Gather Ye Rosebuds…

…While Ye May.

I’m doing just that in the waning days of my 35th summer in this old cabin on Lake Katherine, known up here with a long history as ‘The Queen of the Lakes’ My children own it now, and rightfully so, as my Dad made it possible for Bill and I to buy it in 1982 for them and for our grandkids. We’ve all grown up and grown older here, and while I’m no longer the caretaker, I’m the one to occupy it most as they come and go when time permits. I love the chaos and company when they’re here – and I love the solitude when they’re not.

There are benefits to crowding 80 and being alone. I eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired. I liken it to working 3rd shift after years of working the 1st – with no schedule or particular reason to go to bed before 2:00 or to get up before 10:00. In between, I spend time at the library, on my computer, knitting and reading. A lot. Sometimes my only decision of the day is white wine or red? Exercise consists of short walks with the black dog that sleeps under my bed each night and trips for essentials to Walmart, Trig’s and Save More. With no TV, I watch football and baseball games with my next door neighbor, Don. Relaxed in a big recliner next to his big recliner, conversation is sporadic and comfortable as it is with friends you’ve known and cared about for years.

The shops downtown are no longer the magnets that once drew me in, other than the iconic Lakeland Variety Store, a real five and dime that was a mandatory stop for my grandkids along with Dan’s for fudge and bags of taffy. While there’s little I need or want anymore, I’m happy that vacationers still fill them all summer, tho I’ve never been able to understand why, with such a short season, they close when the streets are still crowded with people wanting to spend money.

Once Labor Day and Beef a Rama visitors vacate the island town, the streets are virtually deserted.

No longer a need for a bouncer at the entrance to Otto’s,

Even the sweatshirt stores, the only ones to stay open all hours, are dark after dusk – a sure sign that the season has ended. Soon, with snow on the ground, motorcycles will be replaced with snowmobiles, jet skis with ice shanties – and the ebb and flow of the Northwoods perpetuates itself.

I have just two days left to gather my last rosebuds of summer – I’m sharing them now with a doe who comes close to nibble them at night.

On Saturday my kids will be here to rake leaves, take in the pier and sit around a big bonfire before closing the door on another summer.

I’m intrinsically happy wherever I am. But, I love Here most of all.

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What the Hell is Happening to Us?

I am not a 79 year old Indigenous Person, though that is how some believe I, and this day, should be labeled. For decades, today has always been Columbus Day and now his statue in New York requires 24 hour security? His statue in Chicago has been defaced for the second time in three days? Football, which I love, is now a platform for expressing disrespect? College campuses muzzle views other than the ones they espouse, hoping to instill them in the young minds who are paying a fortune and accruing debt for the privilege of being there?

I know ‘back in the day’ is an oft used disclaimer ‘these days’ – but I have something to say I’d like you to know:

As a ninth grader I sat in Miss Knipfel’s CIVIC’S class, and by God, I learned all about government at every level. I can even still speak gerrymandering, though it didn’t mean shit to me when I was 14. If I screwed up or missed a lesson, she had a straight line to my parents, and to this day I can see her crooked finger pointing at me.

And then there’s HISTORY. I was fortunate to learn it from an ex-Marine, Janet Fraser. She was a redheaded drill sergeant in the classroom, and she wasn’t afraid to expose us to the good, bad and ugly in our past. I know there’s more than enough bad and ugly, but that, along with the good made us the country we are today. Shame on people who believe wiping the slate clean is the panacea, and bravo to those who recognize all that we have been – and all we can become if we come together.

I pray there are more Miss Knipfels and Jan Frasers out there who are willing to
show us the way. I couldn’t tell you, then or now, whether they were left or right. It didn’t matter.

Mom’s Record of Events

If he were still alive this year, Robert J Alder would step off the bus on the corner of Lincoln Avenue on Friday, November 17th. He would walk a half block to our front door where my mother would be standing to greet him, having anticipated the precise date and time of his arrival as it always coincided with the Big 10 Football Schedule – specifically, the weekend – home or away – that Michigan played Wisconsin. As a courtesy he did call ahead to announce his visit, never expecting it might be an inconvenient time. For Robbie it never was. It was his pilgrimage every fall to spend time with Don and Helen Huddleston who befriended him in Monroe before moving to Waukesha. Until our Dad gave up his teaching job to enlist in the Navy, Robbie never missed a high school football game coached by him, and over the years he adopted our family as his own.

