I loved her voice and the way she danced and strutted across the stage, giving every song her all. She was power and elegance and talent.
As kids my sisters and I loved Ike and Tina Turner’s version of “Rolling on a River.” We loved how they started the song out “nice and easy” because as Tina said, “we never, ever do nothing nice and easy” then halfway through they rocked the song like a river bursting over its banks.
We called Milwaukee’s Fun-Loving WOKY at 920 on your AM dial. They took requests. So we asked, “Can you play ‘Rolling on a River’ the way Ike and Tina Turner sing it?”
“Sure,” someone at WOKY said. After all, they were Fun-Loving.
Instead they played “Rolling on a River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Disappointed, we called again and again, asking for the “nice and easy” version. But we were kids, and we pissed them off with our insistence they get our request right. They told us they wouldn’t play Ike and Tina Turner’s version because they’d just played the CCR version.
We gave it a rest. But we called every couple of days, asking to hear “Rolling on a River” by Ike and Tina Turner. Fun-Loving WOKY at 920 on your AM dial never honored our request. After a couple of weeks we gave up.
Today I didn’t need to call a request line to hear Tina Turner sing “Rolling on River.” I’ve got YouTube. I watched three different versions of Tina sing and dance to the best version ever of “Rolling on River.” And I was twelve years old again.
I look out my kitchen window. I can see Mrs. H’s house. She died last November at the age of ninety-one. Yellow caution tape runs from the road, past the side of her house, and toward the back of her yard where her magnificent gardens, filled with daffodils and tulips and other flowers I can’t name, bloom every spring. The caution tape evokes the feeling of a crime scene, but it’s simply there to keep the people at the estate sale from trampling through the gardens. Cars park up and down her block and the next block and on my block. People line up outside her front door, waiting to enter her home, hoping for bargains at the estate sale. I think about Scrooge’s visit with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and the scene with gleeful characters scavenging through the belongings of the recently dead Scrooge.
I’m not saying Mrs. H was like Scrooge, she wasn’t, or the people in line are gleeful, they’re not, but this is what I think about. I waver about whether or not I will go to the estate sale. Going into Mrs. H’s home — looking at her possessions, which under normal circumstances would have been in cupboards and closets and drawers — feels like an invasion of her privacy.
I’ve lived in this neighborhood for twenty-seven years. Mrs. H was here when I moved in, but I’ve never been inside her house. We were of different generations. But I liked her well enough and enjoyed our brief chats when she walked by my house, first with one Miniature Schnauzer then later on after that dog died, with another one.
Even though going to the estate sale feels like an invasion of her privacy, I’m curious about what her house looks like inside. It’s adorable from the outside — one of my favorites on the street. I might buy something as a keepsake.
I keep watch out my kitchen window, and when the line of people is gone, I grab my purse and walk to Mrs. H’s house. I don’t have to knock to enter, but I do have to take off my shoes.
The front door empties into the living room filled with used furniture. There is a three-person couch for $800, a small outdated stuffed chair and ottoman for $700, and a four-person couch for $900. So much for bargains.
I notice the picture hanging on Mrs. H’s wall has been straightened and marked with a $40 price tag. It’s from the 1980s, like something that hung in a middle-class hotel. For almost a year before Mrs. H died, the picture hung crooked on her wall. Every evening when I walked my dogs past her house, I wondered why she didn’t straighten it. Eventually, I came to believe the crooked picture meant something was wrong with her.
One afternoon, as I walked my dogs by Mrs. H’s house, I ran into her daughter. I asked how her mother was doing. She answered, “Not good.” Her mother was suffering from dementia. I told the daughter about the crooked picture on the wall, that it had convinced me something wasn’t right with her mother. After our conversation, I thought the daughter might straighten it, but she didn’t. The picture remained crooked for months, a signal flag of Mrs. H’s difficulties.
I wander through the house. Its rooms are small, but neat. Simply decorated but bland. Everything is clean. There isn’t much for sale in the house. I get the impression that Mrs. H didn’t like to clutter up her small home with lots of stuff. Objects are $10, $15, $20, $30, $50, $60, $90, and more. If this were a rummage sale, the same objects would be a fraction of the cost. I don’t buy anything, and I don’t stay long. I feel like an interloper. But once outside, I take pictures of some beautiful flowers in one of Mrs. H’s gardens.
