My memory lane is a train track. You might say it’s more of a Memory Line than a Memory Lane. The tracks ran less than a block from my house. I can still remember the mournful cries of the whistles announcing their approach in and out of Minneapolis.
We spent hot summer days under trees on a piece of land we called we called the ditch. The ditch was as long as our neighborhood, 100 to 200 feet wide. It ran alongside the tracks, and despite how fearsome it sounds, was the perfect playground for my mates and me. We climbed trees, both upright and felled and made moguls for bicycles. And the trains rumbled by. Sometimes we’d race toward the tracks to see the engineer at his place in front. We’d pump our arms to see if he’d toot the whistle and jump for joy if he did.
Holly Shopping Center is still less than a mile from where I grew up, but several other of our hangouts are gone. We biked or walked, and always crossed the tracks to get anywhere. We played a game to see who could stare at the top of the cars the longest. As they flew by, the wind swooshed against our bodies, and the train seemed to be falling down on top of us. Our screams of delight rivaled the roar of the cars. And always at the end, there was the red caboose.
As a toddler, clean from the bath and dressed in flannel, I’d sit on my mother’s lap looking out at the moon from our big living room window. We snuggled and she bounced me on her lap. Sometimes she’d read The Little Engine That Could. One of the songs she sang was Little Red Caboose. We’d get to the end and I’d join in. “Little red caboose behind the train . . . toot, toot!”
On nights when sleep defied me, I’d wait in the darkness and listen. At night you could hear the trains from miles away, blowing their whistle at each crossing.
I still like to hear the reassuring rumble of a train from my bed. As the cars drift away . . . clickety, clickety, clickety . . . they pull me back to my childhood home, and deep into dreamland.
If you’ve never had a rabbit roommate, you may be surprised to find out they have very distinct personalities. My daughter’s rabbit put her ball in her empty salad bowl every day when she was done eating breakfast. She was a delight . . . and a responsibility.
The newly released film Peter Rabbit is raising controversy over a food allergy scene in which rabbits force blackberries on a human who’s allergic to them. Whether or not this debate raises ire in you, rabbit enthusiasts are concerned the film will spark interest in pet Easter bunnies this spring. The world’s platform for change, Change.org, writes,
“Sadly, Rabbit Rescues are over run with discarded impulse acquisitions of a living fragile beings, they are dumped at kill shelters and in the wild where they cannot survive. Rabbits are a 10 year commitment and are not cute toys for children, they are prey animals that need a special diet and care. Rabbits frighten easily, have fragile bones and when dropped, result in severe injuries and broken backs. Rabbits are sentient living beings and deserve respect.”
“We are thankful and understand the “Peter Rabbit Movie supports responsible pet adoption and rescue” and is working with a CA Rabbit Rescue during the movie premiere. Thank you for this commitment!”
Please check out my favorite bunny blog, The Rabbit Rabble, by clicking on the link below. I love the way Diana Kroneberg’s deep passion and expertise for these funny, furry, long-eared friends comes through in her words and photos.
This petition is circling around my rabbit rescue friends due to the new Peter Rabbit movie. Please take the time to sign, and inform anyone you can, not to buy rabbits for children at Easter. They’re a 10 year commitment, not a toy. The bunnies will thank you!
When I was a kid, no one used backpacks. We just carried our books in our arms. So it wasn’t unusual to lose stuff on the way to or from school, or for parental forms to come home with wet dog-eared corners. On one such day, I handed a piece of white mimeographed paper to my mom, the top of the kitchen chair reaching just under my chin as I stood looking up at her hopefully.
She read the form and looked down at me. While shaking her head from side to side, she said, “Girl Scouts. You don’t want to do this, do you?”
That was my first experience with extracurricular activities.
The next was orchestra. Like I said, we didn’t have backpacks, so if you didn’t want your parents to find something, you couldn’t crumple it up and hide it in the bottom. My mom discovered the notice as I was doing my homework at the dining room table. Her face turned dreamy as she said, “Oh, Orchestra! Wouldn’t you like to play the cello?”
Indeed, I had never given a passing thought to the cello. Suddenly, I was getting the vibe that this would make my mother happy, and so I nodded yes.
The cello made my life a living hell. Firstly, unlike the Girl Scout form that I handed to her the minute I arrived through the door, this one had been in my math book for a while and, as such, was the last in my class to be turned in. The orchestra director was a little disappointed at the late submission, but when my mother assured him I could already read music, he accepted my form.