I never fail to think of him around this time, walking from the bus stop carrying his black leather valise that held a change of clothes, a dopkit that included his toothbrush, and a bottle of green Mennen Aftershave, the smell of which lingered in the house for days after he left. He also packed a carton of Lucky Strikes, a jar of Mr. Mustard and a quarter wheel of cheese from the Swiss Colony.

His appearance seldom changed over the years. He was neat and clean with close cropped gray hair, medium to stocky build and rimless glasses that framed bright blue eyes. He had very ruddy cheeks, possibly due to the alcohol in the Mennen’s and his favorite beverage, Blatz beer. Robbie lived with his mother in a small house at the end of 11th Street, just next to the entrance to the Monroe County fair grounds. I know he was a veteran, a proud member of the local American Legion, and he worked all his life in the post office just off the Square.

Since it was a weekend devoted to football, aside from his occasional Knock Knock jokes and references to food, our conversations with him as girls never revealed much about him, though he had pet names for us. I was SuzyQ, sister Jud was Little Princess and I think as the youngest, Duff was Junior something? He remembered our birthdays with outfits carefully chosen with help from a woman who worked in a shop on the Square – and a Christmas gift for Mom, the most memorable being the black cat that rolled its eyes and wagged its tail to mark the minutes. I don’t think it ever saw actual time of day, though it may have appeared during football season. For us, he was our slightly quirky uncle who came to visit once a year. To Mom and Dad he was a faithful friend.

The routine of his weekend was as predictable as he was. He prided himself on his recipe for Chop Suey, and having shopped ahead for the ingredients he needed, on Saturday morning Mom turned him loose in the kitchen to prepare a huge vat for a half time dinner that night. The rest of the day he sat on the couch glued to the TV watching football, chain smoking Luckies, drinking beer and commenting on the games with Mom and Dad. At some point, there was a timeout on a metal TV tray for ham and cheese on rye smothered with Mr. Mustard; washed down with Blatz, yet in all the years I knew him, I never saw him tipsy. Mellow? Maybe.

On Sunday, after Robbie boarded the bus to return to Monroe, life returned to normal. We had Chop Suey, which was actually very good, for days afterward and Swiss Cheese that lasted well into the New Year.

Robbie died in 1984 at the age of 81, and his obituary revealed very little about his life. Now creeping up on 80 myself, there are so many things I wish I had asked him when I had the chance. Why Michigan? Was it your alma mater? What did you dream you would do someday? Were you ever in love? Where did the war take you? What was your mother like, and your father? Did you ever have a car? How did you spend your days at the post office and how did you fill them when you retired?

If I ever come across another black cat clock Im going to hang it as a reminder to my family and friends to always keep the doors of friendship open, that time is precious, and ask the things you’d like to know about the people in your life who matter.

Maybe in another life, we’ll learn all the answers. I hope so.

OUT OF SIGHT; OUTTA MIND

I ascribe to the Erma Bombeck philosophy of cleaning: “Housework is a treadmill from futility to oblivion with stops at tedium and productivity.” – or more concisely, “Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.”

This armoire* is my favorite piece of furniture:

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…and this is one of the reasons why:

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Growing up, my dad was proud of the fact that he could always bring someone home with him, knowing his house wouldn’t have newspapers strewn about with dirty dishes in the sink. My mother was a neatnik – even boxes in the big attic were covered with pristine white sheets. She was less diligent when it came to instilling her habits in her daughters. (Speaking for myself here.) I had two tasks: dust the baseboards and “just go over the tops of things.” My sister, Jud, had the unenviable job of dusting the ‘whatnot’ shelves with its myriad of small doodads – later assumed by our younger sister, Duff. In the dining room they were also entrusted with the base of the round oak table, and mom’s impressive collection of unusual bottles, some filled with colored water, some not. All three of us participated in dishwashing which was often fun – filled with aimless chatter, ‘I spy something green’ games and occasional petty arguments. As a result of my sink experience, I’ve never considered living without a dishwasher and garbage disposal a cruel and unusual punishment in my lifetime. Our indefatigable mom passed away as she finished the dishes with our dad. (When the time comes, I would like to be so fortunate.)

As for cleaning in general, the joy of sharing the house with multiple animals has influenced my belief in ‘acquired immunity’ – the ‘five second theory’ is often observed, and I credit my husband for allowing my kids to drink out of the bottle. We’ve all been healthy, which I like to think is the result of not living in a sterile environment.