Everything changes. Mrs. H is gone. Mr. H died eight years ago. The dishes and tools and clothes and knickknacks that made up their lives are being sold. Mrs. H’s gardens didn’t winter well, and the daffodils and tulips, usually plentiful and jovial, are sparse and lonely. Someone new will live in the house. Mrs. H’s daughter-in-law isn’t sure if the family will sell the home. Perhaps one of the family will live in the home. If they sell it, I hope someone with children will move into the house. When I first moved to this neighborhood, it was filled with children, including my own, and I miss the shouts and the laughter of children playing outside.
[This personal essay was published in the April/May 2023 issue of Our Wisconsin. Last year and this year, the editors asked for submissions on the theme “Lessons Learned from Mom”in honor of Mother’s Day. Our Wisconsin is a print-only magazine. Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who mothers someone.]
Mom taught us to think about how our actions affected other people. My sister and I were about 5 and 6 the first time I remember Mom delivering this lesson.
We lived in rural Franklin, Wisconsin, a mile north of the Racine County border. Sometimes Mom shopped at a small, independent grocery store. It was nearby, and she liked the store’s butcher shop.
On an autumn day around 1965, Mom loaded us into the car for a trip to the local store, which my sister and I relished. The vibrant-colored penny candy located by the checkout counter made our mouths water. Our pockets normally jingled with coins from our piggy banks, but Halloween was creeping up, so Mom had nixed buying sweets. “You’ll soon have plenty of candy,” she said. “Leave your money home.” We grumbled but left the house with empty pockets.
The store was old-fashioned compared to the supermarket where Mom usually shopped. At the supermarket, we had to stay with Mom, so we didn’t get lost. At the local store, we could roam. Mom could either see or hear us from anywhere in the store.
Mom walked to the back of the store to talk to the butcher. My sister and I remained near the candy. We yearned for Life Savers.
While Mom talked to the butcher, our chance arrived. The cashier left the counter while other shoppers browsed the aisles. I grabbed a roll of Life Savers and stuffed it into my pocket. “We’ll share them,” I whispered to my sister.
Mom finished shopping and paid the cashier. The pilfered goods rested in my pocket. My sister and I didn’t attempt to eat them in the backseat on the way home. Mom had something akin to eyes in the back of her head.
After returning home, Mom put groceries away in the kitchen, and my sister and I sat in the family room, opening the Life Savers. A debate about favorite flavors, eclipsed caution. Mom heard us arguing and appeared in the doorway connecting the kitchen to the family room.
“Where did you get those?” Her voice squashed our argument and dread rendered us speechless. We knew that she knew.
“Did you pay for those?” she asked.
We shook our heads. Lying to Mom wouldn’t work. She’d call the store to check.
“Get a nickel from your bank.” She glared at us. “You’re returning the candy, paying for it, and apologizing to the owner.”
The words, apologize to the owner, were the harshest part of the punishment. The butcher, a muscular man, owned the store. He wore a white apron splattered with blood. He chopped meat into chunks with sharp knives. Would he be holding a big knife when my sister and I had to stand before him and admit we robbed him? Would he yell at us?
Driving back to the store, Mom painted various scenarios, hoping we’d absorb what she said. She wanted us to understand the far-reaching effects our seemingly insignificant 5-cent theft might cause.
“You didn’t just steal from a store—you stole from the owner, a person.”
I hadn’t thought about that.
“He has a wife and children. If people steal from him, he can’t pay his bills. His family will go hungry.”
I pictured his starving children.
“He won’t be able to pay his employees, and their families will go hungry.”
I pictured more starving children. Guilt joined my apprehension.
“You stole from him, his family, his employees.”
I pictured a line of angry people.
“If he doesn’t make money, his store will close. His customers will be unhappy.”
Mom’s talk continued all the way to the store. I don’t remember what the butcher said to us, but he wasn’t holding a knife and he didn’t yell.
I never shoplifted again. When my 7th grade friends wanted to steal gum from a drugstore, I refused to go with them. I remembered Mom’s lesson—I wouldn’t just be stealing a pack of gum.
Mom applied this lesson to other situations, compelling us to be mindful of people’s feelings, explaining thoughtless behavior hurts people. But the hidden gem in her moral? We learned humanity.