The school was able to find one last cello, presumably from the thrift store, riddled with scratches and graffiti from previous orchestra drop-outs. I wish I had a nickel for every kid who asked me in horror, “What did you do to your cello?”
My social life needed all the help it could get. Sitting on the bus next to a 4-foot instrument didn’t do me any favors. I envied the girls with the cute little flute cases, their hair impeccably braided. Not only did I suffer the slings and arrows of mean-hearted boys, and the sidewise glances from flute-cased girls, no room remained for my closest defenders to sit next to me. Alone in my seat, arm draped grudgingly around the awkward luggage, I intently engaged the changing landscape out the frosted window.
Practice was torture. I knew my parents were out in the living room laughing. I could see their stifled grins when they stopped in to my bedroom to tell me how good I sounded. Even as a kid I recognized a snow job. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star never screeched so bad. Forced to form new unwanted callouses, my fingers burned.
Rehearsals were embarrassing. Anyone knows that the better one likes a thing, the easier it is to learn. Mom was right — I did know how to read music. But reading it and applying it to an instrument takes devotion. I was more determined to find a way out of it than to learn it. It didn’t take long for me to realize I couldn’t blend in. The director had a keen ear for the kids who played the wrong notes. Lucky for him, I learned how to fake it.
After our first concert, Mom said, “You sounded so great!” I replied, “You couldn’t hear me.” “Yes I could,” she encouraged. Another snow job.
“No, you couldn’t,” I explained, “because I wasn’t playing.” As it turns out, it was easier for me to learn how to move my bow left and right at the same time as everyone else than it was to play the thing. I’d hold my bow just above the strings, so as not to make that awful screeching sound. And being able to read music, I knew when to turn the page, further corroborating my own personal performance. I may have failed at the cello, but my acting performance was remarkable.
The next week she asked if there was something I’d rather play than the cello. I wanted to be in band. I wanted a clarinet, or maybe a flute. “Really?” Mom asked in disbelief. I nodded emphatically and my mother went to the school office and asked for the appropriate paperwork.
She dropped me off early the next morning with the completed form and signed check in hand. The band door was open, the teacher rustling through papers with his back to me. I handed him the envelope buoyantly. I still remember my excitement.
But it was too late. The other kids were a year ahead of me. There was no way he’d let me join unless I was able to take private lessons and catch up to the rest of the band. Even then I held out hope. I had taken private music lessons before. It was hard work, but I thought I could do it.
Unfortunately, it just never came to fruition. Whether my parents were too busy, or I found other interests, or they distracted me by signing me up for bowling and golf and more organ lessons, it just never happened.
Some memories make your heart warm. Some make it weep. We live them and then learn from them and then go on to choose what today will be. We do our best as parents and hope the love we spent was enough to balance the times we broke their hearts. Fortunately for me, the abundance of love I received more than made up for any misdirected parental form.
Every year as I dug through the gifts and candy in the red felt sock that hung from my bedroom doorknob, I hoped against hope that the last gift I hauled out of that thing was not going to be an orange. I could see the orb-shaped something filling out the toe of the sock. Pulling out the little cellophane-wrapped sweets that had dropped to the bottom, my nails must have scraped the bumpy texture of the peel. The fresh citrusy smell must have wafted past my nostrils. But I held out hope that it was a ball, or a pair of really pretty mittens, or anything . . . but an orange. Yet, every year it was an orange. Either Santa had a messed-up sense of humor, or he was just a big dick dressed in red.
Santa left my other gifts unwrapped under the tree. That worked, because my next oldest sibling was ten years older than me, and by that time, was most likely helping to perpetuate the storyline. So any unwrapped gifts under the tree were From: Santa; To: me.
Like any kid, sometimes Santa brought exactly what I wanted, and some years he hadn’t a clue. The year I got my pixie haircut, he brought me a long, blonde wig. It was exactly what I wanted, and I tossed my head like the girls in the Prell commercials swinging it sensuously in slow motion.
The year he brought me a fire engine pedal-car, he lost some of his magic status. The box featured pictures of all the models, and my parents asked me which one I wanted to be in the box. I imagined it was a magical box that would change whatever was inside to be exactly the model you wished for. I wished hard and pointed to the Tee Bird, but what they pulled out of the box was a fire engine, complete with a bell on the front for announcing emergencies. The toy was my first encounter with independence because back then little kids just pedaled around blocks unchaperoned for hours at a time. So that was cool, but I knew somewhere there was a little kid who pointed at the fire engine and got the blue Tee Bird. That was my second clue that Santa wasn’t all he was cracked up to be.