Resigned to the fact I’ll never be a stellar housekeeper, I can still pull it together when I must, and I do go over the tops of things.

*About the armoire – Bill and I found this in parts on the dirt floor of the farm house basement where we lived for a year after we were married. It had been shipped on a boat from England by his grandmother, Janet Thomas. The wood was ugly but in good shape so we worked countless hours on painting and restoring it. No telling its history beyond that, but more reason I love it.

I COULDN’T JUST LEAVE IT THERE

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I saw it on the floor in the back of Goodwill looking oddly out of place sitting next to a Fischer-Price gas station. Not my style, so I moved on to the purpose of my trip, used books, where I found a 1978 Nelson DeMille novel about the quest for peace in the Mid East, which could have been published this year since tensions remain the same. But before I left, I had to go back to get a closer look. Still there, looking oddly out of place, the tag read:

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Now it looks oddly out of place in my living room – eclectic and unique I like to think, and that’s okay for the time being.

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There are treasures to be found at Goodwill, and I frequently donate many of my own – always happy to support their cause, and be thanked by them at checkout!

513 Lincoln Avenue Waukesha Wisconsin

My home,

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in my 1950’s neighborhood.

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This was the East side Five Points of Waukesha, as opposed to the larger downtown Five Points. The city was, and remains, a maze to navigate, but my neighborhood was a microcosm; a small village connected to the whole by streetcar tracks, intersections, the bus line to Milwaukee and the Soo Line Railroad. The streetcar ran a sidewalk away from my bedroom window, and I could hear the bell that signaled the zinging hum as it accelerated from the corner stop. Only once did it come to a screeching halt as my terrified mom scooped my toddler sister, Duff, from the tracks.

In those days it was safe to play kick the can way past dark. I could walk where ever and when ever I wanted to or needed to. First, to Hadfield Elementary three blocks east, having to walk the day I got my first period wearing what felt like a giant marshmallow; followed by middle and high school about a mile away, waving to the old men who sat on the wide porch watching traffic. We ran errands for our mom just doors away – to Cody’s meat market, Klein’s bakery and the corner grocery store. In her beauty shop Ethel turned my pigtails into a duck tail. And I walked to Rode’s Drug Store on the corner where Fred hired me when I turned 14, and left to begin my freshman year at Madison. From my front porch I watched Mr. Kinne make out in his car with Irene who managed the Custard Cup he owned across the alley. Peter Larson kissed me for the first time in Silurian Park, and I remember the coat I was wearing. My Latin teacher, Grace Fardy, lived across the street with her sister and parents, and next to them our friends, Emmy and Martin Frings, who were proud Polish immigrants. She was a beautiful seamstress, and he was a barber just steps away from their apartment. Our next door neighbors, the Sheild’s, were like extended family. Lefty was a cop, and Mary was the epitome of a loving Catholic mother. Good people who raised good kids, and who I’m certain, kept a few of our misdeeds to themselves.

My sisters, Jud and Duff and I, were fortunate to live in a time and a place where ‘most everyone knew our name’ – and where it was safe enough to walk a few blocks to Jimmy’s Grotto on Main Street at midnight to get an Italian Sausage that simmered in their big Nesco.

Just Wishing…

I wish I could hear him call me Sorrel. I wish I could feel his big arm around me. I wish he could have grown old loving his grandkids, and I wish his grandkids could have loved him…img_0936
This morning, Monday September 19th, I made coffee in this small kitchen just as I have for 34 years, but I’ve missed my Bill for 18 of them. It’s his birthday today, and he would be 82. As I filled the coffee pot, I was thinking he would approve of my faucet fix.img_1399
Remembering that he temporarily used a huge vise grip to stop a leak, I attached two small ones that have worked just fine for a very long time. That, and the addition of a bunkhouse are the only changes we’ve made to our 1940’s cabin. When we were looking for a place up here, my only stipulation was – no knotty pine. I’ve lived with nothing but knotty pine everywhere and loved it. The other constant has been one, two or three Labradors. Having lost my old Josie at 16, Betsy and Hud have loaned me Francy, one of her last litter, to keep me company for the summer. She’s a very sweet girly dog!img_0933
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This morning Bill might have walked down these steps to the lake with his fishing pole, and when I look down there from my bedroom window, in my mind, I can still see him. img_1133

Just wishing I could have wished him Happy Birthday today.