I Bake a Pumpkin Pie, and a New Thanksgiving Tradition is Born

My husband likes pumpkin pie. I do not. For more than twenty years we cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for a big group of people. But not pumpkin pie. Someone else always brought pumpkin pie. I baked a cake or cheesecake.

This year we’re having a nontraditional Thanksgiving dinner. No turkey, no stuffing, no mashed potatoes, no pumpkin pie. There will be four of us. We’re having a roast, baked potatoes, and green beans (not mixed with cream of mushroom soup). I’m making a chocolate peanut butter chip cake. My husband is happy to skip the turkey and other fixings, but he mentioned twice that he was going to miss the pumpkin pie. Yesterday, I decided to bake him a pumpkin pie before Thanksgiving.

I called Aunt Coralee. She bakes smack-down, grand-champion, blue-ribbon, best-of-show pies. I asked her how she makes pumpkin pie. She starts with a homemade crust. Her crusts are flakey, tender, rich and golden brown, and if her pie filling mysteriously evaporated, her crust could carry the day on its own. I told her that was an art form I did not have time to master. She told me to buy a premade crust at the store. All I had to do was unroll it and put it in the pie pan. No rolling pin required. I could do that. She told me to use canned pumpkin and follow the recipe on the back of the label. I could do that, too. Off to the store, I went.

My second call to Aunt Coralee was from the grocery store. “Do you bake your pie in a glass or tin pan?” I asked. She uses glass or ceramic. “Cool,” I said because I had a glass pie dish that I used for quiche.

“Don’t forget the whipped cream,” Aunt Coralee said.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I’d thought about whipped cream in produce, but breezed by the dairy cooler in pursuit of refrigerated pie crust. “If you want to see a grown man cry, just hand my husband a piece of pie without whipped cream,” I said. Aunt Coralee and I had a good laugh–everything’s funnier in a grocery store when you’re buying ingredients to bake a pie you’ve never made before.

Back home I unrolled the pie crust and placed it in the glass pie pan. I mixed the filling and poured it into the crust. Baking time: fifteen minutes at 425° then thirty to forty minutes at 350°. Thirty to forty minutes! That’s a big spread of time, like across a few time zones. The instructions said the pie would be done when a knife inserted into the center came out clean.

After thirty-five minutes at 350°, I did the knife test. It came out clean, except for three tiny, wee specks of pumpkin. That had to be considered clean, but the center of the pie was jiggly. I baked it another five minutes. Then tested again. Just a few tiny, wee specks of pumpkin, but still jiggly in the center. I was up to forty minutes but decided the pie needed five more minutes. When the timer binged, I pulled the pie from the oven and set it on the stove. The center was still a little jiggly. I called Aunt Coralee for a third time.

I worried the pie wasn’t done but also worried I’d cooked it too long. Aunt Coralee assured me it would be fine, that I couldn’t really overcook the pumpkin by adding an extra five minutes. But she explained the center of a custard pie will be jiggly when it’s done cooking and will set up as it cools. The pie did look lovely as it cooled and the center set up.

After work my husband discovered his pumpkin pie on the stove, he smiled, and stated the obvious, “You made me pumpkin pie. Thanks.” He kissed me on the cheek. Smart guy.

Next year I’m going to make him another pumpkin pie. I’ll stop baking it when the knife comes out clean, and I’ll remember the center will be jiggly. And even though I won’t eat a slice, I’ll admire it as it cools on the stove.

A new Thanksgiving tradition.

Something Published: “Fritz Warms Up Our New Neighbors”

[This essay was published in Red Cedar Review, Volume XXIV in the fall of 2022. Red Cedar Review is published by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire through its Barron County Campus. It’s a print- only journal, and its editors and staff consider art, prose, and poetry from northern Wisconsin residents. I decided to post this essay in honor of Thanksgiving because when I reflect on my childhood, I’m very thankful for our old farmhouse and our wonderful neighbors.]

The Old Farmhouse, late 1960s or early 70s

Wrapped in thin white clapboard, the two-story farmhouse built in 1907 was 57 years old when my parents, my two sisters, and I came to live there in October 1964. It looked older to my five-year-old mind, much older, in the way a person of thirty or forty seems very old to a small child. My parents sold their duplex in Milwaukee where rows of houses sat a handshake apart, fronted by sidewalks and busy streets lined with parked cars. They moved their dysfunctional marriage and children to a country road with a smattering of houses fronted by rural mailboxes and a narrow road, on which no one parked. From age five to seventeen, I lived there with my parents, two sisters, and a brother, born in 1967.