Today my dear friend Sandi would’ve been eighty years old. She isn’t here to celebrate because she died almost five years ago. But if she were here, she would tell everyone she didn’t like having birthdays, she didn’t want to celebrate her birthday, and if anyone mentioned her birthday, she would be angry. One year her family took her at her word, and she was deeply hurt. (I hadn’t been so foolish.) I knew her birthday needed quiet acknowledgement: a card in the mail, a text, an invitation to lunch for “a chance to chat,” and a small inexpensive, but just-what-she-wanted gift.
The first time I met Sandi was in a law office. She was a paralegal, and I was a newly hired paralegal. When our mutual boss introduced us, he added, “Vickie has an English degree.” (I rarely tell people I’m an English major because I’ve learned they think I’m secretly judging their grammar. I also don’t want them secretly judging my grammar.) Sandi remarked, “Oh, good. That’ll be useful because I can never keep the possessive-apostrophe-s rules straight.” I told her I struggled with affect/effect and to lie vs. to lay. I thought about Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains in Casablanca. I suspected the sharing of our grammatical weaknesses was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Later we would laugh about this. She had been intimidated by my being an English major. But it turned out, having attended a private, rigorous Baptist school, she had some good grammar chops herself.
I was forty-five when I met Sandi, who was sixteen years older than me. And the first time I met her oldest son, he said, “I’m surprised that given the age difference you and my mom are such good friends.” I answered, “Your mom’s a little young for me, but I try to be tolerant.” He burst out laughing with the same raucous from-the-bottom-of-his-belly laugh that often erupted from Sandi. “Point taken,” he said. He knew exactly what I meant about his mother.
One year, just after Sandi had become sick, I cleaned her garage for her as a birthday present. Her son owned the house where she lived and he was coming to visit. Through no fault of her own, the garage was a mess and she knew he would be upset. She couldn’t get the responsible party to clean it, and she didn’t have the strength to clean it herself. However, she was embarrassed about me cleaning up the mess, until I pointed out to her that it was a free birthday present, and weren’t we always about free or very inexpensive presents? It took me hours over the course of a couple of days to sort, stack, and sweep the mess into submission. But Sandi and I had some good times going to the Goodwill and to the hazardous waste disposal site together. If you can have fun going to the dump with someone, that’s friendship. A week later when her son arrived, the garage was shipshape, and he complimented his mother on how good it looked. She told him it looked good because she had been given the best birthday present ever.
I think of Sandi every day, and on some days, I cry because she isn’t here. But I did my heavy sobbing when she was still alive. I’d come home from visiting her and sit on my wooden deck stairs and sob.
A picture of two white ducks paddling on water that her niece painted hangs on my family room wall. Because she knew I loved the painting, she gave it to me before she died. A quilt graced with cheerful red cardinals perched in pine trees that she made for me rests on my bed. And when I turn out the lights before going to bed, two LED nightlights glow from outlets in my house, ready to light my way should I need to move about in the dark. When she gave the motion sensor nightlights to me, I looked at her rather dubiously. I’m not a gadget person, but she was. She had a light-up-in-the-dark toilet seat that could be set to glow in different colors. She assured me I would grow to appreciate their usefulness. But what I’ve really come to appreciate is that I think of those nightlights as her watching out for me.
Sandi and I agreed on important stuff. Like Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich were the funniest, but the casting for the movie One for the Money was awful. That Antiques Road Show was binge-worthy, but we should always begin watching it with Dairy Queen treats in hand. That potato salad should always be made from scratch and only with real mayo. That sometimes husbands and children had to be humored.
We loved British sitcoms, The Full Monty, and inside jokes. We shared an irreverent, nonlinear, cheeky sense of humor. We could poke fun of each other, ourselves, and situations, making one another laugh out loud, sometimes hysterically, which always made her snort.
But we always knew when to batten down the hatches and look out for one another. That is, after all, why she gave me the motion sensor nightlights.
Mrs. Luepke is part of my childhood, but I don’t remember her. She was my parents’ neighbor when I was born. But she is a legend in my mind because she taught my mother how to make a wunderbar German potato salad.
I grew up hearing stories about Mrs. Luepke who kindly shared cooking tips with my mother, who in 1958 was a young bride with no cooking skills.
