A Growing Bouquet

Out for an October walk

When I take my grandkids for a walk, they stroll and run along the city sidewalks, and with a child’s imagination, they turn each walk into an adventure. On an outing last October, they each picked a small bouquet of dandelions, Indian paintbrushes, and tiny yellow flowers from lawns overdue for a trim.

After we returned home, I put each child’s bouquet in its own bud vase and placed them around my kitchen. My five-year-old grandson had a prolific bouquet, so his vase stood on the kitchen table. By the next afternoon, the dandelions and Indian paintbrushes boarded themselves up like roadside stands at the end of the season, and the tiny yellow flowers discarded their petals like ticket stubs after a rock concert. I tossed the bouquets.

The flowers my sister sent.

A couple of days later my sister sent me a large yellow, orange, and red autumn-themed bouquet of flowers, a mix of daisies, a rose, and a sunflower. I placed it on the kitchen table.

Two days later my grandkids returned to visit. My five-year-old grandson walked by the large bouquet on my kitchen table, paused, then said, “I guess my flowers really grew.”

I gave him the facts—his flowers had died and were thrown in the garbage; these flowers were from my sister. He moved on and played with blocks on the living room floor.

Later I told my sister about his belief that his flowers had grown into the bouquet she’d sent. She hoped I hadn’t told him the truth, but I had. I’d been the Grinch before his heart grew, Scrooge before the Christmas ghosts visited, Joe Friday with the cold, hard facts.

Instead of entering my grandson’s world where it was possible for a handful of tiny flowers to grow into a substantial bouquet of large flowers, I used words like died and garbage. I’d become the eight-year-old neighbor boy who told me and my sister when we were five and four years old that there was no Santa Claus. I can still see him standing at the side of his house telling us Santa wasn’t real. My sister and I argued with him, but he clung to his story. We tried to believe after that, but we couldn’t—not even when our mother assured us the boy was wrong and Santa was real.

But if I’d gone along with Evan’s belief that his flowers had grown, he would’ve bragged to his older siblings, who would’ve set him straight.

He would’ve come back and asked, “Nana, did my flowers really grow big?”

If I’d said, “Yes, they did,” he would’ve doubted me, weighing what I said against what his siblings said, just like my sister and I weighed what my mother said about Santa against what the boy next door said.

If I’d said, “No, they didn’t,” he would’ve asked, “Then why did you say they did?”

But I still felt bad—I’d squelched a magical moment for him and replaced it with reality.

But the five-year-old wasn’t done. A couple of weeks later, he asked me, “Nana, did my flowers at least get big before they died and you threw them away?”

With the Grinch, Scrooge, and Joe Friday as my wingmen, I explained, “The type of flowers you picked don’t get any bigger than when you picked them. But they’re beautiful flowers and an important part of nature even if they’re small.”

However, if he ever asks me if Santa is real, I’m going to lie through my teeth and say, “Yes, he is.”

What Is One of My Favorite Photos That I’ve Ever Taken?

[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 20, 2022. The blog prompt actually asked me to choose my favorite photo ever. I have too many favorites, so I picked one of my favorites from 2021.]

Foreground to background: Evan, Clara, and Michael. Not pictured: me pushing Charlie in his stroller and walking my two dogs, Cabela and Ziva

This photo, taken April 14, 2021, is one of my favorites. My grandchildren love to go for a walk, so on days when they come to my house, we often stroll around the neighborhood.

Evan holds a grabber, and you can’t see it, but Michael carries a plastic grocery bag filled with trash and another grabber. In the spring our walks become garbage patrols. The snow has melted, and hidden wrappers, disposable cups, bottles, cigarette butts, and the odd mitten or piece of clothing dot the landscape.

My grandkids blurt exclamations of joy when they spot a piece of garbage. It’s an accomplishment. I know how they feel. When we were children, my sisters and I pulled a red wagon down our country road and picked up garbage. We were influenced by Lady Bird Johnson’s “Keep America Beautiful” campaign. We didn’t have grabbers, so we used our hands. Things were tougher when my generation was young. (As we age, we enter the I-walked-to-school-in-blinding-snow generation.)

I love walking with my grandkids. But before I took this idyllic photograph, pandemonium ruled, as it does before every walk. Once we decide to go, strategical planning and the ensuing chaos from working that plan almost swamp me. Everyone needs to go to the bathroom, including me. “There are no porta potties on the walk,” I say. I check Charlie’s diaper. We dress for the weather, and during the winter that means helping two toddlers into snow pants, jackets, boots, hats, and mittens. I put leashes on the dogs, who plead to be included, and I stuff poo bags in my jacket. It sounds simple, but understand that all four grandkids and both dogs are moving targets. Just as we are about to exit the house, one of my grandkids usually utters, “I think I have to go to the bathroom, again.”