A week after we moved into our farmhouse, a knock rattled the front door that opened into our large kitchen, the kind where a farmer’s wife could cook a hearty meal to feed her husband, their children, and the farmhands all in one shift. Mom was working in the kitchen while my sisters and I played on the floor. She was twenty-four. Her face, scrubbed clean of makeup and her chestnut-brown hair pulled up into a pony tail, made her look far too young to be the mother of three small girls. She gave birth to me, the oldest, when she was eighteen.

Mom opened the old wooden door and on the other side of a modern aluminum screen door stood John Giese, Sr., whom we’d soon come to refer to as “Old Man Giese,” distinguishing him from his son, John Giese, Jr.

The Giese barn

Old Man Giese stood on our front stoop, clutching two dead chickens by their feet, one in each hand. He and his three grown children, John Jr., Mildred, and Leona, lived across the street in a white farmhouse as ordinary as ours. But the Giese farmhouse, surrounded by fields to be planted and harvested; by cows and chickens to be fed and tended; by cherry trees, blackberry bushes, and current bushes bearing fruit to be picked and preserved, appeared grand. Our farmhouse, surrounded by two acres of mowed grass then acres of overgrown farmland, looked tired. Giese’s bright red barn stood proud in contrast to our barn layered with various shades of washed out red, which made it appear mostly pink.

“Ma’am,” began the old gentleman, for although he wore a frayed cap and shabby blue denim overalls, he exuded a dignity the two dead chickens and his working clothes couldn’t erase. Old Man Giese was the first real farmer I ever met. My previous knowledge of farmers came from watching Mr. Green Jeans on Capitan Kangaroo, and in my five-year-old mind, Old Man Giese was the opposite of Mr. Green Jeans in every way.

Mom, a city girl, gawked at his welcoming gift of two dead chickens. She knew nothing about cleaning them.

Fritz sitting by our pinkish-colored barn, early 1970s, a couple of years before he passed away

“Your dog,” Old Man Giese continued, “killed my chickens.”

Fritz, our six-year-old German shepherd, lay on the family room floor and made no move to join the conversation.

“I’m so sorry,” Mom said. “Can I pay you for the chickens?”

“No, just keep the dog off my farm, ma’am.” Old Man Giese put his back to us. A lifeless chicken in each hand, he descended our front stairs and returned to his farm. He never called on us again, and a few years later he, too, would be dead, gone to join his wife who died before we arrived.

Mom, relieved she wouldn’t have to clean chickens but mortified Fritz might have killed them, shut the door and strode into the family room. “No chickens,” she yelled at Fritz. “Never again.” He understood and stayed away from the Giese farm, but he still ran loose, up and down the country roads, chasing female dogs in heat.

That evening at dinner, she told Dad, “At first I thought the chickens were an apology for his cows chomping on our lawn the morning after we moved in.” But the chickens had been an indictment, not an apology.

In our new neighborhood, Fritz had committed the first faux pas, setting the standard by which my family’s behavior could be explained. When my parents fought in the middle of warm summer nights, their shouts crawling in and out of open windows, the neighbors could say, What do you expect? Their dog kills chickens. When my sisters and I threw apples at passing cars, but the parents of two older, well-behaved children, from down the road got a visit from the police, their parents could say, They can’t control their dog either. When Dad sped down the country road or set off cherry bombs in our yard, the neighbors could say, What do you expect from a man who lets his dog ignore good-neighbor etiquette?

Our existence in the neighborhood was like a hoppy beer—an acquired taste. Some people come to love the taste of hops, but others can’t force it past their taste buds. Most of the families up and down our sparsely populated road came to accept us, and we were welcomed into their homes and yards. Only two families never warmed to us, not bad considering our parents’ occasional nocturnal fights, dad’s shenanigans, and our string of dogs that never stayed home.

Dad, despite his bad-boy-James-Dean manner, was handsome and charming. An excellent mechanic, he was always willing to lend a hand to neighbors and offer them a beer. Mom was hard-working and friendly, and if she borrowed a cup of sugar or a roll of toilet paper, she always repaid her debt. My siblings and I stopped throwing apples at cars, and we behaved ourselves so no one had to call the police on us again. We were polite or Mom would’ve walloped us or grounded us for life, depending on the prevailing winds of her mood that day. Most of the neighbors decided we were okay.