My mother made Mrs. Luepke’s German potato salad for special events, holidays, and picnics. When I was old enough, I helped. The kitchen filled with the smells of boiling red potatoes and sizzling bacon. Followed by the sweet, tangy smell of vinegar and sugar simmering on the stove in a bath of bacon fat and butter roux, which would be poured over the potatoes, bacon, and sliced green onions.
My favorite way to eat the German potato salad was when it was warm. I’d sneak a spoonful (or two) while I mixed the ingredients together.
For years the recipe had been lost. But this winter my mother discovered that her brother, who now lives a thousand miles away, had a copy of the recipe. My mother copied down the ingredients on a piece of small paper, and handed it to me when I visited her for Christmas last year. The paper contained no instructions, so when I made the potato salad, my mother explained the steps. Our mother-daughter-German-potato-salad project was the highlight of my Christmas. And the salad tasted as wonderful as I remembered it tasting when I was a child.
If you make the potato salad, think of Mrs. Luepke. During the years when her recipe was lost to my mother and me, I never found another German potato recipe that tasted as good as hers. In some small way, I’m glad to keep her memory alive.
3 to 5 pounds of red (new) potatoes (I used 4 pounds)
1 bunch green onions, sliced, including the greens
1 pound of bacon
1 stick of butter (I used no-salt)
4 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 cups very hot water, not boiling
Boil the potatoes with their skins. Cook until a fork slides in and out easily, but they shouldn’t be falling apart. Let them cool while you start the other steps.
Fry 1 pound of chopped bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan. Remove 3 to 4 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Keep the rest of the bacon fat in the pan.
Add 1 stick of butter to the pan. (I used no-salt butter.) Melt the butter on medium heat.
When the butter is melted, add 4 tablespoons of flour, making a roux. Stir while it thickens.
Add 2/3 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of sugar. Continue to gently whisk while it simmers until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens more.
Next add 2 cups of very hot water–but not boiling. Simmer and gently whisk together. The mixture will thicken again, but it won’t be as thick as it was before. Turn off the burner.
Return the bacon to the pan and add the green onions. Mix to combine. Cover the mixture to keep it warm.
Peel then slice the potatoes into a big mixing bowl.
Pour the warm bacon mixture over the potatoes. Gently combine.
Eat some when it’s warm!
Refrigerate leftovers. Thanks to microwaves, the potato salad can be rewarmed. But warm it, don’t zap the heck out of it!
Cabela, my fourteen-and-a-half-year-old standard poodle, has been moving slowly over the past two days. But she has a good excuse. She treed a big raccoon on Friday evening. Then she stood under the tree and barked at it, warning it to stay put. She barked some more to alert my husband that a big raccoon was up the tree, but that he didn’t need to worry about it. She had it all under control.
My husband brought Cabela into the house, then he watched the raccoon through a window. When the raccoon finally decided to come down the tree, its descent took twenty minutes because it inched its way down while keeping an eye out for Cabela the Mighty Hunter.
After the raccoon skedaddled down the road, my husband took the dogs back outside. Cabela ran hot laps around the house, probably looking for the raccoon. It’s the hot laps that she’s paying for. She’s moving like an old athlete who needs an anti-inflammatory and a heating pad after a rowdy game of touch football.
“Old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway.” That’s what my father would’ve said about Cabela’s escapade with the raccoon. It was one of my father’s favorite expressions. When someone asked him how old he was, he answered, “Old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway.” If someone did something foolish (and that someone was often my father), he would repeat the mantra, “Old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway.”
Years ago, Jelly Bean, the first dog my husband and I owned, spent a night on the lam. One of my nephews had let her outside, and I didn’t realize it until a couple of hours later. I drove all over the neighborhood, several different times, but I couldn’t find her. I was upset when I went to bed because she still hadn’t returned.
Around midnight the temperature dropped and heavy rain accompanied by thunder and lightning rumbled through the night. I kept dreaming that I heard Bean barking. I’d wake up and listen, then sad and disappointed, I’d go back to sleep. Finally, at four o’clock in the morning, I heard a loud bark outside, and I knew it wasn’t a dream. At the backdoor stood my soaking wet, black lab mutt with her tail between her legs. I dried her off and wrapped her in a blanket. We both went to sleep. The next day Jelly Bean was sick, so I took her to the vet.