At this point I think to myself, “Eisenhower had it easy–he only had to organize D-Day.”

However, once we hit the paved trail, serenity settles in, and my grandkids race each other, hunt for garbage, climb trees along the boulevard, and play games with rules only they know. Watching them, my memory of the pre-walk havoc fades. These walks will become cherished memories for my grandkids and me.

Thirty Days of Earrings

I love earrings. Before the pandemic began, I wore them almost every day. But I stopped going to work during the pandemic, so I stopped wearing earrings every day. Sometimes days or weeks went by without giving them a thought.

But occasionally earrings gave me a nudge because it would suddenly occur to me that I’d better wear a pair before the holes in my ears closed up. More than once, I had a tough time pushing a hoop or post into the hole in my ear. I’ve always worn small lightweight earrings, so I have tiny holes in my ears.

This morning I put on earrings because I wanted to forget about the ups and downs of COVID-19.

I’ve decided to wear a different pair of earrings for thirty days, and tell a story about each pair. I’m not sure I have thirty pairs. (I’m very particular about my earrings.) But if I don’t, I’ll re-wear a pair. And that’s okay because some of my earrings have more than one story.

Day 1—Earrings from Coronado Island, California

I bought these gold-toned earrings with aquamarine-blue crystals on Coronado Island from a boutique jewelry shop owned by the artist who created them. I was drawn to this exquisite pair because my birthstone is aquamarine.

A couple of years after I bought them, I lost one. I wasn’t wearing the clear rubber backings, and the earring slipped out of my ear without me feeling it or hearing it. I still imagine its voiceless descent and landing, most likely on a sidewalk in Northfield, Minnesota.

I was staying at Carleton College, attending a week-long training, and I’d been walking around Northfield. After I discovered the earring was missing, I walked up and down every city block that I’d walked on earlier and some others just in case. For hours, I retraced my steps over and over. I didn’t find my earring.

Using the internet, I found the phone number for the jewelry shop on Coronado Island. The owner answered the phone. I told her about my earrings, my favorite pair. I asked if she had another pair I could buy. She offered to make me a new earring at no charge. She had me send her the remaining earring so she could match the crystal and setting sizes.

A month later, my old earring arrived with its new mate.

I’ve never again worn them without their clear rubber backings. I still have both earrings.

I’ve never forgotten the kind jeweler, who must have also known the sadness of losing a cherished earring. I hope she’s still creating jewelry.

I’d like her to know that I still think of her kindness every time I wear the earrings.

Fish Drama in a One-Act Play

Homes and boats on Round Lake in Charlevoix, Michigan. Lake Charlevoix connects to Round Lake which connects to the Pine River Channel which leads to Lake Michigan.

Friday, July 30, 2021

I’m about to walk across the drawbridge in Charlevoix when I see a man and a woman standing along the Pine River Channel on the other side of the bridge. The pair are in their late 50s, maybe early 60s. He wears a fishing hat and clutches a fishing pole that’s arched over the water. He works to reel in a fish that fights to remain in the water. She wears a pastel-colored shirt and pair of shorts and clasps a fishing net that’s perpendicular to the water. She’s waiting to scoop up the fish once it has been reeled in, ending any chance it has of slipping back into the channel. They are a team.

I stop to watch the battle between man and woman and fish. In front of me, three young teenage girls have already stopped to watch. All of them wear their golden hair in braids. I walk forward a few steps so I’m even with them but keep my distance. I don’t want to break the spell. Their large smiles have pushed their cheeks into rose-colored apples and their eyes twinkle, telegraphing their joy. We all watch the man lift his pole and crank his reel. He’s playing with the fish, letting it wear itself out. We all watch the woman move the net closer to the water in anticipation, then watch her back away when the fish retreats.

The girls huddle together, like teenage girls do. Their hands are empty. The cellphones I expected to see in their palms, protrude from their pockets. Watching the fish action is better than Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram. They’re immersed in this moment, no lenses between them and the man-woman-fish drama.

Suddenly the woman swoops the net into the water and pulls up the fish. The man bends down and unhooks it. As he slips his fingers through the gill and lifts the fish, the three girls applaud loudly and laugh joyfully. Unfortunately, the man and woman don’t hear the clapping because of the traffic noise and their position on the opposite side of the channel.

I cross the bridge and get a better look at the fish—it’s big, a keeper. The man and woman pack up their gear and their one-and-only, but good-sized fish. I know what he and the woman are having for dinner.

And I know what the three girls will talk about at dinner.

[More information about fishing the Pine River Channel and Round Lake area.]