Eventually I learned the harsh truth that my parents were just filling in while Santa sat at the North Pole consuming dubious amounts of cookies and Amaretto. I couldn’t believe it was them putting that damned orange in the bottom of my sock all along. And while it might have been forgivable for Santa to make that mistake — after all, he had millions of socks to fill — I could not say the same for my parents. They had only one job that night, to place a few unwrapped gifts around the tree and fill my sock with toys and candy, saving the obvious best gift for the bottom of the sock.
I don’t mean to say that I harbored ill feelings over the faux pas of my parents. Christmas was and is still something I hold dear and find magical. I wish joy and peace to all in the new year, and in the grand scheme of things, I think I’ve turned out alright.
But for the life of me, every time I see a big, round, juicy orange at this time of year, I remember the disappointment of finding one in the toe of my sock on Christmas morn.
And I am reminded of what a sick jerk Santa really can be.
We had an unexpected visitor last night. It was one of those days where you can’t wait to get into your p.j.s and just zone out in front of the television. Wait . . . that’s pretty much every night around here.
Well, it had been a long day — early to rise and productive. So I threw on a nightshirt, and okay . . . don’t judge me, but I was naked as a jaybird under that thing.
We turned off the tube at about 9:00 p.m. Bubba got up to close and lock the front door. He turned on the outside front light, and was startled by a brown face in the dark. When I heard his reaction, I joined him at the door.
Now, I wish I had a picture, because he was so handsome. He was young and well-built, and seemed very friendly. We opened the door to see what he wanted, and he greeted us enthusiastically. Bubba and I both glanced up and down the street to see if he was alone, to which we surmised he was.
In the dark, we saw a metal tag hanging from his blue collar. Bubba retrieved my phone from inside, and I tried to read the fine print while he wriggled and nuzzled his way into my heart. When I couldn’t make out the number, Bubba edged his way out the door, keeping one dog out and two in. We traded places, him with the collar, me taking the phone. Bubba’s eyes are younger than mine. Most of him is.
The phone number led to a veterinarian office, after business hours with no answer. We stood still and listened for someone calling in the distance, “Fiiiiiidooooo……” We heard nothing but the usual clatter from houses, traffic on the main road, and dogs barking to be let in one last time before bed. The street, littered with neighbor’s cars and trucks, forced those passing by to slow to a cautious speed. Each time, we hoped they would stop to thank us for holding their pet for them. Each time the cars continued up the hill.
We took turns holding the dog and running into the house. I went in to get a leash, a jacket, and tennis shoes to throw on with my nightshirt. I shut the windows so the dogs’ barking wouldn’t bother the neighbors, and to keep them from hearing our new friend so clearly. Bubba ran in to get shoes. Still, the cars continued up the hill, and no voices called for a lost dog to come home.
We rejected the option to keep him until the morning, either inside or out. We even thought about letting him go, thinking he might find his way back home. But it was obvious there was only one safe choice for us, our dog-family, and this beautiful big, brown pit bull.
While Bubba went in to calm the hounds, I made a call to animal control. She said they would send someone right over. In the meantime, I hoped the owner would come along and save this guy a trip to the pound. He was a strong animal, jerking me this way and that toward the sounds in the night. It was all I could do to keep him out of my emerging perennials.
It was while I was on the phone with a helpful friend (who is somewhat of a dog-angel by nature), getting her take on things, that a city police SUV pulled up. My call ended as this massive beast decided I wasn’t greeting them with the urgency they deserved.
I leaned back on the leash, and was pulled one step at a time, each one faster than the last. By the time the two of us reached the middle of the yard, I had given in to a run.
Please note: I do not run. Not only are there just too many parts of me that bounce, jiggle, and swing, but my knees are no longer up for the task. Nor is my bladder.
Another pace or two, and my descent to the street had become less than a run and more like what I can only describe as a launch, my wrist wrapped firmly in the handle of the leash. This stunt, which I can remember micro-second by micro-second, happened in the wag of a tail. At once I realized the only thing that was going to save me from a face-plant on the asphalt was if I could hit the police vehicle first.
With my eyes on the goal — the word POLICE in shiny gold letters against the black front fender of the SUV — I put my hands out just as I realized this was not going to end well. My knee hit the pavement at the same time my face struck the “L.” Bullseye. The phone I had hung up seconds ago bounced across the hood of the car.