During the exam, I told the vet about Bean’s night in the cold and rain. He asked to be reminded how old she was. “She’s ten,” I said. “Old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway.” He laughed. This was a big deal because that vet barely smiled let alone laughed. Additionally, he didn’t like small talk, and he could be cantankerous. Most people didn’t like him, but he was a good vet. His demeanor hadn’t ever bothered me because he was just a milder version of my father. In the past when I had to take Bean to the vet, I gave the pertinent information and refrained from talking about the weather.
But after I made the quip about my old dog’s youthful folly, the vet and I had a different relationship. My father’s expression must have struck a chord with the vet because during future visits, he smiled and made small talk with me. Perhaps, his father had used the expression, or maybe he often felt that way about his own life.
My Cabela isn’t keen on small talk, and she still thinks she’s young enough to do whatever she wants. She and the cantankerous vet would’ve understood each other. And my father, who knew Cabela, would’ve been proud of her for treeing the raccoon and doing hot laps around the house, age be damned. I don’t think Cabela would like using a heating pad, but I gave her canine anti-inflammatory medicine last night and this morning.
I hope the raccoon is old enough to know better and stays away.
I’m away from home, and I’ve been taking lots of walks. On day two of my amblings, I noticed a couple of signs had been posted with a picture of a black cat and the words: Lost Cat Please Call w/Sightings. There is, of course, a phone number.
When I’m walking, I look for the cat, but all I’ve seen are deer, woodpeckers, crows, small birds, rabbits, geese, ducks, turkey vultures, and two foxes frolicking in a farmer’s field. But I haven’t seen the black cat, so I haven’t used the phone number.
Several days have passed and the notices are still up, so the cat is probably still missing. I like to think if the cat had been found, the owner would have removed the signs. I leave for home tomorrow, but I expect to see the signs on my morning walk before I go. I hope the owners find their pet, but the longer the cat is gone, the less likely it will return.
Something might have killed the cat. It also might have found a new home. Cats have been known to do that. I had a good friend who gained a gray cat that way when it showed up at her house. While she tried to find its owner, she fed it and took care of it, and the confident cat made itself right at home. Then the cat disappeared for a couple of days. Then it returned, only to disappear and reappear again over several weeks. Finally, she discovered the cat lived across the alley and down a few houses. The cat, like a bigamist, had been keeping two families. Plenty of jokes were cracked about its behavior, and both of the cat’s families kept in contact in order to keep tabs on their mutual pet. Eventually, the cat dumped the other family and settled in with my friend. She felt badly and kept asking the owners if they would like their cat back. Sure, but only if the cat wanted to come home. They were pragmatic about the situation because it turned out that was how the cat had come to live with them the year before.
But that’s not much comfort to the owners of the missing black cat because they wouldn’t know if their pet was safe.
We had a black cat when I was ten years old. My mother brought it home. I’m not sure if it was because my siblings and I wanted it or if she wanted it. She didn’t need much prompting to bring home animals, and what little kid doesn’t want a playful kitten with a soft, rumbly purr.
My father wasn’t happy when he came home and was introduced to a black kitten named Lucifer. He claimed he didn’t like cats. Lucifer, sensing my father was his enemy, joined ranks with him. That cat greeted my father when he came home from work, sat on his lap when he read the newspaper at the kitchen counter, and curled up with him when he fell asleep on the couch. My father grew fond of Lucifer, the cat with a name that belied his personality. Dad had a soft spot for animals too.
Lucifer was full grown but less than a year old when he died. No one noticed that he was missing because he hadn’t been gone long enough. One of my siblings discovered his body floating in our above ground pool in the backyard. The sides of the pool were four feet off the ground, but cats have leaping superpowers. However, once he’d gotten in the pool, he was unable to get out.
We were all upset about Lucifer, especially Dad.
A few months later, the pool, too, would have a sort of death. My father flew skydivers, and one weekend afternoon, Dad and some of the jumpers thought it would be fun if a couple of them were to land in our pool. Boredom was probably the mother of this crazy idea because the skydivers normally aimed for a small metal disk in the middle of much larger circle of pea gravel back at the airport. I can picture the scales in their adventurous brains as they weighed their options: Same gray pea gravel, again? Or a Caribbean-blue pool filled with chlorinated water? Tipping the scale was the much smaller size of the pool, twenty-five feet in diameter, making it a more challenging target. The skydivers were thrill junkies. Besides, the pool’s water was only three feet deep. No one was going to be in over his head.