And the Gieses? They didn’t hold Fritz’s chicken incident against us. After all, their cows had grazed in our front yard the day after we’d moved in. Old Man Giese and his son fixed their fence, and the cows stayed home. Fritz defied fences, but he obeyed Mom’s command and stayed out of their yard and away from the chickens, easy for him because they didn’t own dogs. To prove there were no hard feelings, when my siblings and I were old enough to cross the road, the Gieses gave us an open invitation to play in their yard, to eat fruit from specific trees and bushes, and to cross their fields in winter to ice skate on the frozen river running through their property.

None of Old Man Giese’s children had youngsters of their own. Looking back, I believe they enjoyed seeing us run through their yard, roll down the hill by their barn, and eat the fruit they grew. I believe they smiled when they heard our voices on the winter wind, echoing through the trees as we skated on the frozen waters just behind their fields. And I wonder what they thought, when as a teenager, I sat on a large tree stump near the barn and talked to their cows, who gathered by the fence, eager for gossip about my teenage troubles.

[I want to thank the editors and staff of Red Cedar Review for selecting my essay for their Fall 2022 issue. The ending of this essay is slightly different from the version that appears in their 2022 issue. I added the last two sentences because I felt the ending was too abrupt. As a writer, I often see ways to improve something I’ve written, even after it has gone to press.]

True Love Is . . .

My new soft flannels

. . . when you squat down to get a frying pan out of the cupboard and rip your one-and-only pair of awesome flannel pants (which you’ve had for fifteen years) from mid-shin to mid-thigh, a split so long and jagged you can’t mend them, sending you on a search for a new pair, but only finding fleece (so second-rate) or flimsy flannel (so short-lived), then your husband joins the quest, and after searching online he announces that the outdoor retail store where you bought your awesome flannel pants still carries them, so you drive to the store and purchase a velvety-soft, blue-plaid pair; returning home, you slip out of your jeans and into the softest caress of flannel, and you know true love isn’t a bouquet of flowers, but a husband who wants you to have dreamy flannel pants.

Minion Saves Halloween

My four grandkids come trick-or-treating this evening with their parents. A grim reaper, a Pikachu, a hamburger with the works, and a firefighter.

And then I hear a small doctor (or maybe he’s a nurse) who’s about five years old.

“Trick-or-treat,” says the wee medical professional dressed in blue scrubs, pinned with a name badge. He smiles and looks at me with anticipation, holding out a small white bucket. His mother is standing with my daughter-in-law.

“I don’t have any candy,” I say. I didn’t buy any because I decided not to pass out candy. What I have in the house are four plastic zip bags with small toys, fancy pens and pencils, and lip balm for my grandkids.

The wee medical guy repeats, “Trick-or-treat” because surely the lady who just told him she doesn’t have any candy is confused. It’s Halloween. There must be candy.

I go inside and grab the four bags of goodies for my grandkids. As I slip the goodies in their trick-or-treat bags, I keep apologizing for not having something for the wee lad in blue scrubs. His mother says that it’s okay and explains to him that the lady didn’t know he was coming.

The little boy’s cheeks quiver, the corners of his mouth tilt down, and tears fill his eyes.

I’m so sorry, I say again. It’s okay, the mom repeats.

But it’s not okay. He’s a little boy, maybe five. He doesn’t understand. It’s not okay that he’s left out. And he’s too young to understand that some lady doesn’t have candy or something for him. He has done his part. He is dressed up. He has said, Trick-or-treat. He has watched four other kids get a treat, but he is getting the trick.

I think about finding something for him. I think about my purse. I have things in my purse. It’s like Mary Poppins’s bag. But there is nothing fun in my purse for the little medical guy.

Because we’re all standing in my driveway, I think about my van. Bingo. I have toys in my van.

“Wait a sec,” I say. I open the sliding door and look at several small toys. I grab a Minion because when you wind it up and push down on its curl of hair, it vibrates. Perfect because the wee fellow in blue scrubs deserves something fun, something interactive, something to evaporate his tears before they slide down his cheeks.

I hold it in front of him and demonstrate how to make the Minion vibrate. I place the pulsating toy in his hands, and his face lights up, like I’ve just handed him a beautiful beating heart.

