d be missed soon by Grandpa George. He was a slow mover, but tricky, he always seemed to be right where I was going instead of where I’d just been.

We decided that if we were brave enough to come this far, what’s a few chicken pecks. I pulled my cowgirl hat down low over my eyes for protection. Then, with bucket swinging wildly over my head—me and that dog rushed them roosters.

Dogs bark at fleeing chickens….

After I learned THAT lesson of the universe, Grandpa George took away my bucket and explained to me again that if I continued to glare at the dog like I was doing, my face would permanently freeze and I’d be a walking grotesque reminder to other busy little girls that they should listen to their grandpas. After another lecture on the perils of death by pig and blindness by rooster, we went hand and hand to get cookies from Grandma Esther. Who again explained, in great detail, in English and Swedish, how positively nasty death by pigs and blindness by rooster can be.

I took a nap on grandpa’s lap and awoke to find that grandma needed help to make more cookies for grandpa. Since only I could get the dough balls rolled to exactly the right size, I was stuck. It was during the cookie baking that I noticed that all of my artwork I had drawn for grandma so faithfully had gone missing from her refrigerator. Why, grandmother’s refrigerator was as barren as a twin heifer calf.

She explained to me that as soon as we cleared the table from the cookie baking, I had to draw her more pictures of horses. With a note of pity in her voice she explained how it had happened again. She just had to give them to the unmarried aunties in town. They were having another low spell and it lifted their spirits some and gave them a happy heart to get my pictures.

The aunties were without a darling of their own, didn’t I know. And, Jesus expected me share my drawing talents and be a blessing by supplying artwork for those two old bare-shouldered ladies wearing faded loose chiffon flapper dresses, with dirty embroidered hankies trapped between their shriveled bosoms, that could be pulled out with warning to wipe your face at anytime and who smelled like strong coffee and the root cellar in our basement.

As I sat there at grandma’s kitchen table focused on my Christian duty and drawing those pictures, I strongly suspected that I was deliberately being kept from the garbage pile. Well, there’s one rule I was born knowing and that is that there is no sense in deliberately offending God or grandma. I gave those drawings my best effort, besides grandpa let me sharpen my crayons with his real jack knife.

By the time I’d finished all the drawings that grandma needed, it was getting dark outside and grandpa walked me home to the big house for supper. Not only was supper was waiting for me, but so was Wendall the ghost. I knew that Wendall was there in the window watching pa walking me home. It was another scary night of waiting for an imminent ghost attack.

So the very next morning, I snuck out of the house again. To get out, I waited until mom was in the kitchen, then I went into the pantry and down the basement door, past the old wood stoves, said “good morning” to the black and orange salamanders on slimy green stone walls and out the coal shoot on the north side of the house. Then, I ran for the woods.

I had made it clear of the house, but Mitzy was following me. She was loyal, which is a worthy trait, but it had already been established that she was a chicken barker. I tried to lock Mitzy in the outhouse, but she made it clear she was also an outhouse barker, so we discussed the situation and decided to stick it out together. She looked like she’d sincerely try not to bark the roosters this time and sometimes you just have to trust someone. So off we went toward the junk the pile, in the dark woods past the granary together.

On the way there I took a quick break to pick and eat a few black raspberries that grew wild by the tall gas pumps. We used these gas pumps on our farm to fill the tractors with gas. These pumps stood on four legs and were about seven feet off of the ground with a big barrel on top. When, no one was around, I liked to climb up on top of them and pretend they were horses. I’d sit astride the barrel and dream I was a wild Indian. Free to race my pinto pony across the prairies at top speed.

It seemed to be a good morning for a wild ride and Mitzy was busy eating chicken poop. So, I climbed up on a gas pump and spent some time roaming the vast plains of the Wild West in search of buffalo and adventure.

Unfortunately, adventure I found, because, just when I was kicking my mount in the sides to go faster to catch the buffalo, grandpa walked right beneath my gas pump pony on his way to feed the baby chicks. I held my breath so he’d not hear me, because gas-pump riding was, as with most things, strictly prohibited by grandma. She felt it was dangerous. I don’t know how she found so many perils in everything. I guess she was just a natural born worrier.

Just when grandpa had passed by my seven-foot high pump-pony, and I was grinning at my cleverness at being undetected, he set his bucket of chicken feed down and without looking at me said, that I should be careful not to let grandma catch me up there again. Then, he left to feed the chicks. This is why I loved grandpa, he trusted four-year old girls to exercise their own good judgment.

After, I’d finished my imaginary western adventure. I climbed down and called for Mitzy. Luckily she was done eating chicken poop and grandpa had left his feed bucket by the granary door. At first, I thought it was one of his tricks, but no, good fortune had finally smiled on me. I grabbed the bucket and escaped into the woods to get the cans for the ghost trap.

This time I was able to get necessary cans and jars. I headed back to the big house. The best thing about living in the big house is that it had four different doors to go in. As the whole relation and neighborhood was Swedish, and we’re a trusting bunch of folks, the doors were never locked. The windows locked, doors always wide open.

