Old Friends

The author, with her teddy bear, circa 1961 - trees behind her...

Many of the trees of my childhood home are gone now. They were very large and old oak and elm, surrounding our home like giant sentinels. They guarded us, a canopy providing cooling shade in summer, and with endless entertainment - from racing squirrels who sometimes had ferocious, chattering quarrels - to choruses of bird song from morning to night.  There wasn't an upstairs' window you could look out, without seeing a branches of trees nearby, curling around towards the house like hugs.

The rustling of their leaves could be soft and comforting with a breeze, or loud and threatening during a windstorm.  Strong winds would cause them to creak and snap; once during a storm of my early childhood, one of the mightiest and oldest oaks snapped in two about 12 feet up, thankfully falling away from the house. It lay there for many years, only its outstretched branches taken away.  I used it to play on, climbing on it higher and higher as I gained confidence.  Finally one day I got to the top and looked down on my mother hanging out clothes, calling down to her in victory.  It has been thrilling and at the same time terrifying, climbing up so high, but something inside me pushed me on to do it.

In winter, their branches were so bare in stark contrast to their heavy summer foliage.  Like giant shado puppets, they seemed to be in constant silhouette against the white, white snow.  They stood guard around the house, while their brethren in the woods to the north stood at the ready.  When it would get very, very cold, the trees would crack and boom.  The first time I heard them do that, it scared me and I asked my mother what that was and she explained.

Trees are more expressive than many people realize if they don't live among them all the time.  Especially the older, larger trees. There were many days and nights I heard the wind and trees make the most forlorn moaning and creaking sounds together. With the shorter days, it made for much melancholy even for a child. Spring became that much more sweet and meaningful after months of cold and short days.


Idyllic Summers

This song got me through one of my first periods of depression when I was attending NDSU in the fall of 1977. My dorm room mate was my best friend Kathy. I listened to this song over and over again, because it spoke to me with it's melancholy melody, and lyrics that reminded me so much of parts of my life at that time. "...riding on the roadside..." was to me, the idyllic summers my friend and I had riding our horses day after day, with no cares at all. We knew at the time it wouldn't last, so we drank it in and treasured it, even as it was happening. Days and days of sunshine, wind, and open prairie, cantering and galloping across the fields and dirt roads. This song brings it all back to me...


Tar Paper, Lath, & Storm Windows

Ventilation holes on bottom of old storm window...
Every fall, Dad would get the wooden storm windows out of storage in the shed, and swap them out for the screen windows; he did both the downstairs and the second storey.  It was during one of these bi-annual chores, up on a wooden ladder doing an upstairs' window, that the accident happened.

Another winter preparation chore was insulating the foundation with tar paper and lath.  There was even times that windows were additionally covered with plastic and lath. In 1966, during the period when we were still doing this (all the way until 1977 when my folks replaced all the windows), the house was already 60 years old.  My grandparents built it themselves in 1906. It needed some seasonal tender-loving care to cut heating costs and keep us nice and cosy!



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I grew up with people always saying, "Smile", or "Why don't you smile?" or "Things can't be that bad?!" or "It takes more muscles to frown than smile..." And it always bugged me that they'd said those things because I knew inside me there was so much going on I didn't have time to think about what my face was doing, which in most cases wasn't a frown by the way but just a relaxed face.

Like when they would say "Don't shout!" when they thought I was shouting. Shouting?, I thought. "Shouting?", I responded. "This isn't shouting. THIS IS SHOUTING!", as they covered their ears. Meanwhile I was simultaneously angry and laughing inside me - angry because I was sick of hearing that from people ("You talk too loud" or "Your voice carries") and knowing I was just talking - just, talking - but lucky me, I had a "voice that carries".

Anyways, back to smiling and happiness. I would say that there have been moments, maybe even hours or a period of some time, when I felt wonderful, for a variety of reasons, due to circumstances and/or other people's influences or actions in my life, but I never feel overly positive or what I have always imagined happy must mean, or what happy people are as a general rule. I have always had in the pit of my stomach, knots. Sometimes they get tighter, and sometimes they loosen, but they are always there. There is dread in the back of my mind, and I think is there something I should be doing, or doing better. I try to stay busy doing things that make me feel accomplished or needed. I distract myself by escaping into another world with books and TV and films. I write to get the thoughts that are crowding my mind out and onto the page to read and re-read and have them make some sort of sense to me or anyone else that might read them. I cope, distract, and escape. But happy? I don't know anything about happy.