The panic of ensuring my nightshirt was still covering my undercarriage dwarfed any pain I might have felt. I may or may not have wet myself . . . Just sayin’. One cop took the leash from me while at the same time asking, “Are you okay, Ma’am?” The driver did a combat roll over the hood — okay, he didn’t. But he was at my side in a flash, wanting to reach out to me, but needing to assess the situation before moving the victim.
When he also asked if I was okay, I told him I would be as soon as he helped me up. Giggling, with a bruised pride, I answered his questions — name, address, phone, and how it was I had the dog. They said the decision to call them was the right choice. We all hoped he had a chip, and agreed he was a gorgeous animal. When he asked again if I was okay, I told him I hoped his car was okay, peering in the dark to look for a dent. I wanted nothing more than to tuck my tail and retreat into my house. When eventually they dismissed me, I shuffled off without looking back.
Inside, Bubba came to the door in amazement. “Did they come get him already?” It took me several tries to get the story out between my giggle-fits. Once showered and back in fresh night-clothes, I took inventory of my injuries. One twisted ankle, one bruised and swollen knee, and a scuffed thigh. Bubba brought me a couple of ice packs and I swallowed some pain reliever. He kept repeating, “But I was coming right back out! I should have been out there!” But then I’d have nothing to write about.
I can’t help wondering if I’m the butt of some awfully good police stories today. No pun intended.
I’ve itched to get back to my writing. You poor people are the benefactors of my fruit. I appreciate your faithfulness, ever patient while I restructure my life around holidays, diet and exercise. Just kidding. The exercise bit hasn’t been working out very well. Get it? Working out? I crack me up.
The holidays, you ask? Well we went up north, as Midwesterners are oft to do. We go waaaaaay up north. Bubba has family up there, and as such, they are as good as kin to me as well. It’s a trek, but the road trip is nice. There are several hours (about 7 to be exact) where there is nothing but the two of us exchanging meaningful conversation and healthy snacks.
Yeah . . . just kidding again.
Actually, Bubba turns up the tunes, we do a little head-banging until I have something to say and he politely turns it down. He nods in agreement, waiting to see if I’m done, and when I go back to checking out Messenger, Snapchat, or Instagram, he turns it up and we return to the head-banging.
In Clearwater, Minnesota, we stop at the Travel Plaza and buy a muffin from the Nelson Bros. Bakery. It’s tradition. They boast cinnamon rolls the size of your head, and they aren’t just bragging. One of those things would feed a small family.
We listen to podcasts like TED Talks, Freakonomics, This American Life, Radiolab, and sometimes I can get him to listen to Savage Lovecast. Then we stop to let Bubba and the dogs pee on some secluded back road. We switch command posts, me taking the wheel while he naps.
Our route takes us through Fargo, until at last we settle in a little Minnesota town a stone’s throw from both Canada and North Dakota. At first glance, it’s a quiet little place with not much going on. But then the Canadians come to visit.
Bubba’s late mother came from Canada. I never met her, but she lives in the pictures and stories that surround the place. Once a year, the Canadians come down from parts north. They bring with them Coffee Crisps, homemade wine, and border stories.
Bubba loves Coffee Crisps, something that until recent years, had not been found this side of the Canada/US line. As I write, he brushes the crumbs from the last one off his beard. The new dog, Mosh, climbs up to check for remnants.
I, however, love the homemade wine. And roast beast with gravy, and potatoes, and jello salad, and Christmas cookies. And conversation. I must let you know that no Canadian conversation, in my experience, is complete without a good border story. It starts out innocently enough.
“How was the border?”
“Not too bad.”
“You got through pretty good, eh?”
“Yeah. Pretty good.”
“Not like that one time, eh?”
And then we’re off. Homeland security only adds another layer of interest to the ever-increasing buzz. It doesn’t matter that I’ve heard the stories before. I love to listen to them talk. I imagine they like to listen to us, too. There was a moment when we had to clarify that a parking lot was the same thing as a parkade, neither of us fully understanding the other. Call me a word geek, but I love those moments.
The “eh” is something we laugh at or joke about, but they use it the same way we say either “huh” or “ya know,” which is just as strange to say when you think about it. I wonder if they laughed about the way we talked on the way home? I really hope so.