Requiem for a Paperback

The book is dead, nestled among dried leaves and small pine cones, partially covered by the branches of a pine tree nearly sweeping the ground. Sun-bleached pages catch the light and bounce it like a beacon.

Broken open along the spine, its pages swollen by last week’s rain and snow are baked dry. Two pages fused together, blown vertical and dried by the wind, stand perpendicular to the ground, a gravestone for the book.

I walk past, but stop. I turn, and look. I debate.

The front of the book is mangled, its cover rolled under itself. A splotch of sky-blue color entices me to retrace my steps. I want to know its name, but I don’t want to touch the book. It’s a corpse.

I’m walking my dogs, so I juggle leashes and mittens, remove my phone from my pocket, and snap several pictures, like I do in cemeteries to record family grave markers.

Who did the book belong to? How did it end up on the ground? Did someone finish it before it was lost?

I crouch down next to the book, thankful it’s not mine.

Centered on the top of the left page, I read, Ken Follett.

I’ve read some of his books: Triple, Hornet Flight, Night Over Water, and Eye of the Needle—one of my favorite books. The snippet of sky blue on the cover tells me it’s not The Eye of the Needle. The blue is too cheerful, matching none of the cover art I’ve ever seen for that book.

My dogs stand at the end of their leashes while I stare at the book. Still crouching, I contemplate turning the book to read its title.

I let it go.

I stand, leaving it in peace, its fused pages standing perpendicular to the ground, a gravestone for the book.

Christmas Lights in the Time of COVID-19

In 2015, I named this evergreen The Twinkling Tree because some of the lights gently winked while the rest burned steady. When I took my dogs for a walk, I’d say, “Let’s go see The Twinkling Tree.”

Almost every night I take my dogs for a second walk, sometime between the end of Wheel of Fortune and nine o’clock. During our winter walks, the cold air is warmed by Christmas lights strung on houses, trees, and bushes. I never tire of seeing the lights sparkle on a cold winter’s evening. From a house with a single lit wreath to a house with strings of lights illuminating every possible structure, tree, and shrub, I love them all.

This year, because of the pandemic, I expected to see fewer Christmas lights. I based this on my experience around Halloween, having noticed fewer Halloween lights and decorations, in keeping with fewer trick-or-treaters.

Christmas lights remind me of my childhood Christmases in the 1960s and 70s. Our house was a busy place. Both my parents worked and had four children born within eight years. But at Christmas my mother created magic in our living room and dining room, which flowed together as one long rectangle.

She strung multicolored C7 lights and hung old fashioned ornaments on a Christmas tree she chose for its perfect shape, fullness, and generous size. She stopped using tinsel sometime before I was old enough to remember, but I have a picture of my sister and I sitting in front of a Christmas tree festooned in the silver stuff. My mother said with a dog and two toddlers, tinsel was everywhere.

She framed the big picture window in the living room with a string of pastel lights sheathed in plastic opaque icicles. In the corner of the dining room, we had a built-in, floor-to-ceiling hutch. She created a winter wonderland on the part of the hutch meant for serving trays, first laying out fresh boughs of pine, then weaving twinkle lights through the boughs, and finally spraying the arrangement with canned snow.

The lights made the rooms glow because before she decorated, she cleaned and polished every surface. Humble and old, those rooms in our 1907 farmhouse shone with warmth and welcome.

And when the schools closed for Christmas vacation, my siblings and I spent many hours in those rooms. We played a version of twenty questions in front of the Christmas tree. Taking turns, one of us would silently pick an ornament, and the rest of us would start asking questions, trying to guess the ornament. We lifted wrapped presents from under the tree, shaking them, attempting to guess what our faraway relatives had sent us.

At twilight we sat on the couch in the sparkle of the pastel icicles, staring out the picture window into a farmer’s field and the woods beyond, talking about we wanted Santa to bring. When my mom bought a used upright piano and put it along a bare wall in the dining room, I played Christmas carols and my siblings and I sung, our small voices combing as one rejoicing sound.

On Christmas night my siblings and I sat around the dining room table, playing with board games and art supplies we received every year. Christmas lights shimmered and music played on the stereo. The relatives, who’d joined us for dinner, had all gone home, and the dishes had been washed and put away.

I remember those Christmas-light days as peaceful and other worldly, a respite from our hectic childhood days. Twinkling lights on a tree or a house or a city light post carry me back to the magic my mother created.

Although I expected to see fewer Christmas lights this year, I was amazed by the number of people who decorated their homes for the holidays. Walking my dogs up and down the streets has turned into a warm hug from Christmas Past, a wonderful gift in this year of uncertainty and anxiety.