Carpenter's Tool Chest.

A Studley Tool Chest* - a work of art!

My great grandfather was a carpenter.  I don't think he ever had a tool chest as grand as this one.  But he did have one.  I saw the remnants of it in my grandparents' main street home's upstairs.  By the time I went exploring up there, it was becoming like an abandoned building, except that the rest of the house was still quite alive.  But upstairs, there were just cast iron head and foot boards, frames, and open springs (as they did such things from the early 1900s or before), the odd small stand, wall pegs that clothes once hung on, and lots and lots of dusty hardwood floors.

In the top, open landing, right at the head of the stairs, there was a small rocking chair, and a closet of sorts - the only one there was in the whole upstairs - and in that closet were boxes of...books.  It was like finding a treasure chest to a little girl like me who had discovered the joy of reading.  I found out later that those books had belonged to my grandfather, who had been an avid reader all his life, although he didn't always have the time to read.  Those books he had bought and especially cherished had been saved in those boxes. He was a man of letters, although in his actual life he led a much more humble existence.

In the middle bedroom, there was an old chest.  There wasn't anything in it when I looked, except that I discovered a tray of sorts that could be removed so that you could access a good portion of the bottom of the chest.  I learned later that that was where my great grandfather's tool boxes, including the one with the carrying handle, were kept.  I'm not sure why there was a chest like this entirely for packing up tools, but now after all of these years, my theory is that this is what William Fitzgerald - father of my grandmother, father-in-law of my intellectual grandfather - had used to ship his livelihood in when he moved from P.E.I., Canada to St. Vincent, Minnesota, ahead of his bride Elizabeth Clow, in 1881.

I only have three tools of my great grandfather's that once were in the toolbox and the chest - a drawing knife, a small hand awl, and a combination square/mitre/ruler/level.  All of them show signs of much use over many years, long ago.  The wood handles on each one are polished with the sheen of hand oil, of being gripped and used, over and over.  The drawing knife's blade has been hand-sharpened to a perfect edge many times over, so that it is partially worn down, yet quite usable.  The hand awl's gnarled tip is still sharp, and is the best tool I've ever used to start a hole in wood, drywall, or plaster. I remember seeing an old lovely hand plane amongst my Dad's tools, that was part of my great grandfather's originally, that Dad used when he needed one.  I have an awful feeling it was part of my parents' 1998 auction when they broke up housekeeping.  Oh, how I wish I could go back and buy several things that day! Ah, well, I am thankful for what I do have.

* - O. Studley (1838-1925) was an organ and piano maker, carpenter, and mason who worked for the Smith Organ Co., and later for the Poole Piano Company of Quincy, Massachusetts. Born in 1838 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Studley is best known for creating the so-called Studley Tool Chest, a wall hanging tool chest which cunningly holds some 300 tools in a space that takes up about 40 inches by 20 inches of wall space when closed.


Missed Opportunity

Back in the fall of 1977 when I began going to school at NDSU, I was in a room at the Commons with other InterVarsity Christian Fellowship members when a young Arabic man came in, drawn by our singing about God. He began to discuss how he was a Muslim, and as a Muslim, he also respected and loved Jesus. He mentioned some other things and at that time, I was unable to say anything useful or loving, and I have regretted it ever since. But he left us saying as his main message, that we had more in common than we may have realized. I can see now looking back, he was trying to start a discussion, a healthy discussion, but none of us were prepared to engage in such a discussion, which is sad...


Simple, Hard Work

If only it was that simple.

I used to shell peas with my folks as well as Grandma. I miss that. 

I have tried growing a garden all my life and have never had much luck. I have found it to be a LOT of hard work and evidently Mother Nature has it in for me! But I have wonderful memories of our large family garden. 

Mom and Dad made it look so easy...