We lived out in the country on two-point-two acres, and our land was surrounded by sprawling fields of tall grass. So, if the skydivers missed their target, they had plenty of grass to land on. Also, my father had a certain reputation in the neighborhood, and if someone saw a couple of guys with parachutes drifting toward earth in our backyard, well, that kind of thing was business as normal at our house.
But like many good ideas hatched in the heat of a Saturday summer afternoon, this one was a near miss or a near hit, depending on your point of view about the half-a-glass-of-water personality test. One of the skydivers didn’t land outside the pool or inside the pool. He landed on the edge, crumpling the side. Skydivers don’t float like dandelion seeds landing gently on terra firma. They come down a bit fast, so part of their ground school training covers proper techniques for landing to avoid injuries.
The skydiver wasn’t hurt, but he took some ribbing for “riding the fence.” The pool was totaled because once metal is bent that badly, there is no unbending it, so my father dismantled it and took it to the dump. That fall we got another cat, a Siamese kitten we named Cleopatra but called Cleo. A few months later, sadly, she was run over by a car. We didn’t get another cat for several years, and we never got another swimming pool. My father kept flying skydivers, but there were no more landings in our backyard.
I hope someone finds the cat on the poster, and it returns home. And if not, I hope the cat finds a nice second home. I’d like to think of the cat as keeping someone’s lap warm.
I think of these mornings as Ansel Adams mornings, when overnight the snow has fallen wet and heavy, clinging to branches, railings, and the sides of houses. The sky is tinted with the blue-gray of first light, and sunrise is moments away. It’s a world captured in gray and black and white.
Aiming my phone out the window, I take color photos, but they come through as black and white. Later when I apply the noir setting to them, the difference between the original and edited photos is nearly nonexistent, so I discard the changes.
Adams, one of my favorite photographers, captured the American West in black-and-white images, and his landscape photos featuring snow are among my favorites. I learned about Adams in a college photography class that I enrolled in because friends were taking the class for their art requirement. Having taken a ceramics class that summer, I didn’t need anymore art classes, but I signed up anyway because the class met on Monday nights when we all went country swing dancing at a local bar. If I was at class with them, it would be easier for us to carpool to the bar. I miss those days of whimsical logic.
That autumn I had a marvelous fling with country swing dancing, but I fell in love with the photography class. My friends spent just enough time completing assignments to earn what we called Charity C’s. But I spent hours photographing people, architecture, nature, and landscapes. And I spent hours and hours in the photo lab developing negatives and printing pictures, experimenting with different papers and exposures. I saved up money and bought my own 35 mm camera, playing with the f-stop, shutter speed, and film speed. I took four more photography classes over the next two years.
I thought about a career in photography, but I was more in love with taking pictures than the idea of earning a living by taking pictures. After I married and had children, my manual 35 found a shelf on a closet and retired. My husband bought me one of those instamatic 35 mm, a point and click camera that used 35 mm film. I used it for years, until I bought a digital camera with an SD card. But now my camera is a smart phone. And I can be a photojournalist wherever I travel or from the inside of my house.
Today, March came in like a lion. The winds were 20 mph, and the gusts were a whole lot gustier. We were supposed to get one to three inches of snow, but at least six inches blew in off Lake Superior, and flurries are still coming and going. Around two o’clock this afternoon, a light pole fell over onto the Bong Bridge and blocked traffic from Duluth to Superior. Fortunately, it didn’t fall on a vehicle.
In my yard the snow piled up on existing drifts, turning hills into mountains. I will need a Sherpa, oxygen, and snowshoes to walk around my yard. When I opened my back door, I pushed it slowly, using it as a plow to move a drift just enough so I could reach around and grab the shovel. I cleared a path across the deck for the dogs, who unfortunately need to go potty outside, and do other stuff, like walk around the house to smell for bunnies. They come back inside looking like four-legged abominable snowmen, and I have to towel dry them and dig ice balls out of their feet.
I worked this morning, which left my afternoon wide open for cooking — something I feel compelled to do during a snowstorm. Perhaps it’s a primal instinct, meant to ensure I survive the brutal winter elements while I’m inside my house with central heating, electricity, and running water. First, I made taco soup in the crockpot. Nice and simple. This gave me time to make naan bread.