I back up several feet and tell my grandkids and little medical dude to line up so I can take their picture. This Halloween my annual picture will have five children in it. I want that sweet little boy to feel welcome, not left out, so I only take pictures of all the children together.

Later I look at the pictures. My four grandkids are smiling at the camera. But little medical guy? In every picture, he is holding the Minion cupped in his hands, smiling at it like it’s a newborn he just helped deliver. It’s Halloween, it’s a time of pretending, it’s sweet spooky magic.

I’m glad I keep stuff stashed in my van. Medical dude doesn’t know it, but when I look at the picture of him looking at his Minion treat, and I see his smile, it’s clear that he gave me the better treat.

Book Review: Meander North by Marie Zhuikov

[Meander North can be preordered through Itasca Books. It’s currently available at Zenith Bookstore, and will be available in other bookstores November 21.]

Marie Zhuikov’s newest book, Meander North, is a collection of essays, many from her blog Marie’s Meanderings, which she started writing in 2013. I look forward to each new post by Zhuikov, so when I had a chance to read Meander North, I was excited. Zhuikov selected some of her favorite blogs, then added essays, some of which have appeared in other publications.

Many of Zhuikov’s selections are about getting outdoors and enjoying nature. In her humorous essay “How X-C Ski Starvation Can Lead to Impaired Judgment,” she writes about one of her first cross-country skiing adventures of the season: “I . . . desperately needed to do something to break out of my winter slothfulness and raise my heart rate above seventy beats per minute.” Even though a mist turns into raindrops, Zhuikov slips on her skis and heads out on the icy trails. With caution and strategic moves, she completes her first cross-country ski of the season, and while she does, we hold our breath, admire her tenacity, and think about some of our own foolish escapades.

Zhuikov’s essays about her adventures are so enjoyable because they’re relatable. Her love of the outdoors and her ability to maneuver through nature shines through in her writing. But she is with us, inviting us along, never making us feel left behind. She makes us believe we can get out in nature and be adventurous too. That we can lower ourselves into a canoe or a whitewater raft, or that we can stand along a river and learn to fly fish.

Zhuikov’s essays connect with us because she is not afraid to let us peek at the moments when her life doesn’t go smoothly. Sometimes the outcomes are humorous, like in her story “Just Your Average Winter’s Day Walk and Squirrel Attack” about a walk with her wonderful eighty-pound dog, Buddy, that turns into a comedy of misadventures. Other times the outcomes are poignant, like in “An Evening Dog Walk” about a romance that didn’t work out. Occasionally, she shares heartbreak, like in “The Lake, It Is Said, Never Gives Up Her Dead.”

Zhuikov rounds out her collection of nature essays with an eclectic selection of entertaining and informative writings that cover a wide range of topics. Some cover Zhuikov’s adventures as a citizen of Duluth, such as, “Marie Versus the Post Office” and “My Neighborhood Rezoning Zombie Apocalypse Saga.” Other heart-warming essays like “I Saw Three Ships on Christmas Day” or “Kissing in the Coat Room in First Grade” are about her family or youth. She wraps up her book with a section titled Bookish Adventures where we get a taste of Zhuikov’s life as a writer and a reader, and where she introduces us to the wonderful poet Louis Jenkins.

Winter is coming so grab a copy of Marie Zhuikov’s Meander North, curl up in a cozy chair with a glass or mug filled with your favorite beverage, and start by reading “Cold as a Cage,” the first essay in her collection. And for those of you who live through winter every year, nod in agreement and laugh hopelessly as you read: “The cold defines our movements. Northern Minnesotans walk with shoulders hunched and hands in pockets, limiting our time outside to the bare minimum for the task at hand.” But know that you are a survivor because you are inside where it’s warm, ready to smile and laugh and shed a few tears as you join Zhuikov on her meanders through life.

[Follow Marie Zhuikov’s blog at Marie’s Meanderings. Check out her author’s page and learn about her other books and writing. Attend the Meander North book launch at Zenith Bookstore on Thursday, November 17, 2022, at 7:00 pm CST. Preorder Meander North at Itasca Books.]

Infinity of Joy

Coming back from a trip to the library, July 2022

“Nana, you have an infinity of dishes,” says Evan, who is nearly six; who tosses words into the air and pairs them with unlikely partners; who strings together metaphors like a bohemian necklace; who loves puns, making up his own then laughing and asking—Do you get it?