I went in the big front hall door, because that door was only used when we had important company to impress—never was used. Also, that door was the closest to the great hall that lead directly to the upstairs and the attic door. I got in just fine and dumped my cans and bottles on attic stairs. It was then that I realized one bucket of cans would never be enough. So back, I went to the dark woods for another load, then another and another. Soon my trap was just grand; the stairway was filled with cans and bottles. I could hardly get the door to the attic shut with all of those cans in there. Should Wendall try to escape now, the racket would awake everyone and keep everyone, and especially me, safe from a ghost mangle.

I went to bed that night, expecting a good night sleep. No more worrying about the nightly noises coming from above my bed. And there weren’t any. My trap worked so well that for more that a week, not a peep did I hear from the ghost in the attic.

As it happens, country folks feel that getting together with neighbors is important and my mom and her lady friends had this club, a ladies club, and they’d meet once a month. They’d take turns meeting in someone’s home to play games that rhymed and made them giggle. There was always great concern about whether the napkins matched the tablecloth and they ate lots of fancy desserts that we kids and our dads could only taste after the ladies had gone home. Those gals really seemed to enjoy it!

It was my mom’s turn to be hostess to the club’s monthly meeting and our whole house was in an uproar in preparation for the doings. The rules had been clearly articulated…we kids weren’t to touch anything, make a mess, bring any type of animal into the house, or to make fun of any of the company. If any of these rules were violated there’d be a spanking. Yes, there was probably a spanking in my immediate future—as I was an excellent mimic.

Grandma had volunteered to help mom clean the whole big house, and it did look grand! Everything was ready for ladies and mom was getting her best dress on. Things were going so smoothly that grandpa was even taking a rest. He was just sitting on the back porch, with a couple of his chicken feed pails beside him, resting his head on a broom handle. He looked so peaceful; I decided to join him for a visit.

As a plopped down on the porch step next to him, he smiled at me and whispered quietly, “They keep the silver coffee pot in the attic, Trina.” I completely froze as the sound waves from the horrible racket of all those cans and bottles cascading down the attic steps onto grandma reached my ears. Then, grandma screamed “WHAT IN THE WORLD HAS GONE ON HERE!”

Grandpa pulled his old straw hat low over his eyes and whispered “protects me from the hen pecks” and winked at me. Then, he asked me if I thought two buckets would be enough. I sadly shook my head–no, we’d need more. Grandpa pointed at the two other buckets he’d stored under the porch for just such an emergency and together with our buckets we entered the house.

Mom came charging out of the bedroom, demanding what and who had broken into where and wailing that her club party would surely be ruined! Grandma was at the top of the stairs looking down on grandpa and me with her lips pursed tight and her hands on her hips. I knew at that moment; I was in big trouble, going to get a spanking, would cry in front of my cousins, and eventually would be eaten by Wendell the ghost.

Grandma’s eyes never left my face, but they narrowed just a bit, as she used her most calm no nonsense voice to explain to my mother that somehow some old boxes had been left on the attic stairs. The boxes were filled with old cans that someone must have been saving, and she had accidentally tipped over the boxes. Grandma promised we’d clean up the mess and clear out before the guests arrived so everything would be just fine.

When we reached the scene of the disaster, grandpa started to pick up the cans and put them into the pails. Then he stopped and asked me why I wasn’t helping him. I couldn’t lie to grandpa, so I told them how the cans were probably covered with ghost germs and that I was afraid of Wendell’s ghost in the attic. Grandma’s eyes narrowed as she very calmly asked me if I was afraid of the attic because Wendell’s things were there. Well, yes, I responded, I was, but more importantly I explained how ghosts attacked little girls with asthma and ate them in their sleep, I knew it was true, because the cousins had told me so. I, then, shared the gruesome details of death by ghost attack. I told her how I could hear him up in the attic at night and that I no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t breathe quietly and that’s how he’d find me and get me for sure. So I had made a ghost trap.

Without a word, grandma just sat down on the top of those stairs and stared at me for the longest while. Then, she pulled me onto her lap. She started out talking really fast in Swedish, but after she calmed down, as she usually did, she switched to English. Grandma explained Uncle Wendell. He wasn’t in the attic, because he wasn’t a ghost. He lived in heaven with Jesus and was and angel.

Wendell had been a wonderful young man who had loved his country, cherished freedom and wanted to pass that gift on to me. He had died in a war—far away from our farm. Wendell had not died afraid. He had a strong faith in God and knew that he had a home in heaven. He died defending other boys that were with him. She told me that she took good care of his uniform and the flag, because she missed him—not because of any ghost germs.

Uncle Wendell was never a ghost in the attic and I was never afraid of him again. How can anyone be afraid of someone who loves so greatly that without even knowing you would sacrificed their life to allow you to grow up safe and free. I will, however, always remember how he died and why. I will treasure the stories that were shared with me and keep him alive in my heart…by never forgetting his selflessness and unwavering love of God, family and country…. Wendell is my hero.

Good night, kids!

And, oh, by the way ghosts would never come down the stairs…because they can go right through the walls.