Why did I decide to make naan bread? Reading made me do it. I’ve read Behind the Lens and Double Exposure written by Jeannée Sacken. Her novels are about the adventures of photojournalist Annie Hawkins, who travels to Afghanistan. They are page-turning adventures with twists and turns and danger and romance, but they are also filled with the sounds, smells, and tastes of Afghan food, and naan bread is mentioned often. After reading the second book a few months ago, I decided I needed to make naan bread. On Sunday, I bought the ingredients.
I made bread once before when I was sixteen and babysitting for my younger cousins. And it turned out perfect. It was so good — just the right color and height and texture and taste — that I never made bread again. I figured I had nowhere to go but down. My next loaf of bread would have surely been a brick. But naan bread is mostly flat, so I was encouraged. The naan bread could be dipped in the taco soup or torn into bits and dropped into the soup.
My first attempt at activating the yeast was a failure. My water was warm enough, but when I put that warm water into a cool metal bowl, the water temperature dropped, and the yeast fizzled instead of bubbling. I had to throw it out. After some internet research, I tried again. This time I used my Pyrex measuring cup. I warmed it up with warm water, then I put warm water in the cup with the yeast. It bubbled up and doubled in volume, just like it was supposed to do. I mixed the other ingredients in and kneaded the dough on the pastry mat. I covered the dough and let it rise for an hour and a half, while I attended a Zoom write-in.
Triple play: soup cooking in the crockpot and dough rising in a bowl under a dish towel while I write.
After the naan bread dough finished rising, I divided it into eight sections, rolled each one into a flat six-inch circle — more or less — and fried each piece. I set off the smoke alarm, but only once. I made a mess out of my kitchen. When I finished there were dishes all over the countertops and stove, and I found flour on the floor. I don’t know how I can cook something and make so many dirty dishes and create such a mess. I guess it’s a gift.
When my husband came home, there was no evidence of my afternoon cooking spree. The kitchen was clean and the dishes were done. (I even managed to read a bit and take a nap.) He looked at the plate of naan bread on the counter and asked, “What are those?”
“That’s naan bread. I made it this afternoon.”
“Yeah, right. You went to the grocery store and bought it,” he said.
“Nope,” I said, “I even took out the rolling pin and pastry mat and put them in the dish rack, so you would think I made them from scratch.”
He looked at the dish rack overflowing with bowls, pans, and measuring cups, and he laughed. He knew I’d been cooking and baking. He also doesn’t understand how I can cook something and make so many dishes and such a mess. Some talents are inexplicable. But he liked the naan bread and soup, happy to have a hot home-cooked meal after snow blowing.
My dog Cabela is fourteen-and-a-half-years old, so in human years she’s ninety-and-a-half. Living with Cabela these days is like living with a very senior citizen. (I’m not sure I like that term. Maybe I’d prefer aged person. But maybe not. It’s February and I get cabin fever in February so I get moody. What sounds good to me one day, sounds awful to me the next day. But this post isn’t going to be about what to call old people. And by the way, winter doesn’t bother me. I don’t care how much snow falls or how many days it has been since the sun has made an appearance. But the quality of the daylight changes in February, and it awakens something in me, and I get cabin fever which recedes sometime in April when I return to ignoring the weather. But this post isn’t going to be about weather either.) It’s about living with an old dog whom I love dearly. And a hardworking grandfather who lost his sight when he was eighty.
Cabela often enters a room and stops abruptly. She stands still, not looking in any direction, and hangs her head, pondering. She’s asking herself, “Why did I come in here?” or “Where was I going?” It takes her a bit to figure it out. I know, I know, sometimes when I go into the basement, I forget why I went down there. But I usually remember as soon as I go back upstairs. And most of the time I don’t forget why I went downstairs.
At night Cabela’s more confused and she often paces. It’s called sundowning, which is not a disease, but a condition that can occur with dementia, and yes, dogs can get dementia. Sometimes I think Cabela has a touch of it. She knows all her people. She hasn’t forgotten when it’s time for her meals, treats, and walks. And she doesn’t mistake the floors for the yard. But she has changed.