A punster, a mixer of words, a stringer of metaphor, he should be a writer, and I tell him so. He answers, “But I can’t write any words.” I remind him he’s starting school, he will learn.

For a moment the infinity of dishes that tracks through my kitchen from cupboard to table to counter, waiting to be stacked in the dishwasher or hand washed, depending on their taxonomy, gives me pleasure because Evan’s linguistic artistry gives me pleasure.

An Autumn Stroll with Ziva and Bogey

Ziva (my dog) and Bogey (my mom’s dog)

Crisp autumn days are my favorite time to walk my dogs. I watch the shifting scenes of autumn: trees turning shades of red, orange, and yellow; leaves dropping gently to the ground—then days of high melodrama when howling winds and heavy rains come to rip the once-vibrant leaves from their stems, stripping the trees bare.

As the rich autumn shades—all warm hues on the color wheel—replace the cool hues of green, autumn wraps me in nostalgia, carrying me back in time to my youth. I’m warmed by memories of raking leaves into circular paths resembling the yellow brick road; of walking through the woods with oak, hickory, and maple trees awash in fall colors; of gathering acorns and hickory nuts while a blanket of dried leaves crunched under my feet.

I’ve been in Petoskey, Michigan, since Tuesday, and I’ve been walking Ziva, my dog who came with me, and Bogey, my mother’s dog. Petoskey, nestled on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, is beautiful anytime of the year, but October is my favorite time to visit. The weather, scenery, and vegetation are a blend of southeast Wisconsin, where I grew up, and northwest Wisconsin, where I live by Lake Superior. Coming here is like returning to the fields and woods of my youth, while almost feeling like I haven’t left home because Lake Michigan keeps me from missing Lake Superior.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, sunshine, warm breezes, and fall colors filled the days, and the dogs, my sister, and I walked the country roads in my mother’s neighborhood. My sister went home yesterday, but I’m still here with my mom and the dogs. Today, the rain and wind arrived, pulling autumn-colored leaves from the trees. The dogs and I still walked, but we timed our strolls between shifts of rain. Bogey has a raincoat, but Ziva would rather get wet than wear one. I could’ve carried an umbrella, but the strong winds would have turned it inside out.

On our second walk of the day, I had the dogs pose by a vignette of pumpkins, squash, mums, and hay bales arranged by one of my mom’s neighbors. I’m going to have a 5 x 7-inch photo made and frame it, a reminder of a gray but lovely autumn day when two big-hearted dogs kindly let me take their picture on a blustery day.

The Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato, Minnesota, 2022

A Delicate Balancing Act by Kimber Fiebiger; downtown Mankato; made me think about the writer’s life

The Deep Valley Book Festival is set in Mankato, Minnesota, a charming town tucked in by rolling tree-covered hills and edged by the Minnesota and Blue Earth Rivers. This is the first book festival I’ve ever attended. My daughter-in-law and I drove down on Friday afternoon, a warm sunny day that premiered some stunning fall colors.

After we checked into the River Hills Hotel–a cozy and clean establishment with a friendly clerk–we headed to downtown Mankato for a walk then dinner. It was quiet for a Friday night, but I imagine if the Mankato Mavericks had been playing, the streets would’ve been skating with hockey fans. We had a good meal at the Pub 500. Our waitress was friendly and efficient. She carded my daughter-in-law, but she didn’t card me! Of course, that’s probably because I didn’t order a drink; otherwise, I’m sure she would have. I had a delicious fish taco.

We were back at the hotel by eight o’clock, doing what book festival attendees should be doing on Friday night–reading books. I read “The Victim,” a short story by P. D. James, recommended by my daughter-in-law. It was an engaging murder story. I handed my daughter-in-law a copy of the Wisconsin Writers Association Anthology 2022: Jade Ring and Youth Writing Contest and suggested she read the first-place fiction story “Notes to the New Facilitator of the Reminiscence Writing Group at Sunnyvale Retirement Community” (p. 22) by Nancy Jesse and the first-place nonfiction essay “Mormon Girl Hair and the Styrofoam Harem” (p. 6) by Adrianna McCollum. Both of these pieces of writing are top-notch, engaging, and excellently crafted, deserving of their first-place wins, and my daughter-in-law agreed.

After that we went to bed, each of us reading a book we had brought with us. I read Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah, a wonderful novel that I’ve loved reading. You can listen to an interview with Oscar Hokeah on Minnesota Public Radio’s Talking Volumes.

