The Long Green Line

Gentle reader: After 6 inches of powder fell today there has been a lot of chatter about snow removal equipment and tractors of various sizes. I was reminded of this converastion of almost 25 years ago.

I had taken my daughter, about age 5, to the clinic for the usual URI. The pediatrician on call that day was the locally famous and well-loved, Dr. Pieter Smeenk. That particular day he was wearing a toy John Deere tractor clipped to his necktie–as only a clever pediatrician would do. The conversation ensued as follows.

Mom to Daughter: Look, Dr. Smeenk has a John Deere tractor too!

Dr. Smeenk to Daughter: Do you have a big green tractor?

Daughter, shyly: Yes, it’s really noisy.

Dr. Smeenk: What does it sound like?

Daughter abandons her coyness, proudly fills her lungs and says loudly: Bup, bup , wheeeeeeee . . . BUMP , BUMP, BUMP, WRRROOOOAARRRRRR!

Dr. Smeenk: Oh My!, that sounds like a diesel engine with an gasoline starting motor!

Mom: Yes, indeed. It’s a 720.

Finale (after much giggling and laughter):

Daughter says matter-of-factly to Dr. Smeenk: Grampie says naughty words when the big noise doesn’t go.

Like Sands through the Hourglass, So are . . .

Gentle Reader: Here in North Dakota we have the privilege of four distinct seasons which clearly helps her citizens mark time and the passage of years. Still the days drip, drip, drip through that hourglass and evaporate at an alarming speed. While we attempt to pack our lives full of dreams and aspirations, too often we find ourselves living for some future mystery like, “once I get ____, I’ll be happy/successful/fulfilled.”

Consider the reverse. Living in the past is nothing more than rewinding the DVR and wastes today while watching the re-play. “If only I could do _____ over again.” Mourning the loss of time in squandered lives is also about as productive as shoveling smoke.

Being a 9-year survivor of breast cancer, my concept of time has simplified. The notion that “every day is a gift” is one of the more profound realizations one can absorb and has become my mantra. The recent news about a friend’s serious illness has her cohorts reeling from the shock. I, among them, find myself reflecting again on the intrinsic value of each day as more than just a commodity or something to be managed and plugged into my Outlook program.

In the current issue’s editorial Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, wrote,

“My guess is that whatever we think we’ve lost we never had, that waiting to find it again is as stupid as expecting trout to rise to the same dry fly two days in a row, and that life is best lived between the lost and the found, just this side of hope and on the other side of nostalgia.”

Distilled to its essence, all we have is today.

My “Fiddler” Moment

Gentle Reader: I was just about to toss the last two fading, pistachio-green, spider mums plucked from wedding bouquets when I recalled the entire wedding panorama as a whirlwind of activity and vignettes of poignant moments. While I have many mementos to recapture those moments, these mums rewound time– past that week –back to her going off to college, recovering from a brain tumor, getting her driver’s license, school projects, brownie scouts, tricycles, first steps, and a first tooth.

She was married in that same prairie place where I discovered her first tooth, where I carried her through my pregnancy while taking care of the trees and the land. Now she and her husband plant a Wedding Tree and take care of that North Dakota land . . . and their marriage.

My Father’s Hands

© Bonnie Staiger, Published:  Parkinson Foundation Report, Summer 2003

Strong and rough
Fixing cars
Planting trees
Building a cabin

“Hold my hand, Daddy
The curb is high
And I’m afraid of falling.”

Printer’s ink
Under his nails
Never quite clean . . .
No matter the occasion

“Hold my hand, Dad
The world is rough
And I’m afraid of falling.”

Kind and gentle
Showing the way
Caressing my cheek . . .
Never mind his calluses and nicks

“Hold my hand, Bonnie Rae
Getting old is tough
And I’m afraid of falling.”

Shaking and palsied
Wet from drops of drool
Showing the signs of
A lifetime of work . . . now resting

“Hold his hand, God
The way is smooth at last
And no more falling.”

Weather Report: Finding Kathy

Gentle Reader: Last week’s sad news has turned partly sunny. Feeling the need to take my own words to heart, I reaffirmed the challenge to find Kathy, my next door neighbor and childhood friend from age 6. I had tried to find her 5 years ago and failed. But with more advanced internet White Pages and a fifteen-year-old phone number, I found her.

We spent a good 25 minutes on the phone getting caught up on our headlines from the past 15 years and a few classmates and family. Her recent headline: just 3 weeks ago she donated one of her kidneys to her husband, Bill. Guess that eliminates any doubt in my mind whether they were still together.

Kathy wanted to know if I was still writing poetry and to let me know that she is not able to part with the blue lace brush-roller bag I gave her (probably in junior high). Our mothers were also very close. They had tea every afternoon–alternating kitchens. Every Friday they went grocery shopping together–followed by tea, of course. Meanwhile in the summertime, Kathy and I were swimming at Hillside Pool. Yes, every afternoon. Mornings too.

Weather Report: A Silver Lining

Gentle Reader: The past few days I’ve been sad into my bones at the loss of a high school friend. Seems so trite and clichéd to remind you to stay in touch occasionally with old friends. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss this by saying, “I have nothing in common with those people.” But think about it. We spent seven, maybe ten, of our formative years growing up with them. At the very least we have many memories in common and a probably a small town somewhere. Our memories are part of who we are.

So, here’s to Sandee . . . and throwing coins for gas money in the little box taped to the dashboard of your dad’s Nash Rambler station wagon . . . oh yeah, and laughing ‘til we nearly peed our pants.

The Bread of Life

Gentle Reader: Since recorded time people have been baking bread and talking about it: ancient Egyptians in the 20th century BC, public ovens in Rome, and the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness. Writings abound with metaphors such as: the staff of life and the bread of the world– populating biblical parables and present day parallels.

Father Robert West, former abbot of Assumption Abbey taught me something his mother always did before cutting a fresh loaf of bread. She inverted the loaf and blessed the bread saying the trinity prayer while making a small cross with the tip of her knife. This practice grounds me spiritually and reminds me that North Dakota is the breadbasket of the world.

The loaf in the photo (or what remains of her gift) was made by my friend, Liz– a consummate cook and host. This hearty bread is graced with sunflower seeds throughout as well as crowned on top. Of course, I forgot to take a picture when it was still whole and in its presentation basket wrapped in a lovely French napkin. But like the bread of the ages Liz’s offering was shared with extended family at the lake this weekend, and a piece headed to Hazen while the remainder came back to two households in Bismarck.

I’ve made countless kinds of bread in my life from homemade buns, to quick bread, to caramel rolls, and dozens of loaves from Dakota Maid mixes in my bread machine (these are a product of our state-owned mill and elevator).

I just realized I never make bread without giving part of it away.

I’ll confess that I really don’t have much patience for the act of serious bread making nor does my waist-line have the tolerance for much consumption. However, the best bread I’ve ever eaten (EVER!) was the bread bought at the village street markets in Provence France.  Their flour and baking technique allow the bread to blister on the surface which is the sign that the bread has achieved the proper rise and temperature while baking. One simply does not buy loaves without that characteristic.

Fast forward to today and imagine me grumbling as I scour every loaf of French bread in the supermarket looking for any hint of blisters and the store employee looking at me like I’ve swallowed yeast whole. So, my dear Julia Child, this foodie shall replay your DVR program on baking bread and give it a go. Bon Appétit!