My grandparents were from Saskatchewan, Cananda — they talked a lot about Moose Jaw, Saskatoon and Regina. Gramma used to say Regina like it rhymed with Vagina, and my mom would purse her lips, shake her head, and correct her. I don’t remember Gramma saying “Eh” very often, if at all, but Grampa used that word regularly. He lost most of his hearing in the war — the artillery going off too close to his ears — and he would interrupt us mid-sentence with a loud, “Eh?”
Gramma would often whisper something completely inappropriate in his extra-large ear, to which he would reply, “Eh?” Then before the hair on the back of my neck could fully stand, it was out. Gramma, taking a breath of air, and speaking as loud as her tiny frame permitted, would announce something like, “I said . . . It’s very sad how large that woman over there is.” And she would point. And he would stare. And I would try to hide in the neck of my shirt.
Grampa also used it in place of an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. “The thing with kids these days is they’re all doped up . . . eh?” That was not a question. That was a statement that you were meant to a agree with or suffer his resignation from the conversation.
But mostly, he kept quiet, trying to look interested in what was being said. He had hearing aids, which only helped a bit. He complained of the background noise, and still halted conversations by interjecting something completely off topic, followed by “Eh?” I suppose it was a lonely place — amongst family and still alone. I used to believe he was a man of few words, and only spoke when he had something to say. Looking back, I think he was doing a lot of lip-reading, and waiting until he thought he might have something relative to say.
Listening to the Canadians made me wish I knew my distant relatives that still live up there. We are ghosts to one another, linked only by those who came before us. Still, every Christmas I make the Butter Currant Tarts from the recipe that Gramma passed down to me. And occasionally, you may see an “Eh?” in my writing. When you do, that is not a simple verbal interjection. That is me waving my Canadian flag, singing “Oh Canada!” — incidentally the only two words I know from that anthem — and saying, “Hey Grampa and Gramma, I haven’t forgotten.”
During my 5k walk benefitting two local food shelves on Thanksgiving morning, I looked up and let the fat snowflakes hit my face. It was a soft snow with little breeze, and in an instant I felt thankful.
I was feeling my age upon waking that morning. The bones creaked and the muscles were rigid. I poked my head out of bed a few times before I left, testing the layers I’d chosen, finally settling on the long-sleeve cotton shirt we received with our race packets, my food bank hoodie, and a pair of grey sweatpants. I laced up my old-lady white sneakers, and loaded the shelf-stable groceries in the back of my son’s vehicle.
This year marks our second annual Thanksgiving walk/run for hunger. Last year the thermometer read a daunting one degree Fahrenheit. I learned a few things about the 5k/10k races, specifically involving winter weather. As a runner’s sweat drips down his or her back, stalactites form on the seat of the pants, forming — for lack of a better term — butt-cicles. It’s true. My son’s facial hair froze into a grampa-white beard and mixed with the evidence of his mile-5 nosebleed. He was terrifying despite the smile on his face. Although these are not the reasons I don’t run, they definitely justify my rationale.
Today was about thirty degrees warmer than last year, but the snow lent a sense of adventure. About 15 minutes after we saw my son off on his 10k run, the rest of us lined up for the 5k. Once the runners had all passed, the dog-walkers, strollers, and I settled into a brisk, yet slower, pace. My joints had stiffened standing in the cold, and they ached as I began. I snapped a few pictures, found some good classic rock on Pandora, and firmly secured my earbuds.
Somewhere in the middle, I looked up into the swirling white, and I felt thankful. And I thought about that word — Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. Certainly I am thankful to the people who organized the race, and to the food shelves who will put the proceeds to good use, and to my body for being able to carry me a whopping three miles on a frosty morn, and to my employer who gives me Thanksgiving off — even thankful to the earth for the crisp air and swirling snow.
But there is more to it than thanks. There’s giving. In the end it doesn’t matter who or how you thank. Whether you offer up prayer, or thank the cook, or tip the waitress. Thanking is polite. Giving takes more. Here, as I looked before and behind me, were all these people who took time away from their kitchen, or got up early, or scheduled Thanksgiving dinner just an hour later, so that they could give of themselves.
And after all the participants have gone home, or finished their Bloody Marys (just sayin’), there are people who are cleaning and clearing the route of signage or trash, sorting and storing the collected food, packing the race gear away, and accounting for expenses and proceeds.
So while I’m thankful to all the people who provided a way for me to give last Thursday, I’d like to change my definition of Thanksgiving from a day to give thanks, to a day to be thankful for the opportunity to give. I don’t give as much or as often as I could. But while my body is able, to participate in this annual event seems like a perfectly splendid way kick off this season of giving.