On Saturday morning we arrived at the book festival just before nine o’clock, and we planned to stay until it ended at 4:30. We were motivated by the hourly drawings for books and the opportunity to hear author Curtis Sittenfeld talk about her writing.

We made sure we stopped at all the tables, sometimes briefly, other times lingering to listen to writers speak about their books, which included children’s and YA literature, fantasy, mystery, thriller, romance, historical fiction, memoir, nonfiction, and poetry.

A book festival is filled with writers, but they are there to sell their books. There are no writing classes. The local library had a table, and Content, a bookstore from Northfield, Minnesota, also had a table. I noticed two publishers who were selling books by authors they represented. I asked one publisher if they were a traditional publishing house–they weren’t. The representative of the company said they like an author to put up fifty percent of the cost of publishing his or her book. I didn’t ask the other publisher about their business model.

Authors work hard at a book festival. They sit or stand for hours and talk about their books to people who look, smile, and listen, but often leave without buying a book. I bought two children’s books, two novels, and a nonfiction book. My daughter-in-law bought some books too. We plan to exchange our books with each other.

We finished touring the festival around noon. We sat and each of us started reading a book we had purchased. I read Facets of Death by Michael Stanley, a fast-paced Detective Kubu story that captured my attention, a good thing because I won another Detective Kubu story, A Carrion Death in a drawing being held by the author. My daughter-in-law read Bingo Barge Murder by Jessie Chandler, which she enjoyed, saying it was humorous.

When reading made us hungry, we left to have lunch at Applebee’s, then went for a walk. But we soon returned to the book festival to check the small white board to see if we had won any books–we hadn’t.

The book festival was held at the WOW! Zone, an interesting place for a book festival. The WOW! Zone has a bowling alley, a game arcade, and food. It was noisy, but fortunately, most of the booksellers were tucked into the restaurant that had been converted into a makeshift venue, and so the noise wasn’t too bad. We wanted to read more because we had almost two hours to pass before Curtis Sittenfeld’s talk. Seating in the WOW! Zone was limited, so we ended up at a table in the bowling ally and read to the rumble of rolling bowling balls and clattering pins. But when I’m reading a good book, background noise fades away.

By three o’clock, I was tired and we had a four-hour drive home. But I had heard Curtis Sittenfeld speak on a Zoom talk and enjoyed listening to her, so I didn’t think about cutting out early. Sittenfeld began by saying that she has done hundreds of talks all over the country, but this was her first time giving a book talk in an arcade. The audience laughed with her because we understood. Most of us had spent the whole day or part of the day at a book festival held in an arcade. Sittenfeld was kind, charming, informative, and entertaining. The hour flew by.

With our bags of books, my daughter-in-law and I headed home. We had new reading material, and we were ready for the upcoming winter.

Books I bought:

Facets of Death by Michael Stanley because after reading a paragraph, I liked the writing, so I took a chance that the story would also be good.

Tuckerbean in the Kitchen by Jill Kalz because the book festival was the same day as my grandson’s birthday. He turned six, and I think a story about dogs cooking will appeal to him. Plus the illustrations by Benton Mahan are adorable.

Temple Times: Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing, Medusa Tells All by Rebecca Fjelland Davis because my granddaughter likes stories about strong girls and women. And because a friend recently told me that Medusa has received a bad rap, and this story helps set the record straight.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld because she was there, and I wanted to have a book for her to sign. And because I’ve read American Wife by her and liked it, AND because Eligible is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, which I love and have read three times. Plus I’ve seen three different movie versions of Austen’s enduring novel.

Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman’s Path from Small-Town America to the Symbionese Army by Rachael Hanel because I’m interested in why a person joins a cause that is violent. And because I read Hanel’s memoir We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, and it was beautifully written. I had to pre-order Not the Camilla We Knew because the book won’t be released until December 2022.

Tree Guy Goes Mum

Speechless

Yesterday Tree Guy lost his mouth. I noticed his missing smile last night when I let the dogs outside. I leaned over the deck, Tree Guy’s mouth lay on the ground in pieces, most likely KO’d by a squirrel.

Squirrels have been scurrying up and down Tree Guy’s trunk, busying themselves for winter. The Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a harsh winter for our area, designating it a “Hibernation Zone.” Sounds quaint, doesn’t it? Just eat a lot of food, then curl up for a long nap in a cozy place.