On most nights, somewhere between midnight and two in the morning, Cabela begins the restless pacing, the waking up and wandering from the bedroom to the family room to the bathroom. The first time she does it, I get up and let her outside. Lots of older people need to get up during the night and pee, and if Cabela needs to go, she needs to go. It’s not good to hold it. But after she comes back inside, she can’t decide if she wants to sleep on her bed in the bathroom or her bed in the bedroom or on one of the couches in the family room. I hear her paws swoosh on the carpet as she walks by the bedroom on her way into the family room. I hear her walk by the bedroom again on her way to the bathroom where her nails click on the linoleum and her body thuds onto the sheepskin bed tucked between the end of the toilet and the cupboard. I hear her rise up and once again her nails click on the floor, but instead of walking by the bedroom, she enters it. I know she’s looking at me, wondering why I don’t get up. Because I believe she thinks it’s time to get up. Finally, she settles down for a few more hours, but eventually she begins pacing again before my husband and I have to get up.
Last night Cabela was more restless than normal. The only one who slept through it all was Ziva, our other younger dog.
So my grandkids and I took Cabela and Ziva for a walk this morning before it started raining. Cabela can’t walk far, but we went slow. We walked three blocks up, one block west, three blocks down, and one block east. My idea was to give her more daytime activity, hoping she’d sleep better tonight. But we’ve only managed one walk because it’s still raining, and it’s cold, soggy, and windy. It’s not good weather for a “ninety-year-old” dog.
On our morning walk, I thought about my grandpa George who went blind at eighty years old. He didn’t have dementia, but he was restless at night. He kept waking my grandma Olive and asking her if it was time to get up. He’d fuss about who was taking care of his garden or about something that needed attention at his gas station. In the darkness of night, things are always a worry. And for Grandpa, who’d lost his sight, I imagine those worries became terrors.
Before Grandpa George went blind, he still went to work at his station six-and-a-half days a week. He pumped gas and tinkered in the garage. He’d been going to work at his station for over sixty years, rarely taking a vacation or even a day off. He planted a large garden and grew raspberries, strawberries, green onions, sweet onions, new potatoes, russet potatoes, corn, peas, beans, beets, asparagus, carrots, and a few flowers between the rows of fruits and vegetables. He did the sowing and the harvesting, even at eighty years old.
But after he lost his sight, his life screeched to halt, like a pair of rusty brakes on a customer’s old car that he once would’ve fixed. Grandpa George, who got up every morning before six, ate at seven, and opened his station at eight, couldn’t walk from his bed to the bathroom without someone to help him find his way. Grandpa George, who raised the finest garden in town that provided food for his family throughout the summer, fall, winter, and spring, could no longer read the rain gauge or sort his seeds for planting.
Grandpa’s days and nights somersaulted. He dozed on the living room couch during the day when he should’ve been filling someone’s gas tank and checking her oil. He listened to the evening news when he should’ve been checking the corn and pulling potatoes in the garden. At night when he would’ve been sleeping after a day’s work, his mind raced and he kept his wife up with question after question, starting with, “Olive, you awake?”
Grandma Olive tried to keep Grandpa from falling asleep on the couch during the day. At first people came to visit, and he told them what to do at the station in order to close it down, and there were the last crops to reap from the garden, all activities Grandpa oversaw while sitting at the kitchen table, his calloused mechanic’s hands resting on a white oilcloth decorated with nickel-sized cherries.
Someone came and tried to teach Grandpa to read braille. Perhaps books would entertain him. But his hands shook slightly, and he couldn’t track the raised bumps on the page.
Someone decided pecans were the answer. Grandpa sat at the kitchen table and cracked pecan after pecan. He sorted the meat from the shells the best he could, but someone else, usually Grandma, needed to pick out the stray shells. Another job for her to take on, along with all her other chores that needed completing on a short night’s sleep. The pecans were stored in jars and given to family and friends, all of whom soon had more pecans than they could ever use.
Grandpa kept cracking nuts, but he didn’t sleep better. Nights were restless and his mind paced, although the rest of him couldn’t. Grandpa was certain dawn must be coming soon, even though it was hours away, and he would ask, “Olive, you awake? What time is it?” And Cabela, certain the day should begin even though it’s hours away, stares at me most mornings as if to say, “You awake? It’s got to be time to get up.”