Tree Guy’s mouth won’t be repaired again. It’s in pieces and the back hanger is gone. I could probably find the metal loop, and my husband could fix the mouth—again, but it wouldn’t last because the interior substance is dry rotted. The shiny paint job on Tree Guy’s mouth is like an iridescent-paint job on an old car, covering copious amounts of Bondo—pretty to look at but not a long-term solution.

Losing his mouth has changed Tree Guy’s expression. While trying to determine if he looks contemplative or stern or forlorn, I’ve decided he looks mostly confused.

My husband and I agreed that while Tree Guy’s mouth won’t be fixed, we’ll leave him with his eyes and nose. He’ll still watch over the deck and smell his flower-basket earrings, but he won’t talk. Anyone wanting to know what he thinks will have to look into his eyes, windows to his inner sap. Tree Guy’s been part of our lives for over a decade, we’d rather lose him in bits than all at once.

I’ve pulled the nail from the tree where Tree Guy’s mouth hung and tossed his broken lips into the trash.

[Other stories in the Tree Guy Saga: Tree Guy, Tree Guy Update, Tree Guy’s Nose Is Still Missing, Another Tree Guy Update, Excavating Tree Guy’s Nose, Tree Guy’s Nose Is Safe, Tree Guy Has It All Together Again]

Update—Tree Guy Has It All Together Again

Tree Guy with his summer hairdo and refurbished nose

For those of you who may have missed the other Tree Guy posts, let me summarize: Tree Guy had a bit of a rough winter. In January he lost an eye during a snowstorm. When I found his eye and rehung it, I noticed his nose was gone. Through the rest of January, February, and March, I looked for Tree Guy’s nose, hoping to find it as the snow retreated, but fresh snow kept falling. Finally, at the end of March, my husband spotted the nose frozen in the snow. I tried to pick it up, but it was stuck in the snow’s frozen mantle. A few days later, with the precision of an archeologist, I dug it out. Good thing because it snowed the next day.

When I rescued Tree Guy’s nose, it needed a paint job. My husband took it to work, painted it gray, and rehung it in May. But the shade of gray blended in with the tree trunk. This bothered Tree Guy because he’s proud of his schnoz—he might lose it, but he never hides it. Of course, my husband understands Tree Guy because he’s the one who purchased Tree Guy and installed him on our maple tree. He has always watched over him. I’m the relative newcomer to the game of “How Is Tree Guy Doing Today?”

Tree Guy with the wrong paint job

I mentioned the too-dark-gray color to my husband, and he agreed. He already had plans to take the nose back to work and repaint it a lighter shade of gray. The second paint job is perfect, so there will be no fifty shades of gray noses.

It was a long, cold, snowy winter for Tree Guy. He worried about his eye then his nose. But he’s come through, and this spring he sported a new hairdo. He looks sassy with his asymmetrical patch of green, leafy hair. A tree expert told me that small shoots along a tree trunk, such as Tree Guy’s new hairdo, should be cut off. But I don’t have the heart. Tree Guy had a jittery winter. I get it. This winter I read about plagues, like tuberculosis, the Black Death, and syphilis. And I read Russian short stories, which are mostly bleak and fine companions to winter and stories about plagues. After reading the “The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol, I concocted a crazy theory that Kovalyov lost his nose because he had syphilis and that Gogol’s story was really about the syphilis epidemic before antibiotics, a time when some sufferers had their noses rot away. With each passing day of winter my crazy theory became more conceivable. I reread “The Nose” to see if I could make my theory work—I couldn’t. But I enjoyed the story even more the second time. I thought about researching my “The Nose”—syphilis theory online, but I didn’t want to get caught up in crazy nose-conspiracy theories.

Yes, Tree Guy has it all together again, and he’s sporting a new hairdo. And me, I ditched my theory about Gogol’s story “The Nose,” then I had two inches trimmed off my hair.

We’re enjoying summer while it’s here. After the Fourth, Tree Guy will get two flower-basket earrings, and I will go paddle boarding for the first time this season. (It was a cold, windy spring on the shores of Lake Superior.) Next winter Tree Guy will hope to keep his face intact, and I will read more Russian short stories.

[If you missed the earlier blogs: Tree GuyTree Guy UpdateTree Guy’s Nose Is Still MissingAnother Tree Guy Update, and Tree Guy’s Nose Is Safe.]